Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Happy Holidays!

I'm taking a blogging break for the next two weeks due to family being in town and a move. I should be back up and running again in January. I did want to take a moment to thank you for reading and wish you all a Happy New Year. May the next two weeks be full of love, laughter, and good memories.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Shh...I'm Beta Reading

Christmas is looming, a huge change is ahead for my family, I'm almost ready to start another new project, and I've lots to do before those hit. I have some beta reads to catch up on. So pardon the lack of post today, and know I'm busy reading and trying to help a couple of other people this week.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


After Tuesday's post on blog sifting I feel ready to throw this your way. Muhahaha!!!

For those of you who want to know what one is, who are struggling to compose one, or who may need any other help with one, here is an updated list of links and references:

Dictionary.com: 1. a brief or condensed statement giving a general view of some subject.
2. a compendium of heads or short paragraphs giving a view of the whole.
3. a brief summary of the plot of a novel, motion picture, play, etc.
Merriam-webster.com: a condensed statement or outline (as of a narrative or treatise.)
Helpful links:
A Few Winning Synopses (examples) (Charlotte Dillon)
Synopsis Worksheet & Synopsis Tips (Linda Needham)
Writing a Novel Synopsis (Fiction Writers)
How I Write A Fiction Synopsis (Diana Peterfreund)
How-To Write a Synopsis (Rebecca Sinclair)
The Synopsis (Stella Cameron)
How to Write a Synopsis (Writing World)
Writing a Synopsis (J. Lea Lopez)
How to Write a Synopsis of Your Novel (How to Write a Book Now)
How to Write a Synopsis (Nathan Bransford)
How to Write a Synopsis (Fiction Writer's Mentor)
Synopsispalooza, Part XVIII: the story's not just about that melancholy Dane, is it? (multiple POV stories boiled down into a synopsis with extra links to other synopsis posts) (Author! Author!: Anne Mini's Blog)
Of course, these are a drop in the bucket to the plethora (and I do mean plethora in the correct sense) of articles and blog posts out there on the subject. Do a search on any search engine and you'll soon see what I mean. And as I pointed out on Tuesday's post, you will come across conflicting advice. So look for the places where many opinions and voices agree. It's a good rule of thumb.
If you have a favorite synopsis reference link you'd like to share, please do.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Blog Sifting

I remember when I first dived into the blogosphere and started devouring blogposts. It was like discovering a new favorite dessert and I couldn’t get enough of it. So many new shiny blogs to read! So much great advice to be uncovered in blog archives! So many links to other blogs and then articles and then writer websites! Tasty and overwhelming for a first-timer.

Blog Tip #1: There’s a whole world of blogs and online articles out there. It’s foolish to limit yourself to a handful. Many a golden post or article is buried in archives and doing some digging always reaps a bountiful harvest.

I certainly learned a lot at a fast rate. Then I hit stage two, where I realized that I would never reach the end of the blogosphere. Unless I dropped everything else in my life and devoted all my time to reading what was online, I might get to the point where I’d seen it all and stay afloat with all the new blogs and posts that come up daily. It just isn’t possible.

Blog Tip #2: Becoming a discerning blog reader. After awhile you’ll get a feel for which blogs give you what you want and need and which ones don’t. Assess those personal needs and wants when making up your list of favorites. You don’t have to follow every blog out there. Yet don’t close yourself completely off once your list is made. New stars rise all the time in the blogosphere. It’s still good to go out and do a random sampling of new material every once in awhile.

Stage three then set in. Not all blogs agree, especially writing and publishing blogs. Even the professionals don’t see things the same way. That was a big eye opener. In fact, most blogs are really op-eds or subjective lists. Anything from book reviews, to submission guidelines, to writing techniques and advice. I learned to take everything with a huge grain of salt.

Blog Tip #3: Look for patterns or advice that agree more than disagree if trying to teach yourself the ropes. If blogger A and blogger B give out opposing advice, search around for confirmation to the question from many others, not just one or two more. And remember that some issues have two or three camps with no definitive wrong answer. The blogosphere is faulty, flawed, and sometimes dead wrong.

In the next stage I saw a disturbing trend, popularity. Wow, I thought, here we are back in high school. All the old social rules and cliques apply. Some frivolous blogs have droves of followers, other more substantial and useful blogs are buried in obscurity, and there are several levels in between. There are niche blogs (which tend to do well if they corner the niche before the masses) and blogs of professionals (which get a following because they are professionals.) Depending on your reading preference, and which crowd you like to pal around with, there’s something for everyone.

Blog Tip #4: You don’t have to follow popular blogs if they don’t float your boat. There’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to have a popular blog to be a successful blogger either. Be yourself. There are all kinds of tastes and needs out there.

Then came the brave day when I submitted my first few comments to a couple of blogs. I laugh now at my shyness. Sure, the blogger didn’t always comment back, and sometimes I really liked a post but didn’t have anything to add to it, and sometimes other commentators beat me to the punch. I soon found out that bloggers like to get comments and to carry on the conversation. Whether it’s a congratulations on an achievement, or a question, or some helpful return advice, or even an anecdote, it’s appreciated.

Blog Tip #5: You won’t be graded on whether you ever commented or not on a blog. So if you’re happiest being a lurker, it’s okay. But, bloggers do like to know they aren’t writing to a vacuum. Don’t be afraid that lightning will strike you if you dare say anything. Remember to be courteous and mind your manners. No one likes to find a troublemaker stirring up trouble in anyone’s comments section.

Nowadays, I tend to spend less time reading blogs. I’m not glutting myself on new and exciting information about how the industry works. I am keeping tabs on the pulse and watching for great posts and discussions going on. I confess I’m not a avid commentator either, that’s just me. I do comment once in awhile or I’ll share the link to a really good post on Twitter or my writing website on occasion. I think the blogosphere is a great tool and it’s exciting to be part of it now, but I do heartily recommend sifting through the blogosphere over a period of time to make it manageable and to make it work for you, not the other way around.

Have you had similar or other stages of enlightenment regarding the blogosphere you feel like sharing? Have any great advice on how you siphon blogs? How much time to you devote to the blogosphere (both reading and writing for?)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fun Ideas and Tips #8: Music Muse

Do you like to have music playing while you write? Chances are pretty good that you answered in the affirmative. A lot of writers love their mood music. Anything from genre popular music to soundtracks to classical renditions from the old masters, music is a great way to help create and sustain a writing mood.

What types of music do you like to listen to when you write?

I admit, I jump around, depending on the project. I especially love it when I find a song with lyrics that really hit the vibe I’m going for in a plot or a characterization. I’m not so much a soundtrack person because I find I channel thoughts about the movie the music came from rather than my own stories. (I don't play video games so those soundtracks are fair game, likewise with a movie I haven't seen or heard the storyline to.) Each person is different, and that’s cool.

I think listening to music while writing is one way to make the process more vivid, almost like watching a movie in your head. Of course, there are times when I have to have no noise at all.

For those of you looking for some good sound vibes for writing and who may also avoid movie soundtracks for reasons similar to mine, I thought I’d post a few links to epic music which has no definite story and can be adapted to whatever adventure you’re writing about. (And huge kudos to my blog artist for steering me in the direction of these. Artists like to work to music too.)

For a never ending supply of video game soundtracks check out OverClocked Remix.

You can do a search on Amazon.com by typing in “epic music.” Here are some gems I know of: (I link to Amazon for the sample snippets you can hear. This is by no means an advertising push to patronize Amazon.)

Reign of Vengeance (Future World Music)
Archangel; Invincible (Two Steps From Hell)
The Greatest Video Game Music (London Philharmonic Orchestra)
Epic Score: Epic Drama Vol. 1 Intros & Underscores
Epic Score: Epic Action & Adventure Vol. 1; Vol. 2; Vol. 3; Vol. 4; Vol. 5; Vol. 6; Vol. 7; Vol. 8; and so forth
Illusions (Thomas Bergensen)
Trailerhead; Trailerhead: Saga (The Immediate)

Know of more? Please share! That goes for good online radio stations too.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Time Off for Good Behavior

I tend to stay busy and I don’t believe in harboring boredom. My husband claims I don’t know how to relax because even when I’m doing something simple like watching a movie or reading a book I’m still analyzing and thinking like a writer. The thought of lounging on a beach or vegging in front of the TV all day ups my stress level. That time could be used more productively says my brain. Some of us are hardwired that way, I suppose.

I have a perpetual to-do list in regards to every aspect of my life (a tiny fraction of which is all you get to see online.)  And if I slow down at all, I tend to get sick. I think I derive more misery from being incapable of working than from all the coughs, sniffles, and belly aches I get.

What has this to do with writing (since that’s the side you care about, right?) In spite of my manic need to keep busy I realize there is such a thing as down-time with writing. It’s great if you have a daily word count goal or can even have the luxury of writing hours as your work hours. Sometimes it’s necessary to re-prioritize and remember there is a person behind the writing, you. After a fruitful and long stint of writing, I reached the end of a story, wrote it and realized I bombed the ending. It was okay but it wasn’t stellar. I went back to work the next day and the next, tore out the ending, rewrote it three times, and became a puddle of tears and nerves. I needed a break.

The stress hit me so hard at the time. I’d let other major parts of my life back-up while I tried to meet a writing goal. So now I had not only failed to meet my goal to my satisfaction but I had an overload of other obligations to meet. I literally developed severe chest pains. That’s when I had to walk away from my desk and remember I’m not only a person, but one with a life and limitations.

A story is a story. There’s enormous pressure to write something of bestseller or breakout status. Aside from that, if we’re active in the writing community there’s the illusion that everyone else is able to eat, sleep, and breathe their writing. Then there are the true-life accounts of famous writers who let themselves go for the sake of art and destroyed their health, their reputations, and their outside lives.

What is the point of writing about the human condition if we can’t actually live it? Maybe you agree with that, and maybe you don’t. It’s alright. I had to step back and ask myself that question a couple of weeks ago. There are other, larger, parts of my life that I can’t neglect. I don’t want to neglect them either. So in a fit of pain and rock bottom depression, I put away my writing. I focused on catching up on other things and on the people in my life.

Have you ever reached the brink like that or had to put the writing away for awhile? What do you do to balance your writing life with your regular life?

Two weeks later, I’m not completely caught up where I want to be, but that’s normal. I think I’d be more frustrated if I didn’t have things to do. I’m easing back into the writing and reading, and hopefully I won’t bite off more than I can chew this next year.

*Update: I finished the book yesterday. The time off did a world of good.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Blog Spotlight #18: Questions and Archetypes

Time to direct your attention to another blog. I like to follow blogs for awhile before recommending them as a good resource. Today, please pop over and visit J.W. Troemner’s blog and be sure to check out the archives. She’s got some fantastic posts on writing. What validates her advice is her great writing skills. I’ve had the privilege of reading some of her work so I know she knows what she’s talking about. Oh, and check out her "About Me" page, for a dose of her personality.

You can find the blog here.
You can follow her on Twitter here.
And if you’re already on Agent Query Connect, look for Moonshade.

I'm happy to have gotten to know her a bit and have every expectation of seeing her published soon.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What is Speculative Fiction, Exactly?

As some of you may already know, I’m a moderator at Agent Query Connect and I primarily host and run the Speculative Fiction Group. We were formerly the Fantasy, Science-Fiction, YA Resource Networking Group (quite a mouthful) and the dreadful name had to be changed. Since the change I’ve noted some confusion in members of my group and for others who aren’t sure AQC even has a group representing their genres.

It might surprise some to learn that the term speculative fiction is more widely used than you know. In essence, speculative fiction is a blanket term for all genres containing speculative and amazing elements.

For one of the best descriptions I’ve found, take a moment to read this article by N.E. Lilly at GreenTentacles.com.

Speculative fiction isn't degrading since it spans comic books to literary gems with magic realism elements. Most fictional books written fall under the bracket of speculative fiction for humans love to use their imaginations and speculate on "what if?" The next time someone asks you what you write, instead of cringing, admit you're a speculative fiction writer. You're part of a large group of writers who not only entertain and enlighten but who examine the human condition in ways other genres can't or won't.

I don't recommend using speculative fiction as a genre designation in a query letter or store bookshelf since industry professionals like us to be more specific as to which branch of speculative fiction we are writing. (It would be nice in reverse if agents listed speculative fiction in their looking-for guidelines.)

So if you are a member of AQC, you write a speculative genre, and you've wondered where you belong, be sure to check out my group. If you have run across the term speculative fiction on the internet and have wondered if it applies to you, hopefully this post has helped.

For more clarification on speculative genres, I'll do another post soon to break down some of the subgenres. If you've got a question regarding your subgenre you'd like me to touch upon, please let me know in the comments or e-mail me.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Friendship: Guest Post #5

Friendship is a central theme in the story I’m working on right now. So here is the last guest post from another of my writing friends. If you'd like to chime in on the theme or have something to say regarding friendship please feel free to comment.

My next guest blogger is Diana Robicheux. Diana is a paranormal writer, a talented artist, and a convention maven. You can find some of her artwork here. Thanks, Diana, for helping out with the theme!

When Clipper asked me if I would like to guest write about friendship, I told her yes without hesitating.  Then she gave me my topic “What kills friendships and possible ways to prevent it or deal with the loss of a friendship” and my brain went “Eek! How do I talk about THAT!”  After I thought about it, I realized I’m probably more acquainted with the topic than I’d like to admit. 
Losing a friend sucks.  No matter how or why it happens or how old we are, it sucks.  Sometimes it’s our fault, theirs, or nobody’s.  These are some of the major friendship killers that popped into my head, ones that I’ve been through.

1.  Losing Touch:
We’ve probably all been through this one.  We say goodbye to our friends at graduations and when we change jobs or move. 
Long distance friendships used to be hard to maintain, but it’s pretty easy these days between cell phones, e-mail and voice chats.  So if you say you’ll keep in touch, just do it.  Don’t forget to remember your friends, even if they’re not right in front of you every day.  I have a lot of great friends, some of whom I’ve never even met in person, so there’s no excuse to let physical distance be an obstacle to our friendships. 
But what do we do if the person we thought was such a close friend doesn’t return our calls or e-mails?  First, don’t be too impatient.  They may have things going on that are taking all their attention.  Wait a few months then try again, but if they don’t respond then it’s best to take a deep breath and move on. 

2.  The Replacement:  
The first friend I lost was in sixth grade.  I was out sick for a few days and another girl took my place, literally.  She took my desk (with all my stuff in it) and my friend.  First, I told the teacher she was in my desk so the teacher made her move.  Next, I tried to make friends with the new girl too.  I figured adding a new friend was better than losing the one I had.  But the new girl turned my friend against me, and that was the end of that friendship.  It was awkward and difficult to look at the two of them every day in class, until I made friends with my old friend’s twin brother.  New friends are the best way to soothe the pain of losing an old one and him being her own twin brother was just cake.
Don’t exclude your old friends if you make new ones.  Introduce them if you can.  Maybe you’ll end up with a whole new circle of friends.

3.  Misunderstandings and Disagreements:
Losing a friend to a misunderstanding is tragic.  Sometimes a misspoken word or an action taken out of context can derail a friendship and we may not know why.  Hopefully we’ll give our friends the benefit of the doubt or at least time to explain themselves before dumping them over something we may not even have the right idea about. 
If we have a disagreement with a friend over anything, decide what’s more important: the friend or the argument.  Is your opinion, or theirs, worth losing the friendship over if you can’t find common ground?  Friends don’t always have to agree to make their friendship work.  If there are “touchy subjects” (politics, religion, etc.) that could hurt your relationship or the other person simply avoid those issues.  There are plenty of other things to talk about. 

4.  Breaking “The Code”:
Since there may be a few out there who don’t know what “The Code” is, I’ll elaborate.  “The Code” is the understanding between friends that boyfriends, girlfriends, or spouses are off limits period, even after a break-up (unless the friend gives their permission.)
It goes without saying that this is a deal killer.  Friendship over.  Walk away.  I’ve been through that kind of betrayal and I can honestly say that there’s no way to repair the friendship after it happens.  Turn to other friends or find new ones to help get you through it and let it go.  I know, easier said than done, but it really is the only way.  Don’t even let yourself think about them.  Take a trip and get away from the situation all together if possible.  If not, treat yourself to something you love.  Ice cream or chocolates are easier on the budget than diamonds, so keep that in mind.  No matter what, keep your head.  Neither one of them is worth doing something stupid over.

5.  How NOT to Lose a Friend:
The best way to keep our friends is to BE a good friend.  Keep in touch, just being there may mean more to them than you realize, even if “being there” is by phone or on-line.  Don’t fight over insignificant things.  Treat each other with respect.   But if it happens anyway, make some new ones.  In the mean time, there’s always chocolate.

--Diana R

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Casual Baggage and Adventure

To start with: 8 items you never pack...but should

I love a good adventure story, especially the kind where someone has to use their ingenuity and whatever they have on hand to survive or outwit their antagonist. In my current manuscript one of my characters is taken from her world and whatever she happens to have with her become important tools to help her adapt and survive in a new world. She carries with her basic stuff like homework, snacks, a couple of gadgets (of the communicative and musical type), and a small emergency kit (needle and thread.) As the story progresses, she finds she can use most of these things to be proactive and in some cases do some epic things.

If you were to be abducted today while out and about, what would you have on you that might be useful? What's your favorite survival story and what basic, everyday item used in it made you smile or think "Cool!"? Do you have a story of your own where a character must do the same thing or something similar? When you travel what is the one thing you have to have no matter what?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Friendship: Guest Post #4

I’m continuing with the theme of friendship with the help of some writer friends. Friendship is a central theme in the story I’m working on right now. If you'd like to chime in on the theme or have something to say regarding friendship please feel free to comment.

My next guest blogger is Virginia K. Interesting story on this one. We met in the Barnes and Noble Forum and I quickly surmised Virginia to be an astute and talented writer. It wasn’t until we’d gotten to know each other better and had even beta read for each other that I learned she was barely into her teens. To say I felt surprised is putting it mildly. Age doesn’t define friendships, I’ve found, as long as two people have something in common. Virginia continues to surprise and delight me with her insight, wisdom, and talents. In her own words: “Raised in a rambling old Victorian House, I am a blues guitarist, djembe drummer and writer of the odd fantasy/horror/surrealist fiction, in no particular order.  Someday I hope to find a way to combine all these things...  a Gaimanesque blues-rock band, hailing from the Midwest?”

Having been educated at home for the past ten years, I have found friends only beyond what others may call the comfort zone.  I met all but a few of my friends at a local bookstore that opened the first year of my homeschooling journey, when I was hardly tall enough to see them over the counter.  All were at least twelve years my senior, but still we conversed on books, films, comic books and music as the years progressed.  One of them still sits in a place of honor on our refrigerator, beside me in a photograph of the last Harry Potter book release party. 
My grandmother asked once why I had no friends, and I was shocked at the question, pointing toward the bookstore across the mall's food court.  She could hardly believe that I socialized happily with adults at my age, seemingly untouched by society's proscriptions and norms that would declare me shy.

What, then, is a comfort zone?  A social construct of peers, but what qualities mark who may or may not enter this zone?

As a little girl, I always sought common ground by reading materials.  Prose fiction in particular creates a universe in which minds may meet, sharing memories that neither have lived beyond the pages of a book, even when separated by an age, gender or socioeconomic barrier.  One of my dearest friends (again from the bookstore) is a father of three, and at the age of nine I enthusiastically discussed theories on the latest Harry Potter installment.  I mused with comparisons of fairy tale and myth, while he brought a lifelong love of comic books and mysteries to the table, and my mom stood nearby with a pun or one-liner.  I first met the closest person I have to a sister when she recommended A Great And Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, based on my love of Victorian Gothic novels.

When I conversed with people closer to my own age, even for such a brief time as between sections of an annual test, I did struggle a bit more.  Not for want of trying or politeness, but out of a lack of common ground.  Unsurprisingly, it has been difficult to find teenagers who know every nook and cranny of the vintage X-Men universe, or play Delta blues on the guitar. 

This has become more evident as I've begun to search for bandmates; the youngest blues guitarist I've found at this point is three years older than I, and apparently not as interested in forming a band.  More painful yet was my discovery last month that my city's only bookstore will be closed by the end of the year  --  among so many other regrets, it will be one less place for me to meet new friends.

My struggle in finding friends near my age has led me to wonder if reaching out to new people somehow entails more than common interests.  Telepathy?  A love spell?  Or perhaps my qualifications for new friends are my comfort zone, a box through which I see the world.

The comfort zone, then, is more than a set of social norms.  It is also an internal wall, a filter guarding against both the known and the unknown.  It is what society dictates as impossible and improper, and it is only made stronger by one's own expectations for the world outside.

 An unwittingly wise man told me recently that I should let no one put me in a box.  What of the box I've built for myself?

   --  Virginia K

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Odds and Ends with Links

As a follow-up to this blogpost I’m happy to report that despite the sleeve fiasco the dress came out better than I hoped. Ripping out the part that didn’t work and putting something new in made it stronger, better, and beautiful. I’m almost afraid to let my daughter wear it for Halloween.

I did the same in my manuscript the other week. I ripped out an entire scene that I originally thought moved the action along but also revealed more about some of the characters. It wasn’t until I took it out that I realized I didn’t need it. It also made room for a couple of new scenes that did a better job of moving the plot along.

I haven’t had the time (or energy) to post the old Saturday Link Specials but there have been some great links lately that I’d like to pass on. Especially for those of you who don’t do Twitter.

First up:
GLA has the low-down on new agent Barbara Scott of Wordserve here. She’s looking for (in fiction): Adult Fiction: Full-length fiction, 65,000 to 100,000 words. General market or Christian market. Genres: Women’s, Romance, Suspense/Thriller, Mystery, Romantic Suspense, Historical, Family Saga, Amish, Political Thrillers, Mainstream, Supernatural/Speculative, including End Times. Short contemporary and historical fiction, 40,000 to 65,000 words. Christian market. Genres: Romance, Historical, Romantic Suspense. Will accept queries for Barbour, Steeple Hill Love Inspired, Summerside Love Finds You, and Avon Inspire. Kids: Middle grade and YA books

Literary Rambles has the info on agent Roseanne Wells from the Marianne Strong Literary Agency here. Ms. Wells is looking for: strong literary fiction, YA, sci-fi (most subgenres included), fantasy, and mysteries (more Sherlock Holmes than cozy mysteries.)

In other writing-related articles and such:
Writer Saundra Mitchell has an open letter to debut authors reassuring them that Eventually You’ll Care Less (and that’s a good thing!)

The D4EO Literary Agency announced on Twitter that they have an offical website now with query submission info included. You can find that here.YA authors will want to target Mandy Hubbard and Kristin Miller.

Author Patricia C. Wrede tackles what The Problems with Sequels are.

Shrinking Violet Promotions has a great article on utilizing Goodreads if you are a published author. Good to know for those of us aspiring to be published too. I love Goodreads anyway since it's an easy source to find new reading material and keep track of what I've read and what I want to read.

Agent Kristin Nelson blogs about Sacrificing Plot and Character Motivation For Fun.

Jami Gold's had an interesting time of it, going head-to-head with the numbers/popularity=sales debate. You can find the latest update (plus links to the other posts and the agent's blogpost that started it) here.

These are only a snippet of the great posts going on. Saturday Link Specials should make a comeback soon.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Friendship: Guest Post #3

I’m continuing to explore the theme of friendship with the help of some writer friends. Friendship is a central theme in the story I’m working on right now. If you'd like to chime in on the theme or have something to say regarding friendship please feel free to comment.

My next guest blogger is Margaret Fortune, a writing friend from Agent Query Connect. She’s uber-talented as a writer, a detailed critic as a beta reader, and I like her grounded style of expressing herself.  In her own words: “After graduating with a BA in psychology from the University of Minnesota, Margaret Fortune took up writing as a way to pass the time while job hunting. As it turned out, she enjoyed the writing far more than the job hunting, and has been writing ever since. She currently works at an e-commerce firm where she answers customer service emails, and her short fiction is forthcoming in Nth Degree. Her best friend is a four and a half foot tall stuffed giraffe named Freckles, so clearly she's well qualified to blog about friendship.”

I think we've all heard the phrase, "The More the Merrier!" at one time or other. But is this really true when it comes to friends, or is sometimes more just...well, more?

Not that long ago, a guy who I'd never seen before came up to me at work and said, "Hey, if you'll take the rest of my shift tonight, I'll be your best friend forever."

Hmm...now there's a proposition I'd never heard before.
And so I looked at him, this guy whose name I didn't even know, and you know what I said? I said, "Well, I don't even know you. Maybe I don't want you to be my friend. Maybe you're one of those creepy, clingy people that bother you all the time and never go away."

Yes, I actually used the word “creepy.” As you may have guessed, I don’t have a lot of friends.

Well, as you have probably figured out, Nameless Guy and I did not become best friends forever. What can I say? He had a creepy, clingy sort of look to him, and besides, it was a Friday night.

So, are more friends better? To fairly consider this question, I think you first have to decide just what constitutes a friend. Is the creepy, clingy guy at work whose shift you took your friend? What about that nice girl you always talk to in yoga class, but have never gotten around to having coffee with? Are those fifty-thousand Facebook friends really your bosom buddies, or are they simply fifty-thousand people whose only similarity to you is a penchant for hanging out on the computer 24/7 and a compulsion to report all the big events in their lives, like when they eat a ham sandwich or feed the fish?

We all have different definitions about just what constitutes a friend, and in the same way we all have different needs when it comes to how many is the right amount. For some, one or two best friends, people who have known us our whole lives or understand us as if they have, is the right number. For others, those who thrive on getting to know and being around other people, that huge circle of friends and acquaintances may be just what they need.

Which brings me to a few questions: how well do you know your friends? How well do you have to know someone to consider them a friend? Have you ever claimed someone as a friend, and then found out they didn’t see you the same way, or vice versa?

I live in a city of approximately sixty-five thousand people, and whenever my mom and I go out somewhere together, we are always stopped at least once by someone who wants to say hello…to my mother. If we do not run into at least one person she knows, or who knows her, I always start wondering if maybe we walked into a parallel universe and just didn’t notice.

My mom always greets these people back with the abandonment of a long-lost twin sister, and it’s only after they part ways that she will suddenly reveal, “I have no idea who that person was.”

Clearly friendship isn’t always felt equally on both sides, and one person’s fond acquaintance may be the other’s “huh?” moment of the day. Which brings me to another question: does your number of friends determine your degree of friendship? Does having a lot of friends mean that your relationships will, of necessity, be more shallow? Does having few friends mean that you’ll prize each friendship all the more?

When it comes down to it, we all have to find that magic number for ourselves. If you’re feeling lonely, maybe it’s time to ask that girl from yoga class out to coffee. If you feel overextended, like you can’t even keep up with all the friends you do have, perhaps it’s okay to let yourself drift apart from a few of those far-flung acquaintances.   

Maybe you can count your friends on one hand. Then again, maybe you can’t count all the friends you have even if you take off your shoes and socks. But whichever it is, in the end is it really so much about quantity as it is about quality? I leave that to you to decide.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cutting Down Character Count or How to Amputate 101

First off, I’m not anti-big book and I do enjoy the occasional door stopper with a cast list longer in word count than the first chapter or two combined. Yes skeptics, these kinds of books do still exist in the speculative fiction world and even in the case of some historicals. So I’d like to first disclaim any idea that I think everyone should have a set, small amount of characters. That is not the aim of this post. Got it? Great.

One of my earliest flaws as a writer was loving character creation too much. I could whip out huge casts for any given story, each with unique backgrounds, looks, and personalities. Juggling them in my mind—piece of cake. Handing those stories over to readers I discovered that I might be able to juggle lots of details and characters better than others. Which presented a problem: I needed to learn to use fewer characters much more wisely.

A year or so ago I took my current WIP (nearly done—Yay!!) and hacked down the character list. I didn’t have a ginormous cast, but there were too many names floating around the manuscript and some of my early beta readers complained. I listened.

When world-building, it’s so easy to get carried away in planning everything out: the history, backstories, places, events, rules, politics, religions, systems of magic or science, etc. Great stuff, but while immersed in all this splendid wonder of creation we don’t realize that our readers aren’t going to have all those hours of development at their fingergtips. They’re getting the finished product, which takes considerably less time to read. Therefore, they aren’t going to appreciate or get all that world-building in this smaller dose and if we, the writers, throw it all in at them—well, they don’t like it very much.

So let’s talk about having too many characters today. First off, do you have a character list or directory? No?

Step 1: Make one. Write down the name and a brief description of every single person (animal, or active living thing character) that is in your story.

*You’ll want this character list as part of your submission package if you deal in large casts of characters. Pronunciation guides come in handy here too.

Step 2: Classify each character as a:
a)      Main Character
b)      Main Antagonist
c)      Secondary Character
d)     Secondary Antagonist
e)      Tertiary Character
f)       Mentioned Character (anyone important to the story that doesn’t have an active role, say a dead person, or someone far away)

Step 3: Then assign an attribute of purpose to each character. That is, what in the world are they doing in the book? Are they a mentor, a source of information, a troublemaker, a love interest, etc.? Why are they vital to the story?

Step 4: Can you combine the roles of any of these characters? Say you have a shopkeeper who is a source of info for your main protagonist and you’ve got the blacksmith down the street acting as another source of information. Can you cut one of these characters and use only one of them for this role? Do you really need both?

Or say you have the informative blacksmith helping out the MC, might they also take on the role of double-agent? Acting as a source of info for the main antagonist as well?

Do you really need everybody in your cast list to fulfill only one purpose? Hint: a great way to make well-rounded characters is to give everyone more than one purpose.

Might the delivery boy in the beginning of the book also show up later with the missing piece to the crime puzzle your hero’s trying to solve? You don’t need to create a new character for this later role. Cycle your characters and make them count, have more impact, more purpose.

Step 5: Look for characters that are really just scenery. Drop their names and give them a generic title like: the janitor, the sage, the dragon keeper. Look especially for people in groups that hang out, work, or travel together. It’s cozy and fun to create a wide spectrum of personalities and talents to spice up a manuscript but are you really creating tangents for your readers to try to unravel instead? Scenery characters don't need names, only their designations.

Sometimes more is just more. We don’t need to know the name of everyone in a traveling troupe and not all of these people will be enjoyed (no matter how interested you, as the writer, are in them) if you try to use them all together all the time. It slows down dialogue and creates messy scenes. Sometimes characters need to be mere scenery themselves and only the important players identified.

The other fine balance to having a large cast of characters is their strategic use. The hero/heroine meets people on their way through the story. I think it’s natural for a writer to want to zap up each new person as part of the MCs retinue and have them tag along (as if they had no life of their own or weren’t already headed in some direction.) It’s okay to meet someone and let them slip away for awhile. They don’t need to be present for everything else that follows. Big fantasy novels tend to do this or stories using the heroic journey theme.

Watch out for giving characters too many designations as well. I’ve read stories where one person has a birth name, the name they go by professionally, the name they go by personally, plus a nickname, or title. It’s too much. Stick to one (or two at the most, if you have to.)

So to sum it up, evaluate your cast and make sure everyone’s got reason for being there. Combine roles if you can for more punch, and cycle your characters so they aren’t one scene wonders. If you need to have a huge cast, use them strategically and never all at once in dialogue. Avoid the magnet trap where characters drop what they’re doing or where they’re heading in order to join the protagonist’s posse. Don’t give any one character too many names or titles.

Depending on the depth of your book and how many plot layers it has, plus how much time your protagonist spends in any one place will have a bearing on your character numbers. Less is more, they say. Err on the side of the few and purposeful to make complex characters (even the tertiary ones), rather than more names for readers to juggle. It’s hard, it’s painful, you bleed inside, but the story gets better.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Friendship: Guest Post #2

I’m continuing to explore the theme of friendship with the help of some writer friends. Friendship is a central theme in the story I’m working on right now. If you'd like to chime in on the theme or have something to say regarding friendship please feel free to comment.

My next guest blogger is Dean C. Rich: Dean has been married for 27 years and has five children a daughter-in-law, and one grandson.  He blogs about time management and writing over at The Write Time and can be found on Agent Query Connect as DC Rich.  He has written four complete manuscripts and is currently working on making the first book in his trilogy a standalone story.  Stop by and see what he has to say at his blog and follow him there and on twitter as @deancrich.

And here’s what he has to say on the topic:


The old cliché states “Friends you can choose but family is forced upon you.”  BFF is such a cool text word – Best Friends Forever.  Friends help the day and weeks go by.  Friends help to make life better.  Friendships are dynamic relationships.  Sometimes they are fantastic, and other times differences cause conflicts, and how you deal with the conflicts determines character, and if the friendship survives.

I ran across this poem and I think it illustrates the point better than what I’m trying to say:

If you can start the day without caffeine,
If you can get going without pep pills,
If you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat the same food everyday and be grateful for it,
If you can understand when your loved ones are too
busy to give you any time.
If you can overlook it when those you love take it out on you,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can ignore a friend's limited education and never correct him,
If you can resist treating a rich friend better than an poor friend,
If you can face the world without lies and deceit,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,
If you can say honestly that deep in your heart you have no
prejudice against creed, color, religion or politics,
THEN, my friend, you are almost as good as your dog.

Author Unknown

When I was still in high school I had a great friend.  He and I did a lot together.  Then he moved.  We wrote letters and kept in contact… for awhile.  Then we lost contact.  I knew he moved to Virginia, but that was all I knew.

Life went on.  I married my best friend.  She and I have five children together.  We’ve been married for 27 years now.  Our friendship has matured.  We can look at each other and know the mood of the other, if we need to talk, need to go for a walk.  Or gasp, be left alone. 

We’ve moved to different states twice now.  We’ve kept track of friends and touch base, but life is so busy and hectic that we do well to keep in touch with old friends in the old places we moved away from.
Then I discovered Facebook.  I did some searching for my high school friends, found a few of them, but my best friend was still gone.  I went and signed up on my high school page.  Sent a few messages to old acquaintances, caught up on news, and then back to my own life and family.

Family and friend relationships all have to be nurtured. So I’m up to date with my old friends, but my current family and friends take most of my time. I’ve made new writing friends on line and I’ve been developing relationships with all of them.    

About a year ago I got onto my Facebook page and saw my old high school friend’s name in the friend request box. I clicked it and did some looking. He had managed to leave a trail on the internet and I uncovered his phone number. I made the call and when he answered I asked if he was in fact my friend. I could hear the joy in his voice as he made the connection that after all these years we were on the phone together.  He too had gone onto Facebook and gone to our high school and found my info.  And then waited three weeks for my response!  (I don’t go onto Facebook very often!)

We spent several hours catching up with each other. We still talk about twice a month on the phone. Our friendship is still there. But relationships take nurturing. For great friendships we have to be great friends ourselves. 

Family may be forced upon you, but family can be your best friends as well. What makes for good family relations also work for friendships. The nice thing about long lasting relationships is the feeling of being safe with those you are closest to. My wife and I talk about all sorts of things. We enjoy our children and family outings. Those wouldn’t happen if we weren’t also friends. 

My time with my friend whom I spent 30 years looking for, and he looking for me as well is still valued. We have a lot of differences, and don’t agree on everything, but we agree our friendship is important. We make time to talk with each other. We keep each other posted. Yes we still talk about things we enjoyed in high school, but we also talk about our wives, and what we do that irritates them, but we don’t know why those things do. But we share. 

However, just like the dogs who are unconditional friends, we too need to be able to be a friend through good times and the bad. If it wasn’t for good friends there are events in my life I wouldn’t have been able to deal with. A great friend is made, and nurtured. Lifelong friends are jewels to be cherished. 

Relationships take work and should not be taken for granted. As Clarence the angel who was looking for his wings wrote in Tom Sawyer’s cover page to George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life: 

Dear George,

Remember no man is a failure who has friends.

Thanks for the wings!

If your dog can be a great friend, then you can do better.  Helping others, listening, and working are the keys to being and having great friends, and long lasting relationships.

Dean C. Rich

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Over-Editing and Self-Esteem

There’s editing and then there is over-editing. All writing needs a pass or two after the initial flurry of composition to edit. Sometimes we’re testing out new skills or techniques that might need more than four or five drafts to get it right. Sometimes we’re asked to edit our work for the benefit of editors and publishers.

And then there are those of us who can’t stop editing.

I think part of it comes from low self-esteem as a writer. It’s easy to rationalize that “Hey, I’m a perfectionist.” Wanting to put forth our best work is what everyone should aim for but compulsive perfectionists, let’s face it, we have self-esteem issues with our writing.

It’s easy to second guess ourselves. Especially when you get feedback from others. We automatically assume that every suggestion made from other people is correct and that we were never right to begin with. After all, look at all of these other, confident, popular writers out there. They write so fast, so well, and people love everything they churn out. And oh yes, there are lots of writers who put out sludge and think they’re all that in spite of their lack of talent and effort. The compulsive perfectionist even regards these people’s suggestions.

All those articles, blogs, and workshops on writing are great to read and attend. We soak up the information as much as everyone else. Inwardly, they torture us. They point out all the many ways we fall short. So we edit, and edit, and edit.

What’s in danger here is not only our self-esteem, but our creativity and talent. We work so hard to try to please everyone that we end up disappointing ourselves the most. We never reach our goals.

What is worse, is most compulsive perfectionists are aware of their problem. All the kind and cheerful words in the world from others don’t remedy the issue. In fact, we tend to doubt the validity of those who actually compliment our writing. We cry buckets when we get negative reviews but those reviewers are so right! What were we thinking? People who say nice things didn’t give us a thorough critique. They probably hate the story too.

I think the trick to taming this over-editing beast is learning and remembering a few things:

1. Don’t take it all so personally. Oh certainly, we’re probably not the type that has a super fragile skin and can’t take any kind of critique. (Remember, we think only the negative ones help us grow and point out all the flaws we have yet to fix so we antagonize ourselves by searching those kind of readers out.) Taking a step back and remembering that no one reaches perfection in their writing helps. Guidelines, style, and popularity evolves over time. Readers don’t all like the same things. Really and truly. It’s not that our stories are so horrible sometimes but rather we haven’t found our audience yet. Finding the right beta readers is probably more of our problem here. We need people who read our genre and who appreciate it.

2. An art professor once told my sister that when you feel your project is done, stop. Don’t add another brush stroke. She said she crossed that line once and added the extra brush stroke. It ruined the painting she was working on.

The same applies to writing. We tweak and cut, and add, and change so much that it’s easy to loose our original vision of our work. So maybe there are a handful of sentences, paragraphs, or even pages that could have used eighty more hours of fine-toothed combing. Maybe we didn’t zap every use of the word “was” or “had” from the manuscript. You know what, readers don’t care. (This references the every day, non-writerly, editorial, or agent-type reader, and especially not anti-passivity zealots.)

There’s an evil in second-guessing ourselves so much. Storylines and plots perish, characters become over-the-top or lackluster, and sometimes we get bored with the very ideas that once excited us.

3. When we get too compulsive it’s probably a good idea to shelve the story for a little while. Take a break. Work on something else, or better yet, throw ourselves into an entirely different type of work or activity. Coming back after a hiatus sometimes lets us see clearly again and even learn to love our stories once more.
We do have talent. Maybe we’re still in beginner stages but the compulsive perfectionist is one that is doing their best to learn and work on their craft. Every writer is different and has a different voice. We need to stop comparing ourselves to everyone else, the good and the bad. And we also need to trust our inner voices even more than all the encouragement or tough love from our beta readers. We’ll get good, worthwhile advice and we’ll also get advice that steers us away from who we are and what our story is supposed to be. We need to grasp onto our self-identity and our story’s identity and then hold tight. The weather will be rough and turbulent.

4. Trends, comparisons, the wrong readers, too much advice—they’re all things that drive us to over-editing. Sometimes it’s best to shut off the internet, avoid the writing group for awhile, and get to know our own skills and the depth of our stories intimately one-on-one. Especially if we’ve fallen into over-editing. Recognizing that we will also make mistakes, fail, and even make a fool of ourselves is part of the process. It gives us perfectionists permission to chill out a bit. These are things that keep us awake at night but they don’t have to.

Get your story done to the best of your current ability and then let it go. It will fly or sink, but you won’t have killed it via an axe-wielding internal editor.

What things drive you to over-editing and how do you combat them?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Friendship: Guest Post #1

Time for something a little different on the blog. I want to occasionally explore the themes and things I research in the stories I'm writing. This month I look at the topic of friendship with the help of some writer friends. If you'd like to chime in on the theme or have something to say regarding friendship please feel free to comment.

First up, a talented teenage writer from the In the Jungle blog: Riley Redgate is a a bookstore-and-Starbucks-dwelling 17-year-old writer, devourer of books and destroyer of grammatical errors. When she’s not making up things or viciously slicing words, she plays the piano, sings through books of Broadway music, and pretends to be other people onstage. She spends a lot of time dreading college applications.

And without further ado, here she is:

I'm super-excited to be the first guest poster in the friendship series! You see, this reaffirms my belief that I have friends.

Oh ho ho, self-deprecating humor.

Anyway! I'm here today to speak/discuss/babble on about types of friendships. I felt the topic would be fun because, for the most part, I feel I can categorize my friends rather clearly.

In my experience, there are six types of friends. These six types aren't mutually exclusive, for the most part - for instance, a friend could be a 2 with a dash of 1, or a 6 with a large helping of 2. My favorite types of friendships to read about, in fact, are ones that grow and evolve, passing from one type to the other:

1) The Funny Bone
What keeps you and this friend together are your identical senses of humor. Topics of great weight and gravity almost never appear when you and this friend converse. Perhaps this is intentional; perhaps it is not. Nonetheless, the plain and simple fact is that if this person weren't hilarious, you likely wouldn't have passed the stage of acquaintanceship.

2) The Shoulder
Dependency is the glue holding these friends together. In this relationship, inevitably, one friend will end up ranting to the other about some issue that irks them that day, some problem they've been dealing with, some issue in their personal lives. The unhealthy version of this friendship is the One-Sided Shoulder, in which Friend A is constantly leaning on Friend B without reciprocation or care for Friend B's circumstances.

3) The Coincidence
When you met this person, you thought, Whoa there! Where have you been all my life? It seems odd that you and this person should meet, let alone get along well. Maybe you are an athlete, walking by the theatre arts building, and you bump into a theatre kid. You have little in common. Yet your personalities gel so well that you have no choice but to end up buddies.

4) The Ex
...well, this is awkward. You and this friend used to be so close. What happened? It could have been a fight, or a vocal falling-out. Perhaps you just drifted apart. In any case, the most you can seem to exchange these days are pleasantries, though you know if you really needed help this person would still be there for you. An oddly-nuanced friendship, this one is.

5) The Incidental
You are friends by association. Perhaps you have a friend in common, so you learn about each other, and you wouldn't be averse to hanging out. But not alone. That would be too much for this chill, laid-back friendship. In high school, this could be known as a 'classroom friendship' - a friendship that never leaves the school building.

6) The Golden
There's something special about childhood friends who have lasted the test of time. Oftentimes, you've been so much a part of each other's lives that you act oddly similar, speak much alike, think the same thoughts at the same time, or are just plain inseparable.

Depressingly enough, I find many of my friendships leaning toward the Shoulder. Not that that's a bad thing - we all need to vent, and apparently many of my peers are simply brimming with vitriol. (Just joshing. ...sort of.)

When it comes to writing friendships, it's easy to fall into the trap of making every friend a Funny Bone. Interactions are easier this way, passing, cheerful and not too deep. Honestly, though, if all a character has is Funny Bone friends, they probably feel very alone. Only being able to show a cheerful face around someone is a restriction, not a boon.

Worse, though, is reading about a main character who is the 'taking' side of the One-Sided Shoulder. If the MC is constantly whining to his/her buddy, and never listens to the buddy in return, the adverse effects are twofold: 1) The MC comes off as a jerk. and 2) The buddy will come off flat. Because no one can absorb negativity endlessly without wishing they could gain something in return (I know - I've been there!). The friendship will implode. Kabooooom.

What type of friend are you? Do you have any other types to add to the list?

Here's hoping your friendship doesn't Kabooooom!

Thanks again for having me on your blog, Clipper!