Writer problems 

IMG_1896As writers, we encounter a lot of problems.  Probably the most talked about problem is when people ask us if we’re still writing (which, I guess is a good conversation starter, but is kind of frustrating because the emphasis is usually on “still“). :p

But there are lots of other ones like:

#1. Fearing and loathing editing.  Then guilt-tripping yourself about not doing it, because why not? :p

#2. Figuring out how to describe body placement and movement in a fight scene (or, let’s be honest – a sex scene).  This gets trickier if you have multiple of these scenes in your book and want to keep the language fresh.

#3. Hoping someone’s eyes don’t glaze over when you explain your story’s concept.

#4. Spell check hating your name or your characters’ names.

#5.  The conundrum of double spaces betwixt sentences – should I? Or should I not?  Or should I Google other people’s thoughts on it for the next…hmm 3 hours.

#6. Fighting the urge to tell someone that they’re acting just like one of your characters. Because it makes you sound weird and a little creepy.

#7. Missing your characters when you’re finished with your book.

#8. Your obsession with notebooks (Moleskin!!), pens (it’s so tricky to find a really good one), and/or typewriters.

All Hallows’ Eve…of NaNoWriMo

Today, people will dress up in all kinds of costumes and go to parties and/or get free candy.  But writers…

Well, writers embarking on the adventure known as NaNoWriMo will eye the clock, fingers will be poised over keyboards or over a well-loved notebook, waiting –

Waiting for that month that embodies both a writer’s sprint and marathon – National Novel Writing Month, where writers will try to pen, type, or scrawl out 50,000 words in one month.

Crazy, you say?  Well, maybe.

Ill-advised?  Probably, considering it’s also the start of the holiday season.

Impossible?  Well, that’s where you’d be wrong.  Because every November, countless writers finish first drafts of novels this month.  So if you’re a writer, or a reader, this month can be pretty magical too.

And even though it’s very ill-advised, well considering I work full-time and am in graduate school, I’m going to through my pen into the ring as well.  Fun fact, while I’ve never actually won NaNoWriMo, I have used to to start, finish, and revise my novels.  But this year, I’m going to try to do the whole thing.  Because, hey, all those other years wee just practice. 😉

Happy Halloween, all and happy eve of NaNoWriMo, writers. 🙂

 

 

Verbal Diarrhea – on dialogue

Adobe stock photo

Adobe stock photo

On writing dialogue

I hear it in my writers’ group often – there is a fear among many writers of failing at dialogue.

And it’s a valid fear.

The worst thing, as a reader, is to come across something on the page that pulls you out of the moment (or worse, the story).  And dialogue, that tricky minx, can pull your readers out of a story if you aren’t careful.

(Side note: I love this stock photo, it’s how I imagine my verbal diarrhea looks like.)

But how do you learn to write dialogue?

#1. LISTEN – Yep, I really did just yell that at you.  Listen to yourself talk.  Listen to your friends, family, people at work, people on the metro, people with drunken honesty at bars, people yelling at each other in a grocery store…

But it’s not enough to just listen, you have to pay attention too.

How do people talk? What kind of words do they use?

It depends on the person, of course.  But there are some words that people don’t use in every day conversations.  Flag those and take them out of your writing.

#2. Talk out your dialogue – So, you probably don’t want to do this in public or too loud. :p  But it really helps.

I’ve come up with some of my best scenes by talking it out to myself (while running, strangely enough).  It helps you listen to your own work and compare it with what your writer’s ear has heard in the past (see #1).

Does it sound clunky?  Do you stumble over it?  Well then, unless you want your character to stumble through it, you should probably refine it.

There, only two rules to help you hone your dialogue – totally manageable.  🙂  So, go forth and infuse your characters and story with believable dialogue. May your pens be mighty and dialogue be strong! 🙂

Agent Queries…

I did it.  I participated in the pitch slam this summer and got good feedback – including requests for the first 50 pages of my novel and a request for the whole thing.

<Gasp!>

I, of course, freaked out and spent the last month re-ediitng…but hey, that’s how we writers work, isn’t it?

But tonight….tonight, after several weeks of craziness at my job, starting grad school classes, and second guessing every sentence, I submitted my work to agents.  I don’t know what will happen, but I can’t help thinking….

IMG_3152

lol.  Okay, I am seriously nervous.  Right now, I’m just hoping my email doesn’t go into their spam folders. :p

Wish me luck!  🙂  And good luck to every one else out there, who is trying to make their dreams come true.

Adding Flavor

On adding flavor to your short stories and novels

wordswag/pixabay

I love to cook, pulling the spices together to season things just right and adding some wine…and a little more wine, hmmm maybe a little more wine…until everything tastes delicious.

There are a few strange cases of people who don’t care about flavor and for whom eating is just another task in their day, but for a vast majority of us – flavor makes all the difference.

But how do you spice up a story?

Oh my… Well yes, adding key scenes can add some <ahem> spice, but trust me, even that isn’t quite enough to sate a reader’s appetite

1. Descriptions and what they always say to us – “more show, less tell!”

Duh, right?  Of course descriptions and the “showing” add to the reader experience.  But how do you add in character descriptions, without side-tracking or pausing the story?

Should you describe them right away?

John walked in the room, his dark brown hair nearly touching the ceiling. <Leesha’s thoughts: Hmm…either this is a tall dude or he has truly amazing hair.>

Is the description from an omnipotent narrator’s view of the character or through the eyes of a character?

Linda laughed at John’s joke and Jen couldn’t help thinking how much she looked like a horse neighing.  <Leesha’s thoughts:  That’s not very nice, Jen.>

My personal style for descriptions:

I tend to not list out all of my character descriptions right away.  I’ll do it here and there, but mostly I tie it into the action.

For example from the novel I’m working on:

 Natalie’s natural c cups were aided with a boost from a push-up bra and a low-cut pink top that threatened to spill tanned skin from its confines.  She handed a mojito to Lydia, breasts jiggling under John’s nose, and made her best attempt to purr, “hello John.”

Ha.  At least I amuse myself, but I am trying to show you a fair bit of information while giving a tiny description <a dash of seasoning> of a character.

It’s not necessarily the right way to do it – I very much doubt that one can argue the “proper” way to describe characters anyway (as rules in writing/art are meant to be broken), but it’s my preference.  Take from that what you will. 🙂

2. Local flavor also known as – prove that you know what you’re talking about

If you’re writing about a known location, it adds some credibility to the scene and story if you can add tidbits that make it more real.

How do you do it?

Well, if you live in the general area, it’s pretty easy to add in detail to give your story a little extra credibility, otherwise – TRAVEL!  🙂  Well, or what most of us do – armchair travel from the comfort of your very own home and laptop.  Yay for research!  Research is a super effective way of adding detail into your story.  Especially if you’re working on historical fiction and can’t travel back in time because, well…science.

You can also draw from every day experiences or memories from your past.  Do you have a local bookstore or diner that you love and can describe?  Well then, why not add it in?  It adds some flavor and authenticity to your descriptions.

What I do:

I generally go the route of places I’ve actually been/lived or have researched (I don’t write a lot of futuristic/world building pieces, so my knowledge base there is nil).

The novel that I’m working on now takes places in the greater Washington DC area (where I live).  Because I’ve lived here for a few years, I know some things about the area – like different areas in DC, how traffic stinks, the different roads/highways, and what happens here during the summer – two words:  tourists + sweat. 🙂  But more than that, I know amusing stories about the area, like the adventure of Rusty, and I put it in my novel (whether it makes the final draft is another story completely).

Photo from ARKive of the Red panda (Ailurus fulgens) - http://www.arkive.org/red-panda/ailurus-fulgens/image-G111667.html

Photo from ARKive of the Red panda (Ailurus fulgens) – http://www.arkive.org/red-panda/ailurus-fulgens/image-G111667.html

How do you add flavor to your stories?

Characters and the writers who torment them

As writers, we do terrible things to our characters over the course of short stories and novels – we throw obstacles in their paths, send them after serial killers, break their hearts, introduce them to their arch-nemesis, strand them in foreign lands, and make them flirt with disaster.

wordswag/pixabay

Often when I’m in the middle of a story and have to take a break from writing (to eat, sleep, work, or socialize with my dog, friends, and family), I feel guilty about where I leave my characters.  Did I leave my heroine during a lunch date with her friends (acceptable), did I leave her after she lost her job (not cool of me), or did I leave her just before the beginning of a love scene (oh that poor dear)?  Sometimes the thought of where I’ve left my characters in the story makes me giggle, but sometimes it makes me feel bad.

Then again, I write mostly light and silly things.  What if you write darker stories?

I’ve tried to write mystery/thriller type stories and as I’ve complained on this blog before, I often have a hard time keeping the dark going.  Also, I seem to have no trouble getting my hero or heroine into trouble…it’s the getting them out of trouble that is the tricky part.  So I have dozens of characters over the years that I’ve left stranded in precarious positions because I couldn’t figure out how to write them out of it.

But sometimes in addition to feeling guilty when I leave any of my characters in the middle of the action, I also imagine their dialogue to me, often in snarky texts (especially if I’ve abandoned the story completely) –

“wtf? You let me snoop around the killer’s house and then bailed when we heard the front door open?  wtf?”

or

“I hate you for ditching me when I’m inches away from Logan’s lips…granted I’m not sure how I feel about him yet, but still girl, wtf?”

or worse yet…

“Girl, you made me discover a body on my way to work and now my clothes are a mess, I’m having a major panic attack, and oh yeah, you were kind enough to let the body fall ON me!  Know what?  Know what?  Don’t come back!  I don’t care if I  was supposed to hook up with wolverine-inspired Logan later. You’re evil!  EVIL! WTF?!!”

lol.  Sorry and for the record, most of my characters do swear…often. :p

Believe it or not, sometimes it helps me go back and finish the story…other times, it just gives me guilt for hitting a road block.

How about you?  Do you ever feel guilty about where you leave your characters (especially if it’s a long time before you pick up the pen again)?

A to Z – Z!!! (WR)

It’s April again and that means it’s time for the A to Z challenge and this year, my theme for the A to Z Challenge is characters and narrators.

ZZ is for Zoological 

Okay, work with me on this one.  Z is for zoological, which I am using to discuss how/when authors give human traits to animals in books/tv/film…and also sometimes on this very blog.

There are the typical attributes given to animals – dogs are loyal and cats are generally cranky.  But it’s equally fun (usually more so) when animals have their very own unique personalities and characters.

The beautiful thing about these kinds of characters, is that while we loved stories of animals having human traits as children, many of us never outgrew this love.  There are tons of stories that feature pets as prominent and developed characters – and they can be more than just campy or silly, they can be beloved characters.

There are also stories of pets playing a prominent role (with no fictionalized character development/internal pet monologues) in a person’s life.  I love these as well, and if book/movie/tv trends are accurate, a lot of other people do as well.  I even have one of my own –

When I left my ex, a little more than a year ago, I took my dog with me.  (Side note: She was a present to me from my ex when we were still newlyweds and since my ex was never a dog person, I was the dog’s main caregiver/trainer/person.)  So many people – family, friends, coworkers, and also random strangers – comforted and propped me up in my time of need.  I don’t know what I would have done without the so many wonderful people in my life (the kind things they did, the healing words they said, and the support that they lovingly gave) and I don’t think I can ever repay this debt to them.  I know I was and am blessed to have such amazing people in my life. 🙂

And my dog, though it sounds kind of silly to say, was also helpful in getting me through those hard times.  I remember the first nights after I left my husband – away from the home I shared with my ex for over seven years, without the sounds of someone sleeping next to me.  There are so many hard parts of going through any kind of divorce (whether someone pulls the rug out from under you or whether it was something that builds up over time)…and one of the worst things (there are a lot of them) is not being able to sleep because of the emptiness of a room at night.  But I was lucky.  When I couldn’t go to sleep some nights, I could listen to the sounds of Bella snoring softly from her pet bed or the sounds of her walking around the room.  Those noises were strangely comforting, especially when I moved into my own apartment, in reminding me that I wasn’t alone.

My dog even helped stave off depression – I never had to come home to an empty house (and had an enthusiastic greeter at the door), she took me for long walks several times a day (making me get fresh air + exercise), would drop her toys at my feet to play when I got too pensive, and was glad to cuddle on the couch when nothing seemed to be going right.

And that’s why I suppose pet and other animal characters are always so endearing – for the connection we have with them and how we can take care of them almost as well as they can take care of us (yep, I know super cheesy, but there it is).

Notable animal characters:

  • Bolt, Mittens, and Rhino in Bolt
  • Doug in UP!
  • Marley
  • Lassie
  • Flipper

A to Z – Y (WR)

It’s April again and that means it’s time for the A to Z challenge and this year, my theme for the A to Z Challenge is characters and narrators.

Y is for Youth 

wordswag/pixbay

Many novels favor the young characters.

My genre (romance) nearly specializes in young heroines, aged from about 18-26 years old.  Heroes of this genre, however, have the luxury of being older, some as late as their mid 40s.

Why are so many stories focused on younger characters?

Maybe some of it has to do with the road to self discovery, loss of innocence (yes, that’s sometimes literal in romance novels), and bucking our family’s or society’s ideals of how we should be.

But authors shouldn’t turn their back on older characters and should use them for more than just guiding forces for the younger characters.  After all, characters – like people – don’t stop on the road to self discovery or stop facing down obstacles simply due to the aging process.  If anything, some obstacles can cause more turmoil when we’re older than when we’re younger.

I enjoy reading stories with characters of all ages and all backgrounds – as any character, regardless of their current lot in life, can be relatable and interesting…and more, they can have a story to tell. 😉

Y

A to Z – X (WR)

It’s April again and that means it’s time for the A to Z challenge and this year, my theme for the A to Z Challenge is characters and narrators.

X is for (e)xtraterrestrials

This one may be sneaky and not really an “x” word, but I’m running with it anyway. :p

Aliens have been popping up in stories for quite some time now. But how do you write them?

Do you follow the same formula that writers have been following for ages – little green men, with dark eyes, who travel here on flying saucers? Or do you try for something different?

I think a story can be enjoyable either way.  The more interesting question is – do you give them an actual character complete with character development?

Aliens, historically, were treated as one of the many monsters in the monster sub-genre of horror or sci-fi.  This has changed recently, and I think it’s a good thing.  As a reader, I enjoy the development of all characters in a story – both the protagonist and the antagonist.  Though at the same time, there are several aliens in literature/movies/tv who are not developed characters and are still interesting and/or terrifying.

What works best?  Well, I’d say it depends on the genre, the story, and the author’s preference.

Notable extraterrestrials in moves/tv/books

  • Aliens in the Alien series – mostly monsters and not super developed, but still scary (with the exception of the Engineers in Prometheus)
  • Predators in the Predator series – again, not super developed and mostly monsters, but we do glean some information on them, like their moral code (not killing unarmed people or pregnant women) and that there is some tension between the different kinds of predators.
  • Most of the cast of the Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Thor, Loki, and Asgardians
  • E.T.
  • Reticulans (Mulder’s little green and gray men in the X-files)
  • Trafalmadorians

X

A to Z – W (WR)

It’s April again and that means it’s time for the A to Z challenge and this year, my theme for the A to Z Challenge is characters and narrators.

Yep, my post is late and yes this means in a short time I will also post on my x word for the month….but hey c’est la vie.

W is for Wholesome

There are a lot of characters (a large majority in the romance genre) who are wholesome, pure, and innocent…when the story starts at least. 😉

But do you want your character to remain wholesome for the entire novel?  And can a character be too wholesome?

Alas, this is a choice that many authors have to make (assuming you don’t write children’s books).

I am more of a fan of multi-faceted characters, who have both light and dark within them.  I think the internal struggles of characters, and even characters that are anti-heroes and later become heroes, make for the most interesting/engaging/enjoyable stories.  I even enjoy romance novels when the hero starts off as quite the devilish rogue (like in the Devil in Winter) or has bad intentions.  Why?  Well, I like the brooding, the evolution of a character, and the war within the self…and so do a lot of other readers. 😉

 Notable Wholesome Characters:

  • Spiderman, except for those commitment issues 😉
  • The daughter in “Taken” – side note: OMG, watch this movie again and notice how overly childlike they make this teenager..the way she walks, the way she embraces family, even the way she talks.  This is a prime example of over-wholesomeness in a character which, in my opinion, should be avoided.
  • Many romance novel heroines, especially those from the historical romance sub-genre

W