Saturday, April 30, 2016

Z is for Zoothapsis

Zoothapsis means premature burial. Like my word for the letter X, you may be wondering at my choice for Z. I propose that zoothapsis can stand for the premature burial of a book. (Yes, I know I’m really stretching it here but work with me people!) Haven’t we all, at one time or another, felt like giving up on our novels? To bury them deep in that desk drawer or trunk?

The sad fact is plenty of great novels go unfinished. The statistics are staggering: of those who start writing a novel, only about 3% will finish. And I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but it’s hard to sell a novel that isn’t complete, especially to a reader.

Writing a novel is hard, you already know that. It makes your fingers hurt. It makes your head hurt. Still, you persist until everything comes to a screeching halt, a halt that’s accompanied by thoughts such as:
My characters took the story in a new direction, and I don’t know what to do now.
I don’t feel like writing — the inspiration just isn’t there.
My writing feels stilted. I’m just no good at this.

Here are a few reasons why that screeching halt happens — and what to do about it.

1. You haven’t started writing.
Whether it’s lined or unlined paper, a notebook, or a computer screen, a blank page is intimidating. There are many reasons for this fear. Fear of failure, of rejection, of ridicule. We feel we’re not good enough to write. We’re mentally unprepared for it.

The answer is very simple: Just write. Sit down, pull out your pen and paper, open your lap top, and just write. Write anything at all, even if it’s not your story. Engage in the simple act of getting words out of your head and into visible, tangible form. There. Your page is no longer blank. Now keep going.

2. You don’t know where it’s going.
In the beginning you had an awesome idea for how this book would go. But first the main character wandered off, then that quirky secondary character stopped talking and then there was a plot hole the size of the Grand Canyon to fill so you changed direction somewhere around the middle and now you’re nearing the end and it doesn’t make any sense at all.

Figure out where you want to go before you start. This is going to take some work, but you need to know where you’re going before you can decide how to get there. Sit back, plot it out, outline it, and take a close look at your story arc. You’ll figure out where you went wrong. And who knows? You might discover some side paths you overlooked before, and they might just lead you to something exciting.

3. You’ve forgotten the whys.
If you don’t know why your characters do what they do, then eventually they’ll (a) do nothing the story needs them to do, or (b) do nothing at all. You must know their motivations, and you must know these motivations on an intimate level.

To fix this you’ll need solid back stories for your characters. These back stories will probably never make it into the actual novel, but they’ll help you keep track of who your characters are and why what they do is important.

4. You’re not getting any feedback.
Maybe you’re not writing this story for others to read, you’re only writing it for yourself, so you don’t think you need any feedback. Unfortunately you’re wrong. Writers tend to have a blind spot when it comes to their own writing. We have a hard time seeing our work objectively.

This is where the beta reader comes in. A good beta reader will give you much needed feedback on your writing. They will point out flaws you may have missed and point you in the right direction when you get lost.

5. You’re waiting.
Inspiration may occasionally strike, like lightning, but it’s pretty rare. You can’t count on it and there’s no point waiting for it. If you do you’ll be waiting the rest of your life.

It’s BIC time (butt in chair). You need to make yourself sit down and write. If you want your novel to go anywhere you have to give it a push.

Thus ends the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Well, all except the 300 or so blogs I still have to visit. ;-) I hope you've had as much fun reading these posts I've had writing them.

But just because the challenge is over doesn't mean I've run out of things to say. Come back any time. You never know what I might be up to ...

Friday, April 29, 2016

Y is for Yellowback

The yellowback was first published in Britain in the 1840s to compete with the ‘penny dreadful’. It was a cheap popular novel, usually of an inferior quality, and usually sensational in nature. The name derives from the fact that such books were published with yellow enamelled paper covers with an illustration in blue or green and black ink on the upper cover.

The standard yellowback cost two shillings, much cheaper than the half a guinea charged for the "three-deckers" (the typical three-volume Victorian novel) or the five shillings for the single volume editions. Typically, these were sold to travellers through W. H. Smith's Railway Bookstalls.

Routledges were one of the first publishers to begin marketing yellowbacks by starting their "Railway Library" in 1849. The series included 1,277 titles, published over 50 years. These consisted mainly of stereotyped reprints of fiction novels originally published as cloth editions. By the late 19th century, yellowbacks included sensational fiction, adventure stories, 'educational' manuals, handbooks, and cheap biographies.

Publishers were keen to tap the market for self-education and serious reading and as a result many of the yellowback titles were non-fiction. Hobby enthusiasts, devotees of parlour games, natural history amateurs and even debunkers of spiritualism, all found yellowbacks to their taste. Travel books, such as Innocents Abroad, and A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain were also popular.

Under the British Copyright Law, there was no requirement to pay royalties to American or continental authors. Uncle Remus, by Joel Chandler Harris, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, by Victor Hugo, and even Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe became yellowbacks, as did many other popular titles.

The most typical yellowbacks were novels of romance and sensation. Their lurid covers promised enjoyable, escapist reading. As in every age there was a rich undergrowth of writers willing to provide material of this sort, often under a bewildering assortment of pseudonyms.

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, the "Queen of the circulating libraries", had fifty-seven of her works published as yellowbacks by 1899. Her name usually did not appear on the title-pages, rather the publishers used the epithet, "by the author of Lady Audley's Secret." This novel of adultery, published in 1862, was Mrs. Braddon's greatest success.

Although most of the titles were re-prints, many works, particularly the factual and the humorous items, were produced especially for this format. Apart from the textual and graphic interest in these books, they are a significant example of an important stage in publishing history. They marked a response by the publishers to the greater demand for cheap reading matter resulting from the increase in literacy during Queen Victoria's reign.

If you’d like see more about the yellowback, Emory University undertook a project to digitalize 1,200 yellowbacks which you are able to access HERE

Thursday, April 28, 2016

X is for Xenolith

xen•o•lith n.
1. A rock fragment foreign to the igneous mass in which it occurs. Xenoliths usually become incorporated into a cooling magma body when pieces of the rock into which the magma was injected break off and fall into it.
2. A fragment of rock embedded in another kind of rock.

You may be wondering at my choice of subject for X, specifically, what do rocks have to do with writing? Well, the answer is nothing really. But look at the definition for the xenolith – it’s a fragment of rock embedded in another kind of rock. This can occur in writing as well. And can be used quite effectively.

When I serialized book 2 and book 3 of my Elemental series (on a different blog) I started each installment with a journal entry that was very different from the main story. In effect, I had a different style of writing embedded in another kind of writing.

In the Woodwife, by Terri Windling, we not only have excerpts from the title poem at the beginning of each chapter, we have letters to and from a dead man that not only convey information, but add to the air of mystery.

Anne McCaffrey starts each chapter of her novel Dragonsong, with a verse or two of poetry that represents the songs used in the story. Again, one style of writing embedded in another style. I’m sure you’ve seen other examples. Journal entries, excerpts from historical texts (both imaginary and real), poetry, musical scores, I’ve even known an author to start each chapter with a riddle.

These styles within a style are not just random occurrences. They have purpose. They convey information. They add to the tension when they give us clues about what may happen next. They convey a sense of time and place that carries the story forward. They add to the atmosphere the author is trying to create.

In my own case, I chose to open each chapter with a journal entry to include details important to the story. The actual beginning of the story takes place before my main characters are even born. Despite the fact that there’s a lot of important stuff that takes place during this time, it would have made for a bad beginning. So instead I chose to include the information pertinent to the plot in the form of a journal entry at the beginning of each chapter. This not only lets my readers know what happened in the past, but gets them wondering about what may happen in the future. At least I hope it does.

Then, of course you have novels such as Sheri S. Tepper’s the Family Tree or Charles de Lint’s the Little Country where the story within the story is so well done you don’t know which is the rock and which is the fragment. Now that’s a xenolith of the finest kind.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

W is for Why Do Writers Write?

***mental note: when you write a post the night before and schedule it to appear the next day, make sure you set it for AM instead of PM. D'oh!***

When it comes the reasons why writers write, there as many as there are writers. Some write for money and others write for the love of the artistic expression. Some writers become famous and some labour away endlessly with their work never seeing the light of day. But though there are a myriad of reasons, they can all be distilled down to a few general categories.

Writing to inform
Someone who enjoys writing and is experienced in a particular area of knowledge might decide to share that knowledge through writing. They realize they can teach and inform a larger audience by writing a book or a series of articles. Many professionals, such as doctors and professors might take this route.

Writing for self-discovery
Memoirs, testimonies and reflection pieces are all vehicles for taking a journey of self-discovery through writing. Baring your soul is a hot commodity these days. A book recounting the events in your life that taught you a lesson and resulted in a positive outcome might be emotionally beneficial to you as the writer. It also has the potential to be monetarily beneficial if it appeals to the public sector.

Writing for money
Freelance writers use their skill to earn income. They might have one area of expertise or write on numerous subjects. There is a wide range of markets for their work, and the market keeps expanding. A capable freelancer can actually make a very good living if he has the skill and talent.

Writing for your ego
It takes a healthy ego to put yourself “out there.” You’re opening yourself up to critique and, often, outright criticism. When a writer feels he has something to say, he is often compelled by an inner drive to do so. Sometimes a reader becomes a writer when he decides that he can do better than some of the mediocre writing he has read. And some individuals simply want to leave a legacy and choose writing as their way of making a difference or leaving an imprint on future generations.

Most writers will admit to having a combination of all these reasons. They want to share what’s on their mind, potentially teaching others or learning something in the process, hopefully be rewarded with money or recognition and, inadvertently or not, stroke their own ego in the process.

And because I love quotes, I searched out a few on why writers write:

For the reason I did it as a child; I can't not do it. I've all this stuff in my head and if I don't write and get it out they will take me away in a straitjacket. It gives me a sense of satisfaction; I get a high when I know I've written a great scene.
~ Barbara Taylor Bradford

I write because I must or the thoughts will die the imagination will wither, and the brain will freeze just as my fingers do on a cold winter’s morning before I wrap my hands around my first cup of steaming coffee.
~ Anne Skalitza

My head is full of stories and I love to tell them. I have a story in my head now about a woman who thought she was being invited in by the boss to discuss promotion but in fact she as being fired. And I want to tell how she recovered from it all. I am dying to write it.
~ Maeve Binchy

I write because I was born with the compulsion to, like singers have to sing, actors have to act and painters have to paint. I write fiction because it exercises my creativity; nonfiction because it exercises the learner in me.
~ Tammy Ruggles

Writing gives me an escape from the realities of life into a private world of my own creation.
~ James Spade

Try as I might to ignore it, I find myself drawn to the keyboard most days, if only to sketch an outline or flirt with an idea. Writing is a hobby, a love and a compulsion. It won’t be denied.
~ Debra Johanyak

I write because the paper doesn’t talk back. I also think it’s really fun to confuse members of my family and make them say things like, “No, really, what do you do for work?”
~ Jennifer Reynolds

I think Deborah Wheeler says it best:
I’m a writer because it’s something I love to do.
I’m a writer because my stories somehow find their way onto paper.
I’m a writer because there’s so much I want to say, I have to put it into words or I’ll bust.
I’m a writer because story ideas are always popping into my head.
I’m a writer because when I encounter life’s little adventures, I think, “This would make a great scene.”
I’m a writer because when I talk to other writers, I get ideas for new stories.
I’m a writer because I’m miserable when a story isn’t going well.
I’m a writer because when an idea grabs me, I lose track of time.
I’m a writer because my characters talk back to me.
I’m a writer because my stories and characters come to me in dreams.
I’m a writer because I want to scream when I have writer’s block.
I’m a writer because the laundry is undone, the dishes unwashed, the newspaper unread because I have to finish this chapter!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

V is for Villains

She had always found villains more exciting than heroes. They had ambition, passion. They made the stories happen. Villains didn't fear death. No, they wrapped themselves in death like suits of armor! As she inhaled the school's graveyard smell, Agatha felt her blood rush. For like all villains, death didn't scare her. It made her feel alive.
― Soman Chainani, The School for Good and Evil

A good villain must be credible, logical, and understandable. Your readers need to understand why the villain is doing what he does, and why he believes his actions are justified and rational, but you don’t want them to emphasize with the villain to the point where they’re cheering him on instead of the hero.

Your hero and your villain need to be fairly equal in strength. If your hero is intelligent, make sure your villain is close enough of a match so that conflicts will not be easily resolved. Show that your villain is quite capable of winning the battle and make sure that it seems as though the outcome of your plot is uncertain. That uncertainty doubles your suspense and gives you the perfect opportunity to showcase your hero's qualities as well, thus creating a stronger protagonist just by displaying the comparisons.

Villains don't always think of themselves as villains, but they definitely have an agenda that is in conflict with the hero's goals. Give your villain a back story to show what is motivating him or her to do the things that are in conflict with the hero.

The best villains are unconventional, unpredictable, and morally ambiguous. They are rebellious, individually motivated, intelligent, and capable. Evil characters who are evil for the sake of being a literary device are both predictable and flat - they lack a moral depth and present little challenge to the hero. All too often the villain ends up a one-dimensional, stereotype of evil.

Think about when you created your protagonist. You gave him thoughts and feelings and flaws, strengths and weaknesses and motivation. You took the time to get right inside his head to understand what made him tick. Your villain deserves the same consideration.

Remember that no one sees themselves as mean or evil or bitchy or insane or stupid. Your villain won't either. To him, his actions and his logic are perfectly justifiable. You need to show your readers this side of your villain's logic which will intensify your story's suspense factor. Show that your antagonist is quite capable of winning the battle and make sure that it seems as though the outcome of your plot is uncertain.

That uncertainty doubles your suspense again, and gives you the perfect opportunity to showcase your hero's qualities as well, thus creating a stronger protagonist just by displaying the comparisons. Your readers will be turning page after page to find out if your hero is actually good enough to overcome the monster you forced them to care about, in a twisted kind of way.

If you can actively portray your villain in his own point of view as being an intelligent, logical, complex creature with the capacity to be understanding and reasonable, who does what he does because his reasons are sound to him, then you are on your way to creating a pretty believable villain. But if you can also show your villain's complex, devious, misguided nature from your hero's point of view, you know you've created a truly memorable bad guy, and you will have strengthened your hero’s character and your plotline at the same time.

A villain must be a thing of power, handled with delicacy and grace. He must be wicked enough to excite our aversion, strong enough to arouse our fear, human enough to awaken some transient gleam of sympathy. We must triumph in his downfall, yet not barbarously nor with contempt, and the close of his career must be in harmony with all its previous development. ― Agnes Repplier

Monday, April 25, 2016

U is for Using the Senses

Okay, maybe this is a bit of a stretch for the letter U, but it's all I've got. :-)

The senses are the most amazing tool available to a writer, yet they’re woefully underused. This is due mainly because of simple forgetfulness. We tend to overlook some of the senses when we describe scenes, but by including them, we can enrich our writing.


This sense is the one that provides most of the detail for our stories. What your character sees is what your reader sees, and if you don't do it justice, your reader won’t fully appreciate what it is you are trying to describe. What does the character see? What’s in the background? What’s in the foreground? What surrounds them?

When writing about something using sight, drop your adjectives and describe it fully. Don’t say there was a large stone fireplace. Say the fireplace was made of fieldstone and had room enough for a pig to roast on a spit and room to spare. If a character receives flowers, don’t just describe them as pretty. Instead of saying the bouquet was of colourful wild flowers, say the bouquet was a symphony of colour, each blossom striking a wild note of summer.


Background noise can be instrumental in creating atmosphere and setting. You’re writing a thriller and your character is alone in the woods. What kinds of things will he hear? There should be birds chirping, leaves rustling in the breeze, maybe the lapping of water against the shore or the musical tinkling of a stream. But there could also be the sound of something snuffling in the underbrush or the snapping of a twig as something approaches.

What your character hears is important. How many sounds can you hear within your scene? What sounds can you conjure? Is there a distant foghorn? Perhaps a sound of car horns representing a traffic jam. Does the character hear the call of a bird, a barking dog? All these limitless sounds bring a sense of realism into the scene.


Touch is another neglected sense. Try touching a variety of things. What do you feel? Is it soft or hard, smooth or rough? How does it feel in your hand? If a character is touching something, don’t be afraid to describe it. Let your reader in on the action too.

You can embellish descriptions of this sense by the use of physical reactions to certain items: recoiling from the touch of something slimy, goosebumps rising after touching something cold, reassurance when touching something soft and warm. All these reactions add to the reader’s imagination while adding to the picture your words are painting.


By allowing the sense of smell to creep into your writing, you create a subtle sense of atmosphere and you add another layer to the overall descriptive passages for the reader to enjoy. We often smell something that reminds us of a familiar place or time. The smell of fresh bread may remind you of your grandmother’s kitchen. For me the smell of tangerines makes me think of Christmas, just as fresh cut grass makes me think of summer.

If you have a character walking along the seashore, you need to make the scene come alive by mentioning the tang of salt in the air, perhaps the faint odour of seaweed from the tide line or the pungent aroma of a fish rotting in the sand, maybe there’s even a whiff of smoke from a fire further along the beach.


This is probably the least used of all the senses in writing. When your characters are eating, include your reader in the experience. How does that wine taste on the tongue? Is that steak as good as it looks? How does the dessert taste? Eating can be a shared, sensual pastime. Simple details count. Next time you have a scene with characters eating; hint at what they taste, and how it might affect them.

There are also certain elements in the air which can define taste. What about salt in the air, or perhaps the acidity of burning rubber on the tongue? What about a passionate kiss? What does your character’s lips taste like? Are they sweet, bitter...fruity? Never neglect this sense, especially in romantic scenes.

Using your senses in your writing helps enhance the overall story you're trying to convey. It adds to the story and makes it more interesting. By incorporating a sense of sight, sound, touch, smell and taste into your writing, you will add depth to your narrative and you draw your reader into an enjoyable, fully rounded read.

It isn’t necessary to overload your writing with all the senses, however, but every once in awhile, let the reader in and let them enjoy key senses in a scene. Remind yourself of the effectiveness of using your senses by keeping this where you can see it:

What can I see?
What can I hear?
What can I taste?
What can I touch?
What can I smell?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Home Stretch

So how's everyone doing? Still keeping up with the posting?

I'm just over the halfway point in the linky list. I'm still seeing a few blogs where the person apparently forgot they've signed up for the challenge, and there are a few of you who've fallen behind, but not as many as I would have expected.

I remember the first year I did this I started falling behind on the first week, then I caught up on the weekend, only to fall behind again. So I'm kinda proud of the fact that although I'm still behind on the blog visits, I'm up to date on the posting.

I've seen some really interesting blogs so far. Some have incredible photos, some have amazing stories, some have fascinating information. And let's not forget the foodie blogs with their delicious recipes. Of course there are also a few that were totally confusing and a couple that had nothing to do with A to Z.

But I have to say, overall I'm really impressed with the number of quality blogs out there. I've been trying to leave at least a token comment on other blogs, and the really good ones I've bookmarked to return to at my leisure. Wordpress is still giving me problems when it comes to commenting and I still have no idea why. It seems to only happen on the blogs I really, really want to leave a comment on, which is really frustrating.

My goal today is to visit the blogs of the wonderful people who've left comments here. You guys are awesome!

For those of you who visited yesterday, here are the answers to my little titles quiz:
1. First Impressions became:
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austin
2. The Kingdom by the Sea became:
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
3. Tomorrow is Another Day became:
Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
4. Jaws of Death became:
Jaws, by Peter Benchley
5. Trimalchio on West Egg became:
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
6. Strangers from Within became:
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
7. At This Point In Time became:
All the President’s Men, by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
8. Cancer became:
Dreamcatcher, by Stephen King
9. Something That Happened became:
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
10. All’s Well That Ends Well became:
War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy

I wish everyone who's participating the best of luck - we've got some hard letters coming up. But just six more letters to go and then we can rest on our laurels. :-D

Saturday, April 23, 2016

T is For Title

A title functions as the very first introduction the audience will have to your story or novel. And while everyone knows they shouldn't judge a book by its cover, they will judge it by its title.

Memorable, easily-recognized titles can often be accomplished through one - or sometimes two - words. Consider Dreamcatcher, Jaws, or Roots. All single word titles that immediately bring an image to mind.

Longer titles can also work sometimes, especially if they make an interesting statement, or ask a fascinating question about the contents of the story itself. How about Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which was made into the movie Blade Runner (also a great title). Or what about I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, or The Red Badge of Courage?

Try fitting your title to the genre you’re writing for. It isn’t surprising that so many mystery books often include the word “death” or “murder” in their titles. Romance novel titles often have “love” or “kiss” included. This kind of title lets the reader know right from the beginning what kind of book they’re looking at.

If your book doesn’t fit neatly in a single genre you can use something that reflects the tone or mood of the book. Try using descriptive words to create your title. “Dark Night of the Soul” will indicate a much different book than “Happiness in the First Degree.”

Titles are not copyrightable. I have two science fiction books, both titled Millennium; one is by John Varley and the other is by Ben Bova – both big names in the field. If you want to check to see if your title is unique, try checking it out on Google.

Here’s a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to titles:

Don’t settle for just one title for your novel, come up with several and then enlist the help of family or friends to narrow it down to the one they think sounds right.

Don’t be afraid to change your title. If you’ve settled on the perfect title when you start to write, it’s okay to change it if the story takes a different turn and that title is no longer quite as perfect. I always have a working title which may or may not end up being the actual title. An Elemental Wind started out being Space Opera and my fantasy, Magical Misfire, started out as Shades of Errol Flynn.

Don’t make your title so unique that no one understands what it means. Avoid cryptic phrases, quotes or excerpts from the story, etc. if they require an explanation to make sense of the genre, tone or mood for your book. Shades of Errol Flynn made sense to me at the time because the book's a bit of a swashbuckler, but how many people out there know who Errol Flynn is?

Do use a particularly memorable word or phrase from your text. Perhaps one of your main characters has a pet phrase that would be appropriate.

Try to grab your reader’s attention. If there is one place where the first impression counts, it’s the title of your story or novel. The title must immediately tell the reader why he or she should keep reading.

Do use a thesaurus to find a catchier synonym for a single word title. It needs to have punch and should resonate with your potential readers.

And just for fun:

Here’s a list of the original titles of a few famous books. See if you can guess what the books are. The answers will be posted on Sunday.

1. First Impressions
2. The Kingdom by the Sea
3. Tomorrow is Another Day
4. Jaws of Death
5. Trimalchio on West Egg
6. Strangers from Within
7. At This Point In Time
8. Cancer
9. Something That Happened
10. All’s Well That Ends Well

Friday, April 22, 2016

S is for Show, Don’t Tell

Show, don't tell is one, if not the most frequently given pieces of writing advice. But what do they mean by this?

The best definition I have for this is in the form of a quote:
Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
~Anton Chekhov

Do you see the difference?

Showing is when you reveal things about your story and characters or your story world, as you advance your story. With telling, you stop the story in its tracks, kill whatever momentum you had going, and back up like a dump truck to unload a ton of information onto your reader.

Good writing should evoke sensation in the reader – don’t just say “it’s raining,” help the reader experience the storm. Do this by being descriptive and involving the senses. Have them feel the cool, wetness on their skin, smell the ozone in the air, be deafened by the thunder and blinded by a flash of lightning.

Telling: She was afraid of the approaching storm.
Showing: She froze in place as lightning lit up the sky. Her heart pounded in her chest. She choked back a whimper when the flash was followed by a sharp crack of thunder. The moisture laden breeze swept over her sweat dampened skin leaving goose flesh in its wake.

Fiction is all about forging an emotional link between the author and the reader. One of the best ways to do this is by creating vivid images that immerse readers in the world of the fiction — not merely telling readers what’s happening, but showing it to them.

Many writers resort to telling because they believe the reader won't get the point if they don't. Often writers tell, then show, to make sure they get their point across, in effect treating their readers like morons. But the truth is that when you take out the telling, the showing remains. And that's all the reader needs in most cases.

You want your reader invested in the character. You want the reader inside the action. That's the sign of good writing . . . to pull the reader out of his ordinary life and put him in the middle of someplace else. Showing them is an important way to do this. To help you show instead of tell, keep in mind the following:

- Avoid overusing adverbs. Instead, use strong, specific verbs.
- Use the five senses - not just sight but taste, touch, smell, and hearing.
- Don’t simply name feelings, let you characters experience them.
- Use expressive dialogue to show the characters’ emotions and outlook, but don't fall into the trap of overusing dialogue tags.
- Generate emotion through vivid writing and characters’ reactions.
- Use well-placed details to bring scenes to life.

Does this mean all telling is bad? Not at all, telling does have its place. Use it for:

- Slowing things down – a story that’s non-stop action can be exhausting for the reader. Telling, through narrative summary, can give the reader a breather after an extended, action-filled scene. It also varies the story’s rhythm.
- Condensing recurring action – once a scene has been shown and the reader knows what it consists of, it doesn’t need to be stretched out into further scenes. It can be summarized instead. You can also summarize minor scenes that are similar to a key scene that will take place later on.
- Minor characters – if a character doesn’t warrant a full scene, needed information can be delivered without straying unnecessarily from the plot line.
- Transition between scenes - a brief event can smooth the way between bits of action or character interaction, without leaving an illogical gap or a sudden, unintentional jump in time.

The mark of a good writer is the ability to use both showing and telling to their best advantage. A successful story is one that has a balance between the two, and only you, as the writer, can decide how much should be shown, and how much should be told.

I want to see thirst
In the syllables,
Tough fire
In the sound;
Feel through the dark
For the scream.

― Pablo Neruda

Thursday, April 21, 2016

R is for Revision Checklist

Revisions. The bane of my existence, but a necessary evil. No matter how talented or famous the writer is, nobody gets it right the first time, so everybody has to revise. At least I'm in good company.

There's no secret formula for revising a piece, whether it's fiction or non-fiction, but here are a few things to keep in mind:

~ Does your story start too soon, too late, or in exactly the right place?

~ Do you overuse adverbs, metaphors, adjectives, facial expressions, certain dialogue tags, or interjections?

~ Have you double-checked your research to make sure your facts are correct? For non-fiction you should be using more than one source and you need to correctly cite your sources.

~ Are both the tense you’re using and the perspective consistent? Is the point of view consistent?

~ Is there more than one major plot? If so, are you able to trace them all in a logical manner?

~ Look at your sentences. You don't want them sounding all the same so make sure you avoid sections where they seem to all start with the same word. Also, varying the length of your sentences can add flavour and texture to your story.

~ Make sure the words you’re using are appropriate for the piece, subject matter, and targeted audience. Occasional repetition can be use effectively for emphasis, but you want to avoid overuse of favourite words or phrases.

~ Do you have enough description and detail that your reader feels grounded in the world you’ve created? Is there too much description?

~ Is it obvious what your characters want and what motivates them?

~ Are your characters well developed or do they seem flat? Are they people someone will want to keep reading about?

~ Do you show both the best and worst characteristics of your main characters? Do the relationships between your characters grow and develop and become more complicated as the story proceeds?

~ Does your dialogue sound natural, or forced? It needs to move the story forward and each of your characters should have a distinctive voice. As well, you want to make sure the dialogue, narrative, and description are well balanced so they flow naturally and seamlessly.

~ Have you shown what’s going on in your story using action and detail, or merely told what’s going on without engaging the reader? Your scenes need to make sense and move the story forward. They need to lead smoothly from one to another without jumps that the reader won't understand. Each mini-climax/resolution should lead to another problem.

~ Does your piece move at a proper pace, keeping the reader interested from start to finish? You may need to tighten up places where the story drags, or slow down where it seems rushed.

~ Are the crucial events of the story given the attention they deserve? Is there enough conflict? Not enough conflict?

~ Does your story have a satisfying climax? Is it too drawn out? Too rushed? Does it come at the right time?

Hope this helps with your revisions. :-D

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Q is for Quotes About Writing

I suppose I could have used "Q" to talk about using quotation marks, but I want to do something a little different. My best bud and I exchange writing quotes on a daily basis to inspire/encourage each other, so I thought I'd take today to share some of my favourites.

Words — so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.
~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

If I don't write to empty my mind, I go mad.
~Lord Byron

Tell the readers a story! Because without a story, you are merely using words to prove you can string them together in logical sentences.
~ Anne McCaffrey

Being an author is being in charge of your own personal insane asylum.
~Terri Guillemets

He was such a bad writer, they revoked his poetic license.
~ Milton Berle

It's hard for me to believe that people who read very little - or not at all in some cases - should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time - or the tools - to write. Simple as that.
~ Stephen King

Writing a book is a adventure. To begin with it is a toy and amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him out to the public.
~ Winston Churchill

Like everyone else, I am going to die. But the words – the words live on for as long as there are readers to see them, audiences to hear them. It is immortality by proxy. It is not really a bad deal, all things considered.
~J. Michael Straczynski

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
~ Douglas Adams

I’m in favour of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let’s start with typewriters.
~ Solomon Short

Writing is the hardest work in the world. I have been a bricklayer and a truck driver, and I tell you – as if you haven't been told a million times already – that writing is harder. Lonelier. And nobler and more enriching.
~ Harlan Ellison

Sometimes when I mean to pickup my pen I pickup my beer, and I write with my drunk and the ink is an intoxicant always, more so than any brew or fermented grape, my mind ferments momentarily and words are the raw hops but poetry flows out the bottle.
~Terri Guillemets

A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
~Thomas Mann

I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.
~ James Joyce

Ink surrounds me all the time
On my bed sheets, recorded in rhyme
Quills 'ever scribbling in my head
Sometimes damnit I forget what they said.
Ink has settled into my fingerprints
But to keep the words I fear to rinse...

~Terri Guillemets, Inkwells & Teapots

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

P is for Point of View

Point of view (POV) is the perspective from which the story is presented, the way you allow your readers to see and hear what's going on. It determines the amount and kind of information the reader will be given.

First Person POV

First person point of view is probably the most natural voice to use because you use it all the time in your everyday life. Whenever you tell somebody about something that happened to you, you use the "I" of the 1st person.

The advantage of this point of view is that the reader gets to hear the thoughts of the narrator and see the world of the story through his or her eyes. However, your readers will also share all the limitations of the narrator. They can only see and hear what the narrator experiences.

The narrator of a first-person story is a character within the story and therefore limited in understanding. He or she might be an observer who happens to see the events of the story, a minor character in the action, or even a protagonist.

Second Person POV

Second person POV is the most difficult POV to write from and is seldom used. In this POV the author speaks directly to the reader using “you”. In essence, the author invents a fictional character and then invites the reader to become that character.

Here’s an illustration: You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head. ~ from Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney.

Second person POV is meant to draw the reader into the story, almost making the reader a participant in the action.

Third Person POV

Third-person point of view is that of an outsider looking through a window at the story. The author uses "he," "she," or "it” and is narrating the story. There are three basic types of third person POV: omniscient, limited omniscient, and dramatic.

In the omniscient POV the narrator can home-in on a scene and on the viewpoint character in particular, showing us the events through the character's eyes and letting us hear their thoughts. We are told everything about the story, including the thoughts and feelings of all the characters, and even information that none of the characters know.

In limited omniscient, we are told the thoughts and feelings of only one character (rarely more than two characters). We do not know what is in the minds of other characters.

With the dramatic POV, we are told only what happens and what is said; we do not know any thoughts or feelings of the characters. It is called "dramatic" because it includes the words and actions, just as though you were observing a play or film.

Epistolary POV

In epistolary novels, the entire story is told in the form of letters, written from one or more of the characters to other characters. Their greatest strength is the strong sense of realism that they create.

These days letters have unfortunately gone out of fashion - both in the real world and in fiction - but it is possible to put a modern twist on the concept by substituting e-mails, or even text messages for letters.

If you’re not sure what POV to use, try them all. If it works, it works. And if it doesn't, you can always reshape it into a more traditional form later. The great thing about writing a novel is you can always change your mind.

Monday, April 18, 2016

O is for Outlines

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I don’t use outlines.

I can hear the voices now. “If she doesn’t use them, why is she doing a post about them?” Just because I don’t use them now, that’s not to say I never have used them, I just don’t any more. I’ll go into the reasons why not a little later.

Basically, outlining is setting out the main events of your book and working out the plot from beginning to end. It can be a single page, shopping list of events, a series of post-it notes or index cards, or it can be a comprehensive, multi-page document that will keep you on track.

The point of outlining is to help you with the actual writing of your book. There are many, many ways of doing this:

Make lists. Start with a list of your characters. Then list the goals of these characters. Next, list the things that can help them reach their goals, followed by the things that will prevent them from reaching their goals. Make these lists as detailed as you like.

Use index cards or sticky notes. Have a card with each character’s name at the top and a few notes about them, including their goals. Then jot down your ideas, one per card, including goals, obstacles, and conflicts. Next, spread these cards out in front of you – stick them to a piece of Bristol board or pin them to a cork board. Now start listing the scenes suggested by these notes and again, one scene per card. Once you have this done you can shuffle the cards in whatever order you think suits your story best.

The Snowflake method is based on the theory that you start small and then expand. You begin with one line about your novel then expand it into a paragraph and continue to expand it from there. At one point you will be using a spreadsheet to help with the detailing, but this is not as intimidating as it sounds. Learn more about the Snowflake method HERE.

Mindmapping is essentially information generated around a subject using a diagram. The central topic goes in the middle of the page and then the spokes become the key points from that topic, and from those spokes, more detail emerges. You can find out a little more about the benefits of a Mindmap or download free software for creating one here: FreeMind.

Writer's Digest offers a plethora of PDF worksheets to help you get started: worksheets, idea maps, scene cards ... all you have to do is fill in the blanks. While it's geared to help you write your novel in 30 days, there's no reason why you can't take more (or less) time as needed. You can find the index HERE.

Now, when I say I don’t outline, I mean that I don’t write down my outline. I work everything out in my head, going over the basic story again and again until I get it “right.” In fact, if I don't know how a story ends I won't start it in the first place. Sometimes the ending is crystal clear in my mind, sometimes it's only a vague sense of resolution, but I have to know where my characters are going to end up.

One of the reasons I stopped writing my outlines down was, and I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, I get distracted easily. I’d start writing an outline, then I’d segue into character sketches (pages and pages of character sketches), then these little vignettes would start popping into my head regarding these characters and naturally I’d have to write them down so I didn’t forget them, whether they were pertinent to the story or not. Next thing you know I’d be drawing maps, and . . . well, you get the picture. It started to become a time sink.

The other reason I stopped writing down my outlines is that I could never seem to follow them and I’d think that I should and the whole thing would become frustrating. While I have to know how my story begins and ends (in my head) before I can start writing, I’ve found that I like the story to take its own course from point A to point B and I find using a carved in stone (or written on paper) outline too restrictive for this.

But that’s just me. Outlines, when used wisely, can be a great help to a writer. So don’t do as I do, do as I say. Give outlines a chance. You never know, now that I’ve become more disciplined (which means a little better at avoiding distractions) I just might give it another shot myself. :-)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Halfway There!

Whew! We've made it to the halfway point. And it's all uphill from here. I say that because we've got some hard letters ahead of us, like Q, X, and Z. Yowsa! I'd better make sure my thinking cap is set a little tighter on my head.

Hmmm, yowsa would make a good word for "Y". I wonder how I could fit that into my writing theme ...

So, is everyone still on track? I am, at least as far as the posting goes. The blog visits -- not so much. I'm still finding a surprising number of people who appear to have forgotten they signed up for this and a small number of people who for whatever reason have had to drop out.

And I'm finding the further along we go the further behind I'm getting on my visiting. And it's all your fault! Stop writing such great posts people, I begging you! I only have so much time I can spend blog visiting but I'll follow a link from the list to a blog and get there on say "L" day, and the post will be so good that before I know it I've been reading backwards through all the posts and my time is gone. And you want me to comment too? Seriously?

I do try to comment whenever possible and when it's appropriate, but there just aren't enough hours in the day to comment on every post I read. So you know when I do you've seriously impressed me. And when this happens I'll bookmark the page to come back to if/when I ever get through the enormous linky list.

Wordpress is still giving me the occasional problem when it comes to commenting, but I'll comment anyway. Sometimes it appears, sometimes it doesn't. And a few times I've come to a blog where I can't seem to find a place to leave a comment, but then one very helpful blogger pointed out that if you don't see the comments, click on the post title so it goes to its own page. And it worked.

I'd like to take a moment to thank everyone who's let a comment here - it's much appreciated. And if I haven't visited your blog yet please know I will at some point. I promise!

Let's hear it for making it to the halfway point. Yippee!

*throws confetti in the air*

Saturday, April 16, 2016

N is for NaNoWriMo

For those of you who are unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month. This is an amazing phenomena that occurs once and year and, for me at least, cannot be replicated at any other time.

The goal of NaNo is to write a 50,000 word novel (approximately 175 pages) during the 30 days of November. Anyone can sign up and it’s absolutely free. You start writing on November 1st and must upload your finished product to the verification page by midnight, November 30th. You can read all about it in depth HERE.

The first NaNoWriMo took place in San Francisco, in July, 1999. There were 21 participants. The next year it was moved to November, given a website, and the participants swelled to 140. The third year the participant numbers topped 3,000 and the organizers were forced to start asking for donations to help offset the costs of keeping it going. By 2010 there were over 200,000 writers participating.

To succeed at NaNo you have to be able to write a minimum of 1,667 words a day. The pressure is intense. You have to push forward without looking back. The only thing that matters in NaNo is the quantity of words, not the quality.

I have a friend who doesn’t understand why anyone would participate. What do you get for your trouble? Well, my friend, you get a finished draft, a downloadable certificate, and best of all, a feeling of accomplishment. You get to call yourself a novelist, because you just finished your novel.

I first tried NaNo in 2006. My story topped out at 34,000 words and I didn’t win the challenge but I did end up with a complete draft. I’ve participated seven more times since then and have seven more drafts to show for it, all more than 50,000 words. I also have a partial draft from the year I started with one idea then switched to a new one after the first week (and 10,000 words), winning the challenge with over 60,000 words total. And despite my whining and complaining and lack of social life, I’ve loved every minute of it.

There’s a sense of community about NaNo that’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t given it a try. Thousands of writers, all over the world, churning out words as fast as they can: there are write-ins and forums and your own page on the NaNoWriMo site.

Due to an unfortunate series of circumstances, I was unable to participate in NaNo last year, and honestly, I really missed it. So I have every expectation that I'll be back at it this year.

If you’ve never participated in NaNo, I strongly urge you to mark your calendar and sign up. I’m always looking for writing buddies and you can find me on the NaNo site as Lady Cat. See you in November.

Friday, April 15, 2016

M is for Managing Your Time

I was going to start by stating that there are 168 hours in a week, and we use X number for sleeping, X number for working, X number for entertainment, yada, yada, yada. But we know all that. And we know how hard it can be to carve writing time out of our day. And that’s not what this post is about, it’s about managing your time, not finding time.

I’m going to start with a confession. I’m terrible at time management. I have a lot of free time to write in but I get very little writing done sometimes. That’s because I allow myself to be distracted. A friend phones and I answer, knowing she just wants to chat. She goes on about work and the kids and bake sales and before you know it I’m thinking about home made chocolate chip cookies and when I get off the phone I go to the kitchen and start baking instead of going back to my writing.

So the first thing you need to do is take yourself seriously so that others will too. Get rid of the distractions. Turn off that television and unplug the phone. Put a sign on your door (or on the back of your chair if you don’t have a room of your own) that says you are not to be disturbed.

Set yourself goals and make yourself a writing schedule. You can use scheduling software or even just a day planner to do this in. If you record what you want to accomplish in your writing time you are much more likely to use that time constructively. Also, you’ll get to check off goals from your list which is motivating in its own right.

Deal with distractions by making notes of them. Keep a notepad nearby so you can keep track of who called, or other distracting thoughts and issues. This removes the distraction from your mind to be dealt with later.

Get organized. Whether you have an hour or eight hours you’ll get a lot more accomplished if you don’t have to go looking for notes or research.

Be realistic and don’t set yourself up to fail when managing your time to write. You know how much you’re capable of doing. Don’t tell yourself you’re going to write for four hours when you know your attention starts to flag after two. You’ll only become disappointed with yourself when you fail to reach your goal and that in turn will make you feel less motivated.

Don’t let e-mails and social networking suck up your writing time. Establish a time of day for checking e-mail and use social networking as a reward for getting your writing done.

Schedule yourself a break or two. When you schedule yourself a break you’re giving yourself permission to stop writing, so you won’t be filled with guilt over it. Just make sure to get back to work when your break is over.

If the schedule you set up for yourself in the beginning is not as productive as you thought it would be, remember that it’s not carved in stone. Perhaps you’ve scheduled your writing time for the afternoon but find the morning works better for you. If this is the case then by all means change it. You’re the boss, after all.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

L is for Language and Dialect

If your story is set in a foreign land, or your characters visit another country, the inhabitants of that country will probably be speaking another language. To provide authenticity, authors often sprinkle dialogue with a foreign word or phrase, or attempt to use the local dialect. And when it comes to writing fantasy or science fiction, or sometimes paranormal or urban fantasy, you may even wish to invent your own language.

An invented language can be a good tool for exposing the traits of a culture. Different languages not only sound different, but they feel different. They shape ideas differently. They are also shaped by their environments. The way a language works can help illustrate the thought processes of the people who speak it.

Keep a list of invented words. It’s all too easy to forget how you spelled something you made up. If you keep this list in alphabetical order, you can use it as a glossary later. When you add a word to your list, don’t forget to add it to your word-processing program’s dictionary. This will ensure your spell check keeps you on track.

When using an invented language, a word or two here and there is far more effective than whole paragraphs. An entire sentence will need translating; a word or two can be put in context so that the reader can quickly figure out the meaning.

Dialects can also be effective, but you need to be careful, if dialect is used incorrectly it can ruin the story.

Here are a few tips when using dialects:

Try not to stereotype. Not everyone from the South uses “Y’all”, not every Canadian says “eh?”, and not every teenager uses slang.

Make sure when you use regional speech patterns and accents that you’re accurate and consistent. Don’t have your cowboy suddenly sound like he’s from England.

If possible, try to listen to people with the accents and speech patterns you wish to use so you can learn what sounds authentic and what doesn’t. It would be even better if you can actually have a conversation with them.

Try to make sure you’re using the right terminology for the dialect you’re using. There are many regions and subcultures, all with their own slang. To Americans, chips are a snack food that comes in bags and a boot is something to wear on your foot. But in England, chips are julienned, deep fried potatoes and a boot is the part of the car to put your luggage in.

Dialects for historical and foreign characters can be even trickier. A few writers will use a complete sentence in a foreign language followed by a translation, but that can seem a little unwieldy. Smaller words or phrases, such as “Ach!” “Mon ami,” “Cara mia,” etc. can be just as effective when scattered through the dialogue and don’t need translating.

If you're thinking of using a made up language of your own and don't know how to get started, I recommend checking out some of these made up languages:
Learn Klingon at the Klingon Language Institute
The language from the movie Avatar is Na'vi
If you're a Lord of the Rings fan, you can learn to speak Elvish
Star Wars fans can learn to speak Ewokese
Game of Thrones fans can learn to speak Dothraki

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

K is for Kissing

Georgie Porgie pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry
When the boys came out to play,
Georgie Porgie ran away.

~ traditional nursery rhyme

When I first started writing fiction, I wrote pretty much exclusively fantasy and swords and sorcery. My characters fought and worked magic and found themselves trying to survive in all kinds of weird situations. But the one thing they did not do was kiss. Not even a peck on the cheek. In fact, my characters hardly ever even touched each other, unless it was a punch to the jaw or a sword through the midsection.

It took a long time before I felt comfortable allowing physical contact between my characters. After years of honing my craft, I finally allowed my characters to kiss. These days they not only kiss they . . . um . . . do a lot more than kiss. ;-)

The amount of heat in your novel is up to you, as the writer, and what your story calls for, but it all starts with that first kiss.

You can’t just have your characters going around willy nilly kissing other characters, there needs to be a reason for the kiss. Imagine if someone you’d never seen before, and to whom you were not attracted, came up and laid a big, fat kiss on you. Would it turn you on, or would it disgust you? My guess is the latter. There has to be some kind of pull between your characters. This can be a slow build up or love at first sight, but they must be attracted to each other on some level before their kiss will be believable.

There are many kinds of kisses; you need to choose the right one for both your characters and your scene. A kiss may be shy, or hesitant. It could be stolen, or confident, or demanding. Or it could very well be the height of passion. Keep this in mind and write the actions that go along with this kiss.

A kiss in a dark alleyway is completely different to a kiss on the top of a Ferris wheel or a kiss in front of a fireplace. Write the scene with as much detail as it takes for the reader to easily picture it. The setting and scene of the kiss can be as important as the kiss itself.

The age and experience of the two kissing need to be taken into consideration as well. The first kiss between two inexperienced teenagers will be much different than the first kiss between two experienced adults who hooked up at a bar. Or perhaps one character is experienced and the other not.

Engage all the senses when writing the scene. A reader is more involved when his or her senses are stimulated. Let them feel the heat of bodies pressed together, hear the quickening of the breath, smell the cologne he used or the perfume she did. If tongues are involved then taste will be involved as well - a hint of coffee or wine, the stronger taste of beer or garlic bread.

And don't forget to let the reader know what your characters are feeling. Maybe your characters were fighting and it's a hard, angry kiss. The kiss could take one character by surprise, or maybe both. Maybe it was much anticipated. It can turn the legs to jelly and be completely overwhelming. Or maybe, despite the anticipation, it could be a complete disappointment.

Remember that writing a kissing scene isn’t much different than writing any other scene. It’s full of dialogue and description, people moving around, making decisions, and carrying out actions. But above all, the kissing scene should move the story forward.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

J is For Just A Dreamer

Some men see things as they are and ask, “Why?” I dream things that never were and ask, “Why not?”
~ George Bernard Shaw

A long time ago (and we’re talking a very long time ago), someone I was very close to told me I was nothing but a dreamer. At the time, the comment hurt. It was a careless comment made to a teenager, and yet it stuck with me for years.

But is being “just a dreamer” really such a bad thing?

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was inspired by a dream.

In the summer of 1816, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (who was 19 at the time) and her soon to be husband poet Percy Shelley visited the poet Lord Byron at his villa beside Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Stormy weather frequently forced them indoors, where they and Byron's other guests sometimes read from a volume of ghost stories. One evening, Byron challenged his guests to each write a ghost story. Mary's story, inspired by a dream, became Frankenstein.

When I placed my head upon my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think... I saw -- with shut eyes, but acute mental vision -- I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous Creator of the world. ~ Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, from her introduction to Frankenstein

The Robert Louis Stevenson described dreams as occurring in "that small theater of the brain which we keep brightly lighted all night long." He wrote extensively about how his passion for writing interacted with his dreams and said that, from an early age, his dreams were so vivid and moving that they were more entertaining to him personally than any literature. He learned early in his life that he could dream complete stories and that he could even go back to the same dreams on succeeding nights to give them a different ending. Later he trained himself to remember his dreams and to dream plots for his books.

His wife related how one night Louis cried out horror-stricken, but when she woke him up he protested saying, "Why did you waken me? I was dreaming a fine bogy-tale!" The next morning when he arose he exclaimed excitedly, "I have got my schilling-shocker -- I have got my schilling-shocker!"

He described his novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as having been "conceived, written, re-written, re-re-written, and printed inside ten weeks" in 1886. "For two days I went about racking my brains for a plot of any sort; and on the second night I dreamed the scene at the window, and a scene afterward split in two, in which Hyde, pursued for some crime, took the powder and underwent the change in the presence of his pursuers."

Stephen King had this to say about his novel Misery: "Like the ideas for some of my other novels, that came to me in a dream. In fact, it happened when I was on Concord, flying over here, to Brown's. I fell asleep on the plane, and dreamt about a woman who held a writer prisoner and killed him, skinned him, fed the remains to her pig and bound his novel in human skin. His skin, the writer's skin. I said to myself, 'I have to write this story.' Of course, the plot changed quite a bit in the telling. But I wrote the first forty or fifty pages right on the landing here, between the ground floor and the first floor of the hotel."

So there you have it. Yes, I confess. I am a dreamer. And proud of it!

Monday, April 11, 2016

I is For Ideas

I was talking to my aunt last night, who was writing her obituary (don't ask - but no, she's not dying), and in the course of our conversation she asked me where I got my ideas. Where indeed?

I used to believe that if you had to ask where to get ideas from, then you weren't cut out to be a writer. But then I did a series on different forms of poetry and when it came time to come up with examples for these forms I suddenly found myself sympathizing with anyone who’s ever wanted to write but didn’t know what to write about.

So where do you get an idea? While ideas in general are all around you, they can also be triggered by many different things:

Magazine Photographs:
Sometimes the most unique ideas can be triggered by a picture from a magazine. I have an extensive collection of pictures I’ve cut from magazines – people, places, gardens, dishes – anything that catches my eye.

Write for 10 minutes without stopping. Don't worry about grammar or spelling, just write. If you're using a computer, darken the screen so you can't read what you're writing until you're done. This technique will help you access those creative ideas hiding in your subconscious.

Look at a Book:
Take a book you have nearby and write down the first 10 words you see. Choose words that you don't normally use. Then, freewrite a paragraph or two using the 10 words. It might take a couple of tries, but before you know it you'll feel the urge to keep going.

Newspaper Articles:
Real life is a great starting point for fiction. I once used an article from a newspaper as the basis for a poem, which led to a short story as well. Tabloids are especially good for generating ideas.

Most contests have a specific subject or theme. This gets not only gets you started on an idea, it gives you a deadline to finish your story. Even if you don’t win the contest, you’ll still have a finished story you can try selling elsewhere.

People Watch:
Go to a busy mall or other public place and watch the people as they pass by. Pick out a person, imagine yourself in his shoes and start from there.

My personal favourite is playing "What if". Even a mundane task in your daily life can turn into a story with what if. Say you have to run to the store to pick up some bread – what if you arrive just in time to witness a robbery? What if that bone the dog came home with is from a corpse buried in the woods? What if that weird looking bug is the beginning of a plague of insects?

Ideas are all around you.

You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it. ~ Neil Gaiman

Saturday, April 9, 2016

H is For Horror

The three types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it’s when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it’s when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there …
— Stephen King

Although my longer fiction is usually science fiction or fantasy with a hint of romance, my flash fiction often dips into the darker side of life. It’s not something I plan, it just happens that way. Maybe one of these days I’ll try something longer in horror, but until then I'm happy to stay short and scary. For the letter H, I'd like to share a some of the helpful advice I've been given over the years.

While many horror writers like to start with bang, making their readers sweat immediately, I like to be a little more subtle. Personally, I like to lull my readers into a false sense of security. I start with something every day - a couple on vacation, some kids having a party on the beach, a reporter in search of a story - and then, before they realize what's happening, things take a dark turn.

Like all fiction, you need to start with a strong character, more than one if you're writing a novel. But make your character(s) likeable, flesh them out. Give them a goal and then start throwing obstacles at them. The more you can get your readers to care about these characters, the more shocking it will be when bad things start happening to them.

Limit your point of view. Write your story from the viewpoint of the main characters and remain faithful to those points of view. Let readers experience everything through those characters’ eyes, memories and feelings.

Atmosphere is equally important. Use all the senses to make the reader picture everything. Make your world come alive. If your character is fleeing from some flesh eating zombie, you must imagine the terrified thoughts racing through his or her mind – the sounds, muted by terror, even the way the air smells and tastes.

Once, at a prompt from a writing forum I'm on, I wrote a flash piece where my character only had one sense. In a nutshell, there had to be a preternatural evil involved and your character could only have one sense – sound, touch, taste, or smell. They were not allowed to have sight. It was a great exercise.

Let your characters do the doubting. Their disbelief, especially in the face of overwhelming evidence, makes us accept the whole premise you’ve come up with. Letting your characters disbelieve, question, doubt, every incredible thing that happens puts readers on the side of the supernatural – just where you want them.

If you're having trouble coming up with an idea, try to pick a subject that scares you personally. The more emotional power you pack into your story, the more readers will become terrified with you. They will feel your horror as they read each terrifying word, and become scared with you.

Sometimes writing horror can be a great escape from everyday life. If you're thinking about it, here are some sites to check out that have far more comprehensive advice than I have to offer:
25 Things You Should Know About Writing Horror
Five tips from H.P. Lovecraft
17 Ways to Write a Terrifyingly Good Horror Story

And if you are thinking about giving horror a try, then all I can say is, welcome to the dark side. ;-)

Friday, April 8, 2016

G is for Grammar

Everyone knows, or should know, that to succeed as a writer, you must know, respect, and obey the rules of grammar in your writing. If editors consistently find grammatical errors in your writing, they aren’t going to buy your work. Readers will point their fingers and laugh at you.

The purpose of grammar is to produce writing that is easy for the reader to understand. But sometimes there are writing situations in which inferior grammar makes for superior writing. A sentence that is tagged by grammar checking software may actually end up being the exact statement that makes your writing more compelling.

There's no way I could list all the rules of good grammar in a single blog post, so instead I decided to focus on half a dozen of the rules you can bend, if not break:

1. Never end a sentence with a preposition.
Many people start twisting their sentences around so as not to end them with prepositions. Unfortunately, more often than not, the new wording is terribly awkward and painful to read. In the interest of clarity and readability, it’s all right to end a sentence with a preposition.

2. Never begin a sentence with a conjunction, such as “and” or “but.”
This rule even got screen time in the movie Finding Forrester, when Sean Connery and Rob Brown have an entire conversation about it. However, you don’t have to stick with it. It’s perfectly all right to start your sentences with “and” or “but.” It’s a great way to emphasize a point or give your writing a conversational tone.

3. Never split infinitives.
Go ahead and split your infinitives when doing so makes your meaning more clear or allows you to be more concise. “To go boldly where no man has gone before” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “to boldly go.”

4. Never use sentence fragments.
Nonsense! As long as most of your sentences have a subject and a predicate, feel free to use the occasional fragment for effect. No worries.

5. Avoid run on sentences.
Run on sentences can be used to convey great excitement or anxiety. It’s a wonderful rhetorical device in the right hands; however, in the wrong hands it looks like you should have paid a copy editor their well-deserved fee.

6. Never use slang or colloquialisms such as “y’all” or “ain’t.”
A bit of the vernacular can add color and flair to your story. It can also indicate class or region. The trick is in knowing when it will enhance and when it will distract.

Just remember, there’s a big difference between breaking the rules to make writing more successful and breaking the rules because you don’t know what the rules are. When a writer doesn’t know the rules of grammar, failure is almost guaranteed. But when a writer is well aware of the rules and breaks them consciously and strategically, the writing can become clearer and more compelling.

As the Dalai Lama once said, "Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively."

Thursday, April 7, 2016

F is for Flash Fiction

So, what is flash fiction anyway? To put it simply, flash fiction is just very short fiction. Any story up to 1500 words is considered flash fiction.

For sale: baby shoes. Never worn

Although this poignant little piece was rumoured to be the result of a bet Ernest Hemingway made with John Robert Colombo and Arthur C. Clarke, as they were having lunch together, that he could write a complete story in six words, it was never substantiated. Still, it remains probably the most famous example of flash fiction written to date.

The challenge of flash fiction is to tell a complete story in as few words as possible. It must begin immediately and move quickly toward the end--no long descriptions, no unessential words. It is not a prose poem, nor an extended paragraph used to set up a punch line, nor an anecdotal slice-of-life.

Flash fiction forces the writer to compact the story. Strip away those wordy descriptions and character developments. Define your character by having him do something instead of creating lengthy histories and motivations.

It can be any form, style, or genre. It can be whimsical and entertaining or literary and sublime. It can be controversial or unconventional. It can be troubling, unsettling, or unpredictable. The best stories are often about the human condition, showing it in an insightful way that isn’t always obvious.

The easiest way to write flash fiction is to just tell the story. Throw yourself into your writing and write a story, regardless of the length. Then grab a red pen and have at it. Get rid of every adjective and adverb you can find. Trust me, you’ll be surprised by how much emotion and description can be conveyed without using descriptive words.

Ask yourself these questions:
Is there a clear beginning, a strong middle, a definitive ending?
Is the character compelling?
Does the story make its point and drive it home?
Is every word absolutely essential to the story, the language precise and clear?
Does the story have action, not activity?
Does every sentence move the story forward?
Is the ending understandable, whether it’s unexpected or inevitable?

Keep in mind that good flash fiction, like all good writing, should have some point to it, a reason for being. The best flash fiction lingers in the mind long after the story has been read--the way of all great literary works of art.

Here are a few places to submit your flash fiction:
Flash Fiction Online
The Pedestal Magazine
Abyss and Apex
The Vestal Review
Every Day Fiction

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

E is for Endings

This was a hard decision. As an editor, my first thought for the letter E was something editing related, and I have an editing checklist I could have used but it's rather long. Then I thought about something a lot of people have trouble with, the ellipsis, but again, that was a rather long post.

So then I thought of something I'm not seeing a lot of these days - a good ending to a story/novel. I don't know about you, but I'm seeing a rash of serials this days. Now when the author is up front and lets you know the story/book ends on a cliff hanger and you have to buy the next one in the series for the story to continue, that's fine. But when I read a book that ends abruptly and without warning - well, that gets my dander up.

Before I segue into rant mode over cliffhangers, let's talk a bit about proper endings.

Can't say I've ever been too fond of beginnings, myself. Messy little things. Give me a good ending anytime. You know where you are with an ending.
~ Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 9: The Kindly Ones

While it’s true that a strong opening can pull a reader into the story, a strong ending is just as important. A good ending is the reader’s reward for sticking with the story. It not only leaves the reader satisfied, but it will also send them in search of more stories by the same author.

The beginning is all about providing the main character with an overall goal and making him decide to act on it. The middle shows him taking action, or a whole series of actions. The ending deals with the consequences of these actions.

You cannot promise apples in the beginning of your story and deliver oranges at the end. A satisfying conclusion to a novel happens when the ending is fitting, when the characters get what they deserve, and when the questions asked at the start of the novel are answered.

How do you create an ending that delivers?
~ make sure the ending is logical
~ the hero should find a way to solve his own problem
~ resolve any subplot
~ tie up all loose ends
~ leave the reader with a strong sentence, thought or emotion

There are, of course, degrees of being fitting or definitive. The hero should win, but that doesn’t mean his experience won’t leave him without scars. And although the ending should be clear, that isn’t to say you have to spell out everything for your readers. Sometimes leaving something to their imaginations or curiosity isn’t a bad thing.

Everything has to come to an end, sometime.
~ L. Frank Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

D is for Dialogue

Dialogue is not just quotation. It is grimaces, pauses, adjustments of blouse buttons, doodles on a napkin, and crossings of legs.
~Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction, 1991

As writers, we don't want to write the way people really talk. Real speech is full of ums and ers, backtracking and repetition, and telling people things they already know. Trust me, I know this, having spent the last year transcribing audio interviews into text format. But on the other hand, unless your character is a British school boy, he's not going to speak with perfect English either.

What you want to do is give the impression of how people really talk. This is the one time you can get away with sentence fragments and comma splices, idiomatic and clich├ęd phrases, as well as intentional misspellings that indicate region, ethnicity, or class.

Keep in mind the age of your character when they're talking. A six-year-old will sound much different from a sixteen-year-old, who will sound quite different from a sixty-year-old. And a mid-west farmer is not going to talk the same way as Wall Street investment broker.

Avoid drowning your dialogue in character tags - phrases such as exclaimed, murmured, shouted, whimpered, asserted, inquired, demanded, queried, thundered, whispered, and muttered. In most cases, the word "said" works just fine, and using colourful tags detracts from the dialogue. I once read a novel that had no character tags whatsoever in it, and I never missed them.

If you're a romance writer, one dialogue tag to avoid, "He ejaculated." At the very least, don't use it during a sex scene – unless you want a laugh. And don’t let your hero say something ‘cockily’ either. Laughter is the surest way to ruin the ambiance of a passionate love scene.

Watch the adverbs in your dialogue tags as well. If a character’s words are already angry, you don’t need to insert the word angrily after she said. It's far better to show the character's mood with his or her actions.

Instead of:
"This is unacceptable," she said angrily.
She slammed the book down. "This is unacceptable!"

I once wrote a short story that was almost entirely dialogue. The two characters were talking on the phone the entire time with a non-speaking paragraph at the beginning and another one at the end. To be perfectly honest, while it was an interesting concept, the story fell flat because all the characters did was talk.

Don’t have your characters just standing, or sitting, across from one another rambling on and on. Have them emphasize what they’re saying with their hands. Have them move around – sit down, stand up, pace. Be aware of their facial expression, especially the eyes. Have your character pick up a book, crumple a paper, put their fist through a wall. The items in a room can be fiddled with, gestured with, tapped – they put a static character in motion. Characters should never sit still unless the stillness important to the plot.

Dialogue should always have a purpose. Most often that purpose is to relay important information, but it can also increase suspense, clarify what a character wants, strengthen (or weaken) their resolve, or even change their situation for better or worse.

Above all, dialogue should move the story forward.

Monday, April 4, 2016

C is for ... Computers

Seeing as my theme for the month is writing related, I suppose I could have chosen something like Commas, or Characters, or Colons and Semi-colons for today's post, but instead I chose to talk about something near and dear to my (and so many other writers) heart. Namely, my computer.

Do you remember your first computer? I remember mine. It had a monochrome monitor (amber on black, unlike the more common green on black), two floppy drives (and we're talking the 5 1/4 inch floppies here), 250K of RAM and a 40 meg hard drive. That's right people, 40 megabytes.

You notice the lack of a mouse. There were no mice for computers back then. Nor were there any windows. You typed commands in using something called DOS - Disk Operating System. It was kind of fun actually, like a secret language. You'd turn on your computer and you'd get a DOS prompt: C:\ blinking at you. Say you wanted a list of files that were on your computer. You'd type in: C:\>dir and a list of all the files on your computer would appear. Then you'd just select the file you wanted to work on and away you'd go.

It sounds like a lot of work, but prior to this I'd hand write my stories and then type them up on a typewriter like this:

Okay, so maybe my typewriter was electric and had one of those little buttons you could hit that would backspace over a mistake and leave a smudge of while correction tape in its place, but I do actually have one of those old Underwood typewriters, although mine is a bit dustier. And I may even have a page or two in my files somewhere that was typed on that typewriter, but I digress.

It did take me a couple of years to be comfortable enough with the computer that I would actually compose on it. It was just too easy somehow - if you made a mistake you just had to backspace over it. Or highlight it and click delete. With a typewriter, even a self-correcting one, you still could fix only so many errors before you'd have to re-type the whole page.

I did not learn to type in high school, thank God. No f f f f j j j j for me, thanyouverymuch. I learned to touch type in business college. There were no letters on the typewriter, just blank keys. We sat in a dark room and watched a lighted screen on the wall at the front of the classroom. I learned to type in two weeks and to this day I can still type in the dark. My typing speed on an electric typewriter was about 40 words a minute. On that first computer? I pretty much doubled it.

I had no connection to the internet. I'm not even sure there was an internet back then. ;-) Okay, I may be exaggerating just a tad, but the internet was definitely beyond my means at that time. It would be several years and at least two computer upgrades before I was on-line, and in those days it was via dial-up access, which meant that when you were online you were tying up the phone line.

My printer, at that time, was a dot matrix printer. Anyone out there remember them? You fed fanfold paper into them and they'd spit out pages of text that had to be separated along their perforated edges, and the text was made up of little dots which publishers found incredibly annoying.

Today my printer is a wireless Cannon Pixmar and I use a Samsung notebook with 6 GB of RAM, something like 600 GB of space on the hard drive, and wireless access to the internet. My typing speed is faster than ever and I have no problem whatsoever composing on my laptop.

I've come a long way baby! :-)

Saturday, April 2, 2016

B is for Backstory

The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting.
—Stephen King

Once upon a time, I spent copious amounts of time creating back stories for the characters in the novel I was working on. I suspect this was more a form of procrastination seeing as the novel never really got past the first six chapters. Every time I created a new character I'd have to stop and do a character sketch with a detailed back story.

When I finally realized I was spending more time creating back stories than creating the actual story, I stopped. And then I kind of abandoned the book because pretty much all I had was back story, most of which wasn't pertinent to the plot.

It's a fine line between too much and too little when it comes to back story. While you, as the author, need to know everything there is to know about your characters, how much does your reader really need to know? Too much and they'll be bored; too little and they'll be confused.

I did, many years later, revisit that early novel and the back stories came in very handy. They let me get inside my characters' heads so I knew how they'd react in a given situation and made them seem more alive.

Back story can be used to strengthen the reader's bond with your character. It can increase suspense if your reader knows about a trauma your character has suffered in the past that can affect what's happening now. Sometimes back story is needed simply to explain why the character feels so strongly about what they're doing.

In my novel, I used a prologue to share a few important details from all those back stories and more were shown through the thoughts and actions of my characters. The rest appeared through reminiscence and flashback but in total it was only the tip of the iceberg as far as my pages of back story went.

By all means create as much back story as you wish, just be careful how much you actually share with your reader. They neither need nor want to know everything about your characters. Share your facts sparingly, and spread them out. No one likes an info dump, but everyone loves a mystery.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A is For Adventure

So here's the thing. Despite the fact that I've released my fifth book this year (you can check the tab at the top of the page to see the whole collection) I've been in kind of a dry spell with my writing this year. It's not writer's block, per se, I always feel like writer's block is where you can't come up with ideas and I've got ideas galore, it's more like I just got out of the writing habit over the holidays at the end of the year and never got back into it.

Then the other day I was noodling around on the computer, looking at some old bookmarks, and I saw the one for the Blogging From A to Z Challenge. And I thought to myself, why not? Maybe this is just what I need to get off my lazy butt, metaphorically speaking. If nothing else, it'll be a great adventure.

Now most of the people visiting here this month will already be familiar with the challenge but for those who aren't, let me explain. The idea is to write a blog post every day except Sundays during the month of April, which will result in 26 blog posts. And since there are 26 letters in the alphabet, part of the fun is to use a letter of the alphabet, in sequential order, as the theme for each day. Hence the title of this post.

You'll notice the little badge at the top of my widgets on the right hand column. If you click on it, it'll take you to the main page of the challenge where you'll find listings for all the participants. Trust me, you're not going to be able to visit them all in one day. At the writing of this post there were almost 2,000 names on the list. But it might be fun trying. :-D

One of the fun things is that most people find a central theme to their posts: mythological animals, poetry forms, photographs ... one year one of the participants wrote a novel with each letter of the alphabet representing the theme for each chapter. The possibilities are endless.

And the best part is, there's still time to sign up! All you need is a blog and an idea. And then maybe you can have a little adventure of your own.