Category Archives: Craft of Writing

The Dragon’s Kiss

In case some of you were wondering what I’m working on. It’s a fantasy novel tenatively entitled “The Dragon’s Kiss.”

I have had the idea for this work running through my head since I was 16 years old. Names, places and the plot have changed over such a vast period of time; however, the constant has been the nagging to get the story “out.”  Over these long years, I have learned to hate the question, “What’s it about?”  As this book will be part of a planned trilogy and there are several plots and setups, here’s what I can say with concrete certainty.

In a time of war live the daughters of the Dragon Lord, Ruler of Strakath. Oathbound to protect her land and Soulbound to the dragon she rides, the youngest must make a choice – to save her sisters and those they love or the heir of their sworn enemy, the king of Osenfal, in an attempt to gain peace for all.

This piece of “art” is a hybrid of sorts. Combining contemporary fantasy with high fantasy is my challenge and it’s taking a while to actually make sure all of the plot points aren’t left to die in some great writer’s wilderness somewhere.

I’ve pretty much decided Word is the program I do my best work in; however, Scrivener can be rather helpful as well.  My problem with Scrivener is that it is overly cumbersome and I haven’t found a program that I like to help with the outlining, character charts and whatnot. I used to use index cards which were not at all helpful to me.  I also keep a notebook where I jot down the who is who and what is what. I found that may actually be more helpful than software because I can take it with me wherever I go and note things as they come to mind.

Now as it’s NaNoWriMo, I must leave you be and carry on with the real task at hand.  If you are interested in reading excerpts, let me know and I’ll share with you The Dragon’s Kiss.

Let the Games Begin!

” There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. ”  – E. Hemingway –

Photograph: Sarah Reid
Photograph: Sarah Reid

As Mother Nature puts all her babies to rest and the world sees the greens turn to brown and the skies turn gray, writers must learn to pull upon inner resources for creativity and dedication. Today is the beginning of an important period of time – NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo.

For the uninformed, those are acronyms not gibberish. They are National Novel Writing Month and National Blog Post Month. Both are month-long challenges for writers and pretty daunting ones at that.

NaNoWriMo is the mother of them all. 30 Days. 50 thousand words. This averages out to around 1,666 words a day. Putting this into perspective, an average blog post for most people is 400-500 words. Basically triple or quadruple that and make it part of a continuous story – the bones of writing an entire novel in a month.

The novel won’t be pretty. There’s not much time for editing or refinement during November. However it is about getting the novel out of you – projectile vomiting it on the page. The cleanup comes later.

NaBloPoMo is a lesser “evil.” 30 blogs in 30 days. This contest actually makes you dedicate time to writing for a month. It’s far more lenient in its rules and regulations and is a great start for people who want to get into the habit of writing – sitting down at the keyboard (typewriter) and bleeding, but for shorter periods of time.

For the past couple of weeks, I have debated entering one or both contests. Honestly, NaBloPoMo is a pretty easy decision. It’s an automatic “game on.” But the novel… it’s had me up at night thinking about it.

I’m more than a few pages into the piece I have been working on for a while. Do I dare challenge myself to get the 50 thousand words in that would bring that novel closer to completion… in a month? I’ll be honest. The prospect rather terrifies me.  I’m the queen of procrastination and it’s so much easier to not run that guantlet. Can I balance home, a job search (potentially starting a new one) and writing for 30 days? A lot of people can. Can I really do it?

The answer is yes. Yes I can. I can do anything I set my mind to. I just have to do it.

So welcome to November… a month for writers and authors. As I go through this month, I’m sure you will be hearing about what’s happening, but more importantly the amount of Band-Aids needed as my fingers bleed from the constant pounding of the craft.  Let the games begin!

http://www.nanowrimo.org/ 

http://www.blogher.com/blogher-topics/blogging-social-media/nablopomo

Metamorphosis.

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
Robert Frost 

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For the past couple of months, I have taken a sabattical of sorts and pulled away from the normal hum-drum, work-a-day life. It has done me a world of good mentally and physically, but financially, it’s taken a bit of a bite out of the bank-book.

However, I think I can say I think I finally feel more alive than I have felt in a long time.  I see things with a clarity I hadn’t seen in a while and I appreciate people and places again. While that may sound strange, I had “turned off” many relationships and just didn’t want to communicate. This may be the best blessing of all. I am once again breaking out of the protective shell I had built up around me. 

When I write, I have to write from an emotional place or the scenes ring false and mechanical. Robert Frost hit the nail on the head. You have to bleed onto the page and let your emotions out. I held them too tight and let them fester and boil inside, but letting them out – well, I wasn’t going to do that. That would have been having to admit I actually HAD emotions. Fear, angst, loathing, hurt, love, joy, happiness… all of them I had kept bottled up for a while and I couldn’t express any of them. You know something? That’s not a way to live.

I thought I did it to protect myself. I thought if I insulated myself enough, I couldn’t be hurt by all of the changes brought about this year – that I wouldn’t be affected by “life” and it’s ebb and flow. I was wrong.

As a result, for the past few months, I couldn’t write. Physically, it was just painful. I couldn’t bring myself to actually look at the screen and put my fingers on the keys. Why? Because I write with emotion and I just knew that if I did, all of the bottled up feelings would unleash in a torrent and I wouldn’t be able to put a cap on it. I was “afraid.” Isn’t it bizarre to admit fear? Bizarre, but oh so true. 

Over the past week, I have read about nine different books and some of them were REALLY good.  The writing was tight, the characters were outstanding, the plots were well scripted. Slowly, the bottle on my emotions shook and as I closed the last book, the cork popped and everything I thought was contained released in a small explosion. 

This time away from everyone and everything has done me a world of good. I see things differently now. Today, I am a writer once again. 

The Old Man and Me

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Photo Credit: Chaval Brasil via Compfight cc

I saw this picture earlier today and remembered my dad, the old man.  Pop’s spirit never waivered. Age never diminished his sense of humor nor did it take away his mind as it does many old men and women. As his youth faded, his back stooped and his steps became slower, shorter. Weight fell off of him in a way my fluffy frame could only envy. His eyes faded from blue to gray and time bleached his hair so that as he took his last breaths, it was as white as freshly fallen snow.

My father was born in 1918. I used to tell him he was born when dinosaurs roamed Earth and mentioned more than once I believed he must have had a pet stegosaurus named Clive.  Occasionally I’d regale him with tales of “Clive’s Amazing Adventures” which included WWI and WWII, a trip with Amelia Earhart, Clive’s Moonwalk, standing outside the Dakota with John Lennon and listening to Lou Gehrig say “goodbye” to name a few.

Pops was a story-teller and while some of these tales were outlandish, I think he enjoyed them and came right back with his tales steeped in historical truth.  He lived the events and his emotion brought those memories to life.

There’s a couple of reasons I wanted to speak about this today.

First, I got to thinking about all of the “old” characters in the movies, on television and in books. Frankly, there aren’t that many. I find they are few and far between. There is something that can be said about having an elderly character in a story – no matter what medium that character is in.  I would like to see more “old” characters in books, movies and on television and ones that are not the butt of the joke (which I’m truly afraid would happen on TV.)

Second is the “why” I would like to see them.  There are two reasons. One is because older characters bring a “wisdom” that generally does come with age. They have truly been there / done that and especially in books, sage advice is always a good thing. The other reason is for electronic media I think there is a lack of “aging actors.” Rene Russo said something along the lines when shooting Thor that when she came back to acting she was used to being the leading lady kissing all the gorgeous guys (Mel Gibson) and now she was playing Thor’s mother. What was wrong with that? Ageism exists in Hollywood and I would personally like to see the industry embrace older actors instead of shipping them out to pasture or limiting roles and scripts to what I consider are mundane or demeaning positions. There are exceptions, but seriously I must ask – how many actors over 65 (or 45 or 55) do you see on TV or in the movies?

My challenge to you today is when writing your piece, consider adding someone who is more advanced in years. You just might find they add something to your story that’s missing… color, wisdom and maybe my dad’s dinosaur, Clive, too.

What I Learned About Writing from America’s Next Top Model

“I’ve always seen modeling as a stepping stone.”

~Tyra Banks~

Photo Credit: Coralie Bilasimo (slowly catching up) via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Coralie Bilasimo (slowly catching up) via Compfight cc

Lately I’ve been binging on Hulu episodes of America’s Next Top Model. For some this may sound a bit bizarre. However, there is method behind the madness. I’ve been studying women and their personalities, interactions, expressions and movement for my characters. Not so bizarre now, eh?

So here’s some of what I’ve learned.

1) Even the most beautiful woman has flaws. In fact, her flaws are what give her depth and help the reader (viewer) connect to her. Without imperfections, the female character is flat and lifeless and has no opportunity to learn, change and grow.  Who wants that?  ANTMs need to learn how to do the job. They aren’t good at what they do. This means my characters don’t need to be “Miss Perfect.”  In making mistakes, an inner character is built.

2) There can be only one.  The show generally starts out with thirteen girls and through the process of competition and elimination there is a final winner. At some point it becomes pretty clear who the front-runners are and who the finalists/winner will be. If you have a female lead character, you must do the same thing. Other characters shouldn’t over-shadow your protagonist / antagonist. If they do, you need to beef up her/their presence.

3) ANTM points out with the model’s pictures there is a fine line between couture / sexy and “hootchie/ghetto.”  Sex may sell, but unless you are writing erotica, your female main character shouldn’t always be in situations that have to deal with sex. Other characters shouldn’t always be talking about her body, the way her clothes fit her body or the way she uses her body.

4) A woman has more emotional range than a gnat. They aren’t “always” crying, bitchy or what have you. I love Tyra Bank’s expression “smize” – smiling with the eyes. I love this photo because it shows this “emotion” beautifully. Your character can do this many different ways. What does your characters’ eyes say about them?  Can you portray body language on the page to “show don’t tell?” It’s a valuable tool.

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Photo Credit: kinojam via Compfight cc

5)  Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus. Women handle relationships MUCH differently than men. We catch nuances in conversation and read into situations that most men wouldn’t catch if it were handed to them on a silver platter. If you aren’t a “people watcher,” go to a restaurant and eavesdrop on a group of women having lunch / dinner. Watch the body language and facial expression while listening to how they speak with and to each other. Then, do the same thing with a group of men. Night and day.  Mars and Venus.

I’m sure there is more valuable information that may be gleaned from America’s Next Top Model. After all I’ve only watched the first 10 seasons. I believe there are at least 10 more to go.

Interviews & Dialogue

I’ve done my fair share of job hunting during my lifetime (and currently at it again.)  I’ve also done my fair share of being a hiring manager and writer. Today I thought I would share four things I have learned about what not to say during interviews that also apply to authors as well.

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1) “You know” or “Ya know.”   This one may be pretty obvious and it tops the list for me. No. I don’t know. That’s why I asked. These are generally filler words and don’t articulate anything in a meaningful way to a hiring manager or a character in a story.

The fix: Simplify. Visualize what you are going to say before you say it and try to cut out unnecessary words that do not best illustrate your point.  As a writer I find word economy is paramount and these are words that are completely unnecessary unless writing a character who speaks like that all the time. Those are rare indeed.

2). Curses. Oh my. Even on the best day with the most laid back HR representative, this is a bad idea.  Here’s the skinny. You don’t ever, ever have to curse in a job interview to get your point across. EVER. If you really think that you need to accentuate and punctuate a point with an expletive, then be creative and utilize those mad skills that would make Walt Disney proud. Yes, G-Rated options are best. There’s no need to drop an F-Bomb in an interview.  If it’s dialogue in a book or other printed piece, my advice is to use curse words sparingly – otherwise the punch is lost in translation.

A prime example of this is in a wonderful book called, “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. The classic line, “Eat my shit” wouldn’t have had such impact if Minny or other characters had dropped curse words throughout the book and its subsequent movie.

If your normal vocabulary resembles a pirate’s, take some time BEFORE an interview to practice your responses to questions and figure out how to answer them without dropping one of Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” or other slang that would make a hiring manager cringe.

3) Acronyms. There are a lot of acronyms out there people just may not understand. Don’t just assume people understand industry jargon actually spell it out as it were.

For writers, you may use the acronyms after you have spelled out what it stands for once or twice so the reader understands exactly what it is the abbreviation stands for. However, try to keep the number of acronyms down to a minimum, unless you are a technical writer working on a specific piece.

4) Stereotypes. An interview setting is no place to refer to people of other genders, sexual orientations, nationalities, ethnicities, races, handicaps, religions, or any other diversity by using any slang, negative terms, slurs, or other denigrating language. Ever.

For writers, the piece you are creating and the character must directly relate to the nature of the stereotype, lest you alienate your audience. You must use caution writing stereotypes.

5) Jokes.A good friend pointed out, all jokes aside, there is a time and place for humor. Someone just may not “get” you. Beyond that, the “joke” may actually border on sarcastic, racist, inappropriate on another level or just plain crass. Avoid it if you can and certainly don’t lead your opening line with,” A lady walks into a bar…”

There are many inappropriate responses that may be given during a job interview. However, with a little forethought and practice, you can avoid some of the most common mistakes that will leave a bad taste in the hiring manager’s mouth and you without a job.

A Simple Verse

 
“Oh captain, my captain…”  ~Robin Williams~
 
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It’s been a few days since the startling news Robin Williams, actor and comedic genius, took his own life. I debated writing about this as so many other people have shared their thoughts and feelings on this subject and my thoughts align with many. However, I wanted to focus on something about Robin that left an everlasting impression – “Dead Poets Society.”
 
 
Robin Williams made many movies throughout his career. From “Good Morning Vietnam” to “Good Will Hunting” to “Mrs. Doubtfire” and others, but DPS was bar none the one to make me think, to stretch my limits and to make me seize the day.
 
 
There are many lines in the movie that speak to me, but this scene is brilliant beyond description. It is absolutely, positively brilliant.
 
 
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
 
 
I know what Robin’s verse was for me and now I find myself wondering how I shall answer that question. I pray it’s with a shout and echoes across generations, but if it falls with a subtle whisper, I just pray it’s heard.

Pick a View – Any View

There is no absolute point of view from which real and ideal can be finally separated and labelled.  

~T. S. Eliot~

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I had a conversation with a friend of mine who is “stuck” with where she’s at on her novel.  She read me what she’s written and it occurred to me the voice may be horribly wrong. Yes, I used a little more tact when I told her that and she took my criticism with aplomb.

When you are settling in to write, what you first put down on the page may be glaringly obvious whose voice the story is in – needs to be in. But then, there are the other times when the voice may change, the story doesn’t work as well the way you have it or the impact you want changes. That’s the time it helps to revisit the point of view. This isn’t a piece I’m currently working on; however, I wanted to show an example of first person POV versus 3rd person.

I started writing this in 3rd person omniscient and thought it was “okay.”  Keep in mind, these are just the scenes from a draft…

            At 6:33 in the morning, the table was set for three with her great-grandmother’s Haviland China and a pair of the Waterford toasting flutes she received for a wedding present ten years earlier. In the third spot, she tenderly positioned a silver child’s cup and flatware for the child she finally carried. The test showed positive last night.

Meredith was ecstatic and she took the stairs two at a time as she went to wake her husband. Her plan was to wake him with kisses and then give him the good news as soon as he came down for breakfast and saw the third place setting in the dining room.

Her husband, Dr. Jason Brooks, was already in the shower when Meredith reached her bedroom. It was unusual for him to wake before the alarm at seven o’clock, but she reasoned that he must have an early consultation or possibly even a surgery scheduled. She picked up his Blackberry to check his calendar. Nothing appeared on the schedule.

As she was about to set the phone down, the phone chirped for an incoming text message.  She read it, put the device back down where she found it and then slipped unnoticed from the room. He had an early morning consultation that wasn’t on the schedule and she didn’t think it had anything to do with plastic surgery either.

She ran her fingers through her hair as she went back downstairs. Meredith silently removed the Haviland and the Waterford and the silver cup she bought for the occasion. She wished she’d never given the maid the day off.

It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t really do anything for me.  I thought it needed a little bit more zip so kicking back at the keyboard, I changed the point of view and as a result, the voice… and with it the tone changed in a way I believe is more powerful.

At 6:33 in the morning, I set the table for three with my great-grandmother’s Haviland China and the pair of the Waterford toasting flutes from our wedding ten years prior.  In the third spot, I had positioned a silver child’s cup and flatware. The test showed positive last night.

Unable to contain my excitement, I took the stairs two at a time as I went to wake Jason.  My plan was to smother him with kisses and then give him the good news as soon as he came down for breakfast and saw the third place setting in the dining room.

He was already in the shower when I reached the master bedroom.  Unusual.  He never gets up before the alarm at seven o’clock.  He must have an early consultation or possibly even a surgery scheduled, I thought. So I did what any wife would do, I picked up his Blackberry to check his calendar. No. Nothing on the schedule. This wasn’t so unusual as Jason could be quite forgetful, but his office secretary wasn’t.

I was about to set the phone down as it chirped for an incoming text message. I read it, put the device back down on the bureau with shaking hands and then slipped unnoticed from the room. He did indeed have an early morning consultation that wasn’t on the schedule.

I trodded slowly downstairs then silently removed the Haviland, the Waterford and the silver cup I bought for the occasion. As I threw them in the trash,  I suddenly wished I hadn’t given the maid the day off.

 

This is only an example of how voice changes a piece. If you are “stuck” on what you are writing, try using a different point of view. Make the trek from first to third or third to first person. It might create a new door where there was once only a wall.

What Inspires You?

“I was never really insane except upon occasions when my heart was touched.”
~Edgar Allen Poe~

ImageWhat inspires you?

Such an innocent looking question, isn’t it?

Does inspiration come from something our soul touches? Does it come from a place of understanding and acceptance or maybe the search thereof? Is inspiration born of emotion or found in the depths of apathy? Is it divine intervention? The reason we are inspired to do the things we do, to write the things we write or to be who we are is unique to each of us. What illuminates my universe and prods me forward may give you hesitation.

I was reading a news article this morning about a woman in Chicago who was charged $787.33 for two-mile cab ride. I love stories like this for a couple of reasons.

  1. Stories like this I tuck away in case I need a character whether it be a cab driver, a college student or even a worker at a credit card company. The truth in a story like this gives better depth to a character, even if a minor one.
  2. The comments in the story from others who were overcharged were sometimes ridiculously funny. Some offered helpful hints as to how to avoid overpaying for cabbie services. Others made me cringe. All spoke of the universality of human nature.

I’ve taken my fair share of taxi’s, though not in Chicago. Almost all of them have been in New York City. Only once have I gotten into it with the driver, who claimed the credit card machine didn’t work. As I didn’t want to be late for my flight home, I just shelled out cash and got on with it. Yes. I’m an idiot. But we learn from our mistakes, eh? Will I use that experience at some point in my writing? Probably so.

You see, the piece I’m working on has much of it taking place in the Big Apple and it would be easy enough to wind in a scene with a NY cabbie and a main character. If done right, it would provide quite a comedic moment as I wasn’t familiar at the time with how hacks operate and this individual would be just as clueless.

So back to the original question. What inspires you?

My inspiration is drawn from everything around me, but mostly things I have experienced. From the experience I ask the question “what if…?” and see where it takes me. (I’m hoping it takes me back to New York. I love that town.)

(Photo courtsey WFLD)

Give Them the Axe?

“Unbeing dead isn’t being alive.”
~E.E. Cummings~

I was chatting with my friend, TD, about one of the characters in the novel I am working on.  We were discussing the killing off of said character and at this time, I have no plans to annihilate this being. I’m quite fond of him and he’s essential to the well-being of another major individual in the book. This leads me to a couple of other conversations I would like to share with you.

My oldest daughter is trying her wings at writing. She had a character who, for all practical purposes, was a red shirt and she didn’t know what to do with her.  When it comes to characters, one of the most vital things you have to ask yourself is, “What purpose do they serve?” I asked her that to help her figure out how to “get rid of her.”

If they are just there to take up space and don’t help to push the story along, they are a red shirt. If they have have a bearing on another character, provide insight into a situation, but don’t have a major contribution to the plot/story, then they are a minor charactor. These individuals need to have some depth to them, but you don’t have to know everything about them. Your major characters are central to the story and need to be fully flushed out. You need to know them and know them well. You need to know what makes them tick, what makes their hearts go bump in the middle of the night and why they do the things they do. My daughter was trying to make her red shirt into a minor character, who didn’t really serve a purpose other than die. Seriously. By rewriting the scene and leaving this individual as a red shirt, the emotional response by the main character rang authentic. Boom! That’s how it’s done.

Another friend of mine is a fabulous writer. She has the art of paring down characters to an art form. She’s on her second novel and I sometimes howl in delight with the way she is able to craft things. After she got rid of a lot of the unessential cast. As a result, her writing is much tighter and many scenes are either 1) much funnier or 2) more poignant. Isn’t that what we all strive for?

There are many, many works where characters are killed off – whether on the page, the stage or screen. I think Shakespeare actually ENJOYED killing off his characters – it seemed as though someone always died in his plays.  Television has had it’s own share of characters who have bitten the big one, moves that have stunned audiences around the globe. (Thinking back now to who shot JR…)  These deaths can sometimes feel forced and contrived so care must be taken when eradicating a beloved character – especially a major character.

<SPOILER> One of my favorite characters who was obilterated was Professor Snape in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Love him or hate him, his demise was masterfully crafted.  Unlike a redshirt, he was a major player and without him, Harry Potter wouldn’t have achieved what he did or become who he did.  (And also using Rowling’s Potter Series… she did her own fair share of killing off of characters, but over seven books, I think she was allowed.)

Before cancelling your character’s life-check, ask yourself what purpose he/she serves – Major, minor or red shirt? Once you have that figured out, the rest should be a little easier to write.