Writing, promotion, tips, and opinion. Pour a cuppa your favorite poison and join in.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Horrible Protagonists

Can an author make a protag too objectionable?

I say, yes.

I just finished the last book of a series by one of my favorite authors.

‘Former’ favorite authors, I should say.

The protag had a choice and in the words of a character in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, she chose poorly.

This woman began a relationship by lying to a worthy man. A. Huge. Whopper. Trust was very important to her when she was on the receiving end. But being truthful to the man she intends to spend the rest of her life with was inconvenient.

The ending of this four-book series made me want to throw my Kindle across the room. I refrained at the last minute.

The protag must grow, have human frailties, and make mistakes. But the author can’t make the protag so offensive that a reader is incoherent with outrage as I was.

I want to walk in the author’s world but in this case, with this writer, I have no common ground.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Great Titles, Part II

Do you find these titles/covers intriguing enough to check them out?


Foundation's Edge-Isaac Asimov

Possession-Elana Johnson

Night Circus-Erin Morgenstern

A Night and Blacker Darkness

Matched-Ally Condie

Clockwork Angel-Cassandra Clare

The Replacement-Brenna Yovanoff

And more of my favorites:

Ghost Story-Jim Butcher

Two covers for First Lord's Fury-Jim Butcher

Storm Born-Richelle Mead(hot girl with a tattoo)

Hounded-Kevin Hearne

My 1972 copy of The Fellowship of the Rings-JRR Tolkien

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Great Title

How important is the title of a book?
When I’m looking for a new book, I cruise the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section to begin with. After that, the book cover draws my attention.

(Let me say right now to all the illustrators and design folk: I am tired of the gal facing away with tattoos running around her naked waist. Loved it the first time I saw it, but now, blech. Find something different, people)

After the cover, the title of a book grabs me. It can keep me from moving on or even worse, roll my eyes. In the latter category, something like Love’s Savage Fury actually turns my stomach.

*must pause now to recover from actually typing the words*

I look for something in my favored genre and piques my interest. Single-worded titles pull me in, black covers, and pictures.

Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick is a great example.

What title or cover snags your interest?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

*Snap*–Goes the Tension

Keeping the Reader Involved.

You can create tension from many sources. Not just action, car chases, and shoot-em-ups.

Dialogue and conflict go together. “I know I shouldn’t do this but—” MC said.

We want to know why the MC pushes on when he/she knows they shouldn’t.


Pit allies against each other. One has misplaced loyalty. The other argues against a tactic. They disagree.


Tension comes from within. Emotions. Resistance. Arguments. Difference of opinion.

Use action to create tension.

Kick it into high gear. Take narratives from the dinner table to a battle scene. Show the characters going about their daily life.  Punctuate this with a little internal angst.

Then, EXPLODE into action.

The first chapter (chapter not prologue) of Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan illustrates this concept. One moment, the MC and his father are fixing a meal. Then a heavy knock at the door announces an attack. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough after that.

Show conflict. Include tension on every page. But use a subtle touch. Let the reader experience the emotion. Don’t tell them. Let you MC convey this.

Example of ‘telling’:

“After receiving the award, Marge was unhappy.”

Example of ‘showing’:

“After receiving the award, Marge stared at the chair in front of her.”

Involve the reader in the story.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Prose That Compels

On deck this last week of 2011:
Submit your query to unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com

Just send the meat, the three paragraphs that entice agents to ask for more pages.

Reminder. December’s prize goes to the follower who 1) submits at least once and
 2) comments.

Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly goes to the one who contributes the most.

Ya got this week to get ‘em in, at least one submission and all the comments you can muster. Winner to be announced next week.

Prose That Compels. I started reading a new book. But several chapters into it, I just couldn’t go on. It was awful.

It had good reviews. The storyline was great. Very intriguing. But something made me quit and set it aside. Why?

To discover the reason, I took samples from that book and a similar passage in a novel I enjoy, A Painted House by John Grisham. Both novels are in first person. I chose sections that contained internal dialogue and backstory.

What I found was this. The MCs began the same, second-guessing the motives of secondary characters. But Mr. Grisham stopped after the first sentence.

The book I didn’t care for continued the internal angst for the entire paragraph. ‘Who did he think he was…Why did my plan fall apart…I’m leaving as soon as I can ditch him.’

The constant internal monologue bordered on whining. I tired of it quickly and my eye skipped ahead.

In the excerpt from A Painted House, the protag worries about his Pappy. But that went straight into what might happen if his grandpa then confronted the thug and a resolution.

It had tension, action and I wanted to find out how it ended.

Tension is the key. Use conflict to pull the reader into your world and keep them there. Every page of your manuscript needs tension, in dialogue or in narrative.

Remember, this week it is Queries.

Friday, December 23, 2011

It was a dark and Stormy Night...

Christmas Eve

     It was a dark and stormy night.
     The wind had been blowing most of the day and the snow had made driving nearly impossible, drifting over the roads, bringing traffic to a standstill, and stranding holiday travelers. She had shoveled the porch three times since dark and still the snow fell, blanketing everything in a dense layer of sparkling white that now reached the top step.
     Inside her house was warm and cozy, candles flickering on the mantle, and the pine scent of the tree wafting about to mingle with the smell of the wood burning in the hearth. The tree was decorated now, all the ornaments hung, the colored lights sparkling, and the star at the top a bright beacon.
     He wasn’t coming, she thought. Stranded no doubt, like everyone else.
     Her dark eyes went to the gifts she had so carefully wrapped that afternoon. She had used the special glitter tissue paper she’d been saving. She sighed.
     The champagne should be put away, and the shrimp cocktail, and the lovely salad with the pine nuts and cranberries that had taken her forever to make. The chocolate mousse was still chilling in the refrigerator but the whipped cream had probably fallen a bit by this time.
     The dog looked over at her from the matt by the door, his eyes sad. He gave a huge sigh and began to settle, reluctantly.
     Then his eyes popped open and his ears perked up.
     He jumped to his feet and barked at the glass. 
     Not a warning bark but an excited bark.
     She ran to the door and opened it, peering out into the snowy night and her heart skipped a beat.
     He was coming up the drive, covered in snow.
     She ran out to meet him, not caring how cold it was or that her boots would get wet. He opened his arms wide and she flew into them, wrapping herself around him. He held her tight, kissing her hair, her face. She walked him inside and took his heavy overcoat, laying it over the sofa, smoothing his damp hair back away from his blue eyes.
     She got the champagne out and they drank before the fire.
     “Are you hungry?’” she asked, “I’ve got…”
     “No food,” he said with a smile, “Just you.”

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rule #1

If there's one sure way to improve your writing skills it's to practice. It might not make you perfect (who is?) but it will make you pretty good. Even if you can only carve out an hour a day in which to write something - anything - you will eventually improve your craft. And if you make more time to write? You'll get better faster.

A while back I was doing just that, carving out an hour here and there between all the other things I had to do. But I wasn't getting where I wanted to go very fast so I decided to change my strategy. I quit watching a lot of tv (and yes! I miss it but it had to be done) and I quit trying to keep my house super clean and perfect. Now I write for a few hours almost every night plus 4-6 hours on the weekends (a little less in the summer and a little more in the winter). And guess what? Not only am I getting better but I'm also getting closer to my goal. Practice has made a difference.

If you want some extra practice time as well as an opportunity to discuss what you're working on, consider heading over to the Practice Room (see the picture on the sidebar). There are times to fit everyone's schedule and writers just like you who are trying to improve their craft. I usually go on Monday nights. Maybe I'll see you there :)

As for Rule #2, I'd have to say reading. What do you think? Or, care to add Rule #3?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A gift

My first memory is the day I told my first lie.

It was my third birthday and, as only the second grandchild born, I was a little bit spoiled in having all my aunts, uncles, parents and sister gathered together at my Nana’s house to celebrate.

What I wanted was a truck, a gloriously heavy yellow metal Tonka dump-trunk like my sister had, large enough for a small child to sit in. I was not allowed to sit in hers. What I got was a blonde doll who you fed water to with a bottle... and then you would sit the doll on a pink, plastic potty where... well, you get the idea.

I remember the moment unwrapping it, I remember the disgust I felt when I figured out its very limited purpose... and I remember the brilliant smile on my Nana’s face, so excited was she that I had opened her gift first.

My first memory is the day I told my first lie. Somewhere in a photo album, there is a picture of me with my Nana, my tiny face twisted by the new and unfamiliar desire to please someone other than myself. And though I hated that doll and never played with it, I can clearly remember that ugly, pink plastic potty.

I remember those Tonka trucks. My brother had one. Really like this piece.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Stupid Crown

I could tell the story about the standup doll I received or the jeans my brother got wrapped in a box labeled Lionel trains. (He got the trains wrapped in the Levi box). But the one I’ll go with is the day I wore the Stupid Crown.
My daughter was expecting a dollhouse in that last gift under the tree. But I didn’t know that. I thought she wanted a drum. Let’s just say, when she opened it, she was underwhelmed. Polite but grief-stricken that her dolls had no home. The Stupid Crown was all mine that day. Twenty years later, we still talk about it.

 I'm thankful not have worn the stupid crown.

Monday, December 19, 2011

your holiday assignment should you choose to accept it...

To celebrate the holiday season, I was hoping some of you would be willing to submit something about a gift you received or gave. It could be a Mother’s Day Gift, Father’s Day, Birthday, Christmas, Hanukkah, or any other of gift-giving holiday I may be unaware of (which would actually be interesting). It could be a gift you liked, hated, or just didn’t know what to do with. It could be a gift you gave you wish you hadn't. It could be the note you wrote to Aunt Betty for the sweater you’d be mortified to wear. You can even make something up :) Whatever. Just make it something about a gift. Say, somewhere between one and five paragraphs.

Email your submissions to: unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com with gift as the subject.

C’mon! It’ll be fun!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Scene Setting #2

Here is another scene setting section.

The hero is about to divulge precious information as they go to a place of safety.

When they entered, Hasan’s uncle waved on the lights. Geri noted his compact office space, complete with a tidy desk and 72” compucenter screen on the wall. But past that, the room opened up to reveal an elaborate laboratory.
Hasan’s face lit up at the magnitude of his uncle’s facilities. “You have added so much, Uncle,” he said as he took in the surroundings like a special guest at Willy Wonka’s candy factory. In addition to the expected laboratory work stations with test tubes, beakers, and microscopes, wall screens hung around the room, displaying x-rays and collected data in tables, graphs and charts. Ominous looking machines lined the back wall. But the items that drew the most attention were the mounted extremities. Clear plastic-encased robotic hands, limbs and feet covered in flesh and pumping blood.

After they look around, they get down to business. So what do you think? Too much? Too little?

And I have room for one more submission - long or short. I know there is a lot going on so I appreciate your work =) Thanks!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Break in the Scene

Today, we take a break from the scene. We are honored to present to you, an interview with S. R. Johannes, author of UNTRACEABLE. Huntress reviewed her latest publication, a YA adventure, here. But more than an author, Ms. Johannes is also fluent in marketing. We asked her about marketing and her book.

1)    What is your marketing background?

I got an MBA at Auburn University and joined Andersen Consulting. In 2000, I quit on a whim due to tons of travel and a life event. I decided to do freelance consulting for a couple of years. But my client sought me out and eventually hired me into a bank as an executive where I did associate communications and marketing. I eventually left in 2006 went back to working for myself, partly so I could be with kids more. Also I was tired of working 70 hours a week with a baby. I started doing marketing jobs with clients like Spanx and Goody Products. I’ve been writing on the side since my daughter was born.

Geez I sound boring.

2)    Can you give us Fast Five Marketing tips?

Marketing is really just the art of getting known, liked and trusted, in the hopes of inspiring action. There’s a few ways to do this:
·         Network – which means build long lasting and trust worthy relationships not spamming.
·         Start building a platform now – before you get published – so people start to learn about who you are and what you do.
·         Branding - Identify what kind of writer you want to be and how you want to be seen by others
·         Do a PROFESSIONAL web site! Yes you have to in this day and age.
·         Get a professional-looking business card made – it’s worth the money. Now you can get them done online for a great price.

3)    How do you feel about Social Media and Marketing?

I think marketing, social media, social networking, branding, publicity are killer words. They are all terms that freak writers out and keep them from moving forward. Or that paralyze them into thinking they can’t do any of it themselves.

In a nutshell, marketing and social media is really just about creating a brand, a great product, and building relationships – whether online or not. I think we need to stop thinking of it as marketing or social networking. Just get out there with a professional presence, build relationships, help people, and put out good books.

4)    Where do you see publishers and agents in the next 5-10 years?

Gosh I have no idea. I think the lines are blurring, which to me means they will all be involved in everything at some point. Some writers will be doing more marketing. Some agents will be doing more publishing. And publishers will be changing with the digital world. So you might as well start learning about all facets of the industry - selling, editing, and marketing and be ready to help where you need to in order to get your books in front of the audience.

Unless you are Stephanie Meyer or JK Rowling – writers will never be just writers – we will always have to wear many different hats. Never again, will we just sit around and write all the time.

5)    You mention there is a quality stigma for self-publishers, could you elaborate?

I think over the last 5 years, a lot of people turned to vanity presses and PODs that were of low quality. Either that or they wrote something in a week, printed it out and copied it at Kinkos with a spiral binding. Then sold it out of his or her with a homemade sticker that said $2.99. That all got lumped into self-pubbing.

So now, whenever we hear someone is self-pubbing – we assume they aren’t good enough to get pubbed and so they will only put out a crappy project. I think today we are seeing more and more credible authors on the indie scene.

Self-pubbing is a short cut to publishing process but it is NOT a shortcut to writing.

We have to remember Christopher Paolini and John Grisham were both self published. Mark Twain was self-published. There is a line between the good and not so good – as in any industry.

6)    What was your inspiration for writing UNTRACEABLE?

My hubby came home one day from camping and said, “I was so deep in the woods, crazy people could do anything and get away with it.” A year later, I went to Cherokee NC and stumbled upon the bear pits there. Those 2 ideas came together and Untraceable was born.

7) Could you give us an excerpt from UNTRACEABLE showing off Grace's wilderness experience?

Deciding to make a lean-to shelter, I cut my tarp into two pieces. Half to make a waterproof roof and the other half for bedding. After collecting large, leafy branches, I construct two Y-shaped supports and hammer them into the ground with a rock. Then I suspend a long pole along the top and lean strong branches against the beam. Next step is to weave saplings over and under the sloping branches, creating a thick lattice that will not only hide me, but keep me from being exposed to any rain or wind.

A fire is one of the most important things to have if you’re lost or stuck out in the woods. Somehow it lifts your spirits. I stack up a small nest of tinders and use a flint to catch a spark. As soon as the pile starts to smoke, I blow lightly to massage any flickers of flame. Once a fire begins to dance, I break a few sticks and stack them on top until it’s roaring with warmth.

I sit on my rain poncho and rub my hands together. There’s something about making a fire that makes you feel safe. The light cuts the darkness in half, preventing me from being swallowed. I grip the handle of my knife and keep it close.

Just in case.

Thank you, Shelli! It sounds like we writers have a lot more work ahead of us after we finish the book. We are coming into the industry at a time of big changes with bigger challenges, especially in self promotion. Thanks for the advice!

And I'm excited to read this book! Especially after hearing Grace's brave voice in that snippet!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Setting the Scene 1

Thanks for all the comments yesterday! Made me feel much better about my scanty descriptions - I've cut and camouflaged a lot in my thriller. I am not as eloquent a writer as some, so that genre is good for me! (And I think my MG fantasy won't need as much pretty details either, it takes place in a "regular" school =)

On to the submission. Here is something short and tidy!

(The MC is a passenger in a van driven by Olive. She notes the white fence along the road.)

Olive slowed the van and turned into our drive, where the composite fencing meeting (met) the crumbled stone gateposts like swanky tattooed punks beside two appalled dignitaries.  The bright white of the fence planks seemed too new for the gray limestone sentinels. Olive refused to replace the weathered limestone gateposts that had stood for over a hundred years. Respect history, she had said when I complained.

A trivial point made at a time of relative safety.

I love the "like swanky tattooed punks beside two appalled dignitaries" - gave me a clear image! The only thing I might change is a replacement for the repetition of limestone and gateposts - weathered guardians? gatekeepers?

Great scene!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Where am I?

Setting the scene is an important part of the story. Each new place where action happens should be described to the reader. But not so much that we lull the reader to sleep with our beautiful description.

I also believe that different genres require different extents of detail. Fantasy and Sci Fi usually need more for world building, special items mere humans are unfamiliar with, new technology we can only dream of. But for romance, the scenes are secondary to the emotion and character interaction - who cares where they are? And for thrillers, even less. Action is the focus.

Right now I am reading two books, well three. But I am going to give you scenes from two. See if you can tell the genre by the descriptions.

Scene 1
...as I moved down the narrow gangway, past the two rear boilers that powered the steering engines. The low thrum of the engines as they turned the propellers sounded in time to the throb of movement felt in the metal framework structure that ran the length, breadth, and height of the ship. It was a familiar sensation, one I didn't even think of now, and certainly not one I noticed until I was on land, and it was missing.

Scene 2
It was a dark, primal place, three acres of old forest untouched for ten thousand years as the gloomy castle rose around it. It smelled of moist earth and decay. No redwoods grew here. This was a wood of stubborn sentinel trees armoured in grey-green needles, of mighty oaks, of ironwoods as old as the realm itself. Here thick black trunks crowded close together while twisted branches wove a dense canopy overhead and misshapen roots wrestled beneath the soil.

Can you tell the difference?

Hints for the first are some of the words: thrum, throb, sensation. Most of the description is only in the beginning. This was one of the few sections without dialog. It is an excerpt from STEAMED by Katie MacAlister - a steampunk romance.

For the second, long winded descriptions like this have taken up the first 40 pages or so. Each chapter elegantly introduces a new character and back story. This is only part of a paragraph from A GAME OF THRONES by George R. R. Martin - epic fantasy. Yes, awesome series, awesome author and I'm sure there is an awesome story, if I can wade through the details to find it! I love fantasy, and I loved the WHEEL OF TIME series by Robert Jordan (bless his soul). I'm just having a hard time getting into this, but I haven't given up yet.

Reading beautifully described scenes like these makes me wonder - am I giving enough setting details? Does the reader feel like they are there? But mine is a thriller and my critters keep telling me my descriptions are slowing down the action. So I believe our genre sets the limits to our scene setting.

What do you think? Do you have a scene description to submit? Please share it! I'll be here all week =)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

High School Short Story Contest.

Last year I helped judge this contest and it was a wonderful experience. Unfortunately, I had to bow out this year, but I firmly believe in Brian Claspell's goals. He wants to encourage teens to write.
This is a nation wide contest. Please share the information with your local area high schools if you have contacts there or are comfortable with emailing it to them. 

2012 “Imagination begins with you…”
Annual High School Short Story Contest

Contest Description: Short story, less than 1,500 words.

First place winner receives $50 and $50 to school library
Second place winner receives $25 and $25 school library
Third place winner receives $10 and $10 school library

Deadline: emailed or post marked by March 15, 2012

Submission: email to bclaspell@gmail.com (no attachments please, just include story in the text of the email) or mail to Brian Claspell - 104 Ivy Hollow Ln - Mooresville, NC 28117. Include: Name, email address, high school and year in school, word count, and title of story.

Winners announced in May. Winning stories will be posted on Brian Claspell - Author Facebook fan page. Some entries, including winners, may be published in a collection of short stories (Note: Any proceeds from the sale of this collection will be used solely for future short story contest and educational charities).

Criteria: Short stories will be judged on creativity and imagination. Any genre (fiction/non-fiction) is acceptable.
Complete contest rules can be found on "Brian Claspell - Author" Facebook fan page.

Judge Bio’s
1) Amy Hancock is the author of “Evie’s First Magic Lesson”. You can learn more about Amy at her Amazon author’s page (Amy's Amazon Author’s Page).
2) Brian Claspell is the author of “Living by Grace” and winner of several local writing contests. He is also the author of the eBook “Terrorist ACT” available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. You can learn more about Brian on his Facebook page “Brian Claspell – Author” Fan Page
3) Lori Lohmeyer is an avid blogger (What Remains Now) and is working on her first novel. She is retired from the US Army Reserves and has three retired racing greyhounds. Join her adventure by visiting her blog.
4) Larry Beyer is a member of International Thriller Writers, Sisters/Misters in Crime and a writer’s critique group. After twenty-five years in corporate America and traveling abroad, Larry began to pursue his passion for writing in 2010. He lives in Battle Creek, MI with his wife and three children.

Alternate Judge:
1)Samantha Fahlsing is a 19-year-old full time student at Ball State University, seeking a master’s in Creative Writing and minoring in Digital Publishing and Professional writing. She hopes to someday become an Author and Book Editor. Samantha first found her passion for writing at the age of 14 and has been writing since. She is currently working on her first book. Samantha lives in Indianapolis, IN with her mom and two sisters.
2)Note: Additional alternate judges may be added.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Voice #3

“So why are we sneakin around?” Geri asked. She daintily held up her dress to keep from muddying it as they scooted back down the side of the stables. She almost swore when a bush snagged her.

“I don’t want security to get suspicious and bother us,” he whispered back to her.

Slouching in the bushes won’t make them suspicious at all, she said to herself sarcastically. (heh heh) “Why are you so interested in the stables?”

He turned around and looked at her. She fluttered her bright green eyes back at him, sparkling and mischievous. She knew how to turn on the charm, it was hopeless for him to resist. “You are going to stay with me all night, aren’t you,” he said. (For some reason I read this as a question the first time. Like he was pleading with her to stay. Then I realized it was more of a statement. Try changing 'you are' to 'you're staying'. Could just be me though. :)

“Not lettin you outta my sight,” she said with a big smile. “You are too intriguing, J.L.” (I haven't been able to find the answer on the lettin' or lettin question. I'll keep looking. Anyone else have any luck?)

“Then I’m going to have to tell you,” he said. He turned his back to her and started walking again. “I’m a private investigator,” he whispered over his shoulder.

“No!” she said, pretending to be shocked as she smirked behind his back. (I'm curious why she reacts this way.)

“Yes. I’m sorry I deceived you. I had a client who was concerned about his missing boss. One of those mysterious disappearances. He tried to find out what happened and got paranoid, thought he was being followed. At first I didn’t take him seriously. Now he’s dead.” He paused to scan the area.

“Oh my goodness!” Geri gasped and put her hand to her mouth.

“While I’ve been investigating, another ‘accident’ happened, my secretary has gone missing, and yesterday I caught some guy following me with a gun.”

She grabbed his arm to pretend she was shocked. “Did he shoot at you?” Geri felt sorry for him. Poor guy. He probably never saw so much action in all his life.

I think the voice is great in all of this, but not knowing the background, some of the dialogue and the girl's reactions seems off. He sounds serious, but she's not taking him seriously. I'm sure all of it makes sense in context with what comes before. 

Can we guess your character's age?

I have one more submission to post, but while I'm getting it ready I thought you might enjoy this post by agent assistant Gabriela Lessa on voice and how important it is to your writing. Especially when it comes to age appropriate content.

Grabriela is judging a blogfest hosted by Brenda Drake. I'm taking part in it and you can read my entry Here.

Voice #2

I thought the voice was great in this piece too, so I commented on other things as I went. Really, not a lot to complain about, this was great!

Title: Black Rose
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Inside the crowded club, the smell of humans hung heavy in the air. Behind the counter, I stood with my back to the customers waiting for service, bit my finger and held it over my coffee cup.(My only thought here is that you have two sentences in a row that start with a prepositional phrase. You may want to switch one of them.) Three round red drops of blood plopped into the dark liquid below. I licked my finger, sealing over the two puncture marks and turned around to watch the room. As I sipped the coffee, the scalding liquid hit my stomach with the force of a cyclone. The infusion of blood would make sure it stayed there. (So far I love everything.)

People swung (? maybe swayed would be better?) and gyrated on the dance floor to the hypnotic sound of salsa music. Sweaty and panting, they came and stood at the counter demanding water, beer, munchies and just a bit too much attention. Their scent permeated everything. My clothes, my hair, even the gleaming mahogany of the bar. The monster inside me threatened to uncurl, wanting to luxuriate in the smell. Inhaling deeply from my coffee, I shut my eyes, concentrating on the slightly acrid odor. You don’t feed from humans, I told myself, the ever-deriding voice inside my head stern and edged with anger. (I love all of this) The voice—sounding way to much like my master—taunted me, telling me I was a fool to think I could run a club catering to humans.

When I opened my eyes, Nikolai reclined on a bar stool across from me—a trick only he could pull off and make it look comfortable. His black hair, slicked away from his face, brushed the upright edges on the collar of his floor-length leather coat. He couldn’t look more like something out of a B-grade horror movie if he tried. Sometimes I thought he dressed like that for the reaction he got from people. He smirked at me, only reinforcing my supposition.

I loved this submission. There are so many things I want to know. The hook for me was here: "I was a fool to think I could run a club catering to humans." I love stories where the MC has to battle with their inner demons. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Voice #1

Title: Brake Fluid, Blood and Body Bags
Genre: Contemporary

So, While Triss was warming warmed up Spence and Fay, I was stuck on drunk-duty with Kate. I’d have to say, it was not wasn't (just sounds more natural) a lot of fun. The girl was ripped-out-gone, even though Fay had been shoving her full of bread, banana and bottled water. She would slowly blank out and then just kind of keel over to one side, and every time I’d catch her, I’d be rewarded with a sharp, vomit-baked laugh and a stream of gibberish. She couldn’t sit up on her own and the weight of her hot skin pressed against me was revolting, like I had disturbed a nest of insects and they were skittering up and down my arm. (I love the way you show us everything from the MCs eyes. This is great voice in these sentences too. The last two sentences are wonderful in that regard, but both are long compound complex sentences. You might want to try breaking one of them up, but maybe not.)

When she started crying a couple of times, I almost left her for the wolves right there.

And we were surrounded by them, guys, I mean. Ones bored with video games and tanked up on enough cheap beer that their morals were about as loose and clumsy as their hands. I could have left her there, but I promised Triss, so I sat guard beside Kate and let her wheeze questions and complaints into my shoulder. She asked my name eleven times and was only able to repeat it back once correctly. Most of the time she just broke out in hysterical laughter and gushed about what a nice person I was and how she had always liked me. I wish I believed her.

When Kate asked, for the twenty-third time, when we were going out for pizza, I saw Jackson speed past into the kitchen. Less than three seconds later, Triss had her hands on my shoulders.

“Okay, dump the drunk and help me get Fay upstairs.”

I looked at the eight guys sprawled over the other couches and back to Triss. “You said not to leave her.”

Triss’ eyes narrowed, just a little, as Kate sank into my chest and mumbled something about spandex, gym class, and g-strings. Triss’ tongue shot in and out, quick and purposeful. “And now I’m saying it’s time to dump her. C’mon, we have a bet to win.”

So I left Kate in a heap and didn’t look back.

Other than a few things at the beginning, there really was nothing to critique here. Your writing flows beautifully and the voice is THERE. As I mentioned above, you are also a great example of how to show the world through the MCs eyes instead of telling. Good internalization. 

Thank you for sharing!

Do the rest of you agree or disagree? Did you catch things I missed? Please chime in with a comment.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Problem with Accents

Yesterday we started talking about how to give our characters a unique voice. I didn't talk about accents at that time, so let's cover it now.

There is a fine line between giving your character voice by writing accents and dialects and completely killing your story. For instance, I remember reading a certain "classic" as a teen where I spent more time in the back of the book looking up translations of the dialogue than reading the story. I hated that book.

This is not that story, but another example I found online:
“W’en old man Rabbit say ‘scoot,’ dey scooted, en w’en ole Miss Rabbit say ‘scat,’ dey scatted. Dey did dat. En dey kep’ der cloze clean, and day ain’t had no smut on der nose nudder.” Uncle Remus – A Story About Little Rabbits
Feel free to shoot arrows at me for not liking the way Uncle Remus wrote that. I'm unapologetic. And most readers today don't have time to figure out what language you're writing in. They want to sit down and disappear into a readily accessible world.

Here's an example that I like and could read without tearing the pages out of the book:

Think Eliza Doolittle singing, "Just you wait, 'enry 'iggins! Just you wait!"

The accent is a bit more subtle. A little bit will go a long way. If you focus on the rhythm and speech patterns instead of the phonetical spellings, things will work better.

For example, we have a few phrases where I come from that may not be used elsewhere.
"I'm a fixin' to go to the store. Do you need anything?"
"I'm gonna..."
"Well, bless her heart..."
And so on. Most of the time you can suggest the accent in other ways and the reader will hear it even though you don't 'write' it. For example, “her honeyed accent melted off of her tongue, slowly, sweetly, and with the same elongated syllables that her mama used.” (from Writing Dialogue, see below.)

One quick note. Listen to your characters. Sometimes they all ready have a voice of their own and you don't need to figure out what it is. And sometimes it doesn't make sense. I'm working on this first draft and my male MC keeps saying ma cherie. I love it when he says it, but it bugs me too. You see, the whole novel has a Celtic vibe running through it, and he does use several Celtic phrases, but ma cherie is so French. *sigh* That's something I'll have to figure out and address before I call this new WIP finished.

Are you ready to share some of your Voice segments? Remember they don't have to have an accent. Just share something that sounds like your character.

Email them to unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com with Voice in the subject line.

Helpful Links:
Grammar Girl: Writing Accents and Dialects
Writing Dialogue in Accents and Dialects
Using Slang and Accents When Writing Fictional Dialogue

Monday, December 5, 2011

Finding Your Character's Voice

Happy December! Many of you survived November and Nanowrimo. Even if you only started writing (like me) and still need to finish that November novel, you deserve a treat. Sarah Belliston is hosting a 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway and Blog Hop. You should head over there and check it out. There are lots of great prizes to be had, but you can only enter now through December 12th.

Now, on to our topic for the week.

Voice. What is it that gives our characters unique voices? Here are a few things I learned at MuseCon (check it out, its a free online writer's conference) in October.

1. Are they visual, verbal, or kinetic/feeling? Their speech patterns will reflect this.

Examples: If your character wants to agree with someone they might do it this way:
"I see what you mean." (visual)
"I hear that!" (verbal)
"I'm with you." (kinetic/feeling)

2. What do they notice? If four people are standing in a room where something happens, they will give you four different accounts of the action. What does your character notice? This seemingly little thing will reveal a lot about their character.

Example (Internalization from Talia in Sendek):
Jaron's spacecraft. It was nothing like Sendek’s shuttles. Talia’s eyes roamed over its surface. Sleek and low to the ground, it looked more like a steel egg than a spaceship. There were no windows, doors, or detectable rockets or magnetic thrusters to lift it off the ground. How did it fly?
Now, I didn't think much about voice when I wrote that, but see how her mind moved straight to "there are no rockets, how does it fly?" She also builds her own satellites and appreciates efficient designs. That's also present with the sleek and low thought.

I didn't write what Landry saw, but maybe his thoughts would have been something more along these lines:
The ship was sealed tight. Impenetrable. Two thin bands circled the girth. Each band contained two knobby protuberances fore and aft. Burn marks radiated from the edges. Impenetrable, and defensible.
They are both looking at the same object, and yet they see it differently. Personally, I think I can strengthen Talia's voice, but you can see they focus on different aspects of the ships functions. A strictly scientific view, and a military view.

3. What is their career or main hobby? This will affect their word choices. A lot of time people read Sendek and point out a word or two and say, "would she say that?" My answer is always yes because she's a scientist. Just because you don't use a word on a regular basis, doesn't mean your character won't use it.

Examples of careers that would use different terms: Doctors, military, politicians, lawyers, journalists, zoologists, anthropolgists (really any of the -ists), policemen, garbage men, farmers, truck drivers, actors, professional sports players, etc... A lot of this is a difference in education and or perspective.

My above example fits with this idea as well. I could/probably should go back and add more scientific observations from Talia. 

4. Finally, what kind of attitude do they have. Are the generally happy, positive, negative, worried, scared, angry? This inner emotion will flavor the way they react to the world around them.

Sometimes this aspect of your character might change as the story progresses. For instance, in my new WIP, Ryanne starts out very cynical about love.
"Yes. And no, I do not wish to get married. I’m barely out of high school. Graduated today in fact, and I have a lot of living to do before I ruin my life.” Ry turned her nose up at him.--Chapter 1
Here she's starting the shift toward a more hopeful/wishful attitude. (And yes, after chapter 1 I switched POVs. Hey, it's a first draft, give me a break.)
I could hear his voice in my head. Ma Cherie. I ached to hear those words aloud, but what did they mean to him?--Chapter 9
And by the end, Ry has decided getting married is exactly what she wants with Carter.
"You would give up Abhaile for me?" I looked up at him while the Greater Council watched us.
"My Anam Cara, without you there is no Abhaile."
The void left at my parents leaving filled with his warmth. I reached up and touched the new fire tattoo on his forearm. "Do you remember that day in the balloon?"
"I think I've found that hope you were talking about." 
"Castles and true love?"
I smiled up at him and spoke the words of the promise, "I swear by peace and love, to stand heart to heart and hand in hand with you, Carter Frey. My Anam Cara and my Gra mo Chroi." 
I guess the big question is, does it still sound like Ry? Hopefully the progression will be gradual and realistic enough that the reader won't go, "What?"

Now I'm rambling, so let's wrap this up.

You've probably noticed that I didn't talk about accents. Let's save that for tomorrow. Right now I want you to think about one of your characters. How does their conversation(dialogue) or inner thoughts reflect their unique voice?

Start looking through your WIP and get ready to share some of your favorite voice worthy snippets. 

Email them to unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com with Voice in the subject line. It can be as short or long as you wish up to 500 words. Please include title and genre.

The above is a summary of Karina Fabian's workshop at MuseCon, but the examples are mine. With the exception of the first one. Please check out her websites if you want to learn more about her or from her.
Her blogs:
Fabian Space is her general writing blog.
Rocket Science for the Rest of Us is about the space industry.

Friday, December 2, 2011

November Winner

November winner of the chapter critique goes to:

This month we are also awarding a query critique to the second place follower:

Send your respective pages to beccoff(at)nwmo(dot)net.

In order to win December’s contest, one submission to critique is necessary. Every submission and every comment counts one point each toward winning the prize at the end of the month. For December, the giveaway is to US addresses only.

December’s prize:

Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly

This book covers the assassination that shocked our war-torn country.  Mr. O’Reilly gives a dramatic account of the tragedy told in the style of John Grisham. It compels the reader to see our sixteenth president as a man who rose to extraordinary heights even knowing of the threats to his life.

In this week’s posts, I highlighted Lincoln as one of my real life heroes. I can think of none better.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bad to the Bone

Creating the qualities of a protagonist and an antagonist are remarkably similar.

What defines your antag’s character? Does he thirst for power? Is revenge driving her actions?

Now give it a twist. What is the opposite of the attribute you’ve given him?

Assignment: Write a short paragraph that shows this quality in your antag.

Gollum looked at them. A strange expression passed over his lean hungry face. The gleam faded from his eyes and they went dim and grey, old and tired. A spasm of pain seemed to twist him and he turned away, peering back up towards the pass, shaking his head, as if engaged in some interior debate….For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old starved pitiable thing.

                    The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers  - JRR Tolkien

Gollum isn’t the worst antagonist in LOTR but he is its main persona of evil. For just a moment, he questions his motives, feels regret.

Consider how you would show this in your antag. Define what your antag wants the most. Then image the opposite of that desire. Incorporate this in your MS.

Summary. Most bad guys aren’t evil all the time – with the possible exclusion of Sauron in LOTR. Give your evilness a twist and let your antag show a little humanity.