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

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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Making of a Hero

Molding your main character's personality.

The MC must have some heroic attributes.

Yesterday I asked who your heroes were and what makes them a hero in your eyes.

Think of these qualities.
Now assign them to your MC.

As I said in yesterday’s post, my heroes are reluctant, never asking for the job. They doubt themselves and their abilities. But their conviction is there from the beginning.


In the opening scene that introduces your MC, give an attribute that shows your definition of ‘hero’. It can be in a small way but compose a short sentence. Write NOW. Do it.

Every hero starts out somewhere. But remember, the formation of their character is already in place. They had an opinion but didn’t or wouldn’t act on it.

In The Hunger Games, Katniss wants nothing more than to fade into the woodwork. But on the first page, she exhibits fierce will and strength of character. (a heroic quality)

She must survive and to do that she becomes more than a girl who creeps under the radar to avoid trouble. Katniss grows and hardens. She may not like the person she turns into but she will do anything to save her family.

Your Main Character has heroic qualities. Show them in the first scene.


Untraceable is available. Visit SR Johannes and join in her book launch tour today.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Holding Out For a Hero

What do you need in a hero?

He’s gotta be strong and he’s gotta be fast and he’s gotta be fresh from the fight

Wow. That is quite a list ya got there. Is there more?

He’s gotta be sure and it’s gotta be soon and he’s gotta be larger than life

Seriously. Where do you think you’re going to find this ‘hero’?

In every manuscript.

This week, our topic is the heroes in our lives, books, and imaginations. And let me be bold and say, you cannot write a novel without a hero. The Main Character must exhibit heroic qualities as well as human attributes to connect with your readers.

Who are your personal heroes? Mine are Lincoln and Moses. Fictional characters? Ripley in Alien, Frodo from Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, and Tavi in The Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher.

Why? What qualities make these people a hero? A hero doesn’t want to be one, resists the call so to speak. Fear and doubt in their abilities to overcome. ‘What if I fail? Why me?’ But inciting conflicts push the hero into a no-turning-back position. And they grit their teeth and persevere.

As a real life example, witness Abraham Lincoln’s growth. These are actual quotes.

Lincoln started with convictions.

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.

Stepping up is a different story. Lincoln hesitates. He doubts his ability to resolve the terrible problem.

I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery where it exists…I have no inclination to do so.

But he moves a little bit.

If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.

Lincoln fights his own demons. Strength and the will to follow the right path eat at his confidence. At the end, he believes assassination is a very real possibility. But despite his fears, he continues.

Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.

Can’t you just see his teeth clenched and a fierce gaze trained on anyone who stands against him?

Who are your heroes in life, screen, and tome?


Tuesday's post will cover heroic qualities and how to improve these attributes in your MC.

Homework is inevitable.

*Bonnie Tyler, Sony Music

Friday, November 25, 2011

and now for something completely different

first I want to thank everyone who left comments/suggestions on my excerpt. It's from my completed novel THE WAY TO DENDARA, which I am currently revising.

I was hoping someone would send me something to crit for today but perhaps everyone was too busy with the holiday or maybe you just couldn't find something that met my 'rules'. Next time I'll make it clear they're just guidelines ;)

At any rate, since we don't have a submission, I'm offering up some words of wisdom found in my latest issue of Writer's Digest Magazine. Here are 5 things that might help you from The Novelist's Survival Kit:

1. How NOT to Write your Novel:  Wait for inspiration. Oh boy. If I waited for inspiration I wouldn't get a lot done. The truth is most of it is now just habit. I don't watch tv at night except for at supper and on Sundays when The Walking Dead is on. All those other nights I'm parked at my desk from 7-10pm. Since I quit waiting for inspiration I've gotten A LOT more written - and finished.

2. From 6 Secrets to Creating and Sustaining Suspense: Let the character(s) share their plans. Some of you may be thinking that this would spoil things. But since everyone (writers and readers alike) knows a character's plans never proceed without incident, a promise is made which creates tension and suspense. Because those plans are going to go wrong. Definitely.

3. Put Your Novel on the Map: Using a story map (a visual outline) can help you see the direction of your tale and discover what you don't know about it. The nice thing about a story map is that you can start one no matter how much or how little you've written AND you can change things around at any time.

4. Namedropping: I don't know about you but names are hugely important to me and I spend a large amount of time researching the perfect names for my main characters. And I don't name my minor characters lightly either.  A few authors who shine at this are Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, and J.K. Rowling.

5. Tried and True Timeless Novel Advice: There were 23 of these in this part of the article but this one struck me: "If you have a story that seems worth telling, and you think you can tell it worthily, then the thing for you to do is tell it, regardless of whether it has to do with sex, sailors, or mounted policemen." Dashiell Hammett.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Way to Dendara

the scene: Lucy, our heroine, has just entered a twisted duplicate of Angarat, the castle she now calls home. Her half brother will be fast on her heels...

chapter fifty-two

     Ten minutes, Lucy thought. That was all she had before Vinn came to kill her. 
     She looked left and saw a long hallway stretching away, the walls papered in a dark, Victorian flower print. There were lots of doors, all closed. Straight ahead was another larger door, the one that would've led to the dungeon. It had huge panels but no knob or visible latch. To her right a wide stairway rose, similar to the one she come down only a short while ago. But where did it lead? Upstairs to a familiar second floor or...somewhere else.
     She darted up, hoping she'd made the right choice, wondering if she'd find anything like what Arne had described. Or would it be completely different? The sound of her boots echoed on the stairs as she ran. She  reached for her keys which still hung on their chain beneath her clothing, remembering what Bertrade said: One to open all the doors in Angarat  except the one to Old Angarat. Two to get inside. And Three...
     Maybe this was where the third key had a use.
     She came to the landing, intending to take the next flight up. But it wasn’t there, as if the castle didn’t rise more than two stories, regardless of what could be seen from Angarat’s courtyard. Her eyes scanned down the corridor, searching for a way, but she couldn't see to the end and there was only one way to find out. She glanced back, trying not to think of the seconds mounting into minutes, minutes that brought Vinn ever closer.      
     Her heart started thumping in her chest and down below she heard the distant but distinct sound of the door latching back into place. She froze as Vinn's voice drifted up the stairwell, echoing. 
     "I'm coming, Lucy, better run!"

ok peeps, I hope someone will send me something for Friday. How about something to do with food? Turkeys? Pilgrims? 
Enjoy your day off if you've got it :)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

sub #1

Genre: YA contemporary fantasy

Richard flopped down on a bench as soon as they reached the park.
“You know how many hobos have probably slept on that?” Cassie asked.
He rolled and fell to the grass. She laughed. A distant sound reached her ears. (This is an awkward sentence, imho) She stopped laughing and listened. Richard opened his mouth, but didn’t say anything with he caught her glare. I’m not wild about these sentences, either. I’d actually like just a single sentence here that indicates she hears a sound. Maybe like this: She stopped, cocking her head. A second later she was on her feet, walking fast, She started to walk, growing closer to the noise. She paused and then started to running toward it. “Mitch!”
She burst through some bushes. Mitch looked up, his eyes red and swollen, and hiccupped. He wrapped his arms around her neck when she knelt down.
“What are you doing out here?” She pulled him away from her chest to see his face.
“W-w-w-we,” he tried.
“Take a deep breath,” she said, rubbing his back.
He closed his eyes and inhaled through his nose. “We c-came to f-f-find rocks.”
“You and Tilo, yes,” something was starting to tumble around in her stomach.
“B-b-b-but I-I can’t f-f-find h-h-h-” He stopped and shoved his face into her shirt again.
She jerked him away rougher than she meant to. “Mitch, where is Tilo? You have to tell me where he is.”
“I d-d-don’t know,” the boy cried.
Cassie stood up and pulled Mitch with her. Richard stood on the other side of the bushes, his eyes grave. She pushed past him, dragging Mitch.
“Where are you going?”
“Home. Now.”

The rest reads smooth and I like the dialogue. What do you think?

Monday, November 21, 2011

A hunting we will go

Here in Maine it's hunting season so in keeping with a theme please submit an excerpt that involves hunting for something. It could be someone looking for something lost, a pursuit, a search, anything that involves trying to find something, be it a person, an item, a feeling. Send your excerpts to:


Keep it to a page and please put hunting in the subject line. Thanks and can't wait to see what you send :)

Friday, November 18, 2011


We have been chosen to help launch Shelli Johannes's new YA Thriller, UNTRACEABLE. It sounds like an awesome book to me and look at that cover! But I didn't get to read it yet! It comes out November 29. Lucky CD got to read an ARC and here is her review:

“I know the exact moment I went wrong.”
So begins a thumping good YA thriller by debut author SR Johannes.
Untraceable is about sixteen-year-old Grace Wells, a tomboy who loves the woods and tracking. When her father, a Wildlife Officer, disappears and the local sheriff gives up the search, Grace fights the authorities, tribal officials, and nature to find him.
Along the way, Grace learns terrible secrets that sever friendships and lives. And hers is about to change.
Ms. Johannes writes a convoluted story that leads to a surprising, and frankly moving end. It was a proverbial roller coaster ride, up and down and through many a tunnel. Humor was around every corner with tension a sidecar companion.
Once inside, I peek through the thin, cheap drapes and watch her sitting in the truck with her head hanging. She opens the door slightly then slams it shut again.

She sits there until her shoulders start to shake.

I stand frozen, watching Mom cry, not knowing what to do, but wanting so much to run out and comfort her.

Just talk. Like we did before Dad went missing.
Like we haven’t done since.

With clever writing and excellent voice, Ms. Johannes made me care about Grace. In my opinion, adults and teens will enjoy this tale, but there are depictions of violence. I suggest reading Untraceable along with a child under ten.

I highly recommend this book, Untraceable by SR Johannes.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Expressing Emotion #3

This piece tugged at my heart. I didn't have much to critique. I'd like to hear what you have to say.

Title: Finding Me
Genre: Women's Fiction
Emotion: depression, sadness

Sinking. The ache inside crushed me as I lay in our bed, staring at the ceiling. Every inch of me cried out to him, but he sat on the other side of the room at his desk.

Turning my back to him, I curled into a ball, hiding the tears that flowed freely down my cheeks. I struggled to control my breathing. In spite of it all, I didn’t want to hurt him.

The room filled with silence. Each breath followed more quickly than the first, despite my efforts to stay in control. I heard him shuffling papers behind me. How could he move on so quickly? (I wonder what he moved on from) Another twist of my heart. If only he would hold me, perhaps I could tell him the truth.

Seconds, minutes, it stretched like years, and he walked away (he's at the desk, right? did I miss something?). My heart paused and restarted, resigned to the way things were. The pain ebbed and the blessed numbness returned.

He returned and the bed dipped as he lay down behind me. His arm rested against mine. That simple touch warmed me with hope.

“I’ll try not to be so condescending. I know the house is not going to be perfect…”

I tuned him out as the pain resurged. “This isn’t about cleaning the house. Not for me.” Barely a whisper, but he heard me.

“Tell me what it’s about.” His fingers traced patterns on my bare arm. How could he not know how I longed for that very touch throughout the day?

“I don’t want to.” I shuddered thinking how close I was to being cruel to him.

“Is it because you don’t feel like I respect you?”

So close. A spark of hope sputtered to life. Maybe he could see me. My doubt was too strong. Why did he ask that? He didn’t respect me. My heart shattered under the prolonged pressure.

“It’s just that--” How could I do this to him?

“What?” His voice felt soft and warm in my ear.

He was a good man. But he used his love up on everyone else. There was nothing left for me.

“I don’t feel loved.” Another shudder shook my body. “Not by the kids--” I paused, knowing I could never say the rest. Not by you.

His fingers stilled. The silence grew so heavy I felt it pounding in my ears. What was he thinking? What would he say?

I would never know.

The kids started yelling in the other room. I sighed as he left my side (me, sighed-side too close together), closing the door behind him.

A big THANK YOU! to all those that submitted and commented. Hope everyone felt good about the critiques and we all learned something - I know I did!

And tomorrow we have the review of UNTRACEABLE by S.R. Johannes. Don't miss it!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Expressing Emotion #2

Another unassuming victim, brave customer! My purple is just suggestions, the author knows best!

Title: Wishes
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
Emotions: impertinence? and annoyance
(ooo, it’s the first page!)

His lazy strides across the mall caught my attention. Like he had time to kill and everyone else could wait. People moved out of his way like water from the prow of a ship and with as much disruption. No glares. No commotion. (2 likes in first paragraph? I like them, but not together. And after reading further, the second one doesn’t really fit)

He appeared to be about my age, early twenties, with black hair that curled just below the collar of his white shirt, height under six feet. With the body of a dancer, slender waist, and broad shoulders, his physique should have been drawing stares. But glances slid off, went around him like light bending around the source.  (flat description, is she attracted? and another simile, I’d rather know what she thinks of him. it seems like everyone is ignoring him. if she sees arrogance, she should see people diverting their eyes from his brilliance or his glances slide off them)

“Will you look at that,” I said to Olive my one-time guardian.

She turned from matching towels to scowl at me and flipped her honey-blonde hair over her shoulder. Slender, taller than me, Olive looked younger than forty-two. She had the look of a model(,) but a fluff head she was not.  She threw a hard look at me now and shot a quick glance around us. (I can definitely tell Olive is annoyed)

Olive has experience with my intricacies, a form of self-preservation for her. (??? show later?)

“What?” she said, her voice low.

I gestured. “That guy. The one walking like he thinks no one will touch him. He’s the picture of arrogance, isn’t he?” (so he is ignoring the crowds, but it sounds like they are ignoring him, walking around him like a pole in their way – I like similes, too =)

Olive’s shapely brow gathered as she focused on the area where the black-haired man paced unimpeded. He moved like a king among his subjects. (better, now that I know how the MC is perceiving him) Her focus shifted and came back to me.


I gaped at her. “Him. That man strutting across the mall.”

I pointed and her gaze followed the line I made. Her focus sharpened but an instant later came back to me.

“I don’t see what you’re dithering about.” Olive shrugged. “You have the weirdest notions.” Tension bled from her. (unnecessary, you've shown it well) She went back to sorting through towels.

Great mall scene! I would love to hear more about the MC! I can see Olive's annoyance and tension. And the MC is interested in mystery man, but don't know whether positive or negative. Arrogance is a big attractor! And I get that she is shocked that Olive doesn't see it. So lots of emotions shown in this section - good job!

What do you think? Your comments help all of us =)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Expressing Emotions #1

A big thank you for our first submission! This is a very sad, dramatic piece so get out your hankies!

Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Emotion: despair/feeling of loss (character's mother is dying in his arms)

Tears blurred my vision, warming my face as they left hot streaks down my cheeks. Some dripped on her face.  I tried to wipe them away but only managed to smear blood across her cheekbones. She struggled to smile. I fought to keep my sights (? eyes is fine, or eyes trained) upon her face.  Especially since tThere was nothing I could do.  I was losing someone I loved(,) again(.)  because, apparently, wWith all my fighting and all my wins in the cage or a ring, I was useless when it counted.
“Lu-ca…” she rasped. I didn’t know what to say. I’m sorry? I failed you, too.
“Mom -” I choked on my words.  I couldn’t believe I was doing this again, watching someone else’s life, vibrant and beautiful, taken right in front of me. (you just said that. what is he doing? Stroking her hair? Remembering what she did this morning? or just leave it – we can totally see he is overwhelmed just being unable to speak.)
“You – you need – need to know – the truth.”  She lifted her hand to my face, her olive complexion ebbing away as her blood pumped free (better wording? this doesn’t flow with the poetic beginning of the sentence). I gained just enough sense to reach over her and grab my shirt, ball it up and press it against her neck. (less words for better flow)
“Hold on, mom.  If I can stop this…just maybe…”
Then, sShe smiled. I stifled a cry. There was nothing for me to do. (I could see) she’d accepted her death. (take out of her POV)
“Your father. He’s – he’s alive. I’m sorry I li – lied but…”  At this, she sighed. 
I waited in vain for her chest to rise once more.  Her hand fell from my cheek, limp fingers splayed on the floor.  Even the blood oozing from her neck crept to a stop. 
“Wait! Mom! Don’t!” I brought her body closer to me, gripping her tightly. I drew blood biting my lip. Was this his fault, the father who was never dead and never there?  And why lie to me? But she was gone and no answers can come from the dead.  When I finally opened my mouth, I screamed.

Excellent descriptions! I could totally picture the scene. I even thought it might start raining at any moment - that's how dismal it felt! Great job!

Now if you all have anything to add, please do! And I could use another submission or two. Who's ready?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Can You Feel It?


Showing character emotion. A difficult task.
This is a common "telling" pitfall. But showing is so hard! (she whined - no, she said and stomped her foot.)

Here is a quick made up example...

          Kay felt guilty for spilling Emily's secret. But it was for her own good.

This is an improvement...

          The painful look in Emily's eyes snagged Kay like a thorn, keeping her from escaping the guilt of spilling their secret. But it was for her own good!

You could probably do better, but you see my point. I'm steadily improving at recognizing my "tell vs. show" of emotions as I edit, thanks to crits and betas. What I have learned about portraying emotion is to avoid:
  • "felt" and relying on verbs
  • adverbs - the ever outcast!
  • the narrator perspective - totally telling
Suggestions to fix:
  • describe a visual of an action to show the emotion
  • think about what you would DO in the situation then determine what the character would do
  • using dialog is always helpful, but use plain old tags (just sayin!) if any =)

Back to our example...(why am I so good at bad examples?)

          "It was for your own good," Kay chided smugly, feeling justfied.


          "It was for your own good," Kay said with a hmpf and crossed her arms.

I hope that's helpful. And please add your own thoughts on the matter!

Now think of your WIP. Do you have a scene with strong emotions that's a good example? or needs some work? We would love to see it! Please submit around 200-300 words to unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com . And if I don't hear from you, you will be stuck reading my stuff. Maybe I will pull out my MG fantasy, hmm. One last thing, I'd like to request examples of emotions other than love. Love has its own spectrum of problems to deal with that we will address in later posts.

But wait! See the cool banner above? We are helping S. R. Johannes launch her new book UNTRACEABLE. Huntress got to read it and we will be posting her review this Friday. It sounds like an awesome story! quick blurb:

Untraceable - Coming Nov 29th! A new young adult wilderness thriller with a missing father, a kickbutt heroine, and of course - two hot boys.

(emoticons source)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Suspense #5

Okay, I have three more entries. I decided to post all three and then come back and critique them in the comments. Feel free to jump in even if I haven't yet. :)

Title: Of Oak and Dragons
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Set up: Leah discovers an ancient burial mound on the land she inherited from an unknown benefactor and unearths an unusual object.

I set it on the ground, untied strips of thin, sinewy bindings and then unwound the surprisingly supple dark leather from the object. The leather caught then released suddenly and the artifact tumbled from my hands, landing soundlessly in the grass.

I could barely breathe. A rapier glimmered dully in the sunless day; the blade of deepest black, shot with a tracing of gold. The foil was an intricate design of black and gold wires, an ancient artifact of inestimable value and quality.

The gold emitted a dim glow as if covered with a dingy film but the blade seemed to be of the blackest shadow, a dark well of ebony. It appeared as if my hand could pass straight through if I touched it, as if it had depth, a three-dimensional effect. A vibration filled the air about me, a humming that seemed to get louder.

Reaching for the hilt, I grasped the handle and lifted it into the suddenly brilliant sunshine. There was a great flash, the gold rose up to meet the radiance of the sun. It glowed as if the sun was in it and behind it and there was the dull boom of hollow, basso thunder.

The thrumming, deep-earth hum filled my body, chattering my teeth and confusing my mind into blank inaction. The glitter of brilliant golden light covered me, filled and encapsulated me like a halo of pure energy.

And then I fainted.


Far away, in another continent, a sudden, fierce blow struck the Dragon in his chest, and his legs buckled and he fell to his knees. A fading deep roar of earth-deep thunder vibrated his body and mind as iron hoops clutched at him and pulled him to the east, incontrovertible and inescapable. The Call held him in its grip as chaos filled his mind. One thought only came to him:

The Rapier has found a new Master.

Suspense #4

Okay, I have three more entries. I decided to post all three and then come back and critique them in the comments. Feel free to jump in even if I haven't yet. :)

Title: Orbital Shifts
Genre: Hard science fiction
Intro: Tanner was a pirate and a killer -- he's been trying to turn over a new leaf. He was broken out of prison (MCF) by Maggie and he's developed a crush on her. Dev is his personal assistant AI and Connie is his younger sister.

“Didn’t make much sense there, Tanner,” Connie said. “Back up and try that again. And turn the video on.”

He took a deep breath, pinching his eyes shut with thumb and finger. “No, no video,” he said, voice trembling. Letting his eyes go, he blinked hard to clear them and wiped his nose on his forearm. “When they had me in MCF they put some kind of trigger in my head. Heard of hypnotic suggestions?”

“Post-hypnotic. Sure,” his sister said. In the video, she hovered close to the camera with only the bluish light of an empty message frame on her. The room behind her was dark. Gracie was asleep, she’d said, and being almost due she needed her sleep.

“I hear some signal and it kicks in. Happened once when they first got us out — Julia tried to stab Maggie and I near slit a chuck’s throat. Don’t remember much, kind of a blur.”

“Seems you always said that, about fights.”


When he didn’t continue, Connie prodded, “Something you can fix?”

“Don’t know.”

“Happened again?”

He fell silent. Dev said, “Still two requests on hold.”

“Drop them,” Tanner said. “Don’t want to talk to anyone.”

“You hurt someone?” Connie asked.

He glanced around the projection on the still-cluttered living room wall and found his text message frame in the corner. It filled up before his eyes.

“You think they’re right? Void sucks out your soul?” tumbled out of him.

Connie fixed the camera with a stern look. “No, I don’t.”

“What Pa always said.”

Still stern, “Pa was a killer, a rapist, and an abuser.” Then she added, “You’re not him.”

“They got the trigger to me again.” 

Connie’s voice turned soft. “Then have the honor to stand for what you’ve done.”

“I…” He raked his hands into his hair, then back out. “Video on, Dev. Connie, I heard it, I felt it click.” Tanner held up both hands, helpless. “Hand just —” He swiped at the air. His voice tightened and shrank. “Grabbed her throat. And she looked me in the eye. And…”

Suspense #3

Okay, I have three more entries. I decided to post all three and then come back and critique them in the comments. Feel free to jump in even if I haven't yet. :)

Title: Pop Travel
Genre: Techno Thriller

Hasan reentered the pantry and set his stuff on a shelf. Before he left, he nodded and eyeballed towards upstairs. Was he hinting for Cooper and Geri to follow him? They looked at him like he was nuts.

“Nirek! Let’s go!” came a loud yell.

“Move it!” the guard, Nirek, said to Hasan.

“Sorry! I’m coming!” Hasan scooted out after another quick head motion and eyebrow raise, his expression pleading.

When Hasan and his guard left the kitchen, Cooper and Geri moved from the pantry to the dining room door to eavesdrop. They heard the men go upstairs.

“He wants us to help him?” Geri asked in Cooper’s ear.

“I guess so. And we can’t go back, there’s two more guards coming this way in the tunnel,” Cooper whispered, thumbing behind him.

“Then let’s press on.”

He couldn’t understand her enthusiasm to rush into danger. “Slowly. There’s something wrong with this picture and we don’t want to get caught,” he told her. He liked to err on the side of caution. He peered into the dining room. Empty and quiet and to his relief, no surveillance cameras. He waved for Geri to follow him. They tip-toed to the base of the stairs and could hear the guys arguing at the top.

“Now, Hasan!”

“Hold on! I need my tablet!” he said and opened a door.

“Why can’t you just use Gamelink?”

“No way! I told you before. I will never use it again with Big Brother watching.”

“You have five seconds.”

“Got it!” he said and shut the door.

“Good. Now up you go.”

But Hasan didn't go. “Hey, what about my mom?”

“Jackson has her. They’re on their way.”

“What’s their ETA?”

“Five minutes.”

At that, Cooper and Geri silently slipped halfway up the stairs to the landing. People were coming in the house from every port.

“And where will she be secured?”

“Her room.”

“Make sure she eats something.”

“Sure. Now get going!”

“Let me see, now. Did we change the code this morning?” Hasan asked.

“I told you we changed it. Don’t tell me you forgot.”

“Oh, yes. How silly of me.” Hasan chuckled then he said the code nice and loud as he punched the buttons, “4 – 7 – 0 – H – X – 9 – A.” The door unlocked and they went in.

“I suppose you’re going to lock me in?” Hasan asked as they went up the stairs to the lab.

“Of course."

Cooper and Geri heard the door close behind them. They crept the rest of the way up to the second floor and continued down the hall to the back bedroom, leaving the door slivered open so they could hear.

“Did you get the code?” Geri asked.

“Yeah. He really does seem to want our help,” Cooper said. Why would he need help from complete strangers who just broke into his house? They waited and listened for the guards to come back down.

Suspense #2

Okay, I don't have any more submissions. Feel free to send them now. :) Include the title and genre, plus your (up to) 500 word submission to unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com.

Indulge me? No wait. You're stuck with me until you send more submissions. Let the torture commence! Mwhahahahaha!

Here is that short story I've been working on. Is the suspense any better than the first time you saw it? Feel free to critique to your hearts content.


Movement on the edge of my vision caught my attention, but when I turned to focus on it, it was gone. I shook my head and looked ahead once more.

“What’s up with you today? You’re so jumpy.” Toni’s brow furrowed.

“Nothing, just my overactive imagination I guess. I keep thinking I see something, but nothing’s there.”

“Forget about it. We’re almost to your car anyway.” She paused to kick a branch off the path.

I jumped and fell sideways off the trail as another shadow moved behind her. From the ground, I looked up. Toni laughed at me. There was nothing else. No one else.

“Tell me you saw that?” I asked.

“Seriously, are you okay? I told you to stay away from the horror flicks.” Toni held out her hand to help me up.  “Relax.”

But I couldn’t. Toni chatted easily while I chased shadows. They stayed just out of focus.

We reached the last stretch of trail before the parking lot. We usually ran, but I stumbled on a rock and fell to my knees. Toni took off without me. I cursed and brushed the dirt away as she disappeared behind a boulder at the bend ahead. Then she flickered like the shadows, in and out of sight.

Clouds must be rolling in. The woods grew darker ahead, but Toni sprinted to the end. I picked myself up and trotted after her, giving my knee time to stop throbbing. As I rounded the boulder I heard a scream.

“Toni?” My heart raced and I ran faster. “That’s not funny.”

I ran out of the woods into the gravel parking lot. My car sat right where I left it, beside Toni’s. There were no other cars in the lot. The sky above glowed clear blue as far as I could see. Not a cloud in the sky.

Toni wasn’t in the parking lot.

I spun around. The air was eerily quiet. No birds sang. Even the wind had stopped. But the shadows danced.The hair on the back of my neck raised and a shiver ran through me.

“Toni?” I called. “Where are you? This isn’t funny.”

A shadow moved at my right. When I turned it disappeared. Another moved at my left. Turn. Nothing. A branch snapped behind me. I spun around but found nothing.

I backed toward my car, fumbling for the keys in my pocket. “Toni?”

She still didn’t answer. When I turned toward the cars, a shadow slid out of sight underneath. Tears pricked my eyes and my breath came in short gasps.

Like a coward, I scrambled into the car and peeled out of the lot. I glanced in the rear view mirror. Shadows flickered in the backseat. I slammed on the brakes, the tires sliding on the gravel road. My hands covered my ears and I squeezed my eyes shut and screamed. “Get out, get out, get out.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Suspense Submission #1

It’s easiest to steal from those who have never been cold. Jackson was full of openings [is there a better way to say this? Some way to make it stronger and get rid of 'was'], too comfortable in his own house, too loaded down with good food and arrogance to think someone might slip in and take what was rightfully his. [I love this line of thinking. Originally, I thought the second sentence should be broken up for emphasis, but now I'm not sure. Anyone have thoughts on that?]

It took no longer than [this is unnecessarily wordy. You could say 'it only took a brush...] a brush, a bump, and in the grinding mass of bodies, I had slipped away before he could turned around. He didn’t even realize it was gone, or that I was [had been] there. Why would he, when Triss was on the opposite side of the room?

As quick as my hands are, that’s how slow Triss dances. [This sentence was confusing to me. Try something like, 'My hands are quick, but Triss dances slow.] It doesn’t matter what’s playing, her movements seem to run on half-speed, her arms chasing [chasing sounds fast. Can you find a slower word--tracing maybe?] her hips down in long, loose spirals. Then her back seems to unfolds, her legs straighten and her shoulders dip left and right as she eases herself fully vertical.

Maybe I’ve given too much credit to my fast hands, but it doesn’t matter. The key was safely in my pocket., so The job was done. and I made a short circuit to the kitchen and back. Triss would be thirsty and since it was Jackson’s party, of course he had Dr. Pepper and Cherry Coke ready for her.[I'm assuming that if we had been reading the story we would know why this detail is important because we would know the three characters better.] The bottles had been sitting on the counter instead of in the fridge, but there was ice. When I brought the glass to Triss, the perfect 50/50 mix, Jackson was leaning leaned over her, one arm braced against the wall behind her head. Like he owned her,[I'd put a period here for emphasis.] Or maybe like she was some smaller kid he was hitting up with the choice to pay up or get smoked. Someone else watching them might have thought they were about to kiss, but Triss’s eyes met mine the moment I stepped into the room and she didn’t blink once while I wound through the dozens of kids shaking and grinding to Skrillex. [Holy long sentence. Try breaking it up into two.]

As I held out the drink, she slipped out from under him. In one fluid movement, she steered the glass to her mouth and draped an arm around my waist. The two of us still hadn’t broken eye contact.

This was before she stabbed him, so he wasn’t all that invested. Triss was still just his betting partner not his... whatever he thought she was afterwards, so he just gave a twisted grin and tossed back the dregs of his beer. [This is where I got totally lost. Once again, it might be clearer if I had been reading everything before this. This is narrator commentary as if he were looking back at the event right? What threw me is the rest of the selection doesn't feel like that so it threw me off. I flounder and thought, "What? when did she stab him?"]

With her face less than a foot from mine, Triss finally blinked, just at the moment I was imagining her lizard tongue darting up to moisten her eyeball. [I'm guessing this is sci fi or fantasy?] She said, “Five hundred on a long-shot hook-up.”

Jackson laughed. “Five minutes in my locked bedroom.” He hesitated and his eyes flickered over my face. I could feel it, even though my gaze was still locked on hers. “Just the two of us. Alone,” he added. [I'm wondering who the hook up is with. Triss or the narrator. And five minutes isn't very long.]

Triss turned to look at Jackson, but didn’t draw her arm away from me. “Done.”

They clinked glasses, though Jackson’s was empty.

There are some things in here that intrigue me. I'm wondering what the key opens and what the narrator plans on stealing. I'm also curious about the relationship between these players, and who the hook-up is aimed at. 
As for the suspense. There is a little at the end with the "Five hundred on a long-shot" statement, but even here I'm not sure what's at stake. I think you could build more suspense by making us worry that Jackson will find the key is gone and that he would suspect the narrator. The way it is set up now, the narrator is confident that they won't get found out. Their fingers were quick, their were lots of bodies, and Triss has Jackson's attention from across the room. They aren't worried or anxious about being found out, so I'm not either. This would be an easy fix though. You have all the elements ready to put into play.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Where's the Suspense?

This week I want to talk about suspense. What it is, and what it isn't. And, how do we use it in our stories to keep the reader on the edge of their seat/turning pages/and other cliched phrases I can't think of at the moment. :)

First, and most important, suspense is not the conflict. It isn't violence, or the moment the bad guy jumps out and grabs you. No, that's action.

Suspense is the waiting. The wondering if something will or won't happen. The building of anticipation. Notice I didn't say fear. Suspense can be waiting for something good too. That first kiss anyone?

In my mind, suspense is closely linked to tension (Merriam Webster--a. inner striving, unrest, or imbalance often with physiological indication of emotion, b. a balance maintained in an artistic work between opposing forces or elements). I'm thinking specifically sexual tension in stories. 

The important thing is to keep the suspense building until it must resolve. Depending on the basis of the suspense, this could take a while to work through your story. Don't rush it. And, if the suspense breaks or resolves before the end of the book, you may need to add another suspense thread. 

Okay, mini rant here on sexual tension. This was the element that I loved most in the TV series Bones. The whole, will they or won't they give in between Brennan and Booth.
Last season the writers turned Brennan into an emotional robot again. I was frustrated, but there was still that sexual tension. The suspense was just enough to keep me watching. Plus I kept hoping they'd see the error of their ways and make her human again. But, they ruined everything this season and I no longer care to watch.

The season opener has Brennan and Booth together. They've been together for five months! The writers skipped ahead and I didn't get to see that moment when the tension/suspense became too much for the characters to handle. I'm ticked off!

Looking back, there was the one episode they were comforting each other and the next day Brennan tells Angela she slept with Booth. But that episode made it look like nothing happened. I didn't give it a second thought. When Brennan says she's pregnant and Booth is the father at the end of the season, I thought it was because he donated (remember that episode?).

Rant over. Anyway, my point is this: If you are building suspense, you'd better darn well play it out to the end and let the reader see that end. The kiss has to happen on screen so to speak. The boogie man has to jump out and the MC must deal with it.

This applies to more than just mystery, horror, and detective novels. Every book, every genre needs this element of suspense in it. I promise. A little here and there can carry the reader a long way if played right.

So, do you have suspense in your story? Remember, it can be the anticipation of good as well as bad things in the future.

Send your submissions of up to 500 words (as short as you want and up to this length) to: unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com with UB Suspense in the subject line.
Please include Title and Genre with your submission and a lead in sentence or two. 

Pepper Smith (She presented a workshop at Muse Con on suspense. That's what sparked this topic for the week.)
Janice Hardy Setting up the Tension
9 Tricks to Writing Suspense Fiction
Foreshadowing and Suspense
Elana Johnson talks about How to Add Suspense to Your Post-Apocalyptic (or any) Novel

Friday, November 4, 2011

Writing Strong Part II

Do-Nothing Verbs

Passive verbs or double verbs dilute the storyline. In passive voice, the object of the verb has no action. Examples:

The sounds were muted by the brushy growth.
He was taken to a building on the square.
The gift was exchanged for a blanket.

Nothing grammatically wrong but a passive phrase weakens the writing. All of these are easily fixed.

Brushy growth muted the sounds.
They took him to a building on the square.
He exchanged the gift for a blanket.

Note the object of the verbs in an active sentence changed from the end to the beginning of the sentence.

To be’ verbs -- am, are, is was, were, be, become, became -- are not toxic but use them thinly. Sprinkle them. Don’t spackle. Just remember, a strong verb makes the sentence move.

Strong verbs stand erect. Unfettered, they carry your story.

He cracked the bottle against the ship. The glass shattered.

Verb qualifiers are sort of like, kind of wishy-washy. They tend to gum up the works.

Examples: Sort of, Kind of, Tends to, Tries to.

They slow the flow. The pause with flaws.

Punch up your prose with active strong verbs. Don’t be afraid to use the ‘to be’ verbs but

“Everybody’s got to know their limitations” -- Dirty Harry

*regarding the picture at the top. I wanted the Google search result for 'Edward Breaking Headboard' but realized it had no revelance to my post. But, WTH*

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

#2 Dialogue Thinking of You

This in-depth critique is in two sections. The first is the original, critiqued in the usual fashion. The second section is how I would edit the dialogue.
Part I
Title: Thinking of You
Genre: NA Light Sci-Fi

“Carson, say hi to Relic.New paragraph. He made a slight gurgling sound that made me smile. “I guess Carson has been thinking of you too.”

            “What about you?” His voice seemed kind of soft. Think of it this way, his voice is either soft or it isn’t. Make up your mind:)I had a feeling we weren’t discussing just the code word anymore and I was scared of that. It’s understandable, don’t you think so?

            I swallowed, my next words had to be chosen carefully, something I wasn’t so good at. Words for others to use were lots easier. “Of course, I have. You’re helping me complete my mission, remember?” [You’re telling someone to remember? Wow, it must be bad.] I ground my teeth and forced myself not to punch myself in the face

            It was quiet on the other end, I probably hadn’t said what he wanted me too but at the same time I hadn’t hurt his feelings or given away any of mine. Not that I had any, did I? I cleared my throat awkwardly, “Is everything ready, do you think?”

Lots of internal conversation will slow the story.  Use internal sparingly.

            “Yeah, I applied for the time off, said it was for family. I should be there sometime tonight,” I could tell by his tone that he was trying to be cheerful, though he wasn’t really succeeding at it.

Dialogue needs less explaining.

            “Okay, I’ll be ready.” I sat back down on the cushioned window seat. If I ever settled down with a house of my own, I was definitely getting one of these. “It’s strange. It’s raining outside but the sun is shining.”

            I heard a little chuckle, “You know what Wayne says about that?”

            I smiled setting the phone between my ear and shoulder to mess with Carson’s hands. He laughed as I made them zoom and fly all over the place like tiny airplanes, “What?”

            His voice became deeper and slower as if he was trying to imitate the older man, “I like to think that somewhere a government bastard is crying while the rest of us laugh, smile, and are merry.”

            I sat up straight, almost dumping Carson on the floor, I quickly stood back up, rocking him gently, whispering sorrys. He whimpered a little bit, giving me a betrayed look. “What did you say?”

            “I said, I like to-”

            I interrupted, “No, I got that part. Hey, I have to go. Something important just came up.”

            I hung up the phone, not waiting for a good-bye and rushed to find Jamie in her bedroom.

Part II
Title: Thinking of You
Genre: NA Light Sci-Fi

“Carson, say hi to Relic.”
He made a gurgling sound that made me smile.
“I guess Carson has been thinking of you too.”
            “What about you?” His soft voice caught me by surprise. We weren’t discussing the code word any more.
            I swallowed and chose my next words carefully, something I wasn’t good at doing. Picking words for others to use were lots easier.
“Of course, I have. You’re helping me complete my mission, remember?” I ground my teeth. Later maybe I’d punch myself in the face for the stupid comment.
            It was quiet on the other end. I cleared my throat awkwardly. “Is everything ready, do you think?” I asked.
            “Yeah, I applied for the time off, said it was for family. I should be there sometime tonight.”
            “Okay, I’ll be ready.” I sat back down on the cushioned window seat. “That’s strange. It’s raining outside but the sun is shining.”
            I heard a little chuckle. “You know what Wayne says about that?”
            “I like to think,” he said in a deeper mature voice, “that somewhere a government bastard is crying while the rest of us laugh, smile, and are merry.”
            I sat up straight, almost dumping Carson on the floor. He whimpered a bit and gave me a betrayed look.
“What did you say?” I asked.
            “I said, I like to --”
            I interrupted. “No, I got that part. Hey, I have to go. Something important just came up.”
            I hung up the phone, not waiting for a good-bye and rushed to find Jamie in her bedroom.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

#1 Pop Travel

Title: Pop Travel
Genre: Techno Thriller

“J.L.! I’m so glad you’re hee-ya! I was disappointed when I didn’t hear from you this afternoon. I called to offer you a ticket. But here you are! How eva did you manage it?” She went on, Her hands emphasizinged each phrase. She looked him over and smiled at his charcoal suit and slim black tie.Hm. How does he know what she is thinking?  Maybe ‘…and smiled when her gaze landed on his slim black tie.’

“Hello, Ms. Harper. I have friends in high places,” was his vague reply. Let his words convey his mannerisms.

“Geri. You may call me Geri. Oh, I see. Hush, hush. I understand completely,” she answered with a wink.

“What about you? How did you get two tickets?”

She linked arms with him and led him out from under the tents. It was about five o’clock with the sun still beating strong and bright above the grounds to the west so they wandered in and out of shade pockets from the majestic pines and full, longstanding maples.

“Well, J.L.. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t up to sayin anything at our first meetin. I’m not usually such a forward person, you know. But after speakin with you at length, I judged you to be honest and respectable. I admired your propriety,” she said. Then she halted their stroll to look him in the eyes. “I also believe we share an attraction to the romance and history of the old South. I am trustin Normally I’d say this is passive but speech patterns vary around the country. I talk like this. It isn’t that unusual my instincts that you are a true gentleman after my own heart.”

“Thank you?” Cooper replied, not sure how to take her declaration. I am of two minds about this. Kind of like it but it seems like explaining. 

His answer must have been satisfactory because she resumed walking and talking. “I have my own connections. My daddy is on the board of the Historical Preservation Society of Georgia. He helped in the overseein of the reconstruction of the Creator’s manor house.”

“Oh. Is your father here?” He looked around for him, hoping to ditch her. He didn’t have all night to chit chat with her.

“Oh, no. He is always invited to these galas and frequently declines. After attendin a party with him a few years ago, I had no desire to return either. The air of competition is too high brow and ingenuous for my taste. Until this evenin that is,” she hinted and gave his arm a squeeze.

“Disingenuous,” he corrected  said under his breath. In this case, I would use ‘said’. It won’t detract from the action, ‘…under his breath’. It is obvious that he is correcting her.


A well-known literary agent wrote this in her blog:

“…Stephen King no longer rights in a genre.”

“…she hasn’t yet scene the full picture…”

If you wonder why I am posting this, good.

If you know why, have a chuckle on me.