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

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tweaking the Writer

Digging deeper into my shelves. Have you ever noticed that a person’s bookshelves are kind of like an archeological dig into their lives? Most people will keep one or two (or twelve) childhood keepsakes around. But then...as they get older...people will hang onto more and more random books. These are the interesting ones. These are the ones that distinguish the evil geniuses from the fluffy bunnies.

Even before I started referring to myself as a “writer” I would gravitate toward books with complex characters. Books with characters that didn’t have stuff just handed to them on silver platters all the time. I like books where the ending isn’t always sparkly and unicorns (even if there are unicorns in it..). If it’s the right ending. I like it when the characters have to work for what they have. And I especially enjoy characters that are flawed and challenged. Characters that have a past.

It was because of these types of characters that I stopped being a 'passive' reader and started taking notice of the intricacies of the story itself. Specifically character development. 

One of the first books that I read like this, and will always have a place on my bookshelf, is "Ender’s Game" by Orson Scott Card. I cannot imagine the holy hell it must have been trying to get this book published. It’s not YA. Oh no. Not by a long shot. But the MC is a kid. But he’s a wise kid. And the subject matter isn’t kids stuff. Though they deal with it in a very child-like way at times. Ender isn’t perfect. He isn’t some know it all King Arthur type. But...things go his way, after a fashion. But the mind games played to get there?

The first time I read this book I truly started to see what a flawed character could be. One with issues that could still be trusted to save the day. Though, save the day for whom?

So. What books are on your shelf that tweaked your brain as a writer? What made you sit up and take notice for the first time?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Reworking Genres

I was reading a contest description the other day (that of course I can’t find now) that started, “Are you writing The Next Great American Novel?” And my left eye started to twitch. I mean honestly.

But it did get me thinking. What exactly are we writing? What is the end result? I’m not talking genre...because I think those change over time, and I think that in our own bookshelves we categorize much more differently then we ever would find things in a book store. 

But...How do you want your writing to be remembered? Because when you get right down to it...that is the point.

So I spent some time looking at my bookshelves. Which are organized by the intricate workings of my brain, so of course they make perfect sense. Harry Potter is right next to Diana Gabaldon who is right above Dickinson who is right next to Rawn. All my Fantasy is organized by how well they fit on the shelf (obviously). Classics...same. Space is at a premium. But there is one shelf that is always within easy access, and always has the same books on it...no matter how many times I move.

I call it my Comfort Food Shelf.

I doubt that this was the intent of the authors of these books. Especially given that one of them is actually labeled as THE Great American Novel. But these are the books that I return to whenever I need a mental and emotional refresher.

First up is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I think I could recite this book by heart. It makes me laugh, it makes me cry, it makes me have faith in the human race again every time I read it.

Next is, oddly enough, An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott. I think this is more of a childhood love than anything else. But I find the feminist bent in it hysterical every time I read it. She was a crafty woman that Alcott.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Can you get any more fluffy than this? Flappers and Speakeasies. Love it.

Last in this shelf is The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. Epic story on an epic scale with epic characters. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve read it. I’ve package-taped the cover back on. Someday I’ll find a hardcover edition. Maybe.

So. I’ll be digging deeper into my bookshelves this week, see what else is on there. In the meantime, what are your Comfort Food Reads?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Update on School's In Query Judges

Life is funny. In preparation for this contest, we sent out many queries in search of judges for you. And you know how we like to complain about no response from agents and such? Well, we now have a new appreciation for the issues they have to deal with email on a daily basis.

We missed an email from one of our judges! We've rectified the situation and wanted to take this time to remind you who our wonderful judges are and what they are hoping to find. 

Krystal Wade from Curiosity Quills
Andrew Buckley from Curiosity Quills
Nancy Bell from MuseItUp Publishing
Amy Lichtenhan from SapphireStar Publishing
Donna O'Brien from Crescent Moon Press

Krystal--I love older mc's (18+)! I'd like to see some good dystopian, more male mc's too, and then of course anything scifi/fantasy/paranormal with something new and unusual.

Andrew--I’m looking for adult fiction be it paranormal, sci-fi, fantasy, urban fantasy and/or anything quirky or humorous. No YA or NA please. I like strong protagonists with a unique voice and wonderfully evil antagonists. Please, please, please, no in-your-face sword and sorcery type pieces. They’ve been known to cause sharp pains in my posterior. I’m also looking for cookies. Oatmeal raisin are my favorite.

Nancy--MuseItUp is looking for more dark fiction, horror, as we are light in that department. However, romance, historical romance, YA/MG from a male POV that will entice that sector. Of course, we are open to anything that is well written and crafted. We don't publish literary fiction or poetry.

Amy--We're especially interested in contemporary romance and paranormal romance at this time, although we are accepting submissions in all fiction categories.

Donna--Currently, we are looking for voice rather than specific genre requirements, though we
are primarily a boutique publisher of high quality fantasy, futuristic, and paranormal fiction. We are interested in urban fantasy, dystopian, futuristic science fiction, steampunk, mind-bending time travel, space operas, mythological as well as historical retellings with a twist, epic high fantasy, and the paranormal. We are also interested in paranormal categories of suspense, thrillers, gothica, and mystery. CMP also accepting submissions in the YA and New Adult categories of the above mentioned genres.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Wrapping it up

It's also known as the falling action. This is the part after the big climax, when things begin to settle down. The  fallout is dealt with. Lingering loose ends are tied up -- or not. This part of the story can be very short, or it can run for some thousands of words, depending on how much you need to clean up, what your readers expect you to address in wrapping up the story, and whether you're laying groundwork for further novels.

Major life changes
Death, marriage, a serious psychological upheaval... readers want to know the characters are going to be okay. That they've adjusted to the new situation, or are making progress toward that.

Back to normal
If your story was about fixing something and getting back to normal, show us that it worked. A little zinger can be fun, though, if things aren't quite they way they used to be.

Ask: what next?
If your characters are riding off into the sunset for further adventures (whether you're going to write them or not) then do give us that riding-into-the-sunset shot. In some ways, this is very similar to the "Back to normal" situation, especially if your characters are career adventurers -- heading off is normal, for them. If you've got a follow-up novel in mind, you can throw a few hints in here.

Don't let this slide
Getting to the end of a novel is exhausting. But bear in mind that this the last of your writing the reader will see until your next book. You don't want to leave them frustrated -- though curious is good, maybe a hint of "hmm, that could be a problem in the future," and warm fuzzy feelings are popular too.

Getting to the end of this series of posts was exhausting too. See you for the contest in August!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Which domino fell first?

Inciting Incident
Photo by Sigurd Decroos,
available at sxc.hu
This is where it all begins. This is the thing that set everything in motion; it's the first domino to fall. And it can be surprisingly difficult to pin down. Is it when two characters met? When something broke? What?

You need a clear grasp of what the conflict in your story is before you can dig out its deepest roots. You need to know why the conflict exists and what will be needed to solve it. This can get into some deep psychology -- or it can be as simple as "You killed my father. Prepare to die."

Hopefully, having started at the climax and worked your way back has clarified your conflict and what goes into it. Often, you have an idea where it all started already and it's creating the steps in between that's difficult. You may find yourself dealing with several inciting incidents for several plot lines. Or maybe by the time you get here your first idea won't work and the inciting incident was something else entirely.

I often have an idea where the story begins, when I start plotting, because that can be a dramatic scene too. Something traumatic happens, or something is discovered -- it's an oh, crap, we've got a problem moment for the characters and those can be fun.

The journey begins
All stories boil down to a journey, however small or abstract. Let's stick with Inigo Montoya as a good example of this. (If you don't know who I'm talking about, go rent and watch The Princess Bride IMMEDIATELY. We'll wait. Heck, we'll watch with you.) His plot is simple: he intends to kill the six-fingered man. Sketching this out, we get:

Inciting incident: Inigo's father is murdered by the six-fingered man
First plot point: He begins to study fencing
Other plot points: He searches for the six-fingered man
Other plot points: He learns the identity of the six-fingered man
Other plot points: He helps storm the castle so he can get at his enemy
Climax: Inigo confronts the six-fingered man and kills him
Resolution: He is offered the job of being Dread Pirate Roberts

If we were working backward from the climax, the first thing Inigo needed to do was get to his enemy. Therefore, he needed to know who his enemy was and where he was. Those could have been easy, but then what would the challenge have been? The writers decided that Inigo didn't know his enemy's identity and learning that would be a significant plot point. Why do it this way? Probably so it would integrate well with the other plots in The Princess Bride. (If he'd known, how might his plot have run to still get him to the climax?)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Where the climb began

First Plot Point
This is sometimes called the point of no return. This is the first step taken toward the climax of the story. Your characters get off their collective butts and do something. Maybe they're reluctant, maybe they're eager, but they have a goal and they're heading toward it.

I say that because of how often I want to take a cattle prod to characters in something I'm reading. Yes, this includes professionally published books. I do not understand the fascination with characters who refuse to do anything or to take any initiative.

Clear conflict
As mentioned in yesterday's post, the conflict needs to be genuine and serious. It also needs to be clear to the reader -- in that there is a conflict. Mysterious antagonists with unknown plots are all well and good, but it does need to be clear that something is afoot and the characters are going to do something about it.

Other problems
Sub-plots are a common feature in books, whether they're things that must be done before addressing the major problem or parallel plotlines involving minor characters and other challenges. The short answer on what to do with them is: write a full plot sketch for each one, with all of the steps, and work them into the main plotline. A scene that's an Other Plot Point for the main plot may also be the Climax of a secondary plot.

Photo by Cindy Stover,
available at sxc.hu
Is this the beginning? 
The story might begin at the first plot point. Or maybe at the inciting incident. TV writers have developed a habit, recently, of starting just before the climax and then flashing back to tell the beginning of the story -- I hate this.  I hated it when Lovecraft told me the end of the story first, too. Then again, Lovecraft's stories all end pretty much the same.

It's a question of how much you will need to explain to the reader in exchange for beginning at a dramatic moment. Exposition is a whole 'nother series of posts, though.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Plotting the way down the mountain

Other Plot Points
Photo courtesy of sxc.hu
This is the tricky part. This is where you plot the course down the mountain -- if we say that the climax is a mountain peak -- in such a way that climbing up the mountain will be difficult and interesting. And logical.

Going into this, it helps to know some things. Chances are good that the list will change as you plot.
  • Players: how many characters have a stake in the climax, and why.
  • Conflicts: what puts them in conflict with other characters, why, and what would be a "win" for them.
  • Circumstances: the role that the setting plays in the plot -- limitations imposed by place and time. Be careful with these, because the writer's hand can become too obvious if circumstances and/or coincidence dictate too much of the plot.
Track collision courses
Your climax is the final collision of two or more characters who are at cross purposes. There will have been previous collisions, in which what needs to be done became clear, and/or things were done to prepare for the climax despite the set-backs the characters have received. No final solutions were reached, though, and the tension increased.

Build tension
The Other Plot Points need to track a course of increasing tension. The stakes are getting higher, the consequences are getting worse, the characters have less to work with, or they have more to worry about. Don't blot out all hope, though. Maybe things get very dark before the characters put together the clues you gave them and figure out how to defeat their enemy, but don't paint your heroes into a corner that you'll have to rescue them from with some sort of deus ex machina.

Would five minutes of talking solve everything? 
Or: is this a real and serious conflict? If you find your plot relying on interruptions and coincidences to maintain tension, you might not have a serious conflict. If you find that your characters actually agree and you're trying to keep them from realizing that, you've got a problem. (I found myself in that situation, while working on these posts. So I took my plot sketch out back and shot it. Started over with the characters disagreeing, and why.)

Foreshadowing, patterns, etc.
There are tons of other things you can do in your plot lines: hint at what's to come, set patterns and then mess around with them, throw curve balls (which you planned, of course) to keep the characters on their toes, crush their hopes and dreams repeatedly, and plenty more. They all need to build toward the climax, though.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Walking backwards: starting at the climax

This is the scene I often see first -- the big, dramatic one where everything has come to a head. The characters are shouting, fighting, blowing stuff up. Or maybe it's an emotionally charged scene, where relationships are at stake and everything hangs on a single word. Either way, the big question is: how do we get there?

Photo courtesy of sxc.hu
Earned wins
Characters must earn their victories. They have to put the work in, take the risks, suffer the consequences. Getting to the climax had to be difficult. The climax itself has to be difficult. How is this scene a "win" for the characters involved? Is it a big win, or just scraping by? How much anguish did they go through to get here?

Good solution to the problem, and why
Needless to say, this all must make sense and work. It needs to have been clearly defined and explained, and the consequences of failure laid out. It's clear and obvious why this was a problem, and why it needs to be solved this way.

Since you may not know what's going on, entirely, make note of all the elements involved. Things said, things done, emotional states. If one character comes into the scene furious, you'll need to figure out why. If a vase is smashed to make a point, you need to know why the vase is significant -- or what the act of smashing meant, if the vase itself was not important.

Promises you made 
A climax is a chance to pay off your readers. There will be many opportunities to keep the promises you've made to your readers, but this is a big one. The nature of a climax -- action-oriented or highly emotional -- is often influenced by genre expectations, so bear that in mind as well. What are your readers going to want to see? This may not be entirely clear until you've worked out more of the plot, but it's good to be thinking about it throughout. 

Be flexible
Expect things to change while you're working all of this out. That line about murdering your darlings may come into play. Do not be flexible about logic, however. Yes, anything can be pulled off (he wants to kill my sister, therefore I must marry him) with enough character development and explaining, but the less logical it is, the more work you'll have to do to sell it.

Which is not an argument against doing something wild and different, of course. Don't expect the reader to come along quietly -- you've got to persuade them that all of this makes perfect sense given the circumstances.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The five parts of a plot

There are many ways to plot a novel. In general, stories build from the beginning to a climax, then wrap up and end. You can use a three-act structure, or a four-act structure, you can have a series of catastrophes and lots of falling action, maybe your "dark night of the soul" lasts until the final page.

You can begin in the middle or present events out of chronological order, but the structure still exists.

This is one way to do it. Personally, I do my plotting mostly backwards -- because I need to figure this all out before I start writing. If you're a pantser and you're working with what you've already written, this can still help. Let's define the steps in their correct order, briefly.

Diagram by L. Blankenship.
Inciting Incident
It's said that there are really only two inciting incidents: the beginning of a journey, or the arrival of a stranger. In other words, the status quo is disrupted and something must happen as a result. 

First Plot Point
The first step is taken toward the climax.

Other Plot Points
These scenes track the progress toward the climax, involving progress made, set-backs, and working through obstacles.

The scene or series of scenes in which the conflict is confronted and resolved.

Also known as the falling action; tidying up, settling, and finishing the story.

As I wrote this series of posts, I was working out the structure of Disciple, Part V. One of the plotlines is: the king must work out a new alliance with the queen of a neighboring country. When I began this, I had a small handful of scene ideas based on things that interest me, and character moments I would like to have. Here's what I worked out:
  • Inciting Incident: The king, Kiefan, comes to see the queen of the neighboring country, Ciara, to work out an alliance. They already have a rocky history and would've been just as glad to not meet again.
First Plot Point: Ciara refuses to see him. 

  • Other Plot Points: Kiefan tries to break the ice, but Ciara makes it clear that he has nothing to offer.
  • Other Plot Points: He keeps after her, over several scenes, because he really needs this alliance. But it's not looking good and they're  getting angry at each other. 
Other Plot Points: Ciara suddenly changes her tune and starts making demands. (This stems from developments in her own plot line.) Kiefan's suspicious, and still feeling insulted, and reacts more harshly than he ought to. Now it's looking like they'll be at war rather than allied. 

  • Climax: A third character must step up and be a go-between here (she has her own plotline too.) She has to explain the situation to Kiefan and make him see that he needs to make some concessions to Ciara -- and she will to him -- in order to make this alliance work. 

  • Climax, continued: Kiefan and Ciara manage to work this out without starting a war. 

  • Resolution: Kiefan gets the military support he needs from the alliance.
Reading this now, it looks a heck of a lot like a standard romance plot. Note: There is no falling in love in this story. Feedback is welcome -- does this seem reasonable? What questions pop up in your mind?

If you have a plot sketched out and you'd like feedback on it, feel free to email that to: unicornbellsubmissions at gmail dot com. I will post them for comments. It won't be a crit, exactly, just a chance to see what questions your plot raises and whether the logic holds together.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Questions about the School's In Query Contest

I only received one question through email, so if you have any questions, please ask now and we will answer them.

Question 1:
I'm going to sound like a complete neophyte, but... here goes: I have a couple completed (second draft) manuscripts that I'd like to get into someone's hands... but I have no CLUE how to write a query letter. What do I need to do? Is this contest for me?

My Answer:
YES! This is for you. The first two weeks are going to teach you how to write a query and give you the opportunity to get feedback and fine tune it before our editors read them. It's sort of a mini workshop, stretched out over two weeks. The best part is it's free, so check in every day and go for it!


Just remember, everything you can learn from feedback will only make you stronger. A year and a half ago I queried a small publisher who turned me down, but the short paragraph of advice they gave me really pushed my writing forward.

During the first week of "School" we'll be posting multiple times a day, spread out over the course of the day--sort of like a mini online conference:

  • The Purpose of a Query and How to Write One
  • Stalking/Researching Agents and Editors
  • Formatting Paper and E-queries
  • Submission Guidelines are Your Friend
  • Great Places to Read and Get Feedback on Queries
  • Sprinkle in some horrible queries showcasing everything you can do wrong, written by us here at UB just for fun
  • Short interviews with our guest judges introducing them and their company.
We may even have another surprise up our sleeves, but since I just thought of it I need to confer with my comrades. :)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Calling All Followers With Completed Manuscripts

We've been sitting on something here at UB.
Well, yeah, that too, but I'm talking about something new for our little blog.

Something we've been dreaming of doing.

Something with YOU in mind.

The time has finally arrived to fill you in on our plan to take over the world!
*cough* *cough*
Sorry, not that plan.
What plan? We aren't plotting to take over the world so just stop already.
Now, where were we?
Oh yes. The plan to help you wonderful followers get some quality feedback on your work.

We are excited to announce the School's In Query Contest!
We are devoting most of August to queries: how to's, examples, workshops and the query process in general. The last week of August we will have three wonderful guest judges reading all polished queries for FINISHED manuscripts.

Krystal Wade from Curiosity Quills
Andrew Buckley from Curiosity Quills
Nancy Bell from MuseItUp Publishing
Amy Lichtenhan from SapphireStar Publishing
Donna O'Brien from Crescent Moon Press

If they like what they see, they may request pages and who knows where that may lead you?

There will be more info coming over the next few weeks, but we wanted to give you time to comb through that MS one more time. Maybe even get one more beta reader? Here's what these ladies said they are looking for right now.

Krystal--I love older mc's (18+)! I'd like to see some good dystopian, more male mc's too, and then of course anything scifi/fantasy/paranormal with something new and unusual.

Andrew--I’m looking for adult fiction be it paranormal, sci-fi, fantasy, urban fantasy and/or anything quirky or humorous. No YA or NA please. I like strong protagonists with a unique voice and wonderfully evil antagonists. Please, please, please, no in-your-face sword and sorcery type pieces. They’ve been known to cause sharp pains in my posterior. I’m also looking for cookies. Oatmeal raisin are my favorite.

Nancy--MuseItUp is looking for more dark fiction, horror, as we are light in that department. However, romance, historical romance, YA/MG from a male POV that will entice that sector. Of course, we are open to anything that is well written and crafted. We don't publish literary fiction or poetry.

Amy--We're especially interested in contemporary romance and paranormal romance at this time, although we are accepting submissions in all fiction categories.

Donna--Currently, we are looking for voice rather than specific genre requirements, though we
are primarily a boutique publisher of high quality fantasy, futuristic, and paranormal fiction. We are interested in urban fantasy, dystopian, futuristic science fiction, steampunk, mind-bending time travel, space operas, mythological as well as historical retellings with a twist, epic high fantasy, and the paranormal. We are also interested in paranormal categories of suspense, thrillers, gothica, and mystery. CMP also accepting submissions in the YA and New Adult categories of the above mentioned genres.

If you are interested in playing, what questions do you have about the contest? 
Please email them to unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com and I'll post and answer all of them for our Friday post. 

...And for anyone who might be interested, look what I found on Google.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How do your characters stay motivated?

Now that we are freshly motivated to keep writing no matter what, let's talk about character motivations. And I'm not talking about the surface "they are running because they don't want to get shot, or eaten, or whatever". I'm talking about the deep running things that made them who they are.

We act certain ways because of, wait for it...back story. Yeah. Things like:
  • How we were raised
  • Our parents philosophy on discipline
  • Whether or not we had two parents
  • What kind of education we had
  • How many friends and what sort of friends we had
  • Did we see/experience death at an early age
  • Did we have to kill someone to protect ourselves or a loved one
  • Were we abused
  • Did we abuse
  • Did we have a pet
  • Or not

You can keep listing all kinds of random things, but I think you get the idea. What happened in your character's past helped form their world view and their personality. They have a standard way of reacting to certain stimuli.

The trick as writers is that we must understand all that backstory and the nuances it created in our character without laying it all out for the reader. A well placed line here and there can fulfill the need to understand motivation without writing a complete flashback.

The second trick is keeping it consistent. This isn't to say your character can NEVER do anything abnormal. But if they do, there needs to be a good motivation behind it.

When your characters lie awake at night, what's missing?*

My answer for Talia from The Magic Wakes: peace and hope

Fascinating Linkage:
What's My Motivation--from one of my favorite author bloggers Janice Hardy. Enough said.
*Determining Character Motivation--by Elana Johnson who quotes Glee: "When you lie awake at night, what's missing?"
The Principles of Character Motivation from Writer's Digest. Sort of a teaser to get you to buy a book. I'm considering it. :)
On Character Motivation--what hooked me to this post is the first sentence: "It has occurred to me that while writing, one of the best things a writer can do is question every action from every character."
Understanding Why Characters Act-- A nice step by step break down of some character motivation from a movie.
The Psychology of Character--"A good writer needs to know both cause and effect, needs to understand that there is impetus behind the actions of his characters. When the writer knows a character’s motivations, she can write actions that make sense for that character in a specific situation."

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mid-summer Motivation for Monday

It's so easy to make excuses or allow little dark clouds to hang over our heads, but we don't have to let any of it stop us in our tracks.

The following three items are my notes from a class I attended way back in 2010. It wasn't about writing, but at the time I equated EVERYTHING I heard to what it meant for me as a writer.

1. Did you know that 2/3 of our thoughts during the day are negative. (The speaker said it has been scientifically proven, but I don't have a reference for that, so believe it or not as you see fit.) Why is that? (We discussed...) Then he said, "Negative thoughts are like a hole in our confidence bucket."

How many times do we knock ourselves down with negative thoughts or comments about our writing abilities? Each thought depletes our confidence by another drop. Every time we give ourselves credit for trying to improve, spend time revising, recognize a sentence that comes out just right, we begin to refill that confidence bucket.

2. "At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us." Albert Schweitzer.  

When he read this quote, I thought of all my blogger friends. Thank you for sharing your spark with me. Many times when I've been down I've read someone's blog and felt lifted and ready to plug along my journey a little longer. 

So, THANK YOU for sharing and being you. No one can replace or fill the spot you fill in this world.

3.  "If you think you can do a thing, or think you can't do a thing, you're right." Henry Ford.

Wow, think about how true that is.

He also quoted Yoda from the Empire Strikes Back. At one point in Luke's training he tried to raise his X-wing from the swamp and failed. Yoda then lifts it and sets it on solid ground with ease. Luke complains that it is impossible and Yoda replies, "That is why you failed."

Now, I'm not going to point out the obvious connection between these three things and our goals as writers. I simply want you to think about how they apply to you personally.

Are you depleting your confidence with negative thinking? 

Are you failing to reach your goals because you secretly think it is impossible?

What are you going to do to get back on track?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

How to Market a Bad Book

My ideas, newly formed, on how to sell massive numbers of books like Fifty Shades.

Number One: Bad writing is a marketing ploy. People are curious and want to decide for themselves if it is really as bad as critics say:

"That stove is hot."
"Really?" *touches it* "OW!"
"Told ya."

Number Two: The author says Fifty Shades was Twilight FanFic. 

Author: "This novel is based on *insert famous book here*."
Reader: "OOOOOOOOh. I must buy this novel."

So. What do you think about my theories?  

Friday, July 13, 2012

Book Review – Fifty Shades of Grey

I started reading Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James with preconceived notions.

By the time I reached the end of the book, I did a complete flip, shocking me to my core.

First, the writing is atrocious. No way to get around that fact.

Echoes. "...He smirks. 'Are you smirking at me, Mr. Grey?' I ask sweetly..."

Repeated and unnecessary dialogue tags.I whisper. He whispers. He orders/warns/breathes.

Profanity that plops out of nowhere like a dead bird falling from the sky.

Bad sentence structure. '...I can almost hear his sphinxlike smile through the phone...'

Internal dialogue that slows the story line to a crawl.

All this and more tooth-grinding moments.

And yet…

Hidden in the horrible writing and the sex scenes that aren’t worth my time to read or review, there is an interesting story.

Talk about flummoxed. Here was a book I intended to hate. The sarcastic notes I took as I read the book attest to that fact.

Halfway through the novel, my attitude changed. It took that long for it to hook me.

This book could have been so much better. But the crappy writing and subject matter make it too easy a target for a discerning audience.

One last thought. This is not a knockoff of Twilight. The comparison is ridiculous and feeble to the max.

Now, will I buy the next in the series? Probably not. I am curious about the outcome of the characters though. I cannot recommend shelling out ten bucks to read it. But don't make up your mind on reviews or sample chapters alone. I've made that mistake in the past.

Summary: This book surprised me and the ending made me want to know more. If re-written and edited by a knowledgeable person, this novel would have garnered good critical reviews. 

Too bad voyeurism and poor writing overshadowed a good story.

Did this review make you roll your eyes? Or intrigue you? Remember, I assumed I would loathe this book. *baby shocked face*

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Freudian? Or a Finger Twitch?

Fifty Shades of Grey Redux

I read the sample chapters of Fifty Shades on my Kindle, got to the end and thumbed down to the ‘more information’ tab.

Clicked the button.


A message popped up: “Thank you for buying Fifty Shades of…”

Well crap. The Fickle Finger of Fate strikes again.

I'm a lightning-fast reader so expect a review tomorrow.

*what an idiot*

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Literary Agents and 8-Track Tapes

An interesting post from The Passive Voice titled You Must Have an Agent…Or Not appeared in the blogosphere. 

Actually it is only another in a long line of musings about this industry.

I spoke with one famous fantasy author who believes agents are not the influence they once were in this business. Note yesterday’s post about Fifty Shades and the agents who moan how their philosophy was shot to hell by just one book.

But it isn’t just one book. There is Amanda Hocking who self-published herself into fame. Or John Locke, the first to sell one million Ebooks on Amazon.

Indie Publishing. For another eye-opener, go to Jeff Bennington’s blog The Writing Bomb. Essentially, he is a writer who chose not to wait on an agent but made his own way into self-pub. His blog is chock-full of info.

“But you must have an agent,” the ‘experts’ cry to us unwashed masses. “Write a good book and we’ll accept you as our client,” agents say.

Um, no. They won’t. Because:
The project you describe does not suit our list at this time.
This project doesn't seem quite right for us.
This project doesn’t sound right for me.
I am not the right agent for this work.
My fave is the ‘no response means no’ response and leaving the writer with hours of wasted research into an agent who blows them off without acknowledgment.

So you’ve polished your manuscript to a shiny new penny, educated yourself about adverbs and dangling participles, read every word regarding queries. Now what? Are the agents ignoring your baby? Does the prospect of self-publishing leave you cold?

Pick the in-between route, the publisher.

Apply directly to small pubs like WiDo PublishingCuriosity Quills, MusaPress, MuseItUp Publishing, Sapphire Star, and Baen Books. Or publishers that tower over the industry, Del Rey, DAW, and Tor/Forge.

So what is your flavor? Are you determined to go the traditional route? Or ready to explore small publishers or even self-pub?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Exploding the Truths of the Publishing World

Agents make fun of it in their blogs or throw their hands up, frustrated by the book’s popularity.

So what the hell is up with Fifty Shades of Grey?

I mean *pounding fist on computer table* WTH IS UP WITH THIS PHENOM?

Rant is over now. Everyone who scooted back from their computer monitor in horror can come back now.

One agent acknowledged the book’s success but lamented its atrocious writing. 
“As agents and editors, we rail against poor writing and ditzy plots. We turn away any book that doesn’t meet our standards. And then a book like this comes along and every truth we’ve beaten into our clients is shattered.”
So, as writers do we follow the advice of agents and editors or wallow in the marketing trend? Mounting sales of so-called horribly written books roil the waters into froth.

I am not giving a critique of this book since I’ve only read sample chapters of Fifty Shades. But I didn’t find it as engrossing as some of its readers have claimed. Maybe it gets better but I’m not willing to shell out ten bucks to find out. Some have placed this book in the same category as Twilight but I don’t see it like that. 

Confused by its popularity? Join the crowd, people.   

Hollywood is talking movie already with Ian Somerhalder starring as Christian Grey.

Okay, time out.


Maybe this shows some promise after all.

Have you read the book? Please, tell me why you liked/hated it. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Nuts and Bolts to Writing a Novel

First, comes conception and then the writing. *duh*

Next, the nuts and bolts. 

Editing. *shiver*

Bottom line, you do not have the necessary eye to judge your MS. You’ve lived the world you’ve created, every word burned into your consciousness. The path is too familiar.

Editing comes down to this:
Reading the words is different than Seeing the words.
You don’t notice the echoes or adverbs. You are blind to the use of your favorite words. Over-written? Phttttttttt.

Help is available, on this blog and other websites.

Creative writing software will catch some of the mistakes, highlighting overused words, dialogue attribution, and adverbs misuse.

Go to www.ravensheadservices.com for a free download of Write It Now.

Whether it helps you or not depends on where you are in this career; just learning the definition of ‘dialogue tag’ or agented and looking for a publisher.

Creative writing software is available. Go to www.dailywritingtips.com for a comparison. This website has priceless nuggets of writing advice.

Need help with facial expressions? Nearly every writer is aware of The Bookshelf Muse. This blog gives physical examples of anger, worry, confusion, and passion. The website’s authors also published a self-help guide, easy to thumb and find just the right open mouth, squinting eyes, sigh, and flipped fingers. The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi is available through Amazon or as an Ebook on their website.

Other books are available to parse the phrase and edit the annoying dangling participle. Books such as Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King. Stephen King’s On Writing is a winner also.

And last Critique Groups like Unicorn Bell, Betas and Critique Partners. The road to Published must include these fueling stations.

Remember, you are not alone. We are traveling the same highway, learning, exploring, and aiding. Keep on Truckin’, folks.

Do you have a favorite site for writers? Please share.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

First Chapter - part four

The fourth and final part of DARK ONES MISTRESS, from Aldrea Alien:

Anger, writhing hot and heavy in her veins, fast overrode her fear. She arched her back, fighting to regain possession of at least one arm. Her foot lashed out. The toe connected, issuing (I think you want a different word here, eliciting, perhaps) a grunt from one of the men. Where was the watch? Her cries should have brought them to her aid. Why weren’t they stopping this?

Clara glared up at the man holding the door, a sliver of fear stabbing her heart at the look in his eyes. So flat and dead, like a week-old fish. Ew, Creepy. Like it!

They halted before the tiny steps. There, the men flanking her finally released their grip, plonking her back onto the street. One of them shoved her closer to the lacquered panels. Not wishing to suffer being forced inside the carriage, she ascended the steps unaided, jumping as the door slammed shut. A faint click spoke of a lock slipping into place.

Clara felt her way to one of the seats, eyes straining to see in the scant light filtering through the heavily curtained windows. The carriage lurched forward as she went to sit, slamming her into the thin suggestion of a cushion.

Resettling herself, she leant leaned against the wall, hoping it would help towards lessening the horrid swaying. Her hand rose to pull back the curtain, hesitating upon hearing the rustle of loose fabric from the other side of what suddenly felt like a far smaller space.

Heart setting up a new pounding rhythm, she peered into the gloom. Naught but a darker shape could be seen against the slate grey of the interior. The other, seeming to know they’d been noticed, silently scrunched further into their seat.

Clara mimicked the action, hoping that whatever was to become of them would not echo the horrors she’d heard about the past Lords. Rumour’s only gossip, she reminded herself. And only a fool acts on gossip. But all rumours had a vein of truth somewhere.

She surely wished she knew what bits to believe.

Excellent end to the chapter.

Ok, so my overall thought is to do some cutting, nail the voice/age (Clara's) and pick up the pace a little (without losing much description, which I mostly liked). Voila: perfect first chapter, yes?

But what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Please add your comments and help Adrea make this chapter shine.

Friday, July 6, 2012

First Chapter Critique - part three

Hovering on the corner of her vision sat the form a cat scuttling across the eaves. Down on the road, another slinky beast swiped at a dog in passing. The mutt, scrawny and half bald from neglect, let out a whimper as it cringed under the remains of a stall. This feels like filler, unnecessary. 

Hearty scuffling came from the alley on her left, no doubt the product of a hungry dog. Her gaze lingered at the alleyway’s dark opening. She’d heard of other places where muggers roamed the streets, assaulting people at will then being dragged off to whatever punishment awaited them.

Nothing so exciting happened in Everdark. At least, not with the same criminal. There’d be whispers of those from afar avoiding the Lord’s men for days before they got caught. But not here. Not for that long.
The snort of a horse brought her attention back to the street ahead. Nothing barred the way between her and the corner where her home sat. Carts (if horses are rare what pulls the carts? Just asking…) rarely took this route through the village since the streets were only wide enough to allow one through and there was little need of them as transport for either people or goods. Thoughts of the black carriage invaded her mind, followed by the old man’s words.

Shrugging off the chill in her spine, Clara peered round the corner. Naught to be seen except the way home. Silly girl. (Now this bit of inner dialogue sounds more like 17. She’s scared, but she’s chiding herself for acting childish. This is good.) She chuckled and resettled her burden. (I don’t think we need to hear any more about her ‘burden,’ no offense. Personally, I’d give her a basket – unless these items are going to serve a purpose.)  Just a little further down this end of the street and she’d be off the streets and away from the rumours. Even if their new Lord was, in truth, sniffing about for whatever reason, he wouldn’t be doing it here down these streets. He’d be (first say what part of town, maybe name the street to make it feel familiar) after women like Brenna, the mayor’s spoilt, harlot of a daughter. This seems a little harsh. Not Clara’s judging of the mayor’s daughter as spoilt, which she might very well be, but labeling her as a harlot seems a little harsh unless there’s some serious history between the two, plus I suspect isn’t true. Why does Clara hate her so? And why would a Lord want a spoilt harlot? 

Yes, that would be the sort of woman a lord would fancy. (which sort? A Mayor’s daughter or a harlot?) Not someone with a seamstress for a mother. Her boot skittered a pebble across the cobblestones. Not that she’d any desire to be taken from family and home. Still, it would’ve been nice to get a peek at the inside of the citadel. If only so she could say she’d seen it. Now I’m a little curious. Are you perhaps deliberately making Clara a little bit unlikeable? It could be a clever device…But if not then I would suggest she appear a little less self absorbed. Again, just my opinion. 

A hoof scraped the ground behind her, the sound akin to the sharpening of a knife. Now we’re getting somewhere. I would strongly suggesting some serious slash and burn to get to this point sooner. This chapter could be quite tense…

Clara froze, her heart thudding. Taking a deep breath, she stared at the empty road stretching ahead. She could even make out the doorway to home. Mind your own business, she reminded herself. She took a shaky step forward, steadfastly refusing to look behind her.

“You there!”

Unable to resist the cry, she turned. The carriage, its black panels naught but a darker patch within the shadows, stood on the other side of the junction. One of the horses stamped a shaggy foreleg, the other bobbed its head as if in reply. By the goddess, how she hated the beasts. Unlike the dogs and cats she was more familiar with, horses always seemed to have a superior glint in their eyes, like they were secretly laughing at everyone. I love this. I personally would never think of horses this way but because Clara isn’t used them she fears them. This is good.

The driver gently slapped the reins, stilling the creatures. He leant (leaned) forward in his seat. Piggish eyes, dark like little coals, peered down at her. His lips twisted into a sneer. “She’ll do.”

Clara didn’t fancy waiting to find out why she’d do and what for. (Good for her! I’m glad you didn’t make her pause stupidly and wait for danger to approach) Dumping her burden, she ran down the street. (comma instead of period) Racing for the shadowed doorway that led to safety.

The clatter of hooves followed her. Black horseflesh ran alongside her, then fast pulled ahead to let the carriage trundle even.

She glanced at the shut doors and grimy windows flanking her other side, madly searching for a closer haven. Sudden movement on the edge of her vision turned her attention back to her pursuers. She caught only the briefest flash of a horse sliding to a halt right in her path before crashing into the beast, forcing the air from her lungs.

Shaking and fighting to regain her breath, she clung to the horse’s harness, the heavy strap under her touch strangely soft and firm at the same time. This couldn’t be happening. Everdark had always been safe! She pushed off the barrelled body, gasping as her chest ached anew.

Hands grabbed her, their fingers digging into her arms. They hauled her back from the horse.
A scream ripped up through her throat, exploding out her mouth to echo down the street. Her boot heels scraped against the cobbles. They lifted her clear of the road. She struggled to break free of the grip, howling her frustration when the hands stayed fast. Tears threatened to blind her. She blinked hard, shaking her head in an attempt to free them.

Her captors, strangely silent in their movements, turned to face the carriage. The driver still sat atop the vehicle. A third man stood near the door, holding it open in a mockery of the mayor’s footmen.

My only other comment is that this chapter could be streamlined to excellent effect. There are a lot of extra words that slow things down. I think you definitely want to introduce us to Clara a bit slow to start, with a few insights into her character but then get to what's going to happen; the old lord dying and her attempted kidnapping. Like I said, this first chapter could really crackle if the pace was a little faster. 

Now, what do you think?

Thank you Aldrea Alien for submitting! And thank you to everyone who comments! The fourth and final part will post on Saturday.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

First Chapter Critique - part two

(I am going to leave this up for another day due to the holiday, which means part three will post on Friday and part four on Saturday - please help our author our by commenting!)

A black-lacquered carriage rolled on by, pulled by two equally black horses and darkly-garbed (darkly-garbed feels a little awkward for my tongue. I wonder if there’s a smoother way to say how they’re dressed…how about 'black-clad men gripped tight the handholds at the back.'?) men clinging to the handholds at the back. Emblazed Emblazoned on the doors in blood red and highlighted with gold was the Lord’s symbol. It was meant to resemble a fire. She supposed it did, in an over-stylised fashion. Certainly more likely to be that if it could be said to look like anything at all. Either way, it didn’t stop the emblem from being a heinous thing, matching the citadel in taste when it came to points.  
I think this could be reduced to a single sentence or two, like this maybe: ‘It was supposed to resemble fire, which she supposed it did. But in hideous fashion.’ Or something like that.

She shivered at the sudden coolness in the air. Without looking, she knew she wasn’t the only one others had joined her in watching the carriage’s passage. She wouldn’t be surprised if all those minds were thinking the same thought. Why was it here? The Lords never came to Everdark and, though the village sat on the citadel’s doorstep, they rarely sent their servants. (<I switched these two sentences, see how it reads better?>) Clara slunk further back into the shadow of the awning. Her mother hadn’t been much older than she was now the last time that had happened. This is good information but something is happening here and this last sentence slows the action down, imo.

At last, the carriage trundled out of sight, leaving only the hollow clatter of the horse’s hooves on the cobbles.
A whisper crept into the crowd, growing louder with each set of ears it reached. Clara pushed her way back out into the street as the gossip neared her, her ears straining to hear their words despite all attempts to block out the noise.

“No, no. It’s true, I swear,” one man said to the nearby trio. “They’s come for the women.”
She shook her head and shuffled past the people. Street gossip, her mother often said, wasn’t something one could take seriously and only a fool acted on them alone. But still ... it had been several decades. Such a sighting could grease the wheels of rumour for a week or two.

“Dead?” gasped a woman from one of the bigger groups. “Our great Lord has been slain?”

Clara hesitated and found herself jostled closer as others pushed in to hear. Trying to get free only served in shoving her closer to the front. An elbow nudged her in the ribs, jigging her burden. Gritting her teeth, she clutched her wares to her chest. She’d soon lose everything if she didn’t win free from this press of bodies.

“ ‘Swat I ‘eard,” another man answered. Perched atop an overturned crate, he wiped a sleeve across his nose with a sickening slurp. “Came in before sunrise, that lot did. Seems the old Lord has gone and got ‘imself killed out near Ne’ermore way.”

A chorus of jeers went up, booming in her ears. Those standing behind Clara jostled her further forward. The Lord has been slain? That couldn’t be true. No one had the power to kill the people as mighty as their Lords. They were invincible.

The man shook his fist at the front arc of people, of which she was now one of. “I bet anyone of yer a fistful o’ coppers that ‘is youngin’ll be sniffin’ round ‘ere soon enough. He’ll be after strong blood.” He thumped his bare chest, disturbing a layer of dirt. “Could take any of ‘em. Could take ye. Or ye.” A finger jabbed out at the crowd, picking out would-be targets. The wizened arm swung her way. “Or ye.”

Shaking her head, she shrunk back from the man. Her foot, seeking a level patch in the street, trod on something a lot softer than it should’ve been.

“Hey, watch it!”

“Sorry,” Clara mumbled as she shoved her way through the throng. The mob thinned fast as she neared her street. The man hadn’t been pointing at her. And the Lord isn’t dead. Surely, if he really was, it would be the town’s criers that bellowed the official proclamation, not some near-toothless old man.

With the only other sound to be had coming from the crowd at her back, Clara hummed to herself as she made her way home. (Clara’s humming seems out of place after what has just happened. Humming indicates ease and I suspect that Clara is feeling anything but easy after what has just occurred. Regardless of her feelings for her mother I suspect she’d be hightailing it home) Absent of its usual inhabitants, the street reminded her of the first morning (which morning are you referring to? Did you mean this morning when she first set out or some other morning?) she’d set out alone into a fog-shrouded day. Though she could see the way ahead clearly enough today, the sun had yet to finish its task of warming the houses and spill down to chase the damp from the cobbles, it seemed no less surreal.
She past passed the cobbler’s shop, vacant apart from a few dusty pairs of shoes, and slowed. Peering at the grubby window, a smile came to her lips as she admired the way her skirts swung with each step. Simple brown linen. Exactly what she’d wanted. Yet it’d still taken months to convince her mother to make it. Again, Clara stopping to admire how she looks in the glass seems out of place here at this time.

No doubt her mother only relented because her seventeenth year loomed. Even so, it had taken weeks after that day celebrating her birth before her mother had gotten round to finishing the whole outfit. Clara let her gaze travel up. Yes, it did much to make her hair seem less vibrant. That alone was enough to never stop wearing this dress until it fell apart.
Allowing herself a little, girlish giggle, she carried on by the shops and homes. The hushed pad of her footsteps gave way to the soothing sounds of the village. She wiggled her toes, feeling the stones through the soles. Perhaps she could convince her mother to buy her some new shoes next year. I would probably skip this whole bit about Clara and how she looks at herself in the glass. It seems like a way to show the reader what Clara looks like but it’s too obvious. Anyway, we don’t need to know what she looks like – yet.

Things are definitely starting to get interesting but I have two suggestions. One, skip the accent on the townsfolk; accents are very difficult to do well. Two, do some serious cutting. This second part here would read much faster and be a lot more tense if it was shorter. Get to the good parts! I know they're coming because I skipped ahead  :)

Now, what do you think?