Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Tag it or Beat it

Years ago as a new writer, I knew nothing about dialogue or how to construct a conversation between characters. I knew less than nothing about point of view, pacing or plot vs. character driven stories. Most new writers read something...either bad or good...and think to themselves;
"I can do that!
Perhaps you watched a movie or television program where a famous writer, a budding writer or a complete novice started typing in a mad whirlwind of pages. After they  finished it they sent out their manuscript to publishers. They were then discovered and made the best seller list followed by appearances on Oprah.
Yeah...there's a reason they call it fiction.
In the real world, there are a thousand rules you probably shouldn't follow for writers, but there are also a few you should. Keep practicing and reading to see what they are. Mostly learn a few, one at a time. Don't try to cram them all in your writers briefcase, bring them home and then line them up to write your first novel. You will be able to write it. Whether or not you publish, sell, or become a best seller is a matter of learning these rules, practicing them and having some talent for storytelling. More than talent is learning. A hard truth to hear but still true.
The good news is...you can learn!
So today, lets learn about tags and beats.
A tag is a label your dialogue wears to explain who is speaking by using the verbs said, asked, whispered, and murmured. Other tags can be used but most publishers don't care for things like: spit,yelled, hissed, muttered, etc. etc. Again, this is particular to your publisher. If you don't have a publisher yet then stick with the basics. Said, asked, whispered, murmured.
"Don't leave me," she whispered.
"Don't leave me she hissed through clenched teeth. Both can be used, but a good writer will let you know the tone of voice through the context of the sentence.
Crouched beneath the blackened staircase, Stella wrapped her whitened knuckles around Ethan's arm. "I'm going to go check out that noise. The house is supposed to be empty so just wait here for me."
"Don't leave me," she whispered, the moment before he stepped out of the stairwell.
Had she been angry with him or trying to give him a message by speaking through clenched teeth, the context of the story would have been a better explanation than the dialogue tag. If this were the case you would have written -she said, through clenched teeth.-
A beat is movement that gives personality, quirks, or movement in the scene.
"Ethan brushed her hand away only to feel her fingers dig into his skin beneath his t-shirt.
Now you could write...Ethan pushed her hand away while saying, "Stay here." It would've worked the same way. However movement in the scene will move your plot along with your setting and the arc of a story.
Here's the issue. If you overburden your dialogue with tags it becomes boring and redundant.
"I don't want to be here," she said.
"Me neither," he replied, glaring at her.
"Let's leave," she whispered, tugging on his sleeve.
"Not until I find out what's going on," he said through clenched teeth.
Not only is that bad writing and boring reading, what do you know about her personality, her idiosyncrasies, her phobias and her background. You can fill your reader in on these things through beats.
"I don't want to be here." Stella's blue eyes darted from the candelabra on the ceiling to the statue on the pedestal beside them.
"Me neither." Ethan peeled her sharp nails out of his bicep. The only thing worse than being stuck here with some chic his brother had set him up with to mend his broken heart, was being here with Stella the freak from biology class. Last week Mr. Ogden had passed out the dissection trays only to have Stella start crying when the frog being dissected convulsed.
"let's go." she tugged on his arm, a pain filled grimace covering her features. Ethan sighed and peeled her hand away. He remembered the story she'd written in English class about the girl watching her mother die in an earthquake. He hadn't been really listening, Missy Caldwell snuggling with Brock Hamstead right in front of  him. The jock's arm draped protectively over Missy's shoulders.
"Not until I find out what's going on," he said.
Now you've got interesting backstory and personality and your dialogue hasn't changed, nor the setting in the story.
Notice, however, that both beats and tags are necessary. You need both to accomplish your goal.
As much as you'd like to know exactly what the rule is and how it turns out, some of it is instinct. Some of it is experience through reading authors who do this well. Most of it...is practice.
Hopefully this is helpful in writing your next dialogue scene and in the meantime...Keep writing and Reading!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

My Name Is EGO

It's a huge character flaw. A rather unattractive part of my personality.  Everything I hate about leading men in romances. Honestly though, My name is ego. Its what I love best about a good romance. A person with huge amounts of ego desires to be admired and the center of attention.
The charge and exhilaration of reading a really good romance is part and parcel of all the attention the lead gets when their significant other goes from just being attracted to willing to do anything to have their love.
It doesn't matter if you're a single mom who needs love. A stay at home mom who needs adult conversation. A working woman who wants to be spoiled and admired or a happily married woman who wants a little spark of romance in her life. We all feed our ego with Romance. It's the reason every genre of book out there has a bit of romance in it. Our ego's are what we have in common.
Now...if you know anybody with an ego, you know their ego needs to be stroked. Often and skillfully. It's why great romances have the largest following and sales of any other genre. It's also why they are more consistent than any other group. We need each other. Those of us  who are in love with being in love. As well as those of us who love to write about being in love in their stories.
So...how do we find each other? Where do I go to find people who want to read about ordinary people with problems who heal from love?
Maybe I'm asking the wrong question? Maybe what I should be asking is; What does your ego need from a romance novel to help you feel stroked, skillfully and often?
If you read the entire blog...Please leave me a comment and tell me what your ego needs. Maybe you want to be paid attention to on facebook, twitter or some other social media? Tell me about it.
Maybe you need more romance and less action? Let me know.
How can I stroke your ego so my writing isn't about me, but all about you!
I need to let my own ego go and focus on yours. Let me have it!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Before Its a Novel...Its a Building!

 A content writer and marketing specialist I'm friends with asked me how I create my novels?
Well, my mind instantly spun over all the writing, developing, researching and editing I do to eventually have a finished story. She went on to explain, these are the bricks authors use to create the foundation, structure and content of their novels. It is a HUGE amount of work. Most of us do it aside from writing the actual manuscript. In a one-on-one meeting with a reader or a workshop or class, there is no way a writer could explain everything we do, how we do it or what it takes to get it done. Budding new writers with dreams of becoming best-selling novelists don't even listen to this advice if we give it. They can't see past the stars in their eyes to comprehend the detailed work involved. I know this because at one time I believed if I had enough talent, this work wasn't necessary. I'd just know how to create a fabulous novel because I possessed a fabulous story idea.
However, I learned through trial, error and beating my head against more than one computer screen.
A novel is a building! It starts from the ground up. If I'm too busy picking out carpets, curtains, paintings and crown molding. I'm left with a jumbled collection of pretty words, mismatched images and disjointed plots. Therefore, as I spelled out for my friend what goes into the building before the novel, I came up with a collection of what I've learned over the last few years.
This by no means is what I need to know in totality or even close, its simply my tools in my belt so far. If you can add or clean up my tool box, please leave a comment and let me know how I can improve.
     The Tool Chest-

1- Develop a large world- Where, when and what the setting looks like, smells like and feels like to the characters. Once again this will be vastly different
from romance to Sci-phi. The large world needs research done on everything from Continent, country, county, state, city, neighborhoods, local businesses
and hot spots and geography. Roads, bridges, train tracks or not, public transportation, farms or cities. Once again a large view must be built before
you can insert your characters into the larger world. Some authors do this first and then write the characters. Others write the characters and then develop
the specific setting. In a series a large world view is needed to plot the entire series from beginning to end.

2-Small World- This includes family dynamics, friends, neighbors, and pets or important connections outside of the small world or even the large world.
This helps with the development of the characters as they relate to each other. Her past vs. his. His betrayals vs hers. Are they different but have things
in common? Are his instincts going to work against her? are his friends going to become obstacles instead of allies? Is her job going to interfere with
his goals for himself and for the two of them. Some of this is necessary to create conflict in the story so the author needs to create small world characters
who the reader will love and can also create obstacles for them self and the protagonists.

3-Character Mug shot- This is a very basic physical description of each character. Yes, each character. Everyone from the pizza delivery
boy to the antagonist. we need details. Scars, acne, hair (curly? Straight? bleached? natural with dyed roots?" eyes (shape, color,wrinkled around the
edges, close together, wide or narrow) You get the idea. Make the questions as specific and detailed as you can.

4-Character personality- This needs to be a series of questions about the inner workings of each, yes each, character. Do they like animals? Which ones?
Are they allergic to anything? What? What happens? What is their worst fear? What is their fondest dream? What is their religious beliefs? Who is their
best friend/worst enemy? Do they like/use/hate/drugs and alcohol? What are their addictions? What is their deepest secrets? You need about fifteen questions
that make the author dig down to know this character intimately.

5- Wound or Flaw- Every character has a wound, usually created sometime during adolescence. It can have started earlier in their development but there
needs to be an incident that formed the wound and therefore their belief system. I use an exercise where I write a short story, anywhere from 1K to 3 K
words focused on this wounding incident at the age of sixteen. Once you know your characters pain you also learn their drive, their flaws when making decisions,
their fears which hold them back and the source of their determination to overcome. This will create an arc for the overall story and the characters arc
as well.

6-Synopsis- The best shortcut to a story's beginning and ending is a synopsis. Using one paragraph for each Chapter, describe the story without detailing
scenes or characters. It is a break down. Part of this activity can also include breaking your story down to two sentences or less as a pitch line and
describing the story in 140 characters or less for a tweet as a marketing technique. Another handy exercise is to write a query letter that introduces
your important characters, the conflict and then the stakes. This should be no more than 3 paragraphs. All of these are in progress throughout the creation
of the book. you change your synopsis when you get an idea for a scene and it works better. You adjust your lines as you tighten your story. each exercise
only eliminates what the author thinks is important but the reader doesn't need to know.

My creative process works much in this way but I don't follow all of the steps in any certain order. Part of mine has to do with how the story sounds to
me when my computer reads it aloud. I will also get ideas about something from conversation, workshops or a file I have called 'bad writing' where I just
write a scene I don't like in a different way until I stumble on something that I like. I also use music, eavesdropping and descriptions of interesting places or people from the sighted individuals around me. What ever sparks your creative juices is what works for you. Go with it. There is an instinct inside of us, an instinct when we read our own work and can tell its not what we wanted which will cause a sort of discomfort in your mind. Go with that instinct as well. Every time I have Beta readers do a critique for me, they will point out problems to me. My response will inevitable be..."Yeah, I kind of knew that."

Beta Readers and Critique partners are the best way to get around your own ego to the problems that are in your way.
Don't ever be afraid to get feedback, or criticism. It will only make you better. You don't have to agree or run yourself down if your feedback was harsh. Listen to what they're trying to tell you without defending your own work. Readers will attack, but if you become better... then they taught you how to make a ramshackle building a truly beautiful Novel!
In the meantime keep writing and reading!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

If Love is The Answer...What is the Question?

During an author showcase I did with The World Of Ink Network on Monday, the writers and I discussed the brutal slaughter of 50 people in Orlando Florida on Sunday morning. This group of writers was made up of a few different genres. Romance, Children's books, Young Adult, Occult fiction and Horror to name a few. The incident in Florida this weekend was equally disturbing to all of us however.
One of the writers, politically active and socially conscious was especially passionate about his views and made an interesting statement that stuck with me.
When speaking of feeling powerless in these terrorist attacks, he said, "The writing is our voice. We speak out against the things we cannot change when we tell of the changes being made with in our worlds."
I write suspense and romance. At first, I felt a bit chagrined at my 'voice' being about love and romance when so clearly there are larger things at stake.
As our conversation expanded, we spoke of our books, our writing and our motivations. I began to understand this author's earlier statement.
My world view is that pure love, understanding, and acceptance of all people will heal even the deepest wound and bring about joy and peace. Those are the stories I tell. Of people who face tragedy, disease, death and heart break. Individuals who take their darkest moments and heal through the power of love. I believe Love is the answer. The world's I create inside my novels are meant to show how taking our differences, finding common ground and loving despite the things that separate us is the answer.
As you write the things that you believe in, notice that the healing hands and hearts of your readers will change. The world is a bigger place. But one soul, one heart, and one friend at a time your contributions toward a better world will change everything.
Find inside of your self what you believe to be the answer and then figure out what question the readers in your genre are asking.
God bless the family and loved ones of those lost, injured and traumatized in Florida. We pray for you, mourn for you and love you for your courage.
Hold on to what you believe in and heal the world one heart at a time. In the meantime, keep reading and writing!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Tell Me About It!

By means of a slew of craft books, blogs, and workshops, I've been taught to 'show' not 'tell'. I've posted about my experiences in descriptive movies where telling is what has to take place in order for blind, or visually impaired individuals to watch movies. It's definitely better than staring at a blank or flashing screen while you try to follow along with only the dialogue. I still believe the actual scenes themselves could do a better job. However, I failed to note how important telling actually turns out to be.
To have the ability and the vocabulary to describe what something looks like, feels like, smells like and sounds like is a gift. Equally important is the talent of knowing when its time to tell.
Here are a few quick hints that can help.
-1. If something is happening repeatedly to show a pattern, time and pages will be wasted. Instead, telling in a few words or paragraphs will accomplish a tighter, better read. If your story is about how a woman in the 1800's survives abandonment by her husband. The reader needs to know it happened, but doesn't need to see it happening. A brief telling of multiple trips to town for notice from her husband concerning his whereabouts can be accomplished with out seeing every instance.
-2If an action or information was provided earlier in the story, don't repeat it to fill in another character. It's redundant, boring and slows the stories pace down. Instead, fill in the new character with the important information by telling your reader that's what's going on. The reader doesn't need to hear it all again. "While he stopped his hair from being torn out by the shrieking baby, she told him all about her exciting day in the city."
-3When the backstory is critical to understanding the motivation of your characters or technical information is needed to explain why or how a plot point occurred, tell it. Don't write an extra novel, give it to your reader in pieces. The concept of "chunk and chew" is useful hear. Only give as much as is necessary during the time line of the plot. If baby will eventually learn not to smack a tiger on the nose, explained why this action might irritate a tiger when you first introduce the tiger is unnecessary. Introduce the character traits of the Tiger and the reasoning behind them, but don't even hint about the baby.
-4 Moving from an important scene into the next important scene will happen faster and more naturally if you tell the information in between. A good rule is; if you need it for the development of character or plot, keep it.  Showing your leading man correctly dealing with a gun shot wound is necessary. Showing him under attack leaving the victim's hospital room, also important. Showing the arrival of an ambulance, the hours of surgery, and him waking up in his room, less vital. These scenes can be used to develop character...but do they? Its the secret to knowing when to tell.
-5 Ask yourself before you change a telling scene to a showing scene; is it going to be on the test? If you broke your plot and characters down to the most important scenes, does the scene your changing end up on the list? If it won't be 'on the test' be careful not to get descriptive and slow down the story. If the pacing is building toward the climatic scene, don't stop to describe the flutter of butterfly wings, noting the slight movement is probably enough.
Don't be afraid to Tell' your story too. The greatest story tellers are those who can balance their scenes between the two concepts. For more information on 'showing vs. telling' go to www.marcykennedy.com and get her Busy Writers Guide For Showing and Telling.
In the meantime keep reading and writing!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Getting directions

Life happens in a multitude of directions.It's down there; look over there; standing beside the fire; Behind the shelves; and so on.
When writing movement, direction is a complicated balance.
Enough direction will lead your reader down the story line and along the plot path. See, even in that former sentence I used direction as a guide to let your mind follow.
However, too much direction can be as  equally destructive as enough direction can be helpful.
What'd the right balance?
Here's a trick I learned from a writer friend of mine. When doing an editorial read through or repair, look for specific words in your find and replace tool. "Back,Before, After, Beside, Behind, Along side, Next to, At the end of, Above and In back of."
When the word or phrase is located; read the sentence it is a part of without the search terms. If the scenery still makes sense, take the direction out. If the sentence becomes muddled, keep it. This will take time and patience, but will be worth it when your reader enjoys the flow of your work without feeling like the writer is being patronizing.
Here are some samples to try-
"The glass, teetering beside the teapot, crashed to the floor."
"He searched the clouds above for a heavenly message."
"crouching behind the door, she listened to their conversation."
"The gun was replaced in the drawer at the end of the table."
"Strolling along side her pooch, Madeline whistled a perky tune."
Some of those are clear and easy. Others will make you wonder. That is Okay. Soon your mind and your instincts will be trained to notice them in your writing without a reminder to do the search. Try it, have fun and Keep Writing!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Help Yourself

Writing, for me, has always been therapeutic. Its like having a long conversation with my best friend without that friend getting bored or tired of my problems. When my father died, I wrote reams of poetry and essays to work my way through the pain. When i was smitten with some boy, or crushed by some life event, I wrote about it and everything magically went on. As if putting it into words changed the reality of what had happened.
This, however, is not a tool all individuals can employ. Its the reason we read self-help books.
I have been interested in reading, writing and researching self-help for quite some time. Perhaps its my background in psychology, the work I did with troubled teens or even my experiences as a mother that have always drawn me to this arena. Whatever it is, I've learned a few things about writing such a book.
1.Write like a speaker, don't speak like a writer-
   The language of a self help book that is successful is not complicated, wordy or technical. Its basic, quotable and has a sense of humor. Dr. John Gray, The Author of "Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus" learned this after he'd published a few other books, with a bit of success. Each time he discovered that the language he used to speak  to his audience was too complex. He said "I needed something they could repeat to each other in the line at the supermarket or pharmacy." This also made his books about 200 pages longer than people wanted to read.
2. Use humor-
   Nobody wants to read a dry and boring discussion between their therapist and themselves. The point of self-help is to see that all is not lost and if you can laugh at yourself and the world around you, hope is alive. Everything from title to quotes and stories within the book should allow your audience to laugh. Both at themselves and at the crazy world around them. In "Rich Dad, Poor Dad "by Robert Kiyosaki, he often makes fun of his own mistakes and the methods he used to learn life's crucial financial lessons.
3.Outline in 10-
   Many self-help  authors find their information to be very expansive and overwhelming. If they break the book down to its 10 most important concepts, and then make them the chapter headings, people will actually buy and read the book. The authors of "The anatomy of Peace", Wrote their book 12 times before the concepts were finally broken down to the basic format of the book.

If you just enjoy reading self-help or would like to write it yourself, go look up the writers who have been successful and read their stories. You'll be surprised how helpful they will be. In the meantime keep writing!.