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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Writer's Block- Can We Beat It?

Remember forever ago, when I promised you a special post about a topic chosen by Harpley (the first Candor Friday's winner)? Well, after much anguish and stress, here it is. And, before you all say it's ironic that I couldn't write about this, it isn't; she gave me two options and this is the second one. I really wanted to write the first one and hopefully I still will. Someday...

Writer’s Block.

Surely you’ve heard of it.

Some writers live by it. Some writers try their whole lives to beat it but can’t seem to get fully out of its grasp. And some writers swear it doesn’t exist.

But what is it really? Can it be beaten? What kind of a disease are we talk about here? One with a cure? Or one writers doomed to suffer from forever?

First, let’s define writer’s block:

According to Dictionary.com “writer’s block” is: a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible toproceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work.

(That “usually” part before the “temporary” is a little daunting, don’t you think?)

Seems simple enough. Basically, writer’s block is when a writer can’t write. But, why can’t the writer write? Before we start talking about cures, let’s take a look at some things that cause it:

1) Lack of Inspiration or Boredom with Your Writing

More often than not, writers get bored with whatever they’re working on. It’s easy to lose interest when all the magic of creating the story is gone and all you have left is the hard work of stringing the right words together to for an actual work. So, when another story idea comes along, it’s easy to blame writer’s block for our lack of interest and move on to something else.

2) A Need for Perfection

This is the writer’s greatest enemy. We want so badly to write the perfect story or novel or poem that we end up not writing anything at all. Because nothing we come up with is good enough. And then it’s not long before we’re unable to write anything that’s even mediocre, because we’ve mentally blocked ourselves.

3) Lack of Drive or Dedication (otherwise known as laziness)

I know I do this more often than I’d like to admit. I get lazy with my writing. I want it to be all the fun and games of creating a new story that when it comes time to do the actual work, I just get plain lazy. I don’t feel like writing. I don’t actually want to write. I want to plan the book and then have it write itself. Sometimes, it’s just so hard to put the words together that I just plain don’t want to do it. But, I still try (because I even though I don’t want to write, I want to accomplish something) and when the words don’t come, I blame it on our little friend, Writer’s Block.

So, there we have it. Three reasons why writers suffer from writer’s block. But, as I asked before, now that we’ve examined the disease, is there a cure? Or, are we all just doomed?

Good news. There is definitely hope for writers. As long as you’re willing to put some time and dedication into it (and, of course you are. You’re a writer, after all) you can beat this thing yet.

The first thing I’d like to address, is that some of you are probably thinking that your writer’s block isn’t caused by any of these things. You’re just plagued with the inability to write. And, I know how you feel.  But, I firmly believe these are the three causes. And, I also believe more often than not, we’re not aware of the reason for our pain. So, if you’re simply unable to write and you don’t know why, take a step back and ask yourself which one of these things you’re suffering from.

All right! Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at some ways to beat this thing.

1) Give Yourself an Incentive

Last year when I was doing NaNoWriMo we had a whole basket full of peanut butter cups left over from Halloween. And, I wanted to eat them all at once. Because peanut butter cups are my favorite.

So, in order to both keep myself from eating too many of them, and also get me to up my word count a little faster, I only allowed myself to eat sugar of any kind (not including the sugar I put in my tea because I need tea when I write) every 5,000 words I wrote. Which meant I only got to eat sugar about every other day or so. And, it made me write a whole lot faster because I didn’t want to go two days in a row without a snack.

Maybe it’s not sugar for you and it doesn’t have to be 5,000 words. But, find something that will spur you on to write more and use that as a reward for writing.

2) Give Yourself Permission to Write Poorly

As I said above, perfectionism is the writer’s greatest enemy. We try so hard to write the perfect novel, that more often than not we end up not writing anything at all. So, a good way to beat that is to let yourself write badly. Even the famous authors start out with a rough draft. J.K Rowling had to edit bad parts of Harry Potter. Trust me, I read excerpts of it. No lie.

3) Look at it From a Different Angle

If you are having trouble writing that one particular scene, something that really helps is looking at it from a different perspective. Say your book is written from Fred’s perspective. Try writing the scene from Joe’s. No, the scene won’t make it into the book. But, it might help you figure out what’s really going on. Maybe getting into someone else’s mind will help you understand what’s happening and help you write the scene from the correct point of view.

4) Work on Something Else

I know this is going to sound like bad advice, but hear me out. If you’re having trouble working on whatever you’re working on because you have a new story idea, I have found this really helpful. Open up a new document or get a blank piece of paper or so whatever it is you do when you start writing a new story. Then just start writing. Don’t worry about it being perfect or making sense or anything like that. You’re not actually going to show this to anyone. Just write about that idea you want to write about. Either the scene playing over and over in your head or type up the outline you’re trying to figure out. Just do it, without thinking too hard. Just get it out of your head.

I find this helps me get the idea out of my brain without me having to worry that I’ll lose it. Then I can go back to my other project with a clear head and undistracted imagination.

5) Take a Step Back

When all else fails, walk away. Not forever. Doesn’t even have to be a whole day. Just take a step back, work on something else. Watch a movie. Take a walk. Hang out with friends. Do something else. And then sit back down and try writing again. Oftentimes we try too hard to write that it takes away the creative juices. So long as you make sure to go back to it afterwards, there’s nothing wrong with walking away from it for a little while.

And there you have it. Those are my ways of beating writer’s block. As always, if you have anything to add, feel free to drop a comment below. I love hearing from you all!!!

And, I don’t usually do this, but I’m having trouble making a decision, so I’m just going to go ahead. I’m working on a story idea and two of the characters adopt a baby boy. Only I have too many name choices. So, let me know which one you like best:

Remus, Cassian, Cato, Felix, Junius, Julius, or Titus. (If it’s helpful, other characters in the series are named: Gypsy, Apollo, Eris, Rysh, Romulus, Leon, Callie, and Chloe).

So, drop your vote in the comments section below and we’ll see what we come up with!

See you all on Friday!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Candor Fridays- Week Ten

It’s Friday, folks!

You probably didn’t think I was going to post today. SURPRISE!!!!!

Just one question this week:

 Shyly asked: I really enjoyed your book 'Why Rodney Never Should've Gone to the NAPIC' - when will the next book be coming out?

First of all, it makes me very happy to hear you liked the first book.  I always love it when people tell me that.

Second, I’m glad you asked!! Book 2 (How to Properly Deface a Book) is set for release November 10th of this year. Which means a certain author has to get to work editing. *whistles innocently*

And… since that’s all I’ve got to say on the subject… here’s a short little excerpt from Chapter Four. Enjoy!

I stand outside of 1220 North Cross Street, staring up at the large, brick building in front of me. I’m not quite sure how Fiona talked me into coming here. One minute I was looking the place up online to see if they really (or still) existed and the next she’s got me calling her dad and Rodney to see if it’s okay if we make a trip downtown today.

She’d wanted to go right away, but they’d been closed Monday night when she stayed over, and Tuesday we both had to go to work. So, here we were Wednesday, both begged out of working, standing downtown, outside of the shop that will seal my fate.
Yes, I’m being overdramatic. But, if any situation calls for a little drama, this is it.
“Well,” Fiona says, offering me a grin. “This is it. You want to go first or should I?”
My eyes are locked on the sign out front, the one with the shop’s name written in fancy red letters with a picture of an owl perched beside it. It’s all I can do it keep breathing normally. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out.
I turn to face her, unable to speak.
She nods and takes my hand. “Right, we’ll go together.”
Her hand is warm and sticky in mine. I wonder if she’s as nervous as I am. I guess that’s what makes her a true friend; she cares about things that only matter to her because they matter to me.
Too bad she hadn’t gone to Rodney’s office with me yesterday. I spent a good portion of the day clicking on and off of the Owlside Books website, trying to gather up the courage to read more about the place- and the people who ran it. But, I never quite managed to click the “About Us” tab. I’d been afraid of what I would find, of the fact that the answers might be right there, all this time just waiting on a website for me to find.
Of course, the answers had just been waiting in a book all this time for me to find. I wonder if I’d have ever found them if Fee and I had never become friends.
Either way, I’m glad we did. I’d rather have her here with me now than try to face this alone.
She squeezes my hand as she pulls the door open, the bell overhead jangling. We’re assailed with a blast of cold air, sharply contrasting that of the humid July temperatures. I take a deep breath, stopping short in the store’s doorway. My heart pounds in my chest and it’s all I can do to remain calm.
This is it. Whatever I find here today could determine my fate.
I smile at the dramaticness of the thought. Maybe Oliver was right when he told me I should consider a career in the theater.
Fiona stops as well, waiting patiently by my side. Her eyes dart around the shop, from shelve of books to shelve of books, a hungriness evident in each and every glance. She wants to get this over with so she can explore.
I know exactly how she feels. Only, I have a feeling that there isn’t going to be an “over” today. Not for me anyway. Whatever I find here is either going to be the best thing in my life or the worst. There’s nothing in between.
She notices me staring at her and gives me an encouraging nod. I take a deep breath and step all the way inside, the door shutting with a soft thud behind me. Goosebumps form up and down my arms, a shiver making its way down my spine, as the air conditioning swirls around me. Reason number one why I hate summer- no matter how you dress it’s never the right choice for both indoor and outdoor wear.
Of course, that’s the least of my worries right now.
I take a small step toward the counter, which is semi-hidden by a shelf of books. Seriously, this place is packed with more bookshelves than any store I’ve ever been in before. It smells so nice too, comforting- like a clean blanket or a friend’s sweater.
But, I have no time to soak in the wonder of the place. I’m on a mission. Questions first, exploration later.
If I’m not too upset to explore, that is.
There’s a young man sitting behind the counter- which is also covered with books, by the way. His head is bent down, so all I can see of him is a thick crop of curly blond hair. He’s got a notebook open in front of him, a thick notebook with colorful tabs sticking off the sides in some form of organization. The pages are well-thumbed, the edges worn and curled. And, it seems familiar somehow.
I clear my throat, not sure what else to say. How should I start?

This is obviously not well thought through. Fiona and I should have discussed this when we first started making plans to come here.
The young man looks up and I get a good look at his face. High cheekbones, bright blue eyes, and a lopsided smile. I realize now why the notebook looked familiar.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Message She Found on His Phone- A Short Story

I know I promised you all a special post on Monday and today is Wednesday. Also, unfortunately, this isn't the special post I promised you. This is a short story a I wrote a while ago.

The special post is coming. It's just taking me a long time. See, I have writer's block. I want to write the post. I know exactly what I want to say. But can I put it down on paper? Nope. Not a word.

So, you all have to wait a little longer.

And, in the meantime, a story from me:

The Message She Found on His Phone

I stared down at the table, covered with the contents of a man’s life. All he had left behind in this world. All his life was worth in material possessions.

His pocketknife, worn from use but in good shape. He always said a man needed to respect his knife if he wanted to get the most use out of it.
His watch, the one I’d bought him for his twenty-fifth birthday. The strap was frayed now and the buttons worn. They stuck when you pushed them sometimes but he refused to buy a new one.
His wallet, containing seven dollars, a few credit cards, a picture of me, and his license. I cried as I ran my finger over his smiling face. I would never see that smile on his face ever again.
His ring of keys, all different shapes and sizes, because he believed a man needed to be able to open whatever he wanted.
His phone, which was just an old school flip phone. He liked to tell me when I teased him about it that as long as it made calls, that was all that mattered.
And, a few odds and ends, because he never knew what he might need at any given time- a long bit of twine, a small flashlight, a comb, a pack of gum, a lighter, and a small bottle of ibuprofen.
“I’m very sorry, Miss Peterson,” the stern-faced man standing beside be said. He’d given the name Cullen when he’d introduced himself to me but, with the way security was run in this place, it could very have been an assumed name. “Did Ethan tell you what he was doing that day?”
I knew it was a trick question. He wasn’t asking because he wanted me to know, but in fact, the exact opposite. “No, he never told me anything. He said he couldn’t talk about it, it was top secret.”
He gave a small nod of approval and repeated, “I’m very sorry.”
I didn’t want to hear it again. Ever. But, I knew I would, after I explained to everyone how it was I lost a fiancĂ© but didn’t know how. What on earth was I going to tell them? How was I going to explain?
I blinked back the tears, determined not to cry in front of this man. “Am- am I allowed to take these?”
“Of course,” he told me, moving to gather the things up and put them in a box for me. “That’s why we asked you here. We figured that you had more right to them than anyone else.”
“Thank you,” I whispered, wondering if I could really make it all the way out of here before I started to sob.
He handed me the box, saying, “Ethan often spoke of you. He always had the highest of praise. It was obvious that he loved you very much.”
The clutched the box to my chest, blinking back the moisture that was becoming too great to contain. There were too many past tenses. Too many reminders that he would never do it again.
“Thank you,” I whispered once more, turning toward the door, turning away from this man so he wouldn’t see me cry. But, as I turned, I found the guard who had brought me up waiting by the door. So he, rather than the stern-faced man, was the one who saw.
He reached out to put a gentle hand on my arm as he guided me out of the room. I let him touch me, let him lead me away. I no longer cared who saw. Why should I? As the grieving fiancée I had every right to cry.
We made it down the elevator, through the lobby, and into the parking lot. I saw nothing and honestly doubt I could have made it to my car on my own. The guard put his hand on the door as if to open it for me but hesitated.
“Are you sure you’re all right to drive home?” he asked, concern written all over his voice and face. “I could get someone else to drive you if you don’t feel up to it.”
I shook my head, wanting to be rid of this place forever. I didn’t need their help, didn’t want it. I could make it home on my own. “I’m- I’ll be fine.”
He nodded, still looking concerned, as he opened the driver’s door. I climbed in, setting the box gently on the passenger’s seat. After I was all in and situated, the guard shut the door for me and walked away.
That’s when I officially lost it.
Alone for my thoughts with the first time since I received the news, I leaned forward onto the steering wheel and began to sob. I wondered if maybe I should have accepted the offer for someone to drive me, wondered how long I could sit here bawling before this high security place would send someone out to shoo me away. Well, better to say here and face that than to drive like this.
I don’t know how long I sat there, crying and yelling, venting all of my anger, my hurt, my frustration, my pain. I should have known better than to fall for someone like him. All this secrecy, all this danger, never knowing where he was or what he was doing.
It had been hard, especially when someone like my mom asked what he did and I had to give her the “he’s a banker” cover-up lie. How was I going to explain how this banker got killed? How was I going to tell them what happened?
I didn’t even know myself.
All they had told me was that he was working and he died. Killed in the line of duty. Just like that, gone. We hadn’t even had a chance to say goodbye.
What I would give to hear him say he loved me one last time.
I began fumbling around for my phone, trying to remember where I’d left it. If I called his phone now, I’d get his voicemail; maybe I couldn’t hear him say what I wanted to hear, but I could listen to his voice, hear him speak.
I looked for a good while before I remembered that I’d left my phone at home, I’d been in such a hurry when I’d left. They’d said it was urgent and I had known deep down what they were going to say. So, I’d left without so much as my driver’s license- yet another reason why driving in this state would be a bad idea. If I got pulled over, I’d be in a whole mess of trouble.
And, I had enough trouble right now without adding more.
I wasn’t thinking straight when I pulled his phone out of the box. I guess in that moment I thought to use his phone to call him. It wasn’t until I was flipping it open that I realized that was impossible.
I started to close it when I saw the blue screen with a message. You Have One New Voicemail.
Without even really thinking about it, I pressed the button to let me listen to it. One thing Ethan hadn’t been secret about was his phone password because he’d always said he wanted me to know that while he couldn’t tell me things, he wanted me to trust him. It was his way of showing me that he wasn’t doing anything to betray me in his secrecy.
I’d never used it, but I’d kept it close for what it symbolized.
I punched in the numbers and waited while the automated voice told me how many new and saved messages there were. And then the new message began to play.
A voice rang through the speakers that I never expected to hear.
“Emily, it’s me, Ethan. I didn’t want to call and leave this on your phone because I might make it out alive and I don’t want to alarm you until it’s all over. But, if you’re listening to this now, I guess it is over and I guess I didn’t make it. No big surprise. It doesn’t look like I’ll make it.”
I covered my mouth with my hand, trying to keep back the sob until the message is through. I don’t want to miss a single word.
“I can’t tell you what I’m doing, top secret and all that, but I wish I could. I wish I could tell you everything, wish I never kept secrets from you. If I could do it all over, Em, I’d choose differently, I’d choose you over this. You’re worth so much more.”
Then why didn’t you choose me? I wanted to demand. The tears ran down my face in a steady stream and I choked back the sob that threatened to burst forth.
“For better or worse, this is the job I’ve chosen and I have to finish what I started. Maybe, after it’s all over, if I’m still here, we can start over, make things different. But, for now, this is the way it has to be.”
It could have been different. If we’d just been given more time. Just a little more time. Why? Why did it have to end this way?
“I love you, Em. Don’t ever forget that, okay? I know you’re going to go through a lot in the next few months, wondering why I’m not still there, wondering why it couldn’t have been different.”
He knew me well. So well that even just before he was going off to die somewhere, all he could think about was how I would react to it.
Oh, Ethan, I love you too. I’ll always love you.
“Just remember there’s someone up there with a plan. And, obviously, for us to be together isn’t part of it. He’s got someone even better for you, don’t mourn me so long that miss that, okay? I want you to promise me. You’ve got to move on, you can’t dwell in the past forever.”
But it wasn’t the past. He wasn’t the past. He was my everything. He was the one I had nearly vowed my heart and life to. Given a little more time I would have, and meant it with all I had in me.
I didn’t want someone else, I wanted him.
If I die today, I want you to know, my last thoughts will be of you. I can’t think of anything better to go out with. Be well, my dear one. Remember it was me who died, not you. You keep on living. I love you, Em.”
It went dead and then the automated voice came on to tell me that was the end of the message. I flipped the phone closed, slamming it into the box beside me, tears falling freely.
How could he do that to me? How could he tell me to go on living when he was gone? How could he be so callous about his own death?
A little voice in the back of my head began to nag, telling me that it wasn’t callousness, it was love. He loved me so much he could tell me to live right before he died. That’s how much I meant to him.
There was a small tap on my window and I jumped, startled by the sound. I looked up and found the guard outside.
“Are you sure you don’t need someone to drive you home?” he asked after I’d put the window down.
I wiped at my eyes, wondering how dreadful I looked, and shook my head. “No, I can do it. I’ll be fine, thank you.”
And, as I said it, I knew I would be. I would still spend sleepless nights crying into my pillow over what I’d lost. I would still be hit with grief at every little thing that reminded me of him. I would still be plagued with doubts about why this had happened and why things couldn’t have been different. That was all natural, all part of mourning.
But, I would eventually be able to move on, like he had asked me to. I’d learn to live with the way things were and accept the fact that there was a plan, even if it was different than what I wanted it to be. I had to.

It was Ethan’s dying request that I live, and live to the fullest. How could I possibly do anything else?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Candor Fridays: Week Nine- Winner Announced!

It’s Friday, folks!

No post on Monday, because… well… because. I just didn’t. I’ll have one this Monday though. I’m going to be writing about the topic chosen by last month’s Candor Friday’s winner. It’s going to be a dandy too.

Speaking of winners, it’s that time of month again! A winner has been chosen for this month’s prize, which is to name one of the characters in the third Kit Parker book (working title: Where the SOREM Hid the Prize).

But first, two questions this week:

Danielle Sauer asked: Why don’t you play more games with your sister?

Nice question, sis. I don’t play more games with you because inside they turn me into a giant rage monster that wants to crush everyone and everything in my path. Either that or I get really moody and upset when I’m losing really badly. Awkward Sidekick was invented because I was trying to avoid the moody/ upset thing while we were playing. I’m working on it, so that I don’t get like that. But after a few hands or rounds or whatever my competitive side really starts to show.

So, yeah. That’s why. Sorry. :/

Elly Harris asked: Who do you recommend to critique your story? Is it good to have your family members critique it?

I recommend anyone willing to read it and give you constructive criticism.

As for family, that’s a tricky one. It really depends on the family member. I know a lot of people who tell me that they hate it when their family reads their stuff because they always just tell them how good it is and it’s not helpful. I’ve never had that problem. My family is really good at telling me both what they like and dislike and always offer a lot of help. So, it’s really a matter of whether the family member actually helps you or not. But, I would definitely say there’s nothing wrong with having family read your stuff, as long as you’re comfortable with it.

One other thing about any critiquers- make sure they like the genre you write. Because they may be the most willing person in the world, offering to critique your book, but if they hate the genre you write, they won’t be of any help.

When I was working on Why Rodney Never Should’ve Gone to the NAPIC there was a very nice young woman who offered to critique a few chapters for me and I was really excited. Until I got her critique. Turns out, she doesn’t like romance in any way, shape, or form, and she wanted me to essentially change some major points of the book to remove all romance. Needless to say, I didn’t but there was a time when I would have considered it. Now, I was just able to recognize that her tastes are different than my target audience and so I thank her for her feedback and left things the way I wanted them.

So, definitely make sure they like the genre you like before give them your work. And, remember to take everything with a grain of salt. Every critique is really just someone giving you their opinion of your book. So, if they don’t like something, that doesn’t make it bad. Sure, there are times when you know they’re right as soon as you read their critique. But, if it’s something you like and your critiquer doesn’t like it, it’s always wise to get several opinions. Because if three people like it and one person doesn’t, you can keep it. But, if three people don’t like it and only one person does, you might want to consider if it’s really good or not.

Though, in the end, it’s always up to you. You get to decide what stays and what doesn’t. Trust your instincts but also respect the opinions of the people around you. And, as I have said, those opinions can come from anyone willing to offer you feedback. Whether they're related to you or not.

And that’s that! Now onto the thing you’ve all been waiting for!! It’s time to announce the winner!

Are you all ready for this?

Are you sure?

Are you really ready?

All right then! Here it is:

This month’s winner is: Elly Harris!

As I said above, she gets to name one of my characters in the third Kit Parker book. So, when the kid on the elevator shows up, his name have come from this lovely lady.

In the meantime, I shall see you all on Monday, with a special post.

And, don’t forget to send in your questions for next Friday! Can’t wait to see what you all dream up for me!!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Candor Fridays- Week Eight

It’s Friday, folks!

And apparently, my family is all on the same brainwave…

Laura Sauer asked: How important is it to know your character's favorite foods?

Very. Or, rather, it’s important to know all the little things about your character. We tend to forget that characters are people; they live and breathe and think and feel, just like us. Sure, maybe they do all that within the pages of a book while we do it all here on earth, but they do it all the same. And, when we writers forget that, our readers know. They can spot an underdeveloped character a mile off.

When developing a character, you should always give them likes and dislikes that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the story, but shape their character all the same. For example- if any of you have read the first Kit Parker book, you know Kit’s love of corned beef hash, doesn’t really have anything to do with the story. It doesn’t further it along or turn out to help in some amazing plot twist in the end. But it’s there all the same. Because Kit is real. She has things she likes that don’t always have to do with her getting kidnapped. And they don’t have to have anything to do with it. In fact, they shouldn’t.

So, yes, to answer your question, it’s very important to know their favorite food. And their favorite color. And their birthday. And anything else you can dream up. Even if you don’t sit down and write a list of it all or if you don’t put any of it in the book (because you developing your character will translate into the book regardless of whether you put those details in the book or not). But you need to know your character well enough that when someone asks you “What’s your hero’s favorite color?” you can give an answer quickly that fits who they are. Not just the first thing that pops into your head, but something that really fits their personality.

Danielle Sauer asked: Are you going to write more in a sequel to The Crimson Banner?

I get this question a lot. I hate it. So, thanks for asking, so I can answer it once and for all (okay, people will probably keep asking, but I can still hope).

The basic answer is: probably not.

The not-so-basic answer is: I have a ton of ideas- several books worth- some great plot twists, and characters I love very much and who are beyond special to me. That said, I still am not going to write about that. I want to, but it’s not going to happen.

See, I wrote The Crimson Banner several years ago. I was young, just starting out as a writer. It was the first book I had ever actually finished. And, that’s apparent in my writing. I’m not going to say lots of bad things about it because that always looks like fishing for compliments and I’m not doing that. So, I’ll just say: anyone who has read both of my books can see that my writing style has grown a lot in the last several years.

It is literally impossible for me to write in that style again. I have tried, again and again, and I can’t. So, it would be wrong for me to give my readers something different than the book they’re asking for. They want a book like the first one, but with the rest of the story, with more about the people they have come to care about. And I can’t give them that.

Especially since I have nothing left to say about Jack and Melinda. In my mind, they deserve a happily ever after. They’re married, have a daughter, and are living the rest of their lives in peace. In the several attempts to write book 2, they don’t even really make it into the book all that much. Because once I tell you about their “happily ever after” that’s it. That’s all there is to say about them.

And then there’s Toby. Who isn’t cooperating and while the spunk and the fire is still there, it’s not the same. Toby’s mellowed as with age (okay, only a year or two, but still). And people want the Toby they met in book one, not a semi-different version who changes without warning.

I’m not even going to go into the rest of it here. Because that would take all day.

So, to reiterate, I will probably never get around to writing more in this series. I’m 99% positive that it’s not going to happen. While I know what happens, I can’t translate those ideas into the words necessary to tell this story. And, while I’m very sorry for that, I have to accept that’s just the way it is.

And, Rodger Sauer asked: Movie first / Book first ???   Which do you recommend and why?

This is a hard question to answer. I would recommend you do whatever you prefer as there are pros and cons to each side. Some people are diehard book first and others are movie first. I have heard arguments mostly for book first and they do make sense to me, so I would recommend going with whatever you like best.

That said, I always watch the movie first, if possible. Nearly every time I have watched a movie after reading the book, I have wanted to take the movie and throw it against a wall in. Then I cringe every time the movie is so much as mentioned and feelings of rage and anger well inside of me. Yeah, I take my books seriously.

However, if I watch the movie first, I’m like “Oh, hey, this is pretty good.” And then I read the book to find out what really happened. Then I discover that the book is even better than the movie that I liked and now both the book and the movie can be mentioned without me freaking out. Because both were good. Plus, sometimes, if the book has a lot going on or something, having that condensed version to give you all the key points first- in the form of the movie- before reading the book with all its twists and turns can be really helpful.

Though, I should probably point out that spoilers or knowing how the book ends before I read it has never really bothered me. I don’t like things spoiled without warning, but if I know they’re going to be, I’m cool with it and can still read and enjoy the book (though, that’s a discussion for another day…)

Every other reader I know would recommend the book first. Actually, they can be quite snobby about it and love to brag about what true fans they are because they read the book first. Which is the lamest thing you can ever do to someone. It’s a pride thing where people feel the need to put everyone else around them down because it makes them feel superior. They might not realize that’s what they’re doing, but that’s how human nature works. (Not saying every person who reads the book first is like this, just the people who feel the need to put others down because they watched the movie first).

So, yeah. I would recommend going with what you prefer. However, when I meet people who are diehard book first, I love to share my views on why I like to watch the movie first.

And, that’s that. See you all on Monday! And, in the meantime, don’t forget to send in your questions for next week!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Plot Bombs, Deus Ex Machina, and MCs- An Intro to Writer Lingo

Picture this: A group of writers are sitting in a circle, some squished together on a loveseat, a few in chairs, and one sitting on the floor. They’re all balancing a stack of printed papers on their knees, which they scribble furiously on, marking them up.

All except one writer, that is.

You are sitting in the middle of the couch, glancing around nervously, biting your lip as your gaze moves from one writer to the other. You clutch your stack of papers in your hands, crumpling the edges a little. Reminding yourself to remain calm, you take deep breaths in hopes of slowing your rapid heartbeat. A lump is in your throat as you wait for the others to declare your fate. With every pen scratch, you are more and more positive that this will end with a declaration by your fellow writers that you can never write another word again. Then, they will ceremonially burn everything you have ever written, sacrificing it as an offering of apology to those great literary minds you had the nerve to think you could ever be a part of.
Finally, one of the writers looks up, a young man with blond hair and glasses. He glances around at all the other writers, who are still writing away, and ventures, “I liked it. Your MC is great.”
The others look up and nod, a few voicing their agreement before going back to their notes.
You feel even more edgy, waiting for the "but" that is sure to continue the statement.
“I especially love how you start it in media res.”
Still waiting for the "but."
The girl sitting on the floor looks up then, her dark bangs falling across her forehead. She tosses her head to get them out of her eyes. “Yeah, I really liked that too. I drew me in right away and made me want to know what was going to happen. But, then, the scene after it felt like a bit of an info dump.”
See, you knew the “but” was coming. Now that the door had been opened for criticism, there will be no holds barred in telling you what a horrible writer you are.
The girl sitting next to you, a freckle-faced redhead with a gap between her front teeth, looks up from her papers. “There was also a lot of telling. Especially in the scene between-” she shuffles though the pages until she finds what she’s looking for “-Kelsey and Helen. You really want to try to show instead of tell.”
The others nod in agreement, some looking up from their notes, others continuing to write as they nod.
“But, I loved the part with the soap.” The girl with the bangs grins. “That was great. Definitely keep that the way it is.”
The boy next to you on the couch frowns. “Except there’s a bit of a plot hole introduced in that scene. You said she’d never seen a bar of soap before, but then later, in the Black Moment, you says she grew up in a soap shop. How did she grow up in a soap shop without ever seeing a bar of soap?”
Quite frankly, you’re not sure. And you tell him so. Man, how are you going to fix that one? The soap shop’s really important, but you really love that scene. And the girl with bangs seems to like it too.

Stupid plot bomb.
“Also,” the girl in the chair across from you speaks up, putting her pencil in the air, as if raising it to ask permission to speak. When no one interrupts, she swallows and continues, “It was a bit of a deus ex machina, her knowing how to make soap in the end without you foreshadowing it even once. Especially after that soap scene and everything.”
So true. So very, very true.
“Also, the part where you say-” the redhead flips through her pages once more “-her eyes flew to the other side of the room is a loose body part and creates a really disturbing image in my mind.”
Oh, right. You meant to change that. You really did.
The last girl, the one sitting in a chair to the loveseat’s left clears her throat. She hasn’t said anything yet but has been shuffling through the pages marking things up like crazy. You brace yourself. “I agree pretty much with what everyone else has said. I made a few other notes I don’t need to go into right now. Just one question: do have any more of this written? I really want to know what happens to Kelsey.”
You bite your lip, that question the most dreaded of all. You knew someone was going to ask and you hate to have to tell them the truth. “Um, no, not really. See, I was working on it, but then I got this plot bunny…”

If you have never been in a critique group, you might not understand the scene above. Or, even if you have, you might not have had any idea what was going on. Either way, the point of this post wasn’t just to show you what a critique group looks like, but to also explain some really great literary terms. Especially the ones that involves things you shouldn’t do.

(I should note, regular critique groups usually involve a lot more positive affirmation, but for the sake of this demonstration, I left a lot of that out. Though, the writer who is being critiqued generally still feels as I described above, no matter how much everyone loves their work XD)

All right, here we go:

MC: This one is pretty simple. While to the rest of the world “MC” stands for “Master of Ceremonies” for writers it stands for “Main Character”

In Media Res: This is a Latin term that literally translated “in the middle of things.” This is when the story starts in the middle of the story (or even sometimes closer to the end) and then we have to go back to show what happened to bring the story to this place.

Sometimes a writer will do that simply by starting the next chapter with “Four Days Earlier” or something similar and then tell the story from that point up until where we started. And, sometimes flashbacks are used as a means to show what happened, so that the action jumps back and forth between where we started and what happened after that scene, and the flashbacks of what happened before the opening.

Info Dump: This is when you feel the need to dump everything on your reader in such a way that even though your story is fictional, it starts to feel like a history book. I’m sure you have all read a book at some point in your life that started with the prologue giving you’re the entire history of the fantasy kingdom the world is set it, told in such a way that you start to wonder if the whole book is written this way, if there’s ever going to be an action, and if Prince ThfnSieefbjwwd sock’s really have anything to do with anything.

Another kind of info dump, is one in dialogue, which writers sometimes call “As you know” conversations. That’s when two or more characters have a conversation about something they all know but feel the need to give full details about anyway because the reader need to know them (“As you know, Frank, you have been training to be a knight for six years now. You nearly failed that one time and let me go into all the details because I am sure you have forgotten them…” Yeah, no, don’t do that.)

Show, Don’t Tell: This is probably the most common thing writers say. You will hear it every time anyone ever critiques your work and it is in pretty much every writing curriculum ever. Basically, it’s the concept of showing your readers what is going on instead of just telling them.

Don’t say “Linda was nervous”; show her biting her nails or her lip, have her give a nervous laugh, or says something totally awkward, or any other thing people do when they’re nervous. Don’t say “It was cold”; show puffs of air as people breath, have your MC shiver, talk about the wind or the snow or the ice. Anything to show your readers it is cold. Give them pictures of what is going on and their brains will fill in what the actions mean.

As Anton Chekhov put it: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Plot Hole: This is when something in your plot doesn’t make sense, a.k.a. when there is a hole in your otherwise pretty tight plot. Like in the scene above, when the MC who has never seen a bar of soap suddenly claims to have grown up in a soap shop and knows how to make soap. I’m sure you can see how that might not really work in a story.

Plot Bomb: Okay, technically this isn’t an official writer phrase. My dad and I made this one up. But, it’s a true dilemma writers face and hopefully it will catch on. A plot bomb is when you discover a plot hole in your writing and your wonderful story dies in a glorious explosion.

Black Moment: This is the scene right before the showdown when things get as black as they possibly can for the MC. In a lot of adventure novels, this is usually when that really important person dies. But, someone doesn’t have to die. Everything just needs to go wrong. Horribly wrong. Because your MC needs to be broken completely before he can rise victorious and become a hero.

And, if you don’t know what a showdown is, you obviously need to watch more westerns…

Deus Ex Machina: This is a Latin phrase meaning “God from the machine.” In writing, the term is applied when a seemingly insolvable problem is solved so easily and conveniently that it could only have been accomplished with divine help (which is cheating when you’ve promised your readers a more intense showdown)

The term came because in ancient plays and stuff, the gods would literally come down and make everything right. They would take care of the bad guys, make sure the good guys were rewarded, and no doubt preform the marriage between MC and Love Interest in the process.

Loose body part: As the name suggests, this terms is applied when a body part moves as if of its own free will and is no longer attached to the person. Like above when I used the example of “her eyes flew across the room” The proper phrasing here would be to say that “her gaze flew across the room” because a gaze can go pretty much anywhere it pleases. But, eyes flying across the room implies that the eyes either sprouted wings or got thrown or some other disgusting thing I quite frankly don’t want to continue to picture or discuss.

Plot Bunny: This is what they call it when you’re happily working on a story and then all of a sudden you get a new idea that demands to be written. You know, kind of like when you’re walking along quite careful to stay on the path and then all of a sudden “Oh, look, a bunny!” and next thing you know you’re dashing off into a field chasing the little beast.

 It’s basically what we writers call it when we have trouble focusing and we dash off willy-nilly, chasing whatever story idea happens to come along. Kind of like the dogs in Up with the squirrels. Does that remind anyone of a certain blogger they know of? Because it sure reminds me of one…

How about you? Did you find this post informative? Have you ever experienced the critique group horrors? Do you plan to start using Plot Bomb and introduce all your friends to the genius of it? Are there any terms I’ve forgotten that I should include in a follow-up post?