Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuesday Tip: Scene Revision Tools

I've got one more scene to write from scratch before I go back through the novel for the last couple edits. One of the things I'll be taking a real close look at is scenes.

I have a hard time making good scenes. My tendency to pants my way through things means I spend a lot of time figuring out what's going on by writing it out, and that leads to a lot of scenes that are full of extra stuff, as well as scenes that just don't need to be there.

To help make sure my scenes are as tight as possible, I'm going to be using two tools.

The first (courtesy of Amy Knupp) is WITFITPOT. That stands for "what the fuck is the point of this?" Basically, that involves going through each scene and writing down at least three things that make that scene important. If I cut that scene out, what would I have to move to another scene in order for the story to move forward and make sense?

The second (courtesy of James Scott Bell) is HIP, which stands for Hook, Intensity, and Prompt. So, in addition to supplying important information or action in the story, the scene must hook the reader, the scene must have some sort of tension, and the scene must end on a prompt that will make the reader want to find out what happens next.

I'm pretty sure the scenes I have now will all pass muster, but this will allow me to boil the scene down to its essence, and then strengthen the important parts and trim the stuff that's either repetitive or unnecessary. I want this novel to be fairly fast-paced, so I want to make it compact without losing color. I want the action to keep moving without losing the vibrancy of the setting or the nuances of the character interactions.

I'm excited about trying this approach. I've never done quite this in-depth of a postmortem on one of my drafts, and I'm eager to see how it turns out.

Image: twobee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friday, March 25, 2011

100 Words About: The Publishing Industry

Even established authors are starting to move to self-pub. Other authors are decrying Dorchester's bad practices. The Google Book Settlement is rejected (again), and the judge's suggestion that the parties be able to opt-in instead of opt-out brings up the fact that for many works, even though the author is still alive and kicking and the publisher is still around, sometimes people still aren't sure who has the digital rights.

All this (combined with the fact I recently read Laura Resnick's delightful Rejection, Romance, & Royalties) makes me wonder why anyone would still want to get published traditionally. The horror stories are enough to give me an ulcer and I don't even have an agent yet.

I have to wonder if all we're hearing is the negative side. Surely there must be authors out there who are happy with their publishers? Anyone have some stories about the upside of traditional publishing?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I Need a Personal Assistant

First, I want to say thanks to Rachel Kramer Bussel for hosting a great chat on Blog Talk Radio on Saturday. It was a lot of fun!

Next up, a lot of writers that I talk to lately are commenting on how they manage their time. "What's your schedule like?" is probably the second most-asked question for writers (right behind "where do you get your ideas?"). People want to know how a writer does what they do.

Nathan Bransford also posted yesterday about how to balance writing with the rest of your life, and if you read the comments you can see that this topic resonates with the writers as well as the readers.

Local (to me, anyway) writer Keir Graff is hosting a few talks about not quitting your day job.

I've talked about priorities before, and I still find that having a clear, delineated schedule is the only way I can keep my sanity. The way I carve out my writing time is to ask myself, "is what I'm doing right now more important to me than getting published?" Sometimes the answer is yes. Then I don't feel bad. Sometimes the answer is no, and I go hit the keyboard. Sometimes the answer is "no, but I really really really need to de-stress right now."

I get caught up in what I "should" be doing. I should be working out. I should clean the house better/more regularly. I should do the checkbook more often. I should call my parents/grandparents/sister/etc. I should spend more time with my pets, who sometimes only see me for five minutes a day.

That kind of thinking will kill you. There is never enough time for everything. Period.

If something is important to you, add it to your priority list. Working out is important to me, and so is volunteering at the animal shelter and spending time with my friends, but finishing the revisions I'm working on in time for the Write By The Lake deadline takes priority right now. After April 1st, the list will shift a bit.

(The Husband still trumps everything, but he's low maintenance, bless him. I think anyone married to a writer needs to be low maintenance, but with enough backbone to occasionally say "I'm stealing you tonight and you can't stop me.")

I've squared with being a bad correspondent. I don't talk enough to the people who are important to me. I admit it. I also admit that people make me tired. They suck away my mojo, which makes it hard for me to write. I think if I didn't have a social butterfly for a husband I'd be a total hermit. I generally only see people regularly if I schedule a recurring event. How pathetic is that? But I don't make time for things unless I schedule it. That's why Monday is for chores, Tuesday is my writing group, Wednesday and Saturday are for volunteering, every other Thursday is one board game night, every other Sunday is my role-playing game, and Sunday evenings are for the rotating board game night. If I didn't schedule things like that, I would never see any of those people or get any of those things done. If I don't schedule my time, I find other ways of filling it up.

(And I don't know how my family would react to "I want to talk to you more, but I need to find a time when we're both free. How are Monday nights from 8pm to 8:30pm? Or every other Thursday at 7pm?")

I used to be very spontaneous, but now I need to have a schedule. I have too much to do, and people I don't want to lose touch with. What I could really use is a personal assistant to just schedule things for me and let me know where I'm supposed to be right now. Then at least I could take the scheduling off my plate...

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friday, March 18, 2011

Talk to Me Tomorrow!

I'll be on Blog Talk Radio with editor Rachel Kramer Bussel and others from 2pm to 3pm EST on 03/19/11. Call in with your questions, or listen to the archived show later!

100 (ok, 400) Words About: Writing Facial Expressions

When I write I get a lot of sensory information in my head, especially for characters that have strong personalities. I see their facial expressions and body language; I hear slight changes in inflection when they speak. My supernatural characters tend to be very heavily scent-influenced as well, but smells are actually easier for me because I can use a few punchy words to get the effect that I want, and who's going to tell me that fear doesn't smell like tin?

Normally you'd think this all this visualization is good, but at times it can be a total PITA. One of my favorite characters, Gabriel (who has a cameo in A Wild Hunt), has a very strong personality but communicates very often by slight changes in facial expression. (Or, more precisely, he's not trying to communicate and the slight changes are all the other characters have to go on.) This frustrates the hell out of me. One of his favorite expressions looks like this: one eyebrow raised, head cocked slightly to one side, a smile on his lips that quirks up higher on one corner than the other, with the smile being mild or hard or thin or brittle or predatory (etc) depending on his mood.

It takes far longer to write that than it would to see it, and it's boring to read as well. And there are only so many times you want to write variations on "he smiled," "he smirked," and "his mouth quirked up at one corner."

Then there are expressions I can hardly put into words. You know the expression people get when they're weighing one thing against another, and their face screws up, their eyes squint, their shoulders hunch and they either make a weighing gesture with both hands or hold one out flat and tip it from side to side, usually while saying "eh"? I hate trying to write that expression. I usually end up giving the character bits of dialogue that they wouldn't normally say, because (again) there are only so many times you can write "he considered" or "he shrugged," and they just don't convey quite the same information as the visual. Sometimes it's just not worth the effort of trying to get that across.

What are some of your favorite expressions? Which ones do you have trouble writing? Which do you never want to see in print again? (I'm betting "she bit her lip" is on that list…)

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Ides of March

I was going to make a joke to the effect of "otherwise known as 'Stab a Dictator Day'" but I didn't want one of my fellow Wisconsinites deciding to take it as a call to action. :\ Still, I'd like to take a moment to reflect on the great event.

2055 years ago 60 senators stabbed Gaius Julius Caesar to death.

Why do we still know this?

It certainly wasn't the first time the Roman Senate had gotten their hands bloody. You'd think we'd all remember Tiberius Gracchus, that revolutionary Roman who figured out ways to game the Roman system and so angered the Senate with his appropriations of what they considered their prerogative that they eventually murdered him and many of his followers. Tiberius Gracchus was (as far as I know) the very first Roman to be murdered by a pack of senators, but few moderns have ever even heard of him.

In fact, Tiberius Gracchus's heir and younger brother Gaius met basically the same fate a decade later. You'd think two brothers being beaten to death and thrown in the Tiber River by an irate Senate ten years apart would be more impressive than one man getting stabbed to death.

And as for generals getting crazy with the dicatorship, Caesar had nothing on Sulla.

So what was it about Caesar's death that made it such a big part of world history that it resonates down to today?

Two things.

The first is Caesar himself. The man was a master of the cult of personality - at least, he was with the lower orders. With the Senate, not so much. Still, he was a charismatic person with strong goals and the will to achieve them, who was not afraid of hard work or battle, who was incredibly clever and tenacious and not afraid to take risks. In short, Caesar was the man every man dreams of either following or being.

Not that he was perfect. He was arrogant and greedy for honors and prestige, among other things. He had a weakness for women and was on many occasions forgiving of his enemies when he needed to be ruthless.

Dynamic and flawed, Caesar is a perfect main character.

The second thing that keeps the Ides of March so alive in modern societies is that it kicked off the fall of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire. I won't go into the whole story here, but all that stuff with Octavian (later Augustus), and Marc Anthony and Cleopatra? That all happened because 60 senators decided Caesar had gotten too big for his britches.

The Ides of March is one helluva hook. From there you have stirring speeches and political theater. You have Anthony and Octavian working together against the senators only to turn on each other once the mutual threat was vanquished. You have the great love story, the fabulous locales and lavish feasts, the pitched battles, the impending doom and the tear-jerker of the lovers' committing suicide rather than falling into the enemy's hands, and the underdog triumphing despite all odds to go on and found one of the greatest empires the world has ever seen.

Of course we're all still talking about it!

This is good storytelling on an epic scale! And even better, it actually happened!

Even if you, young writer, take nothing away from learning about these events in regards to politics or the broader impact on history, it's worth studying for no other reason than learning about what makes a gripping story. These events happened over two thousand years ago, and we're still fascinated. We're still finding new ways to tell the story. It's that good.

Now go forth and make your own stories just as epic.

Friday, March 11, 2011

100 Words About: "Cry Wolf"

Check out EM Lynley's blog to read a post I did for her on my short story "Cry Wolf," as well as posts by some of the other authors of Bedknobs and Beanstalks! I talk about my favorite fairy tales, how I came up with the story, and a bit about world-building. You can read an excerpt of this fun m/m erotic romance at my website.

For more about pookhas/skinshifters, read my free m/f romantic novella "A Wild Hunt."

If Bedknobs and Beanstalks isn't enough to slake your thirst for revisiting classic fairy tales, or if you prefer the girls to the boys, you can also check out Like a Thorn: BDSM Fairy Tales, which includes my story "The Princess and Peony." An excerpt can be found here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Interesting Times

It's interesting times all over the world, and yours truly has not been excepted. Politics aside, I've started volunteering at the local animal shelter that we got The Bulldog from, which has been very rewarding and relaxing, for the most part. (It's sad, of course, when the animals have to get put down, and heartbreaking at times to see the terrible shape they're in when they come to us.)

The publishing industry continues to get stood on its head, and the ever-awesome Nathan Bransford has a great post on self-publishing ebooks and what it all means.

Speaking of which, I'm signed up to learn how to join that bandwagon with Lori Devoti's Digital Self-Publishing for the Newbie class. (I have my eye on you, 1794.)

And I'm stoked (yes, just dated myself there) to announce that it's official - I'm going to Write by the Lake! My dreams of getting professional-level feedback on the beast that is my vampire novel are soon to be realized! Just the feedback I got on the first twenty pages has already helped me make the stupid thing tons better (yes, I'm still sick of it, but now I'm excited about it as well as sick, LOL) so I can't wait to see how the full week turns out.

So, the game plan: finish novel revisions by April, finish draft of 1794, Digital Self-Publishing for the Newbie, and see where that takes me. Then possibly work up the Constantinople story I've been dying to do, and see about self-pubbing it and 1794 as a test. Then it's back to Project Toadstool (and possibly some kids books I've thought of in the meantime) before Write by the Lake. Oh, and reading all the other stories for WbtL. Yeah, that'll keep me busy.

Friday, March 4, 2011

100 Words About: Formulas vs Passion

I know and have known people (usually guys, but I imagine it happens to both sexes) where they assume that if they follow X steps they will always get what they want. In particular I see this in dating. "If I pay attention and listen to her and go to the places she likes and do the things she likes to do and buy her flowers and presents, then she has to date me."

Sorry folks, it doesn't work that way.

There is a nebulous quality called "spark" that must be present, or you are screwed. This is true in dating and in writing, where it is also sometimes called passion. It's hard to define, but absolutely vital.

I knew a guy my freshman year of college that I liked to talk to, and who wanted desperately to date me. He did all the things that people think you have to do: took me to dinner (our one date), called me, bought me flowers and a teddy bear for Valentine's Day (even though we weren't dating - this was trying too hard). But as much as I liked him, and I sincerely hoped he found a nice girl to settle down with, I didn't want to be that girl.

You can follow all the right steps for plotting, use all the techniques for building sympathy with your characters, and all the tricks out there for pacing, but if your novel lacks passion then few people, if any, will love it. They might like it ok, might think it wasn't a waste of time to hang out with it, but they probably aren't going to read it again and certainly won't run to their friends and gush about it.

You can't control how other people react to your writing, but you can have a big impact on how you feel about it.

Just as people in arranged marriages often fall in love later, you must find something about your story to get passionate about. Find a concept or theme you are interested in and want to explore, and work that into the story until you're excited about it, you can't stop thinking about it, you wish you could spend every waking moment with it. Puppy love doesn't last, but your readers will be able to tell, and they'll be much more likely to want to have a lasting relationship with your work.

Image: dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ice, Ice, Go Away

Times are definitely interesting all over. Honestly, I'd prefer a little less excitement, but you can't always get what you want.

I don't think I've ever looked forward to spring so much in my life. The Bulldog needs longer walks, and I need the ice to go away!

Things are kinda stressful here in Madison these days, so my writing has been more sporadic than usual. Hopefully things calm down soon one way or another. Like so many other folks, I just want to know if I get to keep my day job.

Sporadic or not, the writing I've been doing has been good. Really good. I haven't felt this good about the old novel in many, many moon. I'm really hoping to have the new revision done by April, and then I think I want to finish up 1794 (again) and get that off my plate. Then it's back to Project Toadstool, poor thing, which has been shoved onto the back burner since January. And maybe a short story, 'cause it's been awhile.

Weather-wise I prefer March to come in like a lamb, because we're much more likely to have thunderstorms in late March than early March, and I love me some thunderstorms. Politically I hope and pray March is coming in like a lion, 'cause I don't know how much more of this I can take. Good thing I'm going to WhiskeyFest in April. Ahh, whiskey.

Image: Maggie Smith / FreeDigitalPhotos.net