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Showing posts from August, 2014

Layering Backstory to Create Conflict

Last time , we discussed how to avoid backstory plot holes. This week, we offer ideas for layering backstory into your plot to create conflict. 1. You can reveal your protagonist's critical flaw by explaining something that happened in the past. The critical flaw is revealed near the beginning to explain why Dick is drawn into the story problem and trips him up along the way. The flaw, his kryptonite, can stem from a traumatic episode from the past. 2. The secret weapon is revealed early on to explain why Dick, and only Dick, can solve the overall story problem. It can be a talent, strength of character, belief, or an actual object. You can show him using his secret weapon, or refusing to use it, in the past before he is called upon to use it in the present. 3. Whatever skills or failings Dick has, don't whip them out at the last minute by saying, "Oh, yeah, back in school I used to (fill in the blank)." That is backfilling and it is a no-no. 4. Backstory ca

Write What You Love...Or Love What You Write

Image by Helfin Owen via Flickr We hear it all the time, and I mean ALL the time: write what you love. Just about every writing advice guide out there tells us to learn the craft, pay attention to the industry, but in the end, write what we love. Because if you try to chase trends or if you write solely for the Benjamins, your heart will not show through in your work and it will fall flat. And I believe this. Really, I do. But I also write historical western romance. Have you ever tried to pitch historical western romance to a traditional publisher? Let me just tell you, it’s not pretty. The thing I hear over and over in the romance world—seriously, like a broken record—is that the hot genres in romance right now are contemporary and erotica (and that vampires are dead, historicals are on their way out, and westerns were DOA years ago). To a certain extent, sales reflect this, although not nearly to the extent that the industry would have us believe. The problem remains, what

Inspiration, Concentration, Dedication

PictureThis via morgueFile As a writer, where do you get your ideas? Let’s talk about inspiration. What inspires you enough to make you concentrate on your story line and dedicate the time and energy required to write your book? We’re told stories are everywhere, but is this so? Does everyone really have a story to tell? Yes and yes…sort of. Stories are definitely everywhere: homes, schools, the workplace, prisons, homeless shelters, nature, and the list goes on. People who have lived long enough to articulate their stories might open up and share their experiences; then again, they might not. In either case, a story unfolds—revelation or speculation. Because I have no way of knowing what inspires you, I will tell you what inspires me. Then you can share what drives you to the keyboard or writing pad to birth your stories. News articles and reports are great grist for my writing mill. Whether the headlines shout of wars, terrorist attacks, beheadings, shootings, natural disa


Image by Tammy Strobel , via Flickr At the end of every movie, in the endless list of credits, you’ll always see Continuity. It’s the job of the continuity people to make sure the hero’s shirt—or the shirt of an extra—doesn’t change colour in the middle of a scene. Continuity is equally important in a novel, of course, unless you’re Douglas Adams and have just invented an Infinite Improbability Drive, or Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen. Part of a copy-editor’s job is to spot inconsistencies and confusions. However, most authors want to present a manuscript containing as few of either as possible. At least, I don’t want to get a manuscript back with problems to be sorted out that involve rethinking and rewriting. It’s not always a simple matter like the colour of a shirt. I’ve just finished writing a book, my 22nd Daisy Dalrymple mystery and my 57th (I think) novel. Before sending it to my editor, I always print out and do a final read-through—I find it much easier and more accurat

Third Person Omniscient : The Joys of Multi-Vision

All Seeing Eye in the Monastery of the Holy Cross, Jerusalem Photo by Ze'ev Barkan , via Flickr I’ve always loved adventure fiction. As a child, I read and re-read novels like Dumas’ The Three Musketeers , the works of Raphael Sabatini, and C. S. Forrester’s Hornblower chronicles. Adventure novels like these feature (a) multiple point-of-view characters; (b) parallel events taking place in multiple locations; and (c) complex action set-pieces: hair-breadth escapes, elaborate ruses, natural disasters, and fight sequences—everything from a one-on-one street brawl to a full-scale clash between rival armies. When I started writing (at the age of 10), I instinctively followed my favorite models, not only in terms of content and structure, but also in terms of writing technique. It wasn’t until I got to high school that I discovered I was using Third Person Omniscient narration. The term “omniscient” comes to us from the Latin omnis (all) + scire (to know). In Third Person Omni

Narrowing the Gap

Last week, Amazon sent out a notice that now, KDP members (indie authors) would be able to make their books available for pre-order, something that had been denied them until now. Why is this significant? In traditional publishing, rankings—making those best-seller lists—was based on sales during the first few days of a book’s release. However, publishers could take orders prior to that date, and all those sales showed up on the book’s release date, making it appear that all those books sold on that date (or week). You might still see notices from Big Name Authors with the Big Publishing Houses saying their book will debut at #X on the NYT list, even though it hasn’t been released. Well, now, Amazon has joined Kobo and iBooks in allowing indie authors to get their books into that same kind of system. And, given that Amazon rankings seem to carry the most weight, being able to have pre-orders show up as sales on the day your book goes live can give it a boost. The better the ranki

Finishing a Difficult Novel

Getting to the end of the first draft of your book is a major accomplishment for any writer. Getting to the end of the first draft of Backlash , the third book in my Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series was flat-out torture. I’d never struggled to finish a book before. As a typical pantser—one who writes by the seat of her pants—I write a chapter at a time, with only a glimpse in my brain to where I’m going with the story, possibly two or three chapters ahead at most. So why was this book giving me so much trouble? Expectations. Both mine and my readers. Over the past year, people wrote to ask me when the next Diana Racine novel was coming out. OMG, people were waiting for it. Those readers had obviously liked the first two well enough to look forward to the third. I published the last one, Goddess of the Moon , in October of 2012. That was almost two years ago. I published one other standalone in between. Though the first book, Mind Games , wasn’t published until March of 2012

Amo, Amas, Among?

Graphic courtesy of August has arrived in full toasty glory, dearies. There were whispers of a relatively mild high of 102 degrees, but the glare from the outdoor thermometer prevented verification. As the heat is causing my tomato blossoms to pop off of the plants, I’m inspired to post a pop quiz. Leave your bens and grab your pens! 1. Between or among? Which word is used to denote an undefined relationship? 2. Censer or censor? Which one seeks to suppress? 3. Flaunt or flout? Which one might get you arrested? 4. Illegible or unreadable? Which is the lesser of two ‘writerly’ evils? 5. Staunch or stanch? Which one describes the purpose of a tourniquet? Pens down, if you please. It’s time to see just how well you’ve done. Admirably, I expect; I have yet to be disappointed in any of you. 1. Among. When discussing collective or undefined relationships, among is the proper choice. Civility among shoppers flies out the window if the discount is ste

Kill Your Darlings?

Image by Henry Söderlund , via Flickr I’m at the stage of editing my book where I’m starting to suspect I’ve been molly-coddling a darling or two. “But,” I wondered, “how does one tell?” Kill Your Darlings was a slogan of the Blood-Red Pencil for some time, so I thought I would ask my fine colleagues the following questions: 1. How do you determine what might be a “darling” - either in your own work or a client’s work? What clues do you pick up? 2. What differentiates a “darling” from a valuable plot thread? 3. Are darlings always evil? Do they destroy a book if they are allowed to live? 4. Have you ever killed a darling and then regretted it? 5. Have you ever relocated a darling to another book where it forms a genuine piece of the plot? Linda Lane When I wrote my first book, I finished with 20,000 words too many in the inflated first draft. Some of the descriptive passages were so near and dear to my heart. Bottom line: lovely as I thought they were, they didn’t move

Why Do You Write?

When asked why I write, I usually come up with one of a few common answers, the most frequent being “I have stories to tell.” They rattle around in my head until I finally give up and commit them to paper (in recent years my hard drive). But then a period of reflection reveals a different reason—or reasons—so I am telling you why I write before asking you why you do it. Image via Dave on Morguefile One thing that comes to mind for me is my soapbox. (This can’t be obvious because it will turn off the reader.) I never promote a political party, a religion, or a cause. But I do have a very subtle (I hope) agenda. My first novel, for example, dealt with domestic violence. It’s an integral part of the story, and the victim is a major character—though not the protagonist. And it isn’t the primary plot. Still, much of the story’s emotion and connection with the reader evolves from her situation. Also, every incident of abuse is one that either I or someone I know lived. Other works

You Can Do It

How many hours a day do you spend writing? Do you have a place where you go to write? An office, a table, a chair with your computer in your lap? I have an office, a desk and a chair. The guest room is my "office" except when guests show up. If we have guests, I move upstairs to a fold-out table and a chair. For close to two months now, I've been in my office working at a card table and a chair. That's because everything that was upstairs in our bedroom has now been moved to the loft area. The desk is still in my downstairs office, but there's not enough room for the chair now that the couch is folded out with three mattresses atop it. (We had to take a smaller mattress from our son's bed in order to fit our mattress onto the couch.) This is not where I'm used to working, but I'm getting work done on my next book. Why am I working in the guest room? Late one night, the roof of our house was mostly blown off and rain poured in, seeped into the carp

Mid-Week Fun For Writers

It's time for our mid-week, almost mid-month, break from the challenges and drudgery of writing to laugh a little. The following jokes were stolen... er, borrowed from a professor at Villanova University Karyn Hollis, who first posted them on the University website. A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell. She decided to check out each place first. As the writer descended into the fiery pits, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes. "Oh my," said the writer. "Let me see heaven now." A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes. "Wait a minute," said the writer. "This is just as bad as hell!" "Oh no, it's not," replied an unseen voice. "Here, your

The Point of the Story

Image by Oran Viriyincy , via Flickr Ten years ago I was teaching my memoir-writing class “Making History” at a local Senior Center. It covered the decades of the thirties, forties and fifties, and encouraged the participants to share their stories of those years. One of the topics we talked about was the enormous changes in the status of Americans of color during those decades (Jackie Robinson comes to mind), although all the people in the class were white. But they had a lot to say – racism has always affected us all, no matter what our color. Here’s one of the stories told that day, by a white woman almost 80 years old. She was 21 in 1947, an office worker in downtown San Francisco. Every day she took the bus to and from work. The bus was always crowded. One evening she boarded the bus and was lucky to find a space on a bench seat facing the aisle, next to an elderly black woman. At the next stop, a man got on the bus. He was a middle-aged white gentleman, probably in his ear

Tips for Writing Great Short Fiction

In March 2013, I started a website with two authors, Jennifer Coissiere and Pachet Spates, titled SNAPS 1000 Words: Where Images and Words Converge . We (along with new snapper, author and PR guru Makasha Dorsey) provide weekly stories of 1000 to 1100 words that are inspired by pictures. It's something I've always done on my own as I love photography and writing, but I thought it would be cool to create a website where we could showcase some of our writing and where we could further develop our skills as writers. Writing short fiction, just as in writing poetry, requires wordsmiths to practice astute word economy, to pay even more attention to the point of attack for their story, and to figure out the heart of the matter quickly so that a full, engaging story can be told in a short space, among other important tasks. I asked my fellow snappers to provide some tips to writing short fiction (some might call it flash fiction or any number of other terms). I hope you find th

The Brave New World of Outlining

Image by Karen Woodward , via Flickr Okay, I have a confession to make. I’m in the process of going against everything I believed about my writing style. As long as I can remember, I’ve started the writing process with nothing but my characters and a situation in mind. It’s the way things have always been. I, Merry Farmer, was a pantser. As comfortable as pantsing has been, though, I’ve had this sense that there might be a more efficient way to do this novel-writing thing. Over the years my pure pantsing style has evolved to having a clear idea of the end of the book and a few major plot points along the way, then writing notes about what I’m writing as I write it to make sure I’m still on track. It’s served me well…and caused a lot of editing and revision. This summer, a light bulb of sorts went off for me. I started talking to several authors who write super fast. The common thread between them is that they outline their stories extensively before they start writing. So I t

Avoid Backstory Plot Holes

Backstory, when used properly, enriches a plot. Used poorly, backstory creates a plot hole that your reader is forced to skip over or sludge through. Most readers skip past the boring bits. The problem with backstory is often two-fold: too much too soon, or way too much information. Backstory can be related through dialogue, flashback, internal dialogue, thoughts, and narrative. Over the next few posts, we'll explore the finer points of using backstory with mastery. 1. Don't begin your novel with backstory. Invest your readers in the current situation before trying to explain the character's history. Otherwise, why should they care? If the action has already passed, we know the characters lived to tell about it. It may have bearing on what is happening now, but the characters survived and have moved onto what is happening now. The reader may feel there is no need to read a long passage detailing what happened in the past if the characters are clearly functionin

Shakespearean Writing Encouragement

Sheep #1:  It's time. Writer:  No. Sheep #2:  It's really time. Writer:  Go away. Sheep #3:  Actually it's way  past  time. Writer:  Go far  far  away. Sheep #1:  (blares trumpet) Time to get to work! Time to press that nose to the grindstone!  Writer:  That would leave a mark. Sheep #2:  We're not being literal. Writer : Oh. Sheep #2:  Remember " Time and the hour run through the roughest day ". Writer:  Now you're quoting Shakespeare? Sheep #1:  Why not? We're learned. Sheep #2:  Don't judge us harshly just because we're sheep. Sheep #3 : We bite. Writer:  I thought you were meek. Sheep #3:  (snorts) Seriously? Sheep #1 : Remember " I wasted time and now doth time waste me ". Sheep #2:  Richard II. Sheep #3:  Act 5, scene 5. Writer:  (quietly) Wow. Sheep #1:  

Favorite Twitter Hashtags

I'm on Twitter quite often, but am still searching for the most effective way to use the site to promote my books. One thing I have learned is that using hashtags is a good method to draw people to what you'd like them to see. Hashtags are words or phrases with the # sign in front of them. When a person clicks a particular hashtag, out pops a bunch of tweets which include that hashtag. That comes in handy for people who want information in a hurry, without sifting through everything. Here's a smattering of the ones I use: #romcom - short for romantic comedy #romance #chicklit  #mystery #thriller #amazon #kindle #free #freebie #free4kindle #amwriting #prime Since all but one of my books are available on Kindle Unlimited, which seems to be the next big thing at Amazon, I'm also planning on using #kindleunlimited and see what happens. What about you? What are your favorite hashtags? Which seem most effective to you?