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Showing posts from September, 2014

Learning to Write Through Watching TV

photo by KAZ Vorpal , via Flickr I stopped watching commercial tv on December 21 st , 2007. I did it for two reasons. One, 2008 was an election year and there is nothing I hate more than political commercials. Two, I could no longer handle the time suck that was taking me away from writing. Yes, I traded in my TV set for my keyboard, and I’ve never regretted the decision. Of course, I’ve never regretted the decision because I didn’t stop watching TV entirely. When I watch now, it’s on DVD or Amazon Prime, and nine times out of ten, I’ve paid for what I’m watching. I don’t mind paying either, because as horrific and distracting as most TV is, sometimes a good show is pure gold to a writer. How can watching TV or movies make you a better writer? Wow, there are so many answers to that question. Both movies and episodes of TV shows are the most brilliant, time-sensitive ways to study the three-act structure, for one. Paying close attention to the arc of the segments between comm

Please Welcome Laura Caldwell: Lawyer/Author/Life-Saver and Dog Lover

Laura Caldwell is a lawyer-turned-author-turned-life-saver. She is a former civil trial lawyer, now a professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. She is also director of Life After Innocence, published author of 14 novels and one nonfiction book (to date), and speaker, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend. Caldwell’s fictional work began as chick-lit and soon turned into the mystery/thriller genre. Her first book,   Burning the Map , was voted as one of the year’s best books by in 2002. The Chicago Tribune called   A Clean Slate   “a page turner.”   The Year of Living Famously   and   The Night I Got Lucky   prompted Booklist to declare, “Caldwell is one of the most talented and inventive ... writers around.” In 2009, Caldwell released a trilogy on character Izzy McNeil, a Chicago lawyer who finds her way into a myriad of situations in which she must use her wit and legal skill. While researching her sixth novel, Caldwell was led to the criminal case

Book Pipeline Competition

I’ve noticed many authors are ambivalent about entering writing contests, but I’m not sure that’s always a good idea. Yes, they do cost you an entry fee, but getting your writing into agent and editor hands for less than $100 is much cheaper than pitching at a conference. Just do your homework and choose the contests with care. Here’s one contest that recently rolled across our radar. The Book Pipeline Competition , presented by Script Pipeline , is seeking playwrights and authors with stellar material well-suited for film or television adaptation. The winning writer will have the unique opportunity of developing their work with industry executives and representatives. Acceptable entries include: Novels and short stories Non-fiction Book Proposals/Pitches Graphic Novels Plays Final deadline is September 30 th . You can get more details and submit your work at Good luck if you decide to enter your work! 

Call in The Script Doctor

In addition to writing and editing books, I also write screenplays and stage plays, and have worked as a script doctor. A script doctor, who is sometimes simply called a consultant, is a writer hired by a director or producer to fix an existing script. Sometimes that is just an extensive copy edit similar to what is done for a novel. Other times the script doctor is asked to polish specific aspects of the script, including structure, characterization, dialogue, pacing, theme, and other elements. That's what Stephen Marro and his Arrested Development Production Company in New York hired me to do for his film, Broadway's Finest.   He had a terrific story, but the dialogue, pacing and characterization needed help. That project started in development - which means all the work that goes into financing, producing, and marketing a film - about fifteen years ago and took this long to find its way to the screen. The original working title was Arrested Development , but then the

Book to Screen: Seeing Your Book as a Visual Story

Do you know what two important verbs typically go into the making of a screenplay? Doing and Saying . Characters do things, and characters say things. Like a book, like any good story, movies have plots and subplots that tie into the same question: what does the protagonist want and what keeps him/her from obtaining that want? In the quest to see how this story ends, characters do and say things. Why am I repeating this and why is it important to know—especially in regards to seeing your book visually for the screen? Check out one of the many free scripts at Simply Scripts . One thing that you will not notice in a screenplay is heavy exposition, pages upon pages of description, of characters’ thoughts and feelings, of minute detailing that brings a story to life in a book but would weigh a screenplay down in the worst kind of way. In a screenplay, writers are quick to give just enough definition, description, or setting of the stage, but primarily, they are concerned wit

Building Character(s) in Real Life

First in a week-long series exploring novels to film. A few years ago, when I started writing longer stories and began developing the Morristown mystery series, I noticed my tendency to naturally break chapters into tight scenes that seemed more like scripting theater scenes than book chapters. I also found myself looking for photos of people who might play the roles of my characters, and as I built character files, I added images to give me strong visual descriptions for my writing. That seemed like casting actors for a play or movie. When my male protagonist took over my writing voice, I had quite a few challenges identifying with his character, and visuals became even more important to my writing. I spent hours looking for my main character, J. Lindsey Calhoun, and thought I’d found him in this man: But two aspects always bothered me about this image. He needed to have blue eyes – that changed from light blue to stormy dark depending on emotion - and I didn’t get th

Mixing Things Up

Photo by Craighton Miller , via Flickr In my last posting , I outlined the merits of using Third Person Omniscient narration if, like me, you’re a writer who enjoys working on large canvases. That said, if your novel features parallel plot lines and an ensemble cast of more-or-less equally important characters, there’s no law that says you can’t Mix Things Up , either by using multiple First Person narrators, or by utilising both First and Third person narrative technique in alternating sections of the same book. Mixing Things Up is not a post-modern innovation. 1 This trend was spear-headed by the celebrated Victorian novelist Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) in his hugely-successful sensation novel The Woman in White. More recent maestros in the use of mixed narrative voices include two writers of Young Adult fiction: Jonathan Stroud and Elizabeth Wein. Stroud’s exemplary work is a four-volume fantasy set in parallel gaslight version of Europe. 2 Here, all social and politi

More About Pre-Orders

Last month, I talked about Amazon narrowing the gap between indie and traditionally published authors by making its pre-order option available to indie authors as well. Since then, I've tried the system, not only at Amazon, but at Kobo and the iBook store. As far as I can tell, there's no way to track sales at iBooks, so it'll be a matter of watching the sales reports when the book goes live in late October. Kobo doesn't track sales, but it does record rankings, so you can get an idea if you've been selling books by watching the rankings. Amazon reports pre-orders as a separate section of their dashboard. And, contrary to what I thought was their system, it turns out they regard these pre-orders as regular sales, so the book's ranking will reflect that. I put my newest book, Windswept Danger, up for pre-order on September 1st at all 3 channels, at the special pre-order price of 99 cents. Because I wanted to make sure everything was uploaded and working p

The Writer’s Police Academy

For those of us writing mysteries in whichever sub-genre, learning the technical police procedures and lingo can be a daunting experience. I just spent five days as part of the volunteer staff at The Writer’s Police Academy . For the fifth year in a row, retired cop Lee Lofland rounded up a fantastic roster of writers, law enforcement, forensic specialists, psychologists, pathologists, explosive experts, firefighters, paramedics, agents from the ATF, FBI, Secret Service, and every other specialist related to crime you could think of. In addition, bestselling authors, Michael Connelly, Lisa Gardner, Alafair Burke, Robin Burcell, and John Gilstrap either gave classes or talks. Polly with Michael Connelly One class I took, conducted by William “Billy” Queen, recounted his two years undercover with a biker gang. I found it particularly interesting because I have two undercover officers in my soon-to-be-released book, Backlash (which is now available for pre-order). When you hear t

Missed Connections

Photo courtesy of Hello, duckies! So much for warm weather; fall has fallen and shows no sign of getting to its feet any time soon. Of course I don’t mind cooler weather, especially when there are so many lovely wooly things to knit. I’m just about to sew up the shoulders of a kimono-style jacket, so we’ll make this month’s missive a short one. We’re all familiar with the use of and when stringing subjects together, yes? The polka-dot blouse and plaid pants were hideous. Indeed. This sort of pairing (eye-watering qualities aside) is fairly straightforward. A compound subject, a plural verb. Now for the tricky part. Suppose you like your prose a bit on the flowery side? You might decide to use in addition to , or together with , or any number of substitutes. Will you still use the plural verb? Ah, I see several smiles and shaking heads. Good for you. Connective phrases such as along with or as well as do not make your subject plural. The manager

Writers’ Block is Not the Flu From time to time, every writer contracts a case of Writers’ Block. But Writers’ Block is not a disease, something that you “catch” that will go away after you pamper yourself, take Vitamin C, and postpone activity until it’s over. Writer’s Block is really just another name for fear. This doesn’t mean Writers’ Block isn’t real – of course it is. Writers’ Block is like a boulder damming up a flowing river. The boulder is real. The water can’t flow smoothly until something is done about that boulder. You have to move it or find a way around it. In other words, you have to do some work. We want things to be easy. We think if our writing flows easily, it must be “right”, or if you are spiritually inclined, even god-directed. And if we are having trouble, if we have to write the same paragraph twelve times over, that somehow means the writing is not as good, that we’re doing something wrong, that maybe it’s not “meant to be.” This is not necessarily true. Not ev

Enquiring Writers Want to Know…

During my years of editing, numerous questions and comments have come from writers who were new to the business. After reviewing some of the more common ones, I’ve made a list that might be useful to others here as they jump into the deep end of our literary pool. ??? I know exactly how my story is going to end before I type the first word. How do I make sure my ending won’t change? You don’t. Imposing an ending on your story that doesn’t fit its development will kill your book, just as will forcing your characters into cubby holes where they are nothing more than two-dimensional puppets. Instead, craft solid characters with individual likes, dislikes, and personalities; detailed backgrounds; and strong family histories; then put them into your setting and let them tell you their story. Of course, you can’t allow them to go too far afield, but you can give them enough latitude to bring reality to your words and an ending that fits who they are—not a written-in-stone finish that l

Write What You Know

Ever heard someone say, Write what you know? It sounds logical, but what does it really mean? To me, it means write what you are familiar with or what you can research. Even if you really know something, you want to weave your knowledge into the characters without the reader feeling like the author is doing the talking or spending too much time presenting minutiae. In my first fiction book, Angel Sometimes , I gave Angel the job of swimming as a mermaid. That was easy since I'd swam as a mermaid for four years. My second fiction book, Dismembering the Past is different. Matti McAllister, a Private Investigator, is the protagonist. But I've never been a PI, so I had to do a lot of research and, as I wrote, I found myself getting inside her head. You may base characters on people you know or people you've seen around town or people you've met online. The trick is to choose something from that person and give that fear or favorite song or way of talking, or wh