March 29, 2011

Stuck In Revision Land

I've been thinking about revision a lot lately. It's no surprise, I guess. I'm revising Ivy's novel.

The first thing I do when revising is find out what's wrong with the book structurally. There's no sense in tweaking syntax when you have scenes missing or scenes that need to be cut or rearranged.

Take my book for example. (The working title is Roses and Mirrors.) Ivy gets trapped in three different fairy tales. (The reasons for her entrapment are explained in the novel.) The first fairy tale is Beauty and the Beast. (It's very different from the Beauty and the Beast on the blog.)

...Anyway, Ivy is in Beauty and the Beast and I'm marking changes that I need to make to plot, character, setting, etc... As I'm going along, I realize my plot is... lacking. The stakes aren't high enough. The more I read, the more frustrated I get with myself. There are entire scenes with little to no conflict!

I think about what I can do to raise the stakes, to make the conflict more agonizing, but I can't come up with anything horrible enough.

So I ask a friend. He writes thrillers, so I figure he must have some idea on how to torture characters. I send the following email:

Beauty and the Beast is a complete do-over, plot-wise. There are some great one-liners and descriptions in there that are keepers, but I won’t get into that until the final stages. There just isn’t enough conflict or risk. No real stakes. Just a confused girl living her new life in a fairy tale with a few minor changes to it.

This is your strong point. How would you throw a wrench into Beauty and the Beast if there were two girls in the castle? I’m already considering pipe bomb.

He replies:
Well, we're in fairy-tale land. You want conflict. My first thought was to have Ivy accidentally cause some great catastrophe. Have her inadvertently cause the death of either [Beauty] or the Beast.

Excuse me while I finish cackling.

Okay, so talk about disaster. It seems obvious--killing off a character is supposed to be a go-to strategy for shaking things up. The thought never really occured to me, since there are only three characters to speak of in this segment.

Of course, I can't ACTUALLY kill one of them. At least... not without some serious magic. But maybe a more metaphorical death, or death in a different sense?

As of now, I have BIG plans for the revision. I'm so excited about this.

This is why it's important to make friends with other writers.

March 26, 2011

RePost: Build a Setting that Pulls Its Own Weight (and then some)

So I'm finally getting to a craft post! I found some great stuff on setting. It's something I used to not think about on the first draft. I used to forget about it or my setting would just have a few token descriptions sprinkled in and they were ordinary. Boring.

How to Revise Your Novel helped me to take a step back from my story and really see where my characters were and why I'd picked these particular locations. (Maybe you've heard that the setting needs to be the only place where the story could take place? It's true. Sometimes I did it subconsciously, but other times I had to work to make my setting count.)

As I work through the first draft of my WIP, I'm noticing that I'm SO much slower than I was with my other novels. Then I went back and read what I wrote and you know what? There's setting! Real setting. Meaningful. The setting helped build tension and character.

Katrina Stonoff wrote a fantastic article that really made an impact on me called Make Your "Where" Memorable. She helped me to see beyond the typical and bring out those details that you wouldn't expect, but that really draw the reader in.

Enrich Your Descriptions by learning how to develop you writer's eyes. There's more to a setting than what you see with the naked eye. How would you see a scene if you were a child? If you were in a hurry? If you were objective? This post goes deeper to even discuss connotation, which is definitely worth a read if you're not familiar with it.

Cynsations had a fun guest post by Deborah Halverson last week where she asks: what ever happened to description? It seems to have all but disappeared, what with writers worrying about pace and character and plot.

And this week, Greenhouse Literary posted How to Write the Breakout Novel Part 5: A Vivid Setting.
If you haven't delved into The Bookshelf Muse, I highly recommend some exploration. Scroll down the right-hand column for a list of settings. Click the link for "Forest" (or whatever is relevant to your story) and you'll be taken to an extensive list of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures you might find there. I use this site all the time to make my scenes pop.

Just a little goody for those of you who may write traditional fantasy: The Middle Ages, Chivalry, & Knighthood is an amazing go-to source for terms, time lines, maps, culture, food, history... you name it!

March 23, 2011

Writing Descriptions

Descriptions are underrated. I mean, it used to be you could get away with writing pages of description, but today's books need to be fast-paced and action-packed. There doesn't seem to be any room for description.

One problem we face in today's world is that we don't sense things any more. We're so busy multi-tasking and getting to the next thing on our list to even notice the sounds and smells around us. I hadn't given this much thought until I read Paying Attention by Shutting It Off by Cambria Dillon.

How do you write description without it boring your readers to death? Make it part of the story. Theresa at Edittorrent shows Julia London's brilliant example in the post Setting by Example.

And of course, no post on description would be complete without mentioning Bookshelf Muse--my favorite free online writing resource. Angela Ackerman has yet another post worth reading: The Writer's Bane: Describing a Character's Physical Appearance. She tackles a big problem and uses examples to illustrate a much more interesting way to describe your characters.

March 21, 2011

Contest Winners!

The three winners who get to choose a free writing clinic by Holly Lisle are:
Carolyn Kaufman &
Ryan D. Rhoads


I'll contact you to make sure I know which clinic you want.
Thanks to all who participated. If you didn't win, I'd encourage you to look into the clinics to help you with your writing. The prices are pretty darn reasonable. (Hey, I bought them.)

(you can click on the pictures to get a description):

March 18, 2011

Repost: How to Get Great Ideas and What to Do With Them

Each of us has a creative side. You wouldn't be reading this if you didn't. It's that little voice in the back of your head that throws out ideas. I call mine my Muse and I've talked about her before. (Yes, my Muse is a she.)

I was thinking about what makes my Muse "sing". Typically, if your creative voice is on, your cognitive, logical voice has to be turned off. If you're familiar with right-brain, left-brain research, this is exactly what I'm talking about. Your left brain has to take a back seat if your right brain is going to have any say. (Sometimes transition is pretty quick. There are exercises you can do to help with this.)

So how do you hand the microphone to your Muse? How do you turn off the left brain?
By doing something mundane, everyday, or mind-numbing. Sounds fun, right?

My Muse hates to be bored, so when the left-brain turns off, she steps forward and tries to make things interesting. (This is why TV usually isn't a great way for me to brainstorm. My Muse is already entertained.)

So if I need some good ideas, I have to do something like fold laundry, go for a walk, rake leaves, stare at a blank computer screen, or try to fall asleep. (Unsuccessfully. Usually. I do get some awesome dreams on occasion.)
It's darn inconvenient, but I get my best ideas as I'm drifting off to sleep. (A great reason to keep a notebook handy on my nightstand.) For example, last night I was trying to sleep while my husband was reading with the light on. And a voice came into my head. Not a literal voice, just words that had personality. And the personality wasn't mine. I had struck gold!

Unfortunately, my daughter had run off with my notebook. I didn't go and look for it and of course, I don't remember the whole thing. But I'd like to share my train of thought and the words that I do remember.

I was thinking about how to begin my story. I have a premise in mind and several scenes planned out, so I wasn't starting from nothing. My mind drifted to books that I love. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine is my favorite and it's young adult fantasy, just like Phantom. Ella Enchanted started just outside the story with the first-person narrator talking about something that happened before the story actually begins.

The other book I thought of was The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. I loved this series. It was the series I wish I had written. Anyway, the book starts with Percy (the main character, also in first person) talking directly to the reader. He tells us something about the main theme of the book and beautifully melds his world with ours.

So then I moved back to my book. I'm pretty sure I want to do first person. I write better characters and cleverer detail that way. I wanted to begin my books like Riordan and Levine did.

That's when my Muse sang. (Not literally. I'm not crazy.)

The words for the beginning of my story popped into my head. My memory only recalls bits and pieces, but here's what I have:

My school is haunted. They should have seen it coming, building a boarding school where a prison used to be.
That's all I remember. Sad, huh?

So let that be a lesson to you. It's always worth getting out of your nice warm bed to go get a pen and pad when an idea hits you. Make yourself do it. You won't be sorry.

March 16, 2011

Creativity Boost: Refueling and Refilling

I remember in high school, this used to be the toughest time of year. I felt draggy, like my spirit was just tired. I think everyone was feeling the same way. (Maybe that's why they started having Spring Break?)

So today's post is going to be about getting out of the slump: how to give yourself a creative boost and how to get to the good stuff your muse may be hiding in the corner.

Lilith Saintcrow wrote a blog post a while back about Changing Creative Fuel. Using your own life to get ideas is great, but it can become exhausting. Let go of fear and take a break to do something physical. They're good lessons we could all use.

Michael at Upstart Crow Literary posts about the Rule of Twenty. Basically, don't trust your first ideas. The creative gold is a little deeper, and you'll need to dig in order to find it.

Shonna Slayton always has good posts at Routines for Writers and her article on Purposeful Daydreaming is no exception. Make your down time work for you. She mentions making word clouds. Tried it. Loved it. Here's one I created for my WIP:

Holly Lisle wrote about using Timed Writing to Free Up the Subconscious in Writing. Always good stuff. She also offers a free PDF called Mugging the Muse.

And finally, the famous Rachelle Gardner has 11 Non-Writing-Related Ideas to help you become a better writer.

March 10, 2011

Get Yourself to a Conference (How About A Free One?)

I can't tell you how amazing writer conferences are. You seriously need to just go to one. Pennwriters is fantastic, and I'd love to see you there, but if you can't make it, look for another one.

There's also WriteOnCon. It's a totally free, online conference that happens in August. They have regular live events and will have a bunch of agents and writers at the big event. Check it out!

March 7, 2011

Repost: Getting Your Novel Pitch-Ready

I mentioned in an earlier post that CJ Lyons gave an amazing seminar on pitches. Basically, she told us to whittle our books down to as few words as possible. This helps us to understand what our book is really about.

There are different kinds of pitches. I gave a ten-minute pitch at the conference to an agent. That's a pretty long time. With those, it's important to let the agent ask questions and let it be more like a conversation. Otherwise, the agent will probably lose interest. (I'm not sure I would want to listen to myself for ten minutes straight.)

But you may have also heard about elevator pitches. These are pitches that are so short, you could give them to an agent if you were caught in an elevator with them--maybe 15 seconds. The goal is to give them just enough that they want to know more. CJ said,

The trick with elevator pitches is to use something universally known (like Indiana Jones) or something current and trendy. You need to use comparisons your audience will understand, nod their heads and say, oh yeah, that sounds like something I'd read
Start with your tag line/log line/hook. This is one sentence, as few words as possible, while evoking as much emotion and imagery as possible. If you're familiar with archetypes, this would be perfect. For example, we had one guy give his pitch, which included "creationism" in it. CJ said "God exists" is more powerful. Everyone has some idea of what God is, where creationism takes thought. Many don't know what it means. Keep it simple.

The hook that CJ helped me make for Shadow Bound is:
A ghost comes back from the dead to save the girl he loves.

Okay, so you have a hook line. Sometimes that's all you need, the conversation will evolve naturally from there. [It did for me.] Other times you use it simply to attract attention and move into a more detailed description. This is where that 15-25 word story summary mentioned above comes in handy. The hook line hooks the reader into wanting (or asking to hear) the short summary.

CJ Lyons loves to help writers, so she gave us a handout with a ton of useful resources. First, she listed some books (the comments in parentheses are from me):
Noah Lukeman THE FIRST FIVE PAGES (read it. loved it.)
Stephen King ON WRITING (a must-read)
Christopher Vogler THE WRITER'S JOURNEY
James Frey THE KEY
Donald Maas WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL (another must-read)
Dwight Swain TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER (this, for me personally, is my all-time favorite, most helpful book.)

Next, she gave some great websites:
Association of Author Representatives (check out the FAQ for great questions to ask potential agents)
Publisher's Lunch (industry news)
Buzz, Balls, and Hype (book marketing advice)
Backspace (writers forums and articles)
Publishers Weekly: news, blogs, features, deals, reviews
QueryTracker (an absolute must for anyone submitting to agents and now publishers!)
Nathan Bransford (an agent at Curtis Brown, great blog, wonderful links to everything!)

About CJ:
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her award-winning, critically acclaimed Angels of Mercy series (LIFELINES, WARNING SIGNS, and URGENT CARE) is available in stores now with the fourth, CRITICAL CONDITION, due out December, 2010. Her newest project is as co-author of a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich. Contact her at

March 4, 2011

Conference Time!

Spring is right around the corner and that means writing conferences!
(I'm going to Pennwriters in Pittsburg, which is in mid-May.)

Conferences are great for writers for so many reasons. You can get an opportunity to pitch your book to agents and editors (which is great practice for when you have to market yourself), you can meet fantastic authors, and you can take seminars on a hundred helpful topics (from craft to promotion). You get to meet people interested in the things you're interested in. Being around writers and those in the industry is exciting, it's rejuvenating. It reminds you of why you do what you do (and that it's perfectly normal).

Donna Bowman Bratton has put together a great Dos and Don'ts list for conference-goers. It had some things in there I hadn't thought about before.

Diana Rowland guest posted on Inkpunks about How To Network at conferences (an absolute must)

And Kerry Gans at The Goose Quill posted about an Epiphany she had while battling her nerves at a conference.

March 1, 2011


I know how to hypnotize people.

Seriously. I studied under a hypnotherapist for two years. While I'm not actually a licensed hypnotherapist, I know a lot about the subject.

I know hypnosis is a mystical thing to most people and I know some are interested and curious about it. Some of you may want to use it in your fiction.

So I'd like to know: what questions do you have about hypnosis?
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