Tag: novels (page 2 of 6)

How Dr. Seuss Can Improve Your Writing

Dr. SeussWhen I was a kid, I loved Dr. Seuss. I liked everything he wrote, but my favorite was Fox in Socks. I’ve always been a sucker for tongue twisters, and that fox really had a few zingers. There are still a couple I stumble over.

When I became a parent, I read his collection to my kids. Their favorite was The Lorax. I read it so often, I think I can still quote most, if not all, of it by heart. It has a poignant message, and it was delivered in such a Seussical way, I really don’t mind.

Now my kids think they’re beyond Dr. Seuss, although we still watch The Grinch Who Stole Christmas every winter. So you would think my Seuss days are over. But you’d be wrong. Theodor Geisel wrote about writing, and one of my favorite and inspirational quotes is by him:

So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.

Yes, it’s another childhood rhyme, but that just makes it easier to remember. And it’s a phrase we writers should take to heart.

How often have you been immersed in a novel only to wonder why the author has spent sentences, paragraphs, even pages describing something when a few words would have sufficed, or even worse, when the information could have been omitted altogether? Poetic phrases have their place, but that place isn’t in a novel. Save the purple prose for the poetry books. Fiction has come a long way since the classics were written. Every word must now have a practical purpose or it must not be allowed to stay in the novel.

Frankly, I’m not sure the effusive description served even the classics well. I swear I read a four-page description of a ladder in Moby Dick before Ishmael ever set foot on the ship. Perhaps Melville could have benefitted from listening to Dr. Seuss. I’m not saying I’m in Melville’s league, but I know I’ve learned a thing or two from Dr. Seuss. I didn’t learn anything from Melville.

If you aren’t into Seuss-style whimsical poetry, take some advice from William Faulkner. “Kill your darlings.”

Five Suggestions for the Non-NanNoWriMo Writer

writingIt’s that time of year again. Writers everywhere are hoarding Halloween chocolate and stockpiling caffeinated drinks (Diet Pepsi and Gevalia coffee in this house) because November, despite having only thirty days and requiring a full week of preparation for Thanksgiving dinner, is NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. Actually, it’s probably just Writing Month, as it’s also WNFIN, or Write Non Fiction In November month. I’ve even seen NaNoPoMo mentioned, or National November Posting Month, challenging bloggers to post every day. With the daily blogging, with fiction writers racing to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days and with non-fiction writers also struggling to meet the same deadline, how could it not be Writing Month? And how could writers who aren’t participating fail to take notice, with daily word counts in everyone’s social media feeds?

I’m not participating this year. I decided I had too many other obligations to make a good faith attempt at a novel, or a daily blog. But that didn’t mean that I couldn’t learn from all the advice flying around. Many of the points are useful to any writer writing to meet any deadline or under no time constraints at all.

1)      Say it in a Sentence.
If you can condense your story concept down into one sentence (think of it as your elevator pitch), you are on your way to developing the essence of your story. If you begin planning your novel and you can’t even come up with the words that encapsulate the crux of the tale, you probably haven’t thought it through completely yet. Think of your story as a painting. The elevator pitch is where you are laying down the big bold strokes of color. It just lays the shape of the work, nothing more. The major milestones are the smaller strokes where the picture emerges. The scenes are the fine detail work where the picture takes shape and becomes a true work of art. In the planning stage, the broad brush strokes of a single sentence are all that is necessary. If you can’t do that, you don’t have a novel in the making.

2)      Research Research Research.
NaNoWriMo or not, much of your research can be done before you sit down to write or outline. It doesn’t matter what your idea is… unless you’re writing your autobiography as fiction, there is likely something you need to research. Even if you’re writing your autobiography as fiction, there’s probably something you need to research. Most likely you’re not writing something you know as well as yourself and your life. That will require more research, whether it be geography, history, and/or biography. The Internet has become an easy resource for us. Remember to try to use academic, government or specialist sites rather than general commercial sites, as they tend to be more thorough and reliable. But the Internet isn’t the only option for research. We tend to forget about books (how ironic), maps, charts, film, and other media, and most importantly, going directly to the source when possible. Visiting the geography we are interested in and interviewing the people we are writing about are excellent options. As this is research and can be done before the writing begins, the only constraints we have are the ones our lives and our bank accounts put on us. But if and when possible, we should consider doing something other than Internet research.

3)      Pantsers will struggle in November.
Are you a pantser or a plotter? Everyone writes differently, and, while I certainly have my favorite way to write, I’m not going to tell you which way is correct. There’s only one way that’s correct for you, and that’s the way you should stick with. That said, in November, if you go in without an outline or a plan, you’re probably going to fail, because you don’t have the luxury of finding your way through a plot in a mere month. If you are comfortable with a working plan or outline of some sort, it will help guide you through your novel. And if you find that comfortable in November, perhaps that structure will help you anytime you sit down to write a book.

4)      Editing is a Writer’s Worst Enemy
If you are participating in NaNoWriMo, you don’t have time to edit as you go. You’ll never get done in time. If you aren’t, should you edit as you go? Many authors say no. If you edit as you write, you’ll spend so much time editing that you’ll lose your flow and rhythm. Writers need to write. You can edit later. Some writers take the beginning of their writing day to edit the prior day’s work. That helps them get back in the story from the day before and lets them correct any issues that may have developed before they get out of hand. If you absolutely have to edit before draft one is complete, try just doing it once a day.

5)      Been There, Scene That
Scenes need to be thought of as vehicles. They take the reader from Point A to Point B in your story. If you are planning your story (or pantsing it) and find yourself with a scene, even a beautifully written scene with several darlings in it, but it simply stays in Point A, you have to cut it. Each scene should start with a hook (or at the very least something interesting enough to entice the reader to keep reading), continue with action that progresses the plot, and ends with something that leaves the reader desperate to read on. If you have a scene that doesn’t do those three things, it either needs to be rewritten or deleted.

These five points are popular points given to writers preparing for NaNoWriMo, but they are points that any writers can use when working on a novel. Like I said, I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year, but I am going to put these suggestions to use as I work on my current and future projects. Hopefully you find them useful in your writing as well.

Five Ways to Avoid Ruining Your Scene Descriptions

Hilton HeadWhen you write, you’ve got main characters, secondary characters, minor characters and villains. Many people contend that the setting can become a character in its own right, and in certain situations, a well-written setting can take on a life of its own. But there are mistakes to avoid with settings so they aren’t handled poorly.

Here are five pitfalls in scene-setting to be aware of.

1. Not Writing Enough
Have you ever read a scene so dialogue-heavy that you felt ungrounded? You were missing the basic foundation tools provided by “setting the scene.” Without just a few well-placed details to tell you where the characters are, you will uncomfortably float in the scene.

2. Being Lost in Exposition
Conversely, too much scene-setting can break down the flow of the writing. It’s a real slam of the brakes as your eyes scan the page if suddenly you’re mired down in a lengthy description of where the characters are. More isn’t always better.

3. Making Lists
One of the ways people try to condense their description is to just hit the highlights of the scenery. That often results in a laundry list of details describing the setting of the story. That’s a sure fire way to slow down readers. No one wants to read sentence after sentence of room or landscape detail, particularly if it really isn’t value-added information.

4. Writing Purple Prose
Sometimes the description is added simply as filler because the writer wasn’t sure what to do next or he or she wanted to slow the pace a bit. Often this is where the writer flexes the old poetry muscle, and purple prose is born. Scene descriptions are created in language so beautiful that The Bard himself would be envious. Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings. In this case, they aren’t really darling. Just because the language is exquisite doesn’t mean it belongs in your story.

5. Regionalizing
I was at a conference recently when an agent discussed scene-specifics. She said that stories set in Anytown USA are more marketable than stories written about miners in Western PA because a coal mine in Western PA poses a limited market. That doesn’t mean you can’t set your story somewhere real—plenty of wonderful stories take place in actual places—but try not to limit your market so severely that you make your story’s audience a small, segmented market.

So, we don’t write too little, we don’t write too much. We avoid writing lists and we cut the poetic phrases that were inserted as filler. Finally, we make certain we don’t pigeon-hole ourselves into a region that is too specific to be marketable. What’s left?

The perfect sprinkling of well-placed, well-chosen details. You don’t need to describe the whole forest; throughout the scene mention the darkness of the shadows, the thick carpet of fallen needles and the pungent scent of pine. Those details throughout one scene aren’t too many, but you know you’re in a forest without saying, “They’re in a dense forest. There are trees as far as the eye can see. Needles and cones line the path, and the scent of pine permeates the air.” Further, if you mention the details in lieu of dialogue tags, you’ve killed two birds with one stone. But I’ll leave that discussion for another post…

Five Ways to Write a Successful Hero

heroMy in-laws are here this week. In fact, they came a day early. I was woefully unprepared. There was no food in the house. I was in the middle of cleaning. Their bed sheets weren’t even on the bed yet. I was wearing my housecleaning clothes: sweat shorts and a ripped and stained oversized T-shirt that I “borrowed” from my husband years ago and never returned. Hey, I do the laundry. If he wants it back, he should wash it and put it in his drawer. Anyway…

Their arrival could have gone a few different ways. My in-laws could have looked around with disdain and made snide comments, but they’re too classy for that. (What they thought is another story. I’ll never know, and I like it that way.) My husband could have blamed me for the mess and sat there waiting for me to scramble. (I was scrambling anyway.) Or he could have explained how busy we’ve all been (which is true), explained that we expected them the following day (also true), and then pitched in more than he already had been to get the place serviceable. Which was what he did. My hero.

Okay, that might be a bit overdramatic, but my life isn’t in peril on a daily basis. But in fiction, heroes don’t always have to be saving lives. Sometimes they just come to the rescue of an unprepared leading lady. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes for all kinds of situations, but there are ways to ensure you create a believable and likeable hero. Here are five rules to follow when crafting heroes for your fiction.

  1. Heroes need noble professions
    Don’t automatically default to the billionaire playboy philanthropist. Bruce Wayne has been written about enough already. A hero can be wealthy, but he certainly doesn’t have to be. Heroes can be middle class, they can also be living paycheck to paycheck. Income doesn’t matter. The key is to make their professions honorable. Whatever they choose to do with their lives, whatever their pasts and their histories, they need to have good intentions and actions in the present. They should also have the means to date a woman. That doesn’t mean five-star resorts and fancy restaurants, but he should be able to do better than PB&J sandwiches in the bed of his truck.
  2. Heroes are men of action
    Introspection is fine for the leading man, in fact, it’s encouraged. There’s no better way for readers to get to know the hero than to hear his thoughts, in his voice. But heroes are, by definition, men of action. Don’t let this guy spend too much time thinking without doing something. We want to learn about him, but we want to learn about him through his actions.
  3. Heroes need to be open to new things
    Two peas in a pod or opposites attract? I always vote opposites. If your hero and heroine share too many of the same traits, their relationship is going to be dull. The exciting relationships are the ones where the guy and girl come together from two different ends of the spectrum. That means, however, that one of them is going to want to go to the football game while the other is ordering ballet tickets. (It really doesn’t matter which one is which—don’t play into stereotypical gender roles all the time.) Let your hero not only willingly agree to give up his activity in favor of hers; let him enjoy her activity as well.
  4. Work with a quirk
    Yes, I know that was a suggestion I used for the heroines, but it holds true for the heroes, too. Guys aren’t always cool and collected. They have idiosyncrasies. If it’s not a nervous tick or a tell of some sort, then he’s likely to have some weird habit or an odd collection at home. Perhaps it has something to do with his car. Everyone has a quirk. Show his. Let us learn about him through his. Is it endearing? Is it weird? Is it something that is sentimental and emotional? Reveal something about him through the quirk.
  5. MAKE HIM FLAWED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Yep, another repeat. But this one definitely bears repeating. No one’s perfect. He might be perfect for the heroine, but he isn’t flawless. He can have wonderful qualities most of the time, but not always. He’s going to have indecision. He’s going to have doubts. And sometimes, sometimes, he’s going to do something completely idiotic and make the heroine angry. It’s okay. They’ll work it out. He’s still a good guy. He’s just not perfect. And that’s precisely what will make him the perfect hero for your story.

Heroes come in all kinds of packages: long and lean to big and bulky; boardrooms to operating rooms; the open range to the gun range. How they look, what they do, where you find them… none of that really matters. It’s all window dressing. What matters is what’s at the core. Heroes need to be flawed, challenged men striving for redemption, and they are successful by saving (or helping to save) the leading lady.

photo courtesy of Chris Hartford: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Knight_at_Battle_Abbey.jpg

How to Build a Better Story

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Shakespeare wrote that in As You like It. If that’s truly the case, then stories themselves are houses. Let me explain.

A-Frame HouseConsider the framework for a simple A-frame house. It’s got four walls and a pitched roof. The structure of the story, any story, is like the framework of that A-frame house. It doesn’t change, no matter what. It is the support, regardless of the dressing. We’ll go into more detail about structure in a later post, but for now, we’ll just hit the highlights. This framework, in all fiction, will have five parts.

The left side wall is the Exposition, or Introduction. This is the part of the story where characters are introduced and relevant background information is revealed. The inciting incident occurs in this section.

The left pitch of the roof is the Rising Action. This is the part of the story where conflict is revealed the story progresses. A series of challenges and setbacks occur in this section to add interest.

The pitch of the roof is the Climax. This is the turning point of the novel, where suspense has built and the reader is caught up in the action, or surprised by the turn of events. This is the part with the most on the line for the protagonist—the most is on the line here.

The right pitch of the roof is the Falling Action. These events are usually the after effects of the decisions made during the climax, and therefore occur immediately after the climax.

The right side wall is the Denouement or Resolution. This is the ultimate conclusion and resolves any unaddressed conflicts that progressed throughout the story. There should be a release of any tensions at this point, and all mysteries should be solved.

Most fiction today is written in a three act structure. You can think of it as the three floors of the home (ground floor, second floor, and attic).

The Ground Floor is the beginning, or the setup. It tells who the characters are and what happens to them, right up to the inciting incident, or the thing that happens that sets the story in motion.

The Second Floor is the middle of the story. It’s where most of the book takes place. It’s where all the challenges and obstacles occur that keep the protagonist away from the goal.

The Third Floor is the end of the story. It’s when the protagonist finally reaches the goal and everything gets wrapped up.

These floors correlate to the side walls and roof, don’t they? You bet. Shouldn’t the framework of a house work together? You bet.

Now, it really doesn’t matter how you dress this thing up. It can be a western with weathered wood siding. A southern Civil War historical with columns and a wrap-around porch. A legal thriller Bostonian brick brownstone with a stately pediment above the door. None of that matters. What matters is that you build three sturdy floors, with solid walls, and a perfectly pitched roof. The dressing is all up to you. Variety is the spice of life, or, in this case, my bookshelf.

Posted for WordPress DPchallenge Easy as Pie

photo credit: Patrick Dinnen licensed under Creative Commons.

Five Ways to Write a Successful Heroine

KissI’d like to spend some time over the next few weeks working on elements of a novel. Today I thought we’d talk about the leading lady, or the heroine, primarily because I was sick this past week and spent more time reading than writing. The novels I read I won’t name, but they all had something in common: the leading ladies bugged the crap out of me, and soon I’ll tell you why. But first, a personal anecdote…

Yesterday was my seventeenth wedding anniversary. What does that have to do with the price of chocolate at Walgreens? I’m getting to it. See, Corey (that’s my husband) and I were high school sweethearts (awwww). We grew up in the same town, attended the same church, knew many of the same people. We actually had crushes on each other in junior high school, but we didn’t tell each other, or anyone else. When we finally got together in high school, we were (sickeningly) inseparable. Our relationship matured through college and long distance romances when he worked out of state. We even had some long distance issues during our marriage when his job took him away from our family for extended periods of time. Now we’re all under one roof and, although we’re not in our home state, we’re happy with our lives. Is everything perfect? No. But our relationship is perfect for us. Are we perfect? (Pause for hysterical bout of laughter.) Heavens, no! We’re perfect for each other though, and we know each other’s short comings and accept them.

Enter today’s heroine.

I’m not sure when it happened, but I think I know why it occurred. Many of today’s leading ladies are being put on pedestals so high that Zeus would have to look up from Mt. Olympus to see their feet. And they’re being written this way so they seem strong, capable and desirable. Guess what? Women can be strong, capable and desirable without being COMPLETELY FLAWLESS. These love triangles where two amazing men are fighting over Ms. Right (who, by the way, isn’t even that great half the time, they just seem to think she is), are tired and cliché. Ms. Right needs to be real. She needs to have flaws, and not just superficial ones that she notices, but ones that the men notice, too. Our daughters need realistic role models so when they read our books, they don’t feel that they fall inexplicably short or think that men have to duel over them for them to be worthy of love.

The books I read this past week had heroines that were either so helpless that they needed the men to rescue them or were so over the top wonderful that the guys couldn’t get enough of them, but in every case they were the “perfect” women: flawlessly beautiful, intelligent, generous, giving. Every man on the planet stopped and stared when they entered a room. Enough, already.

Here are five points to keep in mind to create a believable and likeable heroine in a novel.

  1. Get in your heroine’s head
    We need to see things from this woman’s point of view. We need to think her thoughts, in her voice. Respond to things realistically, avoid melodrama, but give us something we can really sink our teeth into so we can get to know her and like her. As with any character, the best way to get to know her will be through her ability to deal with conflict. Put her in stressful situations as soon as you can so we can see how she reacts. We need to feel her emotions, and let us experience them with her. This isn’t the place to hold back.
  2. A little less conversation, a little more action please
    I know, women complain. I’m a lovely and likable person, but even I have been known to utter a negative word or two here and there. The women who sit around bemoaning their lots in life waiting for the hero to rescue them need to be eliminated from literature. I’m not suggesting the heroine rush off half-cocked without a plan (the woman who acts without thinking also needs to be eliminated from literature), but there needs to be a methodical plan of action in place. Believe it or not, woman can be rational.
  3. Give us a believable reaction to her beauty
    She may be a knock-out, she may be an untraditional beauty, but she’s going to be good looking. In either event, she shouldn’t be obvious about it. This woman isn’t going to be staring into mirrors appreciating what she sees. However, I wouldn’t go to the other extreme, either. Humility is one thing, arguing about it and denying it is another. If she is complimented, she shouldn’t be shocked, and if she’s complimented repeatedly, her man shouldn’t have to convince her he finds her gorgeous.
  4. Work with a quirk
    Everyone has a thing. A nervous tell. A boredom tick. Something. The heroine needs one, too. A twist of a ring, a twirl of the hair, a bounce of the leg… Pick a thing that you can use to display emotion for your leading lady and use it. But use it sparingly. It’s just another layer for you to build with and us to unravel as we get to know the heroine.
  5. MAKE HER FLAWED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Did the bold, all caps, and several exclamation points do enough to keep your attention? This is the most important one, so I hope so. This woman isn’t perfect, so don’t make her be perfect. She makes bad decisions (although they need to be consistent with her character). She has bad hair days. She loses her temper. She doesn’t always recycle. She runs out of gas on the interstate when her cell phone battery is dead. She’s NOT perfect. No one is; why would she be? Lower the pedestal.

photo credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:French_Kiss.JPG

The ABCs of Murder Weapons in Fiction

Pole weapons Szczyrzyc MonasteryIf you read or write mysteries, you know the importance of a good weapon for the villain to use to plot the demise of the victims. The problem is that sometimes, we writers sit at the computer and think, “How in the world can I kill these people off in a way that hasn’t been done to death?” (No pun intended there.)

So I’ve compiled a list of potential weapons, from the typical to the way out there, for inspiration when writer’s block slows down the deaths in your next murder mystery. Use them if you dare.

  1. Arnis sticks – Any martial arts sticks, really, would do. Escrima, kali, even a bo staff. No, most people don’t walk around with martial arts equipment in their hands, but if your bad guy is in a gym, owns a gym, studies the art, (is a ninja!), this option can work for you. Both of my kids are taekwondo black belts (second and first degrees) and they work with swords, sticks and staffs. Stars and nunchucks will follow. Your guy has options.
  2. Baton – Before you think majorettes and short skirts (although that could work too), picture the dim lighting of a symphony performance or the darkness of an orchestra pit… A conductor’s baton of course. It’s rigid and pointy and can be jammed into any opening or soft spot on the head or neck to cause brain trauma or fatal bleeding. Hopefully its use isn’t an indication of the quality of the music.
  3. Cord – This could be as simple as twine or as new-fangled as tech cords (phones, televisions, etc.), but wrapped around a victim’s neck, any cord can be fatal.
  4. Drowning – Unless your characters are land-locked without access to running water, drowning is an option for any villain. Oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, bathtubs, pools, hot tubs… A rain barrel or bucket would do in a pinch.
  5. Explosion – Yes, explosions might require a bit of technical savvy. But if your villain has Internet access, your villain can make a bomb. Molotov cocktails, fertilizer bombs, pipe bombs… C-4, digital timers. What’s your villain’s background and access?
  6. Fire – Cavemen had it, why can’t your bad guy? Pin somebody in somewhere and set the place ablaze; he’s going to die of smoke inhalation or the fire. Or just turn him into a human torch. Your bad guy would have to be really sadistic to do it, but maybe he’s into cannibalistic barbecue.
  7. Gun – Does this really need to be discussed in detail? There are numerous sites discussing all types of guns, from tiny palm-sized pistols to giant military-grade truck-mounted beasts. Figure out your need and look them up. And don’t forget the pistol-whipping option… The bad guy can always beat someone to death with his weapon.
  8. Hockey stick – Any sports gear with the potential for violence would do. Hockey: the stick, the blades of the ice skates, the Zamboni machine. Baseball: the bat, the ball pitching machine. Field events: javelin, shot put balls. You get the idea.
  9. Icicle – No evidence left behind with this one. The perfect weapon. Stab and melt.
  10. Jaguar – Well, any animal can be used to kill on behalf of the villain. The problem? Training the animals to obey. And, of course, where to keep the animals. This could work on some kind of reservation or a zoo. Or using a snake to bite someone or strangle someone (snakes you can easily keep at home). Work out the logistics of the animals, and you have a winner.
  11. Knife – Knives, swords, daggers… any kind of blade. Knives can be easily hidden on a person, made of materials other than metal (so they can be smuggled past metal detectors), and can even be weapons of passion. An innocent dinner could turn deadly over the main course. Just make sure the diners are eating steak, not pasta, so there are knives on the table.
  12. Lasso – Cowboys aren’t always the hero. That lasso can easily become a noose. Don’t pretend you haven’t considered it when looking at those horrid rodeo clowns.
  13. Mine – Don’t forget about mines. Booby traps are a great way to get rid of secondary characters. They go snooping where they shouldn’t be and they meet an untimely end.
  14. Nail file – Villains shouldn’t always be the bad guy. Or maybe girls shouldn’t always be the ones getting the manicures. A sharp nail file to an artery can make an effective weapon — for a boy or a girl.
  15. Obsidian – That’s one of my new favorite minerals. It’s gorgeous. But that’s not the only one to consider. Think of all the stones that artwork can be carved out of… obsidian, marble, limestone, alabaster. If your villain is around statuary, he has a weapon.
  16. Pool cue – A billiard room is rife with weaponry. The pool cue, the balls. Even the racks and the table can be used… imagine using the triangle to strangle a victim or smashing a head off the slate of the table. Yank down the pendant light and wield it like a club, or use the exposed wires to electrocute someone.
  17. Quiver – Sure, arrows are weapons. Everyone knows that. But the quiver? Pah-ha, you say. Get creative. The arrows are gone, the bow is broken. How to improvise? Strangle the victim with the strap of the quiver.
  18. Ricin – Ricin is one of many poisons that grows in the wild. Learn or look up deadly poisons. A crafty villain can learn about wild poisons and figure out how to use them.
  19. Scarf – Scarves, neckties, belts, hosiery… any lengthy clothing or clothing accessories can be used to strangle someone in a pinch.
  20. Telephone – Land lines have cords. House phone or cell phone can be treated with poison that’s transmitted through touch. Sound can be transmitted through the phone to burst an ear drum, rendering a person helpless (or at least quite miserable and disoriented) until the killer can arrive to finish the job.
  21. Umbrella – Ah, pointy objects. An umbrella is so innocuous that anyone can carry it, but with a filed point, it’s an effective weapon. Also, it can conceal other weapons. Quite an effective little gadget.
  22. Vehicles – It’s inelegant, but running someone over gets the job done.
  23. Window – Push someone out a window. Drop a window down on someone’s head, guillotine-style. Put a head through a window and use the broken glass as a blade to sever arteries. You have a window of opportunity there… use it. (Even I groaned at that one.)
  24. Xiphos – Bet you didn’t think I had one for X. Bet you don’t know what “xiphos” is. Well, if your bad guy is into history or happens to be in a museum, you’re in luck. Xiphos is an ancient Greek sword with a double-edged blade. If you’re into stabbing or decapitation, think xiphos. More to the point, if your bad guy is into artifacts, look into all the old weaponry.
  25. Yule log – Ah, family holidays can get a bit sticky, can’t they? We’ve all heard about the frozen leg of lamb as a weapon. Surely there are other options at a holiday dinner? The knife-sharpening steel. The electric knife. The marble rolling pin. The Yule log – flaming or not. Strands of garland. A wishbone. Get creative. Sadists would.
  26. Zebu horn – Bet you didn’t think I’d have a Z entry either. But how could I leave off the zebu horn? Everyone has those sitting around, right? Oh, you don’t know what a zebu is? That’s okay. I didn’t either until I looked it up. (I needed a Z.) It’s a type of cattle with a curved horn. But any animal horn or antler will do. Yak, ram, elk… An outdoorsman could have a good time with this one.

So maybe I spent a little too much time thinking this through. Maybe computer banks at Langley are spinning and spitting my name through databanks and search filters. But maybe something here will get you thinking and spark your creative juices enough so that the next time your villain is going to kill someone, he grabs Hemingway’s prize zebu horn instead of a pet rock or a paperweight that says “Someone went to Carlsbad Caverns and all they brought me was this paperweight.” Now, if that paperweight looks like a rock…

Oh, and don’t forget, your good guy can use these weapons, too! People probably love him more than to give him a pet rock paperweight, though.

photo courtesy of Piotrus, Creative Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pole_weapons_in_Szczyrzyc_monastery_museum_02.JPG

The Five Best Things to Do on Saturday

Over the weekend I attended Fayetteville Public Library’s 6th Annual Ozark Writers Live Event. This event is a nice one because it highlights the talents of local authors while still helping teach budding artists the ins and outs of the craft and industry. In addition to the five speeches I attended, there was a local band who performed during lunch and a quilt display featuring the handiwork of local artisans.

Rich Davis, Tammy Carter Bronson, and Dan BorengasserThe first workshop was a panel discussion entitled “Exploring the World of Children’s Publishing.” Rich Davis hosted the panel; he is a local illustrator and author. Also seated on the panel was Tammy Carter Bronson, an author/illustrator who pioneered self-publishing and advocates illustrating her own work and Dan Borengasser, a children’s book author. These creative talents spent time talking to us about their creative process and about the business side of the industry. Bronson actually began her own publishing company before self-publishing was a popular option for authors, and she discussed the pros and cons of traditional and self-publishing. Borengasser discussed alternative writing opportunities for authors looking for ways to supplement their incomes. In addition to leading the panel, Davis explained his own history and encouraged us to find our own paths to becoming successful writers.

Marilyn CollinsThe second workshop was called “Brighten Your Leaf on the Family Tree.” Led by Marilyn Collins, local memoir writing specialist, this session began with a brief introduction to the importance of writing memoirs and what exactly memoir writing entails, and ended with an interactive, hands-on writer participation section in which we began to write our own memoirs using Collins’s techniques. We filled out index cards and timeline sheets and shared some of our own memories with the group. Everyone left with the beginnings of a book about their own life.

Richard A. KnaakAfter lunch, the workshop returned with an interesting take on breaking into publishing. Best selling author Richard A. Knaak was there to talk about his road to fame. He was like all other authors: he had ideas that he wanted to write about. And like so many authors, no one was listening. He actually hand delivered writing samples—IN PERSON—to a publishing call. No, he isn’t advocating that. It was unheard of then, and it’s still unheard of. But the man told him if he didn’t hear from him to call in a couple of weeks. And he didn’t hear from him, so he bit the bullet and called. The man wondered if he’d have the gumption to call. Because he did, he ended up with a contract. But not for what he submitted. He was to write in the parameters of another world that was already created for him. He wrote The Legend of Huma for the Dragonlance Chronicles. He wrote novels for the games The World of Warcraft and Diablo. Because he was willing to work in worlds that other people created, his work got noticed. And because his work got noticed, he was able to write and sell his own work, too. If you think you can write within existing parameters, this is a path he is advocating.

Mara LeverittThe fourth workshop was the most crowded. It was called “Power in the Pen – Exploring Literary Influences during the West Memphis Three Case” and was headed by an author who literally wrote the book on the West Memphis Three: Mara Leveritt. Leveritt took us through the entire process of the West Memphis Three case, from the moment of the murder, through the likely coerced confession and the interest of the media in the case, past all the “evidence” that was entered in the trial leading to the conviction, all the way to the media’s influence in getting the men out of jail and the new, reliable evidence found. She hosted a lively question and answer session and ended with an impassioned plea for everyone to get involved in petitioning government officials to get media in the courtrooms and interrogation rooms.

Tracy Lenore JacksonThe fifth and final session was hosted by Tracy Lenore Jackson. Called “Trial and Triumph – Addressing Sensitive Subjects in your Writing,” this workshop’s whole focus was a bittersweet testimony to Jackson’s life. Jackson has a novel coming out in October, but she told us she couldn’t write that novel until she got other things out of the way first. She ended up writing two memoirs before her novel took shape, all focusing on the domestic violence she witnessed her mother endure when she was a child and what she suffered through in her first marriage. She explains how it seems to be a cyclic thing, running in families, how it affected her brothers and how she was embroiled in it before she knew better. She’s now in a happy, healthy marriage and speaks at women’s shelters across the country. She read excerpts from her memoirs and her novel, encouraging us to deal with the issues we face in our lives, to get them on the page so we can express ourselves fully and move on with our lives.

The OWL Workshop, put on by the Fayetteville Public Library, was a successful event that I’m grateful to have attended. I met new people, I learned new perspectives, and I have new techniques to try. Most importantly, several authors had a chance to showcase their talents to people who might otherwise not have known about them. I can’t wait until next year’s event.

How to Build a Sturdy Writer’s Platform Across Wide, Unrelated Genres, I Mean, Branches

All writers have a constant and un-ending supply of ideas at their fingertips, just waiting to burst forth onto the page, right? Wrong. Sometimes we come up with complete blanks (you’ve heard of writer’s block, right?) and then we have to push on through, or rely on a friend to bail us out. This week, I’m still recovering from Labor Day picnicking with my family. But I am lucky enough to have friends to bail me out.

Enter Pamela Foster. I’ve known Pam for about two years, and not only is she a great go-to resource for me in all things writing, she’s a talented author who happens to have a handle on platform-building as well. So without further ado, I give you Pamela Foster’s take on platforming.

I’m told all writers need platforms these days, a way to get noticed in a world-wide crowd of individuals selling, more or less, the same thing we’re hawking–entertainment and escape. My good friend, Linda Apple, uses the image of a field of sunflowers, one especially long-stemmed flower growing up into the blue sky, waving its sunny face above the other beautiful yellow blooms. A platform lifts us up so we are noticed. Now if our writing isn’t spectacular, folks are going to quickly look for another sunny face, but without the platform, no matter how good our writing, we’ll not be read, never get the chance to show how good we are.

The word platform conjures a different image in my redneck head. I see a couple guys in camouflage gear hunkered down on a rickety mess in a gnarled tree, sipping booze and staring at a saltlick.

Nonetheless, I understand the need to be noticed in the crowd.

The trick to building any solid base is to build it with similar planks. My first book, Redneck Goddess, is set in rural Georgia and my second, Bigfoot Blues, takes place in northern California. Redneck Goddess is about a southern gal who falls in love with a Latin aristocrat and brings him home to her little bitty town. The novel uses humor to poke and prod at the subject of racism and intolerance and don’t think all that intolerance came from her side of the family either. So, while the book takes a hard look at a serious matter, it does so with a lot of fun and acceptance and understanding of both cultures. Southern redneck and Latin aristocrat.

My second novel, Bigfoot Blues, is due out in October. There’s humor in the quirky world of Samantha Jean, the daughter of a Bigfoot hunter, but the book is more layered, more complex than Redneck Goddess. And it’s set in the Pacific Northwest, not the American south.

So, my dilemma is to find a way to build a platform with two such different novels. I need to identify the common denominator in Redneck Goddess and Bigfoot Blues. Wonderful prose and fine plotting are, evidently, NOT strong enough planks for the job. Picture a metaphorical tree-blind constructed of the mismatched elements of quirky humor, love of wilderness, and joy in life’s small moments. Imagine that platform nailed together with the binding love of a dysfunctional family. Can you see that cockeyed ledge in the trees? The wide gaps between the planks? The way a pencil rolls from one end to the other like a stray thought? Do you have this image in your mind?

Now, picture Bigfoot hunkered up there, a wide and benevolent smile on his shaggy face.

It’s no waving sunflower, but it’s the best I can do.

You can find Pam online at: http://pamelafosterspeakerwriter.wordpress.com

Heroes

This past week, the world lost two heroes. One hero lost his standing in society and one hero lost his life. If you believe in a higher power, and I do, you can understand why I believe the former is the greater tragedy.

Lance Armstrong is an American citizen, but he was renowned the world over as a seven-time winner of the Tour de France. Does that make him a hero? Not to me. Sports figures are celebrities, not heroes. His accomplishments were legendary, but not heroic. What made him a hero was his triumph over cancer, combined with his ability to take the adversity he faced, the fame he’d acquired, his innate talent, and his drive and ambition and create an organization that raises money to help cancer patients every day. I don’t know if he’s guilty of the accusations levied against him, nor do I care. What I care about is whether those accusations will ultimately cost his foundation, and therefore, the cancer patients who benefit from it. The loss of the titles isn’t the tragedy; the detriments to the organization is.

Neil Armstrong was also an American citizen, but he didn’t even belong to this planet. He left footprints on the moon. He risked his life for his country when we were engaged in the space race, and he left this earth to help the Unites States win that race. However, when he set foot on our moon and said, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” he wasn’t just talking about our country; he was talking about the world. Decades later, our country collaborates with several other countries in space, working on the International Space Station, an endeavor that probably wouldn’t have been possible without Armstrong’s efforts. His passing is a sad thing for those loved ones he leaves behind, but his legacy is a proud one.

As writers, we will likely never have titles that can be stripped from us. We will probably never have one line that the world stops and listens to us speak. But our words do live on for eternity, so we should choose them carefully. We shouldn’t steal them from others. We shouldn’t carelessly and quickly publish them and move on to the next project without concern for quality or integrity. We may never be heroes, but we do touch people’s lives, and we have a responsibility to do so to the best of our abilities.

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