9:25 AM

Books Read in 2011 - April

Slow reading month for me, but I think it's due to the high volume of writing I've been doing. Next month will probably be better since I know a lot of great things came out recently! As always, if you have questions or comments on anything I've read, please speak up!

Recap of the rating system:

Outstanding. You need to run out & get this NOW!


Meh. I was not much of a fan.

Under no circumstances should you waste your time with this.

City of Fallen Angels
- Cassandra Clare
Daeva (beta)
- Chris Cook
The Last Hunter
- Jeremy Robinson
White Cat (re-read)
- Holly Black
Red Glove
- Holly Black
Hex Hall (re-read)
- Rachel Hawkins
- Rachel Hawkins
13 Little Blue Envelopes (re-read)
- Maureen Johnson
Infinity: Chronicles of Nick
- Sherrilyn Kenyon
Invincible: Chronicles of Nick
- Sherrilyn Kenyon

9:22 AM

Setting realistic goals

Like anything else, I think it's important, when setting writing goals, that your goals be realistic ones. If they aren't you're going to struggle to reach them and possibly get discouraged and give up. We can't be having that folks!

In today's busy world, we are constantly running, whether it be to our job that pays the bills and supports our writing habit, taking kids to soccer/band/dance/karate/etc, getting groceries, dropping off drying cleaning, and so on and so forth. Then there's housework, cooking, yard work and home maintenance, not to mention needing time to actually relax and you know, sleep. Therefore, when you go to set your writing goals, these are all things you need to keep in mind. Are you going to be able to block out two hours a day to devote to writing? Is it going to cut into family/social time? Will it cut into your sleep? (Note: this blog writing is definitely cutting into my beauty rest. See what I sacrifice for you people?) If the answer is yes, then perhaps be more flexible with your goals.  Opt for a daily word count to reach rather than a time period. Some days you may find you reach that count quicker than others and then you can decide if you want to continue because you're on a roll or to call it a night and do something else. Whichever method you choose, make sure it's something attainable.

Besides daily writing goals, you should be making goals for finishing your stories, editing, writing your query letters and getting them out. Again, make the goals realistic. Maybe you edit five pages a day. Maybe you give yourself until the end of summer to finish that story. Maybe you plan to query four agents a week for a month. All realistic goals. 

If you're anything like me, goals and deadlines are the motivators to kick you in the ass and get you going. I am quite the procrastinator (hence why I am typing this after midnight...) and deadlines are what make me really buckle down and not be as distracted by the shiny things around me. It really helps me to have one of those big wall calendars with my deadlines marked in BIG RED MARKER. There's no missing it and then I can feel the pressure as the day creeps closer. Might sound funny, but I swear it really works.

So go ahead and make those goals, but don't make them something crazy like swearing to write 10,000 words a day. Someone might be able to keep that up for the short term, say during the final days of NaNoWriMo, but it'll be the rare person who can keep it up on a regular basis. Don't self sabotage by trying to keep up an unrealistic pace. Be pragmatic and while goals important to keep you motivated, don't beat yourself up if you miss a day. Sometimes life is unpredictable and things happen. Forgive yourself and start again the next day.

11:23 AM

World building my way

Continuing from Tuesdays post about world building, I decided to share some of my own tricks of the trade.

Firstly, I personally try to keep things similar to what we already have. Perhaps I will add a slight twist, but it won't be so unusual that the reader won't be able to picture it. For instance, in my story Red Dust, which takes place on a strange planet, they have animals I named Doubleheads. They look just like horses we have here, except they have two necks and two heads. Different, but easy enough to imagine, right?

Another tip, be cautious when making  up names. You want your reader to be able to know how to pronounce them, especially if it's a name that comes up often. If you're set on your odd names, throw a pronunciation in there somewhere, whether it's in a glossary in the back or your character explaining to someone else how to say their name. When it comes to locale, I will often make up town names, but I also tend to use people's last names. In Embers to Ashes, the town my main characters come from/start their journey in named Corso, which is the married name of one of my closest friends.  It's easy to read and not overly common. The other caution about making up names is you better write it down somewhere or remember how to spell it. You don't want to have to keep looking back to see how you chose to spell that weird name.

If my characters are taking a journey, I must sketch a map. Now I'm no topographer or a cartographer, so my maps are very very basic. They contain town names, squiggles for rivers and streams and upside down Vs for mountains. Simple, but an important aspect in world building. You need to know what the landscape is like. Are your characters going to get flooded in a valley? Do they need to dress warm because they're going through a mountain pass? Will they be going through a dense forest where they can hide out? Knowing those things in advance can help your plot move along and again, it's good to have those town names somewhere where you can see them.

Another great use for your map, other than the world building aspect, is to use it for a timeline. You can track your characters from town to town, jotting how long it takes for them to travel from place to place. If I don't do this, I'm often going back to re-read and see how many days have passed. If you want to keep your map pristine, use those little sticky tabs that they sell to mark pages in text books. They come colored so you can use different colors for different characters and some have a space that allows you to write on them so you can make your notes there and keep track at a glance where specific characters are.

The last tip I'm going to share is really something that can be used in any type of writing, but I find it especially helpful if I'm world building.  It simply involves making a spreadsheet in Excel. Mine are normally all about the characters. I'll make columns for their name, age, hair color, eye color, basic physical traits. As I mention in a previous post, I'm more about a character's personality than their physical features, so it's helpful to me put down the basics so I can find it easily if I don't remember. I also tend to research names if I'm doing world building, so I will add the origin and meaning of the name to my spread sheet.  In my YA fantasy Power of the Stars, there are 10 characters. Each one has a different power related to their zodiac sign. I make sure their sign, their actual birthday and then the power they have are in the spread sheet. Also, since they are younger characters (10-16) I pair them up to travel, to train together, etc. That goes into the spread sheet as well. When you have that many characters to focus on, you better write stuff down or you'll spend a lot of time back reading to find answers to silly little things that are important to keep constant.

I will also add to my spread sheet any items I make up. Food names and descriptions will have their own section.  When it comes to food names, I often will just use a name in a different language. For example an apple like fruit is called a ringu which is the Japanese word for apple. I may also make a page for plant life and it's uses. In Red Dust, specific flowers can be ground into powders that will eliminate pain, stop bleeding, help one to regain strength, etc.  I am sure there are several other aspects of Excel that could help with your world building and writing in general, but I keep it simple. The more things I have to update, the more time that takes away from the actual plot writing.

These are the basic things I will use. There's also research into weapons, fighting styles, castles and strongholds, etc. anything I think will come in handy for the story that I can manipulate to fit the world. I have no doubt that many of you have your own tips and tricks you use whether you're building a fantasy elven world or a science fiction futuristic planet. Feel free to share them here! I hope that my few ideas and tips will help some of you in your world building processes.

12:26 PM

World building - Major or Minor?

One of the great things about being a writer is being able to create new and fantastic worlds for your readers to be pulled into. The problem is building those worlds can be a difficult thing.  How in depth do you go? Do you spend a lot of time explaining the landscape and caste system? Do you create new types of creatures and foods and other items? Do you make up a lot of new names for things?

I think it  should depend on how much the world fits into the story line.  If the story is about someone beating the political system where love matches are made for you rather than you getting a say in it (Matched and Delirium) then yes, you have to get into that in detail so your reader understands why it's happening and what brought it about in the first place. If your story has a character falling into the pages of a book (Inkheart) then it's not necessary for you to write twenty pages about the politics that goes on in that world. They don't play a major role in the what happens to your characters.

The main thing about world building, in my opinion, is that it shouldn't drag down the plot.  A lot of high fantasy stories pack the first couple of chapters with a profusion of weird names, strange politics and extensive descriptions of races and landscapes. To me, that sort of thing makes it hard to get into the meat of the story and makes it more likely that the reader will get bored and put the book down. 

World building, in my opinion, has to be slipped into the story where appropriate, rather than front loading the book.  When your character comes upon a strange creature, explain it then. When your female character gets arrested for wearing pants, take the time then to go into detail about politics behind it. Work it in so it flows with what's going on in the plot at that time. Your readers will appreciate it.

On Thursday, I'll discuss some of my own tips and secrets when I world build, so stay tuned!

1:29 PM

Character development. Are you influenced?

I was struggling with a topic for today's posting when someone tweeted at me: "might I suggest posting some pics of hot guys? ^^"  Well, I love hot guys as much as the next straight single woman, but it doesn't really go along with the whole 'write about writing' thing.  They then suggested I discuss such men as inspiration or uses for character development. That, I could work with.

I've heard a lot of writers will use actors and musicians as inspiration for their characters.  They base the character's looks on the person and sometimes even character traits.  That doesn't sit right with me.  I think one of the reasons I stay away from such practices is because I don't want to un/consciously base my characters on real people.  That's not to say I can't be inspired to give my characters gorgeous eyes like Ian Somerhalder, but I want to be sure I'm not giving my character personality traits based on any of his characters. Know what I mean?

When I come up with a character, I spend the least amount of time on their looks.  The personality traits, background and attitude are more what I focus on. Physically I'll give them a basic build: Tall, lanky, broad shouldered, curvy, etc.  Hair and eye colors and maybe if they wear glasses, have braces, etc. I would rather allow my reader to come up with their own picture, their own fantasy, rather than preach to them what they should be imagining.

Having said all that, I admit it's entertaining, after the fact, searching through actors and models for those who might fit the character I already developed. I took time last night to look for some folks who might fit the love interests in my Tears of a Clown story. (Warning: If you're going to Google image search hot biker guys or hot preppy teens, be sure to have the safe search on otherwise you're going to get a lot of ummm images inappropriate to post on your blog. This warning goes doubly if you're doing your searching while sitting in a public place where people can look over your shoulder...)

The first love interest that appears in the story is Charles ‘Chaz’ Michael Worthington the Third.  He's preppy, friendly and smart. An all round popular nice guy. I describe him as being in shape, broad shouldered, a great smile, brown hair and eyes both with golden tones. I found this actor, Nico Tortorella. Look at that smile! Exactly what I imagined. Just preppy enough. Hair is maybe a little lighter than I thought but hey those things can be easily changed these days. 
It's a little darker in this other picture, more what I image, but my Chaz is not so serious. Put that smile back on Nico!

He's probably my first runner up should ya know, anyone want to turn my farce of a story into some summer smash hit big screen comedy, providing he can act. It's got to be more than looks ladies and gents.

Another contender for Chaz is Jared Padalecki. CUTE! I guess he's from that show Supernatural? I don't watch it but I could definitely see him as Chaz. I dig the intentionally messy hair thing he has going on as well.   Here he is with slightly shorter hair. Look at that dimple! Too cute.

Part of my problem with these searches is the whole age thing. I have a horrific time guessing someone's age. These guys are probably way too old for the roles, but I still kind of felt like a dirty 'old' woman for googling hot teen boys. (DO NOT Google hot teen boys...unless, ya know...you're looking for pr0n...) 

Next we move onto Judd Marshall. He's the bad boy. Dark brown almost black hair. Smoldering hazel eyes. Biker. James Marsden  totally fits my ideal in these pictures, although he definitely can't play the teen roles anymore...but ooh if he could, I would definitely want to introduce him to my Kitchen of Action. Yum.

I did find someone who wasn't a perfect match to my ideal, but I think he could work the role with the right attitude. Milo Ventimiglia. A little more on the lanky side than I would have pictured Judd, but the hint of the tattoo peaking out definitely helps his bad boy appeal.  The picture with the super short hair is definitely more bad assed.

Lastly, I found this great shot (totally by accident) of Jared and Milo together!  Chaz and Judd were once good friends, so this fit perfectly!  Those of you following along with the story, do any of these guys fit your idea of Chaz or Judd? I'd be curious to know.
If you've made it through the maze of good looking guy photos, hope you enjoyed! But seriously, I'd be interested in hear how others go about bringing their characters to life. Are you one who finds an ideal first and builds your character off of them? Are you influenced by the characters they play or the person they are in 'real' life?  Are you influenced by other literary characters? How detailed to you get when first creating your characters? Do you sketch them? Have a checklist where you mark off attributes? Or do you just wing it with bare minimums, leaving the hard work up to your readers?

9:10 AM

Leave them hanging? Or throw them a line?

Growing up, I was a rabid fan of Nancy Drew. Oooh how I wished to be a mystery solving red head with cool friends and a hot supportive boyfriend.  I would devour those stories in a matter of hours and be begging my folks to take me to the store to spend the rest of my allowance on the next couple of books in the series.

Know what really kept me plowing through them so quickly? It was the cliffhangers. Nancy and her friends were always getting themselves into troublesome situations and the end of each chapter would leave you dangling over the  edge of the cliff, clinging only to hope. Would they make it? Were they going to get caught? Would the bad guy realize it was really Ned in disguise? I *HAD* to know! It didn't matter if it was past my bedtime and I was reading under the blankets with a flashlight, knowing the alarm would go off in four short hours. I could not put that book down and risk the possibility that they wouldn't make it through. I couldn't sleep without knowing that Nancy and her friends were safe. The only solution was to keep reading until the book ended and I could breath that sigh of relief.

When I started really writing my own stories, I often thought back to the things that prompted me to be a voracious reader.  The cliffhanger was at the top of the list. That building of suspense forced me to keep going until I finished the book.  I want my readers to have the same experience. I want people to tell me "I had to know if so and so was going to die/get kissed/shoot the bad guy/etc." For someone to tell me they couldn't put my book down would be the biggest compliment. I'm holding out hope to hear it someday!

As I've gotten more into my writing, I find it's not always an easy thing to do, end every chapter on such a suspenseful note. Sometimes it leads me to think my character has the worst luck ever and that no one can possibly have that many things happen to them in such a short period of time. I've learned to balance it a little better. Not every chapter break is a life or death situation. It can end on a question, or a strong statement.  It can be an impending kiss or the crack of a palm against someone's cheek. More often than not, I can make it something to leave the reader wanting more, and honestly, what author doesn't want that for their reader? It's how we get repeat business and how we can create a buzz among fans as they speculate what will happen next. It's an important tool of story telling, even if it is a little sadistic.

What kind of author are you? One who tortures your readers or one who cuts them a break and allows them the chance to step away from the story?

9:19 AM

Do you want a side dish of humor or a full serving?

As I stated a few posts ago, I'm working a young adult romance spoof called Tears of a Clown. It's gosh darn (yes I said gosh darn) ridiculous! I swear I crack myself up writing it and I'm hearing from others about how funny it is. That makes me feel really good! Although the whole thing started as a joke, I was a little concerned people weren't going to "get" my special brand of humor. Glad to see that's not the case.

I started to think about the last book that really made me laugh. While there are often a couple of comical lines or a scene, there are few that are funny throughout. I have to say, sadly, only a small amount come to mind. The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series had a lot of humor in it as did Libba Brey's  Going Bovine and John Green and David Levithan's Will Grayson, Will Grayson and of course let's not forget Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but it seems like comedy in fiction isn't too popular. I'm not sure why that is.

Sure there are some humorists out there, like David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs, but a lot of their work (if not all?) is autobiographical  so that doesn't work into our fiction theme here.

Reading is a form of escapism from all the garbage and stress of our everyday lives.  Wouldn't one want to laugh during that time? I get serious stories have their place and purpose, but I'm just surprised at how unbalanced humor and seriousness are in today's writing scene.

Well, to be fair, I read mostly young adult so I can't really talk about other categories. Am I simply missing them? Do they actually exist or are there just a few elusive titles? What's your opinion on humor mixed with your vamps or love stories or fae? Does it have a place or do you think the topics are too serious to have more than an occasionally funny line?

1:19 PM

So you wrote a novel, think that makes you special?

Actually, I think it does. While there is a difference between whether or not people think it's good is a debate for another time. Writing a novel is time consuming, frustrating, complicated and ultimately rewarding.

I don't think it's something just anyone can do and it irks me to no ends when I tell people I write and they brush it off saying 'That's no big deal'.  No big deal? NO BIG DEAL!? Do you know how many hours of my life go into my manuscripts? How many tears I shed over killing off characters and out of frustration when things aren't flowing? Do you know how many times I've edited and re-written the entire thing? Do you know how attached I've become to my characters and that I dream about plot lines and conversations? Do you realize how many times I've had to blow off plans or put aside having a real life because of the compulsion to finish writing?  I'm sure you don't have the foggiest idea.  You know what else? My stories are GOOD. They're engaging and entertaining. Things make sense and questions that are brought up are answered. There's foreshadowing and flashbacks and dammit it's a complicated process!

The people who think it's cake to write a novel may very well go ahead and try themselves, but more often than not, it's a half assed attempt. Rather quickly, they will make start to excuses as to why they're not writing and why it's not finished: Their "real" job got in the way, they were too busy with a social life, they don't need to prove anything to you!,etc. 

I find that a lot of the people who think writing is no big deal are the same people who don't read much.  They might see a movie adaptation and think the book is identical. Sorry folks, we readers know how untrue that often is.  The movies are nice and I enjoy seeing my favorite stuff adapted, but they rarely hit the mark of being as good as the books. In fact, the only two adaptations that come to mind as being as good or maybe even slightly better than their written counterparts: To Kill a Mockingbird and The Princess Bride.

A good rule of thumb to live by: don't judge the work of others unless you've been in their shoes. That makes sense, right? I'm combining sayings here or whatever, but you understand what I mean. Unless you've made an attempt, done the job or have been in that same situation, don't blow off someone's hard work and accomplishments. Really it just makes you out to look jealous and while I love the color green, it's not a very appealing skin tone...unless of course you're a frog, or lizard, or maybe an alien.