In Writing, as In Life, Don’t Rule Anything Out

currently playing on my iPod: Sadrang by Niyaz

Do you have critique partners? If not, you should. This is not a post about that.

Do you put your manuscript away for a few months before coming back to revise it one more time? Do it. This is not a post about that either.

Are you going to workshops/conventions/watchingyoutube/readingblogs about craft? Put it high on your list of to-dos. This isn’t a post about learning.

“So what’s it about, woman?” you ask.

It’s about improving your story through unconventional methods. 

About a month ago, my kids, nine and six, (those are ages, not names—I didn’t get all Divergent on you there) begged to read my young adult fantasy about a sailor turned treasure hunter. I finally agreed to read it to them, one chapter at a time, at bedtime, thinking, Aw, this is cute.

But it was more than cute. WAY MORE.

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Not only did I get to hear my chapters aloud, listening for rhythm and overlong sentences, but I also snagged two fresh takes on my characters’ actions.

Children, being brutally honest and unencumbered with writing dos and don’ts, asked simple, basic questions such as why the MC didn’t run right when she saw the bad guy’s ship. They quizzed me on how a secondary character felt in a certain scene where that character was pretty much ignored. They said if the MC was nice, she would’ve noticed that and done something. My kids also brought up fatigue, claiming if they had been through all of that, they would’ve fallen asleep in their paprika chicken dumplings.

My point is this: Reach far, far out for feedback and inspiration. Not only did I reevaluate character motivations and actions due to my kids’ questions, but I was also motivated to finish revisions in order to read to them nightly.

Not everyone has a captive audience (aka immediate family) to work with, but I’d bet a dirham (piece of silver money) you have resources out there you haven’t mined. You should. These people/programs/environments could put a nice flame into your writing. Think about it. Teen cousins as readers, nieces and nephews as listeners, the actual library and its wealth of non-wikipedia knowledge for a resource, a paint program where you fashion mock cover designs for motivation, Pinterest for inspiration, Panera for interesting character facial features. The list goes on.

Thought of anything you’ve previously ruled out as not important to your writing? Share! I want more!

And thanks for reading.  

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3 Tips for Writing Stories Someone Might Actually Want to Read

currently playing on my iPod: Oceans by Twin Atlantic

Want your novel to not suck? Try these three techniques.

1. Figure out what you LOVE about your favorite movies/TV shows and include whatever-that-is in your story.

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I love BBC America’s The Musketeers because it has history, fantastic costuming, romance, fighting, and a setting in which I would happily spend a lifetime.

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Harry Potter is one of my faves. I love the gothic setting and the friendship arc between the main characters. Also, magic.

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Ah, Game of Thrones. While I wish it would tone down the graphicness, I adore the dragons, the historical feel, and the characters that are neither good nor bad.

So it’s obvious I’m a fan of magic, rich settings (that’s why I can’t get psyched for dystopians—white space suits and plastic decor aren’t for me), history, and deep characters.

2. Reread your favorite novels and include in your story the parts you love the most.

Deb Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches has romance, magic, and history. Perfect. I even adored the slower paced parts, because I just wanted to roll around in the setting.

In Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, I loved the herb lore, the history, magic, and romance. Plus, it’s set in the Scottish Highlands and later in France.

Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races weaves very believable magic and characters I want to grow up to be.

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Once again, we see magic, history, romance, setting, and deep characters as important to me. Are they to you?

3. Now stick to what you like, what you watch, what you read. Don’t try to please everyone in your critique group, family, the universe. Please yourself as a reader and those who have similar tastes in fiction. If you try to tailor your story to thrill every reader, it will thrill no readers. 

What are your favorite elements in entertainment?

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Is the 21st c the Time of Unconventional Hotness?

currently playing on my iPod: Blue Moon by Beck

Man/womankind has always appreciated a pretty face. Because SCIENCE, people. Not really just because we are shallow. But lately, it seems we humans (at least those into TV) are leaning more toward the Interesting rather than the Perfect-faced for our virtual crushes.

Point #1. Game of Thrones

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Take a look at the cast. Oh, we LOVE them, don’t we? We follow them on Instatweet and Facegram just to get another peek at Jon, Ygritte, the Khaleesi, Rob, Tyrion, Margaery, et al. But really. Look at them. They are gorgeous to me. To you, probably. But their cool faces don’t check off the normal list of sexy features. They have interesting noses, varying heights, a little smaller or larger than normal eyes. It’s intriguing. We love that each can act like a boss.

Point #2. BBC’s Sherlock

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Benedict Cumberbatch himself claims he looks like Sid the Sloth from Ice Age. I disagree, but I do hold that his jawline isn’t what Hollywood usually requests. But the voice! Oh, the voice. Anyone who can cover for Snape in an episode of The Simpsons is made of awesome. And of course, his name. Not the typical handsome Jack Soandso. By the way, if you haven’t checked out benedictcumberbatchnamegenerator, you should. Incidentally, my BCNG name is Honkytonk Scratchnsniff, thanks very much.

So yeah, the 21st century is all about unconventional sexiness, and WE LOVE IT. It’s freeing!

Give me a shout if you see another fine example and we’ll add it as Point #3. Until then, embrace your intriguing, funky upper lip and your broad forehead! You may be the next unconventional hottie.

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What in the world is a dhow? I bet you’ve seen one.

currently playing on my iPod: Bad Girls by M.I.A.

For my latest work-in-progress I’ve been researching dhows. Don’t know what they are? I’ll give you some hints.

They’re fast.

Sexy.

In the old days, they liked to hang out with pirates.

Give up?

A dhow is a lateen, fore and aft rigged sailboat. They usually sport one triangular sail that is attached to one yard, hoisted up a mast, secured at the bow, and tied with a sheet (a rope or a line) at the back. The other side of the sail isn’t attached to another yard, but is permitted freedom. Corsairs and pirates and merchants in the medieval middle east used such vessels to do their business in style. If you’ve never seen one, you’re missing out. They are seriously gorgeous.

Here is a link to a fantastic blog post on Madagascar dhows. Take a peek if you’re up for it!

 

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Charleston’s Snazzy French Quarter

currently playing on my iPod: Three Women by Jack White

I spent part of last week in Charleston, South Carolina’s French Quarter. It is a delicious place to visit. Cobblestone streets, crowded graveyards, old churches, and really, really brightly painted houses turn a sweltering July day into a pastry shop for the eyeballs. (Um. Yeah. I shouldn’t write metaphors before coffee.)

One spot I liked was The Pink House. In 1712, it was a tavern. Now, it’s an art gallery. Perfect. With its Bermuda stone, pink walls and creepy-looking gambrel roof, it just looks like a story waiting to happen.

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And here’s the Huguenots’ church. (Just so you know, Huguenots are a specific kind of French Protestant, who were kicked to the curb by Louis XIV.) The Huguenots have had a church in this beautiful place since 1680ish. A fire and a re-do later, they have the one pictured below, built in 1844. They still use it as official Huguenots. And they make sure it still looks like a big, ole wedding cake. As one does. It used to be called “the tidal church” because the much of the congregation (some of which were Norman and Carolingian nobles) owned and worked on inland rice plantations. They had to rely on the tides to boat to services in Charleston. The service times reflect tide timing.

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Another cool thing about the French Quarter is the cemeteries. Call me macabre, but you can learn a lot of history from tombstones. Dates. Names. Family connections, Artistic styling. Current residents and their ties to those in the ground. It is fascinating. The cemetery near the church holds the remains of many French nobles as well as Henry Brintell Bounetheau, a miniature portrait painter who created likenesses of William Ravenel (whose name you see everywhere in Charleston) and Nathanael Greene (google it–you should know this name).

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Charleston’s French Quarter surprised me with its color and history. I had no idea what I was getting into as I left that BBQ brewery and headed down its streets. I hope you get a chance to visit someday.

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Don’t Forget the Fight in Your Write

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currently playing on my iPod: Crash Land by Twin Atlantic

On Saturday, I led a workshop for the RWA’s Nashville chapter on writing fight scenes. It was a fun meeting complete with hair-grabbing, knees, and numerous references to Katniss and Kit Harington. Needless to say, fun was had.

A few participants requested I post the gist of my workshop, so here goes.

Writers, when you shape a fight scene, or any kind of altercation, there are three major things to consider.

1. Your Character’s Childhood Mental and Physical Attributes/Experiences

-Were they abused? Do they have triggers that could make them pause or freeze or lose control in a confrontation?

-Are they active? Are they playing sports or training in ways that will show lifelong improvement in their hand-eye coordination and reflexes and speed?

-Have they seen death and pain? How did it affect them?

2. Your Character’s Near Past and Present Mental and Physical Attributes/Experiences

-Are they currently injured? Do they have an old injury that could be a problem? Are they well-rested, fed and watered?

-What are the stakes? What is motivating them in this fight?

-Who is nearby? Their children? No one? More enemies? Help on the way?

-Have they been hit before this fight? Have they been training? People who’ve never been hit, will most likely crumble into a worthless ball at the first real strike. If your character won’t be doing that, you better prep the readers with a specific upbringing or past event to make it believable.

-What is their weight/size compared to the antagonist? No matter your training, size matters.

-How long have they waited for this confrontation? One hour? A lifetime? They just popped out of the closet like Woah?

-Who are they fighting? Evil-faced bad guy? Mom?

3. Setting

-Ground is important. If it’s steady and strong, you can use it to push off from and kick harder. If it’s slick, you won’t land a strike as easily. It hurts to fall on hard surfaces–wrists are broken, elbows injured.

-Weather can play a role. Wind can kick up dirt into eyes. Rain can keep your character from hearing the bad guy’s approach. Heat can drain and slow reaction time.

-Obstacles create opportunities and dangers. If a table sits near the fight, a character can grab another by the back of the head and slam him into a corner. Fight over. Or they could trip over said table. People are obstacles too. If your character wishes to protect them, it changes the fight, the angle, the emotion involved in every little decision in the scene.

-Weapons are everywhere. Your character may be trained in the fine art of invisible swords by purple sparkly dragons, but if Senõr Angry grabs the fire poker, the fight might not go so fantastically. Where walls meet, there are corners great for smashing people into. (Don’t bother me about that sentence. I’m in GRRR mode.) Even the innocent looking Febreeze bottle in your contemporary story could do serious damage to the bridge of a nose. Be creative. *rubs hands together with evil grin*

-Lighting changes things. If it’s dark, dude with the glasses might become your character’s best ally. He has better hearing than everyone else. If your character is trained and knows body mechanics, he will have a better guess as to where the next strike is headed when that lightning blows the electricity at exactly the wrong moment. Smell is important when your character can’t see well. People who have been running after someone, smell strongly like sweat. Maybe bad guy stinks like tobacco or that alien reeks of moon rock algae. Your character might locate them just listening to her nose. ; )

All in all, fight scenes are complicated. Just like real life. Fights are messy. Even when people are highly trained. I’ve worked with professional fighters who train multiple times daily and when they step into the cage, punches sometimes slip. They fall. They are human and they err.

Remember when you’re writing a fight scene, stick with concrete actions. Mick hit Othello and the bigger man went down. Not Mick’s elbow soared through the air like a spear I saw once on a trip to the Egyptian flea market. Give your reader short sentences to keep up the pace. Don’t give them a blow by blow. Only I would want to read it because I’m obsessed. And lastly, make certain to give readers a line here and there to tell us where everyone is. They need some blocking to keep the picture in their heads and not become dizzy.

So get out there and write your fight scene, champ. May the bodies hit the floor.

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Don’t Forget the Music: Tunes for Writing and Other Passionate Endeavors

Photo on 4-9-14 at 9.47 AM

currently playing on my iPod: And If My Heart Should Somehow Stop by James McMorrow

Every once in a while, I focus on some tunes that get me writing. Hopefully, these musical posts give other authors new muses and gift my non-writer pals with something fun/scary/relaxing to enjoy.

Twin Atlantic is an up and comer (in the US market anyway) rock/indie band from Scotland. I’m obsessed. The accent. The raw emotion. The energy. Try out their song Free and maybe Crash Land.  Rock/Indie. Gut-wrencher lyrics. Good for emotionally tortured characters.

Elephant Revival blends floating, raspy vocals with mind-blowing skills on a bucket of different instruments. (Can you tell I’m not a musician? I know zero. I just appreciate!) Play their songs Ancient Sea and Breathe. You won’t regret it. Sometimes instrumental. Folksy. Atmospheric. 

Flight Facilities brings club music. I won’t apologize for its obnoxious nature. That’s why I sometimes love it. Why I need it. This stuff will pump you up and get your fingers flying. Take their Crave You (Adventure Club Remix) out for a spin. Clubby, but mysterious. Sexy.

Ioanna Gika‘s Gone is music from history. After she allows a cool old guy to sing a bit, she takes over with the voice of a Celtic goddess. Haunting. Thought-provoking. Vocal.

The Glitch Mob recently released a new album. I love their older stuff. The song Fortune Days intrigues me and I’m not entirely sure why. I’m guessing… Sexy. Strong. Mysterious.

So there you go. Music as muse. Enjoy! Happy Tuesday!

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