Monday, April 30, 2012

WTF? No, really....

Last week I posted about the big WHY, why we have to make the reader NEED to know why things happened, so they’ll keep reading.

But there’s another question, one you as the writer needs to make sure the reader never asks…the dreaded “WTF?!”

The WTF (“What The Fruitloops?” for those of you of more delicate leanings) is something that can kill your book faster than a tan line burns at a nude beach.

This dreaded affliction occurs when the author needs something to happen, or someone to have done something, and just does it. On a chess board it would mean ignoring all the rules about moves and taking the Queen on your first move just by picking your piece up and sending it over.

It’s easy to do, and sometimes writers who are prone to fast down and dirty rough drafts will skip steps thinking they’ll go back later and fill it in. The problem appears when they don’t go back and fix it, or when a writer gets sloppy, lazy, or doesn’t have a few beta readers to save their rear.

Sloppy and lazy are not good attributes for any writer. If you care enough to write- don’t shoot yourself in the foot because you got sloppy or lazy. Always ask yourself the why question in terms of why did your characters do that action? Is the tension between them believable or convenient? Does their behavior make sense? You have to be brutally honest when you start poking around. Since YOU know how the story goes, it could very well seem real and believable to you because your mind is filling in the missing pieces.

But unless your readers are all going to set up camp in your crowded cranium, they need to be able to follow a logical and believable path to your conclusions (whether those be actions, thoughts, or dialogue). A good beta reader (or two, or half a dozen) can massively save this from happening.

Another painful WTF moment can come about from not knowing an area. Such as stating someone could leave San Diego, CA and be in San Francisco, CA in five hours- in a car. Or that Pasadena, CA is next to the ocean. Make sure you understand your locations if you’re sticking with the real world. If you’ve got your own world, make it consistent.

Yet another class of WTF troubles, is basic science. Now, you don’t have to assume that your readers all have advanced science degrees, but have a basic understanding. Years ago I read a book where they very carefully made a point of both biological parents having blue eyes. And the kid had huge brown eyes. I don’t recall the book, but that was a big ‘WTF?’ moment for me, and I think that, combined with other issues, caused the book to be tossed into the donate bin.

For those of you who have forgotten their college biology, two blue eyed folks can’t produce a brown eyed kid (go look up recessive genes online- it CANNOT happen). Two brown eyed parents could create blue eyed kids, but not the other way around. Now, not everyone remembers that, but for those who do- it’s going to cause some problems. Yeah, eye color isn’t a big thing, but anything that can knock the reader out of YOUR world and back into their own is a bad thing.

So make sure that you are making your readers ask the RIGHT questions (the ones you have built for them to ask) and not the wrong ones.

What about you, when you read and/ or write, what "WTF?" moments have tripped you up?

Thanks for coming by!

Thursday, April 26, 2012


What is the point of writing a book? For many of us, it’s a simple drive to want to know what happened next to the cool people who wander into our heads. For readers, it’s because THEY want to find out about these cool folks who are wandering across the pages.

But there has to be a hook-- something has to happen. Questions need to be raised, and throughout the course of your work (short story, novella, novel, or series) answers need to be offered.

Common writing knowledge dictates that the book should start with action. But some authors take that to mean physical action only. Instead of saying start with action, I would say start with a question. The start of your book should be where something has changed in your main character’s life, a spot where a question has been raised that in one way or another messes them up.

This doesn’t have to be a big thing, but keep in mind that it needs to be the stone that starts the avalanche of your book. Not enough change, and the book peters out, too much too soon and you could confuse readers, or lose them by throwing huge changes at a character the reader doesn’t even know yet.

Example: If you dangle someone I don’t know over a fiery pit of flesh eating garden gnomes I’m not going to be near as concerned as if you’re dangling my newly found best friend (your main character whom I’ve grown to love) over that same pit.

So that first question needs to come quickly to pull the reader in, but not be so big that the reader isn’t vested yet. But you need to have a question there; otherwise a reader doesn’t need to go past your first page.

What about you writers out there? What questions start your books? Readers? What do you love? What do you hate?

Thanks for coming by!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Are you a Lost Girl or a Grimm?

For those of you scratching your heads about the title of today’s post- Lost Girl and Grimm are two new Urban Fantasy TV shows (yes, I know Lost Girl has been on in Canada for years :)- but it’s new to us Yanks, so bear with me ;)). Today I thought I'd look at the two side by side as examples of TV UF.

Urban Fantasy set -up In both of these shows the setting is our world, however there are ancient (fae or Wesen) “others” who have been running around- or running the world- for eons. Lost Girl’s world is based on fae, with the dark and the light pushing each others' buttons. Grimm’s world is filed with Wesen, creatures based loosely on the Grimm Fairy tales- some are cute and cuddly (think were-hamsters) others are evil nasties that will slit you open for no reason.

Character: In both shows the main character was an outsider- someone who had no idea that these sub-worlds existed, let alone that they were an important part in it. Bo (Lost Girl) finds out she’s a succubus, after years of being on the run for mysteriously killing people she sleeps with. Nick (Grimm) finds out he’s a Grimm (an ancient race of profilers who go after other Wesen) when his beloved aunt dies and he “comes into his own”.

Immersion: UF can have the world be focused completely in the “other world”- so it is clearly our world, but we are drawn into the other realm for most events. Lost Girl follows this path with most of Bo’s interactions taking place with other fae, or humans working with fae. The other option in a traditional UF is bits and pieces of the "other world"- Grimm follows this. We see the other world in every episode, however, we’re never completely pulled into it- not yet anyway. The bits and pieces we see are enough to keep the watcher wondering exactly how all the pieces fit together.

End-Game: Not all UF’s have a major end game, but both of these shows are heading to war. The Good and the Bad are coming to a major battle, and Bo (Lost Girl) and Nick (Grimm) are both presented as the key piece in the coming battle.

Humans: One other UF aspect- how are humans viewed. While the Wesen in Grimm sometimes do view them as prey, most of the time there seems to be a separation going on. Lost Girl- not so much. Terms like “Food” and “Meat bag” are commonly used by less friendly fae when talking to a human.

Both shows are different examples of UF in a visual form. Lost Girl is more what would be currently found on book shelves- she’s a succubus folks, lots of sex involved ;). But Grimm shows how UF can range- at its heart, Grimm is a police procedural, it’s just that the world is filed with strange beasts alongside the humans.

I enjoy both shows, and think it’s great that we’re getting more genre material on TV. What about you? Do you watch either show? How do you think they relate to UF novels?

Thanks for coming by!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

I Want My Commas!

Ok, I will be the first to admit that I have a comma addiction. If there were a group called CAA (Comma Abusers Anonymous) I would be their founding member.

I love my little happy marks of pausing. Little precious demarcations of a moment of thought, or breath, or at least a chance to keep confusing bits from smashing into each other and creating a giant mess. (“Let’s eat, Grandpa.” verses “Let’s eat Grandpa.”.)

Now to be fair, commas are pretty free flowing, hippies of the grammar world if you will, there are a few hard and fast rules, but a large portion of regular comma usage is personal judgment. Don’t believe me? Try looking in two or more grammar books ;).

However, as of late, one of my most beloved common uses for a comma has been falling to the wayside. Nay, some publishers have gone so far as to remove this comma completely during their editing process!

It’s the serial comma. That one that used to be there so that you knew if you were having apples, oranges, and bananas (separate and unique pieces of fruit). As opposed to apples, and a bowl that combined oranges and bananas such as what is indicated to me by, “apples, oranges and bananas”.

The beginning of the end for this most beloved little comma started with journalistic writing. Magazines, journals, and newspapers kicked this comma to the curb long ago. But academic and literary writing hung onto it. And I always made sure I had them. To me they just make things more tidy.

But more and more my commas are being taken away. I’m reading novels where the serial comma has been removed on all occasions!

I know at some point I’ll run against an editor who makes me remove my own serial commas, but they can pry them out of my cold dead keyboard.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Wasted Writing

I saw an interesting post on another blog a few weeks ago. They were talking about writing and whether you should wait for the muse or not (I am a strong anti-muse believer myself ;)).

One woman had posted how she didn't want to write if the "spirit wasn't upon her" aka the MUSE, because then it would just be wasted writing if it wasn't any good.

Ok, I read this a few weeks ago folks, and it's taken my mind this long to work around the concept.

Wasted writing. It's still a concept my poor tired brain just isn't grasping. First we have to consider how writers come about. BY WRITING. No one is born with an amazing voice, kick ass descriptive sense, and an ability to make characters so real you find yourself adding them to your wedding guest list.

We learn it.

And how do we learn it? By writing crap. Lots and lots and LOTS of crap. Eventually the crap will become less-craptastic. Eventually, it will become good.

But the first step is to write.

I just sent off my geek novella and a friend of a friend asked what I was going to do with it if it isn't accepted. How could I stand thinking all that work would be wasted?

I agree, there probably isn't a huge call for funny geek love stories set around Comic Con, a former SciFi actress, and a crashed alien researcher. But I'm not worried about "wasting" my time having written it. Even if it (or any of my work) never finds a public home, it has contributed to my skills. Its gotten me one step away from craptastic.

So, while I was too gobsmacked to respond to that blog comment about wasting writing at the time, I like to send this out now: NO writing is wasted as long as you learn from it. And since, at least for me, it's impossible not to learn when I write, then nothing is ever wasted.

So flip the muse the bird, and get yer ass back in that chair- and WRITE!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

There is Always Something Worthwhile:Contest Judging

I’m lucky enough to have participated as a judge in a number of writing contests over the years. Each time I volunteer I wonder what types of things will come my way, and what I’ll learn as well.

Well this year I’ve made an emotional realization about judging- it gives me hope.

I was feeling a bit down about my own writing. The evil voices of never being good enough were smacking me around. So, I took a break to go over some judging materials.

During my break from wallowing in self-pity, I thought about past contests I’ve judged, as well as the ones I’m involved with this year. Some of the pieces were amazing, we are talking “should be on the shelf NOW” amazing; some were strong, but still need a little tinkering, and some honestly had quite a way to go.

Now the “should be published” group gave me hope because it means that even really good books sometimes can’t find a home (at least not yet ;)). These folks were very publishable, yet didn’t have an agent or a contract at this time. *Yea for me! That might mean my stuff isn’t completely drivel just because I’m not published yet!*

The almost there folks gave me hope because you could SEE the diamond there- just a few tweaks and that author has a great book on their hands. *Yea for me again! I can tweak my work! I need to see the uncut diamonds in my own work too!*

The needing work folks gave me hope too. No matter what was wrong with them- EVERY entry in EVERY contest I’ve judged has something worthwhile in it. Maybe an amazing character, a unique and interesting premise, or beautiful writing. They just need to dig a bit deeper to flesh everything out- but there has always been something in the entries to make me sit up and think “wow”. *Yea for me yet again! My work also is most likely not completely hopeless, there will be things in there that I do very well. I need to believe in myself and Make It Work.*

So thanks to all the people who have entered the various contests over the years-you have given me hope in my own writing by allowing me the privilege of reading yours.

And for anyone involved in an RWA chapter that does writing contests- I strongly recommend you volunteer as a judge. The person who gains the most from it may just be you.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

But is it a Scene?

Stalking the Story- Scenes

On its most basic level a story is a series of scenes linked together to form a much larger entity .

1. scene/sēn/
Noun: 1. The place where an incident in real life or fiction occurs or occurred.
2. A place, with the people, objects, and events in it, regarded as having a particular character or making a particular impression.

Some writer gurus break scenes up into Scenes and Sequels, both are sort of the same in terms of being building blocks of a novel, but they have different elements.
For instance-

A Scene is Goal + Conflict = Disaster
A Sequel is Reaction + Dilemma = Decision

So for each scene you’d have a sequel following it (which technically is also a scene…sort of Scene-scene and Sequel-scene).

Screenwriting is a great place to try to understand what needs to be in a scene. Even though the average script is 110 pages, and most novels are 2-3 times that, the principle is the same, and sometimes easier to see in screenwriting.
David Trotter in The Screenwriter’s Bible has a very informative list for making great scenes. (The list is his, the statements after each are mine ;)).

1) Each scene should move the story forward- looking at your scenes- are they wonderful places of reflection and beauty? Now really look at them- no matter how pretty they are, if they don’t move the story forward- fix them or dump them.

2) Never tell what you can show-pretty standard, are you telling the reader he was a mean man, or are you showing him kick a dog and rip off a blind beggar?

3) Avoid talking heads- have folks doing something while talking breaks it up, also, the actions you choose can reinforce the emotional impact of the scene.

4) Every dramatic unit needs a beginning, middle, and end-use the same elements of crafting your plot to craft the plot of a scene.

5) Start the scene as close to the end as possible- cut the long build ups. Particularly true for screen writers who have to work much tighter than novelists, but it holds for us too. Give the reader enough to know who, where, and what- then jump into the scene.

6) Pace your scenes- an action scene will feel stronger if preceded by a dialogue/introspective scene (and vice versa) the roller coaster of scenes keeps them all fresh.

7) Scenes should culminate in something dramatic- you always need to give the reader a reason to keep reading! Think of these as mini-hooks. You don’t have to end with an explosion, or a literal cliff hanger, but something to make the reader an offer they can’t refuse (aka continuing your book).

8) Strive to create transition between scenes-yes, your scenes need to be different (see pacing above) but if they don’t have something linking them, your reader will start flipping around wondering what book they’re reading.

9) Each scene should contain a definite emotion or mood- what is your character feeling in the scene? What’s their goal? Are they mad? Scared? In love? Make that show in the scene.

10) Focus the scene on a well-motivated conflict- a conflict doesn’t have to be major, in fact if every scene in your book had a major conflict, your reader would probably get exhausted. But even little conflicts can add to a scene and pull it forward.

11) Each scene should have a definite purpose- is it to show your character as having a shady past? As being kind to animals? Make sure you know what that scene is doing there.

Not only is a list like this handy for crafting your scenes, it’s also useful to check and see if the scenes you have are doing their job. Scenes that fail to move the story, or add to your plot are worse than useless, they can suck the life right out of your story.

How do you define a scene? What criteria do you use to make sure your story is hitting the mark in each one?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Are you a writer or a storyteller?


a person who tells or writes stories or anecdotes.
a person who tells more or less trivial falsehoods; fibber.
Origin: 1700–10; story1 + teller 1

1. writ·er/ˈrītər/
1. A person who has written a particular text.
2. A person who writes books, stories, or articles as a job or regular occupation.

Ask most writers what they do, and they’ll say, “I’m a writer” (or novelist to be even more specific, or Fantasy/SF novelist to really narrow things down). But how many say, “I’m a storyteller”? To be fair, most people don’t call writers story tellers, and the term is fair vaguer than writer.

But it could be argued, that not all writers ARE storytellers as well. There seem to be many definitions of the two terms. Some believe that it’s more a reflection of the style of writing: storytellers get everything out in one giant lump, whereas writers do it piecemeal and re-write the story into being.

I have a few issues with that concept. One-the writers (term will be used to save my sanity) who “get everything out in one giant lump” still most likely are going back and doing a hell of a lot of re-writing. If they aren’t, and they are selling books like hotcakes, I want their secret!

Two- even folks who feel their strength is in re-writing still had some vague idea in mind when they did their rough draft, no matter how down and dirty that draft may be.

Then there is Donald Maass *cue angels singing here*; he views writer verses storyteller based on goal, rather than stylistic choices.

His view is that a writer is in it to make money, whereas the storyteller is in it to ….tell their story. The goal of the storyteller is to get across the wonderful ideas, places, and characters in their head for other folks to hopefully read. While publication would be nice, it’s not the driving goal of a storyteller. The writer however, is in it to be published. Bottom line, if you told both groups you will never be published, the storytellers would be bummed, but keep writing.

The “writers” would quit.

I can see where Maass is coming from, but not sure if I agree. My problem is using a common term used by all writers to address a small subset of them. I would argue that perhaps a unique term should be crafted for them that doesn’t confuse matters by using an already very generalized term.

But I agree with his idea.

There are writers out there for whom being published is the end all be all. And yes, if told by a crystal ball wielding gypsy they would never be published, they would walk away right now. It’s not even money (we all know there won’t be much-LOL), it’s that they see no other reason to write if not for others to read.

These folks may have lost the joy they feel at the creation process itself (or may never have had it). Or they feel that even though they enjoy it, friends, relatives, total strangers they happen to engage in casual conversation, will view them as a failure for writing just for themselves. No publication, no validation.

Now some folks say, "but character is far more important than story! I must not be a storyteller if I focus on character". Character is VITAL, but if they aren’t doing something interesting, plausible, and exciting- folks aren’t going to care.

Therefore, I’d argue that even character first writers could be storytellers.

If we use Maass’s concept, it’s easy to tell which you are (if you’re honest with yourself)- sink into the dark hole of doubt- tell yourself you’ll NEVER be published.

Still wanna write? If so, you’re a storyteller, and sorry, there’s no cure. If you honestly say no, you’re one of his “writers”. (Now banish that dark hole and get back out there!)

What about you? How do you see writer verse storyteller? How do you think of yourself based on that?