Things are different now, and things are the same.

I remember thinking that when I got an agent magic would take over my world. Words would roll out of my fingers like ocean waves. Revisions would feel like a casual stroll rather than a marathon. People would line up at my door to read my beautiful, beautiful words.

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Let me be clear. It HAS been magical. And words DO come. And on occasion, people do like to read the tales I spin. But mostly… mostly, writing now is like writing then.

Hard. Beautiful. Gut-wrenching. Satisfying. Revealing.

Hard

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It’s still hard writing, post-agent. But sometimes for different reasons. I never had writers block before getting an agent. Never. Hate me if you will, but usually I had a hundred stories lined up in my head, waiting for a little attention. There is a mind switch that happens when you start writing for another reason. Revisions start to take priority, and you don’t let your mind wander as often, because you know it’s only a matter of time before you have to revisit that last story either for an R&R or to polish it up for submission. Sometimes the creative whiplash that occurs from jumping from world to world too often is just too much, so you just don’t write between stints of waiting on feedback on revisions. I’m not saying this is a good thing. I’m just saying it happens.

Beautiful 

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It’s still beautiful. Though I don’t get to create freely as often anymore, those moments when the story is taking shape and the characters are speaking… well, you know how it feels. It’s the first gaze into your newborn’s eyes. It’s a dive off the top of a roller coaster. It’s a plunge into icy water. It’s exhilarating and just plain beautiful. Thank goodness, that still happens.

Gut-wrenching

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You still have to wait, post-agent. And waiting can be so hard. Waiting while you know someone is reading your work. Waiting while you wonder if you sent your very best, if you could have sweat a little harder, bled a little more to make it better. Waiting, hoping, praying for good news. Yes, even after getting an agent, writing is still gut-wrenching.

Satisfying

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There’s nothing, before or after getting an agent, that is more deeply gratifying than typing those two final words: The. End. It doesn’t matter how many times you do it, it just satisfies this deep, deep part of you that no one else but another writer understands. For me, editing can be almost as satisfying. It feels like clay taking shape under my fingers. The features come into view, start looking back at me with these life-like eyes, and I stare back at them and go, “Holy something… I made that!”

Revealing

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Writing has always been revealing for me, but something about this stage of writing has caused the process to reveal more of my inner self than I could have imagined. Over the past year, writing has been so intensely introspective, a reflection of my values, my brokenness and my strength. I’ve dug deeper and looked harder than ever before. It’s been surprising. And it’s forced growth.

So yes, things have changed in the past year, and no, they haven’t. Writing is the same and it’s oh, so different. It’s still all the things I love and hate. And I wouldn’t change that for the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I don’t wanna write!

How is it that sometimes the very thing we love to do most, we just flat out don’t want to do. This seems impossible, like not wanting chocolate or ice cream. Like waking up one day and just saying, I don’t like coffee anymore. I’m just not going to drink a cup today. But it happens. Sometimes, we just don’t want to write.

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Sometimes we just don’t want to write.

For a host of reasons, we find ourselves just not in the mood. The reasons can range from our mental state to our plot. Here are a few reasons that make it hard for me to write. Sometimes, a lot of times, when I face the problem, I just plain and simple choose not to write, but when I know I’m not going to have time in the future or I have a deadline, I have a few solutions I fall back on to solve the problem.

Problem: A FUZZY HEAD

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A fuzzy head. Get it?

When I can’t think clearly, it’s usually due to fatique. I have the most time to write after I get home from teaching middle school students all day. But after spending my day explaining the kinetic theory to kids who’d rather be playing Clash of Whozits and Snap-a-whating each other on their phones, my head can be a bit fuzzy. I don’t know about you, but I need a clear mind to write.

Solution: A nap and some coffee. Write outside. A nap. A shower. A nap.

Problem: A case of the I-stinks

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Sometimes, I just get down on myself as a writer. It might be from reading my own first draft. It might be from reading a published work that is so phenominal that it makes me realize how pitiful my own work is. It might be from seeing so many other friends succeeding and feeling like I might not ever achieve that. Whatever the reason, this can make it hard to write.

Solution: Get out some of your favorite things you’ve written and read them again to remind yourself that you have written good things. Call a friend. A good friend and talk it out. Read something you love, written by someone else, and identify the things you do that are similar. Also, identify the things you could do that will improve your writing. Finally, identify that knowing that you CAN improve is a sign of a good writer.

Problem: A disconnect from your story

Sometimes I’m just not feeling it anymore. I’ve lost that lovin feeling, and it prevents me from wanting to keep writing.

Solution: Court your characters, get to know them again. Do character developing activities to get to know more about them. Sometimes I even change their names and appearances to help myself think of them from a different angle.

Problem: A better idea

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Changes can feel insurmountable

Every once in a while, I’ll be about half way through my story and I’ll realize that there’s a better way of writing it. Starting over seems so insurmountable that it just makes me want to quit.

Solution: Sleep on the changes. If they still feel right later, then they are worth making. None of us want to put out less than our best work. Take a break. Work on something else and come back with the idea of tackling this as a new book. Tackle it in small chunks and reward yourself for meeting goals.

Do you have other solutions to these problems? Do you have other problems besides these that cause you to stop writing? Please share!

A Formula For Best Sellers?

I’m #blessed. No for real. Thanks to the lovely Natalie C. Parker, author of BEHOLD THE BONES, I’ve been connected with some lovely  FAN-STINKIN-NOMENAL (it’s a word now) authors who are in the same stage of agented writing as myself.

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Novels by the wonderful Natalie C. Parker


This group of girls bonded almost instantly. We now refer to ourselves as the YAAMY Bears — it’s a yam thang — and find ourselves posting yam memes and GIFs at random. But best of all, we are sharing our journeys. This stage of writing can be awkward and lonely because you’re not sharing the same path with authors seeking representation anymore, but you’re not a published author either. Natalie has given us a tribe, shoulders to cry on, people to celebrate with, and I think I can speak for everyone in the group when I say…

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All that being said, I found myself typing out this long message to the girls on one of our many forums at 2:30 in the morning. It’s been on my mind since then, so I thought I’d see what you thought. Is there a formula for a best seller?

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I went to MidWest Writers this summer and attended a wonderful session on how to edit a best seller, and here’s what I took away from it:

The conference speaker talked about plot beats which, at the time, I knew nothing about. So, for those of you who were like me, beats are like the rhythm of a song. It’s steady, then it crescendos then it resolves. There is a common rhythm or set of beats found in nearly all the bestseller and blockbuster movies and the formula goes like this:

1. Slice of Life – This is where you start. You give the reader a sense of who the MC is, where they are from and what is meaningful to them. This can happen in the first few words. It can also occur over the course of a few pages. Giving your MC little obstacles to overcome (even big ones, though you don’t generally want to jump in with too much heart pounding action until the reader knows why they should care about the character) helps the reader to get a feel for how they react to things. Do they fume at traffic jams or are they chill? Do they cuss when they stub their toe? That kind of thing.

2. Inciting Incident – What is the thing that starts the sweater to unraveling (Oh Geez! Weezer’s sweater song is in my head now!) But IDENTIFY IT. Call it by name, for your own benefit. This helped me so much just to know what this was, because then I knew where it should fit in my MS.

3. Act 2 – Decision Time: This is when your MC has to make a decision about that Inciting Incident. Are they going to run away from home, get a divorce, find a new job? BUT in most best sellers, the FIRST response to that decision is no. No, I’m not going to do what I should, or what’s hard, or what makes sense. This helps build tension and sets pace! Then give it time and resolve it so your MC can be on his or her merry way with the plot.

4. Establish Flaws – This is where we see that the MC maybe doesn’t have it all together and isn’t quite as perfect as we all thought she was. You don’t have to give everything away, but maybe we start seeing some weaknesses or some unlikable things here. This way we’ve given the reader a chance to fall in love with the MC before we show her butt. Sort of like in dating and marriage. LOL This is also a great place to trickle in clues if you are dealing with an unreliable character.

5. Fun and Games – This is where I struggle, because I write such dark stuff. I don’t know how this bubbly preacher’s kid turned Edgar Allan Poe but whatevs. (P.S. if you write humor PLEASE do a post on that!) Anywho, fun and games doesn’t have to be bubbly or even funny, but this is where your romance typically happens. Your MC discovers they are in love. Or, if there is no romance, some of the lighter things in the novel are happening here. This is all for build and pace. Your chugging up the hill of that roller coaster, about to give your readers that my-stomach-just-fell-into-my-shoes feeling.

6. Mid-Point – This is the middle of your story. I know, deep, right? Things are starting to pull together and come to a head.

7. Bad Guys Close In – This is where your MC is getting backed into a corner by some situation or protagonist. They’re feeling a little hopeless here.

8. All is Lost – Giving your MC a situation they can’t possibly get out of is a pretty big theme in best sellers. There’s no way this can end up good for anyone as far as the reader can tell.

9. Dark Night of Soul – Things are moving quickly now. Your character recognizes that without sacrificing, there is no way out of this situation. Or maybe they don’t recognize it, but the reader does. This takes on all forms. In Jerry MaGuire, his career is on the line, in Twilight (forgive me) it’s Edward or Jacob, or Renesmee, or herself or Edward. Your MC can linger here for a moment to help solidify for the reader the stakes that are at risk. Remember this takes on so many different forms. Your story may be man against nature, or man against community. It still fits.

10. Climax — This is where the volcano explodes. The battle scene, the escape, the divorce, the throw down. The ugly.

11. Closing Image – Here’s your resolution, and my favorite: Bookends. This is where you take a theme that you started the book with, and you end with it. You give your reader a sense of closure with a profound idea, a loose end or a phrase used earlier and trickled throughout the book. In Jerry MaGuire it was a phrase: You complete me. In Twilight it was the theme that Edward could never read Bella’s thoughts and then she allowed him to.

For Pacing: The speaker suggested asking a beta reader to put a note in every place they got pulled away from reading to do something else by anything other than an earthquake or medical emergency. Those are probably your places where the book lulls. She suggested giving the character a minor conflict in those areas that doesn’t muddle up the plot or add too many new elements to the theme. It can be something she is already dealing with that happens to raise it’s ugly head again.

Also another REALLY  interesting resource is the Plot Library. Apparently, there are only like a few plots out there since the beginning of time and every story can fit into one of these plot lines. I thought it was fun to look through them and see which one my book and my favorite books fit into!

Is there really a formula for a best seller? Who knows. Most will agree that, like any art form, there’s no right or wrong way to write a book. But, that being said, even as an artist, I need to know how shading works. I need to know that if I’m trying to paint realism, if that’s my goal, then if the sun is on the right side of an object, the shadows will only be on the left side. This is a guide. It helped me organize my writing and identify the pieces that WERE ALREADY THERE! I don’t necessarily use this until I’m in the editing process. I don’t hold to this formula while I’m writing. I use it to sort it out afterwards. Maybe organized writing is the key to a best seller, maybe it’s something else entirely, but identifying these spots in my writing helps ME better understand it. I hope you can get something out of this too.

Times haven’t changed; our dirty laundry is just easier for everyone to see now.

I love a well written story. No, I don’t think you understand. I love them like I love pizza. I love them with that kind of love that makes you say things through gritted teeth when you talk. I love the timeless stories. The ones that have been told for thousands of years and still we think about them, put ourselves in the character’s positions and marvel at the plot.

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A lot of people might be surprised to know that I went to seminary after high school. I’m still not sure why I did it and I only made it through one year because I couldn’t stand being separated from the hot guy I was dating at the time (who just so happens to be the hot guy I’m married to now.) So, it’s probably safe to assume I didn’t do a lot of studying the scriptures that year. I did, however, do my fair share before that. In fact, I’d read the Bible front to back nearly three times. So I was surprised when I ran across a story I didn’t remember this morning while reading, surprised because it was one of those talk-through-gritted-teeth, love-you-like-I-love-pizza type of stories and I’m not sure how I forgot it.

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We, the humans of today, think we’ve corned the market on drama but when I read stories like the one I read this morning, I realize times haven’t changed, our dirty laundry is just easier for everyone to see. The story I read sees your Facebook drama and raises you a love saga between harlot and Hosea, between God and Israel. The story goes like this: God is ticked. He feels cheated on. He’s gone out of his way to show his love for Israel, rescuing them from slavery a few times and going to battle for them and what-not and they sort of forget all that and decide that it looks like more fun to worship the idols of the surrounding nations. He wants his good friend Hosea to sympathize so he’s like, you want to know how I feel? Go out and get yourself an adulterous woman. Better yet, go find an adulterous woman who’s got a few kids, someone who you know has a real wild side and can’t be tied down to one man and then make her your wife.

So the crazy thing is, he actually goes out and does it. And after a while, it’s no surprise when he finds that she’s been cheating on him. But the thing is he loves her…like really loves her. He pleads with her to stay. At the same time, God and Israel are going back and forth too. The chapter headers are kind of funny to read because it’s like, Israel is Punished. Israel Repents. Israel Restored. Judgement against Israel. God’s Love for Israel. And at the same time, Hosea and his wife are having their own relationship drama. He forgives her and takes her back but she just keeps stepping out on him and everyone in town knows it. So here he is alone, left with all the kids they had together, rejected and then he hears that she’s been sold into slavery. What does he do? He scrounges up all the shekels he owns and he finds her and he pays for her freedom and brings her home to be his wife. What a love story! This is pre-Titanic, people. This is hard-core love that can still be felt thousands of years later.

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There are a lot of layers to be peeled back in this story and multiple messages buried within the layers aside from the heart-twisting saga on the surface. That’s good writing. Maybe someday I’ll master that. My synopsis doesn’t do the story justice. And I’m still not sure how I missed it the first few times around but I recommend reading it for yourself. Let me know what you think of the story. Happy reading.

Typings by a Type A

I’ve always thought of myself as a type B. I’m not a sports fanatic like my husband who somehow turns everything into in a competition. i.e. Who can make the best smoked chicken? Who can peel an orange without breaking the rind? Who can make it home from work the fastest? Even a ballgame is no fun for him to watch unless we’ve put a wager for a back rub on it. Nope, I’m the girl who wants everyone to get a trophy. I cheat for the other guy in card games so he doesn’t feel bad about losing. My face doesn’t turn beet-red if my team isn’t winning. I don’t shake my fist at the ref when the call is idiotic. So, I’m not type A, right?

But what I hadn’t thought of was how competitive I am with myself, especially as a writer. Or how I tell everyone else to enjoy the process of writing while they wait for their big moment but I maintain a vicious inner drill sergeant toward my own expectations. I don’t pit myself against other writers but I do make serious goals for myself that become life altering and massively mourned if not met and epically celebrated if achieved. I’m not status-conscious, however there are certain titles I sweat and bleed to own, namely PUBLISHED AUTHOR. There is, however, one thing I’ll admit to being and that’s achievement-addicted. Finishing a manuscript is my bungee jump, getting a full request is my sky diving.

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(Sky diving elephants seemed appropriate here.)

One source described a type A as someone who works late hours to get things accomplished. But that’s just because I have a day job in addition to writing books…isn’t it? And someone who rushes around, seemingly never having enough time in the day to get things done. But I only do that because I’m an introvert who’s uncomfortable with too much eye contact…right?

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The list goes on. Type A behavior can lead to stress because these people try to do everything themselves and eventually become overloaded. They aren’t always the best team players and rarely delegate work to others. They can sometimes seem non-empathetic because they hold everything in which can lead to a whole other psychological and physical ball of wax. ALL RIGHT! ALL RIGHT I GET IT ALREADY! Where do I go for my label?

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What kind of a writer/person are you? Here’s a list of questions to ask yourself from PsychologyToday.com

(Affirmative responses suggest Type A personality)

• Are you pressed for time at and after work?

• Do you always take work home with you?

• Do you eat rapidly?

• Do you have a strong need to excel?

• Do you have trouble finding time to get your hair cut/styled?

• Do you feel or act impatient when you have to wait in line?

Hostility-related items:

• Do you get irritated easily?

• Are you bossy and domineering?

• When you were younger was your temper fiery and difficult to control?

If the answer to most of these is yes for you, here’s a positive to dwell on: type As are more successful, which means those goals that mean so much to you, that drive you will likely be met. But one thing the Bs have on us As is that they’re better at enjoying the moment. So, while they may have fewer successes, they truly cherish the one’s they achieve. I’ve seen this with so many of my accomplished writerly friends who finally make it. They have the trophy. They’ve arrived, yet the fireworks and the parade and the ticker tape I expected to see in their lives gets put on hold as they push for the next target. Another encouraging part of this study by PsychologyToday.com revealed that most people are not 100% A or B but we do lean toward one side or the other. When we see that our A side is taking over, we As just need to make our goal to enjoy the moment because whatever we set our minds to, we eventually achieve.

Blackwater Literature Festival

3f BW Lit festOn March 11th, 2015 the sun rose over a small rural town in mid-Missouri just as it always did but a certain energy reverberated in the air and it wasn’t the train passing on the all-too-close tracks at the edge of town. It was excitement.

The energy only increased as buses full of students and teachers from five different school districts rumbled past the carved sculpture of an Indian chief on main street and beyond the windmill in the center of the square. The bus doors hissed open and seemingly endless lines of nearly two-hundred and fifty students poured into the halls of Blackwater RII Elementary and Middle School for the Blackwater Literature Festival.

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They filled the bleachers and when they were full, the lunchroom tables and when they were full the floor. This was the day they’d been waiting for. In rooms so close it was unbearable, five authors were waiting to tell their stories, to give hugs, to answer questions and to inspire.

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Two-hundred and fifty students were waiting to meet their role models. Some of them had already read their books, some of them couldn’t wait to start.

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The signal was given and they were off. For the next four hours, they transitioned from room to room visiting , listening to readings from their favorite books, entering writing contests, asking questions and, of course, taking selfies with the authors! As the day progressed, conversations in the halls could be heard. Students were discussing which were their favorites and what books they planned on buying.  Some students even brought activities they’d done while reading the books to show the authors.

When the sessions were finished, the authors hosted book signing tables where students and teachers could purchase the books and have them signed by the authors. Copies of all the author’s books were entered into the Blackwater RII school library where they will be added to the computerized reading program the students participate in. All in all, the Blackwater Literature Festival was a day students won’t soon forget. Authors Ashlee Willis, Casey Wendelton, William Vaughn, Judy Stock and Linda Runnabaum as well as directors of the Marshal Public library, Wicky Slieght and Molly Johnson, will certainly also cherish the memory.









To Comp or not to Comp that is the Question

If you’re a twin or a sibling or a human in general you have probably experienced being compared to someone else. Comparisons can be flattering but, for the most part, people like to stand alone.

We don’t always like being compared. 

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In the writing world, sometimes comparisons are necessary. If you’ve queried for very long, you’ve probably asked your self this question: Should I add a comp to my query? If you haven’t, you may be wondering, what the Hector Zaroni is a comp? A comp is when an author makes a comparison of their work using other familiar works of literature, theater, television or big screen titles. An example would be Spiderman meets PRIDE AND PREDJUDICE (Oooo! I kind of want to write that.) Or modern day David and Goliath (Oh man…I’m going to need more than one Christmas vacation. So many books to write.) Or you can put genre or category twists on common stories like Steam Punk Cinderella or New Adult Charlie Brown. The possibilities are endless.

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Why create a comp? Because, done well, it’s like a picture for agents. Comps speak a thousand words. Creating a comp can be a risky move because if the agent dislikes the comps, your MS could be discarded before the agent even gets to the sample writing. Another thing that makes comping difficult is choosing your comps. It can be like comparing your child to someone else’s. Obviously, you love yours more so it’s better, right? And what if your story doesn’t seem to fit any other story perfectly and when you meld stories it ends up looking a little like this:

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Or what if your comp titles aren’t really spot on and it ends up like this:

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That’s not really what you were going for was it?

Done well, comps are like a picture for agents. They speak a thousand words.

Many agents say they love comps. I’ve noticed lately that several of the query contest winners I’ve seen used intriguing comps. Comps can be very useful if done correctly. A good rule to live by, however, is if you don’t feel comfortable making the comp, then avoid it. But if you think a comp could beef up your query or perhaps the agent you query asks for comps (there are a few out there) then here are some helpful tips for creating great comps for your query:

Comp Do’s and Don’ts

DO read a lot so that you have more comp options.

DO try to stay away from comparing your writing to hot fad reads like Twilight that agents might be burnt out on.

DON’T compare your writing style to successful writers i.e. “I’m the next Nicholas Sparks.”

DO only make comps that help the agent understand your plot. Comps are not to show the agent your book is as good as the comp title you’re comparing it to. It’s to help them understand the plot.

DO your research. Maybe there are some great comps out there that will do your title justice. Research stories that have elements that compare to yours.

DON’T worry that your comp isn’t identical to your story. The idea is not to find the something exactly the same but something that compares. That’s why finding two stories to comp like Batman meets Jurassic Park helps to cover more of the elements in your story. Make sure the major ingredients of the story are parallel then make the comparison.

What are some comps that you’ve made? Did they work? What are other Do’s and Don’ts you can suggest for making comps?

2 LITTLE WORDS THAT CAN MAKE OR BREAK YOUR MS: THE END

10488290_10152533971360993_7822460364161932901_nThere comes a point in the life of a manuscript when certain questions must be asked. If a FULL manuscript has lived adventurously, traveling the world through cyber mail, visiting the in-boxes of agents galore only to return to you time and time again, it could be because of ridiculously long sentences like this one or…OR it could be because of the way you’ve ended your story.

It has been said that the most important pages you will ever write are the first and last five pages of your novel. If this is true, and I’m beginning to think it is, we have to learn to write better endings. And being the I-like-to-do-things-backwards type of girl that I am, I have learned this the hard way. So here are some things not to do when writing an ending.

 DO NOT:

1. Tie it into a neat little bow at the end that is all-too-convenient for everyone involved. I know you’ve been writing for eons and you just want the story to end but, don’t do that!

2. Throw your readers off a proverbial plot cliff. Even though things are winding up, your manuscript shouldn’t lose the momentum it had during the rest of the story. It should have the same feel to it even when it’s ending.

3. Be afraid of happy endings. You don’t have to kill your main character to create a twist at the end of your story. Happy endings are still possible. You may just have to think of a funky way for your MC to achieve it.

LOOK TO THE STARS

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An earth shattering ending – how, how, how do we write it? Start by looking to the stars. Is it shameful to look to the work of successful writers for inspiration? I say nay-nay! Let’s face it, there is no new thing under the sun. (A quote from my favorite book BTW.) No story has been written that hasn’t already been told. We just put a new twist on it, spiffed up the characters a little bit, modernize the setting and POOF…“new” story. Recently, I sat down and pinpointed what made an unforgettable ending for me and this is what I came up with:

UNFORGETTABLE ENDINGS ARE MADE OF…

There are  a few different formulas that, for me, produce an unforgettable ending.

1. A magnetic connection to the main character. It might not be the most eventful story I’ve ever read but I am so drawn to the character that I can’t stop reading. I want what he wants and if he gets it in the end then I celebrate with him and if he doesn’t I mourn with him. This type of unforgettable ending is more about the stuff sandwiched in between beginning and end than anything. I KNOW, I KNOW I’m contradicting my earlier statement about the first and last 5 pages. First, shut your snarky face. Second, keep reading and you’ll see that’s still true most of the time. *Sigh* And…I’m sorry I told you to shut your snarky face.

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Moving on. Think about movies like Rudy. Did we really care that he was a scrawny goober who dreamed about fulfilling a destiny that was a size too big for him? I mean come on, isn’t that everyone’s story? Nothing wildly original here. But it was the way Angelo Pizzo wrote Rudy’s character that made us love him, made us want to shout “Rudy!” at the top of our lungs. So when he did make it at the end, which we all saw coming, we felt emotion – not because it was a mind blowing event but because we cared for Rudy.

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Another example is John Green’s Paper Towns. Geek guy falls for popular girl – done a million times over, HOWEVER the sarcastic, irreverent voice of the MC and his cohorts keeps you reading. You want to know what impossibly scornful thing will be said next and before long you are deeply vested in weather Margo will speak to Quentin Jacobsen at school tomorrow or not. I’m a 36 year old educated mother of three…AND I WANT TO KNOW! That, my friends, is the power of an unforgettable ending.

A well written twist – not one thrown in at the last minute to fix a bad ending- can be unforgettable.

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2. An amazing twist makes for a unforgettable ending. One of my favorite twisted endings is from The Game, starring Micheal Douglas and Sean Pen. The whole time you don’ t know who Nicholas Van Orton can trust. Everyone has turned against him and he can no longer tell the difference between the game and reality. In the end, *spoiler alert*  his brother shoots him and he falls three stories to what should be his death only to find everyone he knows waiting to congratulate him for making it through the game at the bottom, his brother included. They were all in on it and you never knew it the whole time…or I didn’t anyway. A well written twist – not one thrown in at the last minute to fix a bad ending- can be unforgettable.

We love to see the Wicked Witch of the West shout, “I’m melting! I’m melting!”

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3. Another element that makes for an unforgettable ending is when you are dying to see the villain get theirs. A well developed antagonist can drive your story all the way to the end. Making your reader love to hate the enemy can cause them to hold onto the last drop just to see the villain get what is coming to them. Make it count! Think about it. We love to see the Wicked Witch of the West shout “I’m melting! I’m melting!” It never gets old.

If cupid’s arrow has wedged itself into your heart for the main characters of a story, what happens to them in the end will hold more weight for you.

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4. And finally, a romance that makes you fall in love all over again can sear an ending into your mind in a way that makes it unforgettable. When two people have that extra special connection you want to fight for it, because it’s rare. A well written romance can be the momentum for a plot. If cupid’s arrow has wedged itself into your heart for the main characters of a story, what happens to them in the end will hold more weight for you. Look at endings of classic or popular love stories to see how they worked for other successful writers. Scarlet’s ending wasn’t the sweetest in Gone with the Wind but we all gave a darn. And what about The Notebook? Didn’t it rip our hearts out on a Saturday night right before Easter service? And you cried so hard your eyes swelled shut for church the next morning? No? Just me? All right then. And folks keep your boos and hisses to yourself; book and movie sales say it all. The Twilight series had a grip on our culture for a significant amount of time and left its mark on the Young Adult genre so don’t overlook the ending.

So…what about you? What are some of your favorite endings that you, or I – I’m not ashamed to be selfish here – could be inspired by? Do tell.

 

I DIDN’T CONNECT WITH YOUR MAIN CHARACTER

BlEJtsaCMAA7os9“I didn’t connect with your MC.” I’ve heard it so many times. In one of my more recent rejections the agent doted, saying she “absolutely loved” my concept and that my take on the setting was “genius.” She used the word genius! Ultimately though, she rejected me because she did not connect with my character. After reading this my mind was filled with questions. What was it about my main character that caused you not to connect with her? Is this something agents just say when they know the novel is not for them  but they just can’t pin-point why? If not then how, how, how can I make you connect with my character?

I have one of three reactions to rejection: 1.) A short pouting session where I turn my back on all things literary. 2.) A ravenous search for knowledge where I tear through every piece of advice ever written to improve the fault the agent has exposed. 3.) Both one and two combined in that order. This time I experienced the latter.

So, after completing step one, I did a little research on what can make the reader connect with the main character of a story and here’s what I came up with.

Make your MC Suffer

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We are a sick species who can’t seem to turn our eyes away from tragedy. It twists our insides to watch but we have to see the outcome. Capturing this element creates intrigue and ultimately a story that can’t be put down. One of my earliest mistakes in writing was giving my MC what she wanted too soon without enough trial and tribulation. I loved my main character, providing for her like a spoiled child. The problem with this is that it’s just not an interesting read. We understand more through empathetic and sympathetic communications than any other method. It’s important to put your MC through the cheese grater and then put them back together on the other side before you conclude your story. Sick as it is, it’s what people want to read.

Tap Into Your MC’s Emotions

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From fleeting emotions to the more grounded ones that make your character unique, the reader needs to understand, know and feel your MC’s emotions for themselves. Showing not telling is key.  Her stomach roils, his skin prickles, her blood speeds up creating torrents in her veins. Stressful situations expose the true character of a human in real life. It should do the same in your story. No matter the action or the cleverness of the writing, regardless of the fascinating twists, if the main character’s reactions are not identifiable then the reader will not make a connection and will be left with that “meh – it was all right” feeling at the end of the story. We’ve all been to that movie. The special effects were mind blowing. The character’s were hot, the plot was riveting but you never got to know the character on that deep level of human connection. Those stories are the ones we forget because we didn’t feel anything.

Another essential element of writing emotions is making sure your MC is growing emotionally through the journey. They should not be the same person at the end of the story as they were in the beginning. Maybe they are less  of a person: broken, weak, lonely. Maybe they have grown stronger, realizing their purpose and finding confidence. Whatever the case, it should be a gradual growth the reader can track from start to finish. Though the reader may not realize it, the outer journey should be the subsequent one. The real odyssey should be the inner transformation that is taking place.  It is easy for authors to miss this because we have so much work to do putting the intricate details of a believable plot together. Creating an emotional tracker for your main character and describing his or her state of emotions as they progress can help make sure this development is occurring and provide the dramatic action that makes a story a page turner.

The Reader Needs to Care about the Goal

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Dramatic action revolves around the characters goal and, while the character may not be aware of it, their methods of achieving that goal develops their emotions. Their reactions to the successes and failures that occur while achieving that goal reveals even more and the goal itself helps to define the character.  But here’s the kicker: if your reader doesn’t care about the goal then you’ve lost them. Writing the goal  isn’t the real obstacle though. The goal doesn’t have to be this big flashy thing. Your character doesn’t have to aspire to save the world. It could be something as simple as being a good writer or understanding themselves (Eat Love Pray). The trick is making the reader care about the character’s goals because they care about the character. We can do this by showing (not telling) the MC’s reactions to setbacks and failures and success. Another way to do this is by creating tensions and obstacles for our character to prevent them from achieving this goal too soon in the story.

Now, it’s your turn. How do you get your reader to connect with your characters? I’m a sponge. Fill me!

 

 

The Multiple Personalities of an Author

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THE HAPPY WRITER

On so many occasions I‘ve as asked  my writerly friends on this path of pursuing traditional publication why we put ourselves through this whole torturous obstacle course. Is it some sort of deep rooted need to punish ourselves or twisted masochism that makes us continue?

I don’t know about you, but I experience emotional ebbs and flows toward my writing. It can be the result of a rejection or from reading something that is so magnificent it makes all my work pale in comparison. These emotional ups and downs are fairly common/natural, however they can affect our work.

When we start feeling insecure, it effects the quality and quantity of our scribblings. It’s usually a good idea to take a break from writing when experiencing a valley. I’ve tried to push through and be productive during these times and it usually ends up in a lot of re-writing later. The trick is not letting these pity parties last too long so they don’t effect the quantity of our writing. Many times, we wait so long to get back into “the mood” that we lose momentum in our stories. When it’s been too long, try to find a good quality in your story and build on that. It may mean re-writing and making some plot changes but this approach has resulted in some of my best story lines.

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The Peaceful Writer

Writing Gives Me Multiple Personalities. 

THE PEACEFUL WRITER

Despite the valleys, there are times in the journey that are pleasant. My favorite times are the times of peaceful writing. I’m convinced that most writers are users. They use writing to obtain peace. They love the euphoric sensation of  being swept away to another world – away from their own responsibilities and problems, even if the main character’s problems are worse than their own. While anything can be abused, with balance, pouring oneself into a story, feeling the emotions of the characters and finding creative ways to work out their problems (which often times emulate your own), can’t be all that bad.

 

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THE CARE FREE WRITER

 

THE CARE FREE WRITER

The care free part of me likes to write just for the sake of writing. This is usually in the early parts of a manuscript when I’m just trying to get the story on paper. My fingers fly and the story flows out of me as fluidly as coffee from the carafe, which is typically consumed in high quantities during this stage. I’m not worried about flow or transitions or overuse of adverbs or world building or character descriptions. It’s all about regurgitating the plot. This is a fun time to write for authors. That excitement and passion for our story is there and so is our faith in it.  We know its value. We know it has potential. I’ve been on the roller coaster enough times however, to know the rush I get from being on the peak doesn’t last but that never keeps me from screaming all the way down.

 

It’s these manic episodes, these ebbs and flows, that result in the final product. 

 

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THE DRIVEN WRITER

THE DRIVEN WRITER

Once the story has taken shape and I’ve read over it and made it through the valley of I-Hate-It and the trenches of This-is-Crud, I eventually find myself in the plains of I-Can-Work-With-This. This is when I hit hard. I get a few critic partners to look at it for me and I devour every word they have to say. Then I cut the fat, slash the ramblings, polish the descriptions, obliterate the adverbs and capture the voice…at least those are my goals. I have gone through the full cycle multiple times, from Happy Writer to Driven Writer and back again, during the course of editing a single manuscript. Don’t feel sorry for me though. It’s these manic episodes, these ebbs and flows, that result in the final product.  I endure the multiple personalities of writing, BECAUSE I can’t settle for a mediocre product.

What about you? What are the names for your writing personalities. Come on, you know you have them too!

 

 

 

 

How NOT to bore your readers.

27182_1366319728277_1326643_nI can never stray far from my first love: Psychology. To me, one of the most interesting aspects of human behavior is the way civilized humans still revert to primitive needs in order to make decisions. We authors can use this information to our advantage. It’s a fact: people don’t pay attention to boring things. So, how can we understand what keeps humanity’s attention so we can write the next novel that reaches across the reader spectrum and pleases a broad group of readers? According to BrainRules.com there are five things that can help us do that. As humans, when we assess anything, we ask ourselves a few basic questions.

 

1. Can it eat me?

downloadWhy are zombie stories so popular? Since the last time you remember being stalked by a higher member of the food chain was oh, let’s see…NEVER, you don’t get to experience the primal fears of being hunted too often. That doesn’t mean these concerns aren’t still innate – a part of our DNA. People like to read stories that make them feel alive and in tune with their human instincts. That’s why stories that have some threatening element which potentially turns the  main character into the main course, are ones that do NOT bore the reader.

2. Can I eat it?

download (1)Let’s face it, we spend a good portion of the day thinking about what we can or can’t eat. Stories that include a strong food element get in touch with a deep rooted constant urge for humans to satisfy hunger. That’s why books like The Hunger Games, which describes food in a way that could make you drool no matter how many calories you just ingested, are novels that do NOT bore their readers.

3. Would it make a good mate?

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Since man was created, he concerned himself with finding a mate. Studies show that qualities thought to be attractive by the opposite sex are all primitive instincts based on the health of an individual for producing healthy offspring. Now, I know that’s not what you’re thinking when you’re on the prowl, “Gee, he’s got nice straight teeth. Our children’s dentist bills should be low.” Maybe not consciously anyway. Regardless, successful books often contain a strong, well written love relationship that does NOT bore the reader.

4. Does it want to be my mate?

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Some of the most riveting, angst filled stories involve a you-want-me-but-I-don’t-want-you element. Many of us have either been on the receiving or the delivering end of a relationship like this so we can identify with the pain in this kind of story. Broken relationships just make good stories and an author that can relay this sort of angst in a way that is real and raw to the reader has created a novel that does NOT bore the reader.

5. Have I seen it before?

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This is the instinct we want to use against our readers. We want to use the primal tendency of fight or flight to excite our target group. When humans encounter something they’ve never seen before they either gawk in amazement or their bodies react to a surge of adrenaline released into the bloodstream. As authors, we’ll take either reaction! Adrenaline junkies fuel an entire industry! If you can give someone that sort of thrill on their couch at home, you have a novel that does NOT bore the reader, my friend. And if your novel is so novel (pardon the pun) that people stand and gawk, well, then you’re the next big thing and you’ve most definitely written something that does NOT bore your readers.

People write books that imitate the great ones. Authors like J.K Rowling, Stephanie Meyer and Suzanne Collins all had unique stories we’d never seen before or a new approach toward an old concept we never considered. These elements are what made their books interesting to readers that never considered reading Sci-Fi or Dystopian or Fantasy a day in their lives.

Am I saying you have to write a magic filled horror with an obscene love element to be a successful author? NO! Please don’t. I’m suggesting you use the very things that make us human to create a story that holds your reader’s interest and satisfies them on the deepest and most primal of levels. What are some different twists you can put on these 5 basic instincts that could be the next big story?

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU’VE GONE MANUSCRIPT BLIND

IMG_20130728_113951Perspective. It’s abstract yet it’s everything. It’s what keeps our writing fresh and makes it relevant. It’s what gives our stories that malleability to conform to whatever we want or need it to be and it’s what causes an agent to fall in love with or instantly disconnect with our work. Perspective is essential, yet if we lose it we are spinning our wheels in the proverbial mud that is our WIP. So how do we get it?

Make sure people are looking at your writing.

Many of us are quiet about our endeavors in writing. We tell ourselves we will be more outward with it when we are finally published. (Mostly because we’re tired of answering the question: “Oh, you write? Where is your book sold?”) But if we want to be able to answer that question with a resounding “BARNES AND NOBLE” then you have to let other people see your work. We lack the perspective as humans to stay objective toward our own work. We need a fresh eye and a different outlook. You might be influencing your characters to act the way you would in a certain situation while others would do it differently. Letting other people read our manuscript, opens us up to a whole new range of scenarios for our characters. Think of other people’s input on your MS as deposits into an idea bank. You don’ t have to spend them if you don’t want to but the ideas are there when you need them.

Contests

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Contests are not for the weak of heart. It can be discouraging when you don’t even make it passed the initial selection rounds, however, many contests come with fantastic (and not so fantastic) feedback from published authors, editors, bloggers and the reading public in general. I have been at the place where I worked so hard on a manuscript that the words didn’t even look like words anymore. I had gone manuscript blind. Perspective from contests (even when we don’t win the contest) give us insight to issues with the MS that we couldn’t see before.

Take Criticism

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If someone told you your baby was ugly you’d punch them in the face. Okay, maybe you wouldn’t but you sure as heck wouldn’t give them roses. Our manuscripts are our babies – our blood, sweat and tears – but we MUST learn to take criticism for them. After all, our readers are why we write and if they don’t “get it” then we aren’t doing our job. I say this with total subjectivity. Of course, we don’t write to please all readers but we must be open to change for the sake of the reader if  it’s not compromising our voice or the integrity of our work.

Take a step back for saturation’s sake!

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I know you would never abandon your child and that’s what it feels like when you walk away from a manuscript but sometimes taking a step back to work on another project for a while – and I mean a while – can bring all the perspective we need. It’s the best thing we can do for ourselves and the WIP.

What about you? How do you find perspective? I’d love to try your techniques.

Beta you wish you were better at self editing.

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I’m a writer for gosh sake. Grammatical blunders stand out to me like turds in a punch bowl. I can spot formatting errors on a manuscript on the sidewalk from the roof of the Willis Tower. (For your information, that’s the tallest building in the U.S.) I can detect a homophone misuse better than a shark smells blood in the water…UNLESS it’s in my own writing. Dadgum, this chaps my chassy! I just wish I could write something and edit it myself.

Don’t get me wrong I love, love, love my beta readers and the valuable criticism they give. Even if I wrote a squeaky clean novel, I would still give it to them for their input. However, the times I wish I didn’t need them are for the edits that don’t require a full rewrite. Any time I want to clean up some dialogue, add a scene or give a few more details I have to give puppy dog eyes to my betas so they’ll give it another look or in a perfect world give it to a whole new set so the MS is new and fresh to their eyes. That’s what it’s all about really – fresh eyes.

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The reason we are the worst editors for our manuscripts is we are saying the words before we even read them.

We know what it’s supposed to say. Heck, we have it memorized. Taking a month or two break from your MS can help with editing but that is so much harder to do than people think. The only way I can do that is by writing something else and putting it out of my mind for awhile.

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I’m guilty of it. I’ve made a few small changes before sending to an agent. I read it over. I had my husband read it over and it looked great. WHY….why oh why do we not see our typos until after we’ve hit the send button? Is it because we have to psych ourselves out to hit it in the first place? Don’t think just do, we say. Hit send. HIT IT NOW! Once it’s out there I think I’d rather not see the blasted blunders at all because I’m on the verge of vomiting for about three days after I realize I’ve launched my own personal blooper reel into someone’s slush pile.

The moral of the story is, sending a manuscript quickly never feels as good as sending a pristine one. Besides, we all know the turn around rate. It’s not like sending your MS quickly will merit you a thirty minute response.

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Do breathing exercises, have someone talk you down, relive nightmares from the past, whatever you have to do to make yourself send only when your manuscript is ready. Preachin’ to the choir here.

How about you? Have you ever sent too soon? Has mercy and grace abounded to you and you actually got a request from it? Please tell me it’s possible. Tell me your horror stories too! (Horror is one of the typos I sent in a query recently. Guhh!! Two R’s in horror. Finger slipped, spell correct failed me and I was too eager to hit send. Caught it seconds afterwards.)

Are you an MS abuser?

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We never really know when discouragement is going to come or what will bring it on. I’ve received plenty of rejections and most days I can just twitch my shoulders and chalk it up to subjectivity. But other days a rejection can feel like someone just tossed me a bag of concrete I wasn’t ready for.  I’ve been catching concrete this week.

Why all of the sudden, you ask, are rejections so hard to take? I entered a contest recently and got some wonderful feedback on my latest MS. Good criticism equals lots of work and sometimes it’s hard to pull up your sleeves and dive back into a manuscript you thought was finished…but then again, what am I if I don’t? I’ve been so tempted just to move on and start another novel with hopes this one will be the one that won’t draw a single rejection, though I only started sending out queries for this MS in May and have had more request for it than any other I’ve written. But what is my writing if I don’t make it better when I know it can be?

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Walking away from a manuscript when you’re weary is like neglecting a child when she’s being more trying than usual.

When we feel like abandoning our latest novel in a bassinet on the front steps of the closest orphanage for unloved manuscripts we need to find a way to get excited about approaching our work from a different angle. View it as a new project all together and if you are lucky enough to have some good criticism to get you started then break it down piece by piece and get the most out of it. This is an opportunity to make your story whatever you want it to be all over again without having to spend months drumming up another 80K words. The bulk of your story is there; just squish it between your fingers and mold it into the new, shiny, better MS I know you can write.

Here are some ways you can renew your excitement for writing.

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1. Read! Pick up a new book. Get excited about it and think about how you can bring some of that excitement to your own writing.

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2. Change things up. Sometimes trying the same query with the same manuscript that keeps pulling in rejections over and over is a bit like beating your head against the wall. Rework your query from a different angle. Or maybe work on the story itself. Write a few new exciting scenes for your novel or rework old ones. Run them by your editor and see if they might improve the story. Think of your main character from a different perspective. Maybe even change their name. 

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3. Read success stories of authors who’ve been rejected tens of hundreds of times like this one for encouragement. See what they did and didn’t do to get their work out there.

What do you think? If you have fears that maybe there’s just not a market for your novel or you think you’ve got an idea for a better story do you move on or do you make perfection out of it before you walk away and if no one picks it up, at least you knew it was your best work?

Holding my bowels, sketch pencils and recognizing Gateway Talents

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As I meet new artist I find we have one thing in common and if we don’t it’s only because they don’t know we have it in common yet. I hate generalizations as much as the next person but it is becoming exceedingly apparent to me that artists are artistic in general.  I had a pencil and a sketch pad in my hand from the moment I could voluntarily hold my bowels. I’ve always had an artist’s heart however I distinctly remember people complimenting  my work as a child and thinking, well, all I can really do is sketch. Just a few short years into MY THIRTIES brought me the courage I needed to try other things like painting, photography, playing the guitar and finally writing. They say nicotine is the gateway drug to the hard stuff. For me, a charcoal sketch pencil was my gateway to writing. I’m not saying I’m done with all the other “hobbies” (Oooo I hate that word. They are so much more than hobbies! Especially when they become lucrative.) I still do all of them regularly and they are a huge part of my life but I would have never found one without the other.

Perhaps you are an artist with a single talent, one thing you’re really good at, but you’ve somehow conned yourself into believing that is the only thing you can do.

Could I please oh, please give you some advice you didn’t ask for? Here are some things you can do to recognize where your Gateway Talents are taking you. But we’re going to have to start from the very beginning and what better way to preface this than with some adorable photos of a newborn I just snapped on a photo shoot a few weeks ago?

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NUMORO UNO:  You need to be comfortable in the saddle.

You are never ever, I mean never as in the discovery of the Fountain of Youth never or VHS tapes making a comeback never or gas being 99 cents a gallon ever again never, going to move out of your artistic comfort zone until you are comfortable calling yourself an artist. No matter your craft, albeit wood sculpting, poetry, mosaic or oil painting, if you can’t admit you’re an artist you will never move forward in that respect or any other.

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Number Two…What’s that? You need a second to take in the grossly adorable gaucho on the painted pony. I KNOW!  He is so cute. This picture was both fun and terrifying to take. Don’t worry. Mom is crouched behind the horse supporting him.

Okay, Number Two: Brace yourself for the ride.

Once you can admit you’re an artist don’t assume you will suddenly be endowed with skin as thick as armadillo’s hide and the confidence of a honey badger. (Wildly audacious beasts by the way. You must read up on them.) In the beginning, your heart will be crushed by rejection and equally bruised when people don’t get your work but there will be that moment where you’re like, “Oh my Mayonnaise! I don’t do this for them. I do it for me. I do it for the ones who DO get it.”  And that moment, my friend, will be like the relief you feel after having a baby. Don’t know what that feels like? Well, it’s a little like having an 18 wheeler removed off of your lungs and bladder. For the first time in what feels like a lifetime, you can take a deep breath but now you have this new creation in your hands. That’s what that moment feels like.

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Then there’s graduation. Granted it’s only from Kindergarten because as an artist you’re never going to arrive. There’s a reason for that. We won’t let ourselves. There will always be something more amazing we can create and we can’t rest until we try it.

What about you? Are you at Numoro Uno? Can you admit that you are an artist yet? Or perhaps you are moving on to the next Gateway Talent. What is it? Pray tell. Can’t wait to hear from you.