Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Building a Character from the Inside Out

Did you ever watch the Bravo series, Inside the Actor’s Studio? Before the major network bought the station and ruined it, that is? I used to love to listen to actors describe how they built their characters from the inside out, getting to know every little quirk and nuance, building a complex backstory so they could throw it all away once they stepped inside that character’s skin. In this way, the actor knew instinctively how that character would react in any given situation and would, in effect, become the character.
That’s the most effective way to write from a character’s point of view. Build your character’s history, know the habits and traits and make up the person inside, the quirks that set the character apart from the norm. Then step inside that character’s skin and write.
A workshop at the Greater Lehigh Valley Writer’s Conference a few years ago, a session leader advised attendees to close our eyes, sit in a darkened room, if necessary, to get into the moment with the character. Visualize the scene in every detail. Have your protagonist enter the room and voila, a scene emerges. A jumping-off point.
Bestselling author Noah Lukeman (The First Five Pages, The Plot Thickens) provides a few more exercises in his article, Characterization – The Inner Life. To make your character authentic, you must know not only who s/he is, but how s/he would react in any given situation. The true character of the person as exhibited by his/her actions. And thoughts, because for the reader to be invested in your story – truly engaged – the reader must know the character’s feelings.
Presenting the protagonist’s character to the reader is another matter. Brandi Reissenweber’s article, Character Filters, explains that focusing on a particular aspect of that character will help move along the story, and deepen your reader’s understanding of him/her. As she cautions, though, don’t make it the entire perspective, or else you’ll end up with a protagonist who comes across as one-sided, or worse.
Life is complex. Make your characters the same. Dig deep, and it will pay off for your readers. And yourself as a writer.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

My first reader review!

I found this on the Wild Rose Press site today - how exciting!

Cinderella Dreams [Rose Petal]

Cinderella Dreams is a sweet, emotional story that held my attention the whole way through, and made me smile several times. I love the characters, especially the hero, who drew me in from the first moment he appeared.
Wendy Davy

Wow, thanks, Wendy! It was a fun story to write.

September is Vintage Rose month at the Wild Rose site. Cinderella Dreams (are tough to shake) is a free read - go on over and download yours now! Other Vintage Rose titles are discounted ten percent in September, too. What a great way to get acquainted with some of the other great Wild Rose authors!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The future of book publishing

In 2006, Forbes magazine predicted the death of books, to paraphrase Mark Twain, was greatly exaggerated. According to its research, people were reading more, not less.
This bears out in 2008 as well. But in what format will they survive?
In June, Publishers Weekly reported that electronic stories have boosted readership and sales. It specifically mentioned Wild Rose Press, where I have several stories due out soon, as having more success rather than less.
Apparently New York Magazine thinks the bell is already tolling for traditional publishing, as it describes in its article, The End.
But is e-publishing a good deal for authors? An article in Conde Nast’s Portfolio called Engineering the Risk out of Book Publishing explains the idea behind HarperCollins’ new unit, HarperStudio. Not having had a book published (yet!), I have no frame of reference so can’t render any personal pearls of wisdom, but merely pass on what others have said. For instance, author L.J. Sellers sees it as a positive move. Her blog even caught the attention of a HarperCollins exec, who rebutted another’s comment that the move would cheat authors, saying HarperStudios still allows up to $100,000 in advances and pays fifty percent of the net profits.
Delivery systems such as Sony’s E-Reader and Amazon’s Kindle have made e-books portable, further boosting their appeal. And not just for erotica, as Publishers Weekly seems to think.
It certainly seems as if e-books will be a serious competitor, if not overtake, traditional publishing. The Telegraph UK’s 2007 article, Electronic books the future of publishing, states that the Booker Prize Foundation intended to release ebook versions of the shortlisted book titles, though it laments that (as of Oct. 2007) ebook readers had not yet become available in the UK.
In Galleycat’s blog, author Bill Tancer has some intriguing ideas about what data culled from the Internet might reveal to publishers (watch the video).
I’m no expert, but I think nothing can be ruled out, at this point. If readers want more interactive content, as Tancer says, then there are many more avenues for publishers – and authors – to pursue. Some of which are already done today, such as books being remade into video games. So who knows where it will all end up? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Delicate Art of Writing A Critique

Listening to a critique of your writing can be hard. If it’s particularly hard-hitting, you might be tempted to lash back at the critiquer. Maybe you're considering buying a voodoo doll and taking pleasure in imagining the excruciating pain each needle causes as you insert it into your critiquer-victim.
Stop right there. You’re only harming yourself. It’s rare that a critiquer will aim his or her opinion at you personally. If s/he does, then by all means, disregard it. It has no relevance to your writing, and that is the objective, always: to improve your story.
And you know how difficult it can be, sometimes, to present your view of a story in a way that won’t offend. Especially if that story isn’t well thought out. Temper your constructive criticism with a generous dose of tact.
If you need guidance on how to write a critique that will provide the best possible constructive criticism, check out E-How’s article on How to Critique in Fiction Writing Workshops.
I follow these steps myself. Line editing is helpful for catching errors in grammar, pointing out word choices that perhaps don’t quite work, or typos. The overall critique is helpful for analyzing characters (are they two-dimensional stereotypes, or fleshed-out and believable?), story arc (does enough conflict occur? Is the protagonist’s journey realistic – whether the story is literary or fantasy or romance, this is a must.), point of view (if there’s head-hopping, is it intentional, and well done?), setting (do you feel as if you’re floating in outer space with these characters, or grounded in a place with authentic details?). It’s where you can point out logistical holes in the story – anything that makes you ask, wait a minute, how did the protagonist manage to do that? A plot point that doesn’t quite make sense.
Avoid vague general statements such as “I don’t like it.” Perhaps you didn’t, and maybe that was a completely personal take. It’s not helpful to the author, because maybe for every person that doesn’t like the story, twenty others do. What the author needs to hear are specific reasons. Legitimate reasons, based on established ideals relating to story structure, character development, and so on.
If you need further help, look to published critiques by recognized authors such as Isaac Asimov’s Cosmic Critiques: How and Why Ten Science Fiction Stories Work.
Even if you’re not a scifi writer, the method of breaking down a story into its various elements is universal. Learning the steps of writing a great story will also help you recognize the critical elements necessary to any story. An excellent guide to story structure is Madison Smartt Bell’s Narrative Design, which provides stories, and then analyzes each by plot, character, tone, dialogue, imagery and description, point of view, design and more. The more in-depth your own writing is, the better you will recognize what’s lacking in others’.
Happy writing!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Keep It Unreal; Value of Critiques

In the various critique groups and workshops I’ve taken this past decade or so, one of the biggest pitfalls for writers seemed to be basing a story on an actual event. Oftentimes, translating the event into fiction fell flat, for whatever reason: perhaps the author saw it too clearly in her head and didn’t convey enough detail. Perhaps being too close to an event doesn’t give a writer enough perspective on it to fully describe it for a reader. Despite arguments of, “but it really happened!,” many times the story just didn’t work.
Gotham Writers’ Workshop instructor Susan Breen’s article, Turning Real Life Into Fiction, provides some helpful advice for altering fact into believable fiction.
Still, using actual events – and real people – can jeopardize relationships if those people are not particularly keen on exposing either the event or themselves. First, using a real person can muddy the waters when you compile a list of personality traits, as described in my earlier post. If that person can identify himself or herself in your story, and you’ve added some other qualities s/he doesn’t care for, then it can backfire in your personal life.
I avoid using anyone I know in my writing, whether a relative or close friend or even an acquaintance. What is helpful is noting particular personality quirks or traits that cannot be traced to one person alone, but will work in your story.
Using real life elements can also reflect poorly on you as a writer, if not done well. In one workshop I attended, another woman’s story centered on a critique group in which that woman’s writing was not well received. In this “fiction,” the woman left a bag full of dog poop on the critiquer’s home doorstep. Well! You can be sure I was especially careful with my wording of her story critiques!
And that’s a shame, to close yourself off to honest opinions intended to help you better your story. Critiques can be tough to listen to, but if you can’t be open to the opinions of your writing partners, how will you be able to take it from an editor? Check your emotion at the door and take the advice as it’s offered. Or not – that’s the beauty of critiques. Sometimes others give you good advice, sometimes it’s not in line with what you had in mind for your story. But the fact that another person didn’t understand something in your story should throw up a red flag.
If you don’t want to hear – or give – critiques face-to-face, try an online group, such as Zoetrope, or Critique Circle or The Internet Writing Workshop. Google critiques, writing and you’ll find plenty.
So keep writing. But never make it personal. And keeping it unreal will help your fictional characters to come alive on the page.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Also appearing at...

I'm also blogging today at Miss Make a Movie - come on over and join the fun!

My free read is up!

My free read, Cinderella Dreams (are tough to shake) is now online at The Wild Rose Press! Check out the book trailer below, then head on over to www.thewildrosepress.com to download your free copy!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My second cover from The Wild Rose Press!

Funny how getting something good in your email can brighten up a dreary day. This morning I received the cover art for my story, The Duende and the Muse, to be released by The Wild Rose Press.

Another outstanding cover art work by Nicola Martinez! Thanks so much, Nicola!

This story's one of my favorites, since it's about a frustrated writer. But the main characters are Melinda the Muse, who's also frustrated with the writer, and Devon, a duende, or demon muse.

Here is the story blurb:
Melinda the Muse's student isn't writing much these days. When Devon the duende shows up, is he there to steal her student, or her heart?

And here is a sneak preview:
Melinda is startled when she notices a dark figure leaning against a booth across the aisle. He stands out like a charcoal etching against the background of clouds – harsh outlines, jagged features. Menacing yet compelling. He smiles, and lightning flashes from his dazzling white teeth, zinging through her.
She’s never seen a muse like him, but he must be one – otherwise he wouldn’t be here. He wouldn’t be stepping toward her with the intensity of a jaguar, a laserlight in his eye, teeth bared in a hungry smile.
This guy looks like a Vanity Fair ad – layered hair mussed just so, sandals with a jacket and jeans that fit really well. She runs her hand across her belly to quell the tiny pinpricks. She’s been so busy with work lately, she hasn’t met anyone new.
“Who’s that?” Her wings can’t beat fast enough to cool the heat rising from deep inside her.
Calliope turns to Euterpe. “Oh my. How did he get in here?”
Euterpe squints in his direction, then furrows her brow. “A duende. They’ll let anyone in these days.”
That explains it. Melinda’s heard of them -- said to be a combination of charm, magic, inspiration, fire, magnetism – and demon. Muses were warned at an early age not to take up with duendes. Tales of muse-duende liaisons were fraught with disaster and downfall – for the muse. Duendes managed to carry on unscathed, though their methods of inspiration could be deadly for their students.
The thought vanishes quicker than a flicker of sunlight on water as he moves toward her and says hello in a voice whose timbre resounds within her.
“Hi.” She stares, entranced by his dark beauty.
His smile envelops her. “I’m Devon.”
She extends her hand. “I’m Melinda. So nice to meet you.” Fire sparks in her fingers as he takes her hand in his, then leans to kiss it.
A tingling crawls up her arms and neck and into her head, where it scrambles her thoughts.
His gaze lingers on her lips, and they quiver open like a rosebud blooming in sunlight.
His voice is like a hot wind in the desert. “The pleasure’s all mine.”
Oh, she doubts it. “Are you here for the entire weekend?”
His glittering black eyes wander across her body, sending a shiver of molten heat to her core.
Oh, she’s in trouble. Deep trouble.
A smile flickers on his lips. “Now I wish I were. I have other business, unfortunately.”
Her voice wilts like a thirsty flower. “I’m sorry to hear that.” She clears her throat. “You know, because the sessions look so enticing this year.”
“Yes, enticing.” He leans closer, close enough to kiss her. The center of his eyes swirl like a gathering storm.
“Melinda,” Euterpe croaks. “The first session is beginning. You should get a good seat.”
Melinda’s more stern than she intends. “I’ll be right there.”
Devon backs away, one bare foot at a time. “Enjoy MuseFest. Maybe I’ll see you around.”
Yes, yes, please, Zeus.
“Maybe.” She follows Calliope and Euterpe to the tented area where signs blink the schedule and announcements.
He’s still watching her. She can tell by the heat traveling up her thighs.
When it fades, she glances back. He’s gone.
The cloud feels so much emptier, though muses teem through the air.

Friday, September 5, 2008

E-Piracy Spreads

Since my last post on this subject, apparently more people have taken advantage - literally - of writers by sharing e-stories illegally. Writers' organizations have stepped up to make a stand against such piracy, and are working with the FBI. I came across this warning on an author's site:
E-piracy hurts writers and is punishable by a $250,000 fine and up to five years in jail. Please don't do business with e-pirates for both of our sakes.
I echo her plea.