Engaging your reader

It’s Friday! Welcome to the GWN blog. Today we have Mary Marvella talking about engaging your reader.

Here’s Mary!

I gave my first ever workshop to a group of writers early in June. I did my first ever PowerPoint presentation.  I do not play well with computers or other technical stuff, but I managed to create slides of participants’ beginnings with my comments and suggestions added.  Most of the writers made the same mistakes. They summarized.  They didn’t draw me in or make me care. When I explained they needed to create scenes so I could experience them with their characters, the writers seemed surprised.

When you have a story to tell you need to decide who is telling the story and how that character feels. Then you must show me how that character feels, hears, smells and tastes.

Example:

Billy was always in trouble.  Telling.

When Billy wasn’t tying his daddy’s shoes laces together while he slept, he tormented the cats by tying bells around their necks.  Showing some.

Billy crept up on his daddy sleeping in his recliner and snoring away. Daddy smells like cigarettes and sweat.  As carefully as he could, Billy tied the stained tennis shoe laces, glancing up to make sure no one was watching him. His stomach did a funny dance until he finished. Still silent but laughing inside, he slipped  around a corner and waited.

Do you want to know what happened?  Not telling.

Even memoirs needed scenes.

Stories and nonfiction books must have take aways to make me want to read.  If I can’t relate to the feelings of the characters or the author in some way, I will stop reading. I must feel there is a message for me somewhere in the pages, even with children’s stories, or especially in children’s stories.

As an editor, I need to feel something as I read. Let me into someone’s head or I’ll be bored.  Engage me and I’ll read all night!

Check out Mary’s website: www.MaryMarvella.com
Mary blogs here: www.pinkfuzzyslipperwriters.blogspot.com

Cindy here again! 

Thanks for being here, Mary! The third example was definitely more engaging.

Happy writing!

 

Cindy

Stories with spine

Welcome to the GWN blog! We’ve got a great post today from guest Jayne Barnard about stories with spine.

Here’s Jayne!

Any story, whether long or short, literary or genre, staged or sung or read aloud, has a plot. The plot, or the dramatic action, is composed not only of actual actions, but also the motives for those actions. Motives arise from inside characters; actions take place outside them, in locations. Organizing characters, actions, and motives into suitable locations, and then setting them in the highest-impact order, can seem confusing and overwhelming.

Think of the story as an animal: a hamster if it’s a flash fiction, a brontosaurus for a very long novel. What the shortest and longest of animals have in common is a spine, a series of vertebrae, through which the nerves flow as one continuous unit. In a story, the nerves are the through-lines: characters and questions that draw the reader along from beginning to end. The vertebrae are individual scenes in that longer story, protecting the through-lines while presenting the necessary actions and motivations to readers in a logical and entertaining order.

So what is a scene? At its most basic, a scene is action that takes place at one time, in one place, and moves the story along convincingly to the next plot element. It is, in effect, a single small story in a stream of small stories, each revealing an action, one or more motives, and something of the characters.

As a complete story in itself, a scene has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A vertebrae has a beginning (flanges), a middle (the smooth ring of thick bone), and an end (different flanges that interlock with the beginning of the next vertebrae). The story’s beginning flange is a reason for the characters to be at that place at that time. The action in a previous scene (or in off-page back story) brought these characters to this place at this time; the action in this scene will bring the same characters, or other ones, to a new place and/or time where a new scene will start.

In a beginning, some small action or line of dialogue raises a question in the reader’s mind, gives the characters a reason to interact with each other, and sets the scene rolling. The action might be as small as Character A ringing a doorbell. As over-used as this example is (much like answering the telephone or waking from sleep), it instantly raises two questions: what Character A is doing at this door, and who will answer the bell?

The middle of the scene advances and protects the core of the story. What grows the strong middle is conflict. Each character wants something, even if it is only to be left alone by another character. The conflict between their wants knits the scene together. Assume Character A wants answers to a question. Character B doesn’t want to give them. B evades or lies. A presses. B repeats or changes his earlier response. Sometimes one of them appears to be gaining, only to have a reversal occur that puts the other ahead.

The beauty and challenge of the middle is not to make it too easy, either for the characters or the reader. Keep the reader guessing. Entice them to use all they have learned about the characters and the core story up to this point, to try to figure out who will win this small struggle. The more the reader invests in an outcome, the stronger the middle will be.

The end is the payoff for the character’s – and the reader’s – efforts. Did A get his answer? Did the reader guess right, or wrong? Perhaps neither A nor B achieves their goal. That type of ending is the most frustrating for readers, but can be the most compelling. Use it too often, or too obviously, and the reader’s frustration will outweigh their engagement with the larger story. However it ends, there must be flanges to hook onto the next scene: new questions arising from the answers received, new places to go, new ideas to be incorporated or old ones eliminated.

At its simplest, a scene is action that takes place at one time, in one place, and moves the story along convincingly. At its most complex, a scene also sets a mood, reveals hidden aspects of character, delves deeper into the larger story’s central question, and has enough dramatic tension to draw the reader’s eyes forward almost without their conscious awareness. In theatre, the writer provides the dialogue and a few action cues; the rest is provided by actors, set designers, lighting and costume technicians. In prose, the writer provides all of the above. The intensity or apathy with which the point-of-view character notices his surroundings can incorporate all the work done by set and lighting on a stage; the clothing a character wears reveals much about them to the other characters and to the reader. Light, dark, sight, sound, scent, texture, and colour all help to evoke a mood, reveal a character, and enhance awareness of the central story question.

If you can build a single solid scene with a beginning, middle and end, you can write any length of story. Make each scene, each small story, as strong as it can possibly be, linking it to the one before and leading to the one following, and there is no limit to what you can achieve: flash fictions with a single strong vertebrae, short stories with four to ten, novellas and novels with as many as you need. They’re all built on the length and strength of the spine.

Photo credit:  Cliff Erasmus

Photo credit: Cliff Erasmus

Calgary author Jayne Barnard has been writing award-winning short fiction for more than twenty years. Recent stories, such as the Bony Pete-winning “Each Canadian Son,” focus on mystery and suspense, often with a historical setting. A BA in Theatre and three summers writing and acting for children gave her a deep appreciation for the power and beauty possible in a single scene. Stringing many scenes together gave rise to “When the Bow Breaks,” a novel-length crime manuscript that was shortlisted for the Unhanged Arthur in Canada and is now shortlisted for the Debut Dagger in the UK.  Like her Facebook page for a chance to win dagger-themed prizes.  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jayne-Barnard-Author/466822683406124

Cindy here again!

Thanks for being here, Jayne. Great post. I’m going to have to go take a look at my scenes again.

Happy writing!

 

Cindy

Never give up

Welcome back to the GWN blog! We’ve got poet Jo Anne Myers here today talking about not giving up on your artistic talent.

Here’s Jo Anne!

my photo apr 2011For as long as I can remember, I have had an artistic flare-whether that be for writing, painting, sewing or drawing. I recall as a child how much I enjoyed drawing. The writing came later. My seventh grade English teacher was Mrs. Henderson-a young mother and wife. She gave us a writing assignment and after gifting me with an A+ told me I should consider writing as a career. She meant as a journalist. I did not take her advice to become a journalist (one of my many misgivings). My mind went toward other things as many young girls dream of-a husband, home, and family of my own. I put my love for writing and painting on hold for years. I unfortunately married a man who like my mother never encouraged me to be artistic. It was not until my children were grown and I no longer had a husband, that I went back to my first love-art. I got a late start, but always encouraged my children and others to partake of artistic endeavors. I now have four books under contract with Melange Books, and three publishing houses vying for my biography true crime novel, “The Crime of the Century.” So my words to you all, is that no matter what road you choose, never forget your passion, and always keep it close to heart. Don’t let anyone or anything stop you from enjoying your natural talents. You might need to put art on a temporary hold, but don’t ever give up on it.

Poetry Cover
My newly released poetry collection, “Poems About Life, Love, and Everything in Between” is a poetry collection that provides a glimpse into the heart, mind and soul, of its author. It is a heartwarming read, written with love and respect for others. Some poems were written in times of sorrow, other poems were written in times of joyous celebration. Life if like that.

“Poems About Life, Love, and Everything in Between,” is available at

http://www.amazon.com/dp/147837022x

My upcoming novels from Melange Books are:
“WICKED INTENTIONS” a paranormal/mystery anthology
“LOVES’, MYTHS’ AND MONSTERS’,” a fantasy anthology
“FLAGITIOUS,” a crime and paranormal novella collection

Other books soon available:

“THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY,” a biography true-crime
“TWISTED LOVE,” a true-crime anthology
A poem from Jo Anne:

SOMETHING EVIL STIRS

Something evil stirs in my town.
A growing unrest.
A defiant unease, a growing anxiety.
Moving ever so softly, like whispers on the wind.

This thing comes swiftly.
No warning-as silent as breath.
Drenched in malice, it nears.
A friend to chaos, sloth and death.

So quick-a malignant mass.
Leaving behind the useless and morally dead.
So forceful, that many become chaff.
Consuming everything within my town.

It fed well-as always.
Until the next time-devouring all.
Slipping into homes, like fog on the bay.
Youthful disenchantment suffocates all.

Beware the beast is red as fire.
A mass of hate and poison.
Our dictators battle the war with little success,
for the King and his court, squabble like school boys.

Only harmony will sooth the beast.
A legion of unity, to succeed is needed.
Something evil stirs.
I am ready-standing tall and strong.

I draw strength from within.
Honor rules my mind.
Courage stirs my desire to win.
For the beast is-procrastination.

About Jo Anne: Jo Anne hails from the famous Hocking Hills region of southeastern Ohio. She has worked in the blue-collar industry most of her life. Besides having several novels under her belt, she also canvass paints.  When not busy with hobbies or working outside the home, she spends time with relatives, her dogs Jasmine and Scooter, and volunteers her time within the community. She is a member of the Hocking Hill’s Arts and Craftsmen Association, The Hocking County Historical Society and Museum, and the Hocking Hills Regional Welcome Center. She believes in family values and following your dreams.

Visit Jo Anne’s website: http://www.booksandpaintingsbyjoanne.com
Visit Jo Anne’s Blog: http://www.booksandpaintingsbyjoanne.com/page2

Cindy here again!

Great message, Jo Anne. It’s a reminder to me to get back to my painting as well. I miss it.

Happy writing!

 

 

Cindy

Writing convincing villains

Welcome back to the GWN blog! To end the week we’ve got Melanie Atkins here talking about creating convincing villains.

Here’s Melanie!

Melanie Atkins1Thanks for hosting me today. I really appreciate the opportunity to share with you about some of my favorite characters: Villains.

Villains are characters we all love to hate. They raise our blood pressure and keep us on the edges of our seats. They can also make or break a story. When I hear the word villain, I think of evil, followed closely by vicious and cunning, and I immediately picture Hannibal Lector, the king of all villains, and Ralph Fiennes’ creepy, convoluted character in Red Dragon, a man whose utter brutality puts Jack the Ripper to shame. To me, those two signify the epitome of evil; they are both sick, twisted men with an inherent drive to kill — and in Lector’s case, to taste his victims’ flesh.


Of course, all villains aren’t psychopathic serial killers. Many are mob bosses, drug lords, lunatics, dirty cops, evil co-workers, ghosts, or even demons (in paranormal mysteries or suspense) …whatever works for each particular story. No matter the nature of the villain, however, his or her character must be just as deep and well-developed as that of the hero and/or heroine.

Important points to consider:

  • All characters have a history. Why does a psychopath kill? Did the mob boss takeover the “family” by force, or did he inherit his position? What single event shaped the villain’s life? Does he despise his mother because she locked him out of the house night after night so she could spend time with an endless stream of men? Did he watch his sister die? Or did he find his brother’s body after he overdosed on crack cocaine? One must know the answers to these questions and more before starting to write. Making a villain shallow and lifeless or using a caricature in his place can kill a good book.
  • Do your research. If your villain is a psychopath, make him believable. I highly recommend reading Roy Hazelwood’s Dark Dreams and The Evil that Men Do and Mind Hunter by John Douglas. If your villain is a mob boss, learn about the Mafia — but don’t impart too much information. You want to make your story real, but dropping in too much detail will slow the pace and bog down the plot. Keep it simple.
  • Villains may be inherently evil, but they still possess good traits. The serial killer stocking shelves at the local drug store might love dogs or enjoy watching flowers grow. The mob boss intent on taking over the hero’s business may also love opera. Or the drug lord importing cocaine and funneling it into a major city might be doing so in order to allow his wife to travel once they retire. Don’t forget to make your villain a complete person…it will deepen them and make their character much more interesting to the reader.
  • Evil characters also have principles. The best villains draw a line and refuse to cross it. A serial rapist in one of my books attacks women, but also states that he doesn’t do children. Another villain feels sorry for his captive and gives her water when she’s thirsty. His empathy for her grows even deeper once he learns she’s a rape victim like his sister, and he’s tempted to let her go. Still another kills to uphold his family’s honor and breaks down when forced to shoot his own brother. Villains are people with emotions…just like you and me. Make them real, and reap the benefits.
  • Looks can be deceptive. Evil often wears a pretty face — think Ted Bundy. The handsome, cheerful boy-next-door who mows lawns for extra money might also be a knife-toting, anger-filled serial rapist who stalks women late at night when the moon is full. Or the assistant chief of police could be using his job as cover while importing heroin into the country to sell to the very people he’s sworn to serve and protect. Or the smiling, perky do-gooder in the office down the hall who secretly covets your hero’s job might do anything to get it, including falsifying records and setting your hero up as the bad guy. These scenarios are intriguing and make the villains seem real.

 

  • Even evil men need a goal. Give your villain something for which to fight, such as a strong desire for notoriety or admiration, a need to right a wrong, either real or perceived, or the urge to gain a feeling of self-worth. He may seem to only be after money, but his need for it must go deep. Give him a good reason to kill, steal, rape, haunt, or stalk.
  • Villains must engage the hero and heroine in a battle of wills. He must be a worthy opponent who grows more cunning as the book progresses. In order to ratchet up the suspense, one must put good vs. evil in an escalating battle that results in the ultimate climax. A shootout, a fight to the death using hand-to-hand combat, or maybe even a frightening car chase filled with chills, danger, and excitement. You and I both know that good will prevail, but it’s important to keep the reader guessing.
  • Romantic suspense requires a happy ending. Make sure that good prevails and that the villain pays for his crimes — maybe even with his life. Be sure to avoid melodrama and make his demise believable. If he doesn’t die, send him to prison or make him suffer in some other awful way. Don’t let him simply disappear. You want to give the reader closure. (Unless, of course, you plan to write a sequel and decide to allow your villain to escape, like in Silence of the Lambs).

Keeping the above list in mind, write to your strengths and do whatever is necessary to keep the action moving and to make your story believable. If your serial killer has no soft edges, so be it. Not every person can be redeemed. Your story is just that: Your story.

Develop your characters, do your research, and create villains worthy of fighting your heroes and heroines — and you’ll have stories people will clamor to read. Remember our friend Hannibal Lector, the villain everyone loves to hate? The man is pure evil. Yet he makes that book all the more believable because he is so real. He’ll never be forgotten, and neither will your villains — if you do your homework before sitting down to write.

I did my best to make the psychotic villain in my latest single title release, Blood Bound, as creepy and realistic as possible. He’s a serial murderer with serious issues, mainly thanks to his not-so-loving mother.

Blurb:

BloodBoundCoverArt72dpiFueled by grief after his fiancée is brutally murdered, Detective Sam Walker focuses on finding her killer — a calculating predator who binds books with human skin.  Dani Barrington, the newest member of NOPD’s Victim and Witness Assistance Unit and a survivor of another frightening attack, helps him discover the terrifying link between the monster’s known victims.  Despite his anguish, Sam is struck by Dani’s strength and determination, especially when her inquisitive  nature makes her the killer’s next target.  He must find a way to protect her or risk losing the one woman who can bring his dead heart back to life.

 

The book is available at the stores below and at many other online outlets:

 

Desert Breeze Publishing: http://bit.ly/YK0XZe
Amazon: http://amzn.to/11YpUFM
B & N: http://bit.ly/XuKnAj

Visit Melanie’s website: www.melanieatkins.com

Cindy here again!

Great tips, Melanie. The serial killer in my current WIP loves cats.

Happy writing!

Cindy

Resources to Help You Tap That Emotion

Welcome back to the GWN blog! Today’s post is from C. Hope Clark about one of the most important aspects of writing. Emotion.

Here’s Hope!

Your character is hiding, and the antagonist knows she’s hiding. He’s speaking to her, taunting her, trying to make her commit to revealing where she is. He’s standing here. She’s standing there. Now . . . how do you show the fear without her saying, “I am so afraid!”

Writers fight hard to demonstrate sincere, realistic, credible emotion in their writing. The type of emotion that makes one cry, scream, or cringe at the words on the page is not lightly written. Many writers miss the mark by not rewriting enough times, or miss the opportunity to really milk a scene by hurrying to reach their word count when slowing down, breathing deep and reaching way down inside themselves can make a good moment turn great in a story.

How do master writers master their displays of emotion into stories? Are they that in tune with their feelings? Are they that sensitive? Emotions initially emanate from an author’s heart, but the interpretation of that feeling into the best words isn’t as easy as it looks.  That’s why writers today often fall back onto resource guides for hints on how to write emotion more keenly, precisely, or memorably.

As an author and a freelance writer, I’ve learned to use several emotional guidebooks to generate better beats, thoughts, or behaviors for my characters, stories, and features. Yes, my regular thesaurus could fill the bill, but the following guides make the job a bit easier, especially when you aren’t sure which word to look up.

The Emotional Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression – by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

Written by two authors of mainly the young adult genre, The Emotional Thesaurus jumpstarts your efforts to nail the right emotion. Take the example above. The emotion is Fear. Flip to the page for Fear and you’ll find its definition, physical signals of fear, internal sensations of fear, mental reactions, cues of acute or long-term fear, and cues of suppressed fear. Using examples from The Emotional Thesaurus, under Fear, our protagonist can: have her hands turn clammy, gasp in pain, flinch at a noise, shake, get dizzy or blind rapidly. She senses things moving too quickly to process or has flawed reasoning. She could fight the fear with a smile, overreact with anger or reply in a joking manner. So many options for such an outstanding key moment!

Building Believable Characters – by Marc McCutcheon

Writer’s Digest Books released this guide over a dozen years ago, but it’s still a grand source of character revelation, used by thousands. It leads you how to develop your characters, to include a thorough questionnaire. However, the bulk of the book consists of a Character Thesaurus, with 35 pages assigned to Facial Expressions, Body and Vocal Language. Learn which words and mannerisms best depict a particular emotion. Let’s use Fear again, relating back to the example. Our protagonist can stare saucer-eyed, stare catatonically, turn ashen, twitch facial muscles, or sense a wave welling up from her belly. The wonderful part about this book is that you not only learn emotional triggers, but you also gain tips on describing dress, personality, face and body, dialect, homes and names to best represent your character.

Writer’s Guide to Character Traits – by Dr. Linda Edelstein

This guide tends to get into character descriptions, but its format lends itself to emotional study as well. Learn how characters can react and display their emotions when it comes to being criminal, being sexual, being an adult, being a child, facing hard decisions, entering love, reacting to sudden change, using verbal vs. nonverbal communication. See how your character would react to varied situations, or what would drive her to abnormal behavior.

Readers read stories for the emotional tug. The best plot and the most complex characters mean nothing without the reader feeling the words. A thesaurus is a must-have, of course, and serves your purpose most of the time, but the time will come when a synonym won’t do. You want phrasing, visuals, and reactions as well. That’s why you need an emotional reference guide at the ready. And, of course, be willing to mark them up and dog-ear the pages. These are guides that remain on your writing resource shelf for as long as you’re in this business to write a solid tale.

BIO:

C. Hope Clark is author of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series (Lowcountry Bribe, 2012; Tidewater Murder, 2013; Palmetto Poison, 2014), published by Bell Bridge Books. She is also founder of FundsforWriters.com, selected by Writer’s Digest for its 101 Best Websites for Writers for the past 13 years. Her newsletters reach 40,000 readers each week. www.fundsforwriters.com / www.chopeclark.com

TWITTER – http://twitter.com/hopeclark
FACEBOOK – http://www.facebook.com/chopeclark
GOODREADS – http://www.goodreads.com/hopeclark
PINTEREST – http://www.pinterest.com/chopeclark

Cindy here again!

Great resources! Thanks so much for being here. Checked out your Twitter bio. My fiancé is a MENSA member too.

Happy writing!

 

Cindy

Gordon’s 50-Year-Long Bullfight

Hi everyone! Thanks for stopping by the GWN blog. Today Gordon Rothwell talks about the story that was fifty years in the making.

Here’s Gordon!

I have always been a fast writer.  When I was a Creative Director and copywriter for various advertising agencies in San Francisco and Silicon Valley years ago I was asked to come up with ideas fast.  To think on my feet.  And try out ideas from every kind of angle.

I often got my best concepts standing in the shower, with hot water blasting the back of my neck. And I made certain to always keep a pad and pencil handy on a table next to my bed, just  in case I came up with a winning idea my sub-conscious supplied when I was fast asleep.

But some ideas or stories take a long time to develop.

Take that bullfighting tale of mine, for instance.

the seventh bull cover artIt’s called The Seventh Bull, and it was just recently introduced by MuseItUp Publishing in Canada.  That idea took a long, slow time to happen.

I guess it all began back in 1940 when I was a little boy sitting mesmerized in a darkened movie theatre watching Tyrone Power, in a glittering suit of lights, facing down a raging bull with only a small red cape and a sword.  The crowd in the movie shouted:

“Ole΄! Ole΄! Ole΄!”  as Power taunted the beast and spun away like a ballet dancer.

That film was 20th Century Fox’s Blood and Sand.  Watching it really hooked me.  And it led to my becoming a lifelong bullfight aficionado.  Over the ensuing years, I kept developing my interest in bullfighting.  I collected numerous works about it by such writers at Ernest Hemingway and Kenneth Tynan.

I stuffed plenty of cardboard boxes to the brim with magazine tear sheets about bullfighting, photographs, and articles like actual banderillas (those long wooden sticks with colorful paper ribbons and a barbed steel point).

Soon after my marriage in the mid-1950’s I was drafted into the American Army and sent to France. While on leave there my wife and I attended our first live bullfight in Barcelona. It turned out to be far more exciting “live” than the way it was portrayed in any film or a book.  Images and thoughts about bullfighting stirred in my brain then, but nothing actually took solid shape.

It wasn’t until 1960 that something happened that got me to thinking seriously about writing a bullfight story. I was working in Los Angeles at North American Aviation, doing public relations brochures and articles on the Apollo Moon Mission Program.  A fellow writer, who was a big bullfight fan, told me a major event was about to take place to the south in Tijuana.

Antonio Ordoñez, the number one matador in the world at that time, was going to make his first appearance outside of Spain. Ordoñez had been featured in a three-part article in LIFE Magazine written by Ernest Hemingway. The article told about a mano-a-mano duel between Ordoñez and Luis Dominguin, a darling of the press and Ava Gardner’s current beau.

A group of us from the aircraft factory went down to Tijuana.  That experience proved to be surreal.  Especially the partying at the local Sierra Motel.  It offered some  unforgettable sights.  There were beautiful women in skin-tight toreador clothing and flat-brimmed gaucho hats clapping and dancing to flamenco music provided by a small mariachi band.

Laughing and chatting movie stars like Mike Connors of MANNIX on TV, Diane Baker and Cesar Romero sat at tables around a dance floor.  And a smiling Gilbert Roland, with white sleeves rolled up and a leather sheath on one forearm, beguiled a legion of female fans with outrageous bullfight tales.  Much of that dramatic scene made its way into my short story, The Seventh Bull, over fifty years later.

Writing is a funny process.  Here I am, an advertising copywriter who made my career out of fast thinking and snappy headlines for over 20 years in the San Francisco Bay area, taking half a century to produce one exciting bullfight tale.

Go figure.

About The Seventh Bull:

Robert Dunne, a once respected journalist, is now a drunken hanger-on following a famous bullfighter on tour. Paco Garcia’s fans call him “The Matador Who Can’t Be Killed.” Robert hopes to get on the bestseller list with a book that will reveal the mystery of Paco’s ability to avoid “death in the afternoon.  In Tijuana, Paco fires his beautiful agent, Dolores, despite her warnings.  In a dramatic bullfight, Paco cheats death yet again and thrills the crowd.  But at a party after the fight, the matador drunkenly falls off a high diving board and breaks his neck.  Robert suspects foul play by the agent.  When he confronts Dolores, she seduces him with promises of fame—but is he willing to pay the price?

About Gordon: 

man and dog dreamerGordon Rothwell was born in Seattle and got a BA in Journalism from the University of Washington. As an advertising copywriter—one of the original Mad Men— he wrote material for over 100 major firms in California, including PR for the Apollo lunar space program. He received numerous awards including a CLIO (the Oscar of advertising).

He’s also a sportswriter and screenwriter, and many of his screenplays have won and been finalists in the Motion Picture Academy’s Nicholl, Acclaim, Chesterfield, Hollywood Symposium, and FADE IN competitions. He’s published articles and stories in numerous men’s magazines as well as youth-oriented publications like BOY’S LIFE.

He enjoys the fanciful and macabre on screen and in books. Gordon now lives in the shadow of Mt. Shasta, surrounded by a loving family and one sweet pit bull named “Dreamer.”  Mr. Rothwell’s blog address is http://olddognewtricksblog.wordpress.com.  And he can be contacted as Gordon_Rothwell on Twitter.

Find his story here: Muse It Up, Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble.

Cindy here again!

Interesting story, Gordon. You have me beat with how long it’s taken to write a story. 🙂

Happy writing!

 

Cindy

What’s That Word Again?

Welcome to the GWN blog! Thanks for stopping by. We’ve got Michele Drier here today talking about homonyms.

Here’s Michele!

A few years ago, a friend of mine set out to read The Brothers Karamazov, a book she hadn’t touched since college, some thirty years ago. I was impressed—and to tell the truth, a little chagrined—because I’d never wanted to do that.

When I ran into her a couple of weeks later I asked her how the reading was going.

“I gave it up,” she said, “too many words!”

I suspect that people who try to learn English feel the same way—we just plain have too many words!

We’ve come by a lot of it through conquest.  First the Celts were taken over by the Romans.  Then the Romans ceded to the Angles and the Saxons. Then the Normans showed up, bringing an early French with them.

When England was empire-building, the language absorbed words from North American tribes and Hindi and Urdu and Swahili and from other places where the sun never set.  The result was a vibrant, flexible and growing language that adopted words by the bushel basket.

Today, we have more words than any other language on earth.  The Oxford Dictionaries list definitions for some 230,000 words, including derivatives, but in May 2011 the Global Language Monitor estimated that there were 1,010,650 words; the one-millionth being “web 2.0”.

Whether 230,000 words or one million words, it’s clear that we have boatloads of words at our disposal.

So where does that bring us?  Why, to homophones!

Homophones are those words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings, and English is rife with them.

In the last two weeks, I’ve been noting the homophones that crop up newspapers, books, flyers, ads and casual writing such as emails.

I’ve seen:

“high heals”—one assumes that the writer meant tall shoes, not extraordinarily tall doctors;

“She sighted the reference”—I suppose she could have seen it, but I think the writer meant “cited” or it may have been “sited”;

“here, here”—used as an acclamation, the writer probably meant “hear, hear” not a geographic description;

“he peaked into the room”—he became the top? Or did he “peek” by quickly looking?

When I was a newspaper editor, I had one creative, inquisitive, wonderful reporter who was the Queen of the Homophones.  Several times a week (weak), she’d create the most amazing word pictures.  The things holding back the rivers were levys, and the city council leveed a new tax. (I also had a copy editor who thought the past tense of the verb “seek” was “Seeked”, as in the headline she wrote: “Fugitive Seeked by Police”. Not quite a homophone, but a lovely construction, all the same.  Luckily, she never had to write a headline about the Sikh temple.)

I suspect that we have creeping homophones because of the English language According to Bill Gates.  This is a syndrome we all fall into; relying on spell check, grammar check and autocorrect to proofread for us.

But anybody who’s ever looked at the site “Damn You Autocorrect,” should know that the computer uses probability theory, not linguistics or language usage, to complete a word.  And though there may be many useful things that spell and grammar check picks up—beyond its annoying habit of  marking every contraction and any use of the verb “to be”—there is no way it can correct for most homophones. “Take a bow,” meaning to acknowledge praise, is different from “Take a bough” meaning to take a tree branch, but either is a logical English statement.

There is comfort here.  As a writer, I know that, for the nonce at least, I can’t be replaced by a computer.  It’s my eye that will find the correct “write/right”, there/their”, “where/wear” or “here/hear”.

Even reading what I’ve written two or three times doesn’t always catch all the homophones, let along all the types, mispellings or wrong verb tense.  (In the previous sentence, there are two typos not caught and one misspelling that was.)  So read, read, read what you write and know that we, too, have too many words.

Maybe we can go visit the Brothers Karamazov by crossing the Bering Straight (one of my favorite headlines in the San Francisco Chronicle!).

Don’t get piqued when he peeks at you from the peak, just

Write on!

 

my bio pixMichele Drier was born in Santa Cruz and is a fifth generation Californian. She’s lived and worked all over the state, calling both Southern and Northern California home.  During her career in journalism—as a reporter and editor at daily newspapers—she won awards for producing investigative series.

 

Her mystery Edited for Death, called “Riveting and much recommended” by the Midwest Book Review is on Amazon and the second book in the Amy Hobbes Newspaper mysteries, Labeled for Death, will be published in June.

SNAP_4_BOX_SETHer paranormal romance series, SNAP: The Kandesky Vampire Chronicles, is available in ebook, paperback and audible at ebook retailers.  All have received “must read” reviews from the Paranormal Romance Guild. SNAP: The World Unfolds, SNAP: New Talent, Plague: A Love Story and Danube: A Tale of Murder are available singly and in a boxed set at Amazon, B&N and Kobo. The fifth book, SNAP: Love for Blood rated 5 stars, is now out. She’s writing SNAP: Happily Ever After? for release in fall 2013 and a seventh book later in 2013.

 

Visit her website: http://www.micheledrier.com or facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/AuthorMicheleDrier or her Amazon author page, http://www.amazon.com/Michele-Drier/e/B005D2YC8G/

Cindy here (hear) again!

Loved this post, Michele. Errors like the ones you mention make cringe when I see them in newspapers and magazines. I shake my head when I see them in corporate emails. 🙂

Happy writing!

 

Cindy

How Technical Writing Helped Stephanie Stamm Write Novels

Thanks for visiting the blog. Pull up a chair and settle in for a while. We’ve got Stephanie Stamm with us today talking about technical writing and how it helped her write novels.

Here’s Stephanie!

For over 13 years now, I’ve made a living as a technical writer, writing, editing, and formatting policies, procedures, and training materials and managing document control systems for highly regulated industries (pharmaceutical, medical device, and food packaging manufacturers). I’ve interviewed workers (subject matter experts, we call them) about their work tasks and observed their processes, so I could write instructions and training materials for new employees. I’ve edited and proofread other people’s work. I’ve formatted countless documents, making sure they meet the company’s formatting standards and the requirements for controlled documents regarding ownership, effective dates, revision dates, and a documented history of changes.

The work is, as the job title indicates, very technical, detailed—and, you might think, as far from creative writing as it’s possible to get. That’s certainly how I felt when I first started the job. And it is true that I don’t get to exercise my creative muscles at work. I am not inventing what I write about. I’m writing instructions, and the point is to make those instructions as clear and accurate as possible. Beauty of language, clever turns of phrase, and poetic expression are irrelevant and unwanted.

How, then, could technical writing possibly help me write novels?

First, technical writing, like fiction writing, involves research, curiosity, and questions. I generally start out knowing nothing about a process for which I’m going to write instructions. I have to read manuals, interview subject matter experts, observe processes—and ask questions. Early in my tenure as a technical writer, I learned that I, as a novice, could write much more detailed instructions for a task than a person who had been performing the task for years. Yes, this is in part because I’m a writer and the subject matter expert usually isn’t. But it’s also because the subject matter expert is so familiar with his or her subject that s/he skips over steps and assumes the users of the instructions will know more than they do. As a novice, with no more knowledge of the process than a new trainee, I ask questions about steps the workers perform but don’t describe and about what should be done if something goes wrong during the process. I then include that information in the instructions.

Cover-72-DPIResearch for my novels is a different business. For A Gift of Wings, my research topics included angelology and demonology as well as different makes of motorcycles (so I could choose the appropriate ride for one of my half-angel characters). But the necessity of the research and the curiosity behind it is the same.

This leads me to the second way technical writing has helped me write fiction: it taught me to slow down and capture details. To write accurate instructions, you have to describe, as clearly as possible, how to take a process from start to finish. If you skip key steps—or even seemingly minor ones—your reader (a trainee) can get lost. The same is true for fiction. In creating a story, even a scene, we have to slow down so we can see all the narrative steps and describe enough of them for the reader to follow with ease. I can’t tighten a bolt until I’ve inserted it. Likewise, my character can’t get angry without motivation, and she can’t slam a door if she’s nowhere near one.

This slowing down and taking time to envision a scene or to describe a character’s feelings or reactions is also what enables us to capture those sensory details that bring a scene to life for the reader. How does the character move, react, respond? What sights, sounds, textures, or smells might be important? We have to take the time to inhabit the scenes we create and then to describe those scenes with just the right amount of detail to get the important bits across. While my technical instructions don’t read like novels, nor do my novels read like technical instructions, both have their source in careful observation—whether I’m observing a work process or the imaginary scene unfolding inside my head.

Finally, my time as a technical writer has enabled me to accept suggestions for revision with ease. I don’t hesitate to turn my procedure drafts over to the subject matter expert to review for accuracy and clarity. That’s part of my job. Granted, I don’t feel the same sense of ownership for my technical writing as I do for my creative efforts. Still, I know the importance of that second, third, or fourth pair of eyes. When I’m writing a novel, I’m so inside the story that I can’t see it clearly. I need other people to read my work, tell me if I’ve left out things, skipped over steps. As author, I assume the role of subject matter expert—and, in my initial drafts, I may leave out things that are obvious to me, but not so obvious to a reader. I need a critique partner, beta readers, an editor—someone to help me see the forest created by all the trees I’ve planted.

So, while technical writing may seem—and is—very different from creative writing, the two also have their commonalities. I would never have thought it when I started my technical writing career, but I’ve found it to be an excellent apprenticeship for writing fiction.

028About Stephanie:  Stephanie Stamm grew up in Kentucky and then moved to Chicago, where she lived for 10 years, before settling in Southwest Michigan. She holds an advanced degree in Religion & Literature, and has been a press operator, a teaching assistant, a research assistant, an English and Humanities instructor, a potter, and, for the last several years, a technical writer. An avid reader of fantasy, she finally decided to combine her fascination with angels, ancient religions, and world-building and write the novels she wanted to read. A Gift of Wings, the first volume of the Light-Bringer Series, is her first novel. She is currently working on the sequel, A Gift of Shadows.

Where to find Stephanie:

Cindy here again!

Thanks so much for being here Stephanie. I applied to a technical writing position but though they knew I wrote fiction they didn’t think I would be able to do technical writing because they are so different. Wish I’d had this post then to prove I could do it. 🙂

Happy writing!

 

Cindy

Balancing facts and story in historical fiction

Hi everyone. Welcome to GWN’s blog. Relax, get a cup of whatever you have in the morning to wake you up and get ready for some tips on historical accuracy in historical fiction from Erin Farwell.

Here’s Erin!

IMG_1300_ppAn author’s job is to tell a story and to tell it well. Like a juggler with several balls in the air, a writer must keep their story balanced with regard to plot, characters, setting, and pacing. Regardless of the genre, the story must be grounded in a specific time and place. This is especially true for historical fiction, where one false move can wrench a reader from the world you’ve created. Keeping a reader engaged is both the goal and the challenge.

 

With historical fiction it is easy to make a misstep, creating a rift between reader and the story. Here are some of the common errors historical fiction writers make and how to avoid them:

 

  • Sharing your research and forgetting to tell a story. Most writers have more facts and details at their disposal than they will ever use in a book. I find this helpful when I write because I am able to understand the life of my characters even if I don’t include everything in the story. The problem occurs when a writer comes across a detail or series of facts that he or she finds fascinating and wants to share with the world. The moment your research takes precedence over plot or character development, you risk alienating the reader. If you rearrange a scene or create a convoluted set of circumstance just to share a fact that you find interesting, stop. If the detail doesn’t naturally fit in the story, it doesn’t belong there. You might use it in another project but don’t force it into this one. Keep the story your priority.

 

  • Highlighting a process that was different at the time the story is set than it would be today. Writing about the small details of your world will ground the story for readers and help them empathize with the characters. However sharing details is not the same as sharing processes. Unless the information is necessary to the plot, a reader doesn’t need to know the specifics of how to start a wood burning stove, milk a cow, forge a horseshoe, cook over an open fire, or weave cloth. You need to trust that your readers to have their own knowledge that they bring to the story. As a general rule of thumb, if someone living in the time the story is set would find a process unworthy of comment, so should your characters unless it is critical to your plot or character development.

 

  • Using modern concepts or verbiage in your story. In my novel I have a scene in which a young boy leads an adult to a house. The boy runs ahead, then back to the adult, then ahead again. As I wrote the scene I wanted to describe the boy’s behavior as being like a yoyo. A quick internet search informed me that while yoyos did exist in 1927, they had just come on the market and were only sold California. The phrase I wanted to use was not a part of society’s lexicon in 1927 so I had to find a different description. The same was true when I said someone was going to babysit a child. In 1927 you minded a child, not babysat. These may seem like small issues, unworthy of notice, but many readers will catch them and it will draw them out of the story.

 

  • Acknowledging a future event. Another name for this problem is author intrusion. There are times when an author might be tempted to write something like: “Little did Jeb know that the swamp he hunted in would one day be transformed into the city of Miami.” This type of phrase yanks a reader out of the world you’ve created and they may not wish to come back. The characters can only know what the typical person would know at the time the story is set and to include anything else is a disservice both to the reader and to your work.  Sometimes this situation can occur more subtly then you might be aware. One of my personal pet peeves is when a book set in the 1920s or 1930s has the phrase “World War I” rather than “the Great War.” The Great War didn’t become WWI until the Second World War started. The nuances are small but significant.

 

  • Placing accuracy over story. While accuracy is of great importance in historical fiction, you don’t need to be fanatical when certain issues arise. For example, if a shift in the location of a building, especially one that is not generally known to the typical reader, is a better fit for your story, do it. Just don’t put the Parthenon in France. In my novel a hotel that I use as a landmark was closed for renovations in 1927. I am probably one of five people who know this and no one else is likely to care. Originally I had written the situation accurately but later realized I had spent too much time on what was to have been a passing comment. I decided to trade pacing over fact, which was the right choice for the story.

 

Farwell-Shadowlands-Final Cover.inddAs writers of historical fiction we face a heavy burden. Readers expect to be taken into the past with an entertaining plot, interesting characters and historical accuracy. We are truly jugglers, balancing these expectations within the construct of our plot, pacing, characters and the story as a whole, but that is the key. As long as your research supports the story rather than becomes the story, you will avoid one of the biggest mistakes made by emerging historical novelists.

Visit Erin’s website: http://www.erinfarwell.com
Check out Erin’s Author page on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/erinfarwell
Find Erin on GoodReads: http://www.goodreads.com/Erin50

Cindy here again!

Some great points here, Erin! When I’m going back to revise my historicals I will keep these tips in mind.

Happy Writing!

Cindy

Writing That Look of Love

Welcome to the blog today! We’ve got Laura Haley-McNeil talking to us about facial expressions and posture that reveal emotion in our writing.  She’s doing a draw for a lucky random commenter for a $10 egift card.

Here’s Laura!

As writers, we all know how important it is to capture the emotions of our characters. The question I always ask myself is: How does my character feel?

Writing on the computer is miraculous because when I have a question, I can easily look up the answer on the internet. So how did I find the answer to how my character(s) feel? YouTube.

There are a couple of television shows I like to watch. One is The Good Wife. Two characters from the show intrigue me: Cary and Kalinda. (Never mind that Kalinda is bi.)

I was searching YouTube for facial expressions and typed in Cary’s name. Bumcrackmosh182 and others have compiled excerpts of the scenes with Cary and Kalinda together with background music. Kalinda is cool toward Cary, but Cary is so over the top in love with her it drives me crazy. http://youtu.be/GSmogQQPPyw

Two other characters I like to view on YouTube are Mary and Matthew from Downton Abbey. Lolilie has compiled excerpts of their scenes. http://youtu.be/dGPAYL5MQT4

When I look at these videos, I’m analyzing everything I see: the eyes, the mouth, the tilt of the character’s chin, their posture. Are the characters standing close together? Is there distance emotionally and physically? Is there longing? Have the characters given up? Will they walk away from each other? Have they realized this love was never meant to be but they can still love from afar? As you can see, my questions never stop.

As viewers, we can interpret anything we want in what we view. As actors, it’s important to them that they portray the correct emotion and so they work hard to make sure that we the viewer feel what they project. As writers, we struggle with the precise word that will convey what we want the reader to feel.

If you’re looking for emotions besides love, YouTube has thousands of videos depicting a broad range of emotion from fear to hate to joy to depression.

Have you found others? I’d love to hear about them. I’ll have a drawing and send a $10 ebook gift card to one lucky commenter.

Excerpt from Prelude and Fugue

Prelude and Fugue cover          “Liam Wallace?” Panic burst through me as I forced confidence into my voice, lifted my chin, and looked at the towering figure filling the doorway. My clammy hands gripped a briefcase weighted with ancient piano books. It knocked against my knees as I stood on his terraced front porch in the fading sunlight of a cool, Denver afternoon.

Though his eyes never left mine, I knew he was making the observations everyone makes about me: small, timid, weak.

“Yes.” His lean physique bore an oxford shirt and soft wool trousers, but my gaze was immediately drawn to the mass of salt and pepper curls.

“I’m Olivia St. Claire. I had called about the piano lessons.”

“Of course.” He opened the door.

I stepped into the tiled foyer paneled in dark wood. Through the arched doorway, I caught a glimpse of cathedral windows overlooking a pristine lawn. Light drifting through leaded glass splashed across a Persian carpet.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” His voice carried a sense of authority, yet was gentle. He extended his hand and I started when his cuff lifted to reveal a thin scar that crossed his palm.

Cool strength closed around my fingers and unintelligible words tumbled from my mouth that would have said I was glad to meet him.

“You brought your music, I see.” His hand released mine, which reluctantly floated to the briefcase.

Unwanted sensations rushed through me, but I reminded myself a male piano teacher would have little interest in women.

 

Laura Haley McNeilAbout Laura:  Laura Haley-McNeil has studied piano, violin, organ and ballet. She has served on the boards of two community orchestras. She currently lives in Colorado with her husband.

 

 

 

Follow Laura on Twitter: https://twitter.com/laurarmcneil
Find her on Goodreads:  Author Laura Haley-McNeil

Cindy here again!

I love this, Laura! It seems so simple but I never thought of doing that to see what emotions looked like so I can write them. I’ll be spending some time on YouTube this weekend because I suck at writing emotion. This should help.

Don’t forget to comment answering Laura’s question to be entered in the draw for a chance to win a $10 egift card.

Happy writing!

Ciindy

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