Writing Agreement # 1: Be Impeccable with Your Word

Turning Whine into Gold
By Kathryn Craft, @KCraftWriter

Last year, Janice Gable Bashman and I co-wrote an article for Writer’s Digest Magazine, The 7 Deadly Sins of Self-Editing, that turned out to be quite popular. Apparently sinning resonated with writers (go figure!) who recognized that greed, lust, gluttony, pride, sloth, envy, and wrath might be waiting to trip up their creative souls.

But recognizing pitfalls is only half the battle when seeking a fruitful career and a meaningful life. We know what to avoid—but what should we be reaching for?

The Four Agreements, Kathryn CraftMany years ago I found great answers within the Toltec wisdom that inspired Don Miguel Ruiz’s 1997 book, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom.

It’s a little book with a big message. Embracing its wisdom improved all aspects of my life. Today, however, I want to look at what the first tenet has to offer us as writers.

Be impeccable with your word.

Editors love authors who meet their deadlines. (Think about the implied threat here: cross the line and your story is dead.) Doing so shows you are respectful and focused and humble enough to see that publishing is a business concern much larger than your story alone.

Editors, however, will not be the only people to whom you will make commitments. As you take your rightful place within the time-honored lineage of artists who have passed on their knowledge to those who need it, the conferences, community groups, and other writers to whom you’ve made promises will also laud you for honoring your commitments. That said, everyone misjudges from time to time. If you can’t meet an obligation, renegotiate it as soon as possible to preserve your relationships.

Above all else you must act with integrity toward yourself.

Only by keeping your word to yourself can you can be the person you want to be. If you want to be an author, that means showing up at your chosen job so you can pursue your writing goals.

Is this important? We’re creatives after all—if we aren’t in the mood to write today, can’t we switch it up and watch TV instead?

Not if you told yourself you would write. Keeping your word with yourself is the only road to inner peace.

Interestingly, it is also the only road to achievement.

As someone who witnessed her husband’s self-destruction, I know a little something about the stakes here. To ignore this agreement is to introduce dangerous psychic dissonance into your life, which is the result of believing one thing, and doing another.

If you cannot hold yourself to your word and meet your writing goals, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of inner failure.

Think ten years down the road. Who will you be?

a)      a family joke
b)      an imposter
c)      a failure
d)     a dreamer
e)      a working writer
f)       a recorder of truth
g)      a go-getter
h)      an inspiration

I’ll take “e” through “h,” thank you.

To succeed in writing you must show up and do the work you’ve identified as your life’s mission. Or renegotiate the terms of your commitment, and find a life that you can live with greater integrity.

It’s okay to say that you will journal and learn and doodle for another year or two while your kids are little. It’s okay to say you’re going to work for one hour each day instead of pretending you can churn out an unrealistic word count.

I know for a fact that this sounds a lot simpler than it is. Writing is hard. Finding time to do it is hard. But whining doesn’t get you published. If you are ready to ramp up your career, you will have to raise your expectations, then meet your obligations to self.

I’ll explore the other agreements in future posts. For now, feel free to use the comment section as an opportunity to shout your personal truth to the universe.

What are your current writing and career goals, and how do you intend to keep your word to yourself?

*  *  *  *  *  *

** Writers In The Storm is getting a makeover! **
We’re moving to our new digs June 2nd. Stay tuned for party news (and giveaways)…

About Kathryn

Kathryn Craft, The Art of FallingKathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, and a second novel due Spring 2015. Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she now serves as book club liaison for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads workshops, and speaks often about writing. She lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA. Although a member of The Liars Club, she swears that everything in this bio is true.

Posted in Inspiration, Kathryn Craft | Tagged , , , , | 55 Comments

10 Reasons Why You Should Know How To Format Ebooks

By Kait Nolan, @kaitnolan

I’ve been around since the fairly early days of self publishing. My first ebook went live in early 2010. Since then, the market has exploded and a thousand things have changed. Something that’s true this month may not be true the next.

But two things have remained more or less constant:

  1. Ebook formatting, while it has evolved, is still essentially as it was when I started.
  2. People keep perpetuating the myth that it’s hard.

If you happen to have seen me around since the early days, chances are you heard me railing against the latter. I have bullied (insulted?) more than one author into taking the plunge and educating themselves. I’m here today to tell you why you should, too, even if you opt to hire someone.

1. It is not hard.

Y’all, it’s really not. Formatting ebooks can be many things—a gigantic pain in the butt (depending on how many egregious formatting mistakes you commit in drafting), tedious, headache-inducing—but not hard. If you can read instructions, you can learn to format ebooks.

2. It does not take knowledge of CSS or other coding.

This comes under the heading of formatting being not hard. I can’t count the number of folks I’ve talked to who were under the impression that they needed to be able to do complicated code in order to format ebooks. While you can do it that way, you don’t have to (and, dear God, why would you want to?).

3. Self publishing does not come without expense. Formatting doesn’t have to be one of them.

There’s this saying in publishing that the money always flows to the author. This has changed somewhat with the advent of self publishing, and there are people out there who say you can’t self-publish without spending hundreds or thousands of dollars. I say bollocks to that (because, really, I don’t have enough opportunity to say “bollocks” in real life).

I published my first ebook with only $50 out of pocket (for cover art) and every single publishing expense I’ve had since then came from profits. If you’re on a limited publishing budget, your money needs to go to the important things you can’t do yourself, like cover art and editing.

4. You will want to be able to make changes and shouldn’t have to hire out to do that.

Part of self publishing means that you should be updating your books. Fixing those inadvertent typos that slip through your editor or beta readers. Or, at the very least, you’ll want to update booklists, be able to adapt back matter, add in affiliate sales links per sales channel, etc. These are small, simple changes, but if you don’t have any knowledge of formatting, you’ll have to pay somebody to do it, and this goes back to point 3.

5. You maintain control of the final product.

This just may be the gold standard for why so many of us choose to self publish in the first place. We’re control freaks. Formatting is just another one of those aspects you don’t have to trust to anybody else. Keep that hold on your precious!

6. You need to know what you’re looking at.

If you do choose to hire out because you prefer not to take the time or effort, it’s important that you understand what you’re looking at when you get the product back. You need to know whether the person you’ve hired has truly done a good job. If you know nothing about formatting, chances are you can’t adequately judge this.

7. It only takes a handful of programs.

My system doesn’t take any expensive, specialized software. Just Microsoft Word (which most of us have) or OpenOffice (free), MobiPocket Creator (free), Sigil (free), and Calibre (free).

8. If you train yourself out of bad formatting habits, it doesn’t take long.

Okay, this is possibly one of the biggest points. Authors have all kinds of horrible formatting habits. This is what has led to the idea that formatting takes forever and is the grandest pain in the fanny known to self publishing.

But guess what? If you train yourself out of those bad habits and set up your word processing program not to screw stuff up (Word likes to think it knows what’s best—it doesn’t), then you don’t have to waste scads of time undoing your formatting mistakes. That is, by far, the most time consuming part of the process.

For my own work, I can take a full-length novel and produce the EPUB, Kindle, and Smashwords formats in approximately half an hour from start to finish—for all of them. Because I write a cleanly formatted draft.

9. The people who can’t do it will think you’re a bad ass.

Due to that whole “OMG, it’s haaaaard” perception, if you know how to do it, you can buff your nails and be nonchalant while they goggle at you for your expert knowledge.

10. Knowledge is power (and time is money—save BOTH).

I think this speaks for itself.

And just so I’m not up here doing nothing but giving you a sales pitch, I’m here to share with you the two most common formatting mistakes (a tiny sampling of the stuff that’s taught in my formatting class). Both of these have to do with indents in your manuscript.

The Freebie Lesson

How many of you use either the Tab key or spacebar to make your paragraph indents? Show of hands? It’s most of you, I wager. Well guess what? You’ve just made yourself a lot of extra work. This is not the correct way to indent your paragraphs. The right way to do indents is through Paragraph Styles. But don’t worry. I have a nice little cheat that will get rid of all those unnecessary keystrokes.

Okay, see that little backwards P looking thing up in your toolbar? That’s the pilcrow. In Word they call this the Show/Hide button. It reveals your hidden formatting. In OpenOffice, this reveals what they call non-printing characters. Consider this the blacklight that’s going to reveal all the scary, bad formatting stuff in your manuscript. Brace yourselves and go click it while inside one of your manuscripts.

If You’re A Tabber

See all those right pointing arrows? Those are your tab marks. This is probably THE MOST COMMON bad formatting habit people have. It’s a quick and easy way to insert an indent at the start of a paragraph. And it’s BAD. WRONG. DON’T DO IT.

Open up your Find and Replace box (To do that press CTRL+H). In the “Find what” line enter ^t. The caret t is the symbol for tab. On the Replace With line, don’t put anything. You’re going to leave it blank. Then click Replace All.

If You’re A Spacer

So what if you aren’t a tabber? What if you’re a spacer instead? See that trail of dots in the middle of the line at the start of that paragraph? Same idea applies. Hit CTRL+H to get your Find and Replace box. Then, in the find what box, you’ll hit the space bar however many times you tend to do that for an indent, leave the Replace with box empty, and click Replace all.

Now, after you do that, you may find that in some places you still have one or two space bar spaces before the first lines of your paragraphs. If that happens to be the case, you can’t use the same process to zap all your single or double spaces because that’ll cause you to delete the spaces separating sentences. So the answer is to do a Find and replace on ^p space space, and then replace with ^p only.

This ^p is the symbol for a paragraph return (which looks like a pilcrow in the text), so basically you’re telling Word to replace all instances of two space bar spaces that immediately follow a paragraph return. This way, you isolate the space bar spaces that precede the start of a new paragraph. After THAT repeat it with a find and replace on ^p space, then replace with a ^p by itself.

The Right Way To Indent

Now, in Word you have these things called PARAGRAPH STYLES. These allow you to globally control the styling of your ebook. You’ll apply a different style to different elements of your book, and then to change the styling, you’ll just change the style ONCE and the change will take effect all through the whole book.

Paragraph styles control everything from font to spacing to indents. You’ll use it in the main body of the text, on your chapter headings, on the front matter, title page, etc.

You’re going to start by selecting your entire manuscript (CTRL+A) and setting it to what Word calls the “Normal” style. The default settings for the “Normal” style probably aren’t right either, but don’t worry, we’ll fix that in a bit. Why do we start with normal everywhere? Because the vast majority of your book will be the body—the words and paragraphs that comprise the main narrative. Then later, we’ll change the styles of certain areas, like chapter headings, front or back matter, etc.

Okay, now you’re going to modify the Normal style to actually be what you need it to be. In order to do this you need to click on that little expansion arrow in the bottom right corner of the Styles Box.

That will give you this menu that lists all the various styles Word has. If you hover over the pilcrow beside Normal, it will give you a drop down arrow. Click on the arrow and you’ll get a submenu. (In my class I have slides with screenshots from each point in this process). From there, select Modify.

That’s going to take you to the Modify Style box. In the bottom right corner, click on Format. That will give you another menu from which you need to select Paragraph. That’s going to give you this box.

 photo ParagraphStyles_zps6cbdf5f2.jpg

Now, particularly in newer iterations of Word, there will be all kinds of stuff to fix here. See under Spacing it’s got 10pt in the “After” box and has line spacing set at Multiple 1.15? Yeah, that’s all bad.

You NEVER EVER want it set to read EXACTLY or AT LEAST followed by some kind of point size specification in the At box. There should NEVER EVER be any entry in the AT box. You want just basic single spacing. No spacing before or after. And THIS is where you set your indent properly.

  • For print, the standard is usually half an inch.
  • With ebooks you often see less, anywhere between .25” and .5”.

I tend to prefer 0.3” for the first line indent. Some people prefer block paragraphs without indents. For fiction, I prefer a standard paragraph indent. Block paragraphs often work better for non-fiction. This is a decision that’s up to you, but pick one or the other, not both. I’ll come back to block spacing in just a minute.

You will keep your alignment set to Left, NOT Justified. Justified does funky stuff in ebooks. Now, when you click on okay in the paragraph window, you come back to the Modify Style page. Click okay again, and look at your manuscript. If you did things right, everywhere you have applied the Normal style, you should have properly indented paragraphs.

Ebook Formatting From A to Z

This is just a small sampling of the detail I go into in my ebook formatting class. Make no mistake—this is a class, not a quick seminar. It’s comprised of four lessons and designed to be done over time.

Each lesson is a streaming video that you can watch on your own time (as many times as you want). Then you’ll have access to interactive classrooms and discussion boards for more in-depth problem solving, as the need arises. At each step you will be expected to upload your manuscript for me to check over and help you correct so that you’re in good shape to move on to the next lesson.

I’m a teacher in real life, so I believe in the power of feedback for proper learning. At the end of my class, you will know how to take your book from a Word doc to all industry standard formats. You will be ready to self publish on any and all major platforms. Click here to register.

And if you’re still not convinced to learn how to do it yourself, I offer my services for ebook formatting over at The Forge. But I know y’all can do it.

Have you formatted your own ebooks already? What were your pitfalls or successes? What questions do you have for Kait?

** Writers In The Storm is getting a makeover! **
We’re moving to our new digs June 2nd. Stay tuned for party news (and giveaways)…

About Kait

Kait Nolan, DIY epublishingKait Nolan is stuck in an office all day, sometimes juggling all three of her jobs at once with the skill of a trained bear—sometimes with a similar temperament. After hours, she uses her powers for good, creating escapist fiction. This Mississippi native has something for everyone, from short and sweet to Southern contemporary romance to action-packed paranormal—all featuring heroes you’d want to sweep you off your feet and rescue you from work-day drudgery. When not working or writing, Kait’s hanging out in her kitchen cooking and wishing life were a Broadway musical.

A passionate believer in helping others, she has founded a writing challenge designed for people who have a life (aka we NaNoWriMo rejects who can’t give everything up for the month of November). Please check out A Round of Words in 80 Days.

You can catch up with her at her blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pots and Plots.

Posted in Blogging Guests, Publishing With Amazon | Tagged , , , , | 42 Comments

Want To Write Like a Best Seller? Write Naked First!

by Tiffany Lawson Inman, @NakedEditor

NYTBSA_PhotopinThere it is.  LARGE bold print peering out at me from underneath the Life and Home section….THE NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLERS LIST, nagging me to grab my Kindle and start downloading fabulous fiction at lightning speed.

Sounds magical, doesn’t it?

Right now I’m talking about that list.  You know the one. The list that, if you are on it, says: You are a really-really-GOOD-writer-and-being-on-this-list-makes-you-special!

What makes that writing so darn special? 

My mom, Margie Lawson, creator of deep editing, and I have discussed on end why bestselling authors are bestselling authors. Using my background in theatre and hers in psychology, we probed the question.

No… bestselling authors are NOT walking around with fairy dust in their pockets.

Nope… they don’t have magic beans either.

The answer: It’s the words they use, the order they use them in, and how they tell their story.

Sounds easy, right?

Of course there are stylistic differences surrounding how each author of each genre approaches action, movement, and tension.

  • Some are minimalists when it comes to dialogue cues and body language and visceral.
  • Others push our senses to the max.
  • And a select few authors out there have the gift to use every aspect of scene writing to show evolving character relationships.

All are golden tools of scene writing!

While teaching Triple Threat Behind Staging a Scene, I ask the class members to pick out an action/movement, heavy dialogue, or multi-character scene from their favorite author. And to include an explanation on why they thought the scene kept them hooked and kept them reading.

Here are a few of the words and phrases my class used to describe their favorite bestselling scenes:

  • moves the story forward
  • natural dialogue, showed relationship and kept pace
  • understated dialogue  punctuated by bits of physical movements
  • visible tension in the body language
  • get to know the characters without losing interest  or forward momentum.
  • fluid internalization
  • seamlessly weaving all the elements of story together
  • multiple switches in tone
  • easy to read, no description or info dumps
  • tight choreography

Similarities: Tension, tight dialogue, show not tell, fluid internalizations, emotive body language, and smooth choreography.

Can you describe your writing with the words and phrases above?

Learning to train our reading brains to see emotional and dramatic patterns can awaken the bestselling writer within all of us.

The question is, HOW?

This is one of the many tools I use to awaken the bestselling authors within my students, so read carefully, this is privileged information  🙂

What if bestselling authors forgot about tension, tight dialogue, show-not-tell, fluid internalizations, emotive body language, and smooth choreography in their scenes?

What if I stripped their writing down to its birthday suit? Yup. Naked Writing.

What if, indeed…

Grab hold of your seats folks, I have stripped and re-written this scene and it’s not going to move you one inch. This scene is a HUGE turning point in a well known YA fantasy.

The protagonist thinks he is confronting a known serial killer, a man who betrayed his parents — that betrayal led to their death.  He and his two best friends are secluded in a room with this known villain and the protagonist is the only one with a weapon. This is his opportunity to avenge his parents and commit murder.

Black was on the ground at that point and he was out of breath. He watched Harry as Harry walked toward him slowly.  Harry’s wand was pointed at Black.

“Are you going to kill me, Harry?” he said.

Harry stopped walking, his wand was still pointing forward. Black’s face showed an ugly bruise and he had a bloody nose.

“You killed my parents, “ Harry said.

Black paused.”I don’t deny it,” he said. “But if you knew the whole story.”

“You sold them to Voldemort. That’s all I need to know.” Harry said.

“You’ve got to listen to me,” Black said quickly, “You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

“I understand a lot better than you think,” said Harry.

Hermione’s fat cat jumped onto the front of Black’s coat. “Get off,” he said, trying to push Crookshanks off of him.

Crookshanks was an ugly cat with a squashed face and yellow eyes. The ugly cat continued to sit on his chest. Hermione started crying.

Harry guessed he would have to kill the cat too.  Harry still held the wand out in front of him towards Black, but he was having a hard time with this decision. Ron’s breathing was loud. He was sitting by the bed next to Hermione.

Harry heard a noise from down the stairs.

Hermione loudly yelled for help.

Black tried to get the cat off of his chest again. He was unsuccessful.

Harry shook his wand. A voice in his head told him to kill Black soon. He could hear footsteps on the stairs. This decision was hard and he didn’t know what to do.

Someone opened the door. It was Professor Lupin and he had his wand out.  When he came through the door, he scanned the room.   Harry still had his wand pointing at Black who was on the floor in front of him. 

 Lupin then yelled, “Expelliarmus!”

OH, my goodness….did anyone stop reading after line 4? And you guessed it – that was an altered scene from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. That’s right.  This children’s book has adult size muscles packed into its action scenes.

I have to admit, it was kind of fun to strip the magic away…so-to-speak… 🙂

I WISH I could show you the whole scene, fully clothed. Alas, it is too large of a sample for me to retype without copyright infringements. If you have your own copy (and I know you do) crack it open and read this scene.  Not only is this a turning point for the book, but it is a turning point for the entire series.  Must read!

Here are the highlights:

  • Emotive Physicality:

Black was sprawled at the bottom of the wall. His thin chest rose and fell rapidly as he watched.         

  • Active Description:

A livid bruise was rising around Black’s left eye and his nose was bleeding.

  • Underlying Emotion:

“You killed my parents,” said Harry, his voice shaking slightly, but his wand hand quite steady.

  • Quickening Pace:

“You’ve got to listen to me,” Black said, and there was a note of urgency in his voice now. “You’ll regret it if you don’t… You don’t understand…”

  • Natural Dialogue and Emotive Dialogue Cues:

“I understand a lot better than you think,” said Harry, and his voice shook more than ever. “You never heard her, did you? My mum… trying to stop Voldemort killing me… and you did that… you did it…”

  • Smooth Choreography and Active Description:

But Crookshanks sank his claws into Black’s robes and wouldn’t shift. He turned his ugly, squashed face to Harry and looked up at him with those great yellow eyes. To his right, Hermione gave a dry sob.

  • Gripping Cadence and Visible Tension:

Harry raised the wand. Now was the moment to do it. Now was the moment to avenge his mother and father. He was going to kill Black. He had to kill Black. This was his chance…

The seconds lengthened. And still Harry stood frozen there, wand poised, Black staring up at him, Crookshanks on his chest. Ron’s ragged breathing came from near the bed; Hermione was quite silent.

And then came a new sound  

  • Fluid Internalizations and Seamless Transitions:

Black made a startled movement that almost dislodged Crookshanks; Harry gripped his wand convulsively — Do it now! said a voice in his head — but the footsteps were thundering up the stairs and Harry still hadn’t done it.

  • Active Descriptions and Smooth Choreography and Emotive Physicality:

The door of the room burst open in a shower of red sparks and Harry wheeled around as Professor Lupin came hurtling into the room, his face bloodless, his wand raised and ready. His eyes flicked over Ron, lying on the floor, Hermione, cowering next to the door, to Harry, standing there with his wand covering Black, and then to Black himself, crumpled and bleeding at Harry’s feet.

“Expelliarmus!” Lupin shouted.

By stripping away the Rowling bestseller qualities we are able to see what is missing. And by putting them back, we can see the quality and quantity of what she used.  Yes, there can be too much of a good thing and readers will put your book down if they can’t see what’s happening.

Look at your own writing with Naked Editor Vision and ask yourself these questions:

  • Does your writing already look like it’s been stripped?
  • Is your writing wearing too many layers of clothing? Is it hard to see what is really happening under there?
  • Have you overdosed the scene with one or two elements and scrimped on the rest?
  • If you stripped it down, can you still see what is happening? What do you see?  Does your scene still have all of its body parts?

Sound like fun? 

Comment below and tell us about your favorite scene writing author. How do they do it?  Have you ever studied their writing? What did it tell you? 

*  *  *  *  *  *

Tiffany Lawson Inman

Tiffany Lawson Inman

Tiffany Lawson Inman claimed a higher education at Columbia College Chicago. There, she learned to use body and mind together for action scenes, character emotion, and dramatic story development. Tiffany’s background in theatre provides her with a unique approach to the craft of writing, and her clients and students greatly benefit.

She teaches Action and Fighting, Choreography, Active Setting, Emotional Impact, Scene Writing, and Dialogue for Lawson Writer’s Academy online, presents hands-on-action workshops, and will be offering webinars in  late 2014.

As a freelance editor, she provides deep story analysis, content editing, line by line, and dramatic fiction editing services. Stay tuned to Twitter @NakedEditor for Tiffany’s upcoming guest blogs around the internet, classes, contests, and lecture packets.

Check out her previous blogs on WITS.

NYT photo credit: Timothy Valentine via photopin cc

Posted in Craft, Tiffany Lawson Inman | Tagged , , , , , | 31 Comments

Character Eye Descriptions: The Window to Your Story

By Sharla Rae, @SharlaWrites

Sharla_EyePhotopinIf poets are to be believed, eyes are the windows to the soul.

Rather than using clichéd or common descriptions, why not use “explicit” eye descriptions to give your reader a real peek into a character’s psyche?

I’ll touch on eye color, movement, and appearance and, of course, I have some helpful lists to inspire ideas.

 Eye color

It’s a given that writers mention eye color as a character feature. Color can be mentioned every so often to remind readers what the character looks like. But! Don’t hit them over the head with it.

Besides using eye color as a facial feature it can sometimes be used to identify who is speaking especially if the color distinctive.

Blue eyes widened and she threw up both hands. “Now hold on a minute.”
Her amber cat eyes narrowed. “xxxx”

A character might have plain old blue or brown eyes and that’s fine. But why not use color terms that say something about the character or what they’re thinking?

  • Eyes like silver lightning: sharp, doesn’t miss a thing, spirited, quick-witted
  • Gunmetal eyes: sounds like a lethal male, perhaps emotionless
  • Glacial blue: Can suggest nationality, or cold personality, angry expression
  • Milk chocolate eyes: sounds yummy, soft, warm
  • Chips of emerald ice: sharp, cold heated
  • Faded azure lace: an older person with blue eyes, lace suggests a woman, perhaps homey

Here’s a great eye color list that will help you describe “who” your character is. This is one of the best I’ve seen to date and includes pictures.

Want to know the most common and rare eye colors in the world? The following are listed from most common to least.

  • Brown
  • Hazel
  • Blue
  • Green
  • Silver
  • Amber and Black [rank about even according to which resource you’re looking at]
  • Red or Pink [mostly in albinos]

Just for fun here’s a website that tells you the meaning of the color of your eyes.

 Eye Appearance

 Eye appearance/shape isn’t too difficult to write — round, almond, bug-eyed, beady, sloe-eyed, hooded, upturned/cat, downturned etc. We might also include how the eyes are placed on the face: close-set, deep-set, monolid, protruding etc.

Certain eye conditions or disorders can affect eye appearance and are excellent descriptors. You may not want to use the scientific terms but the descriptions of the terms are also useful. See my list below.

Appearance also includes emotional expression and often involves the eyebrows.

Appearance frequently blurs lines with eye movement and more often than not demonstrates emotions and personality. You’ll see examples of this in the lists below.

Eye Movement

Is it just me, or do eye movements mess you up too?

No doubt you’ve heard or read something like: her eyes traveled/fell down the stairs where he stood.


The eyeballs rolled down the steps? Believe it or not, this is a common mistake. And yes as a newbie writer my crit group had a good laugh on me with such a mistake. Words like “gaze,” “visage,” “glance,” fixes the problem.

A tiresome descriptor for eye movement are the over-used look, looked and looking. If our eyes are open they are looking and it really doesn’t say much more than that. There’s nothing wrong with using look but never varying with more explicit substitutes is boring and causes echoes.

Try: gaze, glance, surveyed, glared, raked, searched, watched, scanned etc. You’ll find lots of these in the lists below. Notice, too, that some have very specific connotations.

As mentioned above, eyebrows are very much a part of eye movement and play an important part in expressing emotion. Blinking eyelashes show emotion too but at the risk of sounding silly, don’t overuse this one.

And now for my lists. These include eye movement, appearance/expression, disorders and conditions, eye parts and types of eyeglasses.

Eye Movement

Anchored her attention on
Angry gaze sliced
Blinked owlishly
Blinking with feigned innocence
Brow furrowed as his mouth turned grim
Brows knitted in a frown
Bushy brows beetled
Cocked a brow in surprise
Dragged his hawkish gaze
Drilled her with
Eyed him demurely/boldly
Eyes caressed
Eyes crossed in exasperation
Eyes retraced their path to
Eyes rolled skyward
Eyes wandered
Flayed him with
Focused on her lips
Followed as the model passed
Gawking at girls
Gaze cruised her figure
Gaze dipped to her
Glance flickered
Glanced sideways
Glare traveled with unnerving thoroughness
Glared daggers [overused]
Inspected the cabin
Inventoried his surroundings
Lashes swept up and she blinked
Leveled a glowering look
Lingered over the script lines
Lowered her eyes/opened
Narrowed to crinkled slits
One heavy brow slanted in strong disapproval
Penetrating gaze probed
Perusing the sea of faces in hopes of
Plugged his eyes back into their sockets
Pried her eyes off the hunk
Probing visual caress
Raked with disdain
Searching the depths
Shifted her angry glare to
Shot him a disgusted glance
Sighted out the corner of her eye
Slammed her eyes shut and hummed the pain
Squeezed his eyes shut and gritted his teeth
Staring fixedly
Strange pale eyes darted
Studied with piercing scrutiny
Subtle wink
Swung her restless gaze
Tracking the other man’s gaze
Unglued her eyes from him
Unrelenting stare
Up went his brows
Violet eyes strayed to the
Watched until distance obscured
Wrenched his gaze

Eye Expression and Appearance
[Some of these cross over with Movement]

Burned fanatically
Devoured her beauty
Eyes implored
A look designed to peel his hide
Almond shaped
Appraising glance
Astute gaze
Avid eyes attested to his quick wit
Beady rat eyes
Blazed like torches
Boomerang brows like Ayatollah Khomeini’s
Bright with age
Bulging with fright
Chaotic, helter-skelter eyebrow—like his mind, unsystematic and fickle
Commanding visage
Crudely insulting stare
Deep set beneath heavy black brows
Disapproval gleamed in her eyes
Dissatisfaction plowed his brow
Disturbing smoke-hued
Elliptical eyes with heavy lids
Eyebrows like checkmarks
Eyes all gooey with
Eyes like a shark
Feline eyes
Flashed with gaiety/anger etc
Flat black, dispassionate as bullets
Frankly assessing
Get a load of those blinkers
Gleam of deviltry
Glittering with
Green flinty rocks
Hallows of madness
Hard as nails
Heart-stopping eyes
Held hostage by his eyes
Intent and unwavering/riveted
Irritated visage
Liquid pools of
Luminous glow of happiness
Mellow as the sky at sunset
Narrowed to slits
Nebulous gaze / unreadable
New moon-shaped
Penetrating blue of his eyes
Possessed the power to make her
Rheumy old eyes
Sharp with intelligence
Slits for eyes
Sliver of emotion in those cool eyes
Sloped down at the corners like a sad pup
Small evil eyes
Sneaky close-set eyes
So tired his eyeballs seemed to sag out
Steeply arched brows
Sunken in the head
Tears of remorse flooded
The dark mystery of his eyes
Triangular brows/always surprised
Twenty-twenty vision
Veiled expression of
Visionary eyes
Visual exploration of
Watery eyes
Where did you get those peepers
Wild and frightened
Wore spectacles/glasses/winkers

Eye Disorders and Conditions
[You might like this website]

  • Astigmatism: causes fuzzy or blurry vision due to irregular curve in eye lens or cornea.
  • Gimlet-eyed: sharp and piercing
  • Goggle-eyed: bulging, rolling or staring
  • Megalophthalmic: unusually large eyes, often a congenital condition-think goldfish
  • Strabismaic: eyes are not properly aligned. Sometimes Cross-eyed or walleyed
  • Walleyed: eyes diverging instead of focusing simultaneously on the same point; eyes turned outward away from nose; also used to define a wild irrational staring, glare or fierce look
  • Cross-eyed: converging strabismus, eyes turning toward the nose
  • Diplopia: double vision
  • Cataract: opacity of the lens of the eye, cloudy
  • Glaucoma: hardening of the eyeball, often resulting in poor vision or blindness
  • Leucoma: disease of the eye in which the cornea becomes white and opaque
  • Pinkeye: highly contagious form of conjunctivitis-eye appears rimmed in pink, bloodshot, often swelled and sometimes full of pus.
  • Nystagmic: eyeballs moving rapidly and involuntarily
  • Ablepsia: lack of sight; blindness
  • Farsightedness: ability to see objects at a distance more clearly than close objects
  • Nearsighedness:(shortsightedness, myopia) see objects only at close distances

Eye Parts

  • Cornea: transparent covering of the iris that produces refraction needed to focus image on retinea
  • Eye socket: hollow of bone in face holding eyeball
  • Eyeball: globe of the eye
  • Iris: colored circular muscle in front of eye that controls amount of light that enters the eye
  • Retina: inner layer of the eye wall composed of nervous tissue stimulated by light to send impulses to the brain.
  • Optic nerve: nerve that sends sight impulses from the eye to the brain
  • Pupil: round contractile aperture in iris of eye, regulating light into the eye
  • Vitreous humor: jelly-like material that fills eyeball and forms its shape
  • Eye lashes: hair around the eyes

Eye Corrections
[A good overview of modern lenses]

Note: Although it’s not exactly known when eye glasses were first invented, they appear in a 1352 painting.

  • Aviator: sunglasses with oversized lenses; associated with pilots
  • Ben Franklins: glasses with small ellipitcal, octagonal or oblong lenses worn on the middle of the nose; in slang often referred to as granny glasses
  • Bifocals: glasses having split lenses to improve both near and farsightedness
  • Contact lenses: lenses worn directly on the eye
  • Eyeglasses or spectacles or winkers: worn to correct vision; lenses set in frames that hook behind the ears
  • Horn-rimmed: glasses with dark or mottled brown frames; frames are usually heavy
  • Monocle:single lens used over eye for correction
  • Lorgnettte: eyeglasses on a long handle
  • Lorgnon: (French – pince-nez) eyeglasses that clip onto the nose; framless, circular lenses that set on the bridge of the nose
  • Loupe: magnifying glass generally held in the eye and used by jewlers

Now let’s have some fun. What are some of the funniest mistakes you’ve made with eye descriptions or eye movement? What is your biggest pet peeve?

About Sharla

CC-Final-Small-Sharla has published three historical romance novels: SONG OF THE WILLOW, LOVE AND FORTUNE, and SILVER CARESS. SONG OF THE WILLOW, her first solo effort, was nominated by “Romantic Times Magazine” for best first historical.

When she’s not writing and researching ways to bedevil her book characters, Sharla enjoys collecting authentically costumed dolls from all over the world, traveling (to seek more dolls!), and reading tons of books. You can find Sharla here at Writers In The Storm or on Twitter at @SharlaWrites.

eye photo credit: Brittany Greene via photopin cc

Posted in Craft | Tagged , , , , , | 59 Comments

The No-Stress Way To Create Your Story’s Logline

medium_4467347340by Laura Drake @PBRWriter

I love loglines. There’s no better feeling than pulling together words that capture the spirit of your book in a perfect, compelling way. I teach a submissions class for the Lawson Writer’s Academy and find that loglines are a major source of stress for my students.

Have you ever noticed that loglines are only fun to come up with when they’re NOT yours?

There’s a reason for that.

But first, there’s some confusion about taglines vs loglines, so let’s start there.

  • A tagline is a catchy ‘movie poster’ phrase.
  • A logline is a 25 word synopsis of your book.

Examples illustrate the difference clearly:


Tagline – Don’t go in the water.

Logline – After a series of grisly shark attacks, a sheriff struggles to protect his small beach community against the bloodthirsty monster, in spite of the greedy chamber of commerce. (from J. Gideon Sarentinos)

So WHY is it so hard to write loglines for your own books? You’re too close to it. A logline is a concise, yet sweeping portrayal of your novel’s genre, conflict, characters and emotion. Did I mention in 25 words? Yeah, no problem.

There are formulas to come up with loglines:

  • At Filmmaking101 Joe Lam says it must have 5 parts:  Protagonist, genre, inner conflict, outer conflict, and climax.
  • Blake Snyder in his book Save the Cat! says:  It must contain a type of hero, the antagonist, the hero’s primal goal and it must have irony.
  • Some say, all you need is a character with a goal and a conflict.

All those work. They’ll give you a perfectly workable logline. A workmanlike logline.

But to me, that’s only a place to start.

THEN you need to add what Margie Lawson calls,

*Sparkle Factor* 

Something that make readers say, ‘Ohhhhh…”

  • Use Backloading: If you haven’t yet attended a Margie class (and if not, you seriously need to – trust me) backloading is taking the most important word in your sentence, paragraph, scene or chapter, and placing it at the end.

Example: Smoke rolled into the sky, spreading over the dairy like an angry fist.

  • Use Power words: Very simply a word that carries power. In the above example, ‘angry’ and ‘fist’ hold power, because they evoke emotion.

Logline Examples:

  • A tough principal takes revolutionary measures to clean up a notoriously dangerous inner-city New Jersey high school. Lean on Me
  • A meek and alienated little boy finds a stranded extraterrestrial and has to find the courage to defy authorities to help the alien return to its home planet. ET
  • Naive Joe Buck arrives in New York City to make his fortune as a hustler, but soon strikes up an unlikely friendship with the first scoundrel he falls prey to. Midnight Cowboy
  • In a future where criminals are arrested before the crime occurs, a cop struggles on the lam to prove his innocence for a murder he has not yet committed. Minority Report
  • A comedic portrayal of a young and broke Shakespeare who falls in love with a woman, inspiring him to write “Romeo and Juliet.” Shakespeare in Love
  • An archeologist is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis. Raiders of the Lost Ark

It could be as simple as an intriguing title40 Year Old Virgin? Who wouldn’t want to read on to find out about that?!

It could be the intriguing premise, stated by combining two disparate references:

“Stephanie Plum meets the Underworld” Darynda Jones, First Grave on the Right

Personally, I’m a fan of using an intriguing line from your book. It can be a good intro to your voice.

This is the line I used in my query for my novel, The Sweet Spot:

The grief counselor told the group to be grateful for what they had left. After lots of considering, Charla Rae decided she was thankful for the bull semen.

From Her Road Home:

You can’t outrun nightmares on a motorcycle – Samantha Crozier knows because she’s tried.

Get the idea? Seem impossible? It’s not. Think about your book. SOMETHING was intriguing enough about the idea to make you spend months writing it. What was that? What was Different? Fun? Compelling?

Okay, your turn. If you’d like input on your logline, post it in the comments, and we’ll help polish it until an agent will need to wear sunglasses to read it!

Tall Dark and Cowboy 72dpiLaura’s double  RITA® FinalistThe Sweet Spot, has been included in a contemporary western anthology that will be released June 3.

Read it, and 5 other great cowboy romances for just $3.99. Click here to pre-order!

About Laura

Laura Drake is a city girl who never grew out of her tomboy ways, or a serious cowboy crush. She writes both Women’s Fiction and Romance.

She sold her Sweet on a Cowboy series, romances set in the world of professional bull riding, to Grand Central. The Sweet Spot (May 2013), Nothing Sweeter (Jan 2014) and Sweet on You (August 2014.) The Sweet Spot has recently been named a Romance Writers of America®   RITA® Finalist in both the Contemporary and Best First Book categories.

Her ‘biker-chick’ novel, Her Road Home, sold to Harlequin’s Superromance line (August, 2013) and has expanded to three more stories set in the same small town. Reasons to Stay will release August, 2014.

This year Laura realized a lifelong dream of becoming a Texan and is currently working on her accent. She gave up the corporate CFO gig to write full time. She’s a wife, grandmother, and motorcycle chick in the remaining waking hours.



photo credit: Loco Steve via<ahref=”http://photopin.com”>photopin<ahref=”http: ?=”” 2.0=””by=””licenses=””creativecommons.org=””>cc

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Unforgettable Writing: Use all 5 Senses to Add Emotion

by Orly Konig-Lopez, @OrlyKonigLopez

The other day I finished a book and when my husband asked if it was good, my answer was a rather drawn out, “Yeeaaahhhh.” The story was interesting and the author had a pleasant, easy style. She’d done a nice job of showing me what the rooms looked like, what the characters were wearing, what the car looked like … you get the picture.

And that’s exactly what it was—a nice picture.

But that’s all it was.

That nice picture was behind a glass wall. As a reader, I was left admiring the world the author so carefully created from the outside. So “yeeaaahhhh” it was good but it’ll go in the read and forgotten pile.

That’s not the pile you want your books to go in.

What can you do to make sure your book doesn’t end up there? Don’t just paint a nice visual picture, use all 5 senses.

I know, I know, as a good writing soldier you’ve been holding tight to the “show, don’t tell” rule. And writing is, after all, about drawing a visual picture. So yes, you’ll still be writing mostly visual descriptions. But, make sure every word counts. Include only what strengthens the image and look for fresh ways to describe things.

  • Instead of white sand, sand like iridescent crushed pearls
  • Curly hair can become corkscrew curls that a character has the sudden urge to tug and watch them bounce back

Now put yourself in the scene. What can you show your reader that’s beyond the obvious?

  • A shadow passing outside the window that makes the hair on the character’s arms prickle
  • The way leaves dance with the gentle breeze
  • The slight discoloration on the couch that reminds your character about where her brother spilled a soda the last time she saw him, right before he was killed in the car accident
  • The seam in the wallpaper that’s a fraction off

Think about the last movie or TV program you watched. It had a soundtrack, right? Characters were talking to each other, music during key scenes, the revving of a car engine, the ringing of a phone. Obvious sounds.

When writing, you have to put those sounds into words. Your reader needs to hear what your characters are experiencing.

  • The raspy sound of a character’s cough
  • The twang of an accent
  • The rev of a motor
  • The jangle of keys

Then there’s the unexpected. Those are the details that will make your reader catch her/his breath and will linger in their minds long after they’re done reading.

  • The tap-tap against a window during the middle of the night, as a branch sways in the wind
  • The squeak-squelch of sneakers on a linoleum floor
  • The sound of a house settling when the air-conditioner turns off
  • A character trapped in the slowest line at the grocery store and agitated at being late might notice the otherwise invisible sound of air bubbles snapping as the guy in line behind her chews his gum

No “my dog ate my manuscript” jokes here. In real life, you’re constantly tasting something so why aren’t your characters?

  • The cherry chapstick when the guy kisses the girl
  • The melting heaven of a chocolate lava cake
  • The added boost of coffee as the character licks an escaping drop

Don’t stop with the obvious.

  • A character who arrives at the beach will lick her lips and taste the salt from the ocean breeze
  • A character who’s been running on a hot day might taste the grit of dirt
  • Or maybe a character has just gone through a terrible breakup and is looking for a safe haven at her parent’s house. During the drive there she might taste the rice pudding her mom always made for her when she needed cheering up.
  • During a long car ride, a character stares at the passing scenery and catches sight of the Golden Arches and can suddenly taste the Quarter Pounder with cheese and the salty fries.


photo credit: jenny downing via photopin cc

photo credit: jenny downing via photopin cc

Okay fess up, do you touch a flower petal to see what it feels like? Or run your fingers along a brick wall? What about stroking the leather of a couch? If a friend has a new sweater, do you reach out to see if it’s soft as you’re oooing and ahhhing?

Your characters will be doing the same. And the reader wants to feel through your characters.

  • The prickle as an ant crawls up your character’s arm
  • The stab of pain when your character miss-judges the distance and stubs her toe into the side of the desk
  • The sting of a slap to the cheek
  • The comforting warmth of a blanket

There are times, though when it’s not as much what the character is touching but the act of the touch itself.

  • The way a character touches the tip of her finger to the heart-shaped pendant her husband gave her before he died
  • A character tracing the name of a loved one on a headstone
  • A character putting his hand on another’s upper arm in a “keep it under control” gesture

Smell is an incredibly powerful sense. It’s probably the most nostalgic of the senses, which makes it the ideal tool for flashbacks.

  • Who hasn’t taken a deep inhale of fresh-mowed grass and immediately been transported to a lazy summer day?
  • Or caught the whiff of a perfume and you’re suddenly remembering a best friend or family member who died.
  • What about the smell of a favorite food to transport you back to holidays when the family still got together?

It’s also a fabulous way to suck your reader into a scene.

  • Does the homeless guy smell like car exhaust from sitting on the median of the busy intersection all day? Does his body odor make your character’s nose curl?
  • What about the house your character just walked into? Is that lavender air freshener she smells?
  • Does the chapstick one of the characters use obsessively smell like rootbeer? Maybe your main character hates rootbeer and can’t focus on what the other person is saying to her because she can only think about getting to the bathroom on time.
  • There’s the clichéd perfume on the husband or boyfriend’s shirt when he comes home from a long day “at the office.”
  • Or the hot guy who loses several degrees of hotness when the main character catches a whiff of cigar smoke clinging to his clothes.

Take a few minutes as you’re sitting in your house or walking down the street or in the grocery and really pay attention to what’s around you (without getting arrested, please).

Imagine writing using different senses. Instead of telling your reader that the lettuce was next to the cucumbers and there was a squashed tomato in the middle of the aisle, how could you write that using taste or smell?

Now go back to your manuscript and think about pushing that glass wall aside. Invite your reader in, let her/him enjoy the smells, sounds, tastes that your character experiences.

If you need a little extra inspiration with sense words, click here for a nice starter  list.

Do you uses all the senses in your writing? Pick one of the five senses and share a sentence or two from your work in progress.

About Orly

Orly Konig-LopezAfter years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet.  When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

You can find her on Twitter at @OrlyKonigLopez or on her website, www.orlykoniglopez.com.

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5 Tips for Effective Author Marketing: Small is the New Big

By Lynda Bouchard

Lynda Bouchard, Spanx, Writers In The Storm

What can an author learn from a pair of Spanx? A lot.

I was in a mall last week with my aunt and, as we walked through the pantyhose department, I noticed that one brand stood out. Spanx.

How Spanx got noticed and the unique marketing of this product is a brilliant lesson for all authors. Small is the new big.

1. Fill a void.

As an entrepreneur you want to stand out from everyone else who has a book. Spanx was CREATED to fill a void. Ask yourself what VOID your book can fill – where can it be presented, signed or stocked where it will be noticed.

2. Packaging matters.

People DO judge a book by its cover. Spanx created a recognizable brand image that stands out. Simple and red. Keep it simple – it will be read.

3. Small is the new big.

Spanx has become an internationally known product without ever spending a dime on advertising! They did it by reaching their small core group of friends, family & people they worked with and the word spread like wildfire from there. You MUST have a great product (book) for this to happen. Who is your core audience? Get in front of people who know you.

4. In this world of technology, social media and too many choices there is a fragmented audience. In an attempt to reach EVERYONE – you end up reaching NO ONE.

Think smaller. Think locally. It’s like dropping a pebble into a pond. When you reach the group that cares about you and your message, they will spread the word for you. The buzz will build. You will leverage each interview, media hit & book event to your advantage. Author Hugh Howey is the perfect example of this.

5. Never stop evolving.

Once your book is published consider spin-off items and events that tie in with your book’s title or characters. Your book is your calling card. Think outside the book! Give stuff away with your book at signings. Or online. Give your readers a reason to follow you. Create an online newsletter.

Spanx is an example of never resting on their laurels. They are still creating new lines and new customers. They do it by thinking creatively.

Go ahead, stretch your imagination.

(**Spanx, for you guys out there, is an undergarment that makes women look like Twiggy only shapelier. Great news, they have a men’s line now – check it out, dude!)

What questions do you have for Lynda? Do you worry about author marketing? What marketing efforts worked well for you? What publicity efforts felt like wasted time and energy?

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Lynda

LyndaBouchardLynda Bouchard is Founder and Chief Inspiration Officer of Booking Authors Ink, a boutique public relations firm dedicated to authors.

She writes the Literary Latte Blog and has represented a range of authors from David Baldacci and Dorothea Benton Frank to Harvey Mackay and Ken Burger.

For more information, go to www.bookingauthorsink.com.

Spanx photo credit: {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester} via photopin cc

Posted in Blogging Guests, WriterStrong | Tagged , , , , , | 18 Comments

Dr. Watson, I Presume? The Importance of Killer Sidekicks

by Susan Spann, @SusanSpann

Sherlock Holmes, mystery, writingWhether you write detective fiction, romance, historical novels or fantasy epics, a lone protagonist never receives as great a reaction as one with a well-developed supporting cast.

Foils serve to reinforce and highlight the hero’s good (and bad) characteristics, and also give the protagonist a chance to shine outside the primary narrative.

Although a “sidekick” isn’t mandatory, a strong secondary character improves many stories in several important ways:

1. Introducing an Alternate Point of View.

Sidekicks rarely agree with everything the protagonist does, and often have a radically different worldview. This gives the author a chance to present alternative theories, new opinions, and thoughts that the protagonist or hero might not propose on his (or her) own.

A sidekick proves especially effective where the sidekick has a different gender, religion, or race than the protagonist. In addition to adding great diversity to your fiction (and forcing you, as the writer, to stretch your mind to encompass another point of view), this lets you write from “multiple” viewpoints even when the narration is not omniscient.

2. Increasing the Tension on Every Page.

People argue. Animals fight. Aliens disagree in ways that sometimes require the use of laser pistols. (Did Han shoot first? Discuss.)

A protagonist needs to have conflict with the antagonist, and often with henchmen, but most of that conflict doesn’t resolve until the final pages of the story. A sidekick offers a chance for a disagreement—or at least tension—on every page:

  • How should the characters hunt for the killer?
  • Is pursuing that guy in the romantic heroine’s best or worst interest?
  • Which of these aliens should we trust, and which ones want to eat us?

The protagonist has her opinion … and the sidekick often has another.

3. A Different Kind of Interaction With the Protagonist.

We learn a lot about people (and animals, and aliens) by watching the way they interact with others, and we learn about protagonists by seeing them in various situations.

  • Does your detective have a fear of Zambonis?
  • Will that sentient unicorn stab someone for calling him “horn-face”?

A sidekick lets the reader see the protagonist interacting with different people, and in additional situations, rather than only interacting with the antagonist and/or henchmen. A sidekick allows the protagonist to develop a different kind of relationship “on screen,” in ways that usually deepen the hero’s character.

4. Playing the Shell Game.

A reader shouldn’t be able to guess a novel’s ending in the first few pages. Generally speaking, readers want some mystery—regardless of the story’s “real” genre. A sidekick can offer thoughts, opinions, and actions designed to distract the reader from the true solution, furthering not only detective fiction but other narratives as well.

By way of example: Father Mateo, the sidekick in my Shinobi Mystery novels, often misunderstands the social conventions and clues presented in the course of a murder investigation. Sometimes, however, he’s the one that gets things right. By keeping him in the foreground, and letting him argue with my ninja protagonist, Hiro, I can use their differing opinions to keep the reader guessing.

All of these, and more, will further the sidekick’s most important job: 

5. Strengthening the Reader’s Connection to the Protagonist.

Ultimately, we read because we enjoy the adventure contained within the pages of a book. We read because we like the hero, or heroine, and because we want to see the villain lose. Although there are many wonderful novels which feature a “lone wolf” protagonist, it’s often the interactions between that character and the ones around her (or him) which draw us in and keep us turning pages

This is particularly true in series fiction.

Holmes without Watson becomes a neurotic, slightly-too-talented sleuth without the humanity and sense of humor his partner brings to the narrative.

Batman without Robin is …. Ok, that might be a bad example. (But a good one to highlight the fact that a sidekick is not an absolute MUST.)

If you’re struggling to make a connection between the reader and your protagonist, to heighten the tension, or to expand your narrative’s world and view, consider adding a sidekick or increasing the role of a secondary character in your novel.

You might discover a “Watson” is exactly what your protagonist really needs.

Who is your favorite fictional sidekick (and why)? What other ways do you think a sidekick can help the protagonist?

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Susan

Susan Spann, Writers In The StormSusan Spann writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, releases on July 15, 2014.

Susan is also a transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website, http://www.SusanSpann.com, and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

photo credit: dynamosquito via photopin cc

Posted in Craft, Susan Spann | Tagged , , , | 43 Comments

Skimming: Never a Good Thing

by Fae Rowen

Skimming is defined as a crime.Pond scum

If you skim money from your job, you’re going to jail. (Or worse depending who you work for.) Skimming is also defined as removing floating matter from a liquid. Can you say pond scum? That brings us to the final definition of skimming, as it pertains to your story: “To glance through and read quickly or superficially.”

As writers, this is the one that can kill a career–even before it begins.

Why do we skim when we read? We’re in a hurry to get through the boring, the uninteresting, the unnecessary details because we want to get to “the good stuff.” Unfortunately, as humans we want to speed through those same ordinary parts of our days. And we want to turbo-boost through the rough (i.e. the character-building) parts of our own lives.

If you’re skimming through your life, you are cheating not only yourself but your writing. And ultimately, your readers.

I know we’re all busy and tired, so we consciously – and unconsciously – try to save energy. The problem is, when we “multi-task” we zero-observe. Not a good idea for our craft, because our experiences translate into the magic that flows from our fingertips.

Our job is to open our readers to new sensations, new ideas, new locales. If we sleepwalk through our days, we’ve got no fuel for our writer-fire.

Who doesn’t feel potential in the fuchsia and pink streaks across the bluing of the sky at dawn? Who can’t take joy at a baby’s gurgling laugh of glee on the discovery of toes, even after being up all night with the child?

If we don’t wake up and notice the magnificence of life around us, in all its glories and defeats, how can we have any chance to inspire our readers?

No matter your genre, how can you share your world if you aren’t aware of the subtle interactions of others? Sure, we aren’t going to miss two colleagues screaming at each other at work, but did we miss the weeks (maybe months) of the small cues that led to the blowup? Did we miss the not-so-obvious clues? It’s those not-so-obvious clues that surprise our readers, providing the “twist” that makes our plots rise above others.

“If the well is dry, nobody’s getting a drink.”

As writers, we need to be reminded of this often. Take time to fill your well. Hone your powers of observation. You don’t need hours. You just need to wake up to your surroundings and stay present with what is happening in your life. Notice when you tend to “tune out” and be curious about why, really why, you do that. (You can’t use tired for an excuse.)

In fact, become very curious about everything. Not only will that keep you involved in your life, but you may find interesting perspectives about why you do what you do, day after day, even if it’s not making you happy.

Merely being observant is not being awake. A silent movie is simply the observations of a camera. The added sound comes from your feelings, your reactions to what you see.

A word of caution. Living your life completely isn’t easy. Don’t beat yourself up if you have trouble putting together five minutes of openness. And beware, you may uncover nastiness under that rug you’ve been ignoring.

But how can you expect your characters to work themselves out of those black moments we sink them into if we can’t get out of our own?

Awake is being engaged. Awake is feeling the moment. Awake is truly living.

Butterfly on HikeSo stop sleep-walking. Live your day today by trying to put together just five minutes of awake, even if they aren’t contiguous. Do this for yourself every day. It won’t be long until someone tells you your writing is different. Better. And I bet you’ll be able to say the same thing about your life.

Do you have tips on how to wake up? Are you willing to share a story about an experience that was different because you were fully engaged with your heart, your body, your very soul?

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Fae RowenFae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak.   Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present.  As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules then watch what happens.

Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of algebra lessons gone wrong.  She  is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.


Find Fae on Facebook, Twitter, or here at Writers In The Storm.

Posted in Inspiration | Tagged , , , , | 37 Comments

4 Pieces of Facebook Advice You Can Ignore

Facebooks, tips and tricks, Lisa Hall-Wilsonby Lisa Hall-Wilson

What to do? Facebook has changed – again. There’s more competition than ever for reader attention.

Writers are frustrated and it’s easy to understand why. How do you build a business when the goal posts for success keep moving? What’s the point?

Facebook is probably the slowest platform to build an audience on, and shooting yourself in the foot by listening to bad advice only makes it more difficult.

Choosing to build platform the right way will insulate you from the changes Facebook continues to make because those changes are often intended to deter those who cheat and try to game the system.

Here are 4 of the worst pieces of advice I’ve heard when it comes to building a writing platform on Facebook:

Promo your books to every group every day.

This feels a whole lot like spam.

There are three kinds of groups on Facebook: Open, Closed and Secret. Closed groups are searchable but you have to ‘join’ in order to see the posts. (Secret groups are the same only they won’t show up in searches, you have to be invited to join.)

So, you’re a member of XY closed group. The posts in that group will appear in YOUR news feed because you’re a member. Those posts won’t show up in your friends’ news feeds unless they’re also members of that group.

With an Open Group everything is public. When you post in ABC open group, then EFG group, This-Writer-Group, That-Fiction-Author-Group, etc. that post can (and will) show up in the news feeds of your friends. Over and over and over. Same status – same link – same image.

See why it feels like spam?

Instead of posting to all of these groups at the same time, pick the two or three groups most likely to be interested in that content and spread out posting there over 24 or 48 hours. Craft unique status updates to each group. Show up for the conversation.

Friend every member of every group so they’re more likely to see all your posts.

This is how people land in Facebook jail and are then mystified how it happened. Facebook states that you’re only to ‘friend’ people you know outside of Facebook. Too many people tell Facebook they don’t know you outside of Facebook and you land in Facebook jail with friending privileges suspended.

You’re much better off to be a useful contributor to a group and have people send you a friend request – because they’ll feel like they ‘know you.’ Or turn on the follow button on your Profile so they can follow you – whatever they’re comfortable with.

social media, Facebook

Communicate early, often, and frequently … but not about your books.

If you never post about your writing how will people know you’re a writer? Most people want to ‘know’ a famous author (you don’t need to debate what ‘famous’ means).

They want to get to know you, but they’re also interested in what you’re working on, books you have coming out. They love being asked for input – I need names for my main character – suggestions? Here are the two covers my publisher asked me choose between – what do you think?

Every status update is an opportunity to show your writing skills, you don’t need to trumpet that, but absolutely give that insider-look into the writer’s life and process.

Promote all the time or no one will know about your book.

This is the flip side to the above problem. If you’re a ‘buy my book’ 24/7 channel you become easy to ignore. OR people will hide you from their news feed – banished to Facebook Hinterland. Once you land there, it’s nearly impossible to prove to people you’ve changed your ways. Not only that, if people label your posts as spam in their news feed Facebook will further penalize you and show your posts to even fewer people. Before long you’ll be posting to an audience of your mother and best friend who are too polite to tell you how annoying that is.

This bad advice is often paired with: automate automate automate. Yes many platforms will let you cross post to Facebook. This isn’t bad if you’re crafting a post specifically for your Facebook audience AND you show up and contribute to the conversation you’ve started.

Do you have questions for Lisa? Which Facebook tips
worked the best for you? Which ones were not so hot?
Do you have social media pet peeves?

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Lisa is teaching a class Beyond Basics: Using Facebook To Build Platform on May 8th. This is a 2-hour online digital classroom session where she’ll go beyond the basics to learn more advanced techniques. Get her best tips for finding and creating content, best practice on sharing content, and how to drive more traffic to your blog or website.

About Lisa

LisaHallWilsonLisa Hall-Wilson is an award-winning freelance writer, syndicated columnist, and Facebook aficionado. She specializes in interviews, profiles, marketing copy, event promotion, and social justice, and teaches online classes for writers. She writes dark fantasy fiction.

Lisa never turns down an opportunity to go to the theatre (live or for a movie) and can’t resist a good story (especially if there are monsters). She hangs out on Facebook…a lot.

Fine her at her website, Through The Fire, on Twitter or — you guessed it — on Facebook.

photo credit: SalFalko via photopin cc

Posted in Bumps & Bruises on the Road to Publication, Technology Fun | Tagged , , , , | 30 Comments