Monday, February 28, 2011

Conflicting over conflict

There are those who say a genre book needs tension on every page. I think I agree with that, mostly. I do have a critique partner who soundly rejects that idea. For literary fiction, I'll agree with her, but for mysteries, thrillers, romance, speculative fiction, I think you gotta have it. If not on every page, at least in every scene.

Once things get going, I don't mind a let up and some relaxation. Let the heroine have a nice dinner with the guy, let the sleuth relax in the tub with candles and bubbles for an evening, let the spy find comfort in a soft, warm bed with a soft, warm body.

But not for more than a page or so!

How to write conflict and tension? The most obvious is to put obstacles in the way of the protagonist's goals. But that's already built in with your plot, most probably. What other kinds of conflict will keep the reader reading?

Your characters can have inner conflicts based either on the situations they're facing, or relationships with other characters. Or even aspects of their own personalities they're unhappy with and want to change--bad habits, addictions, disastrous relationships.

I love it when two or three characters have conflicting goals and something has to give. I also appreciate a built-in ticking bomb. Not literally a bomb, of course, although it could be, but a situation that must resolved within a given time period. This is the ultimate tension as the characters race against the clock to save the heir, rescue the prince, find the device that will end the world as we know it, etc.

Tension can even build when nothing overt is happening. This has to be set up, though. The reader has to know that something is brewing in the background while things are going smoothly. She has to know that the Sunday driver is heading toward a washed out bridge, just beyond the sharp bend. Or that the elderly man walking the Yorkie is about to pass the meth lab house where the three pit bulls have figured out how to get out of the chain link fence.  Or that the delicious apple pie ala mode has probably been poisoned.

Weather can create conflict for you, too. Impending storms, tornado sightings, earthquakes, floods. I like to use weather for mood, but also, occasionally, to put the characters into just a little more peril than they're already in.

What other good types of conflict have you read lately? Or maybe you've written them? 

“Picture of Captain Awata, Who Fights Furiously with His Celebrated Sword in the Assault on Magongcheng in the Pescadores”
This photographic image was published before December 31st 1956, or photographed before 1946 and not published for 10 years thereafter, under jurisdiction of the Government of Japan. Thus this photographic image is considered to be public domain according to article 23 of old copyright law of Japan and article 2 of supplemental provision of copyright law of Japan.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Keywords: Why are they important?

I've taken on a freelance project in order to pad my dwindling writing bank account. I'm thrilled to be publishing an urban fantasy in July called Nephilim, but not so thrilled at the time and cost it sometimes takes to promote it. However,  as my buddy Shakespeare says, "It is what it is." Having rediscovered the wonders of the freelance writer, I hope to use that money towards my promotion fund.

Its been a while since I've written any freelance articles, and I found myself in need of a refresher on the importance of using keywords while writing. A keyword is not a single "word," but a phrase people use in a search engine to find what they are looking for. The trick is that it must be exact. For example, if I were writing an article about the pleasures of opening your own at home daycare, the keyword would be "at home daycare." I'd have to use it exactly the same way, with the same punctation every time. Even the slightest variation--at home day care--could throw a search off.

Keywords help drive people to your website, article, or blog. As a re-emerging freelance writer, I want to make sure the keywords I use in my articles are the most profitable for the client. There are lots of sites online available to help you figure out what keywords to use in your own articles. Guess what? All you have to do is type in "keywords" in your search engine to find them!

Think about how this might apply to your personal blog. How might using keywords improve traffic to your site? It's worth the time to do a little research on this!

Monday, February 21, 2011

What's the right length?

I find that my first drafts of novels sometimes turn out to be around 50,000 words. That's too short for almost everything, so more has to be layered in. Other writers turn out first drafts over 100K, up to 120K, which is probably a little long for most genres.

Mystery, which is what I know the most about, is pretty specific on lengths. Cozies and traditionals are shorter, with thrillers allowed more words. Some publishers want mysteries to be at least 60K, others 65K. Tops for that category is probably 75 or 80K. A thriller of 80K or 90K is probably about right, but can go longer for some publishers.

Then there's short fiction. Novellas fall in between novels and short stories. My first drafts would probably qualify if they were any good. But for true short stories, length is subjective.

The Derringers, a short story contest award, has in the past specified a long short story as 8001-17,500; mid-length as 4001-8000; short story as 1001-4000; and flash as up to 1000. They do sometimes change these categories and other contests have other length requirements.

Flash fiction may be the most variable of all. There are online sites that take 55 words or less for publication, 100 or less, 666 or less, 700 or less, and 1000 or less. At least one calls 500 words flash fiction and another 1000. There are sites that want six-sentence stories, and I've seen contests for six word stories. That's short!

So what can the writer aim for? In most cases, I say it's best to let the story take its course, then find the market. But it *is* fun to write for the shorter markets. There's no better way to hone your prose, make it lean and clean, eliminate every single last unnecessary word.

 (photo by Lite, used under GNU Free Documentation License)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Creating a Connection with Characters

Recently, a depressed writer friend approached me about her young adult novel. She'd been slaving over it for almost a year, nurturing it into a strong piece of work fit for an agent to claim. The back story had been trimmed up, there was lots of showing versus telling, and she'd cut all the grammer no-no's we writers have been told are naughty things. Her query letter was awesome and two agents requested to see her full manuscript right away.

Sounds like smooth sailing right? Not quite...

See, my friend came to me really upset because one of the agents had passed on the novel. Now if you've been writing or researching the craft of writing, you know that rejection is what you get about 95% of the time. So I told my friend, "Hey, sorry, but you need to toughen up. Rejection is the name of the game."

Then she told me she wasn't really upset about being rejected. It was why she was rejected that bugged her. The agent was extremely complimentary, saying that my friend's work was better than most of the stuff that crosses her desk! She loved the premise and thought the writing was strong, but alas, she didn't connect with the main character. Naturally, my friend freaked out about that because her novel is written in first person through the eyes of that main character.

What should she do? Re-write the whole thing? Scrap the first person? How should she make the connection?

Those are good questions to ponder. After careful consideration, I told her to leave it alone. After all, it is just one person's opinion. Now if she gets the same response repeatedly, then yes, it's probably wise to go back and re-look at things. But for now, holding off on big changes seems the wise choice.

I thought back to several popular books I'd read recently. Truthfully, I didn't always make the connection with the character in some of those. Take the Twilight series. While I think those books are interesting, I don't have much of a connection with Bella Swan. She's too mousy, too reliant on Edward for my taste, and I could never figure out why she picked the cold guy over the warm guy. (Then again, I really hate to be cold so that may have influenced by opinion.) I only finished the series because as a young adult writer I think it's important to read what's selling and support other authors. On the other hand, I read The Hunger Games series and felt very connected to Katniss Everdeen. She explemfied the strong characters I love to read about and always wanted to be as a young adult.

When it comes down to a reader connecting with a character, as a writer I understand that it's important. Your book won't sell if someone doesn't connect with it. On the other hand, this is an incredibly subjective business and not everyone will make a connection. What's important is not to give up on your character!

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Animoto: Making Your Own Book Trailer

We all know authors are becoming more and more responsible for promoting themselves and their books. I've written several blogs about this very thing, but I wanted to share another site I've been using that can really assist broke authors in the task of self promotion. It's called Animoto. I'd heard about it a few months ago from several friends, and then recently was introduced to it again by a colleague. But you know how it is with social media. The key is having the time to play around with it!

And I'm so glad I finally did.

See, I'm the PR rep at my school this year and part of what I do is come up with activities after school for teachers to attend. Now, I don't know if you're aware of it, but teachers don't actually always like hanging out together off campus. I mean, you spend all day working with kids, you're tired and cranky at the end of the day, and the last thing you really want is to relax with people who feel just as frustrated as you do. I've had to come up with inventive ways to get my co-workers to chillax together at the end of the work day and the most effective tool I've found (besides putting up propaganda on the bathroom walls where they're forced to see it) is movie trailers. I've become a genius at using iMovie! I send out iMovies about every event we have and it's lots of fun to use.

However, since discovering Animoto, I've been venturing over to the dark side of film making. Animoto lets you to make short movies (30 seconds) for free, and it has awesome still images, live action clips, and music for you to use. It even allows you to import your own images and music, too. If you want to go even longer with your movie, there's a $5 a month option that gives you more choices or you can go Pro. Right now, I'm using the $5 option and getting a lot for my money.

Of course, this got me thinking about book trailers. I've seen some great ones and some that could...well, use a little more work. I'm currently working on the book trailer for my urban fantasy, Nephilim, using Animoto, and while it's not quite ready for public consumption yet, I do have a small one that promotes my publisher, Lyrical Press, Inc. Click on the link to check it out! Maybe it will give you some ideas for your own book trailer!

Click on the words Lyrical Press to see the trailer.

Lyrical Press

Monday, February 7, 2011

Blogging is Over

public domain photo

If you’re reading this, I’ll bet you didn’t even know that. But, according to this February 1st article, it is now The End of  Blogging. Or so says Nick Denton. He mentions the blog format, “reverse-chronological aggregation accompanied by commentary”, is “not long for this world”.


The writer is quite fond of the word “aggregation”, I noticed. His article achieved a forward aggregation, that is, he aggregated the word six times. I say a forward aggregation only because my search was set on “down”. I could achieve reverse by searching “up”, I’ll bet.

From now on, let’s not reverse our chronological aggregations, let’s move ‘em on down the line--forward-wise. Deal?

“In fact, the decline of the blog has come so quickly, one has to wonder whether we ever really liked the medium at all.” Well, I don’t know if “liked” is the right word. Don’t we all feel it’s something we must do? I enjoy it, but evidently I shouldn’t.

The whole article is, I kid you not, hilarious. Little gem’s like this quote from Choire Sicha from something called The Awl. “First it was embarrassing because bloggers were these dirty, horrible people, and then it was embarrassing because our grandmas have blogs, God bless them." Well gee, this really hit home. I’m the worst of the worst. I’m a blogger (a multiple-blogger yet) AND a grandma. I’ve never really thought of myself as dirty and horrible, but I’m obviously missing something.

Denton’s opinion is that “social media killed the ironic blog headline.” Now that I know ironic headlines are dead, I can stop worrying about creating those. Whew!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Track Changes: Pain in the rear or manna from Heaven?

We all have our methods of editing. For some, Post It notes stuck across your workspace are the key. For others, it's all about spreadsheets and graphic organizers. For me, it's a combination of those things, plus a little thing called Track Changes. Since discovering this gem, my editing life has become so much easier! No longer am I slave to my yellow Post Its!

Track Changes is a function available in Microsoft Word. When clicked on, the Track Changes option allows you to see in a little bubble off to the side what you have deleted or added in your manuscript. It also lets you make comments about what you've written. I use the comment function so I can make notes to myself about a character or as a reminder about something I need to do in a later section. Track Changes can be especially useful if another person is editing your work. Again, you can see what they've deleted, and comments can be left to the side regarding suggestions for changing the work or for what is working in the manuscript. 

The tricky part about using this function, the part that can be a real pain in the rear, is figuring out how to turn it off. Seems like it would be a no brainer, right? Ha! It's easy to think you've turned it off and then find out later you've only hidden the comments. I hear stories all the time about people who claim to have turned Track Changes off, emailed the manuscript out, and get rejected because the agent or editor was confused by all the weird comments and edits appearing on the screen. Talk about embarrassing, and yes, I speak from personal experience.

You just have to remember to Accept the Changes. On your toolbar, you can go in to Track Changes and either accept or reject the changes. This can be done by going through each change one by one, or you can select Accept all changes. Only then can you send out the manuscript without fear of the whole world seeing everything you cut out or reading all the silly comments you made to yourself.

Give it a try and let me know how it works for you!

Interested in learning more? Check out