Friday, May 28, 2010

New Places, New Ideas

Whenever I'm going out of town, I always pick one or two writing-related things that I want to work out. For example, a new short story idea, a name for a fictitious town, or the solution to a plot problem. I tell myself beforehand that these are the things I want to discover or figure out, and usually I do. By making your subconscious aware of what it needs to work on, you can become more aware of surroundings and possibilities. New environments and new experiences feed your creativity, and may give you exactly what you need. A little physical distance can do wonders. Give this technique a whirl next time you're heading out of town.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

High Seas Adventure

One of my favorite adventure novels is the classic Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. You're swept into the action in chapter one where the young narrator meets the pirate who will seal his fate for the remainder of the story. From treasure hunting to battling on a deserted (or is it?) island, this book keeps you excited and uncertain from beginning to end. Stevenson sneaks in a few surprises as well. This is a page turner and easy to read in a day or two. If you like high seas adventure, I suggest you turn to the original and read Treasure Island this weekend.

Photo by cliff1066

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

'Til Death Do Us Part

Killing off a character can be a tough business. Though I don't usually write traditional murder mysteries, at some point someone in my stories has to die. I feel bad about it, but it's just the way I write. Lots of novels (not just mysteries) use the death of one character to raise the stakes of another. There's an emotional investment there that doesn't exist with most other events.

Death can also have a domino affect and cause new dimensions to emerge in the survivors. The impact is usually different from one novel to the next. Some are meant to make you cry, while others are more the point of the story and you don't really feel that much for the victim.

This business is probably easier for some writers than for others. I often know my victim early on in the plotting process and make a point of not getting too close, which can be tough when writing a novel and investing a lot of time in getting to know the characters. Other times, however, it's extremely important that the writer is as emotionally invested in the character as the reader. It all depends on the story.

So how do you choose a victim? A lot of times for me, the vic comes out of the story itself. The choice becomes obvious because of the events taking place. I don't like to make the victim too obvious for readers though. I want to keep you guessing for as long as possible. However, sometimes I plot around the victim. Again, it all depends on the story.

In the Donald Maass book Writing the Breakout Novel, he suggests randomly picking a character who is expendable and killing him off. I did this for my current novel, and the results were intriguing. It led to the resurrection of one character and the end of another, which opened up an entire new set of exciting events. The stakes were raised for everyone left standing.

If you don't normally kill any of your characters, it's a tactic you might try and see what happens to the surviving cast members and the story. How do they react? What are the consequences?

If you do employ this in your writing, how have you found it helps your stories/characters? What are your methods for choosing a victim?

Photo by hansvandenberg30

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tension in Fiction

It seems odd that tension should be so important to good storytelling. One definition of tension is mental or emotional strain. Think of tense situations or relationships you've been involved in. How did they feel? Uncomfortable, awkward, even painful? In real life we avoid tense situations. So if tension is so heinous, why do we desire tension in novels, even if we don't know it? Why do we put down books that don't keep the tension going from scene to scene?

Simply put, tension in novels keeps us interested. When tension lags, desire to read on lags. When tension is high, you read faster, wanting to know what's next. Readers live on that kind of mental stress. When I think of books that I read the fastest, it's usually because tension was high on page one and didn't let up. In fact, it often intensified.

I'd never analyzed this until recently, but I'm fascinated by how obnoxious tension is in real scenarios and yet how desirable in fiction. Thrillers, mysteries, romances, literary novels - all thrive on tension. Tension between characters, whether enemies or lovers, is the stuff of life in a novel.

What are your thoughts on tension in fiction? Why do you think it's important to keeping momentum?

Photo by rick

Monday, May 24, 2010

Character Interviews & Death Scenes

Are you a writer? Do you like working on character development? Or, maybe, you prefer plotting how to kill off characters instead? I've found two blogfests that may suit your fancy.

Character Interview Blogfest
Host: Echoes of a Wayward Mind
When: June 15, 2010
What: Post an interview with one of your characters in 500-700 words.

The Blogfest of Death
Host: Tessa's Blurb
When: July 18, 2010
What: Write a death scene in 1,000 words or less.

Sound like fun? Thought so. Now to figure out who I can kill....

Friday, May 21, 2010

Rewrites, Robin Hood, & Martha's Vineyard

Other than this blog post, I have three things on my brain today: rewriting my novel, going to see the new Robin Hood movie tomorrow, and spending a few days on Martha's Vineyard next week.

My novel's rewrite is coming along wonderfully, with the help of some terrific (and thought-provoking) exercises in the Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass. As with all renovations, my novel looks a mess right now. But I know what it will look like soon and it's going to be gorgeous!

I can't wait to see the new movie with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. I am a Robin Hood addict. It began at age 5 with Disney's animated version, and grew into an obsession with all things medieval. And it's all because of an animated fox.

I am also trying to get my ducks in a row to head off to Martha's Vineyard next week. Despite growing up in central Massachusetts, I've never visited the Vineyard so I'm excited to explore new territory.

Happy weekend!

Photo by Jo Jakeman

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Read Dangerously

Do you crave adventure and excitement? I think most of us do from time to time. And while we may not get much of either in real life, books can give us an abundance of both. A few years ago, my sister insisted I would love these adventure/romance books written by Madeleine Brent. Though I wasn't convinced I'd like them, I figured I'd give one a shot. I borrowed The Long Masquerade, and after reading a page or two I was hooked. I blasted through that novel and sought more of these out-of-print gems.

Taking place around the turn of the 20th century, pretty much every novel starts (or ends) in an exotic location (exotic to some of us at least). For example, The Long Masqerade begins in Jamaica, and Moonraker's Bride starts in China. Each heroine has a mystery to figure out either about her own past or that of the people she's entangled with. And every single heroine faces misfortune and danger before the end. The characters are complex, the situations seemingly impossible, and the excitement unending.

My favorite Brent books are Moonraker's Bride, Tregaron's Daughter, and The Long Masquerade. I've added a short review of each on my Goodreads page for your perusal. You may need to search to find them since they're out of print, but they are well worth the effort. If you like stories that keep you on edge, I highly suggest Madeleine Brent's novels.

Photo by bijoy mohan

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

20 Classics to Read This Summer

Do you like to read at the beach, while flying or riding, or just as a good way to chill out between summer activities? I don't know why, but I always lean toward the classics during the warmer months. So I've brainstormed a list of 20 books for you to pick through over the next couple of months.

Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Othello by Shakespeare
The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
Have His Carcasse by Dorothy Sayers
Murder on the Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
A Room With a View by E.M. Forster
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Family Happiness by Leo Tolstoy
Persuasion by Jane Austen

What suggestions do you have for good summer reading? Share them with us!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Heroine is Born

While in a frenzy over my novel rewrite this weekend, it hit me that just about a year ago my heroine, Imogen Bell, came into being. It all started because of the name Pinky. Coming across this name while working on a different story conjured an image of a young woman and I couldn't get her out of my brain. The result was that I took her on board, named her Imogen, and spent time with her until we found the right story.

It's funny thinking back to those first glimpses. I knew nothing about her, but I was driven to spend every waking moment getting to know her. She's no longer superficial but a fully matured individual who has become as real to me as any living person. And I can keep learning about her -- just like a real person. Rewriting has opened my mind to her other dimensions and I'm thrilled to explore these and bring my readers an even richer, deeper Imogen Bell.

When the writing gets tough, I always remind myself that my greatest excitement comes from discovery. I love unearthing character traits and dimensions. Just like in real life, the fun of getting to know people is that they surprise you.

Monday, May 17, 2010

What Makes Us Care About a Character?

When you read a novel or short story, what about the character makes you care what happens to her? While working on revising my own novel, I've been thinking about this a lot in the last few days. Here are just three things I've thought of that make a character appealing.

Qualities we aspire to. Great characters who draw us in (time after time in some cases) usually have qualities we would like to have ourselves. For example, most of us would want to show the kind of courage many characters in books and movies display.

Complicated inner lives. Characters who come packaged with inner conflict make us sympathize. Who of us hasn't had to make difficult choices? We can relate on some level, even when their situation is much different from our own.

Hope of something better. Many memorable characters give us hope that dreams do come true, that insurmountable problems can be overcome, and that we can reach our potential.

Many other things can help us bond with a character. Think about characters that you love. What is it about them that you can't resist?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Watching The Young Victoria

I'm taking a different route today and writing about a movie instead of a book. I watched The Young Victoria last night, starring Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend and featuring a favorite of mine, Paul Bettany. I can't say I expected much going into it, but I finished delighted that I had rented it. The story manages to balance cute with serious. While showing the blooming relationship between Albert and Victoria, you also witness the difficult issues she faced behind-the-scenes and the problems she had early in her reign.

Rupert Friend played Mr. Wickham in the Hollywood version of Pride & Prejudice, but I was surprised to find I actually liked him in this movie. I had to look up Emily Blunt because I knew I'd seen her before, and sure enough I had -- as the prickly Emily in The Devil Wears Prada (I think the different hair color threw me). There are many cute moments throughout the story between Albert and Victoria and they finish on a positive note. My only real complaint was that I felt it went on a bit too long. My interest started to wane toward the end. But it's a minor fault really on a scale of potential movie issues.

If you like to be entertained but also get emotionally attached to the characters, I'd recommend The Young Victoria as a good weekend rental.

Photo credit wallyg

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Writing & a Movie

Some people eat while watching a movie, I write. Last night I was in action-adventure mode and popped in the latest Transformers movie. Then I flipped open my laptop and sat down to get revising. I had come up with a brilliant way to make the opening scene of my book a lot better and I was dying to get to it. Then the movie starts and I'm thinking, there is no way I'm going to be able to write with this on. I start typing over the booms and robot noises, trying to delve into the mood of the scene I'm writing, which does happen to be action-oriented. It's going kind of slow, but I really don't want to turn off the film!

Well, lo and behold the movie comes to the point where they're in Egypt and for some reason the soundtrack at that point clicks with what I'm working on. Words come pouring out and I'm all in the scene I'm writing and nothing else exists. Something about the quiet of the music helped me capture the sensory emotions I wanted to portray. I haven't gone back to read it yet, but I know if nothing else that I have the raw emotions and visceral aspects of the action that I wanted the reader to experience. And all because of the soundtrack of a movie I was watching. Who knew?

Photo credit azrainman

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why Reading as a Teenager is Important

My sister and I got talking recently about books we read as children. It got me thinking about what I read as a teenager and how deeply those books affected me at the time, and how so many of them have stuck with me years later. You're developing emotionally in leaps and bounds as a teen. Pretty much everything at that time in life is an emotional experience, much more so than when you're younger.

The books and authors I loved through those years (L.M. Montgomery, Ann Rinaldi, Sherry Garland) shaped my thinking, my perspective on life, and my writing. To some extent, reading as a teen kept me stable. The books I read were filled with teenagers experiencing similar feelings to mine. While I escaped into other worlds, time periods, and lands, reading also helped me know I wasn't alone.

Books also kept my imagination alive and well. While television and movies do the work for you, books demand interaction. As a young writer, I was also learning in the process. I often copied the styles of writers I liked and that helped me to eventually find my own style. Just like music and dancing, reading and writing influence our development. It's not a waste of time, and I'm always happy to see younger people reading and writing for the fun of it.

Reading doesn't have to be a natural love to be enjoyable either. Some people just love to read straight out of the womb. I wasn't one of them. I always loved stories but an actual love of reading didn't come until my early teens. Part of the trick is finding the right books. If you find a book you love, you'll be hooked and want to read more. For me, it was Anne of Green Gables. I almost finished the series in a week while on vacation with my family. Once I knew what I liked, it was just a matter of finding more books like that.

Besides Anne of Green Gables, The Last Silk Dress by Ann Rinaldi, Shadow of the Dragon by Sherry Garland, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor started a fire for me. What books influenced (or are influencing) you as a teenager?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Authors Who Blog

If you're a fan who wants to follow the goings-on of your favorite writers, or a writer looking for insight into the craft, you can find that and much more on many authors' blogs. Here are a few that I've found and follow.

The LadyKillers. This is a rotating, collaborative blog of (mostly) female mystery writers. Current writers include Diana Orgain, Ann Parker, and Mary Anna Evans.

Author, Jody Hedlund. Hedlund offers great business advice to writers. Her topics range from writing query letters to getting an agent to using the Internet for self-promotion.

Inkygirl: Daily Diversions for Writers. YA writer Debbie Ridpath Ohi keeps us entertained with random and humorous posts, and my personal favorite, original comics.

Rhys's Pieces. Mystery author Rhys Bowen keeps fans abreast of her activities, and muses on various topics.

History Buff. Historical-fiction author Michelle Moran blogs about archaeology finds around the world, and interviews other historical-fiction authors.

Sisters in Crime. Another collective blog that's geared to help female mystery writers with both the craft and the business of writing.

Cara Black's Blog. Mystery author Cara Black blogs about Paris, the setting for her Aimee Leduc series.

What authors' blogs have you found or follow? Share them here!

Monday, May 10, 2010

If You Love Pride & Prejudice, You'll Love North & South

If you swoon whenever Mr. Darcy appears or melt when Darcy and Elizabeth finally get together, then I think you will love North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell. A contemporary of Dickens (he was a big fan of her work), Gaskell does not get the attention that other authors of her time do, though she certainly deserves it. North & South, one of her best novels, is a romance complicated by politics, attitudes, and misunderstandings.

Margaret Hale has been forced to move to a fictitious mill town in northern England under unpleasant circumstances with her family. She's resentful and harbors prejudice against northern ways. She's been raised as a lady, living a good portion of her life in London, and starts out as a bit of an uppity-up. John Thornton owns one of the mills and is a rough, working class kind of guy. The two collide amidst a backdrop of restless mill workers ready to strike and hard family times.

Margaret and John follow similar character paths as Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, and are rather similar in some ways. One of my favorite aspects of the story, however, is that Gaskell tells the story from both Margaret's and John's perspectives so you know exactly how both of them feel.

If you've been looking for more books like Pride & Prejudice, go get a copy of North & South today.

What novels would you recommend that are similar to Pride & Prejudice?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

One Flew Over the Cliff

This is my #storycraft flash fiction contribution this week. My main character, Sommer Seybold, was inspired by photo #1 here. It's a mystery solved in record time. Enjoy!


Sommer Seybold stared down the cliff at the car below, lodged on the rocks and sand. She wrapped the trench coat she had randomly grabbed on her way out tighter around her body. It was May in Newport, Rhode Island, and warm for the time of year. But the Atlantic wind still cut right through her halter gown to her bones.

Sommer and about three hundred others were guests at her cousin's wedding on the lawn of a mansion a few hairpin turns away. The car at the bottom belonged to the groom, David. And their only witness and possible suspect was the bride's brother, Chris Stevens. They'd found red paint transfer on the back of David's car. She looked back at Chris, leaning against a red convertible, his shirt untucked with the sleeves rolled up. She'd heard through the rumor mill that Chris and David had fought before the wedding. Her three inch heels clacked on the blacktop as she walked up to Casey McCormick, her colleague. He had a square face and wore silver, wire-rim glasses. Sommer smiled at him then focused on Chris.

"What did you and David argue about earlier?" Sommer said to Chris.

He raised his eyebrows.

"David was nervous and flipped out over something I said. That's all."

"We found red paint transfer on the bumper of David's car," Casey said. "And there's paint missing from your front bumper."

"And I have the only red car around?"

"You're a convenient witness to what appears to be more than an accident," Sommer said, tucking a strand of red hair behind an ear.

"Look. David disappeared from my view up this curve," Chris said, pointing, "and when I caught up, he was going over the cliff."

"Why did David leave after the wedding?" Sommer said.

"Just got cold feet and needed to clear his head," he said, shaking his keys in his pants pocket.

"He was already married."

"Then maybe he needed to get away from all the people. I don't know."

"Red paint on David's car," Casey said, "red paint missing from yours, and no other cars on the road when he flew off the side. That's quite the mystery."

Something Casey said triggered a memory and Sommer nearly gasped. She scuttled to the driver's side of the convertible, studying the inside. She pushed on the bottom of the seat, two pearl beads rolling forward. Casey leaned over and picked one up with a gloved hand, examining it in the light.

"Nicole's wedding gown has beading," Sommer said, her eyes narrowing. "And she drives the same car as you. You didn't drive after him, did you? She did. And then you followed her. Nicole pushed David off the edge. You told her to go back to the reception and she took off in your car by accident."

Chris swallowed and looked away.

Sommer nodded to Casey and they hurried back to the wedding reception.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Say Yes to the Blog Template

After deciding I couldn't stand my previous template, I finally found one that I absolutely love. It's sort of like buying a wedding dress. I searched, I debated, I worried. But in the end, this was the one and I didn't need to look around any more. Here's my advice if you're starting a blog or want to change your template:

1. Go for one that suits you and your blog's topic.
2. Don't fret too much; you can always change it later.
3. Simple is usually better for reading.

That being said, check back this weekend for a flash fiction mystery. Have a great weekend!


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Weekend Read: Lost in Austen

Lost in Austen by Emma Campbell Webster is a fantastic interactive adventure, mashing up all of Austen's books. You play as Elizabeth Bennett and have to make choices at different story crossroads. Should you go ahead and marry Mr. Collins? Will you accept Darcy's invitation to dance? Your decisions affect you and your family's futures. While following the basic Pride & Prejudice story line, you also run into familiar faces from Mansfield Park, Emma, and even Becoming Jane. The format is fun and addictive, and the author's style has a playful, sometimes acidic sense of humor. Extra quizzes about the life and times of Regency era inhabitants can either give you points or subtract from them. You don't necessarily have to keep score but it's more fun that way. And I would suggest playing some of it with your friends for a good laugh.

If you want some entertainment this weekend mixed with a little interactivity, pick up a copy of Lost in Austen this weekend.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tips to Find Books You'll Love

It's hard to know if you'll love a book when you take one home from the store or library. Sometimes we don't think we'll like it, and have the reverse reaction. Other times, we're all excited, only to feel disappointed when we've finished reading. There are no guarantees, but you can pinpoint books that have definite "I loved it!" potential. Here are some tips to find them.

Figure out your favorite genres. We don't always realize what we like until we analyze our choices. Think about what section of the bookstore or library you always gravitate toward. What books do you leave with? It took me a while to realize I always left with mysteries, especially of the historical kind. Once I figured that out, it was much easier to find books I'd probably love.

Search for your favorite authors and see who they're associated with. Like attracts like. Often by looking up one author, you'll stumble across other authors who write similar books. It may be a link on a website or blog roll, or a list of other authors who attended the same conference.

Read blogs, websites, and groups that review and recommend books in your genres. Many readers review books, and many blogs and websites are focused on a specific genre like historical-fiction or chick lit. Joining groups at places like Goodreads may also link you to good recommendations.

Check out recommendations from online bookstores. Most online bookstores recommend books they think you'll like based on what you've bought or searched for in the past. These suggestions aren't always on point, but I have stumbled across good ones this way. It's only a click of the mouse, so what's the hurt in trying?

How have you found some of your favorite books?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

#storycraft Flash Fiction Challenge

The Sword

It didn't have a name. In fact, he (as it liked to think of itself) and his Master had never spoken. But as the hand choked his hilt, the Sword felt that bond they'd always had from the moment they'd set foot on the practice field together.

Now as he sliced through the air, the Sword became an extension of his Master. He was not steel and his Master flesh. They were indivisible, scorching enemies as one. Alone the Sword could feel nothing. But through his Master he felt dry and wet, brittle and rock. He had purpose and direction. His forging was not in vain.

Air rushed over him as he swung up and over and down like a well-timed dance. Steel clashed on steel, echoing through his metal skin. The Sword shook and rebounded, striking his opponent again, harder until he shattered the hard metal shell. One down, the Sword seized more enemies, he and his Master in perfect synchronization.

The Sword could remember a time when he felt limp in his Master's hand at their first meeting so long ago. The Sword did not know of all the sensations he now longed for when closed away in the dark. Now to plunge and slice, shatter and cut. To feel the wet liquid that warmed his metal being as it slid across his curves and dripped off. They were more than sensations now. They were freedom.

As all the years they'd spent together seemed to collide in this one battle, the Sword's accuracy suddenly faltered. The strength wielding him collapsed and the Sword plunged toward the earth. Mud oozed over him, filling the carvings surrounding the hilt. The Sword sunk into the slop, waiting in the darkness.



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