Thursday, March 31, 2011

Finding Voice

Most writers are concerned about voice. When you write, you want to sound like you. Some people come out of the womb with their own voice while others keep writing until they find it. I was definitely in the latter category. When I was a kid, I would copy the voices of authors I loved at the time like Louisa May Alcott. As a teen, I experimented with styles and tried on many writing voices. Sometimes I didn't know if I would ever find me - my own voice and style.

Some stories prove that I wasn't always lost though. One that I wrote as a teenager proves that deep down I did know who I was. I can't remember the title but it centered around a girl whose mother was killed and she actually saw who did it, but that didn't come out until the end and it was sort of about her journey getting there. That story and another one I wrote later always stand out to me as moments when I knew what kind of writer I was. There's lots of confused moments in between, but eventually I came around again.

How did I ultimately find my own voice then? For one thing, I stopped writing what I thought I should write, and focused on what I wanted to write. Switching my focus from literary fiction to mysteries made all the difference. Even though it was terrible, I had the most fun when I wrote the first draft of The Jester's Apprentice. I felt free - and oddly confident considering I didn't know what I was doing! I had found my element and that was half the battle.

Similarly, when writing Dead Locked, I drew from things that I love and make me excited to write - pirates, hidden treasure, blending history with modern times. This combined with characters I loved meant that I pretty much had to write in my own voice because it was all very me. I couldn't force it to happen, but when everything else was right, it came.

If you're still searching for your voice, don't try to force it and don't worry if it doesn't happen over night. Just keep writing and write what interests you, and your own, original voice will follow!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Decode, Chapter 3: The Message

Chapter 3: The Message

After downing spaghetti and coke, Veronica started a comfort movie marathon and ran the beta web development program she was supposed to test for Maddox Technology. She thought about calling her boyfriend to tell him what happened, but she'd already run through the whole story with the Lieutenant, her sister-in-law, and then her brother, and she was cooked. Jesse would have to wait.

As Veronica scanned the program folder, Maddox Felton's last words to her before she left that afternoon came back to her. Don't miss a thing. So she looked closer, clicking on the only odd file she noticed. A document with lines and lines of source code opened up. Veronica adjusted the laptop screen to make sure she was seeing things correctly. She followed the code, most of it unfamiliar to her. But from what little programming she knew, she could tell it was something major.

Going back to Maddox' words, Veronica focused on the lines of code, scrolling back to the top. At first, it all looked like muck but as she concentrated, she could make sense out of some of it. And one thing that made sense was definitely a phone number. Dialing before she lost courage or came to her senses, she heard a familiar voice pick up and stuttered an introduction.

"Couldn't you have just told me your phone number in the elevator?"

"Believe me, I would rather run a direct operation," Maddox said. "But I can't afford to. The more you figure out on your own, the better."

"What do you want from me? I'm a small-time web designer."

"You're also intelligent and I feel I can trust you."

"And how would know this?"

"Our lengthy conversation back in the summer. At the corporate party."

"Right. So one conversation and you're entrusting me with corporate secrets."

"Not exactly. But I am entrusting you with a job I believe you can handle."

Veronica had to admit he piqued her curiosity.

"What type of job?"

She could almost feel Maddox smirking.

"I need an inconspicuous pair of eyes and ears around. A person who others will talk around or even to."

"You want me to spy on your employees?"

"In a manner of speaking, yes."

"And I'm cut out for this job because..."

"Because you put people at ease. And you don't exactly look threatening."

Veronica bristled.

"I can look threatening!"

Maddox laughed. "In an alternate universe perhaps."

"Fine. What about David Moore? Did he spy for you too?"

Maddox paused. "I didn't expect that."

"So you know?"

She thought she heard Maddox sigh on the other end.

"I saw what happened to you this afternoon."

"You saw what happened?" Veronica pushed her laptop aside, sitting up straight on her couch.

"Don't get excited."

"Fine. Enlighten me as to what you were doing there then."

"Soon enough. Just watch over that disc for the moment."

"What am I guarding? Is it the code?"

"You've gotten all you'll get for tonight. Just follow my instructions and you'll be fine."

"Why should I?"

"I can compensate you generously. Plus, I have connections that could help your business. Think about it."

Veronica shut down her computer for the night and snuggled up under her sheets, wishing the nightmare to end. After tossing and turning for what felt like hours, she finally dozed off only to wake up with a start to what sounded like the floor squeaking in her living room. Veronica froze, then forced her body to move, slowly opening her bedroom door. She told herself it was nothing and peeked out, then took a step into the doorway.

Veronica and a stranger stood locked on each other in the darkness of her living room. The intruder regained his senses first, darting from the coffee table to the main entrance in a few steps. Without thinking, Veronica dashed after him, running down the concrete steps in her bare feet. The person had already fled as Veronica stood on her stoop, her breath shooting out in clouds, staring out into the dark.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

When You Need a Specific Idea

It may be easy to find a general idea for a story, poem, or even an article. But what about when you need a specific idea? Maybe it's an assignment or a themed contribution. Regardless, the idea well may dry up and you may not have all the time in the world to wait for a spark. What can you do?

Tell your subconscious what you need. I know this sounds silly, but I do this all the time and it really works. Right before you go to sleep (or some other time), outline the guidelines of your project. (For example, you need a modern mystery idea that will work as a short story.) Be specific about what you really want or need and your subconscious will deliver.

Do writing exercises with a purpose. Knowing what you want, choose exercises or prompts that seem to connect with your goal. Then write with what you need in mind. You may not get a finished product, but you will at least end up with potential concepts to work with. (Make it more fun and get a writing buddy or friend to do the prompts with you.)

Use classic brainstorming techniques. You probably have your favorites. I always lean towards clustering or listing. If you're really stuck, try a technique new to you. Getting out of your comfort zone may unlock of host of potential beginnings.

Relax. It's easy to stress when the ideas won't flow, but that's the worst thing you can do. So do your best to chill out so you can focus on your writing and not on the fact that you don't have any ideas. Listen to music, take a walk, work on another project for a while - whatever helps you to relax so you can think straight and be productive.

Using one of these methods or a combination will help kick start your creativity, but in a more focused way. Instead of shooting out random ideas, you will get specific ideas so you can move ahead with your project.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Decode, Chapter 2: Crash

In case you missed it, the first installment of Decode was last Sunday. Check back every week for a new chapter!

Chapter 2: Crash

Veronica cut through a side street to get home faster after her meeting with David Moore at Maddox Technology. All she could think about was that insolent Craig/Maddox person and spaghetti. She picked up speed passing the gingerbread houses she coveted, when something slammed into the side of her car, rolling across the hood.

Veronica screamed, her brakes squealing as she came to a stop, a man's body sliding onto the street. She fumbled out, peering at the body on the ground.

"Sir," she said, gripping his shirt sleeve. "Sir!" The man didn't move or so much as grunt and he felt rigid.

Veronica's whole body shook as she flung her purse upside down to get to her phone. She could barely articulate what happened and tried to focus on the trees, the house in front of her, or the mound of receipts now piled in her seat. Anything but the body frozen on the ground in front of her car.

What felt like hours later, she sat frozen to a metal chair, awaiting her execution judgment. She had never seen the inside of the police station. And as she looked around, not actually seeing anything, she wished she wasn't there at that moment either. Veronica replayed the scene in her mind over and over, wondering how she hadn't seen the man coming. Had she been that distracted? Veronica always considered herself a careful driver, but a careful driver wouldn't kill someone with her car.

A man in his fifties with a long, thick face and olive skin sat down at the desk in front of her. The name on the plaque read Lieutenant Stanley Guarini.

"Did I...did I kill him?" Veronica gripped her bag, which was still empty except for her wallet and cell phone. "I know it sounds crazy but I could swear he fell out of the sky. I didn't see anyone on the road until...until I hit him."

Guarini puckered his lips in what Veronica supposed was a smile. The young woman in front of him looked a mess with tangled pieces of chestnut hair coming loose from the twist on her head, her glasses askew on the bridge of her nose.

"Good news," he said in a not so good news type of voice. "You didn't kill our John Doe."

Veronica started to smile. But then she saw his facial expression.

"He was already dead when you hit him."

Veronica's jaw dropped. Lt. Guarini flipped open a folder and handed her a photo of the victim. Veronica clasped a hand over her mouth.

"Do you know him?"

Veronica nodded, pushing the photo back to the Lieutenant.

"I just met him today." She fought a lump rising in her throat and wrapped an arm around her stomach. "David Moore. Maddox Technology."

Guarini smiled sympathetically and handed her a box of tissues.

"You work there?"

Veronica wiped her nose. "No. I'm a web designer and I'm supposed to beta test some software. My boyfriend is a programmer there though."

Guarini nodded. "I suggest you stay put until the investigation closes then. That means no Florida getaway."

Veronica nodded vigorously.

"I hate Florida."

"Good." He pointed to an officer. "Take this young woman back to her car and see she gets home safely."

Veronica stood stiffly, following the officer back out into the icy January wind. She drove home, her eyes darting to make sure no one stepped foot on the street as she passed. As Veronica kept her eyes forward, a black coupe traced her movements from behind, all the way back to her apartment.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Decode, Chapter 1: Craig from Marketing

And here begins my web serial, Decode! Veronica Wood is a small-time web designer who lands in the middle of some big time corporate intrigue. Check back each week for a new installment. For now, let's get rolling with chapter one. Enjoy!

Chapter 1: Craig from Marketing

It all started when Veronica began consulting with Maddox Technology.

She stuck change into a vending machine inside the Maddox Technology building, her mouth drying up just thinking about the forthcoming meeting. She worked as a freelance web designer and usually met with some small business owner at an office or a coffee shop. The moment she walked through the glass doors of Maddox Technology and clipped on the glossy visitor's badge, she knew she'd left small business association world.

Veronica pressed the button again when no water came out, making a fist at the machine. A man with rectangular glasses and neatly parted brown hair smiled at her from the corner. He strode over to the machine, gave it a hard kick, and plucked the water bottle out of the receptacle. Veronica turned, embarrassed. She studied his sculpted cheekbones and beak nose, her brown eyes widening as she flashed back to the corporate party Jesse had brought her to in the summer.

"Craig from marketing!" She wagged a finger in his direction.

"You working for us now?" Craig surveyed her body still wrapped in a wool coat, and dug his hands into his pants' pockets. Veronica admired his sharp-fitting suit.

"I'm consulting." She glanced at the elevator. "I can't really say more than that."

Craig shrugged. "Confidentiality agreements. A Maddox Tech hallmark." He lowered his voice and peeked behind him. "We can't talk about anything either." He flashed her a conspiratorial smile.

Veronica stepped into the elevator, smiling back at him tentatively.

"See you around then," he said. The elevator doors closed, amusement lighting up Craig's face.

Veronica only had a moment to wonder what that was about as she sat next to David Moore at an oval table, scribbling notes as he described the new web development software program and what they wanted from her. The door opened, Moore's pale eyebrows rising as Craig entered the room. Veronica paused to acknowledge him.

"Maddox," Moore said, shaking his hand. "Didn't expect you to show up for this."

Maddox clapped him on the back, setting his eyes on the paling face of Veronica Wood. He smiled, his hazel eyes sparkling in amusement like they had a few minutes earlier. Veronica gulped, her pen rolling across the table as she accepted his hand automatically.

"I wanted to deliver the beta program to you personally." Maddox winked at Veronica, whose face was still frozen in surprise. Maddox slipped his fingers into his inside coat pocket, clasping a clear jewel case. "I'm confident you'll provide us with helpful insight."

Veronica accepted the CD-ROM, gaining enough of her wits to glare into his twinkling eyes. He grinned even wider, setting all of Veronica's nerves on fire. The meeting over, Maddox walked Veronica to the elevator while Moore hurried back to his office. Maddox watched him scuttle down the hallway.

"Going down?" he said, ushering Veronica into the elevator, his eyes still directed toward David.

Veronica's soft features hardened ever so slightly. She adjusted her glasses, brushing a piece of chestnut hair from her eyes and smiled.

"Sure thing, Craig."

He wanted to laugh but only smiled and followed her into the elevator, standing too close in Veronica's opinion. The doors shut and Maddox' smile evaporated.

"I want you to look at the contents of that disc carefully," he said once the doors closed. "Don't miss a thing."

He sounded a tad serious for beta program testing and Veronica promised she would do her best. She stepped out with Maddox gripping her elbow.

"Not a thing," he whispered, pulling her close.

Veronica could feel his breath on her neck and she wrenched away from him. His whole countenance darkened and no spark lit up his eyes.

"What's your deal anyway?" Veronica said, taking a step back.

"Just follow my instructions and you'll know soon enough."

With that, Maddox rushed off, leaving Veronica with nothing more than the echo of his footsteps in the white lobby.

After his meeting with Veronica Wood, David slipped out of work, glancing at his watch as he speed-walked to his car. Maddox started his engine as his employee raced out of the parking lot, keeping a safe distance.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Revising a Nano Novel, Pt. 2: Evaluating

Last week, we explored getting perspective on a Nano novel and why you should revise it. Today, we're going to look into evaluating your book first so the revision process is not so overwhelming.

Evaluate First
Before you start hacking away at your book, take some advice from a writer who's made big mistakes in that department: evaluate before you edit. Why? Because in your zeal to make your novel the best ever, you may throw out passages or even whole scenes that don't deserve it.

When revising Dead Locked, I went on a rampage and cut all kinds of material. Most of it, however, crept back into the book because it served the story well, even amidst drastic changes. So I urge you to view your rough draft as a foundation to build upon, not a building in need of demolition. This is the approach I've taken with The Jester's Apprentice and things have gone much smoother! If you chip away at the story (versus taking a sledgehammer to it), what the story needs will become clear.

Therefore, read with a lighter touch and focus on the structure of your novel first before you start fretting over wording. Examine the overall story and make note of holes or gaps in the main plot and subplots as well as the pacing. Is the story tight and believable? Do you explain how and why things happen as they do? Do you have too much happening in some spots and not enough in others?

Pay attention to your characters, marking the ones that need fleshing out. Do all of your characters come to life on the page? Do you have enough characters? Or too many? Do all of the characters have a reason for being there? Think about setting too. Are your characters anchored in a place and time? Don't forget to list any information you need to research to be accurate and/or believable.

But don't just focus on what's wrong with the story. Also be aware of what's right. It's easy to read your own work and hate everything, but it's more productive to be fair and also see what you like in the story, even small things. When I read The Jester's Apprentice, I marked everything I like or loved, including images and dialogue. At the end, I had a lot more things I liked about the story than I thought I would.

Revising a NaNoWriMo novel may take patience and time, but that's the case with any novel. Don't just give up because it takes work. As I said last week, you've already tackled one of the hardest parts - writing a complete first draft! So keep going and finish that book!

On another note, I just wanted to mention that the Read an Ebook Week sale at Smashwords ends Saturday. Dead Locked is 1/2 price until then! Just use the coupon code RAE50 at checkout.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Read an E-Book Week Sale!

Today (March 6) until March 12, lots of ebooks will be on sale for Read an E-Book Week. Smashwords is a partner in this annual initiative. As such, Dead Locked is on sale all this week for 50% off! Just enter code RAE50 at checkout. Dead Locked is available for Kindle and other popular e-reader formats.

While you're there, be sure to check out other participating Smashwords authors!
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