Thursday, January 31, 2013

Knights in Shining Armor

Happy Thursday, good people of the blogosphere! Today we're gonna talk about white knights on bleached chargers and what causes the little fiends to fall off. So, grab your pens and notebooks and let's get going!

Everyone loves a good hero. But what is the main quality of the heroes you remember the most? I bet it's that they have a flaw. Not a minor flaw, but a fatal one.

Shakespeare did this well. His tragic heroes all had a fatal flaw. One that led to their doom. Now, I'm not saying everyone in your novel must die, just that your hero (and heroine) must have flaws of some kind. This goes back to an earlier post I did on making your characters feel real to your reader. Aristotle wrote about tragedies in his book Poetics.

If you're a writer and you've never googled this, it's time you did. He wasn't a stupid man.

Basically, his idea says that you can't have a tragic hero unless that hero has a fatal flaw. Otherwise, nothing makes sense. But let's get off that and into non-tragedy.

If your hero is to be believable, he needs to commit some act that makes his flaw leap to the forefront. No one is infallible unless they're a saint. Let's face it, saints don't make for good fiction. You want your reader to want the girl to end up with the guy of your choosing but you can't make it easy for her. She needs to struggle with the decision a little. Every real relationship has things that must be overcome in order for it to work. If they fight like cats and dogs, use it to your advantage. If both your main characters have flaws, they can seem incompatible and you can use that to heighten tension.

Of course, a third character acting against the first two can also give your characters much needed tension. But it doesn't have to be a love-triangle scenario. That character can be a girl who doesn't want to lose her BFF or a guy who doesn't want to lose his football game buddy. It can even be a god or a ghost!

But your hero must also have some deep redeeming quality that allows him to rise above everyone else. It's a fine line to walk.

When you're writing a character bio, keep these tension points in mind. Heck, after reading Aristotle's writings, you may decide you want to pen a tragedy! For the love of all that's good, google Poetics and have a read.

Who was your favorite hero? Why?

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Chat

Happy Wednesday, good people of the blogosphere! Just two more days until the weekend arrives! Yay! Wow, great stadium cheer! Anywho, today I'm taking a formatting and writing day. Being indie authors, we have to do so much of our own work it's crazy. I bet you all agree when I say this feels more like a real job than many others I've had throughout the years. Of course, you'll always work harder when you work for yourself!

Different from a nine-to-five job, working for yourself tends to push your hand to sixteen hour days. It's a necessary evil but when you make those sales and the numbers go up it's like no other feeling in the world (except maybe a good review coming in).

Speaking of which, if you download an indie author's book free, please take the time to read it and leave a review. I know my fellow authors agree. We love to hear from our readers! Even if you just take a moment to shoot us an e-mail that speaks your mind, it means more than you think. Having an author that knows who you are and takes the time to talk with you (we're BUSY people) is like having a golden rod in your pocket you can brag about to the world and no one can steal. So, take the time to tell your author what you think. We read our fan mail!

I'm off to work on formatting my novel so all you lovely people can read it on release day! Only so many hours available and the week is almost over!

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ode to Jammies

Happy Tuesday, good people of the blogosphere! A break from the traditional helpful post, today is all about fun and flannel pajamas. Join me and have a laugh, a cry, or a sigh of nostalgia.

First, a poem:
Dear flannel jammies with feet,
To wear you feels so neat.
You warm up my bod,
make my head nod,
and turned my winter so sweet.

Then, a haiku:
Is it winter, dear?
'Tis warm warm winter now, love.
I don these jammies.

Don't forget the photo:


Now, a short story:
Maggie took her flannel jammies with feet off the hanger and admired the colorful prints. Nuzzling the soft fabric against her cheek, she sighed as she remembered winters from her childhood. Christmas mornings opening gifts around the tree, waking up and scrubbing the Sandman's remnants from her eyes, and school called off for snow days all played through her forty-two year old mind. She slid her feet into the soft interior and fell into the deep pool of warmth waiting for her like a parent with open arms.
Nicholas walked in just as she was fastening the last button. "Hey, baby, those look great!"
A smile spread over her face as she twirled in a circle; arms extended to either side. "They're so warm, and they bring back so many memories."
He moved across the room and caught her in his arms. "And they're soft - like you." His hands were touching the fabric at her back and it sent little tendrils of electricity through her that wound around her heart.
As their eyes met, she saw the love there and it made her pulse quicken its already speedy pace. "I love you, Nicky. I don't know that I ever said thank you for the last few months."
"You don't need to thank me. You're the glue that holds me together, and I'd be lost without you." Eyes boring into her soul, he continued. "As I live and breathe, you're the only thing that matters to me."
Images of the funeral ran through her memory like an eight millimeter black and white film and her eyes grew teary.
"Don't cry," he whispered.
Allowing him to pull her closer, she nuzzled into his chest. When she was finally able to catch her breath, she mumbled, "At least they're in a better place. Free from pain and worry now."
"Yes, they are. And you have your flannel jammies to remind you how wonderful they were in life." His smile infected her with its warmth and she allowed the feeling to spread through her body, helping her to forget the pain of her loss.
"Hey, let's go make popcorn and watch a movie by the fire!" At least they could do that. It would give her the chance to feel closer to them while providing a distraction at the same time.
"Perfect! I'll go make it. See you in a minute." He brushed his lips over hers before he released her.
As she walked from the room, she touched the portrait of her parents on the bureau. "I miss you both," she whispered.

Flannel pajamas with or without feet can bring back some of the best memories. Now that they're available in adult sizes, we can all remember those special moments from our childhoods even as we stay warm!

While you're here, don't forget to enter the rafflecopter drawing for your chance at some great prizes!
LINKY FOR YOU!

This concludes my ode to jammies! I hope you all enjoyed it.

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

Monday, January 28, 2013

Radio Show Interview

Happy Monday, good people of the blogosphere! Today, I have an interview on Ms. Sandi Tuttle's radio show. She's from the An Average Woman in a Superwoman World blog and is so much fun on the air! I invite you all to come listen, call in if you want to ask me a question, and share the lovely link with your friends.

You can listen here:
http://www.blogtalkradio.com/sandi-tuttle/2013/01/28/authors-corner-with-jo-michaels

Don't forget to enter the rafflecopter giveaway for your chance at an interior book design or digital identity package designed by me, if you're an indie author, and for a copy of The Bird and a bunch of book swag if you're a reader!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Also, don't forget The Abigale Chronicles - Book Three is available for free until midnight tonight on Amazon!

Synopsis:
Abigale Fontenot is turning thirteen. Just when she thinks her birthday couldn't possibly get any worse, a new adventure takes hold. Abigale and Emmett are whisked away to a world of fantasy where knights, dragons, and princesses are the order of the day. Abigale is kidnapped by an evil prince in a nearby kingdom, and it's up to Emmett to rescue her. But Abigale finds that escape is not the most important thing; restoring the evil prince's kindness that has been locked away in a magical book by a wicked sorceress must come first. While Emmett is trying to rescue Abigale, she is trying to free the prince from his curse. Will she succeed in her quest before the evil prince kills Emmett, or will she fail and lose her new best friend? Will death matter if the whole thing is a dream, or are the adventures real and truly dangerous?




Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

Friday, January 25, 2013

Hiring a Book or Cover Designer

Happy Friday! It's time for the weekend! I can hear you cheering. Today, I'm going to give you some tips on what to look for when hiring a designer for your manuscript and cover. I'll give you a list of questions you should ask, what you can expect from your designer, and what you should prepare in advance. So grab those pens and notebooks and let's get going!

First and foremost, you should prepare a creative brief. Your brief should include:
  • Your name and pen name
  • Your address and billing information
  • The book's title
  • Genre
  • Blurb
  • Any review matter you'd like included
  • Cover copy (the text that appears on the back or inside flap)
  • Your vision for your book
  • Other books in your genre (for reference)
  • Headshots, logos, or any other imagery that must be included (like awards the book has won)
Now that you have your brief, you should approach a designer. Before handing over your brief, you need to ask some questions to make sure you're hiring someone that knows their stuff. Ask things like:
  • Have you ever formatted for XYZ company's specs before?
  • Do you have a design degree? (While this isn't necessary, it doesn't hurt to know going in.)
  • What software do you use for design?
  • Can I see some of the other work you've done?
  • Explain bleed to me. Bleed is the area of the image that hangs over the edge and is cut away during production.
  • What is kerning? Kerning is adjusting the space between letters.
  • What is tracking? Tracking is adjusting the space between a whole line of letters.
  • What's the standard safety margin for live elements? Standard safety is .25" from the edge for books. Some production houses call for .125". Either answer is correct. However, CreateSpace wants .25".

If your designer nails all these questions, you've got someone that most likely knows their stuff.

What you can expect from your designer:
A good designer will give you three very different choices to start with. They'll ask you to narrow it down to one and give you up to two revisions on that one design. Once you decide on a cover, the interior should compliment fonts used and look and feel of the book. Again, I'll use The Bird as an example:

Note the font on the cover of the book and the design elements around the border.
Now note the font on the chapter heading and number and the design elements around the edges of the page.











Watch out for the designers that mix two script fonts, two serif fonts, or two sans serif fonts in their design. This is a basic Typography no-no because it always comes off looking like a mistake.

Your designer should provide you with all files:
  • Thumbnails
  • Cover sized and formatted for digital uploads
  • Cover sized and formatted for display on a website
  • Entire cover for production house, formatted properly and in proper color space (CMYK ONLY)
  • Cover in black & white
  • List of fonts used

They won't give you the original files they built. Don't ask. This is like you writing a story and someone else wanting to tinker with it and release it with your name on it without you approving the changes.

Your contract should include:
  • Statements saying the artwork is yours once the work is done and that you're free to use it in any way you see fit at no extra compensation for the designer or any third party.
  • Deadlines and penalties for not meeting them.
  • A guarantee clause stating all work is original and designed by them.
  • A clause stating all artwork contained in the design is free from copyright by third-party entities.
  • Number of revisions allowed at no extra charge.
  • Payment arrangements in detail.
  • Your name, their name, and all addresses associated with you both.
  • Number of files you'll receive and sizes/specs.

This is protection for both you and your designer. They should never ever balk at signing a contract.

I hope this helps many indie authors get the quality and professionalism they deserve in a designer. Over on Joel Friedlander's blog today, there's an interesting post about judging a book by it's cover. I beg you to go give it a read.

Any questions? Leave a comment and I'll get back with you ASAP.

Don't forget to enter the giveaway while you're here!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Formatting Your Manuscript for Print

Happy Thursday, good people of the blogosphere! Since it's so close to Friday and Valentine's Day, I thought I'd give you all a little something to look forward to! Let's first discuss that all important thing I like to call formatting a print book then we'll get into the awesome rafflecopter prizes I have up for the winning. So, grab your pens and notebooks and let's get going!

When you format your manuscript for print, there are a lot of things you need to take into account. Just slapping some text into your book works, but it won't wow your readers and make them want to pick up your book for keeping.

In my book, The Indie Author's Guide to: Building a Great Book, I go into how to format your manuscript in MS Word. Why? Because it's a standard item on most computers. I give you the bare bones on how you can produce a legible document for print. Best of all, I made it just $2.99 on Amazon and Smashwords. But what about getting creative?

If I went into designing a book for print in InDesign, many of you would be scratching your heads. I tried to keep it simple and easy to understand. But there's a lot to be said for either hiring someone who knows InDesign to format your book or buying the program and learning how to do it yourself.

Here are a couple of examples of things that can be done using a program like InDesign to format:

 Chapter 1 Page 1 of The Bird
Chapter 1 Page 6 & 7 of Yassa













I've applied stylized formatting to the Copyright page and the front matter as well. The interior of The Bird is full bleed so the page you see there will be trimmed .125" all the way around. It'll be beautiful and give my book that little something extra.

A good book designer will know odd pages are always on the right, even pages are always on the left, and front matter gets no numbers (unless roman numerals are used - often for a forward or introduction). Ask these questions of your designer before you hire them!

I talk about all these things and SO much more in my book. I designed the print edition small so you can carry it with you or keep it on your desk and it not take up a ton of space. My first printed edition of Yassa is in a larger typeface for those who would like to read without their glasses. I've gotten a ton of thanks for that. In the Mystic series, every book looks the same. The interior is simple because the subject matter is serious. Above all else, it's consistent.

This all leads me to my point: Think long and hard about your print books. If necessary, talk to a graphic designer or reader and ask them what the most alluring covers and interiors entail. Take copious notes and implement them when designing your book.

Now, on to the giveaway! In keeping with the ideas presented in The Indie Author's Guide, I'm giving one lucky winner either a digital identity package OR a book cover design OR a book formatted for print. Another lucky winner will get an advance printed, signed copy of The Bird, a huge Mystic~Bronya cover poster, three postcards featuring Mystic and Yassa, and a Mystic bookmark.

Without further ado, here's the entry form:
a Rafflecopter giveaway
GOOD LUCK!

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Using Your Thesaurus

Happy Wednesday, good people of the blogosphere! I'd like to talk a little today about using your thesaurus and why you should. So, grab those pens and notebooks and let's get going!
Thesaurus: the·sau·rus  /THəˈsôrəs/ Noun 1. A book that lists words in groups of synonyms and related concepts. 2. A dictionary or encyclopedia.

Have you ever been stuck in a rut trying to come up with new words for the same descriptions? Do you find yourself using a word too often and aren't sure how to find a new one? Are you unsure if you're using a word too often? There are two tools that can help you out of this conundrum: MS Word's built in thesaurus and the Word Frequency Counter (free) online.

First, copy and paste your text into the box on the Word Frequency Counter website and look at the numbers it returns. Scan down the list and keep your eyes on the larger numbers. You don't want to see too many instances of words other than a, the, and, then, etc... If you find a word you've used 77 times (or even 25 times) that's not a common word, check for variances (ing, ed, etc...). Copy and paste it/them to a notepad note.

Now open MS Word and have your find feature activated. Type in the word and click Find Next. The first instance of the offending word should be highlighted. Click off the find window (NOT off the word) and put your cursor over the highlighted word. Now, right click and hover the mouse over synonyms. A fly out menu will appear with word suggestions. HINT: If your word has ing, ed, or any other modifier, change the word back to its most basic form and try again. Choose a word from the list and change it. Do the same thing with other instances of the word.

Examples:
breathing heavily = sucking in air intensely
longing = craving, hankering, hungering
sad = depressed, gloomy, cheerless, poignant

Using a thesaurus can give your writing that extra two-punch it needs. Become familiar with this feature of word and bookmark the Word Frequency Counter so you can reference it often.

I'm going to be starting a giveaway tomorrow. It's gonna be BIG! Make sure you come on back to enter for your chance to win. It'll be a little something for readers and a little something for writers.

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Flipping the Switch

Happy Tuesday! Hi, good people of the blogosphere! I hope you all had a good Monday. Nothing like a great Monday to preclude a fabulous Tuesday, eh? Today we'll be talking about twisted characters; or, the switch, if you prefer. So, grab those pens and notebooks and let's get going!
What's in a switch? Well, you have to first think about who's in your novel. You've filled out your character bios and given everyone a role, thought about your plot and where your main character will go from the beginning to the end (the journey), and considered who's going to be good, bad, or just a pain in the arse, right?

That's where the switch can come in. Look closely at your characters and their lives, then go read my human nature series of posts (found under the first heading - Writing) and think about your characters' lives, habits, personalities, and experiences. What can you bring to the front to make them false friends? Consider carefully because if your character doesn't surprise you with what they're doing, they won't surprise your reader.

Switches aren't always foregone conclusions. Sometimes, a switch can come in the form of someone leaping out from around a corner and yelling, "Boo!" They surprise you. Just keep in mind: Their proclivity was bent that way to begin with. It can't come out of nowhere. There should be some vein of something you show a peep of through your story to make the character's switch believable. But don't ruin it for your reader by foreshadowing too much.

Now, this can be a good guy who turns bad, a hidden society that the reader doesn't know existed until that moment, or a person lost from the character's past that comes back seeking revenge, love, or acknowledgement. Your choice! Yet another reason a character bio is so damned important.

Anyone have an example of a character switch that worked well? If so, please share with the rest of the class!

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

Monday, January 21, 2013

Writing a Twist

Happy Monday, good people of the blogosphere! It's the start of a brand new week and I'd like to take this time to talk about excitement and twists when writing a novel. Today, we'll be talking about writing a twist. Tomorrow, who knows? Perhaps I'll go into The Switch and how to do it. We'll see. Get your pens and notebooks ready, it promises to be an interesting few days.

Writing a twist is surprising your reader with something unexpected. There can be little foreshadowing when writing a proper twist in a story. Your readers need to say, "I did not see that coming!" Whether it makes them laugh, gasp, or drop their jaw in horror, the reveal of your twist needs to be the two punch. If you can make it come out at the end of a chapter that's even better! It makes your reader turn the page.

Now, for you readers out there: Have you come across a book that slapped you with the two punch when you least expected it? Did it leave you satisfied?

I read three books like that last year. Two of them were part of the Canopy series by Crystal Lee. When I wrote that just now I realized I mentioned her last week, too. Funny how some authors stick in your head, eh? Anywho, the third was by Robert Chazz Chute titled Bigger Than Jesus. I gave it five stars on Amazon and Goodreads because it was funny, fun, well written, and had twists and turns I never saw coming. The perspective was unusual (2nd person) but I found it kept me engaged in the story and was a perfect choice.

Notice these books stayed with me because of the twists. Others stayed for other reasons but we're talking about twisty novels here. Let's not digress, mkay? Think of only those novels that surprised you with a turn in the plot you didn't see coming and I'll do the same. Yes, this was me catching myself.

In the first chapter of Bigger Than Jesus, I got the first twist. It came at me like a Mike Tyson right hook, was perfectly placed in the storyline, and kept me going on to chapter 2 to see what happened next. It wasn't until the last chapter of Canopy book 1 that Ms. Lee gave me the twist and I was left with my jaw on the floor when I realized the truth and waiting anxiously for book 2. It wasn't just a cliffhanger; it was a shove off the damned cliff and I was left hurtling toward the ground at breakneck speeds. Good thing she writes fast! I now await book 3 because book 2 did the same freaking thing! Arghhhhhhh!

A plot twist must be planned as you think out your novel in order for it to work well. Writing in a plot twist on the fly rarely works. I'm not saying it never works; don't get in a tizzy. I'm saying it rarely works. When it's inserted on the fly, you usually end up needing to go back and change other things for it to work properly in your story line. If that's okay with you, no biggie. If you're one of those that can't change things to make a super awesome plot twist make sense later, don't do it.

Remember, a plot twist isn't the same thing as a character twist. A plot twist changes the whole plot of the book. Character twists only change who done it.

Have you written a most excellent plot twist lately? Read one? Let's hear about it!

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Dark Expectations Blog Tour + Giveaway!

Happy weekend, good people of the blogosphere! Today, I bring you a stop on Janiera Eldridge's blog tour for Dark Expectations. It's book two of the Soul Sisters series. Check it out and have some fun entering the giveaway at the bottom!

Title: Dark Expectations (Book 2 in the Soul Sisters Trilogy)
Author: Janiera Eldridge
Release Day: October 31, 2012
Synopsis:  With Ani taking her place as queen, there are some enemies lurking she could never imagine! There's a secret compound in California that wants to know the secrets to making a vampire or werewolf. When they kidnap Ani during a trip back to California they might actually get what they want. Her sister Dana, her lover Diego and other vampires do everything they can to get her back. If they don't succeed, they face being controlled completely by the human race forever! Dark Expectations is the exciting sequel to Soul Sisters that's full of adventure, danger and what it means to be queen!
Buy Links:
Amazon (Paperback & Kindle)
Coming soon to other online book retailers in late January!
Title: Soul Sisters (Book 1 in the Soul Sisters Trilogy)
Author: Janiera Eldridge
Release Day: October 18th 2012
Synopsis: Soul Sisters is an urban fantasy novel about African-American twin sisters Ani and Dana who have a rather unique secret: one sister is human while the other is a vampire. While the sisters have lived peacefully with each other for many years one fateful night will change both their lives forever. When a drunken man tries to attack Dana (the human sister) Ani (the vampire sister) protects her sister with all of her ferocious power. However, when the vampire’s leader Donovan finds out about the public display he calls for the sisters to be assassinated for disobedience. Ani and Dana now are in for the fight of their lives to protect each other as well as the lives of their dedicated friends who have joined them on their mission for survival. If Dana and Ani can make it through this time of uncertainty, Ani can take her new place as vampire queen. Soul Sisters is expected to be a trilogy; The book also features a multicultural cast of characters that brings a new edge of chic to the vampire world!
Buy Links:
Amazon (paperback&Kindle)
Coming soon to other online book retailers in late January!

Author Bio:  Janiera enjoys feeding her book addiction when she not writing. She is also a book blogger at Beauty and Books where she mixes being a book nerd with keeping things chic. When not reading or writing she is freelance writing in the entertainment industry.When trying to relax she likes a huge yard sale on a Saturday morning, rainy days to read by and nacho cheese is her kryptonite. Soul Sisters is her debut novel.
Connect With Janiera:
Twitter: @LazenBeauty
Goodreads: Janiera Eldridge


US Giveaway Only!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

Friday, January 18, 2013

Entering a Competition - ABNA

Happy Friday, everyone! If you're a writer and you don't already know about the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, I don't know what rock you've been dwelling under. It went live just a few days ago and closes to entries on the 27th of January.

I wrote my pitch of 288 words and uploaded a 4k word excerpt and my manuscript for The Bird. I'm feverishly working to get it polished to perfection so I can replace it ASAP. While the draft they have is good, it's a third draft and doesn't have the polish I demand.

So, this is a short post today. I need my editing time. I have a special post for you all tomorrow and will be doing a giveaway so come on back for that. My blog here is one of the hosts for a blog tour! Yay! We'll have some fun!

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

Thursday, January 17, 2013

What's in a Character?

It's Thursday, oh my! One more day until the weekend and you can all relax into your planned debauchery for two days. Today's post will be about character bios. So, grab those pens and notebooks and let's get going!


What is a character bio?

Basically, it's a white paper on each of your characters that tells basic information. In order to portray a rounded character on the page, you need to understand why they'll react in a specific way in any given situation. To prevent screwing up things like age, height, or description, you need something you can reference quickly without having to scroll through your whole manuscript to see what you said about this or that. It helps you keep your story straight.

That's all well and good, but what should you include in a character bio?

Some of the same items on your Timeline should be included in your characters' bios. Here's a list of what I include - you may want to add to this.
  • Full Name - First, middle, and last along with any other names they've had along the way.
  • Location - Where they live, where they were born, if different, why it changed.
  • Age - Includes birthday, zodiac sign, and recent celebrations.
  • Physical Description - Height, weight, hair color, eye color, shoe size, skin color, manicure?, pedicure?, hair length, eyebrows (V shaped, bushy, pencil thin, etc...), identifying marks, for women: bra size.
  • Mental Description - Self centered, egotistical, timid, brash, vengeful, etc...
  • Reasons for Mental Description - What happened in life to make them that way.
  • Friends - Other characters. Are they major? Minor? Plot changing?
  • Relationships - Spouse, kids, parents - with names and nature of relationship.
  • Goals - What their ultimate life goal is.
  • Career - What they do or want to do.
  • Skills - Any skills they may have.
  • Magical Powers - For fantasy or paranormal. Can they shoot fire from their asses? Lightning bolts from their eyes? Levitate? See through peoples' clothing?
  • Sexual Orientation - Straight, gay, bisexual, etc...
  • Fun - What they do to let their hair down.
Again, feel free to add to this list. But if you fill out all of the above for each of your characters, major and minor, you'll have characters that feel real on the page because they're real to you. Fully developed and fleshed out completely.

I hope this helps in some small way.

Is there anything you include that's not on my list? Care to share?

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Character Flaws

Happy Hump Day, good people of the blogosphere! After today, just two more days until the weekend. I heard that cheer! I'd like to talk about flaws today and why your characters need them. So, grab those pens and notebooks and let's get going!
Your character can't be perfect. Perfect people are boring and no one wants to read about them. Strife, problems, personality flaws, disfigurement, etc... are necessary to make your characters memorable. But more than being memorable, they need to be identifiable. People need to be able to pick up your book and understand the struggle your character is going through; maybe even see a little of themselves.

Every character is on a journey. Whether it's a journey to learn something, do something, or change something, they all must have a direction to travel in. If you've made them flawless, what can they learn? If they're doing something, why? What about their personality flaws makes them want to do it? If they want to change something, what is it? How can you give your character the two-punch they need?

Some flaws I love:
  • Headstrong - These characters believe they're never wrong.
  • Conceit - They love themselves so much, they feel they're perfect when they aren't.
  • Mistakes of the Past - Oh man, these characters get themselves in so much trouble become they often become:
  • Chronic Liars - Folks who lie to cover up a past they deem shameful.
  • Revenge Seekers - Those people who can never ever just let it go.
  • Addicts - The list of things people can be addicted to is long. Sometimes they know it, sometimes they don't.
There's so many to list I can't think of them all! Use your imagination; that's why you're a writer.

Just remember, when you're writing that character bio, be sure you go into flaws. If you don't use a character bio, I beg you to start. Aren't familiar with character bios? Come back tomorrow and I'll give you a list of things you need to include.

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ethics Part Two

Happy Tuesday, good people of the blogosphere! Today is part two of my ethics discussion on the blog; I hope you're all enjoying the fun so far. If you missed part one, click here. Part two is all about fan fiction and ethics surrounding those novels that spring forth from other novels. Strap in and let's go for a ride, shall we?
Fan fiction, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, are novels that are based upon best sellers. Sometimes it encompasses the characters and keeps telling their story; but sometimes it only uses the basic plot idea. Many of these novels are then self-published.

But is it wrong?

Here's my thinking:
If you come up with an original story idea that has the same basic plot as another book on the market, then you publish it, you're in the right. There's nothing wrong with using the same plot line.
If you use characters from a story someone else wrote and write them in the same way (characteristics, attributes, location, etc...), you're in the wrong.

Oh my... I heard that all the way over here.

Why the collective gasp? Is it because I dared to say using someone's plot idea is okay? Or because I said using someone's characters is wrong?

Let me explain!
How many truly original plot lines are there? Let's do a quick rundown of the known ones:
  • Boy meets girl and falls in love but they have obstacles to overcome before they can be together.
  • Good king v/s bad king (or evil) and the land is in danger.
  • Something stolen must be retrieved.
  • Someone did something to someone else and revenge is sought.
  • Life and struggles therein.
  • Love triangles.
  • Right v/s wrong; a lesson.
  • Whodoneit? Murder mystery. Can also fall under revenge or life.
  • Crime novels. Can also fall under something stolen and life.
No matter what breed of person or creature you put in the story, the plot lines aren't really original. What is original are the characters and the specific types of obstacles they must overcome.

Yes, I agree, there's a fine line to be walked there.

I read some Twilight fan fiction last year and helped the author get it to the published state (editing, cover design). Why is it Twilight fan fiction? Well, she used the same basic plot line of two boys, one girl, and something between them they have to overcome. Girl can't wrap her head around just one of the boys. But instead of paranormal aspects, the author used sci-fi aspects to create the barrier between girl A and boy A. No vampires, no location similarities, and none of the same characters. I love the Canopy series by Crystal Lee and think her story is truly original. If you think you'd like to read some science fiction romance, go check it out. See what good fan fiction is like.

Canopy Volume One on Amazon. Just $0.99.

Now, I haven't read any direct knockoffs of major best-sellers but I know they exist. I don't think any form of parody falls into this class. There are actually specific laws about writing a parody; even down to being able to use the original cover/poster art. Go figure.

So, now you have another perspective on ethics when using someone's work.

Have you read anything fan fiction based? What did you think? Was it too similar? Where do you stand?

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

Monday, January 14, 2013

Ethics Part One

Happy Monday! Did I just hear a collective groan rise from my audience? Comeon, guys and gals, don't be like that! It's a new week and a chance to flex those creative muscles. I've chosen a heavy topic for today: Ethics. So, read along and join in the fun!

This is going to be a two part series. The first part will be about writing from life and how to keep from going too far and the second will be about writing from a story someone else wrote (commonly called fan fiction). Both have their own challenges and own group of people who believe strongly one way or the other. Please try and keep in mind this is only my opinion and should be taken with a grain of salt. If you believe otherwise, that's your prerogative. Keep the comments nice, please.

I always say you should write from life. Many of my characters and the situations they find themselves in come from life. I do believe there's a fine line that, when crossed, says you went too far.

But how to know when/if it was too far?

Here's my quick checklist to know if you've taken too many liberties:
  • If someone can read your story and know who you're talking about (not the individual the character was based on).
  • If many people could read your story and know a deep secret and who it belongs to.
  • If you use the name of the person you're writing about.
  • If the situations are exactly as you remember them and someone was humiliated or harmed in any way.
If any of the above are true, you may want to reconsider what you wrote.
Here's the way I do it:
  • I never ever describe the person my writing is based on exactly. I make changes to their appearance (brunettes may become blonde, shorter folks may become taller, etc...) and their personalities.
  • If it's a deep secret you were told in confidence, change the setting and the descriptions drastically (if it happened in a hotel - make it happen in a house, if it had two people - add a third person, if the situation included a discovery - change it so something similar but different was discovered, etc...).
  • I never use the names of the people involved. Ever.
  • I never expose someone else if they were humiliated or harmed in any way; even if the story is out of this world.

I have a great example of believable fiction writing! When people began reading Shelia, they asked me if that happened to me. It didn't; but I was able to make them believe I'd experienced it by the way I described the situations. I'm a student of human nature and am familiar with the reactions of those who have been put in tough positions. I listen when people talk. I empathize with them and try to walk in their shoes. Those situations in Shelia were pure fiction. No one ever told me a story like that. I've heard stories that were similar, but I would never have written those down. Because they weren't mine to tell.

Never talk to people; talk with them. Be a listener as well as a participant. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, it becomes all about me, me, me. Make it about them. This is a difficult skill to hone but, once you have it down, the world becomes your Google.

I once read an article about a photographer who had some great photographs of refugee women that had been beaten and raped. They were getting off a boat at the rescue mission where he was. He took their photos as they stepped from the boat but never published a single one. That photographer went on to win a Pulitzer for other photography work he did. Most likely, he could've gotten one with one of those images of the women. When he was asked why he never published them, his answer was: "Because the pain on their faces was so raw. They didn't need to be humiliated further by having those photographs published for the world to see." Ahhhh ethics at their finest.

Carry that with you as you write. Be like a doctor: Pledge first to do no harm.

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

Friday, January 11, 2013

Book Review - Love From Planet Wine Cooler

Happy Friday, good people of the blogosphere! Today, I have a review for you. If any of you lovely followers have ever taken a gander at my reviews, you'll know I break them down into what I liked and didn't like while not providing spoilers for those of you that haven't read the book.

In keeping with the challenge I entered on Wednesday called Indie Fever, I'm reviewing my first indie book of the year from my list. I don't normally review books on the blog; but for these eight, I'm making an exception. Here's hoping you all check out these books and authors (if the review is a nice one)!

Without further ado, I bring you: Love From Planet Wine Cooler by Kate Baggott

Synopsis:
The last "nice girl" on earth finds her way through a world defined by sex, music and the Internet. Somehow.

Love From Planet Wine Cooler is an ode to a generation of women who didn't so much lose their virginity as misplace it thanks to the advent of wine coolers. Somehow, they managed to find out all about love, relationships and careers.

Or did they? Put in your imaginary ear plugs and follow Marina and her best friend through the laughter and tears of being a human being from the '90s on the search for answers now.

My personal notes (not to appear in the review elsewhere):
To be honest, the cover didn't appeal to me (I'd love to see that changed - Kate, if you're reading this, send me a message and we'll see what we can do - if you're interested) and neither did the synopsis (doesn't tell me much about what to expect). What caught me and wrapped me in a web of intrigue was the sample I picked up on Amazon. I got to the last page and was terribly upset there was no more book. So, I bought it.

Now for the review.
From a reader's perspective:
I loved the voice of the main character, Marina. She came across as an intelligent, albeit self-centered, character with a lot of spunk and clever witticisms. Her journey through high school and beyond was one I could identify with. I was in turmoil every time she entered a new relationship; wondering what the outcome would be and how she would get along with the boy/man. Pacing in the book was really good and the humor here and there had me with stitches in my sides. One of my favorite scenes was Marina out on a date at a martini bar. If you're a pro-feminist reader, you'll love this book. It reads more like a series of short stories or snapshots of Marina's life than a novel; but it works.

From an editor's perspective:
Grammatical issues were nill. I only had one problem with the book overall: When people are speaking to one another or writing a letter, they use contractions. When writing, it's easy to forget that or feel like you need to write more formally, but it's an issue that needs to be addressed. It stilted the flow. But it wasn't so stifling that it threw me out of the story.

Rating:
1 star for a great main character.
1 star for a wonderful true-to-life story.
1 star for making me wonder what was going to happen next.
1 star for great pacing.
.5 star for grammar.
-.5 star for contraction usage.
4.5 out of 5 stars (where applicable, this will be rounded up to five and not down to four)

You can find the book on Amazon for just $4.99 via this link:
Love From Plant Wine Cooler: Kate Baggott
Follow Kate on Twitter here: @baggyk
Find Kate on Goodreads here: Kate Baggott

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Writing as the Opposite Sex

Happy Thursday, good people of the blogosphere! What weird weather we're having here in Atlanta! It's really warm to be January and the birds outside are chirping away with the dawn. Feeling that joy, I bring you a post about crossing gender lines when you're writing. Some authors do this and some don't. I have thoughts about why it works and why it doesn't. Join me and feel free to give your opinions after!
Women writing as men:
I may be way off the mark when I say it's easier for a woman to identify with a man than it is for a man to identify with a woman; but maybe not. There are many wildly successful books written by women with a male protagonist: Harry Potter, Interview with a Vampire, Night of the Wolf, etc...

I did it myself when I stepped out and wrote Yassa. I had to be able to identify with Genghis Khan on some level and be brutal when he was angry, compassionate when he was loving, and strong when he was feeling dejected. I was able to do it because I truly understood his dilemma: Uphold a law or turn his back on the very thing he believed so strongly in. I think men are more like women than women are like men. That's not to say a man can't write a strong female lead; just that they may have a more difficult time thinking of a woman as a warrior. After all, there's a reason the military doesn't like females on battlefields. Women can write men as strong because we see them as strong (in most cases).

Men writing as women:
A man, by his very nature, should see the softer, mothering, loving side of a woman. To step beyond this boundary may be difficult if the man can't directly identify with the female. However, there are many wildly successful books written by men with a female protagonist: Carrie, Percy Jackson series, The Pelican Brief, etc...

If a male writes as a female, he must forget some of what he feels and be willing to write difficult scenes where the woman is injured, shows her strength, or commits murder, and not bat an eyelash at what he's writing. Men don't typically like to think of women this way. Because men are protectors by nature, they tend to see women as life-givers that nurture; not go to war.

A strong female protagonist, just like a male, has to have some callousness at her disposal. Readers want to look up to their main characters. If a female lead is oversexed, weak, or portrayed as dumb, readers tend to get angry and are pulled out of the story. On the other hand, she must have a certain level of compassion. There's the softer side that needs to be portrayed and played up.

Examples of female protagonists that work and why:
Katniss in The Hunger Games. She had that hard edge but also showed her softness when Rue was killed. While she cared about the people she was fighting with, there was no hesitation in taking out Coin in the end. Her loyalty to her sister and mother were part of her being female but so was her desire to protect them in the absence of a father.

Myra and the other females in the Vigilantes series by Fern Michaels. Every one of these women have some vein of ruthlessness running through them. They're clever and skilled beyond measure when slapped into a room with one another. Sure, they have males helping them, but they're puppets in the women's games (and know it). It never fails; I always find myself cheering these women on.

Carrie from Carrie. Telekinesis from hell. But the author wasn't afraid to show Carrie's weaknesses as well as her strength. She cried, was humiliated beyond belief, had common desires (to be accepted and pretty), and wasn't afraid to take out a whole town when she got pissed off. Add to that her own self-destruction in the end and you have a character we all cheered for, identified with, and feared.

If you're a male who desires to write as a female, take some time and really pay attention to women. On the same token, if you're a female who desires to write a strong male, learn as much as you can about men. Find out what drives the opposite sex, don't be chauvinistic, and don't be afraid to allow your character to be exactly who and what they are. Social 'norms' be damned.

Thoughts? Can you think of any other books where the author crossed genders and it worked or didn't? Why or why not?

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo