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Showing posts from June, 2007

Common problems in first person POV, part two

In first person POV, especially, writers have a great deal of narrative and internal thoughts. While that narrative tends to have some conflict in it, too much narrative means less movement in the scene. And you can’t really substitute true conflict (action and dialogue) with the conflict in a long paragraph of internal thought—the scene drags and meanders.

I look at the call waiting. It’s my mother.

Mom has this annoying habit of calling right when I’m about to watch CSI. Even though I’ve told her again and again that she can’t call on this particular night at this particular time, she blithely ignores me. I might as well be talking to the cat. And at least the cat answers with a polite meow. Mother barely acknowledges I’ve spoken, much less what I’ve said.

All this narrative is more “telling” than “showing.” Instead of all this internal thought, why not show the information in action and dialogue?

I look at the call waiting. It’s my mother. I stab the TALK button.

“Mom, it’s CSI night!” …

Common problems in first person POV, part one

In a lot of the chick lit entries I judge in contests, first person POV is not done very well. Since the reader is reading first person, the reader should actually be in the character’s skin and experiencing the scene through them. People like writing first person POV because it’s easy—but it’s actually rather difficult to write with power and vibrancy.

While each writer has different strengths and weakness, in general, the entries I judge lack enough conflict and action. Not much happens, and there isn’t a lot of tension. In first person POV, this is a common problem because it’s so easy to fall into internal thoughts and narrative instead.

“Do you want a cookie?” I hand the plate to Amelia. She’s a size two. I wish I was a size two. I eye a couple of the chocolate-laden golden-brown goodies. Just one won’t hurt me.

Amelia glances at the plate, then goes back to sorting through her charm collection. “No, thanks. I’m not hungry.” Her charms fascinate me. She’s had some for generations i…

Interview on branding at the Advanced Fiction Writing blog

Randy Ingermanson interviewed me for his Advanced Fiction Writing blog.

Randy has done a wonderful service to all writers with his blog. His Advanced Fiction Writing ezine was already a terrific resource, but his blog is even better because he welcomes and answers questions from writers. He is a true writing mentor, in every sense of the word.

His questions had mostly to do with branding, so if you’re a writer wondering about branding yourself, check it out!

More on being your own cliché police

Clichés are not just in phrases (“he ran his fingers through is hair,” “her heart pounded”). Clichés can be larger scale—your characters, your setting, your plot premise.

The problem is that often, these larger scale clichés are not so easily realized.

For example, there are a LOT of pastor heroes in Inspirational romance. Editors were commenting that they’d like to see less stories with pastor heroes.

However, as a writer, unless you heard the editor say this at a conference, you wouldn’t know. So how can you find these things out?

You should be reading extensively in the genre in which you’re writing. Why? So you can discover what’s already been done in your genre, so you don’t repeat it.

If you haven’t read many Inspirational romances, but you’re targeting Steeple Hill, you wouldn’t know that there have been a lot of pastor heroes in the past few years. However, if you’ve been reading Steeple Hill novels, you would know that.

You don’t have to read every single title that comes out, but…

Be your own cliché police

Does your hero run his fingers through his hair? Does your heroine bite her bottom lip? Or maybe your hero squeezes his eyes shut and pinches the bridge of his nose when he’s frustrated. Maybe your heroine’s gut clenches or she swallows hard when hearing bad news.

Perhaps your hero clenches his jaw, or sees red. Perhaps your heroine feels ice water in her veins when she’s shocked, or a fluttering in her chest when she’s excited.

Cliches—DON’T. Don’t use the same gestures or descriptions for your characters that you’ve read in dozens of other novels. BE ORIGINAL.

The heroine’s heart doesn’t pound—it does a combination triple-axel double-lutz worthy of Michelle Kwan. The hero doesn’t feel his stomach drop—he’s a hanging victim with the clunk of the trapdoor ringing in his ears, waiting for his feet to register that he’s dangling in mid-air.

A great resource for original descriptions is literary fiction (if you can read it). But don’t copy them—use it as a jumping off point for your own uniq…

Add tension to every single sentence

One of the best things I got out of the seminar taught by New York agent Donald Maass is to add tension to absolutely every single sentence in your manuscript.

I can see some of you gaping. Close your mouth. It’s true.

He had us pick a random page in our manuscripts and then pick a random paragraph. We had to add some sort of tension to every sentence in the paragraph—whether internal or external.

It changed the energy of the writing immediately. I could see that just from that one paragraph. I changed the tension in every sentence on the page, and the difference astounded me. The scene was so much more charged, crackling with energy and vitality.

Basically, it increases the level of conflict in the scene, and conflict is what keeps a reader reading. Conflict keeps a reader’s interest. While we like to avoid conflict in real life, in fiction, it’s gold.

You don’t have to remember to add tension to every sentence in your rough draft—just lay the words down. Don’t think too much or analyze t…

Plot – inciting incidents

Your plot should have a definite inciting incident that signals when the story begins.

In Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, the inciting incident is when Mr. Bingley moves into the neighborhood.

In Violet Dawn by Brandilyn Collins, the inciting incident is when the heroine discovers a dead body in her outdoor hot tub.

In The Restorer by Sharon Hinck, the inciting incident is when the heroine is suddenly transported into an alternate fantasy world.

In Over Her Head by Shelley Bates, the inciting incident is when the heroine discovers the body of a drowned young girl the same age as her own daughter.

In Split Ends by Kristin Billerbeck, the inciting incident is when the heroine moves to Los Angeles to become a successful hairdresser.

In The Reliance by M.L. Tyndall, the inciting incident is when the church is blown up and the hero believes his wife was killed, when in reality she’s been kidnapped by pirates.

In each of the above examples, something has happened to change the protagonist’s no…

Plot – obstacles should work against external goals

Some synopses I read have a lot of conflict against the character, but not necessarily many obstacles against the character’s external goal.

There’s a significant difference. The primary conflict and tension in a story should be things that work directly against the heroine’s external goal. They shouldn’t be just annoyances here and there. The conflict should be focused against what the heroine wants to accomplish in the story.

For example, Sarah is a pop music singer whose external goal is to get her picture on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Her mother’s getting married for the fourth time, and Sarah really doesn’t want to be involved in all the planning for something that will probably only last a year or two. Their strained relationship erupts in arguments every few weeks.

Sarah’s dog is sick, and she has to go to the vet all the time. The bills are adding up.

This new guy in town is cute, but Sarah’s interested in her career and not a relationship.

In the above conflicts, none of them work…

Plot – sketchy outline

Even if you’re a seat of the pants writer, try doing a sketchy outline.

Many of my friends sell books on proposal, which means they write three chapters and an outline of the book, not the entire manuscript. When their publisher okays the proposal, they write the book based on the outline.

Sometimes the book changes from the outline, but just having the outline can help a writer focus their story better.

A sketchy outline can be as simple as four sentences—

One sentence for the character’s beginning world, and the inciting incident that starts them on their external goal.

One sentence for the middle, and the kinds of things that will directly obstruct the character’s external goal.

One sentence for the climax and the black moment.

One sentence to explain how things wrap up at the end.

See? Very sketchy, and very simple. Yet sometimes even a sketchy outline will help a writer in amazing ways as they write their book.

Plot – sacrificial climax

One of the key elements of a good climax is some sort of sacrifice.

The main character sacrifices something precious for the greater good. Whether she sacrifices her external goal, or her life, or something equally important, the climax should see her giving up something that matters to herself.

Sometimes it’s to do the right thing—she gives up her external goal or her life in order to do something infinitely more noble. Sometimes it’s because she has no choice—the villain is going to kill someone else or take away someone else’s livelihood if she doesn’t comply.

Sometimes it’s more emotional—the hero faces a deep-set fear in order to do something for someone else. Or perhaps the hero takes a risk in order to accomplish something for someone else.

Whatever you decide, your character should give up something extremely precious and important at that climax.

Why is this important? Because in sacrificing something, the hero has reached the Black Moment, where All Hope Is Gone. And in sacrifici…

Plot – changing external goals

Your hero or heroine’s external goal should NOT change during the course of the story.

Say at the beginning of your story, Sally decides to unmask a smuggling ring. If she accomplishes it by chapter fifteen and then decides to discover who her real father is, that is a changed external goal.

Your character’s external goal should remain the same for the entire story. If things suddenly change at a particular point and the character moves into a different direction for the rest of the book, maybe that particular point is where your story ought to start, and the events beforehand are just backstory.

Also beware of more subtly changed external goals. Say Sally decides to unmask a drug smuggling ring. She finds out who’s behind it by chapter fifteen, and then starts investigating someone else who’s using drugs to capture children from the middle school as addicts and additional sellers. Her goal has subtly changed from investigating the ring to investigating drug use in the middle school. It’…

Exercise for the lazy writer

By
Camy Tang

I am a lazy butt. I freely admit it. I hate going outside and I dislike sweating. (I also tend to sweat a lot, but that’s probably TMI.)

Therefore, I’ve been trying to find ways to “sneak” exercise into my day so I’m not just sitting on fat lazy butt (mentioned above) all day.

Not all these tips will work for you, but any change in your routine will help.

Stand at your computer.

I originally started doing this because I read about it in Levenger catalog. Levenger sells wonderfully cool (and kind of expensive) risers to elevate your computer and your workspace on your desk so that you can stand a little, then sit a little all day.

Sit to Stand Desk
Laptop Lifter

They say that standing and sitting while working is very beneficial health-wise—it enables blood to circulate in your legs more than if you just sit all day. I’ve also read about people standing at their desks all the time. One person even had a slow moving treadmill especially built so he could walk slowly while working a…

Another word on emotions and thoughts

Thoughts can be a fabulous way to not only convey information, but to convey intense emotions. The key is to take advantage of point of view.

Setup: Laura is in a new church, and she’d filled out a Visitor’s card when she first entered the doors. Now, at the end of the service, the worship leader has been given her card.

“Laura Duke? Are you here? Please stand up so we can greet you!” He smiled as if conveying a Publisher’s Clearing House check to her.

Oh, how embarrassing. Laura slowly rose with a small smile.

The church members turned to look at her, then sat back in their seats. No warm smiles—okay, maybe one from that lady in the corner with the Coke-bottle lenses. Nothing more than a few disinterested glances.

She sat down again as fast as possible. That was horrible.

Instead of telling her emotion, you can show it with the nature of her thoughts—with her tone, with the language and words.

“Laura Duke? Are you here? Please stand up so we can greet you!” He smiled as if conveying a Publi…