Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Learning Something New? A Few Tips

La M├ęditation by Domenico Feti -1589 - 1624I’ve always heard that it’s important to learn something new every day.

But lately, I feel like I’ve been learning fifty new things a day, trying to keep up with publishing and social media trends.

In many ways, it’s wonderful having so much information available out there. If we want to become traditionally published and need to learn how to write a query letter, polish our manuscripts, or pen a pithy synopsis, we can find resources online to help us.

If we want to learn how to self-publish a book, how to format for different platforms, or where to promote a self-published book, we can find that information, too.

This can result in information overload. When I joined a loop for self-publishing info and was encouraged by the moderator to read the archives, I saw a year’s worth of information on there. (And, with e-publishing, a year might be outdated. So you also have to decide what’s still relevant.)

I started reading the information. I had a moment there, though, when I really didn’t want to do it! Now, though, I’ve learned a lot more about e-publishing.

Here was my method for learning something new:

Know what information you’re looking for. It will take even more time if you’re just trying to read everything you can on a particular subject (although that’s definitely one way of learning something new!) In particular, I was looking for information on different e-publishing platforms, where the e-reading public hangs out online, insights on pricing, and how other writers balance self-publishing with traditional publishing.

Pace yourself. If you’ve already got a full schedule, cramming a bunch of information in at once is probably just going to lead to burnout. I found myself getting absorbed in the research, so I set a timer. When the timer went off, I stopped reading up on the subject. I’ve got lots of other things I need to do. Or, if you’re putting off your research on the topic, setting a timer for 15 minutes (or whatever your allotted time is) is a great way to remind yourself that you don’t have to study for very long.

Jot down anything you don’t understand. Sometimes I run across mentions of loops, groups, forums, and sites that I wasn’t familiar with. I also ran into some formatting terminology I didn’t know. I make notes of things to look up later.

Remember that you can contact primary sources for information. Anytime I’ve asked a writer or industry professional a question, I’ve always gotten an informative response back. If you have questions about something, email an expert.

If you have to take a break from learning the skill, make a date on the calendar for picking it back up. Because learning is time-consuming…and it would be so easy to just let it slide.

Don’t try to catch up with everyone else. Just jump in and start learning. No catching up is necessary. Again, pace yourself.

Keep a Word file of the most useful information. It’s sort of like having your own reference file.

Learned anything new lately? Got any tips? And—do you ever feel like you’re overloaded with information and resources?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Writing to Read Aloud

The Magic Book--Ilka Gedo--1921-1985I frequently hear about the quiet life of writing and wonder if I’m just the weird writer in the group.

Writing, for me, isn’t really a quiet, still, activity.

For one thing, I’m frequently charging around the house doing housework when I’m brainstorming ideas.

I get lots of ideas when I’m driving, too.

And when I write, I’m frequently talking. Yes, that’s me, talking quietly to myself at the neighborhood coffeehouse. Here’s why:

My dialogue sounds more realistic if I’ve given it a read-aloud test.

I’ll check for pace sometimes when reading aloud. Is it choppy enough for an action scene (okay, I’m not writing car chases in my books, but I do have an action scene in each of my mysteries). If something is reading slow, is that because it’s the calm-before-the-storm? Or have I written something boring?

Humor. For some reason, I always like to read humorous scenes out loud. Maybe that’s from watching I Love Lucy when I was a kid—I think of comedy in performance terms and want to see how my humorous scenes sound.

Problem scenes. If I’m done with my first draft, I’ll move on to a quick reread of the book. When I run into a scene that isn’t working for me, I’ll usually read it out loud. This usually helps me pin down the source of the problem.

Overall editing. If I’ve just written a book and I’m getting close to a deadline and don’t have time to let the book sit for a while, I’ll start editing immediately…and I’ll read aloud while doing it. For me, it’s one of the best ways to create distance from the text enough to catch basic errors.

Sometimes, I’ll get hoarse while reading to myself. I’ve discovered a neat function on my Kindle that might work for short periods of time (and I might be the last writer on the planet to use this, but I thought I’d mention it here.)

I’ve uploaded my drafts on my Kindle (not published them there, but uploaded them from my computer by dragging a .txt file copy of my Word document to my Kindle when it’s plugged into my laptop). And…there’s a cool ‘read aloud’ feature on the device that allows the Kindle to read to me. This will help me out for short spates when I’ve gotten hoarse.

Do you talk to yourself as you write or edit?

Find Readers Through Blog Tours By Kim Wright

Your_Path_Cover[1]
Blog Tours – A Low-Cost, Low-Stress and Actually Fun Way to Help Your Book Find Readers

I had never heard of a blog tour until my novel Love in Mid Air came out last year. My publicist at Grand Central simply said “We’re going to send you on a blog tour.”

The truth is that the conventional book tour – where an author travels from city to city reading and signing at bookstores - is essentially dead. Only the most established of authors still do them, certainly not newbies like me. And it’s actually a good thing that they’re dead, since they’re expensive for the publisher and almost always demoralizing for the writer.

I have a friend who once flew cross-country to San Francisco to read to six people and every writer who’s ever been on a book tour has their own personal horror story about the time they sat on a folding chair for three hours, smiling hopefully at every person who came through the door, and in the end sold one book. To the mother of a bookstore employee who felt sorry for them.

So if the old model no longer works, what’s emerged to take its place? Enter the blog tour. Cheap, productive, and relatively painless.

It works like this. In the modern era, a lot of readers buy their books off the internet and look to internet experts, most likely bloggers, to alert them to new titles worth reading. If you can get your book featured on a blog which has lots of followers – especially followers who are interested in the type of book you write – this can result in more exposure than a conventional book tour.

Blogs throw the net wide - across the country and internationally - and they almost always provide a link where an interested reader can immediately buy your book. This creates more sales than a review in a newspaper, which requires the potential customer to read the review, remember the book and author name, and then either go to the computer or a local bookstore to find it. Trust me, the click-and-buy-while-it’s-fresh-on-your-mind model is how a lot of books get sold.

My publicist set me up to be on ten blogs a day for the first ten days my book was available. That meant a hundred blogs would blast out something about my book during a two week period – a review, a Q&A between the blogger and me, a guest post I had written in advance. It idea is that a wave of publicity from different sources creates buzz for a launch.

One my publicist pitched me to the bloggers, I connected with all of them several weeks in advance of the launch. We did the interviews, supplied the advanced reader copies, and I wrote any posts they requested. Once the blog tour began, I checked in on the participating blogs several times a day to answer questions and interact with people who’d left comments. And since bloggers frequently post their reviews to sites like Amazon and Goodreads, Love in Mid Air began its commercial life with strong sales and a nice cushion of thoughtful, professionally written reviews.

It took a little time for me to write the guest blog posts that were requested and to check in on the days they ran, but far less time than it would have taken me to drive or fly around the country on a conventional tour. And if there was negative feedback or the occasional nutcase reader – as there always is – at least I didn’t have to deal with them face-to-face.

Tragically, my publicist left my publisher before the launch of the paperback a year later, but by then I understood how it worked and was able to create my own Son of Blog Tour. Of the one hundred bloggers she had introduced me to for the hardback tour I had noticed that about half of them were the most helpful – resulting in the most hits and comments. So I trimmed my list down to the blogs that were simpatico with my book and added a few others I’d found on my own in the year between the hardback and paperback launch. Then, a few months before the paperback launch I contacted them and offered content. Bloggers have to write a lot and are usually happy to have a writer offer up a guest post. I created a list of ten or so topics I’d be happy to write on and invited them to take their pick.

You can do the same. If you have a book coming out, and no publicist to help you, simply follow these steps.

1. Months in advance begin to look for blogs aimed towards writers and readers, especially those who feature the kind of books you’ve written. If your book is gritty urban fantasy, it does you little good to appear on a website devoted to Regency romances.

2. When you find websites you like, poke around them for links to similar websites. Many bloggers have lists of other blogs they like and birds of a feather really do flock together.

3. Simultaneously begin to build up your own Twitter lists and Facebook friends. Once your blog posts go live you’ll want to be able to get the word out as far and wide as possible.

4. A couple of months before your launch, begin to contact the bloggers. Offer them a copy for review, offer yourself up for an interview, or offer to write a guest post on a topic that will be of interest to their readers.

5. Send in the content, along with a jpeg picture of you, the cover of your book, and a link to a site that sells your book well in advance.

6. On the day your blog post goes live, announce this on Facebook and tweet it throughout the day. Check in on a regular basis to interact with people who have left comments. If someone writes an especially astute comment, friend them on Facebook or start following them on Twitter.

7. Check your Amazon figures, or whatever seller you’ve chosen, throughout the day to see if the blog is helping create a bump in sales. Knowing which blogs work best for you will help with further publicity efforts down the road.

8. When it’s all over, write a thank you note to the blogger. These people are the unsung heroes or modern book publicity.

See? It’s really not that hard and the best news of all is that it’s fun. It links you to people who have similar interests, who read and write the same sorts of things that you enjoy. Writing can be an isolated and lonely business and the blog tour can be a great way to pull yourself into a thriving, interactive, online community. As well as selling books along the way.

MCP_8800[1]Kim Wright has been a journalist for more than thirty years, and is both an award-winning travel writer and novelist. Her nonfiction guide, Your Path to Publication, is available from Press 53. It covers all the things writers need to know after they finish their books – networking and social media, getting an agent,contracts, working with editors, marketing, and the ups and downs of self-publishing. Kim’s novel, Love in Mid Air, is available in bookstores and on Amazon.She is presently at work on a mystery about Jack the Ripper.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Twitterific

Terry3_thumb[1]WkbBadge
Below are the writing-related links I tweeted last week.

The Writer’s Knowledge Base search engine, designed by software engineer and writer Mike Fleming, makes all these links searchable—try it for searches on plotting, characterization, querying, book promo, and more. Sign up for the free monthly WKB newsletter for the web's best links and interviews: http://bit.ly/gx7hg1 .

I’m compiling a directory of ebook professionals—cover designers, formatters, freelance editors, etc.—to make it easier for writers to connect with services. If you’d like to be added, please email me at elizabethspanncraig (at) gmail (dot) com with your contact info, website, etc. The directory can be accessed here.

Progressive-Dinner-Deadly-Cover_PubIt

I released an ebook last week. Progressive Dinner Deadly is a Myrtle Clover mystery and is currently available for $2.99 on Kindle and Nook. Hope you’ll mention it to any friends who enjoy mysteries.

Hiding clues with humor: http://bit.ly/okk6Pj @HP4Writers

Why You Should Write First for Yourself: http://bit.ly/nrbKLd

How Intuition Can Enhance Your Writing: http://bit.ly/r2R8v4 @TheCreativePenn

Pushing Past the OK Plateau: http://bit.ly/r7WcYk

What top-earning authors make: http://bit.ly/qsTlXl

Why query letters matter: http://bit.ly/q8IVOe @tawnafenske

Breaking In To Publication: Short Stories vs. Novels: http://bit.ly/qtNcNe

Are You A 10,000 Words A Day Writer? http://bit.ly/pOcymC

3 Ways to Write for Yourself: http://bit.ly/p13quD

A directory to help connect writers to cover designers, editors, and formatters: http://bit.ly/qP3ai6

Striking the proper tone: http://bit.ly/qUD3mQ @Mommy_Authors

How to Hire an Editor: http://bit.ly/mZcpJv

The next Writer's KB newsletter features an interview w/ Terry Odell & the month's favorite posts. Sign up for free at http://bit.ly/gx7hg1

How to increase your chances of meeting with an agent at a convention: http://bit.ly/obd2wG

Are Agents & Publishers Too Picky? http://bit.ly/rd8GDC

Is "They" Acceptable as a Singular Pronoun? http://bit.ly/qUVCS8

Describing Characters: http://bit.ly/pG08RN

2 different career arcs for writers: the Genius and the Late Bloomer: http://bit.ly/nZFfnX

A lesson in backstory: http://bit.ly/nFsYjl

Poor sales can affect your future: http://bit.ly/rqMnxA

An agent talks about pen names: http://bit.ly/nArcJ5

Search my tweets-- http://dld.bz/KPgS

How to avoid creating plastic characters: http://bit.ly/nVMajk @JodyHedlund

4 great ways to use Evernote with Skitch today — plus 14 new possibilities: http://bit.ly/oaSGBh @awsamuel

Lost Interest in Writing Your Novel? How to Love Your Characters: http://bit.ly/qLc1oE

Creative Writing Program Rankings Released: http://bit.ly/qmQEO8 @galleycat

Snipping Your Novel's Reviews for Social Media: http://bit.ly/nDRRrn

How to Build a Book Group Audience for Your Book: http://bit.ly/nkCMEf

10 tips for a good interview--as both interviewer and subject: http://bit.ly/oxgog1

Common sense and the writer: http://bit.ly/o5H94d

5 Simple Font Changes to Boost Readers, Comments, and Shares on Your Blog: http://bit.ly/qre5on

Twisting the Tropes in Historical Romance: http://bit.ly/or1MIp

James Patterson brand makes him world's best-paid writer (Guardian): http://bit.ly/nEu5aZ

The Business of #Screenwriting: They will pigeonhole you (and why this can be a good thing): http://bit.ly/ru33ir

Writing Dystopian Noir Fiction: http://bit.ly/nGkqUc

10 Science Fiction Books That Changed the Course of History: http://on.io9.com/oqd3VP

How to Eschew Obfuscation & Write Clearly: http://bit.ly/nVO1ZY

Critical reading means criticizing your reading: http://bit.ly/rfLy07

10 Words Editors Hate: http://bit.ly/o4ZSxl

The Top 10 Books That Influenced J.R.R. Tolkien: http://bit.ly/pZRxyH

A Degree to Write? http://bit.ly/pvzLaO

12 essentials for a successful author website: http://bit.ly/nWCAWL

Stop making excuses and start writing now: http://bit.ly/nGMsKj @fuelyourwriting

How to Use Skype to Sell Books: http://bit.ly/phYOBu @BookMarketer

8 tips to Make Your Next Writers Conference Awesome: http://bit.ly/qUHv9t

Tips for removing narrative distance & tightening POV: http://bit.ly/nmltKr @bluemaven

How to start a blog post: http://bit.ly/nFGP7M @SeanPlatt

Thoughts and tips for naming characters: http://bit.ly/mQZN8w

How to Make Your Reader Cry: Anatomy of a Death Scene: http://bit.ly/rutXsv @lkblackburne

Tips for personal essay : http://bit.ly/owuuQb

The Nuance of Suspense: http://bit.ly/ocdBcu @JoanSwan

4 Tricks for Improving Your Fiction in One Day: http://bit.ly/ovsSGo @victoriamixon

Tips for perfecting your YA voice: http://bit.ly/n4Yseo

Error-Free Will Come "When Cars Can Drive Themselves": http://bit.ly/oUYjR7

The Fine Art of Choosing A Pen Name: http://bit.ly/ph9mQs

What bloggers can learn from comedians: http://bit.ly/p30huC

Authors, Are You Approachable Online? http://bit.ly/ohUx4j @GoblinWriter

Points to consider if you're a new writer hoping to publish an ebook: http://bit.ly/rtDtAg

An agent reminds writers to be team players: http://bit.ly/nqrqhF

Why Authors Should Be Writing in Adobe InDesign: http://bit.ly/nIFzqu

Facebook for Bloggers: A Short Guide: http://bit.ly/n4PKDM

Are you master of your book promotion or just a serf? http://bit.ly/qRO0Gu

How Much Do Book Designers Earn? http://bit.ly/npir6i @galleycat

A writer predicts 10 ebook trends: http://bit.ly/mXLdBo

8 Tips for Using Quotes and Dialogue in Your Blog Posts: http://bit.ly/pqUtWS

A deadly sin of writing--POV prostitution: http://bit.ly/nh5dfs

Plot your revision: http://bit.ly/npgiOc @HowToWriteShop

An agent's thoughts on lessons in picture books: http://bit.ly/pTOqV4

Convert Your PDFs into Clean Kindle or ePub Files: http://bit.ly/oIlNKN @galleycat

3 ways to toughen up wimpy characters: http://bit.ly/oUzdfN @JulieMusil

5 Brainstorming Strategies for Writers: http://bit.ly/oEEALd

101 of the Best Fiction Writing Tips: http://bit.ly/qmWUVl @writeitsideways

An agent explains what happens if your book doesn't sell: http://bit.ly/qO1Aa1

How to Build a First-Class Email List in 30 Days — from Scratch: http://bit.ly/oFg4vT

Tips for reading blogs and leaving meaningful comments: http://bit.ly/rowO3A

5 more techniques to help you ratchet up the tension and conflict in your story: http://bit.ly/oAQpbR @jhansenwrites

Organization for Creative People – Why Your Brain May Be Keeping You From 'Getting Things Done': http://bit.ly/nCvJK0

How to Use Journaling Therapy to Know and Grow Your Life: http://bit.ly/quUxtT

How to Tantalize as a Graphic Novel: http://bit.ly/oCNT2h

Writing Life: Reassessing Goals For the Year: http://bit.ly/mWZ7zh

Outlining As You Write: http://bit.ly/oIUCxT

How to Make Your Blog Readers Into Rabid Fans: http://bit.ly/p6XuRj

Why 1 writer isn't a fan of fan fic: http://bit.ly/oMJgYQ

How to Treat Names of Groups and Organizations in Your : http://bit.ly/q4MA7A

A fight scene formula (to avoid): http://bit.ly/qbc0VL

5 steps to better proofreading: http://bit.ly/q74GPH @woodwardkaren

Scammers want *you*: http://bit.ly/nuzMQf

How to give book teasers for an upcoming release: http://bit.ly/qGjbT5 @cherylktardif

How to Throw a Book Party that Rocks: http://bit.ly/pN6dkZ

10 Things You Need to Know About Virtual Book Tours: http://bit.ly/pfthMv @nouveauwriter

Crime Writers: Hostage Situations from the Police Negotiator's Perspective: http://bit.ly/npR6ij

An agent on author advances (& whether there's such a thing as too much): http://bit.ly/rfex4V

Should You Pitch (and Sign With) a New Agent? The Pros and Cons: http://bit.ly/riZkuN

7 Easy Steps to Much Faster Writing: http://bit.ly/ruK9RJ

The Latest E-Book Buying Trends (Publishers Weekly): http://bit.ly/pl9xHw

Are books dead, and can authors survive? (The Guardian): http://bit.ly/pjbjoH

Writing and Publishing E-Books for Charity: http://bit.ly/q9TFqy

Need help with pacing? http://bit.ly/gbXFZH

Pros of different types of settings: http://bit.ly/n20xTe

Why Copying Inspires Creativity: http://bit.ly/qB9BVp

For crime fiction writers--how burn phones work: http://bit.ly/nYzaTC @ClarissaDraper

An agent reminds us to meet our deadlines: http://bit.ly/qS3Ebt

The Dangers of Inadequate Writing Time: http://bit.ly/nzgWeK

How Booksellers Can Fight Censorship During Banned Books Week: http://bit.ly/qs8lBK

Crime fiction sleuths who get push-back from family & friends for investigating: http://bit.ly/p1jf1F @mkinberg

What 1 writer learned over summer vacation: http://bit.ly/owqxic @BTMargins

How getting dissed by a literary giant gave 1 writer confidence: http://bit.ly/nshTqS @PennyJars

7 Rules for Identifying People by Place Names: http://bit.ly/rl9z1n

How to build a villain: http://bit.ly/rssK56 @woodwardkaren

How to Satisfy Your Reader without Being Predictable: http://bit.ly/mZ7Ir1 @victoriastrauss

Why authors should start a newsletter: http://bit.ly/pCuzxj

When to re-query an agent: http://bit.ly/ovEtKm

13 things that go into a book proposal: http://bit.ly/pEurt3

On author photos: http://bit.ly/qzmS7p

Tips for plumping up wispy book middles: http://bit.ly/qul3Fm

How to Deal with Unconstructive Criticism: http://bit.ly/q8yxkN

Who has the power in #publishing? http://bit.ly/oSuT51

Best Articles This Week for Writers 8/26/11: http://bit.ly/pMPFvK @4kidlit

Plagiarism: Is It Safe to Share Your Writing With Others? http://bit.ly/oPlaNJ @meghancward

The death of the book tour: http://bit.ly/rrULY1 @AnneRAllen

Preparing to meet agents and editors: http://bit.ly/ogCvea

Don't just think about it---send out those queries: http://bit.ly/o9H9WU

Character flaws from virtues: http://bit.ly/mQaOxo

When you need backstory and when you don't: http://bit.ly/oNiLL7

Regrets and What They Say About Your Character: http://bit.ly/ruzmbG @jeanniecampbell

The Difficulty of Finding Story Ideas That Publishers Like: http://bit.ly/qKVfTW @jodyhedlund

10 Tips for Attacking First Drafts: http://bit.ly/rrcUBt @elspethwrites

Lost the Ability to Write? How Writers Get Their Grooves: http://bit.ly/nUwicY

Outlining a Novel - Step By Step: http://bit.ly/p9SRX4

Captain America's 10-Step Guide to the Likable Hero: http://bit.ly/qH3V1D @KMWeiland

Top 10 Tips of Writing 1 Writer Learned from Studying JK Rowling: http://bit.ly/pDLGuo @HP4Writers

Dialogue as a weapon: http://bit.ly/oaFDwb

Librarians Reshelve 27,000 Books After Virginia Earthquake: http://bit.ly/ouM2bl @galleycat

9 tips to set and achieve creative goals: http://bit.ly/pZZtta

How to deal with people: Advice for the shy & socially awkward: http://bit.ly/oJF3o3

Using the 3-Act Structure: Adjusting Expectations: http://bit.ly/pxRgsP

$99 Tablet from Amazon? http://bit.ly/qwhbLX @PassiveVoiceBlg

3 Lessons Learned While Backpacking Europe: http://bit.ly/mYh6te @YAHighway

Playing To Your Strengths as a Writer: http://bit.ly/nBO71x @jhansenwrites @GeneLempp

Formatting red flags: http://bit.ly/isBR78 @WriteAngleBlog

Work for hire arrangements in publishing: http://bit.ly/r8m5nw

The units that make up a plot: http://bit.ly/pjJsrR

Conflict vs. complication: http://bit.ly/o8lZSF @tabithaolson

6 dialogue traps to avoid: http://bit.ly/odnGlT @indieauthor

Should I meet writers, or write (or blog)? The writer's dual identity: http://bit.ly/quxh0Z @JulietteWade

A Book's Success (or Failure) Depends On A Lot Of Variables, Reminds an Agent: http://bit.ly/o0A0cw

Sword Swallowing: Put Your Emotion On The Page: http://bit.ly/nv3wm7

Real Life Diagnostics: Getting Emotional: http://bit.ly/pTIb2J

What "Cowboys and Aliens" Can Teach us About Connecting to Readers: http://bit.ly/oBUlFR @Janice_Hardy

Creative Goal Setting for Writers: http://bit.ly/mQCbBA

3 Things That Come First Before You Tackle Social Media: http://bit.ly/nGuvec @JaneFriedman

Your Characters Should Exist in Time: http://bit.ly/qnjCfh

Why writers need to be able to ask for help: http://bit.ly/q1MqO1 @JodyHedlund

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Knowing Our Writing Weaknesses

blog1aMy friends are, generally, nice people, but they do laugh at one particular handicap I have.

I can’t for the life of me describe anything to do with fashion.

For a teenage girl it was fairly crippling. “Elizabeth, what are you wearing to Cotillion?”

I’d pause. “It’s blue.”

You can imagine the tittering that followed. :)

When my bridesmaids asked me what types of dresses they’d be wearing, I said, “They’re pretty inexpensive. They’re sundresses.”

It wasn’t what they’d asked. I did notice that when they were describing their own Cotillion dresses or wedding gowns or bridesmaids dresses, they’d use terms like “tea length,” and “V-neck” and “tulle.”

I don’t care much about fashion, and it’s pretty obvious. :)

I’m not writing catalog copy (thank goodness), but I am writing books that women will read. And I know many women like at least some sort of an idea what characters are wearing. Plus, clothing can be an indicator as to a person’s profession or give some insights into them as a character (I’m wincing wondering what my clothes say about me…).

So I’ve spent a good deal of time reading ad copy and catalog copy for clothing companies.

I’ve also gone to paint store sites to read their descriptions of color and texture.

I’ve visited curtain manufacturer websites, oriental rug websites…you name it. I’ve tried to get a feel for descriptive language from people who use it to sell products.

There are also sites like The Bookshelf Muse which help connect writers with descriptive terms for colors and textures.

The important thing, I think, is knowing where our writing weaknesses lie. Because there are so many ways we can learn how to overcome them.

Got any writing weaknesses? How are you addressing them?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Not in the Mood to Write? Write According to Your Mood

Artist--Self Portrait 1845--Sir William Fettes DouglasI’ve noticed in the past that my mood influences my writing.

It’s been a really busy last few days, as I mentioned yesterday. I’m trying to take things a little slower now and plan some of my day ahead of time.

But it’s still busy. And that, unfortunately, makes me cranky. I don’t really like to be busy. But busy is a way of life for me.

I noticed my crankiness coming through a character a couple of days ago. The scene involved a neighbor’s visit and was intended to be a springboard to set up a murder.

My protagonist, though, didn’t want to be visited. She wanted to be very still and drink herbal tea. She was decidedly grouchy when she answered the door and ungracious during the course of the visit. And she wasn’t supposed to be!

I stopped writing the scene and worked on another part of the book—a section where there was real tension in the room and the characters were all angry with each other.

I could write tension and conflict perfectly. :)

Some books I’ve written straight through from start to finish. If I run into a block, though, or if the writing gets too close to me (because I don’t write myself into books) , it’s better to just open another Word document, save it under a scene description, and write the scene I’m in the mood to write.

Fortunately, most books have as many different types of scenes as there are moods.

Sometimes I’m in a really peppy, lighthearted mood and comedy comes easily to me. If I’ve got excessive amounts of energy, then I’ll write an action scene. If I’m not feeling particularly creative, I’ll revise a book (I usually have a book I’m revising and one that I’m writing.)

My muse and I have never been on speaking terms. Luckily, I can work around her.

Do you write out of order sometimes? Do you ever feel your mood leaking into your writing?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Scheduling Time to Breathe

HosmerLakeLife is usually pretty fast-paced here.  Recently, it’s been faster-paced than usual.

Today is the first day of school for my children.  The last week has been a blur of preparations for school, celebrating a family birthday, and other activities.  One of my babies is going to high school today…and I really don’t know where the time has gone.

On Tuesday, there was an earthquake in Virginia.  The tremors were felt as far away as Georgia. 

My dad felt them in South Carolina.  “I was reading on the porch,” he said.  “I felt them for about ten seconds.”

I’d been driving at the time, focused on the task so that I could check something else off my list to get to another thing on my list…and then another.

Several other people asked me if I’d felt anything.  I think, on Tuesday,  the ground would have had to have opened and swallowed me up  before I noticed.  No, I didn’t notice an earthquake. If I felt anything, I probably just attributed it to uneven pavement under the car.

But if I’d been reading on a quiet porch in South Carolina?  Sure. I’d have felt them then.

This makes me think that I need to give myself a little more breathing room each day to just observe

Whenever I’m not running frantically, I’ve noticed that I get more ideas for my writing.  I might get a character idea or a bit of description, or a plot twist.  It might even be something big, like an idea for a series.

Although I don’t see life getting any quieter in the next couple of weeks (the opposite is true, actually), I think I’m going to get up earlier to get prepared for it all so that maybe I can fit in my breathing space between it all.  I usually get up at 5---I think I’m going to make it more like 4:30. And maybe do more list-making the night before I turn in.  That way I won’t be playing catch-up each day.

How do you fit some quiet time into your day?  All ideas welcome. :)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Creating an Uncomfortable Situation

b1

I was at a local amusement park with my children last weekend and was put in an uncomfortable situation a couple of times in a row.

We were in the water park when a family took it upon themselves to have a humongous, awful argument about five feet away from me. They were calling each other names (the children as well as the adults), being passive aggressive, being openly aggressive, and being overall very loud. The dad was a bully, the mom was shrill, the teenage son was accusatory. I tried to escape.

Shortly after that, a large lady in an inner tube floated up to me in the shallow area and stayed right there next to me, less than a foot away. I’ll admit to having some personal space issues, but I think even someone who doesn’t would think that was a little close when the rest of the shallow area had no one in it at all. (The arguing family had moved on to another section of the pool.)

It all made me think about creating discomfort in our books.

Putting our characters in uncomfortable situations can be a way to create humor. It’s fun to put a character in an uncomfortable situation and see what happens. My character, Myrtle, gave a disastrous dinner party and she was so serious about trying to make everything perfect. When it all backfired on her, it made the scene funny.

By making our protagonist feel uncomfortable, we can pull our reader into the tension that she’s feeling. This will evoke sympathy for our character.

This discomfort can be used as a way to keep readers turning pages….readers want our friendly protagonist to get out of the situation she’s in.

Lend a sense of realism to a scene. We’ve all been in situations where we feel uncomfortable. Readers can relate to it.

Do you like making your characters uncomfortable? How have you done it in the past?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Naming Characters

b23I usually have a good time naming characters, but I’ll admit that sometimes I have to go back and change names later. Or add them.

My editor for the quilting mysteries called me a couple of weeks ago. “Does your victim have a last name?” she asked.

I blinked. Did she? I told my editor I’d email her, then went through the manuscript, searching for it. Nope, she sure didn’t. The victim didn’t really need one at the time, but my editor needed a last name for the back cover copy. Oddly enough, I did have a last name in my brainstorming notes but it hadn’t come into play in the book…I guess I just used it to set the character in my brain when I was drafting.

This kind of last-minute change or addition of names has happened to me before.

One book I submitted needed a character name change in the 11th hour—the name was already taken by a real person…an actual author at another publishing house. We didn’t want to step on any toes or make it look like I had a vendetta against that poor author (I didn’t even know them, but it would have looked bad.)

Here are some things I’ve learned about naming:

Not everyone should be named. Bit characters can usually just remain unnamed and just tagged.

We should avoid naming characters names that start with the same letter. I’m editing a book I wrote a long time ago and I’m amazed that I have 3 characters whose names start with B. Really? I’m changing them.

Sometimes character names alone aren’t enough to place a character with a reader. A short reminder of who the character is when they come back onstage might be a good idea (especially if they have a smaller role). It’s helpful to have a ‘Jenny hopped in the car, still wearing her scrubs from work.’ Really, you don’t even have to be that vague with the reminders: sometimes a ‘Jenny, Cameron’s sister, got in the car’ is fine to slip in. I think this is becoming even more important with ereaders, since it’s a bit more of a pain to type in a name to search for it, instead of just flipping (or it is to me, anyway.)

Using nicknames as well as regular names can be tricky unless we make it clear or we’re fairly consistent with the nicknames (one character uses it all the time to refer to another character, etc.)

I try to find appropriate names for my characters. Right or wrong, there’s definitely baggage that comes along with certain names. If I were going to write a beauty queen, I probably wouldn’t choose the name ‘Gertrude’ unless I was trying to be funny. Trudy, though, might work out well. I wouldn’t name my intellectual Biff…again, unless I was trying to make a point. It would be too much work to try to undo the readers’ quick leap to stereotype.

Every book I seem to change a character name at least once. After eight chapters, they may not be the same person I thought they were in chapter two. By chapter eighteen, they might have changed again.

Do you enjoy naming characters? Do you always stick with a character name or have you changed them in the past?

Monday, August 22, 2011

What Does Your Character Want?

blog22We frequently hear, as writers, the advice that our protagonist needs to want something.

As Kurt Vonnegut put it: “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”

And Vonnegut did say every character…not just our protagonist.

Of course, though, it’s natural to focus on what our main character wants. If there’s something he really wants and we keep it out of his reach, we’re creating tension and conflict with whatever is keeping him away from his goal.

It’s also important for readers to know what our protagonist’s motivation is. What his stake in the story is.

Sometimes it’s fun to have the protagonist struggling to choose between two separate things that he really wants….things that might seem mutually exclusive. But have them both be extremely important to the character. Obviously, this creates even more tension.

What if our protagonist’s goal and what he wants changes during the course of the story? What happens then?

But we also have antagonists to work with. And if her goal is opposite from our protagonist’s, then we’re setting them up for battle.

What about those characters who want the same thing that our protagonist wants…but maybe they’re inept in some way or accidentally bumble through and mess things up. Unintentionally.

There are also characters who don’t share the same goals as our protagonist, but they aren’t antagonists on a huge scale. Maybe they’re just holding back our protagonist in some way because their goals don’t align completely with his. (Like our protagonist’s boss. Our protagonist wants to be having adventures in Maui, but his boss wants him at his desk job.)

Does your character want something on an epic scale or a smaller one? Mine usually just want to put killers behind bars. :)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Twitterific

WkbBadgeTerry3_thumb[1]

Below are my writing-related tweets from the last week.

The Writer’s Knowledge Base search engine, designed by software engineer and writer Mike Fleming, makes all these links searchable—try it for searches on plotting, characterization, querying, book promo, and more.

I’m compiling a directory of ebook professionals—cover designers, formatters, freelance editors, etc.—to make it easier for writers to connect with services. If you’d like to be added, please email me at elizabethspanncraig (at) gmail (dot) com with your contact info, website, etc. The directory can be accessed here.

Progressive-Dinner-Deadly-Cover_PubIt

I also released an ebook this week. Progressive Dinner Deadly is a Myrtle Clover mystery and is available for $2.99 on Kindle and Nook. Hope you’ll mention it to any friends who enjoy mysteries.

The love triangle trend in YA: http://bit.ly/peOvjb @wordforteens

14 Quick Tips for Fantastic Fantasy: http://bit.ly/off7k3

A 3-Way Conversation: The Authors-Agent-Editor Relationship: http://bit.ly/mRcrnS

Writing It All Wrong: A Survival Manual: http://bit.ly/oxzL2w

Helping Writers Make Sense of Death: http://bit.ly/nGUtL8

The Script Lab does a 5-point plot breakdown of "Legally Blonde": http://bit.ly/pGlS6j

8 Simple Ways to Defrost Your Writing & Improve Its Clarity: http://bit.ly/oeF3zx

How to Serialize a Novel (or Not): http://bit.ly/nfKWKr

5 online tools for writers: http://bit.ly/neyhpU

Why 2nd Novels Are So Different from the First: http://bit.ly/nml8uf

The Way We Publish Now: http://bit.ly/poYmZs @AnneRAllen

Are you writing the wrong genre? http://bit.ly/mQT08i @dirtywhitecandy

Sticking our readers into an interesting situation: http://bit.ly/rmsTGk

Finding & defining a profitable niche for your book: http://bit.ly/oP5qrh

3 Criteria for a Killer Title: http://bit.ly/pXXNeL @KatieGanshert

Agents Verses Intellectual Property Lawyers: http://bit.ly/oAbMxx

Blogging without a computer: http://bit.ly/pWFSXR

Building Allies: Working with Libraries: http://bit.ly/ol4YDx @ryanmwilliams

Tips for writing dialogue: http://bit.ly/n2L9kr

How To Find an Illustrator for Your Book: http://bit.ly/ppfZB3 @thecreativepenn @writetip

3 authors, 3 examples of the disruption in #publishing: http://bit.ly/pl58kk

International Conference Survival Tips: http://bit.ly/opcNPc

How Much Has Book Marketing Changed Since 2005? http://bit.ly/pbJR6e @janefriedman

3 Copywriting Tips for Writers: http://bit.ly/ptktSb

10 things 1 writer would have done differently: http://bit.ly/q6acdz @roniloren

Open your story with a (subtle) bang: http://bit.ly/qeblLZ

Book ideas for newbie writers: http://bit.ly/mYPe7g

How Gaming Invaded 1 Writer's Writing Worldview: http://bit.ly/qBWKg8

Writers--stop worrying: http://bit.ly/rhqUMh

Should You Respond To Every Email? http://bit.ly/oSwqbA

Debut authors--take a moment to enjoy it all: http://bit.ly/qdmaWZ

Hyphenation in Compound Nouns: http://bit.ly/ohmG8C

Tips for querying: http://bit.ly/pmmKDW

Building a Magical System: A Questionnaire: http://bit.ly/qzIRDe

Comparing long and short headlines for effectiveness: http://bit.ly/pdahh7

How to be a faster writer (Slate): http://slate.me/q9IOcY

Using Dirty Fighting To Escalate Tension In Your Story: http://bit.ly/q8ya7Y @jhansenwrites

Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing. The Myth of Knowing it All: http://bit.ly/qtFpYV

Commonly misused words: http://bit.ly/qc1RMy @authorterryo

The 5 Worst Ways to Title a Blog Post: http://bit.ly/nbLU78

Suffering and the Brilliant Author: http://bit.ly/ofypfh @SarahAHoyt

How To Comparison Shop For Books: http://bit.ly/oON2xL @galleycat

Plotting mysteries...with help from JK Rowling: http://bit.ly/qF8uAa @HP4Writers

The Art of Stringing 'Em Along: http://bit.ly/p2ZGyq @katieganshert

With Great Productivity Comes Great Preparation: http://bit.ly/p0W1Tv

What Does Your Author Bio Say about You? http://bit.ly/piaqA0 @JamiGold

5 ways to structure a plot: http://bit.ly/pBeJ9O

Why 1 writer loves writing in 1st person: http://bit.ly/qRbx8I @4kidlit @LisaGailGreen

5 Ways to Thrive in your Writing Career: http://bit.ly/rkabtW

3 Tricks for Ratcheting Tension: http://bit.ly/nCYJRG @victoriamixon

Using an image list to boost your creativity: http://bit.ly/nB96BY

For writers looking for critique partners: http://bit.ly/qOTlEB @clarissadraper

The writer's what-if: http://bit.ly/pC88jO

Cliched Contrivances: http://bit.ly/rnmil0 @RavenRequiem13

Business card ideas for writers: http://bit.ly/pln13P

Writing lessons learned from "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet": http://bit.ly/poPS4M @JulieMusil

An agent's thoughts on online browsing for books & the closure of brick and mortar bookstores: http://bit.ly/nOEsbT

A directory to help connect writers to cover designers, editors, and formatters: http://bit.ly/oYHAEF#

1 writer's list of 5 ways not to end a book: http://bit.ly/pCfymI

Easing your way into more responsibility: http://bit.ly/n1B0bj @jodyhedlund

Romance writing--unusual proposals: http://bit.ly/qNyjI4 & the big lie: http://bit.ly/qWdWXh

5 Creative Coaching Techniques To Get Yourself Unstuck: http://bit.ly/pobtkm

Relationships Focus Characters: http://bit.ly/qnWqZ7

A look at sleuths with troubled childhoods in crime fiction: http://bit.ly/nxNIet @mkinberg

Maintaining Your Enthusiasm Until the Book Is Completed: http://bit.ly/oSkYbN @KMWeiland

1 Harsh Reality of Blogging: http://bit.ly/q02qoR

Tips for staying organized: http://bit.ly/op9JhH

10 Uses for Forcefields: http://bit.ly/r7SKZA

Defining author brand: http://bit.ly/pk9pEE

Writing interesting places: http://bit.ly/p0nSUw

Why Are So Many Writers Plagued With Insecurities? http://bit.ly/pkihbn

A review of capitalization rules: http://bit.ly/rg5vS1

The importance of beta readers: http://bit.ly/o12aFU

7 Annoying Blogging Personality Disorders: http://bit.ly/oTiaoW

2 tricks for beating writer's block: http://bit.ly/pMO9Pv @victoriamixon

A Few Things Writers SHOULDN'T Worry About: http://bit.ly/o1scRR

10 commandments for a happy writer: http://bit.ly/mUSmtX

Tips for conveying your characters in queries: http://bit.ly/pjZqsg

How to handle bad reviews: http://bit.ly/nVirNg

The Dangers of Being An Apathetic Writer: http://bit.ly/r6ToBx

Crime Writers: Hostage Situations from a Criminal's Perspective: http://bit.ly/nsKE6E

Inclusion of lies and lying to enrich our stories: http://bit.ly/ogi5VN @JulietteWade

Don't Feel Guilty About "Playing Around" Online: http://bit.ly/n6Q5S4

Book collectors--buyer beware on signatures: http://bit.ly/nLN7N0

Writing conference tips: http://bit.ly/pO0xdZ

Authors value reader encouragement: http://bit.ly/p3F7SZ @JodyHedlund

Networking at writers' conferences: http://bit.ly/qmehAi

Character quirks and foibles: http://bit.ly/nDgB2P

What Every Writer Needs to Know About Cover Design – Even if You're not Self-Publishing: http://bit.ly/o1xusJ @dirtywhitecandy

Dealing with reviews and critiques: http://bit.ly/r3nFxR

Writing a book--marketing and promo: http://bit.ly/nUGHkk

1 writer's thoughts on reader reviews and rating books: http://bit.ly/q3wOSN @authorterryo

Thoughts on self-pubbing vs. traditional: http://bit.ly/pTq8fh

6 places to find critique partners & feedback on your work: http://bit.ly/oQWYr8 @ClarissaDraper

Why Your Blog's "About" Page Matters: http://bit.ly/qqN17z

Using the element of surprise in our writing: http://bit.ly/o7rmtr

An agent says that writing rules are just tools: http://bit.ly/qkj7oM

Grantwriting 101 for Writers: http://bit.ly/nOjpD6 @JaneFriedman

3 exercises to add layers of complexity to both scene and character: http://bit.ly/ocI9U1 @BTMargins

Why it's important to keep POV consistency: http://bit.ly/psotDh

What makes slang stick? (Slate): http://slate.me/p7msGX

A history of steampunk: http://bit.ly/pm2B4J , http://bit.ly/n54uCS , http://bit.ly/nwbi8a & http://bit.ly/nqeaej

Why You Need A Literary Agent… Or Do You? http://bit.ly/n3cPKD @mjcache

How to Check Your Book Proof in 3 Simple Steps: http://bit.ly/mP4kly

Creating great villains: http://bit.ly/ojbsky

5 Ways to Know You Need More Life Balance: http://bit.ly/n99dbI

5 Slang Words That May Never Be Legit: http://bit.ly/q3yZ6L

How To Find the Book on the Tip of Your Tongue: http://bit.ly/nNxiFV @galleycat

4 Steps to Breaking Out Your Creativity: http://bit.ly/nqRiHb

Why Do Agents Close To Submissions? http://bit.ly/qx9dt3

A book blogger with tips for getting your book reviewed (and pitching a blogger): http://bit.ly/oiZ80x @jesslaw

Beware the Bog of Back Story: http://bit.ly/r0iP57 @KristenLambTX

How to Get an MFA equivalent in 5 steps: http://bit.ly/nXXdsW @sarahlapolla

3 Questions to Ask Before You Publish Your Next Blog Post: http://bit.ly/o9EkW5

Using Scrivener Software to Plot a Novel: http://bit.ly/o7YmBp @sarahketley

Authors, Do You Have a Facebook Fan Page? http://bit.ly/oNusBx

5 More Ways To Kill A Sentence: http://bit.ly/opqShL @Grammar_Diva

How to Lose Fans & Alienate People: http://bit.ly/oIYx1E @MuseInks

What to Say on Social Media When You Have Nothing to Say: http://bit.ly/oyt6W5

Words That Should (Not) Be Capitalized in Titles: http://bit.ly/oPQPs2

Are You Missing This Crucial Skill Set as a Writer? http://bit.ly/p8tZvJ

Internet Resources For Writers: http://bit.ly/nDy2Lr @ErinORiordan

3 Principles for Facebook Fan Pages: http://bit.ly/pW6MxP @janefriedman

The Sagging Character: http://bit.ly/pCJdvU

Strategies for making time to write: http://bit.ly/p9iLyx

How to begin a story: http://bit.ly/rstlNH @BTMargins

9 Tips for Becoming A Freelance Writer: http://bit.ly/oW2u6Y

A look at Pottermore and engaging our reader electronically (and, who are we trying to serve?): http://bit.ly/rbBQ02 @HP4Writers

Best Articles This Week for Writers 8/19/11: http://bit.ly/oo7Io4 @4kidlit

Are You Wasting Your Time Trying to Get Published? http://bit.ly/p3LNcw @JaneFriedman

Thinking = Plotting: http://bit.ly/p8j8UW

Stop being an 'aspiring' writer: http://bit.ly/qbGkwx @JaneFriedman

Live Intentionally But With Breathing Space: http://bit.ly/ojU7PM @JodyHedlund

Do Writers Read Differently Than Non-Writers? http://bit.ly/qLT88g @jhansenwrites

Addressing the reader in our stories: http://bit.ly/oAJyEZ

Those who argue with rejections: http://bit.ly/pxvZw7

My tweets are archived and searchable at the Writer's Knowledge Base: http://bit.ly/dYRayA

Who's In Charge of Writing This Story? http://bit.ly/qOrS8U

Romance writers--don't make Mr. Fabulous *too* fabulous: http://bit.ly/nzLK4Q

Tips on Self-Destructive Protagonists: http://bit.ly/mUoCAS

How to Reverse-Outline Your First Draft: http://bit.ly/ru8Kug

Platform 101 for Regular (Not-Famous) People: http://bit.ly/pFm2NH

Publishing on Kindle - A Tutorial : http://bit.ly/owzBEV #ebooks

Time management tips for the marketing author: http://bit.ly/nbSMwa @rileymagnus

How to Read a Book Contract: http://bit.ly/oLQJOf @PassiveVoiceBlg

Personalizing Your Query: http://bit.ly/pLlM4w

7 Lessons 1 Writer Learned by Starting Over with Blogging: http://bit.ly/qgdjvc

Novel Ideas For Indie Bookstores: http://bit.ly/nThQd5

10 ways to survive crazy conference roommates & other advice: http://bit.ly/qfU8Ov

What book publicists earn: http://bit.ly/paNw9F @galleycat

10 ways to find Mr. Write at a writers conference: http://bit.ly/puwZgN

Finding a Quiet Place to Write: http://bit.ly/qjzC2R @jodycalkins

Publishing terms that writers should be familiar with: http://bit.ly/nzOUz4 @selfpubreview

Autograph Your Ebooks: http://bit.ly/r2VGNX @PassiveVoiceBlg

An agent asks writers to think about their project before starting it: http://bit.ly/qc9Fn7

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Help for Writers—in Case You Missed It

Is it just me, or did this week go by in a blur?

In case you missed it (and I think a lot slipped by me this week), here are three different helps for writers:

Clarissa CritiqueCritique sites.  Clarissa Draper focused on critique groups this week on her blog, Listening to the Voices.  She talks about what it means to be a critique partner/beta reader, launched a critique partner match-up feature for her blog, and linked to six other sites that match writers with crit partners.

 

Alex J. CavanaughAlex J. Cavanaugh is launching the Insecure Writers Support Group.  As he explains in this post :

I’ve noticed a lot of posts lately about doubts, concerns, and a lack of confidence. Insecure is a term most writers use to describe themselves….

I thought it would be cool if one day a month, everyone involved in the Insecure Writers Support group posted either:

  • A situation where they need some encouragement
  • Words of encouragement for others about to face a situation

Alex is working out the logistics of this project and was looking for feedback in his post on Friday.

I applaud Alex for setting this up because I think if a writer is confident (and maybe even stubborn), they’re going to go far with their writing and stick with it.

directoryAnd, this week, I opened up a free directory for writers looking for cover designers, ebook formatters/converters, freelance editors, etc.  It’s not pretty (my spreadsheets always look clumsy), but all the information is there to get you started if you’re in the process of looking for a pro to help you with your ebook.

 

Progressive-Dinner-Deadly-Cover_PubItI also released an ebook this week. :)  Progressive Dinner Deadly is a Myrtle Clover mystery and is available for $2.99 on Kindle and Nook.

Anyone else got anything to announce or promote for the week?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Writing About Real People

the paris wife

I’d been hearing good things about Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, so I recently downloaded it to my Kindle and read the book. I really enjoyed it.

I found, however, that I kept sympathizing with Ernest Hemingway instead of Hadley, which is not what I think I was supposed to do. :)

As a writer, it’s hard not to, though. After all, he was a literary genius. He’s got to get those books out there. Don’t hold him back, Hadley!

There were other times, of course, when Hemingway was less than likeable.

This book is a novel based on real events, so we can’t really treat it as a biography, but it does have a lot of really interesting insights into the couple (and McLain did a ton of research.)

One of the things that apparently created some concern for Hadley Hemingway was the way that Ernest wrote about their friends and even parodied one friend’s work (destroying some friendships in the process). And the fact that he didn’t write about Hadley in The Sun Also Rises.

Apparently, everyone knew who Hemingway’s characters were drawn from.

So some people were upset at being portrayed in a particular way and some were upset at not being portrayed at all.

This could become a problem with our own stories, too. Friends or family could get their feelings hurt. The thought of libel isn’t too thrilling, either.

For me, it’s more fun to take lots of small bits of different people and make it into a sort of Frankenstein’s monster of a new character. That way I’ve still got the solid traits that I can easily describe, but I’m not drawing too much from one person.

And I don’t put people’s secrets into my book. Although I don’t know too many secrets! And the fact that I’m a writer might be why. :)

To me, it’s just not worth losing friends over. Some characters may be amalgams of many different people I know, but I’m not going to use one person’s life or appearance to base a character or story on.

Do you write about people you know? Do you have a line you won’t cross?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Element of Surprise

blog21One of my favorite things about reading a book is being surprised. (Which is interesting, because in real life, I don’t like being surprised.)

This surprise doesn’t have to be anything as dramatic as a twist ending. It can be something as minor as a character showing an unexpected bit of depth or an unusual facet of his personality.

But I also like it when I’ve expected the plot to take a particular trajectory and something else happens.

I like to see an unexpected bit of trouble thrown at a character, too. How will they react? How does it change the direction of the story?

What surprises are good for:

As a distraction: A suddenly erupting argument or a quickly-contained but alarming grease fire provides a wonderful opportunity to slip in a clue under the radar. Writers of other genres can also use this slight of hand technique to protect a larger surprise later in the book.

For adding humor or quirkiness: You think a character is going to behave in a particular way. You’ve carefully portrayed Agnes as an uptight prude. Your protagonist views Agnes that way. Then Agnes says something outrageous and brazen that completely shatters this stereotype. Or Agnes invites the protagonist to lunch—and serves McDonald’s Quarter Pounders with Cheese on her delicate china. With Bloody Marys.

For suspense: You can write a fairly ho-hum scene with a character going through her usual routine…which is suddenly interrupted when she’s carjacked.

As a change of pace: Is your scene getting stale? Is your character going through the same motions every day? Liven things up with something unexpected. It doesn’t have to be something major (scary landing during their plane trip)—it could be something as minor as a flat tire or a broken air conditioner that takes their day on a different and surprising trajectory.

As a way to add depth to a character: While we want our characters to behave in character, it’s always fun to see different facets of a character, too. How do they react when we put them into an emergency situation? How do they react when we poke fun at them or put them under stress? What happens when we press their buttons? Sometimes their reactions can surprise us.

Do you enjoy throwing in surprising elements to your story? Do you use big or little twists?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Backing Up

computerThis is my public service announcement for the next few months. :)

Y’all—back up your work.

Back up your writing and everything else that’s important to you on your computer.

And…back up to more than one place. What if your backup fails? It’s happened to me before.

Here are some backup options to consider that range from low to higher tech:

Use an online location to store your writing. You can email your book to yourself using any email address that can be accessed by webmail. You can also store your writing on Google Docs or an online story organizer (like Hiveword, from my friend Mike Fleming.)

Use a flash drive. Cheap. Easy.

Use an external hard drive. Word files don’t take up much space, but you might want to buy an external hard drive if you have a lot of music or pictures to back up.

Print a copy. Bulky and a pain, but an option for anyone looking for a really low-tech option.

Use an online storage solution like Dropbox or Carbonite.

Blogs:

You should also backup your blogs. They sometimes disappear, too. Here is an article on the Guide to Literary Agents blog that discusses how to backup a Blogger, WordPress, and LiveJournal blog.

Also, if you’re on Google Reader, remember to subscribe to your own blog there. You’ll be able to access all your old posts from the Reader.

Go forth and back up! And, while you’re at it, change your passwords, too. :)

What do you use for backing up?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Release and a Directory

Progressive Dinner Deadly Cover

It’s out! Progressive Dinner Deadly, a new Myrtle Clover mystery is now available on Kindle and Nook for $2.99 .

This is a follow-up to Pretty is as Pretty Dies, published by Midnight Ink in 2009. I’m publishing this book myself.

When intrepid octogenarian sleuth Myrtle Clover caught Jill, her new housekeeper, peering into her medicine cabinet, she should have been upset. But discovering that Jill wasn’t such a squeaky-clean goody-goody made her vastly more interesting in Myrtle’s eyes.

Myrtle would have happily continued figuring out what made Jill Caulfield tick…if Jill hadn’t foolishly gone and gotten herself murdered.

Thanks to Kendel Flaum, who designed the lovely cover, and Keith Snyder from Typeflow who formatted and designed the interior of the book.

I wanted, also, to go ahead and share with y’all a work in progress—the ebook services directory. It’s in a Google Spreadsheet format and divided into cover designers, formatters, freelance editors, ghost writers, and book trailers.

It’s a work-in-progress because I don’t frequently work with spreadsheets (which you’ll probably be able to tell!). :) I’ll be coming up with a badge and a bit more of a polished look, soon. Also, it’s something that it looks like I’ll be adding to every couple of days (I’m getting in plenty of additions.) But I wanted to go ahead and make it available since I’m already getting emails from writers asking for it.

I did put a caveat emptor on there because, unfortunately, I don’t have time to vet everyone. As always, and with any business arrangement, please enter the relationship with caution. This directory is intended to be a starting point to connect writers with services, since currently the ebook industry seems to be working on word of mouth.

If you want to be added to the directory or see any errors, please contact me at elizabethspanncraig (at) gmail (dot) com.

Thanks!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sticking our Readers into an Interesting Situation

blog16Friday afternoon my husband and I had a nice lunch together, then he asked if I could run an errand for him (he was going back in to the office) and return a purchase to a major electronics chain store.

I walked into the store, in my usual sort of absentminded fog, strolled over to the customer service area, and immediately noticed that everyone was very angry.

There were two men from management looking grim and anxious with their arms crossed. The customer service representatives were frozen. There were two customers being helped at the same time and both were sort of leaning in over the desk, looking tense. There was a police officer (who is frequently assigned a beat at the store) watching intently. The customers in line seemed very stiff and kept looking sideways at each other.

And I had just sort of wandered in in a very peppy mood and into this tension. What’s more, I couldn’t even tell what was going on. Finally, the elderly lady in front of me turned around and said in a fierce tone, “Someone should help that woman!”

That woman?” I asked, nodding to the middle aged woman at the desk. “What’s happening?”

But I didn’t get an answer because suddenly the woman erupted like Mt Vesuvius, yelling that that was the worst customer service she’d ever seen, going up to the police officer and seeming to make some sort of low-voiced suggestion to her (maybe that they arrest the customer service department?!) then storming out the door, still yelling.

Afterwards no one looked at anyone else and the customer service people started quickly helping the rest of the line. And I never did find out what was going on.

But it made me think that this is the kind of thing we want to do with our readers.

We don’t know what kind of day our readers are having. Maybe they’ve just had a nice lunch and are feeling happy and daydreamy, like I was. Maybe they’re having a rough day or week.

We want to drag our readers into something different—something funny, something tense, something interesting. We want to provide some escape and something to pique their curiosity or interest. We want to get them hooked.

Read any good openings lately? Written any? How do you propel your readers into a new world?

For some reason, Blogger insists this post was published Friday, instead of today! Trying to republish it now...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Twitterific

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Below are my tweets from the last week.

The Writer’s Knowledge Base search engine, designed by software engineer and writer Mike Fleming, makes all these links searchable—try it for searches on plotting, characterization, querying, book promo, and more.

I’m also compiling a directory of ebook professionals—cover designers, formatters, freelance editors, etc.—to make it easier for writers to connect with services. If you’d like to be added, please email me at elizabethspanncraig (at) gmail (dot) com with your contact info, website, etc. An interesting interview with a publishing insider: http://bit.ly/om8fmz @ajackwriting

Alternative magic systems for the fantasy writer: http://bit.ly/nIypxp

All about urban fantasy: http://bit.ly/nUFw5C

Revise Grand Entrance Scene to Set up Character Relationship: http://bit.ly/nj2NGA

The Number One Reason Why Marketing Tactics Fail: http://bit.ly/r8DFpZ

Literary Agents: Top 10 Ways to Make or Break that Relationship:The Agent as Superman/Superwoman: http://bit.ly/o6KauM

A series on avoiding mushy book middles: http://bit.ly/pJEiLg http://bit.ly/mQ3YQ3 and http://bit.ly/oqpJiA

Tips for landing an agent: http://bit.ly/qtENRG

10 things 1 writer has learned about blogging: http://bit.ly/qZPkcl @CatsEyeWriter

3 Ways Social Media Can Help You Avoid Procrastination: http://bit.ly/pmNz1a

The positive side of distractions: http://bit.ly/qrdawY

7 Ways to Pick Yourself Up After a Painful Rejection: http://bit.ly/pzEuKj

The Secret to Twitter That Can't Be Taught: http://bit.ly/nr5JcW

Finding Rest Is Essential to Creative Inspiration: http://bit.ly/oj8eQS

Capitalization Rules for the Names of Games: http://bit.ly/r16PHc

1 writer's homemade MFA: http://bit.ly/nUVLDv @BTMargins

Is literary jargon alive and well? NY Times: http://nyti.ms/oqweSN

The Audubon* Field Guide to Unpublished Writers: http://bit.ly/q1dwnU @GeoffreyCubbage

7 Reasons Reviews Sell Books: http://bit.ly/pmlW8Z @BookBuzzr

An author's thoughts on libel and fiction: http://bit.ly/q8ygZ0

Joe Konrath addresses ebook misconceptions: http://bit.ly/nGj7Ts

Publishers Playing the Social Media Game: http://bit.ly/o6sLxI @WriteAngleBlog

Writing for fun for 10 minutes a day: http://bit.ly/niWZpJ @BookEmDonna

A singer/songwriter recommends focusing on writing, not social media: http://bit.ly/pSEwrm

Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Writers Don't Need to Practice: http://bit.ly/nWQstW

Weeding out weaknesses in our books: http://bit.ly/r9ez1g @Mommy_Authors

Keeping personal bias out of your stories: http://bit.ly/pwJthO

How to Query Agents Part 1: http://bit.ly/prn1s8 @EmilyCaseysMuse

Superhero Comics Could Learn a Thing or Two from Superhero Films: http://bit.ly/n05s7P

From Good to Better: 10 Tips On Editing Your WIP: http://bit.ly/ormO2D @AnneRAllen

6 Effective Ways to Become Persistent: http://bit.ly/qJfnn6

Pretend your main character isn't there: http://bit.ly/p2sP1X @dirtywhitecandy

How to write a great novel (WSJ): http://on.wsj.com/r0BTJR

The art of discovering your innate genius: http://bit.ly/pWpP06

Great Ways for Writers, Authors, Speakers, and Readers to Use Google+: http://bit.ly/rkyA0E

Remind yourself of the joy of writing: http://bit.ly/qVEBRp

Search my tweets-- http://dld.bz/KPgS

Making Writing Work For You When You Still Have To Work: http://bit.ly/qukQ7I

Regency sex ed: http://bit.ly/pdAaB1

Ladies, Don't Let Anyone Tell You You're Not Awesome: http://bit.ly/pItmlT

25 ways to abuse your characters {strong lang.}: http://bit.ly/rtt2iZ

Editorial Agent, or what? http://bit.ly/o4oLXU

The Publishing World Turned Upside Down: http://bit.ly/oao4Gh

Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir: http://bit.ly/qYNmEI

The 5-Second Trick To Writing More Each Week: http://bit.ly/qegvTE

POV confusion? Helpful links: http://bit.ly/hJZD8n

How to Read a Book Contract – Who Decides What Contracts You Sign? http://bit.ly/mTB8lX @PassiveVoiceBlg

7 Ways to Make Family and Pets Respect Your Writing Time: http://bit.ly/p9OL3Y @KMWeiland

Why Novelists Can Embrace Unexpected Life Change: http://bit.ly/mYaCqu @writeitsideways

Writing Psychic Superheroes and Psionics: http://bit.ly/qnXsTN

Ebook cover designers, formatters, & freelance editors--I'm compiling a directory. To be listed: http://bit.ly/pmIdny

The Inevitable Traffic Jams on the Journey to Publication: http://bit.ly/nmbQra @jodyhedlund

3 tips for writing thrillers: http://bit.ly/nGpJIz

Enrich Your Life – Go on a Digital Sabbatical: http://bit.ly/okQqbT

How authors can get started with video blogging: http://bit.ly/pdKOke @jfbookman

Seeing Stars: Why Some Reviews Matter . . . and Some Don't: http://bit.ly/mYogy6 @YAHighway

Switching From Literary To Genre Fiction: http://bit.ly/q8ER5z @thecreativepenn

The Low-Down on Literary Magazines: http://bit.ly/ruDknQ @LTWFblog

An agent talks about questionable practices by literary agents: http://bit.ly/ncB06h @rachellegardner

Break Writer's Block: Become the Storyteller, Not the Writer: http://bit.ly/qtzGwX

7 Types of Hyphenation That May Seem Wrong But Aren't: http://bit.ly/pA5WKW

Networking as a means of promotion: http://bit.ly/pNpUll

Tips for naming characters: http://bit.ly/rmNh2H @BTMargins

Russian Publishing 101: http://bit.ly/o1OLb7 @pubperspectives

Start Today, Not Tomorrow: http://bit.ly/plV164 @jeffgoins

10 Twitter Hashtags for Writers: http://bit.ly/rnVn4I

Why Self-Published Authors Know Best: http://bit.ly/q0cVhb

5 mistakes that turn your ebook promotion into spam: http://bit.ly/q0Ya1H

"My novel's too 'fringe' – will any commercial publisher on the planet be interested?" http://bit.ly/rapJvJ

Knowledge Plants the Seed. Imagination Makes it Bloom. http://bit.ly/r2SNQw @SherryIsaac @joanswan

Getting the Reader's Sympathy: http://bit.ly/rtZFZW

Will print and ebook publishers ultimately be doing the same books? http://bit.ly/qCQe5l

Wake up your readers! How to thicken a plot: http://bit.ly/pG0jbP

3 Steps to Finding Your True Writing Voice: http://bit.ly/ng96ke

7 things one YA writer has learned so far: http://bit.ly/oZFZ65

The Power and SEO Behind Blog Commenting: http://bit.ly/q4PIu6

10 Tips For Polishing Your Manuscript: http://bit.ly/oNaLhF

Giving "It's Not Quite There" Feedback: http://bit.ly/o4SyIG

Sympathy For The Devils: How To Make Disagreeable Characters Agreeable: http://bit.ly/ouqw6r

10 keys to hosting a successful Twitter chat: http://bit.ly/qT9Eaz @michellerafter

Surviving the Literary Gong Show: http://bit.ly/mSKUGj

A Guide to Publishing an Ebook on Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords: http://bit.ly/ofgO7p

6 Steps to a Winning Writing Workshop: http://bit.ly/p1CdiE

Need research help with your character's medical ailment? A doctor to the rescue: http://bit.ly/o1bsHq via @spunkonastick

Thoughts and tips for handling backstory: http://bit.ly/qiFNdU

Favorite snacks of great writers (NY Times): http://nyti.ms/r1LXq3

8 Personal Development Mistakes: http://bit.ly/pIWHoj

Crossover genres (genre blending): http://bit.ly/o2mbEm

The Speed Of Writing: http://bit.ly/n8Uxul

Adjusting To The Paradigm Shift in Publishing: http://bit.ly/oYhCf4

Public speaking tips for writers: http://bit.ly/o0sTdR @jhansenwrites

Genre blending crime fiction to lure non-mystery-reading friends: http://bit.ly/ro13WQ @mkinberg

A Writer's Tools: WriteWay Pro: http://bit.ly/oYRtux @manon_eileen @GeneLempp:

An agent explains what you should bring to a conference: http://bit.ly/njQqi4

To blog or not to blog about writing: http://bit.ly/r2k3Aj @LauraPauling

What Do You Do When You Can't Write? http://bit.ly/ru9TZi @writeitsideways

Sign up for the monthly WKB newsletter for the web's best links and interviews: http://bit.ly/gx7hg1

How Starving Artists Can Support Their Work: http://bit.ly/pYr46F

Pacing and 4 types of rests in books: http://bit.ly/pBLFTE @FantasyFaction

Concerns (and Solutions!) for Freelance Writers: http://bit.ly/qEudl5

Resources for finding an agent: http://bit.ly/r3ZDJU

Writing A Book – Structure: http://bit.ly/p5Vw72

The (Not So) Dreaded Synopsis - 5 Tips To Set You Free: http://bit.ly/nBzkAD @roniloren

6 reasons an agent/publisher will stop reading your submission: http://bit.ly/pGfX9n

The difference between ebook conversion and ebook formatting: http://bit.ly/qQPZc2

Critique Workshopped The Voice Right Out Of There: http://bit.ly/ogmvEi

An agent advises: don't clutter your story with stuff: http://bit.ly/nRjTcN @greyhausagency

A summary of the Assoc. of Amer. Pub.'s sales data for books (online retail is tops): http://bit.ly/pHJpWi @PassiveVoiceBlg

The rule of 3: http://bit.ly/pOCKFC @iggiandgabi

5 reasons Facebook and Twitter won't replace 1 writer's blog: http://bit.ly/r07EML @CatsEyeWriter

Investigation into Underpayment of Ebook Royalties: http://bit.ly/nDsZx5 @PassiveVoiceBlg

An Entrepreneur Tackles Book Publicity: http://bit.ly/mSVNsn @BlurbIsAVerb

A screenwriter on endless producer notes: http://bit.ly/nxLI9r

Writing A Book – Discipline: http://bit.ly/o4FLdP

Dreaming in Two Languages – Writing In The Second: http://bit.ly/pKl5gW

10 Terms of Gender Identity: http://bit.ly/p4WmoM

Why It's Hard To Write Well (And How To Do It Faster): http://bit.ly/pUroCC @ChandlerWrites

Cover design:Color: http://bit.ly/nL2ppj Image: http://bit.ly/r8q4xv Font: http://bit.ly/pZDHPX Layout: http://bit.ly/pcoxQY @clarissadraper

Can You See Your Lion? http://bit.ly/pQQs2D

Are you an expert? Plan to Promote Your Work: http://bit.ly/omGEsi

3 Tips To Help You Choose An Editor: http://bit.ly/nIfPXi

Tips for finding an agent: http://bit.ly/pqhr1e @bubblecow

Insiders and Outsiders (in Worldbuilding Cultures): http://bit.ly/o9JYK5 @JulietteWade

Spam Toad vs. Author Brand: http://bit.ly/mOx2ib @KristenLambTX

Tips for writing back cover copy: http://bit.ly/qxWsDF @WriteAngleBlog

Best Articles This Week for Writers 8/12/11: http://bit.ly/nEdcKU @4kidlit

4 Keys to Unlocking Your Creativity: http://bit.ly/pDPKa4 @jodyhedlund

Creativity Tweets of the Week — 8/12/11: http://bit.ly/pFiBWm @on_creativity

4 techniques to create a likeable character: http://bit.ly/pOA79i

How Do You Deal with Difficult Characters? http://bit.ly/mSWsQ5 @JamiGold

Writing a Saleable Book: http://bit.ly/qY23Yl

Conflict v. Tension: http://bit.ly/qdV7IL @AngelaAckerman

5 Ways to Reduce Use of Prepositions: http://bit.ly/nPvRcu

"The process of this first revision is as much about rereading as rewriting." @BrunoniaBarry http://ow.ly/61gje RT @Porter_Anderson

Description and Your Characters' Lens: http://bit.ly/qCe2sK @bluemaven

The importance of covers: http://bit.ly/qvHiIc

Figuring out your strengths and weaknesses: http://bit.ly/pqpLw1

5 things to do between writing projects: http://bit.ly/rkX3Of

How to Create an Informational E-Book: http://bit.ly/mXhXBS @AlexisGrant

Need help with pacing? http://hiveword.com/wkb/search?q=pacing

Why Writing Can Be Dangerous: http://bit.ly/qCs1fF

Is Your Character a Windbag? http://bit.ly/oa8sHd @KMWeiland

How to Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul: http://bit.ly/pyAgMw

Take 5 Minutes to Make WordPress 10 Times More Secure: http://bit.ly/ohTDcE

Suggestions for your writer's reference shelf: http://bit.ly/raccT0

How to write and market an ebook: http://bit.ly/nB5Loq

New publishing numbers and some insight: http://bit.ly/oDxm9u

Tests of character: http://bit.ly/qfKbpM @JulietteWade

8 Reasons Authors Don't Complete Their Manuscripts: http://bit.ly/o7GDlk

Ideas for Real Life Characters: http://bit.ly/r51Ycu

How Literary Agents Can Survive the Digital Revolution: http://bit.ly/ncJJNe @GalleyCat

Conflict - The most frequently screwed up story element: http://bit.ly/n5QwpN

An agent explains what agents do: http://bit.ly/qQnX0Z

Scrivener: The Ultimate Multitool for Writers: http://bit.ly/odiEJm

Why There'll Never Be a Perfect Time to Write: http://bit.ly/pY251B

What to write? http://bit.ly/p8CEhy

Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: The Myth of Talent: http://bit.ly/qTiYS3

Pseudo-Agents Take Advantage of India's Aspiring Authors: http://bit.ly/oQmdOA

An agent explains how to become a literary agent: http://bit.ly/mYIc2E

Writing a Book – Finding Time: http://bit.ly/orhCTJ

What Does it Take to Craft a Historical Novel? http://bit.ly/rnck34

The agent as friend: http://bit.ly/nbv9HH

The Anxious Writer: 200 Questions Before Lunch: http://bit.ly/pELL9M @BTMargins

How high are your stakes? http://bit.ly/n0jDoJ