Exercise


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Exercise
By Nandy Ekle

My list of mood creators used to be pretty big. In fact, at one time I could close my eyes and say, “Okay, characters. What happens next?” And I couldn’t write fast enough. My best ideas came to me as I was driving down the road, or sitting in the bathtub, or laying in bed at night trying to sleep. And usually I would get so excited over the voices and actions in my head I could remember word for word exactly what to put on that paper.

These days, however, it takes a little more romancing to get those words to stick. I’ve got the ideas, but my characters have tape over their mouths. Instead of yelling and screaming for me to write, they just sit in the heap where I left them waiting for me to say, “Okay, how about this?” Then they just look up at me and frown as if to say, “You gotta be kidding.” And of course, this is just a sneer on their faces because their mouths are taped shut.

I have a playlist of certain songs/music that can get them moving a little, but usually when I’m in the middle of something really intense during my day job. And the little imps are so lethargic they usually just tell me in sign language, “Whatever.”

I’ve got a favorite author who, in my opinion, is the pure definition of talent. When I read some of his work, I think about how easy he makes it look. I’m sure I could do that. I have the story. Why won’t my words stick together and sing so pretty like his do.

I’ve got a support group. The Wordsmith Six group, the best critique group, friend group in the world. I’ve got time since the kids are grown. I’ve got computers, paper, pens, pencils, pictures, current events, life problems, life greatness, prompt books, everything I need to write these stories.

But these days the words are more like rocks than bubbles. These days my characters are lazy lethargic mimes.

I need a word gym to get these guys moving again.

Congratulations. You have just received post card from the muse.

Agents: What They’re Good For


Agents: What They’re Good For

by Natalie Bright

Agent, editor, publisher, market researcher, promoter, bookstore seller, book author relations manager, graphic artist, publicist, website designer, book reviewer, marketing exec, critique partner, event scheduler: do you have an understanding of the work done by each of these people?

If you’re a writer, these folks are important. They are your team of professionals in the publishing industry. If you’re a published author, you’re probably doing one or most of these jobs yourself.

At a BookFair event, I was asked “Where do I find my agent? I probably should get one.”  No, this author didn’t have the book finished, and no, they couldn’t identify the genre. But, they wanted their book on the New York Times list and that’s what an agent does. These types of conversations always leave me surprised at how confusing the world of publishing can be. So, let’s talk about agents.

Agents bring people together: the publishing house and the author; the story idea and the screenplay writers; the artists and the book designers; the dreamers and the publishing executives.

The Hard Sale

When I consider all of the jobs listed above, I think the most difficult is the literary agent based on my experience as a licensed real estate agent.

A real estate salesman brings people together; the buyer and the seller. The frustrating part is we’re not privy to any insider information that might help us close the deal. The homeowner has done everything right. The property is in pristine condition. What are the potential buyers whispering about in the back yard? The wife tells me she loves the house, but hates that color of beige in the kitchen. I point out that walls can be painted. She just can’t envision it, which makes we wonder what’s the real reason? I haven’t a clue what to say or how to reach a compromise. No sale.

I gave up my real estate license years ago because I did not have the patience for the business. And then I changed my focus to a career in writing (talk about a test of patience).

Bringing People Together

Even though authors are the creative energy behind this whole process, we can’t know exactly what editors and publishing houses are really looking for.  We’ll never be invited to the internal team meetings. We’re not privy to the insider buzz about long-term business plans or the new imprints, but literary agents are the people with an inside track to this information. Editors say “we’re looking for” and literary agents work to fill those slots.

I can’t imagine getting hundreds of queries every week. How do you know which ones have the potential for greatness? Which manuscript is worth an agent’s time to provide direction with revisions? How can they determine which story a particular editor will feel a connection to? How can they decide whose career has the greatest longevity? And remember, agents don’t get paid until there’s a contract.

Literary agents have the ability to bring all of the players to the table and if a publishing contract is signed, the result is something magical, or that’s how I feel about books anyway (when I finish reading a great story it’s like magic to me). What a satisfying feeling that must be for agents knowing that they are the key to who knows who.

Publishing in an Uproar

As I read the news and deals on Writers Marketplace, I’ve come to realize how much the industry is changing. Yes, there are many opportunities out there for agented and un-agented authors, but the playing field is in an uproar. I think having a literary agent on your side is a good thing. Who knows if your story will find a home? It might not. Who knows what the next hottest genre will be? That’s impossible to predict.

When you read the list of industry professionals above, you might have noticed I left one person off of the list: writer. That would be you – the only thing you can completely control is getting words on the page and it’s the hardest work you’ll ever do. And in today’s world, the options are mind blowing for writers who have a good understanding of who’s sitting at the table and the roles they play in building a career. I have a self-pub book, an inspirational eBook on Smashwords that will be a softcover soon, and I have a knowledgeable, capable literary agent who is shopping a middle grade novel. We can have it all, I think, if you’re willing to work 24/7 to reach your goals.

Whatever your goals, go for it, have confidence in the story that only you can tell, and good luck in reaching your dreams! Thanks for being a part of WordsmithSix.

www.nataliebright.com

Filet Mignon


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Filet Mignon 

By Nandy Ekle

In the bible Jesus tells a story about a rich man who fares sumptuously every day.

Several years ago my husband and I bought a side of beef to feed our children and any visitors who happened to grace our home. Our beef came in the form of roasts, hamburger meat and steaks. We ate steak and ate steak and ate steak until I finally thought if I ate one more bite of steak I would be sick. That’s when I thought about the story from the bible about the rich man who fared sumptuously.

The thought of the bible story has come back to me recently because of my reading list. My favorite author has numerous books published, a lot of which I have read, some of which I have not. The ones I’ve read instantly become my some of my favorite stories of all time. Suddenly it seems that every book I have, audio, virtual or paper, is by him, and I love them all. In fact he has two new books coming out this year that make me feel like a starving person with a blank check walking into a restaurant.

But the other day I looked at my stack of books waiting to be read and thought, “I’m tired of steak. I need different flavor.” So I’ve been shopping for new authors. This is sometimes a difficult thing to do, but can turn up some surprising finds.

Once I discovered a book written by a British author. It was her first novel and was so amazing that it pole-vaulted to the top of my favorites list. To this day, I don’t think she has another book out, but if she did, I would be first in line for it.

Writers write, but writers also read. And sometimes what we read inspires what we write. Add some variety to your reading diet and new ideas and styles will pop up all around you.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

The Grail


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

The Grail

By Nandy Ekle

I found it on line, filled out the order form and typed in my payment information. Then I sat back and waited. I didn’t have to wait long. It came in the mail this week; I was so excited and couldn’t wait to get home from work and open my package. And I was not disappointed.

Of course, it’s nothing more than a plain, simple coffee cup. It has the name of my favorite author printed around the cup and a print of his signature. That’s all it is. But to me, it might as well be the Holy Grail. It looks really cool in my hands, the coffee tastes better, and suddenly my words flow much better.

There is an old story about a child who wants to learn to do something, but they have no self-confidence. They are given some little trinket and told that it has magic powers and they are immediately able to do the thing they want to do and believe it’s because of the magical object they hold. Then, in the middle of a very intense moment, they lose their magical possession, but are able to continue what they’re doing.

The intelligent side of my brain knows this story and laughs at the creative side for believing it. But I guarantee that since receiving my new cup in the mail, I have been able to write again.

Sometimes we just have to do whatever it takes to get the words on the paper.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

 

Characterization Part 5



Characterization Part 5

By Natalie Bright

 

I’m reviewing my notes from past conferences and blogging about characterization. Please feel free to comment on any tips you’ve learned on developing believable and likable characters. The past few blogs have been a hodge-podge on all concepts of developing characters. We’re digging deeper again this week, because really, you just can’t know enough about your characters.

Have you completed a character questionnaire yet? There are tons of great examples on the web.

Keep Digging Deeper

What is the one unique component of literature that humans enjoy? The key that all writers strive for? The take-away that readers can take pleasure in?

The answer: emotion.

We can read a story and find joy or fear. We can laugh out loud at the antics of a main character, or we can weep for concern at their plight. The power of the written word is an amazing thing.

As a writer, we must dig deeper. You have your character’s profile and you know their attitudes. As Steven James said, “What are your characters passionate about, desire, most ashamed about, afraid to pursue? Now give them what they want the most and snatch it away. Dangle her heart’s desire in front of her and never let her have it.”

Finding Emotion

We’re just human, with human emotions and life experiences. Real life events of experiencing or observing provides the basis from which our characters emerge.

How can your character respond to death unless you draw upon your experiences in being at someone’s bedside when they passed? How can your character experience love lost unless you weep as you write it? How can you write about the power of indifference without drawing upon your own past? Even if you haven’t experienced the emotion, then you can probably find someone who has.

Authors can’t be sissy’s about this. We have to go there. We have to revisit those painful experiences again and convey them to our readers through the fictional characters we create. I’m not saying it has to be the exact same experience, but you can apply the emotions you’ve felt to fictional situations. As your heroine meets those challenges and overcomes the obstacles, this becomes the character arc.

Developing the Character Arc

Character arc is defined as the emotional problems through which the protagonist (and antagonist and sometimes secondary characters) must face to achieve their goal. 

As bestselling author Steven James points out, “At the heart of every story is tension, and tension is that unmet desire which includes both external and internal.” As your character tries to achieve that desire and overcomes the antagonist, they change, they grow, they become better for their experiences. You must dig past the surface elements of your story and determine the why

Some of the most common arcs are: going from emotionally dead to being emotionally alive, learn to accept other’s faults, overcome a fear, learn to take risks, overcome guilt, learn to accept his own faults; and the list can go on and on. These are most obvious in movie screenplays where characters struggle with some emotional dilemma that is resolved at the end regardless of the action going on around them.

More Conflict Please

In order to dig deeper, Jodi Thomas suggests all dialogue reflect some type of conflict. “It’s not necessarily a conflict between the two characters speaking. One could be having internal conflict while they’re saying something else,” Thomas says.

Author Jennifer Talty explained that, “conflict is the fuel that starts your story. The internal motivation of your character is the fuel that drives your story.” 

As the core conflict between the protag and antag increases, the internal emotional conflict escalates and becomes your character’s arc.

For more information, Goal Motivation Conflict by Deb Dixon is an excellent addition for your writer’s reference library.

Have fun and keep writing!

Nat

 

Characterization Part 4



Characterization Part 4

By Natalie Bright

 

Characters with Attitude

Based on previous blogs, you now know the history of your characters. You also know what makes them tick emotionally.  It’s great that you know so much about your characters, but you can’t use it in your novel. Do not bore the reader to death with too much back story.

When I lunch with writer friends or meet with my critique group, we have in-depth conversations about our character’s motivations. We question their motives because characters should ‘stay in character’ for the entire novel. I’m reading a book now where the main character steals money from a classmate and plans a trip with a fake passport. I’m totally bummed. I really liked this character and now I don’t. To me this action seemed out of character for the person I thought she was. (But it doesn’t really matter because I’m not the author, and ultimately we can write our story the way we want to.)

As you write, you will only reveal a small amount of the history you’ve created.  Knowing that background is crucial for it will shape how they act and speak. Their personality and attitude will come through as they face the conflict in your plot. You will reveal your character through dialogue, their actions, and how they respond to conflict.

If the main character is only nine, remember his ideas will be shaped by the experiences he had in those nine years. He hasn’t lived a lifetime yet.

Profiling

Put some serious thought and effort into profiling your characters. Identify specific strengths and weaknesses. If you believe they’re real, readers will believe your characters are real too and will care about their story. For example, author and teacher, DeWanna Pace, pointed out that in most main stream action/adventure stories the strengths of the hero overcomes the strengths of the villain. In the case of romances, the strengths of the hero and heroine combine to overcome the conflict in the plot line. You’ve got to know their strengths and weakness in order to intertwine these traits into the plot.

Heroes have Flaws / Villains have Reaons.

Develop a detailed profile for each of your main characters.

For the protagonist, assign three likable traits and one bad trait. These can be internal or external, emotional or physical. Having bright red hair can be a good or bad trait, for example, depending on the circumstances you’ve set-up for your character. Your main character may whine and complain constantly, but please, give your readers something to like about her. Otherwise, we could care less how her story ends.

For the antagonistassign three bad traits and one redeeming quality. Give your villain one good trait that makes him likable. Maybe he has a deep love for his mother. Perhaps your antagonist is worldly and extremely beautiful, but evil to the core.

Interview your characters to determine their motivations. You can do this through a structured exercise or by free writing. Start writing in first person from your characters head, and see what they can tell you. Phyliss Miranda uses this method and highlights the traits as they are revealed in the manuscript, which helps her make sure she doesn’t repeat the same information.

I attended a workshop given by a romance author who creates astrological signs for her hero and heroine. The conflicts and commonalities are determined by a star chart, and then she fills in the setting and plot line to construct their journey to find love. Also, there is David Freeman’s “Diamond Technique”, basic Metaprograms test, or “The Hero’s Journey” concept of plotting.  

Character development continues next Monday. Stay tuned!

Caution


Outtakes 59

Caution

Does the indemnity clause, “The characters in this book are fictitous. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.” really protect a writer from libel suits. The short answer is maybe. It really depends on the circumstances and how the author handles the writing.

I am not an attorney and I cannot offer any legal advice, but there are some scenarios that suggest an author proceed with caution.

1.  You answer the phone. “Hi. I’m Joe Smith. My friend Kathy Jones told me you are a writer and I have a story that should be told. Thing is, I have no idea how to write the book. Can you help me?”

“Tell me about the story.”

“Well, it goes back about three generations. Seems my great-grandmother met this farmer. They wanted to get married. He was a good man, but her daddy didn’t approve of his children marrying beneath their stations. He told her if she married the man, he’d cut her out of his will. The farmer wanted to give Granny time to think about the consequences of marrying, so he suggested they wait until after the harvest for the wedding. Granny’s cousin wrote saying Gramps changed his mind and the marriage was a go. They got married, Granny was disinherited and the cousin got all the money. It broke up the family. We haven’t spoken to the cousin’s family in years.”

“Okay, do you have any papers, letters, or journals to prove the story?”

“No. This is my Granny’s story. She told my grandmother, who passed the story to my mother.”

2.  A big scandal is reported in the local newspaper. Councilman A embezzled a couple of million from the city’s economic development budget. Great plot for a fictionalized account of the events.

3.  A historical event catches the author’s interest. However, it is recent news and key figures and their families are still living.

I wouldn’t touch the ghost writing request for a million bucks. Unsubstantiated stories are an invitation to a law suit. Without documentation to prove the events, an author would be unwise to write this book.

I listened to a writer speak about the scandal story. Of course the names would be changed, the location disguised, and some changes would be made to the actual events. But anyone who was around at the time would recognize the story. There was a gleeful gleam in the author’s eyes as the details were revealed. The conference speaker was not amused. “Be careful,” he warned, “you could be sued. You might win, but your reputation will be damaged, and you might have problems getting an agent or publisher. Let’s face it,” he continued, “your agent and publisher will not appreciate being drawn into a legal battle.”

The third situation is a non-fiction publication that hits the book shelves every week with great success. The caution here is verifying the facts. Research. Research. Research. Adhere to the oath a witness takes to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In other words, present the facts; all of the fact; and leave out the spin.

While a writer should feel free to write his story, he should also exercise common sense in selecting assignments. The writing community is not that large. News travels and people will remember. Don’t risk your reputation and financial security for a burst of fame.

Cait Collins

Consider It


Outtakes 37

Consider It

I have spent many hours training others to do a job. The process can be very rewarding. It’s so much fun to see someone “get it”. There’s the bright eyes, the grin, the high five. That’s the joy of being a trainer. Unfortunately, there have been some disasters. No matter what I tried, or how many time we went over the information, the trainee just couldn’t or wouldn’t catch on. Often they blamed me or their fellow employees for their failures. I really hated the angry scenes, the bitter accusations. In the early days, I blamed myself for a trainee not making the grade. Over the years, I’ve realized it’s not always the teacher’s fault. If the student does not pay attention, does not take notes, doesn’t care, then there is little the trainer can do to change the situation.

Writers need training. There are few naturals out there. Most of us struggle with the craft, hoping there comes a time when the work is easier. I’m not sure that happens. Several years ago, I met author, Nicholas Sparks, at a book signing in Amarillo. He made a statement that floored me. When asked if each new book was easier to write, he told the young writer, “No, in fact it gets harder.” He went on to explain that the expectations were higher with each novel and keeping up the standard became more challenging. He even admitted he was struggling with his new novel. It made me feel hopeful; less alone. I was working on my second novel and often felt as if I hit a wall. This best-selling novelist made me think I could succeed.

The road to success is paved by the writer’s attitude. I’ve been in critique groups with writers who would not listen to honest suggestions. The author would read his chapter; look around the table. You could feel the resentment before the first word was spoken. Reviewer number one starts by complementing elements of the setting or a character. Then he gets down to the problems. The interaction between the antagonist and his son is off. In fact, there’s little chemistry between the two. The scene lacks emotion. Instead of listening and asking for suggestions, the writer hotly defends his work. We’ll understand it all in chapter ten. Sadly, I won’t be around for chapter ten. If I’m not hooked in the first twenty or thirty pages, you will find the unread book in my box to donate to the library.

Even experienced, successful authors have readers. These trusted souls take on the task of reviewing the work, catching mistakes and inconsistencies. The smart author listens and corrects the scenes. Let’s be honest, no one likes criticism. But if you don’t want help, why join a group or work with readers? If you don’t plan to take the advice, don’t waste your time or someone else’s evening.

I’m thankful I have a good critique group. We respect each other and want every member of the group to be successful. We would never intentionally lead another member of the group astray. In turn, we listen, accept the critique, choose what makes good sense and use it to build a better story. A good writer will always be a student. After all, the more we learn and understand, the more exciting the work we will produce.

Cait Collins