Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Break Time

With not many sleeps until Christmas, I will be taking a blogging break so I can catch up with friends and family, refresh, eat and relax. I'll be back early January. In the meantime, please have a wonderful and joyous Christmas and a happy and safe New Year.


Monday, December 12, 2011

5 Reasons to Embrace the Genius Within

After reading some of the comments from my previous post about why we should shed the genius within, I thought it was important to write a follow up post on why we should also embrace the genius within. In truth, it's about finding the balance between the two.

Below are my reasons for also embracing the genius within and finding that balance:

1. To guard against the doubts. It's easy for us writers to think our talent isn't so fabulous, especially when we compare our work to the polished pieces sitting on our bookshelves. When a novel is well written, it appears effortless. We think, 'I can do that!' only to discover, it's not so easy and there's far more effort involved than we thought. Doubts begin to set in. Those doubts can cause us to quit too early. If we embrace the genius within, then we can know we can get through the days when the doubts speak loudest. We can know we are good enough if we keep striving.

2. To keep the passion alive. To ride the rollercoaster to publication, I believe we must nurture passion for our work and slog on regardless of what the inner voices say about it, regardless of what reviewers say about it, regardless of what family members might think about it. It's the passion that keeps the hope alive, that drives us forward, that helps us to persevere. 

3. To have the courage to share our work. If we never think our work is good enough then we'll never get a second opinion. We'll hide away our writing so that no one ever gets to read it. That, I think, would be a tragedy. Part of the joy of writing is sharing it with others. 

4. To know that anything can be fixed. Often when we're writing a first draft we think we've come up with the best concept in the world and we fall in love with our characters. It's when we sink ourselves into the revisions, when we question everything we're just written, that the task becomes daunting. We realise we don't have a masterpiece. This is when it's important to both shed and embrace the genius. Shed, because we have to find the faults. Embrace, because we have to know we can fix the draft and turn it into something special. 

5. To gain confidence and a clear perspective. I don't think anyone's work lacks potential. I don't think natural talent is a prerequisite to publication. I do think perseverance and hard work are key. If we're too busy trying to avoid over confidence, then we'll swing the other way and hate our work. We'll believe the lies about not being good enough. To gain a clearer perspective I think we should accept that maybe, just maybe, we have enough genius within us to do what it takes to achieve our dreams.

In summary, find your passion and love your work. Take satisfaction in the hard slog because deep down you know it will be worth it in the end because you'll be able to take pride in the words you've produced.

Do you lean one way more than the other when it comes to confidence? What do you do to keep a balance in the way you approach your writing life?

Thanks so much to Shah from Words in Sync for the One Lovely Blog Award. It is hugely appreciated.

Pic: I just wanted to share with you the grandness of almost seeing a lunar eclipse. That's pretty much all I got to see of it on Saturday due to clouds.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

5 Reasons to Shed the Genius Within

One of the problems we often have to face as writers is thinking our work is pure genius. We've come up with the next bestseller, we've written a masterpiece of prose, producers will be scrambling to get the movie rights to our story. Wonderful dreams, but they aren't necessarily a good thing. Below I've listed the reasons why we should shed the genius within us.

1. A genius doesn't need to work hard to achieve great results. If we think our work is genius, then we will be less likely to seek second opinions. We will cloud our minds in fairy floss fantasies of the brilliance of our work and fail to see it needs at least another two editing passes (minimum) before it's ready.

2. We need permission to fail. As a genius, the expectations as so high, that we begin to throw those expectations on ourselves. We begin to judge our work too early and think we need to achieve perfection. Inevitably writer's block will come knocking because we can't meet those expectations. We need to give ourselves permission to fail so we have the freedom to explore, experiment and improve.

3. It's not realistic. Yes, we should dream, but we need to dream with our feet firmly planted on the ground. If we forget the realism of our dreams, then we could fall a long way when those dreams fail to realise.

4. We need to know we are normal. There is a perception that geniuses don't make mistakes, but even they get it wrong. Recently Einstein's theory of relativity has come under question with scientists possibly pushing objects faster than the speed of light. As writers, we need to know that when we have doubts, it's okay and it's normal. We need to know it's sometimes a struggle to get the words down on the page and that's nothing unusual. 

5. A genius stands alone. They are set apart from the rest of the world and are often disconnected from the majority. But writers need support and we need to make connections with our readers.

This post was written for the Insecure Writers' Support Group. 

How often do you think your work is sheer brilliance only to discover it could do with some improvement? What do you do to keep your feet on the ground?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Interview and Blogging Tips

Laura Barnes has given me the honour of including me into her Saturday Savvy Sensation interviews. For some blogging tips and to find out a little more about me, pop on over to her blog, Laura B Writer. I'd love to see you there.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

How to Write the Perfect Sentence

The perfect sentence doesn't have to be grammatically correct. It doesn't have to have a certain number of words and a certain number of beats. The perfect sentence is an entity in and of itself while belonging to a conglomeration of other sentences, forming paragraphs, scenes, and stories.

Or it can stand alone.

The perfect sentence is a snug fit in the place where it belongs--as a whole, as a half, as a fragment.

Or it can be a jagged shard that draws attention to itself.

The perfect sentence needs to convey meaning, although not always through the words alone. It can be a string of sentences mashed together in a rambling muddle that carries the characters and the reader on a rocking and roiling ride of confusion.

Or it can flash and vanish.

The perfect sentence can shock, it can amuse, it can announce the end of an age. It can do anything you want it to do, except perhaps open that jar of pickles.

To write the perfect sentence, don't be afraid to write an imperfect sentence.

As some of you already know via Facebook, I finished NaNo. That's 50k words written for the first draft. I still have a long way to go with my YA scifi, but I'm having an awful lot of fun.

A huge thank you to S. L. Hennessy for the Versatile Blogger Award. Please visit her blog and say hi from me.

I also won a copy of Secrets of the Knight by Nina Jade Singer from Romance Reader. Thanks so much! I'm looking forward to reading it.

Announcement: On Saturday I will be at Laura Barnes' blog where she will be interviewing me. I'd love to see you over there.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ebooks and Piracy

Because I love my kindle so much, I have an interest in the growth of ebooks. It's been estimated that Australians are expected to spend $150-$700 million on ebooks by 2014, which is huge for us Aussies because last year we spent $35 million. In terms of percentages, that's 1.5% of the total value of book sales in 2010 and anywhere between 6-24% in 2014. Yikes, that's a huge increase in a short amount of time.

This of course, raises the real concern of piracy. Many authors and publishers have shied away from distributing work via the ebook format for fear of getting their timbers shivered, as ye olde pirates say. This, in my view, is a tragedy because there are many books I simply won't read because they aren't available in ebook format.

Yes, piracy is a real issue, but there are ways of minimising the losses. Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology has been created to protect artistic and literary work. It prevents access, copying or conversion of work to other formats. One such company that offers ebook capability with full DRM is Palmer Higgs. They've even launched the first ebookstore with DRM in Australia. I find this encouraging.

Of course, there is the other view on privacy--that it's a good thing. Neil Gaiman has witnessed how piracy has actually helped his sales. People, who would not normally have read his books, read pirated copies. As a result, these people went out and bought his other books. I believe it's also why many authors offer free copies of their books in the hope of readers 'discovering' them.

Personally I think the problem with piracy is the loss of control. If I want people to have a free copy of my books, then I'd want to be the one to offer it to them.

What are your thoughts on piracy as a reader or a writer?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

6 Things I'm Thankful for in Writing

  1. I'm thankful I have the opportunity and freedom to write.
  2. I'm thankful for a sense of humour--I couldn't complete a novel without one.
  3. I'm thankful for computers--the thought of using a typewriter to write a novel makes me shudder.
  4. I'm thankful for an excuse to put off the house cleaning--my deadlines are more important.
  5. I'm thankful for the writing community and all the support and encouragement it offers.
  6. I'm thankful for YOU.
What are you thankful for in writing?

News: Peggy Eddleman has signed with Random House for her Middle Grade novel, "Through the Bomb's Breath." Congratulations, Peggy!

Giveaway: Michael Di Gesu is having a 500 followers giveaway. Pop on over and help him celebrate his one year blogiversary.

NaNoWriMo: I'm on track for my November writing goal of 50k words in 30 days. I'm getting really excited about the story too. It's a science fiction young adult.

Monday, November 21, 2011

6 Steps to Building a Strong Team for your Writing Career

Turning a good story into a great one requires team work. That's right: team work. As writers we need the help of critique partners, beta readers and editors. For those of us who want to go the traditional publishing route, we also need agents and publishers.

As the authors of our work, we are the leaders of our team. We are the ones who have to make the final decisions on where we want our stories to go. For this reason we need a strong team around us to help us make the right decisions.

Steps for building a cohesive team:
1. Don't be a loner. While the process of writing is a solitary one, this doesn't mean we should isolate ourselves. It's better for our writing (and our mental health) to join writing communities, to seek encouragement and support from like-minded people. This will help us find the best matches when seeking critique partners and editors.

2. Do your research. If you pick for your team the first person who shows an interest in your work, without doing the research to find out whether or not you'd work well together, then you may not find the best match. It's worth spending the time to find the people who have a similar vision for your work.

3. Nurture the relationships. Every relationship benefits from open communication and nurturing. The better you know your teammates, the more able you'll be to understand where their suggestions are coming from.

4. Trust your team. You've done your research, found a good team and got to know them well. Now it's time to trust them. This team of people want excellence for your stories. Trust they will offer their best opinions and experience to improve those stories.

5. Trust yourself. While trusting your teams is important, it's just as important to trust yourself. Sometimes you may get so many editorial changes that you'll be in danger of losing your voice to the tune of another. Sometimes you may need to make a stand.

6. Be professional at all times. No one likes a foot-stamper and pouting went out years ago with Mae West. If you don't agree with certain changes, then come up with valid reasons why you think those changes shouldn't be implemented. Understand that professionalism includes flexibility so you'll also need to learn to pick your battles.

Can you think of other steps towards building a strong team around you? Which steps do you find the hardest and which are the easiest?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Quick tips for Writing Dialogue

Number 1 tip of the day: Avoid dead dialogue--as much as we want to make dialogue realistic, we don't want to bore the reader with standard niceties such as, 'Hi, nice to meet you', 'How are you?', 'Goodbye'. Make sure what your character says has purpose.

Dialogue should do one, preferably more, of these things:
  • Tell us more about the character
  • Push the plot forward
  • Entertain us
  • Keep us engaged
  • Reveal backstory without lots of exposition
  • Deepen conflict
And remember, it's often more important how something is said rather than what is actually said.

Do you find writing dialogue easy? What are some tricks you use to write dialogue? What books have you read that have great dialogue?


And the WINNER of Tahlia Newland's giveaway is:


Congratulations, Denise

Monday, November 14, 2011

What makes a good book?

Guest post by Tahlia Newland

Today a fellow Aussie, Tahlia Newland, is here with a guest post. She writes young adult/adult urban fantasy with a touch or more of romance and a focus on challenging readers’ perception of reality. A Matter of Perception, her anthology of urban fantasy & magical realism stories, is available on ebook. ‘Realm Hunter,’ a Diamond Peak novella, will be released in December.  I have an ebook copy of her short paranormal romance, ‘The Drorgon Slayer’s Choice’, to give away. Just leave a note in the comments if you are interested and I'll announce the winner on Thursday.

Find almost any book on Goodreads and have a look at the reviews and you’ll see that not everyone agrees on what makes a good book, but regardless of our personal preferences, a truly good book will have the following elements.
  • Dramatic tension – two or more of the following:
    • Conflict
    • Mystery
    • Suspense
    • Surprise
    • Tension in relationships
    • A task to complete or not
    • Humor
  • Three-dimensional believable characters.
  • A well-paced, unpredictable plot with a satisfying ending.
  • A vivid setting
  • In fantasy - a world that makes sense within the parameters of that world.
  • Creativity
  • The awesome ones will also be moving, inspiring or thought-provoking.
  • Good writing
But what is good writing? 
A publisher friend of mine said something like - Beautiful writing is when every word is the right word, in its right place and there for a reason. There is nothing extraneous. The words flow so smoothly that the reader is transported beyond the words. They even forget they are reading. So if any of the words pull you out of the story, it’s likely to not be very well written.  

Things that good books don’t have are:
  • Boring bits.
  • Scenes, plots and descriptions that go on too long or wander without purpose
  • Plot holes
  • Characters acting out of character
  • Unrealistic dialogue
  • Formula or predictable plot – acceptable to some degree in romance.
My personal dislikes are:
  • Unpronounceable names
  • A convoluted plot
  • Language written in a strong dialect
  • Heroes and heroines that do really stupid things or talk about their clothes, hair or how sexy their boyfriend is all the time.
  • A world that is so dark and miserable that it’s painful to read about
  • Cliffhanger endings
  • Plot holes
  • Poor writing
I can put aside my personal dislikes and still give a book a high rating if I cannot fault it on any of the elements a good book needs. An example of this is Hunger Games; this is a great book, but I didn’t like it because I didn’t want to spend time in that cruel repressive world, but that doesn’t make the book bad, just not to my taste.  

What kind of books do you like? Can you separate your personal taste from your evaluation of a book?  

About 'A Matter of Perception'  
Do you see what I see? Take a bunch of supernatural beings, a battle of magical light, a mysterious hole in the pavement, a dream of a future past and a pair of rose-coloured glasses, mix them with a little romance and a smidgen of philosophy and you might be left wondering if it isn’t all just a matter of perception. This thought-provoking collection of urban fantasy and magical realism stories includes ‘The Drorgon Slayer’s Choice’ and ‘The Boneyard’, a semi finalist in the Aussiecon 4 Make Ready fantasy/scfi competition of 2010.  

About 'The Drorgon Slayer’s Choice'  
Julia witnesses a dramatic battle between what should be invisible aliens and the gods that have come to earth to slay them. James, one of the gods, offers her the chance of a relationship, but the commander of the Drorgon Slayers plans to eradicate her memory unless she can convince him that she will let James leave the earth when their team has completed their mission.  

Author links - if you read Tahlia’s books could you please help her out by posting a short review on Goodreads and Amazon. Thank you.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

When Writing a Novel seems Insurmountable

On the weekend I attended a Speculative Fiction Writers' Festival which was held at the NSW Writers' Centre. It was a brilliant gathering of like-minded writers. One of the questions asked of the successful novelists on the panels was whether or not they had to give up anything to pursue their careers.

In summary, here are the answers to facing the mammoth task of writing novels for a living:

Expect hard work. You have to know what you are getting into from the start. Don't get sucked into the romance of becoming a novelist. It's a lot of hard, slow, lonely work. Going in with eyes wide open, will help prepare you for what is to come.

Get organised. If you are organised and set yourself priorities, then you won't have to give up anything. The only thing you may have to do is cut back on some things when a deadline is looming.

Hold onto the Joy. Try to remember why you started writing in the first place. Try not to think of it as a chore, but a creative outlet.

Take short breaks. If a large project is causing you difficulties, allow yourself a break from it. This doesn't mean you have to stop writing. Try writing short stories or articles.

And, in extreme circumstances when a story begins to stagnate:
The Traffic Light Rule: One author says she uses the theory that if she isn't passionate enough about a novel that she isn't thinking about it when she's doing nothing eg sitting at traffic lights, then it might be time to let the story go until she can find the passion for it again. I will add, this isn't for everyone and sometimes Grim Determination is what it takes to finish a novel.

How do you get over the huge task of finishing a novel?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Interview and NaNoWriMo Progress

The first week of the National Novel Writing Month is almost complete and I have written about 10k words with another 2k or so to write today. I'm pleased with my progress considering this weekend I attended a Speculative Fiction Writers' Festival, which was brilliant (more on that in a later post).

Today, however, I'm pleased to announce that I'm being interviewed by the lovely E.R. King at Get Busy Writing.

Please, head on over and check it out HERE.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Writer Support

Guest Post by Alex J. Cavanaugh. 

A huge thank you to Alex for taking the time to write this post. You are a true Ninja Captain Extraordinaire. Take it away, Alex:

I was honored when Lynda invited me to visit her blog. Her posts on writing are so full of wisdom and guaranteed to make you think. However, writing tips are not what you want from me! So, I’ll give you something else writers need - support.

It’s a struggle for anyone in a creative position. Every step of the writer-author process is full of frustration, doubt, and anxiety. We throw ourselves to the world, desperate for acceptance and full of uncertainty. No matter what our strengths or ability to endure, we simply can’t do it alone.

Recently I launched the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. A casual comment in an email sparked the idea. Would a group make a difference? The tone of some of my fellow bloggers’ recent posts told me there was a need though.

Taking the initiative, I set up the group and announced that the first Wednesday of every month would be our official posting day. Those who signed up were to post either insecurities or words of encouragement and visit at least a dozen other writers on the list.

What’s happened since that time is incredible! Now three months old and over two hundred strong, the group has taken on a life of its own.

So many have poured out their hearts and voiced their deepest fears. In return, members have left strong words of encouragement and consolation in their comments. Everyone discovered another writer in a similar situation or one who was further down the path and could offer guidance. Bloggers seemed to connect on every level possible.

This is why we are here - to offer support and encouragement. We face so many uncertainties as writers. We all need support and someone to tell us it will be all right.

I’ve been blessed by this group. The countless comments and emails from fellow writers, offering thanks and appreciation for the group, tell me that it’s all worth it. If I accomplish nothing else in life, I hope that I’ve given others a way to find hope.

Whether it’s with the Insecure Writer’s Support Group or the help of other writers, bloggers, or friends, every writer needs support. We may write alone, but we are not in this alone!

Alex J. Cavanaugh is known online as Ninja Captain Alex. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. An avid blogger, he hosts blogfests, other authors, and the Insecure Writer’s support Group. His first book, CassaStar, was released October 2010, and the sequel, CassaFire, comes out February 28, 2011.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

This is just a short, prescheduled post to say 

Happy Halloween

I won't be around today because Jury Duty finally caught up with me and I have to head into the Supreme Court to find out whether or not they want me for a trial. I've been on call for the last three weeks with last minute calls to say they didn't need me. It's been difficult to plan anything. I have no idea how long I'll be gone for if I am picked.

UPDATE: I was dismissed from Jury duty. Probably a good thing since it was a murder trial with some grisly details. Ew. I now have time to take part in NaNoWriMo (50k words in 30 days)

Happy News: On Wednesday I will be rolling out the red carpet for Alex J. Cavanaugh. He will be doing a guest post here to coincide with the Insecure Writers' Group. Be sure to pop in and give him your support. Also, if you have signed up for the group, don't forget to write up your own Insecure Writers' Group post this Wednesday.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Best Kind of Promotion

The best kind of promotion we can do for ourselves is to promote the work of other authors. This might sound counter productive, but when an author promotes their own work and nothing else, then interest often fades. To avoid the urge to spam the internet with news of our books, we should promote each other. Those we promote will often return the favour. Apart from that, praise for a book has far more authority when it's not coming from the author. 

While there are many ways to promote a book, what do you think are the best ways?

Contest: The writers at Scribbler's Cove are running a contest to promote two up and coming book releases:

Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn, release date November 1st


Darkspell by Elizabeth Mueller, release date October 31st

Be sure to check out their websites and the contest is found here.

A-Z Challenge 2012
The amazing Arlee Bird is doing it again. For updates pop on over to this dedicated A-Z website every Tuesday.

A huge thank you to Miss Cole of  Miss Cole Seeks Publisher for the One Lovely Blog Award.

And another huge thank you to the lovely Madeleine at Scribble and Edit for the Friendly Blogger Award. Although they are all special, this is one I've not received before.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Energize Your Writing

Writers are so easily influenced by mood. Our disposition, with no matter what we write, will translate to the reader. For example, if we are tired, lethargic, or depressed, then it becomes more difficult to throw energy into our characters, let alone our words.

What's the solution?
Being of healthy body, mind and spirit will help our writing become more succinct, passionate and energised. Succinct because our minds will have a greater ability to maintain focus. Passionate because when we are healthy we care about our work and our stories. Energised because we will simply have more energy and that reflects in our writing.

Exercise: Writing is such a passive pastime that I can't say enough how important it is to exercise. 30 minutes a day isn't too much and that can be broken up into three 10 minute sessions. Tip: If I want to write action I'll get up and jump around for a bit to capture some of the energy needed for the scene.

Stretching: It's also important to regularly get up and stretch. If I'm not paying attention it's far too easy to realise two hours have slipped by and I haven't moved from my seat.

Diet: When we settle in for a writing session it's tempting to snack on treats. (I wish I didn't love chocolate so much). Eating good healthy foods and drinking plenty of water is key to staying fit and healthy, which in turn impacts our writing.

Practise positivity: It's easy to stress as writers. It's easy to let self-doubt take over. If we practise positivity then stress can be managed. Not only will we be less likely to give up on our dreams, but our positivity will pour into our words in the form of energised writing.

Can you think of other ways to energise your writing? What do you do to energise your writing?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Writers' Tools: Empathy

"Writers don't write from experience, although many are hesitant to admit that they don't. ...If you wrote from experience, you'd get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy." Nikki Giovanni
Like the trusty pen, not-so-trusty computer and nifty internet, empathy is also an invaluable tool for writers.

Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in the proverbial shoes of others, to understand their feelings, thoughts and motivations. In terms of writing, it's an ability to connect with our readers.

How to improve your empathy:
Observations: To gain a higher level of empathy we need to pay attention to everything that goes on around us. Not just to the people around us, but to all the sights, sounds, smells and everything that makes up the atmosphere of a place and a person. It's so easy to let life pass us by without noticing those details.

Know your audience: This is a classic piece of writers' advice. As much as we start out writing for ourselves, if we want to get published we also need to write for our audience. This means understanding who they are, what they want, and what kind of issues they'll respond to.

Personal experience: To understand others, we need to have an understanding of ourselves. This takes a certain level of honesty because I think it's important to know why we react to certain stimuli, and to know the true motives behind our actions. The truth isn't always what we may want or expect.

Exposure to life: I believe it's also important to broaden our experiences. Because I travelled the world in my twenties, I have a lot of different cultures and people to draw from. If we stay behind our desks and do nothing but write, then how can we learn and enrich our writing?

Imagination: Looking through another's perspective isn't an easy task and requires some practice and imagination. Encourage daydreaming. Take time out to simply think, imagine, role play.

Read a lot: Apparently in studies a connection has been found between reading a lot of fiction and having a higher level of empathy. I believe it's because stories throw the reader into the minds of a huge variety of characters in a broad range of situations they wouldn't have otherwise experienced.

Can you think of other ways of improving your empathy? What have you done to hone that particular writing tool?

Thanks: Debbie Johansson recently gave me the 7x7 Award. Thank you so much!

Pic: A watchful surfguard at a beach at Port Stephens, Australia.

Monday, October 17, 2011

On the Joy of Editing

Or the Freedom of not getting too Attached

Would you put so much effort and attention to detail only to burn it?

Check out the photos on, an annual event called the Burning Man, is held in the Nevada Desert. People come together to build amazing constructions only to set them all on fire.

It's considered the largest outdoor gallery in the world.

The completed Temple of Transition: The builders claimed it was the tallest temporary (ie: no foundation) wood frame building on the planet.

Then it all gets burned in a spectacular display.

My first reaction was, 'That's crazy!' My second reaction was, 'But so cool!' Yes, I'm a bit of a pyro.

Burn, my prettys, burn!

Erm, cough. Anyway, this got me thinking about our works in progress. We throw all our effort into writing our stories so, when we think we are ready to send them out into the big wide world, we're convinced our creations are masterpieces. When our manuscripts come back from our editors, critique partners, beta readers, we realise they aren't.

Our work can only improve when we are willing to set it on fire. I'm not talking about destroying our manuscripts. I'm talking about slashing and burning what doesn't need to be included. We need to be brutal to see the glow. All in the name of art.

And we have the freedom to light the fire when we don't get too attached to those scenes that took us weeks to write. With freedom comes joy. Editing no longer becomes a chore or an agony. I can take great delight in the 'flames' because I know that out of the ashes will rise a phoenix (a shiny manuscript that's closer to publication).

Do you think it's crazy to put all that effort into building those structures only to burn them? Do you have trouble letting go of those precious scenes?


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ric Elias: 3 things I learned while my plane crashed

I'd been feeling a bit frustrated with my writing when I found this amazing video. If you can spare five minutes, it's worth it. Ric Elias was on Flight 1549 when the plane crash-landed in the Hudson River in New York in January 2009.

If you can't spare the time, I'll summerise: It's about discovering the things in life that truly matter. Ric Elias no longer postpones anything anymore because everything can change in an instant. He regrets letting his ego get in the way and the time he's wasted on things that don't matter with people who do matter. And he realised that above all things his family comes first.

His experience reminded me that life is short and that while agonising over every word is normal as a writer, fretting about pleasing everyone, worrying about getting it right and stressing about achieving 'success' isn't what I should be doing. First and foremost, I love to write so I'll just keep writing and enjoy the whole process. 

If you had an experience like Ric Elias', what do you think you would change in your life?

For the direct link to the video go here.

Thank You: A huge thank you to those lovely writers who offered to critique my short story: Shallee McArthur, Heather McCorkle, M Pax, Rachna Chhabria, Bethany Yeager, L.A Speedwing and Pam Williams. Also to Stacy S. Jensen for spreading the word via Twitter. It is much appreciated.

Jury Duty: my jury duty is on hold for another week so I'm back to my usual posting schedule until the 24th when they may or may not need me. Who knows what will happen after that?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ngrams and the Evolution of Words

The beauty of technology is that so much information is at our fingertips. Ever since Google scanned 500 billion books (that's a lot of books) we have even more information available to us. The Google ngram viewer shows us word trends. You can type in some words or phrases and it will show the trend of those words across time. It's been around for a while, but it's still a lot of fun.

One great example is throve vs thrived. As the graph shows, it wasn't until the early twentieth century that thrived (the red line) took over as the popular choice.

I tried young adult vs teen vs teenager with an unexpected result:

And someone else found the point where the long s was disused in the early 1800s. Beft vs Best:
I could spend hours trying different variations on these graphs.  

Have you found any cool results?

Note: I'm still in the jury duty process. So far I haven't been picked yet for a trial but neither have I been officially dismissed. It's likely I'll have to head in to the Supreme Court tomorrow. So again, I may not be around much for the next three weeks, but I'll try and catch up with blog visits.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Style vs Formula

Often the 'rules' of writing a good book can cause a writer to fall into the dreaded realm of formula. Let's all shudder together. *Urgh!*

You know the rules I'm talking about: Start the book with a hook, make your characters likeable, cut back the walls of descriptions, don't load down the story with backstory dumps, show don't tell. And so forth.

All these rules can be crippling. Yes, there are things that work best in a novel, but should we always stick to the rules because we're afraid to veer off the righteous path of thou shalt nots? Should we quash our writing style in the quest for publication?

There's a lot of pressure on new writers to catch the eye of agents and publishers. If we can't follow the rules then how will our books be any good? The rules are there for a reason--because they work.

And yet I think the best writers break the rules--but I will add they do it with caution. They find a way that works for their stories. They hold onto their personal style and create the story only they can write. These are the writers that stand out. For example, China Miéville writes copious amounts of meandering description and yet his work is a delight to read. Suzanne Collins wrote wads of backstory and yet it worked in the Hunger Games.

I'm not suggesting to ignore the rules. I am saying be true to yourself and your stories. Writing is an art. And the best art requires bravery, honesty, and hard work.

Do you agree? Can you think of other favourite novels that broke the rules?

Note: On Monday I have to head to the Supreme Court for jury duty. I'm told if I'm picked it could take up to three weeks. I won't have time to post during that time, but I'll try and pop around the blogsphere a little.

Call for help: I'm looking for some critiques for a science fiction short story I've written. It would be best if you like and understand the genre. I'm happy to return the favour in any genre for the equal number of words (3300). If you are interested please send me an email or leave a comment. A huge thanks in advance.  
M Pax of Wistful Nebulae has released her debut novella, Semper Audacia, this week, available from Amazon or Smashswords. Check it out.

Thank you to The Writing Nut for the Seriously Cute Blogger Award. It's not one I've received before. It's much appreciated.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

6 Ways to Fight the Dreaded Doubts

I knew two sisters who started life with the same opportunities. They grew up in the same town, enjoyed the same education, and they were both gifted with the same level of creative talent. Despite these similarities, only one sister succeeded in achieving her dreams. The other allowed doubts and regrets to rule her life.

My advice on how to beat the doubts:

1. A Positive Attitude: I think doubts have a way of turning into self-fulfilling prophecy. Fight them by staying positive. Remember how much you enjoy writing, painting, dreaming. Believe you will succeed.

2. Perseverance: I believe almost anything can be achieved through hard work and perseverance. So, keep your dreams. Don't give up. Don't let anything hold you back.

3. Try again: When a project doesn't seem to go anywhere, then if you've given it all you can, start a new project. Few authors sell their first novels; few artists sell their first paintings.

4. Don't expect instant perfection: For starters true perfection can't ever be achieved. Our best work, however, can be achieved. Work with realistic, achievable goals.

5. Exercise: Keep the body active, get the blood flowing through the brain, and doubts will find it harder to take a hold.

6. Ask yourself, will I regret it if I quit? I quit once. It's the biggest regret in my life. Memory of that regret now keeps me striving for my dreams.

What do you do to keep your doubts at bay?

Note: this post was written for the Insecure Writers' Group.  It's a bit early, but my posting schedule is out of whack this week due to the long weekend in NSW, Australia.

The group was formed by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers to encourage each other.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Right Time to Query

The big question for every writer who is serious about getting published is this: When is the right time to query? Unfortunately this is not something that we can be told. Each of us has to decide. However, there are some key points that might help.

For example, it's probably not a good idea to start querying after you've finished your first draft. The manuscript will be as rough as a porcupine pillow. I know of no writer who has a quality manuscript after the first draft, no matter how long it took them to write it.

It's also probably not a good idea to start sending out your manuscript to agents and publishers if no one else has read it. Critique partners and beta readers are essential, even for seasoned writers. No matter how talented you might be, you will miss mistakes trusted readers will be able to catch.

Many of us are the impatient sort and we want to start querying the day we declare our manuscripts finished. It's probably a better idea to wait two weeks, read through it again and then send it. I've heard agents say to wait two months before sending.

Of course, there have been exceptions to the rule. I know of an author who sent only the first three chapters of an unfinished book and scored a contract based on that alone. But remember, that's the exception.

The publishing game is a slow one. There is no need to hurry when it comes to our first books. As Jennifer Hillier said in an interview with herself found here, 'Write the best book you can. DON'T RUSH – enjoy the fact that with your first novel, you don't have a deadline and can take your time. When it's ready, and not a day before, start querying. And never, ever give up.'

How do you know if you are ready to query? 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Precision of Thought for Writing

The genius of the George Orwell novel, 1984, is that in the story the government controlled the people by reducing their vocabulary. The theory was that if the people didn’t have words, then they couldn’t form complex concepts. In essence, they wouldn’t be able to think with any clarity.

As writers, our goal is to write exactly what we want to say in an elegant form—a form that resonates with others. To achieve this goal, we need to use words in a precise manner. This requires disciplined thinking, which requires a healthy vocabulary and practise putting those words into tight, meaningful sentences.

When I write, I often have to ask myself what purpose I want a scene to have. What exactly am I trying to capture? Does a particular sentence say what I mean? Could I say it better?

The elegant part of the equation is about the rhythms and flow of the words, and the very sound they make. A deeper meaning can be understood through this music. For example, short sharp sentences increase tension in a scene.

What are some things you do to clarify your thoughts while writing? Do you think of the rhythms when you write?

Pic: A close up of the Sydney Opera House's amazing architecture

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tips for Gaining Voice in Writing

What is voice?
Voice is an elusive element in writing. It can be a subtle thing, or as obvious as a snarky main character. However, voice is more than a single character’s way of speech. Voice is the individual writer’s way of presenting setting, plot and characters. It is a writer’s style that is uniquely the author. It can’t be copied (at least, not easily or well).

How is voice achieved?
Voice is written from the heart of the author—that deep place that makes us individual. From personal experience, I’ve found that voice is easiest to achieve when I’m not fretting about writing rules, when I’m not worrying what others will think of my stories. It takes courage and practise to put yourself on the page for all to see.

Don’t copy another author’s style. It won’t work and the story will likely fall flat in the attempt. You have to find your own style.

Don’t apologise for who you are. Find the courage to be yourself when you write.

Write a fast first draft to keep the doubts at bay. Remember you can fix anything later.

First learn grammar and punctuation, then don’t be afraid to break the rules if your story is calling out for it.

Learn to listen to your story. It will tell you how to write it.

Read not just a lot, but copious amounts. Absorb stories and styles. Be inspired, learn what works and what doesn’t.

Then write. And write some more.

How have you developed your voice? In your opinion what books have included a great voice?

Thanks to Claire Lachance for the Versatile Blogger Award. Please visit her great blog and say hi from me.

Monday, September 19, 2011

10 Tips Writers can Learn from Bad Movies

Today is Alex J Cavanaugh’s Worst Movies Ever Blogfest. Being the rebel that I am, I thought I’d put a spin on it and write up some tips writers can learn from bad movies.

1. Stories must be credible. ‘Unknown’ is a movie which proves this point. The story events stretched believability to the point where I wanted to throw popcorn at the screen.

2. A good ending is just as important as a good beginning. ‘9’ is a beautifully animated movie. The characters are wonderful, the art is visually splendid, and the concept is original. This movie, however, fell into my list of the worst movies of all time because the ending was terribad. It ruined the whole movie for me.

3. Avoid the cheese. Some might say ‘The Blob’ is a classic. I’m not one of them. This horror film comes across as cheesy from start to finish. It is in fact so cheesy that it makes a great comedy, though I don’t think the makers originally intended that.

4. Write outside the formula. ‘I Am Number 4’ is an example of formula gone bad. It is one thing writing inside a genre, another thing writing to formula. It seemed obvious to me that many scenes in this movie were simply included because they were what the makers believed fit into the teen formula. They had no other reason to be there.

5. Kill your darlings. This is a phrase many writers hear because it’s so important to remove any scenes or characters that don’t drive the story forward. In the case of ‘Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace’, the fans dictated the inclusion of characters and scenes to the detriment of the plot. (And don’t get me started about Jar Jar).

6. A good story takes time to write. ‘Your Highness’ gave me the impression not a lot of time went into the story or its humour. It was clear a lot of money went into the making of the film, but money, scenery, and special effects aren’t enough to make a good movie—or a good book.

7. Don’t set up false expectations when marketing. Because I heard ‘The Perfect Storm’ was based on a true story, I had certain expectations when I went to see it. Those expectations shattered when I realised the movie was based almost entirely on guesses. I felt cheated purely because of the way the movie had been marketed.

8. Strong dialogue is crucial. I love dragons and fantasy, but I fell asleep while watching ‘Eragon’. Not only was the acting wooden, but the dialogue was painfully weak. 

9. Pace is just as important as plot. Some might disagree with me on the example I’m going to use for this point, but I wanted to poke my eyes out with a fork while watching ‘Eat Pray Love’. Even though I liked the concept of this movie, it felt painfully slow and self-indulgent because the pace wasn’t right. 

10. Sequels should be consistent to the original. ‘Highlander 2’ is probably the worst movie sequel in all of history. It totally threw away all the ‘rules’ set up in the first movie thereby alienating it’s fan-base.

What would you consider to be the worst movie of all time?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Watching Willow Watts and Awards

Book Launch:
One country girl is about to discover that fame can cost a fortune.

Talli Roland’s Watching Willow Watts is now available in ebook format. The paperback will be coming out in November. I bought a copy for my kindle last night and am already halfway through. I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I love the characters. They're all interesting and different. I love the escalating predicaments. I love that the story is set in the 'ugliest village in Britain'. Even my inner editor has stayed silent while reading this story and I love that.

Thank you to Maeve Frazier for the Versatile Blogger Award.

Thank you to Gail Shepherd for the Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award.

Thank you to Nancy Thompson for the 7x7 Link Award. For this award I’m supposed to link to what I feel is the most beautiful, popular, controversial, helpful, surpassingly successful, underrated and prideworthy posts. A daunting task to say the least. And so I decided to link to my favourite post which covers most of these: 14 Lies We Tell Ourselves about Writing

Have you read or plan to read Watching Willow Watts? 
What lies do you tell yourself about writing?

Monday, September 12, 2011

7 Essential Elements of Character Creation

Last week Nikki Jefford requested a post on developing characters. There are many different approaches toward developing characters for a story. Last year I wrote a post on different ways to get to know your characters which might help anyone getting started. The techniques I included were the use of visual aids, character questionnaires and family trees. Each author needs to find the technique that works for them.

No matter what method an author chooses to adopt, there are a number of elements that are essential to include in the creation of every character:

The name: Many writers will start with a name and build on the character from there. I can easily spend hours searching for the right name. I’ll often look up a name’s meaning to give a subtle extra dimension. Back when I didn’t plan my stories, I changed a character’s name midway through the manuscript only to discover that the changed name also changed the character’s personality which in turn changed his role in the story. A name can reveal a lot about a person. For example, it can reveal their family’s country of origin.

The appearance: There are a lot of factors to consider for the appearance of a character: their height and build, how they project themselves, if they have any scars or tattoos, and so much more. A character’s appearance will reveal their origins, their education, even their frame of mind. These details, when offered in a sprinkling of information rather than a flood, can engage the reader and make the characters feel more real.

The motivation: The easiest way I get to know my characters is to find out what drives them. What are their passions, and what’s the reason behind their actions?

The use of language: The way a character speaks can be enormously revealing. For example: whether or not a character uses slang, expletives, a certain dialect, abbreviations. The character’s voice can make a reader love them or hate them.

The flaw: Every character must have flaws to make them more believable and well-rounded. The flaw will also give the main characters room for conflict and change through the storyline. You can find more on that subject in a previous post on The Character Arc.

The past: The past, our environment, and our experiences shape us. Because of this, many writers will build a thorough history for their characters to get to know them. While that history may not always end up in the pages of the novel, it’s good to know

The likeability: A main character in particular must be likeable for a reader to journey with them through a story. This doesn’t mean the character has to be nice all the time. We can like mean characters as long as they are interesting in some way. 

Which elements of a character’s creation do you spend the most time on? What are the factors you like most about any given character?

I was recently tagged by Tiffany Garner. I am meant to post 10 random things about myself. Being the rebel that I am, I will post 1 random thing: I have been mobbed like a popular celebrity (or a strange curiosity) in a remote village in India. I took the photo I used for this post from a bus window. I boarded the bus to hide from this crowd because I was so different--white skin, blue eyes and glasses. (Probably a good thing I wasn't blonde as well).

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Enjoying the Journey

I recently watched an interview with Jeff Bridges on the Colbert Report. When asked how he looks so great and relaxed after all this time, his answer was that his mother told him to enjoy his work and not take it too seriously. This resonated with me.

As writers, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We yearn for publication, strive to produce our best work, pour hours into social media to build that much needed platform—but what’s it all for if we don’t slow down enough, or lighten up enough, to enjoy the whole experience?

Ultimately it doesn’t matter if I'm not doing it right according to someone else. It doesn’t matter if I can’t devote every waking minute to writing. It doesn’t matter if no one likes my stories. I love them and I get a deep satisfaction from writing them. When I let all the doubts and worries go, I also write a thousand times better.

So, paraphrasing Jeff Bridges’ mum, ‘Enjoy your writing and don’t take it too seriously.’

What helps you to remember to enjoy your writing?

Note: This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The group was formed by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers to encourage each other. 

Giveaway: Theresa Milstein is holding a fabulous giveaway to celebrate her 4 milestones: blogiversary, 600+ follower count, new gradate class, and new job. Pop on over and enter HERE.

Monday, September 5, 2011

10 Stages of Story Development

1. The idea. It could come from anywhere. It could start with a character, a place, a scene, or simply a vague concept. I often have more than one idea, especially when I’m actively looking for them. I’ll write down all my ideas in a notebook.

2. World-building. Sometimes the idea will start with the world first. If I fall in love with the setting/world then I will pursue it further and set up the history, the politics, the ‘rules’. Even if these details don’t make it into the story, they are important to think about. The world will often dictate what kind of story it wants to tell.

3. Character development. I start thinking about the characters and give them names, appearances, traits and desires. Sometimes the characters will come before the world, depending on where the idea starts.

4. Character arc. For me the main element that drives my stories is character so I think about the character arc early on. This is where the plot begins to develop.

5. Outline. This is where I work out a beginning, middle and end. I used to just wing it, but I found I had to do a lot of rewrites to get it right. Outlining reduces those rewrites and it helps me to see the big picture before I get caught up in the specifics.

6. First draft. This is the mad frenzy of pushing out the story onto the page. I usually set myself a goal of 7000 words per week if I’m being kind to myself, or 10 000 words per week if I want to push myself. I prefer to push myself, because my best writing happens when I don’t have the time to over think everything.

7. Break. This is where a break is essential. It’s a good time to start expanding on other ideas or to write a few short stories.

8. The read through. Also essential. I think it’s important to read through your novel from beginning to end many times over the course of development.

9. Editing. This is when I allow myself to slow down and take the time to get the wording right. I look at pacing, motivations, sentence structure, chapter length etc. 

10. Critique partners. I’ll send out my manuscript to trusted critique partners and friends. Then I repeat stages 7-10 until I’m happy with the story.

How do you develop your story ideas?

Thanks to Suze at Girl Wizard for tagging me where we were supposed to tell 10 things about ourselves, but I adjusted the rules. I’m such a rebel.

Also thanks to L. G. Smith for the 7x7 Link Award. Again, being the rebel, I have linked back to her blog, Bards and Prophets, and ask that you visit and say hi from me.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Language and a Writer’s Responsibility

The love of language and all it can do for us is a love born from our need to communicate. Is that all it is? Is language simply a means to share concepts, to voice our wants, to record our history?

Language is an expression of who we are. It evolves over time and varies over locations. Through language we have stories and imaginings. Through language we are made greater by communal ideas. Through language we reveal so much more about ourselves.

That’s why I think writers in particular have a responsibility to use language with care and respect. This is not to say we have to always cling to correct grammar and sentence structure. However, we do need to learn the rules so we can mould language into the best means of offering understanding to our readers. Language is a precious tool.

Is it a writer’s responsibility to preserve language? To an extent. Language is an ever evolving creature. In the last twenty years we’ve seen massive changes in the way we communicate. We’ve seen the advent of emoticons, text messaging and abbreviations that have made it into the spoken word. We’ve become less formal. There is no point getting snobbish over these changes and no point holding onto the past.

I think it is a writer’s responsibility to fight complacency and laziness. I think we should utilise the best that language can offer, not the worst. It is a gift, after all.

Do you think it’s a writer’s responsibility to preserve language?

Note: I have decided to reduce the number of my posts to two per week (Mondays and Thursdays) so that I’ll have more time for writing and blog visits. Thanks to all those who left comments and encouragement on Facebook.

Award: Huge thanks to Carrie Butler for the 7x7 link award. Please visit her fabulous blog and say hi from me.

Reminder: The Insecure Writers’ Support Group, started by Alex J Cavanaugh, will post on the first Wednesday of every month. You can sign up here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Tips for Writing the Perfect Pitch

If you want to be a successful published author, you have to be your own best advocate and that starts at mastering the pitch.’ Hazel Flynn, publisher.

I will be the first to admit that writing queries are not my forte, however I have read a lot of dos and don’ts regarding this hair-pulling writing exercise so I’d like to share what I’ve learned.

Purpose of the pitch
While it’s often a case of easier said than done, the pitch is meant to pique the agent’s interest in your story so they will want to know more. It is a brief explanation of what your book is about.

Profile of a pitch
A pitch shouldn’t be longer than 250 words. In a few short paragraphs the writer has to give a sense of the main characters, show the conflict, the setting, genre and word count. It should be written in third person present tense regardless of the style your book is written in.

Tips for pitches
Publishers are taking fewer risks these days so it’s worth spending quality time to get the query right.

If you can’t get a handle on your central theme, how can anyone else? You need to show you have a clear vision.

If you have a great concept, you need to make sure you can show you’ve put that concept into a solid story with conflict and a character arc. A book won’t sell on the concept alone.

The spoken pitch is very different to the written query. Make sure you have both prepared—especially if you are heading for a conference. And practise that spoken pitch so you can avoid the stutters and show confidence.

The sub-plots aren’t as important in the query. Removing them for the pitch makes it easier to find that central driving theme of your story.

Can you add any more tips for writing the eye-catching query?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Substance vs Bling in Story Writing

Recently, my hubby upgraded his phone to the latest snazzy model. I have no idea what it is except it has a whole bunch of new features. He loves his technology. I struggle to get excited by it. If the old one works, why upgrade it? (I know, I’m such a luddite).

However, my hubby has convinced me to take his old phone: an iphone 3G. The most exciting thing about this upgrade? I get to take off his boring black cover and replace it with a shiny new one with bling. The more dazzling, the better. The curious thing is, it wasn’t until he started telling me about all the features that I started to love this hand-me-down.

My point? While bling on phones, in my opinion, is a good thing, the real appreciation won’t emerge until we discover a greater function. The same goes with writing. Sometimes I can get lost in the fancy descriptions and the amazing settings. I’ll make the wording pretty for the sake of pretty. This isn’t a good thing. Without substance, the shinies of our stories can drag the pace down. They can change the focus from where we want it to be.

Every word, sentence, paragraph needs a purpose in our stories, whether to add atmosphere, set a scene, reveal something about a character—and it’s even better when it has more than one purpose. If a description or dialogue is included for the sake of it, it has to go.

Do you struggle with removing the shinies? What are the kind of features that distract you from a story when you are reading or watching a movie?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Third Writers’ Platform Building Campaign

Rachael Harrie has put together another fantastic campaign: Third Writers’ Platform Building Campaign. It’s a great way to make real connections with like-minded people. I took part in one earlier in the year and I met so many more new bloggers, struggling writers, published authors.

The campaign runs from August 22nd until October 31st. The list closes on August 31st, so you have a week to sign up.

The Write Advice is a fantastic new Facebook community page organised by Laura Barnes. It is designed to bring together a collection of bloggers who offer great writing advice.
“I hope for this to be an excellent source for beginning writers, or beginning writer researchers, a sort-of one-stop-shop.”
It’s worth checking out.

What online initiatives or sites have given you support as a writer?Are you signing up to the campaign?

Monday, August 22, 2011

6 Benefits of Distractions from Writing

When we have writing goals and deadlines to stick to, distractions can be frustrating. There never seems to be enough time to get everything done and write that brilliant novel. We value our writing time, especially those of us who don’t get a lot of it, and we can become prickly and difficult to live with if we lose time to distractions. We may even tell ourselves that we can’t write unless specific conditions are met.

I would challenge anyone who has experienced this kind of frustration and say not all distractions are bad—and here’s why:

1. Distractions can offer inspiration. Ideas for stories come from anywhere and everywhere. We need to remember this the next time a salesperson knocks at our door, or a neighbour wants to chat. Treasure every moment, every opportunity.

2. Distractions can be an opportunity to take a break. Frequent short breaks are needed to keep a fresh view of our manuscripts. They keep our minds clear and they help us to see the big picture in our structures and plots.

3. Distractions can be a sign of flawed work. I know for a fact that when a scene isn’t working I’m more easily distracted. These kind of distractions are ones I can control—like playing spider solitaire, jumping up for yet another snack, or staring out the window for no apparent reason. When I realise what is happening, I’m more able to find the problem and fix the scene.

4. Distractions are a part of life. Writing is a solitary occupation. We can so easily turn into hermits because we can become so focussed on our work. Distractions bring us back to the world of the living. We can’t afford to cut ourselves off from everything.

5. Distractions can teach us to adapt. When we are distracted a lot we can either give in, or teach ourselves to make the most of the time given to us. We don’t need to set up a whole lot of conditions before we can write. We just write. A minute is all we need.

6. Distractions remind us of our priorities. No matter what, family and friends will always be my first priority. If anyone is in need I will drop everything.

What other benefits have you experienced when you’ve been distracted from your writing?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Just a quick note to say I will be spending most of my time at WriteOnCon, a free online writers' conference. It's a huge event, not to be missed. I will be back here on Friday.
Amendment: Make that Monday.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Importance of the Plausibility Factor

On the weekend I watched a spy thriller movie. The cinematography was good, the casting was good, the acting was good, the story… had potential. The major problem with this movie was that it lacked plausibility.

When I enjoy a movie I have a high tolerance for the flaws. The more flaws I see, however, the faster I lose my willingness to suspend my disbelief. For example, I had trouble believing that a mere scientist could win a hand-to-hand combat fight with a military trained man. Could I forgive that? Sure, why not. I enjoyed the excitement, but I’d become a little wary. What else was the movie going to ask me to believe?

Then the implausible moments started piling up. I didn’t even need to look for them to find them. The movie included massive whoppers like the bad guy needing to carry around a code for a simple four word password when he’d already proven he had an amazing memory. Or the grand finale which could have been taken care of with a simple anonymous phone call, but our hero had to throw himself into the action instead. Yeah, right.

When we write our stories we must be careful not to fall into the trap of using plot contrivances. Otherwise we may lose our readers. We need to do the research required to get it right. We also need to make sure our characters have no choice but to take the difficult route to get out of a situation.

How do you keep your stories plausible? What are some bad plot contrivances you’ve seen in a movie or read in a book?

Friday, August 12, 2011

5 Ways to Find Spelling Errors

Editing tip #247: Do not rely on the spell check tools in writing programs.

As much as I love those red squiggly lines, Spell Check won’t pick up incorrect words if they are correctly spelled. For example, it will miss ‘though’ if the word should be ‘through’. So, how do I find those elusive mistakes?

1. Print—I have no idea why, but it’s far easier to spot those spelling errors when the text is printed on paper. 

2. Read out loud—Reading my text out loud slows down the tendency to scan my work, which is the main reason we miss those mistakes. Reading to someone else is even more effective.

3. Cover the text—Many use a ruler for this purpose to keep their eye from jumping ahead in the text. A scrap of paper works just fine.

4. Critique Partner—It’s amazing how we can still miss those mistakes. Second opinions are invaluable.

5. Press Send—The surest way to find mistakes is to send off your work to someone you want to impress, for example, an agent or a publisher. 

How do you find spelling errors? How important do you think it is to find those little mistakes?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Power of the Unsaid Word

Did you know that the majority of our communication is nonverbal? I learnt that during my years studying speech and drama. And it’s just as important to keep in mind when writing. Straight dialogue can be boring, but incorporating other forms of communication could bring your scenes to life.

Physical ways to communicate
Body language: The way a person carries themselves says a lot about that person. Someone who hunches may be disappointed or may not want to be noticed. Someone who fidgets may be nervous about something. Someone who walks with their head high may be self confident. There are countless variations.

Facial Expressions: This could include whether or not someone makes eye contact. A frown could indicate anger or suspicion or deep thought. A smile can be charming or frightening.

Hand gestures: a wave can say hello, goodbye, or go away. A tight-gripped hand shake can be a challenge or show confidence. Giving someone the finger can be a statement against authority, and a salute can show sarcasm.

Action: the way a person does something. For example, a person slamming doors is either in a hurry or angry. A person stabbing at their food could be restless, angry or bored. A character could say one thing and do the opposite.

Nonverbal elements of speech
Tone: There is a reason why emoticons came into being. Those little smileys brought tone back to text based communication and helped to avoid misunderstandings. Tone can differentiate between sarcasm, anger and joy.

Pauses: the things left unsaid. These often speak louder than the spoken word.

Grunts and sighs: These are understood in any language.

Rhythm and inflections: For example, slow speech could indicate warning, barely contained anger, a lower education.

The use of language: For example, the use of bad grammar, swearing, verbosity, formality, informality. Among other things, the use of language could say any number of things about a character.

Which nonverbal tools do you favour in your writing? Which do you shy away from? Do you think some are harder to incorporate than others?

Monday, August 8, 2011

5 Reasons to Use Humour in Writing

Humour is an often underestimated tool in writing. While it may not always be easy to write, I believe it’s worth the effort. Below I’ve listed why:

1. To connect with the reader. We all respond to humour. We connect with humour. Because of that humour is universal. It’s essential for the writer to make that connection with the reader.

1. To lighten the mood. I recently read a dirge of a book that I struggled to get through because it was so intense and depressing throughout. Yes, we need conflict in our stories, but when the conflict becomes overpowering, we can tire our readers and make them pull away. The book would have benefitted from a sprinkling of humour to lighten the mood.

2. To create contrast. Likewise, a high tension scene could be intensified by a humorous scene before it because of the contrast you’ve created.

3. Character likeability. If you want your readers to like your main characters, then give them a sense of humour. A fantastic example of this would be Hannibal Lector. The readers find themselves drawn to this psychopathic killer against their better judgement, because he has a wicked sense of humour.

4. Character dislikeability. Likewise, if we don’t want our readers to like a character then we strip them of a sense of humour.

5. For success. People remember good humour. They will want more of it and so they will seek more of that writer’s work. They will be more likely to tell others about your work as well. Many believe that Shakespeare’s plays were so successful because of the humour in them—even the tragic plays.

Do you feel comfortable with writing humour into your stories, or do you tend to shy away from it? What do you think is most difficult about writing humour?