Monday, November 26, 2012

Is there such a thing as too much characterization? By that, I mean, can you invest too much time into developing some characters to the point of derailing a project?

I'd argue that yes, you can. Not every character warrants developing a back story, motivation, wound. If you did take the time to do that for every walk-on, a story could quickly become tangent-riddled every time someone new entered a scene.
Look at ME! No, me! Me! Me! Me!

Granted, most writers have the opposite problem. They don't develop even the primary characters deeply enough. But both the "too many stars" and flat characterization problem can begin to be addressed by taking one initial step.

You might call the process "assembling the cast." Basically, it entails listing all your story's characters and prioritizing them in terms of their importance to the story.

Primary characters 

Each of the main actors who appear in 3/4 of the story scenes should have a "characterization work up" that includes a basic life history (key events), a relationship web, and a psychological make up that includes desires, fears, and core values. Gather some telling details for each primary character. Those might include hobbies, taste in music or film, appearance, home environment.

It's easy to get carried away developing telling details at the expense of doing the deeper psychological work. Better to invest your time in knowing how family of origin issues and environment and education shape a character than furnishing apartments, creating music playlists and the like. It's the characters' underlying drives that fuel conflict, after all, not curtain colors, or wardrobe, or the current soundtrack. And without conflict, you have no story.

Secondary characters 

Second tier characters influence the primary characters and course of the plot, but appear less frequently. The key thing secondary characters need is a relationship web. They are connectors of the primary characters. Some psychological development can make their relationships more realistic, and telling details make them stand out from one another. Secondary characters might include a trusted friend, a coworker, a close sibling, parents or other near relatives. They lay emotional claim to the main characters and offer help and hindrance as the protagonist works toward his or her goal.

Tertiary characters 

Third tier characters might or might not warrant being named, depending on the role they play. Here are some tertiary functions and the types of players needed:

Catalyst
Tertiary catalysts are triggers who enter scenes in order to cause change. A tertiary catalyst might be a pacing aid, like the comic relief character who releases tension whenever he appears. Or she might be a functionary whose official duties bring change, like a police officer or an EMT.

Set dressing 
In film, they're called "extras"--the assorted faces that people a locale: patients in a waiting room, thugs loitering in a bad neighborhood, cliques in the school cafeteria, commuters, store clerks, security guards. Give some thought about what emotions they might evoke in your primary characters, such as a sense of security, fear, claustrophobia, or self-consciousness. Develop telling details to bring out those emotions. For example, when your protagonist is crammed into an elevator, we feel her anxiety through her reactions to fellow riders' cloying perfume, menacing umbrellas, over-sized backpacks.

Verisimilitude 
These characters lend reality to a story by filling small parts, somewhere between catalyst and set dressing. They have a handful of lines throughout the story. They exist to further widen our understanding of the main character and to create milieu. In a YA story, for example, this might be a younger sibling who creates obstacles and has some comic lines, or a secondary character's parent who is the polar opposite of the protagonist's parents.

image credit: arjmage at morguefile.com

Do you develop characters before you write or as you write? How might a bit of character planning and prioritization aid your drafting process?
Monday, November 26, 2012 Laurel Garver
Is there such a thing as too much characterization? By that, I mean, can you invest too much time into developing some characters to the point of derailing a project?

I'd argue that yes, you can. Not every character warrants developing a back story, motivation, wound. If you did take the time to do that for every walk-on, a story could quickly become tangent-riddled every time someone new entered a scene.
Look at ME! No, me! Me! Me! Me!

Granted, most writers have the opposite problem. They don't develop even the primary characters deeply enough. But both the "too many stars" and flat characterization problem can begin to be addressed by taking one initial step.

You might call the process "assembling the cast." Basically, it entails listing all your story's characters and prioritizing them in terms of their importance to the story.

Primary characters 

Each of the main actors who appear in 3/4 of the story scenes should have a "characterization work up" that includes a basic life history (key events), a relationship web, and a psychological make up that includes desires, fears, and core values. Gather some telling details for each primary character. Those might include hobbies, taste in music or film, appearance, home environment.

It's easy to get carried away developing telling details at the expense of doing the deeper psychological work. Better to invest your time in knowing how family of origin issues and environment and education shape a character than furnishing apartments, creating music playlists and the like. It's the characters' underlying drives that fuel conflict, after all, not curtain colors, or wardrobe, or the current soundtrack. And without conflict, you have no story.

Secondary characters 

Second tier characters influence the primary characters and course of the plot, but appear less frequently. The key thing secondary characters need is a relationship web. They are connectors of the primary characters. Some psychological development can make their relationships more realistic, and telling details make them stand out from one another. Secondary characters might include a trusted friend, a coworker, a close sibling, parents or other near relatives. They lay emotional claim to the main characters and offer help and hindrance as the protagonist works toward his or her goal.

Tertiary characters 

Third tier characters might or might not warrant being named, depending on the role they play. Here are some tertiary functions and the types of players needed:

Catalyst
Tertiary catalysts are triggers who enter scenes in order to cause change. A tertiary catalyst might be a pacing aid, like the comic relief character who releases tension whenever he appears. Or she might be a functionary whose official duties bring change, like a police officer or an EMT.

Set dressing 
In film, they're called "extras"--the assorted faces that people a locale: patients in a waiting room, thugs loitering in a bad neighborhood, cliques in the school cafeteria, commuters, store clerks, security guards. Give some thought about what emotions they might evoke in your primary characters, such as a sense of security, fear, claustrophobia, or self-consciousness. Develop telling details to bring out those emotions. For example, when your protagonist is crammed into an elevator, we feel her anxiety through her reactions to fellow riders' cloying perfume, menacing umbrellas, over-sized backpacks.

Verisimilitude 
These characters lend reality to a story by filling small parts, somewhere between catalyst and set dressing. They have a handful of lines throughout the story. They exist to further widen our understanding of the main character and to create milieu. In a YA story, for example, this might be a younger sibling who creates obstacles and has some comic lines, or a secondary character's parent who is the polar opposite of the protagonist's parents.

image credit: arjmage at morguefile.com

Do you develop characters before you write or as you write? How might a bit of character planning and prioritization aid your drafting process?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

by  C.M. Keller

When Laurel first talked to me about doing a guest post, one of the things she mentioned as a topic was characterization. What interested her is how often reviewers had mentioned it when they reviewed my books.

Honestly, when the first few reviewers mentioned it, I thought they were just being nice. And when it continued to come up, I was mystified. I had no idea why people seemed to be interested in my characterizations. I don’t do anything special.

But I’ve been thinking about it. I suspect that my characterizations are one of those occasions when a weakness becomes a strength. You see, I’m faceblind, which means I can’t recognize faces. (It’s called prosopagnosia.) In fact, it’s bad enough that one night when my son woke me up because he wasn’t feeling well, I didn’t know who he was. I knew there was something familiar about him (he wasn’t a robber), but it wasn’t until he spoke that I knew who he was. Of course, you can’t get by in the world without being able to recognize people. So you develop coping skills. I learned to recognize people by the tone of their voice, their gait, and their body type.

 Prosopagnosia also means that I have a hard time inferring people’s emotions by the looks on their faces (though not all people with prosopagnosia do). I’ve taught myself that a furrowed brow could mean anger or confusion. But the subtleties that normal people use to distinguish whether someone is confused or angry by their faces are beyond me. So I’ve learned to hear things in their voice—catches, emphases, pauses, etc., for clues to emotion. I’ve learned that posture means things, i.e., when shoulders hunch, someone is feeling shame, embarrassment, or depression. Even subtle things like the tilt of a chin or a muscle twitch (depending on which muscle twitches) can convey layers of emotion and character.

So now you know a lot about me, but how does this apply to writing? Because faceblindness governs the way that I experience people, the only way I know how to characterize people is by the ways I’ve learned to cope. I suspect that’s what strikes people about my characterizations. They’re different. I try to convey emotion through action and speech—it’s the way I understand and communicate it. Honestly, I sometimes think I’m ham-handed in it, that I’m too obvious. That a combination of a blink and a twitch is over-the-top. But other people don’t see what I see…

And maybe this is the gift that I can give other writers. Put yourself in my shoes. When you introduce a character, make them distinct by something other than their facial characteristics. (I can’t remember who a character is just because you’ve told me they have blond hair or are Asian.) As you develop the plot and character, think about how you would describe someone/some emotion if you couldn’t rely on a face to tell you. What else would give away a person’s character or their feelings?

And me…I’m trying to remember that most readers care about people’s faces. In fact, my first beta reader (my daughter) will often tell me, “Mom, you never tell people what Character A looks like.” In my thinking, I’ve told the reader everything about the character and what he or she “looks like.” Except I’ve forgotten the face. So I have to pull out my “cheat sheet”—a list that describes the facial characteristics of my characters—otherwise, I can’t remember what color hair or eyes they have.

If we do those things, we can all write better books.

===

C. M. Keller is an award winning novelist and the author of SCREWING UP TIME and SCREWING UP BABYLON. She loves old movies and poison rings. In her spare time, she searches for that elusive unicorn horn. Currently, she's hard at work on her next young adult novel, the third book in Mark and Miranda's story. She blogs about her time-travel series at Screwing Up Time Blog.

Check out Connie's time-travel awesomeness here:
Book 1
Screwing Up Time

Book 2 Just released!
Screwing Up Babylon 


Thanks, Connie, for sharing your experiences with prosopagnosia and making character descriptions more multi-faceted. I certainly learned a lot. How about you, readers?

Do your character descriptions tend to focus on facial appearance? How might you expand your understanding of character description with a reader like Connie in mind?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 Laurel Garver
by  C.M. Keller

When Laurel first talked to me about doing a guest post, one of the things she mentioned as a topic was characterization. What interested her is how often reviewers had mentioned it when they reviewed my books.

Honestly, when the first few reviewers mentioned it, I thought they were just being nice. And when it continued to come up, I was mystified. I had no idea why people seemed to be interested in my characterizations. I don’t do anything special.

But I’ve been thinking about it. I suspect that my characterizations are one of those occasions when a weakness becomes a strength. You see, I’m faceblind, which means I can’t recognize faces. (It’s called prosopagnosia.) In fact, it’s bad enough that one night when my son woke me up because he wasn’t feeling well, I didn’t know who he was. I knew there was something familiar about him (he wasn’t a robber), but it wasn’t until he spoke that I knew who he was. Of course, you can’t get by in the world without being able to recognize people. So you develop coping skills. I learned to recognize people by the tone of their voice, their gait, and their body type.

 Prosopagnosia also means that I have a hard time inferring people’s emotions by the looks on their faces (though not all people with prosopagnosia do). I’ve taught myself that a furrowed brow could mean anger or confusion. But the subtleties that normal people use to distinguish whether someone is confused or angry by their faces are beyond me. So I’ve learned to hear things in their voice—catches, emphases, pauses, etc., for clues to emotion. I’ve learned that posture means things, i.e., when shoulders hunch, someone is feeling shame, embarrassment, or depression. Even subtle things like the tilt of a chin or a muscle twitch (depending on which muscle twitches) can convey layers of emotion and character.

So now you know a lot about me, but how does this apply to writing? Because faceblindness governs the way that I experience people, the only way I know how to characterize people is by the ways I’ve learned to cope. I suspect that’s what strikes people about my characterizations. They’re different. I try to convey emotion through action and speech—it’s the way I understand and communicate it. Honestly, I sometimes think I’m ham-handed in it, that I’m too obvious. That a combination of a blink and a twitch is over-the-top. But other people don’t see what I see…

And maybe this is the gift that I can give other writers. Put yourself in my shoes. When you introduce a character, make them distinct by something other than their facial characteristics. (I can’t remember who a character is just because you’ve told me they have blond hair or are Asian.) As you develop the plot and character, think about how you would describe someone/some emotion if you couldn’t rely on a face to tell you. What else would give away a person’s character or their feelings?

And me…I’m trying to remember that most readers care about people’s faces. In fact, my first beta reader (my daughter) will often tell me, “Mom, you never tell people what Character A looks like.” In my thinking, I’ve told the reader everything about the character and what he or she “looks like.” Except I’ve forgotten the face. So I have to pull out my “cheat sheet”—a list that describes the facial characteristics of my characters—otherwise, I can’t remember what color hair or eyes they have.

If we do those things, we can all write better books.

===

C. M. Keller is an award winning novelist and the author of SCREWING UP TIME and SCREWING UP BABYLON. She loves old movies and poison rings. In her spare time, she searches for that elusive unicorn horn. Currently, she's hard at work on her next young adult novel, the third book in Mark and Miranda's story. She blogs about her time-travel series at Screwing Up Time Blog.

Check out Connie's time-travel awesomeness here:
Book 1
Screwing Up Time

Book 2 Just released!
Screwing Up Babylon 


Thanks, Connie, for sharing your experiences with prosopagnosia and making character descriptions more multi-faceted. I certainly learned a lot. How about you, readers?

Do your character descriptions tend to focus on facial appearance? How might you expand your understanding of character description with a reader like Connie in mind?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Music has been a big piece of my life for as long as I can remember. My sibs and I all took piano lessons. There were school choirs, the radio, and as anyone raised in the Christian tradition, sacred music making up the soundtrack of my days.

Lyric has a way of working into your consciousness, thrumming in your brain. It most naturally expresses itself in poetry. But lyrical writing can appear in any kind of writing, from nonfiction essays and memoir to the most hard-boiled fiction. Noir has its own musicality. So do thrillers and horror.

Today I'm over at Talespinning, talking about making your stories sing: the benefits of poetry training for novelists. Swing on by for some tips on using poetic devices in your work to give it texture.

Tomorrow, I'll have a special guest, author Connie Keller, here to talk about how having face blindness has in fact helped her build strong characterization. Can't wait for you to hear her story. It's fascinating!

Giveaway

Deniz Bevan at The Girdle of Melian is hosting an ebook giveaway of Never Gone. She's also talking about Daleks. Who could resist? Go forth and enter for a chance to win "a delightful page-turner full of sorrow, mystery and redemption."

Does your fiction have a soundtrack? Is it palpable in your story itself? 
Monday, November 19, 2012 Laurel Garver
Music has been a big piece of my life for as long as I can remember. My sibs and I all took piano lessons. There were school choirs, the radio, and as anyone raised in the Christian tradition, sacred music making up the soundtrack of my days.

Lyric has a way of working into your consciousness, thrumming in your brain. It most naturally expresses itself in poetry. But lyrical writing can appear in any kind of writing, from nonfiction essays and memoir to the most hard-boiled fiction. Noir has its own musicality. So do thrillers and horror.

Today I'm over at Talespinning, talking about making your stories sing: the benefits of poetry training for novelists. Swing on by for some tips on using poetic devices in your work to give it texture.

Tomorrow, I'll have a special guest, author Connie Keller, here to talk about how having face blindness has in fact helped her build strong characterization. Can't wait for you to hear her story. It's fascinating!

Giveaway

Deniz Bevan at The Girdle of Melian is hosting an ebook giveaway of Never Gone. She's also talking about Daleks. Who could resist? Go forth and enter for a chance to win "a delightful page-turner full of sorrow, mystery and redemption."

Does your fiction have a soundtrack? Is it palpable in your story itself? 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I'm fortunate to have great support both inside and outside writer/author circles. But that outside support didn't come simply from wishing for it. I had learn how to be open with friends about my struggles and my needs. Some friends came through with help I didn't know to ask for, others asked "how can I help?" and wanted some direction and education to be a good support.

My intuitively helpful friends and the support they gave is at the heart of the list below. Share it with the people who love you and wish you well, with thanks for all the ways they already brighten your world.

Six tips for supporting writers  

1. Take an interest. Ask what they’re working on, what they like about it, where they’re struggling.

2. Offer resources. Research can be a major challenge--offer helpful Internet links, books, and access to experts the writer could interview.

3. Provide practical helps. Babysit or invite the writer’s kids for a playdate with your kids. Offer to drop off their dry cleaning when you’re planning an errand run. Carpool. Take the family an occasional meal.

4. Encourage. More than anything, writers need voices of hope in their world. Writing is labor intensive and filled with rejection and disappointment. Writers need to hear that stories matter, that using their gifts brings more light into the world.

5. Advise only if invited. Writers need sounding boards, so let them bounce ideas off you very informally, and give them a sense of what might or might not work in a story, based on your life experiences. But please beware of telling a writer he or she should write. Writers can give their hearts and talents only to a story that captures their own imagination.

6. Celebrate. When a writer publishes something, even if it’s in an online literary magazine, praise them and celebrate with them. Share links on social media sites. Purchase copies of their work for yourself or as gifts if it’s a genre that might appeal to others more than to you.

[This is a modified expert from my October guest post for Connecting Stories, the blog of Lynn Simpson]. 

How well are you supported outside the writing community? What steps might you take to make your needs and wishes known to non-writer friends and family?
Wednesday, November 14, 2012 Laurel Garver
I'm fortunate to have great support both inside and outside writer/author circles. But that outside support didn't come simply from wishing for it. I had learn how to be open with friends about my struggles and my needs. Some friends came through with help I didn't know to ask for, others asked "how can I help?" and wanted some direction and education to be a good support.

My intuitively helpful friends and the support they gave is at the heart of the list below. Share it with the people who love you and wish you well, with thanks for all the ways they already brighten your world.

Six tips for supporting writers  

1. Take an interest. Ask what they’re working on, what they like about it, where they’re struggling.

2. Offer resources. Research can be a major challenge--offer helpful Internet links, books, and access to experts the writer could interview.

3. Provide practical helps. Babysit or invite the writer’s kids for a playdate with your kids. Offer to drop off their dry cleaning when you’re planning an errand run. Carpool. Take the family an occasional meal.

4. Encourage. More than anything, writers need voices of hope in their world. Writing is labor intensive and filled with rejection and disappointment. Writers need to hear that stories matter, that using their gifts brings more light into the world.

5. Advise only if invited. Writers need sounding boards, so let them bounce ideas off you very informally, and give them a sense of what might or might not work in a story, based on your life experiences. But please beware of telling a writer he or she should write. Writers can give their hearts and talents only to a story that captures their own imagination.

6. Celebrate. When a writer publishes something, even if it’s in an online literary magazine, praise them and celebrate with them. Share links on social media sites. Purchase copies of their work for yourself or as gifts if it’s a genre that might appeal to others more than to you.

[This is a modified expert from my October guest post for Connecting Stories, the blog of Lynn Simpson]. 

How well are you supported outside the writing community? What steps might you take to make your needs and wishes known to non-writer friends and family?

Monday, November 12, 2012

During the spring of sixth grade, something very strange happened to me. Whenever I opened my mouth to speak, the sound that came out could be breathy and girlish, hoarse, or squeakily soaring between registers.

This was not supposed to happen to girls.
photo from morgefile.com

Voice change was, as far as I knew, a boy thing. One day the kid telling you to stop hogging the swings would sound like your sister, then he'd sound like someone had replaced his larynx with a slide whistle, and a few weeks later, he'd sound like your dad.

It's no picnic to be the girl having this kind of boy thing happening to you. Especially if you got one of the leads in the sixth grade musical.

For a while, I managed to keep my affliction secret by telling everyone I had laryngitis and speaking only in a whisper. As long as I didn't try to engage my larynx, the embarrassing register changes and sudden bugling didn't seem to happen. I sucked a lot of cough drops and passed a lot of notes.

The affliction lingered. Salt water gargles did nothing. I tried talking it out in the woods behind our house. Tried singing it out by practicing my upcoming solo again and again, restarting whenever my voice hitched then squeak-squawked.

The afternoons of talking to the trees paid off. I was able to manage play rehearsals, speaking lines clearly. When I felt my larynx hitch, I'd stop, clear my throat, start again. The director thought I needed to see an allergist for all the throat clearing, but he let me keep my big role.

The rub came when we started adding in the songs. But try as I might to hide my affliction from Mr. Farr, the day came when he wanted to rehearse my solo. No more lip syncing, like I'd done in the full-chorus numbers. He played the opening bars, and I began to sing. The piece was a parody song of "Beautiful Dreamer" from the kids' musical "Frankenstein Follies," and I was cast as Liz, one of the villains. I needed to sound conniving and wicked. Squeaking every third syllable just isn't very villainish. Squeaking is for the comic relief, not the bad guy.

Mr. Farr was kind when the first swoop happened. "Relax," he said. "Pretend this is a player piano and you're all by yourself."

His advice was of course rubbish, because the moment I relaxed, my voice betrayed me horridly. It cracked and I could only speak in a wheezy helium voice.

Mr. Farr blanched. "How long has this been going on?" he demanded.

"Weeks." I squeaked.

"Weeks?" He looked at me askance. Surely he was going to kick me back to the chorus with the musically challenged kids, give my part to someone else. Someone with no imagination who had no idea how to be awesomely evil like I could.

"Sorry," I whispered.

"Take the week off, " he told me. "And don't worry. You know the story of the Ugly Ducking? That's what's happening to your voice. Give it a little more time, then we'll work on your breathing."

I went home and sobbed. I was ugly. An ugly-voiced freak. I would have to take up sign language and pretend to be deaf or something. Mr. Farr was picking my understudy. I was finished in theater.

I barely spoke all week, I was so upset. I spent hours in the woods, singing to the trees. The hitching wasn't happening, but something else was. From deep in my chest to the tip-top of my sinuses, things were resonating differently.

When my next scheduled rehearsal came, I smiled shyly at Mr. Farr.

"You doing better?"  he asked.

I nodded.

"You ready to try again?"

I nodded again. He played the opening bars, I filled my lungs with air and out came the sound. The woman sound. It poured out of my eleven-year-old self and it was as terrifying and wonderful as magic. The squeaks and hitches and cracks were left behind like the dull, grey down of a cygnet. And I soared.

Have you ever gone through a painful transition? What did you learn from the experience?

Voice tips for your writing

Today I'm talking "Elements of Voice" with author C.M. Keller, over at her blog A Merry Heart. There I discuss some key aspects of developing unique voices for your characters. If you're looking for ways to pump up your fiction, swing on by for tips.
Monday, November 12, 2012 Laurel Garver
During the spring of sixth grade, something very strange happened to me. Whenever I opened my mouth to speak, the sound that came out could be breathy and girlish, hoarse, or squeakily soaring between registers.

This was not supposed to happen to girls.
photo from morgefile.com

Voice change was, as far as I knew, a boy thing. One day the kid telling you to stop hogging the swings would sound like your sister, then he'd sound like someone had replaced his larynx with a slide whistle, and a few weeks later, he'd sound like your dad.

It's no picnic to be the girl having this kind of boy thing happening to you. Especially if you got one of the leads in the sixth grade musical.

For a while, I managed to keep my affliction secret by telling everyone I had laryngitis and speaking only in a whisper. As long as I didn't try to engage my larynx, the embarrassing register changes and sudden bugling didn't seem to happen. I sucked a lot of cough drops and passed a lot of notes.

The affliction lingered. Salt water gargles did nothing. I tried talking it out in the woods behind our house. Tried singing it out by practicing my upcoming solo again and again, restarting whenever my voice hitched then squeak-squawked.

The afternoons of talking to the trees paid off. I was able to manage play rehearsals, speaking lines clearly. When I felt my larynx hitch, I'd stop, clear my throat, start again. The director thought I needed to see an allergist for all the throat clearing, but he let me keep my big role.

The rub came when we started adding in the songs. But try as I might to hide my affliction from Mr. Farr, the day came when he wanted to rehearse my solo. No more lip syncing, like I'd done in the full-chorus numbers. He played the opening bars, and I began to sing. The piece was a parody song of "Beautiful Dreamer" from the kids' musical "Frankenstein Follies," and I was cast as Liz, one of the villains. I needed to sound conniving and wicked. Squeaking every third syllable just isn't very villainish. Squeaking is for the comic relief, not the bad guy.

Mr. Farr was kind when the first swoop happened. "Relax," he said. "Pretend this is a player piano and you're all by yourself."

His advice was of course rubbish, because the moment I relaxed, my voice betrayed me horridly. It cracked and I could only speak in a wheezy helium voice.

Mr. Farr blanched. "How long has this been going on?" he demanded.

"Weeks." I squeaked.

"Weeks?" He looked at me askance. Surely he was going to kick me back to the chorus with the musically challenged kids, give my part to someone else. Someone with no imagination who had no idea how to be awesomely evil like I could.

"Sorry," I whispered.

"Take the week off, " he told me. "And don't worry. You know the story of the Ugly Ducking? That's what's happening to your voice. Give it a little more time, then we'll work on your breathing."

I went home and sobbed. I was ugly. An ugly-voiced freak. I would have to take up sign language and pretend to be deaf or something. Mr. Farr was picking my understudy. I was finished in theater.

I barely spoke all week, I was so upset. I spent hours in the woods, singing to the trees. The hitching wasn't happening, but something else was. From deep in my chest to the tip-top of my sinuses, things were resonating differently.

When my next scheduled rehearsal came, I smiled shyly at Mr. Farr.

"You doing better?"  he asked.

I nodded.

"You ready to try again?"

I nodded again. He played the opening bars, I filled my lungs with air and out came the sound. The woman sound. It poured out of my eleven-year-old self and it was as terrifying and wonderful as magic. The squeaks and hitches and cracks were left behind like the dull, grey down of a cygnet. And I soared.

Have you ever gone through a painful transition? What did you learn from the experience?

Voice tips for your writing

Today I'm talking "Elements of Voice" with author C.M. Keller, over at her blog A Merry Heart. There I discuss some key aspects of developing unique voices for your characters. If you're looking for ways to pump up your fiction, swing on by for tips.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

I've invested more time in social media in the past month than ever, and yet am coming to the realization I'm doing something wrong. I really couldn't put my finger on what was not working until I read this post by Kristen Lamb: 3 Social Media Myths That Can Cripple Our Author Platform.

First of all, can I admit I hate the term "platform"? To me, a platform is where a greasy politician oozes charm through his Ken doll mask, tells people what he thinks they want to hear. And frankly, politics make me crazy--all the jockeying for power and manipulation. Is that any way to meet to goal of reaching a readership? I don't think so.
 Pelt the mime with hazelnuts. Have a little more wine.

To me, the term "venue" is more helpful. It incorporates environment, gathering, and a group gravitating to something attractive. You have expectations about what to expect at a funky coffeeshop venue versus a classroom venue, right?

If a blog is a venue, then what's the furniture like? Velvet couches, equipped worktables or classroom desks? Is it warm or cool? Is there music playing, and if so, what style? Do folks arrive at this venue primarily to passively learn? To be entertained? To interact?

Writers' blogs are dying because they've become an uninviting venue to those who don't want to wander from writer's conference to writer's conference. Fiction READERS are certainly not interested in doing that.

My blog has been ineffective because I've built a "brand" that doesn't make you want to read my fiction.

I'm sorry.

Really. I am. Sorry for me, sure, but more sorry for you. I've robbed you of smiles and genuine camaraderie by failing to show up as the zany nerd I actually am. I've rarely let you see the parts of me that show up in my fiction loud and clear. Instead, I've given you a whole lot of lectures.

Lectures. OMG. How did I turn into the person who gives lectures?

I guess when I started up this blog, I felt all I had to offer was technical expertise. I was out to get myself some R-E-S-P-E-C-T. That kind of thinking comes from one place--insecurity.

I don't want to be that chick any more. She's so scared, so rigid, so un-fun.

I want to start showing up in my own life, on my own blog, starting today.

Have you ever found yourself in a rut, or become a persona you don't like? How did you begin to change?

photo credit: nioanto, morguefile.com
Thursday, November 08, 2012 Laurel Garver
I've invested more time in social media in the past month than ever, and yet am coming to the realization I'm doing something wrong. I really couldn't put my finger on what was not working until I read this post by Kristen Lamb: 3 Social Media Myths That Can Cripple Our Author Platform.

First of all, can I admit I hate the term "platform"? To me, a platform is where a greasy politician oozes charm through his Ken doll mask, tells people what he thinks they want to hear. And frankly, politics make me crazy--all the jockeying for power and manipulation. Is that any way to meet to goal of reaching a readership? I don't think so.
 Pelt the mime with hazelnuts. Have a little more wine.

To me, the term "venue" is more helpful. It incorporates environment, gathering, and a group gravitating to something attractive. You have expectations about what to expect at a funky coffeeshop venue versus a classroom venue, right?

If a blog is a venue, then what's the furniture like? Velvet couches, equipped worktables or classroom desks? Is it warm or cool? Is there music playing, and if so, what style? Do folks arrive at this venue primarily to passively learn? To be entertained? To interact?

Writers' blogs are dying because they've become an uninviting venue to those who don't want to wander from writer's conference to writer's conference. Fiction READERS are certainly not interested in doing that.

My blog has been ineffective because I've built a "brand" that doesn't make you want to read my fiction.

I'm sorry.

Really. I am. Sorry for me, sure, but more sorry for you. I've robbed you of smiles and genuine camaraderie by failing to show up as the zany nerd I actually am. I've rarely let you see the parts of me that show up in my fiction loud and clear. Instead, I've given you a whole lot of lectures.

Lectures. OMG. How did I turn into the person who gives lectures?

I guess when I started up this blog, I felt all I had to offer was technical expertise. I was out to get myself some R-E-S-P-E-C-T. That kind of thinking comes from one place--insecurity.

I don't want to be that chick any more. She's so scared, so rigid, so un-fun.

I want to start showing up in my own life, on my own blog, starting today.

Have you ever found yourself in a rut, or become a persona you don't like? How did you begin to change?

photo credit: nioanto, morguefile.com

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

When NaNo time comes around every year, I honestly get a bit blue. It seems like everyone and his brother can churn out thousands of words a day, and I just can't. I never could. Not even when I was furiously scribbling away in high school (and my teachers through I was such a great note-taker! Ha!).


Photo credit: ajaxserix from morguefile.com
But you know what? There are plenty of NYT bestsellers, plenty of Pulitzer prize winners, plenty of all kinds of good, successful writers who have never written 50K words in a month. NaNo can be a motivational tool BUT it should never, ever be a de-motivational tool--something that makes you feel like a hopeless loser for not diving into.

Sometimes great ideas come in a flash of white-hot inspiration. But more often, the big ideas, the life-changers, take time to develop fully. Serious time. Decades of time.

With that in mind, I thought I'd share my story of the idea that arrived before I was mature enough to write it, and how letting ideas simmer can yield good results. Stop on by Shannon O'Donnell's blog Book Dreaming and be encouraged.

Shannon is also hosting a giveaway of an e-book of NEVER GONE and a SIGNED paperback. If you've been hankering to win a copy but don't have an e-reader, this contest is for you!

Do you keep an idea file of stories that come when you aren't ready to write them? What's the longest you've ever worked on a project?
Wednesday, November 07, 2012 Laurel Garver
When NaNo time comes around every year, I honestly get a bit blue. It seems like everyone and his brother can churn out thousands of words a day, and I just can't. I never could. Not even when I was furiously scribbling away in high school (and my teachers through I was such a great note-taker! Ha!).


Photo credit: ajaxserix from morguefile.com
But you know what? There are plenty of NYT bestsellers, plenty of Pulitzer prize winners, plenty of all kinds of good, successful writers who have never written 50K words in a month. NaNo can be a motivational tool BUT it should never, ever be a de-motivational tool--something that makes you feel like a hopeless loser for not diving into.

Sometimes great ideas come in a flash of white-hot inspiration. But more often, the big ideas, the life-changers, take time to develop fully. Serious time. Decades of time.

With that in mind, I thought I'd share my story of the idea that arrived before I was mature enough to write it, and how letting ideas simmer can yield good results. Stop on by Shannon O'Donnell's blog Book Dreaming and be encouraged.

Shannon is also hosting a giveaway of an e-book of NEVER GONE and a SIGNED paperback. If you've been hankering to win a copy but don't have an e-reader, this contest is for you!

Do you keep an idea file of stories that come when you aren't ready to write them? What's the longest you've ever worked on a project?

Monday, November 05, 2012

I've been reading more Indie authors these days, now that I'm one myself. One error I keep seeing is confusion about its/it's, who's/whose, etc. It seemed that a quick primer would be useful to lots of folks.

The rule here is very simple. Put it on an index card if you must.

Simple pronouns DO NOT take apostrophes in their possessive form. 
Pronouns morph into new words.
If there is ownership involved, no apostrophe. Got it?

Here is a quick run-down of the pronouns and their possessive forms:

I love MY sweater. It is MINE.

YOU love YOUR sweater. It is YOURS.

HE loves HIS sweater. It is HIS.

SHE loves HER sweater. It is HERS.

IT displays ITS sweaters. They are ITS.

WE love OUR sweaters. They are OURS.

YOU (plural, like y'all) love YOUR sweaters. They are YOURS.

THEY love THEIR sweaters. The sweaters are THEIRS.

WHO loves WHOSE sweaters? The sweaters are WHOSE?

These stand-ins for nouns take apostrophes only as contractions--when paired with a truncated verb (who's means who is, who was, or who has). I'll give more detailed descriptions in a separate post.

Compound pronouns behave like nouns. They DO use an apostrophe in the possessive form:
anybody's picture
anyone's coat
everybody's problem
everyone's favorite
nobody's fool
no one's girl
somebody's pet
someone's present

Do possessive pronouns trip you up? 
Monday, November 05, 2012 Laurel Garver
I've been reading more Indie authors these days, now that I'm one myself. One error I keep seeing is confusion about its/it's, who's/whose, etc. It seemed that a quick primer would be useful to lots of folks.

The rule here is very simple. Put it on an index card if you must.

Simple pronouns DO NOT take apostrophes in their possessive form. 
Pronouns morph into new words.
If there is ownership involved, no apostrophe. Got it?

Here is a quick run-down of the pronouns and their possessive forms:

I love MY sweater. It is MINE.

YOU love YOUR sweater. It is YOURS.

HE loves HIS sweater. It is HIS.

SHE loves HER sweater. It is HERS.

IT displays ITS sweaters. They are ITS.

WE love OUR sweaters. They are OURS.

YOU (plural, like y'all) love YOUR sweaters. They are YOURS.

THEY love THEIR sweaters. The sweaters are THEIRS.

WHO loves WHOSE sweaters? The sweaters are WHOSE?

These stand-ins for nouns take apostrophes only as contractions--when paired with a truncated verb (who's means who is, who was, or who has). I'll give more detailed descriptions in a separate post.

Compound pronouns behave like nouns. They DO use an apostrophe in the possessive form:
anybody's picture
anyone's coat
everybody's problem
everyone's favorite
nobody's fool
no one's girl
somebody's pet
someone's present

Do possessive pronouns trip you up? 

Friday, November 02, 2012

Quick quiz: When I was a kid, which did I want to be when I grew up?

A. An architect
morguefile.com

B. A teacher
morguefile.com

C. A magazine editor
photo by Raphael Gorski, Flickr Creative Commons

D. A Broadway star
morguefile.com

To find the answer, go check out my post for Jessica Bell, the Alliterative Allomorph! I also discuss why writing is harder for professional editors, and how I got my creative and analytical sides to play nice  (hint, there was a bit of bloodshed first).

Last chance to enter!

The ebook giveaway of Never Gone at Margo's blog, Writing at High Altitude, ends tonight! Pop on over and enter now!

Did you guess correctly? What were your childhood career aspirations?
Friday, November 02, 2012 Laurel Garver
Quick quiz: When I was a kid, which did I want to be when I grew up?

A. An architect
morguefile.com

B. A teacher
morguefile.com

C. A magazine editor
photo by Raphael Gorski, Flickr Creative Commons

D. A Broadway star
morguefile.com

To find the answer, go check out my post for Jessica Bell, the Alliterative Allomorph! I also discuss why writing is harder for professional editors, and how I got my creative and analytical sides to play nice  (hint, there was a bit of bloodshed first).

Last chance to enter!

The ebook giveaway of Never Gone at Margo's blog, Writing at High Altitude, ends tonight! Pop on over and enter now!

Did you guess correctly? What were your childhood career aspirations?