Teaching What I Love: Novellas

A Favorite Format

I love novellas.  Like, seriously, I love them.  I keep a plethora loaded on my phone to keep me entertained while waiting on my work computer to boot, standing in line, waiting at the doctor’s office. They’re meatier than short stories and not as time consuming as novels (which makes them great phone books because you can keep the details in your head).  And with the rise of ebooks, they are POPULAR.  You see a LOT of novellas out there these days as bridges between longer releases.  I know that with my favorite series, I POUNCE on novellas that become available while I’m waiting on the next novel.

:Eyes Candis Terry’s Sweet, Texas series and wonders if there’s something more to tide me over until July:

A Smart Investment

All that to say, novellas are a smart time investment for writers.   For all the same reasons, they take less time to write and keep you in your readers’ minds while you’re working on something longer.

But novellas can be a weird length for people who are accustomed to writing longer or much shorter stuff.  Where do you draw the line on detail?  How much depth can you really cram in there?

As it happens, the novella is a personal favorite length of mine to write as well as read.  You know how there’s that little gem of writing advice that you should write a bunch of short stories before you write novels? (I don’t actually agree with this, as it happens, but it’s out there)  I tried that.  They all turned into novellas.  So I’ve written several and have been blessed that they sold well and helped me build my brand.

Hitchhiker's gestureI want to share my knowledge with you to help you write the best novella you can, so I’ve created an On Demand class through W.A.N.A. International: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Novella Writing-Rules of Thumb (please note, geektastic knowledge of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy is not required).  The basic class is $40.  At the Gold level ($120), I actually help you whip your concept into a novella shaped thing that will actually WORK.  So if you’re interested, click on through and sign up.  As I said, it’s on demand, so if you decide at 3 in the morning that you just can’t live another hour without knowing the secrets to good novella writing, you can FIND OUT RIGHT THEN.  (Please ignore any dates on the listing–the software isn’t set up to NOT have dates).  And if you know of anybody who might be interested, please share!

Hurray For Magical Cookies!

Last week I was doing some tweaking to my outline.  This often happens when I get into the meat of a book.  My initial plotting is very logically laid out from point A to point Z, and sometimes it ends up including steps (scenes) I can condense or eliminate.  I was chatting with Claire about some options and we were discussing what would make the most interesting scene.  She pointed me to this post by Susan Dennard about coaxing out the magical cookies.

Well I am all about cookies however I can get them.  Magical cookies, in this case,  are “are those scenes or snippets or relationships or feelings that make you want to write a story. They are often the juicy little ideas that inspired you to write THIS story at THIS moment.”

I already have what I think of as “candy bar scenes”–the ones I just CAN’T WAIT TO WRITE.  I usually have two or three per book, stuff that I know about from the get go that are the driving force behind getting the book done.  But I hadn’t given a lot of thought to the rest of it…the snippets and relationships and general FEELINGS that make me want to write a story.

Dennard argues that every scene should be a magical cookie, and there’s a lot of sense in this.  If you’re super excited to write every scene, they’ll go smother, be richer, and your enthusiasm will come through to your reader.  This is, in fact, one of the three legs of Rachel Aaron’s work triangle as laid out in From 2k to 10k.  And yo, IT WORKS.

The scene I got to yesterday I was a little iffy on how to make a full scene.  I went back to my list of magical cookies for this book and then spewed out nearly 2k.  I need to go back through and revisit a few of my early scenes to apply this method.  There’s one scene in particular that needs to be either rewritten or cut entirely because it’s about as exciting as watching paint dry.

I like this concept so much that I have added a section on magical cookies to my story toolkit and scene builder worksheets.

Now, I’d really like some real cookies to go with the verbal ones…

Thoughts on Gaining Reader Empathy

A month or two ago, I picked up The Hero’s 2 Journeys by Michael Hague and Christopher Vogler.  It was on sale at Audible for $4.95.  And looking right now, it’s still only $5.95.  I say it’s WORTH EVERY PENNY.  This is essentially a 3 hour writer’s workshop where both these gentlemen take us through the inner and outer journeys taken by the hero of every book and movie ever (at least all the ones that actually sell).  I started to listen to it in my car, but quickly found that I wanted to take notes on EVERYTHING, so I’m still working my through it.

The first half hour is largely Michael Hague talking about how you gain reader empathy and his view of story structure.  We all know I’m a big fan of story structure, most notably the version espoused by Larry Brooks in Story Engineering, but it’s definitely worth seeing how other people frame it up.  You never know when some new presentation is going to jar something loose in your brain and cause a major light bulb moment.

It’s the reader empathy thing that’s been kicking around my brain the last week, as I’ve been working on the start of the next book, revising the opening of Riven, and reading a lot of things that either are or are not working for me.  And I’ve been holding each one of them up to this sort of rubric.  So far, it’s held pretty dang true.

According to Hague, you gain reader (or watcher, as he deals primarily with screenwriting) empathy by employing at least 2 of these 5 things:

  1. Creating a character who is the victim of some undeserved misfortune.  
  2. Put the character in jeopardy (because we identify with people we worry about).
  3. Make your character nice and likeable.
  4. Make the character funny (because everybody appreciates a funny guy who has the courage to say funny things that we might not have the courage to say).
  5. Make the character powerful or otherwise very good at what they do.

This is beginning stuff.  Opening scene stuff.  You want to hook the reader early, make them care.  Make them want to keep turning pages, take that ride with your shero or hero, all the way to the end.

Looking back at the last half dozen books that got put down before the end of the first chapter–excluding those that were in present tense, had poorly written prose or spent too long wallowing in worldbuilding without any actual action–this is exactly where things went wrong.  The author didn’t manage to engage me as a reader, didn’t make me care about whoever their protagonist was.  I would expect that we all have our preferred combination of those factors, as well as combinations that are less likely to work for us.  Undeserved misfortune and funny usually works for me as a reader.  I like people who use humor as a defense mechanism.  I also identify with people who are good at what they do (regardless of whether they have misfortune or are otherwise imperiled).  Just having someone who’s nice and likable and also an expert is less likely to snare me, but it just depends on how its presented.  But generally, Hague’s outline seems to work.

As a writer, I definitely gravitate toward undeserved misfortune and otherwise imperiling my hero or shero.  I do like action.  As to the rest…it just depends on what the story calls for.

What about you?  Do you think this set of character traits works for engendering empathy in you as a reader?  Do you have others YOU’D add to the list?  I’m curious.

Monday Meanderings And Thoughts on Strong Female Characters

This morning’s lifetrack, Follow the Flower from Under the Tuscan Sun.  Because it’s Monday and I need some cheerful to balance out the fact that the AC was off in our building all weekend and my office is a sauna.

Summer semester starts this week.  I move on to recording all my lectures for the new class in the fall.  And it’s already freaking JUNE.  Holy crap.  I’m going to be grateful for the fact that we haven’t had consistent 90+ weather up to this point (usually that starts in April and definitely in May).  I’ve really enjoyed the prolonged spring this year.  My container garden is super happy after this weekend’s rain, and I’ve even got blooms on my pepper plants!  I have hopes that I shall have better luck with my squash and zucchini this year than I have in the past.  You always hear about people who have more than they can carry and have to give it away.  I can eat my body weight in zucchini and I only ever seem to manage to get ONE.  Critters and squash bugs and IDK what all.  Bad luck.  I am not much of a gardener.  But I’m trying again!

I’m making typos all over the place because I’ve got a bandaid on one of my fingers.  They keep falling off.  The bandaids, not my fingers.  Because of course I cook and ergo wash my hands a lot.  I got sick of that, so I used superglue last night.  Which worked but now I keep catching that rough spot on my hair.  So I put another bandaid on.  And now I can’t type.  Bah.  Solution would seem to be to stop accidentally slicing my fingers open…  My own damn fault this time.  I was slicing sweet potatoes and didn’t sharpen my knife right before.

So over the weekend while I was hanging out with Bobby Matthews, we got into a discussion about strong female characters and how there is a difference between writing a strong woman and writing a man with boobs.  I’ve seen this often in books written by men with a female protagonist.  Certainly not always.  And I’m sure that the reverse could be leveraged at some romance novel heroes as being women with dangly bits and a crapton of testosterone.  Yes, I am growly and dominant and  muscular, but I have all the feels!  But that’s not where I’m going with this at the moment.

There are some female characters that I’ve read and really enjoyed, but definitely felt like they were men with boobs.  There’s definitely a difference between women being stuck in a man’s world and having to adopt a lot of those masculine kinds of traits, and actually being manly.  I finished a UF novel by a guy recently who had a female lead.  And she kicked ass and I liked her.  But she was a man with boobs.  Man’s attitude toward pretty much everything–sex, career, weapons, situation.  She was a woman displaying masculine traits in a masculine world where masculine is the default base comparator for everything.  Including in her own mind.  Which is maybe where things trip up for me as a female reader.  And it’s hard for me to articulate this (and perhaps I shouldn’t try on a Monday morning on only one cup of caffeine).  I am a woman who has a lot of “masculine” traits.  I’m direct, say exactly what I think.  I’m honest to a fault.  I’m interested in a lot of typically male pursuits (see neighbor party where I eschewed the crowd of women talking babies and hung out with the husbands discussing guns and custom truck bumpers).  I am the one who needs to go into my cave to decompress and recharge (per ye Men are From Mars advice–which, honestly, I have always felt was more advice on how to deal with introverts but whatever).  I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this except to say that character traits are not, or at least should not, be gendered.  There is some subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) difference in how these traits are presented to create rich, nuanced characters who are PEOPLE rather than some form of gender stereotype.  Chuck Wendig did a post about this a while back where he talks about it more cogently than I’m managing here.

Obviously I am a fan of strong female characters.  And people often have commented about the heroines in my books because they kick ass and they’re smart.  They take care of business.  I get this particularly about Elodie, which makes me happy, since that’s exactly what I wanted to portray with her.  I wanted to put a YA heroine out there who wasn’t a blank canvas, wasn’t a doormat, and didn’t wait around for some guy to come rescue her (Ever After baby).  Because as a teenage girl, I wasn’t a blank canvas, a doormat, and I didn’t wait around for guys to do anything for me (in fact, I could out shoot almost all of them, which did absolutely nothing to help my dating career in high school, but I digress).

I write strong women because I AM a strong woman.  And I want to READ strong women for the same reason.  I don’t dislike weaker or less obviously strong heroines necessarily…but I don’t connect with them.  They’re moving along in their little character arc and all the while I’m wondering why they don’t do x, y, z, which would totally fix their problem (I’m a fixer.  We know this about me).  They are so often passive (or feel passive to someone like me), and that drives me absolutely batshit.  I don’t understand being paralyzed into inaction.  That’s one of the circles of hell for me.  DO SOMETHING.  Don’t just be an observer in your own life.

Certainly strong female characters are popular.  Buffy.  Katniss.  The readers who like these kinds of women are my readership.  And I’ll keep playing to that because it’s what I love.

But it’s been kicking around in my brain about how to really get at that segment of the readership who looks for Every Woman.  Because that’s not who I write.  I think there is an element of Strong Kickass in every woman, and I hope reading my sheroes will help others discover that aspect of themselves.  But I don’t think Strong Woman is necessarily Every Woman.  And I am wondering who she really is.

I tried to write a different kind of character with Marley, the shero of Riven.  Someone who was more of an Every Woman.  And she morphed about halfway through into someone more like my typical kick ass shero.  I’m having to go back and fix the front half of the book because I just don’t know how to authentically portray anything ELSE without it falling completely flat and lifeless.  Because it’s not me or some shade of me.

I need to get going on my To Do list for the day, so I guess I’ll sign off with a question for you, dear readers.  Who is Every Woman and where do I find her?

The Danger of Making A Villain TOO Smart…Lessons from Bones

Okay first, I have to share the link to the FUNNIEST post I have EVER read about writing love scenes, courtesy of Delilah S. Dawson, who’s guest blogging over for Chuck Wendig.  I’ll share the link again at the end because it’s a nice cheer up and belly laugh.

So last night was the Bones season finale.  I was POSITIVE that somebody’s life was going to be hanging in the balance because all the little teasers they showed about the episode showed that that bastard Christopher Pelant was back.  And I was right in that I WAS left pissed off, but not for the reasons I was expecting.

I’m not going to get too much into spoiler territory (though if you don’t want to know ANYTHING and haven’t caught up on your DVRed episodes yet, you might want to leave now).

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Okay, so I have to start out by saying that I love me a good serial killer as a villain.  I’m a forensic psych geek, and I’m fascinated by the deviant minds and behavior of this kind of criminal.  I love seeing complicated, complex, twisted people who push the hero to their limits, and very little will get me to throw a book (or show) metaphorically against the wall than a simplistic villain where the author’s justification for his behavior is “oh he’s just pure evil.”

No.  It’s never that simple.  Or shouldn’t be.  He’s pure evil is a copout and lazy writing, no matter the medium.

Serial killers–the ones who last long enough to rack up a pretty big body count–are smart.    The ones you hear about who killed for YEARS before getting caught–Ted Bundy, the Unibomber.  John Wayne Gacy.  Jeffrey Dahmer.  They all had above average intelligence. So I expect a serial killer villain in a book or show to be smart.

But there is danger in making your villain too smart.

Now Bones has done the serial killer thing before and done it well.  I loved the storyline they had with The Gravedigger.  That was interesting (and props to them for having a woman as a serial killer) and while it stretched over more than a season, they pretty well wrapped her up at the very start of the next season.  And it was a win for the Jeffersonian team.  Not an easy one.  Bones and Hodgins got buried in a car.  Seeley got trapped on an air craft carrier about to be blown up.  There was danger, threat of death.  But still, ultimately a win.  I was good with The Gravedigger as a long running adversary.

Then in season 7, they introduced Christopher Pelant.  Now this little pissant, irritating, arrogant jackass rubbed me the wrong way from the get go.  Um, obviously.  He’s a genius and a hacker, who, in season 7 gets away with murder because he finds a way around his ankle bracelet, giving himself a solid alibi.  Everybody knows he did it, but they can’t get around that ankle bracelet.  And then in the season 7 finale, he commits another murder and frames Bones for it, which ends up sending her on the run.  Loss for the team but, admittedly, a good season finale.  They resolve this in the opener for season 8, and I’m thinking, yeah, okay, this jackass is going down.  Except, no, he doesn’t, because he’s hacked more stuff and basically seeded it so that according to DNA, fingerprints, and background records, he’s actually some Egyptian diplomat, not actually Christopher Pelant, so he evades capture.  Well that’s a loss for the team and that’s a real pisser to me.  I hate him as a character, but of course he’s coming back, damn him.

So he comes back later in season 8 to go after Hodgins and Angela with a super creepy stunt where he leaves a decomposing corpse on the canopy above their bed, while they were sleeping.  Okay, yeah, now you’ve got my dander up.  Through a lot of complicated machinations I won’t get into here, Pelant gives Hodgins and Angela and impossible choice which, because they are good people, leaves them broke.  But then it seems like they’re going to WIN.  They’re going to catch this son of a bitch.  But then he shoots Flynn, Seeley shoots Pelant in the face, and then the bastard gets away AGAIN.  Another loss for the team.  

Now I knew he was coming back in this episode last night, and honestly, I was pretty sure Seeley was going to get shot or captured and we were going to have to wait months to find out what happens.  But no, this time Sweets was the target and then Pelant pulls out all this bullshit manipulation to try to essentially break Seeley and Bones up.  Which Seeley gives into because they don’t have a good way to nail the bastard yet and he’s not willing to risk innocent lives for his own happiness (and of course Bones has no idea what’s going on). ANOTHER LOSS FOR THE TEAM.

If they don’t resolve this first thing in season 9 I am DONE with this show.  Because Pelant is no Moriarty.  He’s not elegant and interesting.  He’s a jackwad and a douche and honestly, it stretches well beyond the bounds of my willingness to suspend disbelief that he’s THAT smart.  Nobody is that good.  I could see him going head to head and beating some of the team.  But they are all the top in their fields.  I do not, for one minute, believe he could flawlessly beat them ALL.  And so far we’ve had, count em, FOUR losses for the team as a whole.

This is bad storytelling.  The entire point of having a plot arc is that the hero(es) start out not able to take on the villain (which they do here), but ultimately they learn and grow and become BETTER.  They get WINS.  Maybe partial wins to start, but WINS.  And yeah, in a standard plot arc you’ve got mega smackdowns at pinch points 1 and 2 (and I could tolerate the season 8 opener and the Hodgins/Angela episodes as those), but that means that THEY SHOULD’VE GOTTEN THE BASTARD LAST NIGHT.  He’s had his pinch points, he’s had his opportunity to prove he’s a smart bad ass and better than everyone.  THIS many losses for the heroes stretches too far for watchers/readers.  We want a WIN.  The good guys are supposed to WIN, damn it.

So take a lesson from this, dear writers.  There’s nothing wrong with making a challenging and interesting villain.  Nothing wrong with making one we love to hate.  But don’t make him too strong.  Don’t forget that in the end, your good guys are supposed to prevail.  Or you just might lose large chunks of your audience.  That THUNK and echo is your book (or the TV remote) bouncing off the back of the trash can for a rim shot.

And now, because I promised to cheer you up, here is the link (again) to the FUNNIEST post I have EVER read about writing love scenes, courtesy of Delilah S. Dawson, who’s guest blogging over for Chuck Wendig.

What Makes You STOP Reading An Otherwise Good Book?

I gave up on Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan this morning.  This isn’t the first good book I just haven’t felt compelled to finish, and it got me thinking about WHY that is.  What’s turning me off?

It’s certainly not bad prose, poor grammar, unappealing voice (a lot of the things that turn me off of books).  It’s not 2 dimensional characters or Mary Suing or some other form of simplistic, lazy storytelling.

So what is it?  What’s turning me off of otherwise good books?

A part of me would like to chalk it up to mood.  Reading, for me, is very mood specific, and sometimes I’ll pick up something that’s just NOT what I’m in the mood to read.  But in this particular case, that wasn’t it.

I’ve been listening to Leviathan in audio and the narrator is Alan Cumming, who’s wonderful.  The worldbuilding in this book was marvelous, and I found myself very intrigued by the pitting of Darwinist fabrications against the Clanker technology.  The set up of the two main characters held room for plenty of conflict.  Prince on the run.  Girl pretending to be a boy in the British military.  And then the war started, the Germans attacked the Leviathan, a bunch of poor animals were killed because they were used as weapons, and I…did not feel compelled to find out if the dude that got shot was going to make it.  Maybe a third of the way into the book (if that…maybe only a quarter), and I just didn’t feel the need to keep going.

So what went wrong?  Well quite apart from the fact that this isn’t a romance (it’s not intended to be, so I’m not demonizing it for not being something it wasn’t supposed to be), I just…didn’t connect.  I’m not invested in the characters.  I like Deryn.  I find Alek to be spoiled (to be expected of a previously pampered prince) and annoying.  But while the worldbuilding was amazing, it felt…kind of thin on plot.  I couldn’t readily identify what the FPP was, couldn’t really tell what was being worked toward, didn’t know how long I was going to have to wait for the two mains to be brought into the same storyline (probably this is my desire for romance, but I can only tolerate two independent storylines for so long before I expect them to merge).  Probably this was about to happen sometime after I quit as the Leviathan was attacked over Switzerland and Alek and company were crossing INTO Switzerland last I checked, but…meh.  I didn’t care.  It got to the point where I felt like the book was all worldbuilding and little else.  Doesn’t mean this is a bad book.  Just wasn’t right for me.

Another book I started and haven’t finished is Days of Blood and Starlight, the much anticipated sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which I adored.  The prose is exquisite.  The worldbuilding, again, rich and glorious.  The characters 3 dimensional and interesting.  I think what went wrong for me here is that it’s suffering from Second Book Syndrome.  It’s the second book in a trilogy, which means the author has to MESS EVERYTHING UP ROYALLY (because this is what you do in a second book in a trilogy) and the fact that I know this is happening and I have to wait another YEAR for resolution just…made me not want to finish it.  I’ll probably go back after book 3 is out and I can push through the whole thing.

There are others…trilogies I started and got through the first or second book and never got around to the third.  Looking back at most of them, the culprit in almost every case is a focus on worldbuilding to the…not really the exclusion of plot and character but without strong enough plot and character to balance it.  The worldbuilding is expected to carry everything and, for me, that just doesn’t fly.  For a lot of people it does.  A lot of these books are hella popular.  But it’s something I think is worth thinking about as a writer.

Worldbuilding is important.  No question about that.  But it isn’t a substitute for plot.  It isn’t a substitute for thin character development.  They’re all sides of a necessary story triangle and they need to be equally developed to successfully carry the load of the narrative.  Not saying I’m awesome at these things, just that they’re something I look for in what I read, what I finish.  I think everyone has preferences.  Some people really READ for worldbuilding and these sorts of books would work for them.  For me, I read for character, so I’m more apt to let thin worldbuilding or a thinner plot slide if I really dig the characters.    To each their own.

What makes YOU stop reading an otherwise good book?

 

A New Perspective on Lit Analysis

I’m thinking about analysis this morning–literature analysis, as it happens.

This all started because Susan and I got into a discussion about reading non-fiction this morning, which spun into how I’ve finally been out of school long enough to actually want to read it, and from there to how English class ruined me for analyzing anything I read until fairly recently.

Quite apart from the fact that the traditional cannon of dead white dudes would never in a zillion years be published in modern times and that those alleged great authors committed all kinds of egregious writing sins that WE aren’t allowed to get away with, any hope I had of actually liking the stuff we were forced to read in English class was wholly ruined by the insistence of the teachers on analyzing everything to death.  And it wasn’t the kind of analysis that actually looked at the characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts and the driving force behind the plot.  No, it was a bunch of asinine bullshit like what did the green light mean? (Hint, it was just an effing green light.  It didn’t mean a damned thing!  Okay yeah, I’m still bitter about The Great Gatsby)  I was the student who read the book as assigned and then went back to buy the Cliff’s notes to find out what the hell I was supposed to see that wasn’t really there.

Coming off the heels of this kind of crap, my inclination to analyze anything I read was exactly nil.

But over the last several years, as I’ve gotten serious about this whole writing as career thing, I’ve gradually started doing it.  Not trying to figure out what the blue curtains mean but looking at the building blocks of good fiction.  If a book is good, I now have to figure out why.  Why did it engage me?  Why was I entertained?  What kept me from putting it down or throwing it at the wall?

This is part and parcel of being a good writer.  It’s not just about reading craft books, it’s about reading fiction and SEEING those aspects of craft done–well or badly–we can learn from both.  It takes work and self-training to read analytically.  To really be present in what you’re reading so you can actually identify “oh I see what she did there…that’s awesome,” is hard to do.  I usually don’t manage it the first time through.  If a book is good enough that I was pulled out of my natural copy editor mode just to read the story, THEN I’ll go back and reread it, knowing what happened, what was being built toward and seeing how they did it.  I’m trying to be more conscious of doing this and applying what I learn to my own work.

What about you?  Do you analyze the stuff you read?

Creating Sympathetic Characters: A Lesson From Lost Girl

I think I mentioned last week that one of the reasons that I avoided Lost Girl as a show was because the heroine was a succubus.  A demon (or, in this case, Fae), who feeds off sexual energy.  Historically I steer clear because this invariably sets up a dynamic that does not fit with my One True Pairing desire in romance.  The only author who’s pulled it off for me was Larissa Ione in her Demonica series.

But anyway, I liked the first couple of episodes, so I had a nice little marathon over my sick day Wednesday and made it all the way through Season 1 and into the first couple of episodes of Season 2.  And damn if I’m not emotionally invested in this girl.  They’ve taken a type of character that I do NOT have any natural sympathy for and made me like her, made me root for her.

So I have to ask myself how the writers have achieved this.

First: They made her more than WHAT she is.  Bo isn’t a cardboard cutout, she’s not two dimensional.  Yes, she’s a succubus, but she can’t help that and she (mostly) doesn’t glory in it.  She needs this chi to survive, same as we needs food and water and air.  She’s not going around indiscriminately boinking anything that moves and she really struggles (in the beginning) because she can’t control her abilities.  I mean, how much would it suck to go to bed with someone and wake up to find them dead?  That’s pretty traumatizing.

Second: They’ve thrown her in to an impossible situation.  She finds out she’s a part of this world she never knew existed.  And instead of making an uninformed decision to join either the Light or the Dark, she created her own choice and stayed unaligned.  I like that she didn’t take the obvious path.

Third: She was raised as human by humans, and, as such, she has a lot more empathy and humanity for humans and Fae alike, which makes her very different from most others of her kind.  And that creates all kinds of potential for conflict that they capitalize on episode after episode.

Fourth: Yep, she’s a succubus but she wants just one man.  The delicious and selfless wolf-shifter Dyson (what can I say, wolf shifters work for me, we all know this), whom I love even though I always think of the vacuum cleaner.  Of course, they’ve totally mucked this relationship up and hooked me well enough that I have to know how they fix it.  :glares at show writers:

Fifth: She’s powerful and kick ass, but she’s still vulnerable.  And this is something I’m very intrigued by, something I need to work on in my own heroines.  I have no problem making them kick ass, but vulnerable?  That’s tough for me and something I usually have to go back and fix after the first draft.  I don’t do vulnerable well as a person, and thus I find it hard to write.

Sixth: They gave her a fabulous, snarky, wonderful side kick in Kenzi.  I have so much love for Kenzi, who always seems to have awesome one-liners even if this isn’t a Whedon show (for which I am grateful, otherwise we all know he’d NEVER fix that relationship with Dyson–or he would and then he’d send Dyson to hell or skewer him with something because that’s what it means to be Whedoned).  Kenzi is wonderful in her own right as a character, and she provides a lovely foil for Bo because that’s when Bo lets her guard down, lets us see who she really is underneath the kick ass.

Are you a Lost Girl fan?  Why do you like Bo?

What’s Your Short Story Advice?

I find myself thinking about short stories lately.  I have thought since the very beginning of jumping in to self publishing that short stories are a nice way to introduce readers to a world.  And it’s something I did with Blindsight and evidently did pretty well, as I’ve had over 80,000 downloads that I’m aware of.  I had hoped that the interest generated from that freebie would translate into people checking out the rest of what I have available in my Mirus series because they liked the world, and to a certain extent I think it did, but what it REALLY did was generate interest in those CHARACTERS.  Kait Nolan Revelation remains one of the top search terms for my blog.  Really must get that formally in the pipeline…

Interest in characters over world could be the topic of a whole other blog post, but it’s not what I’m thinking about today.

This year is not going to be a year of epic word count for me.  It simply can’t be.  I have too many EDJ responsibilities at the primary job, I’m writing an entirely new class for the second job, and I vowed that I would work on that whole having a life thing (I know, what a concept).  And I don’t want to have another year of no releases (well it shouldn’t be NO releases…Riven will come out at some point, but you get my drift).  So I’m back to thinking that short stories would be a good option while I’m working on longer things like rewriting DOTH and plotting out whatever comes after that.

But here’s the thing.  I find short stories INCREDIBLY hard.  Something that hits between 7-10k for me takes me WEEKS to write, where I might easily rip out that many words on a novel in a week and a half.  Part of how I’m able to do that with novels is the planning that goes into things.  I have a system (that is admittedly constantly being tweaked) that I follow that gets me where I need to be to write them and cuts a lot of the crap.

I don’t have a system for short stories.  Indeed there doesn’t seem to EXIST a true system for short stories based on what my Google Fu turned up.  There’s room for so many variations that nobody is willing to say “here, do this.”  There’s a lot of hemming and hawing and butt-covering (which, frankly, reminds me of the kind of crap we pull in academia because nobody wants to be accused of saying “I’m RIGHT”) and suggestions.

So anyway I want to MAKE a system, create a worksheet or SOMETHING that will enable me to get the pieces of a short story in order to maybe make the writing of them easier.

That’s where you come in.  I want YOUR suggestions, your thoughts on what makes a good short story, your links to other resources you’ve come across.  Bring it!

Finding Your Voice

No, I don’t mean your singing voice, although, hey, it’s the holidays–if you wanna sing Christmas carols, own it, baby!

No, I’m talking about your writing voice.

I’ve picked up a crapton of books this year, both print and audio, and put them down within a chapter or less.  Why?

Because they had no voice.

There was nothing technically wrong with the stories (that I’d found yet), but the voice either felt stilted or simply not engaging.  And that’s a problem.  One I’ve seen far too much among published and non published writers alike.  Now I may be a lot more picky than the average reader (I think most writers are), but one of the things that is imperative (IMO) to a book’s success is the author’s voice.  The plot itself might be the 7 millionth derivation of some common trope, but the thing that will make it unique is the author’s voice.

When I open a book, I expect to hear it.  I want to be engaged and entertained or at the very least not annoyed by prose that sounds like a 10th grade book report.

One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever got (thank you Mrs. Key, my 8th grade English teacher), is to write like I talk.  I’ve never forgotten that.  It means that I often break technical rules of writing.  Because people don’t speak in that stilted formal style that’s expected in school assignments or scientific journal articles.  Obviously you edit out for things like ums and ers, but you absolutely should write like you talk.  My voice, according to editorial comments, is incredibly commercial.

Go pick a passage of a favorite book and read it aloud.  Chances are it reads easily and you’re pulled in because of voice.

Now go pick up a section of your latest WIP and do the same thing.  Did you stumble?  Did the words feel stilted or weird? Or did they read like a conversation?  As if you were sitting there telling the story to a buddy?

The tried and true method most writers use for learning voice is to read a TON and mimic (intentionally or not) the voices of writers we love.  Do this enough and eventually you’ll develop your own voice.  I don’t really think there’s any substitution for this step.  You MUST read a lot of great fiction to internalize how to write it.  If you’re a newbie writer and you haven’t read a lot, make reading part of your craft learning experience.  Pick favorite works and see if you can tease apart what makes that voice unique–the word choice, the flavor.  And see if you can figure out how to infuse those characteristics in your own work.

And if you want some additional study on the topic, I found a couple of titles on Amazon that look promising.  First, Les Edgerton’s Finding Your Voice: How To Put Personality In Your Writing.  And Finding Your Writer’s Voice by Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall.  I can’t speak to the quality of these books, though I’ve read other craft books by Edgerton and found his voice (ironically) to be very engaging and funny.