Rewrites–Oh, the joy!

I’ve stepped away from my novel long enough to be able to look at my critique partners’ comments and plunge into rewrites. I’m no longer as fond of my words, my chapters, my “babies.” I’m ready to dig in and make my manuscript better.

When I’m in writing mode, I have to be passionate about my characters and story. I “hear” them and I’m excited about what they’re doing and why. Sometimes, they endear themselves to me a little too much. When I go back to edit, they weren’t always as witty as I thought they were, and the time they spent bonding together in the car gets a little long and dreary. If I were a reader, I’d be saying “When will we get there?” If a scene doesn’t have enough tension, if it doesn’t move the plot forward enough, I need to be objective and cut it. More especially for me–since I tend to write lean–I need to fill in more internal dialogue and description so that the reader can hear the same character inner thoughts that I’ve been listening to since I started the book. I try to remind myself, during edits, that readers turn pages because of tension and emotional impact. Plot’s great. It drives the story, but it’s not enough. Have I delivered? Did I make my characters believable and real? Would a reader care about them enough to follow them through a second book, if I’m writing a series? Will the readers miss them when the story’s over?

A fellow blogger whom I read has developed a novel approach to editing. The linear, from start to finish approach, isn’t enough for her anymore. She has some great tips on editing, ways to make the middle of your story stronger. Rewrites, for me, are about honing a novel until I’ve made it as good as I know how to. It’s when I look at the foundation of the story, as well as the fine points.

Did I start with a great hook? It can be in your face or subtle, as long as it grabs you.
Did I deliver the set-up soon enough? Anymore, lots of books state the protagonist’s big problem in the first paragraph or by the end of the first page. It tells me what this book is about.
Did I create the perfect setting? Will it flavor every nuance of the story?
Did I create protagonists the reader will care about? Are the stakes high enough? Does my main character have to struggle and change to achieve his goal?
Did I people the story with minor characters who have goals/problems of their own? Are they distinct? Memorable? (I read a post on that gave great advice on creating characters. I like it for more than just POV:
Did I add enough sub-plots to keep the story afloat? For a novel, I like to have at least two sub-plots, more if the book’s really long.
Did I add enough tension in EVERY scene to keep the pacing tight?
Were the plot points strong enough to keep the story afloat? Did I have an inciting incident, then two twists, and finally a final showdown and wrapup?

I’ve talked about all of these things on this blog before, but I’m in rewrite mode. All of the above is floating around in my head. And those are just the foundation pilings. Grammar, language, and imagery all come into play, too. That’s why rewrites take time. And that’s why they’re so wonderful. Rewrites help you tweak your tale from the basics to the “much, much better” and, if you’re lucky and persistent, topnotch.

(I’m still playing with my writing experiment on my webpage, and I’m still having fun with it:

Digging deep

I’ve finished rewrites of two scenes for my romance and added a short scene before the shit hits the big, dark moment’s fan. Instead of thinking story line, I thought about emotional impact and digging deeper into my characters. There’s a reason to my madness. I’ve been reading more novels than usual lately, novels that made me think about why I love some books more than others. It’s easy to read a new author and say, “This didn’t work. Poor writing, cardboard characters, screwy POV, or crappy plot line.” I happened on a few in a row that were all telling, no showing, but I didn’t get far before I put them aside. What’s really been interesting to me, though, is to study a writer I thought was great to begin with and then study what made their third or fourth or ninth book even better. I’ve thought about it a lot, and for me, it’s when all of the glamour of voice, action, and verbal skills become background to strong characters who are stripped down to their naked entities. When things get really honest.

A writer might be able to pull that off in a standalone novel, but it would be hard. It takes a while of living inside a character’s head–I know, backward from the character living inside the writer’s head, but after a while, you DO live inside your character’s head–for all of his likes, dislikes, fears, dreams, etc. to show themselves. The longer you and your character hang out together, the more things you learn about him/her. I’m not sure you can manage it for the first book in a series. The first book is usually set-up–introducing a new world/setting, forcing the protagonist to deal with whatever big problem he has to solve before the end of the book, and throwing the poor miscreant into one disaster after another. We get to know the protagonist by his thoughts, even more through his actions. Les Edgerton wrote a great post on this, one worth remembering: Still, we get to know our characters even better the longer the series progresses until somewhere along the line, the characters speaks to YOU, instead of you trying to bring the characters to life. When the characters tell you, “This is what I want to do. This is how I feel. What the hell were you thinking when you put me up against a barn full of mutants?”…then things get REAL.

I’ve hit a point in the favorite series I read where the writers’ characters have scraped away most of their emotional defenses, and they are who they are–warts and all. I love it. And since I’ve read it and thought about it, I want to strive for that more in my own writing. Not so easy to achieve, but boy, does it work. To give you a few more ideas on how to develop your characters fully, Sue Bahr did a great post on it recently: I guess, for me, meeting characters–whether you’re reading about them or writing about them–is like meeting a new friend. In the beginning, you form an impression of them. Do you like them? Dislike them? But the longer you know them, the more you know THEM. And that’s when it gets good.

My point? I learn a lot by reading writers I admire who started out really good and then they hit awesome. When they reach that point, it’s time for me to ask, “How did they do that?”…And more importantly, “How can I do that?”

BTW, happy spring! Last week, we had a super moon cause a solar eclipse on the vernal solstice on March 20th. That has to inspire us, right? It inspired me. I put a new, short-SHORT, Mill Pond romance on my webpage.

My webpage:

My author facebook page:

Happy writing!

Writing: being a hero isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

I just finished the final polish for my new Babet & Prosper novella. This story features Babet’s father, Gazaar. He was a warrior angel before Lucifer and his band of rebels were thrown into the pit. Then, someone needed to keep guard over them, and he volunteered. In time, more angels dropped from the heavenly ranks, some turning to evil, and the pits filled with more demons. Gazaar got promoted to gatekeeper to make sure everyone stayed where they were supposed to be. Now, I ask you. Who’d want that job? But when Babet asks her father why he took it, he shrugs and says, “Someone has to do it.”

That’s the way most urban fantasy heroes are. They take on a conflict out of a sense of duty or responsibility. When I’d run, they stay and face the foe. They have the strength or knowledge or skills to, hopefully, survive and defeat the bad guys. Most of the protagonists take on a challenge to protect other people. They aren’t looking for power, but it’s often a by-product of the struggles they undergo.

Defeating villains makes a hero dig deep and changes him. A long, long time ago, I attended a mystery conference where Mary Higgins Clark was the keynote speaker. She explained the elements needed to write a woman in jeopardy story. It’s been too long ago to remember subtle points, but the main ingredients were: a good woman is living an ordinary life; a bad guy is bent on a journey of destruction; the two collide; the woman has to struggle to survive; and she’s forever changed by coming into contact with evil. Even though she didn’t choose her journey, she chose to do everything in her power to survive it.

Stakes have to be high, and body count isn’t enough. The reader has to care about the victims, or a body sprinkled here, and another one there, just feels like a plot ploy. I’ve read books and watched movies where every time the pace slows a bit, I know another person’s going to bite the dust. Sometimes, it works–if I learn something from the death or there’s a ticking clock or the victim was sympathetic. Sometimes, it doesn’t–when I feel like the writer didn’t know what else to do so killed someone. The deaths have to provide some kind of emotional impact.

Not all heroes face fierce enemies. When I wrote the short, romance novellas for The Emerald Hills collection, the heroes’ goals often involved chasing dreams. The hero in the romance I wrote for my agent was chasing a dream, too. I can relate to that. But achieving a story’s goal can never be an easy undertaking. Things go wrong. Nothing’s as simple as it could be. The goal has to be earned. The stakes have to be high, or the book’s tension is low.

In Demon Heart, a demon escapes one of Gazaar’s pits when he’s off-duty. Babet hopes the demon stays far, far away from River City, but Prosper and his fellow detective, Hatchet, hope it comes to them. As Prosper says, “Who else can deal with him like we can?” Babet is every bit as much of a hero as Prosper. She’s just a reluctant one, and when the demon comes, she doesn’t back down from the fight.

May your heroes have plenty of conflicts and survive them all. (I like happy endings). And happy writing!


Writing: How do you make it immediate?

Recently, I finished a first draft of an Enoch/Fallen Angels novella that I want to do something with–not sure what yet. I’ve thought about putting it online for free–which I can’t do at amazon unless it price matches smashwords and other sites–but I’ve never had much luck getting amazon to price match. Then I thought of putting it on my webpage for free, but I can never tell if anyone ever reads those or not. I don’t get any feedback, so they’re sort of frustrating, so I’m still debating. But just writing the damned story was a bit frustrating, too. I started out with one idea, and the story sort of decided to do its own thing–which I don’t usually allow–but this time, I decided to go for it. And it ended up more of a mystery plot than an urban fantasy. I like it, but the plot took over the story, and that, I don’t like. The story’s not immediate. It keeps the reader at a distance, which might be all right for a mystery, but it’s not all that great for urban fantasy. So I want to tweak the voice more.

Voice is the one thing that sets one writer apart from all others. It’s the turn of phrase, the attitude and word choice, the themes he chooses, and the way he structures his story that makes him unique. But more than that, some writers are more cerebral than others. My friend, Paula, writes stories with so many layers and so much depth that I happily immerse myself in them and try to keep up. Mary Lou Rigdon (also Julia Donner) imbues her novels with wit and humor. A new writer to our group, Sia Marion, practically lives inside her characters’ skins and we share what’s happening to them. Her stories are so immediate, the reader just goes along for the ride. (See for yourself. She has lots of flash fiction on her webpage:

I’ll never be THAT immediate, so, how do I breathe more feeling into my Enoch novella? For that, I usually have to delve deeper into my characters. Any writer who’s finished more than a few stories and gotten feedback knows that you never tell. You show. Every description and experience is told through your character’s eyes, hopefully, through action or dialogue. And that’s a start, but it’s not enough.
When I have Enoch walk up to Caleb’s casino and fortress, I show it through his eyes and share his reactions/feelings to his friend’s obsession for pleasure. I was happy enough with that, but once the plot hits full swing, I have Enoch react, but his reactions don’t let us know enough about him. They’re not telling enough–those small, fleeting thoughts that reveal character. I need more internal dialogue, more give and take with people who push Enoch to places he’s not comfortable with. I need more emotion! Another rule for making writing immediate is to get rid of the “he thought,” “he wondered,” type phrases in your writing. Instead of “Enoch wondered if he could trust Darius,”–which creates a distance between the thought and the reader, just say, “Could he trust Darius? Enoch glanced at the vampire beside him. Vampires were hard to read. Could he believe anything Darius told him?” Just an example. I want the reader to be inside Enoch’s head, to “hear” his thoughts.

Anyway, some writers are more immediate than others, but it’s something to consider when you write. The more immediate, the bigger the emotional pay-off. An entire novel doesn’t have to be written one way or another. There are action scenes, “soft” scenes that let the reader catch his breath, and scenes for emotional impact. But there should never be a boring scene. That’s when the reader can put the book down, and he might not pick it back up.

Writing: How to bring your protagonist to life

One of my blog friends just found a wonderful, generous group of fellow writers who critiqued her manuscript. There’s nothing as wonderful as writer friends. Their main comment: her protagonist was static. That critique resonated with me, because when I started writing, I got it often. The thing is, I think it’s harder to bring your protagonist to life than most of the other characters in your novel. Why? Because we see everything through the protagonist’s eyes. He/she describes the people he meets as the story unfolds. We get visuals and impressions of everyone he meets. Everyone BUT the protag.

The gospel of writing is that a protagonist has to grow or change from the beginning of the novel to the end. The BIG book question that he/she wrestles with has to make him dig deep and come out a different person at the end of the book than he was at the beginning. But that’s sort of a given. When Life smacks you down, you either grow stronger, change tactics, or you curl up and suck your thumb. Most authors don’t want their character in a fetal position for the entire novel, so we give him what he needs to deal with the problem and, if you want a happy ending, resolve it. But there’s more to developing a character than that. We want the reader to LIKE our character, to enjoy spending time with him–hopefully, so much so, that they hate it when the book ends and look forward to another one.

So how do we make readers CARE about our protagonist? This was a tough one for me, but EVERYTHING counts. How our protagonist ACTS is the first clue to readers. What drives him/her? What does he want and what will he do to get it? The digger he has to dig to reach his goal, the more readers care. Remember–emotional impact is pay dirt. If readers only wanted information, they’d read nonfiction. Fiction should make us FEEL. We want to sweat alongside our protagonist, to get frustrated and worry about defeat when he does. We want to laugh and cry with him.

We pay a lot more attention to what a character DOES than to what he says. If he says one thing and does another, we know he’s lying to himself and to us. He says he loves animals, but then a stray that’s so skinny, its ribs show, comes to his door. If he grabs a broom and scares it away, he’s done as an animal lover for me. If he says he loves his grandma, but he never has time to visit her at the nursing home, the guy’s all talk.

How he REACTS to things is another clue. If he says he hates conflict, but then his best friend irritates him and he rakes him over the coals for it–bull pucky. I’m not buying it. If he says he’s not brave or strong, but when bullies pick on his friend, he jumps in–even if he’s afraid–to help, I know he underrates himself. What does he do when his girlfriend’s friend comes on to him? When he meets someone who intimidates him?

Internal dialogue is awesome for getting to know the protag. What are his thoughts when he meets his best friend’s girlfriend? When his fiance’ breaks up with him? When headlights are speeding toward him on a highway? What’s his voice like? Stoic, funny, or smart-ass? When I can “hear” him, I get to know him. Some writers use first person POV so that we live in the character’s head, but that alone doesn’t work. I’ve read first person where I’m immersed in the character and I’ve read others that make me follow the protagonist around, but I don’t really get to know him/her.

I try to give my protag a friend or two in every novel. Friends usually know us better than anyone else. They know which buttons to push, how to comfort us, and what we’re up against. Scenes with a friend can add new perspectives to a protagonist, sides he’d never show to anyone else.

The trick is, to KNOW your protagonist before you start writing. Every writer accomplishes this in a different way, but know what works for you. And then, bring that living, breathing character to life for your story. Flawless people are admirable, but boring. Keep that in mind. And the protagonist needs to be challenged in one scene after another until the end of the book.

Have fun with your characters, and Happy Writing!

P.S. In case any of you are thinking of making an e-book free, I made EMPTY ALTARS free on Kindle for Aug. 14-18, and the response sort of overwhelmed me. It made it all the way up to #89 in the free rankings, #1 for fiction with mythology and #2 for witches & wizards. I don’t think it helps a writer very much to make a book free if you only have one book for sale, but if you have three or more in a series, and you’d like more readers to discover you, it’s something to think about once in a while. It’s too soon to tell if there’ll be any carry-over for my other books, but I sure hope so.

P.S. I finished loading FABRIC OF LIFE onto Wattpad. Enjoy.

Writing: Triggers that move the plot

Friends keep asking me how my romance novel is coming. It’s coming. I think I only have about 50 more pages to write before I finish the first draft. Is it ready to go? No. I need to go back and “fill in.” I’m a bare bones writer–if I get the characters and plot points right in the first draft, I’m happy. Every scene has to have some kind of tension. There has to be Goal, Motivation, Conflict for each scene. But that’s not enough. Once I get that down, I go back a second time to add emotion, reactions, descriptions, and internal dialogue. Am I happy with what I have? Yes. Do I think I got it right? Beats me. Romance feels “spongy” to me. The things that trigger forward movement in the story are alien to me.

Every type of writing has different triggers. When I wrote mystery short stories, the focus of the story was on who did it and why. Each scene advanced that. I introduced the crime, the detective (amateur or sleuth), suspects, witnesses, and clues. I could judge by those triggers how the story was advancing. What did the detective learn when he went to question Suspect A? Did that clue lead him to an answer or was it a red herring that threw him off track? When the person he thought committed the crime ended up dead, he had to start over and re-evaluate what he’d learned, etc. Each step leads to the next one in the plot. With urban fantasy, I introduce the good guys and the evil that they have to battle. They win one small skirmish, but that leads them to a bigger problem. They confront that problem and that digs them deeper into trouble. Those are triggers I understand and feel comfortable with. In literary novels, the triggers are internal. They’re about character development. How does the character change throughout the story?

In romance, the triggers are emotional. Ian’s arm brushes Tessa’s breast and Want sweeps through her. She denies it and pushes it away. But when their eyes meet, she can’t turn away. She never meant to let down her guard again, but Ian shatters her defenses. These are triggers that show Tessa’s growing attraction for Ian. Do I feel comfortable writing an entire novel driven by mounting emotions? In truth, it’s been fun. Have I done it right? I don’t have a clue. But every novel is moved forward by triggers that escalate from the beginning of the story to a big, dark moment near the end, and finally, a happy or unhappy ending. In romances, it had better be a happy ever after. A writer can track how his story is progressing by following these triggers to see how they push the protagonist’s buttons–the bigger the reaction, (even if it’s controlled or denied), the better. Tension needs to build and build until there’s a resolution.

Whatever you’re working on, I hope your plot points push the protagonist harder and farther than he ever wanted to go.

P.S. I wanted to add a reminder that Sia Marion at invited me to participate in the World Tour Blog. I invited M L Rigdon from the blog: Mary Lou writes a variety of genres, all on her webpage: She recently finished her third Regency romance as Julia Donner. I also invited Susan Bahr from her blog: I’ve followed Susan’s blog for a long time, but she just started this new one about writing. I like her approach! I hope you remember to check out their posts on Tuesday on how they write. I’m going to!

The 10 Commandments of Writing

A friend of mine–a while ago–asked me for writing advice.  She’d fiddled with writing, but had never done anything serious.  She wasn’t quite in the mood for full writer throttle, so I wanted to do something fun for her.  This is what I came up with–and we all know it’s scratching the surface.

I.  Thou shalt not start “At the Beginning.”  Okay, a little play on words, but it’s true.  A novel starts with a hook.  Not with back story.  Back story is for flashbacks, here and there, later in the plot.  The hook is what pulls readers into the story–the event that plunges the character into the event that turns his life upside down, topsy turvy.  It introduces the book’s big question and why the protagonist has to take it on.  If he doesn’t, he’ll never restore order to his life.  If he does, he’ll be a changed person.  His choice.  And usually, he avoids dealing with it as long as he can—or until the first fourth of the book is written.  The hook pulls the reader in and the first fourth of the book provides the set-up for the story.  (Les Edgerton has a great book on the topic:

II.  Thou shalt plot Thy book with no holes or soggy middles.  Okay, this admittedly, takes some skill and balance.  You don’t want your plot to move too fast or too slow.  It’s all about conflict.  Plot is the result of cause and effect.  The protagonist wants this…. needs that….and decides this idea will solve his problem….   Except it doesn’t.  No, whatever he tries, makes it worse.   For a novel, I’ve never been able to come up with enough to fill the vast, yawning middle of a book without subplots.  Every plot is character driven.  So are subplots.  If you come up with strong, main characters whose goals/problems mirror the protagonist’s, you can weave in and out of the different scenes like a juggler who keeps all of his balls in the air.  Victory Crayne says, “Conflict is ‘The mental or moral struggle caused by incompatible desires and aims.’  It is the unsolved problems that form the chain of promises that keeps the reader interested.’–Ben Bova.  Les Edgerton, by the way, has a great blog post on plotting, too:    And:  Actually, his entire blog is worth reading.

III.  Thy pacing shall keep readers turning the pages.  Every scene in every novel has to have tension and purpose.  If a scene doesn’t advance the story in some way, it shouldn’t be there.  Something has to be at stake in EVERY scene.  And repetition–of any kind–KILLS tension.

IV.  Thy writing shall have emotional impact.  If the protagonist doesn’t react–reel with horror, laugh with joy, worry and pace with frustration–neither will the reader.  The reader lives these events through the characters.  He wants to EXPERIENCE these events through the characters.  The writer can use internal dialogue or visceral responses to react, but the reader wants to feel what the character feels.  And actions sometimes speak louder than words.  No one wants to read about a protagonist who only reacts.  We want the protagonist to dig into the problem, make plans, suffer when they fail, and pick himself up and try again.  The reader wants a happy ending to be earned, not given to the protagonist.  Or, if the protagonist tries and fails, we want to suffer the pain of defeat along with him.

V.  Thou shalt create interesting, memorable characters.  Readers want their characters to feel real–like living, breathing people.  They want to know what the character wants and why.  What will he do to get it?  He has to have a name that fits his age and personality.  He has to have Goal, Motivation, Conflict.  If different characters have different goals and motivations, that creates conflict.  Every novel needs different type of characters: the protagonist, maybe a mentor, a romantic interest, a friend or reflector, a villain and hopefully an antagonist–different from a villain, but someone who keeps getting in the protagonist’s way, and maybe an opponent, someone who’s competing with the protagonist.  Dialogue, dress, and actions have to be consistent with who the character is.  The characters drive the story.  I’m plot oriented, but no writer can make a character walk through a story and do what he’s supposed to for the plot without making the character a cardboard stick figure who’s not interesting.

VI.  Thou shalt use dialogue to advance the plot, not to fill space.  Dialogue can reveal character, create tension, and foreshadow coming events.  Be careful of tags.  “He said,” “she said,” are fine, but action tags work even better.  Fancy tags are rarely needed–“he proclaimed,” “he insisted.”  Dialogue should fit each character, and it should “feel” real.  It’s not real–not even close–but it can FEEL real if the writer avoids flowery dialogue.  People sometimes use broken sentences.  They usually don’t go on and on.  When they do, that says something about a character.  Les Edgerton has a blog post on dialogue, too, that’s pretty dang good:

VII.  Thou shalt choose Thy setting well.  Settings are the backdrops for stories.  Some stories work better in big cities and some work better in small towns or in seclusion.  The setting needs to fit the tone of the story.  If a small town is hiding a serial killer, the town may appear innocent and inviting, but the writer gives clues that evil lurks under its surface.  Settings need to fleshed out.  They’re the foundation that helps hold the story together.   It’s the world the reader’s going to live in from page one to the the last word of the novel.  The reader needs to see the setting, to smell its scents, to know its people.

VIII.  Choose Thy POV carefully.  The character whom the reader follows should be the one who has the most at stake in the scene or story.  First person POV is more immediate.  Everything’s filtered through that character’s eyes and mind.  Third person limited creates more distance, but with internal dialogue can share insights, too, and the writer doesn’t have to try to avoid the word “I.” Multiple POV can create more tension, because the protagonist doesn’t always know what other characters are doing.

IX.  Thy voice and tone shalt suit Thy story.  Voice is a nebulous thing that’s individual to each author.  It reflects our attitudes and our take on the world.  But tone should be individual to each story.  Tone sets the mood.  If the story is humorous, every single word the author chooses should be light or lend itself to funny.  If the story’s dark, every word choice should be forbidding or brooding.   For a scary setting, the author wouldn’t describe a forest with birds chirping and squirrels scampering.  Instead, the trees’ branches should look like gnarled fingers, twisting to ensnare someone or to snag them.  It’s all about word choice.

X.  Thou shalt dedicate Thyself to good, strong writing.  A writer has to master the basics.  Sentence lengths should vary.  Word choice should be specific, not generic.  He should use active verbs, not passive.  Adjectives and adverbs should be used sparingly, opting for strong verbs and nouns instead.  Spelling and grammar should be right.  Wording should be original and unique.

We all know that keeping every commandment is hard.  So is good writing.  And I’ve probably left out a point or two, but this is a start.  The fun’s in the striving.  Enjoy!

Writing–how to get depth

Feedback on writing is a tricky thing.  Flat statements are just frustrating.  “I loved that,” makes me happy, but doesn’t help me much.  “I hate that,” hurts, but it doesn’t tell me what didn’t work or what to look at and maybe fix.  I say maybe, because no writer is ever going to please everyone.  And that’s probably a good thing.

I followed a LONG thread once on Goodreads about reviews–what readers, bloggers, and writers considered a good review.  I liked the comments because they came at reviews from a lot of different angles.  Readers looked for information that would help them decide if they wanted to read a book or not, if it was worth picking up; and I have to say, the readers proved generous and discriminating to authors.  They wanted to like their books.  If there were characters they could like or a plot that could entertain them, they were pretty forgiving of flaws if they saw some potential or promise for improvement.  I found that encouraging.

Bloggers read a book and tried their best to give enough details to inform readers what was good about it and what wasn’t.  I learned a lot from their comments because they took the time to list what they considered each book’s strengths and weaknesses.  And writers tended to comment on how they approached good or bad feedback.

I’m thinking about all of this because I just got a new review on Amazon for Fallen Angels.  I’m new enough that I don’t have that many, so a reader’s take on my work gets me pretty excited.  This review particularly struck me because the comments were so thoughtful.  The reader gave me three stars and said that she liked my book, but wasn’t crazy about it, that if it had more depth, it could have been a knockout.  I really appreciated the time and thought the reviewer put into my novel–maybe because I’ve been trying to put more depth into my writing, and hopefully, each book has a little more than the one before it.  But that brings me to the next question.  What really adds depth?

My opinion is that depth comes from conflict and emotions.  If we watch a character struggle with internal and external conflict and try to achieve a goal that’s important to him against great odds, if an author can bring that struggle to life, the character should have depth.  The more he struggles, the more we care.  Revealing the character’s frustration and determination and his inner battles makes him more real.  Internal dialogue can reveal his reactions in scenes, but his actions speak just as loudly–probably more so.   “Actions speak louder than words” is just as true in fiction as real life.  If a character tells himself that he’d give his life for his friend and then walks away when his friend is jumped, leaving him to battle by himself, the reader knows how that character really feels.  If he feels guilty for his actions later, the writer’s given him a new layer of depth.  On the other hand, if he has to walk away, when he doesn’t want to, sacrificing his friend to save others, the author’s created even more depth, because the more internal conflict for the character, the more powerful the story.

I’m starting work on my third Enoch/Voronika novel later this week.  That should keep me busy for a few months to come.  Let’s hope I can add  more depth to this one.  I’m trying!



Writing: when good enough, isn’t

Writing’s like Boy Scouts.  My grandson, Tyler, belonged to one of the most wonderful Boy Scout troops anyone could hope for.  He learned SO much.  But one of his leaders signed every message she sent him with “Good enough–isn’t.”  Thank you, Mrs. Dirig!  That was pretty much the motto for their troop.  Don’t just try to get by.  Excel.

I belong to a writers’ group–one of the BEST writers’ groups–and I’ve looked at pages for lots of writers who’ve joined us and stayed with us.  I’ve read writers with lots of potential who had no sense of sequence or grammar.  Those things are something a writer can learn.   Everything’s something a writer can learn, but some things are harder than others.  Using active verbs instead of passive verbs is something we yap about on a regular basis–so often, in fact, it becomes a mantra for us.  We go on and on about opening hooks and inciting incidents, about the book’s big question.  We ask about the protagonist’s outer and inner motivaton, pacing, plotting, the book’s big showdown–it had better deliver, word choice…you name it.   And we learn from each other.

The hardest thing to critique, though, is when someone reads and the words flow, everything SEEMS right, we can’t find a flaw, but none of us are excited about the story.  Clean, but boring, is harder to work with.  It’s taken me a while, but when that happens now, I know it’s not what’s THERE, but what ISN’T that’s the problem.  And that’s even harder to explain to a newer writer.

Sometimes, the yawn factor happens because the author tells, instead of showing.  We’re not living the events with the protagonist.  We’re not holding our breath when he’s in danger.  We’re not feeling heart palpitations because the guy who’s hot looks our way.  We’re kept at a distance while the author TELLS us what happened.  But even after writers master the art of Show, Don’t Tell, their stories can be flat.  Then our group has to take a harder look at what’s NOT there.

Are the stakes high enough?  Does the protagonist care enough?  Is the story too pat?  Has it been done to death?  Is there an original slant to it?   Or is it so out there, we can’t relate to it?  We ask all those questions, but when we’ve exhausted everything else, sometimes it comes down to something even harder to put a finger on.  Is the story immediate enough?  Are we connected enough to the protagonist?

I’ve said it before in this blog, but a lot of readers read for emotional impact.  They want to laugh, cry, and despair with the story’s main character.  I used to have problems with this in my own writing.  I tended to be too private.  I was more of an idea writer than an emotional one.  I started with mysteries that were plot driven instead of character driven.  When I switched to urban fantasy, it was hard to add the internal dialogue and feelings that drive those stories.  But that’s one of urban fantasy’s strong points.  The characters’ emotions are what ground the magic and supernatural action in reality.

To start the writing year off right, I’m including a list of great sites about the craft of writing and marketing.  I hope you’re inspired in 2014.  Happy writing!

Lisa Gardner offers one heck of a feast of advice on her site:

When Les Edgerton gets down to the nitty-gritty, I always learn something:

I don’t just use Victory Crayne’s critique advice to look at other writers’ work.  I use it when I look at my own:

While you’re at it, why not learn from one of the best?

And why not finish with one of my favorites?


May the Muses bless you for the year ahead.






Writing-does a happy childhood work against you?

A friend of mine read one of my manuscripts recently and said, “You need to show more anger, more emotion.”  Now, I thought I had, but she went on to say, “You’re always on such a level keel, no wonder you have trouble letting your characters be dirt bags once in a while.”  That gave me pause for thought.  I mean, I work hard to be a fairly nice person, but does that hurt me as a writer?  I’d had someone else, earlier in my career, tell me much the same thing.  She asked, “Were you happy as a child?”  “Oh, yes,” I answered.  “Well, that’s why you’re having trouble writing,” she told me.

Could that be true?   Do people who grow up with parents who argue or hit or worse have the edge because they have more emotions to pull on?  I do think that a writer needs a certain amount of life experience to enrich their writing.  And adversity certainly builds character…and the ability to draw from anger, disappointment, and loss.  But I don’t know many people who’ve breezed through life, free of scars.  Not all of us, though, have the perspicacity to dwell on those things to enrich our writing:)

A new writer came to Scribes a while ago to read a piece about how she’d been sexually abused and then turned to drugs to deal with the issue.  She became addicted, and now she was finally drug free.  It was a deep, moving story of her journey that would be impossible for me to tell.  Her words had a raw emotion and aggressive strength that came with her pain and turmoil.  I can’t tell that story, because I don’t know it, and to some point, “write what you know” makes perfect sense.  But I can tap into other emotions, ones I’ve experienced, to bring other stories to life.   Me and Suzanne K were the tallest people in our class, year after year, through school.  We both hit 5’10” before high school.  She had a figure.  I was a stick.  Did the nickname Olive Oyle bother me?  A little.  Not much.  I spent a lot of time living in my own head.  And that was probably my biggest obstacle to being a writer.  I had a lot more fun living in worlds other writers created.

My friend, who teaches handwriting analysis, still badgers me to “open” my vowels.  My a’s and o’s and e’s are legible, but scrunched.  She tells me over and over again that scrunched vowels mean that I need to “let loose,” to “open up.”  Maybe.  But I’ve learned that even if I tend to be a mite private in my life that doesn’t have to apply to my characters.  I can let them have tempers, be “kickass” or mouthy–all of the things that I’m not.  My characters aren’t me, thank goodness!  They can be anything, as long as I can relate to their emotions, and that makes them fun to write.

I’ve played with a few characters who aren’t “nice,” that I’m pretty attached to.  Caleb, in Fallen Angels, left Heaven because he didn’t want to follow rules.  He wanted to do as he pleased, and if that meant that he had to drink human blood to replace the benefits of the Light, then that’s what he’d do.  I meant for him to be a villain, Enoch’s adversary.  But Enoch still loves him, and oddly, so do I.  Does that mean I’m embracing my “dark side”?  Beats me, but I know I have one.  We can all be selfish once in a while.  And let’s face it.  Readers like certain villains.  Look at Hannibal Lecter or Walt in Breaking Bad.  I think what involves readers is the human condition.  If a character meets a hurdle and makes the wrong turn, that might add more interest, not less.  If we can make a character real, even if he’s flawed, and make him sympathetic, even if he kills people, we can identify with him.  So dig deep and let your characters show true depth–their worries, fears, and uglies.  Readers have felt those things, too.  They’ll understand.