Archive for June, 2010

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010 by Bob Mayer
Writing Action

You hear the mantra, show don’t tell, all the time.  I think this is particularly important for action scenes.

Movies have given us a twisted view of action, particularly the way they play with reality and time sense, aka The Matrix.  You really can’t see bullets flying by you.  I try to be somewhat realistic when writing action.

When I watched Mission Impossible III it was an excellent example of filming lousy action, in my opinion. I particularly like the way explosions are used as ways to ‘propel’ Tom Cruise forward. They don’t hurt him, they move him. And when he falls to the end of a steel cable and is abruptly halted, unlike mere mortals whose back would be broken (ropes are used for climbing because they have at least 1/3 give if you have a fall), Tom motors on. And the bad guys blow up and kill all the other people in all the other cars, but not Tom in his car. Lucky guy. As you can tell, you don’t want to watch an action movie with me. Besides being unrealistic, it violated something I think is very important for action scenes: timing.

Watch Hurt Locker if you want to see what explosions really do to people.  Note the splatter of blood on the inside of Guy Pearce’s visor when the 155m shell goes off behind him.

So how’s your breakfast?

Action should play out in real time. Not slow motion. If a character fires a gun, the bullet should land in the same sentence or the next sentence. Not two pages later while the guy who shot the gun has a sudden memory of his pet kitten Bubbles and how much he misses her because the bad guy killed her a year ago and how the hero has spent every waking second tracking the SOB and now, yes, now it’s finally payback, but, dang, he sure misses Bubbles and he remembers when he found Bubbles, wet and bedraggled on the side of the road while strolling through Central Park with Holly Golightly and, boy, Holly, wasn’t she something, cause—and then the bullet lands and the reader forgot he even fired it.

The purpose of a violent action scene is the same as a sex scene. No, not that. You:

1. Show character through conflict.

2. Move the plot.

3. Raise the stakes.

4. It has meaning within the story and isn’t gratuitous.

Why do people fight? What can motivate someone to violence? What most people don’t understand, is that men often revert to violence because they’re afraid. That bully? Is acting the way he is, because of fear.

In combat, fear can easily incapacitate. SLA Marshall claimed a very low percent of soldiers actually fired their weapons in combat. His data has been disputed but one of the major purposes of training is to get soldiers to actually overcome fear and fight. A large percentage of officer in the Army go through Airborne training, yet there is only one Airborne Division, the 82nd, and most won’t be going there. So why? To get them to overcome fear and step out of a perfectly good airplane. Most of what you see in movies isn’t real. As my first platoon sergeant in the First Cavalry Division told me: there are two firing positions: the prone and the flying prone (the latter when you get shot at and you aren’t already prone—you dive for it).

Most soldiers fight for their buddies. Not God or country.

Point of view is key in action scenes. A thriller is hard to write in first person. It’s been done, but the action scenes are difficult because your camera is locked down to one participant in the scene. The person who knows the least about what’s going on in combat is the poor soldier in the middle of it.

Omniscient works well for action, particularly large action scenes. Because you can put the camera up high and show the big picture.

We actually have a formula in Special Forces for planning a direct action mission: CARVE.  I describe it in more detail in Who Dares Wins: The Green Beret Way To Conquer Fear & Succeed:

C: Criticality: how important is the node to be attacked?

A: Accessibility: can we actually get to that critical node?

R: Recuperability: sure it’s critical and we can get to it, but if we destroy it, how fast can they fix it?

V: Vulnerability: it’s critical, we can get to it, they can’t fix it inside the designed target destruction parameters, but can we actually destroy it? i.e. you can’t blow up a dam with stuff you carry in your rucksack.

E: Effect: it’s critical, we can get to it, they can’t fix it in time, we can destroy it, but what effect is destroying it going to have? Will the results be worse than what we started with? i.e. blowing that dam wipes out a village below it.

In Agnes And The Hitman I have an action scene where Moot makes a cameo appearance. If you don’t know who Moot is, read Don’t Look Down. I have a protagonist: Shane. An antagonist: Rocko. A setting: in the swamp. Shane is trying to get information out of Rocko. Except, as his name indicates, Rocko isn’t too bright. The scene builds slowly, and ends fast. With extreme violence. It moves the plot because Shane does find out some important information. It has humor because, well, Rocko aint too bright. It has violence because Moot is hungry and smells blood in the water. The violence happens fast.

Remember, also, the plan only lasts up to LD/LC (Line of departure, line of contact). That’s the line drawn on the map where, after you synchronize your watches, the order says you will cross the LD/LC at 0342 hours, precisely. And it’s where the chance of making contact with the enemy begins. You can have the greatest plan, but things go wrong. This is where you can add some interesting twists. Shane didn’t expect Moot to be lolling around in the above action scene. So his plan kind of got interrupted.

What does the violence say about your characters who are involved in it?

In Don’t Look Down in the bar fight, it says something about Bryce that he is at least willing to try to fight. It says something about Wilder how he quickly ends the fight without escalating to deadly violence. And he reacts after the fight.

After just watching The Road, it reminded me of another Viggo Mortenson movie: A History of Violence where I felt the hero was unredeemable. I also feel that way about the ending of MI III. Spoiler alert. Tom is strolling across the bridge with his wife after escaping the bad guy and she’s like: Now what exactly do you do for a living? Him: I’m in IMF. Her: What’s that? Him: The Impossible Mission Force. Her: You’re joking? Him: No. Her: I Love you. She puts his arm around him and they go off to live happily ever after.

Let me ask you something: you marry someone and they tell you they’re a traveling shoe salesman. Then you get kidnapped by some lunatic, dragged halfway around the world, he has a gun to your head and is going to kill you. You end up having to shoot a couple of people (one of whom conveniently brings the weapon of mass destruction with him to drop in front of you while dying), then have to resuscitate your husband whose heart has stopped because he just electrocuted himself to turn off the bomb he has in his brain and after all is said and done he’s: Ah honey, I’m not a shoe salesman, I’m in the Impossible Mission Force.

Most women I know wouldn’t go ‘I love you.’ If, like Agnes, they had a frying pan handy, they’d be a whacking him over the head.

So. Violence. Only as a last resort. Real time. It has to make sense and be integral to the plot. It indicates something to your readers about the characters and how they act.

Who Dares Wins Publishing where we specialize in violence.

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010 by Sasha White
Genreality Bookstore

Oops! I missed my post today. I completely forgot it was Tuesday. I’m sorry.

I want to let you know to come back on Saturday and give fantasy author Ken Scholes, the newest member of the Genreality Team a huge welcome. It’ll be his first day posting and we’re thrilled to have him here every Saturday.

Also, to make my missed day up to you all I’m going to do a giveaway. All you have to do to enter is say hi in the comments. I’ll announce the winner next Tuesday.

What do you win? A copy of Any Book by Any Genreality Author, You can check out some of their titles in the Genreality Bookstore on

Monday, June 28th, 2010 by Carrie Vaughn
Book Release Week!

Some topsy-turvy emotions over the last week or so.


Tomorrow is the official release day for Kitty Goes to War, but I’ve already had lots of reports of it being out in the wild.  Next week is the official release day for Discord’s Apple.  These will be my ninth and tenth published novels.  And I’m just as nervous as I’ve always been.  It ain’t gettin’ any easier, and certainly not routine.  Will it sell?  Will people like it?  If anything, I may even be more nervous, or maybe a different kind of nervous.  I have readers who’ve been following me from the beginning — will they be satisfied or disappointed?  Will the sales meet my publisher’s expectations?  This usual anxiety is compounded by the fact that these are the first releases with a new publisher.

I’m so excited to have new books coming out — I can’t wait to hear what people think of them.  Even after so many books, I’m still excited — these are new books, who knows what could happen?  The anxiety doesn’t go away, but the excitement doesn’t go away, either.  Thank goodness.

I know my friends and family get frustrated with me.  Last week, I was going over the galleys for my second young adult book, and all I saw were mistakes, bad writing, things I should have done better.  I also got the editorial letter and one of my critiquer’s notes on the ninth Kitty book.  This revision is going to be a lot of work.  So all I can talk about is how awful my writing is, how frustrated I am, I’m a fraud, this is going to be when people finally realize I’m a fraud.  But see — I say this every single time.  Every single set of galleys I’ve gone over, I’ve hated the book at that step.  Every revision has needed a lot of work.  Every book release, I get excited and anxious and wonder if this is the book that everyone is going to hate.  What I’ve had a hard time explaining to people is it really does feel like this every time. Objectively, rationally, I know this has nothing to do with reality.  People must be thinking that I should have gotten over it by now, it shouldn’t be a big deal, that I know I’m wrong because I was wrong the last time.  But the emotions are still there.

On the other hand, one friend said to me that if there ever comes a time when I’m not emotionally screwed up over all this, when I don’t announce that it’s all crap and my career is over — that’s when he’s going to worry.  Because if I’m not worried about my work not being good enough, it means I’m not trying to get better anymore.  And that’ll be a problem.

Friday, June 25th, 2010 by Rosemary
Climb Every Mountain

Some of you who follow my blog and tweets know that Wednesday is writing group night. And possibly even more important than writing group itself, is after writing group, when we convene at IHOP and continue to talk writing, books, publishing, the state of the world in general.

The cool thing about the IHOP Irregulars is that we’re all at different stages of our writing path, and there’s always something to learn from the person one step ahead of you (and often from the people ‘behind’ you on the path, too).

So a fairly newly agented friend was asking me some questions about what the revision process was like, both between my agent and I, and after I sold. We talked about books making the round of publishers, and how sometimes it’s not your first book that sells (even when well represented), but your second or third.

One of the other writers, who hasn’t sold yet in fiction, and is having some success in his queries of agents said, “You mean it’s not all gravy once you have an agent?”

He was joking–he’s not a newbie–but it’s funny how many newcomers to our writing group think that once you have an agent, or heck, once you make a sale, everything is easy peasy from that point on.

Well, no. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome to be another step closer to your goals, but this isn’t a flat-top mesa we’re climbing here. It’s a whole mountain range. You make it to the top of one peak, and there’s another waiting to be climbed. Sometimes there’s a long plateau you have to cross before you can start climbing again. Sometimes there’s a valley.

It’s not just about making more sales, or making a best-seller list, or winning awards–Okay, it’s about all of those things, but only because they’re a measure of success at what we’re really trying to do. We want every book not just to do better, but to BE better. Just look at how many NYT best selling authors reinvent themselves, start new things under different names, branch off in new directions.

Heck, look at how many of them are writing YA. (John Grisham? Really?)

As for easy peasy… well, no lie, I’d rather have my problems than anyone elses. (In any sphere of my life.) But it’s a job, and to excel at your job, you can’t coast.

Okay, I’ve heard rumors of some fabulously successful authors who think they’ve reached the point where they can write anything and their fans will buy it, and their sales certainly bear that out. But there are exceptions to every rule.

All I can say is that until there’s a theme park based on my books, there will always be one more rung on the ladder.

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010 by Bob Mayer
The Agency Model and Amazon

The Agency model

I’ve been sorting through all that’s happening with digital books and a term keeps popping up:  The Agency model.  Do you know what it means?

In essence, we’re changing the face of bookselling.

A brick and mortar bookstore is a consignment store.  Publishers pitch books to the bookbuyers for these stores.  They order a certain amount.  Note the key word is order, not buy.  They rack books, prioritizing space according to discounts from the publisher.

When a book sells, then the bookstore pays the publisher.  If the book doesn’t sell, the hardcover is returned (doubling shipping costs, which is on the publisher) and the paperback is recycled.  Not an efficient way to run a business but if you study the history of how this evolved, it was the best that could be developed.  In the 19th Century.

Also:  while the publisher lists a suggested retail price, the store gets to determine the actual price.  Thus Costco, bringing in pallet loads of books, cuts the price down to a very low profit margin, preferring volume to make up for lower profit.  However, they all pay the publisher the same amount for the book (minus promotional discounts)

The agency model for digital books is very different.  Here, the publisher sets the final cost of the book.  The platform through which the book is sold—Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, whatever—will take a percentage of the price.

Think about the implications of this.

I’ve heard it said this is similar to the way the military turned cavalry into armor units in the first half of the 20th Century and as someone with a background in the military. I think it’s an apt metaphor.  The mission is the same:  sells books.  The medium is different.  Faster, more difficult to maintain, and requiring a different type of expertise.

There’s something to remember about armor though: it is never supposed to go into combat alone.  In the same way, I think the fact you have a good book and understanding of the new face of publishing, you need a combined arms team.  You need your tech people, your promoters, your editors, your sales force, etc.  In essence, everything a traditional publisher has always done.  But it’s all happening a LOT faster.

The Internet is changing the face of not only books, but marketing.  Our next non-fiction release after Warrior Writer is:  We Are Not Alone:  The Writer’s Guide to Social Media.  Written by Kristen Lamb who got me started on social media when I thought a twitter was a bird.

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010 by Sasha White
Ants in my pants-mentally

When I was a kid I couldn’t sit still. My parents have many horror stories about trying to get me to go to sleep or to simply sit still. As a teenager I was involved in sports, as a young adult I was active in martial arts and partying dancing.  But in the last 7 years, I’ve slowed down drastically. So much so that I often don’t even recognize myself.

I know it’s mostly due to my curse ability to focus so strongly on one thing. You see, 8 years I decided I wanted to be a writer. And I firmly believe that if you want something, and you go after it, you’ll get it. I was right. I am a writer. And when I was neck deep in deadlines my ability to focus helped me a lot. However, now that I’ve got no real deadlines (only those imposed on myself) I find that when I sit down to write I get antsy within 15 minutes.

Where the hell did my ability to focus go?

I think I left it behind in the gym somewhere. Seriously.
All my life, up until I dedicated myself to becoming a writer, I was physically active. Then I become mentally and creatively active, and my physical self began to wan-until now.

I turned 40 last year, and I became suddenly very aware of my health. Not just my weight, but my health. Not just physical, but mental, and the way they work together. For the first half of my life I was physically active, but I never saw myself as particularly smart or creative. In the last 8 years I’ve come to realize that I am smart, and creative, but I’ve seriously neglected my physical self.

And only recently, in my efforts to gain back some of my physical health have I realized just how deep the connection between the two sides are. People say it all the time, that working out will help keep you mentally sharp, but it’s just like them saying an apple a day will keep the doctor away. It’s something we hear so much that it’s lost it’s punch. At least for me it did.

Lately I’ve been walking more. Just that. Not going to the gym, not working out, just walking. And that restlessness that used to hit 15 minutes after I sat down in front of the computer has settled a bit. I think it will continue to settle, and my ability to focus will come back more and more with each day. I’m pretty sure I’m just babbling here, and not explaingin myself very well…so I’m goign to quote from my friend Charlene’s blog post on Quiet Mind.

“If your mind won’t quiet indoors, try getting outdoors. Take your notebook and pen with you. Do enough physical activity to tire you out a little, and focus your mind on your task so it isn’t running away with you, and find quiet. Along with it, you might find the plot solution you need, the idea you were missing to make some task easier, or the answer to a personal dilemma. A quiet mind is like a weeded garden.”

It’s good advice.

Monday, June 21st, 2010 by Carrie Vaughn
The Review Dilemma

I’ve got two books coming out over the next month, which means a lot of reviews are going to start rolling in.  I’ve already gotten one fabulous review.  But I’m bracing for the not-fabulous ones.

When my third book came out, I stopped reading the reviews on Amazon.  For the first two books it was exciting — holy cow, people are reading my books!  But then it got. . .weird, I guess.  There were just too many and they were too scattered to draw any conclusions from.  They were affecting my mood, when there was no reason they should be.

Really, I ought to stop reading reviews entirely.  The thing I hate about reviews:  it doesn’t matter how many people tell me they love the book, how many great glowing reviews it gets, it only takes one bad review to wipe all that out of my memory.

I don’t search for reviews any more, but people send them to me, and I feel obliged to read them.  Then there are the e-mails — 99.9% of them are great.  But every now and then one arrives that isn’t.  I’ve only ever written a couple of fan letters in my life — it takes effort and a bit of courage to write fan mail, I think.  So I don’t at all understand why someone would take the time and effort to write a personal e-mail to an author telling them what they hated about a particular book.  But it happens.  And it kinda sucks to get a letter like that.  That one overshadows all the positive ones.

I could look at it on the bright side:  my book really affected someone.  That’s good, right?  But one bad e-mail, review, or blog comment, can ruin my day.  I really need to figure out how to not let things like that ruin my day.  Focus on the positive, not the negative.  Which is easier said than done.

Also, I think about this, which I got from Neil Gaiman’s journal:

“… never take seriously anyone telling you you’re the best author who ever lived, because if you do you’d have to take seriously the person who announces that you’re the worst author who ever lived.”

See?  The good reviews and bad reviews end up canceling each other out, and I’m left feeling totally aimless.

Which I think means what I need to not read reviews at all and just concentrate on writing the next book.