Archive for December, 2010

Friday, December 10th, 2010 by Rosemary
The Pie in the Face Writing Method

I had this director who talked about the “Pizza in the Face” method of acting. I think that he was actually thinking about a pie in the face, but he said ‘pizza’ and that’s what stuck in my head.

clipart-pizza5.gifThe “Pancakes/Pie/Pizza in the face method” concerns the moment where you process that something just happened and you have to react to it. In acting, we call this a “beat.” It’s a pause–sometimes long, sometimes very very short–of internalization before taking our next scripted action.

It goes like this:

  1. Someone hits you in the face with a pancake (or pie, or pizza).
  2. You feel the smack in the face, the floppy, sponginess of the pancake, the stickiness of the syrup, the sweet smell of maple or salty tang of butter.
  3. You internally process the fact, and perhaps have an emotional reaction to the fact that someone threw a pancake at you.
  4. You take action.

You may instinctively flinch as something comes flying at your face, but before you can have an external action–clean it off, laugh, slug the person who just hit you, or anything else–you have to experience the pancake and have an internal response–get mad, be shocked, etc.

Look at the difference between:

A ghostly figure slowly materialized in front of her. The air seemed to coalesce with an unearthly chill, and Mary screamed in terror and ran away.


A ghostly figure slowly materialized in front of her. The air seemed to coalesce with an unearthly chill. Icy fingers of fear crawled through Mary’s insides and came out as a scream. Desperate to get away from there before it finished taking shape, she ran away.

Sometimes, especially when something action-y happens, your character may have a reflex reaction first, but then still have to process what happened before they can take a conscious action.

A bullet zinged past my ear. I dropped behind the cover of a low stone wall, took out my gun, and started shooting in the direction of the sniper.


A bullet zinged past my ear. Instinct dropped me to the cover of a low stone wall, my gun in my hand before the sting of adrenaline had time to take hold. Where the hell had that shot come from? If I couldn’t take out the sniper, I’d be pinned until the bad guys arrived.

Spending word count on that moment of internalization gives depth and reality to your scene, and makes your character seem more like a real person and less like a stick figure that you, the author, are moving through the book.

How much time (i.e. word count) you spend depends on what’s going on in that scene, the pace you’re trying to set, and also how important the moment is to the whole story. Think about it like the musical score for your book. These ‘beats’ may be fast and light, hammered hard, or drawn out and emotional.

But whenever your characters start to feel like they’re just going through the motions, remember to stop and smell the pizza.

Thursday, December 9th, 2010 by Candace Havens
The Levels of Revision Hell

The lovely Jaye Wells is taking over my part of the blog for the next two weeks. She’s the author of some of my favorite books, “Red-Headed Step Child” and “The Mage in Black” and her next release, “Green-Eyed Demon,” debuts in February. Round of applause for Jaye…

In a previous life, I was a magazine editor. I was the chick who bled all over unsuspecting freelance writers’ articles and sent it back with helpful questions like “are you sure you’re a native English speaker?” Okay, I might be exaggerating, but I did spend several years on the editing side of the world. Now, however, I am the one receiving notes on my own writing.

Karma’s funny, isn’t it?

You’d think my previous experience would mean my manuscripts arrive on my editor’s desk sparkling like diamonds. You’d be wrong.

Yesterday, I read a hilarious post from writer Chuck Wendig about why writers suck at editing. And it got me thinking. That’s one of the great paradoxes of writing: Writers are too close to their work to edit it objectively. Yet, edit we must.

Enter the two levels of revision hell. Many good writers venture into one of these levels. But the best writers make the arduous trek through both. Which kind of writer do you want to be?

First, a warning. Before you enter the first level, do yourself a favor and get some distance from the story. If you do this the day after you write the last scene of your first draft, your head will explode. You’re too close to the writing. If you’re under a deadline crunch, then take as much time as you can afford. Go celebrate the end of the first draft. Take a shower, for chrissakes! But do not look at the book for at least 48 hours minimum. I’d say a week minimum, but if you’re anything like me you won’t listen anyway.

LEVEL ONE: Story Development

This level is first for a reason: Unless your story is tight and interesting, there’s no reason to bother with the next level. Unfortunately, this level is also the hardest in some ways. And here’s the kicker: Level one is actually two levels: Macro Story and Micro Story.

Macro: The Big Picture

Is the overall story interesting? Do the story arcs weave together seamlessly? Is the conflict clear and developed to ramp up tension? Are your characters three-dimensional? Does my protagonist have a complete internal and external journey? Do the main storyline and the subplots weave together in a way that supports your themes and character development? Overall, is there a rhythm to the story? How’s your pacing?

Your goal here is to make sure that as a whole, your story makes sense. If, during your read-through, certain parts hit you as asynchronous, make a note to yourself and address it in the micro level.

Micro: Scene Work

Does every scene both move the story forward and develop characters? Are there any scenes that fall flat? Can they be cut or revised? Are any scenes missing? Do any scenes need to be shifted on the timeline? Do your character’s actions make sense in each scene? Is there tension in every scene? Does every scene develop your characters? Are you relying on coincidence or convenient but illogical thinking to drive the action? Do you have transitions between the scenes or do they read like individual short stories? (FYI: This one is one of my biggest blind spots)

How you do it:

I use storyboards to help me keep up with the action of my books. I make a post it for the goal of each scene and lay them out into acts. I do this because A) I’m visual so I need to see the story laid out and b) it helps me make sure my stories are fast-paced and that all the storylines are woven together effectively.

Other writers use excel spreadsheets, note cards, outlines, etc. Find what works for you and use it.

Otherwise, I generally work on editing in a different place than where I write. I also print my manuscript out in a font different from the one I use when drafting. Yes, I only edit on hardcopy. I can’t edit effectively onscreen.

So once it’s printed and I’m ready to rock, I mercilessly slash and dash through the story with my RED PEN O’ DOOM. By the time I’m done with my first read-through, the pages look like victims of a sadistic killer with a penchant for blood sport.

The process of typing in changes usually leads to several new changes, so combined the read-through and the typing in stage combine to be like one-and-a-half revisions. It takes time, but it works for me.

If your brain does not feel like cold oatmeal in your head by the time you’ve completed this process, you did do enough work. This is no time for half-assed work. Go back and make sure. Once you’ve done as much as you can, send it off to your beta reader.

Wheh! Are you tired? Good, that means you did good work. I’ll be back next week for more. But in the meantime, grab yourself a glass of wine and relax. You’ll need your energy for Level Two of Revision Hell: Word Magic.

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010 by Bob Mayer
Blind Spots: A Writer’s Fatal Flaw

A blind spot is a part of character where we simply don’t see what’s keeping us from success.  As writers we must uncover our blind spot and deal with it.  Until we do, we’ll keep making the same mistakes over and over.

Blind spots arise out of a number of factors:

  1. Loss aversion.  People are often more motivated to prevent losses than to achieve gains.  Casinos count on this.  It can also produce tragic results.  The deadliest air crash ever was partly the result of loss aversion when the pilot of a Boeing 747, anxious to take off, crashed into another 747.  He didn’t want to have a late departure.
  2. Planning fallacy:  Under-estimating task completion times.  Writers are notorious for this.  I’m not where I want to be with my work in progress; the reality is, for 20 years, I’ve never been where I planned on being with my writing.  Someone asked how do we get more prolific:  I think it comes down to bum glue.  You just got to put the time in at the keyboard.  Or pencil and paper.  Or recorder.  There is no substitute for actually writing.  On the flip side, though, don’t constantly beat yourself up for being ‘behind’.  Try to set realistic goals.
  3. Wishful thinking:  the formation of beliefs and the making of decisions according to what is pleasing to imagine rather than reality.  This is where many publishers are right now in response to ebooks.  I just don’t think the $14.99 eBook is going to last.
  4. Need for closure:  Can you live with ambiguity?  Writing a novel is living with ambiguity for a long time.  Until you write the words:  The End.  Some people can’t stand it and need things to end.  So they end them too quickly.  I used to not do enough rewriting.  I would know there were parts of the manuscript that needed work, but I just wanted it done.  I wanted it out there on the market.  Now.  There is no Now in publishing.
  5. Illusion of transparency:  Overestimating other people’s abilities to know us and our ability to know others.  When all you have are the printed words, you’re very limited in what people can get from you as a writer.
  6. Negativity bias:  It takes five compliments to make up for one negative comment in a relationship.  As writers, we tend to obsess over negative criticism and ignore positive feedback.
  7. Fashionable darkness bias:  this is an interesting one, especially for writers.  Novels, movies and shows that have a dark ending are thought of as being more literary than ones having the HEA—happily ever after.
  8. The amazing success formula fallacy:  this is something many people who to become writers fall for.  That success happens overnight.  My friend Susan Wiggs had her last book debut at #1 on the NY Times Bestseller list.  In 2010.  Her first book was published in 1988.
  9. The real life up ahead fallacy:  That what you’re doing right now is the preparation for your ‘real life’ that will come some day.

Find your blind spot and conquer it.  Warrior Writer is a path to success and a key part of it, is uncovering blinds spots and overcoming them.

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010 by Sasha White
Word Counts and Words That Count.

Memorable scenes offer something beyond words to the reader. They offer content.

As an author I tend to always be short on my wordcounts. My editors have been known to send my manuscripts back and say, “It’s too short. Make it longer.” I struggle with this mightily. Why? Because I absolutely HATE ‘filler words’. I also hate adding scenes to a story simply to hit a specific word count. Yes, I write erotic, and I hate gratuitous sex scenes. It frustrates me to end when a critique partner or editor tells me to add another sex scene to meet my word count. If I wrote thrillers I wouldn’t add another murder scene just to add pages, so why should I add more sex to do so?

Sure readers read erotic fiction because they like hot sex scenes, but any reader will tell you that the sex scenes mean nothing if there is no story, no connection to the characters. The same goes for any scene, in any book, in any genre. Each and every scene has to offer something for the reader or they are just words on a page.

As a reader I hate it when I find myself skimming a book. To me that means that scene offers nothing of value to the story, and it shouldn’t be there. As a writer I strive to make sure there are no scenes in my stories that readers want to skim. To me thats what make a fast paced, engrossing read. It’s like when you go to a movie and you really have to pee, but you don’t want to leave togo to the washroom because you know if you do you’re going to miss something important.

I want my books to be that way. Ok, so you can put the book down and go to the washroom, or work or whatever, and not miss anything, but thats because when you start reading you pick up where you left off. The point is that you don’t skim anything because every scene has meaning, and your so engrossed in the story that your eyes are glued to every page.

Those scenes that no one will skim over are what I call Dynamic Scenes.

So how do you write them? Each scene has to offer something to the reader. Think character development, story arc, and plot holes. Think action or reaction.

I find that the action or reaction way of thinking is a very simple way to view things, and I like simple. Figuring that every scene in my books needs to feature either action, or reaction to something thats happened in the story makes it very easy to decide if the scene should be there or not. As a non-plotter it works great to think that way. I write a scene with action, then write the reaction to it. Simple.

Please understand that ‘action’ doesn’t always mean fighting a bad guy or jumping off a cliff. Action is basically when something is happening or being done. Action is something that moves the story forward in some way. Action is change. Something is different at the end of the scene than it was at the beginning.

By that definition, yes if you have your character showering, shaving and ….in a scene then yes there is action there, but it is it really anything that reader needs to know? So for my purposes, action is defined as something important happening. Not something big, but something important or integral to the story. Understand the difference? (and yes, character development is integral to the story)

However, what if your story has multiple storylines and POV’s? It doesn’t matter. It’s the same thing. Every scene should have either an action, or a reaction at it’s core. This keeps the story moving, and helps you avoid the dreaded sagging middle.

Okay, let’s get specific.
Look at a scene from your WIP.
Is it an action scene? Is it a reaction scene? If it isn’t either of those, how would you categorize it? Can you categorize it? If you’re looking at your scene, and thinking, “Shit, this isn’t really action, and it’s not really reaction…” then chances are your scene is not a dynamic one. No worries. You’re going to make it a dynamic one.

If it’s not an action or reaction scene you need to think about where in the story this particular scene sits. Look at the scene before it and the scene after it. What are they? is one an action, and the other a reaction? Is your scene really needed? If it’s not needed, cut it out and paste it into a separate file. ( I always have a file called “WIP cuts” where I paste anything I think doesn’t quite fit, but I’m not quite ready to delete. You never know you might find a place for it later-with some tweaking) If it’s still needed but it’s not an action or reaction, then think about how to make it one. Don’t be afraid to cut words, or to add another layer that will make the scene an action or reaction. Personally, I’m more afraid of leaving in words that aren’t needed, and boring my readers. 😉

Monday, December 6th, 2010 by Carrie Vaughn
Taking a Breath

I just turned in the manuscript for Kitty 10.  HUGE load off my desk, and my shoulders.  Celebration time!

The process on this one got a little wonky, in hindsight.  This is mainly because of the seven weeks on-and-off of hard travel I’ve done since July.  It meant I really only had about three and a half months to write the book, which is shorter than usual for me.  In fact, I ended up doing about twenty percent of the work on it in the last two weeks — 13,000 new words, plus revision and read-through before turning it in.  I usually try to finish a couple of weeks before the deadline so I can let the book sit before the read-through.  I didn’t have that option this time.

The thing is, I don’t think this is going to be visible in the finished project.  It still feels like all my other books have at this stage — a heady mix of pride of terror.  Is it great?  Does it suck?  What will people think?  I just don’t know!  I’m the only one who’s read it!  I’m guessing the book got its rest time during all those stints of travel.  All the same, I’d like to avoid the two-week intensive to finish in the future.  That was a lot of work.  I don’t think I could have kept up that pace for much longer.

What now?  I’m taking a break for the next few weeks, at least until Christmas, maybe until the end of the year.  All that stuff that I’ve been putting off for the last year or so while on my marathon of book production?  Like cleaning out my office,  sorting through and packing up all my old manuscripts and author copies, making a dent in the to-read pile, Christmas shopping and baking?  Not to mention just enjoying the holidays.  Yeah, that’ll be much easier now that I’m not thinking about finishing the book.

I’m still going to write every day (because I’m superstitious about it), but not on a particular project.  I’m thinking a half an hour a day or so of messing around with potential novel proposals, outlining short stories, and so on.  I’m looking forward to just playing with my writing for awhile.

Saturday, December 4th, 2010 by Ken Scholes
No, Really, the Writers of the Future….

I think I met some of them last Wednesday and I’m pleased to say that tomorrow’s field of letters should be in capable hands.

Here’s how it went down.

Wednesday arrived with singular precision just between Tuesday and Thursday and I woke up at 3am to brew the coffee, hit the bike and then begin Dadding and getting ready for work.

Left for the dayjob at 5am, started work at 6am and then slipped on my corduroy jacket and went to lunch at 8:30am.  That gave me just enough time to get to the school by 8:55. 

I pulled the box out of the trunk of the Honda, hoofed it to the office, got my little yellow You Are Allowed To Be Here badge and was escorted to Ms. Montano’s 8th grade Language Arts class where I met some of the writers of the future.

No, really, the writers of the future.  And the first thing Leroy whispered in my ear was “Holee Sheeit, these are some smart kids.”

I thought they might be curious about how things happen in Book Land so I started pulling things out of the box and passing them around the room, explaining each one as I did. 

Here’s a novel when it’s in manuscript form, rubber banded together and marked up with copyedits.  Here’s a bound manuscript and an ARC.  Here’s what it looked like in its US, its French, its German, its Spanish release.  They asked some questions, tentative at first.

And then they got serious.  Questions about how to develop characters and plots.  Questions about revision, process, conflict, endings, outlines, first readers, how to know if an idea is good.  We even discussed “The Cold Equation” with them and the ironic twisty ending.  For an hour, they pitched questions and I swung to answer.

It felt good.  There was excitement in their voices.  There was light in their eyes.  And there were always at least three hands in the air when it was time for the next question. 

It brought back a lot of memories.  Scribbling stories in my notebook, sometimes drawing them out comic-book style.  How eager I was to get into sophomore typing and the day my Mom brought home my little blue Royal manual typewriter. 

And the day my Dad said “Wait until you trying writing on this,” when he showed me the TRS-80 in his basement… 

And those letters from Ray Bradbury… 

And that first rejection letter (from Redbook Magazine)…

And Joan Owens, English Teacher Extraordinaire, who took me under her wing and fed my muse with Dickens and Salinger and Hemingway and Shakespeare and Bradbury…took me to hear Angelou and Vonnegut…got me into Centrum ArtFort and the Young Authors Conference….

And Patrick Swenson putting me finally into print many years later..

There are So Many People and events that help us along the way because it takes so much more than a village to make a writer.  And I think part of being grateful is paying it forward.  But in this case, these 8th graders were also paying forward to me out of those resevoirs filled with wonder and passion, eager to tell good stories well and curious to learn how. 

It inspired me to meet these kids.  It reminded me that I was there once, too.  We all were in one way or another.  But I was never as smart as this batch.  The future of letters will be in great hands, I think.

So all of you kids in Ms. Montano’s Language Arts Class — thank you for making my Wednesday a bit more sacred than it would normally be.  Keep your eyes open for the stories all around you and write like the wind.     

And that goes for the rest of you writers, too.

Friday, December 3rd, 2010 by Rosemary
The Joy of Writing

Does anyone else make New Month resolutions?  It seems like I’m always trying to turn over a new leaf and fix stuff. Usually the same stuff.  This month, it’s that I need to be less of a Scrooge. I love all the things about Christmas. I love to shop, and give presents. I love the music and the fellowship. I adore baking, and sharing meals with my family.

So why so cranky?  I think it’s because the pressure and stress skews my love of the season. TV ads show perfect trees, and I worry about getting just the right present for my in-laws, and there are screaming kids at the mall and time pressures and making everyone happy and living up to some unrealistic expectation…

Scrolling back through my blog posts here (I admit, looking for a topic I haven’t beat to death), I noticed a theme of angst and stress running through some of them: Over thinking and writer’s block and Page Fright and… they all have to do with the STRESS of writing.

So I realized the same thing that happens with the holidays can be a danger with our writing.

We write because we love writing.  But we can become so caught up in the pressure of doing it “right” or making the sale or getting our name out there and blogging/tweeting/facebooking/networking (even before publication) that we lose the joy of just… creating. Putting words on the page.

So,  I’m putting together a list that I can pull out when I start feeling Scroogish about the blogging and the tweeting and the copy edits and stuff.

Here’s a start:

Characters. I love populating my fictional world with people who feel real to me, and begin to take on dimensions and lives of their own. I like it when they speak up for themselves, and become friends or frustrations. I like getting to know their quirks and idiosyncrasies, and how they interact with each other. I don’t much like naming them, except when I finally get it right.

Playing with words and rhythms.  I love a well turned phrase, and there’s nothing better than going back later and reading something and thinking, “Wow. That’s nice. I can’t believe I wrote that.” (And usually, those are the phrases that I DON’T remember writing, because they come without struggling over them.)

Dialogue. I LOVE writing dialogue. I could write pages and pages of characters doing nothing but having snappy repartee parties. Especially if it’s…

The romantic parts. I do love the mushy parts.

The head trip. I love looking up from a long session at the computer and having to reorient myself to my surroundings.

The week before a deadline. I don’t sleep. I barely eat. I don’t shower. I just write. It’s awful and horrible, and there are tears and curses. But it feels so good at the end.

Help me out, genrealireaders. What would go on your list?