Sunday, March 29, 2015

An Ode to Snape

Severus or Snivellus?

Despite Youtube being the life-long enemy of my productivity, sometimes Youtube does me a solid and reminds me of something I love. I stumbled upon this video doing the Youtube rounds a few months back. Harry Potter fan or not, do yourself the big favour of watching it for the next 14 minutes! 14 minutes seems like an awful lot of time to commit to anything on Youtube but it's worth it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhOQ4VW6xV8

Well, now you know... and probably knew already... the multitude of reasons why I consider Professor Severus Snape to be the best of J.K.Rowling's many brain-children. His characterisation dazzles me because he could have easily just become this cardboard-cutout of an antagonistic dark figure set up to punish Harry, but instead J.K.Rowling spun him into a gloriously intriguing character instead.

Writers are told to avoid cliches and we really should do our best to do so. Deny the Damsel in Distress. Cancel the Chosen One. Ban the Brooding Bad Boy. Wean yourself off Wizened Mentors. Cookie-cutter cliches are not our friends. However, if all cliches are bad, how then did J.K.Rowling manage to become so deservedly successful when her books contain all of the above figures in some form or another? She uses cliche-inspired characters by the dozen, but gets away with it! More than gets away with it! Masters it and woos us into loving these characters! What's her secret??? I don't know - she hasn't told me. However, this is what I think...


First, she does more than just tweak her characters. She turns them on their heads.

If you were wondering who the Damsel in Distress of Hogwarts is, I see Ron and his cascading ginger locks cast in the role. He's always getting into trouble and can't always get himself out of it at first. To his credit, he saves a fair few people too. However, he bumbles his way through many a crisis.


Then in swoops Hermione to the rescue. Again. Neither Ron nor Hermione being perfect, J.K.Rowling still makes Hermione more of the protector than Ron.




On top of that, she's not afraid to make a hero horrid and a horrid person heroic.

There are no perfect personas made charmingly 'human' by one minor flaw in her novels. Giving a character one or two small foibles, like mild shyness or clumsiness, will not fool your reader into thinking your character is fully flesh and blood. Take Rowling's version of the Chosen One, Harry. Like all Chosen Ones, Harry struggles with his path and his destiny. However, Harry really, really, really struggles with it. At first, he's just this every-man character who gets to go to magic school and take us along with him for the ride. Then, from the third book onward, Harry the Teenager starts making a ton of mistakes. He can be clueless. He gets jealous. He falls out with friends. He is from time to time selfish. Shock! Horror! The Chosen One is human and probably has acne too! Harry the Chosen One makes a fair few mistakes too and is also just plain wrong in some cases. I'm sure I'm not alone in having found Harry irritating at times, but I still always wanted him to prevail!


Alongside her willingness to have horrid heroes and heroic horrid people too, J.K.Rowling doesn't rush to make you fall in love with her brain-children straight away. She has patience.

If you asked me now, I might be tempted to say that I had ALWAYS known that Snape was on the right side and that from Book One I had known that he'd be the anti-hero to save the day. I'd be lying. I spent the first two books in fear of Snape and comparing him to the worst teachers at my school. He didn't just have the illusion of being bad. He truly had many bad characteristics which he kept until the end of the series. He sneered at students. He bullied Harry and more. He petrified all. He led a bitter life. Yes, in the background, he was loyal to Albus Dumbledore and was a protector, but he still wasn't likable or appealing in any way to the people around him.

*** SPOILER ALERT! *** AND SERIOUSLY YOU HAVEN'T READ THEM YET?!?!?!!

Entire books passed by before we found out his even darker past and betrayals and other characters questioned his loyalty. Most of the books had passed by before we discovered that he was Lily Potter's closest friend and that James Potter had been less shiny than expected. J.K.Rowling gave us glimpses of Snape the hero here and there between all the scenes of horrid, but she made us wait and wait and measured out bits of Snape over time until we finally had a full understanding of how heroic a character he could be. While most cliches jump out at you and scream "Look at me!" in a less than subtle manner from the minute you see them, Snape had been the Brooding Bad Boy of a Severus-Lily-James love triangle and we hadn't even known it for multiple books.

One of my favourite Snape lines has to be when Snape, who no one trusts, and Dumbledore, who everyone trusts, discuss what Dumbledore has planned for Harry. A shocked Snape says, "I have spied for you and lied for you, put myself in mortal danger for you. Everything was supposed to be to keep Lily Potter's son safe. Now you tell me you have been raising him like a pig for slaughter." In that one page, Snape proves himself the protector and Dumbledore the betrayer (but I can't speak ill of him! I won't!) and the reader is left stunned! Beautifully done! What a story arc! That takes both planning and patience that I am in awe of.

We don't need to throw all the cliches out, but have fun playing with them! Toy with overly traditional gender roles! Turn cliches on their head and splice them together and remake them! Make your heroes and villains meet at some murkier middle point! Commit some time to fleshing them out bit by bit! You don't find out everything about a person in one conversation!

Now time for a re-read! And I'll leave you with my favourite wizened mentor for company!



Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Thing about Love

I went through a phase of reading romance novels of all shapes and sizes (from regency to Mills&Boon stuff). Then I moved on to crime stories, science fiction, and back to the fantasy novels that started my love of reading in the first place. Recently, I've gotten my hands on a couple of thrillers and what's called "romantasy" (romance + fantasy)(yes really, that's what the bookshelf is called in my local bookstore). 

All these books, and I really do mean ALL these books, have one common factor:

Love is in the Air. 
(John Paul Young)

I don't think I've read a single book (of the story-telling variety) in the past decade that does not include a love story at some level - and this is the question I'm posing today. When's the last time you came across a book that did not have a love story of some sort as a plot line?  

Certainly, all the ideas running around in my head have love as a subplot at the very least. To love (or to lose love, as the case may be) is such an essential part of the human condition that it wriggles its way into the most unlikely of storylines. Even most thrillers (those few that don't involve the detective coming across a love interest) have some (usually perverted) form of love in them. Even most horror stories I can think of involve some form of love, however confused it may be (just think of the protagonist's blond cheerleading/football playing crush that gets conveniently killed off to further the plot)(ok so that's mostly in the movies but what the hey)(or the gloriously distorted love portrayed in Stephen King's Misery). 

Given that love plays such a large part in storytelling as a whole, it's amazing how different portrayals of this one single emotion can be - and by that I don't mean the different (often genre-induced) kinds of love, but the specific details a writer can put down on paper. The tendency seems to be towards explicitness, no matter what the genre. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against a nice love scene or two or three, but I do think that the level of intimacy needs to be appropriate to the type of story. 

One does not, in general, read a thriller purely to get a thrill out of the detective having a grand old time with his girlfriend/boyfriend/one-night-stand. On the other hand, if I'm reading a romance, love on an emotional AND physical level better be the main event. Love scenes, like all other scenes and plot elements, should never, ever, be in the story just for the sake of including them - even in a romance. 

A story is not a checklist of obligatory scenes. 

If I read about the protagonist's sex life, it better have something to do with his character, someone else's character or the plot in general. Otherwise, why should I care if he or she has sex or not? 

That said, a character's psyche is a very important part of any story, and insofar as love is one of the most essential and inescapable emotions a human being can show, it's not something a writer should ignore. Any emotion adds to a character, and the more three-dimensional you can portray your character, the more he'll seem real to the reader. Nobody likes cardboard-cutout people, right? 

Right. 

So let's have a show of hands, then: 

Do you have a love story in the story you're writing? Is it plot essential/character essential? How story-appropriate do love scenes need to be - is it ok to go for the thrill of it, just because?  
Can you think of any other emotional plot lines/plot points that feature in almost all stories you can think of, or is love the only one that's universally applicable? 





Thursday, March 26, 2015

Commitment, A Plan and Time to Get It Done

Have you ever searched your writer-soul? Recently, I did just that, questioning my literary dedication, not just to writing, but to seeing my works complete and out there for others to read. Why? Because I’ve written three and a half books, none of which are published and only one is completed. That’s not counting my first, half-written manuscript that died with a crashed month-old hard drive, the thinly-veiled memoir that had a name and everything.

While searching my writer-soul did I discover why I keep leaving manuscripts lying around gathering dust? No. It didn’t seem necessary. Or relevant. But I did have an epiphany.
In order to get my books completed and in to readers’ hands I needed a personal commitment, a plan and time to get it done.
Courtesy memespp.com
 

So I committed to spending at least 24 hours a week editing, writing, doing research, whatever it takes to bring those books to publication and distribution, beginning with my most current project. Why twenty-four hours? I figured I should be willing to give at least one day a week to that which holds my heart.

As for the plan, it’s a bit nebulous at this point, focused on completing edits on the current WIP and getting it to beta readers, then diving back in to the half-written second book. Once I’ve completed all three volumes of the trilogy and found (or made) homes for them, I’ll revisit the others.

Now. Other than NaNoWriMo 2014, I’ve never been a disciplined writer in any way, shape or form, but I decided to keep track of my writing time. Imagine that. You guys probably magically knew to do that, but for some reason, it’d never occurred to me and if it had, I probably would’ve poo-poo’d it as a device to turn my passion in to work.

At first I scribbled it out in a notebook, which wasn’t ideal, so I created an Excel spreadsheet. When I’m ready to begin, I record the time, word count, page number, and where I am, what I’m eating or drinking (I write a lot at coffee shops and restaurants and even at home I tend to eat and drink while working.) It’s fun to look back and read my notes, things like “I’m soooooo sleepy” or “Wow, was that three hours? No way!” When I’m done, I record my counts and tally my time.
My Excel spreadsheet-feel free to copy the format

The result? Productivity out the ying-yang, like never before. Last week was the first (in the month since I began tracking) that I hit the twenty-four hour mark, but I’m close every week and the goal fuels a fire that burns hotter with time and results. In four weeks I’ve completed edits on 200 of the now-418 page manuscript, watched the word count dwindle from 108K to 102K and knocked seven pages off the total length.

And all that started with a little writer-soul searching. Is there anything in your writer-soul that needs searching? Anything holding you back or keeping you from being as productive (or fill-in-the-blank) as you'd like? What tools do you use to keep moving in the right direction?

~ Olivia J. Herrell

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Find Your Passion, Write your Story



Today, I want to talk about how we as writers choose the stories we write, why we choose the way we do, and propose that we consider choosing our stories with passion in mind.

One of the things I love to ask fellow writers is how they began writing, and what they wrote at first. I am interested in how they got into the writing habit, and even why they chose the stories they did at first, but what I love most about those conversations is the joy that writers almost glow with, when they remember those first stories. 

These writers often have several things in common when talking about the stories. You can tell, just from the way they talk about them, that they loved these stories. Even though most are sitting in a drawer or stashed under a bed, they still love these stories. And do you know what? It comes through in the way they talk about them. 

One of the other things I've noticed, both in myself and in the writers I harass with questions about their writing, is that they often don't feel the same kind of passion for their later work. Today, I want to make some educated guesses as to why that is, and ask the question, well is that so bad?

There are quite a few reasons why I think the love for the story you see in first works can fade as a writer gains experience, but primarily I think it can be attributed to a single reason. 

We stop writing what we are passionate about.

There are a few reasons people stop writing about what flares their interest, about the things they love, or hate, or feel like matter most. 

Sometimes writers leave what they love to follow trends. They'll read that fantasy, or regency romance, or space operas are out. And so even though they have a wonderful story they love that falls into one of those genres, they put it off to write straight romance. There's nothing wrong with that, if you have a straight romance story you're passionate about telling. But if you don't, well forcing yourself to write something that you don't care about may not be the best idea. 


If you've been writing for very long, and have hung out with other folks in the writing game,another reason people leave off writing the stories they love probably became very apparent very quickly. 

There can be a class system in the the writing world. 

Well--several class systems actually, but the one I want to touch on today (in addition to other issues) is literary v. genre. The effects this class distinction has on writers--especially  genre authors can be very dampening. 

The message often comes across that genre authors are not real authors, and their books are looked down on as not real books. As incredible as that sounds, it tends to be prevalent in the industry. Far greater communicators than I have written essays and blogs and letters to the editor in defense of genre fiction, and they did a fine job. But the class distinction still exists, and it doesn't appear to be going anywhere. 

Not long age I attended a GENRE writing conference, (Romance) and heard a well known literary agent tell a romance publisher (in front of an entire room of romance authors) that she didn't publish REAL books. 

Because, apparently, romance books aren't REAL. 

I was floored, but sadly, that attitude is not unusual, and can make genre writers ashamed of writing what they're passionate about, or feel that they need to pursue more literary writing even though that isn't where their passion lies. 

This second reason feeds into the third reason. 

Fear.

When a writer is passionate about the story they are writing, be it lit fic or spaceships, or vampires or zombies, they are opening themselves up where it counts. 

Where they're vulnerable. 

And fear can be a very powerful reason for us to set aside the passion, the stories that matter, because if they fail, or get bad reviews, or God forbid--no reviews, well that failure would hurt so much worse than if we didn't open ourselves up. 

So why do it? Why open yourself up to that sort of vulnerabilty as a writer? Why is passion important in writing anyway? 

Because your passion comes through in your writing and readers can tell. 

If you don't love your story, neither will they. 

I know we've all read books where the writing wasn't amazing, but despite that, the author managed to pull in millions of readers and make them sigh and weep and care for their characters. And we've all asked the question how? 

How is it that this poorly written book has so many people fangirling over it?

Passion.

The author was passionate about the story, and it came through on the pages. It sucked us readers in because when we read we are searching for that passion for the characters and their stories. 

The converse is true for well written, well edited books that we want to love and read hoping all the way through that the attachment will happen (anytime now.) 

It never does and we end the book feeling underwhelmed and a little cheated. Without passion, that connection is less likely to happen.


Don't misunderstand me. 

Good writing is important. 
Good editing is important. 
Good formatting is important. 

But without passion, the story is flat. 
That's because writing, formatting, editing are just vehicles for the story. 

Passion is the point of the story. 


Monday, March 23, 2015

How to Rock your Cover Reveal


Are you looking for a tried-and-true, fail-safe, how to guide for planning a cover reveal? Read on for my awesome, enlightened eight step approach to Rocking your Cover Reveal ...

Recently, I had the opportunity to reveal the cover of my debut historical fiction, Avelynn. As a good little author, I wanted to shout my cover to the mountaintops; I wanted the whole world to share in my joy and pride. But one cannot simply post the picture and say here it is. We must do it up to the nines—and rightly so. This is a big deal in the life of an author. A momentous occasion, a milestone of sorts.
However, to others, it’s merely another cover reveal in the onslaught of cover reveals on the internet. It’s just another image, another self-promo tactic in a sea of authors yelling, ‘Hey, over here, look at me, see what I’ve written, isn’t it awesome!’ But here’s the kicker—my book is awesome! ;) I want you to see what I’ve written! I want you to love the cover and the words painstakingly rendered on each of the three hundred odd pages as much as I do. I just need to help you filter the cacophony out there until you notice me.

The book :D

Lisa Abellera wrote a great blog post about the importance of a book’s cover. And continuing on a theme first introduced by Charlotte Gruber in her latest post on charactersjudging a book by its cover is akin to going on a first date.
 
We might claim that we’re not superficial, but deep down, under the surface of our altruism and genuine desire to be nonjudgmental, we’re all deeply influenced by what we see. A perfectly  symmetrical face is considered the most attractive to our wandering eyes, and like our first impressions of another person, our first impressions of a book are often determined by the design elements on its cover. It has to be captivating, intriguing, and aesthetically pleasing. In those first moments, within that suspended breath, we should be able to catch a glimpse of what we will find inside.
 
Off course, yet veering into a slightly relevant tangent:
 
I love my husband. We’ve been together twenty-four years. I fell in love with his personality, his sense of humour, and his genuine and selfless character, but I have to admit, when I saw him walk through the doors of that submarine shop all those years ago, I first noticed his handsome face—taking in his gentle blue eyes, the outside edges crinkling slightly when he smiled, his high cheekbones, his perfectly coiffed blond hair, strong jaw line—and his tight little soccer-playing ass. In fact, many years later at one of those soccer games, he jumped to head the ball just as the goalie lunged to fist it away. Both missed the ball but made contact with each other—husband’s face/goalie’s knuckles. When I saw him the next day, all puffy and rocking a technicolour eye, which I might add was swollen shut, I told him point blank: “I never realized how superficial I was until just this moment.” ;)
 
The husband :D

Isn’t he cute! But I digress. So, back to the cover reveal. I wanted to make a good first impression, but I wanted it to be meaningful. So what to do? Google it, of course. I scoured the internet looking for information on how to reveal a book cover. The pickings were abysmal at best. I hunted, scrolling through over ten pages of google search results for anything I could find. I stumbled onto a lot of individual author websites and blogs that highlighted their cover—one image, a few words of buildup, maybe an excerpt or two, but that was it. Nowhere could I find a tried-and-true, fail-safe, how to guide. So, after pouring though several sites, I improvised. I combined a few ideas, came up with a couple of my own, and here’s what I garnered:

 
How to Rock your Cover Reveal



1. Plan it
 

Pick the date
  • I chose the handy six month pre-publication date to reveal the cover.
  • I.e., the book is coming out September 8th, 2015, so I held the party on March 8th.
Set the time

  • I wanted this to be a big event with the option for people to pop in throughout the day.
  • My party ran from 12:00pm EST to 8:00pm EST.
  • Plan on being glued to your computer from at least an hour before to an hour after.

2. Facebook it



Set up a Facebook event
  • Setting up a Facebook event is effortless, and it’s easy to invite everyone on your friend list to the party!
  • Since it all takes place on Facebook, you can host the event in your pyjamas.
  • Your friends can also attend in the PJs.
Caution: Not everyone knows what a Facebook event is! As the awesome organizer of this spectacular soiree, it’s very important to make it clear to your invitees that the event takes place ON Facebook, not AT your house. Take it from me … this little distinction is key.  


3. Guest Authors
 

A party is always better with friends
  • If you’re a writer, you probably have lots of author friends who might like to find and meet potential new readers.
  • Dog-earing an hour at the start of the event to set the atmosphere (e.g., describe contests, giveaway rules, reveal guest author line-up) and an hour to close the festivities (e.g., finally … Avelynn’s big cover reveal), I offered each of my guest authors a full hour to interact and have fun with our guests.
Tell your friends what you are doing to build up the event
  • One week prior to the event, I revealed a tiny piece of the cover with a word hidden within the image.
  • Every day thereafter, leading up to the event, I would post another puzzle piece.
  • Readers were told to jot down the hidden words and bring the list to the party. If they got them all correct, they were entered in a draw for a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card.
  • Pimp out the event on all your social media pages and outlets. Talk it up, blast it out there! Create some noise.
Be clear up front about expectations
  • Yes, it’s your cover reveal, but this party is actually more about your guest authors. After all, you don’t even have a book out yet.
  • Ask them to invite friends from their personal Facebook pages.
    • This is very important. Only a small percentage of those invited will actually attend, so the more invites the better it is for everyone involved!
  • Ask that they post their ‘special guest appearance’ on their blog at least twice leading up to the event and tweet with abandon.

 4. Giveaways


Make it worth the reader’s while to give you their valuable time
  • For each correct answer to the hidden word puzzle challenge, a reader received an entry into the draw for the $50 Amazon gift card.
Scavenger Hunt
  • Building an author newsletter list is essential.
  • Building a presence on Goodreads is essential.
  • Having readers ‘like’ your author page is awesome too!
  • So, I sent my readers on a scavenger hunt, so to speak. For each ‘action’ completed from the list above (i.e., going to my website and signing up for my newsletter, hopping over to Goodreads and voting for Avelynn in Listopia and adding the book to their ‘to read list,’ liking my author page) they received an additional entry into the $50 Amazon gift card draw.
  • Win/Win. :D

5. Author Giveaways


 
Each of my guest authors offered a giveaway of their own
  • Whether it was an ebook, a print book, a pdf, or a gift card, each guest author brought a giveaway to the party … so that meant FREE stuff every hour!
  • At the beginning of every hour, I would introduce a new guest author in a new post. In the comments, under that specific thread, for that specific author, readers would post questions and generally interact with my guests.
  • For each comment, a reader received an entry into the draw for that hour’s prize giveaway.
  • Every comment garnered an entry, ergo, the more you commented and had fun, the more chances you had to win!
 
6. Facilitate



Keep the conversation going
  • Have a list of author interview questions handy.
  • There are lots of great examples of author interview questions on the internet. I strove for a balance of serious and silly and launched at whim.
  • Your job is to introduce your guest authors and start the dialogue rolling, periodically offering up new questions if a current thread tapers off.
Once I started the conversation, readers took over, asking their own questions. Once that happened, I could sit back and drink my coffee (or finally run to the bathroom … damn coffee). I had only to keep an eye on the time and make a few witty comments of my own.


 7. Organize


Prior to the event:
  • Collect all the bios, images, and links your wonderful guest authors will provide.
  • Copy the text into a specific file folder, e.g., Cover Reveal Party Author Deets.
  • Copy the images into a specific photo folder. Bunch each author’s images together within that folder, e.g., author picture, book covers, teaser photos etc.
  • This allows for fast and seamless copying and pasting into the posts. A Facebook event is like a live reality television show. There’s no stopping for retakes and editing!
Important: Organisation is the key to success! An hour is not a lot of time to run amuck on your computer, trying to find and organize everything for your next guest at the last minute, in real time, while you’re trying to facilitate the conversation for the current guest … not that I would know, of course.


8. Acquire Minions


Having multiple giveaways every hour requires an insane amount of effort, and Rafflecopter just isn’t going to cut it. This is a back-to-basics, pen-and-paper kind of affair. If possible, enlist the services of adorable minions, or unpaid labour … i.e., your family.

Since I had every comment = an entry, there was a lot of name dropping going on. I had a pad of lined paper beside my laptop and once the sheet was filled, I had my wonderful children cut them into nice, neat little rectangles, and place the entries into the ceramic bowl. My youngest was the official winner-picker. In hindsight, I’d have the paper cut and ready to go beforehand.
Here’s the link to my Facebook Party event page. Feel free to have a look around; see how the conversations for each author was organized and how it unfolded. Check out the puzzle images … heck see if you can find the hidden words. The draws and giveaways may be done, but the fun never ends. Looking forward to hosting Avelynn’s Launch Party in September! See you there!  :D
For more information and to keep up to date on Avelynn and the awesome prizes coming in September, join my author newsletterDid I mention free stuff? There’s a sexy short story delivered straight to your inbox just for signing up.
In gratitude,
Marissa xo

 
P.S. I just made this awesome teaser video of Avelynn, in case you're, you know, curious. :D


xo


Friday, March 20, 2015

Searching For Mr. Right


I had lunch with my stepdaughter this week and listened to her stories about the dating world.  It's always interesting, and even sometimes scary, to hear about the people she's meeting. I've tried to drill it into all of my girls' heads that the dating period is the "honeymoon" phase. It's not going to get any better. People will be on their Very Best Behavior while dating. 

The jerk that went to the Singles Party and acted like he didn't see her? That guy is a Loser. He's never going to turn into a Prince Charming. 

But the sweet guy that spent the evening talking to your lonely grandpa? He's a keeper.

How does this apply to writing?

Photo by Ian Muttoo

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

When dating, you meet someone for the first time and make many decisions based on first impressions. Walking into a book store and choosing a book is a little like dating. You pick up a book and study the cover. You like? It's passed the first test. Now you flip it over and read the back jacket. The equivalent of having a drink. Small spark? You open the book to check out the first page. 


The first line has set the stage nicely. If the character is interesting, maybe you read a little more. But then you hit a snag. 

"I can't get a hold of Bob." A childish whine snuck into her voice. She coughed to cover it up. Why did she always regress when she spoke to her older sister?   

Nope. I’m not reading about some whiner for 350 pages. Your protagonist doesn’t have to necessarily be likable. Lisabeth Sandler isn’t likable. But she is compelling. 


BLANK vs STRONG

The call for strong female protagonists is stressed at writers conferences and all over twitter on the #MSWL. To me, this means a character like Taylor Stevens’ Vanessa Michael Munroe or Stieg Larson’s Lisabeth Sandler. While I love these books, my MC is not anything like . 

In reality, the "strong character" means a character with agency. The character must lead the story, rather than react to what happens to her.  Readers are interested in watching her figure things out. If she makes a poor choice that’s okay. It's still interesting. 

Lisabeth Sandler from
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

The blank character is another option. This character can still have some interesting attributes, and still must have agency, but he or she is just average enough for the reader to identify with and imagine being that character. Harry Potter is a prime example of a blank character. Keep in mind, the blank character is not to be confused with a flat character (one personality trait, i.e. all good, or all bad).

Harry Potter

CONSISTENT

Your characters must be consistent to themselves. You, the author, can make your character do something he might not want ti do--much like a strict teacher can make a bully apologize. But everyone knows the bully is not sincere. Just like the readers know your character isn't either.

BECHDALE TEST

The Bechdale Test originated as a way to measure the diversity of films in the 1985 comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and it’s still a way to build a more realistic female character. It has three criteria: 




*********************************************************************************

I told my stepdaughter I was going to write a blog post comparing fictional characters to dating. Her reply was that it’s not comparable. She also gave me a funny look and asked if all writers are so mathematically oriented in character building. 

After researching for this post, I realize she’s right. Dating, to some degree, is looking for Mr. Right. Reading is entertainment. But you have to be engaged enough to spend ten to twenty hours with a character AND be compelled to spending that time inside a characters head. 

In closure, I give you my notes and my formula. Your character:
  1. Must have agency
  2. Must be consistent
  3. Must have inner conflict applied to external situation
  4. Interior narrative cannot be whiney
  5. Female characters must pass the Bechdal test


Please let me know your answer to the equation in the comments below.
~Charlotte Levine-Gruber

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Living on the Edge: Writers as Outsiders

Are writers supposed to live on the fringes of society? I mean, as writers and artists, we regularly ponder horrific existential truths that would scare the pants off regular people. We’ve tapped into something huge, man. Something beyond everyday reality, an existence in the margins. Just makes sense we'd be outsiders, right?


Reality Bites (1994)

I’ve been percolating on this sentiment for weeks, but couldn’t really put words to it until I read poet Tony Hoagland’s recent column in The Writer. “I was living a vagabond life, encountering a lot of people who were living outside of all the systems,” writes Tony of his younger days. “That’s very important for writers, because we really are the outsiders, and we have to maintain our outside perspective…We really can’t speak truthfully or with that renegade precision that turns over rocks unless we know how to navigate between the systems and not to be co-opted by any of their resident vocabularies.”

Poet Tony Hoagland

I read Tony’s column while on a roadtrip with family and friends to New Mexico for Spring Break. It could’ve been my altitude sickness or the peculiar Native American landmarks, but his words resonated with me. A vagabond life…Renegade precision that turns over rocks…I don’t know about you, but something about that description gets me all fired up.


Almost every writer I’ve met views the world differently from the mainstream. For some of us it takes years to claim the role—pretending we fit in, trying to be normal, yet seeing things that others don’t (then shutting up about it, so as not to disturb the status quo). But somewhere along the line we'll sit down over a keyboard with reverence, take a deep breath, and start writing. When that happens, watch out. We’ll turn over rocks with renegade precision like warriors—word warriors—armed with smoking-hot vocab and deadly syntax.


Which leads me to my next point: is there something more substantial than gratuitous self-identification to this concept of writers as outsiders? Is there a purpose?

Yes and yes.

As writers, we put words to emotions and sensations that others feel but can’t articulate, so that when someone reads it, they think, “Yes—that’s exactly it. That’s how I feel.” This can happen in millions of ways in every genre. Stephen King once said that fiction is the truth inside the lie. When writers wrap a story around real emotions, readers identify with that story because they’ve also felt those same core emotions. It can be cathartic for both writer and reader.

Besides serving as emotional conduits, writers are also in the unique position of pointing out societal failings. Most people learn quickly in life not to speak of those little things (and sometimes really big things) in our culture that don’t ring true. Writers and artists have the ability to expose these discrepancies. Why? Because we’re outsiders. We know the lay of the land, but we see it from a different perspective.


So raise your coffee mugs and take up your keyboards, because right now someone out there might need you to flip over a rock or two. You’re a writer, baby. Get to work.


 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Take My Advice

Struggling to write this one sums up my writing efforts during the past few weeks.  Inspired by fellow Relentless Writer, Janice M. Wilson's post:  NEW SHIRT, NEW SHOES, NEW STORY, I dusted off one of the old stories and tried to get it going again.


In trying to relight the fire of the story, I also decided to "take my writing seriously" and do things like read Stephen King's On Writing and do an outline.  Since I'm trying to write a mystery, my thought process was based on that King ethic that if I'm going to have something happen later, I sure as heck better set it up at the beginning of the story.  I also did the whole "kill your darlings" thing to streamline certain relationships and iron out timeline issues I've struggled with through the whole story.

And let me just put this on the record:  THIS IS THE MOST FRUSTRATING THING I'VE EVER DONE!

I want to burn the whole thing like love letters in a fire filled barrel on Valentine's Day.  Since it takes place in a small community of New Jersey McMansions (thus far, last night I wondered what would happen if I moved it to Seattle), I want to burn all the houses down and collect the insurance money.  The latter is what someone did to get his footing in real estate, but I guess you can witness that whenever this story gets out of my damn head.  I even forgot I had that part set up in my head as something to use.  Hence why I'm trying to outline.

Now that the embers of my frustration are cooling, I can say that I am in love with this story again, as I am with my other story.  I unearthed a couple things that became my darlings and got rid of a lot of stuff I just had no interest in and didn't seem like it would payoff for the audience.

But now to set some deadlines.

And how's your writing going in 2015?


Friday, March 13, 2015

Cover Reveal: Bad Apple

Ladies and Gentlemen, and those who have yet to decide! 


Book Two in THE SNOWROSE SERIES by Wren Michaels is almost here, 
and because we love these naughty fairytales and Wren's amazeballs cover artist,
 Jay Aheer
we're giving you guys a sneak peek.  
Book One, UNBEARABLE, gave you Rose Red's story. 

And now...


Let us present Book Two, BAD APPLE, Snow White's story!


 
BADAPPLE-evernightpublishing-JayAheer2015-FinalImage

 

And it's been chosen as an Editor's Pick!

editor's pick

In preparation for BAD APPLE's arrival, Wren is giving away a copy of UNBEARABLE
Book One in THE SNOWROSE SERIES.


unbearable1s 

Thanks for playing and good luck!


About Wren Michaels

Wren Michaels hails from the frozen tundra of Wisconsin where beer and cheese are their own food groups. But a cowboy swept her off her feet, and carried her away below the Mason-Dixon line where she promptly lost all tolerance for snow and cold. They decided they'd make beautiful babies together and they got it right on the first try. Now Wren lives happily ever after in the real world and in the worlds of her making, where she creates book boyfriends for the masses to crave.
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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Judging Your Book By Its Cover


Over the years, whether I realized it or not, I judged each book I read by its cover. Now it could be because on some subconscious level, my designer’s eye influences my decision  on whether or not to invest my leisurely time (which, like most of us, is precious and few) in reading a book. Sure, there may be other factors that go further to either convince or deter me, such as reading the back cover copy or the first page of the book. But it is that initial glance, that spying from the corner of my eye as I pass the book aisle that makes me stop, turn, and lift the book from its place to examine it more closely.


I like to wander in bookstores, libraries and stores with book departments to check out the latest books being displayed on the shelves. Part of why I do it is to keep up on the current book design trends. Another reason is to see if I can understand the narrative the cover design is attempting to convey. Just like the story within the book’s binding, its cover has a narrative. This narrative is created through the photos, illustrations or other design elements arranged on the book's cover. And just like imagery in a story’s narrative, a cover’s images can reflect elements of the book or serve as thematic metaphors.  The tricky part is creating enough of a (graphical) narrative to provide a glimpse into the story without overwhelming or underwhelming the reader.

When I tell someone that I design books, the conversation usually veers toward discussing a book’s cover. Most assume that book design is all about the cover. And they’d be right, on some days. (The book’s interior design doesn’t usually get to shine in the limelight, for good reasons I believe, but that’s for another post.) On some days, it’s all I can think about. I’ll even dream about a cover’s design, especially if I’m working out issues I’m having in trying to make it match the design I’d originally envisioned.

Sometimes, I’ll obsess over a book cover, because I don’t have a vision for it. I don’t normally read the book before sitting down to design its cover.  The book summary and the first couple of chapters are usually enough get the design started. But on occasion, there will be a book that defies my design sensibilities. 

I recently put together composite covers for a three-book series that Reputation Books just acquired. I had designed another three-book series last summer and really enjoyed coming up with cover concepts, especially the series’ branding. Those books had a distinct sense of place, which is reflected on each cover. 


This time, however, I wanted to design the three books in a different style. After several days of cover design fails, I finally went wandering down the book aisles of my local Costco, and found Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce books for sale. The contrast of colors and stark imagery made me take notice.  I liked how the covers had common elements that were used differently on each book. I couldn’t help but pick them up.  




A book cover provides a way to graphically represent the book’s tropes. Tropes are the figures of speech writers use to render meaning. We’re all familiar with tropes of comparison, such as metaphors and similes, which are used to create figurative connections in our stories. The same goes for a book cover.  But a book cover can also create metaphoric or figurative connections through principles of synecdoche and metonymy, tropes of substitution, which I think the book designer of the Flavia de Luce books does quite well. 

 As my former MFA professor explains:
“Synecdoche [is a] substitution of the part for the whole; the part stands for the whole. Synecdoche comes in several types. The genus can be substituted for the species (vessel for ship, weapon for sword, arms for rifles, vehicle for bicycle) or the species substituted for the whole (sail for ship, hands for helpers), or matter substituted for what is made from it (canvas for painting, silver for money, steel for sword). . . . Metonymy [is the] substitution of some attribute for a thing, such as crown for royalty (crown belonging to the crown), miter for bishop, pen for writer.”
Whether you are designing your own book cover or hiring a book designer, you can save some time and money, if you come prepared with a few ideas of what you’d like for your book’s cover. One way to generate ideas is to do what I do: go into bookstores and libraries and look at covers of books in the same genre as your book. When I see a cover that stands out in particular, I’ll take a picture of it with my phone. Here are some other tips in coming up with a cover design: 

  • Explore a sense of place; the right picture with the story’s setting can help to show not only where the story takes place but also imply the emotional tone of the story.
  • Look for images that can metaphorically represent themes of the story, character attribute or elements of the plot.
  • Try focused imagery or specific elements to imply a broader theme, more complete scene or larger object.
  • Consider the balance and symmetry of images, words and other design elements placed together on the cover. What pulls at your attention? How does the information – language and imagery – flow, both down and across the cover?
  • Watch out for clichés. Just like in writing, clichés occur in book design. Research other books that are in your book’s genre. Taking into account the design elements that are common to that genre, you still want to make your cover specific to your story. The problem with cliché covers is that the overused imagery often bears little or no relationship to the book’s actual content.

I think of the cover as the book’s invitation. It is the first, and sometimes last impression. It should reveal enough to whet the reader’s appetite and peak his or her curiosity.  Interpreting a book cover can sometimes seem like reading runes, but what gets it pick up off the shelf isn’t how closely it resembles the story but how well it communicates a meaningful narrative to the potential reader.