Fill-Me-In Friday - Best Writing Links of the Week


Fave photo of the weekTaking kidlet on a miniature train ride in Fort Worth yesterday. Kidlet declared, "It's just like the Dinosaur train! But no dinosaurs." :)

Alright, we've made it to Friday, everyone. Congrats. :) And since I had to skip last Friday's round-up, we have an extra long one today. Hope you find something worth reading.


On Writing/Publishing: 


On Social Media/Marketing:


For Gits and Shiggles:


What You May Have Missed Here: 


So that's what I have for the week. How was your week? What are you reading?

Finding Your Novel's Theme and Your Universal Theme

Photo by Charles Clegg (CC)So there are many, many steps involved in writing a novel (I know, thank you, Captain Obvious). And one of the things you'll find in all those checklists is--what is the story's theme? It's even a step in the Save the Cat beat sheet.

Blake Snyder goes so far as to say that in a movie (novel in our case), the theme is often stated outright. It's usually in some offhanded comment in the first 5% of the movie, typically said by someone other than the main character. So something like "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy", "crime doesn't pay", etc. Though, hopefully yours is said in a less cliche way.

It's what the story is going to be about, underneath the plot points. And it makes a story richer, more layered. And even if you didn't consciously put a theme in your story, there's probably one there.

Now, on a more meta level, it's also said that most writers tend to write to the same universal theme over and over again. This does NOT mean writing the same story over and over again. What I talked about above is the novel theme, this is the author theme. For some reason, we're drawn to certain types of stories and we tend to come up with ideas that speak to our universal theme.

For instance, one of the themes Stephen King uses a lot is:  "The greatest evil that people do is victimization of the weak by the strong." (Quoted from Books Worth Reading. Check out the post for King's other common themes.)

And let me tell you, I've given a lot of thought to theme and have even done the Save the Cat thing and had the theme stated plainly in the book. If you look at the last line of the prologue in MELT INTO YOU, that's the theme of the story: "Because sometimes doing the wrong thing was the only thing that felt right."

However, as much as I tried to work on novel theme, I could never really figure out my author theme. I wasn't convinced I had one. I mean, love conquers all is kind of the theme of all romance novels but that's too vague. And then the other day I was struggling with my current book and emailing with my buddy, Jamie Wesley. And she said, "Just remember your theme. Your books are all about healing and self-acceptance."

And I stared at her email and wanted to jump through the computer and hug her. All this time trying to figure out my theme, and she nailed it like it was the most obvious statement in the world. And she was absolutely, 100% right. That is what every book I've ever written is about. For those of you who have read my books, you'll see it plain as day if you think about the stories.

So why does this matter? Who cares if you can pinpoint it or not?

Well, it matters because when you're struggling with an idea, circling up with your theme can help clarify where you want to go with the story. That doesn't mean you ALWAYS have to write to that theme, but knowing what kinds of stories inspire you can give you a starting point.

And specific story theme can provide the same thing--clarity. What is this story really about? If it really is about "crime doesn't pay", you better not reward criminal behavior in the book. 

Also, don't stress if the story theme doesn't come to you immediately. Sometimes, especially for pantsers, you don't know what the story is about until you finish it. You can always go back in revisions and strengthen the theme throughout.

And if all else fails, get brilliant writer friends like I have who can bonk you over the head and tell you "Duh, your books are about THIS." : )

So what do you think of theme? Is it something you consciously try to weave into your story? Do you think you have a universal author theme? What is it?

Seven Things That Make a Book 5-Star Worthy

Credit: NASA

Like many authors, I have chosen not to post negative book reviews. I believe every reader has a right to an opinion (including me), but I also know that writerland is small and it's not worth burning a bridge or creating awkwardness just because I may have not liked someone's book. 

However, if I enjoy a book, I will post or tweet about it and give it a rating on Goodreads and/or Amazon. And sometimes the hardest part about doing that is deciding between a 4 and 5 star review--or finding the difference between "really liked it" and "it was amazing". I noticed that I rarely give 5 stars to anything because apparently I have a really high bar set for that, even though pinpointing where the bar was set wasn't so clear.

Then I read an advanced copy of Tiffany Reisz's The Siren this past week and immediately knew I would give it five stars (and no, not because Tiffany is my agency mate.) Why? Well, I realized I DO have certain criteria that launch a book to a five-star rating. Here's what I came up with...


A Five-Star Book...

1. Is a story I cannot put down.

This means I will forgo things that I love to do just to keep reading. I was on my anniversary trip in New Orleans this past week. I should've been walking around the French Quarter and eating beignets, but instead I had to take a midday break just to get in a few more chapters of The Siren. (Hubs didn't seem to mind since this gave him the chance to check in on the golf tournament.)

2. Has characters I will remember long after I finish the book.

Terrific exciting plots are great. Love that. But without richly developed characters that I can connect to, a story will fall flat. I want to finish a book and feel like I've just read about real people that exist somewhere in some alternate universe. 

3. Requires a period of reflection (or a grieving period) after I'm done.

This means that I cannot immediately jump into another book the next day. I need time to absorb, reflect, and appreciate what I've just read. If I pick up another book too soon, the book automatically pales in comparison--not because it's not a good or even great book, but because I'm not ready for a new relationship yet.

4. Makes me want to buy the author's next book or backlist RIGHT NOW even if I have a TBR pile that is threatening to bury me.

A five-star book makes me forgo all plans to read whatever I planned on next. I need more from the author and I need it now.

5. Is one that I must have a hardcopy of.

I love ebooks. I was a pretty early adopter with the Kindle and buy ebooks regularly. However, when a book turns out to be a 5-star-er, I want to have a hardcopy I can keep, flip through, and see on my shelves. 

6. Compels me to tell everyone I know about it.

Ah, that lovely word of mouth all authors want. These books are the ones that start that forest fire. You want to tell anyone you meet about this great book you just read. You turn into a book pimp.

7. Is re-readable

I'm not a big re-reader. I think this has something to do with my pantsing mentality--once I know a story, I don't want to read it again. But there are a rare few that even if I don't sit down and reread the entire thing, I will go back to favorite scenes and chapters and read them again. Some of this is because, as an author, I like to analyze what made the scene so compelling. But often, as a reader, this is just for my pure enjoyment.


Now, having said this, I don't want anyone to think a 4-star rating doesn't have some of these qualities. After all, 4-stars means "really liked it."  But I think when a book has all of these, it launches it into the rare air of the 5-star rating. And all I can say is I sure hope I've written some books that will end up on people's 5-star radar one day. :)

Oh, and if you want to find me on Goodreads and see what I've rated, here I am.

So what criteria do you use to separate the "really liked it" from "it was amazing"? Do you find you're very selective about the high ratings or give most books you enjoyed a five? Am I the only one who has a book grieving period or who buys a hardcopy even if I have the ebook?