Zang...Best American Idol Performances Ever #atozchallenge

So I've reached the final day of the month long A to Z blogging challenge. I have to admit, X and Z were kind of killers. So today I'm stretching it a bit. If you've ever watched Wayne's World, "zang" is another way of saying excellent. Yes, I'm reaching, so what. :)

 

American Idol is one of my favorite shows. I've watched every season since the first and though my favorite hardly every wins (Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood being the exceptions), I still can't resist watching. This week I'm still in mourning over Colton leaving, so I thought I'd look back at some of my favorite ever performances from the show.

 

 

 

 

These are in no particular order...

Adam Lambert's Mad World - Oh, how I heart Adam. There's nothing better than a true rock voice mixed with mad talent.

(This version is from the finale. It wouldn't let me embed the first time he sang it on the show.)

 

Hailey Reinhart's I Who Have Nothing - Hailey wasn't one of my faves because she had a bit of trouble handling criticism, but she sang the mess out of this song.

 

Carrie Underwood singing Heart's Alone - Okay, so the hairdo needed work but Carrie can sing her face off and this is one of my favorite songs ever.

 

David Cook singing Michael Jackson's Billie Jean. I also liked his version of Hello by Lionel Ritchie.

 

Chris Daughtry singing "Walk the Line"

 

Pia Toscano - I'll Stand by You  (She went home way too early. She was so robbed.)

 

Kelly Clarkson had so many fab performances, but this is one of my faves--Natural Woman

 

Alright, those are the ones that I could think of off the top of my head. What were some of your faves? What's been your fave this year?

 

Xtra, Xtra: Best Writing Links of the Week #atozchallenge

 

 

It's that time of the week again--best links! (And yes, I'm stretching the a to z challenge thing today, but come one--it's X. Ugh.) So here we go...

On Writing/Publishing:
For Random Fun and Info:
What You May Have Missed Here:

(my post at Peanut Butter on the Keyboard)
Alright, that's all I've got this week. What have been some of your favorite links of the week? 
Have a great weekend!

Why I Walk Away From Bad Reviews... #atozchallenge

Photo by Chriscom (click pic for link)First, just a quick heads up. I'm blogging over at Peanut Butter on the Keyboard today on: Enough with the “Mommy Porn” Label – Moms Are Still Women. I hope you'll stop by. :)

Okay now to today's topic...

There are many things that I can handle. I have had critiques that had so much red you couldn't see black print anymore. I have had my agent tell me to remove an entire subplot and replace it with something completely different and I had two weeks to do it (she was right.) I'm even the girl who wanted the teacher to hand out test grades on Friday instead of waiting until after the weekend. In a lot of arenas, you could call me masochistic.

But, I have found this tough-skinned thing does not translate to reading reviews. And that's okay. Sometimes you have to know your limits. (And sometimes being tough-skinned isn't the be all end all.)

 Bad reviews...

Ruin my day when I read them.

Make me question my current WIP and my ability to write.

Make me worry about sales.

Get me grumpy.

Inspire writer's block.

Cause me to wonder if all those months I spend buried, sometimes ignoring my family and everything else, to write books for hardly any income are for naught.

Are part of the deal.

Are necessary.

Are totally the reader's right.

Are for other readers, not me.

 

So when I feel the urge to read what that person who gave me 1-3 stars said, I sing the choruses of these two songs in my head and click on something else.

 

Walk Away - Kelly Clarkson

 

Not For You - Pearl Jam

 

What have you learned you have to walk away from because it's just not good for you? Fellow writers, how do you handle tough reviews? Do you read anything anyone says about you? 

Under the Hood: How I Built My Author Website #atozchallenge

 

Photo by Ella Novak (click pic for link)Over the last couple of weeks, I've gotten a few emails from people asking about my website. How I built it, did I use a web designer, which platform is it on, how did I get my blog integrated, etc. So instead of continuing to answer those individually, I thought maybe it'd be helpful to give a brief peek under the hood of this site.

Did I use a web designer?

No. I may in the future, but as of right now didn't want to spend the money.

Benefits: I'm a control freak and I LOVE that I can change and tweak every little thing myself with ease. If I want to add something or move something I can do it on my schedule and not have to wait for a webmaster. 

Drawbacks: I have to do everything myself. I don't know how to do the more complicated or fancier things in html so my site doesn't have a ton of bells and whistles.

 

What platform did I use to build my website?

Almost everyone I know uses Wordpress.org (not the free .com) for their author site. However, when I was doing my research, I ran across Squarespace. I liked how their sites looked, liked that I could do it all myself, and liked their prices. You can get a site for I think between 8-10 dollars a month. And they give you a free trial, so you can use their tools to build your website and see if you like it. 

Benefits: It's inexpensive and I really like their tools. I don't have to html code anything, it's all very user friendly.

Drawbacks: There IS a learning curve when you first start. I was ready to give up when I first tried to build a site, but then it clicked. The system becomes intuitive but you have to give it time for your brain to wrap around a system you're not used to. And from what I hear, if you CAN code, you have more flexibility on Wordpress.org than Squarespace.

 

How did I get my blog integrated into the website?

Squarespace has an import feature that works with Blogger and Wordpress. So if you're starting fresh, you can simply hit a button, import your blog, and it will show up on your journal/blog page on your squarespace site. Your comments may or may not transfer over depending on the system you use.

However, if y'all remember I kept up Fiction Groupie for a year while starting a new blog over here. So then when I moved everything together, I had TWO blogs and once you've started one, you can't import another into the current one. So I have a separate archives page with all my Fiction Groupie posts (used the import feature) and I also built the For Writers tab above and sorted all my best posts from Fiction Groupie for easy browsing.

Benefits: You want your blog integrated with your website. It looks more professional and streamlined. I hate when I click on a blog tab on an author page and it brings me to a separate Blogger or wordpress blog and then I can't get back to the website if I want to. It's clunky.

Drawbacks: If you've built up a following on a free blogging site, you'll lose that shiny number when you move everything over and will have to direct people to find you at the new place. (I know this can be scary. I left a really pretty number over at Fiction Groupie. But believe me, it was the best move I've made.)

 

How did I get the custom header?

I made it with the most rudimentary program ever--Microsoft Paint. Just make a box in the dimensions of your header then fill it in with what you want.

 

Have my hits declined since leaving my established blog on Blogger?

They did when I first moved over. Now they are higher than they ever were on Fiction Groupie. Squarespace optimizes things for search engines and it seems to bring a lot more people over.

 

Why do I use the Disqus commenting system?

Because Squarespace's native commenting system is not great. It doesn't have threaded comments. So I like Disqus--even though it's not perfect. Sometimes people can't see the comment form. I've discovered there is no perfect system, but this is the best one I've found.

 

What would I do differently if started over again?

I'd have built a site from the start instead of building my blog on a free site and then having to move it once it was established. I say once you've built the beginning of a healthy following--getting close to the 400-500 follower mark OR you already have a book deal, you may want to consider getting your own place.

 

Alright, I think those are most of the questions I've been asked. But feel free to ask others if you have any or give your own advice from your own experience. : )

What's been your experience building your blog or website? What's worked and what hasn't? What would you recommend to others?

 

*And if you weren't here yesterday, I reversed the letters V and U for the A to Z challenge for good reason. :)

AND one last announcement...

I now have the first chapter of STILL INTO YOU, my June novella, available to read. Hope y'all check it out. :)

Vin Diesel - Boyfriend of the Week #atozchallenge

So I know that today is supposed to be "U" in the A to Z Challenge but my dear agent, Sara Megibow, requested Mr. Vin Diesel for a Boyfriend spot and who am I to deny her? I think she's getting tired of me picking all the pretty boys instead of the uber manly men, lol. So I'll do "U" tomorrow. (<--Ha, that sounds dirty.)  :)

Hope you enjoy this by request Boyfriend of the Week...

 

 

What do you think? Any Vin Diesel fans out there?

Testing Your Opening Scene - 5 Steps #atozchallenge

Photo by Tawheed Manzoor (click photo for link)This weekend I had the privilege of critiquing a few opening pages for two friends (along with revising my own opening scene). And as I was critting/revising, I was reminded just how hard it is to work everything you need to in that crucial opening scene without weighing it down with things like backstory.

It's a very delicate dance, getting that opening scene just right. And it's an important one because those first 5-10 pages may be all you have to impress an agent...or later on, a reader. So even though every page of your book deserves a critical eye, the opening needs to be honed and molded to near perfection.

One of my favorite writing books is Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time by Jordan Rosenfeld (If you don't have it, get it. The book breaks down the elements of a scene and also goes over types of scenes--dramatic/contemplative/action/flashback etc.) Anyway, the book also has a great litmus test for what needs to be present in an opening scene.

This doesn't cover everything like what NOT to put in an opening scene (loads of backstory, endless setting descriptions, having your character wake up for the day, having your character looking in the mirror to describe herself, etc.)

But below are the basic components. 

 

Litmus Test for Your Novel's Opening

I'll put my novella, STILL INTO YOU (releases June 3), to the test as an example.

1. A challenge to your protagonist's status quo.

My hero realizes that he and his wife skipped their usual, unstated appointment to make love. (They've been married, have children, and have settled into a routine of a certain night once a week.) Instead of being with each other, they'd chosen to watch Letterman and he hadn't even noticed until the next morning

 

2. An antagonist for your character to encounter. (Doesn't have to be THE antagonist.)

Though there is a human antagonist eventually in the story, the real antagonist in the opening scene is the looming threat of the marriage failing.

 

3. Introduce your protagonist's immediate intentions.

My hero intends to do everything in his power to keep his marriage together. He still loves his wife and is going to prove that he's still the man for her. 

 

4. A glimpse into your MC's history/personality/motivation.

I always try to open with a "glimpse into ordinary life". A BRIEF glimpse. In this case, we see the couple getting ready for work--talking, but it's stilted, routine, distant. You see the hero trying to get his wife to talk about the previous night but she's on autopilot trying to get out the door.

 

5. The protagonist makes a decision that leads immediately to more complications.

Seth, the hero, decides he's going to show his wife that there is still something between them besides mutual respect. He's going to go to his brother-in-law, Jace (from CRASH), for help. Seth's initial plan is pretty mild, but it's going to lead to something much bigger (and of course, more complications.)

 

Therefore, even though my opening scene is only the jumping off point of the story and doesn't introduce the broader hook, it's the setup of the plot and enough conflict and action to whet the appetite to keep turning the page (hopefully!) to see how much more complicated things are going to get. 

These five points can't also be recycled and used to test out your Act 1 (or the first 1/3 of your book). Act 1 mimics this structure on a broader level. 

And once you embed this structure in your brain, it will eventually come naturally without even thinking about it.

So what do you think? Are these components a good summary of what you like to read/write in an opening scene? Think back to your favorite books or movies, do they follow these guidelines? Can you think of any other "must haves" in an opening?

*This is a revamped post from 2011

Shameless Saturday: Saved By the Bell Greatness #atozchallenge

 This week I heard "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" on Pandora and I tweeted that it always reminds me of the break-up scene on Saved by the Bell. So, of course, I had to go look up the clip. I remember how the Kelly - Zack break up just about killed me as a kid, but wow, I definitely didn't remember how truly melodramatic the acting was, lol. I don't care. It still holds a special place in my psyche. :)  Zack + Kelly 4 Ever ;)

 

And then of course the most famous and melodramatic scene of Saved by the Bell history. Even at ten, I knew this one was a bit over the top. The imfamous caffeine pills...

Ah, that one just takes me back. I can go up to anyone in my age range and say "I'm so excited, I'm so...scared" and they know what I mean. 

Hope you enjoy your Saturday! :)

Round-Up Time: Best Writing Links of the Week #atozchallenge

 It's that time of the week again. Time to round up the best writing links I've come across this week (and last week since I missed doing a round up while I was out of town.)

Here we go...

On Writing/Publishing:

Sara Megibow Sells Romance – What Do You Need To Know About Submissions? | Romance University

Four Secrets About Writer's Conference Faculty - Marcy Kennedy

Pens for Paws Auction <--Check out a good cause

Reading and Writing Negative Reviews | Wistfully Linda

Writing Conferences–Beware of Crossing Deer « Kristen Lamb's Blog

Julie Anne Lindsey | Don’t Quit Your Day Job «Musings from the Slush Pile

Sierra Godfrey: Back away slowly from 1-star reviews

Sierra Godfrey: A year of baby and writing

Why every man MUST read a romance – and every woman a thriller | The Red Pen of Doom

Romance novelists are secret, epic army of man boosters | The Red Pen of Doom

My favorite quality in a romance novel - Kat Latham

 

On Blogging/Social Networking/Business:

58 Ways to Create Persuasive Content Your Audience Will Love | Copyblogger

What Mascara, Thai Food & Julia Child Can Teach Us About Social Media Success - Kristen Lamb

The 7 Bad Habits of Insanely Productive People | Copyblogger <--LOVE this

 

What You May Have Missed Here in the A to Z Challenge:


 

Got Rhythm? Finding It In Your Story

 

 

How To Dish Out Backstory In Digestible Bites 

 

 

Ian Somerhalder - Boyfriend of the Week

 

 

Kink & BDSM 101 - What It Is & Why It's So Popular In Books

 

 

Like Me! - How to Create Sympathetic Characters

 

 

Man Up: Writing Male POV

 

 

The (Not So) Dreaded Synopsis

 

 

Orlando Bloom - Boyfriend of the Week

 

 

Picky, Picky - The Danger of Authors Being Too Clique-y on Twitter

 

 

Question: Book Series/TV Show You Wish You Could Experience Again for the 1st Time

 

Whew, all right, that's all two weeks worth. What have been some of your favorite links this week?

Hope everyone has a great weekend! :)

 

Question: Book Series/TV Show You Wish You Could Experience Again for the 1st Time #atozchallenge

Photo by Nina Matthew Photography (click pic for link)For those of you who aren't familiar, the RT Convention is not necessarily a writer's conference--it's a readers convention. So a good portion of the attendees are not writers, they're fans. This gives a whole different feel to the convention, and it's a lot of fun to see the enthusiasm of readers interacting with their favorite authors.

And this past week I had the pleasure of attending a panel given by a group of paranormal authors including Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood series), Jeaniene Frost (Night Huntress series), and moderated by Richelle Mead (The Vampire Academy series). Now I'm a big fan of both the Sookie Stackhouse books and The Vampire Academy, but I've never read Jeaniene Frost. So when fans in the audience would whoop and clap when Jeaniene mentioned something about certain characters or books, it made me want to read the books. Clearly, they must be good if people are so passionate about them.

And that got me to thinking--wow, there's this whole great series I've clearly missed out on. But now I get the lovely opportunity to experience these books as a series "virgin". It will all be new to me and I hope that when I do get a chance to pick them up, I feel as rabid as those fans in that room did.

It also got me to thinking about which books and TV shows I wish I could go back in time for and re-experience again because that first time was so, so good. You can always re-read something, but it's never quite like that first time when everything was new and unexpected, when your emotion was fully invested in it.

So I want to know which series or TV shows have given you that "wish I could go back again" feeling.

Here are some of mine...

The Sookie Stackhouse books

 

The Vampire Academy books

 

Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments Series

 

The Wrinkle in Time books by Madeleine L'Engle

 

Diana Gabaldon's Outlander

 

TV Shows (I don't know if some of these would be the same now or if they just hit me at the exact right time in my formative years):

Dawson's Creek

 

Friends

 

My So-Called Life

 

Lost

 

Alright, those are a few of mine, tell me some of yours. Share with us what series we MUST read or show we MUST watch. Which do you wish you could go back in time and experience again for the first time?

 

Picky, Picky - The Danger of Authors Being Too Clique-y on Twitter #atozchallenge

Photo by Callee MacAulayAs I mentioned yesterday, I just returned home from the Romantic Times convention. I went to a lot of workshops and got some great information. And one of the workshops I went to was about social media and promoting your brand. The speaker was a publicity expert and she had a ton of terrific things to say.

But one of the things that gave me pause was when she started talking about the infamous Twitter Followers vs. Follower count. She said your "popularity" holds less water if your counts are similar. Meaning, you have 5k followers but you follow 5k people. It's assumed that you're just doing the automatic "follow back" thing. So, she recommended putting people on lists--where they don't show up on your follow count and they don't know you're following them but you can still see their tweets.

Well...I'm not sure I agree with this approach. It kind of sounds like the popular girl only being friends with the nerd in private but not in front of her friends. I am patently against the auto follow back (see my post on Enough with the Quid Pro Quo if you want more on that.) However, I think only following your select group of friends or clique is actually missing a great opportunity. I wrote on this a while back on my writing blog, but I thought I'd run it again since this whole "only follow an elite few" advice is still being given.

Of course, this is just my opinion, but here's what I think...

The Danger of Authors Being Too Clique-y on Twitter

In the Twitterverse, there is this impression that you must be really important/supercool/whatever if you have a high number of people following you, but you personally only follow a handful of people. Basically--everyone wants to be your friend, but you only grant that "privilege" to an elite few. (High school never ends it seems.)

Now most people who do this do it not because they're being a "twitter snob" but because they don't want to be overwhelmed by three thousand peoples' tweets. I TOTALLY get that because I follow over 2k people and that got way too hard to manage, so I had to start using lists (in a different way than mentioned above, more on that later). And if you're, for instance, an editor or an agent--where everyone is seeking your attention--it makes sense to limit who you follow only to people you truly have a connection with in some way.

However, I think for an author this practice can really shoot you in the foot instead of helping you. We are writers. We want to connect with readers. We want to sell books and build a fanbase. Right?

So why-oh-why if you're an author would you only follow your "clique" of friends and not follow your readers, the people who are paying their hard-earned money to buy YOUR book?

I know it's silly, but you know how much better I feel about an author if I @ her/him on Twitter and the person responds? All of a sudden, this author's coolness factor has jumped off the charts. It makes me like them more. It makes me want to support them and their books because they are REAL and FRIENDLY and APPROACHABLE. And if they follow me, then wow, I'm really won over.

On the other hand, if I follow an author and they don't follow me (fine), but then they ask questions of their readers/audience and I respond--and get no response or even a general "Thanks to everyone who commented", then I feel a little huffy. Now if you're Stephanie Meyer or Stephen King or whatever, then it's understandable. Uber-fame gets you a pass. I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about your average author who has a few thousand followers. 

When they don't respond or acknowledge, plus don't follow--the impression that is left is--this author thinks they are too important/busy/big-time and don't feel like their readers are important enough to acknowledge even after they've asked directly for their help. So when that same author hops back on Twitter and is announcing their book release or contests and asking for retweets--well, I'm just not that motivated to go out of my way for them.

So the question is, as an author, how do you 

a) Make your readers/followers feel important? and 

b) Do so without being bombarded daily with 80 bazillion tweets from people you don't know?

Answer: Lists

Twitter allows you to make both public and private lists. Then you can use a program like Tweetdeck and have your main column be just the tweets of people on that list. For instance, I follow over 2k, but there are only about 200 on my "super awesome people" list. It's private, so no one can see if they are on my list or not. But this makes it manageable to follow, while I'm still able to follow "in general" the other non-list people in another column and can click if something pops up that catches my interest. And if I end up interacting with someone who is not on the list and making a connection, it's easy enough to add them to my super awesome list.

Doing this allows me to have my cake and eat it too. I can have my clique of people who I talk with regularly while not alienating new people who may become great friends or readers or whatever one day.

Now, having said all this, I do not follow everyone back. If nothing catches my eye in their profile, they seem spammy or only focused on promo, or we seem to have nothing in common (or I just don't have time to go through my new follows, which is the most common reason lately), I'll wait. If they talk to me at some point, then I'll probably go follow.

And please oh please don't go follow a whole bunch of people just to drive your follower count up. It's spammy and useless. That's what gives that follow vs. follower count a bad reputation. But if you find someone who interests you, it's just a click.

So what do you think of this method? How do you feel when an author you like interacts with you or follows you? How do you feel if they don't do those things? And do you think someone is less awesome if their follow vs. follower ratio is closer to even instead of lopsided?

Orlando Bloom - Boyfriend of the Week #atozchalleng

I'm back from the RT Convention. It was a lot of fun, and I went to some super fabulous workshops. Plus, the food in Chicago is just ridiculous--some of the best food I've ever eaten--and I'm from New Orleans, so that's saying something. But I'm definitely exhausted and ready to get back to my normal routine, which in this case is madly revising my book so I can turn it in.

But also part of my routine...the Boyfriend of the Week. : ) And since I'm still doing the A to Z Challenge, I needed a boyfriend that started with an O. Luckily, Mr. Orlando Bloom was available. : )  Enjoy! 

Any Orlando fans out there?

The (Not So) Dreaded Synopsis

We've all heard the term the "dreaded synopsis", right? Yes, that horrible beast of thing you have to write summarizing a whole 100k book into just a few scant pages. It's like a dark cloud hanging over you. I know I'm not the only one who queried the agents who didn't require a synopsis first just so I could avoid writing  the damn thing. (Tell me I'm not the only one who did that.)

I mean, what's to like about the thing? You have to cut out parts you want to put in, your voice can get drained because you have so little room to work with, you don't have space to talk about that kickass secondary character you worked in. God, why do agents/editors put us through this form of torture? *insert melodramatic music here*

Okay, so I thought all those things. Every time I had to write a synopsis for a completed book I wanted to bang my head with a blunt object. It was painful. The writing, not the banging, I didn't actually do the blunt object thing. 

So when I got my *cue angels singing* book deal, I thought--yay, down with the queries and synopses for-evah!

WRONG.

Queries and synopses NEVER go away, dude. They just get called different things. The synopsis becomes a proposal and then the query becomes writing your back cover copy. (Yes, you will end up writing a lot of your back cover copy because the marketing department hasn't read your book so probably aren't going to get the blurb just right.)

And guess what, with proposals, now you have to write your synopsis BEFORE YOU WRITE THE BOOK. *plugs ears to block out the collective screams of pantsers everywhere* 

As a pantser, I can tell you I was absolutely terrified of doing this. I don't plot ahead. I don't know what the story is going to look like until I write it. I actually was trying to figure out how I could write the book really fast just so I didn't have to write up a proposal. But alas, I'm not that fast of a writer. And yes, it'd actually be kind of nice to get a book deal and confirmation that said book will be published one day before I write the actual book.

So after going to a few workshops on writing synopses, off I went to draft synopses for books 3 and 4 with deep fear in my heart.

And guess what I discovered?

Writing them before you've written the book is SO MUCH EASIER. Like wow. Like I finished one synopsis each day. For reals. And Sara, my lovely agent, liked them!

And I realized all this time why writing them after is so hard. After you've finished the book, you know every little detail and nuance of your story. You have a buttload of information you're trying cut down to the bones. But all that content can overwhelm you. You can lose perspective on what is most important to get across.

However, when you try to draft it before you've written the story, all you can do is write it in broad strokes. You don't know the details yet, so you only focus on the big turning points. And bam--there's your synopsis. 

I'd heard of people writing queries before writing their books and thought that was nuts, but now I get it. You're not locking yourself into some strict guideline like an outline would. You're just giving yourself a general map. You put yourself on the right highway even though you may take unexpected side streets along the way. It's really been a revelation to me.

So here are my...

Five Quick and Dirty Tips For Writing a Synopsis:

 

1. Try writing it before you write your story--even if you're a pantser. (Haven't you been listening to my testimonial? "This is life-changing, man"--she says in her Cheech & Chong voice)

2. Set aside a paragraph each for your two (or three) main characters at the beginning and fill in their backstory.

This was something I learned in the workshops I went to. We often get bogged down in the synopsis because we're in present tense and trying to work in the characters' backstories at the same time, which makes things feel disjointed. So just pull the backstory out as a separate thing. You can structure the synopsis with headings like this:

  • Hero--His backstory and the important little tidbits about him (one paragraph)
  • Heroine--Her backstory and a few things about her. (one paragraph)
  • Antagonist/Villain/Etc--one paragraph
  • Summary: "As the story opens..."<--This is where the summary starts. Your opening. You can focus on the action now that the backstory is already fleshed out.

3. Don't worry about subplots and all your secondary characters. 

Stay focused on the main plot thread, goal, motivation, conflict, and characters.

4. Don't lose your voice.

I went to one workshop where the presenter said you pretty much have to lose your voice in a synopsis. I totally disagree. I have read and written some very voice-heavy synopsis and think they're more compelling that way. (Note: This is not writing the summary in the voice of your character, but in your author voice and style. If your story is dark and  ominous, your synopsis should read that way as well.)

5. Get in and get out.

Yes, you'll read on some websites that a synopsis can be one page for every 20 pages of prose. Well, really, who wants to write and/or read that long a synopsis? If I wrote one that long, I'd no longer want to write the story because I would've already told it (the pantser brain.) You can summarize a full-length novel in 1-5 single-spaced pages in my opinion. My synopsis for book 3, including the character paragraphs, was 2.5 pages. The one for book four was 3.5. If you're venturing into 8-10 page land, you haven't cut it down to the most important parts yet.

So there, try those things and I bet you'll be able to scratch out that "dreaded" that always precedes the word "synopsis". You may even find it *gasp* fun like I did.

So how do you feel about the synopsis? Have you ever tried writing one before you write the story? If so, are you a plotter or pantser? What tips do you have that help you write a synopsis?

*This is a repost from Fiction Groupie last year. I'll be back from RT Con tomorrow and will return to my normal blog schedule. :)

Man Up: Writing Male POV #atozchallenge

Photo by Mizrak (cc)One of my favorite things about reading and writing romance is the use of both the hero and heroine's POV.  There's something about getting to see inside the guy's head that makes the story so much more interesting to me.  

But writing the male POV (if you're a woman) can be a bit of a challenge (and vice versa for guys writing women).  Men and women have different thought patterns and different ways of being in the world, so if we're truly going to get inside the head of the opposite sex, we need to be aware of those differences.

I personally find male characters fun and almost easier to write than my female characters.  But that may be because in life, I've always been more comfortable around guys (well, when it comes to being friends, once I was romantically interested in a guy, I turned into an awkward mess).  So, I've spent a lot of time with groups of guy friends, have seen how they interact, and of course, I'm married to one, so that helps.  :)

 But what are the differences?  Author Keri Arthur outlined a number of points to be aware of.  (article here)

 

Men...


Are action-oriented.  Do instead of think about it.

--They aren't going to agonize over whether or not they should kiss the woman, they do it, then deal with the consequences afterward (unless your character is a teen boy, then the insecurity may cause some agonizing and indecision.)

--Ever watch a man shop?  They don't browse and wander.  They know the item they want, go to that particular store, purchase it, leave.


They tend to be less patient.

--This goes back to the action thing.  Sitting around waiting for something to happen or waiting in line is uncomfortable.


They like to be in charge.

--Whether it's cultural or biologically ingrained, men like being the alpha.


Are more visual.  

--This is why Playboy works for men, but Playgirl doesn't interest many women.  This is a very important distinction particularly if you're writing romantic interactions or love scenes from the guy's POV.

--I'm reading Lauren Dane's Coming Undone right now and she had a scene where the hero was looking at the heroine on his bed and thinking about how he felt about her.  But then he stops his thoughts, something to the effect of...he would have delved deeper into (whatever the thought was), but Hello, naked.  The line made me laugh because it was just how I imagine a guy would think.

--So when writing your guy, make sure he takes in the things he can see about his heroine.  Your heroine, on the other hand will be much more about tactile, scents, and emotional cues.  (Women need a plot--that's why romance novels are so popular.)

 

Are problem solvers

--When I vent to my husband, he starts dishing out advice.  That's now what I want.  I just wanted him to listen.  Men don't get the point of that.  They see a problem, they want to fix it.


Present a confident front

--They try to avoid asking for advice or permission, admitting to being wrong, or hedging ("I'm not sure", "This will work, right?")


Say what they mean

--They won't share every thought they have, but when they do say something it is typically straightforward.

--They don't use euphemisms or flowery adjectives.  Their language (especially if we're in internal thoughts) is going to be more coarse and blunt.

--Don't say things in a passive way.  Instead of "Are you hungry?" he'll just say, "I'm hungry."


Think about sex more than women and see if differently

--According to stats, 60% of men say they think about sex at least once a day, whereas 25% of women do

--"Sex is simpler and more straightforward for them.  That does not mean that men do not seek intimacy, love, and connection in a relationship, just as women do. They just view the role of sex differently. Women want to talk first, connect first, then have sex.  For men, sex is the connection. Sex is the language men use to express their tender loving vulnerable side. It is their language of intimacy." (from WebMD)


See conversations as a means to exchange information

--venting and small talk are not preferred.  This is why when guys hang out together, there is usually an activity involved, whereas women can just get together and chat for the sake of chatting.


Emotion, except for anger, is usually kept under wraps or repressed altogether.

--This is why it's so satisfying in a story when the guy finally breaks down and accepts how he's feeling about the heroine.

--Guys rarely cry.  If your hero is going to cry, save that moment and use it for maximum impact.

 

Alright, so I know a lot of these sound stereotypical, and not every guy is going to fall into that.  But stereotypes do exist for a reason.  Hope this at least gets you started. 

So have you written in the POV of the opposite sex?  If so, do you find it difficult or fun?  Do you enjoy reading books that offer both perspectives?

*This is a re-post from my Fiction Groupie blog 2010. 

Like Me! - How to Create Sympathetic Characters #atozchallenge

Picture via George Eastman House (The Commons on Flickr)Have you ever read a book that had a protagonist you just didn't like? Did you keep reading? 

For me this is a tough one to answer. I read books for characters. Sure, there are the occasional situations where a story is all plot and still hooks me in (these are usually blockbuster action movies, for the record), but for the most part, I want to connect with the people. So when I start reading a book and don't really like the characters, it can be a challenge for me to stick with it. 

Which got me to thinking, what makes a character sympathetic? And do we necessarily have to like a character in order to enjoy the book? Scarlett O'Hara, Anne Rice's Lestat, Severus Snape in Harry Potter, Eric in the Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood books, Damon in Vampire Diaries, and Sue in Glee aren't very nice people usually, yet somehow stand out as great characters that are hard not to be drawn to. Why?

Because somewhere along the way we find ourselves sympathizing or understanding them. In Glee, Sue is ruthless, vindictive, bigoted, and mean to children. Yet, in one episode we see her fall for a co-worker then get her heart broken, showing that she is capable of love and is probably extremely lonely. It isn't enough to completely redeem her, but it gives the viewer a sign that there are reasons why she is the way she is--her motivation.

And therein lies the key. If your character is going to act in a way that isn't very likable, you have to eventually clue the reader in as to why they act that way. 

Along with creating proper motivation, there are some things you want to avoid in creating sympathetic characters...

Do not make your character perfect

--A character who is totally pure of heart, volunteers with children, donates all her money to charity, wakes up looking beautiful, and is always kind to animals does not a sympathetic character make. Readers can't connect to perfect.


Keep whining to a mimimum

--A protagonist who complains and whines and constantly plays victim is just plain annoying. Readers will root for her execution instead of her success.

 

A do-nothing

--A hero/heroine no matter how flawed must take action. If the character lets everything happen and doesn't try to do something, then the reader will not be very sympathetic. We like to read about those who are willing to help themselves.

 

Tread carefully with snobbery or bitchiness

--You can have a bitchy character (i.e. Scarlett O'Hara) but it has to be worked carefully. There has to be that motivation of why they are so abrasive. And no matter what the motivation, if you MC is a shrew all the time, the reader will be turned off.

 

Beware the cliched sympathy tricks

--Showing your tough as nails hero being kind to children, elderly, and small animals is not adequate. And don't have other characters talk about how wonderful your character is to develop sympathy. Your readers will see through those tired ploys.

 

Don't throw in some "aren't I awesomely good?" scene that isn't related to the story

--Don't put your MC volunteering at the homeless shelter to show their soft side unless something is going to happen at that shelter to forward the plot

 

Make the backstory believable

--Don't tack on a whole bunch of awful events just to create sympathy. The backstory, like everything else, needs to be an organic, integrated part of the book. In my opinion, you should not be able to write the book without already knowing your character's backstory upfront. Their history is who they are and will affect every aspect of how they interact in the book. If you write the whole book, then go back and throw in a child abuse backstory to help explain the character's shortcomings, it will show.

 

Be careful waiting until page 150 to start developing the sympathetic side of your character.

--If you don't offer some morsel for your reader to hold onto, many will give up the book before they get to the "good part". Like I mentioned above, the current book I'm reading has me hanging on because of some foreshadowing and few redeeming moments, but without those ,I probably would have moved on to another book.

 

So how about you? Have you ever read a book that you just couldn't sympathize with the protagonist? Did you keep reading? Who are some of your favorite anti-heroes (can't help but like them even though they are far from great people)?

*This is a Fiction Groupie repost from 2010. This week I am re-posting because I am at the RT Convention. The normal Friday links round up will return next week. :)

Kink & BDSM 101 - What It Is & Why It's So Popular In Books #atozchallenge

This is a post I did a while back as a guest post on my blog tour, but with all the talk about BDSM since Fifty Shades of Grey has hit, I figured this was a good time to re-run this primer. 

BDSM 101: What It Is and Why It’s So Popular in Books

Photo by Latente (click pic for link)

When I tell people I’m a writer, I inevitably get the same basic questions—“Are you published?” and then when they find out I’m going to be…“So what’s your book about?”

Depending on who’s asking, I can answer that a few different ways. But if it’s someone who maybe isn’t overly familiar with my genre, the answer is usually something like, “It’s a sexy romance about a social worker who has to find her missing sister with the help of her ex.”  

And for a while, I was able to leave it at that. But as the book got closer and closer to publication and started showing up on Amazon and such, I started getting that other question. “What is BDSM? Is that like handcuffs and whips and stuff?” *insert judgmental, slightly wary expression crossing their face (or a saucy eyebrow raise depending on who was asking)*

To answer: well, yes, it can be about those things. But that’s a very small part under a very large umbrella. Throwing a pair of handcuffs into a story does not a BDSM book make.

So if you’re new to this subgenre, here are some basics:

BDSM stands for Bondage & Discipline, Dominance & Submission, Sadism & Masochism (some of the letters do double duty in the acronym).

  • Bondage – Physically restraining a partner in some way (tying someone down, handcuffs, etc.)
  • Discipline – Giving physical or psychological punishment to control behavior. 
  • Sadomasochism -- Sexual sadism is deriving pleasure from inflicting physical or psychological pain on someone else. But it’s not the same as pure sadism. A sexual sadist (especially the ones we write about in romance novels) only enjoy inflicting the pain because the partner is a masochist and derives pleasure from receiving it. It’s an exchange of mutually pleasurable activities. (As opposed to a sadist who would get pleasure from torturing an unwilling victim. That’s a different thing altogether.)
  • Dominance/Submission (or D/s): This is the power exchange between partners, whereby one partner (the submissive) gives over all the control to the other (the dominant). This may be only in their sexual relationship or it may be in all aspects of the relationship. Also, don’t assume that the submissive partner is always the woman. Though that’s the more popular theme in romance, men can be submissive too. (Read Joey W. Hill’s Nature of Desire series if you’re interested in reading some great female dominant BDSM romances.)

A few other terms you may run across:

SSC (Safe, Sane, Consensual) or RACK (Risk-Aware Consensual Kink) – These are the cornerstone philosophies in BDSM play.  All activities must be consensual and safe (or risk-aware if both parties are engaging in the edgier stuff). 

Safe words – A word is given to the submissive to signal “stop everything right now”. The words “no” or “stop” aren’t typically used as safe words because sometimes in BDSM play, someone may say “no” as part of the scene. So a word that easily sticks out like “Waffles” or something is chosen. When the sub says that word, everything stops immediately, no questions asked. 

Subspace – This is the trancelike or euphoric state for submissives. I won’t attempt my own explanation of the science since Wikipedia does a better job: 

“the intense experiences of both pain and pleasure trigger a sympathetic nervous system response, which causes a release of epinephrine…as well as a dump of endorphins... These natural chemicals…produce the same effect as a morphine-like drug, increasing the pain tolerance of the submissive as the scene becomes more intense. Since the increase of hormones and chemicals produces a sort of trance-like state, the submissive starts to feel out-of-body, detached from reality, and as the high comes down, and the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, a deep exhaustion, as well as incoherence.”

So when people looking from the outside in wonder why the heck someone would want to be tied up, flogged, and bossed around---well, there you go, subspace is one enticing reason why. 

 

But why are so many romance readers and writers getting into BDSM stories? What need or desire are books like 50 Shades tapping into?

I can’t answer for everyone, but for me, the D/s aspect is really what drives me to write and read these stories. Romance readers have always enjoyed the very alpha hero. Think of all those historical romances where the duke/rake/etc. takes all the control. Or look at the paranormals that have all those alpha wolves going after the heroines. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely an I-am-woman-hear-me-roar kind of chick. But in a world where we are often weighed down with so much responsibility, it can be a nice escape to imagine having a break from that. Of imagining putting ourselves completely in the hands of a guy we love and trust—one that will keep us safe and also rock our world. ;)  

And that’s how I wrote Brynn in CRASH INTO YOU. She’s very in control of her life, very strong, and has overcome a lot in her past. She doesn’t *need* a man. But because she’s always had to be responsible and in charge, submitting to Reid gives her an escape, a place where she can just let go and feel. And I think on some level, we can all relate to that.

All right, hope this wasn’t too much like some whacked-out school report, lol, but I wanted to give anyone who hasn’t read BDSM an idea of what it’s about. If you have any questions for me or any of this is unclear, let me know in the comments! : )

And if you want some suggestions on great BDSM romances to try, check out my favorites here.

*This post was originally posted as my guest post on Riverina Romantics.

How To Dish Out Backstory In Digestible Bites #atozchallenge

 

How To Dish Out Backstory In Digestible Bites

Photo by Ken WilcoxIt's that time of the year again--contest judging. I've talked about it one here before, but I think volunteering to judge contests is (beyond being a nice thing to do) one of the greatest exercises a writer can go through. Looking for specific things in other works often helps us develop a more critical eye for our own work. I know it's definitely helped me.

Now when I'm judging, I usually see a little bit of everything--some spectacular things, some really beginner efforts, and everything in between. But as I go through the entries this year for my local RWA's chapter contest, one of the trends I'm seeing is the dreaded backstory dump.

We've probably all made this mistake at one time or another. This is why a lot of people suggest writing your book, then cutting the first three chapters because it's probably all backstory. Now, that's a little drastic, but I think there is a nugget of truth in that.

So today I'm going to cover how to share that history and backstory with the reader without choking them.  Think of backstory like a big steak--you can't swallow the whole thing at once, it must be cut up and devoured in small, juicy bites.  Ideally, these bites will blend so well with the rest of the story, that the reader will barely notice that you've slipped it in on them.

So first let's look at some choking hazards:

Prologue--These are notorious for being solely backstory, which is probably why they've developed a bit of a bad reputation.  Make sure what you have in your prologue (if you have one) can't be sprinkled in somewhere  else instead.

First Chapters--This is where it's most tempting to put in big blocks of backstory.  Resist!  Your story should start in the middle of things.  Readers don't have to know all the background yet, get them to the action so you can hook them.  Pay particular attention to chapters 1-3 in your first draft.  Many times it's where we as writers are working out the story for ourselves (which is fine as long as you go back and cut them during revision).

 

Alright, now for some ways to blend in that backstory...

Dialogue

This is an easy and obvious way to reveal information to your reader.  However, watch out for the traps with this.

--Make sure that the conversation is realistic and that there is a reason for it to be happening besides slipping in backstory to the reader.

   NOT "I can't believe you cheated on me six months ago with someone half my age." (the guy would already know that)

   INSTEAD "How's your new bimbo? Has she graduated high school yet?"

--Make sure the conversation comes up naturally and not out of the blue.  Something needs to trigger that discussion.

--Use action to break up the dialogue so it doesn't start sounding like an info dump.

 

Flashback

Where your character relives in their head a past event as it happened.  Unlike a memory, they don't filter the events through their current point of view.

--Be very careful with this one.  Many people advise against flashbacks.  But I think if used correctly and sparingly they can work.

--Something has to trigger the flashback. That memory needs to be brought to mind by some object, situation, person, etc.

--Make it clear that it is a flashback so your reader doesn't get confused.  Some people use italics to help with this.

 

Memory

Similar to flashback, but the memory is seen through the person's current POV.

--Sprinkle this in.  Like everything else, large chunks of prose on a memory will get tedious.

--Just like the others, the memory must be triggered by something.  Don't have your MC vacuuming and just suddenly think of how her father died (unless it was death by vacuum).

--Can build and foreshadow throughout the story, not revealing everything up front.  For instance, in my category romance, my MC goes to a concert and for a moment she's reminded of a tragic night years ago.  But all I show is that she has a sick feeling and that she remembers to the day how long it's been since she's seen a concert--which lets us know something important happened back then, but I don't say anything about what it is specifically, just foreshadow.

--Ex.) He smiled at her, and for a moment, she was reminded of the boy he used to be, the one she used to love.  (See, that tells us they had a previous relationship and that something changed along the way.  Just enough to whet the reader's appetite.)

 

Thoughts

Using direct thoughts instead of narrative.

--This doesn't have to be a specific memory, but can let us know that there is something there behind the thought.

--i.e. "Don't you just let go and have fun sometimes?" he asked.  She shook her head and averted her eyes.  "No." Not anymore.

 

Action

Sometimes you can use some event in your story to relay past events.

--i.e.  A news story comes on TV talking about a cold case murder that relates to your MC.

 

The easiest way for me to figure out how to put in backstory is to think like a screenwriter.  They cannot tell you things in a movie, they have to show it all.  So how would I convey this information if it were a movie?

Alright, so those are my tips, what are some of yours?  How do you sneak in your backstory?  And do you put down a book if it's pages and pages of backstory to start?

*This week I will be re-running some of my top posts from my former Fiction Groupie site because I am in Chicago for the RT Convention. Hope you enjoy!

Got Rhythm? Finding It In Your Story #atozchallenge

So I had the best of intentions, but I've come to the conclusiong that book deadline + weeklong conference out of town next week (RT Con) + blogging challenge is a bit of a deadly combination. To write seven posts before I leave on Tuesday is uh, a little too ambitious. So, instead of just slapping up some filler post where I post a music video or something, I'm going to rerun some of my popular posts from my former writing blog. I hope some of these will be new to you and that you find them worthwhile.

Photo by Thebigo (click pic for link)

 

Looking For the Rhythm In Your Story

As I wade through my editing for FALL INTO YOU, I'm discovering that one of the big things I pay attention to when doing my read through is cadence, or the rhythm of the words. I think it was Margie Lawson's workshop where I first heard this term used in relation to writing.

We all know about voice and style, but cadence is more the way the words sound in your head as your read them. It's the flow and the music of the prose. It's why I may use a one-word incomplete sentence somewhere instead of something longer. Part of that is my style, but a lot of it has to do with making sure the rhythm works.

And one of the best ways to see if your story has good cadence or rhythm is to read it aloud. A lot of times when we read our own work in our head, our brain naturally skims. Hell, we've written it, we know what's there and what's coming. But this can hurt you because you may be missing places where a reader with fresh eyes may stumble on a sentence. Even in our heads we need places in prose to "take a breath" while we're reading.

Maybe your crit partners point this out, but most likely it's such a subtle thing that many will intuitively feel the little stumble but not really get hit over the head enough to mark it down and bring it to your attention.

So I literally sit in my office and read passages of my book out loud. Pretend you're the narrator doing the audiobook. Does it flow? Does the scene sound how you want it too--pretty, ethereal, hard and fast-paced, sensual, etc?

Not every scene is going to have the same cadence, nor do you want it to. If they're in the middle of the car chase, the words better not read like poetry. So know what your intention is and then see if the rhythm of the words fits what you were going for.

So here are my opening lines of my prologue in MELT INTO YOU - out in July. (And yes, I know, a prologue! *gasp* But well, it's there. I like it. And so did my agent and editor. So see, "rules" can be broken.)

Most of the time temptation climbs onto your lap and straddles you, demands you deal with it immediately. Give in or deprive yourself. Choose your adventure.

Jace’s general stance: deprivation was overrated.

But he’d never faced this kind of temptation. The kind that seeped into your skin so slowly you didn’t even notice until you were soaked with it, saturated. To the point that every thought, every breath seemed to be laced with the desire for that thing you shouldn’t have.  

 And right now that thing was nibbling flecks of purple polish off her fingernails. 

So okay, see where you'd take the breaths (hint: breaths happen at commas and periods)? And we're in a dude's head so the thoughts start off short and to the point, but then he gets wrapped up with how much this is getting to him. If you read it aloud hopefully it flows. It did when I went through it.

But do you see where I'm going with the cadence thing? Do you think about this when you're going through your work? Do you read it aloud either to yourself or to a writer's group?

Fill-Me-In Friday: Best Writing Links of the Week #atozchallenge

 

Did I miss the train?

Photo by Son of Groucho
  

 Need to catch up?

If you're new to my blog, every Friday is reserved for rounding up the best links of the week. And the letter for the A to Z Challenge today is conveniently the letter F, so my normal Fill-Me-In Friday works! :)

Here we go...

On Writing/Publishing/Social Networking:

Julie James and the Art of Interviewing at Dear Author

Julie Anne Lindsey | GoodReads for Writers – A LESSON for you

How To Keep Your Inbox At Zero | Author Media

Case Study: How to Breathe New Life into Your Tired Old Blog | Copyblogger

How Cat’s Eye Writer Became a Top 10 Blogger

Andrew Shaffer To Write Fifty Shades Of Grey Parody, Fifty Shames Of Earl Grey 

Content Marketing Data Analysis: Is Pinterest Traffic Worthless? | Copyblogger

 

What You May Have Missed Here:

A is for...An Ordinary Girl

 

 

Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone

 

 

Channing Tatum - Boyfriend of the Week

 

 

Don't Be THAT Writer

 

 

E is for Easter Eggs Prettier Than Mine  #atozchallenge

 

Hope everyone has a fabulous weekend! I'll be flying to Chicago for the Romantic Times Convention next week, so remind why I signed up for this A to Z challenge again? Eek!

Don't Be THAT Writer #atozchallenge

D is for...Don't Be THAT Writer

Photo by RyanmotoNSB (click photo for link)This weekend I had the privilege of both attending and speaking at my local TX Two Step Writer's conference. And one of the speakers was the lovely Candace Havens, who I always seem to learn something from no matter what she's giving a workshop on.

This time her workshop was on writer karma. I won't list out her rules because, well, it's her workshop, but the gist is basically the definition of karma--what you do for others will come back to you. And one of the things I walked away with from her talk was: Don't be that writer.

People respond to positivity (spellcheck says that's not a word, but I bet the New Kids on the Block would disagree.) Our own lives are stressful enough, we aren't going to seek out negative people to add to it.

So don't be that negative Nancy in the room. You know the one. The one who bitches about everything, who places blame on outside forces instead of looking inward, who thinks they can lift themselves up by putting other writers down ("I can't believe that dreck got published when my book is so much better."<--come on, you know we have all thought that about some book at some point. Just don't say it out loud.)

That attitude is damaging to you and will alienate you from others. You think if I'm chatting with a group at a conference and someone says how they thought (insert book name) was crap and that the writer is a hack that I'm going to be endeared? What if said writer is a friend of mine or with my agent or my publisher? Do you think that's going to make me want to be buddies with this person? Do you think it's going to make me want to go out of my way to help them? Probably not.

I know this may be controversial, but the same goes for writers posting scathing reviews online. Candace outright said that if she sees an author tearing down another author in a review, she moves the author reviewing off her "to buy" list. And even if you don't consciously do that, don't you think that's going to stick in your brain when it comes to deciding which book to buy--negative Nancy's or someone else's? (Imagine at a corporate job if you went into an interview for a promotion and spent your time talking about how much your co-workers suck and how much better you are. How do you think that would go over?)

Now, before I get hate mail, I'm NOT saying someone shouldn't be allowed to post negative or even scathing reviews. That's everyone's right. It's definitely a reader's right. Honest reviews are needed for every book, and I know I count on them to help me making my buying decisions.

However, once you put on the writer hat, you're in a different place whether you like it or not. You're not simply a reader anymore. People are watching you. And karma may bite you in the butt. So you need to make a personal decision on what's right for you. (My personal yardstick is that if you wouldn't say whatever it is to the writer face to face, you probably shouldn't put it on the internet.)

And instead of focusing on the negative stuff, look for ways you can uplift others. If you truly loved a book, take the time to go write a review on the big sites. If you're further along on the publishing track, offer to crit or help out a friend who may still be in the beginner stages. If someone writes a fabulous blog post, retweet it for them. Encourage and cheer on those around you when they hit a milestone or accomplish something they've been working at.

Spread that love and it will inevitably come back to you. And then if you do have days where things aren't going well and you need to vent or bitch, people will rally around you instead of going, "Ah, hell, there she goes again."

So I challenge you today to go out and do something to pay it forward or pass along the love. Write a review, give someone a pat on the back or a retweet, or cheer someone up who may be having a downer day.

Have you experienced a Negative Nancy (or Ned) in your world? How do you feel when you see a writer talking badly about another writer or their book?