Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Noxious

God, is it Wednesday already? And almost April? How did that even happen? I'm pretty sure March passed me right by while I was trying to shake my head clear of cobwebs and think. I feel like Bugs Bunny in that episode with the scientist, swimming in noxious ether fumes:

Which brings me to a great word for this week: noxious. Apart from having an x in it, which is always a good sign, noxious is commonly coupled with words like fumes, weeds, or gases. And small wonder since noxious means harmful or injurious to health or physical well-being. It also means morally harmful and corrupting, so you can use it as an adjective: My nemesis likes to engage in hatching noxious plans against me, but I outsmart and outmaneuver him every time.

Since noxious doesn't end in the dreaded "ly" I think it should be used with abandon. It seems like a perfect word for dastardly character.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How to be Mean Nicely

A week or so ago the talented Julie Dao wrote about how to critique with tact. She laid out some great examples of what she does to ensure a fair critique (but then, she has uncommon grace).

In her comments (she has over 40 of any of you want to tell me how to get more than the 5 or 6 that I average per post? I love those of you who comment -- I really, really love you. But if you're lurking and reading this, give it a go and comment because comments give me oxytocin and makes my heart happy -- yes, that's right, comments basically promote a healthy heart)-- Anyway, in her comments, I said that I think some writers are mean in critiques because it makes them feel better to condescend to others -- a universal condition not specific to writers, but which I believe is frequent among writers because it's easy to be pedantic about grammar and the like. Julie responded, "I believe critiquing may appeal to the sadist in some people. Wielding the critic's pen can give them a sense of power."

I was recently reading someone's writing. (No one's who reads this blog. No one you know. These are not the droids you are looking for. Move along.) And it was...well, I had some overall concerns, let's just say. And I felt the writer was...mmmm, maybe a little unwelcoming to criticism, shall we say, even when it was put tactfully and gently. And I thought, the way you respond to criticism is terrible and you're a biatch. And then I though, Oh GOD I'm a biatch for even thinking that! I'm mean! I'm meeeeeeaaaaannnnnnn! And then I thought, yes. That may be the case (and may also account for my low comment rate). But I know I gave my criticism kindly, as did others who gave similar criticism, because being cut down about the most personal of pursuits -- our writing -- is soul-crushing. Which brought me to: What do you say to someone whose writing/story is hopelessly beyond help?

I have some suggestions:

  • Focus on what they did right. If they did nothing right (which is rare, frankly), then say something like "I couldn't connect with the characters. It might be just me. What does the character want?" Or something similar.
  • Suggest some resources. "You might try books on plot, books on character development, books on story process. Here's a book I liked that might be similar to yours --The Godfather by Mario Puzo, try it."
  • Do not say he or she should give up. There is every chance they may improve, or learn, or both. I believe that very strongly -- especially once we get over ourselves.
  • Suggest he or she find more readers. This is important. More readers mean more feedback, and I know from my own experience that it's much easier to dismiss a single person's critiques than it is a whole horde of people saying the same thing.
In the end, if the person persists in making the same mistakes and refuses to listen, blow it off. You don't know everything. (I certainly don't). Be glad they're enjoying themselves.They may crash and burn, they may take a different path to getting better. No one really knows and each person's path is different. Rest happy that you were kind, because being cut down is tough.

Monday, March 29, 2010

People Watching

A few weeks ago, we took the whippersnapper to the zoo. It was a super busy day, which was great because it meant people watching, and not just any people watching, but family watching. Moms, dads, little kids, and all the ways in which they interact. The way they dress, what they said, their body language.

I tell you, it was great fodder for someone who writes, yes?

What I like best about people watching is that when you find someone who might match your idea of a character, you get to study them for later description. In line for the steam train ride, I saw a good looking dad who was very much how I pictured a male character in my current story. I took careful note of how the laugh lines appeared when he smiled (this required some obsessive staring, but it was discreet obsessive staring) and the way he held his daughter. My character doesn't have kids, but through Steam Train Guy, I could see how much my character would love his kids when he has them. Also, did I mention how incredibly attractive Steam Train Guy was? And that I didn't think his wife matched him in beauty, but that is entirely beside the point. (But it did cause a whole lot of wondering about them and how they met....and I was off on another story!)

I also wondered a lot of about people's desires, actions, and faults. The man with grey hair but youngish face, with young wife and four children all very close in age (!!!) at the baboon exhibit -- did he want to cheat on his wife? She had a fat diamond wedding ring set on, but the way he spoke to her was laced with impatience. Did she have to put up with that all time time? What dark side did this couple have? I had already decided that Steam Train Guy was very nice, but reserved and doesn't communicate all that he feels. Young Baboon Exhibit Wife obviously carried some despair inside: after a long day of chasing after four children all under the age of five, her well-paid husband comes home, but he didn't want to hear it.

You want to be careful that you don't assign cliches to people. There's always much more to people than what you see or expect. Maybe Young Baboon Exhibit Wife used to be a corporate lawyer who took crap from no one and now that she's got the four young kids, she takes crap from Gray Haired Husband. But not for long. The next time he comes home and snaps at her, she's going to let him have it. (Not sure yet how, but she's totally going to.) Maybe she actually runs him around. Maybe Hot Steam Train Guy is a total jerk and hates every minute of every day with his wife and child, but puts on an increasingly difficult act, just for the pictures.

So many possibilities. I've always been a dreamer this way, thinking up whole stories around people who catch my eye for one reason or another.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

Bit of a short Roundup this week. I could give you some pretty dismal news reports of how HIDEOUSLY Hibs have played recently, causing a spiral down the table (but still above city rivals, Hearts, so not all is lost, that's the main thing). I could argue that it's the condition of their pitch (water logged and torn up), but I really find that to be a weak excuse. I mean, hello. It's winter in Scotland. Water, meet ground. Anyway, we haven't chucked our manager yet, although Smeltic have. Notice the Smell in Celtic, there? Ha ha! You know what I liked about Smeltic's manager, Tony Mowbray? It was that we all call him Monkeyhead. Yes. They should have kept him for that reason.

Oh right, the Roundup.

  • Via Janet Reid, who talks about quotes out of context (very much worth a read) comes this Query Letter Blunders.
  • Super rad post on diagramming a scene with convincing reasons why it works, from Matthew Delman at Free the Princess

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thursday 5: Where do you start?

We all know that the beginning of your book is what hooks readers (not to mention agents and editors). From your first line to your first 50 pages, it's really important to get it right -- to convey the right amount of characterization, conflict, interest, and plot.

Recently, I was thinking a lot about my first chapters in terms of the whole story arc. In two stories, the first chapter starts in the middle of the action (in media res if you want to be all fancy pants about it; I don't though). But this may have the effect of the first plot point coming too soon.

For example, something happens (inciting incident) which causes something major to happen (plot point one). I'm worried that my inciting incident and my plot point one follow one another too fast. In the case of my current story, it happens within the same chapter. My husband, whose feet were held to the fire in order to get him to read my first draft, asked me last night, "Is there a twist to this story?"

That made me really wonder if the first plot point had gotten old by the third chapter! So for this week's Thursday 5, I'm listing a few ways to start a novel. Can you tell me the way you start yours?

  1. With action. The inciting incident occurs as the story opens.
  2. With characterization. The characters talk, think, extrapolate, or otherwise consider the world around them.
  3. With setup. This is a scene that sets up the inciting incident.
  4. With backstory. We know we're not supposed to use it, but it's appropriate in some cases, I would think.
  5. Some other way I'm not thinking of.
Well? And while you're telling me, could you also tell me if you think I need more space between my inciting incident and plot point one? (I know you haven't read it. I know. But a few of you are reading it.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Expletive

I used a very bad word at work today. I used it with a coworker who has also been known to use bad words (and yes, he has a higher-ranking job title). But my bad word was very bad. And he didn't like it. I felt ashamed when he went "Hey, come on now." I berated myself for using the bad word all day. In fact, I'm blushing now. Not because I used it, but because he was offended.

But apart from feeling bad for offending someone, I wondered if I should feel bad for swearing. Yes, the word was atrocious. But nobody likes it when a woman swears. Men can drop f-bombs all day but the second a woman does, particularly that one, she's vulgar. I find that double-standard to be disgusting.

So this week's Word Up is expletive. Because although I love swearing, I won't print the words here on the blog for a variety of reasons that I'll have to examine in detail later. Some of you use the f word on your blogs, and I salute you for that freedom. But those of you who do, apart from one, also don't use your real names. Does that have anything to do with it?

Expletives are interesting. Wikipedia says they are "a term in linguistics for a meaningless word filling a syntactic vacancy." I've always thought that expletives are a lazy way of expressing emotion. A clever person should come up with a less common way -- a more creative way -- to describe the emotion. But expletives are interesting because there's a whole morality tied up in them, too. We don't want our children using expletives. I called something a "frickin'" something today and the whippersnapper starting saying "frickin.'" We were not pleased (although secretly I was a bit). Women are vulgar when we use expletives. Expletives don't belong in polite society.

I'll give you that if people are offended by expletives, then we should be sensitive to that, but I don't know that I buy any of the other above points (although I still don't want my whippersnapper using expletives, but probably because he can't judge for himself whether it's appropriate).

So maybe I shouldn't have used the expletive today that I did. (It's the worst one). I'll certainly try (harder) to watch my mouth, especially at work. But I defy myself to feel bad about it, because I don't agree on a fundamental level that it's really wrong. Just a lazy word for expressing passion. (In my case, a passionate anger over an evil and stupid person. Okay, that sounds horrible. But that's how I felt at the time.)

What do you think about women using expletives, about the fact that they're taboo, and about using them in your writing?

And the word? Check the picture, liberated with compliments to Last night I teased some of you on Twitter about it. There. Now you know. Does that change things?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Obsessing: Not Good

OK. Ok. Ok. When I fixate on something, I tend to run it into the ground, and like eat it, live it, and be it until I can no longer stand whatever it is. Songs, especially. (Think I've had enough of Bad Romance now, and my husband DEFINITELY has heard enough Gaga to last him forever.) Unfortunately, I go a little too far sometimes in my writing too, although I just recently learned NOT to.

It was a chapter on breasts. Except, I wasn't fixated on them. Well, kind of. The chapter wasn't solely about breasts, but it featured them. I mean, I'm a heterosexual woman, but I'll raise my hand and say breasts are nice. They feed babies. They come in different shapes and sizes. They bounce in neat ways. I haz them. They're just cool. In the chapter, I have my character at the beach, a Greek beach (surprise!), and as par for the Mediterranean beach course, women at the beach all had their tops off. My character is written as someone who is a bit repressed, so for her to see all these breasts was liberating. Oh, she'd been through a slew of other stuff to get her to the point where she could fling off her bikini top, too, but the point was, she was amazed by the possibility of exposing her breasts on the beach.

Here's the first part (with the perennial Stanky McStankstank as the main character name, because why not?)

“Water is fantastic!” Lisa screamed, and Michelle hollered something unidentifiable in response as they swam and splashed and acted like nine-year-old boys.

Lisa had huge breasts and they were fascinating to look at as they bobbed in the water. Stanky tried to keep her eyes from them. Michelle was relatively flat-chested, but perfectly pretty, too. Didn’t they know everyone would be looking?

OK, that's fine, right. But no, no. I had to go on about them:

She snuck a peak in the direction of the buoy, where Lisa and her mountainous blobs of flesh floated. Against the odds, Lisa had won. She thought how it would be to have her breasts out in the wind and sun for anyone to see. Who would care? Would she care? Would she be able to stand it? Would it matter?

Breasts were mentioned at least three more times. And that was two or three times too many for readers in my writing group. They were all, "Dude, this breast obsession of Stanky's is a bit much." And I'm sitting there, thinking, "Holy crap, that was purely me! *I* was being all obsessed! I couldn't stop mentioning them!

So hey, take it from someone who just learned: mention something a few times, but not repeatedly...or else the reader will tire of it. Some of you may think that there cannot be enough mentions of breasts. And perhaps you'd be right. But readers don't like repeated mentions of things. You know you don't.

Am I right?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Show Don't Tell Epiphany

I recently designed a document at work. I was quite proud of the document, and thought it was pretty. Someone I work with, who was managing the content of the document, told me he liked a certain design element another way. I disagreed in every cell of my body -- I felt the design element was better my way, for a number of reasons. I made my case. He disagreed and then argued with me that even though I may have reasons, he still "liked it better" the other way.

I stood there and thought, "But I have a degree in Art. And I've been designing for like 10 years." My biggest problem there was that he didn't respect my opinion, and not only disagreed but insisted his way was right, even though he doesn't any design experience whatsoever.

But I didn't mention that, mostly because I dislike confrontation, and also because I never manage to say the right thing at the right time. Instead, I returned to my desk and fumed at him, and fumed at myself for not knowing how to handle the situation. I printed out a page with the design element his way, and the design element my way, and compared them. And I liked my way -- overwhelmingly. I gave him fair play, and I still thought I was right. So what to do?

Well, I got some therapy via Google chat (the world's best therapy line) from a very smart colleague. He advised me that if I was sure I was right then I should not give in to him. Because giving into him would say something much louder than anything I could say verbally. I complained that nobody respects me (like this: "But nobody resspppeeecccttts meee!"), and he said, "It doesn't matter who says what or when, just control what you can, aka what you do."

And I went, "I say." (In a Peter O'Toole accent. It's more fun that way.)

So basically he was saying "Show them, don't tell them."

This has nothing to do with the design issue, by the way. It's just a long-winded and roundabout way of telling you how I got to the despairing, slightly PMS-y point of feeling disrespected in the work place. And how for me, showing, and not telling, is the only way to combat that disrespect.

(I did dig my heels in about the design issue. I ended up doing it my way, then sending it via email saying "I respectfully disagree, and here's why." And then I listed why. And he didn't bring it up again -- not because I had convinced him, but because I showed him I wasn't going to let it go. You know how I know he wasn't convinced? Because he didn't mention it. He just backed down.)

So, although we are told in our writing a million times to show and not tell, sometimes it takes a moment like this to really illustrate the point. I get it now. I mean, I kind of got it before, but only in a rule kind of way. Now I really get it. Actions speak louder than words.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

  • I missed this last week, but Kristin Nelson is answering questions. Here's round one.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thurs 5: How to deal with your digital photos

I read this article recently saying not to store your photos on Facebook.

I clicked on it thinking it would be about some Facebook trickery where they're using your photos to let your ex boyfriends know what you're up to, but it was just saying that people tend to share photos on Facebook and don't realize that the photos are stored at low resolution. And I thought DUH! Of COURSE they are! Facebook isn't a photo repository!

Then I thought, oh, I wonder how many people really know that? Worse, how many people really know about digital photo storage? I'm not sure, and so I thought I would share with you a few tips.

First, the article mentioned these stats:
  • 40% of households with digital cameras no longer make prints
  • 65% of people sharing photos online do it through Facebook
  • Less then 33% of people realize that Facebook stores photos at a decreased resolution
That last bullet is stupid, so let's just disregard it. It assumes that the 33% doesn't also store the originals on their hard drive.

Tip #1: Nothing lasts forever.
Photographs printed on photo paper fade, even if done by a professional lab. These days, acid-free paper and better inks go a long way towards saving them, but in 34 years they still risk having a yellowish tinge or fading. Digital media fades too. Technology changes and maybe in 30 years you won't be able to access a USB storage device or read a DVD, much in the same way that it's really hard to find a way to read 5 1/4 floppy disks now. (I'll give you suggestions for photo longevity below.)

Tip #2: Photo resolution is affected every time you do something to the photo.
That means if you put it in Picasso or Facebook or save it to a TIFF format in Photoshop, the resolution is affected. Keep this in mind if you want to print photos. Don't process them in a program and expect them to retain the same resolution and size over time. This is important if you want to print, resize, or alter them later.

Tip #3: Printing and storing is the best combination, but always back your photos up.
Numerous stores make it super duper easy to print digital photos cheaply. Target and Costco are two good examples and they have self-serve kiosks. I recently printed over 80 photos at Target on their self-serve machine and did it in 15 minutes. Print the ones you want and put them in an album; store the ones you don't want on display on your coffee table (like your seedy Vegas pictures). But never let your photos sit on a card somewhere. Back that stuff up on an external harddrive (you can get oodles of gigs for cheap these days, there's no excuse, just go get one), and DVDs.

Tip #4: For God's sake, don't upload photos to Facebook and then delete the originals.
This goes for any program including Flickr and Photobucket. Just don't! These are free services and won't be around forever. And they're not in the business of storing your photos permanently. They're only interested in making it easy to share your photos with others, and to do that, they store them at lower resolution.

Tip #5: Consider your long term goals for photos.
This requires some forward thinking, and given that 40% of us no longer print our photos, I'm also thinking 40% of us aren't thinking about what to do with them, either. But take a moment -- if you want your great-grandchildren to come across a dusty box in the attic and discover your halcyon Vegas trip (or not, whatevs) snaps, then how will you facilitate that? Print them, or store them on somewhat permanent media. If you're just out there taking pictures of whatever strikes your fancy, then you may want to just upload them to share and not worry about long term storage. But no matter what, take a moment to consider what would happen if you lost all your pictures. Those of us with kids will shiver with horror at this thought. Every single picture of my whippersnapper is digital. How will he look back at his baby pictures when he's 25? Will I want a complete album so I can trot it out to his girlfriends and embarrass him when he's 18? The answer is yes, so I'd better think how best to do that.

Bonus Tip:
Most people don't have Photoshop. Adobe makes Photoshop Elements (I think, or is it called Essentials?) and that is very affordable and does the things you want to do to photos, for the most part, which is: resize. Yes! If you set your photos at like a million pixels on your digital camera, you're going to have to resize them later if you want to email or upload them. But here's the thing. If you DON'T take pictures at a high setting, then your prints will be lower resolution. You're almost forced to reduce their size using software. Just keep that in mind.

Thoughts? Additional tips? Most importantly: Did you already know this stuff?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Eponymous

I knew I had played too much Legend of Zelda in my life when the first thing I associated with this great word eponymous was Epona, the horse first introduced in Nintendo 64's Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. As I've moved on to the supremely stress-relieving Grand Theft Auto series (carjacking and then stopping the car to get out and punch people is much more fun that it sounds), I felt I could explore this beautiful word without hindrance.

So, eponymous is one of those words that I always hear, but had no real idea what it meant or how to use it. It means someone who gives his or her name to something, such as Stanky McStankstank, the eponymous owner of the famous garbage dump called Stanky's. It is also apparently an REM album, presumably the band being clever with calling their album after themselves.
I think the real danger in using this word is in sounding pretentious.
Can you think of any examples of things that are eponymous? I'll go first. This blog! Ooh, I win. Okay, your turn.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Writing Prejudices

I didn't realize until my last in person writing group meeting that I had some serious body image issues. Of course, I'm well aware of the fact that I have a widening arse, and I fight valiantly against its expansion. The women in my family, both in-laws and my side, all have similar weight and dieting issues. My mother always cautioned against "getting fat" after eating something sugary, but it wasn't until just a few years ago that I realized it was her own feelings about weight that made her say that to me, which probably came as a result of things her father said to her about weight.

Anyway, something that came up in the writing group was that one of my supporting characters was overweight, and my main character didn't like her initially, and the weight was viewed as a negative characteristic. As well, a man the overweight supporting character eventually takes up with is also slightly overweight, and there was a definite a-ha moment with me and the group when we realized that the only reason it was okay for these two overweight supporting characters to be together was because they were both overweight -- meaning the male supporting character was not considered love interest material because he was portly.

Well, that was pretty crappy and definitely gave me pause for thought. Obviously I, and my main character in that particular story, have body image issues. So I looked for similar threads in my current WIP and noticed that it went the reverse. My main character is of average weight, but she is threatened by a woman who is thin and tall and blonde and leggy. Meaning, my main character feels inadequate because she is not those things. (However, she gets the guy in the end and the tall blonde doesn't, so it all works out for her.)

I was reading about Enid Blyton, beloved children's book author (and one of the most if not the, prolific writers of all time, producing about 800 books over her 40 year career), and a staple of my childhood. Many of you know her if you had some UK flava in your childhoods; her books are not published in the US. Anyway, many of Blyton's books fell under criticism for being racist or otherwise ill-advised in their language and views, which were largely seen as a product of Blyton's era and her upbringing. You can read about it on Wiki. Anyway, her opinions really came out in her stories and you can see she was prejudiced and ignorant about races, as well as sexist. (It's really unsettling actually and opens up the whole argument for editing offensive works for modern sensibilities, or preserving the author's words. I'm not sure what to do there, but I definitely am not into reading her racist stories.)

I would hope most of us think about what hang -ups or prejudices or violent views we hold and consider carefully how and why these come out in our stories, and whether they should be there at all. For example, my weight issues aren't really a problem in itself, but the fact that there was a negative connotation given to an overweight character IS a problem, and one I'm not comfortable with in my fiction. I'll be removing that aspect.


Monday, March 15, 2010

A Day in the Life

My friend Meghan Ward did a great Day in the Life post last week, and I'm shamelessly using her idea. Below is a typical weekday for me on days when I go into the office (I work at home some days). But no matter what the day, I always keep the routine with my son, and I almost always write or edit after he goes to bed.

6:44 am Wake up unwillingly, stirred by noise from whippersnapper who feels that 6:30 is sleeping in. Drag self from bed, spurred by not wanting whippersnapper to take opportunity to poop in his diaper instead of potty. And he will, if give the chance. Wily wee stinker.

6:50 - 7:30 am Negotiate, plead, and struggle to get whippersnapper dressed. Comfort him if he has a meltdown over choosing his underwear (for no discernible reason other than that he's three). Somewhere in there, get myself showered and dressed. Think that it would be much easier if I got up at 6:00 to do this, and then quickly laugh at the idea.

8:00 - 8:30 am Preschool drop off/commute to work. While in car (after drop off), think of story and characters. Try to understand character arc and motivations of secondary characters, which will affect primary ones. Make note on notepad in car without looking at writing (resulting in unreadable scribbles) about important details I forgot to include.

8:45 - 9:00 am Make a solid go of starting work day, answering e-mail, tackling difficult projects, making huge dent in workload, etc.

9:01 am Peek at blogs.

9:16 am Peek at Twitter.

Repeat until 5 pm, with dashes of work in between. But actually accomplish things.

5:25 pm Get in car, turn up music, think of story and characters. Try to understand character arc and motivations of secondary characters, which will affect primary ones. Make note on notepad in car without looking at writing (resulting in unreadable scribbles) about important details I forgot to include.

5:45 pm - 8 pm Family time: dinner, play, bath, and bed (for whippersnapper).

8 pm - Open laptop, begin writing furiously.

8:01 pm - Open Tweetdeck like effing addict.

8:30 pm -10:30 pm - Plot destruction of nemesis. Perform last edit on blog post for next day. Tweet. Write. Compare story lines with chapter outline or other maps. Cut, prune, polish. Write more. Love characters, love writing new scenes. Delete heinously written lines that were obviously written by a baboon who has no concept of grammar. Despair because there are several of those. Write more.

10:30 pm - Go to bed, read for about 20 mins. Turn off light.

11:00 pm - Begin talking to husband.
Husband groans and says "What time is it? It must be 11, right?"
I say, "No."
He says, "You want to talk every night at 11."
I say, "No, I don't."
We cuddle up and go to sleep (but after talking briefly about nothing much in particular).

I'd love to hear your Day in the Lifes, in the comments or on your blogs.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

  • A day in the life by Meghan Ward - a very cool post, and one that I will be doing on Monday.
  • Tina Lynn writes a moving tribute to the cheerleaders in our lives. Cheerleaders for your writing is so important, especially if you've had plenty of people tell you your book makes them want to fall asleep (Tina) or that you "probably will have to look in self-publishing" (me) if you want to be published.

Bit of a short roundup today peeps, I was light on the Reader on account of an overnight business trip in the middle of the week. Welcome and THANK YOU to all my new followers this week and special thanks to my Nemesis for allowing me to skewer him. Mwah.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Literary Nemesis Thursday 5

As stated last week, I have a literary nemesis, Simon C. Larter. We are just discovering what it means to have a nemesis (mostly vague, yet amusing, smack talk on Twitter, and throw downs on our blogs). Unfortunately, we chose one another in haste and aren't exactly enemies who are consumed by envy over each other's writing, being that we haven't read each other's writing (although suffice it to say that if he read mine, he would be twisted by hatred and upset over how very, very, very, very good it is). And even more unfortunately, we are finding it difficult to truly dislike one another. Still, we try with well-targeted daggers tossed daily on Twitter and blogs (any blog, as it happens).

I have directed Simon to answer the following five questions, which he did because he could not withstand the force of my personality.

1. What is this "flash fiction" you purport to write? Explain yourself. How is that different than the term of "short story"? Or are you trying to be Mr. Clever Pants?

NemesiSimon: Flash fiction is generally thought of as stories clocking in at 1,000 words or less. One might be forgiven for thinking one can't do much with so few words, but one would have to be forgiven by someone else, since I have a hormonal deficiency that prevents me from feeling pity, mercy, or any socially accepted emotion whatsoever. Flash fiction is all about kicking you in the face and making you feel something with as few words as possible. I'm all for kicking people in the face. With words, that is. When I'm actually kicking people, I prefer to kick them in the back of the head, since they rarely see it coming. It's more fun for me that way.

Sierra: So basically, you write violent short stories.

2. Will you admit your life has changed irrevocably and for the better as a result of having a formidable and extremely intelligent nemesis (me)?

NemesiSimon: Certainly I will admit that my life has changed irrevocably and for the better as a result of having a formidable and extremely intelligent nemesis (you). I will admit this because it may lull you into a false sense of security. At which point I may kick you in the back of the head.

Sierra: Good, so we're agreed that I am formidable and intelligent. Now we're getting somewhere.

3. At what point will you concede defeat to me?

NemesiSimon: BAHAHAHAHAHAaahaahahaahaahhaaaahaaahahahaaa... *cough* *cough* *pant* ...ahahahhaAHAHAHAAHAHHAAHAHAA... *wheeze* *choke* *snigger* ... aahaahahahahaahahaaahaahahaaaa.... *wipes brow* Whoo! Thanks for that, O nemesis. I didn't need the abdominal workout, since my abs make titanium look butter-soft, but I appreciate a good laugh nonetheless!

Sierra: Here, have a cough drop. You appear to have a wee cough despite your body of steel.

4. How long have you been writing your evil works?

NemesiSimon: The official story, to which my publicist will swear, even under threat of torture, is that I've been writing seriously since March or April of 2009. I never deviate from the official story in public. If you question me, I will release the Doberman Pinschers.

Sierra: You seem to have frightened your staff into submission with torture and aided by vicious dogs, which is to be expected from an opponent such as you, but you do not frighten me. I laugh at your kitten threats! Ha!

5. Celtic or Rangers?

NemesiSimon: Rangers. That's all.

Sierra: This was a trick question because the right answer was neither celtic or rangers -- OF COURSE IT ISN'T! You have failed utterly in this answer and proven your hideous propensity for a hideous propensity. Absolutely horrifying.

That is all.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Misery

By special request from Travener, this week's Word Up is misery. We all know what misery means (deep, abiding despair), and if you've lived well, then you've probably experienced some. Misery is actually a very important word because it makes for a great story. Like conflict, making your characters miserable makes good reading for the rest of us.

Here are some excellent miserable situations you should regularly employ for your characters:

  • Losing a loved one, especially an extremely close one
  • Being forced to make a heinous decisions that will live him or her scarred forever (ala Sophie's Choice)
  • Being held captive and not knowing if death is imminent or not (ala being held down a well and told to "put the lotion on its skin and do this whenever it's told")
  • Being lost in a plane crash, ending up on a deserted island, living there for four years, and then beating all odds to make it home, only to find your sweetheart has married someone else
  • Having an alien facehugger latch onto your face, and knowing that soon you will have a suspicious stomach ache, followed shortly by a baby alien exploding out of your middle (in other words, knowledge of imminent and certain death)
So writers are very familiar with the concept of misery. But now I shall pretend that I have a therapist's license on my wall and dispense some advice. Just because we are misery-merchants does not mean WE are miserable. No! We are happy, because we have money to afford computers, and time to write (as in, we do not work in coal mines for 18 out of 24 hours in order to feed our unruly and unpleasant brood of seven children). We have an outlet for the stories and people that swirl in an incessant twister in our minds. We are not homeless or uneducated, and we are somewhat technically proficient.

I'm thinking we should do a celebration dance, no?

Tomorrow I have a very special Thursday 5 for you - my literary nemesis, Simon C. Larter, will answer 5 questions that I spent a great deal of time preparing. I rub my hands together in glee over that post.

Thoughts on misery, and our writerly lack of it?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Character Profiles

I love plotting tools and while most of them rarely work for me, there are a few that do, like yesterday's calendar. Another that has worked for me was creating a character profile. It got a bit anal retentive, but it ultimately worked because I was able to catch a serious flaw in a supporting character: I had a brother of my main character playing professional soccer football in Edinburgh (Hibs, duh), but then I had him at age 32. And there's no way Hibs are drafting an American 32 year old, that's just ridiculous. So I had to adjust either his age or what he did for the club. Details, details.

Here's what one of my character profiles looks like, and I've gone ahead and made this character up for the sake of this post.

Name: Stanky McStankstank

• Age 30, unhappy recycling plant manager, very smart
• Working class
• Enjoys time with friends
• Bad relationship with family (except father and brother)
• Unhappy with current beau
• Hides horrible secret from childhood

Stanky McStankstank is 30 and works as a recycling plant manager in Carson, NV. She doesn't really like her job, but it does use her waste management degree from Las Vegas University. She's worked there for 5 years.

Stanky is short, brunette, and passively feisty -- meaning she's snappy but not aggressive. She's very pretty, although she thinks she's just average. Men like her, although she's somewhat defensive against advances. This is due to the secret in her childhood.

Stanky lives in a small apartment in a complex in Carson. It isn't very pretty but she does live next door to Hottie McHothot, who she and her friends have drooled over for many years. Hottie is a total ladies man, but he's not interested in Stanky (or wasn't when they lived next door to each other anyway).

Stanky does not have a good relationship with her mother or her sisters. She does have a good relationship with her father, but he offers no support because he cowers from her mother. Her brother would be her support, but he's away on another continent. [I would add more here about her love interest and how it works out, but didn't want to here; you get the idea.]

I admit it's abnormally structured, but I was a technical writer in a former life and I really need to bullet crap out. Of course this kind of profile doesn't tell YOU much, but it tells ME everything -- and organizes my thoughts about a character and provides detail where I might otherwise have had a vague idea. It's that detail that can bite you in the arse, which is why tools like this and the calendar are helpful. When you're spinning words out at a high rate, you don't have time to keep track of details. Or you lose them, or you change them on the fly and then lose track of the changes.

Honestly, I don't come back to these character profiles often. For me, it's more of an exercise in forming the deeper details about a character. Once I write the profile, I'm good to go. The only reason I came back to a file recently was to double check a parent's name. This profile is really good for capturing that kind of extraneous information, including details like where the character went to school. I might not actually mention the school in the story, but I need to know it so I can know my character. I did a Google search on character profiles and found a crapload of information, mostly with very detailed lists like age, weight, height, etc. I find that too restrictive. I only used the information that would be relevant to my story and character in mine above.

Would something like this work for you? What about using it after writing -- or are you like me and once you've got it written, that's good enough?

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Calendar

Remember how I posted a while back about the Hero's Journey plot construct? (no? please see. )

Well, similar to that graphic is how I visualize the year. I have drawn a little diagram so you can see what I mean. I always picture the year in an oval, like a racetrack, with Christmas at one end and July at the other.

I use this visual of the calendar year for a lot of things, including my story timelines. Oh yes, story timelines may seem a bit detailed, but if you're an outliner then I think you'll like them. And even if you're a "panster," then you will like them because otherwise you'll find your characters getting engaged in July and mysteriously breaking up in late July, and even more mysteriously getting married the second week of June, and then the story ending in the beginning of July, but only after two weeks have gone by.

So what I'm saying is, a calendar helps you keep your story timeline straight. I particularly needed this with my current story because I very specifically wanted to end the story in snow. However, the book started in cold weather. I wasn't sure if I wanted a whole year to elapse in the story. In the end, after I diagrammed it, I decided that I did want about a year to pass--only after I added the major events and gave them the appropriate space and time to happen. So take a look:

I begin the book in March and end it the following January (year unspecified). There are things I need to have happen and I've marked major plot events in the months they happen. This will help me get my mind into the setting so I can tell if it's hot, cold, or rainy or whatever when I'm writing about an event. You can do all kinds of things with this like add in plot points, plot structure, word count, whatever you want.

Does this make sense? Have you ever seen anything like this before? What do you do to timeline your story?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

  • Dystel & Goderich agency totally lost me with this query critique on Monday by starting the effing thing with "Don't begin a letter with 'I'." Maybe is harsh joke. Maybe is silly wee jokey-joke from agents to writers. But of all the things you need to do in a query, starting with "I" wasn't one of the things I watched for. Add that to the list, I guess, but my point is, that's not the biggest thing to be watching for in queries. Try getting your pitch right?
  • Holly Root at the Waxman Agency gives a list of what a referral is and isn't. We already know this stuff but it was good reading nonetheless.
  • I learned what a claymore mine is this week and I must say, I fell in love with it immediately. It, according to Wiki, fires shrapnel, in the form of steel balls, out to about 100 meters within a 60° arc in front of the device. It is used primarily in ambushes. NICE!! I mean, it doesn't get any better than that. God it's so deliciously violent. I felt you needed to know about claymore mines as well.
  • Tina Lynn made a trailer for her WIP and it is just totally amazing. It has a fantastic tag line, great music (Sigur Ros) and is very well done. Take a look because not only is it done well, but it's an interesting idea for books or other materials you want to promote or shout about, but which may not be published. Tina Lynn proves that it doesn't matter if it's not published.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

5 Must-have Tinterweb Relationships

Have you ever heard that women who live in the same house or work together often have synchronized menstrual cycles? No? Well, it does happen. There seems to be a similar thing happening on the tinterweb, only it's synchronized thinking. That's what I'm going to call it, anyway, instead of, say, "stealing ideas."

Often, Carrie and Roni and I post abut similar ideas. Sometimes they post before I do. Or their posts poke my brain into motion and I start thinking about a topic. Anyway, I had a good chunk of the below written before Carrie got all blazey and came out with a post yesterday listing her nemesis, fiance, and our torrid affair. And I thought, yeah, cause that's what the tinterweb is all about, if you're doing it right.

So for your Thursday 5, I'm listing 5 Must-have Tinterweb Relationships, usually within the writing and publishing community:

1. BFFs.
My BFFs don't know that we're BFFs (that seems to be the key to our good relationship, too). Marian Keyes is my BFF, because she's lovely, and we both have birthdays in September and I feel that we would get each other really nice gifts. Le Rejectionist is one, and she reads this blog every day because she is such a close friend (although she doesn't know she reads it). INTERN, who also doesn't know it, but we're like THAT. Author Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich is one, and if Gordon Ramsay called me and begged me to be his BFF, then I would say yes, although he'd have to do the calling (and he would also need to admit that he is not a rangers supporter). Yesterday I said Elana Johnson was one too.

2. Torrid Affairs.
Carrie has that position, only because she refused to be engaged to me, since she's already engaged to le Rejectionist.

4. Nemesis (or nemesii?).
I am delighted to announce my official nemesis, match made by Carrie yesterday: Simon C. Larter. We are currently stalking each other to get a handle on the ways in we will apply destruction. Simon is also Scottish and for those of you who have played close attention, you'll know that there's a bit of a, look, it's just an odd coincidence isn't it. I believe he is on the east coast, so I already have the upper hand in that I can throw poison darts while he is sleeping since I'm 3 hours behind, but then again, he could probably launch a rocket at me in the morning when I'm still asleep. Hmmm.

3. Secret husbands who are irrevocably in love with me.
And when I say in love, I mean, they LOVE me to distraction and are super affectionate and loving and I am the only woman for them, ever. I have two. Here they are and, perhaps not uncoincidentally, they are the inspiration for my two main male characters in my current story:

The first is dark, and tall, and known for his good looks and ways with the ladies. Because aren't all super hot dark tall guys good with the ladies? You know they are. Add in some charm and jokey jokes and your girl is all aquiver. So when I saw this unbelievable person behind the counter at the Starbucks near my work, I knew. That was him. He is one of those stunningly good-looking people, and probably a lot of things comes easy for him (although, yes, I realize the paradoxical truth of him working at Starbucks rather than being, say, on a billboard in his Calvin Kleins, as he should be). He's just this perfect, well-formed, fit guy and you instantly want to eat him instead of drink coffee. Contrary to what you might think based on my slavering, I do not visit the Starbucks frequently in order to see him. Because you see, he is a huge arsehat and is so consistently rude that I was instantly put off . A hot guy, rude? Such a waste. A waste! Also, I am lazy and cheap, and prefer to bring my own coffee to work.

The second gentleman, whom I love even more than the super hot dark smouldery Starbucks guy, serves as the inspiration for my main male character. He is very, very good looking with brown/reddish coloring, and just a very manly face and a delicious smile. I want to eat him, too. He seems so nice and so funny and so damn COOL that you just want to melt into a puddle at his feet and ingest his coolness because there's nothing else that's going to be better. You know that his coolness and his yummy looks would make for an excellent and most loving and perfect mate. In my story, he's super sweet -- with gentle failings, of course. Now, I can't say who he really is because then you'll know and I could look like an idiot (Carrie knows all about that, don't you girl?) but I really, really wish I could put a picture here. Just trust me, he's so delicious.

5. Just really good author friends.
If you're lucky like me, you have lots, all you regular commenters whom I love so much. You rabblerousers, you.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Wicked

I may be the only person in the world who didn't really enjoy Wicked the musical. And that is despite winning the ticket lottery in New York City and seeing the show from the middle of the front row for $25, on Broadway. Yes. But it's not the show's fault. I just don't like musicals, I think they're shite. Apologies if you like them. Pretty much everyone I know loves musicals. I fully recognize my deviancy in this.

Anyway, I'm not talking about the musical here, I'm just talking about the word wicked, which is your Word Up this week. Now, I spent about three or so years in Massachusetts as a kid. We had just moved back to the states from Greece, and I hadn't encountered the phrase "wicked awesome" before. And, like the Red Sox and snobby cliques of girls in school, I took an instant dislike to it. (Again, apologies if you're a Red Sox fan or a snobby girl in a clique. I really am going to be apologizing a lot in this post. As an excuse I will say that I was an SF Giants fan and anti-disestablishmentarianist at age 13.)

Okay anyway then we moved back to California where I could love the Giants in peace and the girls weren't as snobby (northern CA, not southern), even though I encountered just as foul an expression: "hella cool" or its arselicky counterpart, "hecka cool." Note: hella cool became wicked awesome after No Doubt made it famous. Anyway one of my best friends in the world still lives in Massachusetts and over the years I went back to visit her and I came to really love the word wicked, and especially the term wicked awesome. Time had healed, you see. And I could appreciate New England flava. (You know I'm making a little jokey joke when I say things like "flava" right?)

Wicked, of course, means bad, disgusting, evil, rotten. All great definitions, to be sure. To me, it means a particularly nasty brand of bad. You can be terrible, but to be wicked you have be really depraved. I love that we also use it to mean "really really." Because of course it isn't just paired with "awesome" - when used well, it's useable with anything: "That's a wicked corroded car battery." "Manchester United fans are wicked arrogant." "I have to pee wicked bad." Just saying. Just examples.

And "wicked awesome" is, well, wicked awesome, especially when said in a broad New England accent (which I have also come to appreciate and love over time). Elana Johnson, who is on my secret BFF list, lists a bunch of wicked awesome bloggers, which is totally wicked despite the obvious oversight of my not being on the list.

Thoughts on wicked or wicked awesome? Leave some wicked killa comments!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Breakup Tension

I recently saw a Marie Claire article online (sorry no link) about the seven worst types of breakups. I'm sure the article was written for those who might break up, but naturally I immediately applied it to fictional situations. I see these seven ways to break a couple up as a menu of delicious conflict. Yum!

Note: Marie Claire listed these from shortest recovery time to longest recovery time, and I've kept that order.

The mutual breakup
Minimal conflict for your characters initially, but could be useful in a story where you want to make your character hurt later on, after he or she realizes that although they may have gone their separate ways amicably, that was sooooo the wrong decision. Ouch! Pain!
The circumstantial breakup
Characters want to stay together, but distance or situation keeps them apart. Or maybe family and friends don't approve. This is delicious because it's bittersweet and that can be exquisitely painful. I love it because you can have fun with what isn't being said. And I think we all know it's really your character's fault.

The ultimatum
When a character says, “do this, or I’m leaving,” but the other person isn’t willing to do it. This can vary in nastiness. Let's hope it's very nasty indeed

The something someone said breakup
This is a great one because whatever someone said that caused your characters to break up, there's going to be a lot to answer for. Maybe even some fisticuffs!

The betrayal
I love this one because the potential for devastation is massive depending on your character's experience level in life. People cheat all the time, so make the destruction to your character's lives complete or it'll be ho-hum.

The first love breakup
The first time you're dumped is the hardest. Does your character ever really get over it? I hope not!

The blind side
Oh yes yes yes. This is the best one. The breakup comes out of nowhere and your character is going to have to a) get over it, b) find out why it happened, and c) mostly likely undergo radical growth by the time he or she is over it.

Bonus! For added instruction, see this list of the stages of overcoming a breakup. Take the advice with a grain of salt because you probably don't ever want your character to get over a breakup, not if you want them to suuuuuffffffffeer!
Can you add any painful situations? Do any of your characters break up using the methods above?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Author Web Sites

Hey ho, and happy Monday to youse. This weekend I went a bit wild on my new story and cranked out 11,000 words. There's so much on my mind right now, and these characters are hammering on me to please, please, please tell their story some more. How can I resist?

As always, I think of many things, and one of those is the whole idea of whether to have a web site before you're published -- or more accurately, whether it's worth putting in the effort to begin "branding" yourself before you're published. Roni at Fiction Groupie did a fabulous post about this last week (what else is new?), complete with pros and cons, and launched her own web site. I was so glad she did, and I'm going to tell you why I'm in favor of having a web site before you're published (not the least of why because I already have one).

Why I'm in favor of having a web site:
  • It shows you're serious and professional about what you're doing. Going to the trouble and expense of a web site means you're putting stock in the long term. Designing, publishing, and maintaining web sites is not easy and requires work.
  • It offers a window into who you are and what you write.Your blog can do this, too, but with the day to day ramblings, it's sometimes hard to keep that introductory information topmost. Your web site serves as your virtual business card.
  • It can be static until you score that book deal. Then, you'll need it. And you might not have time to launch a whole branding effort, so having one in place sets you up for when your site needs to kick into gear and work for you.
  • This is the way. In today's world, every business needs a web site. Yes, they do. Why? Do companies really sell more because of a web site? It's not about sales--it's about reassuring your customers that you are what you say you are. If you tell me you sell high-end windows for residential customers, I will want to know how long you've been in business, the kinds of windows you sell, and who else you work with, and I'll check your web site to see if it matches what you tell me. If I find a picture of you sitting in a folding chair in a basement next to a window, then you're not getting my business, ya reprobate.
Obviously, you can see that I'm into branding and web sites, but I also come from a design background and have been building web sites for years. It was a fun project to do mine. I recognize not everyone has the software or the the know-how to create a site. In this week's Thursday Five (on, not uncoincidentally, Thursday), I'll list resources for creating a web site. So apart from the mechanics of getting and creating a web site, what should go on it?

What your web site should contain:
  • An "About Me" page. See my post on About Me sections, and yes I recognize that linking to my own stuff is a wee bit big-headed. I'm sorry.
  • A page that describes your writing. It should state up front what you write, the genres you write in, and if you've been published. It's okay to have a placeholder for this and list only the basics. ("I am working on a novel.")
  • A way to contact you. How many times has agent Janet Reid blogged about people querying her, and she gets excited about the query, and then can't contact them the writer? For the sake of kittens, get a dedicated gmail account and stick it on there. Put your Facebook and Twitter links. (See here for mine. Notice how obnoxious I am about providing ways to contact me.)
  • A link to your blog.
That's really all you need. You can add other things as needed, such as a dedicated page to your current novel that you're shopping, or pages that personalize your site a bit. The most important thing to remember is that you don't have to make a big splashy site. Just the pertinent and static information, and you're all set.

What are your thoughts on web sites? If you don't have one and aren't going to have one despite the stunningly convincing reasons I just gave you, I'm interested in your reasons.