Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Write Where You Know. CRAFT

Recently, my mom found three glaring errors in the first page of a novel she was reading. The first scene in the book was at a beach we've visited a number of times, and the author obviously hadn't because most of her physical details were completely wrong.

I've spotted innumerable place mistakes in books, as well. Civil War slaves hid in kudzu that wouldn't be introduced to America until the Twentieth Century, locals in the North Carolina mountains were called crackers, trees bloomed in the wrong month, and so forth.

Errors like this make me paranoid about setting my books in places I've never been, and I research like crazy to make certain I get it right. I also try to get someone familiar with the territory to read through my descriptions.

Even worse than errors, however, is the danger of being patronizing. I've read novels where the author's contempt for an area was obvious in the stereotypes and misinformation. In other words, don't write about rural Georgia if all you know about the area is a few episodes of THE DUKES OF HAZARD you held your nose through.

If you're not willing to get it right, set your novel where you know.

REMINDER: August 1st is the final day to register for my “The Big Question: How to Create a Powerful Novel from a Few Ideas and One Big Question" workshop. To learn more go to


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Writing a Psychic Character, CRAFT

Are you psychic? Do you see ghosts?

Me neither. But I write these characters.

One of the ways I try to get into the head of characters like this is research.

Right now, I'm watching a nonfiction series on A&E called PSYCHIC KIDS. Real life kids with psychic abilities are brought together with an adult psychic and a child psychologist who specializes in psychic kids, and they are helped to come to terms with their gifts.

The parents are also helped.

Most of the kids are terrified by spirits who have harassed them for years, and they are afraid to sleep. Some are physically ill from anxiety and stress. Yet they have nowhere to turn except for parents. They are afraid to talk to friends because they will be ostracized, and parents warn them not to talk to other adults. They tend to be loners.

The parents are terrified, as well. They are unable to protect their kids from the ghosts, and the normal routes to help -- doctors, teachers, and ministers -- are closed to them because they fear their children will be labeled as mentally ill and medicated into zombies. They fear that their children could be taken from them by social services who won't believe the child's true problem.

The psychic helps the kids come to terms with their gifts and teaches them to take away the fear, and the psychologist teaches the parents how to cope with their psychic children. The children also develop relationships with the other psychic kids so they no longer feel alone or like freaks.

How would I use this information? A child character is easy enough to create after watching these children. So would a parent of a psychic child.

Now let's extrapolate this information and imagine an adult who had a childhood like this. Fear of discovery would often be a major influence on an adult. She wouldn't trust easily because most people who find out about her gift consider her a freak. Authority figures would automatically be distrusted. Trust and the need to be accepted for what she is would be the central emotional issues in a romantic relationship.

But what if the child grew up being totally open about her gift or if she "came out" as a psychic as an adult?

This character would be very comfortable in her own skin. She'd know herself very well. Her sense of being apart from others would manifest itself in a certain flamboyance -- a look at me I'm different and I don't care what you think attitude.

She would probably see her abilities as a gift rather than a curse, and she would use that gift to help others.

In a romance, she would have problems thinking of changing to help the relationship work because she's worked so hard to be who she is. "Me" has always been more important than "us."

This extrapolation isn't the only way to see adult psychic characters, but it does give you a start on writing a character different from yourself.

If you have no reality source for your character's background, you will have to find a real world analogy.

For example, a child who knows he's gay at an early age would be an analogy of a psychic character. Many is society view both with alarm, and secrecy is often the choice made. A writer would research the problems and emotional toll of being a gay child then use that information to understand a psychic child.

No matter how unusual or magical a character is, the author must use her knowledge of what makes a certain kind of person tick to make that character believable to the reader.

Monday, July 21, 2008

For intrique writers

This is courtesy of a good friend who writes for Harlequin Intrigue. Feel free to clip it and pass it along to anyone going to RWA National who may be interested.

"Sat., Aug. 2nd, there's going to be an Intrigue Meet & Greet in the
Harlequin hospitality suite (Sierra E), from 3:30-4:30 pm.   This will
be an open session inviting unpublished writers to meet with the editors
and, we're hoping, the authors who've made Intrigue so popular.  So, if
you can please stop by and say hello as well as spread the word to your
chapters, friends, critique partners, etc. about our session and that
we're actively looking for new authors, I'd truly appreciate it.  This
is a great opportunity to generate buzz and excitement for the line. 
Plus, there will be cupcakes and cookies!" -- Allison Lyons, Editor

REMINDER: Marilynn's online course in August is “The Big Question: How to Create a Powerful Novel from a Few Ideas and One Big Question." To learn more, go here

Monday, July 7, 2008

Authors and Wills

Your writing may live forever, but you won't. Have you included instructions about your writing in your will? Or have you filled out an addenda to your will containing details about your writing?

Some things you may want to consider are

What do you want to happen to your books and "name" after you die. Do you want others to write books using your name? Do you want someone to finish whatever books you didn't finish?

Do you want books you wrote years ago to be pulled out and sold?

Do you want your notes and drafts sold or given to a university or a collector?

Do you want someone to maintain your promotions (website, etc.) while your books are in print?

Do you want a special executor just for your writing. Most established authors name their literary agent or literary lawyer as special executor to their writing estate because writing is so specialized that people not in the business haven't a clue.

Here's a really excellent blog on the subject by Neil Gaiman which includes a PDF form that writers can use to explain their wishes on their works.


REMINDER: Marilynn's online course in August is “The Big Question: How to Create a Powerful Novel from a Few Ideas and One Big Question." To learn more, go here