Monday, September 29, 2008

Squandering the Reader's Trust

I fell in love with the TV show HEROES during the first season. It was different and clever. The writing was smart, the worldbuilding interesting, and the plot worked.

Rarely did the series fail on most levels through that first season. The fans were fierce, the buzz was good, and HEROES appeared to be a major hit.

Then the second season came. The plots went nowhere, many of the characters we cared about were tossed aside for new annoying characters, the worldbuilding faltered, the whole series went to heck, and many of the watchers went elsewhere.

I only stayed around because, from a writer's point of view, it was a bad accident I couldn't take my eyes off. My weekly show autopsy was a class on how lazy writing and a smug certainty of keeping the fans no matter what could destroy a good show.

The third season started last Monday, and I watched. Frankly, I don't know if the show's writers will redeem themselves, but three appears to do be a regurgitation of the first season with exploding cities, premonitions, and Sylar and the other characters returning to their old ways.

I also realized that I really didn't care that much about the show anymore, and I may not find the time for it in my brutal schedule.

As I was thinking about my reaction to the show, I realized that the first season taught me to trust the writers to give me the kind of show I'd enjoy, and the second season squandered that trust until little remained.

Novel writers can do that, too. Each book builds trust between the reader and the writer, and the writer has to be faithful to that trust for the reader to stay.

Common ways to betray that trust are writing by rote with few surprises, worldbuilding changes for the writer's convenience, and simple boredom on the writer's part which most readers can sense.

That series you are writing may be a major success, but unless you are willing to keep stretching yourself and to keep pouring your creative energy into it, you are better off starting something new before all your readers go away.

AGENT: Jessica Faust of Bookends has a September 24th blog post on what she's looking for right now. Her blog is at

Monday, September 22, 2008

How You Describe, CRAFT

I've written several blogs on how viewpoint affects what you description in a scene. For example, a character who is analytical will view a room differently from a creative person, and a cop walking into a room looking for a gunman will see it differently from an interior decorator.

The type of viewpoint character also affects how you describe what the character sees. In one of my novels, the main character is a professional landscape artist. I kept a list of paint colors beside me as I wrote her viewpoint because she'd be precise about color variations. She'd see another character's eyes as cerulean blue, not blue.

If that viewpoint character had been an expert on antiques, the other person's eyes might be the color of Delft blue china.

Using this kind of description also makes writing love scene description, particularly evoking the intense emotions of sexual pleasure, a bit easier and less cliche-ridden. I've used space imagery for a heroine who was an astrophysicist, shapes and forms for an architect, and colors and textures for that landscape painter.

An expert will also see something differently than the rest of us. Imagine a mechanic looking at a car engine, now imagine someone who knows nothing about engines looking at it. The terms used to describe the engine in viewpoint will be as precise or imprecise as the character's knowledge.

Always remember that description is as much about the viewpoint character as it is about creating a picture in the reader's head.

ARTICLE ON VOICE: Jennifer R. Hubbard talks about creating a voice for a novel.

MONSTER MASH: Do you need to create a scene involving a large creature or large creatures fighting or being chased? The History Channel has a new series called JURASSIC FIGHT CLUB which shows CGI recreations of various dinosaurs preying on each other.

A new series which uses the same CGI dinosaur models is PRIMEVAL on BBC-America.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bad Weather and Other Computer Disasters

Are you, as a writer, ready for bad weather or emergencies?

Preparing for bad weather can be as simple as having a storm alert radio that will cut on, if dangerous weather approaches, so you can shut down that computer before lightning fries it, then you can seek shelter. The storm alert radio also doesn't interfere with writing like a regular radio for those of us who like to work in quiet.

Is your computer plugged into an alternate power source (APS) so it won't be damaged or your current work lost if the power goes out?

Most alternate power source makers claim an APS with a surge protector will protect your computer and peripherals from lightning, but nothing will protect electronics from a close lightning hit. A good friend lost everything when lightning hit a transformer over a block away, and he had high-end surge protectors and an APS system.

The safest thing to do is unplug everything, including the APS.

Also remember to unplug your modem from the electricity and your computer. Dial-up modems are particularly prone to lightning. A cable modem is supposed to be much safer, but I err on the side of paranoia and unplug mine.

If you have a laptop as well as a desktop, you need to keep it charged then unplug it, as well, when a storm comes. If you want to keep working through bad weather, remember to save a copy of your work to a flash disk, floppy, or whatever to move your work to your laptop so you can continue to work.

Weather preparation isn't just for a short summer or winter storm. It's for major disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, and wild fires. Always have a back-up copy of all your works in another location, or, better yet, several locations.

In the days before I wrote by computer, I had paper copies of my books at my home, my mom's beach house and my brother's house near Charlotte. Despite being in different parts of the state, all three homes were damaged by Hurricane Hugo, but the manuscripts stayed safe. That experience has reaffirmed my determination to keep copies of my manuscripts and important papers elsewhere.

These days, I also keep a flash disk copy of my books in my safety deposit box at the bank so I can keep my updates recent. A flash disk or drive, if you're not familiar with the term, is one of those storage units you plug directly into your USB or Firewire connection on your computer or iPod.

It's always a good idea to have an emergency bag or briefcase for your writing partially packed and ready to go in case you need to get out fast because of an approaching hurricane or wild fire. Things to keep in this bag include a power plug for your laptop and an updated flash drive. Also include copies of current book contracts as well as notes, etc., of what you are working with at the time.

This bag is also a good place to store that copy of your house and car insurance, pictures of your valuables, etc., in case disaster strikes. Also include a CD with copies of your favorite family pictures, etc., in case the worst happens, and there's no home to return to.

Make a list of the last minute things you will need to pack and stick that in the front of the bag. When emergencies happen, we tend to forget the most basic things so that list will be well worth the time.

NOTE: Do you have emergency suggestions for other writers? Please let us know.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Making a Long Story Short, CRAFT

QUESTION: My novel is way too long. Someone suggested I cut four lines off every page instead of trying to cut whole chapters, etc.

Anyone who can do that needs to work on their writing skills because they are writing weak, bloated prose.

There are other ways to cut length.

From working with writers over the years, I'd say that the primary thing most writers need to cut is writer information. We sometimes do our thinking on the page before we write down what the reader needs to see, and we fail to cut that out.

Writers also tend toward too much introspection. If all a character is doing in a scene is thinking about other things, get rid of that scene and insert that information into dialogue.

The great Phyllis Whitney once said that the only reason a character should be folding laundry and thinking is so an ax murderer can sneak up on her, and the reader knows this through subtle clues.

There's also the rule of three. If a scene doesn't contain at least one or two plot points (information or events which move the plot forward), and one or two character points (important character information) so that you have at least three points total, then it should be tossed, and whatever points included in that scene should be added to another scene.

For major cuts, you can also consolidate several secondary characters into one character, or a subplot can be simplified or removed if it doesn't influence the major plot or the influence can be moved to another subplot.

Happy cutting!

Here are a series of blogs on book promotion from agent and former book publicist, Colleen Lindsay.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Writer Scam

Congratulations, you're Pulitzer Prize finalist, and it will only cost you 1800 Euro dollars to finish the registration process. Please send the money to Nigeria.

Yeah, right.

There's a new email scam aimed at writers that claims to be from Paul Tash of the Pulitzer Prize board.

I received an email last night and did some research. Here's a good article on the scam.

Feel free to past along this warning to any writer or group you like.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Dissed Writers Fight Back

QUESTION: I am so tired of being sneered at when I tell people I write. How should I handle this?

Artists have always been met with idiocy and blank looks. It's our lot. We ARE different, after all, but different is good! Without the artists and other creative people, the world would be a bleak place.

For some reason, especially in America, writers and other people with brains are treated with contempt. It's the dumb jocks who are the norm. Painting yourself blue in midwinter and rooting for your football team in an open stadium is normal, but you are weird if you write or read books, or go to sf conventions, or belong to the SCA. Personally, I beg to differ.

I've discovered that my enthusiasm can win over those blank stares. The trick is to believe in what you are doing and who you are. If you give those people with sneers or blank stares the power to define who you are, then you've lost, and you are nothing.

Instead, believe in yourself and what you are doing. Writing is one of the hardest jobs in the world, and if you succeed only a little, be that success a finished short story or a few chapters of a novel, then you are a success. Glow with it, and no one can belittle you.

ASK ME QUESTIONS! Email me at if you'd like me to answer your question about writing, publishing, or the writing life.

WHY YOU NEED AN AGENT Here's an interesting article by an agent on why you need an agent.

I don't totally agree with him, category romance is one exception to his comments that I can think of immediately, but he does have many valid points.

HAVE THE CONTENTS OF THIS BLOG EMAILED TO YOU Join my Yahoogroups by sending a blank email to It has no chitchat or spam.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Suddenly, a pirate ship loomed over the horizon, CRAFT

QUESTION: In action scenes, I use the phrases "suddenly" or "all of a sudden" a ridiculous amount of times when describing fast paced action scenes. What other words or phrases can I use?

If you write the scene correctly, you don't need "suddenly" or any other synonym or phrase. The reader is usually smart enough to know the fighters in a physical battle are moving fast so everything is "suddenly" unless we say otherwise.

The trick is to get into the head of one of the characters and stay there. Let the reader see what the character sees and feel what the character feels.

You don't say,

Suddenly, the other fighter pulled out his knife and jabbed at him.
You say,

Sam dodged the other man's fist. The hand that should have been blocking his next blow moved downward toward the man's knife sheath.

A flash of steel.

Throwing himself backward away from the other man's knife, Sam slammed into the ground on his back.

Or, if you are describing a battle of many men, you don't say

Suddenly, a line of cavalry surged over the top of the hill toward them.

You say,

On the hill just above the soldiers, the drumming of many horse hooves and the Rebel yell of hundreds of men warned them.

The Yankees spun around as the Confederate cavalry charged toward them.

ARTICLE ON ROYALTIES Fiction Factor has a useful article on how royalties are figures. <" ">

While you're there, check out their article archives and sign up for Fiction Factor ezine which is always full of great articles on writing craft and the writing profession.