Monday, March 30, 2009

Sex and Action Scenes, CRAFT

Recently, I read a paranormal novel about a romantic couple fighting demons. During the action scenes, they were so busy fantasizing about the other’s crotch that I wondered at the brains and survival skills of these people. In the real world, a fighter who is busy thinking about sex before and during a fight is a dead fighter.

The pace was also ruined because the constant sexual elements, and sexual introspection distracted from the peril.

Brief bits of body language--a touch, a smile, or caress, as well as brief snippets of romantic dialogue can keep the sexual tension and caring evident without bringing the story to a dead halt.

Wait until a lull in the fighting to put your couple in a safe hiding place where they can repair their wounds and chase each other around the bed.

The important thing to remember is that even in a romantic story, sex shouldn’t be paramount in action scenes, but after the battle is won, all that extra adrenaline is a nice appetizer to sex.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Reader's Guide to Copyright

REWRITE NOTE: (Monday, April 13, 2009) I have added a few clarifications to the information in this blog.

Several blogs have taken me to task for not giving enough technical information about copyright, but since this is supposed to be a very general overview for readers, not an exhaustive legal discussion on the subject, I stand by my content.

If you want an exhaustive overview complete with all the legalese and laws, I suggest the sites I have links to at the bottom.

For those concerned that I did not cover more of the reader’s rights as far as what you can and can’t do with copyrighted content, I suggest the site on “fair use” I have listed below. “Fair use” deals with people writing articles and reviews and has little to do with those of us who are just reading the books so I did not cover it in detail.


With the introduction of the scanner, the Internet, and ebooks, copyright legal issues that readers face have become much more complex.

A savvy reader should understand the simple basics of copyright to avoid running afoul of legal troubles and to avoid hurting the authors they enjoy.

Here is a brief layman’s overview of the subject. First, a general definition.

COPYRIGHT: The legal protection of the ownership of intellectual property including writing. From the reader’s perspective the copyright is the contents of the book.

The leasing of those copyrights to publishers then to the reader is how an author makes money.


Protecting and respecting the author’s copyright is the right thing to do.

If an author doesn’t make money by selling books, she will probably stop writing, and you will have lost some great reads.

If the author doesn’t sell enough books because of illegal books, the publisher won’t buy the next book.

A vast majority of writers make very little money. If they don’t have a second job or a mate who supports the family, they can’t afford to write. Don’t take what little money they make away from them.

Stealing or misusing copyright is not a way to thank an author for giving you pleasure.

Pitbulls disguised as copyright lawyers will attack you and your family if you use someone else’s copyrighted material illegally. “I didn’t understand the law” won’t save your rear in cases like this.


When you buy a paper book, you own the paper, but you don't own the contents which still belongs to the copyright owner. You can sell the paper, you can burn the paper, or you can stick that paper into your bookshelf, and that's okay because you own it.


You buy the right to read the content of an ebook. You do not own the contents. That means that you can't sell an ebook to someone else. You also can’t post the ebook online for others to read, nor can you print out a copy to share with friends or to sell.

Most authors and publishers don’t care if you print out a copy for yourself. Others prevent you from doing this with security software (DRM). If they don’t want you to copy it, don’t copy it.

Most authors and publishers don’t mind if you have another copy of the book stored on a disk or extra computer drive as a back up as long as it will be for your use in case of a computer crash.

For more information on ebook copyright, "used" ebooks, and your rights and lack of them, read my article, "Ebooks and The First Sale Doctrine."


Publishers use digital rights management (DRM) software to prevent the reader from doing certain things with an ebook including copying, printing, and text-to-speech features.

Don’t use other software or another method to do what the DRM is supposed to prevent. It’s illegal, and the possibility of legal trouble just isn’t worth it.

If the DRM screws up your enjoyment of the book, be sure to tell the publisher. Complaints have changed some publishers’ attitudes to DRM.

If they don’t remove DRM from their books, buy from other publishers.


Making digital pictures of a book’s pages or a digital copy of the book’s words is illegal, but few publishers care if you do this for your own use if you already own a copy of the book. Most don’t care if you copy pages of a book or article for use in your research. It is illegal to post the contents online except for short excerpts.


You can quote small portions of a book in a review or critical article. This is called “fair use.” For more detail, go here:


A few small changes in a book’s contents does not make it your book. For example, you can’t change the characters’ names and post the book online because the book still belongs to the author.


Books no longer in copyright are in the public domain. You may do anything you please with these ebooks. The Gutenberg site is an excellent place to check to see if a book is in the public domain because they rigorously vet their books.

If the book is not in public domain yet appears online without the author or publisher’s permission, it is a stolen book. Report it to the author or the publisher.


Reading aloud to your children or privately to someone else will never be illegal. What is illegal is reading someone else's work for profit without permission.

In other words, you can read A CAT IN THE HAT to your kids or a group of kids, but if you do that and charge admission without the permission of the Dr. Seuss' estate or publisher, it is illegal. It is also illegal to sell a copy of your reading if you do so without permission.


The legality of using a computer voice to read an ebook-- text to speech-- is currently in question. However, most authors and publishers don’t care if you use TTS on their books as long as it for personal use only. Some authors and publishers use security software (DRM) to prevent TTS from working.


Here’s an article on the legalities of writing fan fiction -- fiction written for fun, not profit, using other writers’ characters and universes.


For a more complex discussion of copyright, particularly publishing and copyright, check out this site by from Stanford University, and this one from publishing lawyer, Ivan Hoffman, .

Other excellent sites are

The Publishing Law Center

Scrivener’s Error Blog that covers some copyright subjects as well as having some excellent sites

For even more detail, do an online search on copyright or find a good book on the subject at your local library.

{NOTE: A blog entry is copyrighted material, but for this blog entry, I give you my permission to copy it, pass it around, post it on your blog, or whatever. I’d appreciate a link back, but that isn’t necessary.

You are also free to remove my name. If you change any of the content, you must remove my name. }

Monday, March 16, 2009

Life Among the Klingons, 2009, MARKET news

This weekend, I was at Stellarcon 33 in downtown High Point, North Carolina. Stellarcon is a small science fiction con that features lots of writers, and Baen Books always has a huge presence.

Surprisingly, I heard little sf/fantasy publishing news beyond the doom and gloom that pervades the industry, but I talked to a mystery writer who filled me in on that market. Her news wasn’t particularly cheering either.

Essentially, all straight mystery except for cozies is a dead market for anyone who isn’t already an established, popular writer. Cozy series (an amateur sleuth mystery with little violence) by new writers or someone seeking to start a new series must have a promotion hook involving a dedicated group of hobbyists. Most tend to involve arts and crafts.

From my own reading, I’ve noticed a trend of authors writing urban fantasy and paranormal novels which include strong mystery elements. Most are sold through sf/fantasy lines rather than mystery lines. For example, Jim Butcher’s DRESDEN FILES novels are PI novels where the PI is a wizard. Simon R Green in his Drood novels uses the standard tropes of the spy novel with magic.

Right now, urban fantasy and romance are the only genre novels not badly affected by the recession, and editors seem to be buying there where they aren’t buying mystery. Thrillers are still popular.

General media fandom news. STAR WARS remains very popular with fans, and I saw lots of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA costumes. With the exception of one Klingon who comes every year, I didn’t see the first TREK outfit. I’m curious to see if the new TREK movie will improve things next year. I saw less of a presence of anime, but it still remains popular with the college kids and younger.

I chaired a HEROES panel, and not the first person showed up for the panel. If this lack of interest is any indication, HRG should start sending out his resume. LOST proved a popular topic, and the annual Harry Potter panel was as popular as ever although the series is finished. The chatter of the fans was quite animated.

British science fiction series like DR WHO and TORCHWOOD remain popular although both are on a long hiatus.

A new addition to Stellarcon was several groups of paranormal investigators-- the Charlotte Area Paranormal Society and the Winston-Salem Paranormal Society-- who run scientific investigations like TAPS on GHOST HUNTERS. Both groups gave several panels about their work and equipment, and discussed their experiences in haunted locations.

As always, Stellarcon was a great deal of fun, and I was able to catch up with friends of many years I only see once a year.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Links of Interest

Blogs and articles of interest from the last few weeks.

PROMOTION: The five things an author should have on their home page.

THE WRITING LIFE: A writer who will be successful is confident, a writer who won't be is delusional. Which are you?

CRAFT: Falling in Love with Your Characters How to create a real person with a back story, etc.

WRITING TERMS; An A-Z primer of important writing terms. Part Two Terms include "narrative," "plot," and "opinion."

Monday, March 9, 2009

Creating Emotional Reactions in Action Scenes, CRAFT

To make an action scene work, you must not only detail what the characters are doing with their bodies and weapons, you must also include the viewpoint character's emotions and senses.

Adding emotion isn't an either/or situation. It's just as vital to add emotional layers to the physical action as it is to have brief moments of introspection when the battle isn't going on.

Characterization isn't just introspection. It's characters interacting with each other and revealing themselves in bits and pieces.

Your band of adventurers may not sit around "sharing their feelings" in touchie-feelie moments like a Dr. Phil show, but they've been around each other enough to know that one hates the bad guys because they murdered his wife and kids, and he's liable to attack without thought and ruin their surprise attack.

He may be clutching the sword at his side, his other hand opening and closing in nervous energy, and another adventurer may warn him to relax and may mention the wife and kiddies.

The image of his wife's raped and brutalized body could flash through his mind, and he fights his raw anger and lust to kill. That won't slow the action down like having a long interior flashback of him finding his family's bodies, and his vow of revenge.

Instead, it adds to the excitement of the coming action because the reader now questions whether this guy will lose his cool and get everyone killed.

An even better way to present this information is to put it in an earlier scene that isn't action intensive so the reader will know the details and will only need a slight reminder of this character's motivation and tendency to attack without thought.

After some rewriting, if you still aren't happy with the emotional content of your story, you may want to look at the central story idea. Do your characters have a real emotional reason to be doing what they are doing?

Their hunt for the lost treasure should be as much about their emotional reason for needing the treasure as it is about simple greed. That emotional reason should be important enough to make the reader want them to succeed as much as they do.

Maybe the main character is after a magical sword which is the only weapon which will kill the dragon currently ravaging his homeland, and he doesn't really care about other treasure and the life of drunken decadence and dancing girls it promises the other characters.

Maybe the other characters have laughed at him, but they've admired him and gradually they have been drawn into his quest for the sword, and in the end, they'll choose to get the sword with him and lose the other treasure.

Maybe the one who laughed the hardest and made the main character's life hell along the journey will be the one to sacrifice himself so that the hero can rescue a homeland the scoffer has never had, but now wishes to have with his whole heart.

If you make your character emotionally invested in each action scene, and make your reader emotionally invested in your story, you’ll have a story no one will put down.


STELLARCON: I’ll be a guest at Stellarcon this weekend. Stop by and say hi. Guests include Sharon Lee and Steve Miller who write the wonderful Liaden Universe novels. This is a really fun con.

WEBSITE WOES: I unexpectedly lost my website host last week so I had to transfer the site. The site was down for periods of time, but I believe I have everything up and running again. If you have links to any of my articles that includes in the link, it will no longer work. Go to and click on the short stories and articles naviagation icon to find those articles.

LINKS: I’ll post this week’s links to various writing blogs, etc., on Wednesday.

QUESTIONS: Have questions about writing or publishing? Ask me. Contact me via this blog or at marilynnbyerly at

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Amazon Backs Down on Kindle text-to-speech

Amazon has decided to back down on its text-to-speech feature for the Kindle 2. In a news release, it announced that it would allow publishers and authors to decide if their books will allow TTS or not.

More than likely, Amazon's lawyers decided that using TTS with the Kindle would require a court fight because it hasn't been clearly defined as a kind of right or not a right. TTS doesn't add enough value to an ebook to make it worth the expense of a lawsuit.

All in all, Amazon caving in to AG's demands is really bad because no one can say with clarity what kind of right TTS is so authors will be leery of allowing TTS because it may prevent them from selling audio rights, and the publishers don't know if they have the TTS right either.  We really needed a lawsuit to settle this.

As things stand now, TTS will be cut off on most books available for the Kindle, and that will hurt the visually impaired.

Many ebooks, however, not in Kindle format, will still be available to be read using computer TTS software.

Link to copy of press release:

Monday, March 2, 2009

Creating the Characters' Physical Actions, CRAFT

When I write physical fights like a sword battle, I picture the fight like it's a movie. I see what each character is doing and what is happening around them.

I also get up from the computer and pretend I'm holding a sword, imagine the opponent's move, and block it noting my balance, what I'm leaving open, and the possible return blow.

To vary the fighting, I use the physical location of the hero. The floor may be bloody from his first opponent so the hero or villain may slip and fail to parry a blow, etc. If more than one good guy is fighting, the fighters may affect each other as an enemy steps into the hero's range, or he falls beside him.

I rarely write out blow for blow because I think that's boring. Instead, I'll give occasional overviews of what's happening while staying in the character's viewpoint. For example, the hero is thinking about how his body is learning the rhythm of the fight, or he's aware of other fighters around him.

I try to avoid using technical terms to describe the fight because I'm writing as much for those unfamiliar with swordplay as those who are, but I try to be accurate about how to use the weapon, and I use a sprinkling of correct terminology to make it seem more realistic.

I've never fought with a sword, but I've held a number in my hand, and I've watched others fight with them. I try to remember the weight of the weapon, the sound a fighter makes as he swings the heavy sword, and the sheer weariness of the weight of fighting something or someone above you.

I also include different senses in the description. What is the character hearing? Feeling? Smelling? Tasting?

This method also works with fist fights and other man to man combat.