My new love – The Emotion Thesaurus

I have discovered a very cool writing resource. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, is pretty awesome. I love it. I mean, I touch it a lot, give it yearning looks, and glow when I gaze on it.

Okay, so that may be a little over the top as far as showing my emotion for it, but I think you get the picture.  In a world where editors pound the pulpit with the words “Show Don’t Tell,” we writers must consider each and every sentence we pen. Did I write that someone was frustrated? Buzz! Wrong answer. Instead, that person might show frustration by crossing their arms, clenching the jaw, or tapping a foot or fingers. Oh yeah. Now I’m feeling it.

Of course, too much of a good thing is, well, still a good thing, and I’ve found this book inspires some of my own ideas of what physical signs I give off that betray my emotions. As a former communication major, the critical nature of nonverbal communication was pounded into my head, so that’s a good thing to remember. If your character says, “That’s great,” after an impatient snort, well, that’s better than writing “he said sarcastically.” Editors hate adverby dialogue tags too. FYI.

Of course, I’m not the adverb hater that so many are. Stephen King killed this part of speech with his famous: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Sometimes, my character says something softly. It’s not a whisper, it’s not a hiss. He says it softly. End of story.

But adverb wars aside, I think  the best way to approach the “Show Don’t Tell” is to think of your novel like a movie script. In script writing, you tell the director and actors what the character is doing while they speak. Obviously there’s some room for interpretation, but the concept is that actions speak louder (or at least, as loud) as words. When I write a scene, I picture the people interacting in my head, and if the behaviors are hard to grasp, I close my eyes and think of myself either doing the motion or saying the words. Having a thesaurus for common emotions, of course, is icing on the cake. And I really, really like icing.

So check out The Emotion Thesaurus if you’re serious about improving your style and characterizations. And if it makes you happy, don’t forget to smile and step lightly:)

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression
By Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

ET

The craft of writing – Always a learning process

I love to write. I always have. In the first grade, I wrote a story about a princess tiger who takes a cloud train back to the zoo. The concept was a little strange, to say the least, and the illustration, was, uh, imaginative. But if nothing else, I like to look at the homemade book to remind myself of one thing:

I have always wanted to be a writer.

And I became one. From a news journalist to fiction author, the range of my writing runs the gamut. But like any human, I am always growing, learning  and changing as a writer, striving to get better at what I do. I will never be perfect, but I can always improve.

My early stuff is really fun, but my newer stuff is better, and in a few years, I hope to be able to continue to say that. I think of it like my ice skating performances from long ago. One of the first programs I ever competed with was an up-tempo classical number from The Marriage of Figaro, in which I wore an ivory dress with gold and green sequence. Yikes, I know, but it was the nineties. The program was simple, but I performed it with much gusto. My most difficult jump at the time was a single Axel, nothing Olympic-level, but the routine is still so much fun to watch on video.

Years later, I skated at the junior level at the National Collegiate Figure Skating Championships. In this program I landed a double Axel as well as several difficult jump combinations. My spins were centered, fast, and complicated. I skated to the haunting waltz from Khachaturian’s Masquerade, outfitted  in a beautiful periwinkle dress with small crystals inlaid in the sleeves and bodice.

These were very different points in my skating career, and obviously, my skating (and fashion sense) had matured and improved by the time I reached the collegiate Nationals. But both performances have merit, both won me a gold medal, and both were enjoyed by the audience.

All that to say this: writing is the same. Our early stuff, whatever level we start at, will always be new and exciting. Sometimes it will need a great deal of work to get published, sometimes not, but even if it could be improved, it doesn’t lessen the value of it. Any writer–all writers–should realize they have room to grow. No one is an expert in this business, and while some may have extensive knowledge to share, approaching the table with humility and an open mind, no matter the level of expertise or success, is a must in my book.

So, until next time, write on.

My next big thing – or rather, two things

Generally, I like to play my “next big thing” ideas close to my chest, but I was asked to join this blog hop by the talented Paulette Rae, so I decided I’d tell you a little bit about the two books that will complete the Teen Mobster Series. If you haven’t read Accidental Mobster, well, you should. I mean, that’s if you like nail-biting situations that involve the Mafia and high school. AND, it’s only $2.99 for the electronic version, which is way, way cheaper than that Starbucks non-fat vanilla chai I gulped down today.

Anyway, here’s the scoop on how the rest of this YA series is going to shake out.

1: What is the working title of your book(s)?

The second book is called Undercover Wiseguy, and the third is Covert Criminal. Those aren’t really working titles. They’re just titles;-)

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve always loved crime drama. I’m probaby the only twelve-year-old who was addicted to Law and Order. I have also scarfed down anything to do with the mob (I could sing you the intro to the Sopranos, if you were so inclined.) I also have a number of family and friends in law enforcement, which makes me pretty sympathetic to the enforcement of justice (with the exception of the random speeding tickets I keep getting on the same stupid road. Forget a breathalyzer for your car–I need enforced cruise control)..

LSS (you know, long story short), I was destined to combine my love of writing teen fiction with my obsession of crime drama.

3: What genre does your book come under?

Teen fiction. More specifically, teen crime fiction, with a heap of action, a dollop of humor, and a sprinkling of romance.

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Hmmmm.  If this was made, like, next year, I think Spencer Walsh from Good Luck Charlie would be great for the role of Danny, my protaganist, Elle Fanning for love interest Portia, Dayo Okeniyi from Hunger Games for best friend Reggie, and David Henrie and Lucy Hale for Danny’s semi-siblings, Vince and Julia Vigliotti. I think Gabriel Macht from Suits for Danny’s mobster godfather, Gino Vigliotti, and Alex O’Loughlin from Hawaii Five-O for everyone’s favorite FBI agent (see pics below).

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When teenager Danny Higgins goes to live with a mob family, he finds that keeping secrets and using his “street smarts” is the only way to survive.

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

Published by the most awesomest independent publisher, Bluewood Publishing Ltd.

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Six months. I wrote both books in the early morning hours and during my daughter’s naptimes in 2011.

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

For the series: think Mario Puzo’s Godfather got cleaned up and went to high school.

9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My respect for law enforcement and my value of family greatly influenced this series.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s not like most of the young adult novels out there. These books are not ooey-gooey romance or paranormal craziness. If you like shows like Castle, Criminal Minds, or the Sopranos, you’re probably going to enjoy this series. And even though the series is appropriate for readers as young as 12, I have had many adults email me to say how much they enjoyed Accidental Mobster and look forward to the next two books.

Now, if you are looking for some more great fiction, you should definitely check out these other authors.

Paulette Rae – This sizzling romance author has an exciting new project with, gasp!, a hitchhiker. Check out the details here.

K.D. Berry – This fantasy author team is responsible for the award-winning Dragon’s Away.

L.M. Fry – For a fun read with a sassy thirteen-year-old protagonist, check out L.M. Fry’s Soul Seer. Major plus is the hilarity that follows with having a large family.

My dream cast for the Teen Mobsters Series:

harper

Shane Harper as Danny

 

Fanning

Elle Fanning as Portia

 

Okeniyi

Dayo Okeniyi as Reggie

 

Henrie

David Henrie as Vince

 

Hale

Lucy Hale as Julia

 

Macht

Gabriel Macht as Gino

 

OLoughlin

Alex O’Loughlin as Special Agent —- (don’t want to spoil the first book for you!)

 

 

Eight reasons you should go to that writers’ conference…

Last weekend, I attended my first writers’ conference in a while. Let me tell you, it was a good experience, and it taught me the value of meeting with other writers, as well as taking advantage of listening to and chatting with editors and agents, people who often seem so far away from my little neck of the woods in Oklahoma (okay, maybe it’s less woods here and more fields, but you get the picture).

Here’s a few reasons you should consider attending a writer’s conference (assuming writing is something you like to do)…

1. Editors and agents are nice people. Who knew, right?

2. You learn that everyone has recieved rejection. In fact, people are pretty proud of the drawers holding all their letters.

3. Some writers’ ideas are way crazy. So don’t be afraid to let your crazy out of the bag.

4. Writers are an eclectic bunch. So your degree is in electrical engineering and you want to write a picture book about a fastidious grasshopper? Go for it.

5. Hotel banquet food generally sucks, but the cookies are always awesome.

6. The projects that editors are working on are really exciting, but they’re always looking for more.

7. Editors and agents are nice people. Did I say that already?

8. Authors with big publishing houses work hard. Really, really hard. If you want to do this for a living, you better not expect a cakewalk.

So sign yourself up for your next writer’s conference (I recommend SCBWI if you write for the twenty and younger crowd). Worst case, you learn a little something, and best case, you come home inspired.

Ready, set, write – A few short steps to start a novel

You have it! That killer, awesome, super cool, totally-going-to-get-you-a-literary-award-and-movie-deal idea for a novel. So what are you waiting for? Get those little fingers moving.

Okay, so maybe it’s not that easy. We all have some pretty good story ideas. But how do you take a big, fat, fabulous idea and streamline that baby into a can’t-put-it-down-or-I’ll-die kind of book. Well, I’ve got three solutions to help you get started. Of course, once you get rolling, the real work is ahead. Finishing a book and then taking the time to really rip it apart and put it back together (otherwise known as the revision process) is the super hard part of this. Then again, maybe getting started really is the biggest challenge. Because often, when you get something moving, it’s just a matter of keeping it going, am I right?

Step one: Figure out who your story is about. People don’t care about what is happening unless they care about the people it’s happening to. Who is your protagonist? Your antagonist? Who are the supporting characters–love interest (I’m sorry, but you’ve got to have one), friends, marginal enemies, etc.? Make up a cast list as though you’re casting a movie. Who would play your characters and why? What are their strengths and weaknesses (a hint here–usually what makes a character strong can also make him or her weak).

Step two: Know where you’re going. You wouldn’t take off on a road trip without an intended destination, right (unless you have tons of money and no one who depends on you, in which case, I really don’t know what to say to you)? Well, writing is the same way. You don’t need to know the tiny weeny details (such as, where are we stopping to stay/eat/gas up/etc.), but you do need to know where you want to end up and maybe have a rough map of how to get there. I’m not a big outliner myself, but I do plan out my book when I start and as I go along. Otherwise you may find yourself running in mental circles.

Step three: Word count. Oh yeah, this is important. You must set a weekly goal of how many words you want to write and have an idea of how many words the book will be. Note to prospective authors–writing novels over 100,000 words may give you some heartache when it comes to selling the thing. Also, many book genres have more specific word counts, so pay attention to those. When you become a super-duper big time writer, you can write how many ever words you want, but for the time being, get an idea of what is publishable. Next, decide how many weeks you want to take to write a first draft and what’s feasible for you to write on a weekly basis and set a word count goal. Then stick to it and reward yourself when you hit certain milestones.

And that, my friends, is a quickstart plan for you and that awesome book sitting in your head. Just remember, writing a novel is easier said than done. And read, read, read in the genre you want to write. There’s nothing wrong with studying success:)

Original writing – it’s not what you think

Last week, I found myself in a painting class. Now, let me tell you, this was a bit of a surprise for me. When I signed up for something called Wine & Palette, I assumed I’d be eating gourmet food and drinking delicious alcohol. I’m pretty good at those things. Instead, I found myself decked out in a smock and holding a paintbrush, reliving the nightmare of my college art class (my lowest grade in four years of undergrad and two years of graduate education).

Our task was to follow the instruction of a talented local artist in painting our own rendition of “Fiery Sunset.” I started off okay, but by the time it came to paint mountains, my lack of talent and confidence (and perhaps the two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc) were getting the better of me. Result? I have a sunset that is sliding off the canvas.

But one thing that struck me in my slightly fuzzy daze was the difference between all those fiery sunsets. Some of the painters had more talent than others (I, obviously, fall in the “others” category), but every single painting, although similar, was vastly different. No two people created the exact same piece of art.

Writing is like that. How many novels featuring vampires are out there? Let me tell you, tons. Dystopian? Tons. Zombies? Plenty of those too. Romance with a billionaire? Yep. But no two stories are alike.

Sure, there are similarities (vampires suck blood, dystopian societies just suck, zombies are notoriously violent, and billionaires are arrogant a**holes). But the stories start in various places, follow different paths, and take interesting twists to get to their endings. The personality, beliefs, and creativity of the author is expressed in a unique way. It’s quite something to witness.

So yes, although an author shouldn’t go down the same path as everyone else, any concept–wizard schools, vampire love, dystopian societies, etc.–has room for more exposition. You just have to make it sing a completely different tune–your own.

Rules for opening the story (easier to read than follow!)

In Twilight, the carry on was a parka. In Harry Potter, Mr. and Mrs. Dursley were perfectly normal. And in Hunger Games, the other side of the bed was cold.

These are the openers for three books that have taken both the publishing world and Hollywood by storm. While the stories have grabbed the minds and hearts of readers, one wonders just how important the opening of the story is. I mean, we want deep characters whom we can care about, nail-biting action, and an ending that either suprises us or delivers a great victory. Does it matter if the first two or three pages limp along a little, if the rest of the story is a home run hit?

Oh yeah. It totally does.

This is because the opening is what helps you sell your idea and your writing. There’s no perfect formula for opening a story. That’s because writing isn’t formulaic (and writing that is doesn’t usually go anywhere). But after reading hundreds of bestsellers over the past few years and finally breaking into the publishing world myself, I have learned some important lessons about opening the story. Call it a short dos and don’ts list. Oh, and remember, all these rules have and will be broken. That’s the mind-boggling part of this game.

Do

Let the reader hear your writing voice and get the feel for the intended mood of your novel. Is the story supposed to be funny or witty? Get those one-liners rolling. Action packed? Start with conflict. Mysterious or dark? Create the atmosphere right away.

Introduce your character and what he/she is like. A reader needs to know who the protaganist is and why we should care about him or her (or, like in Lu’s Legend, both). This doesn’t mean you start with a list of attributes. Through action or dialogue and the characters reactive thoughts, you can show who this person is meant to be.

– Pace yourself. This is tough advice to follow, especially because agents and editors don’t give a potential book much of a look past the first few pages. But trying to get to the crux of your story too quickly doesn’t give you time to build the anticipation for the inciting incident.

Don’t

– Start out with the same old, same old story line. In teen comtemporary or paranormal fiction, you see new school situations all the time. In dystopian novels, it’s the day you get your job, mate, etc. If you read a lot (and if you’re an aspiring writer, there’s no excuse not to), than you are at an advantage. If you’ve heard it before, chances are, an agent or editor has too–a hundred million times.

Give all the details. You’re writing a novel, not a news article. No inverted pyramid necessary. My mom is really good at this. She tells me stories about the most mundane things, but she always builds the anticipation by keeping the important information back and creating a sense of mystery. It may be groan-inducing when it’s a story about a trip to the grocery store, but this is pretty critical when beginning your novel.

– Get married to your opening so you can’t change it. I know the feeling of crafting the perfect paragraph, page, or first chapter and feeling you can’t possibly get rid of it after all that hard work. On the other hand, if, after writing most or all of the rest of your novel, you can think of a better way to start it, be ready to hit that delete button. It’s not about saving every single line you crafted–it’s about telling the best possible version of your story. And sometimes, that’s why feedback is worth it’s weight in publishing gold.