Back to the Beginning

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What’s worse than starting at the beginning? Starting all over again.

Beginnings are hard, usually because they start at the ending of something else.

This year marks the beginning of my 30’s and the end of my 20’s. My original goal was to publish a book by the time I turned 30, but alas, I am only starting–or rather starting over yet again.

How could I not finish a book in a decade? Well, I did, actually. I completed a draft for book one and two. I spent hours outlining, researching, writing, re-writing, falling in and filling in plotholes.

So why is there not a completed MS?

I believe your twenties are for discovery and learning.

What I discovered: There were a lot of plot holes in my writing.

What I learned: This story was good but it could be better. I also discovered that my major supporting character should really be my main character. That changes everything.

So after starting all over on the outline, yet again, I finally began the first chapter for hopefully the last time.

So I didn’t accomplish my original goal. I thought I’d be finished by now, not starting over. I didn’t publish, but I did accomplish something. With diligent research and outlining and planning, I think I will be able to write the best book I possibly can by the time I’m 40.

 

The Non-Biased Sister Review

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It’s obvious why friends and family shouldn’t leave reviews. They over complement, they aren’t the target audience, and they’re totally subjective. I like to think this doesn’t apply to me. I’m very objective, and I don’t sugar coat my opinions, especially when I edit. I want my sister’s books to be awesome, which means sometimes I have to be cruel to be kind. Not that I make her cry or anything. If anything, she thinks I could be harsher.


 

In light of today being the start of the Kindle Countdown Deal for The Wizard’s Gambit, I’ve decided to post my totally non-biased sister review.

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Story

I’m not going to give a synopsis. If you want, it’s here on Amazon. What you want is my opinion, so here goes.

To sum it up it’s like if Hunger Games meshed with the Lord of the Rings. Representatives from every race and Kingdom battle to the death in search of a hidden item: an item that will give the champion power over all the other races. The competition is the result of a wizard’s last ditch effort to make everyone get along. However, a solution is only ever as successful as the plan–and considering he didn’t give it much thought …

I like the story, personally. It’s based around just enough fantasy tropes to be familiar, but it’s not overly predictable. You might think it is at first: a man with a mysterious background, a blacksmith, a prophesy, wizards, etc. I know what you’re thinking, a blacksmith with a mysterious past must fight to win the competition. After defeating all of his enemies he is found to be the one true king.

Trust me, it’s not that predictable. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. And if you think you have it all figured out by the end of book one, just wait for book two to pull the rug out from under you.


 

Characters

There are a lot of characters in this series. Not quite as many as Game of Thrones, but pretty close. This is not a complaint of mine, as main characters and major supporting, minor supporting, and so forth seem to be clearly identified. Also, there aren’t too many POV’s. Only main and major supporting get POV’s.

Even though they derive from tropes, they are all her own creations and not borrowed from the bookshelf.

For those of you who thought Pig was a funny name, meet Mongrel. Mongrel is the main character. My sister worried he would be annoying and “too nice,” but to be honest, I think he’s dorky and fun, kind of like Chris Pratt. I’m bored of reading about dark, brooding, bad-ass anti-heroes who seek revenge and murder without emotion. This isn’t to say that Mongrel isn’t flawed. He’s not your traditional good guy either. He isn’t noble, wise, and always right. He’s a relate able good guy, the kind that wants to help and do right, but blunders and missteps along the way.

Following Mongrel on his quest are some familiar and like able characters mainly based around your typical trope fantasy quest types.

  • Elves: Instead of the noble, wise, magically gifted archer, we get a cowardly social climber who is inept at fighting and using magic.
  • Dwarf: Little Hammer is almost your standard issue dwarf: she’s stubborn, gold-hungry, elf-hating, and booze-loving. But I can’t imagine a dwarf being any other way. This is what we’ve come to love. Nuances make Little Hammer original. For once we get a woman instead of a man. The name system is interesting too. And she doesn’t carry the standard issue ax. In fact, most of the dwarves carry their own special weapons.
  • Humans: We actually get a variety of humans in this parody, not just Caucasian. The characters skin tones range from the very light to the very dark.
  • Ogres: What can I say? To summarize: Not like an onion. Not like Shrek. More like Ludo.
  • Wizards: Not so much like Gandalf, but more like Radagast or Merlin from The Quest for the Holy Something or Other. They’re in charge of keeping order, but sometimes they need to pull their heads out of their hats.

As far as my favorite character, I’d have to say it’s Margo, the apprehensive wizard in training. She’s shy and unsure, but she is certain of one thing: Mongrel is the only one who can unite the seven kingdoms. What I think I like about her (aside from the fact that she’s my secret ship) is how much I related with her when I was her age. She’s awkward and undecided about her future while the future of the world hangs in the balance. She’s just noticing boys and missing home and worried she’s made the right career choice. Who wouldn’t relate with that … except for maybe that bit about the future of the world hanging in the balance. But to be honest, I related with that part too. I was in my teens when the two towers were attacked. After that, even though the entire world seemed to be at war, I still worried about my own problems: family, college, leaving home, boyfriends. That’s how the mind of a teenager works.

Another thing that I like is that there are multiple villains. The problems aren’t caused by one person, but by at least one rep from every kingdom. Most of the leaders of the kingdoms are pretty villainous, especially Empress Eiko, Lord Lindolyn, and Walder. my favorite villain is probably Gwyndor–or Gwyn for short. He’s pretty determined to win the competition and doesn’t let anything stand in his way.


 

My Favorite Scenes

There isn’t a scene I don’t like. If there was, she would have cut it.

I think one of my favorite scenes is where Mongrel enters the city. It’s told through the viewpoint of Jared the gatekeeper.You truly get an idea about how odd Mongrel is through the eyes of this average Joe. For some reason this scene is just dripping with humor. One of my favorite lines is where he notices Mongrel is barefoot (I told you he was odd) so he decides to “bypass the customary “‘oo goes there” to confront the issue at the forefront of his mind, “Ain’t yer feet cold?”

Another favorite is where the kingdoms introduce their competitors and they all start arguing and bickering about what’s fair and who is breaking the rules. It just really shows how petty they all are and how easily situations involving everyone get out of hand.

I also like many of the battles, especially the show down between Eiko and Walder and the North tribe vs the elves where they start summoning their animals with their amulets. It’s like a pokemon battle gone awry.


 

The Humor

My sister and I have very similar taste in humor, so naturally I’m going to like the humor. Heck, I wrote some of the jokes. I’m even mentioned in the acknowledgement section of the book where she credits me for the “horrible insurance jokes” that either “saved or ruined” her story.

The humor isn’t in your face or slap stick. Most of the humor is situational or from the dialogue. The style is definitely reminiscent of Monty Python or Terry Pratchett though I would say more American and modern.

I like that the humor is often used to make a point or poke fun at a trope. For instance, we’ve all read fantasy books where it seems wizards and other magic users have incredible power, but don’t seem to utilize it to defeat the villain. Margo summarizes it well:

“The problem with wizards is that they never fully utilized their powers, at least not when it came to something important. Levitate a chair, transform an inanimate object, gift human speech to a cat–useless tricks for no purpose whatsoever! What good was magic when it couldn’t be used for something meaningful, like stopping a war, perhaps?”

One of my favorite humorous lines:

“Consider these events: the crowning of a king, the dethroning of a dark lord, and the invention of the fish taco; what do they all have in common? … All of these events occurred, by the will of destiny, with the help of a wizard.”


The Cover

The Wizards Gambit ebook cover

They say never judge a book by its cover, but come on, this cover is awesome. I’m going to take a little credit for this one. I doodled the idea on a piece of paper and gave it to my sister, who explained what she wanted to her cover designer–and BLAMO–she got an awesome cover.


 

Flaws

All books have flaws. The book’s pace might be a little slow, but to be honest, I wouldn’t call it slow. I would call it comfortable.

They say a book should start when the action starts, but you do need to understand the character and their world before it’s threatened by the conflict.

I get that readers are becoming impatient, but I’m sorry. I want some setup. I’ve read too many books where I’ve just been introduced to the main character and by paragraph two–BAM–they’re being attacked, a dog dies, or something explodes . Too much.

This was a concern of ours during the editing phase, but to be honest, I’m not sure what to cut that wouldn’t detract from the story. I’d say, like Quest, the main quest doesn’t get started until about 20-30 percent of the book, but that doesn’t mean the story isn’t moving forward. In all fairness, it does follow the traditional formula: introduce main character, show their world and what’s at stake, introduce conflict, main character refuses the call, something happens to make character follow the call, and action.


 

There you have it. My honest opinion. If it sounds like a story you’d like, now ‘s the time to order your copy. Better hurry, because the countdown has already begun. Just three days!

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Ask An Author

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The first Friday this month happens to fall on the first. It just so happens to also be time for another Ask the Author, the feature that puts the author in authoritative.


phpXT7GODPMMay’s featured author is none other than Charles E. Yallowitz, author of the Legends of Windemere. He also happens to be one of the first authors I followed when I started my blog back in 2013.

Back then he had two books published in his fantasy series. Now he’s up to number seven in just over two years! He makes it seem easy, doesn’t he, but planning and writing a series is hard work. Have no fear, because Charles has plenty of advice about planning, writing, and marketing a series whether your series consist of three or twenty books.


Creating and Marketing a Series

may5The Legends of Windemere series is a fantasy adventure that currently has 7 books out and is planned for 15 overall. I believe this is where people groan or run away because long series seem to scare many readers and writers. Well, they are a big challenge and I’m here to give some advice on how to create and market a long series.  (Note: All advice is personal opinion and can be discarded as the ravings of a madman that needs to get out more.)

Planning a Series

First, I’m going to talk a little about planning. I use a lot of notes and outlines to keep my series going smoothly. For Legends of Windemere, I’ve had all 15 books outlined since I finished writing the third one. This helps me create foreshadowing and get a sense of where I want the long term storylines to go. A full outline isn’t even necessary if you want to dive into the writing immediately. Maybe you only need a page of notes about what you want to happen later on or a few future events that you’re heading for. To be honest, mine tend to get changed as I go and I have to rewrite the next outline after every book I write. Still the meat of the story is there and that’s what I use to help me guide my characters to their various destinations. The truth is that every author has his or her own system of organization. Detailed outlines and character bios work for me, but there are those who create great stories out of a trio of Post-It notes.

One of the biggest challenges for a series author is continuity. You need to make sure the rules and details remain the same throughout the adventure. This is where character bios and outlines can come in handy. Even if you don’t do a full outline, future installments can be helped by jotting down important information as you move along. Take a little time to review what you wrote every night and list whatever you think you won’t remember. For example, I kept forgetting character eye colors early on and one of my heroes abruptly changed from green to blue for some reason. I had to keep a note by my laptop for a few chapters to make sure I remembered. Eventually, it locked in and then I did the genius maneuver of having something change his eye color to brown. Worked for the story, but it was one of the spontaneous decisions that caused a few stumbles in the next book. A common question in regards to planning a series is the following:

How Long Should Your Series Be?

The answer is as long as it has to be. You might be scared of readers dropping out before the end, but that happens with trilogies too. Yes, the longer the series, the higher the chance of a reader walking away. So the author has to decide if they’re writing to tell the story they want to tell or the story that they think will sell better. These are not always the same thing. I can only speak from my personal experience and I will say that I couldn’t do Legends of Windemere in less than 15 books. It used to be 12 and then I realized that there were characters whose stories weren’t being told. I write using an ensemble cast, which means I want each hero and villain to get a story to shine in. Many of them can do this within the original stories, but I had those that needed something more to evolve. Do I regret doing a series this long, which nets me a few complaints? No. I’m happy with the adventures I’m telling and that should be one of the author’s main goals. If you’re enjoying what you write then it will come through your words and draw in the reader.

Marketing a Series

A brief mention of marketing since this is an area that many authors are concerned with. I’ve found that later books in a lengthy series will not have the same impact as the earlier ones. Not unless you have a massive support system and fan following. The reason for this is because you have people going in and out of the series all the time. A person drops out after Book 3 while another picks up Book 1, but you only see how there are fewer sales for Book 4. It took me some time to realize this and then I aimed more for continuous sales across the board instead of major sales of the most recent. So I do the big marketing things on either most recent book or the first one, Beginning of a Hero. I try to do a little for the middle books too, but you’re going to see a wide variety of sale numbers in there. It’s the nature of the series beast and all you can do is keep pushing on.

Tweets, blogging, guest posts, interviews, various chat platforms, and helping to promote other authors are where you will find most of your marketing power. (Note on that last one: Reciprocation is a great thing. I’m a big believer of helping those who help me.)

All of what I said might seem like an overview and oddly brief considering a big series is a major undertaking. Well, you would be right because all another author needs in terms of advice here are the basics. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that every author, actually artist, has his or her own methods. My series is long because I focus a lot on character development, but it would be shorter if I was more concerned with the main plot. That’s just my way and it took quite a few years for me to realize that along with my specific style. So I give advice and add that this is my personal experience.

Now, is writing a long series a thing for everyone? No because it’s a lot of work and dedication with a high risk of writing yourself into a corner. Still I say follow the story and your gut. If it says a 10 book series then go along with it until you finish or find that it might work better as 5. You can always rewrite the outline.


51WkCW8ZDoL__UY250_To connect with Charles and to learn more about the world of Windemere, check out his author website and blog.

You can also follow him on Twitter or Facebook

Check out his Amazon author page here to purchase his current novels as well as learn about future projects.

Don’t forget to be on the lookout for the next book in the series.

So, Real World, We Meet Again

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I live in the real world: escape to imaginary ones–or at least that’s what it says on my twitter profile anyway. Recently I’ve spent more time in the real world than my imaginary one, which feels like being far from home. One world is filled with magic, suspense, romance, epicness, and awesomeness. The other . . . 40-hour work weeks, bills, lawyers, and other fun adult stuff. Guess which one I live in . . .

Due to the demands of the real world, I’ve either been too busy or too tired, or often a little of both to write. After working all day, running errands, paying bills, and dealing with lawyers, let’s just say I’m not in the mood to write–I could, however, go for a nap. And that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing with my free time which used to be writing time.

Life is hard, but you don’t have to adult hard. For the record, I’m not telling you to de-evolve into a state of pre-adolescence. I do not condone shirking duties, skipping work, or neglecting pets and children. Functioning in the real world is about finding things that help you cope with your problems, not finding ways to avoid them.

Writing is one way I escape from life, but since I’m not doing much of that, these are the ways I’ve been coping.

Adult like a Child

To clarify, there is a difference between being immature and childlike. I can watch cartoons while eating marshmallow cereal all I want as long as I complete my adult duties. I like to think I’m childlike because I’m positive, enjoy simple pleasures, and because I like things that are considered a little out of my age level. But I am unquestionably an adult. To be frank, I get shit done, but I make it as painless as possible.

  • I write grocery and to-do list on Frozen and Dr. Suess stationary with a pen shaped like a squirrel.
  • I store my documents for my lawyer in a folder with a picture of Tinker Bell and Periwinkle.
  • I have reusable grocery bags with Disney characters on them
  • I keep an owl stress ball that lights up at my desk
  • I mail bills with fun stamps and return address labels with flamingos on them.
  • I write “Lannisters always pay their debts” on all of my checks and money orders.
  • When I leave the office I leave a note on my desktop that says “I’m Going on an Adventure!”

Those are just some of the ways I take the edge off of doing adult task.

The Wonderful World of Disney

03bIf I can’t escape to the worlds I created, I’m going to escape to the wonderful world of Disney. Lately I’ve been watching a lot of Disney movies. I grew up with these movies, but I never grew out of them.

Even if I didn’t have a six-year old son, I’d still go to the theaters with my sister to watch the latest movie. It’s not that I don’t like movies made for adults, I just don’t have the focus or energy to enjoy them or their real-world themes.

I don’t know if it’s the music or the colors, but I don’t think about my worries while I’m watching Disney movies. Not that animated characters don’t have their problems, but it’s pretty bad when you’re watching a movie and you’d trade your own problems for theirs. Save China, unite two nations, become king, free a genie, that’s nothing. Try getting my ex to pay child support.

Power Nap

catI’ve always thought the term power nap was an oxymoron. There is nothing powerful about napping. You just lay there like road kill or a potato. I’m not gonna lie, right now I need about two to three naps a day. I can’t say that I feel more rested, but I do feel less stressed, especially since I don’t nap alone. It doesn’t matter when or how often I sleep, this cat always sleeps with me, beside me, on me, under the covers, on my pillow, but always with me like a stuffed animal or a possessive boyfriend.

Music, Music, Music

frozen-meme13-1I love music. I find singing and listening to music in general to be very therapeutic. In my office, while I’m marketing, during the drive to and from work, and while I’m writing, I listen to music. My favorite music source is Pandora. My favorite stations right now are my Irish music stations, my Ellie Goulding station, and not one, but two Disney stations. Yes, I’m a little obsessed with Disney if you haven’t gathered.

Singing is stress relieving, and it’s ten times more fun when you’re belting out “Let it Go” or “I’ll make a man out of you.” Since I grew up watching these movies, I know the words by heart. It’s super nostalgic to sing “Colors of the Wind” remembering when I used to sing it while running barefoot in my back yard. Life was simpler then.

Speaking of Letting it Go . . .

Part of being an adult is making your own choices and forming your own identity. I use to worry about being judged, and so I hid a lot about what made me well, me. Elsa-image-elsa-36809047-160-200

  • Don’t tell people you like Tolkien and fantasy. They’ll think you’re a nerd.
  • Don’t tell people you write. They’ll think you’re weird.
  • Don’t buy that Frozen merchandise. It’s for kids.
  • Don’t decorate your bathroom in owls. It’s not sophisticated.
  • Don’t put toys on your workstation. It’s not professional.

Now I don’t care what others think. I don’t have time for that. I’m 28 years old, and I have a lego Legolas at my work desk, tons of Frozen stuff (I have Frozen fever), I eat Disney princess gummies and children’s cereal, and watch cartoons. I’m not immature. On the contrary, I’m a very responsible adult. I take care of my son and help out my mom, I pay all of my bills on time, and I work hard at my job. So if I come home and snuggle with a cat on a bed that has owl pillows, that’s my prerogative.

I think we all hit this point from time to time, where our real life demands as much if not more from us than our writing. I’ve got a lot to get done before I can give my full attention to writing. Of course, I’m dreading starting again after a lapse; however, I will get back in the saddle–or for those of you who have never fallen off a horse–back on the bike. I guess my advice is don’t lose connection with the real world, but likewise, don’t lose connection with the ones you create.

And speaking of losing connection, I don’t want to lose contact with my wonderful followers. Tell me, how do you cope with the real world?

Tuesday Tip

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You finished your first draft; now you’re done, right? WRONG. Not even close. Theoretically, you’re at the beginning yet again. After all, a great book isn’t written–it’s rewritten.

I’ve heard people say they don’t revise or rewrite. Shame on you. A good book, I mean one worth paying money for, has three things.

  • A well-constructed plot
  • Fully-developed characters
  • Smooth prose

Trust me, you can’t achieve those three things in one draft.

Writing requires imagination, creativity, and long hours of time. Rewriting requires less imagination and a whole lot more courage. It’s not for the weak or timid. You’ll be making big decisions. Most of us struggle to make small ones like what to order in drive-thru.

You have to decide if your protagonist is the best voice for your story; if entire scenes should be revised, removed, or added; whether characters be removed or added: whether or not your beginning works; or if the end provides any payoff.

These are the choices you have to make before you even decide does this sentence sound good?

What is rewriting?

There’s a big misconception about what rewriting is. It’s not perfecting a sentence here or there, or correcting typos, it’s gutting, hacking, and dismembering your first draft.

This might sound daunting. You’re playing doctor–God even! I’m talking total reconstructive surgery, not a botox injection.

Difference between revising and rewriting

Some people use the two terms interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing although you’ll probably do a combination of both.

To summarize: Revision is adding and deleting a few words or adding more character motivation or adding or removing description. Rewriting is deleting or adding whole scenes, deleting characters, or changing a POV.

For some straightforward and hilarious examples, see here.

How many rewrites?

There isn’t a certain number. It depends on the MS. My current MS is on rewrite number two. Planning helps cut down on rewrites.

So what’s the first step?

Back away from the manuscript and nobody gets hurt. It might be easier to make objective opinions once you’ve separated yourself from your writing. When you come back to it (say in a week or month or so), that glittering sentence might not shine anymore, or you might unearth some hidden gems.

Look at the big picture

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Ask yourself with an objective eye: What does my protagonist want? Is it clear?

What is the plot? The theme? The conflict?

Did you select the best character to be your protagonist?

Could some characters be cut or blended? Do multiple characters serve the same purpose?

Is your plot well structured? Do any side plots deviate from the main plot?

Be objective or find an objective eye

Looking at the big picture can be challenging when you’re nearsighted, and all authors are–we’re way too close to our WIP to see it clearly. This doesn’t mean we can’t try to be objective. I usually read through and make an often very long list of questions that arise, changes I want to make, plot holes (often gaping and cavernous), side plots or character arcs that are unfulfilled, and other areas of concern.

If you know something is wrong but can’t put your finger on it, consider enlisting help.

Step two: outline

Did you outline before you wrote? Even if you did, once isn’t enough. Rewrite your outline before you rewrite your MS.

You’re not mistaken. Not only am I telling you to rewrite your novel, I’m telling you to rewrite your outline. That’s a lot of rewriting–but the more prepared you are, the less you’ll have to rewrite. Planning can make the difference between two and ten rewrites.

I look back at my first outline and realize I either deviated from it for better or for worse, or I decided to change it. Don’t work off of an old outline. An outline can be your typical diagram or a detailed description of each scene and chapter. If you don’t know how to create an outline, check out this prior Tuesday Tip.

Example of a detailed outline:

Chapter one: Introduce main character, best trait, fatal flaw, ordinary world, goal, and conflict.

Scene one: Start with attention grabbing sentence. Main character is doing this . . . then this happens . . . and so on.

I’m shy about sharing my work but to give you an example of how much my beginning has changed since I started rewriting, this is how my WIP used to start.

Character (side character) discovers that a city has been destroyed and all the inhabitants killed after a very long inner monologue. Next scene takes place years later and introduces main character with major supporting side character.

Notes that I made before revision:

  • No clear main character
  • POV character doesn’t appear again for a couple of chapters
  • Info dump: Might be more interesting to slowly reveal the back story leading up to current events
  • Might be better to start with the destruction of the city from the POV of main character
  • Next scene is too jarring. Too much relies on understanding the characters and their relationship, culture, etc that can’t be summarized in a paragraph

Revised Outline: This is how it starts now (still in progress).

Main character is introduced. Reader is introduced to his world and culture. Exposition is interwoven throughout text instead of being dumped. Character goes to city and destroys it. Conflict is introduced with inciting incident and call to action. Character refuses the call. Character then answers the call to action.

It’s still in the works but what I like is that the main character starts the story. You see how the events that the other character stumbles upon unfold. You see how the main protagonist and main supporting character meet. You get to know him and his goals before the action starts.

What’s still needed. I still need a clearer definition of my character’s goals. I have a basic idea of what he wants, but I need to make sure his goals are strong enough to always be his driving force.

Step three: should it stay or should it go

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Get rid of the clutter and your manuscript is going to be fabulous

I love those home remodeling shows where they make the homeowner choose what to keep, toss, or sell from their clutter. I adopted a similar strategy for revising my MS. I read through from beginning to end, highlighting every word and sentence I want to keep. In a different color I highlight what I want to delete. In a third color what I want to keep for a different project. After I do this I can delete this version so I don’t end up with five or seven word files.

Try this. Chances are, even if an entire scene has to go, you might find a good snippet of dialogue or a wonderful description. If you can still use it, don’t lose it.

Step four: Rewrite or revise

If the scene is good, you may only need to revise: correct syntax, cut and add sentences, etc. But if you are making major changes, you might just want to rewrite. I usually rewrite the entire scene without looking at the old version, or else you just end up with a version that is only slightly different. Then combine the elements that you are keeping from the previous written scene.

Essentially how you rewrite or revise will depend on what kind of writer you are. Do you overwrite? underwrite? Based on that, you may need to cut scenes or write new ones to fill in the gaps. Do you go into too much description or need to add? Do your characters talk too much or not enough?

This is my method. There are others out there. Find the one that works for you. What are some methods that work for you? What are some tricks or tips that you use to make the process easier. Please share.

Tuesday Tip

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This Tuesday’s tip is about something we all, not just writers, struggle with: How to be positive.

It’s hard to be positive; after all, our brains are innately hardwired to be negative. That doesn’t mean we can’t be optimistic, it just means it requires some effort.

I’ve always considered myself to be a positive person, but the last couple years (weeks even) have really proven it.

For those of you are negatively inclined, Here’s a quick course in optimism.

Tell yourself it will be OK

This sounds like a placating lie you tell to children, but consider repeating this to yourself when you feel down. Remember the last time you felt this way. Everything probably worked itself out or wasn’t as bad as you thought it was.

Rate your problem

On a scale of mole hill to mountain, how big really is your problem? Did you spill your coffee? Break a shoelace? Smear some lipstick on your face? I’d file these in the mole hill category.

Start your day in a positive way

How you start your day sets the tone. Repeat positive affirmations, set your alarm to play your favorite song, call your favorite person on your way to work.

Like a good story, the end is just as important as the beginning. Think of only the good things that happened that day. Don’t dwell on worries before going to sleep.

Fine something positive in any negative situation

This can be difficult. How do you find a silver lining in a bad situation?

Here are some examples from my personal life.

Mom has cancer: Our family spends more time together. She is responding to treatment. We have more time than we were told initially. We don’t take things for granted.

Office closed: Found a job that pays more and has benefits.

Ended a relationship: I live with my sister (it’s like a sleepover every night). I see my son more. I have more money and time. I have more freedom and control over my life.

Remove negative influences

Who is the most negative person in your life?

Divorce them, block their number, break up with them, remove them from social media, avoid them like the plague.

What are you doing when you feel the most negative?

Facebook? Watching TV? Stop doing those things or limit your time doing them.

Don’t stress the small stuff

I cannot stress this enough. Pun intended. Going back to the rating scale, if your problem is a molehill, don’t make a mountain of it. If you lost a five dollar bill. Move on. You dropped some food on your shirt. Deal with it. Some toilet paper followed you out of the bathroom on your shoe. Carry on.

Make a list

If negative thoughts are swimming around in your head, get them out of your mind and put them on paper. Listing your problems helps you sort them.

Be a positive influence

Negativity spreads like the flu. Luckily so does optimism. I’ve had customers enter my store with a frown and leave with a smile because of my sunny disposition.

Have a laugh

Laugh until you sound and look like a seal.

Watch a comedy, go to I waste so much time.com or ifunny. Spend time with people who make you laugh. Heck, my mom makes me laugh about cancer.

Enjoy this funny video that sums it up the message of this post.

Ask An Author

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If you have a question about writing, the right person to ask is another writer. It’s March already, which means it’s time for Ask an Author: the guest feature that puts the author in authoritative.


54d25dc9b6577.image March’s featured author is Kylie Betzner, author of comedic fantasy, reader, blogger, coffee lover, and my very own twin sister. For the record, I’m not featuring her because she’s family. I like to consider myself more objective than that. My sister and I give each other advice on everything: hair, clothes, dating, etc. It just so happens, she also has a lot of advice about writing, mainly how to work on multiple projects simultaneously. If I were to consult anyone on this subject, it would be her. While she worked on her debut novel, “The Quest for the Holy Something or Other.” she was also drafting books one, two, and three of her upcoming fantasy parody (tentative release in 2015). I like to think of balancing writing projects as cooking food on multiple burners, but she has her own spin. Enjoy!


The Book Factory: How to Manage Multiple Writing Projects

huge_7_36918Writers often have more than one writing project going on at once, whether we plan to or not. It can’t be helped. Our busy minds are constantly churning out new ideas and finding inspiration just about anywhere. And sometimes we just can’t wait to finish one project before tinkering with the next. I know I’m guilty of it. I’m sure you are as well. I’m not here to tell you to stop. I’m here to give you some advice on how to successfully manage multiple writing projects.

Now before we start, I just want to make one thing clear: I am not an expert; I’m a published author. I’m only sharing with you a system that works for me and some advice to make it your own. Take or leave what you will. Keep in mind the purpose of Ask and Author is for authors to share their best practices with their fellow writers. And because juggling multiple projects is something I do well, my sister requested for me to speak on this subject.

So what makes me such a successful juggler? For starters, I’ve got this great metaphor that really helps me keep things in perspective. I refer to it as “the book factory.” I know what you’re thinking: that’s a cold comparison. But the end goal is the same—to put out a product that is suitable for public consumption. And in the same way that a product—say an automobile—is manufactured on the production line through a series of sequential operations, a novel undergoes the various stages of the writing process: planning, drafting, editing, and publishing. To keep all of my projects moving forward, I try to put one project on the belt at a time and let it reach the next stage before I start the next, and so on and so forth until I have a never-ending line of projects in the works.

The key is balance, and for me it’s keeping all projects at various stages. Think about it. You wouldn’t want to have two or three projects in the editing stages; your editors would kill you! And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how exhausting it is to draft more than one novel at the same time. What’s worked best for me is having one project in each stage. While I’m drafting one novel, I’m editing another, all while simultaneously planning the next. This keeps things moving forward, so when I finish the edits on one book and begin the publishing process, I’ve already got a finished draft ready to be edited and a new one to start.

Are you overwhelmed yet? Don’t worry, that’s normal when tackling multiple projects. Here’s some advice to make juggling multiple projects more doable:

Allot a Specific Block of Time for Each Project Every Day

For those of us with short attention spans or limited free time, this method works well. For example, I drive approximately one hour to and from work each day. I might allot this time to brainstorming my upcoming projects. I have a half hour lunch each day during which I could dedicate to drafting a scene from my work in progress. This would leave me several hours in the evening to complete edits on my most advanced project.

My suggestion if you choose to try this method: schedule the time slots according to your energy level. I am most alert in the evenings after a quick power nap. That’s why I tackle the most difficult tasks then. If you’re a morning person consider drafting or editing after breakfast.

You might also schedule at least an hour for each task but no more than two or three. It’s not about spending a lot of time on a task but making use of the time you have.

Schedule Each Project for a Different Day of the Week

 Instead of trying to tackle multiple projects every day try spreading them out throughout the week. For example, I have three projects going on right now: one in the editing phase, one in the drafting phase, and one in the planning phase. And might I add I have a published work that needs some attention in regards to marketing. You have to factor that in, too. So here’s an example of how my week might work: Monday and Wednesday I might devote some time to marketing my published work. Tuesday and Thursday I might work on drafting my novel. Saturdays and Sundays might be good editing days, while Fridays, being lazy days, might be ideal for brainstorming new ideas.

My suggestion would be to keep a calendar, whether on hand or electronically. Myself, I keep a Google calendar.

Work on One Project at a Time for a Fixed Number of Days

 For those of us who would prefer to focus on one project at a time, there’s an option. Choose your most pressing project to work on first and dedicate a certain number of days to work on it. Maybe one week, two weeks, an entire month, whatever works best for you and then spend a certain number of hours each day focusing solely on that project—no tinkering in other projects. Then, when that time is up move on to the next project. You don’t have to give each project the same amount of days. Planning a new project might only take a week while drafting and editing might require at least two. Don’t expect to finish each project during that time. And remember, you’re not giving up on it, you’re only setting it aside.

Whatever method you choose, make sure you stick to it. Falling behind on one or more projects is a good way to back up your line and ensure that none of your projects get done. And there’s no shame in reducing your work load if you discover it’s too much. One of the keys to successfully managing multiple projects is to be realistic about how many projects you can handle.


 

untitledFor more advice from my sister, or to learn more about her recent and upcoming projects, please visit her blog here.

or follow her on Twitter @kbbetzner

You can find her debut novel on Amazon. Also, don’t forget to stay tuned for news on her upcoming projects.

Join me again in April for another awesome author!


 

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1Have you ever killed someone? Why did you do it? How did you do it? Did you do it again?

By now I hope you know I’m talking about fictional people. If not, go turn yourself in, you sociopath.

Writers are a disturbing group of people, especially from an outsider’s perspective. Imagine if you will what murder looks like from the viewpoint of a non-writer. The writer stares deadpan at the screen as the keys clack to a rhythm coinciding with the thoughts in their head. With the same face one might write a casual email, the writer is gruesomely disemboweling her character. She pauses, not in remorse, but to take a sip of coffee. Not that some authors don’t cry all the tears as they kill off a character. Others laugh even.

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Almost every book has a death scene. I can’t think of the last book I’ve read where no one died, unless you count the books I read to my kid.

So while you’re planning how you’re going to do it, you should probably decide if you should. For those of you sharpening your proverbial knives, here’s Murder 101.

To Kill or Not to Kill?

The death of a character should be premeditated and not a random decision. I believe it should be the result of the character’s actions or because of their fatal flaw or greatest attribute, not because you think it would be cool to kill them.

Consider Ned Stark. His death is one of the least random and best planned deaths in A Game of Thrones. I’m not finished with the series yet, but sometimes I think people just die to be dead. He just offs them because they became inconvenient to the plot or because he doesn’t know how to finish their arcs or because he just wants to prove to his readers he’s a stone-hearted bad-ass. I don’t know.

So how do you know whether or not to kill your character?

Do it for the epicness. OK, that’s not a word, but that is the word that comes to my mind when I read a story where a character has a well-planned death.

How do you achieve epicness? Consider the why and why nots of Murder 101.

To Advance the Plot: Does the death serve the plot. Did a character grow from it? Did events occur as a result of it? Did it affect the other characters? e.g., Ned Stark. Yes, characters were affected. Yes, plot happened as a result. Yes, characters grew from it. Look at Arya. Look at Robb? (speaking of a death that may or may not have a purpose)

Not for Shock Value: This is never a good reason to kill a character. I mean NEVER. Any desired emotional effect will wear off once the reader realizes what you’ve done. Picking on George again, I believe the Red Wedding was all for shock value. I could think of a hundred ways to kill Robb better than that. And did he need to die? Was he just becoming too powerful? Too boring? Why, George? I’ll give him credit for this much, Robb’s death was the result of his own actions, not random. But that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

To Fulfill a Character’s Goal or Purpose: The character performs a function in the story. Sometimes closing off the character’s arc with death invalidates his or her purpose. Ask yourself, did they exact their purpose because of or in despite of their death? e.g., Shane from The Walking Dead. While the love triangle served little purpose other than for drama sake, Shane’s death was pivitol to the plot. The character Shane had to have a purpose other than to create rifts and tension in the group. His purpose was to test Rick. Note his character always disagreed with Rick. If Rick said fly, he’d say swim. In season two, Rick is facing a moral dilemma: Kill or not kill a living person. Naturally Shane is for it, while Rick has some reservations. The decision is made for him when Shane ambushes Rick in the woods, forcing Rick to make the decision, not on the gang member, but on Shane.

Probably the greatest example of this, however, has to be from “A Tale of Two Cities.” What was the purpose of Syndey Carton, the man who dies for Charles Darnay? Why, to find purpose of course. The character detest and sacrifices himself for Charles because Charles has the life he could have had and a purpose. He realizes he has no purpose other than to save a man who does. As a result, Sydney has a purpose. Still my fav literary death.

Not for Sadistic Pleasure: I’m pretty sure some writers get a disturbing pleasure from killing their characters. I’ve heard the term pain perve used in fanfiction before. Probably not a good reason to kill your character.

To Create Realism: I’ve read so many books where a trio or small group goes on an adventure where they fight against insurmountable odds . . . and no one dies. This kills suspense. At what point do you worry about the characters? You might want to invent some redshirts.

Not Because you Don’t Know What to Do Next: Filling in the gaps between your plot wth senseless death will be just that: senseless. Likewise, if you have a character you don’t know what to do with, chances are they should not be in your story

For Symbolism: This works best when the death is an animal. Animal deaths often symbolize something. The death of a bird can symbolize hopelessness, loss of freedom, or loss of innocence. In one semester of college, I read three books in a row where the authors killed cats. Killing cats seems to be a popular tool with writers (sadistic bastards). The plot device was always lost on me. The result: My class rebelled against our teacher, refusing to read any more books containing cat death. I also threw “Kafka on the Shore” against a wall,and refused to read one more page.

When to Kill

I’m not referring to the time of day. Night or day, it doesn’t matter. I’m referring to the beginning, middle, or end of your book.

Beginning: this usually works best if the character who dies is NOT a main character but a character whose death motivates the protagonist (therefore moving the plot). e.g., Uncle Ben in Spiderman.

Middle: This works best with a side character. Perhaps their death is the consequence of the protagonist’s actions or their own. Maybe they die just as the character was losing hope and refuel their will to carry out their purpose.

End: Main character death. I caution against killing off a main character unless you have to. This can also be a side character. e.g., Boromir in The Lord of the RIngs. His death proves the power and the danger of the one ring.

How

I don’t mean whips or chains, I mean how. Don’t be sadistic. be realistic. Has your character survived everything just to be taken down by a fly, a stumble, or a tiny net?

Some of you might point out, Drogo died of an infection. Does this cheat the reader? Arguably no, it’s payoff for foreshadowing. He has a long braid because he has never been defeated by any warrior. Technically he is and isn’t killed in a fight. He defeats his opponent, only to die of infection.

You want your character’s death to be a result of their actions, not a random flu. Using Ned Stark again. He is brought down by his greatest flaw/greatest attribute: his honor. It doesn’t matter that he was beheaded. He could have been poisoned and the result would be the same.

How Many?

rmx-it-039-s-hard-killing-off-so-many-characters_o_1424057What’s your body count? in my current WIP, I’m up to about 11 if you don’t count the nameless background characters. George R.R. Martin puts me to shame, but I’m not competing.

There really isn’t a set number. Just ask yourself the why/why not questions. Does the death help/hurt the plot?

George R.R. Martin is obviously building quite the body pile, but can he beat Shakespeare?

How to Create the Feels

The best death scene in the world won’t elicit a tear unless you do several things leading up to the death. I’ve read so many books where a character dies and all the characters make such a stink, but I don’t care. I wasn’t invested. Readers want to feel. They even want to feel sad. We like our heart-strings pulled. So how do you make sure your readers cry, full-bodied, blubbery tears?

Make sure you let your readers get to know them.

Build suspense leading up to their deaths. Think of the dramatic, foreboding music before a death scene in a movie. Oh no, something bad is going to happen.

Follow through. Once the character is dead, do your characters move on right away. How can your reader react if they don’t?

Beware False Deaths

princessbride11Sometimes characters die and don’t stay dead, e.g.,Gandalf, Harry Potter, Kenny Mckormick. These characters legit die and come back to life. This is not an uncommon thing in fantasy; however, It’s not my favorite gimmick, and it can leave readers feeling cheated. After all, it’s a major cop-out. My advice is make sure your character is returning for a purpose, not because you missed them or felt bad about killing them. If it serves the plot, kill them and let them stay dead.

The biggest cop-out is the false death. No, I’m not talking about when a character is only mostly dead. I mean they never died. They were just perceived to be dead. This is a gimmick not to be overused.

At best your reader will be surprised and relieved when their favorite character or the villain returns after everyone thought they were defeated. At worst, they will feel lied to and cheated.

Never try to trick your readers into thinking a main character had died by making them black out. Your reader will be ticked when they wake up in the next chapter.

Never have your character die only to reveal it was a dream.

I think false deaths work best for villains. Let the character celebrate their victory only to realize the fight is not won. Again, don’t overuse.

I hope you enjoyed Murder 101. If you remember nothing else, just don’t forget it’s about your reader. They have invested emotionally in a character. Make sure it’s worth it. I got punched in the rib for killing a character once. True story. That either means I did something wrong or right.

Let’s here from you. What’s your body count? Do you cry when your characters die? Did your readers cry?

The One That Got Away

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We all have one: the one that got away. No, I’m not talking about a lover. An idea, a thought.

Sometimes they get lost in a jumble of other thoughts. More than often we lose them walking through doorways. For women, forgetfulness can also be tied to our estrogen levels, especially during menopause. Sarcastic yippie.

I had a thought and now I’ve lost it. It was … it was right there, on the tip of my tongue!

I had this happen last night or this morning. It was either very early or very late. Whatever you consider the dark hours between late night and dawn. I had a great idea for a blog post. I thought I’d remember it because your mind is foolish when it’s only half awake. So naturally in the morning when I tried to recall it, I could not.

I have within reach notebooks, notepads, and sticky notes along with a flashlight/pen combo for late night/early morning ideas. Don’t make fun of me, but it’s an Elsa pen/flashlight. I also have Anna for when Elsa’s batteries die. For whatever reason, I did not employ my handy tools. Too lazy or cold to get up, I guess.

I can't remember whatever it is that wants me to remember it.

I can’t remember whatever it is that wants me to remember it.

Well, hopefully I’ll remember soon. I’m sure it will come to me at three in the morning when all brilliant ideas reanimate, in which case I will be sure to grab my pen and paper. I hope you enjoyed this post. How often does this happen to you? What do you do to jog your memory?

Ask an Author Call Out

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Attention all writers,

Are you interested in sharing your writing wisdom with others?

Would you like free promotion for your books?

If you haven’t already, check out Ask an Author, the monthly guest feature that puts the author in authoritative.

Jan

Feb

March’s featured author will be Kylie Betzner, author of “The Quest for the Holy Something or Other.”

I still have many openings for the rest of the year, and I’d love to feature you.

What is Ask an Author, and Who can be Featured?

I am looking for published authors (Indie or traditional) who are interested in being interviewed. Ask an Author is sort of like an author interview, only instead of a list of questions, you only answer one, which will be tailored to your particular strengths or interest as a writer.

What will the Feature Include

  • a brief bio
  • the question
  • photos and/or videos
  • links to author websites, social media platforms, Amazon and other sites where your book can be purchased, etc.

How to be Featured

  • email me at tbetzner@outlook.com
  • include your name, genre you write, titles of books you’ve written, a brief bio, and links to your blog, social media platforms, author site, and where your books can be purchased.

I will try to get back with you within 24 hours. From there, we’ll communicate via email unless you have a preferred means. Once I have all the information I need, I’ll let you know what month you will be featured.