Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Mob Has Spoken

You came, you voted, and now.... Sam heads over to Frank's office.

Will she get there in time to save Frank?
Will she get there at all?
Will Frank be there? (dead? alive?)
Or will someone else lie in wait?

Dun, dun, daaahhh....

Tune in next Friday for another installment, and see where your choice leads.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Reality bites

I've just spent the last couple of hours transfixed by the cheesy action movie Turbulence. You know, the one where serial killer Ray Liotta lets loose on a planeload of Christmas travellers before flight attendant Lauren Holly kicks his no-good behind and lands the plane?

I've seen it a few times over the years, and it's never struck me as something special. And yet it held my attention today, again.

Why is that, I find myself wondering? I mean, besides the scarily magnetic Ray Liotta, it's a movie that manages to be both predictable AND stretch the bounds of believability all at the same time.

In that, I think, is my answer.

You need enough reality in any story for the audience to identify- hey, most of us have done the Christmas travel thing at one point or another. It's a total hassle. Most of us have also hit large-scale turbulence on a plane. It can be super-scary. A lot of us have had to work over Christmas, too, and we know how much that sucks.

But reality is boring. We don't want to see our own lives up there on the screen- we go to the movies to escape from our lives! Even if you're a super-spy or an astronaut I bet there are large chunks of your day that qualify as tedious. And that's where we bring in things like a crazed serial killer (and if one's good, how about TWO?) who manages, by good luck and villainous genius, to pick off no less than six armed marshals and go crazy, RIGHT AS THE PLANE IS HITTING A STORM.

I kept thinking, how would this be reported in the news if it actually happened? Nobody would believe it. It's too nuts. Especially how the flight attendant takes down the manic serial killer after a lot of dramatic running around, then manages to land the plane with the aid of a good-lookin' British pilot who talks her down. Even better- she just broke off her engagement and he's single!

Seriously, a news report on all that?

Fifteen people, including six US Marshals, both pilots and a flight attendant, were killed on Saturday when notorious serial killer Joe Bloggs, who was being transported via commercial airline to face trial, broke free of his guards and went on a rampage mid-flight.

There were some tense moments during the drama as the plane recovered from three full nose-dives, a direct entry into a level 6 storm, and a missed approach which saw a 4WD become lodged on the landing gear before the US Air Force was able to shoot it off with a precision missile strike. The drama eventually came to an end when Joe Bloggs was killed by flight attendant Mary Sue, who then single-handedly landed the 737 with the assistance of TCA pilot Hugh McHugh on the ground. Twenty hostages were released unharmed.

USA Today reports that Sue and McHugh will now be spending Christmas together.

I don't know about you, but I'd totally choke on my toast if I saw that on the morning news. Nonetheless, that's the movie I want to see, and not the alternative:

Authorities are defending prisoner transfer protocols after notorious serial killer Joe Bloggs attacked and wounded two US Marshals during a commercial flight on Saturday. Bloggs was brought under control by the other four Marshals on the flight with the assistance of flight attendants. No other passengers or crew were harmed during the drama, and the plane landed safely in Los Angeles about an hour later.


This is not a new tip- it's oft repeated advice. Know your story, but choose what you actually show the audience. For example, the flight attendant in Turbulence starts the movie by breaking up with her absent fiance. This is necessary for character development. When we next see her, she's on the airplane about to meet a serial killer. What happened between those two scenes? She probably got ready for bed, had a good sleep, got up in the morning and ate a bowl of cornflakes. She probably took a cab to the airport and met a host of people she knew as she made her way to the plane. She did all the pre-flight stuff that flight attendants do- and right there is why none of it appeared on the screen. It doesn't fill any purpose to the actual events that the movie is about. So it doesn't appear.

The same applies in your story. Sure, it might be important to know what your characters are doing at any given time- but it's what happens to affect the central story that your readers will care about, and that's all they want to see. A big divergence off the main story without a good purpose, or several small ones for that matter, will detract from your tale instead of enhancing it.

Whatever does happen to them? Make it interesting. Make it anything but run of the mill. Don't make it Turbulence, because hey- it's not that great a story. But always remember that your readers are, for the most part, picking up your book as an escape from their reality. Give them enough to identify with by writing good characters, but also give them a break from their reality with an interesting plot.

Serial, Pt 2

Sam shouldn't have trusted herself to pass by the bank of computers before leaving. A child of the dotcom age, her drug of choice had always been the internet. While her friends had spent Saturday nights out at some lake, sparking up, she'd been carefully ensconced in her room, tapping at her keyboard in search of something… truth, knowledge—the great Nirvana, perhaps.

Email. Search engines. Chat rooms. Databases. It all just…made sense to her. In front of a computer, she was home.

As though by some OCD compulsion, she shifted her coat and purse into her left hand and grabbed the mouse with her right. She hadn't meant to stop, but no big deal. It wouldn't kill Frank to wait the couple of extra minutes it would take for her to check her email. He had outlawed her getting a smart phone after all, stating she'd never put the thing down. If she had to hazard a guess, he was probably worried she might feel the need to reach over and check her email during sex. Not likely.

Just the thought of such activities curved her lips into a smile. Beer was great, but she expected Frank to express his thanks in an altogether different way that night.

The computer came to life under her light touch, with just the barest buzz of static electricity as the monitor awoke from sleep mode. On auto-pilot, she pulled up her email, not surprised, but nevertheless disappointed to see there were no new messages. She clicked over to her google reader. Nope. No new posts there either.

"Hmmm," she said, lowering her coat and purse to the stool beside her. Her fingers were a blur of motion as she made a quick circuit of her favorite websites. Nothing new or exciting to see. It was rather late, but still.

She rested part of her weight on the stool and opened a spider. The fat black widow appeared center screen, its cursor blinking and casting a faint pulsing light through the room. She hesitated, pushing a thick strand of hair behind her ear and darting a glance at the clock above the door.

"Blast it," she muttered, sitting down fully. "He can wait."

Perhaps it was the high of her earlier discovery, but she wasn't ready to leave off the trail she'd finally unearthed. Slow at first, her fingers sped up as she pressed on, plugging in search terms she thought might pull up more information. Soon the spider's belly was spilling over with words.

Francis Tumblety. M.O. Police. Killings. Motive. Disguise. Knife. Doctor. Capture. Alias. Ritual.

Anything she could think to add about Tumblety.

The click of keys echoed through the quiet room.

At last, she paused and read through the list of terms to see if she'd missed anything obvious. With a few more taps, she added Jack the Ripper. How that one had slipped by her, she didn't want to ponder. Finished, she hit the search button, which was in the shape of a red hourglass in the center of the spider's belly.

"I have you in my web now, Tumblety," she said, her voice surprisingly hard. A jolt of something went through her. Excitement. Anticipation. The thrill of the hunt. Sherlock Holmes may have been the greatest detective in all of history, but he hadn't had her tools at his disposal.

She watched the hourglass turn slowly, her fingers balled together in her lap as she hummed 'the itsy bitsy spider'. Frank liked to call it her theme song.

Shifting to ease an ache in her lower back, she managed to knock her purse off the stool beside her. It hit the ground with a loud plunk, jerking her out of her reverie. Frank.

"Shit." She pushed off the stool. How long had she been sitting there, waiting for what was the equivalent of a large pot of water to boil? It could take hours for her spider to troll the web. All with Frank waiting. She scrambled down on to all fours to collect the coins that had spilled from her purse. With everything back inside, she pulled her jacket on and made for the door.

A loud belch stopped her short. She whirled around.

"No way." She hurried back to the computer. The hourglass was static now, nothing but a slowly blinking icon just waiting to be pushed. The belch had been Frank's idea. Not exactly the most appropriate alert, but she had to admit it got one's attention.

She tapped a fingernail to her teeth and studied the clock again. "No biggie," she said with a shrug. "I'll just owe him."

With that, she clicked on the hourglass. Hit after hit scrolled down the screen, ranked in order of importance. Standing, she scanned them quickly, waiting for something to jump out from the rest. Nothing looked all that promising. Just the usual conspiracy theories about Jack the Ripper. Perhaps she should've left that term off the list.

She tapped her foot impatiently, half of her out the door already. But then something caught her eye that made her breath catch. Scrolling through the pages, she had nearly missed it and thought perhaps she had been mistaken. But no, when she hit the page up button, there it was, bold as day.

"What the fu.." she said, easing down on to the stool again. The website was nothing special. Just another one of the Ripper sites with pages upon pages about the canonical victims, and otherwise. One which left no man in the vicinity of London during the period of the murders unscathed by public scrutiny. Likely all bullshit anyway. Some guy with a mom fetish probably did it.

But this…this was something she hadn't expected.

Without thinking, she dialed her cell phone and pressed it to her ear, skimming the article all the while. Eventually the line clicked over to Frank's voice mail. She hung up without leaving a message, her mouth dropping open to a soft O as she reached the end of the page.

"My dear, Watson," she said, trying to collect herself. "This has truly turned into a three-pipe problem."



Thursday, November 26, 2009

When routine becomes a rut

When I read Jen’s most excellent post this week, I had to smile. I’d already started on my own post, and what Jen wrote about so passionately – and truthfully - is the flip-side of what my post is about – when writing becomes such an all-consuming part of your life that you get stuck in a big old, creativity-squishing rut. (ETA – and I’ve just read Kristen’s post. LOL! What can I say? Great minds ….)

When my youngest child started school in August, I decided the time had come to get serious about writing; to roll up my sleeves and put in as much time as I could muster, just to see what I could actually do. I figured it’d also be good to test whether I could handle writing to a deadline, and so I self-imposed a December 31st finish date for my MS. If – no, be positive Rachel - when I am published, deadlines will become a part of my writing life, the “I don’t feel like writing today” refrain just won’t cut it any more, and I had to see whether I could do it.

With all this in mind (and with the overwhelming need to just be finished with my bloody SFD) I began to devote every spare moment I could to writing (but note – “every spare moment” in reality translates to the windows of time when my kids are in school or asleep; the times when I’m not dashing to the shop because there’s nothing left to eat in the house; the times when I’m not reluctantly doing the cleaning so we don’t all die of some horrible bacterial infection ... that sort of thing. Oh, and I also have to sleep!)

So, since August my time has been allocated in this order of priorities – family, then writing, then exercise, and lastly (where it firmly belongs IMO), housework. On a rough average, I’d say that I’ve clocked about three hours of writing a day. Not stellar, but still, it’s a solid effort.

So, all’s good, right?

Erm, no.

The trouble is, I’ve become a bit of a hermit. No, a LOT of a hermit. If I didn’t go to the shops and make small talk with the cashier or have a five-minute chat with the other mums when collecting the offspring from school, I seriously would not speak to another adult all day. And the trouble with all this, as far as writing is concerned, is that while the imaginary world in my book may be fun to live in, not having a real life has led to a bit of a creative burn out. I’m close to being done with my SFD, but man, are these last few scenes coming hard. True, I’m writing some of the most difficult, climactic scenes in my book; but still, I’m sure that all this closeting away of myself has drained my creative well.

I hadn’t quite realised I’d got to this stage until last weekend, when my DH and I took off for a couple of days away in the Barossa Valley, one of Australia’s most beautiful wine growing regions. Ah, the hills covered with neatly ordered vines, the golden shimmer of just-browned-off grass, the strangers (some lovely, some kooky) we struck up conversations with in the wine tasting rooms, the smell of the cellars, like musty, wine-soaked cork a chunk of my book is set in a wine growing region of France, and with all this real-life stimulation, my synapses were a-firing! Ideas for some of these harder scenes started to flow, and though time will tell whether they’re actually any good, the experience made me realize – man, I gotta get a life.

Now, a getaway like that is a rare occurrence, but it started me thinking about all the things I’d given up to focus on my writing, and whether I’d been a little too ruthless.

For example, I cut out my daily walks in favour of sessions in the gym, and at home on the exercise bike from hell (oh, how I loathe thee, damn bike!). The latter give me the same level of exercise as a walk, but much quicker, leaving more time free for writing … however, there’s something about being out in the fresh air and taking note of the world around me that would always fire off a zillion ideas for plot twists and character development in my head. This never happens when I’m flogging myself on that bloody bike, or in the gym.

TV is another activity that’s gone by the wayside. I virtually never watch it these days. But I remember how something like a really well-structured episode of Dr Who could inspire me to think about the shape of my own book, or how a really interesting and off the wall character in a movie would get me thinking “hmmm,” in a good way.

And then I started thinking about all the other things I could do, but I don't – like catching up with my girlfriends for coffee more than twice a year, ambling around the art gallery without the kids in tow for a change, exploring bits of my city I’ve never been to before … anything to feed my mind, so I have something to draw on for inspiration other than the four walls of my study. Because really, if we don’t get out in the real world and mix with all sorts of real people and have new adventures and experiences, how on earth can we, as writers, expect to fuel our creativity?

So that’s my challenge - to get back out in the world. Maybe not until the week after next, though. I still really *really* want to finish my SFD before the kids start their long summer holidays, but after that – watch out world!

What about you? What do you do to top up your well of creativity when it’s running dry?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I Got Nothing

So here I am, ready to do my blog post. Ah, what to blog about?

I throw my penny into the well of inspiration and hear…clink! Empty. (You can’t see this, but my cursor is blinking at me. Blinking. Come on, Kristen! I’m wai-ting…blink. Blink. Blink.)

It happens. Some may be more prolific than others, but all writers at some point or another find that their well has run dry. And what to do when it happens?

There is a theory (no, I don’t have the energy today to look up its origins, sorry) … a theory that says that by adapting to an hourly schedule, creating standardized time, we as a race severely quashed our creative energies. True? Debatable.

But the premise is this: creativity does not run on a clock. Nor is it constant. It ebbs and flows; ergo there are surges and dry spells. We, as creative beings, are not machines. Creativity is an organic thing. To try and tame it, force it to adhere to our industrialized schedule, is going against the tide. Of course, we as a human race just love that challenge and often try to bend nature as we like.

But what does it mean? Well, that there will be days like today when I won’t be at 100 per cent. Maybe not even 20 per cent. Yet the guilt that comes with that, the feeling of failure is brutal. Never mind that there are spells were I can churn out an average of 10,000 words a day for months on end. Here, on this day, when this stupid blinking cursor is yelling at me, is my shame.

An excellent piece of advice is to write every day. Regardless. You are a writer, so write. But what if I don’t want to? What if I only write once every two months? Am I not a writer? (This is the madness that goes on in my head –aren’t you happy to be here? (g) )

And just exactly what is it that makes one a writer anyway? [Work with me here, I tend to philosophize when dry]

When that inevitable small-talk question arises, “What do you do?” At what point do you find yourself able to say, with your head held high, “I am a writer.” ??

Is it when you’ve completed a book? I can’t imagine so. Some of the best writers I know haven’t yet finished their books. Conversely, some of the worst writing I’ve read has been in published books…

Is it when you have an agent? Published? Published multiple times?

I suspect this answer will be different for all of us. It’s too tied into our own insecurities. But I have to believe that there is a moment for all of us when a switch flicks in our soul, when we feel, know with complete confidence: yes! I am a writer.

And perhaps that is the point. Perhaps being a writer isn’t simply about the act itself, but the declaration as well. I think, therefore I am. Well, I am.

What about you? Have you reached that moment of knowing? And if so, what did it for you? Do you feel guilt about your dry days? Must you write every day to feel valid? Has my crazy-ass post confused you enough that you’ve missed that I’ve written about essentially nothing?

Please, talk amongst yourselves, I’ll be having some coffee.*

*Edited to add that as we do live in a schedulized world, I say we make the best of it. Writing every day with out fail is definitely one of the best ways to combat the dreaded dry spells. I'm just sayin' is all...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Walk the Walk

Many of you probably know that I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes last winter. For those of you who didn't know…Surprise! Ain't life grand? J

That said, I'm doing very well – and whatever shock the diagnosis brought about has pretty much worn off by now. Mostly. I'm still trying to get used to drinking diet soda (ick!), but if that's the least of my worries, life will be ALL good.

With the diagnosis came a huge wake-up call that I really needed to make some lifestyle changes. You see, even in my lowest moment of "why me's" I heard a firm voice of resolve from inside, constantly chanting: YOU WILL NOT SETTLE. Meaning, I would not settle for, nor rely upon my medication to do the work for me. If I had to drag myself out of bed each morning to exercise…if I had to avoid all fast food restaurants…if I had to guzzle down a gallon of water in order to quench my need for sugary goodness, then by God I would do it. It wasn't easy. Heck, it still isn't easy.

What I learned—very quickly—is that I couldn't rely on anyone but myself. I had choices—I could go on living/eating the way I was and risk future and/or worse health problems. I could play the blame game. I could cry and whine and bemoan the unfairness of it all. Or I could get off my duff and do something about it. Make changes that would see me on the road to better health. I chose the latter. It may be an uphill battle that I'll never win, but dang it…I'm going up that hill with fists raised and one snarky attitude that no one wants to mess with.

So, how does this relate to writing? Bear with me for a little while longer…I'm getting there.

One of the key ingredients to a life with diabetes is: ROUTINE.

Oh, gawd. I almost break into hives at the mere thought. But yes, routine. It's that simple…and that difficult.

Like a good diabetic (as one of my diabetic friends likes to call me), I try to eat right (craving fast food? Go somewhere that offers a side salad instead of French fries), exercise (the key to controlling blood sugars, imho. I walk every day, after every meal, and boy do I see it on my meter results), TRY to get plenty of rest (the one I'm most likely to fail at…on a daily basis), and track any changes I see in my readings over time—and adjust accordingly. The good news is that I'm having a VERY difficult time keeping my blood sugars UP at this point. Hopefully that means I can ditch the meds! WHOOT.

So, what happens when I have a bad day/few hours? Well, I don't call it a crap day and give up, that's fo sho. Doing that means high sugars that leave me with headaches, swollen feet, blurry vision, and just an overall case of ICKS that I do not want to deal with. When I feel like that, I don't slack, I push myself even harder. I get my butt moving, eat a completely carb-free meal, and/or guzzle a bunch of water. Because if one thing is true – no matter how high my blood sugars may spike sometimes, they WILL come down eventually.

Okay, I'm getting to how this relates to writing. You ready for it?

I've made HUGE adjustments to my lifestyle over the past year. I've developed a routine. Not because I HAD to. (You could say I had to, but ultimately that isn't what motivates a lot of people. Not me at any rate.) I did it because I want to live a LONG, healthy life…and I didn't want to feel like utter crap anymore. I did—for a long time. And as hard as it was to be diagnosed, it was also a HUGE blessing because I feel better than I have in YEARS.

So, the thing I'm realizing as I come out of this sort of funk, is that I need to take what I learned and apply it to my writing. My health was worth the changes I made, and you can sure as heck bet my writing is worth it too.

I've had to ask the really tough question: Am I doing everything I can to achieve my publication dreams?


I fall prey to fast food FAR too many times. Instead of making sensible choices and sitting down to write when I have 10 minutes, I'll choose TV instead…or maybe a book. Whatever's quick and easy.

Instead of writing, I'll putter around on the net, checking blogs and sitting on my duff. All of that inactivity isn't getting my book written, though it's doing a great deal for my writer's spread.

I don't check in with myself enough. Am I writing at the optimum time of day/in the optimum place—when/where I can avoid distractions and am at my most alert? Probably not.

Am I scheduling time to write? NOPE. Am I writing each and every day? NOPE NOPE NOPE. If I have a crap morning, do I let it affect the rest of my day? YOU BETCHA.

Am I SETTLING? Yes. Yes, I am.


My name is Jennifer Hendren and I am a slacker.

Phew. Glad that's out. I've felt like such a fraud!

So, bearing all of this in mind, I've done a little self-assessment:

  1. My nifty little office is not the place to write. My neighbors are far too loud, and it's really the only room where I get a decent internet connection. If I go elsewhere, I'm more likely to actually write when I turn on the computer. Plus I won't be boiling mad at my neighbors all of the time. (Sigh, and my bookshelves are soooo pretty.)
  2. I don't have much time to write at work—I'm walking during my breaks, etc. That said, I CAN read while I'm walking. If I plan ahead, I can bring in scenes to go over. Even if I'm unable to make changes/write during this time, I can at least get my head in the right space.
  3. I must get out of the mind frame that I need a huge chunk of time to accomplish anything. I used to turn out 30K a month writing a couple of hours a day – a few minutes here, a few minutes there. Must relearn this! And I must learn not to hold myself to that standard for the rest of my life. It boils down to this: What time I have, I need to use.
  4. Like my health, I need to make writing a PRIORITY. I need to schedule times to write…get into a routine of making time EVERY day. And I need to remember that even if I only manage 10 minutes of writing after a really crap day, it's still ten minutes. Still words I didn't have before.
  5. I need to remember that moaning about my busy schedule is NOT going to fix things or make this book spring magically from my forehead—fully formed and ready for publication. I have to deal with the cards I've been dealt. Things will change eventually. Must remember that.
  6. Slow and steady WILL get the job done. Maybe not as soon as you hope, but eventually. Major life changes don't happen overnight. When I was first diagnosed with diabetes, my blood sugars were through the roof. It took a LONG time for them to come down – they did so slowly, with lots of adjustments on my part, and even now, will flare up occasionally. But the important thing is that I'm now in a very healthy range. If I work toward my writing goals—even at a slow and steady pace--my book WILL be finished. IT WILL. Say it with me…IT WILL.

ROUTINE. I'm convinced this is the key. Let's all get in the habit, shall we?

My challenge to all of you is to figure out what's stopping you from reaching your writing goals? Feel free to share your issues and/or solutions here. Never know—you just might help someone struggling with the same problem.

Hearing voices (part 2)

This week I'm talking about the single most useful exercise I've ever done to get closer to my characters. I've tried it all- from interviewing them, to "taking" them with me when I'm driving long distances, to extensive answering of questions about their life.

As I mentioned last week, though, I really feel that the only way to get to know your characters better is to write about them. Lots. Nothing is wasted- if it helps you get to know your character better, then it contributes to the story, even if it doesn't appear in the final product.

The same benefit applies to this exercise: stream of consciousness writing.

I first happened across stream of consciousness in an exercise run by the marvellous Jo Bourne at CompuServe. As a matter of fact, I was brand spanking new to the place, lured there by a mention of it in Diana Gabaldon's acknowledgements. I signed up, found the writers exercises folder, read the December exercise, and did it right there and then- and posted it, too, before I could think twice. If (no, let's say when) I get published, it will be in large part thanks to the support I received when I posted that exercise.

I was writing in Meredith's point of view, and she was just what Jen talked about in her excellent post last week- far, far too nice. I didn't like her one bit. Here's a paragraph of the exercise in which prose is mixed with what I thought was all right SOC. And yes, I did think I was very clever writing the actual story in present tense. Briefly.

Jared is in the water, swimming broad circles, splashing- I turn back and find him watching at me with those curious blue eyes. “Come in,” he calls, “the water’s fine.” I find my hands clutching automatically around my skirt- I can’t do it, I just can’t. There are things down there, I know, because Jared told me about them, the gilgies, those little lobsters with the big claws. There are things out here as well, of course… “Come on,” he’s saying, “there’s nothing to worry about. I’ll look after you.” His arms are big, quite bulging with strength as he sweeps them back and forth through the molten blue-green; in fact his whole body is strong, except for that one leg that doesn’t exist any more. I wonder idly where it went, that part of him? What do they do with your leg when they chop it off? It must still be in France somewhere, I suppose. Maybe they have a graveyard just for legs.

I show you my early writing endeavours because they illustrate an important point- as writers, a lot of us are also control freaks. We want things just so. But this is the antithesis of true stream of consciousness writing. True SOC is about letting is all hang out. No punctuation. No capital letters. No pausing. Just writing, writing, writing, without thinking. Opening the valve between your creative brain and your fingertips without fear or self-censure.

You may be able to see from my December 2006 exercise that I couldn't convince myself to let go like that. I felt the need to keep control.

And in reality, that meant I didn't trust my character, and I didn't understand her. I wasn't hearing her voice- I was hearing my own inner voice, "playing" at being somebody else.

I'll say that again, because it's super important:

What you really want on the page is your character's voice, not your own inner voice wearing a costume.

With a lot of practice, I got better at stream of consciousness. I did a lot of it. The more I wrote, the more I got to know my characters.

So, here's the principle:

To do a stream of consciousness exercise, sit down in front of your piece of paper or your keyboard. Take a deep breath, relax, block out everything else. Decide which character you'll be inhabiting and where they are at that point in time. And then it's as simple as slipping inside *their* head for a visit (not the other way around). Put yourself in their shoes; let yourself see the world through their eyes. Don't let your own thoughts, especially your self-critical inner editor, intrude.

And just write.

Write without punctuation, without pausing, until you run out of steam. You're recording your character's innermost thoughts- how they feel about their particular situation at that particular time. We all have an inner monologue (some deny it, like my husband, but I think perhaps it's just a little quieter for him).

Here's an SOC example- eating breakfast, just for illustration.

Late again five minutes what am I going to eat no time for toast cereal only weetbix left in the cupboard hate those things like eating shredded cardboard fine i'll have weetbix hope there's some milk left forgot to get more yesterday

That's what I was thinking this morning. Needless to say I wouldn't make a good story character, since my actual life is so very mundane. Ha. But even in that small snip you could learn a few things about me- I'm often late; I may not have the healthiest of eating habits, since I don't love shredded wheat biscuits; and I'm somewhat harried since I'm always forgetting to buy milk. These are small tidbits that, if I were your character, would weave a richer background for your story. They might not be directly important in the long run, but that's where you come in- deciding what's relevant to the story and what's not.

Let's look at some of my actual stream of consciousness for Between the Lines. I tend to start each scene I'm writing in SOC, and after a few paragraphs I fall into normal prose writing. Occasionally I'll write the whole scene in SOC and go back later to "convert" it to prose. My SOC now *does* contain a little punctuation and paragraph breaks but it always flows without thought or pause. A lot of people find it easier to write longhand than type, but I've learned to let my fingers fly over the keys without it taking me out of the zone.

In this scene, Bill, who has refused to go away and fight in World War I, is about to learn that his best friend Tom has been killed in action. SOC is written, by the immediate nature of the thoughts, in first person present tense.


I’m heading for the post office today when I see him standing on the road outside, staring at nothing. There’s a piece of paper in his hand he could be a statue just standing like that the wind is blowing his clothes but otherwise it’s like he’s made from stone. Tom’s dad. Old Cyril Barnes.

Right away there’s a sinking feeling running down through me and I stop walking I turn around it’s not too late to get back on the horse and go home and I won’t know a thing but it’s too late something’s up something’s happened and if I go home now it’ll kill me wondering

I turn back and he’s still there the paper slips out of his fingers and drifts to the ground like a leaf but he just keeps staring I take a few more steps, slow, and a few more, and then I’m up next to him

Mr Barnes? He doesn’t look up I wonder if it’s possible for someone to die standing up that’s how he looks grey in the face and stiff

I bend down and pick up the paper there’s black around the outside and the paper is smudged with red dirt I don’t want to read it I can’t the thought makes my throat prickle please don’t let it be so please maybe they’ve given him a medal maybe he’s been mentioned in despatches
My fingers are trembling I turn it over the words are bare only two lines down the middle of the telegram Regret to inform it begins I think I’m going to faint the whole world is spinning the only thing staying in one place is the paper Your son- aw, Christ, I can’t do this I can’t even breathe there’s only one more line it’s like reading the newspaper just words I tell myself

Regret to inform your son Pte Thomas Barnes 11Bn…

Maybe it’s Tom Barnes from Victoria, maybe they’ve got the wrong man?

Has been confirmed killed in action this 15th May inst. In Turkey

The paper hits the floor again with a light little swish just words, just words, just words What was that rhyme Kit used to chant when I ran crying to her over Len and his mates? Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me

Oh, but they hurt now and look at old Barnes Jesus there are tears coming down his cheeks I grab his arm as much to stop myself falling over as him and finally he looks at me and I’ve never seen anything like it in another man’s eyes we connect and all his grief and all of mine just pours out there in the street and the next thing we’re hanging onto each other and he’s bawling in my ear only I’m too numb to bawl myself I just feel enclosed in my own little bubble like nothing else in the whole world exists and Tom is dead

Tom is dead

And his mother doesn’t know, yet, and here’s Cyril in pieces on Main Street and what are the two of them going to do? It’s all I can do to lead him back down the street, trying to put one foot in front of the other, and help him get up in the saddle. I walk next to Shadow all the way up to the Barnes farm, and when we get there Helen is waiting out on the porch and Cyril slides off the saddle like a sack of rocks and goes stumbling towards her with his hat in his hands, and she starts to scream.


To be honest, I've yet to convert that into "prose" version because I like it (for now) as it is. Every time I read it I still feel the power of those thoughts and I feel a crazily strong connection to my character.

In the future, when I *do* convert it, the first couple of paragraphs, for example, will look something like this:


It was midday by the time he sauntered into town, taking it nice and easy to enjoy the first breath of winter. He rode the whole way half-dreaming about her, and once in a while he caught himself grinning like a loon, glad there was no-one around to see.

Outside the Commercial, he slipped out of the saddle and hooked the reins a couple of times around the [thing you tie horses to] [please note use of square brackets :P]. The wind ripping up [Main] Street hit him in a flurry of rain-scented coolness, and he tugged his collar up higher and scuffed at the dry packed dirt of the road. Not long now and the drought would break. The whole year depended on how much water fell from the sky in the next couple of weeks. Hopefully they'd have a bumper crop ready for the boys to harvest when they all came home at the end of the year.

Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a figure standing across the road at the door of the post office.

He squinted. Old Cyril Barnes. It was definitely him, with his ramrod straight back, all of five feet high in his boots. He was standing there still as a statue, the tails of his coat flapping in the breeze like a pack of swallows, a bright piece of paper fluttering in his hand.

As Bill watched, the piece of paper slid out of the man's fingers and floated back and forth until it hit the ground.

All of a sudden the temperature took a slide.

No. No, it couldn't be.


As you can see, things get mixed up and moved around; details get added and removed. The SOC isn't a blueprint for what you're writing; it's an inspiration for understanding your character's feelings. And you can do it and redo it as many times as you need to until you're happy- there's no law saying you have to nail it first time, or ever for that matter.

If you don't know where to start, I recommend doing a few "diary" entries for your character that cover an important period of your story. That's how I started to really understand Bill in the first place.

Give it a shot and see what happens when you inhabit someone else's mind completely for a little while. You might just be surprised to see what comes out, and I guarantee you'll know your character better at the end of it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Introducing our serial... story...

It's my honour to kick off the first installment of what will be a weekly serial story. Week by week, you'll not only be along for the ride- you'll be able to take the wheel. At the end of each week, we'll ask our readers to vote between three directions for the next installment, and we'll follow whichever one wins.

For week one, however, we have a different challenge- we want you to find us a title. Have a read through part 1, and leave your idea for a title in the comments. The winner gets... well, we're all out of books, so the winner gets pride, fame, and warm fuzzy feelings beamed from two sides of the globe.

Pretty good deal, I think.

A little about the story so far- we're meeting Detective Frank Townsend, who is investigating a series of gruesome murders of prostitutes by a deranged killer dubbed the Rochester Ripper. He's about to discover something shocking about the evidence- and where we go from there is anyone's guess.

Mwa ha ha...


c. 2009 All the World's Our Page


The witching hour was his favourite time to be alone in the office.

Most of the other cops cleared out by ten at the latest, and by midnight the whole station was dark and still, lit only by the glow of his lone desk lamp. He could hear clocks ticking, and the gurgle of the water cooler. And If he listened carefully enough, the dead began to rustle in the pages of his files. They stretched, the yawned, they sat up. They whispered in his ear.

There were more of them sitting on his desk now than ever before.

He pulled off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose between finger and thumb. The latest file sat open in front of him, splashes of blood arcing across the crime-scene photographs, more like paintings in an overpriced gallery than the mortal remains of the latest Ripper victim. He flipped a couple of pages until he found her graduation photograph beaming up at him. Annaliese Rogers. Young, bright and beautiful.


He flipped a couple more pages until he got to her last mugshot. Arrested for solicitation. Hollow eyes stared back at him. It only took two years for her to get from fresh-faced kid to haggard meth addict and street-walker.

And now murder victim.

Talk to me.

Her eyes were more dead in the mugshot than in her crime scene photo, by simple virtue of the fact that the killer had taken her eyeballs with him. That wasn't all he'd taken, either. This was the fifth Ripper victim, and they'd all been missing organs- hearts, kidneys. Sex organs. The kind of thing that made even the most experienced medical examiner turn away from the body and hurl.

Not Detective Frank Townsend, though. Not since the first one. Now he allowed himself only a moment of horror that struck him to the core, and then he forced himself to channel his rage into cold determination. He was going to catch this sonovabitch if it was the last thing he did.

He stared down into the drug-hungry eyes of Annaliese Rogers. Blue. She'd had blue eyes. Talk to me.

"Hello, Moto." Brrp, brrp.

Despite himself, he jumped as the cell phone kicked into life, robotic music tinkling out from somewhere beneath his piles of paperwork. "Godammit!" He scrabbled through the chaos until he found the thing and flipped it open.


A girlish laugh rang out on the other end. "I thought you'd fallen asleep on the job for a minute."

He sighed and leaned back in his creaky chair. "Samantha. No, I was just... thinking."

"You're stuck, huh?"

He nodded. "Like a truck in a ditch. I can't figure out where to look next." It felt good to admit that to himself, somehow. His eyes strayed to the big clock on the far wall. Ten past two. "You still at work?"

"Of course. I'm your little night owl."

He could picture her sitting in her lab, her face washed in blue from her bank of computer screens, glasses perched on the tip of her perfect nose. Thank God they followed the same circadian rhythms. Impossible to think how their relationship could survive if they didn't. "Find anything interesting?" he asked.

"Now that you mention it..."

For the first time he noticed the pitch of excitement in her voice. "Oh yeah?"

"Remember that fingerprint you sent me? The one from the..."

"Yeah, yeah. Don't say it on the phone." He shuffled files until he got to Rosemary Sweeton. The Ripper's second victim. He'd sent it to Sam after she'd bet him a six-pack that she could find something outside the usual fingerprint databases, and against all regulations he'd decided he liked the odds. He pulled out the original print film and held it up to the desk lamp. A bold whorl filled the centre. They'd found it on the light switch in Sweeton's apartment. So obvious that it must have been deliberate. So far they'd seen no matches in any of the conventional databases. The Ripper was not on the record.

"Well, hold onto your hat, honey. You owe me beer."

He felt his mouth fall open. "You got a name? Holy shit. That's... that's..."

"I told you to hold onto your hat, Frank." There was a pause, and a lot of rustling down the line. "I hope you're sitting down."

His pulse was up to about three hundred beats a minute. "Name?"

"Francis Tumblety," she said.

The name set a little bell ringing in the back of his mind. "Who the hell is this freak?" By instinct he reached for the mouse and clicked open a search engine. As soon as he typed the name it tumbled down in a list- 23,000 results. He hit return.

"Wait, there's more," Sam was saying. "I matched the fingerprint to one on file with the NYPD."

He clicked through the screens, not seeing anything but history sites. "But we've searched the databases. We didn't get any hits."

"Not until I ha... I mean, opened up an experimental database being developed by the history department of NYU. They've been cataloguing forensic evidence from unsolved historic cases- blood samples, weapon impressions, fingerprints..."

"So our guy has offended before? When, in the 70s? 80s?"

She laughed. "Yeah, the eighties."

He opened up another couple of search windows and typed the name into the offenders registry. No results.

"What's funny about that?"

"It's an historical database, Frank. Your guy? This Francis Tumblety? His prints were taken by the NYPD at a time when they hardly knew what to do with that kind of evidence. The nineteenth century."

"What, like 1980? They knew fingerprints in..."

"The nineteenth century, Frank. This fingerprint was taken in 1892. He was under investigation for the Whitechapel Murders in London in 1888." She blew out a breath. "Jack the Ripper, Frank. They thought he was Jack the Ripper."

He sat for a long time listening to the quiet. He thought he could do with a bourbon, or maybe three. "What in the living hell does that mean?"

"It could mean this guy is taking you for a ride. It could be someone who has access to this information, who maybe planted that print for you to find so you'd have proof that this Ripper is trying to be like the original."

"Like Jack the Ripper?" He didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "That's crazy talk. Crazy!"

"Not as crazy as the alternatives."

"What, that this Tumblety guy is doing some kind of time-travel voodoo? Or that he's still kicking around, only he's 150 years old? Maybe he's a frigging vampire."

She snorted. "Crazy. Like I said."

He sighed. "Sorry. Thank you. You're amazing. And you're right, I owe you beer."

"I'll swing by the station and pick you up, okay? It's about time we both went home to bed."

"Okay. See you soon."

He shut the cell and tossed it back on the desk. What a mindfuck. He reached out, snatched a pencil, and snapped it in half, then sent the two pieces clattering to the table. The bastard was teasing him. Toying with him. And the worst part was, he didn't get the joke. Didn't have the first clue what he was supposed to be looking for. It made him feel stupid as hell.

He took one last look at the information on his computer screen, then shut it down. Too much to absorb right now. He'd pick it back up again in the morning.

He scrawled the name across a scrap of paper and tossed it on the growing pile of evidence. Tumblety.

Somewhere on his floor, he heard a door squeak open and shut.

"Sam?" he called. "I'll be right there."

He took one long last look at Annaliese Rogers before he shut her back in her manila prison- not the living corpse, and not the dead one, but the fresh young student.

"Talk to me," he murmured. "Tell me something."

"That's not my name."

He only had an instant to register the reflection of a man in his blank computer screen before a thick arm locked around his windpipe and yanked him off his feet. He struggled wildly, feet scrabbling for purchase on the linoleum, as a burning sensation ripped across his neck.

As stars exploded behind his eyes and the sound of chuckling in his ear began to fade, he only had one thought.

If that sonofabitch laid a finger on Samantha, he'd hunt the guy down, from hell or beyond.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Guilt by association

My daughter started school in August, and I’m gradually getting to meet the parents of the kids in her class. It’s a slower process this third time round, but I’m finding that they’re a lovely bunch of mainly mums, plus a couple of dads, who do the dropping-off and picking-up of their offspring each day. I’ve hit it off with one mum in particular. Like me, she has three kids and, like me, her husband is away a lot of the time, leaving her to run the show on her own.

But there’s a bit of a problem. She’s so lovely with her kids, so calm and unflappable, she makes me feel … well, guilty. For example – one morning, she was worried because she and her eldest daughter had argued just as the kids spilled out of the car, and she hadn’t had time to smooth things over with her.

“I think I’ll drop a note in her locker to say I hope she has a great day, and that I love her,” she said.

Well, didn’t I feel about two-inches tall. My kids routinely leave the car screaming/yelling/arguing/debating with me and/or each other. Nothing diabolical, but we’re a fiery lot, and that’s just how things run, chez Walsh. But her approach – well, I found myself nodding sagely, yet feeling kind of … guilty. And she manages to maintain this serenity with a husband who spends only one week out of every four at home. Like I said, she’s lovely; but I tend to feel like Charles Manson in her company.

Until yesterday. I arrived at school in time to witness her absolutely blow her stack at her son for forgetting his violin. She was going home to get it for him (I would have waved bye-bye and said “suffer the consequences” to my little darlings) but still, it was the first time I’d seen that serenity crack. And then, after the school bell went, and before she trekked home for the forgotten instrument, she unloaded for a moment, saying how hard it was keeping the show on the road on her own, and that she just couldn’t wait to get the kids in bed each night so she could have a few moments to herself.

That’s when the penny dropped. She wasn’t making me feel guilty; I was giving myself the guilts, by so stupidly measuring myself against her. Assuming she had everything down pat, that there were no bumps and potholes in her life, was what made me feel bad, when in reality, her struggles are the same as everyone else’s.

Measuring yourself against others is as much of a hazard in this writing life, too.

Why can’t I write as fast as him?

My dialogue sucks compared to hers.

Ah, why didn’t I think of that turn of phrase?

His characters are so much more alive than the boring wooden dummies that inhabit my story!

Sound familiar?

Some look at other writers and are jealous of their writing progress and success; I’m more the type to beat myself up for not keeping up, telling myself I’m too lazy, too slow, too untalented, too unmotivated, and that everyone else is doing way better than me.

How stupid.

Measuring myself against other writers, expecting that I should have the same writing journey as others, is as ridiculous as expecting everyone to love pad thai noodles, or to have brown hair, or to be willing to sell their first-borns for front row tickets to a U2 concert. (Ahem.)

How counter-productive it is, to expend all that energy on all that hand-wringing! Not to mention being a big, fat damper on one’s creativity. All I need to measure is how things are with me. And to realize that the pace at which I write is unique to me, that my learning curve is unique to me – that my writing journey is unique to me.

Bottom line, I have to accept “what is”, while always striving to do my best. It’s all a person can do, really.

But I just might try screaming at my kids a little less. (g)

What about you? Do you measure yourself against fellow writers? Do you feel guilty? Jealous? Sorry for the poor suckers who are so far behind you, it’s not funny? (g) Or have you reached Nirvana and none of this phases you one little bit?

When Perfect Isn’t

At some point in your writing journey you may decide that you actually want someone to read your work –as opposed to messing around with Dick and Jane for the fun of it. Perhaps this is the phase where you move away from playing with paper dolls and start writing a true story. Naturally, when this phase arrives, you start paying more attention to craft, go on writer’s forums, or visit blogs like this one. Great debates and pondering of craft occurs in which you begin to learn the intricacies of craft –how to keep them reading by adding tension, engaged by creating emotion, plotting, characterization and the like. This is as it should be. This is an on going process that you as a writer will never fully complete (or it ought to be! Heaven help the writer who claims they know all there is to know!)

We strive for perfection in our work. Which is good. But is perfect always advisable? I often talk out of my ass, so feel free to jump in with objections, but I contend that while striving for perfection in writing, one often does so at the expense of voice. What the heck do I mean? Well, simply this:

There is a tendency for writers (both newbies and old hats) to run down a checklist of do’s and don’ts –yes, this does touch on the old debate of rules and when to break them. But the argument is a bit more subtle (wait –I promise!). How many times have I read tips for editing which covers the following: check for extraneous adverbs and adjectives, avoid dialogue tags, don’t say 'walk' when you can say 'strode', eradicate passive sentences, and the list goes on. These are all good tips; some editing/writing tips are awesome. But at some point, by carving into your work, whittling out any “writer” mistakes, you run the risk rubbing out your unique voice as well.

I’m not talking about throwing the rules out –and perhaps this is a discussion best saved for those who have learned the rules and are ready to break them. I am simply saying that going over and over your work in an attempt to make it flawless often results in me seeing a work that is technically glorious, and unfortunately dull. I shouldn’t be praising your technique; I should be lost in your story.

I adore Diana’s use of dialog tags, Laura Kinsale’s head hopping POVs, JK Rowling’s excessive adverbs and adjectives. I’d weep if someone had gotten to these artists and said, “You know, you really ought not to do that.” And if they had listened! Think of if all us followed the rules, edited out any “mistakes”, we’d have paint-by-numbers books that might have been penned by anyone –or Elmore Leonard! (perish the thought of a million Elmores running amok.)

I won’t name any examples here but I have read exquisitely wrought prose, perfection on a page, books so technically marvelous that I was wiggling with envy, yet that’s about all I remember about those books. The story often drifts over me like mist. It simply doesn't stick.

Tell me I’m wrong. I’m sure there are exceptions. But for me, perfection is boring. I’d rather a writer let loose, drown me in their unique but perhaps slightly flawed voice.

So I ask you. What rules are you tired of? What dirty little writer’s no-no do you love to employ and critics be damned? And when is good enough, good enough, already!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Salty Or Sweet?

I recently listened to THE NOTEBOOK by Nicholas Sparks. I've seen the movie version a million times, and I was all set to go on a wild ride of fights and lovemaking…and more fights. Allie and Noah are probably one of my all-time favorite movie couples. No one can throw down the way they do. They love each other so much, yet they never hesitate to call each other out on being complete ass-hats. It's what makes them great.

That said, I found—as I have in a lot of book-to-movie stories I've read/listened to over the last few months—that the movie far outshined the book. They're the same story, obviously, but the thing that pushed the movie ahead of the book for me was the pacing and TENSION. This isn't meant to disparage the book in any way—let's face it, it's a heartbreaking story that most of us will never forget. There wouldn't be a movie if Sparks hadn't written a damn good book that touched people.

My point touches on Kristen's post from last week. Our characters are not our dolls to play with. We need to put them through hell and back and hope they come out the other side okay. A movie has a short timeframe to make that happen, so naturally the pacing will be fast and tense. But why can't books also be that way? Shouldn't we all be striving to keep that underlying tension going through every scene? I would argue that we should. To help make my point, I shall now give you an example from THE NOTEBOOK.

For those of you who have never read the book or seen the movie – possibly both – here is a quick rundown of one scene, as told in the movie/book. Bear with me while I mangle them both. J If you haven't seen/read either…you may want to skip this post.

**SPOILER alert!!**

Brief Summary of the movie: Allie and Noah were teenage sweethearts, torn apart by her parents who thought Noah wasn't good enough for their daughter. They both moved on, only to be reunited several years later. Allie is now engaged, but Allie and Noah end up back together during a couple of wild, sex-filled days. But they're caught by her mother and now Allie must decide between Noah and her fiancé.

*curtain rises*

The Movie: Noah watches Allie's mother drive away, after she's tried her best to break the two of them apart. Noah: What a beeeyotch! (Doesn't say it but you KNOW that's what he's thinking!)

The Book: Noah watches Allie's mother drive away, after she's tried her best to break the two of them apart. Noah: She was such a strong woman. Now he knew where Allie got it from.

Jen's dog ears perk up. "R'uh?"


The Movie: Noah confronts Allie.

The Book: Noah sits quietly knowing Allie needs some Allie-alone time.


The Movie:

Allie: I don't know what I'm going to do.

Noah: Are we back there again you neurotic woman?!"

The Book: Allie approaches Noah.

Allie: I'm so sorry.

Noah: Don't be sorry, we both knew this was coming.


The Movie:

Noah: You can't go back to him! The last two days happened, you know?!

Allie: But he gave me a ring and I gave him my word!

Noah: And your word is shot to hell now, don't you think?!

The Book:

Allie: This is so hard.

Noah: I know. Is there anything I can do to make this easier for you?


Jen, listening: WTF?!


The Movie:

Noah: If you go back to him, it's about his money!

Allie: I hate you!

Noah: I hate you more!

The Book:

Noah: What are you going to do?

Allie: I guess it depends on Lon. I mean, he may not even know anything. Maybe I can just go back and he'll never know.

Noah: *stomach tightens* but he endures it with manly pride intact. Well, sorta.


The Movie:

Allie: _)&(&$%^*()_+)(_*&^#%$^(*&#)*(_)!!!!!!!!!! You bastard!

Noah: +_)(*&^%&^*(*)(+)(*&^&%$%&^*()(+)_)(*&^%%&^*()(_)+_()*&^!!!! You're a pain in the ass!


The Book:

Allie: I keep thinking I want two things. I love YOU, but I also want a life where I'm not hurting anyone anymore. If I stay, it will hurt so many people. (Jen: Like Noah, maybe?)

Noah: You're not going to tell him are you?

Allie: I don't know.

Much angst ensues. Jen thinks Noah may have tears in his beer by now.

The Movie:

Allie: Why stay? All we do is fight!

Noah: That's what we do! You tell me when I'm being a smug son-of-a-bitch and I tell you when you're being a pain in the ass! Which is most of the time!

The Book:

Allie: I do love him, Noah. And I love my family. Staying here would be betraying all of them.

Noah: You can't live your life for other people. You have to do what's right for you. People will get hurt, but you can't do anything about that.

Allie: I know that, but _I_ have to live with my decision. (Jen: Whoa. It's all about Allie, Allie, Allie.) I have to be able to go forward and not look back anymore. Can you understand that?

Noah: Not really. Not if it means losing you again. Could you really leave me without looking back?

Allie: I don't know. Would it be fair to Lon if I did?

The Movie:

Noah: GO! If that's what you want, GO! I can lose you again if that's what you want!

The Book:

Noah: It doesn't have to be like this. We're adults. *pout* We have choices! *stamps foot* We're meant to be together—we always have been! I don't want to dream about you for the rest of my life and what might've been! Stay with me, Allie!

(Jen: OMG. He's begging. Not in a manly type of way, but in a sniveling school boy way.)

Allie: I don't know if I can.
(Jen: Can't says I blame ya, girlfriend. This boy is a bit of a pansy)

The Movie:

Allie: No matter what I do, someone will get hurt!

Noah: Stop thinking about what I want, what your parents want. What do YOU want? DAMMIT. What do you want?!

The Book:

Noah: You can stay! I can't live my life happily knowing you're with someone else. This is rare—too beautiful to just throw away.

Noah stares her down

Noah: You're not going to stay are you? You want to, but you can't.

Allie: Oh Noah. Try to understand!

Noah shakes his head.

Noah: I know what you're trying to say. But I don't want to understand…I don't want it to end this way. To end at all. If you leave, we'll never see each other again.

Allie cries. Noah tries to suck in his lower lip.

Noah: I'll never forget these last couple of days. I've been dreaming about you for years.

They kiss, and much wiping away of tears occurs.


The Movie:

Allie: I have to go.

She drives off in a rush while Noah stands there, shell shocked, but still…surprisingly…manly. Hmm.

The Book:

Allie lets go first.

Allie: I have to get my things.

Noah rocks on the front porch while Allie gathers her things.

Allie: Here, Noah. I made this painting for you.

Noah: Oh great…a booby prize. I'll treasure it forever! (Jen: OMG. I just know he's gonna start crying again.) Thank you!!! *smile falters*

They walk to Allie's car. And yes, Noah is crying.

Noah: I love you!

Allie: I love you, too!

*much kissing*

Allie starts the car for like, forever. Noah keeps touching her, mouthing the words, "Stay with me."

Allie drives away – slowly. Snail pace. Noah watches for about…10 minutes. He's dizzy, disbelieving…and oh so sad. "Don't go!" he wants to shout as he watches the car leave.

*car is still leaving*

Noah: Please don't go!

*car…yeah, it's still leaving*

Jen: Dude, like Dierks, Noah would settle for a slowdown, Allie!

And the scene ends with one more creepy mother analogy. When Allie finally drives out of sight – and no, there was no glow of the brake lights—Noah thinks: And like her mother, she never looked back.

Okay, now that I've mangled it, here's the movie version in all its glory! Enjoy. J

Can I get an unofficial show of hands? Which version honestly grabs you more? I hope you forgive the artistic license I took with both versions of this story. I did it to illustrate my point.

The book version of this scene is….sweet…sentimental…romantic and…SAFE. And maybe a little—forgive me—boring. Can't you just see their life together? I picture it as one big snuggle session in front of a perfect fire that never needs rekindling. Lounging in a hot bubble bath that never becomes tepid. A lifetime of:

Noah: I love you. Allie: I love you, MORE. Noah: No way…I love you more! *tears to show he's sincere*

In short, a bit of a snore-fest.

The movie version, on the other hand, has FIRE. Passion. Anger. Hurt feelings. Desire. All of the things that make their relationship great. They're crazy about each other, and you just know all of the things keeping them apart are the things that make them perfect for one another. If the movie versions of Allie and Noah stay together, their life is going to be full of arguments and a lot of make-up sex. Allie burning Noah's dinner and him teasing her mercilessly and then kissing away her tears of frustration. Winters spent huddled together in the cold because Noah wasn't able to fix the furnace—something Allie will never let him live down. A life where shit happens and there isn't always a happy ending.

The latter is the story I want to read. It has characters that are flawed—who don't have the perfect answers to every question. Ones who make mistakes and regret them. Ones who can piss each other off and still love each other the next morning.

I don't want perfection. I don't want nicey-nice. I want arguments, and betrayal, and hurt feelings, and passionate make-up scenes. I want, in short, FIRE.

It's what I strive to write. It's real.

I'll take salty over sweet any day.

What about you?

As a fun treat, here are Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling at the MTV Movie Awards, reenacting The Kiss. …sigh, they're so damn cute!

Hearing voices (part 1)

It was something of a relief to me when I arrived at the CompuServe Forum in 2006 to see other writers talking about hearing voices in their heads.

Not voices in general, of course, but a sort of literary schizophrenia- the phenomenon of "hearing" your characters talk. Many, if not all, writers will know what I mean by this. The story and the people become so familiar and so ingrained in your imagination that you don't even need to think when you're writing. The voices are already there in your head, and they're already doing and saying things. All you have to do is channel this brilliance and get it on the page, and you're on your way.


Well, sort of.

There's been a long-standing debate over character-driven versus plot-driven stories. Character-driven stories are supposedly those in which character and emotion drive the story. Plot-driven stories are, in turn, those in which the action takes central stage, and the characters are simply reacting. Of course, you really can't have one without the other, and I suspect that the origin of the debate actually comes from stories where there's an imbalance between the importance of those two elements- character, and plot. I argue, therefore, that your ideal story contains both of those things in equal measures.

So, while it's all wonderful to hear character voices and fantastic to know your people so well that they just leap off the page fully formed, there's a need for input from the author. And that comes in the form of the plot, or the events to which your characters are reacting. Your characters may be so good that you know just how they'll react in any circumstance, but you need to decide what circumstances they'll face.

It's up to you to know your characters well enough that their reactions to the events are realistic and understandable. If you get it right, you can throw anything at them and the reader will hang onto your every word. If you get it wrong, though, readers have a keen instinct for character motivation and what rings true, and they may just throw your hard-written baby against the wall.

We'll have a look at plot sometime later. In the meantime, how do you make sure those character voices are ringing true, and ready to respond to the events you throw at them?

All of us are different people at different times of our lives- shaped by our families and our early lives, changed by our experiences and all the things we learn. Knowing where your character is coming from at any point in time is vital to knowing how they'll react.

I'm not talking about a character dossier in which you jot down their height, eye colour and favourite beverage. I actually think that's a counterproductive approach, because let's face it- how many of us can say we like the same things at times twenty years apart in our lives? We change our perspectives, opinions and attitudes as we reassess our experiences and our understanding of the wider world. Your characters, to be completely realistic, should be doing the same based on the life-changing events they're living (or dying) through in your story.

So, here are two tips that have been invaluable for me in shaping my characters (bear in mind these are utterly useless for many other writers- it's up to you to decide whether they might help you or not):

1. Write character backstory scenes that will never see the light of day; and,
2. Write stream-of consciousness moments to get deep inside your characters' heads.

1. Character backstory

I firmly believe that the first step toward realistic character voice is to write, write, write. The more you write, the better you'll get to know your people. Sure, you might get to know them so well that you have to go back and change the earliest pieces you wrote, but it's all part of the journey.

Sometimes, though, those voices don't tell you things that ring true. You know you're missing something, but you can't put your finger on what it is.

What to do?

The main conflict in my novel Between the Lines is between two Australian brothers, Bill and Lionel Cutler. When I started writing, I knew that they hated each other, but I had no idea why. I wrote lots of scenes of them having a huge fistfight about Lionel insulting Bill's girlfriend Kit, when Bill was about 18 and Lionel 22. Nothing I wrote came out quite right.

So, I realised that what I had to do was go back in time to understand why it was that Lionel would want to hurt his younger brother.

I thought about these brothers and where they came from and what their early lives had been like, and here I had equal measures of "the voices told me" and authorial decision. They couldn't have had an idyllic childhood, even though their parents were good people.

That's when it hit me that Lionel wasn't Bill's brother- he was a half-brother, with a different father. Though Bill's father Jim is a decent man, he couldn't help but favour his own son (Bill), which over time grew into a deep resentment on Lionel's part. I picked the important moments that would define these people- when Bill was born, and his brother was 4; when resentful ten-year-old Lionel almost killed his younger brother in an accident; when the family moved from the city to the Outback and the brothers only had each other for company; when Jim forgot about 14-year-old Lionel's football final.

I wrote each of these scenes from both Bill and Lionel's perspectives. I didn't worry about the language, or thinking it through, or whether those scenes would ever see the light of day. I didn't worry about wasting time or words- I just accepted that the value of these never-to-be-seen scenes was so high it was worth it. And I truly believe that those scenes are at the core of my characters for the whole 25-year span of my story.

After all, your opinions may change, but your history doesn't.

Here's a little snippet of four-year-old Lionel at the birth of his new baby brother Bill:

All day and all night, the little boy sat outside the bedroom door, listening to his mother cry and shout.

He knew something was terribly wrong as he rocked back and forth, hunched in a ball against the cold. Now and again one of the nurses would bustle out the door and all but trip over him, but they never stopped to see how he was. Once his father went past, the floorboards creaking in his wake as he rubbed a hand through wildly sticking up hair and patted his pocket in search of his pipe.

By the time the dawn light came trickling through the lace curtain at the end of the long hall lit shone off the polished floor, his legs had cramped up and his eyes were burning. He wouldn’t move, though, not until he knew.

Irrational it may be, but right there is the root of Lionel's hate for his brother. As a kid, he thought he was going to be left without a mother thanks to Bill, and later he found himself marginalised as the black sheep of the family thanks to that same pesky brother. It took very little for simple sibling rivalry to meet war and become deadly. Of course, Lionel's also a bit of a born sociopath, but there you are- writing backstory helped me understand Bill, Lionel, their parents, and the intricacies of all of those relationships.

It may not serve any direct purpose in your story, but understanding where your characters have come from to be where they are can be priceless. I've written backstory pieces from many different characters' points of view for all kinds of plot moments that don't appear in the actual story, whether they're in the past or just happening off-stage.

I'm going to look at stream-of-consciousness exercises next week, and probably plot sometime after that, but for now I'll leave it at this: know your characters well enough that they speak to you. Then listen to the voices, but never forget- you're ultimately in charge of what happens to them.

Friday, November 13, 2009

And the winner is ...

Righty-oh. Time to announce the winner of this week's book giveaway!

After a very scientific selection process - asking my five year old daughter to pick a number (g) - our winner is ....


Congratulations, Heidi!

Send us an email at to let us know where to send your prize; oh, and don't forget to leave a comment here, to tell us which one of the three books you'd like.

Congrats again, Heidi; and a big thank you to all who entered!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When first we practise to deceive

I have my baby brother to thank for this post (OK, he’s 32, not a baby at all, but still, he’ll always be the little guy my other brother and I dared to eat toothpaste mixed with shaving cream and tomato sauce, for a mere twenty cents. It’s a wonder the guy’s not in therapy.)

My brother is a busy physiotherapist, but when he’s not working on other people’s backs (and my hat’s off to him, there’s NO WAY I could touch a stranger’s nekkid flesh without first demanding they take an anti-bacterial bath) he is hard at work on his music. (Insert shameless plug for the sibling – go to his MySpace page if you’d like to sample his wares but please, ignore his Bio. Apart from the bit about the psychedelic red and blue baby blanket, it’s complete crap; the product of an over-active imagination and over-exposure to Monty Python as a child. But I digress …)

His first love is the classical guitar. He’s played a few gigs over the years and although I may be biased, I think he’s pretty damn good. The trouble is, a few years ago the combination of hours of guitar playing and hours of back-cracking finally caused his thumbs to break down. And because he needs those thumbs to bring home the bacon, he had to put his guitar playing to one side. In the meantime he branched out into composition, with the aim of securing a gig composing scores for movies, television, radio, that sort of thing.

This has all be going well for him. But when I spoke to him last week, he said he’d recently seen some of his guitar mates perform, was amazed at how much they’d improved in the years he had not been able to play, and that he was so inspired, he’d decided to edge back into guitar playing again.

Great! says I. Ah, not so great, he muttered. You see, the trouble is that whenever he sits down to practise, he is so daunted by the mountain of work ahead of him that he gives up before he even tunes the six-string. “There’s just so much I have to do,” he said quietly. “It’s impossible.”

This is the exact feeling we writers face when writing a novel. It is fun, exhilarating, but man, it is also a long, hard process. If all you see is the mountain of work ahead– the first draft, the second-third-fourth-fifth-ad infinitum drafts, the querying of agents, more revisions, being out on submission, more revisions – it’s only natural to feel like running away, screaming; to think that writing a book worthy of publication is impossible. And when your head gets into this kind of space on a regular basis, scrubbing toilets becomes a much more attractive way to spend your time.

I admit, I’ve done my fair share of toilet scrubbing when I’ve looked at the mountain and thought, “I can’t do this, it’s too much, it’s too hard!” But I’ve come to realize that if I can make myself ignore the mountain, I can conquer that panic. What’s required is a little mind-trickery; discovering ways to mess with your own head and trick yourself into writing, when every cell is screaming out “NO!" And, at the risk of exposing myself to be an even bigger head-case than many of you already suspect, I’ll share a few of the methods of self-trickery I use to con myself into writing, when it all seems too hard.

Break the work into smaller chunks. Some days, the thought of writing makes my head ache. Too tired, too busy, too lacking in inspiration … it’s too hard! But instead of giving in to my instinct to flee from the study, I’ll tell myself, “Come on. Just do something. Go back and edit that last scene, or just type up the notes you scribbled in the middle of the night when inspiration struck, or think of an opening sentence for your next scene. That’s it. Nothing more. Easy-peasy.” So, successfully duped into feeling the pressure is off, I sit down at the keyboard, start to fiddle with the little task I’ve set myself … and nine times out of ten I’m sucked back into my book and before I know it, I’m writing new words and an hour has flown by.

Dangling carrots works well, too. This is when I tell myself that if I write for half an hour, or the morning, or whatever, then I can have a big, fat reward – a cup of tea with that slice of cake I’ve hidden from the kids; the cat-nap on the couch; the rest of the day curled up reading a novel. Whatever treat is sufficient to con me into gluing my butt to my chair.

A truly effective method of mind-trickery is to channel my mother and give myself a bloody good talking-to. I remind myself that I will never, ever, know if I can finish writing a book, let alone polish up something publishable, if I don’t actually sit down and WRITE. And that no matter how daunted I am, I’ll feel so much worse if I don’t give it a go.

And when I’m struck by the inevitable self-doubt, the feeling of what’s the point in trying because I know I just really suck, I force myself to get off my butt and go stand in front of the book shelf for a good long minute. I’ll look at all those hundreds of spines, and remind myself that each and every one of those authors probably started off not knowing whether they could actually write a book. And that the only way they found out was by actually doing it.

Nuts, hey? But I wouldn’t be anywhere near finishing my SFD without deceiving myself at least some of the time.

How about you? What mind-games do you play, when you need to ignore the mountain and motivate yourself to write?


P.S. Don't forget, your comments will put you in the draw to win your choice of my books of the week this Friday. See here for details!

The Greatest Manipulator on Earth. Psstt, it’s you.

I'm nose deep in revisions so this post is as much for me as it is for you.

There is a popular concept branded about in writer circles. And that is having tension on every page. In fact, Donald Maass talks about it in his most excellent book, Writing The Breakout Novel. He, and others, argue that one must have tension on every page. Tension pulls the reader along.

I shall make a confession here. Every time I read this, I’d nod my virtual head vigorously like a good little writer. Yes, yes, I see. Tension on every page. Makes sense to me.

Except it didn’t. I didn’t get it. How can there possibly be tension on every page? Doesn’t the reader need a rest at some point? I know I do. But then there is the very good argument that if a reader rests, she puts the book down. Can’t have that. But… well, I still wasn’t quite sold. Then it hit me. Perhaps I wasn't looking at this tension thing the right way. It wasn’t tension that kept me hooked as a reader. It was emotion. Emotion on every page is what gets me every time.

Let’s look at it this way. Why do we (as readers) pick up a novel and spend hours with it? For pleasure. Unless it’s homework, it’s for pleasure. And pleasure is emotion. We read to experience an emotional effect, be that joy, fear, sorrow, anxiety.

To piggyback on Jen’s awesome post, tension, those unanswered questions, move us along from one chapter to the next. But emotion is what brought us into the story, and it is what will keep us there. If I don’t give a fig for the character then I’m not going to care what happens to them. I won’t _need_ to have the answers to those questions.

Thus, it is your job as a writer to take us on an emotional ride. You want the reader to feel the highs, lows, and every emotion in between right along with the characters.

This is a hard thing to demonstrate with snips. Why? Because great emotion is about build up. The crest of every emotional scene has a seed in scenes two or three paces back.

Think of the standard roller-coaster ride. We walk up to the line, we see that great edifice, the towering height of it –and we’re actually going to go on that thing?- then the long line, the tension builds –by God, do you hear those riders screaming?- it winds along, there are glimpses of the cars shuddering past. Finally, you get into your seat, your heart races and you haven’t even moved! Up the slow, steep hill you go, all the while knowing what will come, but never quite sure if the experience will be what you expect or something altogether different. And then the top, teetering there, until whoooshh!! The moment of freefall!

Exciting isn’t it. And notice that most of it was the build, the anticipation of what’s to come.

That is a novel.

And you are the architect. You must design each turn, the way the line will go to use that glimpse of the ride to maximum effect, the speed in which the car will climb so that the thrill is at its zenith. In short, you must carefully craft each scene so that you (the writer) are emotionally manipulating us (the readers) at every instance. We must feel the emotions right along with the characters. Do that and we’ll care. Oh, how we’ll care!

But how do you know if you are properly manipulating your readers? One good clue is are you (the writer) feeling those emotions as well? You ought to. If you aren’t laughing, crying, flushing with heat, along with your characters then you know you have a problem.

Yet having emotion isn’t all of it. Emotional manipulation is about choices. What strings you chose to pull. Think of Hitchcock’s Psycho. When Janet Leigh gets in that shower, why not follow the killer’s POV instead? Why not show him getting dressed, pulling out his knife, creeping into the hotel? But Hitchcock follows the girl, her getting undressed, into the shower… Why? Because we all know that Hitch was a master manipulator and his choice is to suck us into the victim’s vulnerability. We are afraid for her, we have become way more invested in that scene than if we followed an insane killer. After all, what do we normal people have in common with that guy? Not nearly as much as we do with a tired traveler who just wants a good night's sleep. See? Choices. Choices that heighten our emotion to the greatest effect.

So let’s have a word on choice. Now this might seem like a wholly different tangent, but it is not. Emotion and choice are intimately connected.

Now, in regards to choice, here is the thing to remember: you are writing a story, not playing with dolls. Let’s repeat that. You are not playing with dolls. I think we can all remember playing with our dolls (be they Barbie or GI Joe). They’d go on lots of adventures, do this and that, all great fun. For us. Yet to the outsider, not so much.

This merits telling because I think even the most seasoned writer can be found guilty of playing with dolls now and then. It’s an easy trap to fall into. We love our characters. We want to play with them. Heck, right now I can take my characters –say Miri and Archer (because deep down, they are two hams)- and have them do a duet to Ebony and Ivory on the pinafore. I’d have great fun doing it; you might even have fun reading it. But what purpose does it have to the story? None.

Hence we must focus. Sorry, guys, while I’d love to see you both play, you can’t, we’ve got a job to do.

So I charge to you, the writer. Remember these two biggies of craft when sitting down to that computer, or taking pen to hand. Choice and Emotion in every scene, every step of the way. This might seem like overkill, but I promise you, it will eventually flow in a more organic way the more you learn craft.

That is all. Er, are you still awake? We’ve coffee in the lounge, now get to it. Go write that awesome story. :)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

End It With A Bang!

I've been thinking a lot about first lines lately. So much emphasis is placed on them that it seems a lot of writers are stressed over whether or not their first line…first paragraph…first page, etc. is enough to hook readers. It's kind of ridiculous how much we concentrate on this—almost to the point of obsession. If I'm completely honest, I've never once set a book down and given up because the first line wasn't totally kickass. That said, I'm just as guilty of obsessively scrutinizing my opening lines/pages as the next person. I'm not proud of this. In fact, every time Nathan Bransford holds a first paragraph contest, it's like all other life ceases for me. I drop everything to hone and fine tune THE paragraph that is going to win this time!! I never do, though. (grin) It's so silly how tied up I get over it all because as important as first lines may be, I would almost argue that endings are even more important.

Why? Because they are what will propel your reader forward. They make readers want/not want to read the next chapter. To rush out and buy the next book. To stay up all night because they simply keep saying to themselves, "Just one more chapter!" and end up finishing the blasted thing before they realize it's already morning. (Hopefully they finish before the sun comes up. I've seen those first morning rays too many times for my own good.)

I think—and maybe this is taking a huge leap of faith—that most readers are going to give you at least a chapter to decide whether or not they really want to read your book. Perhaps I'm overestimating the attention span of many readers, but I don't think so. Especially if they've shelled out the duckets for your book. And while you need to snare your readers with a good beginning, you also have to leave them wanting more at the end of that first chapter. THAT is the make or break point in my opinion.

So, how do we write a kick arse ending?

Well, I think it all boils down to leaving questions in the readers' minds that simply have to be answered. I have to say, one author who does this exceedingly well is Janet Evanovich. Who in the world will ever forget the ending of HIGH FIVE?

"Howdy," I said.

He looked amused at that, but not amused enough to smile. He stepped forward into the foyer, closed the door, and locked it. His breathing was slow and deep, his eyes were dark, his expression serious as he studied me.

"Nice dress," he said. "Take it off."

[End book – curtain falls. Thaaaaat's all, folks!]

Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude! Had I been reading these books when they were originally published, you would've heard my screams from whatever corner of the world you inhabit. Luckily for everyone, eleven books were already out when I discovered this series, and finding out who walked through Stephanie's door that night was a matter of going to the other room to get HOT SIX. But seriously – I would have been a 'clamoring for the next book. Be it right or wrong, I WANT to achieve this type of ending. As I go about revising FAKING IT, I'll definitely be looking for spots to amp up the tension. So, I decided to talk about a few techniques that I enjoy using.

Obviously, everyone is going to have their own style when it comes to writing the endings to their chapters. I've tried many, many different techniques to propel readers forward, and here are some of the ones I've found have worked (in theory): This is just a few out of many, many options.

Cut off a scene right smack dab in the middle. It's the ultimate Jedi mind-BEEP! If readers want to know how a scene ends, they have to read the next chapter. This works especially well in a fast-paced book. Here's an example from the original FAKING IT:


Scene: Madison is at a bar getting seriously drunk. She's had a blow-up with both male protags—Drew and Gabe, and has no clue who she ultimately wants to choose.

    "Over here, lady." The bartender held my purse above his head and I rushed over and tried to snatch it from his hands. He pulled it away and my fingers grasped at the air. "I don't think so. You ain't in no condition to drive. Want me to call you a cab?"

    I blinked at him, the lights behind him were so bright. "But my car is outside."

    "Listen, lady. I ain't risking you driving home and suing me later. It's either a cab or you can call someone to pick you up. Do you remember where you live at least?"

    "Of course I remember," I said indignantly. "It's the big brown apartment complex, easy to find. Lots of trees."


    I puckered my lips. "You're so f*cking picky." Lucy Adams' words rang clear in my mind for some reason, and I laughed when I realized I had quoted the greasy girl.

    "Yeah." He pawed through my purse and pulled out my cell phone. Flipping it open, he hit one of the buttons.

    "Hey! Give me that." He stepped away from me and I attempted to climb up on the bar stool to get a better reach. I couldn't seem to do it, though.

    "No, it's not Mad…" The bartender spoke glibly.

    I froze.

    "This is Hank." He paused. "She a petite brunette with brown eyes and a real mouth on her?" Another pause. "Yeah, she's here and I need you to come pick her up. Man, she ain't in no condition to drive."

    Hank gave the person the address and closed the phone. He stuffed it back in my purse and placed it behind the counter. "Your ride is on the way."

    I laid my head on the cool bar top and closed my eyes. A feeling of disorientation came over me and it felt like my world spun. "Hank, you're pretty cool, you know that?"

    Hank didn't answer and I must have drifted off for a bit. The next thing I knew, a warm pair of hands pulled me out of my seat. My legs wouldn't work and the hands swung me up into someone's arms. My head rolled back and I stared up at the person. He looked familiar, but right now it was too hard to figure out who he was. He smelled wonderful, all…manly.

    "Sssh," he said. "I'm taking you home."

    "But I need my purse."

    "Don't worry. I've got it." His voice was soothing, and I snuggled close to him.

    "Good, there's a skirt I wanna buy."


[end chapter—the next chapter begins in the car ride home. We have NO idea which man has picked her up at this point, but hopefully, readers will turn the page to find out.)

Questions, questions, questions. If you leave the readers with unanswered questions they'll likely need to keep reading. From FAKING IT – the moment Drew leaves Madison at her new assignment.

    I didn't want to leave things on such a somber note. But for the life of me, I couldn't find anything positive to focus on. A few more minutes passed, each of us lost to our own thoughts of each other. I knew it as sure as I'd known anything in my life.

    "I'll be back soon," Drew said finally, his voice hoarse. He coughed to clear the frog in his throat and laid his hand on top of mine. "Promise."

    I tried to force a smile, but faltered. I slid my hand away from his warm touch. "You better go. You don't want to miss your flight."

    We both stood and passed an awkward moment at the door. I didn't know what to say to him, and clearly he didn't know what to say to me. In the end, we said nothing. He simply leaned forward and kissed me on the forehead. I closed my eyes and clung to the feel of him—the closeness of having him near. When I finally looked up, I took everything in about him in minute detail. Memorized him.

    Then, just like that, he was gone.


    {Oh…the ultimate, will they or won't they moment. When will they see each other again?? Will their relationship change—you just know it will, right? Eee}


High points of tension. The chapter that ends with your characters falling asleep is sort of the antithesis of high tension. For me, they make ME want to go to sleep too. Therefore, I've found that if a scene ends with my characters going to sleep, there has to be _some_ level of tension there that the reader can pick up on. One example of this is from BY THE PALE MOONLIGHT:


    I awoke some time later and found my room bathed in moonlight. Ty was gone. After a quick stretch, I rubbed my knuckles across my blurry eyes. At last my digital alarm clock came into focus. It was a little after two in the morning. I shed my clothes and pulled on a T-shirt before crawling into bed.

    As I started to drift off, I made a quick mental note to talk to my dad. I needed to let him know there must be coyotes in the area. It'd been one of their howls that awoke me in the first place.


[End chapter. Now, hopefully at this point in time people are suspecting a few things—namely about Ty and these *cough* coyotes. We don't know for sure what's going on with Ty at this point, but hopefully there are enough clues and questions to keep readers wanting more.]


A point of resolution. Hopefully you're putting your characters through the wringer. Forcing difficult decisions upon them that have tough consequences. A moment where they resolve to overcome a situation is a great way to end a chapter. An example from BY THE PALE MOONLIGHT, when Makenna decides to cross her friends. She's confronted in the bathroom by her best friend, Jenna, and this is the end of their encounter:

    I brushed past her and gathered my things. Before I could leave, her voice stopped me.

    "Watch yourself, Mac. You're nothing at this school without your friends."

    I studied the door before me as the vehemence beneath her words sank in. She was right, crossing my group would equate to social suicide. Taking a deep breath, I straightened my spine and pushed out the door, determined not to give a damn.


What I refer to as a BAM! moment. This is where you reveal something that hopefully the reader didn't see coming. I have a PERFECT one from FAKING IT, but I'm afraid I can't share it here. Suffice it to say that I want stomachs to plummet into shoes when people read these endings. Here's one from BY THE PALE MOONLIGHT (not quite as stomach plummeting, but still a BAM! moment): Makenna has just confronted Ty for being distant. The evening before she searched for him in his house and made the silly mistake of bringing her boyfriend along. Ty and David (the boyfriend) do not get along. At the time, Makenna believed the house empty. This is the next day—they argue, and this is the end.


    "Stay out of this," he said.

    I cringed beneath his hard stare. "Are you threatening me?"

    His face softened for a split second, but soon he had it pinched back in line. Without a word, he thrust the kit into my hands and pushed me toward the door. Too stunned to protest, I went, my thoughts a jumbled mess.

    "And Mac?"

    I paused in the doorway.

    "Don't ever bring David into my house again."



So yeah, those are just a few examples. The main thing is that I want readers to feel the urge to turn the next page. It can be a quiet ending, but there has to be some reason for them to want to continue.


What have you tried that you feel really worked? And for giggles, tell me some of the books that kept you up all night reading – that kept you saying, "Just one more chapter!?" J


Some of the books that did that for me were WEST OF THE MOON (formerly titled WEST CLUB MOON) by our very own Kristen Callihan—omg…grainy eyes and everything the next day. But I couldn't stop once I started. Several of Diana Gabaldon's books have kept me up…THE BOOK THIEF…HARRY POTTER (cuz I had to finish before going into work the next day!), anything by John Green, Scott Westerfeld, Janet Evanovich (Thank gawd they're short!). Sad to say there are many, many others. Too many to name.


What about you?