Monday, February 28, 2011

Letting Go

I wrote my first words of fiction in August of 2000. At the time, I had no idea how long it would take me to go from that first scene to a fully-fledged book. Had I known, I probably would have run away screaming. As it was, it took me two years to finish, then four more years to edit the beast. Sure I took time off now and then to do things like get married (wedding planning was WAY too preoccupying) and have two kids (don’t get me started), but there were other factors at play. Learning craft was one thing. But far more importantly, I needed to learn how to finish a novel. In truth, I don’t think it was until my latest book that I really understood what was involved.

For some people, finishing a book is no problem. They hammer away at it and it’s done. For others, the book never seems to come together. They tinker and edit and agonize over every little aspect in a search for perfection –or as close as they can come to perfection. Put me in the latter group.

Taking a vast amount of ideas and scenes and wrangling them into a coherent story can be agonizing to a writer like me. Sounds crazy but suddenly there are options on top of options. Roadblocks shoot up in unexpected places, leaving you stranding in plotting purgatory, and you gnash your teeth trying to figure out what to do, which way to go. Times like this, I’d lie upon the sofa in my writing room, toss a ball into the air and wonder what the hell to do. When that failed, I turned to outlining, look at plot points, highlight different scenes, what went where, who got the most play, etc. I’ve done snowflake diagrams, freeform brainstorming… you name it, I’ve probably tried it. There were moments of thrilling clarity, but most often I’d only end up feeling more confused and pissed off that I couldn't bring the sucker together, or do so in the right way.

This isn’t to say that these aids weren’t of any help. But there was an essential element that was hindering me. I was holding on too tight.

There is that old saying, if you love something, set it free. If you hold too tightly and control every aspect of your love, you suffocate the object of your desire. Thus you’ll slowly destroy that which you love to most. In short, you must let go.

Let go, you say? What sort of hippie bullshit are you selling?

Well there are two levels working here. One is your creativity. The other is your career as a writer.

Creativity. More than anything, your creativity needs to come from an organic place. The muse is a flighty, independent creature. She doesn’t like to be trapped, nor does she show up under duress. Over analyzing a story kills the creative impulse. Suddenly you are second-guessing everything and nothing feels right.

Of course there is a time when you need to analyze your plot. But here’s the trick: you also need to go with your gut. Seems a bit of a Catch-22. The best cure for this is rest and regrouping. Write something new to keep your creative muscles sharp, forget about your story for a bit. In the meantime, learn your genre like the back of your hand. This is done by reading within your genre. Understand the mechanics of the type of story you are trying to write. Then go at your story without worrying about it. All art is like this. The musician learns how to play a piece, practices it, stops, starts, gets it all down, then she plays, she feeds from that knowledge but she also lets go and feels the music flowing through her. A ballplayer (the physical artist) makes hundreds of shots during practice, over and over until instinct and skill become one. At the big game, he simply does it. Why should writing be different? You must let go. At some point you have to.

The Big Picture. Here is where letting go really needs to happen for your sanity. If you want to be traditionally published, you are going to have to learn that your book, your baby, really isn’t solely yours. Your agent or your editor, certainly, WILL have opinions. Further, when talking careers, you WILL have to figure out a path, and that path includes what stories to write. Gone are the days of doing whatever you will. Nope. Sorry. If you get yourself a multi-book deal, there WILL be expectations on what you’re going to write next. Lot’s of WILL in there, isn’t it? (g)

At some point, writers feel that their story is finite. This and that must happen. Only this and that happens first and suddenly you have a roadblock. There is so much we want to convey, but will we? How can we if we don’t do this or that?? Argh!!! And so on. This is where you need to let go of the “have to’s.”

First off, you are God in your story. If a roadblock exists it is because you made it. You can unmake it. But, but, then this and this… No. Stop! Nothing in your story is sacred. NOTHING. Because even if you think it is, an editor might not. You might have to cut it anyway. Don’t hold onto anything in your story too tightly. Let it GO.

Often, the things we think we need, we don’t. Those lovely scenes, witty characters, compelling spells of dialogue, they are beautiful things to us. As are certain plot ideas. But if they create roadblocks, muddy up the flow, then they’ve got to go. Sometimes they have to go simply for the sake of word count. Sometimes they are confusing the narrative. There are reasons upon reasons for cutting, switching. Doing so may suck. Like ripping off a bandage. It might hurt, but once it’s done, you may just see healing skin beneath.

Which brings me to the last aspect of letting go. I am the type of writer to absolutely, positively falls in love with my characters. I want them to live on and on. I could write endless books about them. By the time I finished my first book, I had two more outlined for that story –and about 70k words written for them. That book did not sell. Did I waste my time? Does it mean I gave up on them? No. But I let go and moved on. And found an equally compelling story. At the time, I thought there was no way that could happen. I’d found the loves of my life. How to go on?

Here is the thing: I realized I was a writer. Not the author of Character X and Y. I write stories. Not just one story. Stories.

Now you may be a lucky duck. You may write a series and go on and on with it a la Diana Gabaldon. Or you may not. The key is to be able to let go if needed. If you’ve beaten a story to death and it still is not working, walk away for a time. Let it go and try something new. If you worry that just can't get your plot right, stop over-thinking and finish the sucker. We'll tell you if it failed. I've been in both places. These places suck the suckiest of sucks to ever suck. (g) But I've gotten out. You can too.

There is nothing solid or guaranteed in this business. Adaptability and the freedom to let yourself fail is essential. If that doesn’t work, there is always that one last rewrite. ;-)

Girl Power on Steroids

Hey all,

I'm working on my post right now. While I do here's another round of Girl Power. Soo goofey! :-D

Friday, February 25, 2011

Girl Power

Susan is a bit under the weather and will be along when she's feeling better. In the meantime (and since we celebrate the female writer at ATWOP) here is an awesome video that you may or may not have seen. I'm only sorry you can't buy these! Happy Friday, everyone!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Past personality

Do you see the past in colour, or in black and white? For me, it blazes brightly.

When I look at history, different times for me have a different feel to them; a different and distinct personality. It's not a particularly scientific thing, being able to identify how the past feels- partly it comes back to my archaeology background, which makes me think about people, places, and material culture as living and breathing, no matter whether they're no more.

Australians dancing in the street at the end of World War II

Part of it, though, comes back to the books I've read over time. Hundreds and thousands of books have been absorbed into my brain, and all of them, good, bad and indifferent, have left a little subconscious mark there. The ones with historical settings in particular tend to add puzzle pieces to the bigger picture, the depth of sense, the feeling of what it was like to live in those times.

As an author of historical fiction, being able to capture this essence of place and time is one of the most important aspects of the writing process. So how do you do it? And more importantly, how do you do it well?

My first answer to this will always be research. After that, depicting the setting is up to you.

When I started BETWEEN THE LINES, I kicked off with what is now the second book, set in London during the 1940 Blitz. Reading the bare facts is important, but it only gives one part of the impression. And bare facts are for history books- but history books are an important place to start. I devoured dozens of them.

From history books, you get dates, times, places, turning points in history- the bigger picture.

Another important source is the biographical and autobiographical stories from that time. For WWII London, it doesn't get much better than the BBC's People's War website, which is a massive collection of individual stories about living through the war. These stories start to unravel what the history books can't completely capture- the keep on keeping on spirit that bubbled on beneath Blitz London, no matter what.

From true stories and first-hand accounts, you find attitudes and memories, thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams, fear and devastation.

Chaps in Blitz London browse the library of the bombed Harris House

I love to read historic newspapers from the time period in which my story is set. Not possible for every historical author, but my 1914 to 1941 time period gives me that benefit. So does Australia's incredible National Library of Australia digitised newspaper collection. I can sit down and read the Saturday papers that my characters read in 1912, and get a sense of the way things were before the war. I can see what clothes were in fashion in what season, and read up on recipes for tuna in aspic, or blancmange.

From newspapers, you come to know the pulse of a place, the things that mattered enough to be reported. The language of the time, unadulterated by interpretation.

A letter to an Aussie newspaper in 1897 describing local lingo- click to enlarge!

Another amazing resource I've been able to tap into is the National Archives of Australia's online war records, in which you can read the digitised record of every Australian soldier who fought in the First World War. When and where they enlisted, when, where and how they fell in battle. Who got the telegram to say they were gone- wife, mother, sister, father.

From official records, you find surprising small details about individual lives- a birthmark on the right shoulder; no family left alive to inform of an untimely death.

Western Australia's 11th Battalion in Egypt in 1915

And lastly, there's no substitute for actually going to the place you're writing about, and absorbing it a little. I've been to London twice for Blitz research, and I'm intimately acquainted with all of my Western Australian settings. It's not possible for everyone, unfortunately- that's what imagination is for, and all the above. But it's definitely worth doing if you ever get the chance!

All of these things, all these hours of digging, reading, researching, combine in my head like a patchwork of people, places, events, until the whole background blanket feels complete and real. I can settle into it and look around. I know how people get around, what they wear, what they eat, how they swear when they're frustrated. I know how they feel about the drought, the war, the Aboriginal people who live just outside town.

All these things give me the personality of my characters, but also of place. Western Australia in 1914, where BETWEEN THE LINES was set, had as unique a personality as anywhere. From a stubborn, slow-to-start colony on the coast of a harsh land, the state began to boom in the last part of the 19th century as gold was discovered further afield. The resulting boom enriched everyone, everywhere- the buildings from that time, which I can check in the Post Office directory, were big, grand, and ostentatious. Buoyed by success, people decided to seek a different kind of fortune out on the land, raising sheep and wheat- the backbone of the original colony, just further afield.

Western Australian sheep farm with ghost gums

It's these people who populate my story. Stubborn as rocks, determined to make a go of it. Simple in their desires, their opinions, their ideas. Believers in Australia, the Lucky Country, and in their connection to the King of England. Young, strong, cocky, brash and full of wry humour. These are the men who went away to war.

These are the men who never came back, or came back changed forever.

And this is the key to embodying that past personality in your historical story: the characters carry it in everything they do, think and say. Everything you've researched and learned thrives in the background through your descriptive prose, and through the plot events. But the characters, both primary and secondary, are the real spirit of the thing. They live, breathe, act and react, and through them, history has a heartbeat.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Last week I blogged about how I’m embarking on a self-taught “suspense 101” course, reading and breaking down novels of suspense so I can – hopefully- nail the genre better than I currently have in my SFD.

First up, if you’re writing suspense, it pays to know the difference between it and its close cousins, mysteries and thrillers. Broadly, mysteries and thrillers are about the “who dunnit”; uncovering the identity of the antagonist is all part of the mystery, the thrill. And most often, mysteries and thrillers are confined to one POV, that of the protagonist.

Suspense, on the other hand, is more about the “why dunnit”. The identity of the villain is known, and we get multiple POVs, including the villain’s. Think Hannibal Lecter in Thomas Harris'"Silence of the Lambs"; and think of Harris' “Red Dragon”, where we get a very intimate look into the mind of one of the creepiest literary villains I know, the serial killer Francis Dolarhyde. Part of what keeps the reader turning the pages of these books is definitely the need to discover why these villains are so warped.

Of course, various aspects of thrillers and mysteries and suspense do bleed over into each other in many books, but these are the general delineations of the genres.

I’m pleased to say I at least tick these basic boxes of suspense with my WIP. But having the right basic structure is no way near enough. With a novel of suspense, the story has to be told … well, suspensefully. The book must convey a tone of dread and malignity; there has to be something – or many things – dreadfully wrong in the characters’ world. And how best to achieve this is what I’ve been looking at in my book breakdowns.

Set the tone from the start.

Setting a tone of suspense, and telling your reader what they’re supposed to be terrified of, is a must.

The prologue of Lisa Unger’s “Black Out” does this extremely well, starting with the first line: “Today something interesting happened. I died.”

Then, in just two and a half pages, we get the big picture: she’s on a cargo ship, surrounded by men hired to protect her, fleeing from a man she thinks of as “her predator”, who is fast gaining on her. Tension from the very start. But Unger doesn’t leave it there. Her main character is contemplating jumping off the boat; for her, suicide is a more welcome end than being caught by this predator. The tension ratchets up. And then, she thinks of her young daughter, and makes the decision to stand and fight, to stay alive, for her child. There’s going to be a show down.

This prologue does a lot of work in a short space. It tells us who we should be scared of, and what the core of this story will be about - a woman’s fight to stay alive. It also sets up a world in which the main character’s life has gone very wrong, and leaves us sharing her sense of dread. Coupled with the promise of a showdown, this prologue creates a lot of suspense.

Keep the reader off balance.

Giving us the sensation of sand shifting beneath our feet, of things possibly not being what they seem, also creates a ton of suspense, and one way this is achieved is to raise questions in the reader’s mind … then delay answering them.

In the example of Unger’s prologue, the main character mentions she was once scared of water. Nothing more is said about this, and how the fact is important to the story, until much later. Bill Floyd’s “The Killer’s Wife” opens with the main character doing her grocery shopping at midnight, her favourite time to shop because it means she can avoid people … exactly why she wants to be left alone is not immediately revealed. And in "Red Dragon", the reason the killer uses his grandmother’s false teeth when committing his crimes is not answered until quite a way into the book.

Another way to keep the reader off balance is to let them in on things the main character doesn’t know. In Kate Mosse’s “Sepulchre”, for example, the main character, Leonie, is being stalked by a deranged killer. We get to see the killer following her trail, drawing ever closer to her … and all the time Leonie is totally unaware of what’s coming.

Disarm the reader

Mundane settings can disarm a reader, get their defences down nice and low, before springing the trap. The first chapters of “Black Out” and “The Killer’s Wife” both take place in supermarkets, for example. And water is often used to lull us into a false sense of security right before something terrible happens – think Janet Leigh taking that infamous shower in Psycho. Come to think of it, the same goes for sex – how many times does the bad guy bust in just as the hero and heroine are getting romantic?

Have high stakes and keep raising them.

Unger’s stakes are high – the protagonist’s life, and the life of her child. The stakes in "Red Dragon" are the lives of the whole families that Dolarhyde murders in their own homes. High stakes, which both authors continue to build on through the book.

Have a ticking clock

Writing is all the more suspenseful if there is immediacy to the danger faced by the protagonist, if there is a countdown the protagonist must run against. In "Red Dragon", for example, the fact the villain kills on lunar cycles is investigator Will Graham’s ticking clock. For Clarice Starling in "Silence of the Lambs", the ticking clock is the knowledge that Buffalo Bill only ever holds his victims for three days.


Have characters lie to your protagonist. We’ll all know it’s a fib, but the protagonist won’t – what will happen when they discover the truth?


Cut a scene in the middle of the action and change location, or POV, or both. We’ll be flipping those pages to find out what happens next.

False scares.

The door creaking open in the dark, the protagonist crouched behind the door, convinced it’s the killer … when it’s only the landlord come to change the blow light bulb.

And I could go on … but I’m interested in hearing from you. What suspense creating techniques do you use, or think work well? It’s something to think about, because bottom line, every story, suspense or otherwise, really should create a yearning in the reader to discover what happens next, if the story is to be a great one.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Going Neanderthal

I think one of the trickiest things for me as a writer is trying to write in a male POV. Not being a male, obviously, I have to rely on observation of that species to try to nail how they think/speak/behave. I often times feel like a member of a National Geographic research team, hunting them in the wild, observing them from afar...trying to answer the question, "WHY DO THEY DO THAT?" That being a vast number of things that totally boggle the mind.

There's a reason there are so many books on communication between women and men--or rather, guides that try to help men and women communicate better. Sometimes, it's like they're speaking a foreign language and have grown up with a completely different take on this world.

In short, I just don't get 'em. At all. They're a complete conundrum. But dangit if I don't think they're wonderful all the same. :)

Writing males can prove a bit tricky when the male mind is such a mystery. They don't speak the same way we do, they don't value the same things we do, and they definitely do not react the same way to situations as we do.

Let's use an example we see in everyday life:

The toilet seat has been left up.

(Woe is be to the male who does this in my house--let me just say that right now.)

Girls, you know exactly how grossed out I am by this whole thing. It's unsanitary and unsightly to come into a bathroom when the seat has been left up. Plus, we girls have a lot on our minds. Nothing worse than a rude awakening when you try to take a seat and oomph! you almost fall in. RED. We see RED when this happens.

But think about it from a guy's perspective. They're just going to use the toilet again, so why put it down? And hey, what's the big deal? They have to put it up when they used the restroom, why can't we put it down when we have to go?

(Did you actually hear my eyes roll back at that one? It sounded kinda loud to me.)

Oh, you know the age old debate. I don't think this one will ever be solved.

Behavior is one thing, but the way they speak is so different that it's by far the hardest thing for me to nail as a writer. Often times, I find I will write a scene between a male and a female... The female dialogue I will pretty much nail on the first go round. The male dialogue, however, will be a big ole' hot mess of feminine traits that need to be clipped out.

I have an inside joke that I have to "go Neanderthal" on my male characters. What this entails is going through every line of male dialogue and deleting any and all unnecessary words. That means hacking out adjectives, pronouns...ANYTHING that over complicates things. I want my male dialogue to be brief and to the point. Almost to where it has a clipped feeling to it.



He shook the glass impatiently. “You should take these. They’ll help your headache.” He dropped two oval shaped pills in my hand.

Neanderthal version:

He shook the glass impatiently. “Take these. They’ll help.” He dropped two oval shaped pills in my hand.


A look of hesitation flashed across his features before melting into one of annoyance. “Sh*t,” he muttered and headed inside. He emerged a moment later with a tire iron. “Where are they?”


A look of hesitation flashed across his features before melting into one of annoyance. “Sh*t,” he muttered and headed inside. He emerged a moment later with a tire iron. “Where?”

The differences between the two are pretty subtle, but I strive hard for that subtlety. (g) What about you? Do you find it difficult to write characters of the opposite sex? What tricks do you use?

And We Have a Winner!

Thanks to everyone who played along with my Love Schmuv snippet contest. Nothing like two characters who are able to annoy the bejesus out of each other.

Without further delay, the winner is KRISTEN!!!! Whoo Kristen!!! :)

Monday and Hunt sure can annoy the heck out of each other can't they? (g) But what's so great is that there's an underlying sexual tension there that is SMOKIN'. Loved the way Peter broke the pair apart.

Well, you are the winner of Mystery Book #1. I'll email ya the details. ;)

Anyone up for Round 2??

Let's go for the direct opposite this time. Have your character do something thoughtful for another (even better if they do it with complete nonchalance). Again, using my not so scientific method of subjective opinion, I will pick a winner, who will win Mystery Book #2. I'll announce the winner next week. Post away, Peeps!

My offering:

Once the coffee maker stopped gurgling, he poured us both a mug and placed one in front of me, along with a box of my favorite sweetener and a small carton of creamer. Both unopened. I waited for him to go first, but he simply took a sip from his mug. Black.

I opened my mouth, but promptly closed it again. Sometimes there just aren’t words.

Maddy and Gabe from FAKING IT

Who's next??

Monday, February 21, 2011

Negative Space: or The Kama Sutra Beat Me to It

Negative Space. Is it a vase? Or two people facing?

I write romance, ergo, I write about love. Because we all know and crave love, because it is such a known emotion, it can be incredibly hard to show this queen of human sentiment. After all, how does one make what is commonplace feel fresh? More importantly, how many new ways can the act of a kiss or making love be portrayed? Discover new words? Use new and different positions? Hell, the Kama Sutra took care of that centuries ago. So what to do?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about negative space. In general, it’s an art term. You have the subject of your painting, let’s say, a female nude. The negative space would be everything in the portrait that surrounds the woman. The space between her thighs, under the curve or her waist, that is negative space. An artist’s eye can become lazy. She sees the object, usually a familiar thing, and thus paints the object. But what if instead, she trains her eye to look at the painting, the entire scene as a whole? Suddenly it isn’t simply a nude female before her but an assemblage of shapes, both the figure and the space around the figure. Suddenly the artist sees the scene in a new light. A depth and freshness can be found that she never knew existed, simply by taking the negative space into account.

How does that work for the writer? A scene isn’t simply composed of what is there but also by what isn’t there. We have dialogue, action and description. They create a world on a page. But we want these characters to feel real. In real life, our world revolves as much around what we don’t do and say as on what we reveal to others. Sure you can use interior monologue to convey this but what about the fact that we as people often go through life largely unaware of our…let’s say, personal foibles? What about the times when we act without thinking?

But I’m going to backpedal to the issue of love. In real life, more so than in fiction, we express our love in subtle ways. We aren’t all poets. We don’t usually go for grand gestures. My husband shows his love for me every day, simply by being there, by trying to help anyway he can, by placing his hand upon my hip when we drift off to sleep. Of course, part of what makes fiction so gratifying is that the characters act out all the grand gestures that we don’t. However, when it comes to romance in stories, these grand gestures have been done so many times that they’ve become common. Which is why I return to the notion of negative space.

In this time of outward emotion and heavy displays of affection, paying what isn’t obvious can intensify sexual tension. So in a love scene, it becomes not so much about the mechanics but the space around what your couple is doing. Let’s say, they’re getting down and dirty. There are only so many ways of saying that. *Cough* One can thrust, plunge, pump, etc. But in the midst of this plunging and pumping, your hero tenderly stokes away a strand of hair sticking to the heroine’s cheek. Like that, the hero’s tender feelings come out in a way that sticking to the mechanics of a scene would not convey, no matter how many terms you use. Perhaps it is at the moment of a kiss. There is heat and heavy breathing, and just one moment of at last that weakens a heroine’s knees and lets us know more than the act of kissing itself, that this means so much more than kissing.

Which leads us to the more subtle instances of love. Are there parts to your story in which your characters don’t act outwardly lustful, loving, needy but it is obvious that this is what they are feeling? Does the hero protect or comfort the heroine without thinking of what it will do for him? Do they betray their inner feelings by NOT acting? This restraint, the evolution of selfless giving can make those moments when they do act so much more intense because we readers are dying for it. We’ve been teased, anticipation has grown. This is foreplay in the form of plotting.

In a way, negative space in terms of novel crafting is foreplay. It is highlighting those other areas to increase anticipation and ratchet up the tension so that when you do zero in on the main objective, that being the specific action/dialogue that propels the plot, the reader is fully engaged. Clear as mud? (g)

Friday, February 18, 2011

You Bring Out The So-So in Me

There’s a cartoon in this week’s paper that gave me a chuckle. A man and woman, obviously on a date, are sitting at a table bored with each other. The woman says to the man, “You bring out the so-so in me.”

Whoa. It got me thinking, am I bringing out the so-so in my characters? (Not to be confused with bringing out the so-and-so, which could be very entertaining and worthy of its own blog post.)

Character development is one of those areas that is paradoxically very simple and very complex. Some of us have characters who spring forth fully-formed: living, breathing, talking, characters who hijack the story and tell us how to write it. And many of us have characters who are closed, private, giving very little insight to their motives. They sit back and smirk and watch us try to pick them apart.

For most of us, however, characters grow slowly and organically with the unfolding of the story. They’re like a friend we get to know as we spend time with them. Their foibles and noble deeds, their fears and their strengths reveal themselves in time.

We may come to really love our characters as if they’re real people (and indeed, they are, aren’t they?). We spend countless hours with them, placing them in the rich fabric of our imagination, moving them around the scenery and giving them words to speak and emotions to feel. It’s fascinating work and it’s fun, too.

The challenge for a writer is to make our “friends” as interesting to readers as they are to us. If you Google “character development” - as I’m sure most of us have at one time or another - you’ll find countless words of advice, a dizzying array of character questionnaires, check-lists, archetypes, and so forth, all with the reassurances that if you diligently fill-in-the-blanks you’ll have a character. Presto.

Simple, isn’t it? If I know the color of my character’s eyes, what his height and weight are, and how much body hair he has, what his favorite food is, where he went to school, and what his first girlfriend’s name was, I’ve created a memorable character, right?

If I concoct an elaborate backstory for him and figure out what makes him breath, what gives him life, will that make him real to readers? Is a laundry list of physical traits and a suitcase of memories enough to make him spring to life? These things are good to know. I’m not against creating a character profile, especially if knowing them makes you more comfortable. But will knowing these things make for a memorable character for readers?

One of the best bits of advice I read about character development came from Beth, a section leader at the Books and Writer’s Community Forum. She believes there are some very basic steps writers can take to ensure a memorable character, specifically, a character who is real, yet larger than life.

One of those steps is to make sure your character has a past and if possible, a past that influences the present. This is where backstory is important. All of us act and react to our situations in life according to what we’ve known and experienced before. Our characters should do the same.

Another step is to give your character a life off-stage. Give them something to do, make it appear to readers that they’ve got a full life. For instance, in my own story, I started a scene in which my main character arrives home from someplace and sits in his truck, listening to the rain on the roof and contemplating a few things. I never mention where he’s been, only that it’s late, raining and he’s reluctant to leave the truck. Where was he? Why was he out late? Doesn’t matter really, in the scheme of things. He has a life off-stage.

Memorable characters, much like memorable humans, are contradictory, inconsistent, surprising. If your character always acts in the same way, where’s the interest for the reader? Find ways to make your character surprising, give her some whimsy, some inconsistencies, something quirky to keep readers off-guard, amused, or surprised. Alternately, you can give a character depth by making them consider their contradictions, showing the struggle they may have with their inconsistencies.

Real characters feel things deeply. Don’t gloss over their emotions. Find out what your character feels and why, then find a way to reveal those deep-seated feelings to your readers. A word of caution, however, when it comes to emotions. Done badly and you’re bound to cross the line into melodrama.

This next one I love: real characters have secrets. How many of us have tried to wheedle a secret from someone? It’s annoying beyond belief to be left out of the loop, isn’t it? Do the same with your readers - leave them out of the loop, let them dig, wheedle, and obsess over the secret your character has.

And finally, our characters do things we only dream of doing. Whatever that is - could be something small, like baking bread, or something huge like piloting an inter-galactic space pod. It’s our dreams that keep us moving forward.

No matter what kind of character you’re creating: protagonist, antagonist, side-kick, male, female, alien-werewolf-vampire-shapeshifter, give them a life off-stage, dreams, secrets, a history, deep feelings and inconsistencies. They'll much closer to becoming larger-than-life and completely real for your readers.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Holy Crusades, Batman!

Hey Crusaders!

A quick post to help you unravel us a little more. There are five of us blogging at All the World's Our Page, and we're all participating as individuals in Rachael Harrie's Blog Platform-Building Crusade. Doing the math, this means about fifty of you are heading our way from the groups alone. Each of you has committed as part of your group to supporting one blogger, not five!

So I want to make sure you realise that we have set days on which we blog around here, and though we'd love you to comment on everything and anything that takes your fancy, you're more than welcome to stick with your individual Crusade group-mate.

The author tabs along the top of this page are arranged in order of our days, Monday to Friday. The About Us tab also contains a list of the days we blog. And I'll repeat it here for good measure, just so you know:

Monday: Kristen Callihan
Tuesday: Jen Hendren
Wednesday: Rachel Walsh
Thursday: Claire Gregory
Friday: Susan Montgomery

Please note: Due to time differences, Rachel and Claire down in Australia often appear to post a day early if you're reading in the US. There's a little note at the bottom of each post saying who wrote it, and Google Reader has that right at the top of every post.

If you're running short on time, hopefully all this helps. In the meantime, we look forward to hearing from you, and continuing to visit all of your blogs!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lines of desire

We are so excited to meet so many new people through Rachael Harrie's Writers Platform-Building Crusade! It's wonderful to hear from so many of you, and I'm looking forward to buddying up especially with my new literary and historical fiction friends over the coming weeks. Hurrah!

Susan has recently discussed the idea of the desire line in your story, or the thing your character wants more than anything; the thing that drives him or her onward, and, one hopes, the thing that captures the reader's attention and refuses to let them go.

I've been thinking about this topic for a very long time. Whenever it comes up, it makes me pause. What do my characters want more than anything? What is the core reason for their being, the subject of the story?

I can't ever define it that easily, and I waver between thinking that's a serious problem in my story, or thinking that it might not be so clear-cut.

What do they want?

See, all my characters want things. Both the Cutler brothers, Bill and Len, want the same girl, Kit. Kit has her own opinions on that, which of course leads to a great deal of conflict between the three of them. But the major conflict in the story doesn't come directly from this- it comes from the fact that the First World War breaks out, drawing them all in and destroying different aspects of their lives- physical, emotional, and mental.

Is it therefore as simple as saying both brothers want to come home to Kit?

No, because one brother, Bill, doesn't want to go in the first place, and that taps into what I've always felt is his main desire- to fulfill his father's dying wish for the family farm to survive and thrive. Kit's part of that- she's the family that makes the farm his future. But there's a big divergence in that desire when circumstances compel him to go away to war after all.

The other characters have similar things going on- older brother Len, for example, just wants the opposite- to get away from the farm that he feels is smothering him, and make a name for himself in the bright lights of the national football league. Except that war robs him of his physical ability, and all of a sudden, he hasn't got anywhere to go *but* home. He'll never achieve his original desire. But gradually, slowly, perhaps he comes to realise that it wasn't what he wanted in the first place- that his true desire was hidden, and it was more about finding his own place at home than about wanting to leave.

But you know... I don't know. I feel like I'm trying to shove it all into a neat little box.

What do you reckon?

Here's where I need your help. Tell me, kids- when you think of your favourite novels, can you figure out the main character's line of desire? What did they want so compellingly that the story moved forward with strength? *Did* they want something concrete or specific? Or- and here's what I'm really looking for- was their desire something altogether more nebulous than that?

The book that got me thinking about this recently was The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold. It's one of those love-it-or-hate-it novels, I know. I happened to love it. I saw the movie recently and thought it was moderately decent, and I started thinking about Susie Salmon's desire. She wants her family to be okay. For that to happen, the man who murdered her must be caught. But Susie's more of an observer than anything, and the stronger desires lie with her sister and her father, who are intensely focussed on finding out who killed Susie.

(FWIW, that's spoiler-free- these events are detailed on the first page and the back cover)

The lines of desire are, in other words, pretty clear in this. But what caught my attention was the importance of the bigger concept. These characters don't want something, not even the most specific of things, just because they're seeking some kind of personal fulfillment or peace or anything other concrete motivation, not really. The desires are constructed by the author for a very particular purpose- as part of a larger, woven tapestry of many desires interacting to create an emotionally deep whole. A picture of a family ripped apart by violence and loss, struggling to come back together in the aftermath.

I think I want... world peace? No?

Essentially, what I'm saying is, the bigger picture is as critically important as the desire itself. And I think that given the bigger picture, it's possible to have a desire that is compelling without being specific. I think this, but I really don't know.

What do you think? Can you give me any examples of books that grabbed on and held you without being absolutely concrete about what the character wanted to achieve?

Or, perhaps, some other examples of books that were driven by the desires of secondary characters?

Operation Manuscript Fix - Genre

Well, after my little pity party last week, I’ve pulled myself together and I’m shaping up to perform some intensive surgery on my story. But before I snap on the surgical gloves and sharpen my scalpel, I’m taking a step back. A BIG step back.

See, I’ve been nose-to-the-windowpane with my characters and plot for a very long time, and it’s wrecked my vision. I can’t see the forest for the trees. And I’m not going to begin hacking away at my manuscript until my vision is 20/20.

Over the last few months I’ve had the uneasy feeling that something (many things) is not right with my book. That feeling has now become a fully-fledged certainty.

There are too many subplots, for one. It’s too long, for another. And for someone writing suspense, well, there’s just not enough of it. There are many reasons for this (being too long is definitely killing the suspense.) But I’ve decided my biggest problem is I’ve strayed a little too far from the parameters of the genre I’m trying to write, and this is not a good thing. It has to be fixed.

OK, yeah, I know this seems like I’m trying to write by formula. And it goes against one of the mantras repeated over and over to unpubbed writers - that what matters most is to write the story that is in you, crying to be let loose on the page. Whatever form or shape that story may take.

Now, there’s something in that. There’s no point pushing yourself to write something you don’t have a passion for – or at least a deep interest in – because your lack of enthusiasm and engagement will show through in the form of a flat, uninteresting, forced story, and you’ll be busted as a fake.

But passion is not the be all and end all. It’s only one of the necessary elements in the alchemy of producing a great, saleable, story. Writing damn well is another obvious element; and if you want to give yourself the best chance of snagging an agent and being published, I’d argue you can’t ignore the wisdom of writing pretty close to the parameters of your genre. At least with the first book you shop.

Why? Well, writing to genre makes your book so much easier for an agent to say yes to. They know the exact nature of the product they will then be flogging to a publishing house. No head scratching, no heart palpitations. And having a book that fits within a genre makes it much easier for a publisher to say yes. Publishers know that the vast majority of the book-buying public are creatures of habit. We like to know what we’re in for when we take a book home – romance, thriller, mystery, crime, chick-lit. Something that crosses over many, many genres … well, the “what’s this about” is going to be harder to convey on the blurb or the cover flap or the book review. That won’t make it impossible sell, but it will be harder. Especially if you’re a new, untested, author.

Now, I’m not saying you should avoid mixing genres at all cost. If that were the case, how boring would the book world be? It’s more that you should be aware of what your primary genre is, and try and make sure it gets the attention in your WIP that it deserves to ensure you give yourself the best shot at being published.

So, if you’ve written a multi-genre opus, do you slit your wrists now? No. Have another look at what you’ve got. Sure as eggs there will be one, maybe two, genres, which stand out above the others. See if there are ways to make them the focus, without compromising your story. (In fact, I’d bet the tighter you focus on them, the tighter your story will be …)

Of course, there are always exceptions to this norm. But not often, and especially not for newbie authors.

Anyway … what was my point? Oh yeah. In all my uncertainty about my book, I do know I’m writing suspense. True, I’m also writing historical fiction, but that does take a slight back seat to the suspense. And so, to help me pin point those places where I’ve gone wrong – and more importantly, how to fix them! - I’ve been boning up on the elements of suspense, its parameters and variations, in the hope that I’ll see where I’ve gone too far from the genre’s expectations.

Where I should have taken a left turn at Albuquerque, instead of taking a right.

So, what makes a book a "novel of suspense"? How does suspense differ from its close cousins, mysteries and thrillers? Because there are differences, and they are important to know…

But not now. That’s for next week.

(Heh. How’s that for a little suspense?)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Love Schmuv

Okay, I'm not exactly the grinch when it comes to Valentine's Day, but at times, I feel like I'm dang close. It's never been a favorite of mine, mostly because I haven't found that certain someone that I want to be with for the rest of my life. I'm not necessarily begrudging others their happiness, but V-Day can be a tad neh-neh-neh-neh to all the singletons in the world. Nothing worse than watching other women receiving beautiful boutiques of flowers, gifts, etc etc all day long. Especially when you KNOW nothing is going to be delivered to you.

What's worse is that the day almost begins to make you despise the idea of being single--or see yourself as abnormal because you're actually...well, kinda happy most of the time. For that 24 hours every year, you're SUPPOSED to want to be in love. Well, whatever, yo. It makes me want to get all kinds o' street, saying, "I don't need no man to make me happy!" (Complete with a snap of the fingers and a neck roll. (g))

Anyway, where am I going with this? This is probably a horrible segue, but the whole love fest I bore witness to yesterday got me to thinking about relationships. Mostly about how for that one day a year, EVERYONE is MADLY in love. Their partner can do no wrong, they've never had an unhappy moment. In short, everything is bliss.

*Insert a big eye roll here* And a loud chuckle. Yeah, we all have those blinders on moments. I do, too.

But love, reeeeeeal love isn't perfect. We all have things about ourselves that annoy the hell out of our partners. We all have personality quirks that make our loved ones want to slam their heads in the car door. We make weird noises in our sleep, emit strange smells, have bad table manners (gah, sauce globbed in the corner of someone's mouth is SO disgusting)...we say the wrong things at the wrong times and in the wrong company (foot meet mouth)...we have that one joke that we just can't let go of, and which is slowly making our partner's brain bleed out of his/her ears because they can't stand to hear it even one more single time.

In short, there are times when you look at the person beside you and think, "W.T.F.?

But just as those things can annoy the hell out of you, they also make your partner the person that they are. And sometimes, their quirks are what make you love them so dang much.

In my opinion, we need to bring these quirks into our novels. The dashing hero without so much as a propensity to ever lose his shit over something the heroine does or says isn't real. Everyone gets on everyone's nerves at one time or another. If your hero thinks EVERYTHING your heroine does is cute and amusing, and just so dang special, gah.... You need to come back to planet earth and remember that to be human is to be annoying as all hell sometimes. It's what puts the character in our characters.

So, I want everyone to dig deep and find a small snip to share that highlights some disgusting/annoying moment that one of your characters experiences at the hands of his/her loved one. And to up the ante a bit, the one that I subjectively think does the best job of amusing/disgusting/annoying me, wins a Free MYSTERY Book! I'll announce the winner next week -- so get your snips in NOW! :)

ETA: If you're not a writer, dig up an excerpt from your favorite book.

A couple from me:

I awoke with my nose pressed into Gabe’s armpit. It wasn’t exactly the nicest way to start the day.

Maddy and Gabe, FAKING IT

I heard the scratch of Caleb’s lighter and found myself glaring at his lit cigarette with outright hatred. Everything in my wardrobe smelled like smoke; my hair smelled like smoke, even my skin seemed to be infused with the lingering effects of Marlboro’s, no matter how hard I scrubbed.

“That’s a disgusting habit,” I said, whipping the page of my book. He didn’t answer. I rolled my neck, trying to work out the kinks, but my annoyance only intensified as the seconds ticked by. When I looked up, he was engrossed in the pages before him, seemingly oblivious to my discomfort.

“I said—“

“I heard you,” Caleb said, flicking his ashes into the soda can he was using as an ashtray. That done, he took another long drag.

I bit my lip and fumed in silence. At least he had blown the smoke in the other direction.

Makenna and Caleb WALKING IN SHADOW

YOUR turn! Who's first? :)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Falling in Love

Close up of Bernini's sculpture, The Rape of Proserpina

Love is a strange bird. It sets off so many different emotions, it is nearly indefinable yet it is this basic human thing. We all love, or have the capacity to love. We all crave love.

On Friday, Susan talked about that all important first kiss. Sadly, it turns out that many of us didn’t have a good experience with our first kiss. Actually, I’m not surprised. Good kissing, well, it’s a skill, isn’t it? Like any skill, one must learn. Sure a lucky few drop right into it with no problem. But most of us need time. Which is why it is our second, fourth, or tenth kiss that really knocked our socks off. :)

Since it is Valentines Day, I thought I’d expand on Susan’s most excellent post. So what of love? Unlike kissing, it isn’t a skill that we need to learn. Or is it?

For those of you who have found love, did you know it when you saw it? How did you know that it was love?

For me, he was simply the person I wanted to be with above all others. When I realized that, it left me kind of breathless, and just a little bit freaked.

So what about you? Did love sneak up on you? Or did it hit you like a lightning bolt?

Friday, February 11, 2011

First Kiss

Kiss, by Francesco Hayez

Soul meets soul on lovers' lips.
~Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus Unbound

Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply
not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.
~Albert Einstein

A kiss that speaks volumes is seldom a first edition.
~Clare Whiting

A man's kiss is his signature.
~Mae West

Do you remember your first kiss? It's something most of us anticipated, but whether or not it lived up to our anticipation was another thing altogether.

I know my first kiss was nothing like those I'd read about. You know the type - spine-tingling, knee-knocking, world-spinning kisses of such passion and meaning that it leaves you breathlessly in love.

Mine was more of a "what the heck?" I did not find it romantic at all. It was artless and clumsy and disappointing. Thank God there were other boys and other kisses to come - sweetly anticipated kisses that carried me away.

Researchers at the University of Albany conducted a study about kissing and found that men view kissing as a means to an end, while women use kisses to monitor the status of the relationship and commitment. Men were happy having sex without kissing, while women were not, and beyond that, women were not as willing to have sex with a man who was not a good kisser. Clearly, kissing is important here guys. Good kissing, I should add.

In the spirit of St. Valentine's Day and with genuine desire to get to know our blog readers, I ask, what was your first kiss like? Was it everything you thought it would be?

Kiss and tell, if you dare. If you're too shy for that, consider sharing the first kiss between your characters. Think of it as trading virtual Valentine's Day cards.

May all your kisses be wonderful.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Take it easy

I'm a pretty patient person, being an archaeologist by training. You've gotta be to enjoy picking through hundreds of shards of pottery or glass or brick with a pair of tweezers. But while I'd like to think this extends to my driving, well... it probably doesn't. Okay, it really doesn't.

I concede, I get a little frustrated with peak hour traffic. Driving to and from work in the morning and afternoon, if I'm in a 60km/h zone, I want to be going at sixty. What is WITH these people driving at forty? Don't they have anywhere to BE? It's not like there's an actual traffic jam, it's like they forgot to wake up this morning! Just trundle, trundle, trundle. Seriously, people! MOVE!


I was cursing the driver in front of me yesterday when I had a bit of a zen moment about it all, and I realised it's not the traffic jam that frustrates me. It's the thwarting of my self-imposed desire to go at full speed. Self-imposed is the key word there. There's nothing I can do to fix the traffic- the only thing I *can* fix is my own attitude towards it.

As if it was some sort of sign, as I was in the middle of this epiphany, my favourite song of the moment, which is by now very closely linked with my thought process about my novel, came on the radio. I haven't heard it for weeks, and all of a sudden there it was.

I took a deep breath. I took my foot off the gas and gave the car in front of me a generous three more inches of distance. And I remembered that once upon a time, not so many months ago, I used to see my time in the car as a very good thing. It was thinking time. I went as slow as the traffic made me go, I didn't worry about it at all, and I was incredibly productive at working through sticky points in my plotting and characterisation. I was getting home and scribbling out new plot ideas, then I was going back to those later in the evening and writing hundreds of words.

These days? Life has never been so frantic, with more days at work, more responsibility, more charity commitments, and more demands from my two-year-old. I'm not thinking about writing at the moment. Like Rachel, it's off my radar. Something had to give, and that was it. But I'm not going to look at it as writer's block.

The point of all the above traffic discussion is that I realised I had my foot on the gas when it came to my writing, too. They say you should write every day, or you risk falling into the black hole in which Rach and I are both hanging out at the moment. But for me, that determination to fit it in, to shove it in whatever tiny space there was left in my day, was becoming so much pressure that the writing was suffering, and I wasn't enjoying it as much.

The thing is, I take breaks from my day job. I had a whole wonderful month off over Christmas, and I needed it. Sometimes, I need a break from this writing job, too. If I'm going to treat it as a career, that's not optional. The breaks have to happen, or the burnout comes along instead.

So. I'm giving myself permission to ease off the gas when it comes to my writing, and I'm not going to feel guilty about it. I'm going to take it slow again, enjoy the ability to relax, and I know that in very short order, life will settle down a little, and I'll be back to my best. In the meantime, I have plenty of time to ponder and muse and reconnect with my characters and their world on my long morning and afternoon commutes, and permission from myself to take little steps again instead of writing twenty or thirty thousand words a month and changing my core plot every few weeks. I predict I'll be much saner, and that my story will be much better for it, in the end.

So, tell me- how do you balance the stresses of work, life and writing? And do you write every day? If not, how do you keep it together?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Why Being Unpublished Is (sometimes) A Good Thing

Well, crap.

It’s happened. That thing that writers dread, that makes you cross yourself three times fast and throw salt over your shoulder and not step on pavement cracks in order to ward it off.

Road block. Big, fat, mental, writing road block.

I have not written, seriously written, since NaNo ended. Hardly any words at all this year - and we’re rapidly approaching the middle of February. It’s the longest break I’ve had from writing in ages. And still, I can’t write. I don’t even think about my WIP. Scarier still, I don’t feel like writing at all.

Yeah, cry me a river. I know this happens to nearly every writer. And I think I know what’s caused it. Life throwing many and varied forms of fertilizer at me the last couple of months hasn’t helped. But that’s not really it. Truth be told, I suspect my WIP has problems. Far too many plot balls in the air being one of them. Heck, I reckon anyone reading my story would get serious neck and eye strain trying to follow them all. Problem is, I haven’t had time to do what I need to begin to fix this – just think. Long and hard. Difficult to do when the air is full of bull dust.

And still, I’m not writing. And the longer I spend away from my story, the more I fear I’m lost for good. Back when I was writing regularly I was Gretel, throwing out the breadcrumb trail of my story every day for me to pick up and follow on the next; only now, I turn around and find that greedy pig Hansel has scoffed the lot behind my back.

But today, in the midst of this fug, I was hit with a bit of perspective.

I’m actually lucky.

(Yeah, yeah, I’m one of those annoying “look for the silver lining” types. So sue me.)

Why am I lucky?

Because I’m unpublished. And right now, that means I have many luxuries that published and contracted writers don’t have.

I have plenty of room to make major stuff ups with no dire consequences. Plenty of time to hone my craft. Plenty of time to learn, learn, learn all I can about writing and the biz of publishing without the pressure of a deadline breathing down my neck.

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, as the saying goes.

So really, I just need to harden up and Just.Write. But I know it won’t be that simple. A little mind-game playing will be called for if I’m going to kick start my writing. Like …working on a scene that is purely backstory, won’t ever appear in my book, but nevertheless will help me get a handle on some of my MCs deeper motivations. Writing a scene that won’t ever be read by another human being = no pressure. Oh, I like it. I may even man up and start that tomorrow.

Of course, there is still the little matter of needing to undertake some major plot surgery. Amputation, specifically. For that, I also need to get tough. See, my husband gave me a wonderful present for my birthday in November – a voucher entitling me to a child and husband-free break - thirty-two hours of peace and quiet, to be exact (why thirty-two? Your guess is as good as mine, bless his heart.)

However, he was (understandably) a little vague as to when, exactly, he would take all three little demons away for some quality time with their father, and this promised sanity break has not yet happened. Time to call his bluff and call the sucker in, I say. *cracks knuckles*

So. Perspective. Don't rue the fact you're far from being published (well, not too much.) It simply means you have more time to practise, more time to learn by trial and error without the world ending, more time to get things right.

OK. I think I can breathe again ...

Monday, February 7, 2011


This is going to be a short post -- I apologize. The reasons are numerous, but first and foremost, my laptop caught a fairly horrendous virus this weekend. I'm trying not to freak out about this, as intellectually I know most, if not all of my work, is backed up on various external hard drives/usb keys, etc. That said, I'm STILL a bit freaked out by the idea of having lost even the smallest bit of my most recent revisions or what not. It's crazy scary having this happen. I know it occurs all the time, but you're never truly prepared for it to happen to YOU. It's always someone else, right? LOL.

Well, not this time. Sigh!

I'm coming to you tonight from my old laptop -- a complete POS that barely runs. I'm kind of scared it's going to crap out mid-post, atually. (g) It takes forever to boot, a million years to pull up a webpage, and I can just forget about catching a rerun of the latest superbowl commercials/star-spangled banner flubs. (How cute was the Darth Vader kid?!?)

Anyway, just a short PSA to remind everyone...BACK UP YOUR WORK. Do it. Do it now. :) Let yourself have that nice little cushion of knowing, hey, if my computer craps out tonight, I still have all of my files safe and sound some place else. It will be a HUGE load off... Maybe not the ENTIRE load...but a good ole' chunk of it. Promise.

That said, I'm taking my computer into the shop this week... Here's hoping some computer guru can swoop in and save my ass. (g) For now, I'm trying to figure out how to get some work done on my revisions. I'm just now realizing I have the old Word on this computer... and my files are under the newer version. Hell. LOL. Well, guess I'll jump in and see what happens. LOL. Maybe it's time to revert back to pen and paper. (g)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Second Writers' Platform-Building Crusade

Through the joy of social networking on Facebook, I've just heard about Rachael Harrie's Second Writers' Platform-Building Crusade, and I've joined up.

It's all about networking out there on the world wide web, and connecting to the collective masses of writers who blog. Rachael will collect the details of those who want in on the Crusade, and group them up. After that, it sounds pretty simple- hie thee out there and network with your group of fellow Crusaders, helping each other out by reading, commenting and recommending these blogs.

So, if you're a writer who blogs, and you want to connect with others and build your online platform, get over to Rachael's blog and check it out, here.

I think it's an awesome idea, and I'm looking forward to finding new people to share this journey with.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Never-Ending Story

This might be the definition of my own manuscript. Will I ever finish it?

Acutally, I want to explore a concept I recently hit upon while reading more of John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story.

His definition of The Never-Ending Story is quite different and I like it. It struck a chord and I’ve been mulling over it for quite a while now. The Never-Ending Story is a story that is so memorable that it continues long after the last words are written by the author and read by the reader. It’s a living, breathing thing.

I’ve known stories like that and I’m sure you have too. If we’re lucky, we have a handful of books, maybe our favorites, that continue to live in our imaginations.

What makes a story last beyond the final pages? What makes it endure in the hearts and minds of readers? Why do some stories end with a satisfying conclusion and then become forgettable and some end the same way, satisfyingly, gratifyingly good, but continue to capture our imaginations?

I want my own story to do that, to live on and not just give the reader a good read. (Er… I want it to be a good read, too. I certainly don’t want it to live on forever in infamy.)

First, Truby explains to writers what not to do. He gives three reasons why some stories have what he calls a “false” ending. False endings close the story. Shut it down.

The first false ending is a premature ending. This occurs for several reasons and sounds self-explanatory. The writer has somehow managed to give the story an ending too soon. This might happen with an early self-revelation. Once the hero has his big self-revelation, everything else is anti-climatic. Another might be that the hero achieves his desire too soon. And another cause is when a character takes an action that is not believable. This happens mainly when the author is stuck and needs her character to act a certain way (disregarding the true colors of her character), and subsequently causing the reader to jolt right out of the story. All of these are examples of a premature ending.

The second reason a story may end prematurely is because it arbitrarily ends. Truby writes that these endings are the result of inorganic plots in which the reader doesn’t get the sense of anything happening, or developing. The author resorts to using coincidence or deus ex machina to end the story.

The last reason for premature endings is the closed ending. The hero has accomplished his goals, obtained his desire, experienced a self-revelation and all is tidily wrapped up in a satisfying conclusion. End of game. The reader is convinced that the story is complete.

So how does a writer create that Never-Ending Story? It’s very simple, really. In true life, desire never ends. As Truby says, “Equilibrium is temporary. The self-revelation is never simple and it cannot guarantee the hero a satisfying life from that day forward.”

The most straightforward method of creating a Never-Ending Story is pure genius: introduce a new reveal. Immediately after obtaining your story’s equilibrium, tip it over with one last surprise. Shake up the reader’s sense of reality so that they mentally go back through the story, looking for new clues, searching for that new reality that has suddenly been thrust upon them. Truby says the story becomes an endless cycle as the reader constantly rethinks it in light of the newest reveal.

Most important to a Never-Ending Story, a story that readers experience differently each time they read it, is that every part of the story be “woven into a complex tapestry of character, plot, theme, symbol, scene and dialogue.” Easy, right?

So there it is, in a nutshell. If you want to know more, I recommend Truby’s book, The Anatomy of Story. He gives a wonderful list of elements you can use to create "infinite story tapestry" that I won't go into here.

I’m no where near writing the end of my story, but I’m fascinated by this concept of The Never-Ending Story. I plan to weave my own complex tapestry as I go, and to keep in mind that in my hero’s experience, equilibrium constantly shifts, just as it does in real life.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Most Annoying Post Ever!

Because it's Thursday and I'm going crazy (don't ask why, I just am). Because the ice and snow has me housebound. Because I want to share the love. (g)

Love to all. :)