Archive for January, 2013

I’m a nice guy. I like fuzzy critters, love my wife, and get all squishy when I think of my first child who is on the way. I can watch a Disney flick and feel uplifted or a comedy and laugh. Friends are awesome, and I live for a good hug.

But I have a dark side.

Despite my sweet disposition, I’ve always been pulled toward the shadowy, lurid, and nasty in literature. Don’t ask me where my fascination with the horrific comes from because I can’t tell you. I do know it’s been there as long as I can remember. My favorite book as a child, the one that now haunts me in implication, was an obscure Dr. Seuss with a melodramatic black and red cover. The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins is a simple story really. A poor boy in a long ago kingdom must remove his hat in respect for the king. Unfortunately, every time he takes his hat off another appears on his head. Well, there’s a serious downside for young Bartholomew. People who don’t remove their hats for the king get their heads chopped off. Green Eggs and Ham it ain’t. Why was I drawn to such a dark tale? I don’t know. My attraction just is.

Now, the biggest problem with loving horror is that most people don’t. They wonder why you want to feel bad when you read. Or they think you perverse as they imagine you entertained by death and gore in the same way they are entertained by American Idol.  Being a horror junkie is right next to porn perv on many people’s list of, “What the heck is wrong with you?” It can really get a gorehound down.

With reading, it’s not a huge problem. Reading is private. Reading is safe. When I’m asked about the nature of the book in my hand, a simple, “It’s horror,” is enough to send the majority of folks on their way with just a vague feeling of unease. And if they stay? Well then, they’re probably my people. They’ll get why I keep a list of the best, most awful books I’ve ever read (Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door tops it, by the way). The point is, when reading there’s only minor risk of judgment.

Writing is a whole different animal.

Your writing marks you in a way that reading does not. The words on the page are yours. They are fed by your experience, cobbled together in your mind, depend on your fingers for their existence. Yours. And when people judge it, they point a finger squarely at you. When I present images of torn panties and severed heads, strangled pets and devoured infants, incestuous mothers and child beating babysitters, well, I’m forced to own them. And there is risk in that. People conflate artist and art. Sick art means a sick mind, and illness makes many close the door. When I present my work I tend to wonder, “What must they think of me?”

But here’s the thing. Not everyone sees the art as sick, twisted, and wrong. I’ve had the same depiction of sexual assault derided as disgusting fantasy and praised as aggressively feminist, and I’ve had the same gore soaked scene called excessive and tame.

And therein lies safety.

Art only belongs to the artist until the moment it’s released to the world. From that point on, it belongs to the audience. It doesn’t matter if I intended a tale of bloody infanticide to create rumination on the nature of evil or just to shock the hell out of people. Once the audience has it, the rumination is theirs, the shock is theirs, the judgment is theirs. If they think your work is brilliant it’s because it appeals to something in their head, their heart. Alternatively, it’s their sense of perversity that makes your story excessive, not your excess as an artist. People may be angry at your story and furious at you for writing it, but that affront is their responsibility. The writer generates. Interpretation belongs to the audience.

So, here’s my advice on the choice to write extreme fiction. Be a channel for the stories that choose you as parent and stay secure in your own sense of who you are and what you intend. If you think you’re the next Richard Laymon, go for it. Forget about judgment. It’s out of your hands.

A while back, Steve Yeager provided some superb advice on how to accept the critiques of your peers (Accepting Critiques with Grace) but what I would like to present is this: where do you draw the line in accepting feedback and sticking with your instinct?

I’ve been with Stonehenge for little over a year, and I have grown so much as a writer due to the feedback of this group, which ranges in age, genre, and perspective. If you are lucky enough to find a spectacular gang of writer’s, you cannot argue the benefits of seeing things from people who are not family or friends. But even then, you may not agree with all points of view or you may. Ultimately, it is up to the writer how they effect change within their story based on feedback.

For the sake of argument, let us say, out of ten people reading your work, all ten provide outstanding advice. Should you implement every change offered? Does the story remain yours? Or do you filter through the ideas and use them, tweak them, or disregard them?

I would like to share a quote from a writer, both lyrical, literature, and screenplay, who has had a profound influence on my life, Mr. Nick Cave: “All of the great works of art, it seems to me, are the ones that have a total disregard for anything else; just a total egotistical self-indulgence.”

I’m in no way saying don’t listen to any feedback or advice, but Cave brings up a valid point to consider. Many of the changes to my novel, which really spiced it up, have come from outside perspectives. But there comes a point when you need to trust your instincts, speak to your own heart and purpose, and soar with your own wings. A sentence may not be grammatically correct, or may have odd word choices, but it really has soul and meaning, to you, and everyone says change it. Do you? Or do you stick with your guns?

A writer’s group, select group of friends, or any other form of critique group will very much help you get to a higher echelon of writing, or art, and what I ask is, are you creating for you or others? Like any form of art, it takes years of discipline and practice to fine tune your style, and in the same arena, you must develop your own ear and instinct for feedback. Regardless of which methods you choose, always remain true to yourself, but always approach everything with an open heart, an open mind, and the rest will come…

Building Character

Posted: January 19, 2013 by jennyleelee in Jenny's Words
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I was watching a movie with my daughter the other day and she turns to inform me that the villain in the plot was not nice and needed a time out. It occurred to me that my two and a half year old knew what behavior was acceptable, and what behavior warranted some “thinking time,” which ultimately tells me that we are wired to respond to the character of a person without realizing that we are responding to it. Which, of course, makes me really watch my own behavior as much as I possibly can because it’s not what I say that she’ll remember, but what I do in spite of my words.

Physical actions of character often dictate the inner qualities of a person. If I see a teenager open a door for an elderly couple, I automatically perceive the teenager as a thoughtful person. If I see a man and a woman holding hands and leaning into each other, I automatically perceive love and devotion.  If I see a kid breaking all things around him, I begin to wonder about the hurt that might fueling the wreckage.

It doesn’t take much to show character in real life–we do it without thinking–but in writing, it is a real challenge.

I love to read. I love the ability to leave my world and find myself in a place with someone else, to watch the world develop through their eyes. But, I absolutely hate it when an author describes what the character is feeling by nudging me and blatantly saying, “She is sad because the glass broke.” I would much rather see how the sadness creeps up over the person, and what that person fixates on during the emotion. Does the character cry? Does she hold back the tears? Does her body tremble? Do her ears pop? The point is that character is something that is demonstrated, not something that is told.

Building character within a person takes experiences and actions–the same goes with people in our stories. Give the characters a chance to breathe, to grow within their choices, to achieve some goals, and to fail to reach others. Give them life and have them react to the world that you’ve created for them. Maybe even have the same scenario for different characters, and watch how they react differently because of their own personal character traits.

My daughter’s wide eyes and enthusiasm for trying everything around her reminds me that character is more than just words and intentions, it’s what we do that really makes a person matter to everyone else. After all, communication of character is never about what a person promises, but what he follows through on.

As an artist, I have always struggled with the will of motivation. Keeping myself inspired to create, and it has never been an easy task. I have moved from drawing, painting, photography, and now writing. The desire is never a problem, nor the imagination, nor the ideas, but the drive is missing. I’m in the car, the motor is on, and I’m not pressing the gas– green lights all the way– no follow through. And this is the curse of Prometheus’s Fire.

As usual to the human condition, I have forgotten one of the highest lessons: All things begin with choice. There is nothing holding me back except myself. We’ve all heard this, ad nauseam, but it is said for a reason. So, the time has come to silence the world around me, set every tiny distraction aside, and look at the choices in my life. And what do I see? Creation. I am a creator. It is my purpose, my design, my everything. This above all, I must keep in the forefront of my mind.

And to keep the writing and editing process fresh, I have experimented with a new device. Something to hold writer’s block at bay, which is really an excuse for procrastination. I write parodies of my own work, sort of literary gag reels. So, I present an excerpt from the novel I am working on, The Etherium:

Harkin approached the sorcerer– cowled in black, silver pages cycled through the air with an incandescent glow, the dark figure paid no attention.

“You there!” Harkin’s blood-shot eyes focused on two blurry images of the man. “You’re coming with me.” Attempting to place the edge of his axe on the table to emphasize threat, he missed the edge, swayed, and with drunken balance, the heavy blade crashed to the floor. Harkin fell face forward into the table. The cracking of wood echoed about the tavern–

“Oh, for the love of God!” The man in black stood from his table, throwing back his hood.

“Cut, cut!” The director rubbed at his furrowed brow.

Hands entagled with the silver pages suspended from thin wires, thrashing about, the man in black ripped them from the ceiling. “I have had enough of this! This man cannot get his lines or rhythm right. I’ll be in my trailer.”

“No, no, no…” The director raced after his star. “Karl, please babe. Come back. We’ll get someone else.”

“I’m done!” Karl slammed the studio door open and headed towards his private sanctuary. “Should have stayed in Wellington…”

Hope you enjoyed! Remember, life is absurd, and we should never take anything too seriously. Even ourselves.

Motivation

Posted: January 16, 2013 by K D Blakely in Karen's Words

So, I’ve seen a number of posts lately asking how to keep yourself motivated as a writer, and thought I’d share what has worked for me.

The famous (infamous?) “THEY” like to say writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.  There are times when it feels closer to 5%/95%.  I think we all live for that 5%-10%.  When inspriation hits, your fingers seem to dance over the keys.  No matter how long you type, you don’t feel aches in your arms or shoulders.  Words flow, and you can feel the scene/chapter/book, taking shape under your hands.  It’s like you could write forever.  I call it a writer’s high.  It makes you want to kick up your heels:

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Sadly, inspiration doesn’t come very often.

Since inspiration is rare, motivation is what you need to keep yourself going.

So how do you get it?

For me, there’s two types of motivation (though I’m sure others could add several more):

1) The first draft

There are terrifying days/weeks when the creativity muse goes on vacation, and you sit staring at the computer. I swear you can actually hear your cursor taunting you. “See?  See?  You’re not a writer.  You got nothing.  You’re a waste of computer space.  Why don’t you go do something constructive, like clean the cat box.”  It’s like a horror movie – the cursor is becoming a thing of evil, growing larger and more cruel by the minute.  (Maybe there’s a story there…)

Your brain feels paralyzed.  Your fingers feel like lead weights at the end of your arms.  The blank page stares back at you accusingly.

Okay, some of that may be overly dramatic…

But you do feel totally blocked:

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So what do you do when that happens?  I’ve found one thing that works for me.

I write.

I don’t worry about full sentences or punctuation.  I don’t worry about complete thoughts.  I don’t worry about the words I use.  I just start putting something story related on the page.  I find it’s usually (not always, but often enough) like priming a pump.  Once words start going on the page, the cursor shrinks back to normal and ideas start to come in fits and starts.  It’s not like when you’re inspired – you have to work at it, but usually ideas will come.

Also, I find it often helps when I listen to music that fits with the scene I’m trying to write.

2) SECOND, Third, fourth… tenth… … … Drafts

I find that the re-write process can make you wonder if you are suffering from a multiple personality disorder.  Sometimes, you start working on a section and suddenly you know how to fix a stumbling block in the plot, or a way to really bring your character to life.  Your fingers fly as you make corrections and tweaks and even major changes, and you know in every fiber of your being that  It  Is  Going  To  Work!   (Good thing I live alone.  No one questions when I let out a giddy burst of relieved laughter.)

Unfortunately, most of the rewrite process is Tedious.  That’s capital T – Tedious, as in:

Technical (punctuation, grammer, checking details to make sure you haven’t changed someone’s shirt or hair color in the middle of a scene, etc.)

Frustrating (“You mean I have to delete that whole %$&#*@! chapter?  Are you kidding me?”)   –  Yes, writing can make you argue with yourself.

Dull (“I’ve re-done this part five times already.  It’s just not working!”)

I could keep going, but you get the idea.  Sometimes a re-write is a fight from start to finish:

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So, how can you make yourself keep (voluntarily, knowingly, willingly) sitting down and torturing yourself?  The only thing that has worked for me is to establish a strict timeline once the first draft is done.

I start with the date I’d like to publish the book (or the date you want to submit your book for you non-indie writers).  Make it reasonable but something that will require you to push yourself.  Then work backwards.  For example:  2 weeks back to start the final draft, 4 weeks back from that to give it to beta readers, 3 weeks back from that for each draft numbered 3 or higher, 6 weeks back from that to start your second draft…

Better get started, you’re going to publish/submit it in 15 (+/-) weeks!  (By the way, those are my numbers.  Depending on the number of words in your book, how much time you can spend writing, and how fast you type, you’ll need to adjust the number of weeks in each phase to best suit you.)

The key is not to treat those as soft dates.

Don’t make them “I’ll try to get it done” dates.  Or “I’ll try my best to make it work” dates.  You must channel your inner Yoda:  Do or do not.  There is no try.

If necessary, design a penalty you will not like for every day you miss a deadline.  And tell people you know who will make you stick to your word if you do miss any of your deadlines.  That way you won’t be tempted to cheat when it gets hard.

Because when there’s a hard and fast deadline staring you in the face, and you really want to get your book out there, and you’ve got some nasty penalty planned if you don’t make your deadline, you will be far more motivated than you ever thought possible.

Mind you, I cursed, bitched, and moaned most of the time I spent in re-writes.  My fingers got sore because I was pounding on the keys in frustration as I typed (thank you ASUS for your excellent computer construction).  I sometimes got a headache from grinding my teeth (my dentist is not going to be happy).  I sometimes had to say no to things I wanted to do, because I’d procrastinated and was in danger of missing a deadline.  And some days, I had to stay up really late to stay on schedule.

But I stuck to it.

And I published my book on the date I set on my timeline!

I know me – I’d still be talking about writing my book if I hadn’t set those deadlines…

 

So, have you found ways to help keep yourself motivated?  Let us know.

Okay, maybe not a village, but it takes more than an individual. Or it should.

Yes, one person can write a story all on their own, but it’s foolish to think that they can get a decent finished book to print without any assistance.

Thanks to modern technology and the advent of vanity press, on demand printing, and ebooks, anyone can put their works out into the aether. However, this doesn’t mean that they immediately should once they’ve finished their 60,000+ word book. Traditional publishing can, and often does, take a year or two from the date the publisher says “Yes, we’ll publish you,” before the world sees you’re heart and soul laid bare on the page. During this time a team of people are being employed to make your book as best as possible. Hopefully. There’s agents, editors, copyeditors, cover designers, a marketing team, and many others you may never meet.

In my opinion there’s one more group of people that are essential. Beta readers. These are the first people who will see you’re work. They are your test audience to gauge how strong your story is and if there are any glaring errors in character and plot. The beauty of beta readers is that they can be employed at various stages in the writing process, whether or not you’re self-publishing or going the traditional route.

One of the issues I had when I started writing was that I was grossly mistaken in thinking I could write something worthy of print on the first go around. I figured that editors and others could fix whatever issues arose, if there even were any. One of my idols is Robert Heinlein, and one of my favorite stories is The Door Into Summer. It took him only 13 days to write and had very little editing. Granted it is one of his shorter works, but still, to have that skill. While I still hope to one day accomplish such a feat, I now realize how foolish I was to think I was at that level.

Writing is like any other art form. While there are those who will find they have a great knack for it, it still requires great amounts of time and dedication to become the best you can be. The beauty I find in writing is that it doesn’t have to be a solitary journey. You can get feedback along the way. The key is finding the right people who will assist you. You may have had people who’ve said you should write a story, but you should take a step back and ask yourself if you’re willing to do what is necessary, and if they actually mean it. Are they saying it out of politeness and just because you’re friends?

When it comes to finding beta readers you need to be subjective. Don’t just find people who will fan the flames of your ego and lead you into delusion. This is where a writing group can come in handy. If you can find the right one. There needs to be the right balance of ego stroking and constructive criticism.

Writing a book can be a traumatic experience as it is akin to baring your heart and soul to people you will never know. It can be crushing when someone says they don’t like your work, because it feels like they’re saying they don’t like you. Of course pleasing everyone is impossible and shouldn’t be your intention. There will inevitably be people who won’t like what you’ve written, but if you’ve done all that you can to write the best book possible, people who do like it should outweigh these mistaken fools.

In closing, I want to talk about the evolution of storytelling. Before written language we had speech, and I’m certain telling stories has been around almost as long. Without the written word these stories were passed down from one generation to the next verbally, and most assuredly changed and evolved in the process. If you’ve ever played the game telephone you’ll understand. In a way I think of beta readers as the evolution of this process, allowing the original author to tell a tale, get input from others, and then finish the tale while maintaining overall creative control, to an extent. Thanks to the internet and dedicated fans we now have fan fiction galore which carries on this ancient tradition.

There is also the creative commons licensing route in which the author grants others the right to adapt and alter their work legally. It’s a route I intend to explore with a couple stories in mind. One of my favorite actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt is leading the way and has created an online creative commons group, hitRECord,to explore all artistic endeavors. I highly suggest you give it a look.

So, it may not take a village to write a story, but it should be a journey shared with others.

I have heard this so many times, and I have been determined that I do just that.  I put so much of my time and energy into crafting the societies, history, culture, and setting to my world that I knew I wrote what I loved.

I have the great privilege of working in a bookstore, now, and I love talking books with my  customers. We talked about authors and books at great length;  from Garcia to Bronte and the Illiad to McKinley. I have had some pretty awesome conversations.

I found myself talking to a person once, however, a week or so ago about my favorite fantasy novels. I told this customer that they all have a hint at mythology and folklore.  I like being in on the joke because I’m well read in legend and myth. It gives me respect for the author, and lets me know that he/she has done their research, and has the same interests I do.  I like it when authors acknowledge that that is the root of the genre.

Now, I’ve met people who disagreed and traced the genre through the literary tradition and so on and so forth.  But, to me, we are drawing from folklore. That doesn’t mean that my novel will hold a candle to the Monkey King stories or the Ulster Cycle, but I draw inspiration as much from those tales as from other fantasy and science fiction novels.

That made me think though, how much of my love of myth do I weave into my fiction?

The plots are old, drawn from a time when high fantasy and sword and sorcery held my attention.  But when I speak of why I like Tad Williams’ epics it’s because they’re fairy stories.  I like McKillip because her novels are evocative of Celtic or Medieval tales.

I like Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series because she draws on Celtic and Native American myth and weaves them with vampires and werewolves, a nod to modern trends and ancient heroes all at once.

I suppose my most recent writing has developed this flavor, but I think that while I am committing to finishing the novel this year, I should commit to changing it to reflect my aesthetic.  I have spent so much time developing the back story, the characters, but not so much on the areas I actually pick up a book for. I love a well developed world, but i have become pickier, I suppose.  So too, should I be with my writing. I need to give them life through a connection to our past.  Even if it is only a literary one.

Then I will know, without a doubt, that I am writing what I love to  read.

And we really should all write what we love to read…

 

In the many Facebook wall posts, individual blog entries and Meet-up discussions I’ve seen in the short time since the New Year began, I’ve noticed a theme among all of them; “I need to start writing again” or  “I can’t find my motivation,” or “I just have to force myself to write.”

I too have felt the burning desire to get back to writing and, have also experienced the disappointment of not being able to get rolling the way I want to. Rather than disappoint myself into defeat by cracking the whip on my own back, or by setting unattainable goals, I decided to take a step back and just allow myself to grow naturally.

It all started with the first step – deciding which of the three stories that I am currently developing to start with. This in itself may not be an easy choice for some. I decided to work on the rewrite of my completed Erotic Romance novella. I had finished the first draft back in July and have recently received some feedback on the first two chapters from members of Stonehenge, my  Meet-upTM writer’s group, so I felt it was the story that I had the best chance of doing anything with successfully.

The second step was what many folk are having a difficult time with right now. Finding time. I found some time, one hour every morning where I had no distractions, no interruptions and a quiet atmosphere to work in. So I began the rewrite. It wasn’t a very large block of time, but it was something.

The first day I produced a paltry 374 words in that hour. Oh – whoopee! Atta-boy David! You’ve got a good first paragraph (exaggeration – it was really about 5 paragraphs). Needless to say, I was less than exuberant with my results. But then I just had to tell myself that it was a step forward. It was progress after all. Why berate myself on not being able to pen half a book in one hour? It was a success!

Day two was much better. In that one hour window, I had added to my initial 374 words to reach 1100.  Still not a big leap forward but forward progress nonetheless.

Day three I broke 1000 new words in one hour. That was a lot! I was quite proud of myself for the first time since I did 8000 words in one day when finishing the first draft. I looked forward to the next day’s hour with great expectations.

Day four – another 1000 word hour and the story was actually flowing nicely as well. Realizing that my efforts weren’t just creating dribble, that one thousand words in an hour made me feel very good about myself. Again, I looked forward to the next day.

Day five, six and seven have all seen 1000+ word days in that one hour window of opportunity. Something is happening. I’m writing! How can this be? I didn’t even feel stressed or hurried over the past week. I’ve actually got something on paper (well, pixels at least) and it wasn’t the drudgery that I thought it would be. I sort of forgot that I had to write and just wrote.

That’s the trick. Stop telling yourself that you have to write, like it’s a job. Most of us are still doing this as a “hobby” in conjunction with our real jobs, so why make it a task when it should be fun?

Taking that one step further – why feel the need to sit and write for hours on end? Write when it feels good and for as long as it feels good and the work flows. When you hit a hurdle, pause for a moment and try to think it through. If the answer doesn’t come immediately to you, put it down and go do something else. I have found that in working this way, I get through stumbling blocks much easier than I used to. When you are in the heat of the moment, and you come upon a problem, one part of your mind is saying “screw it! I have to get this other information down” while another part fights the first and says, “No! We must solve this problem first BEFORE we go on. The fate of the free world depends on it!”

Both are right to some degree, and if you can skip ahead and continue writing then come back to whatever is hanging you up, then go for it. I have the tendency to get marred down in trying to solve a problem, the result of which is I get frustrated, angry, disenchanted and begin second guessing everything about my story. I get stuck in other words. No one likes that feeling and it is probably why many of us find it difficult to get started after a break. We don’t want to feel that way.

The baby step approach I’ve been describing above has helped me find my groove. I work, not expecting much, but end up achieving a lot. When I feel good, I write. When I am stuck, I walk away and think about it. Usually, I can work through my problems and at the next one-hour writing window, I can implement changes and move on, many time still achieving a 1000 word hour. But the most important thing that helps me maintain this one-hour-a-day schedule is that I feel good and am looking forward to writing. If you can’t feel good about what you’re writing, or even look forward to your writing time with enthusiasm – what’s the point? There’s enough stress dumped on you by life, why dump more needlessly?

I don’t even pretend to assume this method will work for everyone, but it’s working for me right now. So much, in fact, that I’m inspired to share my workflow with the hope that I might be able to help or inspire someone who’s experiencing the same difficulties in finding their happy place.

If you find this has helped you, let me know. If you have a method you find helps you get through the muddy trail, share it here. You might just help me or someone else in the process.

 

Happy writing.

Whether you write in Fantasy, Romance, Science Fiction, YA, Erotica, Literary Fiction, Horror, or in any other genre, your world shows us your reality.  Some stories require little world development, (as earth already exists).  However, others require a great deal of thought and imagination.  But whatever story you choose to write, make your world a character.

WorldCharacters.  This main element keeps me flipping the pages of any great novel.  I love experiencing life from inside characters’ minds.  It keeps me on my toes, allows me to feel what they feel, hurt when they hurt, love when they love, and hate when they hate.  Writing from a POV (Point of View) is an incredibly valuable tool to develop.  But what does this have to do with the setting – the world?

Well, how do we experience life but through our senses?  Sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.  And let’s not forget what emotions these senses evoke, the reactions they elicit.  Setting can create tension, complement the mood of the scene, add dangers and surprises to the story, and most of all – can interact with the characters.

Imagine a world without weather – a world neither cold nor hot.  A world without sunlight or darkness – without homes, jungles, mountains, beauty, or horrors.  A world we couldn’t interact with.  If we could imagine such an “environment,” it would be a pretty boring place to live.

The setting of a story allows us a unique opportunity to exaggerate real life, show emotion through a storm, torment our characters, and experience beauty of the impossible.  You might already have a great story with interesting character arcs, a tight 3 act structure, and an awesome beginning and end, but if you don’t have a developed setting, you are missing out on a wonderful opportunity for exploration and experience.

One question I ask myself after creating a new world from scratch is:  How much of this should I show in my story?  The answer?  If you’ve done your homework – created fascinating countries and cities with rich history, know the evolution of your plant life and beasts, generated interesting cultures, wars, literature, languages, games, not to mention weather, magic (if necessary), oceans, and naming conventions – do NOT include all of this in your story.  Show only about 1%.  It isn’t possible to include everything, and if you try, your story will turn out heavy and boring.  Fiction is neither the place nor time for telling.  Take a college class or read some non-fiction.

Instead, show.  Don’t tell.  Let us experience and interact with this fascinating world through the characters’ senses.  Don’t tell us of the history of an ancient palace.  Instead, let your character’s hands run over the rough cracks and ancient carvings.  Let us smell the dust in a cellar that hasn’t seen the light of day for a century.  Let us taste the sweet fruit that exists only in your imagination.  Let us fear as your unique beasts threaten us, as your storms thwart us, as your prisons break us.  Let us fall in love with the colors of your mountains, the smells of your food…  The point is, show us the story that exists in your world – don’t tell us of the world itself.

Once you have developed your world, your characters’ interactions will become richer, the plot more interesting, the arcs more tense.  And if your story doesn’t require world-building, still, let the characters interact with the environment.  If we’re in a cafe, I want to know what the coffee tastes like and if its raining outside.  Show me an argument on the streets, subtle looks of passersby, the discomfort of a three-legged chair, the annoyance of being seated beneath a fan on a cold day.  The richness of your setting allows you to show the personalities of your characters, allows them to interact more freely, and creates a more realistic impression on the reader.

So make that setting a character!  Experiment.  Let your surroundings inspire your imagination.  Both most of all, have fun doing it!  The more fun you have, the more you fall in love with your story, and the more involved you are with your characters, the better the reactions of your readers.  They will love you what you love, hate what you hate, smile when you smile, and cry when you cry.

To become a better writer, I am challenging myself to become a better reader. In the past, my reading time was limited between my son’s at-bats during his little league games and waiting in the car to pick my daughter up from band practice. So you can imagine that not a lot of books were completed. This year, I resolve to change that. Now, I’m not going to promise to read 100 books, or even one a week. I gotta have some time to take care of my three kids and write my next novel, Lip Smacked. But reading for an hour before bed every night is a realistic goal I can achieve. Whether I read a YA urban fantasy, books on writing or tackling a classic, I will read every day. And some time during the year, I will finish reading The Count of Monte Cristo because according to Matt and Kody, it’s freaking awesome! Yeah, we’ll see._48034224_neilgaiman

In addition, I’d also like to read all of Neil Gaiman’s books. Why Neil Gaiman, you ask? Because he’s hot and looks like he could be Severus Snape’s younger brother. (And if you don’t know who Severus Snape is, I really feel sorry for you.) Plus, Neil’s just an all-around cool guy. Right now, I’m reading Coraline to my five-year-old daughter, Angela, so that will soon be crossed off the list.

What are you planning to read this year?