Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sweating the Pitch

Weather Check: It's snowing. Wait, it's sunny. Wait, it's snowing. Wait, it's sunny. Wait...

So, I have my first live pitch scheduled this week. Yikes.

I met up with my niece today at the bike store and she asked me what my new book was about. By the time I got halfway through three sentences I was rolling on the floor laughing. Yes, people in the bike store were staring.

When I tell people what my book is "about," it does sound a little silly. But I promise it's very good! :)

Guess I better keep working on it. The pitch, I mean. The story is perfect....

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Don't Let Your Protagonist Be a Loser

Currently Reading: "Book of a Thousand Days" (again) by Shannon Hale. Actually, just finished it yesterday but I'm still basking in it's glory.  

When I read a book, I want a main character I can like and relate to, at least in some way. But occasionally I come across a protag who is so completely unlikeable that the whole book/movie/TV show is ruined. See my previous post for an example.

So, as promised, here is the definitive list of what makes a protagonist likeable or hateable.*  Obviously, there are a lot of gray areas and overlapping traits. And a protag need not have ALL of these to be successful, but it's good food for thought.


-A desire to do what's right even though they make many mistakes. Which also requires a basic knowledge of right and wrong. They have to recognize their own mistakes.

-Some level of underlying kindness or humanity.

-Have a backbone or spirit, even if it takes a while to reveal itself. Someone who, in the end, is able to rise to the challenge.

-Tend to be true to themselves, even if finding their way there is a long and winding road.

-Sense of humor. Every reader wants to smile occasionally.

-Some level of vulnerability. Too perfect and the reader can't relate to them.

-Depth, they can't be one dimensional or they are boring. I want to know what goes on beneath their public face.

-Have intelligence or curiosity. Not that they have to be Einstein--there are MANY other kinds of intelligence besides book-smarts or scientific genius!

-They must be written well enough that the reader is able to sympathize with them and care about them. If not, there's no point in reading the book.

Hateable  And I'm NOT talking about the antagonist or villain, but the main character.

-So completely selfish that they do whatever they want to get what they want with no thought of how it might affect others.

-Involved in a wishy-washy love triangle. A girl loves Boy A but then meets Boy B and then drags both boys along forever because she can't make up her fragile mind. And what guy worth having would put up with that?

-Underlying cruelty.

-Self-absorbed and overly whiny. Everyone has problems, and the protag better have some too or where's the story? But too much indulgence in self-pity is a turn off.

-No sense of priorities based on a moral code. Not everyone shares the same moral code, but a protag with ALL the wrong priorities is hard to like.

This is the list I came up with. What are some characteristics that make you love or hate a protagonist? Who are some protagonists that you love or hate?

*Based completely on my own opinion.   :)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hate is a Four Letter Word

Weather Check: Nice and rainy. Too bad I can't stay home and write today.

Quote of the day:  "I before except after C, and when sounding like A and in neighbor and weigh, and on weekends and holidays and all throughout May, and you'll always be wrong no matter what you say!" ~Brian Reagen

I watched a movie recently with a main character so self absorbed and self pitying I could barely make it through the film. She had a great husband and nice friends who loved her and wanted her to be happy, but she couldn't find inner peace and balance. So, she breaks her husband's heart by divorcing him to go in search of herself.

After traveling the world on a trip of selfish indulgence, she finally learns the great lesson in life--sometimes you have to lose balance to find balance. Suddenly, she is now capable of love. Whaaaat?

I kept waiting for her to have a change of heart and really learn something about priorities and happiness, especially when she sees kids eating garbage out of the gutter in a third-world country. But no. She's too busy struggling to forgive herself for the huge mistake she made when she married this really awesome and devoted husband. Then she ... Well, I should probably stop there. All I'm saying is that I hated this character.

Anyway, it made me wonder about main characters, and how to give them flaws and shortcomings, but still make them likable.

I think Margaret Mitchell's Scarlett O'Hara is a masterful example. She's kind of a despicable, selfish person and easy to hate, but somehow, she gets under our skin. We love her anyway and want her to be happy, but at the same time, when she gets what she deserves, there is a sense of justice.

Another great example is Harry Potter. He's far from perfect--sometimes selfish, judgmental, not the brightest kid--but his kind heart, sense of humor, and desire to do good despite his mistakes make him lovable.

How do we find the balance? Tune in on Wednesday when I will post a definitive* answer to what makes characters likable and hateable.

*Definitive based on my own personal opinion.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Short Story

Song of the Week:  Right Before My Eyes   ~Cage the Elephant

Check out the very short story I wrote for the Utah Children's Writers blog. It could only be 500 words so it's plenty short. At least for me, I'm a novelist.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Can Fiction Be Fiction?

Quote of the Day:  "Anyone ever heard of Funeral Potatoes? Not sure I want to eat them..." ~David Boreanaz (Agent Booth from Bones) via Twitter while visiting Utah. Hahahaha!

Weather Check:  Overcast and rainy. Let's hope it sticks. Smells wonderful outside.

I've been following the story of Greg Mortenson and his book "Three Cups of Tea." So sad. And it is the perfect reminder to me of why I prefer the novel over nonfiction and memoir. How do I know what they say is true. Everyone is prone to embellishment. But when it's out there in a book, it doesn't feel like embellishment, it feels like lies.

So then I started wondering ... is there room for embellishment in fiction. We watch TV where stuff that could never happen happens all the time. And we say, "Cool! They just figured out who the killer is and saved the world based on a grain of sand." Or "Wow, that car just did a triple back flip over a cliff and the driver didn't get hurt at all." We accept it and move on. Maybe with TV, seeing is believing.

It seems harder to get away with stuff like that in a book. I don't know why. Maybe the printed word carries more weight. We read with skepticism, questioning the reality of what is happening in our book of fiction. Then we scoff and say, "Ha! I don't buy that."

Every genre of fiction has different standards of realism, of course. And things have to fit into whatever realm of reality we write, all with some sense of believability.

But I say hey, if it's fiction, let it be fiction.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Too Much Sunshine is Bringing Me Down

Google search of the day: "What kinds of chemicals are used in embalming fluids?"

Quote of the day: "Love is blind; friendship closes its eyes." ~Friedrich Nietzsche 

Sometimes I ask myself, why did I take up writing? I've been reading some of my favorite author's works--Martine Leavitt. It's a little depressing to stand on one side of the gap and squint my eyes to see how far above and beyond me her writing is. Do they make bridges that big?

These sunny days are killing me. The kids are so excited for spring. But I prefer stormy weather. There is no imagination in sunny skies. If you're lucky, a bunny cloud will float by.

Give me dark skies, rain on the window, and wind howling past my house. Now I have Wuthering Heights and The Tempest swirling around me. Throw in some fog and I've got Bram Stoker's Dracula. That's what I need--a little weatherly inspiration.

I have now said my peace. I shall close my computer and go outside in the sun and shovel 3 tons of bark mulch from my front driveway to my back yard. Good times.

CONTEST NEWS: There is an awesome Birthday Phenomenon giveaway at Cleverly Linked. Check it out.

UPDATE: After I posted this, I received an advertisement offering a special deal to enroll in an embalming school! Haha!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Never Name Emotions. Seriously

Quote of the Day:  "The place for truth is not in the facts of a novel; it is in the feelings." ~Mary Stewart
Song of the Week: "Take Everything" ~ Greg Laswell

Never Name Emotions: a little soapbox I've been on lately...

How many times have we heard, “Show don’t tell”? So many times that it goes in one ear and out the other? So often that we’ve stopped considering what that really means?

Here’s one quick and easy way to spot telling: Any time you use the name of an emotion to describe the emotion, it’s usually telling.

Examples of telling:

Anger burned inside me.

Relief flooded through her. (Any time an emotion moves through a character’s body, it’s telling.)

A melancholy sadness filled Amy’s soul like the last song of the whippoorwill. (Definitely better than the first two, but still telling.)

“I hate you,” John said angrily.

The goal instead, is to SHOW us how those emotions feel, what they look like, what they sound like. As a writer, my job is to let the reader think for themselves and not to force emotions down their throat.

You never see a movie where the actor says, “I’m so upset, I’m going to push myself away from this table angrily.” So why would you do it in a book?

When you find yourself writing the name of an emotion, ask yourself, “Can I show this in a better way?” And then rewrite it until you can.

Let’s try again:

I clenched my fists. (Perhaps a little cliché, but it works.)

She leaned back in the chair, her shoulders relaxing for the first time since Jaden disappeared.

Amy sat on the back porch resting her chin on her knees. The last song of the whippoorwill carried across the frosty fields, empty now that the harvest was over. …

“I hate you!” John turned and slammed the door. Jane cringed with every footstep as he stomped down the stairs.

Writers get away with naming emotions all the time. And sometimes it’s okay. Sometimes you just need to say happy, mad, confused, hate. But be careful! Too much, and it quickly becomes hard for the reader to swallow.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What is Your Publishing Dream?

What I'm reading:  "Tom Finder" by Martine Leavitt--currently my idol.
Song of the week:  "Iridescent" by Linkin Park.  If I could write stories like they write lyrics...

So, there's been a lot of talk about self e-publishing. While I believe that e-publishing is the future of writing, I'm not sure I'm ready to try it yet.

I look at YouTube, which is a form of self publishing, and see that some are famous simply because they uploaded their own work and it miraculously caught on fire. Who doesn't know "Charlie Bit Me" (100,000,000 views)?

But then, that's the exception, right? A regular Joe (and I mean that in the generic sense) like me can't expect such fame. But is fame what I'm really looking for?

I read an article by Phil Cooke, which was summarized in publishing terms quite eloquently by author Roni Loren. The main point of these articles is that we should carefully analyze our dreams, or in other words, what it is we really want out of our writing career.

If my life-long dream is to hold a set of my own hardcover books in my hands; have people lining up in droves for a book signing; or be the keynote speaker for a writer's conference; maybe I should stick with traditional publishing.

If what I really want is to enjoy writing; share my stories with others in whatever way is most plausible--maybe earning a little spending money on the side; and attend conferences holding my head high as a self published writer; maybe e-publishing is the way to go.

Stay tuned for the results of my self-analasys. It may take some time, but I'll get there eventually. In the meantime, I'm still sending out queries (at the rate of three per year--is that a sign?) and still writing everyday--and loving it!

And just in case you haven't seen's "Charlie Bit Me."

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Cool Pitch Contest

Shelley Watters is offering a cool contest: write a twitter pitch--140 characters or less--and submit it to her blog on April 3. Such a great idea!

Grand Prize: a full manuscript request from agent Suzie Townsend!

Here's my pitch, in rough draft form:

Genre: YA Suspense/Romance.
Word Count: 54,000

The literary version:

Some are born blind. For others, tragedy leaves them blind. Then there are those who simply refuse to see. This is a story about all three.

The action version:

When Chris finds a blind girl hiding in his car, his attempt to runaway becomes a race to save her from death by scientific experimentation.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Revising with a Timeline:

I'm nearly done revising my work in progress. And a valuable tool in that effort is the timeline I create as I write the first draft.  So, I thought I'd re-post an article I wrote about timelines here.

Keeping track of timing when writing a novel can be tricky. Using a timeline can help you remember what happened when, and other details that add continuity to writing.

A typical timeline for me consists of the following:

The time of day events occur, including the specific date, day of the week, and the duration of those events or scenes. Even though most of that detail never makes it into the story, I refer to it frequently to make sure I’m not stuffing too much into one day while leaving other days mostly empty. I check the timeline to make sure scenes are occurring in a natural way. It helps when my characters refer to events that have happened in the past, I can easily remember when they occurred. Keeping a timeline helps ground the story in real time and draw the reader in.

The weather. I keep track of the weather so when I’m writing about events that occur at the end of the day, I maintain continuity in the weather.

What the characters are wearing. Again, this is usually a detail that doesn’t make it into the book, but just in case I want to refer to it, I can easily remember. This includes what they have with them, if they are traveling or something.

Sometimes I indicate on my timeline emotions or paradigm shifts that my main characters have, just to see if the timing feels natural. It also helps when revising a scene to look at the timeline and remember whether this scene is before or after a certain emotional moment.

I find the timeline very useful in writing, but it comes in especially handy during the revising process. It saves me a lot of time when I need to remember what happened when. Keeping track of scenes like this also helps me notice if I have repetitive scenes or if the cycle of events is becoming formulaic.