Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Intriguing Observations: Maximizing Research

The Intriguing Observations series was created to gather some of the greatest supporters and bloggers to provide their own insight on all things creative both in their ventures and their techniques. This week on the guest series is another all-star supporter and an outstanding wordsmith K.M. Weiland.


Research is vital no matter what kind of fiction you write. I spent almost as much time researching modern-day Chicago for my fantasy novel Dreamers Come as I did the Third Crusade for my historical novel Behold the Dawn (scheduled for release October 1). I’ve always found it odd that some authors approach research as if it were the bane of their craft. Since most of us write fiction in an urge to learn and grow, research is a natural extension of that. On average, I spend three months researching any given novel before diving into the writing. And I love it. I love discovering the solid facts—the bricks—that will turn the imagined walls of my story into something solid. That said, I’m very much aware that research can be both overwhelming and frustrating. Following are some of the tricks I’ve adopted for my own use.

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1. Know the Questions. Usually, I decide to set a story during a particular period or place because I already possess some interest in and at least a basic knowledge about it. Using that foundational knowledge, I’m able to complete my sketches and story outlines. By the time I officially begin my research, my story is already almost fully formed in my head, and I have a very good idea of what questions I need to answer during my research phase. For instance, in Behold, I knew I needed to spend a lot time learning about not only the Crusade itself, but also the world of the tourneys—the huge mock battles that were loved by the knights and banned by the church.

2. Find the Resources. The first thing I do is run several searches through my libraries’ online card catalogs. My goal is to pick up every book my libraries have available on my subject, so I try to be as thorough in my keywords as possible. After evaluating whatever I’ve come up with, I’ll complete my research library with the necessary purchases. If I have any blanks remaining once I’ve finished my books, I’ll utilize the Internet—although it should go without saying that you have to be careful about the reliability of Internet sources. (Check out my links page for some great research resources.)

3. File the Gems. Research notes aren’t worth much in the long run if they aren’t easily accessible, so I’ve constructed a system of note keeping that, although a bit time-intensive in the beginning, pays huge dividends over the course of the novel. Whenever I run into a snippet of information that I think might prove useful to my story, I either highlight it (if I own the book) or pull out a notebook and mark down the page and paragraph numbers and the first and last three words of the information I want. For example, if I want to remember something on a book’s thirty-first page and second paragraph, my shorthand note looks like this: 31:2 “First three words… last three words.”

The next day, before settling in for more reading, I take my books to the computer and use my notebook to find the passages I marked the day before. I type them up in a Word document, which I divide into appropriate headings. For Behold, I used headings such as “Animals,” “Children,” “Home Life,” “Tournaments,” “Warfare,” etc.

This may initially look like a lot of extra work, but it’s not. When I’m in the middle of a scene and I need to know what kind of food an earl would serve at a banquet, my elaborate note system keeps me from having to dig through piles of dog-eared books in search of a minute detail. Instead, I can either look through my research document’s headers in search of “Food & Dining,” or I can simply hit the Find button and run a search for “banquet.” Either way, it takes seconds to find the information and continue writing my scene.

4. Add the Visuals. Something else I find extremely helpful is a folder of images. Maps and landscape pictures are particularly valuable when I’m writing about a place (such as Syria—or Chicago) with which I am totally unfamiliar. But it’s also nice to have pictures of period clothing, diagrams of weapons and machinery, and maybe even a collection of people pictures for character inspiration.

5. Take the Responsibility. Very probably the single most important facet of portraying authenticity is chutzpah. If you act like you know what you’re talking about, most readers will buy it, whether it’s true or not. But hand in hand with that understanding goes a realization of the responsibility we have for giving our readers truth in exchange for their trust. None of us are ever going to get the facts one hundred percent correct, but checking and double-checking our sources is important lest we convey an incorrect fact or impression. The line between learning as many facts as possible and using our imaginations to fill in the blanks is a delicate one. If, for whatever reason, I ever intentionally depart from the facts (as I did once or twice in Behold, in regard to dates and such), I always make note of it in an afterword.

As writers, our fertile imaginations are what allow us to create something out of nothing. But it’s as researchers, that we’re able to make that something into a solid delivery of facts that will keep readers from blinking twice at suspending their disbelief.


K.M. Weiland is the author of the historical western A Man Called Outlaw and the medieval epic Behold the Dawn. She enjoys mentoring other authors through her writing tips, her book Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, and her instructional CD Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration.

Blog: WordPlay
Twitter: KMWeiland 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lost in Development

I'll open this post by saying that this will be the last post on this platform as everything including the Surveillance Report have been migrated to I would like to thank everyone for their contributions to this blog and continued support. Over the course of the last year this platformed has obtained more than 10,000 unique visitors and over 15,000 page views.

Platform, platform, platform.

As you're first diving into the writing world, you hear a lot about developing your writing for publication and developing your writing platform. There is a lot of discussion about what the first move is towards publication, do you join writing groups or develop your personal brand? While that is more of a personal argument, there is strength in establishing a primary platform after you have cover-art.

When you establish a writing platform, it's not only about creating a medium for your voice, it's about branding yourself and your work. This is where things can get interesting. Personal branding is not only about developing a tone for your work but a distinct style that is identifiable with you. This is the very definition of branding, distinctive style, iconic images and specific tag lines that convey everything that is the brand.

So, when I first launched my platform last year I hoped it would be effective and I had no idea if I would write anything anyone wanted to read or if it would be a representation of my style, my brand. Writing Files and now The Surveillance Report have been very effective both at establishing my voice and presenting my persona, my style and brand. While a blog is essential for any writer's platform, even more essential at challenging your writing skills, it is only a piece of a true platform.

If a blog is the core, the heart of any writer's platform, then the website would be the actual body.

A website presents a unified brand, there are continual updates, video, photo, and easy to use links that tie together all of the author's platform elements. This is where things can now become very confusing. In the past it was as simple as choosing to build a website to represent yourself, today a blog can carry all of the same functions. So, what are the advantages of a website over a blog? Is there even a distinction today? Many websites are actually built using blogging platforms, wordpress, blogger, etc.

As a designer that can also develop I found myself in quite a bit of a conundrum. I had to pull myself away from writing and editing the sequel to Nightfall just to develop a platform that suited my current needs and answer all of the fundamental requirements by readers. Jody and Roni have great insights here and here.

I started scrounging around looking for inspiration, what should an author site have? What are the essential elements, what do the best author sites have in common? Well, to my dismay as a designer, I was absolutely horrified by what I found. Not only do authors violate branding rules, but also every internet marketing premise when it comes to their websites. I could only find the Huffington Post's article on the top Author websites. It was very telling, even top named authors have atrociously bad websites. It's clear that some of these authors would never make it as fresh-blood today.

So, avoiding the mistakes and aiming for a very savvy site, I wasted an entire week building a website that still didn't turn out the way I had envisioned. It was all too easy to stop and call it done, but as a writer today either just starting out or a fresh-blood author platform and branding are just as integral as the writing that you produce. This first effort cost me two weeks and it was a complete waste of time. I did not want to waste my time any further and I certainly did not want to be another of the authors where you stumble across the site and say "Wow, when was THAT built?"

It was about this time I stumbled across an article by fellow wordsmith Roni Loren that discussed her new website and how she put it together with a new platform. So, I followed her advice and gave this platform called 'squarespace' a chance. I gave it a couple of hours and thought it was terrible, I couldn't get it to do anything I wanted. Then it clicked. After perusing the squarespace boards I could get the site to do anything I wanted it to with a few clicks.

I devoted a couple hours to designing the site and with only a bit of fussing I had the entire site built and not one but two blogs constructed (including pulling in all of the Surveillance Report and comments). It was clean, modern and matches all of the needs. While it's not revolutionary in layout or styling, I love the look of it and it is me. It was completed in just a few short hours and now I'm back on track.

-Side note - Particularly proud of the design with the headers. -

 So what is the takeaway? Well, if you're a writer then you need something that defines and presents your brand but you also need something that won't hurt your writing time. Writers are some of the best individuals, and the last thing anyone wants is to hear laughter because of their heinously bad website. A website is the very structure of a writing platform it needs to be built well and it needs to cater to a host of needs including your blog.

In short, writers have precious little time. While you might be able to build, design and orchestrate a platform from scratch, it doesn't mean that you should.

Join me on my new platform and remember to subscribe to the new Surveillance Report there. :-)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Intriguing Observations: Live. Write. Thrive.

The Intriguing Observations series was created to gather some of the greatest supporters and bloggers to provide their own insight on all things creative both in their ventures and their techniques. This week on the guest series is another all-star supporter and NY Times Bestselling author, Bob Mayer.


No Matter the Genre, All Great Books Start With a Great Idea

The kernel idea is the Alpha and the Omega of your book, no matter what genre you are writing in.  By that I mean a single idea starts your creative process and it completes it.  It’s what you begin with and at the end of the manuscript, everything in the book points toward it.

The kernel idea is the foundation of your novel.  When I say idea, I don't necessarily mean the theme, although it can be.  Or the most important incident, although it can be.  But it can also be a setting.  It can be a scene.  It can be a character.

It is simply the first idea you had that was the seed of your novel.  All else can change, but the idea can’t.  It might be a place; a person; an event; a moral; whatever.  But you did have it before you began writing and you must remember it as you write.  If you don't, your story and style will suffer terribly.  You should be able to tell your idea in one sentence.  And repeat it to yourself every morning when you wake up and prior to writing.  Knowing it will keep you on track.

Every new book I begin, I write out this one sentence on a word document as the very first writing I do.  I print it out and put it where I can constantly see it. If you can't do remember this one sentence, then you need to backtrack through your thought processes and find it, because you had to have had it.  Everything starts from something.  Idea is not story.  Because every idea has been done, but every story hasn't.  The kernel idea is the one thing in your manuscript that cannot change.

In one of my early novels, the original idea was an action:  What if Special Forces soldiers had to destroy an enemy pipeline?  That's it for Dragon Sim-13.  Not very elaborate, you say.  True.  Not exactly a great moral theme.  Right.  But with that original idea there was a lot I could do and eventually had to do.  I had to change the target country after the first draft.  But that was all right because I still had the idea.  I had to change characters, but that was fine too, because it didn't change my idea.  I had to change the reason why they were attacking a pipeline, but again, the original idea was the same.

You will have plenty of latitude for story after you come up with your kernel idea; in fact, I sometimes find the finished manuscript turns out to be different from what I had originally envisioned, but one thing is always true: that kernel idea is still there at the end as the Omega.

For my first kernel idea, I made it as simple as possible to enable me to focus on the writing because when I was in the Special Forces my A-Team had run a similar mission on a pipeline.   Since I had a good idea what would happen in the story, I could concentrate on the actual writing of the novel.
I've sat in graduate literature classes and heard students say:  "The author had to have a moral point in mind when they wrote that book."  I agree, but sometimes it is not at the forefront of the story.  Many authors write simply to tell a story started by that kernel idea, which indeed might be a moral point, but sometimes is a story that they wanted to tell and the theme developed subsequently.

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A moral or theme (screenwriters call it intent) always does appear in a book by the time it’s done.   No matter what conscious expectations or thoughts an author has when they start writing, a lot more appears in the manuscript than they consciously anticipated.

After you have that kernel idea, you should spend a lot of time wrestling with it and consciously uncover your feelings and thoughts about it.  I try to look at my main characters and determine what will happen to them emotionally, physically and spiritually as they go through the story.  Who are they at the beginning of the story and who are they at the end?

This is an example of being aware of what you are doing.  I said above that not all authors have a conscious theme when they write a novel, but experience has taught me that it is better to have your theme in your conscious mind before you start writing.  It might not be your original idea, but it will definitely affect your characters and story.

The reason it is important to have a theme in mind is because people want to care about what they read and the characters.  If there is some moral or emotional relevance to the story they read, they will become more involved in the story and enjoy it more.  Even if the reader doesn't consciously see it either.  
Let me give you more examples of ideas I’ve used and gotten published:

What if the force that destroyed Atlantis ten thousand years ago comes back and threatens our world?  Atlantis series of books.

What if mankind didn’t originate the way we think we did?  Area 51 series.

What if Japan succeeded in its atomic bomb program at the very end of World War II and one of those bombs was hidden at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge?  The Gate

Another way to try to figure out what the core of your novel is this:  What is the climactic scene?  This is when the protagonist and antagonist meet to resolve the primary problem that is the crux of the novel.  This is what the entire book is driving towards.

Where’s the shiver?

What excited you so much that you decided to sit in the dark and writer 100,00 words.  That’s not normal, in case no one’s told you.  What excites people you talk to about your book?  I know I’m on target with an idea if others pick up my excitement when I discuss it.

Remember, as a writer, you are selling emotion and logic.  And Kirk always trumps Spock.
A key to selling your book is being able to communicate this shiver to other people.  To get them as excited as you were when you first began writing.

Bob Mayer is the NY Times Bestselling author of factual thrillers. He steeps his stories in military, historical and scientific facts, then weaves those facts through fiction creating an exciting ride for the reader.  He’s a West Point graduate, former Green Beret, and author of more than 50 books all available in eBook that have sold over 4 million copies.  He’s been on bestseller lists in thriller, science fiction, suspense, action, war, historical fiction and is the only male author on the Romance Writers of America Honor Roll.  He is one of the bestselling indie authors in the country.
Twitter: Bob_Mayer

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Nightfall Reviewers Giveaway

In honor of the anniversary of signing with Astraea Press I would like to thank my supporters and everyone that has had the opportunity to read Nightfall. Starting today and running throughout May, I will be giving away some handy things related to Nightfall.

The giveaway will be a drawing at the end of the month for 3 items.
  • -Kindle (a brand new kindle)
  • -Connor's Pendant (A silver, pewter and hematite pendant)
  • -Allison's Digital Camera (An interesting digital camera/camcorder hybrid)

How to Enter:

  •  Write A Review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Blog for Nightfall
                   - Amazon           - Barnes & Noble              

Writing multiple reviews on different sites counts as additional entries. All of the entries will be reviewed on May 30th and the drawing will be held.

To keep things interesting, the model of the kindle will improve with the number of participants in this giveaway. (If there are enough participants the drawing could be for a Kindle Fire or better...)

*It is important to note that this is not about obtaining positive reviews, I'm looking for honest feedback and want to reward the those who have taken the extra step to help support Nightfall.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Intriguing Observations: Inspiring Locations

The Intriguing Observations series was created to gather some of the greatest supporters and bloggers to provide their own insight on all things creative both in their ventures and their techniques. This week on the guest series is another all-star supporter and an outstanding wordsmith Jen Talty.

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Everyone has a place where they “think”. It’s a place where our mind just wonders deep into thought about anything and everything. I have two thinking places. The first one is in the shower. The problem is the moment I step out of the shower, the intense thoughts have left me and that’s a problem when those intense thoughts are great dialogue for my book. Or anything else having to do with my book.

If I happen to have a light bulb moment I have to run out of the shower and go write it down. Otherwise, gone forever or until my next shower.

I sometimes try not to think in the shower. That’s interesting…and impossible. It’s like my brain goes shower…think…shower…think and there is no stopping it. I do believe I have some great ideas that occur to me while in the shower.

The second place my brain thinks is in the car while I’m driving somewhere. This too poses a problem. I have a voice recorder on my phone, so the problem isn’t necessarily that I don’t have the ability to get my thoughts down, its that the thinking aspect is so intense I don’t think to get the voice recorder out until it’s too late and my brain and I have left the vehicle and the thoughts behind.

The bigger problem with my brain thinking in the car is that I have a tendency to forget where I’m going. I also sometimes forget there are “real” people in the car with me. For example, driving my children to hockey rinks. They will yell “mom, mom, mom, mother, mother, JENNIFER!” and they yell this a few times until they finally have my attention and they tell me I drove right past the exit about 8 exits ago. ARGH!

There are other places I like to think. When I walk. Or when I’m at the gym. I used to play golf and I’d think a lot out there, but then I’d walk right past my ball on the fairway, up to the putting green and realize I hadn’t take a swing at my ball to get it to the green…yeah, that’s a problem. When I’m cleaning, I’m thinking. And thinking, and thinking. When I’m doing cleaning, I go to the computer and type out my thoughts. However, these other places the thoughts tend to linger with me longer.

I have to wonder if the intense thoughts I have in the shower or while driving have to do with some sort of “safe” feeling my brain has. It’s like my brain has it’s own free will and does whatever it wants. Any other place I think, including while cleaning or just going for a walk, I feel like I have control over my brain, but in the shower, or driving, nope, it just wonders off were it wants to and then the moment I stop, it stops too. But worse, it hides those wonderful thoughts deep and then I have to play “mind” games with myself to find them. Most of the time the brain gives them. It as if the brain understands how important they are to me, but either enjoys watching me freak out that I can’t remember what I was thinking, or is trying to teach me a lesson to pay attention.

The mind is a wonderful thing. Now, I must go shower…I need to write, so hoping the brain works its magic  so I have something to work with when I sit down in front of the computer.

Where are your favorite places to think?

Jen Talty is Co-Creator of Who Dares Wins Publishing, Author of Romantic Suspense, Speaker, Writing Instructor and Hockey Mom. 

Twitter: @jentalty
Who Dares Wins Publishing:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Intriguing Observations: Has social media handicapped our social?

The Intriguing Observations series was created to gather some of the greatest supporters and bloggers to provide their own insight on all things creative both in their ventures and their techniques. This week on the guest series is another all-star supporter, fellow AP author and an outstanding wordsmith Bri Clark.

First of all Phil thank you so much for having me on not to mention the reminders, frankly I need them. My life is busier than a piglet on a tit. This would probably be a good place to introduce myself and explain what I do...

In a nutshell I'm a literary strategist. I own and operate Belle Consulting. The definition of just what that is has not been determined by Wikipedia at this point as it keeps changing. I'm many things to different clients. Beta reader, Publicist, Social Media Manager, Speaking Coordinator, etc etc... In conjunction with my consulting business I'm a speaker, event board member, promoter, and author.

It was while fulfilling the role as a publicist/event specialist that I came upon this observation. Linda Bernardi, my client, is an Amazon bestseller and top woman in the technology field. At an event in Seattle surrounding "The Cloud" I couldn't help but be flabbergasted by how unsocial some of the vendors were.

A conference is the place to be our most social, our most charming, to present our best! It's at these events that I make most of my leads or create long lasting contacts. Nevertheless, it seemed that several of the peers that surrounded me couldn't pull their eyes from their cell phones or laptops long enough to look at the people in front of them.

Picture it an area with tables set out in a manner that suggests flow. Black cloth and skirts cover and surround the tables. Random catalogs are set out with a free gift such as a pen. Behind the tables are one usually two people with their heads down in a laptop or a cell phone. Some of the tables didn't even have a sign at a vertical angle to say who they were. But that's another rant. I'm very much a stickler for presentation and invoking the senses. Attendees walked by several feet away the fleeting look of interest on their faces. Only they were never greeted, because they were never seen.

FAIL!!! And what's worse is it was a fail that could have been avoided. The worst was one booth where two men sat side by side for hours ( I kid you not) pounding away on their keyboards. The staccato of the keys like a alarm to the audience stating "Do Not Disturb: What's on here is more important than you are." Side by side they beat those keys as if they were in some kind of virtual email race. After watching 10 potential leads walk by I decided I might vomit or use my stun gun on their computers and ignored them.

Nonetheless, the lingering effects of the occurrence wouldn't go away. I noticed it several places around me. Granted it wasn't all but most. If they were a vendor with an elaborate interactive booth they were like the ringmaster of a circus. "Come here! Step up to my amazing product!" It was as if the tables and black table cloths were kryptonite for my fellow vendors.

Alas, no it wasn't the table cloths (Did I mention I always bring my own table cloth?) it was online social media and email. I know this for a fact because being the bold nosy southern belle that I am I walked around and looked over their shoulders.

Now I more than anyone else know that response and timing are key in our businesses. However, it is not hard to post an update or an automatic email response saying, "Hey! I'm at a conference from this date to this date. If you are in the area please come by. If this is an emergency please reference my phone number."If anything I have found people respond in a huge way to those that have lives beyond Facebook. You come back with ideas and experiences that they couldn't have.

Perhaps I'm being a little dramatic, I do have that tendency. But it really did seem that the only way some people can be social is through social media. They need the anonymity the internet provides. They require the control that editing pictures and retyping or erasing status updates enables. And because of that weakness that one contact that could open the door to their career success just passed by and they didn't even see them.

What do you think? Am I being dramatic?

Website: Belle of Boise
Twitter: @BriClark
Facebook: Bri Clark
Google Plus
Buy Bri's Books on Amazon

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Titanic Story

"I think that it was definitely a goal of Titanic to integrate a very personal, very emotional, and very intimate [story]... something that has a profound impact on your imagination..." - James Cameron

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In today's industry where publishers, Hollywood, music and even game developers are constantly in a race to 'remake' previous works or produce ones that are so similar to what has already been successful that they couldn't make it in the witness protection program, one wonders how it is possible to make something significant.

I recently had the pleasure to see the re-release of James Cameron epic as Titanic 3D. While I had seen pieces of this behemoth before, I never really saw it from beginning to end nor had I ever looked at this in terms of story. After watching I can only marvel at the culmination of elements that conspired to make it a true modern 'epic.'

Examining the story it seems to be a very simple romance. The boy from the wrong side of the tracks, the rich socialite that wants to escape her confining life, the jealous bad-guy fiancé and the helpful friends. On paper this sounds rather mundane, it very well sounds like almost any other romantic story in existence. So, where does this story become an epic?

The setting for the story is aboard the ill-fated cruise ship in 1912, this is not an original setting by any stretch of the imagination, There are no fewer than fifty different movies about the ship not counting the hundreds of documentaries. If we look at strictly the literary scene there are thousands and thousands of fictionalized accounts with a large percentage of them as romance stories. While tragic, this setting does not necessarily equate to an 'epic.'

If it's not the overall story or the setting, one might wonder if it's the characters that make this such a significant story. The characters are quite flat overall with a street kid, the socialite cheating fiancée, a controlling millionaire, and countless other rather flat characters. The superficial details to their lives, the personality traits and their interactions do not even pertain to an 'epic story.' Just sampling quotes reveals how dull or predictable most interactions are and how unusual some of the dialogs are.

Are the Events of the story what drives it to epic status? Outside of context you have a poker game, a guy that talks a socialite out of suicide, a dinner where socialites discuss status, a number of conversations about foreshadowing, a 'low-brow' party, a violent outburst from the millionaire towards his fiancée, a drawing session, a romantic moment between the star-crossed lovers, a moment of false imprisonment, survival on the sinking ship, treading water, character death and finally the heart/staircase. Is it the events that make this story epic? If it is the case then the story should be able to be moved to any other setting and have the same results.

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After looking at all of the elements it is abundantly clear at what makes this piece an epic, a story that is still successful 15 years later. It's the emotional punch.

The romantic story feels unique and new because the characters are drawn together in a believable way, reacting in an expected but emotional manner. The characters conveyed the emotions of each event in such a manner that even years after everyone knows the whole plot that people still react emotionally to Jack attempting to escape from the handcuffs or when Rose is slapped. The setting keeps the story together, it makes it a period piece that never feels out of place where technology can give away the age of the piece and pull the audience from it. These emotional punches culminate with the very moment that makes it an epic. Jack's death.

If the story had concluded with Jack and Rose making a new life together it would certainly be a happy ending but it would never even touch epic status. The only plausible ending was to take the one thing that the audience became so attached to throughout the journey, their relationship, and breaking it with something beyond their control. Old Rose's photos and the staircase scene give a sense of completion but also convey immense emotion. Even to this day, the audience can see an image from one of the 'emotional hits' and immediately feel it personally.

So what makes a story an epic? Is it unhappy endings? Is it the story alone? Is it the characters, their lives, the setting or the events? It is a culmination of all of these elements, each element that comes with it's own emotional hit and is then tied together. Creating a Titanic story is not about the individual elements or what they represent but the emotions that they convey.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Intriguing Observations: Writing is an Illusion

The Intriguing Observations series was created to gather some of the greatest supporters and bloggers to provide their own insight on all things creative both in their ventures and their techniques. This week on the guest series is another all-star supporter, fellow AP author and an outstanding wordsmith Meg Mims.

Writing is never easy, no matter what the genre. It’s an art—and crafting scenes to draw the reader in from the first line and keep them hooked until the last page takes hard work. One writer’s “trick” is relying on specifics. Word choice, in other words.

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Take “dog.” What kind of dog? A white dog. What size is it and what does it sound like? A yappy white poodle. Adding color, sound, even texture makes that vague word come alive. I used to teach elementary kids about using specifics when writing. Writers finagle words in fresh ways. “Digging up a cloud of dust, the dirty white poodle’s shrill yaps echoed in my brain.”

Shallow writing skips the surface of the author’s “world” and presents characters acting out scenes on an empty stage. I’m not advocating the use of info dumps. But the best writers will spin out a story on a slow line, fishing for depth. Oral storytellers do the same, using pauses and extra information to keep the listener’s interest. Take Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. Being literary, she took free rein to build her world. And what a world it is, enough to shower a reader in specifics and place them smack dab in its midst.

“Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town before I knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the Square. Somehow, it was hotter then:   black dog suffered on a hot summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.”

Readers (even ones who don’t like historical novels) enjoy specifics of a “story world” right along with the characters. My own trick is infusing several of the five senses within a character’s Point of View. You have to balance a razor’s edge between too subtle and overload. In Double Crossing, I used first person POV—primarily because I wanted that immediate close bonding between the heroine Lily Granville and the reader.

Writers tend to visualize their story world. Go beyond the “eyes” of a character, though, to hear, smell, feel and even taste within the scene’s action. In the following excerpt, I tried to use two or three senses at various times as Lily walks along a street in Nebraska, 1869:

I clamped a handkerchief over my mouth but Omaha’s black dirt still choked me. My hard sneeze left a ringing in my ears. There had to be a general store somewhere with needles and thread. Stray sparks from the Chicago and Western’s smokestack had burned tiny holes in my split skirt and jacket, and I was desperate to repair them both.

At last I found a shop. A bell jangled above my head when I entered. The bulky proprietor laughed and joked with several customers while he filled orders at the polished walnut counter. I meandered down each crowded aisle. Scents of dill, chives and cinnamon tickled my nose. Potatoes with earthy skins and papery onions filled open barrels. Small jars of pickled beets and corn relish, tins of fruit and baked beans lined the shelves. Huge burlap sacks of flour, sugar, salt, coffee and beans lay near the door, and wheels of cheese had been stacked above crates of smoked fish and salt pork.

Seeing the flatirons, hoes, plows and other tools all around brought a sense of normalcy back to my life. I realized I’d been wandering in a haze since Father’s funeral.

I could have had Lily touching the earthy skins of potatoes, but that would have dirtied her gloves! So keep in mind your character’s personality when writing. Vivid details come from specific adjectives and nouns—silver folding scissors, sturdy butter churns, oilcloth cape, shiny snaps. Readers can quickly identify the items with the visual cues. Dropping a few other sensory cues—bell jangled, scents tickling the nose—helps also. Adding a brief dialogue exchange with minor characters will also balance out the scene.

Your readers will appreciate that the characters are not acting on an empty stage.

Meg Mims is an award-winning author and artist. She writes “blended genre” fiction, and her western historical suspense won the 2012 Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best First Novel. Meg earned an M.A. from Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction program and is a staff writer for Lake Effect Living, a West Coast of Michigan tourist on-line magazine. Double Crossing is available both in e-book and print.

Twitter: @megmims
Facebook: Meg Mims and Double Crossing

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Artistic Product

Desire, Appeal, Demand, Art....

In any creative venture there is an element conceptual fulfillment and appeal. Often many choose to define their works as an art. These concepts demonstrate a defined expression and communicate emotion through specific aesthetic criteria, in short works that are of more than ordinary significance.

There are many different mediums that can be termed art, ranging from the standards of painting and sculpture to writing and even film or gaming. The ideal of conveying a concept through a medium in such a way as to be desirable is a fundamental motive for many artists. Through practice, refinement of technique and expression a work can be viewed as art.

While any work can be viewed as a work of art it is undeniably the aesthetic criteria that permits the work to be classified and termed "a work of art" within the medium. The aesthetics of a piece, while entirely subjective, are often representative of the 'high-concepts' that determine the appeal of the piece.

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As with any creative work, the determination of appeal is quite subjective however the broader the appeal the more accepted the piece is overall.

It is the appeal of a piece that many artists seek so that the work is broadly accepted as a work of art without dispute. Many artists are willing to sacrifice for the sake of their work, barely making a living while trying to find 'mainstream success' in their desired field. These Starving Artists epitomize the concept of an artist and are entirely dependent on the demand for their work.

Starving Artists and demand are where a couple of misconceptions enter.

Many writers/artists that are new to the industry often claim that their work is art as a defense to changing their work. As previously discussed, there are components to this that determine viability of their claim and then there is the misconception about the 'Best Seller' author.

The Best Seller author may have made their way into the best selling ranks but it does not mean that they have left 'Starving Artist' status. Most authors work other more permanent jobs because it often takes more than six published works and at least 2 'best sellers' before they can even consider focusing on being an author as their career.

In reality, an artist creates a work that they hope has enough appeal to drive the demand for their work including future works. Successful artists can convey their work with broad appeal but still remain truthful to their original concepts so that it is a work of art. Even starving artists who have sacrificed for their art dream of 'breaking into the business' and having their work desired. This desire effectively makes the work of art a product.

Products rely on marketability to determine success and even art needs an audience to claim success. In the writing industry success is measured in more facets than stars in the sky but claiming a work is art is not a defense against change, it only means that you'll be left by the roadside in an industry of unique artistic products.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Intriguing Observations: The Illusion of Writing

The Intriguing Observations series was created to gather some of the greatest supporters and bloggers to provide their own insight on all things creative both in their ventures and their techniques. This week on the guest series is another all-star supporter and an outstanding wordsmith Michele Shaw.

People love a puzzle. One of my favorite types of puzzles to solve is the optical illusion. I especially like the ones which use words. (Go figure) For fun, go here and try these. When you look at the words, there are two different ways to see them.

When writing fiction (and especially with thriller/suspense/crime novels), we often use a form of this technique. Sometimes it's a red herring. Sometimes it's a real clue, but deeply hidden under cryptic words or a situation that isn't what it seems. We create an illusion to keep the reader interested and asking questions.

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But there are pitfalls that can trip us. Especially when we get wound up in the story as a whole and get, ummmm...confused. (Not that this ever happens to me. *grin*) This can get tricky in a complicated story (*cough* aren't they all?), but there are 4 things I think every writer should avoid when creating their illusions:

1.) Don't get your wording get so convoluted that the reader just says, "Huh?" I try to go for, "Aha! That means something, I must read on to figure it out!" Or, "Ooh. Where is this headed?" Most of the time, simple and to the point is best.

2.) Avoid randomness. Don't stick in some random person, setting, or dialogue that has nothing to do with anything just to throw your reader off track. That's not fair and goes against the idea that each scene does have a purpose, even if that purpose isn't revealed until later.

3.) Don't hold back too much. As author, we hold all the cards and shuffle them as we see fit. But, if we hold back too much in our endeavors to create an illusion, we risk losing the reader. They get tired of waiting and want give up instead of having just enough curiosity to keep them going.

4.) Don't drop story threads. Sometimes our set-up gets so big and bloated that we add too many details which we forget to sew together by the end. Go back and make sure you’ve pulled in and resolved everything. And I mean tight!

I speak from experience with all of these. Guilty as charged and did my time in writer jail. No chocolate. It was brutal. Let’s all agree not to do it anymore. (I’m trying really, really hard.) So, hopefully, if you look for these signs of trouble, you can save time in revision, and create magical illusions with your words.

Please share. Any illusions to offer or other pitfalls you've noticed? I’d love to hear from you.

Michele Shaw writes YA romantic suspense, horror, short stories, and poetry with at least one dog by her side and plenty of candy on hand. She is a member of SCBWI, a fellow of the Midwest Writer’s Workshop, and represented by the amazing Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary. You can find her on Twitter @veertothewrite or visit her blog at  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Assembling Art

The argument of art has always been not only a conceptual one but one of personal perception of both the product and the practice used to create that product.

A recent story that has brought into question series endings as well as artistic vision has been the whole Bioware/Mass Effect 3 ending that has managed to go from an industry specific topic to national news and even spurred Forbes to begin analyzing the industry. This is really interesting because it is an argument of artistic expression versus respect for the property for fans.

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Many critics and writers, even myself have dedicated significant time to analyzing writing as an artistic expression, an art form. Through comparisons in perspective, similarities in techniques across mediums including photography, film, sculpture and even performance arts, writing is about the art of creation but is that all?

The primary dispute that critics are using to defend the flawed story of Mass Effect 3 and often what many writers also rely on it the idea that it is art. The story is an art and the creator has full artistic license to craft the work however they see fit but this isn't entirely true.

"Many definitions of art have been proposed by philosophers and others who have characterized art in terms of mimesis, expression, communication of emotion, or other values. During the Romantic period, art came to be seen as "a special faculty of the human mind to be classified with religion and science"-Wiki

When an artist creates their piece of work it is what they envisioned and they are ultimately only constricted by how they perceive their own work. This entire process changes when the artist chooses to share their work with others as a career. The work then needs to become commercially viable.

In every artistic medium there are criteria that need to be addressed for the work to be accepted by enough critics and individuals to be a viable work.

What this means in short, a toddler's crayon drawing may be art to their mother but no one is likely to be buying it for thousands of dollars. In writing terms if someone writes a 200,000 word novel with the grammar of an eight-year-old and refuses to address these issues no one will publish it or want to read it.

For all of the artistic intent every work needs an outlet to be viable. In the writing industry, as in photography and film these are publishers. Publishers set criteria for all works because they have a set target market and prospects for those works already that also establish the work's commercial viability. It's an assurance that any work that they accept will be viable for them. If the artist's work does not meet their criteria then it will not be accepted or they will request it is changed to suit their criteria.

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Many budding writers instinctively dispute the need for changes to their work but the publisher is focusing on what is commercially viable. EVERY work is altered for publication. Some publishers require larger changes and more dramatic alterations to the piece to suit their target while other publishers will only refine the work.

When I was editing Nightfall for my publisher their requirements were fairly simple, no profanity and no trademarks. I had no problem dropping the cursing, it opened up the audience for my work but I found more difficulty with trademarks, mostly giving up car models. In the end it was just a matter of edits.

No matter the medium, if an artist wishes their work to be successful then it should be expected there will be changes that need to be met. If the artist resists the recommendations, then they should also expect the criticisms that come with that choice. While the work may be a piece of art it is also a product. If the customers are not happy with the product while the artist defends their work as art then they should know that they will have fewer customers next time.

While we regard writing as an art form, artistic expression in the finest, we should always be wary of claiming it's our artistic license to make certain choices about our work. If we want to succeed as authors we need to accept the criticisms and make the changes that make our works viable, otherwise it's not a career in writing just more unpublished works in our desk.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Intriguing Observations: Blending Research with Real Life in Writing

The Intriguing Observations series was created to gather some of the greatest supporters and bloggers to provide their own insight on all things creative both in their ventures and their techniques. This week on the guest series is another all-star supporter and an outstanding wordsmith  Donna Galanti.

In writing my paranormal suspense novel A Human Element there were numerous spots I had to pull back and do research to blend the writing with my own experiences.

Ben Fieldstone in A Human Element, finds himself in dire circumstances stationed as a U.S. Navy photographer in Pearl Harbor. I too was stationed in Hawaii as a Navy photographer. I know of the dangers sailors can find themselves in on the island of Oahu if they’re not careful.

I was told not to go to the Pali Lookout alone, a spot far above Honolulu in the Ko’olau Mountains. It is set on cliffs with treacherous falls awaiting those who aren’t careful. Or those who are tossed off…or jump off. It’s known for its moaning, howling winds. People have disappeared up there, they’d say. It’s a haunted place where the ghosts of Hawaiian ancestors are said to roam.

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And rightfully so. It is a historic area that was the site of the bloody, historic Battle of Nu'uanu,
where Kamehameha I conquered the island of Oahu in 1795. This Hawaiian warrior king and his army arrived in hundreds of war canoes at Waikiki Beach. The Oahu warriors were led by Kalanikupule, the ruler of Maui and Oahu. Kamehameha's warriors headed to Nu'uanu Valley to face Kalanikupule's men. The battle was fierce and thousands of Kalanikupule's men were driven over the steep cliffs to their deaths. This fierce tale from history inspired me to set a particular dark scene at this spot for Ben. His battle for his own life.

Check out the amazing views from this spot, including the Old Pali Highway Trail where Ben finds himself taken – and tortured.

These photos, my own memories, and the violent history of this place re-forced this spot as a key
scene in A Human Element.

When I lived on Oahu I quickly discovered we white folks were called haoles by the natives. I had since forgotten how to pronounce it and found a site that pronounces all the words in the world for you. Here is the correct version of haole: I figured this would also come in handy during book readings, and I was right.

If you've ever visited Hawaii, you might have heard what sounds like another language but it's still English. Since the 1800's, workers from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Portugal have come to work the sugar plantations originally run by American missionaries. That mixture of nationalities developed into a common language called Pidgin English.

More than half of Hawaii's one million residents are estimated to speak Pidgin. That's according to two Linguists, Kent Sakoda and Jeff Seigal, who created the Pidgin Grammar Book. Hawaii has a population of a little over one million people. About 600,000 are estimated to speak a form of Creole language specific to Hawaii called Pigdin which is a mixture of Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean and English.

I drew on my memories of Hawaii and experiences with locals speaking in native Pidgin English and found this reference site of words, definitions, and usage. In A Human Element, Ben frequents Chinatown and has an unfortunate run in with a homosexual prostitute who speaks Pidgin and is called as a “mahu.”

I also found a site that lists a quick cheat sheet on Hawaiian Pidgin English that helped me in my dialogue.

Here are three excerpts from A Human Element where the local Pidgin dialect comes into play:

Ben, drunk and beat up, hails a prostitute in Chinatown:

Beat up and with no prospects, he needed to find a 'relaxation parlor' and some company. It didn't take long in Chinatown for him to be approached. 
"Howzit, sailor? You hurt? Need some wahine to take care of you?"
"Maybe . . . you got a back room nearby?"
"Yeah, yeah, sure thing, sailor buggah. Da cute! Pretty gray eyes, too." She mixed in the local Pidgin dialect with English. "I'll wash your handsome face for free." She laughed as he touched his face, remembering the blood. He must be a scary sight. 

Ben is confronted by the prostitute’s pimp:
A massive local stood over him. He looked Samoan.
"You cheat me, stupid sailor boy? Is dat what you want to do?"
"Yeah, that's him, Koko." The transvestite stood next to his moke. His wig now back on,
but askew. He smiled at Ben and put his hands on his hips. He had blood on his face from where
Ben hit him. How could he have ever thought this was a pretty woman?
Ben stood up in a torpid daze and shook his head.
Before he could speak the giant grabbed his shirt and glared at him. "You see my girl
here? You ruin her pretty face so she can't make tricks and I'll kill you. She's my money-making

Ben is kidnapped and held at the Pali Lookout by two Samoans:

"I'll pay whatever you want," Ben said. "Just let me go now." His body ached everywhere
but he could think again.
"Don't give me your stink eye, boy." Koko slapped his head again. Ben turned his face
away. One of them pulled his head up by his hair and slapped duct tape on his mouth. Ben
"Got chicken skin there, eh?" Koko caressed his arms. "No one will hear you scream up
here. This is a haunted place. Your screams carry away on the wind, right, Kami?"
"Right, brah. People too scared to come up here at night with the ghosts of our ancestors
roaming about."

In learning the local dialect I also had to reacquaint myself with the logistics of the island of Oahu. This involved looking at online maps and researching the history of the locales used. I poured through articles and statistics to choose the best pieces to incorporate in A Human Element.

How do you blend research with your own experiences?


One by one, Laura Armstrong’s friends and adoptive family members are being murdered, and despite her unique healing powers, she can do nothing to stop it. The savage killer haunts her dreams, tormenting her with the promise that she is next.

Determined to find the killer, she follows her visions to the site of a crashed meteorite–her hometown. There, she meets Ben Fieldstone, who seeks answers about his parents’ death the night the meteorite struck. In a race to stop a mad man, they unravel a frightening secret that binds them together. But the killer’s desire to destroy Laura face-to-face leads to a showdown that puts Laura and Ben’s emotional relationship and Laura’s pure spirit to the test.

With the killer closing in, Laura discovers her destiny is linked to his and she has two choices–
redeem him or kill him.

Readers who devour paranormal books with a smidge of horror and steam will enjoy A HUMAN ELEMENT, the new novel about loss, redemption, and love.

Reviewers are saying…“A HUMAN ELEMENT is an elegant and haunting first novel. Unrelenting, devious but full of heart. Highly recommended.” –Jonathan Maberry, New York Times best-selling author of ASSASSIN’S CODE and DEAD OF NIGHT

“A HUMAN ELEMENT is a haunting look at what it means to be human. It’s a suspenseful ride through life and love…and death, with a killer so evil you can’t help but be afraid. An excellent read.” –Janice Gable Bashman, author of WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE, nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.

Donna Galanti is the author of the dark novel A Human Element (Echelon Press). She won first place for Words on the Wall Fiction at the 2011 Philadelphia Writer’s Conference. Donna has a B.A. in English and a background in marketing. She is a member of International Thriller Writers, The Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group and Pennwriters. She lives with her family in an old farmhouse in PA with lots of nooks, fireplaces, and stinkbugs. Visit her at:

LIKE Donna’s Author Facebook page for news and updates! Her tour runs through April 11thh with book giveaways, more guest posts, and interview fun, and a chance to win the big prize giveaway! So pop over to her blog to see the full tour schedule.

Connect with Donna here:

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Assembling Endings

Every narrative, every story has a beginning, middle and end. Through the author's artistic vision for the piece the reader experiences scripted emotions, perceptions and thoughts as the writer intends but there limitations.

A recent story that has brought into question series endings as well as artistic vision has been the whole Bioware/Mass Effect 3 ending that has managed to go from an industry specific topic to national news and even spurred Forbes to begin analyzing the industry. This is really interesting because it is an argument of artistic expression versus respect for the property for fans.

More on artistic vision next time but for right now we'll focus on the concept of the ending.

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The entertainment industry is no stranger to 'bad endings' in movies, tv and writing. Every person can recall a multitude of narratives that failed due to the writer's choice in crafting the ending.

Examining the concept as a whole there are many stories that can succumb to 'bad endings' but are these part of artistic vision or are these elements subject to change? Regardless of whether it's artistic license or something that is open for debate, there are certain elements that need to be considered.

When an author chooses to convey their vision to others they need to consider the threads of each piece and how they flow.

Each element that is introduced in a narrative be it a character, a detail or an event these become elements, threads, of the story that continue forward throughout the piece. The viewer has a unique perception of the story and while the writer can attempt to foresee what those perceptions will be, it is important to note that the audience may focus on elements that may be insignificant to the writer.

Ex. If the writer introduces an engraved handgun that was given to the main character by a brother in the first couple of chapters, the readers will expect it to come into the story as some point before the close. This may be a detail to the author to create a sense of heritage but to the audience it is unconsciously an element that will play a role. This may come as another detail, it may come as the use of the weapon but there will be an aspect of this 'thread' that will return with implications.

Most 'bad endings' are not a result of leaving too many threads loose but frequently the result of Deus Ex Machina or breaking off the threads rather than tying them off.

Deus Ex Machina literally means - "God Out of the Machine." In short this means where the writer creates a perfect solution to the problems that arise in the story. This perfect solution is generally an unexpected abrupt event, character, ability or object that appears out of nowhere.

In some instances Deus Ex does have it's place for writers but for the audience these instances still feel contrived and cheap.

Breaking off threads usually incorporates Deus Ex for the threads or simply creating ways of eliminating the threads without a sense of closure. A number of series rely on this method when the writer wishes to make radical changes to a series. The writer desires to change the car the main character drives? The writer creates a radical scenario where the old car is eliminated and a new one needs to replaces it.

While this may be an applicable means to make changes in a story or series the primary key to using it effectively is in the pacing. If the threads are broken too quickly it will will appear out of place and once more it will cheapen the experience from the audience's perspective.

The final option for a writer to assemble the ending of a piece is for the writer to actually leave some of the threads untied. This is a common practice for writers to leave openings for sequels or other story opportunities.

This approach is used the most frequently to great effect providing the appropriate threads are tied in the conclusion.

Crafting a narrative is a delicate balancing act. The beginning is constructed in such a fashion to hook an audience and introduce all of the threads but the conclusion is the final moments of the piece. The last thoughts the audience will have of the work and the parting impression that will stay with them. If the conclusion doesn't strike the right chords, tie off the right loose ends in an appropriate fashion, the audience will perceive the entire work with that connotation just like the Mass Effect series.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Intriguing Adaptations

In any creative composition that desires to convey a narrative, the piece strives to emulate life. Through the emulation it is possible for others to connect with the work.

Individuals that perceive the composition can empathize with others in familiar situations, they can recognize individuals and even understand how narrative thoughts could come together because it is familiar. Establishing relatable elements expands the scope of the piece, changes it into something personal, something that can convey a concept into the very thought process of others.

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Selecting and manipulating elements to make a composition relatable is only one part of a larger challenge, making the piece interesting to an external perspective. Individuals have their own perceptions, preconceived notions that filter any composition.

While establishing the connection with the piece creates a given level of interest, it does not guarantee that the piece will have enough innate interest to keep the viewer engaged.

The most fundamental element of any narrative that grabs an individual's attention and keeps it is adaptation.

Every narrative, every piece is driven by the fundamental concept of human adaptation, individual adaptability. People are naturally drawn to stories because of the innate fascination with observing how other people adapt to situations. Regardless of whether it's how someone would adapt to the death of a loved one, the stress of saving lives, catching a murderer, caring for a child or even switching careers the interest is piqued.

Since most people are unable to experience all the possibilities of human adaptability they are innately drawn to experience these adaptations through others. It doesn't matter if it's called coping, overcoming something or character growth, it is human adaptation and we are always interested. Mixing relatable elements into the piece only assists in emphasizing our interest in that adaptation.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Intriguing Observations: Your Book’s Palette – Using Color in Your Fiction

The Intriguing Observations series was created to gather some of the greatest supporters and bloggers to provide their own insight on all things creative both in their ventures and their techniques. This week on the guest series is another all-star supporter and an outstanding wordsmith Samantha Hunter.

Learning to sew and decorating a home has taught me a lot about using color. It was inevitable that this would find its way into my writing. When I learned to quilt, I had to learn a lot about color combinations, tones and patterns. In painting (and repainting) the rooms in our house I’ve learned a lot about using color as well. For instance, how to use color with certain kinds of light, how colors will make a room seem larger or smaller, welcoming or not, and how to create a flow of color from one room to the next. In sewing, you can make a subtle color pop in a quilt by placing it next to something that contrasts, and the difference between striking and gaudy is usually the placement of colors next to each other.

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As we all know, color affects mood – green and blue are soothing, orange can stimulate appetite, and yellow can inspire happiness. Brown is earthy, white is cold. Color also has historic can cultural meaning – the main rooms in my home are painted to reflect earthy, Craftsman color palettes popular in the early 1900s. Or, if you like red, you know in the US red usually suggests “danger” while in China it’s the color of wedding dresses for good luck! (White, in China, symbolizes death).

Some colors work together and  some do not. It’s best whenever you are using color to use tones and shades that complement and work together somehow. Here are some good links to read up on using color:

You can do a lot with color and get as deeply into it as you would like in your book, but a consistent or interesting color scheme for your book can enhance your story, as well as tell us something about the characters, scenes and moods, which in turn affect the reader’s emotions and responses.

Does your heroine wear a red coat or a blue one? Why? What does this all say about her? If you describe them as living in an old farmhouse, or a log cabin, or an adobe ranch, you want to have a color palette that’s amenable to those living spaces as well as addressing your character’s choices. If you are decorating your character’s apartment, and she is a historian, what period of history does she favor and how would that be reflected in her dress or room colors? Or, if she really has a hidden desire or hates her job as a historian, maybe it shows up in the colors she chooses for her personal space in contrast to her office.

One of my favorite things to do with color is to use it to show how the characters and the story are also changing. For instance, in one of my earlier books, Fascination, my heroine wears only black and white at the start of the story – this reflects the issues at that point in the book, being trapped in extremes. But by the end, she is wearing multi-colored, flowered dresses – her world has opened up; she’s free. Even this simple use of color can have a subtle effect on the reader and how readers perceive the story.

Another example might be in the weather, the colors in the environment that you show through the protagonist’s POV and how that changes depending on their situation or mood. Or, how it can change in  the moment when someone caged by beige walls suddenly sees them as the frame for a beautiful view of the blue sky out the window – this could represent a life-changing moment for a character, a change in their perception of their world.

You can go back through scenes and consider how color makes a difference – or how it could make a difference. How does the gold wall look in different lighting, and how does that convey a certain mood? Consider everything from the color of the walls and clothing for your characters to the color of their car, etc. You can send messages to the reader through this use of conscious color choice, and make your story deeper in a very easy, fun way.

Sam Hunter lives in Syracuse New York with her husband and several pets. Since January 2004 when she sold her first book to Harlequin Blaze, Virtually Perfect, she has gone on to publish several more with new releases on the way. Sam holds two Master's degrees and was a university instructor for many years before quitting to live the writing life, is a confirmed TV addict and enjoys gardening, sewing, and travel.

Twitter: Follow @SamanthaHunter

Current books: Harlequin Blaze, Straight to the Heart; Indie Mystery: Once Burned, Book Two in the Sophie Turner Mystery series.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Establishing Style

Each and every composition is born of a unique idea that the creator desires to convey through their work. The idea, concept and overall composition may be unique; however conveying the distinctiveness of the piece can be one of the more difficult prospects.

Out of the more than 300,000 books published in the US each year, the difference between one composition and another can be as little as character names despite the unique idea that the creator originally had.

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The audience is often drawn to similar works and when one composition is difficult to distinguish from another on premise alone, the unique idea needs a strong means of conveying that distinctiveness. Adjusting tone, setting and specific details can take a composition from similar average work to something iconic.

Examining some of the most iconic media compositions, Burn Notice, MacGyver, Supernatural, X Files, Twin Peaks, The Matrix, TrueBlood, GhostBusters, The Shining, even James Bond it is apparent that each of these compositions established their distinctiveness through tone, setting and the manipulation of character details.

Adjusting the tone of the entire piece not only changes how characters perceive others and elements in the composition but it affects how the piece is perceived through the narrator and ultimately the audience's own perceptions. Changing the setting to something unique or even changing how the setting is perceived can establish a unique aspect that shifts the composition to something iconic. One of the most powerful means of establishing a composition's uniqueness can be through the details of the piece. Does the main characters wear expensive suits? Drive a classic car? Have an obsession with coffee?

When there are millions of different narrative compositions and the audience has a preference for things that are uniquely distinct but remarkably similar to what they are comfortable with, the struggle to be distinct becomes synonymous with Style. Even when the theme or concept is familiar establishing the uniqueness becomes a drive for the distinct style of the work.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Carnival of Thrills

Every composition is its own thriller, a unique and compelling ride that provides the necessary suspense, excitement and satisfaction to compel the audience to the conclusion.

Many authors equate a strong narrative to a roller-coaster, a thrill ride with countless ups and downs, sharp twists in the track and blind drops that keep the participants on the edge of their seats. To a degree this is a strong analogy for the perfectly balanced narrative.

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When participants choose a roller-coaster they have a certain set of preconceived notions about the experience and the expectations of what will be experienced. Presentation is at the foremost, the coaster typically has a theme be it horror, adventure or even action heroes. This establishes the tone for the ride and gives participants a set of emotions to expect. This then leads to the actual ride, the anticipation of the excitement, the suspense as the the coaster climbs each rise in the track, the fear as the drops are perceived, the excitement of the pacing and ultimate satisfaction from the whole experience.

Any narrative composition, even life, can be easily compared to a thrill ride like a roller-coaster but while this is sufficient in most cases it's not entirely accurate.

The reality of a carnival ride like a roller-coaster is that the participant is aware of what's in store for them. The track is easily visible, like a reader selecting a specific genre but in all instances, the strongest compositions emulate life. This is where the carnival ride diverges greatly from the single track roller-coaster ride.

Where a narrative does follow a path it is not a singular track bound for conclusion. A narrative, as life, is predicated on following choice and consequence. A singular choice may cause the track to drop from under your feet or climb to great heights. When characters in a narrative are subject to their own choices and the consequences of those choices, the audience can better relate than if it was an on-rails ride.

The individuals in a narrative are not merely characters designed to support the main attraction like props on a roller-coaster ride to add atmosphere. Ever individual is a product of their choices and the more that these connections are explored, the more the audience becomes invested in the composition. A strong narrative, like life, is not a restrictive roller-coaster but a full carnival of thrills. Every path is hidden,every ride, adventure and event concealed until the appropriate choices are made.

“Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.” 
― Stephen King, On Writing


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