Tag Archives: writing tips

Three places at once

I’m in a seminar today, in San Antonio, Texas. This is real world, and I need to be involved in the proceedings.

In the mean time, I’m online in two different places. First is the Legends of Windemere Blog. That’s a link for your convenience. I’m offering up a bit of fun Halloween themed reading for your consideration.

I’m also up at Story Empire today. This one involves Halloween writing, only you could apply the concepts to many different genres. Jump into the comments and let us know some of your tips.

I’ll try to follow all the comments as my time allows today. If not, I may have to catch up tonight sometime.

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Warlord of the Forgotten Age

Charles Yallowitz is a good friend of mine. He has appeared on my blog many times, and me on his. If you are the kind who read comments, you’ll find us getting into some fairly deep topics on one site or the other. Charles has what I see as a major accomplishment. He’s completed the final volume of his Legends of Windemere series. As a writer of stand-alone books I am in awe. This series is epic fantasy, and epic in proportion at fifteen volumes.

Many months ago, we got into a discussion about writing characters of the opposite gender. This isn’t something that comes easy to every writer. Our discussion morphed into the following post, and it’s part of his blast to announce Warlord of the Forgotten Age to the world. Read the post, join in the discussion, and get your copy of the book. I’ll also note that if you’re one who likes to wait for completion before starting a series, this is the time to jump on the Windermere train.

Oh, and if you would use those sharing buttons, we would both appreciate it. I’ve released enough books to know that spreading the word is super important.

Thank you to Craig for helping me promote Legends of Windemere: Warlord of the Forgotten Age, which is also the last of the series.  That works for the necessary sales pitch because I want to get to the fun.

A while back, Craig wrote a guest post for my blog about how he writes female characters.  This is a question I’ve seen come up a lot in forums with people asking members of one group how they write characters from another.  It’s almost like readers are surprised when a man writes a strong, interesting female character or a woman comes up with a great male character.  Although, more the former than the latter because many female authors admitted that they find heroes and villains easier to write than heroines and villainesses. By the way, ‘villainesses’ is a word that doesn’t get used nearly enough   So, where do I stand on this?

Honestly, I never really thought about it until now.  Since I was a teenager, I focused more on how the characters acted and evolved.  The gender was important only to denote romantic interests, pronouns, clothing, and physical appearance, but the core of my characters was to make them human.  My heroines had to be able to pull their weight on teams and have unique skills that made them stand out.  In my earliest stories, I gave all of my characters roles and the female protagonists did tend to fall into caster and healer roles.  Only recently did I revisit these characters and redesign all of them to flush them out more.  To be honest, the males weren’t any better, but I think most of us have started out with flat characters.

In regards to the women of Windemere specifically, I started with a character that was introduced in the connected D&D game.  Selenia Hamilton isn’t the best example of how I write female characters.  The reason is because she’s a tough, legendary mercenary who now runs a warrior school, but has eliminated her femininity to the point where she’s very masculine.  A lot of authors seem to think this is the way to go for a ‘strong, female’ character.  I considered changing her, but realized she’s one of Windemere’s pioneers in terms of proving women can be strong warriors.  So, it would make sense that she went this route and paved the road for characters like Nyx, Sari, Kira Grasdon, and Dariana. Does this mean Selenia Hamilton is a bad character?  Not in the least, but it does show one way I used to think when it came to creating tough heroines. The thing is that you do have people like this in the real world, so I don’t see why it would be a problem to have fictional versions.  I’ve met plenty of women who decided that the only way to get ahead is to act more like a man. So, here we have me observing different types of women (men too to be fair) and using the variety.  After all, not every character of the same gender has to be the same.

That’s really the biggest thing that’s helped me write female characters in general.  I look around to see how women respond to things, listen to what they would like to see in heroines, and watch for various personality traits.  This really began because of Nyx, who is easily the most powerful hero in Legends of Windemere.  Seriously, who’s going to try and tell her that she’s not?  Nyx started as my wife’s first D&D character and I worked with her to do the transition from game to book.  I had to keep the personality the same while making it deeper and more flexible since she was going to be facing monsters instead of finals.  It wasn’t easy because the game Nyx wasn’t nearly as powerful, but still ran into battle and tended to get knocked out in the first round.  Mages are NOT supposed to rush into hand-to-hand, which is why the book version knows how to fight and has a massive defiance streak.  This experience led to me doing the same thing, but it gets difficult with characters that don’t have a real-life counterpart.  For those, I paid attention to heroines and villainesses from movies, shows, games, books, and whatever else I could find. I was looking at how other creators handled female characters and went on forums to see what people thought.  Usually, I found more complaints than praise, but it helped me figure out the details.

After all of that, I still came up with one important fact that I use for all of my characters.  It doesn’t matter if they’re male or female.  I write about heroes who stand for good and villains who wish to do bad.  They’re motivations, personalities, and abilities might be different, but all of them stand for something more than what’s between their legs.  I want all of my characters to be seen as strong and flawed, which is why I pay more attention to the core than the fleshy coating.  Personally, I think that should be the goal.  Make a strong character of either gender that everyone can enjoy and you’ve done something special.  Thanks again to Craig and hope people check out Warlord of the Forgotten Age to see how Nyx, Sari, and Dariana do against the Baron.  Oh, I guess the guys will be there too.

Author Bio & Social Media

Charles Yallowitz was born and raised on Long Island, NY, but he has spent most of his life wandering his own imagination in a blissful haze. Occasionally, he would return from this world for the necessities such as food, showers, and Saturday morning cartoons. One day he returned from his imagination and decided he would share his stories with the world. After his wife decided that she was tired of hearing the same stories repeatedly, she convinced him that it would make more sense to follow his dream of being a fantasy author. So, locked within the house under orders to shut up and get to work, Charles brings you Legends of Windemere. He looks forward to sharing all of his stories with you, and his wife is happy he finally has someone else to play with.

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All cover art done by JASON PEDERSEN

Catch the rest of the LEGENDS OF WINDEMERE on Amazon!

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A visit with Craig​ S. Boyack

I’m over at Traci Kenworth’s place today. We’re talking about a little known segment of writing; how to write micro-fiction. Traci is a super supportive person, and I’d appreciate it if you’d visit her blog.

Where Genres Collide Traci Kenworth YA Author

Please welcome to the blog today, Craig S. Boyack. He is a fantasy, paranormal, and science fiction writer whose ventures into the short story collections are a welcome surprise to all. His famous sidekick, Lisa Burton, or robot girl wins raves wherever she goes. Craig has been a wonderful author to get to know and I think if you give him a chance, he’ll win you over in no time. I highly recommend you get a copy of his book.

Thank you for inviting me today, Traci. I’m here to talk about my newest release, The Experimental Notebook of C. S. Boyack II. This is the second volume of short stories and micro-fiction I’ve put out.

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Traci asked me to discuss short form vs. novels. Honestly, three different people asked me for this topic, and trying to make them all unique is somewhat of a challenge. I like a good…

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Pulling back the veil

Regular readers of this blog know I’ve been working pretty hard on projects. There seems to be a little of that going around these days, because I’ve discovered some kindred spirits.

We’ve formed a collective group, initially for some group promotion, but it’s grown into something more. Today, I want to tell you about Story Empire.

I’ve joined up with these wonderful authors to bring you something new:

Our initial common ground is the paranormal. We’re all pretty diverse, and we have other common interests as well.

We’ve all been working hard on different corners of our cooperative effort, but the work of Staci Troilo really shows in the new website and blog. Look at these wonderful graphics.

Huh, how’d I manage to use that last one? (Because Entertaining Stories is my blog, that’s why.) Didn’t she do a super job?

We’re still working on our group promotions, but the website and blog is live right now. Staci even made a lovely post about dialog that you might find helpful. We intend to include some writing, publishing, and promotion tips on the blog.

We’re growing and getting a feel for what’s to come, but you can follow the blog right now. In fact we’d appreciate it if you did. We’re all going to be posting there in due time. For now, the focus is on the paranormal, Halloween is fast approaching.

Check it out. Follow the blog. Share our startup across social media. Drop us a hint about what you’d like to see there.

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A short fiction trick

I’ve been putting off this post for a long time, because it’s got to be a long post. The reason is it has to include a bit of micro-fiction to pick apart. Some of you might like the trick, some of you might like the story, but I’m going to post it anyway.

I’ve been seeing more posts about writing short stories on Blogland. Some of them are good, but most of them could be summed up by saying make them short. That’s so obvious as to be pretty unhelpful.

In order to share this trick, I have to give you a story to pick apart. Since I’m allowed to post an excerpt for promotional purposes, I’m choosing one from the Experimental Notebook. It isn’t my fault that it makes a complete story in 900 words. If you like the story, there are more in the Notebook for 99¢.

50 Gallon Drum

It’s just an old 50 gallon drum. It sat alongside Mitchell Creek, just across Daddy’s field, for as long as I could remember. It may have fallen off someone’s truck, or it may have been dumped there beside the washer and dryer that had been there for years. It had blue paint once, but that’s faded over the decades.

My dog and I checked it out when summer came. Mitchell Creek was always a good place to catch tadpoles, or even a frog if we got lucky. The drum had a band and latch around the top, but it rusted pretty good in the spring rains.

I remember that I could look back at the house and see my bedroom window from where the drum sat. The trees were all young then, and there wasn’t much shade. Mitchell Creek Road ran up the other side, but Momma didn’t want me to go that far.

We didn’t find much more than garter snakes around the rusted appliances. Momma told me girls don’t play with those, so we never brought them home. When the wild roses bloomed, we had every kind of butterfly you can imagine, and even hummingbirds showed up around that old barrel.

In ’04, a bunch of yellow-jackets made a home in the barrel, and it became a place to avoid. They lasted for a few years, until the swallows found them.

That winter, Mitchell Creek became the preferred path for a red fox to get to his hunting grounds. We never saw him, but the tracks showed where he passed.

My old dog took to using the shade of the barrel during the brutal summer of ’05. He’d get his drink from Mitchell Creek, then curl up beside the barrel during the heat of the day.

That was the same summer Momma started on her nerve medicine. Daddy let a couple fields go fallow so he could spend more time with her. He leased those fields to a big agribusiness in ’06.

’07 was the last year the dog went to Mitchell Creek. Daddy buried him out behind the barn. It was a good year along the creek. The hazelnuts produced a bumper crop, and my dog would have enjoyed protecting the nuts from the squirrels.

Billy White felt his first bare breasts along Mitchell Creek Road in ’08. No, they weren’t mine, but we’re about the same age. They belonged to Connie Turner, who was a JV cheerleader that year. Billy played third baseman on the high school team, and he could hit a ton. It seems only natural they were interested in each other.

Billy carved their names in a young walnut that grew ten feet from the barrel. They’re still there to this day.

The farmers burned the stream banks in ’09. They said the willows were getting too thick. It really doesn’t help, they just grow back thicker than ever. It killed off the roses and hazelnuts for a few years though. That about ended the blue paint on the 50 gallon barrel too. It curled up and fell off in the flames.

The fires cleared away enough brush that you could see the road really clear. Hundreds of cars drive by every day, and not one in a hundred pays any attention to the junkyard that Mitchell Creek became.

The muskrats moved in with a vengeance in ’10. All that fresh young willow growth was like a dinner bell for them. The party lasted until late winter when the foxes returned. Owls showed up too, and flew off with a few muskrat kits.

In ’11, a barn cat gave birth in the old washing machine. You would think the kittens would be cute, but they were wild as hell. One of the owls grabbed a grey one on a cold September night, but she raised three to adults.

The barrel slid three feet downstream in ’12. The snows were deep, and when it thawed the flood almost took the road out. The barrel sunk about nine inches in the mud, before the summer sun baked the mud hard.

The willows still hadn’t grown up much. The barrel became a resting place for crows and ravens as they headed somewhere else.

In ’13, magpies nested in the walnut tree. That was a noisy summer. Those babies were hungry, and their parents worked ’round the clock to make sure they all had enough to eat.

The hazelnuts returned that fall. Nobody picked them, and they attracted many a fat mallard that winter. Billy White and Connie Turner were newlyweds, and Billy picked off a few of those mallards for Sunday dinners. He had a dog that looked a lot like my old dog. He’d jump right in the water and bring back the ducks so Billy didn’t have to get wet.

We lost Momma in ’14. She never did get over her sadness. The medicine helped for a few years, but the sadness won out. She’s buried in Mitchell Cemetery, about a mile from the house.

Daddy hasn’t been the same since. He didn’t plow the fields, and didn’t even try to lease them out. I think he has what they call a broken heart. He just stays around the house and watches the weather all day now.

The cars still drive by on their way to, or from, work. The wildlife ebbs and flows along Mitchell Creek. The old drum is still there too. It’s just a 50 gallon drum, but it made a great place for a passing truck driver to stash my body in 2004.

***

There’s the story. I got a ton of nice comments on this one, and it makes a great example for this tip. We’re going to pick it apart now.

I relate this story structure to a magic trick. I learned the words in a movie called The Prestige. It’s been a few years, so I had to Google the words to refresh my memory. The premise is the stages of an illusion performed on stage.

  1. The Setup: Get the central idea in there right away. The title of the story isn’t too soon. Show the audience readers what the illusion story is about.
  2. The Performance: This part is relative to The Setup, but it’s all about misdirection and deception.
  3. The Prestige: This is the ooh aah part of the story. This is the big revelation that readers never saw coming.

The title is 50 gallon drum. It’s also in the first sentence of the story. Where did it come from? What does it look like? How long has it been there? These are all established in the first paragraph.

The Performance part is the body of the story, but I’m not leaving the theme of the 50 gallon drum behind. I beat it, well, like a drum. We start getting to know the narrator. Catching tadpoles sounds like something a young person might do. We strengthen that by referring to Momma.

We establish that our narrator is a girl, and reference roses, butterflies, and hummingbirds. By now, the hope is that readers are along for the ride. A girl hanging out along the stream, catching tadpoles, and sniffing the roses.

This is where I establish the timeline. 2004 wasn’t so nice. This is an important year with ties to The Prestige part of the story. Yellowjackets are a kind of wasp that eats carrion. Not everyone will pick up on that, but if you’ve ever had a picnic in the American West, you know about yellowjackets. The end of the story tells us exactly what they were feeding on, but not yet.

Our narrator has a dog, and he keeps going to the stream and hanging out. He knows what’s going on. Most readers aren’t even going to notice that the dog is going to the stream alone.

Momma starts on nerve medicine, and Daddy loses interest in farming. I wonder why?

Then it moves into the ebb and flow of nature along Mitchel Creek. There isn’t so much that I could lose readers, but a few paragraphs are easily digested.

If I did it right, my readers are along for the ride and enjoying the passing of years along this neglected country stream.

By the time I get to The Prestige and pull back the curtain, readers aren’t expecting this at all.

I don’t use this method all the time, but it’s a neat trick to know if you write short form. It’s almost like a three act structure for a short story. I think it gives writers a little more value than an article that says, “Use less words.”

I’ve been writing short form stuff ever since. I think this works better with micro-fiction up to about a 3500 word short story. It could work on something longer, but I don’t know if you can carry out The Performance phase for 30,000 words.

What do you think? Does this sound like something you might like to try? Do you want to read the Experimental Notebook? Does sharing a look behind the scenes ruin the story for you? I’d really like to know what you think, so tell me in the comments.

I’m going to a seminar in Atlanta next week. I’m taking my old iPad, so I’ll post something along the way. I’ll also get a chance to participate in comments and read your blogs during my down time. My posts during the week won’t be quite this long, I promise.

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Leave your characters alone

Yeah, it's a play on words. This is a writing tip, of sorts. It wants to become a several thousand word post, but I'm going to try to focus.

Where do you feel safe? Most folks choose their home or room. Others might choose a crowd somewhere. This is because humans have an instinct for personal safety.

Even children will crawl into bed with parents to feel safe. Now let's turn this on its head.

We see characters who meet the villain in a crowded place. This is to eliminate some perceived danger the villain poses. We take away the villain's power – temporarily.

Now place your heroine deep in the desert. It's nighttime. She has her rape whistle in one hand, and a keychain pepper spray in the other. It's only 50 miles from the nearest person who can hear the whistle. Add in a two headed werewolf and you're golden.

The environment adds an underlying stress of its own. This also plays to human instinct, and you don't even have to explain it. Your heroine doesn't have any water in this desert. It's going to be scorching tomorrow- if she lives that long. Maybe there are rattlesnakes around too.

Think about one you've all seen before. Sheriff Brody and friends are in a small boat on the ocean. Captain Quint smashed the radio, and there is a killer shark with a powerful hunger.

If you've never been in a rat bag old boat and out of sight of land, you've missed out. (I've been in that situation.) I felt cheated when they swam to shore at the end. Until that point, they were out to sea.

You can't swim all that far. Even lovely water is still colder than your body temperature. Eventually, you're going to tire out, and the warmth is going to get sucked from your body. People instinctively know this. It adds stress to the story without losing focus on the killer shark.

If the shark gets bored and leaves, hypothermia and drowning are still real possibilities.

I like to move my characters around. Even leaving town adds a subtle smolder to the story. Wrong turn in the big city. Apple Maps that can't be trusted. There are all kinds of possibilities.

I like to plan these things out ahead of time. Last Saturday, I watched two NPCs running behind Dr. Who to escape a monster. They're all together, and within touching distance. One woman made a hard left and hid inside a room. She actually watched the others run the other way. The monster killed her.

Nobody wants this. This is bad. Your character shouldn't ask to be excused at the dinner table like this. “Great dinner, Mom. I'm going into the creepy cornfield now to confront the monster with a paper clip and a Swiss Army knife.”

To avoid this you should have a plan that both moves into isolation, and a logical escape plan. It hasn't been acceptable for the cavalry to arrive at the last second for decades.

Isolation can be used at any point in the story, but it nearly must be used at the end. This is where the hero faces the villain on the villain's turf. This is the part where I want to stretch this into a huge post, but I'll resist. In books, everything ties together but I'll focus.

Note that Sheriff Brody didn't lock the shark in an interview room. It all went down at sea.

This isolation can be physical, like Sandra Bullock drifting through space, but there is an opportunity for it to be more spiritual too. Maybe your heroine refuses a marriage proposal from the most eligible bachelor in front of everyone at her daddy's country club. They all want something she simply does not. She follows her heart and becomes a sponge diver in Florida. She was isolated in a crowd.

Unfamiliar settings and isolation are powerful things. The bad guy has an advantage, and skewing the odds adds that delicious tension a good story needs. Many times you get the advantage of an inbred fear to underly the main points.

So how about it? Do you ever think about this writing tool? Do you plan for it? Possibly outline around it? I do, but I know there are many seat of the pants writers who may have different methods.

Let me hear it in the comments. (I used copy and paste to set this up. It all looks great. If it comes out as one big paragraph, I won't be able to edit it for hours. I'm busy at work when this posts.)

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What have we learned so far?

I recently invited guest bloggers to participate on my site. A bunch of you jumped on this, and it’s made for some interesting posts. Most of them turned into blog swaps, and it required me to taste my own medicine.

I’m a challenging host. I ask people to give us tips and tricks of the trade. No one person can know all of this, but we can all benefit by sharing. Everyone who expressed interest rose to the challenge. Not a whiner in the whole bunch.

We learned some great character based tips to keep a long series fresh, courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. I countered with character arch over a stand alone novel.

Sean Harrington discussed his artwork, and how computer graphics are the way to go. Who knew oil paints can sometimes take years to dry? (He provided the picture of Lisa down the page.)

Kylie Betzner gave us some good tips on weaving comedy into our stories. This is something all stories can benefit from, even if it isn’t the main focus. She must be good, she convinced me to download her new book, The Quest for the Holy Something or Other.

Whew, between Kylie and Charles I’m feeling spelling challenged. I’ve checked their names twice, and I still bet I get something wrong.

Mae Clair and I did a blog swap this week too. We both delved into the topic of research. She described a field trip to look into the haunts of The Mothman. Mine was about pre-research and creating a stream of information that comes to me. I also discussed my living documents over there. Also, do you know how many ways there are to spell Mae Clair?

Everyone was great about participating in the comments and re-blogging their posts. This helps us both reach a wider audience. I gained a few followers, and I hope they did too.

There’s more on the way, but it’s important to write my own blog from time to time. In a perfect world I’d like to host weekly, or even twice per month. It’s been hard to keep up with, but I accepted all takers. There is one scheduled next week too. We get to learn about collaborating with another author, so stay tuned for that.

I’d love to get someone in here to talk about romance. It doesn’t matter where your setting is, romance is possible. I’ll even let it go slightly into erotica, provided you tell us how to avoid writing “throbbing member”.

World building is another great topic, including how much is too much.

Maybe one of you would like to post about sin words from an editing point of view. Mine are “that” and “was”. Maybe yours are “very” and “just”. We can all benefit from this.

I’m open to other ideas too, and you are absolutely encouraged to plug your book baby. Lisa Burton is standing by.

 

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