I Didn't Melt!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

5 Chiming In
But it was a close one.

Show of hands -- Who knows it's hot in Texas?

Now, who among you knows how much hotter the hot gets without a working air conditioner?

Just in case you're among the uniformed, it gets hot enough to make the ceiling sweat. (Not literally. Literally what happens is when the AC decides it wants to be backed up, it sprays water in the air until it soaks through the ceiling and drips on the floor leaving not-so-lovely water rings that have to be repainted... yay me.)

This all happened Thursday, which is why there was no Teaser Thursday. (I know, I know, you're devastated ;-P )

Anywho, now that I can breathe without danger of spontaneous combustion, and my "finish" date has been pushed into July (Phooey!) I can get back to finishing my MS.

Thanks for all the wonderful comments you left on my last post.

Woo Hoo!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

17 Chiming In
Two things to mention today:

1 - I officially have 100 FOLLOWERS!!!!! YAY.

*does silly victory dance that may or may not include moon-walking and the robot*

Where's everybody going?

This is another reason I NEED TO GET PUBLISHED. That way when a milestone hits, I'll have shiny book shaped things to give away to people!

2 - I WON Sophie Littlefield's contest on her blog! YAY YAY YAY!

*dance gets sillier and possibly dangerous to onlookers*

This means I get a 30 page read from Barbara Poelle! (That's "slithery" Barbara Poelle if you read Janet Reid's blog.) Woot!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I may have sprained a never before heard of dancing muscle...

The 5 Stages of Editing

Monday, June 21, 2010

10 Chiming In
Thanks to a question posed on Natalie Whipple's blog, I now have a post subject. YAY Natalie! (She's a ninja. You should fear her.)

Once your book is done to the best of your ability and you're itching to send it out to agents who will undoubtedly love it as much if not more than you do, there's a critical step you can't afford to skip. EDITING.

Yep. I used the "e" word, and I did it in public. Now I'll really blow your censor button and use the "b" word, too -- get yourself a BETA-reader.

More feared than "Ni" in a Monty Python shrubbery hunt, the mere mention of the e-word or b-word can make even the most self-assured writers quiver in fear because while we all hope that the person reading our opus will love it, those of us who aren't suffering from the delirium of Golden Word Syndrome know that there will be suggestions of things to change.

The book's finished. I want it to stay finished. I don't want to make changes which will mean it's not really finished at all. And yet, someone will find something I either missed or didn't consider.

The easy fix comes first - obliterate typos.

I don't know why I compulsively type "widow" for "window" or "Herny" for "Henry", but both are my most common mistakes. (I no longer use characters named Henry, but dang it, you just can't have a bunch of buildings with no windows. It's weird.)

After the easy fix is when the hard stuff comes in, and when most authors slip into the 5 Stages of Editing, which I have unashamedly parodied from the grief cycle.

Stage 1 - DENIAL

My book is perfect and shiny, therefore no critique could possibly hold any merit. I shall ignore them all as haters jealous that they didn't write it first. So there!

Stage 2 - ANGER

How dare you think YOU can tell me better than ME what goes in my book? You all want me to fail!!!! Audacious haters, I shall ignore you and laugh about the fact that your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries! Losers!


Okay, so I should at least LOOK at the suggestions because they probably took a really long time and it's not like the betas were getting paid or anything. Wow, these make much more sense than they did yesterday. What strange faerie magic is at work here?


Ack! These are good suggestions. A LOT of good suggestions that I hate myself for not thinking of myself. Why did I EVER think THAT went THERE when it's so obviously better elsewhere. My book sux. Where's my shredder before I lose my mind and inflict this travesty of the written word on someone else? Delete key, you are my new favorite friend. *huggles delete key*


Eventually I step off the ledge and realize that, unlike my Junior year English teacher's red pen scratches, these are SUGGESTIONS and not ERRORS. I don't have to change anything I don't want to change. Ultimately, it's my vision and my book, so I can pick and choose what I think fits into the story I want to tell. Not everyone will agree with every decision I make concerning the story or characters, and they may not like where I steer either, but so long as it's the right way for me to get the point across, I can live with imperfection. E-mail back-up quickly replaces delete key as my favorite friend. *huggles e-mail*

Once the hormone roller coaster that is novel writing has run its course, now I can start on the easy part... querying.

(Could someone please lend me a crowbar? I think my foot is stuck in my mouth.)

Teaser Thursday - Dialogue!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

6 Chiming In
Instead of me just tossing up a piece of whatever I happen to drag out of my WIP folder, I think I kind of like doing a Teaser Thursday with a focus. And this one's focus comes from a discussion on Twitter yesterday about dialogue in writing.

There's a bit of a conundrum that happens when people try to write dialogue.

Rule #1 : it has to sound real.
Rule #2 : it can't sound like people actually speak.
Rule #3 : you aren't allowed to let your head explode reconciling 1 & 2.

I believe I have an advantage when it comes to writing dialogue because at one time I wanted to try screenwriting. (I was a teenager and screenplays were shorter than novels, shut up.)

One of the very first things I ever read as a "how to" for writing was a Screenwriting course book: Screenwriting 101: the Essential Art of Feature Film Writing, by: Neill D. Hicks. I *love* this book. It's short, to the point, and crystal clear in its approach to writing. And the absolute best thing about it is that the writing exercises geared toward screenwriting translate to novel writing without a hitch.

I've read it, scribbled in the margins to do the exercises, marked those scribbles out and re-scribbled with a new project... For me, the approach clicked, and the biggest part of that approach is learning how to handle dialogue.

If you try and write a section of dialogue the way people actually speak, what you'll end up with is a series of broken words, pauses, "um....", "like...", "you know....", that all add up to something less than eloquence. (If you want proof of this, find a couple of transcripts of taped conversations and count the awkward pauses.)

Dialogue isn't "talking", it's speech as dance, and it's up to you, as the writer, to the rhythm.

Dialogue in a book should read like dialogue in a movie sounds. It should flow in a set cadence that fits the character, setting, situation, etc. If any one of those things changes, so should the speech pattern. Dramatic monologues have their place, but so does rapid fire arguments and witty banter.

Personally, I like to do the dialogue first and then figure out what happened to make them say the words.

Rather than a traditional outline, what I usually end up with is a slugline scene heading and a conversation that I go back and craft the action around. Something like:

INT. Cafeteria -- Lunchtime

Adora and Keyan approach a table where four others are already seated. This is obviously the "Goth" table as the colors fade to monochrome. Keyan drops into a seat; Adora takes the one beside him. Introductions begin.

Yes! We are no longer outnumbered! The estrogen
levels have returned to normal!

Excuse me?

Keyan finally managed to snag another girl for the table.
I was about to choke from the testosterone fumes.

That's Rhetta. We usually ignore her.

Rhetta sticks out her tongue revealing a piercing.

And yes, it usually looks like that because I use a screenwriting program (Celtx is free). What I end up with is a dialogue heavy segment with a few clues as to appearance and action that I flesh out later.

I know that no method works for everyone, but this isn't one I've seen described often (or ever), so I thought I'd toss it out as an alternative. If you're interested, here's the final (for now at least) result of the scene snip above.

"Yes!" a smallish girl with tight black curls and a pixie-face exclaimed as I sat down. She acted like someone had just scored a touchdown. "We are no longer out of balance. The estrogen level has returned to normal."

"Excuse me?'

"Keyan finally managed to snag another girl for the table. I was about to choke from testosterone overload."

"That's Rhetta," Keyan said. "We usually pretend she's invisible."

She stuck her tongue out at him and a green barbell popped into view to match the loop in her eyebrow.

"Guys, this is Adora," Keyan said.

He sat down on a hard red bench that was bolted to the table at the end of a metal arm. I took the blue one beside him and a quiet rumble of "fresh meat" rounded the table, followed by fork pounding and insane laughter I can only assume they thought was intimidating.

"No, bad Lucas! Down!" Keyan swatted the hand of the guy closest to me who was attempting to poke one of my pink hair tufts with a finger. "She survived the buffet line and is now a confirmed vegetarian. There will be no references to meat made at her expense."

Finger-pokey guy.. er... Lucas hit him with a roll.

"Fine, you rescued the poor stray out of the cold. We'll be nice."

"No, you'll at least pretend to be human until she gets to know and love you for your freakazoid self." He threw the roll back and Lucas caught it before wiping it off on a not quite clean shirt and ripping into it with his teeth.

"Best manners, I swear." He held the mangled roll up for an oath.

"Well, she didn't run. That's one point." A monochrome girl across the table wiped a few flecks of bread mush off a large notebook covered in marker art. She clicked her pen into action and started scribbling with the pages tilted out of view.

"You're not hungry?" I asked.

"Have you smelled the food in here?" she asked me over the top of her book. The dark purple beads woven into her black hair obscured most of her face.

"Ignore her," Rhetta's voice said from the other side of Keyan. "Violet thinks if she eats something with actual caloric value that her blood count might rise making her less anemic. Then she'd cease to be tragic and pale."

"Plus she'd lose the ability to fit into a size double-zero..."

"Shut up, Rhett," Violet snapped.

"It's true," the pixie-faced brunette whispered behind her hand. "Maintaining two pounds over organ failure is the only thing she has to make Madison Ellis hate her. If she lost that, she'd have nothing to live for. And since we all know she doesn't have the guts to actually kill herself, she'd have no purpose left in life."

"Keep laughing Rhett, one day I shall eviscerate you with the written word and the only you anyone will ever see is the you I show them."

Violet gave her notebook a particularly vicious stab with her pen and flipped the page.

"She's really a sensitive soul," Rhetta whispered.

Sensitive. Right. Meanwhile, had the book been flesh it would be hemorrhaging all over the table.

Copyright -- Josin L. McQuein; 2010

Reading into Writing

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

8 Chiming In
No, I didn't intend for that to be some clever turn of phrase, it was just the most succinct way I could think of to sum up the topics in this post.

Last week a discussion was started on a forum I frequent. The discussion started when someone posted an alarming "find" in a book where the author had "obviously" interwoven his/her own beliefs into the fiction. I have no idea what book the person was talking about because they didn't share the title, but it got me thinking about just how "obvious" this was.

What I'm wondering is if the "obvious" viewpoint in this case wasn't that of the character rather than the author.

Sure, it's possible that an author with a particular world view crafted a novel in such a way that his/her view is carried like a standard from start to finish. Most of the time, unless the author says up front that their novel is a celebration or denouncement of [touchy subject or belief system], readers pick up on this pretty quick and it rarely has the effect the writer hoped for. In general, readers want entertainment rather than soapboxing and finding the former masquerading as the latter can lead to reflexive book tossing.

I think it's far more likely that the viewpoint in question was the belief of the character, and that's where the "problem" comes in.

How do readers separate the beliefs of a character from that of the character's creator? A devout believer can write an Atheist, just an Atheist can write a faithful priest if such a character fits their narrative. Bigotry can run amok in a book written by someone who finds the practice distasteful, and the words uttered by the characters will be just as hateful as if the author was writing from behind the eyeholes of a white hood. Cowards can write the heroes they never were and the outcast can build the perfect prom queen. It requires research, but that's true of most anything.

Do you ever worry that a reader might mistake something fictional in your book for a very real part of yourself? Have you created a distasteful or repugnant character that's so real the people around you began to wonder if there was a darker side to your personality they'd never encountered before?

Convincing characters, and those that are multi-dimensional have to be real enough to jump off the page and that can't happen if writers water down their personality for fear of having a character's personality traits assigned as their own. And it truly surprises me when people have a hard time separating fact from fiction. (Worries me as in I start to wonder if they think Stephen King really has monsters in his closet and a rabid dog chained in the backyard.)

It's fiction. By definition it's false.

Yes, writers put a bit of themselves into everything they create, but what they put in is their effort and heart and creativity. Bias and opinons are necessary evils to make characters as realistic as possible. Without them, there's no chance of an antagonist because no one thinks differently than anyone else.

(This, of course, assumes the writer DIDN'T intentionally set out to showcase a specific viewpoint. There are propaganda books that do this. There are allegories that do this. There are satires that do this. They have their audience, and the readers who open those books usually know what they're in for.)

It's a bit of a two edged sword hearing that a character resonates so well with a reader that the reader sees them as a real person. On one hand, you've done your job as a writer and created something where the readers can immerse themselves for a few hours. On the other, you know there's that kernel that makes the same reader who enjoyed the book look at you in a different light.

Apparently, a writer not only puts him/herself into a piece, but takes a bit of that piece into him/herself, even if that wasn't their intention.

Writer Silliness

Monday, June 7, 2010

9 Chiming In
Do You Do Weird Things While You Write?

I do, especially when "burn out" starts to set in like it did a couple of days ago. And this time, the "weird" consisted of making mock-up covers/ banners for my WIP when I got blocked. I hit Google images and found some clip art and wasted a couple of (surprisingly fun) hours.

There's this one, which probably makes you thing the book is vampire related, even though it's not. It's not even a particularly "dark" book. Heavy in places, but not dark.


This one gets the tone of the character, but not really the story.

This one, my current favorite WIP and the one that's shocked me with how easy it is to write it kind of obvious for what it is. (And I promise, the "wolf" part doesn't involves\ weres. It's a gothic village setting where the wolves are the doggish variety and dangerous to livestock.)It's plain and not really what I had in mind, but was the closest I could get without dragging out the prisma colors and sketch pad:


Making these made me appreciate the complexity of what a cover designer must go through when building a cover for a new book. It's a matter of tone and character and a dozen other things that I didn't take the time to hash out while I was playing. (If you've never seen the YT video of the cover designer making a cover for "Soulless", I'd suggest looking it up. It's fascinating how many layers and steps he went through.

The exercise, worked, btw. It knocked loose the writer's block, and for a finale/celebration of sorts, I made a real effort to make something that resembled an actual bookcover for the WIP that I hope will be query ready by the end of this month -- Arclight.



Saturday, June 5, 2010

10 Chiming In
In an attempt to seem productive today, I've made some word clouds out of my WIP. These are rough drafts, so hopefully by the time they're smoothed out, the "like" problem will be like handled.


My main WIP: Arclight --


My current favorite WIP: Wolfkiller (which has zero werecritters) --


And the WIP with my favorite character to write: Adora Adair --



Thursday, June 3, 2010

3 Chiming In
One question I see over and over(and over and over and over and over and over....) on writers' boards is "Which POV should I use?"

It's not a stupid question by any means, and I'm not going to belittle anyone for asking it. It's one of the first questions you have to answer when you start writing a piece and the answer may even change before you're finished. The "wrong" part of the question (which is more inexperience than wrong) comes in believing that someone else can answer this for you.

You're the only one who knows your characters and their story. You know who's in what scene and who isn't. I'm going to *try* and demonstrate the difference between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, (and hopefully not make a total idiot out of myself in the process).

Let me start with 1st person and what it isn't. 1st person isn't an excuse to filter everything through the MC's eyes, ears, and fingers. Yes, they're loaning your their thoughts for the duration of the story, but as a writer you need to get out of their head.

Think of it like an announcer at a ballgame. They don't shout "I saw the ball caught at the last second!" No, they're busy watching balls and bats and bodies to filter anything. "He's running backward, toward the wall. It's gonna be close. Maybe... maybe... could it be.... He did it! He caught the ball right at the wall. What a play!"

What 1st is especially good for is an intimate look at a character from close up when you want the reader to tag along for the whole experience. You've given them a fixed camera and that's all they can use to see and hear what's going on.

2nd person is the "oddball" POV. It's a more distant voice, transferring feeling and responsibility to a 3rd party - stage direction where you pick up the reader and shoe horn them into the story. Voice is always key, but moreso with 2nd because if you screw it up here, you lose the reader faster. In 2nd person, the reader agrees to play a part and assume the identity of your character; they're now a method actor. You know that almost cliche of "What's my motivation?" Well, screw up the voice in 2nd person, and that's where your reader's mind will go. Done well, and most can accept playing along with a character, even if it's one different from their own appearance, goals, or morals. But the instant you breach the character's appearance, goals or morals, you're done. No one wants to be a bad actor, and they k-n-o-w know that the character wouldn't do/say/think what you wrote. If they character won't do it, then neither will they.

3rd person is the "safe" voice. That's not to say it's the easiest, but for those with difficult subject matter, it's the one that puts the most distance between the reader and characters. There's a definite line that tells the reader they're not in anyone's shoes, but rather learning about them. You can use 3rd close, which fixes the POV of one character, or 3rd omni, in which your narrator sees all and knows all, but neither of these gives you an excuse to head hop at will.

So, that's it. My contribution to the definitions of POV.

There's no magic formula that will make your choice "right"; it's determined by the needs of your story. Contrary to popular belief, YA can be written in 3rd person close; 3rd omni, or even 2nd person and still work. Adult lit can be in 1st. The story decides. It's as simple as that.

What Makes a Writer?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

3 Chiming In
What makes a writer 'what', you might ask.

What makes a writer tick? Swallowing a watch will do it. But be warned, the battery acid's no friend to your taste buds... yes I know this from experience. And no, I won't give you details.

What makes a writer cringe? Usually the word "Oops" uttered with any proximity to their writer-nest (yes, writers nest. We're worse than birds for trenching in.)

What makes a writer tear their hair out? Usually "Oops" followed by the screen going black - just as they were about to hit "save" after 3 hours of brilliance wherein they didn't save once.

What makes a writer want to eviscerate someone with their pen? (And by "eviscerate", I -of course- mean literary evisceration where the offender lands a staring role in the writer's next tragedy.) Finishing a book only to read their blurb on the back of one already published or in the review column for a movie.

There's a lot of ways to answer "What makes a writer" depending on how you end the question. For the sake of this post, I'll stick to a broad interpretation of what characteristics make up a writer's personality.

Traditionally, writers fit into the "loner" category. Maybe not total recluses, but writing for any extended period of time requires moments of solitude. We need quiet so those voices no one else can hear have a chance to speak. If they can't speak, we can't hear them, and then we can't tell their stories.

Writers can be moody. We get angry or elated because we're creating experiences that no one else is a part of. They happen in our heads and hearts and spill out onto our pages, but explaining that can be awkward.

Writers are actors and directors. We control the action (the characters control it, but let's pretend we control them, okay?); we set the scene. We're every member of a production crew in front of and behind the camera. We're every character and every voice, and as much as we may not like it, all of their flaws come from us as much as their triumphs.

Writers are dreamers. The first stages of writing a shiny new WIP involving sitting and thinking. This is usually the point someone thinks we're not doing anything at all and wants to either take possession of the computer or start a conversation - neither of which makes step 1 any easier.

Writers are under-appreciated. There's a semi-famous story of Louis B. Meyer (from M-G-M), who had a horrible opinion of the writers who wrote his iconic films. He didn't see the need for paid writers because in his opinion, directors and actors made the films, not the writers. This was back during the contract player days when the studios were mini-empires and no one dared speak against the emperor. That comment was the last straw for one particular writer. When the time came to hand in his next piece, he delivered a stack of blank pages to Louis and (paraphrased to remove a few colorful adjectives/anatomically impossible suggestions) told him to knock himself out.

Writers exist in a state of optimistic pessimism. There's a strange mix of hope, confidence, and self-doubt that ebbs and flows during the writing process. I wonder if writing is what set Ben Franklin's opinion that one should "Hope for the best, but expect the worst. If it doesn't happen, you'll be pleasantly surprised."