Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Brainstorming Techniques,

Img credit: Magic the Gathering
I intended this post to be an illustration of several (successful) techniques for brainstorming about novels.

I only really had time for two techniques, individual brainstorming, an offshoot of free writing, and the team idea mapping method.

These two techniques were successful in that they produced ideas. But they didn't necessarily give me all the answers to my questions directly.

Okay, so you'll need a magic writing totem:

Aww. Okay, next:

You'll need a pen or pencil, paper, a timer, and a few extra brains....

The steps:
-- If you know exactly what you want to brainstorm about, skip to #5.
  1. Think of a question you'd like to know the answer to. (Individual Brainstorming) In my case, I was at a complete loss even to know what I wanted to brainstorm about. I had a story notion, but no story or even real characters, no structure, no POV or setting or theme. My first question was: "What things might I want to brainstorm about (regarding this story notion)?"
  2. Set a timer for three minutes
  3. Write down everything that comes to mind as fast as you can. If your page is blank, write, My page is blank. Pictures, diagrams, hearts and emoticons--all this and more.
  4. Circle one of those new questions. Mine was about POV: "What are the pros and cons of keeping my POV character the same throughout installments?" I had already decided that the story should unfold in "episodes," though I didn't know if that meant chapters, short stories, novellas, or novels.
  5. Sit down with at least two other people. Begin the team idea mapping method.
  6. Title blank pieces of paper with your new question.
  7. Set timer for three minutes.
  8. Write down everything that comes to mind as fast as possible (see #3). Try to have everyone stay focused on the question, but straying is fine.
  9. Discuss.
  10. Pick a new question and repeat.
Eventually, you'll produce this...

At this point, you'll hopefully have wrangled up tons of ideas. Each iteration will spring from the last, like mental pathways branching and fracturing. 

It's a good idea, when there's a question with two obvious parts, to brainstorm each part. For example, Part 1: pros and cons of single POV; part 2: pros and cons of multiple POVs.

Otherwise, you might spin off wildly on one mental path without ever questioning whether that was the best path to be on in the first place. Also, keeping discussion to a minimum will help prevent evaluation apprehension, or rather, brainstormers feeling unable to produce new ideas that might be shot down by the group.

Again, with brainstorming, success isn't always about finding the "right" answer, but generating lots of possible answers via different minds.

As writers, we're forever stuck in one mind--our own. Brainstorming in groups wherein participants write down all ideas anonymously, good and bad, before discussion is proven by research to foster more creativity.

Last, it's also proven that providing incentives ($, cookies, kitties!) gives better results.

~~Anyone else have any tried-and-true brainstorming tips?
Untested techniques?
Arguments for or against?~~

In the meantime, happy brainstorming!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Brainstorming Techniques!

... Coming Soon.
Testing still in progress.
Meanwhile, hugs & kisses & loves & wishes!

Img credit: Magic! (the Gathering)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

O Christmas-book Tree!

Amber Plante tweeted this glorious idea a few days ago.
Couldn't wait to try it out.
 I'm in love.

From Amber's stream:
Isn't this she so amazingly creative??

Mine's a little shorter and squatter, true....
 But it has a bow! How serious is that.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

On Narcissism: The Close Third

Ever received beta feedback like this?
"But what is your MC feeling??? Where is the EMOTION????"
Img courtesy of Christina Rowsell Blog
Sometimes, especially with active scenes in genre fiction, we get so caught up in story that we forget the story is coming from somewhere.

In the close 3rd POV, the story is coming directly from our main character. Who probably is (since God help us, aren't we all) a tad narcissistic.

Everything in our MC's world filters through her eyes.

That's where emotion comes from. Beyond direct or indirect thought, we have a pair of eyeballs, a set of five senses, a goal, a milieu of wants and desires and fears and agendas. This ripe interior architecture can provide the fodder for steeping a story's very narration in emotion.

Consider Anna. She's proceeding down a low-lit tunnel carrying a stuffed manila folder. In Scene 1, Anna's going for a job interview she really wants. In Scene 2, Anna's escaping a villain after stealing incriminating evidence.

 Scene 1:
Anna strode through the tunnel, mindful not to hurry too much, break a sweat, and ruin her pristine button-down. She blanched at her reflection in a silvery pool of water on the tunnel floor, illuminated by one of the few overhead lights. God, her hair. She nestled the folder in the curve of her arm, reached up to smooth the stray lock, and moved on.
Scene 2:
Anna slipped along the narrow tunnel, clutching the folder to her sweat-slick shirt. She choked on a gasp as movement fractured the darkness ahead. Under the glare one of those treacherous sparsely-spaced lights, she panted her relief. Only another pipe leaking. The movement had been her own reflection in a puddle of water. She crushed the folder in the crook of her arm and hurried on.
"Screaming Tunnel" by SweetlySick 
This isn't a case of muscular prose versus tepid prose. In the first scene, even the cliched "break a sweat" is intentionally mundane but excited. Job-hunting Anna sees everything in her world differently than in the second scene, and the narrative reflects that.

Moreover, characters notice different things in different mind states. If we'd tried a third scene in which Anna's walking home carrying a folder stuffed full of wedding prep info in a delirious ecstasy because her wedding is tomorrow, I bet you she wouldn't notice the low light or even the puddle/pool of water.

Sometimes, when a reader wants more emotion, it might be a good idea to step back and reenter the story through the eyes of the MC. What is she actually seeing? And how does she see it?

How can a narrative's very word choice -- not just verbs and adverbs, either -- reflect interior landscape?

Happy writing!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Synopsis Checklist

Graphic from College Hills
My #wipmadness goal this month is to write one of these devilish synopses. Before diving in, I did some fervent Googling and unearthed a wealth of helpful posts, from which I'll be lifting. Now to lay out my findings.

This is a checklist, not a how-to. Writers should follow-up by reading the cited articles. The two in blue are required reading, IMO. For simplicity, I'm using authors' initials. See References for details. 

Last caveat: The following relates specifically to the agent-querying package.

A Synopsis Checklist
  1. Format. 3-5 pages max; double-spaced; 1-inch margins; name, title, contact info on first page; last name, shortened title and page numbers on following pages, just like the MS. (JR) 
  2. Tense and POV. 3rd person present. As with queries, some synopses have successfully broken this rule, but in general, it's wise to play it safe. (MG)
  3. Purpose. Your synopsis should show... (JF) 
    • "That the author hasn't gone off in some weird direction that doesn't make sense or suit the targeted genre." 
    • "What makes your story different by how the plot progresses." i.e. Show key selling points.
  4. M.O. Modus Operandi. This nasty bastard  should...
    • Distill plot and conflict to major points, turning points, and characters readers care about. (JR)
    • Avoid character soup. (ST) 
    • Convey a sense of building doom and escalating trouble. (JH)
    • Keep tension alive. Use paragraph breaks as cliffhangers. (ST)
    • Mimic book jacket copy. (NB)
    • Entice. Read aloud, graf by graf, to a friend. Ask where it bores. (MG)
    • Be readable. Easy to scan? Lots of white space, no long blocks of text? (CG)
  5. Style
    • Simplicity. Plot level to sentence level, keep it easy to digest. (ST) 
    • Infuse the synopsis with your book's spirit and tone. Steal phrases indigenous to your story world. (See article by ST)
Final remarks:

On the one hand, relax. Most writers hate the synopsis, and most agents and editors do too. They'll be forgiving. On the other hand, this is a chance to show that your logic, character development, and world building is impeccable. Enjoy the chance to preen a little under the scrutiny and spotlight.

Good luck!


Monday, November 28, 2011

Editing? Read Poetry.
      Also, Wipmadness Week 5

My crit group meets every Wednesday night at a midtown coffee bar. We smuggle in a bottle of red and pour covertly at our table in a back alcove. I highly recommend this form of ego lube, by the way, for those rough moments during constructive criticism.
Img via Desert Living Today 

Leigh, poor thing, is massively pregnant, and the baby bump pulled a ligament in her side. So Karin and I sat down to discuss Leigh's story, sans Leigh.

Comparing our chicken scratch, it became hilariously evident that one of us had been seduced. It had to be the reason why Leigh's pages were, on my end, covered top to bottom in annotations, and on Karin's smothered in hearts and this is so effing good.

It was effing good. I'd wrestled with myself the previous night, staring at my handiwork. Are you trying to make her writing like yours, Lora? Be honest. Come on. Are you doing what's best for her?

The answer, it turned out, was yes. We began unfolding pages, word-by-word, and I realized why mine looked like they'd been hijacked by a cartload of pencil-canoodling critbots.

I'd been reading and line-editing poetry for the previous two hours before sitting down to crit group work. It's like meditation for writers, guys, this fine-tuning of one's senses for the critical consumption of the written word.

I was buzzing with hyper-sensitivity by the time I turned to Leigh's story, and no amount of her characteristic sizzling energy could kill my high. I was on fire, y'all. I wanted to bottle up this brain state and market it to practicing writers.

The best I can do is say: Are you editing? Read poetry.


So, yes, Wipmadness lovelies, I'm editing. Still. But I'll have Round 2 of the WIP complete by the 1st. Nearly query-ready. Thank you so, so much, beta readers. You know who you are =D

Any mischief managed lately? Where have your WIP and NaNo journeys taken you? Feel free to leave links to any brilliant writerly insights you blogged about this week.

And most important: Who is hosting for December?
UPDATE: Lori Parker is hosting. She'll be welcoming the Wipmadness team on Thursday on her blog.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Thing and the Other Thing.
Also, Wipmadness Check-in Week 4

My MFA workshop professor stands in front of the classroom drawing little squiggles and lines on the whiteboard.

"In every story," he begins and shadows in this nest-looking object with blue marker, "there's the thing." He circles the nest earnestly. "...And the other thing." He draws a second nest in red, circles it too, then adds two stick figures clawing at each other.

Not kidding
He goes on to illustrate conflict and plot with mumbling inchoate interjections, each followed by a connection of some nest or figure with a dotted or solid line.

Needless to say, I'm bemused and amused by his efforts at sharing this esoteric mechanic for deepening stories. For about four years. And now to attempt an interpretation of the above ramblings.

Let's call this "The Missing Other Thing."

Anecdote 1: I quit NaNoWriMo.
My writing group commissioned a book pulled from a place in my life I haven't grown or learned or matured or simply lived enough to write about yet. As I wrote (complete sh**), I found the stories interesting, plot-wise, but lacking any measure of compelling complexity. My NaNo project was lacking the other thing.

Me and my Bestie
Anecdote 2: Scoring dinner and Irish Goodbyes.
My bestie and I traveled last week through LA, Napa, and San Franscico. She's single, I'm not. She was paying for food, I had hotels. She had a plan: Not paying for dinner or cocktails, not once, and finding some schlep or five to buy for us. 

Fun, but left me with an exhaustion migraine and severe ew when I missed my op for the Irish goodbye and got a real Irish goodbye instead (tongue included, which, it turns out, is sexual assault when he grabs your hair the way you'd grab a shirt collar; who knew...). Anyway, point is this scene is full of conversation and innuendo, but as we all know, it makes for boring stories. Why? No other thing.

Anecdote 3: Last anecdote (I promise!!).
I had a text message conversation with a reasonably good friend. The dialogue was full of the general things reasonably good friends might say to one another, but underneath there was this unspoken thing neither of us wanted to dredge up. The other thing.

So, it's easy, right? There's the thing that drives the story, the glamorous trope, the plot or conflict-driven mechanism that makes a story swell, trough, crest and low-tide. Then there's the other thing that makes the story matter. It's what the whole story's about without actually being about it. And I'm not talking theme, here, or subplot. I mean, there's a goal underneath, there's a subtext, and when that subtext resolves (usually coinciding with the plot resolution but not always), the story is over because there's no more subtext, there's no more matter, there's no more other thing.

I believe this other thing is the difference between a story that lingers in your bloodstream a few days or longer and one that barely gives you a buzz.


Oy, Wipmadness friends!

I did join you this weekend after the hangovers and exhaustion migraines. I resumed editing the WIP and am still set for finishing by the end of November. Steady, if slow, progress. My food diary went out the window. I believe there were cookies at some point. And wine. And clam chowder. And Ghirardelli sundaes...

Please pipe up if you have any insight into this thing and other thing business. And tell us how the WIPs are working. How are your goals? Those of you braving NaNo, are you beating yourselves silly? It's been kind of quiet on the hash tag front lately...

Monday, November 14, 2011

(Napa Adventures)
Week 3

The stranger I met in Napa tonight had a fondness for orangutans.

At this moment, my best friend's passed out beside me. The smell of baking cookies pirouettes through the bedroom like an infinite troupe of aromatic  helium balloons, bounding, frolicking. Chocolate. Oatmeal. Caramel. A bottle of a sparkling wine's still bubbling on the night stand.

The stranger who paid our entire bill tonight claimed to be writing an article for some swanky New York mag, comparing wine to women -- or women to wine. Was I research? I didn't mind being paid for, but if I was research. . . . I'm a writer, right? I know how these things can go.

Apparently in his youth, the man learned from his uncle's raising of orangutans, giraffes, peacocks; learned to appreciate his wild side, to honor rather than fear the passionate, rarefied touch of the great grape god.

How this week is all connected is rather swimmy. No writing. There were my first four chapters edited. New encouragements unleashed. New books read. New lives lived. Roads not and gladly taken. The week has spun through a haze, with Dionysus swooping in at every angle, gloating without malice, a small, plump god with florid cheeks puffing away as if sobriety itself were an indignation.

Needless to say, the WIP is suffering a bit. It needs another good round of edits and I haven't quite got there. But next week will be better. I still hope to have WIP edits done by the end of NOV.

And you? Any related, tangential, perpendicular, orthogonal stories!? Tell, tell :) How are your writing goals coming . . . or not coming, as in my case?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Wipmadness Check-in Week 2:
Almost There

First order of business: Wipmadness Team Pride!

Crafted by our very own, L.S. Taylor, this blog badge captures the spirit of our endeavor. Feel free to jump over to her blog to copy/paste the image url, or simply grab it below!

#Wipmadness Participant!

A little preamble:

Whenever my husband and I take a car trip, I read to him. This saves on otherwise expensive audio books, keeps us both amused, and allows me to indulge in a little practice for when I'm published and have to read aloud.  ;)

Especially when the book drags -- for instance, when it's LoTR and our hobbits are meandering in a forest -- I always finish up a section with an optimistic, "We're almost there, hon!" Of course, the effect is somewhat diminished by his glancing over to find we've barely bitten off the first hundred pages and have five or six hundred to go.

Anyway, #wipmadness peeps, all this to say, we're almost there! No matter what your goals were last week, you are seven days closer to being out of the forest--er, to achieving those goals.

My goals were:
  1. Write 2,200 words a day for NaNoWriMo. Some days were a struggle, but I managed to make the count each day this week.
  2. Stretch my poor, pathetic, immobile ankles. I missed one morning (Wednesday), but otherwise success!
  3. Log my food intake. I only missed one night out with the gals.
This week, Goals 2 & 3 are the same, but I'm changing Goal 1 because, in a nutshell, I've decided to avoid the Sunk Cost Fallacy (see also Sunk Cost Dilemma). More on this later.

So, Goal 3 for this month is to finish another round of edits on McCorduck 7, my MG WIP.

How did you do this week? Need to add/subtract, augment, slash, forever destroy anything? Let us know so we can cheer you on!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Warm Wipmadness Welcome
Week 1 Check-in

Hello Wipmadness folks!

I'm honored to host Wipmadness this crazy month of November, picking up the torch from L.S. Taylor, last month's lovely host. I joined this network of writers through Angelina's blog back in August and learned that the team has been pounding out words together since its inception in March 2011, spearheaded by Denise Jaden.

As Jaye Robin Brown put it, "This is a tool for networking, encouragement, and accountability." Through this supportive team, I've finished a manuscript and found beta readers. Others have done as much and more, evening polishing their manuscripts and snagging agents.

This month, some of us will be frenetically hammering out new stories or finishing up old ones through NaNoWriMo. I'll be among you. Others will continue piecing together worlds at a more natural pace, researching, revising, creating and beta-ing.

This week, let's lay out our goals and keep each other accountable. Don't forget to use the #wipmadness hashtag when encouraging, ranting, and celebrating on Twitter!

My goals for November:
  1. 2,200 words a day. Ack! I'm shooting to achieve the NaNoWriMo goal of completing 50K words through the month of November. Week 3-ish, I'll be travelling to LA, Napa, and SF with a friend, so the 2K goal is to try to make for anticipated lost words that week.
  2. Physical Therapy stretches. I'm on a strict stretching schedule to get back 2-3 inches of mobility in each of my ankles and about 15 degrees in my hips. Who knew that wearing high heels all your life could cripple you? My goal: Stay on schedule with my twice-a-day stretch regimen.
  3. Log food intake on, even while on vacation and stay in the green zone.
What are your goals this month? And don't be afraid to shift them week-by-week. We're all here to help each other succeed.

Oh, and by the way, what do you all think about creating a blog badge for Wipmadness participants? Is anyone graphically inclined? I sort of love web badges and think it'd be fun!


Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Good Place to be Lost

This Life Book excerpt is fully redacted for privacy. The story is set in the U.S., before the four children moved to Mexico and began their eleven years of transience, on the run from Something Bad.

Watercolor #947 by David Peterson

A Good Place to be Lost

Nyanya took you to the fair. You loved the stuffed animals, especially the teddy bears and horses. After exhausting yourselves with games, you all took a pony ride. You got stuck with the pooping pony. Your sister was right behind it, and she laughed whenever it swished its tail out of the way to lay a big one. After dinner, your mom explained that the family was going back to Mexico. “It’s a good place to be lost,” she said.
You took a bus down to the border, stopping and changing buses frequently, purposefully getting lost, randomly taking new routes to Sonora, Mexico. The first few nights, you stayed in hotels. Your sister said it all seemed exciting at the time. She said no one realized the kind of change that was coming.
Why did you move? Your mother had seen someone. Always, whenever your family moved, from barrio to barrio, city to city, country to country, it was because Nyanya had seen someone who might have ended up hurting the children she loved.
It might be hard to think about it. The time that came next will probably remain guarded in your memory banks forever, in some hidden, encrypted drive.
Sometimes, you might look around your classroom at all the faces. These kids have their own hardships, of course, but they can’t possibly know what your past like. How it was to be constantly on the move. To not have a roof over your head when you’re travelling. To sleep in sketchy hotels, or even out under the stars. To not have enough food and to pray to God to supply your next meal. To settle down and make friends with your neighbors only to get uprooted again because your mother was afraid of Something Bad.
Something Bad stalked your family the way darkness stalks light, always on your heels from town to town.
"Living in Fear" by Philip Wartena Photography
Who was that? They look familiar. What if they recognize us? What if they tell someone who tells someone else? Something Bad might happen if we go outside. Something Bad might happen if we talk to the wrong people. Something Bad might happen if we’re seen in the wrong store or in the wrong parking lot.
Nyanya had to stay on her toes. To eke out a living means to survive in the world through heavy labor, hard times, and the sweat of your brow. Nyanya spent her whole life and much of her children’s lives eking out a living.
You might have felt it sometimes, but you didn’t know all the details. And maybe that’s better. It’s enough to know that Mexico is a dangerous place. As dangerous as it is unique and beautiful.
But this is part of your history. It’s part of what makes you who you are today.
Here are some of the stories of your family’s life in Mexico. (See: An Average Day)


Monday, October 24, 2011

The Multiplicity Premise

A few thoughts from my two current nonfiction #fridayreads.

This post is about the creation of story and the organic process that entangles character-driven action with plot. 

As every author knows, having a story line is just the beginning. It's then necessary to develop the narrative. A good narrative is an organic process that builds on itself and begins to take on a life of its own, often leading an author in directions he hadn't anticipated. (pg. 36)
Rifkin's quote is in reference to government pilot projects and "siloed" agendas that don't fall under the umbrella of a unified go-green-to-save-the-world narrative. Thus, they might be great projects, but there's no urgency to them, and no story for them to find place within.

Next, I want to present the multiplicity premise that forms the basis for Internal Family Systems Therapy by Richard C. Schwartz.
It can make sense to think there exists, inside your brain, a society of different minds. Like members of a family, the different minds can work together to help each other [or to harm each other], each still having its own mental experiences that the others never know about. (pg. 16, Marvin Minsky)
Schwartz shows with this premise that Multiple Personality Disorder is simply an extreme polarization of these individual internal entities. We all have these individualized parts, he says, and they sometimes work together and they sometimes don't. That's why you might say, "Part of me loves him and another part of me wants to shove his face in the wall." Actually, this is exactly true!

Photo from Teen Tweens Blog
When we act on emotions, we put one or another of our internal entities in the lead. Often, when we make emotionally charged decisions, we act opposite what the majority of our not-so-extreme parts desire. We will be acting against our Self, our seat of consciousness, which "contains the compassion, perspective, confidence, and vision required to lead" (pg. 40) our disparate parts.

With these ideas in mind, let's turn to characters, the movers and shakers of our written worlds. A certain amount of verisimilitude pervades even our most fantastic worlds. Our art most closely mirrors reality in the way our characters act. If we accept the multiplicity premise, our characters (who are not usually the ideally balanced and harmonized minds a therapist hopes to help her clients become) will act out of emotion with polarized entities swapping the leading role. A Needy Child will sometimes take the reins, giving way to a perfectionist Great Protector, getting hijacked by a Fearless Rebel. A self-deprecating Bossy Schoolmarm does damage control, leaving the Needy Child to lick her wounds.

The narrative -- the organic process by which story skein spools and unravels -- is organic because it's chosen by the human minds involved, specifically those of the characters living within it. In this analogy, characters are dynamic, and authors sit as compassionate, all-perceiving, confident, visionary Self-Leaders, bringing the cacophonous sound of multiple minds finally into accord.

So, authors? How do you deal with characters acting with extreme parts in the lead? Does the plot suffer when art mirrors reality this way? Do we, as authors, need to reel our characters in?


Reviews and Interviews: Jeremy Rifkin's The Third Industrial Revolution
The Huffington Post (Excerpt)
The Huffington Post (Review)
The Diane Rehm Show (Interview)
Energy Bulletin (Audio Review)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Here's what life looked like on:
An Average Day

This is an excerpt, redacted, from a Life Book.
The lives of four children hiding from Something Bad in Mexico.

Photo by Ryan Sitzman

No breakfast.
No lunch.

           to stave off hunger,
           you'd boil leaves from the lemon tree.
                      If you had sugar,
                      you'd use it to soften the bitterness
                      of brewed leaves.

On bad days, though,
           you didn't have sugar.

Under the door -- a slit --
                                                       you weren't allowed to go outside:
                                                            Something Bad might happen.

A few generous gifts
rolled through.
from neighbors' leftovers.

You'd wait,
           like normal,
                      for Nyanya to bring home dinner.

           she didn't arrive
           until past midnight.

She worked at a restaurant,
           would stay till close
           to bring home leftovers.

The worst part
wasn't Hunger.


           you could deal with.
The painful stomach-gnawing
           went away after a few hours,
                      especially if you woke
                                                                                        to make the day go faster.
                                                                                                              And you did.


The worst part
was watching the others
That was harder than being
--seeing your family hungry and knowing you couldn't do anything about it.


That was hard.

It was also hard
to drink bad water
from the hose when there wasn't enough
                       (never enough)
to refill one of the big jugs
you got from the store.

But when you're thirsty,
you drink,
even if it doesn't taste good.

                                                       Even if it tastes terrible.

                                                                  You'd clean it
                                                                    by boiling it,
                                                             and it would still taste

Your sister said,

"I have to give it to Nyanya.
She would always bring us food.
At least one meal.

She was a strong woman,
                      and her children always came first." 

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Takeaway: Making Readers Care

I've been working on a query for the past three weeks, so boiling my book down to essentials readers will care about has been at the front of my mind.
For instance, how do you make people care about
these little purple things? Mitochondria img src. 

Apparently, the steps to making people care about a project are universal. Here's the process my brain went through and what I discovered.

  1. I'm passionate about science and the possibility that humans can, through science and other means, better themselves.
  2. Lisa Iriarte tweeted about an annual conference dedicated to making interstellar starflight a reality in the next 100 years. She blogged about it here, and I was sad to learn that much of the conference was inaccessible to the average person. I'm that average person: someone interested enough to attend the conference and donate but not necessarily educated enough to, say, help build a starship.
  3. Then I stumbled on The #SciFund Challenge. Awesome, I thought. Scientists are trying to fund vital world-saving research through crowdfunding, getting average people (me, me!) to care about what they're doing. They're trying to make science accessible.
  4. Then I read this article by scientist and sci-fi writer Elissa Malcohn entitled "Science With Heart: Connecting with your crowdfunders through the language of emotion." And I realized the article could very well say "Books With Heart: Connecting with your readers through the language of of emotion." The steps are the same.

I urge you to go read the article. (Oh, and totally take a gander at the project while you're there. Very cool.)

And for nibbles, here's the the takeaway. In some key ways, these items should find a way into book, pitch, query, synopsis, and marketing plan (including blog/website/book trailer).

1. Sense of wonder: Something unspecified but extraordinary is possible. How can we inject a sense of wonder into our query?  Touch the universal? Touch our inner child? 
2. Sense of urgency; raised stakesResearchers are on a quest in a race against time. Characters are also racing against time. Urgency is a must. What will happen if they fail? Stakes are essential.   
3. Sense of mysteryIntroduction to the species and why it is important. Mystery can be simply leaving a few early questions unanswered--urgency drives us to read on and find those answers.
4. Sense of adventureInvitation to be part of the adventure. By laying out a character's goals and his/her limitations to those goals, a reader takes part in the adventure. We've all felt it--our own bodies viscerally willing a character to succeed. How can we set up these goals and limitations in a query, pitch, story arc?
5. Sense of belonging: A taste of the experience. Essential for marketing. What can we offer readers in return? Signed copies? A chance to take part in the next adventure? A recipe in the back of the book of some food eaten by your MC? Deleted scenes? Even if we're currently unagented and unpublished, we can be thinking along these lines.

How are you applying these or other ideas to make your book (pitch, query, trailer, etc.) accessible? What ways have you found make a reader care?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Staring blindly at the dark . . .
   & refusing to listen to the voices

~ ~ ~

My hubby isn't a reader, and we hardly ever talk about my writing. He doesn't read my published short stories. We don't brainstorm together. I don't share hopes, desires, fears. He doesn't cheerlead or nay-say.

Img from Nankurunasia
He is supportive. He loves giving me time and space to write. But it makes me wonder. . . .

So I asked him straight-out: "Do you think I'll succeed? Do you hope so? Or are you afraid to say anything, the same way I'm afraid to say anything to you? Because talking about it might jinx it?"

He said, "I do want you to succeed. But there're so many writers out there -- good writers, too, I guess -- who try and try and just don't get anywhere. I don't want that to be you."

When your own dark voices suddenly manifest from the lips of someone you love, what do you do?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

~ Decision Fatigue ~

Are your daily choices hurting your writing?

Death by 1000 Choices

NYTimes article on decision fatigue reveals some interesting ramifications for writers. [Skip to "For Writers."]

What is decision fatigue? 

The Times article begins with an anecdote: Three prisoners are appealing for parole. The first appears before the judge at 8:50 AM, the second at 3:10 PM, and the third at 4:25 PM.

Only the prisoner who appears first is granted parole.

Why? Basically, the judge's decision fatigue screwed the last two prisoners.

Decision fatigue is the effect of making decisions throughout the day, the depletion of your "finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control" [Times 2]. Willpower isn't a personality constant. Rather, it's in constant flux, and those who exert it early in the day will find it depleted for afternoon and evening tasks.

Decision fatigue usually leads to two responses:
  1. Making reckless decisions (impulsiveness).
  2. Doing nothing (procrastination).

Thus, the judge paroles the first prisoner while his decision-making reserve his high--in the morning--and declines the second two appeals in the afternoon--procrastinating, since they can appeal again. Other decisions from 8 o'clock on have depleted his reserve.

This reserve of willpower can be replenished:
  1. Get enough sleep.
  2. Eat breakfast and small snacks throughout the day: Studies show that an injection of glucose will re-energize the brain's capacity for good decision-making.
  3. Save big decisions for the morning, when your capacity for good choices is up.
  4. Conserve willpower by creating habits: A constant schedule--for getting up, work, eating, exercise, relaxation, and bedtime--will let you bypass small daily decisions, keeping your reserve high for extraneous or urgent decisions you might face. Like hiring someone, or buying a car, or cutting a plotline or character from your novel.
Ramifications of decision fatigue for writers.

Img from Word Wenches
There are three major parts of the writing process: research, drafting, and revision.

In research and drafting mode, the most important thing is getting the butt in chair. Motivation can be a major problem here. (Tips on motivation for writers.) But motivation can also be entwined with decision fatigue. Imagine you've been going about your day making great decisions, carefully resisting Twitter and Facebook, resisting temptations to snack or chat with coworkers or watch the news, etc.

Now, come evening, you must decide whether to put butt in chair. If your decision tank is low, you might 1. recklessly decide to write 10K words (drafting mode) or read an entire book on ghosts in the 18th century (research mode), thus blowing off, say, the report for work due tomorrow or the kids' soccer game you told them you'd attend... Either way, such impulsive decisions often lead to ineffective writing. Or you might 2. decide to research/write later. Procrastinate.

In revision mode, the butt-in-chair decision is equally important. But then you're hit with a milieu of tiny decisions that, if you're deep into decision fatigue, might make your butt-in-chair time essentially useless. You might recklessly decide that you're overusing the word stab: instead of checking each occasion by reading the context to decide whether it works, you impulsively find and replace. You might recklessly cut a chapter or plotline you're annoyed with because this is easier than fixing it; you decide to summarize, present that scene off-screen. Or you decide to leave it in and deal with it later. Let your betas find it. Procrastinate.

Don't write under the influence of decision fatigue!


Replenish your decision-making reserve before writing:
  1. Get enough sleep.
  2. Eat a small snack about 15 minutes before writing: This glucose injection will re-energize your brain's capacity for good decision-making. 
  3. Save big revisions for the morning, when your capacity for good choices is up. If you have a huge decision to make on a WIP, plan to do it in the morning.
  4. Conserve willpower by creating habits: A constant schedule--for waking, writing, work, eating, exercise, relaxation, and bedtime--will let you bypass small daily decisions, keeping your reserve high for extraneous or urgent decisions you might face. Like cutting a plotline or character from your novel.
  5. Query in the morning! Query when your decision-making tank is full, just as if you were sending out an important resume or doing an interview.

Do you suffer from decision fatigue? Do hundreds of daily choices zap your ability to make important WIP decisions? How do you replenish your tank or fortify your brain against decision fatigue?

Further reading:

Take a poll! Help Less Wrong research decision fatigue and akrasia (lack of willpower).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

On the Commercialization of Hate
-- Pardon My Rant --

All right, pretty cool commercial. 
Clean design, smart graphics, brief, edgy.
And for those of us who can't stand the buffering wait, bang on.

But is anybody else outraged by this flippant commercialization of hate? --An emotional force responsible for mundane violence at best. At its worst, it's the seed of racism, murder, war, and genocide.

Obviously, this marketing team has brilliantly captured my attention; thus the commercial is doing its job--making me think of Verizon. But I wonder if it's in the company's best interest for its audience to associate a morally reprehensible marketing campaign like this with its own name and branding: Hate equals Verizon Wireless.

In this age, "going viral" means "being edgy." And success is a matter of viewer numbers. But using "hate" as your catchword crosses a line.

Can't we do without the hate?
Know of any other campaigns with similar strategies?
What's your opinion on the issue?

Friday, September 16, 2011

In light of the
Davis Monthan Lockdown

True Story

A few months ago, I was on my way to sunny California with a friend who worked at Building 4300, the Civil Engineering building at D-M, also called "The Old Dorm." We stopped outside so she could print off a copy of her insurance before the trip. I waited in the car.

A few minutes later, an airman in camouflage stuck his head out the door. Looked right. Left. Looked directly at me. He emerged, shoulders stiff and hunched, hefting an AK-47, thankfully pointed downward. I'd never seen a weapon like that in real life. Sweat started on my forehead; it had nothing to do with the AC being off or the hot Arizona sun.

I had my ID on me, but it wasn't easily accessible. It was packed in the trunk.

The airman in BDUs tracked the perimeter of the building, body coiled, ready for combat. My breath was coming fast by the time he approached the car and tapped hard on the window.

Davis Monthan AFB
"See some ID?" he said.

I stammered, explaining where it was. I made to open the door to get out of the car.

"Don't!" he barked as my fingers touched the door handle. "Stay where you are!" His gun rose slightly and I froze. He backed toward the building, weapon still trained just lower than my seat. His eyes were fixed on me until the moment he slipped inside.

I had no idea what to do. I could only hope it was a drill . . . Did I look suspicious? Was my ID expired?

It turned out to be a joke, I discovered when my friend returned, bristling but amused. "I told him it was stupid," she said.

"Yeah." I felt light-headed. "You think." Frankly, I was pissed.


There is an old, partially wood-body AK-47 hanging in the Civil Engineering Building at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, insides gutted and welded shut. The worst you could do with it is smash somebody over the head.

My suspicion: It made quite the national hoopla today.

From various news sources: "Armed intruder . . . . Man carrying an AK-47 . . . Base is on lock down . . . Man holed-up in the Civil Engineering Building . . . No shots fired." 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Eh... Where the eff is the Hook?
*Gouges eyeballs out*

Good novels, like good short stories, contain:

  1. About 250 words per MS page
  2. Interesting, sympathetic characters
  3. Plot or through-line
  4. A hook!

Yes, that thing is bold, underlined, italicized, & exclamation-pointed for extra sparkly emphasis.

The hook needs to be near the beginning of your story if you care about Impulsive readers like me. The shorter the story, the closer to the beginning.

I've been reading Legends, edited by Robert Silverberg, an anthology including stories by Robert Jordan, Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K LeGuin, etc. The Greats. Unfortunately, I'm disappointed by these most beloved authors. At the entree of each new story, I have to grit my teeth and bulldoze through by sheer force of will. Why? I mulled and mulled, and then discovered something (as one is wont to do while mulling).

In Legends, the Greats are at a disadvantage. Their stories are set in pre-made worlds; they have at their disposal more backstory than perhaps Rowling herself had at then end of Deathly Hallows. Sometimes, this wealth of backstory becomes a crutch.

By and large, the Greats rely on their own names, their fame, and their pre-made worlds to hook readers. But in doing so, they allow their story's hook -- that which compels us by desire and intrigue to read on -- to go by the wayside. This, I realized, is why I wanted to stab myself in the eye while reading much of Legends.

The remedy:

  1. Don't forget the hook.
  2. Open with intrigue. Readers are curious and will respond favorably to even the tiniest (arguably, the tinier the better) hint at bigger, stranger, more wonderful things to come.
  3. Two types of hooks. Hooks can be plot-driven or character-driven, as can books. Know what drives your book, and open with the respective hook. (Unless, of course, you knowingly decide to red herring us; then open with the opposite. *grins*)
  4. Hook us in the first paragraph. A little something to perk up our innately curious ears.
  5. Hook us again. At the end of that first scene, plant another hook, hopefully tying in the first and lacing the story with theme.
  6. Hook us again. Yep, you got it. Next scene, a third beat. Another clearly identifiable plot point.

But isn't this too obvious? Too predictable? I ask you -- when you look at a house, do you expect roof, walls, foundation, windows, doors? And if you found these missing? Um... a thing without roof, walls, foundation, windows, doors -- What is that, like, air?

STRUCTURE IS ESSENTIAL. To houses. And stories.

And the HOOK is an essential part of that structure.

I beg you, weave the backstory later -- weave it well -- and open instead with hook and hook and more hook or you will be sued by readers gouging out their eyes.

And because I believe in reward driving motivation & resulting action, I'll put it this way. Can you spot the hook?

Img by Zynga Games

For further reading:
A great post on the hook by @Mooderino: "The Little Hook."

If you know of any other hook posts, please leave them in the comments and I'll list them! Thank you!!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The 7X7 Link Award

Oooo, it's all sparkly and colorful!
From the lovely Nancy S. Thompson. Thank you!
You should go visit her.

Blog awards are sometimes a bit wanting in bang for buck, but I like this one. It homes in on a blogger's best posts, in her own opinion, of course. The nice thing here is that readers can easily navigate to important posts without the hassle of searches. The award requires that I list posts categorically. Hope you enjoy!!

Most Beautiful:
"Thoughts on the Eve"
A Christmastime car ride up the west coast.

Most Helpful:
"A Query Checklist"
See if your query conforms to the basic-basics.

A slew of tools for getting your writing mojo on.

Most Controversial:
On the evolution of language and literature in this age.

Most Surprisingly Successful:
    "GUTGAA Blogfest - First 200 Words Contest"
Didn't really imagine so many amazing blogfesters would be hopping over
 to help me perfect those first 200 words of Dark Mettle.

Most Underrated:
    "A Dangerous Cocktail"
Kind of a rant on the idea of love...

Most Pride-worthy:
    "Starfall 1st Draft Complete: The Writerly Rush"
First time really cracking down and finishing a WIP.

*Clears throat*
And now I hereby bestow this award upon the under-mentioned (mostly b/c they're great friends & I'd love to see their posts).

1. Kara  at Playing Beethoven
2. Jaye at Hanging on to Wonder
3. Unikorna at Why I Wake Up Every Day
4. Jen at Unedited
5. Angelina at YAScribe

Hope y'all play along!! xoxo

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Future of Gaming . . .

So one of my beautiful crit partners emailed me today with this link, saying it reminded her of my WIP.

Thanks to Jaye Robin Brown, lovely #wipmadness host this month, I finished the book this morning in a writing duel with Angelina C. Hansen. We finished simultaneously!! How crazy is that?

Anyway, here's the vid:

Warning: May not be suitable for all ages.

But it's pretty sweet. And it does remind me of Jaffrey Pewitt, first underage full Watcher of Area 7.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Why don't I want to write??

The Motivation Equation
For Writers

Note: The motivation equation is not my original idea.
Furthermore, this post is almost entirely derivative of the cited articles.
I urge you to check them out. Go to Referenced Articles.


How to increase your desire to write.

Research has proven that motivation and procrastination can be mapped in the human brain using the motivation equation. 

the procrastination equation
Original article by Luke at Less Wrong

Let's look at a story. 

The house is a mess today. Anna grabs her coffee, chugs it black, and runs a hand through snarled hair. She paces between the refrigerator and cluttered dining table awash with bills, manuscripts, writing group excerpts, a mountain of agent rejections, advertisements, magazines, day-old dishes, yes, even stacks of t-shirts, socks, and underwear. Her laptop is somewhere under all that mess.

So is her Middle Grade novel, entering its climax. But who knows whether, if she sits down to write, the words will come out. Who knows whether, if she manages to finish the climax, the novel will need massive revisions. Who knows whether, if she slogs through those revisions, the book will be any good at all, good enough to snag an agent, snag a publisher, snag a readership. And what will all that do for her, anyway? Does any author actually make money today on their work? Is there a point?

She downs a second cup of coffee and decides to do yoga instead.

Mapping Anna's story

Let's map Anna's story in terms of the motivation equation.

E: Anna's Expectancy is very low. She has finished two books, sent them out prematurely with poor query letters to a random selection of agents, and received the corresponding number of rejections. In effort to push herself to write, she stacked them by her computer. Every time she writes, she thinks about them inadvertently. Thus, she does not expect to succeed with this book either, since history has taught her that her efforts fail.

V: Anna does not find her writing time, her butt-in-chair time, very valuable. She doesn't see much in the way of long-term benefits, either, and she's certainly not interested in the large amount of cleaning it would take to actually have a habitable work space. The Value ascribed to writing is very low.

D: The Delay Anna envisions between today's butt-in-chair writing time and any pay-off whatsoever seems to be quite large. True, she might upchuck a few words. She might even finish the book. But since she doesn't find either valuable considering her inhibitingly low Expectancy value, the Delay period until she reaps the heartening rewards for her efforts overwhelms desire to sit down this morning.

I: This factor depends largely on the person. A more Impulsive person will be easily distracted from chosen tasks. A more focused person will have a smaller default Impulsiveness and will need to put in less work to stay on task. Additionally, Impulsiveness can be thought of as one's sensitivity to Delay and reward. Anna's default Impulsiveness isn't written into this story, but one might glean from the state of the dining table that it's somewhat higher than average. Add to that the obvious desire for elusive reward, and you get a high level of Impulsiveness, crippling when multiplied by her perceived skyrocketing Delay.

Avoiding procrastination:

Let's help Anna avoid future procrastination and demotivating attitudes by increasing factors E and V and decreasing D and I. There's robust evidence that these brain states can be changed with practice.

Increase Expectancy with....

1. "Success Spirals." Make small, achievable, but still challenging goals. Note when you achieve them. I like Angelina C. Hansen's "Sentence Pact: Write one sentence. Success! Write another sentence. More success! Repeat." Make sure to decide ahead of time that meeting these small goals counts. Note them, count them, and continue this positive reinforcement over a period of time.

2. "Vicarious Victory." Science proves your mind absorbs the belief in victory just by observing it happen. Watch sporting events, not for team victory but for the players' skill at ball-handling or endurance, etc. Writers, go to readings and listen. Watch someone else write. Weird, but it syncs writing with accomplishment in the mind. Go to the bookstore and pick up books. Don't look at who wrote them. Just feel them in your hands. Let your brain see and feel victory.

3. "Mental Contrasting." THIS WORKS. Watch this video. IT WORKS. But you have to practice. I'm trying very small tasks using this option, one-a-day, increasing my brain's ability to be pulled toward tasks rather than being pushed toward them. I used this step to write this long blog post for writers!

Increase Value with....

1. "Flow." You know that complete joy that can come when you're in the process, feeling the flow of creativity? Practice entering this flow! Free-writing is good to get brain juices going, but it's also good for flow. You can set up your brain to desire this flow by, for instance, practicing free-writing. Recognize that all you want is to train your brain to equate writing anything with flow, and to equate flow with value.

2. "Meaning and Passion." Of course, if you're a writer, you probably know why you write. Lots of us just have to tell stories and bring characters to life, and that's meaning in itself. Maybe we have something to say; then inject this something into your story's theme. Why do you write? Remind yourself of meaning before you put butt-in-chair. While you're driving. While you're walking. Tweet it! Sing it out! And this brings me to...

3. "Rewards." Reward yourself for meeting little goals, for completing little tasks. Reward yourself for thinking about writing...  But only if your thought is "I genuinely want to write." Not "God, I need to write." "Good freaking Lord, I haven't written anything all day." Those last two are struggle-infused push thoughts and not naturally-motivating pull thoughts. There's a huge difference.

--How do you reward yourself? Smile. Inwardly or, better yet, outwardly. Laugh! Tweet! (I <3 Twitter.) Jump! Clap! Seriously. I know it's silly, but do this. Let the anticipation build between thought and butt-in-chair action. Eventually, you'll feel like you can't stop yourself from writing. That craving you get for a big, creamy, deliciously happy cupcake? You'll get that kind of visceral desire for writing.

Decrease Delay and your sensitivity to it by....

1. "Setting goals." Which you get to reward upon completion! Little ones, remember.

2. I love #wipmadness for this. Wipmadness was originally engineered by Denise Jaden and is currently hosted by Jaye Robin Brown. You set weekly goals (which for me turn into daily goals), and meet or struggle with them to a round of cheers and encouragements from fellow tweeps and writer/bloggers.

3. Weekly writing groups are an absolute must. Think how a writing group increases Expectancy -- you consistently succeed in bringing in 10 pages, more or less polished, for constructive critique. And Value -- you hopefully like the people you're working with. Seeing them light up with encouragement and ideas for your WIP is thrilling. And it decreases Delay. Once a week, you get the satisfaction of bringing in material. (Check out my crit girls: the lovely and talented Leigh Madrid & Karin Tobiason.)

Pull not Push

If you're like me, you may have trained your brain into doing things by pushing yourself rather than feeling a  natural positive energy to accomplish a task.

Kaj_Sotala has written a full article on this. I recommend reading it, as it shows how continually pushing yourself to do something you're naturally unmotivated to do (check the motivation equation for deets) can train your brain into confusion. It will equate pain (instead of pleasure) with tasks that bring accomplishment and success. No wonder writers burn out! "Pushing yourself" might feel intuitive -- "If I don't write, I can't call myself a writer, so I'd better write" -- but long-term this kind of brain state is harmful.

Check out PJ's Mind-Hack video on mental contrasting for a sure-fire way to begin retraining your brain to feel desire (pull) for writing.

Referenced articles:

1. How to Beat Procrastination
2. Pain and Gain Motivation
3. PJ's Mind-Hacking Video