Thursday, December 15, 2016

In my previous post in this series, "Fleshing out a thin story: thin characterization," I discussed the ways in which manuscripts drafted hastily, such as during NaNoWriMo, can have some areas of underwriting that need to be fleshed out in revision.

Today's post on underwritten conflict is related, because you first need to have developed characters before you can fully suss out the many potential forms of conflict in your story.  Conflict in fiction involves more than just the surface problem that drives the plot. It also involves interpersonal conflict between characters, not only the hero and antagonist, but also the hero and other often well-meaning allies who block him/her in some way. And further, to develop the hero's inner arc, your story must also involve internal conflict between some of the hero's own desires, be they aspriational, like a desire to love and be loved, or protective, such as a desire to never be made to look a fool. (Both are typically tied in some way to the hero's wound.)

I would argue that to have a compelling plot--that is, a surface problem that appropriately fits these characters, that challenges their particular moral and psychological issues--it's helpful to approach conflict from the inside out. That is, you first develop the hero's internal conflict, then from there it will be clearer what kinds of other conflicts s/he'd naturally get into. Who would push her buttons? How would he respond to the antagonist's goading or to sudden perilous circumstances? I cover this idea pretty extensively in that previous post on thin characterization, so I'll merely point you there once again.

Plot conflicts


Once you've got your hero's inner world established, consider how to bring to the fore the inner arc. What kinds of annoying people and circumstances will most challenge the hero's key weakness?

Another key question: how can I make things worse for my hero? Be wary, however, of just throwing random problems at your characters, or your story will become unintentionally comical. (Farce is the resulting genre when every possible thing that could ever go wrong does...and then gets worse and worse and worse, essentially to make the point that life is a big joke. Ha.)

So how can you make things worse in a way that enhances the story?
  • Block the hero's progress toward a goal with small inconveniences that would naturally happen in his/her environment: weather changes, injuries, illness. equipment failure, uncooperative underlings, punishing authority figures, family crises, work deadlines 
  • Add a "ticking clock"--some sort of deadline that adds urgency.
  • Undermine the hero by shaking his/her confidence or applying pressures that will make him/her behave badly--make a mistake, do something mean, defy his/her own inner rules.
  • Create a hardship that forces the hero to learn a new skill or build relationships that will be needed later.
  • Add complications to an existing problem, or raise the stakes of failing to solve it.

Interpersonal conflict


Many underwritten stories limit the interpersonal conflict to an antagonist character or two, while everyone else seems to get along pretty well. This is not only unrealistic, it's also a hugely missed opportunity to portray the rich depths of your characters and their relationships.

Because no matter how loving and dedicated people are to one another, they will come into conflict about little irritating habits, differences in taste or opinion, and personal goals. Two wholly good characters can easily squabble about the best method of doing good and when and for whom. How they squabble reveals a great deal about them.

In addition to allies who scuffle with the hero, consider adding in other characters who act as forces of antagonism in addition to, or even in place of a single arch-villain. I describe eight different kinds of "everyday antagonists" who can join your story, or perhaps be recruited from your existing ranks of characters.

Perhaps you have some interpersonal conflict, but it isn't quite well working yet. Many underwritten stories suffer from "jumping conflict" in which characters are calm or simpatico one moment, then inexplicably shouting at each other the next.

Granted, there are some people with extremely short fuses. They're perpetually angry and fly into a rage with little provocation. But those types are usually pretty easy to spot. They exhibit signs of being short fused in how they carry themselves and their tone of voice. If such a character exists in your fictional world, be sure to make those warning signs clear from the moment you introduce the character. Otherwise, his fits of rage will seem simply melodramatic, and he'll be a caricature rather than a character.

Most characters have longer fuses. They shift from calm to angry in gradual stages--slow burn. Negotiation or conflict avoidance should be more common than out-and-out fights. And when those fights do occur, they need to be appropriately paced. How?


  • Have the characters in conflict chip away at one another.
  • Have one try to back off or refuse to rise to the bait.
  • Repeatedly provoke a character with other, exterior conflicts so that she's ripe to burst with a little more pressure. 
  • Establish a trait such as worry or paranoia, so that his response to this trigger seems reasonable.

Most of all, try to think creatively about complex emotional responses. Straight-up anger is easy to write, and we can get lazy. In most conflicts, several emotions are at war. The mom who has to pick up her drunk teenager from a party can be as much worried and afraid as angry. The bullied nerd desires acceptance as much as revenge.

Explore those layers of emotion, and conflicts will become more interesting and more tense.

In every instance where characters get into conflict, stop and consider the mixed emotions that might reasonably be in play. Remember that not every character is prone to fist-fights or verbal sparring. Some people, when at cross-purposes with others, use soft, more positive tools to achieve their aims--they  might flatter, plead, or joke. This, too, is dramatic. Story-moving.

In The Scene Book, Sandra Scofield uses the term "negotiation" to describe how most characters experience conflict. She defines it as "an exchange of character desires and denials and relenting, until some sort of peace is carved out, or else the interaction falls apart."

Negotiation is a way of approaching conflict as power plays, in which each character tries to get what he or she wants.

I find this a helpful concept, because "conflict" is a pretty wholly negative term, whereas negotiations are often a mixed bag, and frankly, mixed bags offer more interest and diversity. Instead of one-note characters in one-note plots, negotiation helps you build character complexity and plots with organic twists and turns.

The power plays of negotiation depend first on the kind of relationship characters have--whether based on hierarchy, intimacy and equality, or a mix--and second, with the way each character tends to relate to and use power. Some will approach wresting power using negative tools like attacking, blame-shifting, lying or threatening. Others will use positive tools like begging, making promises, or truth-telling. (For an deeper look at the tools of negotation, see "The Secret to Complex, Compelling Conflict")

Interior conflict in underwritten stories often goes hand in hand with an overall thinness of the character's inner world and representations of interiority, so I will tackle this issue in a future post.

Which area is trickier for you to write, plot conflicts or interpersonal conflicts?


Thursday, December 15, 2016 Laurel Garver
In my previous post in this series, "Fleshing out a thin story: thin characterization," I discussed the ways in which manuscripts drafted hastily, such as during NaNoWriMo, can have some areas of underwriting that need to be fleshed out in revision.

Today's post on underwritten conflict is related, because you first need to have developed characters before you can fully suss out the many potential forms of conflict in your story.  Conflict in fiction involves more than just the surface problem that drives the plot. It also involves interpersonal conflict between characters, not only the hero and antagonist, but also the hero and other often well-meaning allies who block him/her in some way. And further, to develop the hero's inner arc, your story must also involve internal conflict between some of the hero's own desires, be they aspriational, like a desire to love and be loved, or protective, such as a desire to never be made to look a fool. (Both are typically tied in some way to the hero's wound.)

I would argue that to have a compelling plot--that is, a surface problem that appropriately fits these characters, that challenges their particular moral and psychological issues--it's helpful to approach conflict from the inside out. That is, you first develop the hero's internal conflict, then from there it will be clearer what kinds of other conflicts s/he'd naturally get into. Who would push her buttons? How would he respond to the antagonist's goading or to sudden perilous circumstances? I cover this idea pretty extensively in that previous post on thin characterization, so I'll merely point you there once again.

Plot conflicts


Once you've got your hero's inner world established, consider how to bring to the fore the inner arc. What kinds of annoying people and circumstances will most challenge the hero's key weakness?

Another key question: how can I make things worse for my hero? Be wary, however, of just throwing random problems at your characters, or your story will become unintentionally comical. (Farce is the resulting genre when every possible thing that could ever go wrong does...and then gets worse and worse and worse, essentially to make the point that life is a big joke. Ha.)

So how can you make things worse in a way that enhances the story?
  • Block the hero's progress toward a goal with small inconveniences that would naturally happen in his/her environment: weather changes, injuries, illness. equipment failure, uncooperative underlings, punishing authority figures, family crises, work deadlines 
  • Add a "ticking clock"--some sort of deadline that adds urgency.
  • Undermine the hero by shaking his/her confidence or applying pressures that will make him/her behave badly--make a mistake, do something mean, defy his/her own inner rules.
  • Create a hardship that forces the hero to learn a new skill or build relationships that will be needed later.
  • Add complications to an existing problem, or raise the stakes of failing to solve it.

Interpersonal conflict


Many underwritten stories limit the interpersonal conflict to an antagonist character or two, while everyone else seems to get along pretty well. This is not only unrealistic, it's also a hugely missed opportunity to portray the rich depths of your characters and their relationships.

Because no matter how loving and dedicated people are to one another, they will come into conflict about little irritating habits, differences in taste or opinion, and personal goals. Two wholly good characters can easily squabble about the best method of doing good and when and for whom. How they squabble reveals a great deal about them.

In addition to allies who scuffle with the hero, consider adding in other characters who act as forces of antagonism in addition to, or even in place of a single arch-villain. I describe eight different kinds of "everyday antagonists" who can join your story, or perhaps be recruited from your existing ranks of characters.

Perhaps you have some interpersonal conflict, but it isn't quite well working yet. Many underwritten stories suffer from "jumping conflict" in which characters are calm or simpatico one moment, then inexplicably shouting at each other the next.

Granted, there are some people with extremely short fuses. They're perpetually angry and fly into a rage with little provocation. But those types are usually pretty easy to spot. They exhibit signs of being short fused in how they carry themselves and their tone of voice. If such a character exists in your fictional world, be sure to make those warning signs clear from the moment you introduce the character. Otherwise, his fits of rage will seem simply melodramatic, and he'll be a caricature rather than a character.

Most characters have longer fuses. They shift from calm to angry in gradual stages--slow burn. Negotiation or conflict avoidance should be more common than out-and-out fights. And when those fights do occur, they need to be appropriately paced. How?


  • Have the characters in conflict chip away at one another.
  • Have one try to back off or refuse to rise to the bait.
  • Repeatedly provoke a character with other, exterior conflicts so that she's ripe to burst with a little more pressure. 
  • Establish a trait such as worry or paranoia, so that his response to this trigger seems reasonable.

Most of all, try to think creatively about complex emotional responses. Straight-up anger is easy to write, and we can get lazy. In most conflicts, several emotions are at war. The mom who has to pick up her drunk teenager from a party can be as much worried and afraid as angry. The bullied nerd desires acceptance as much as revenge.

Explore those layers of emotion, and conflicts will become more interesting and more tense.

In every instance where characters get into conflict, stop and consider the mixed emotions that might reasonably be in play. Remember that not every character is prone to fist-fights or verbal sparring. Some people, when at cross-purposes with others, use soft, more positive tools to achieve their aims--they  might flatter, plead, or joke. This, too, is dramatic. Story-moving.

In The Scene Book, Sandra Scofield uses the term "negotiation" to describe how most characters experience conflict. She defines it as "an exchange of character desires and denials and relenting, until some sort of peace is carved out, or else the interaction falls apart."

Negotiation is a way of approaching conflict as power plays, in which each character tries to get what he or she wants.

I find this a helpful concept, because "conflict" is a pretty wholly negative term, whereas negotiations are often a mixed bag, and frankly, mixed bags offer more interest and diversity. Instead of one-note characters in one-note plots, negotiation helps you build character complexity and plots with organic twists and turns.

The power plays of negotiation depend first on the kind of relationship characters have--whether based on hierarchy, intimacy and equality, or a mix--and second, with the way each character tends to relate to and use power. Some will approach wresting power using negative tools like attacking, blame-shifting, lying or threatening. Others will use positive tools like begging, making promises, or truth-telling. (For an deeper look at the tools of negotation, see "The Secret to Complex, Compelling Conflict")

Interior conflict in underwritten stories often goes hand in hand with an overall thinness of the character's inner world and representations of interiority, so I will tackle this issue in a future post.

Which area is trickier for you to write, plot conflicts or interpersonal conflicts?


Thursday, December 08, 2016

I hope to return to my series on expanding underwritten manuscripts in the coming weeks. But since I'm sick, and my family is as well (on and off for about seven weeks now. Not kidding.), I thought I'd address the problem at hand: writing when ill.
Photo by barterville on Morguefile

The idea of "touch it every day" when it comes to large writing projects seems sensible and exciting when you're in the bloom of health. When you have a pounding sinus headache, a fever and chills, it sounds like yet another source of unneeded guilt.

But when you get hit with one of these long, lingering illnesses that can wax and wane repeatedly over months, you can end up kissing goodbye a wonderful project that just totally stalls waiting you to be well enough to return to it.

So how do you keep up with writing when you really, in all honesty, CAN'T write?

1. Refill


I'd heard author Veronica Roth on her author blog compare a writer's mind to an ice cream maker. If you want to produce interesting flavors, you have to pour interesting ingredients into your vat. In other words, times of illness are times to sack out on the couch filling up with creative works--be they TV shows, films, YouTube videos, magazines, novels, reference works, or audio books.

Soak up settings that excite you or intrigue you with travel shows, foreign films, or back issues of National Geographic. If you're able, jot some notes on what strikes you about the setting and make a list of some aspects you could research further.

Hang out in the genre world you are writing, by watching TV shows and films or reading books in the genre. This will help you become more familiar with the tropes (expected elements) as well as cliches (overdone elements) in your genre, so that you can make your works stronger players in your genre.

Get some emotional comfort by returning to old familiar favorites. This can be a tremendous morale boost when you feel most down and discouraged about your poor health. Let these stories restore your faith in yourself and the world.

2. Analyze


While on the couch soaking in all these stories in films, TV shows and books, you can also learn quite a lot if you put on your analytical thinking cap.

Watch for instances of great pacing, plot, or characterization and consider what makes them work well. Ponder how you might make use of these observations to improve your own work.

Watch for instances of terrible pacing, rotten plots and unappealing characters. Consider why they don't work and consider how you can use this insight to avoid--or edit out--similar problems in your own work.

If you're able, jot down these observations, or leave yourself a short audio message to transcribe when you're feeling better.

3. Brainstorm


Many forms of brainstorming don't require quite as much mental or physical energy as drafting and revising do.

Jot quick notes on any of the following things: character traits, plot ideas, possible settings, cool details you could add, relationships and potential causes of tension. These could be electronic jots in a document that you can copy and paste into order later, note cards or post-its or pages in a journal.

Use the "reel it" method to visualize multiple ways a scene might play out.

Make messy mind maps--diagrams in which you jot words and draw connections using bubbles and arrows.

Make lists: of character's fears and pet peeves, of locales where scenes could take place, of possible false clues to plant in your mystery, of tech to research for your space-age setting, of songs to add to your prom-scene playlist. You get the idea.

Are you able to be creative when ill? Which of these ideas might you try?
Thursday, December 08, 2016 Laurel Garver
I hope to return to my series on expanding underwritten manuscripts in the coming weeks. But since I'm sick, and my family is as well (on and off for about seven weeks now. Not kidding.), I thought I'd address the problem at hand: writing when ill.
Photo by barterville on Morguefile

The idea of "touch it every day" when it comes to large writing projects seems sensible and exciting when you're in the bloom of health. When you have a pounding sinus headache, a fever and chills, it sounds like yet another source of unneeded guilt.

But when you get hit with one of these long, lingering illnesses that can wax and wane repeatedly over months, you can end up kissing goodbye a wonderful project that just totally stalls waiting you to be well enough to return to it.

So how do you keep up with writing when you really, in all honesty, CAN'T write?

1. Refill


I'd heard author Veronica Roth on her author blog compare a writer's mind to an ice cream maker. If you want to produce interesting flavors, you have to pour interesting ingredients into your vat. In other words, times of illness are times to sack out on the couch filling up with creative works--be they TV shows, films, YouTube videos, magazines, novels, reference works, or audio books.

Soak up settings that excite you or intrigue you with travel shows, foreign films, or back issues of National Geographic. If you're able, jot some notes on what strikes you about the setting and make a list of some aspects you could research further.

Hang out in the genre world you are writing, by watching TV shows and films or reading books in the genre. This will help you become more familiar with the tropes (expected elements) as well as cliches (overdone elements) in your genre, so that you can make your works stronger players in your genre.

Get some emotional comfort by returning to old familiar favorites. This can be a tremendous morale boost when you feel most down and discouraged about your poor health. Let these stories restore your faith in yourself and the world.

2. Analyze


While on the couch soaking in all these stories in films, TV shows and books, you can also learn quite a lot if you put on your analytical thinking cap.

Watch for instances of great pacing, plot, or characterization and consider what makes them work well. Ponder how you might make use of these observations to improve your own work.

Watch for instances of terrible pacing, rotten plots and unappealing characters. Consider why they don't work and consider how you can use this insight to avoid--or edit out--similar problems in your own work.

If you're able, jot down these observations, or leave yourself a short audio message to transcribe when you're feeling better.

3. Brainstorm


Many forms of brainstorming don't require quite as much mental or physical energy as drafting and revising do.

Jot quick notes on any of the following things: character traits, plot ideas, possible settings, cool details you could add, relationships and potential causes of tension. These could be electronic jots in a document that you can copy and paste into order later, note cards or post-its or pages in a journal.

Use the "reel it" method to visualize multiple ways a scene might play out.

Make messy mind maps--diagrams in which you jot words and draw connections using bubbles and arrows.

Make lists: of character's fears and pet peeves, of locales where scenes could take place, of possible false clues to plant in your mystery, of tech to research for your space-age setting, of songs to add to your prom-scene playlist. You get the idea.

Are you able to be creative when ill? Which of these ideas might you try?

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Photo by  jackileigh at morguefile.com
NaNoWriMonth has wrapped up for 2016, a time when many writers challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in 30 days. On question that often pops up on Twitter near the end of November is whether "winning" NaNo (hitting the 50K goal) means you have a complete book.

Unless you write middle grade fiction (ages 8-12) or novellas, then likely, no you do not. You have either a very bloated beginning of a story, or you have a skeleton of a story that hits all the plot points you outlined, but lacks the musculature to stand on its own.

I've addressed a number of issues related to "overwriting" in a series of posts, so I will simply link them here:  (Part 1) Reining in tangents, (Part 2) Reducing grammatical bloat, (Part 3) Streamlining dialogue, (Part 4) Finding and eliminating "purple prose."

Today I'm going to begin a new series to address the second issue--the under-developed story, and how to begin better developing it.

Character underdevelopment


This is probably the chief problem with quickly written pieces--the characters don't yet feel real. The author hasn't yet spent enough time with them to have developed strong instincts about when they would impulsively act (and how) and when they'd pause and reflect (and upon what), The good news is, you can always fix this in revision. In fact, it very well may be best to wait until draft 2 to go deeper with your characters. Having the bones of the plot in place is like having a musical score calling for improvisation--you know the tempo and key, so you have some framework for riffing.

Even in published books,  I've seen some particular character under-development sins that need to be addressed in revision. If you want your NaNo project to succeed, here are some key characterization areas to tackle in your next draft.

Inner world

In underwritten stories, the character often has only one backstory wound that gets hammered on ad nauseum as the root of every problem. In revision, seek to develop other weaknesses, overreaching strengths, driving needs. You must connect with this inner world of your character in order to know what motivates their actions, and thus make their actions align with who they are and who they will become. I recommend Nancy Kress's Dynamic Characters as a helpful resource to do this. I also have a lengthy character questionnaire that can help you better develop your characters' inner worlds. (My forthcoming book 1001 Evocative Prompts will have nearly double this number of character development questions. Stay tuned!)

Many underwritten stories focus only on a surface problem--some dilemma that gets the plot going-- and never address what Les Edgerton in Hooked calls a "story-worthy problem." By that he means the deeper psychological need that is challenged by the surface problem. For example, the need to feel competent. Worthy of love. Generous rather than grasping, or confident instead of fearful.

The story-worthy problem adds emotional stakes to your work, so that what happens to your characters and the decisions they make actually changes them deeply. If you only work on the level of surface problem, you'll have a surface story. For more on emotional arcs, see "Don't forget the other journey, the other arc."

Keep in mind that inner drives, when matched well with the surface problem, will make your story far more compelling. It's somewhat an issue of putting the right character in a situation, and letting their inner world crash up against or be goaded by the surface problem. For more on this match-up, see "Compelling compulsions."

Voice

It takes time to get to know someone's speech patterns well enough to, say, predict their responses on quizzes or surveys. But to write convincing dialogue and inner monologues, you must know this about your character.

Character voice has three main elements:

Diction: How do the characters say what they say? This will reflect their levels of education, local dialect and to a degree their temperament.

Associations: These “tip of the mind” thoughts tell a tremendous amount about a person in just a few words. They can be a shorthand way of showing what kind of past experiences the character has gone through, what he values, and what forms of culture shape him. (See also "An Iceberg Approach to Demonstrating Character.")

Attitudes: These are value judgments made about elements of the world around us--what is good or bad, valuable or worthless. Attitudes most often come out when a character is confronted with something new, unusual or unexpected.

For more on character voice, see my guest post for C.M. Keller, "Elements of Voice."

Choices and changes


Related to those inner drives I'd mentioned above is how a character makes choices, how he or she behaves and reacts to certain events. In other words, the way character drives plot.

Choices must make sense to who a character is, both his temperament and aspirations, as well as his weaknesses and wounds. Too often, underwritten stories neglect to weave the character's emotional and moral inner world into the plot. Whenever your plot calls for your character to make a decision, consider how you can make implicit (through subtle hints) or explicit (in thought or speech) how s/he arrived at the decision based on upholding values, avoiding feared things, or succumbing to weaknesses.

Choices are also informed by the character's capacity. You will have a Mary Sue/Gary Stu if characters choose only to do what comes easily, and a "too stupid to live" character if his/her choices are illogical and go against the law of self-preservation for no reason (versus choosing to do something risky to help others  live and thrive). For more on capacity, see "A key question to keep character and plot in synch."

Change can often happen too quickly in an underwritten manuscript. It's helpful to become acquainted with some basic aspects of psychology to write convincing change.

Change involves replacing one behavior or habit with another one.

One commits to change when staying the same becomes uncomfortable and when those with whom we have important relationships require it.

Willpower alone is usually inadequate for lasting change to happen. Rituals and community support are essential, as has been shown with 12-step programs.

Coming to a moment of realization, or "epiphany" is not enough to be convincing to readers; that never creates change in real life. Characters must go on to test and perfect what they've learned through some representative action at the story's end. See "Beyond closure: the key to creating satisfying story endings."

For more on creating convincing character change, see "Thoughts on motivation and change arcs."

Reactions and Pacing


This is one of the subtler aspects of characterization and storytelling--knowing when and how to have characters react to story events. When would they speak? What thoughts and feelings would be provoked by the event, and how would this person express them--in a bodily sensation, a thought, or a combination?

Underwritten stories almost always skip these moments altogether in order to keep a grip on the main plot thread. So in revision, you must step back and consider when your characters would naturally react, and at what length. The development work you did in the inner world and voice sections above should be a guide. And when anything new comes at your character, ask this essential question as an emotional pulse-check.

Underwritten stories also tend to have too-small emotional arcs. You begin with the character too far along in an arc or skip over steps, causing jumping conflict. I call this "the teaspoon problem" after Hermione Granger's comment that Ron Weasley has "the emotional range of a teaspoon." For more on expanding the range of your emotional arcs, see "Emotional arcs: the teaspoon problem."

If your characters are on the run, you must include scenes in which they rest, recuperate, and consider their ongoing strategy. No one believably goes and goes like the Energizer Bunny. Humans have human weaknesses. Capitalize on them in these moments to make your heroic characters relatable. They still get stiff muscles and hunger pangs, still need bloody wounds to be re-dressed, still need a few hours of sleep to avoid sleep-deprivation psychosis.

Which of these areas do you struggle with most?
Thursday, December 01, 2016 Laurel Garver
Photo by  jackileigh at morguefile.com
NaNoWriMonth has wrapped up for 2016, a time when many writers challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in 30 days. On question that often pops up on Twitter near the end of November is whether "winning" NaNo (hitting the 50K goal) means you have a complete book.

Unless you write middle grade fiction (ages 8-12) or novellas, then likely, no you do not. You have either a very bloated beginning of a story, or you have a skeleton of a story that hits all the plot points you outlined, but lacks the musculature to stand on its own.

I've addressed a number of issues related to "overwriting" in a series of posts, so I will simply link them here:  (Part 1) Reining in tangents, (Part 2) Reducing grammatical bloat, (Part 3) Streamlining dialogue, (Part 4) Finding and eliminating "purple prose."

Today I'm going to begin a new series to address the second issue--the under-developed story, and how to begin better developing it.

Character underdevelopment


This is probably the chief problem with quickly written pieces--the characters don't yet feel real. The author hasn't yet spent enough time with them to have developed strong instincts about when they would impulsively act (and how) and when they'd pause and reflect (and upon what), The good news is, you can always fix this in revision. In fact, it very well may be best to wait until draft 2 to go deeper with your characters. Having the bones of the plot in place is like having a musical score calling for improvisation--you know the tempo and key, so you have some framework for riffing.

Even in published books,  I've seen some particular character under-development sins that need to be addressed in revision. If you want your NaNo project to succeed, here are some key characterization areas to tackle in your next draft.

Inner world

In underwritten stories, the character often has only one backstory wound that gets hammered on ad nauseum as the root of every problem. In revision, seek to develop other weaknesses, overreaching strengths, driving needs. You must connect with this inner world of your character in order to know what motivates their actions, and thus make their actions align with who they are and who they will become. I recommend Nancy Kress's Dynamic Characters as a helpful resource to do this. I also have a lengthy character questionnaire that can help you better develop your characters' inner worlds. (My forthcoming book 1001 Evocative Prompts will have nearly double this number of character development questions. Stay tuned!)

Many underwritten stories focus only on a surface problem--some dilemma that gets the plot going-- and never address what Les Edgerton in Hooked calls a "story-worthy problem." By that he means the deeper psychological need that is challenged by the surface problem. For example, the need to feel competent. Worthy of love. Generous rather than grasping, or confident instead of fearful.

The story-worthy problem adds emotional stakes to your work, so that what happens to your characters and the decisions they make actually changes them deeply. If you only work on the level of surface problem, you'll have a surface story. For more on emotional arcs, see "Don't forget the other journey, the other arc."

Keep in mind that inner drives, when matched well with the surface problem, will make your story far more compelling. It's somewhat an issue of putting the right character in a situation, and letting their inner world crash up against or be goaded by the surface problem. For more on this match-up, see "Compelling compulsions."

Voice

It takes time to get to know someone's speech patterns well enough to, say, predict their responses on quizzes or surveys. But to write convincing dialogue and inner monologues, you must know this about your character.

Character voice has three main elements:

Diction: How do the characters say what they say? This will reflect their levels of education, local dialect and to a degree their temperament.

Associations: These “tip of the mind” thoughts tell a tremendous amount about a person in just a few words. They can be a shorthand way of showing what kind of past experiences the character has gone through, what he values, and what forms of culture shape him. (See also "An Iceberg Approach to Demonstrating Character.")

Attitudes: These are value judgments made about elements of the world around us--what is good or bad, valuable or worthless. Attitudes most often come out when a character is confronted with something new, unusual or unexpected.

For more on character voice, see my guest post for C.M. Keller, "Elements of Voice."

Choices and changes


Related to those inner drives I'd mentioned above is how a character makes choices, how he or she behaves and reacts to certain events. In other words, the way character drives plot.

Choices must make sense to who a character is, both his temperament and aspirations, as well as his weaknesses and wounds. Too often, underwritten stories neglect to weave the character's emotional and moral inner world into the plot. Whenever your plot calls for your character to make a decision, consider how you can make implicit (through subtle hints) or explicit (in thought or speech) how s/he arrived at the decision based on upholding values, avoiding feared things, or succumbing to weaknesses.

Choices are also informed by the character's capacity. You will have a Mary Sue/Gary Stu if characters choose only to do what comes easily, and a "too stupid to live" character if his/her choices are illogical and go against the law of self-preservation for no reason (versus choosing to do something risky to help others  live and thrive). For more on capacity, see "A key question to keep character and plot in synch."

Change can often happen too quickly in an underwritten manuscript. It's helpful to become acquainted with some basic aspects of psychology to write convincing change.

Change involves replacing one behavior or habit with another one.

One commits to change when staying the same becomes uncomfortable and when those with whom we have important relationships require it.

Willpower alone is usually inadequate for lasting change to happen. Rituals and community support are essential, as has been shown with 12-step programs.

Coming to a moment of realization, or "epiphany" is not enough to be convincing to readers; that never creates change in real life. Characters must go on to test and perfect what they've learned through some representative action at the story's end. See "Beyond closure: the key to creating satisfying story endings."

For more on creating convincing character change, see "Thoughts on motivation and change arcs."

Reactions and Pacing


This is one of the subtler aspects of characterization and storytelling--knowing when and how to have characters react to story events. When would they speak? What thoughts and feelings would be provoked by the event, and how would this person express them--in a bodily sensation, a thought, or a combination?

Underwritten stories almost always skip these moments altogether in order to keep a grip on the main plot thread. So in revision, you must step back and consider when your characters would naturally react, and at what length. The development work you did in the inner world and voice sections above should be a guide. And when anything new comes at your character, ask this essential question as an emotional pulse-check.

Underwritten stories also tend to have too-small emotional arcs. You begin with the character too far along in an arc or skip over steps, causing jumping conflict. I call this "the teaspoon problem" after Hermione Granger's comment that Ron Weasley has "the emotional range of a teaspoon." For more on expanding the range of your emotional arcs, see "Emotional arcs: the teaspoon problem."

If your characters are on the run, you must include scenes in which they rest, recuperate, and consider their ongoing strategy. No one believably goes and goes like the Energizer Bunny. Humans have human weaknesses. Capitalize on them in these moments to make your heroic characters relatable. They still get stiff muscles and hunger pangs, still need bloody wounds to be re-dressed, still need a few hours of sleep to avoid sleep-deprivation psychosis.

Which of these areas do you struggle with most?

Thursday, November 03, 2016

By guest author Marianne Sciucco

Image credit: https://morguefile.com/creative/rikahi
My daughter had been swimming for five years when I came up with the idea to write a novel about girls’ varsity swimming that would become my latest book Swim Season. Sitting on those cold, hard bleachers season after season gave me more than a sore you-know-what. It sparked my imagination, creating a story line and cast of characters that would show in written form what high school swimming is like for these girls. As I wrote the story, they were always at the heart of it. I wrote it for them. And I wanted it to be as accurate and realistic as possible.

Observation

In many ways, writing Swim Season was natural and easy. Through many autumns, I’d watched my daughter and her team swim their hearts out, beside parents rooting for their own swimmers. In the beginning, I knew next to nothing about the sport, about swim meets. But as the years went on, I learned.

I learned simple things, like the order of events. Try finding your kid on a pool deck swarming with dozens of young swimmers in caps and goggles when you’re not sure which event it is, or whether your child is swimming in it or not. Impossible.

Immersion

My involvement with swim culture soon expanded beyond sitting in the bleachers. I also chaperoned the waiting rooms where dozens of youngsters waited for their next event. Try to keep all that adrenaline in check.

I volunteered to time the races, and stood at the blocks, race after race, helping to make things run smoothly, making sure the right kid was in the right lane.

I helped out at the concession stand, serving up bagels and cream cheese. I was involved with the fundraising activities, Picture Day, and put together the program for Senior Night for a number of years. I went to 99 percent of the meets with my husband (we missed one when it was an hour away from our home on a week night.)

Conversations and interviews 

Most of my daughters’ friends were swimmers, so I got to know several of them up close and personal. They were an intelligent, ambitious, fantastic set of young women. When my book was criticized by a critique partner because the characters seemed “too smart,” I responded with, “Well, those are the girls I know.” The team had the highest GPA of all athletic teams at the high school year after year. Yes, swimmers are smart.

I took advantage of coaches I knew personally (and some I didn’t) to pick their brains, try out the story’s premise for believability, and tweak the details. Many thanks go to the following New York State coaches: Frank Woodward, Middletown High School; Justin Wright, Monroe-Woodbury High School; Jeremy Cuebas, Minisink Valley High School; and Danielle Lindner, former coach for Mount Saint Mary College, in Newburgh.

Social media

Early in the process, I sent out a tweet on Twitter, asking swimmers to complete a questionnaire for a new book about varsity swimming. Almost a dozen young swimmers – girls and boys – responded, and we started dialogues that provided great background for my story. Some of them went on to become beta readers. All of them were thrilled at the idea of a book about them, about their sport.

Books

As a reader, when the answers weren’t so simple I resorted to books. Michael Phelps’s biography No Limits: The Will to Succeed, with Alan Abrahamson, was more than worth its cost. Likewise, Amanda Beard’s memoir In the Water They Can't See You Cry gave me insight into how to build an Olympic silver medalist. Instruction books, such as Terry Laughlin’s Total Immersion, with John Delves, and Tracey McFarlane’s Mirande’s Championship Swimming with Kathlene Bissell, taught me the fine-tuning of technique. The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive, by Jim Afremow, PhD, was instrumental in creating Aerin’s mental game. For inspiration I turned to Swimmers: Courage and Triumph by Larry Thomson.

Parallel experience

Then there was the time when I decided to swim the race at the heart of my story. For a while I was taking Aquasize classes at my local YMCA. One day I got the idea to try to swim 500 yards. I wanted to see if I could do it, how long it would take, and how I would feel during and afterwards. I have never swum competitively, although I have always loved to swim and am capable of doing the freestyle. My first 500 clocked in at 30 minutes. I stopped after every length to catch my breath and chat with the other ladies in the Aquasize class. I kept at it, though, and after a few weeks managed to complete the 500 in 16 minutes, which was phenomenal for me. Of course, the time to beat in Swim Season is 4:52.50, which, for me, was in never never land. But, as a middle-aged woman with below-average fitness, I was proud of my achievement. In the end, unfortunately, it exacerbated my repetitive strain injuries and I had to give it up.

Writing Swim Season was an endeavor born of many resources, personal and professional. It’s recommended that we write what we know. I knew a lot about competitive swimming as a Swim Mom, but that was not enough to compose this story. I needed to reach out to many others – swimmers, coaches, parents, Olympians, and a psychologist – to nail the details. All of this, I believe, leads to a more credible, believable story with depth.

About the Author

During swim season, you can find Marianne Sciucco, a dedicated Swim Mom for ten years, at one of many Skyline Conference swim meets, cheering for her daughter Allison and the Mount Saint Mary College Knights.

Sciucco is not a nurse who writes but a writer who happens to be a nurse. A lover of words and books, she dreamed of becoming an author when she grew up but became a nurse to avoid poverty. She later brought her two passions together and writes about the intricate lives of people struggling with health and family issues.

Her debut novel Blue Hydrangeas, an Alzheimer’s love story, is a Kindle bestseller; IndieReader Approved; a BookWorks featured book; and a Library Journal Self-e Selection. She also has two short stories available on Kindle, Ino's Love and Collection.

A native Bostonian, Marianne lives in New York’s Hudson Valley, and when not writing works as a campus nurse at a community college.

Connect with Marianne: Website / Facebook / Twitter

About the book

Swim Season
Genre: young adult

Sometimes winning is everything.

Champion swimmer Aerin Keane is ready to give up her dreams of college swimming and a shot at the Olympics. As she starts senior year in her third high school, Aerin's determined to leave her family troubles behind and be like all the other girls at Two Rivers. She's got a new image and a new attitude. She doesn’t want to win anymore. She's swimming for fun, no longer the freak who wins every race, every title, only to find herself alone.

But when her desire to be just one of the girls collides with her desire to be the best Two Rivers has ever seen, will Aerin sacrifice her new friendships to break a longstanding school record that comes with a $50,000 scholarship?

Swim Season is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.

What are your favorite research methods? Which of Marianne's research methods would you like to try?
Thursday, November 03, 2016 Laurel Garver
By guest author Marianne Sciucco

Image credit: https://morguefile.com/creative/rikahi
My daughter had been swimming for five years when I came up with the idea to write a novel about girls’ varsity swimming that would become my latest book Swim Season. Sitting on those cold, hard bleachers season after season gave me more than a sore you-know-what. It sparked my imagination, creating a story line and cast of characters that would show in written form what high school swimming is like for these girls. As I wrote the story, they were always at the heart of it. I wrote it for them. And I wanted it to be as accurate and realistic as possible.

Observation

In many ways, writing Swim Season was natural and easy. Through many autumns, I’d watched my daughter and her team swim their hearts out, beside parents rooting for their own swimmers. In the beginning, I knew next to nothing about the sport, about swim meets. But as the years went on, I learned.

I learned simple things, like the order of events. Try finding your kid on a pool deck swarming with dozens of young swimmers in caps and goggles when you’re not sure which event it is, or whether your child is swimming in it or not. Impossible.

Immersion

My involvement with swim culture soon expanded beyond sitting in the bleachers. I also chaperoned the waiting rooms where dozens of youngsters waited for their next event. Try to keep all that adrenaline in check.

I volunteered to time the races, and stood at the blocks, race after race, helping to make things run smoothly, making sure the right kid was in the right lane.

I helped out at the concession stand, serving up bagels and cream cheese. I was involved with the fundraising activities, Picture Day, and put together the program for Senior Night for a number of years. I went to 99 percent of the meets with my husband (we missed one when it was an hour away from our home on a week night.)

Conversations and interviews 

Most of my daughters’ friends were swimmers, so I got to know several of them up close and personal. They were an intelligent, ambitious, fantastic set of young women. When my book was criticized by a critique partner because the characters seemed “too smart,” I responded with, “Well, those are the girls I know.” The team had the highest GPA of all athletic teams at the high school year after year. Yes, swimmers are smart.

I took advantage of coaches I knew personally (and some I didn’t) to pick their brains, try out the story’s premise for believability, and tweak the details. Many thanks go to the following New York State coaches: Frank Woodward, Middletown High School; Justin Wright, Monroe-Woodbury High School; Jeremy Cuebas, Minisink Valley High School; and Danielle Lindner, former coach for Mount Saint Mary College, in Newburgh.

Social media

Early in the process, I sent out a tweet on Twitter, asking swimmers to complete a questionnaire for a new book about varsity swimming. Almost a dozen young swimmers – girls and boys – responded, and we started dialogues that provided great background for my story. Some of them went on to become beta readers. All of them were thrilled at the idea of a book about them, about their sport.

Books

As a reader, when the answers weren’t so simple I resorted to books. Michael Phelps’s biography No Limits: The Will to Succeed, with Alan Abrahamson, was more than worth its cost. Likewise, Amanda Beard’s memoir In the Water They Can't See You Cry gave me insight into how to build an Olympic silver medalist. Instruction books, such as Terry Laughlin’s Total Immersion, with John Delves, and Tracey McFarlane’s Mirande’s Championship Swimming with Kathlene Bissell, taught me the fine-tuning of technique. The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive, by Jim Afremow, PhD, was instrumental in creating Aerin’s mental game. For inspiration I turned to Swimmers: Courage and Triumph by Larry Thomson.

Parallel experience

Then there was the time when I decided to swim the race at the heart of my story. For a while I was taking Aquasize classes at my local YMCA. One day I got the idea to try to swim 500 yards. I wanted to see if I could do it, how long it would take, and how I would feel during and afterwards. I have never swum competitively, although I have always loved to swim and am capable of doing the freestyle. My first 500 clocked in at 30 minutes. I stopped after every length to catch my breath and chat with the other ladies in the Aquasize class. I kept at it, though, and after a few weeks managed to complete the 500 in 16 minutes, which was phenomenal for me. Of course, the time to beat in Swim Season is 4:52.50, which, for me, was in never never land. But, as a middle-aged woman with below-average fitness, I was proud of my achievement. In the end, unfortunately, it exacerbated my repetitive strain injuries and I had to give it up.

Writing Swim Season was an endeavor born of many resources, personal and professional. It’s recommended that we write what we know. I knew a lot about competitive swimming as a Swim Mom, but that was not enough to compose this story. I needed to reach out to many others – swimmers, coaches, parents, Olympians, and a psychologist – to nail the details. All of this, I believe, leads to a more credible, believable story with depth.

About the Author

During swim season, you can find Marianne Sciucco, a dedicated Swim Mom for ten years, at one of many Skyline Conference swim meets, cheering for her daughter Allison and the Mount Saint Mary College Knights.

Sciucco is not a nurse who writes but a writer who happens to be a nurse. A lover of words and books, she dreamed of becoming an author when she grew up but became a nurse to avoid poverty. She later brought her two passions together and writes about the intricate lives of people struggling with health and family issues.

Her debut novel Blue Hydrangeas, an Alzheimer’s love story, is a Kindle bestseller; IndieReader Approved; a BookWorks featured book; and a Library Journal Self-e Selection. She also has two short stories available on Kindle, Ino's Love and Collection.

A native Bostonian, Marianne lives in New York’s Hudson Valley, and when not writing works as a campus nurse at a community college.

Connect with Marianne: Website / Facebook / Twitter

About the book

Swim Season
Genre: young adult

Sometimes winning is everything.

Champion swimmer Aerin Keane is ready to give up her dreams of college swimming and a shot at the Olympics. As she starts senior year in her third high school, Aerin's determined to leave her family troubles behind and be like all the other girls at Two Rivers. She's got a new image and a new attitude. She doesn’t want to win anymore. She's swimming for fun, no longer the freak who wins every race, every title, only to find herself alone.

But when her desire to be just one of the girls collides with her desire to be the best Two Rivers has ever seen, will Aerin sacrifice her new friendships to break a longstanding school record that comes with a $50,000 scholarship?

Swim Season is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.

What are your favorite research methods? Which of Marianne's research methods would you like to try?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Some writers are just the nicest people. So nice, in fact, that they write fiction that bores you to tears. Why is it that all nice all the time makes such terrible fiction?

Readers don't worry about the characters, aren't curious about what will happen to them.

Think about the cars  you see pulled over on the highway. If you slow and see they've stopped for something innocuous-- to walk the dog or switch drivers--you'll speed up and go along your merry way. Nothing to see here.

If the pulled-over car has smoke billowing out of the engine and little kids howling in fear in the back seat, you'll slow down. Maybe even stop. Trouble! Will they be okay? Do they need help? Should the kids be taken a safe distance away?

Adversity, loss, mistakes, arguments, fights, dilemmas--these are the pieces of life that actually make it interesting. A healthy dose of each of these things added to every story will make for a gripping reading experience. Diffuse or remove every one, and you'll have a yawn-fest.

So how do you overcome a bad case of Nice Writer Syndrome?

Understand that running from conflict has serious drawbacks


Painful rejections and traumas from the past that bleed through into the present can become emotionally immobilizing. You might believe you're safer to clam up when others hurt you, or to flee when the going gets tough, but in the long run, these habits increase one's isolation and can simply reinforce a shaky sense of self worth.

In the Psychology Today article, "The Perils and Advantages of Being Conflict-Avoidant," Dr. John Amodeo notes:

There are notable pitfalls to avoiding potential conflict. We may conceal our genuine feelings, desires, and viewpoints because we’re afraid of how we’ll be seen or received by others. We shut down rather than take the risk to show our real self. Rather than be courageously authentic, we might cling to lies, deceptions, and omissions that make it difficult for people to trust us. We may withdraw emotionally or change the subject, fearing that if we reveal our honest feelings or wants, we’ll be rejected or shamed.
Consider also this perspective for getting resolution (instead of the endless push/pull cycle): Stop Avoiding It: Why conflict is good for you.

Determine the source of the nice-at-all-costs message you have internalized


Was there an influential person in your life who demanded complete compliance with rules and suppression of negative emotions? Rewarded only angelic behavior? Or conversely, was your childhood filled with such toxic people, you've walled off anything that reminds you of that time?

Perhaps it was an influential event in your life that cemented the idea that you must be sweetness and light all the time or something truly terrible will happen. Are you compensating for some past mistake or loss that threatens to overwhelm you with guilt or shame?

Perhaps you simply had poor role models of engaging in normal conflict and resolving it. Your family  members might have stuffed their feelings until someone exploded--then everyone pretended nothing was happening. Or perhaps one family member with poor personal boundaries--or even a narcissistic, borderline or histrionic personality disorder--manipulated and emotionally blackmailed everyone in order to feel okay themselves, making authentic relationships impossible.

Get appropriate help


Not every conflict-avoidant person has a borderline personality parent who manipulated and emotionally blackmailed them to such a degree they'd rather throw themselves in front of a train than argue with someone. Extreme cases like this--and ones involving ongoing abuse--do call for professional help.

Others simply grew up with an authoritarian parent, and must re-parent themselves to a degree--gradually introducing themselves to freedoms that had been curtailed in childhood, and working to grow in self confidence.

Perhaps simply reading and doing exercises from a self-help book or joining an online forum will be enough to address some of the underlying issues.

Become a student of conflict


Obviously, you'll be most easily able to study conflict at a remove, in fictional settings. Taking forays into viewing films you wouldn't normally watch because of the interpersonal conflict squirm factor can be a way to do "exposure therapy" like phobia patients often do--having small, controlled experiences getting close to the feared thing.

Start with comic conflicts, as found in films for the younger set, such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Freaky Friday and Mean Girls.

Move up to dramas with low-simmer conflict like The Spectacular Now, Metropolitan, and Persuasion

As you get more comfortable, take on films with explosive interpersonal conflict, like The Talented Mr. Ripley, Closer, and The Celebration/Festen (Danish with subtitles).

As you watch each film, consider what each character wants and why. Note also what each character values, and how those values clash with others and within itself.

Begin building conflicts


All conflict has one of two positive roots: a desire or a value.

Before you consider any of the nasty stuff that scares you, answer these happier questions:

  • What does your protagonist want, crave, or long for?
  • What does your protagonist value?

Chances are, too-nice writer, you do know these things about your character. After all, you like everyone to be happy.

Now comes the tough part--consider how these positives might be harmed, thwarted, or cause problems. Here are some helpful questions to do that:

  • What are some reasons your protagonist does not yet have what he/she desires?
  • What are some ways your protagonist might try to gain the desired thing that will fail?
  • How does pursuing this desired thing thwart the desires of other story characters?
  • How could satiating this desire have unintended negative consequences?
  • In what way might his/her desire conflict with important values s/he holds?
  • Do any of your protagonist's values potentially clash? How can you reveal it?
  • How can you delve into the complications or clashes within one of his/her values?
  • How might these values clash with the values of other characters?


Don't settle for easy answers here. See if you can come up with three to eight answers for each question. The longer you consider each question, the better the chance that you'll move past the cliches and tropes and come up with fresher, more interesting ideas.

Congratulations! You're on your way toward bravely tackling character conflicts.

Further reading:
James Scott Bell's Conflict and Suspense
Cheryl St. John's Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict

Do you struggle with Nice Writer Syndrome? What steps will you take to tackle your conflict aversion?
Thursday, October 27, 2016 Laurel Garver
Some writers are just the nicest people. So nice, in fact, that they write fiction that bores you to tears. Why is it that all nice all the time makes such terrible fiction?

Readers don't worry about the characters, aren't curious about what will happen to them.

Think about the cars  you see pulled over on the highway. If you slow and see they've stopped for something innocuous-- to walk the dog or switch drivers--you'll speed up and go along your merry way. Nothing to see here.

If the pulled-over car has smoke billowing out of the engine and little kids howling in fear in the back seat, you'll slow down. Maybe even stop. Trouble! Will they be okay? Do they need help? Should the kids be taken a safe distance away?

Adversity, loss, mistakes, arguments, fights, dilemmas--these are the pieces of life that actually make it interesting. A healthy dose of each of these things added to every story will make for a gripping reading experience. Diffuse or remove every one, and you'll have a yawn-fest.

So how do you overcome a bad case of Nice Writer Syndrome?

Understand that running from conflict has serious drawbacks


Painful rejections and traumas from the past that bleed through into the present can become emotionally immobilizing. You might believe you're safer to clam up when others hurt you, or to flee when the going gets tough, but in the long run, these habits increase one's isolation and can simply reinforce a shaky sense of self worth.

In the Psychology Today article, "The Perils and Advantages of Being Conflict-Avoidant," Dr. John Amodeo notes:

There are notable pitfalls to avoiding potential conflict. We may conceal our genuine feelings, desires, and viewpoints because we’re afraid of how we’ll be seen or received by others. We shut down rather than take the risk to show our real self. Rather than be courageously authentic, we might cling to lies, deceptions, and omissions that make it difficult for people to trust us. We may withdraw emotionally or change the subject, fearing that if we reveal our honest feelings or wants, we’ll be rejected or shamed.
Consider also this perspective for getting resolution (instead of the endless push/pull cycle): Stop Avoiding It: Why conflict is good for you.

Determine the source of the nice-at-all-costs message you have internalized


Was there an influential person in your life who demanded complete compliance with rules and suppression of negative emotions? Rewarded only angelic behavior? Or conversely, was your childhood filled with such toxic people, you've walled off anything that reminds you of that time?

Perhaps it was an influential event in your life that cemented the idea that you must be sweetness and light all the time or something truly terrible will happen. Are you compensating for some past mistake or loss that threatens to overwhelm you with guilt or shame?

Perhaps you simply had poor role models of engaging in normal conflict and resolving it. Your family  members might have stuffed their feelings until someone exploded--then everyone pretended nothing was happening. Or perhaps one family member with poor personal boundaries--or even a narcissistic, borderline or histrionic personality disorder--manipulated and emotionally blackmailed everyone in order to feel okay themselves, making authentic relationships impossible.

Get appropriate help


Not every conflict-avoidant person has a borderline personality parent who manipulated and emotionally blackmailed them to such a degree they'd rather throw themselves in front of a train than argue with someone. Extreme cases like this--and ones involving ongoing abuse--do call for professional help.

Others simply grew up with an authoritarian parent, and must re-parent themselves to a degree--gradually introducing themselves to freedoms that had been curtailed in childhood, and working to grow in self confidence.

Perhaps simply reading and doing exercises from a self-help book or joining an online forum will be enough to address some of the underlying issues.

Become a student of conflict


Obviously, you'll be most easily able to study conflict at a remove, in fictional settings. Taking forays into viewing films you wouldn't normally watch because of the interpersonal conflict squirm factor can be a way to do "exposure therapy" like phobia patients often do--having small, controlled experiences getting close to the feared thing.

Start with comic conflicts, as found in films for the younger set, such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Freaky Friday and Mean Girls.

Move up to dramas with low-simmer conflict like The Spectacular Now, Metropolitan, and Persuasion

As you get more comfortable, take on films with explosive interpersonal conflict, like The Talented Mr. Ripley, Closer, and The Celebration/Festen (Danish with subtitles).

As you watch each film, consider what each character wants and why. Note also what each character values, and how those values clash with others and within itself.

Begin building conflicts


All conflict has one of two positive roots: a desire or a value.

Before you consider any of the nasty stuff that scares you, answer these happier questions:

  • What does your protagonist want, crave, or long for?
  • What does your protagonist value?

Chances are, too-nice writer, you do know these things about your character. After all, you like everyone to be happy.

Now comes the tough part--consider how these positives might be harmed, thwarted, or cause problems. Here are some helpful questions to do that:

  • What are some reasons your protagonist does not yet have what he/she desires?
  • What are some ways your protagonist might try to gain the desired thing that will fail?
  • How does pursuing this desired thing thwart the desires of other story characters?
  • How could satiating this desire have unintended negative consequences?
  • In what way might his/her desire conflict with important values s/he holds?
  • Do any of your protagonist's values potentially clash? How can you reveal it?
  • How can you delve into the complications or clashes within one of his/her values?
  • How might these values clash with the values of other characters?


Don't settle for easy answers here. See if you can come up with three to eight answers for each question. The longer you consider each question, the better the chance that you'll move past the cliches and tropes and come up with fresher, more interesting ideas.

Congratulations! You're on your way toward bravely tackling character conflicts.

Further reading:
James Scott Bell's Conflict and Suspense
Cheryl St. John's Writing with Emotion, Tension, and Conflict

Do you struggle with Nice Writer Syndrome? What steps will you take to tackle your conflict aversion?

Friday, October 21, 2016

I've been hard at work on several collections of writing prompts that I hope to release in the coming months. Just for fun, I thought I'd give you a small taste of what's in store. The prompts below are a very small sampling of the character and emotions prompts collection, over 1,000 in all. on 40 different emotions and numerous aspects of character development.

----

Emotions are the raw material for all creative writing (and quite a lot of nonfiction as well). Use one of the following prompts to delve into a strong emotion, writing as yourself, a fictional character, or a poetic persona. Let your exploration lead you toward the beginnings of a work of memoir, fiction or poetry. Some hint at a particular genre, others could be spun to fit multiple genres.

Amusement / Mirth


  • The best prank I’ve ever pulled / heard about.
  • How the court jester turned back an invading army.
  • Ten terrible metaphors and/or similes
  • Epic fail involving a skateboard, trampoline, or rope swing.
  • Mischievous magical folk create havoc in a village one spring evening.
  • Ten of the most ridiculous ways to kill off a character.
  • I can’t keep a straight face when I see ____.
  • A group of stand-up comics is taken hostage and must joke their way out of captivity.

Boredom


  • The most boring family event I can remember (or imagine)
  • You are a spinster noblewoman in 1815 England.
  • An athlete recovering from a concussion may not do, watch, or read anything to rest his/her injured brain.
  • A child’s eye view of a wedding.
  • You work as a lifeguard at a lap pool in a retirement home.
  • The diary of a prisoner in solitary confinement.
  • To marry your true love, you must attend weekly three-hour prayer meetings with your future in-laws for the next six months.
  • The dullest person you have ever dated.
  • An astronaut must live alone on a space station for a year.

Defeat / Discouragement


  • A setback or failure from which you thought you would never recover.
  • You missed the last bus/train/flight for the day.
  • Your science fair invention works perfectly until the judges come to observe it.
  • A false rumor causes everyone to shun you.
  • In a team competition, your teammates suffer a series of injuries, one after another.
  • Your corporate sponsor threatens to withdraw funding for a minor mistake.
  • You can’t hold a job because of a crazy relative who makes trouble everywhere.
  • A chronic illness makes it impossible to complete an important task.

Embarrassment


  • I have never been so embarrassed as when ____.
  • A beauty queen gets a nosebleed/gas attack during a pageant.
  • A dignitary comes for dinner and you/your child/your pet vomits on him/her.
  • Your swimsuit gets gobbled up by the pool drainage system.
  • Your parent with Tourette’s Syndrome chaperones the class trip/school dance.
  • The bakery accidently sends a lewd bachelorette party cake for Nana’s 90th birthday party.
  • The fart that changed my destiny.
  • Your doting mother shows off your baby pictures/awkward adolescent pictures/dweeby polka-band pictures to a potential mate.

Hope


  • You romantically connect with someone on a chance encounter, and the person asks for your number or gives you theirs.
  • A woman who has suffered several miscarriages enters the 36th week of a healthy pregnancy.
  • Describe the bodily sensations you have when you are hopeful.
  • Interstellar explorers find what looks like a viable planet for colonization, capable of sustaining human life.
  • A cancer patient begins an experimental treatment.
  • Police get an anonymous tip about a cold case.
  • The addict you love reaches their first anniversary of sobriety.
  • A group of castaways finds a crate on the beach full of farming and fishing equipment.

Shame


  • I could never tell ____.
  • How someone with an eating disorder might think about his/her body.
  • What deeply shameful experience could I more easily write myself free of if I gave it to a fictional character?
  • What skeletons do my parents have in their closets?
  • The day I realized there was something deeply wrong with me.
  • What shameful secret might my antagonist hide at all costs?
  • Deeply religious parents learn their child is leaving the faith because…
  • You learn that your parent or grandparent was once a Nazi, a torturer, or slave dealer.
  • A doctor makes a simple error that causes a patient to ____.


Interested in doing more with emotion in your writing? Pick up my guided journal Emotions in the Wild: A Writer's Observation Journal. This tool, based on exercises used in method acting, leads you through observation activities so that you can better describe character emotional responses in your writing. 

Pocket sized, with plenty of space to record your observations, this is a tool useful for writers of any genre. 

Available here: 
Amazon / Barnes and Noble / Createspace / Book Depository

Which of these prompts appeal most to you? Why?
Friday, October 21, 2016 Laurel Garver
I've been hard at work on several collections of writing prompts that I hope to release in the coming months. Just for fun, I thought I'd give you a small taste of what's in store. The prompts below are a very small sampling of the character and emotions prompts collection, over 1,000 in all. on 40 different emotions and numerous aspects of character development.

----

Emotions are the raw material for all creative writing (and quite a lot of nonfiction as well). Use one of the following prompts to delve into a strong emotion, writing as yourself, a fictional character, or a poetic persona. Let your exploration lead you toward the beginnings of a work of memoir, fiction or poetry. Some hint at a particular genre, others could be spun to fit multiple genres.

Amusement / Mirth


  • The best prank I’ve ever pulled / heard about.
  • How the court jester turned back an invading army.
  • Ten terrible metaphors and/or similes
  • Epic fail involving a skateboard, trampoline, or rope swing.
  • Mischievous magical folk create havoc in a village one spring evening.
  • Ten of the most ridiculous ways to kill off a character.
  • I can’t keep a straight face when I see ____.
  • A group of stand-up comics is taken hostage and must joke their way out of captivity.

Boredom


  • The most boring family event I can remember (or imagine)
  • You are a spinster noblewoman in 1815 England.
  • An athlete recovering from a concussion may not do, watch, or read anything to rest his/her injured brain.
  • A child’s eye view of a wedding.
  • You work as a lifeguard at a lap pool in a retirement home.
  • The diary of a prisoner in solitary confinement.
  • To marry your true love, you must attend weekly three-hour prayer meetings with your future in-laws for the next six months.
  • The dullest person you have ever dated.
  • An astronaut must live alone on a space station for a year.

Defeat / Discouragement


  • A setback or failure from which you thought you would never recover.
  • You missed the last bus/train/flight for the day.
  • Your science fair invention works perfectly until the judges come to observe it.
  • A false rumor causes everyone to shun you.
  • In a team competition, your teammates suffer a series of injuries, one after another.
  • Your corporate sponsor threatens to withdraw funding for a minor mistake.
  • You can’t hold a job because of a crazy relative who makes trouble everywhere.
  • A chronic illness makes it impossible to complete an important task.

Embarrassment


  • I have never been so embarrassed as when ____.
  • A beauty queen gets a nosebleed/gas attack during a pageant.
  • A dignitary comes for dinner and you/your child/your pet vomits on him/her.
  • Your swimsuit gets gobbled up by the pool drainage system.
  • Your parent with Tourette’s Syndrome chaperones the class trip/school dance.
  • The bakery accidently sends a lewd bachelorette party cake for Nana’s 90th birthday party.
  • The fart that changed my destiny.
  • Your doting mother shows off your baby pictures/awkward adolescent pictures/dweeby polka-band pictures to a potential mate.

Hope


  • You romantically connect with someone on a chance encounter, and the person asks for your number or gives you theirs.
  • A woman who has suffered several miscarriages enters the 36th week of a healthy pregnancy.
  • Describe the bodily sensations you have when you are hopeful.
  • Interstellar explorers find what looks like a viable planet for colonization, capable of sustaining human life.
  • A cancer patient begins an experimental treatment.
  • Police get an anonymous tip about a cold case.
  • The addict you love reaches their first anniversary of sobriety.
  • A group of castaways finds a crate on the beach full of farming and fishing equipment.

Shame


  • I could never tell ____.
  • How someone with an eating disorder might think about his/her body.
  • What deeply shameful experience could I more easily write myself free of if I gave it to a fictional character?
  • What skeletons do my parents have in their closets?
  • The day I realized there was something deeply wrong with me.
  • What shameful secret might my antagonist hide at all costs?
  • Deeply religious parents learn their child is leaving the faith because…
  • You learn that your parent or grandparent was once a Nazi, a torturer, or slave dealer.
  • A doctor makes a simple error that causes a patient to ____.


Interested in doing more with emotion in your writing? Pick up my guided journal Emotions in the Wild: A Writer's Observation Journal. This tool, based on exercises used in method acting, leads you through observation activities so that you can better describe character emotional responses in your writing. 

Pocket sized, with plenty of space to record your observations, this is a tool useful for writers of any genre. 

Available here: 
Amazon / Barnes and Noble / Createspace / Book Depository

Which of these prompts appeal most to you? Why?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

by guest Chrysa Smith

Some schools do it every year. Others have never had an author come into their school to speak to their students.  Yet for me, it's the only way to sell children's books--to sell books in quantity. But it's surely not for the faint of heart. Here are some of the lessons learned from "going back to school."

I learned long ago that if I wanted to get noticed as an author, I'd need to offer more than my book. After all, what makes my book different than the tens of thousands of children's books out there? So, after a little research and a lot of chutzpah, I decided to create a school program that went along with my first book.

Naturally, it spoke to my book, but it also included quite a bit about the writing process, which can also set an author apart. The presentation then became a lesson. More than a show 'n tell from an author, kids learned a few things without realizing it, all from a different perspective. And from my experience, teachers love it.

 Eight years ago, my program began as an overhead presentation (so much for technology). But it evolved, as the purchase of a projector gave birth to a PowerPoint, complete with cool graphics and fancy effects. A screen presentation is a 'must' if you visit schools, as assemblies are often held in gyms, auditoriums or cafeterias. Many schools do have Smart Boards with internet access and presentations can be shown from laptops. So it helps to have presentations on a memory stick as well--a little easier to tote and compatible with those schools that have the latest technology.

Presentations must fall in line with school schedules and teachers have to clear the space, the date and rearrange classes for the day, so while you might expect innumerable schools as your target market, my experience has shown the return on contacts to be quite low, thus my point about it not being for the faint of heart. Scoring school visits involves lots of time--lots and lots of time, perseverance and a budget--all necessary to create things like bookmarks, postcards, brochures--all must-haves in order to spread the word about you.

But perhaps the biggest question of all is how to market to schools? I wish I had a magic formula to share. To put it simply, it involves lots of contact. Emails, direct mailings, getting on school visitation websites. And while I have listed myself on 'authors who visit schools' sites, very little has come of it. For the most part, I do email blasts, and it does yield some results, but with the ever-growing number of protective filters out there, so many emails go unopened, which is why complimentary postcard mailings help. And don't underestimate the value of going to book fairs. I have sat at many, twiddling my thumbs and contemplating the universe, but some of the seemingly unending events have yielded school visits. All it takes is one contact to sell a few dozen books and perhaps lead to another school visit.

My advice? Start out locally. Hitting schools where you live is the best place to begin. They are often more open to authors who share their community. Discipline yourself with regular contact with them, and slowly, like a spider or world-wide web, cast your net larger and larger--as large as you care to or as long as you can stand being back in the classroom once again Good luck!

About the Author


Author of the easy-reader series: The Adventures of the Poodle Posse and a new picture book, Once upon a Poodle, Chrysa Smith always likes to see the fun side of things, as she observes her miniature poodles during devious endeavors in her home. A long-time feature magazine writer and shorter term children's author, Chrysa has always been a fan of the written word. It's just that now, it comes in simple, concise sentences.

Connect with Chrysa:

website / e-mail / Facebook

About the book

Once Upon a Poodle

Mom's Choice Award Silver Medalist for excellence in Juvenile Fiction


When miniature poodle Woody goes on a hunt for a new brother, all sorts of adventures are in store. Several attempts bring chaos into the house while trying to find a suitable creature to become the latest member of the family. Feathers fly, gardens are harvested and nuts are cracked in this full-color illustrated tale that embraces fun, problem-solving and learning what family and friendship are all about.

Available here: The Well Bred Book / Amazon

What questions do you have for Chrysa about booking and planning school visits?
Thursday, October 13, 2016 Laurel Garver
by guest Chrysa Smith

Some schools do it every year. Others have never had an author come into their school to speak to their students.  Yet for me, it's the only way to sell children's books--to sell books in quantity. But it's surely not for the faint of heart. Here are some of the lessons learned from "going back to school."

I learned long ago that if I wanted to get noticed as an author, I'd need to offer more than my book. After all, what makes my book different than the tens of thousands of children's books out there? So, after a little research and a lot of chutzpah, I decided to create a school program that went along with my first book.

Naturally, it spoke to my book, but it also included quite a bit about the writing process, which can also set an author apart. The presentation then became a lesson. More than a show 'n tell from an author, kids learned a few things without realizing it, all from a different perspective. And from my experience, teachers love it.

 Eight years ago, my program began as an overhead presentation (so much for technology). But it evolved, as the purchase of a projector gave birth to a PowerPoint, complete with cool graphics and fancy effects. A screen presentation is a 'must' if you visit schools, as assemblies are often held in gyms, auditoriums or cafeterias. Many schools do have Smart Boards with internet access and presentations can be shown from laptops. So it helps to have presentations on a memory stick as well--a little easier to tote and compatible with those schools that have the latest technology.

Presentations must fall in line with school schedules and teachers have to clear the space, the date and rearrange classes for the day, so while you might expect innumerable schools as your target market, my experience has shown the return on contacts to be quite low, thus my point about it not being for the faint of heart. Scoring school visits involves lots of time--lots and lots of time, perseverance and a budget--all necessary to create things like bookmarks, postcards, brochures--all must-haves in order to spread the word about you.

But perhaps the biggest question of all is how to market to schools? I wish I had a magic formula to share. To put it simply, it involves lots of contact. Emails, direct mailings, getting on school visitation websites. And while I have listed myself on 'authors who visit schools' sites, very little has come of it. For the most part, I do email blasts, and it does yield some results, but with the ever-growing number of protective filters out there, so many emails go unopened, which is why complimentary postcard mailings help. And don't underestimate the value of going to book fairs. I have sat at many, twiddling my thumbs and contemplating the universe, but some of the seemingly unending events have yielded school visits. All it takes is one contact to sell a few dozen books and perhaps lead to another school visit.

My advice? Start out locally. Hitting schools where you live is the best place to begin. They are often more open to authors who share their community. Discipline yourself with regular contact with them, and slowly, like a spider or world-wide web, cast your net larger and larger--as large as you care to or as long as you can stand being back in the classroom once again Good luck!

About the Author


Author of the easy-reader series: The Adventures of the Poodle Posse and a new picture book, Once upon a Poodle, Chrysa Smith always likes to see the fun side of things, as she observes her miniature poodles during devious endeavors in her home. A long-time feature magazine writer and shorter term children's author, Chrysa has always been a fan of the written word. It's just that now, it comes in simple, concise sentences.

Connect with Chrysa:

website / e-mail / Facebook

About the book

Once Upon a Poodle

Mom's Choice Award Silver Medalist for excellence in Juvenile Fiction


When miniature poodle Woody goes on a hunt for a new brother, all sorts of adventures are in store. Several attempts bring chaos into the house while trying to find a suitable creature to become the latest member of the family. Feathers fly, gardens are harvested and nuts are cracked in this full-color illustrated tale that embraces fun, problem-solving and learning what family and friendship are all about.

Available here: The Well Bred Book / Amazon

What questions do you have for Chrysa about booking and planning school visits?

Monday, October 03, 2016

by Franky A. Brown
The Courtship by Charles Green. Wikimedia commons.

My Austen Inspirations series is loosely based on Jane Austen’s works, some more than others. Emma’s Match features my character, Emma Wallace, a modern version of Austen’s Emma. She first came into being in the second book in the series, None But You, as the heroine’s best friend.

My goal was to craft her personality as closely as I could to Austen’s Emma, while setting her in modern-day South Carolina. She’s well-bred and classy, and while some may see her a snobbish, she has a generous heart and the best intentions when matchmaking her friends. But Emma’s Match is not a simple retelling of the story of Emma Woodhouse and George Knightley. What I set out to do was to take her character, add similarities to the original Emma, but make it my own story. And while None But You has many similarities to Persuasion, it’s also a new story.

Following the original books exactly didn’t work for me; it felt too much like being boxed in. Obviously women of today have more opportunities than women in the early nineteenth century, but human emotion hasn’t changed. The internal struggles women faced then with things like self-image, financial security, and understanding the opposite sex remain today.

Photo: DMedina on morguefile
Using Jane Austen’s characters as a springboard, I allowed myself the freedom to go in new directions. Pride and Butterflies shares simply a theme with Pride and Prejudice: first impressions can go seriously wrong and opinions can change. These heroines are women striving to succeed in building their own businesses, and struggling with personal weaknesses. The leading man either unexpectedly crashes into the back of her car, suddenly reappears seven years after a broken engagement, or lives down the hall and has no idea of her feelings.

All three of the books in this series can be read on their own. They’re filled with clean romance and plenty of humor. Austen, of course, was the first to combine humor and romance.


About the author


Franky A. Brown has always called the South home and loves to write about it. She holds an English degree from the University of South Carolina and can’t seem to stop reading. She is the author of women’s fiction and chick lit about life, love, and Southern women.

Brown started writing her Jane Austen retellings in 2015 with Pride and Butterflies, then None But You. Now she's published Emma's Match, a retelling of Emma by Jane Austen.


About the book


Emma Wallace has a plan up her sleeve to save her struggling design business, but not a clue what do to about the man who has her heart.

Stealing a kiss from Will Knight years ago ended in an embarrassment she didn’t want to repeat. But when a popular new designer in town starts taking her clients and has eyes on Will, too, Emma decides it’s time to fight for what she wants. The perfectly irritating designer she wants to shove into a hole isn’t the only one who can be down-to-earth and likeable. After all, Emma’s never failed at anything...except walking the line between friendship and love. Crossing it again could mean losing Will’s friendship for good.



Giveaway


Franky has generously offered a paperback of Emma’s Match! Use the Rafflecopter to enter. The giveaway will be closed at midnight on October 5th and the winner will be announced around 6AM on the Bookish Orchestration blog on October 6th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway



Tour Schedule

Saturday, October 1
Bookish Orchestrations-Tour Introduction
Rachel Rossano's Words- Excerpt and Character Interview

Sunday, October 2

Monday, October 3
Crystal Walton- Excerpt and Book Review
Laurel's Leaves-Guest Post

Tuesday, October 4
Ramblings- Guest Post
Once Upon an Ordinary-Author Interview

Wednesday, October 5
Rachel John Reviews- Book Review

Thursday, October 6
Bookish Orchestrations-Giveaway Winner


If you ever did a modernization of a classic, would you choose to riff on the characters, as Franky does, or to update the plot?
 
Monday, October 03, 2016 Laurel Garver
by Franky A. Brown
The Courtship by Charles Green. Wikimedia commons.

My Austen Inspirations series is loosely based on Jane Austen’s works, some more than others. Emma’s Match features my character, Emma Wallace, a modern version of Austen’s Emma. She first came into being in the second book in the series, None But You, as the heroine’s best friend.

My goal was to craft her personality as closely as I could to Austen’s Emma, while setting her in modern-day South Carolina. She’s well-bred and classy, and while some may see her a snobbish, she has a generous heart and the best intentions when matchmaking her friends. But Emma’s Match is not a simple retelling of the story of Emma Woodhouse and George Knightley. What I set out to do was to take her character, add similarities to the original Emma, but make it my own story. And while None But You has many similarities to Persuasion, it’s also a new story.

Following the original books exactly didn’t work for me; it felt too much like being boxed in. Obviously women of today have more opportunities than women in the early nineteenth century, but human emotion hasn’t changed. The internal struggles women faced then with things like self-image, financial security, and understanding the opposite sex remain today.

Photo: DMedina on morguefile
Using Jane Austen’s characters as a springboard, I allowed myself the freedom to go in new directions. Pride and Butterflies shares simply a theme with Pride and Prejudice: first impressions can go seriously wrong and opinions can change. These heroines are women striving to succeed in building their own businesses, and struggling with personal weaknesses. The leading man either unexpectedly crashes into the back of her car, suddenly reappears seven years after a broken engagement, or lives down the hall and has no idea of her feelings.

All three of the books in this series can be read on their own. They’re filled with clean romance and plenty of humor. Austen, of course, was the first to combine humor and romance.


About the author


Franky A. Brown has always called the South home and loves to write about it. She holds an English degree from the University of South Carolina and can’t seem to stop reading. She is the author of women’s fiction and chick lit about life, love, and Southern women.

Brown started writing her Jane Austen retellings in 2015 with Pride and Butterflies, then None But You. Now she's published Emma's Match, a retelling of Emma by Jane Austen.


About the book


Emma Wallace has a plan up her sleeve to save her struggling design business, but not a clue what do to about the man who has her heart.

Stealing a kiss from Will Knight years ago ended in an embarrassment she didn’t want to repeat. But when a popular new designer in town starts taking her clients and has eyes on Will, too, Emma decides it’s time to fight for what she wants. The perfectly irritating designer she wants to shove into a hole isn’t the only one who can be down-to-earth and likeable. After all, Emma’s never failed at anything...except walking the line between friendship and love. Crossing it again could mean losing Will’s friendship for good.



Giveaway


Franky has generously offered a paperback of Emma’s Match! Use the Rafflecopter to enter. The giveaway will be closed at midnight on October 5th and the winner will be announced around 6AM on the Bookish Orchestration blog on October 6th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway



Tour Schedule

Saturday, October 1
Bookish Orchestrations-Tour Introduction
Rachel Rossano's Words- Excerpt and Character Interview

Sunday, October 2

Monday, October 3
Crystal Walton- Excerpt and Book Review
Laurel's Leaves-Guest Post

Tuesday, October 4
Ramblings- Guest Post
Once Upon an Ordinary-Author Interview

Wednesday, October 5
Rachel John Reviews- Book Review

Thursday, October 6
Bookish Orchestrations-Giveaway Winner


If you ever did a modernization of a classic, would you choose to riff on the characters, as Franky does, or to update the plot?
 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The other day, my teen daughter heard Alanis Morissette's "You Ought to Know" and got rather confused by a line in the lyrics.
Image by svklimkin on morgeufile.com

"Is she really singing about a cross-eyed bear? Am I hearing that wrong?"

I explained to her that the lyric is "the cross I bear," alluding to Jesus' crucifixion and his teachings prior to it about following his example of living self-sacrificially. This is a kid raised going to church weekly and attends Christian school. So if that allusion whipped right by her, chances are, there are plenty of folks without and even with a Judeo-Christian faith background who don't quite get a number of English idioms that are allusions to Bible stories.

Allusions are complex as literary devices go. An allusion is meant to bring an entire story and its context to bear on a present situation. Therefore, as I explain each, I'll note not only what a phrase typically signifies, but also the context from which the words are taken.

Am I my brother's keeper?

What it means: Not really my problem. I'm not going to take responsibility.

What it alludes to: Genesis 4:1-16
God likes Abel's sacrifice of lamb better than his brother Cain's first fruits offering. Cain gets so envious that he kills Abel. When God asks, "Where is your brother?" Cain's playing-dumb response is, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain hoped to evade responsibility and punishment, but he got both, in spades.

Beat swords into ploughshares

What it means: A picture of perfect peace, when weapons aren't needed, and the metal would best be put to use making farm equipment, leading to plenty of food for all.

What it alludes to: Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3
These verses are nearly identical in describing a time when humanity is living peacefully under God's leadership: "He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore" (Micah 4:3 NIV). Folks are so much at peace that weapons are obsolete--a waste of good metal that could be put to better use. Without the weapons, folks don't even train for battle. They have better things to do, like keep agriculture humming along.

Cross to bear

What it means: A difficulty that requires walking a path of suffering; a situation that requires "dying to self" or putting aside one's desires, demands and rights.

To be clear, in popular understanding, the former meaning is more prominent, though it is theologically an incorrect interpretation. The latter meaning more accurately reflect what the Matthew 16 verses mean--radical humility, not masochism of Stoicism. Christian teaching on suffering is more accurately reflected in a "thorn in the flesh" (see below).

What it alludes to: John 19:16-18; Matthew 16:24-26
Two contexts here: first, Jesus' own crucifixion, in which he was made to carry the wood beams on which he would be executed. It's a picture of carrying the means of your death, of extreme self-sacrifice. Second, Jesus taught his disciples that being his followers meant having a similar willingness to  be selfless and to obey God instead of following one's self-serving, throw-others-under-the-bus desire to be first.

Forbidden fruit

What it means: a tempting, bad / wrong thing

What it alludes to: Genesis 2:15-3:24
God gave Adam and Eve and entire garden of food to eat, except for the fruit of one tree, but the cunning serpent convinced them to eat anyway. Breaking that simple rule lost them the privilege of being in the garden and brought pain and curses.

Gird up your loins

What it means: Get ready to fight or do a difficult task.

What it alludes to: Job 40:7, Jeremiah 1:17, Ephesians 6:14, I Peter 1:13
In a culture that wore long, flowing tunics, it was difficult to get anywhere fast with all that fabric flapping around you. "Girding" meant gathering and securing the extra cloth in a girth or belt, and the "loins," or lower torso, would thus be wrapped up, enabling freer leg movement.

Here's a helpful image of the process:

Image by Ted Slampyak (http://jazzagecomics.storenvy.com//)


Good Samaritan

What it means: a complete stranger who cares for someone in need or danger

What it alludes to: Luke 10:25-37
When Jesus says the second greatest commandment is "love your neighbor as yourself," a listener asks "But who is my neighbor?"

He goes on to tell the parable--a fictional teaching story--of a man who gets robbed and beaten and left for dead. Two of his countrymen pass him by, doing nothing (probably not wanting the inconvenience of becoming ritually impure from possibly touching a dead body.) A third guy comes by -- someone from Samaria, land of half-breeds who practice a divergent form of Judaism -- and he helps. And not just a little. The Samaritan cleans the victim's wounds, gives him a ride on his donkey, takes him to a nearby inn, then pays for his care.

Jesus uses the story to teach that loving neighbor isn't about deciding who's part of the in group or out group, it's about showing the care you'd want to receive when you see someone in need--even weirdos, outsiders, and enemies.

Out of the mouths of babes

What it means: Wise words coming from a young person.

What it alludes to: Psalm 8:2, Matthew 21:16
"From the mouth of infants and nursing babes
You have established strength
Because of Your adversaries,
To make the enemy and the revengeful cease." (Psalm 8:2)

Jesus refers to the verse when, following the events of Palm Sunday, the religious leaders are angry that kids are following him around, yelling "Hosanna to the Son of David!" He's making the harsh point that God has given this insight about his identity, and that the temple leaders are, therefore, in enmity with God if they dislike these words.

Pearls before swine

What it means: Know your audience, and be discerning. If a group won't be inclined to value the very good thing you're offering, better to not waste it.

What it alludes to: Matthew 7:6
As part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns his listeners: "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces."

Dogs in the Bible are scavenger beasts that do gross things like eat dead bodies; swine/pigs are paralleled here, and likewise "unclean." Similarly, a parallel is being drawn between "what is sacred" and pearls. This verse is part of the section that teaches "do not judge lest you be judged." So it's a counterbalance--don't condemn others, but do be discerning.

Salt of the earth

What it means: A truly good person who embodies loving God and neighbor. A solid citizen who does good and influences others to do the same.

What it alludes to: Matthew 5:13
"You are the salt of the earth," Jesus tells his listeners in this Sermon on the Mount word-picture of being a positive influence. Salt was used in this era to preserve perishable foods (salted meats, pickled vegetables), and as a flavoring. The verse also warns against "losing saltiness"--failing to be a positive force who keeps decay (especially moral decay) at bay.

Scapegoat

What it means: An innocent forced to take on someone else's guilt

What it alludes to: Leviticus 16: 20-22
As part of the original rituals of Yom Kippur / Day of Atonement, a live goat ritually had all the sins (deliberate wrongdoing) and trespasses (straying) of the people prayed onto it by the high priest. It was then set loose to wander in the wilderness. It is a picture of evil being removed through substitution--an innocent one carrying another's guilt.

Thorn in the flesh

What it means: Chronic infirmity, annoyance or trouble, especially that cements your sense of limitation and keeps you humble.

What it alludes to: II Corinthians 12:7-9
In his epistles, St. Paul refers a number of times to a problem with his eyesight that hindered his ability to keep up one important part of his church-building enterprise--sending letters to congregations to train and encourage them. He realized it was more than an annoyance--it was teaching him to not become arrogant about his success spreading Christianity. (There are other theories and interpretations of what St. Paul's "thorn" might have been,)

Writing is on the wall / Handwriting on the wall

What it means: Judgement is imminent / the bad ending is obvious

What it alludes to: Daniel 5
Babylonian King Belshazzar threw a big banquet using sacred vessels looted from the temple in Jerusalem. A hand appeared and wrote a cryptic message on the wall: "Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin." No one could figure out what it meant, so the prophet Daniel was brought in, and he told them the specific judgment about to befall this bad king. The very next day, the prophecy came true.

Were these terms familiar to you? Which one(s) surprised you most?

Thursday, September 22, 2016 Laurel Garver
The other day, my teen daughter heard Alanis Morissette's "You Ought to Know" and got rather confused by a line in the lyrics.
Image by svklimkin on morgeufile.com

"Is she really singing about a cross-eyed bear? Am I hearing that wrong?"

I explained to her that the lyric is "the cross I bear," alluding to Jesus' crucifixion and his teachings prior to it about following his example of living self-sacrificially. This is a kid raised going to church weekly and attends Christian school. So if that allusion whipped right by her, chances are, there are plenty of folks without and even with a Judeo-Christian faith background who don't quite get a number of English idioms that are allusions to Bible stories.

Allusions are complex as literary devices go. An allusion is meant to bring an entire story and its context to bear on a present situation. Therefore, as I explain each, I'll note not only what a phrase typically signifies, but also the context from which the words are taken.

Am I my brother's keeper?

What it means: Not really my problem. I'm not going to take responsibility.

What it alludes to: Genesis 4:1-16
God likes Abel's sacrifice of lamb better than his brother Cain's first fruits offering. Cain gets so envious that he kills Abel. When God asks, "Where is your brother?" Cain's playing-dumb response is, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain hoped to evade responsibility and punishment, but he got both, in spades.

Beat swords into ploughshares

What it means: A picture of perfect peace, when weapons aren't needed, and the metal would best be put to use making farm equipment, leading to plenty of food for all.

What it alludes to: Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3
These verses are nearly identical in describing a time when humanity is living peacefully under God's leadership: "He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore" (Micah 4:3 NIV). Folks are so much at peace that weapons are obsolete--a waste of good metal that could be put to better use. Without the weapons, folks don't even train for battle. They have better things to do, like keep agriculture humming along.

Cross to bear

What it means: A difficulty that requires walking a path of suffering; a situation that requires "dying to self" or putting aside one's desires, demands and rights.

To be clear, in popular understanding, the former meaning is more prominent, though it is theologically an incorrect interpretation. The latter meaning more accurately reflect what the Matthew 16 verses mean--radical humility, not masochism of Stoicism. Christian teaching on suffering is more accurately reflected in a "thorn in the flesh" (see below).

What it alludes to: John 19:16-18; Matthew 16:24-26
Two contexts here: first, Jesus' own crucifixion, in which he was made to carry the wood beams on which he would be executed. It's a picture of carrying the means of your death, of extreme self-sacrifice. Second, Jesus taught his disciples that being his followers meant having a similar willingness to  be selfless and to obey God instead of following one's self-serving, throw-others-under-the-bus desire to be first.

Forbidden fruit

What it means: a tempting, bad / wrong thing

What it alludes to: Genesis 2:15-3:24
God gave Adam and Eve and entire garden of food to eat, except for the fruit of one tree, but the cunning serpent convinced them to eat anyway. Breaking that simple rule lost them the privilege of being in the garden and brought pain and curses.

Gird up your loins

What it means: Get ready to fight or do a difficult task.

What it alludes to: Job 40:7, Jeremiah 1:17, Ephesians 6:14, I Peter 1:13
In a culture that wore long, flowing tunics, it was difficult to get anywhere fast with all that fabric flapping around you. "Girding" meant gathering and securing the extra cloth in a girth or belt, and the "loins," or lower torso, would thus be wrapped up, enabling freer leg movement.

Here's a helpful image of the process:

Image by Ted Slampyak (http://jazzagecomics.storenvy.com//)


Good Samaritan

What it means: a complete stranger who cares for someone in need or danger

What it alludes to: Luke 10:25-37
When Jesus says the second greatest commandment is "love your neighbor as yourself," a listener asks "But who is my neighbor?"

He goes on to tell the parable--a fictional teaching story--of a man who gets robbed and beaten and left for dead. Two of his countrymen pass him by, doing nothing (probably not wanting the inconvenience of becoming ritually impure from possibly touching a dead body.) A third guy comes by -- someone from Samaria, land of half-breeds who practice a divergent form of Judaism -- and he helps. And not just a little. The Samaritan cleans the victim's wounds, gives him a ride on his donkey, takes him to a nearby inn, then pays for his care.

Jesus uses the story to teach that loving neighbor isn't about deciding who's part of the in group or out group, it's about showing the care you'd want to receive when you see someone in need--even weirdos, outsiders, and enemies.

Out of the mouths of babes

What it means: Wise words coming from a young person.

What it alludes to: Psalm 8:2, Matthew 21:16
"From the mouth of infants and nursing babes
You have established strength
Because of Your adversaries,
To make the enemy and the revengeful cease." (Psalm 8:2)

Jesus refers to the verse when, following the events of Palm Sunday, the religious leaders are angry that kids are following him around, yelling "Hosanna to the Son of David!" He's making the harsh point that God has given this insight about his identity, and that the temple leaders are, therefore, in enmity with God if they dislike these words.

Pearls before swine

What it means: Know your audience, and be discerning. If a group won't be inclined to value the very good thing you're offering, better to not waste it.

What it alludes to: Matthew 7:6
As part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns his listeners: "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces."

Dogs in the Bible are scavenger beasts that do gross things like eat dead bodies; swine/pigs are paralleled here, and likewise "unclean." Similarly, a parallel is being drawn between "what is sacred" and pearls. This verse is part of the section that teaches "do not judge lest you be judged." So it's a counterbalance--don't condemn others, but do be discerning.

Salt of the earth

What it means: A truly good person who embodies loving God and neighbor. A solid citizen who does good and influences others to do the same.

What it alludes to: Matthew 5:13
"You are the salt of the earth," Jesus tells his listeners in this Sermon on the Mount word-picture of being a positive influence. Salt was used in this era to preserve perishable foods (salted meats, pickled vegetables), and as a flavoring. The verse also warns against "losing saltiness"--failing to be a positive force who keeps decay (especially moral decay) at bay.

Scapegoat

What it means: An innocent forced to take on someone else's guilt

What it alludes to: Leviticus 16: 20-22
As part of the original rituals of Yom Kippur / Day of Atonement, a live goat ritually had all the sins (deliberate wrongdoing) and trespasses (straying) of the people prayed onto it by the high priest. It was then set loose to wander in the wilderness. It is a picture of evil being removed through substitution--an innocent one carrying another's guilt.

Thorn in the flesh

What it means: Chronic infirmity, annoyance or trouble, especially that cements your sense of limitation and keeps you humble.

What it alludes to: II Corinthians 12:7-9
In his epistles, St. Paul refers a number of times to a problem with his eyesight that hindered his ability to keep up one important part of his church-building enterprise--sending letters to congregations to train and encourage them. He realized it was more than an annoyance--it was teaching him to not become arrogant about his success spreading Christianity. (There are other theories and interpretations of what St. Paul's "thorn" might have been,)

Writing is on the wall / Handwriting on the wall

What it means: Judgement is imminent / the bad ending is obvious

What it alludes to: Daniel 5
Babylonian King Belshazzar threw a big banquet using sacred vessels looted from the temple in Jerusalem. A hand appeared and wrote a cryptic message on the wall: "Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin." No one could figure out what it meant, so the prophet Daniel was brought in, and he told them the specific judgment about to befall this bad king. The very next day, the prophecy came true.

Were these terms familiar to you? Which one(s) surprised you most?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The new school year has begun, which always feels to me like a time for me to start new things, or in this case, restart old things.

Back in 2009, one of my critique group friends called with an urgent punctuation question. It was something pretty simple about quotes within quotes. This got me wondering if any of my blog followers have burning questions about some matter of grammar, usage, or style.

From there, I started a little series called Editor-on-call, in which I answer your burning questions. It has been a long time since I put out a call for more questions, so I thought I'd do so again. I want to keep this blog relevant and a helpful resource for you, dear readers.

Perhaps first you'd like to know what topics I've already covered. There are quite a few, as it happens, though this hardly exhausts all the concerns I hear come up at my critique group and in the author collaborative I belong to.




Tell me, readers, what burning questions do you have about grammar, punctuation, or fiction writing problems you don't know how to fix?
Thursday, September 15, 2016 Laurel Garver
The new school year has begun, which always feels to me like a time for me to start new things, or in this case, restart old things.

Back in 2009, one of my critique group friends called with an urgent punctuation question. It was something pretty simple about quotes within quotes. This got me wondering if any of my blog followers have burning questions about some matter of grammar, usage, or style.

From there, I started a little series called Editor-on-call, in which I answer your burning questions. It has been a long time since I put out a call for more questions, so I thought I'd do so again. I want to keep this blog relevant and a helpful resource for you, dear readers.

Perhaps first you'd like to know what topics I've already covered. There are quite a few, as it happens, though this hardly exhausts all the concerns I hear come up at my critique group and in the author collaborative I belong to.




Tell me, readers, what burning questions do you have about grammar, punctuation, or fiction writing problems you don't know how to fix?

Thursday, September 08, 2016

I was fortunate to land a job early in my career that required me to learn graphic design. Between the professional seminars, how-to books, a very kind colleague who taught me all his best tricks, and a grad school class, I got to a level of basic competence. The more newsletters and magazine spreads and brochures I designed, the more my skills improved.

All that to say, even words people can learn some of the basics of design. You don't need an art degree to attempt to create marketing graphics (though seminars and how-to books are a good idea, so you understand composition, balance and the like).

These days, you don't even need the pricey software I learned on (Quark, Photoshop, Illustrator). There are a number of freeware solutions that will enable you to create very attractive designs. They aren't as powerful as the pricey design products, but they also aren't nearly as complicated to learn (I'm looking at you, Photoshop).

Photo editing


GIMP is a great, basic photo editor, available free, that allows you to not only resize images, but also tweak the colors and use layer masks--one of Photoshop's most powerful tools. Check out GIMP's tutorials page for instructions on using some of these more advanced options. Because it is open-source software, there are lots of cool plug-ins you can get from third parties to make the software even more powerful. Check out the 20 best free GIMP plug ins to start.

Layout


Canva is my new favorite toy. This powerful web-based design platform has lots of free design elements, premade designs, and great, easy-to-use tools to make quick marketing graphics.

Once you login--you can do so easily by linking with a Facebook or Google account--pick the type of element you want--a blog graphic, social media post (Twitter-friendly designs are under this heading), card, poster, etc. This will create a live working area in the correct size for your needs.

From there, you can select one of their premade designs, or you can assemble something freestyle. The amazing thing is that EVERYTHING is editable. It's kind of crazy. You can upload your own photos, pull them into the live area and resize them, flip them, turn them on a jaunty angle. The backgrounds come with textures and colors, but these are editable too. You can change the colors, even the opacity.

You can layer in shapes and text. And wow do they offer a lot of very cool pre-make text elements that are, once again, editable (made larger and smaller, different color, different typeface). Pick the shape that will work well with your message, then simply change the pre-made text to your words, and edit any other attribute as needed. Let me give you a couple examples, from my fairly quick and easy noodling efforts:


This is a standard Twitter-post size. I used one of Canva's free photos, expanding it until it was the right width--the program automatically cropped it to fit in the live area. I dropped in "heading" text element on the left, then changed the typeface to "Emily's Candy" (is that not a great font name?) and played with the color mixer until I had a nice crimson that reflected the raspberries. The black text is the standard "subheading" type, 



This design uses an uploaded image I got from the free image site, morguefile.com. The text graphic is a pre-made that I edited by adding my own text and changing the color of the border to echo the apple. The #1linewed (one line Wednesday, a weekly Twitter party for writers) theme this week was "school," so I had fun doing themed thank you graphics.



This is perhaps the most complex design I've attempted so far. I got the 3D book covers using the free 3D cover designer available from Adazing (warning--you will get a lot of e-mail ads from them in exchange for the free design). Each of these I uploaded. Because they have some white around them to accommodate the drop shadow, I stuck with a white background. The text elements are, top to bottom, subheading, body text, and heading. Only the heading text did I significantly edit, changing to a brush-syle typeface and tweaking the color. I now know how to fine-tune my color choices more, so I will likely do some revisions to this ad for my book series.

It's easy to do permutations of a design by making a copy on an additional page, change an element or two and see which you like better. When you're ready to post the image elsewhere, use the share button, or download. If you have permutations and want to download only one, click "options" in the download menu, and pick just the page you want. 

Anyway, That's a little taste of some of the fun things you can do to jazz up your blog posts, Twitter posts, or Facebook posts. Follow me on Twitter @LaurelGarver to see what new experiments I dream up.

Have I convinced you to try out some of these tools? Do you enjoy design or find it intimidating?
Thursday, September 08, 2016 Laurel Garver
I was fortunate to land a job early in my career that required me to learn graphic design. Between the professional seminars, how-to books, a very kind colleague who taught me all his best tricks, and a grad school class, I got to a level of basic competence. The more newsletters and magazine spreads and brochures I designed, the more my skills improved.

All that to say, even words people can learn some of the basics of design. You don't need an art degree to attempt to create marketing graphics (though seminars and how-to books are a good idea, so you understand composition, balance and the like).

These days, you don't even need the pricey software I learned on (Quark, Photoshop, Illustrator). There are a number of freeware solutions that will enable you to create very attractive designs. They aren't as powerful as the pricey design products, but they also aren't nearly as complicated to learn (I'm looking at you, Photoshop).

Photo editing


GIMP is a great, basic photo editor, available free, that allows you to not only resize images, but also tweak the colors and use layer masks--one of Photoshop's most powerful tools. Check out GIMP's tutorials page for instructions on using some of these more advanced options. Because it is open-source software, there are lots of cool plug-ins you can get from third parties to make the software even more powerful. Check out the 20 best free GIMP plug ins to start.

Layout


Canva is my new favorite toy. This powerful web-based design platform has lots of free design elements, premade designs, and great, easy-to-use tools to make quick marketing graphics.

Once you login--you can do so easily by linking with a Facebook or Google account--pick the type of element you want--a blog graphic, social media post (Twitter-friendly designs are under this heading), card, poster, etc. This will create a live working area in the correct size for your needs.

From there, you can select one of their premade designs, or you can assemble something freestyle. The amazing thing is that EVERYTHING is editable. It's kind of crazy. You can upload your own photos, pull them into the live area and resize them, flip them, turn them on a jaunty angle. The backgrounds come with textures and colors, but these are editable too. You can change the colors, even the opacity.

You can layer in shapes and text. And wow do they offer a lot of very cool pre-make text elements that are, once again, editable (made larger and smaller, different color, different typeface). Pick the shape that will work well with your message, then simply change the pre-made text to your words, and edit any other attribute as needed. Let me give you a couple examples, from my fairly quick and easy noodling efforts:


This is a standard Twitter-post size. I used one of Canva's free photos, expanding it until it was the right width--the program automatically cropped it to fit in the live area. I dropped in "heading" text element on the left, then changed the typeface to "Emily's Candy" (is that not a great font name?) and played with the color mixer until I had a nice crimson that reflected the raspberries. The black text is the standard "subheading" type, 



This design uses an uploaded image I got from the free image site, morguefile.com. The text graphic is a pre-made that I edited by adding my own text and changing the color of the border to echo the apple. The #1linewed (one line Wednesday, a weekly Twitter party for writers) theme this week was "school," so I had fun doing themed thank you graphics.



This is perhaps the most complex design I've attempted so far. I got the 3D book covers using the free 3D cover designer available from Adazing (warning--you will get a lot of e-mail ads from them in exchange for the free design). Each of these I uploaded. Because they have some white around them to accommodate the drop shadow, I stuck with a white background. The text elements are, top to bottom, subheading, body text, and heading. Only the heading text did I significantly edit, changing to a brush-syle typeface and tweaking the color. I now know how to fine-tune my color choices more, so I will likely do some revisions to this ad for my book series.

It's easy to do permutations of a design by making a copy on an additional page, change an element or two and see which you like better. When you're ready to post the image elsewhere, use the share button, or download. If you have permutations and want to download only one, click "options" in the download menu, and pick just the page you want. 

Anyway, That's a little taste of some of the fun things you can do to jazz up your blog posts, Twitter posts, or Facebook posts. Follow me on Twitter @LaurelGarver to see what new experiments I dream up.

Have I convinced you to try out some of these tools? Do you enjoy design or find it intimidating?

Friday, August 26, 2016

with guest author Dusty Crabtree
Phoenix art by Laura

I know a number of author friends who were delighted to publish with a small publisher that felt like family. But in today's publishing climate, it's tougher than ever for small publishers to survive. So what do you do when your cozy family in the publishing world decides to close its doors? If rights revert to you, you might decide to go the route of today's guest. I asked her to share her experiences with that starting over process with an existing book. Take it away, Dusty...



Thank you for hosting me again, Laurel! Last time I was here it was for the one-year anniversary tour for Shadow Eyes. Now, here we are three years later releasing it again.

(Be sure to enter the rafflecopter at the bottom of the post for a chance to win a print copy of Shadow Eyes and a $50 gift card to Amazon!)

Shadow Eyes, my YA urban fantasy, was first released in 2012 by Musa Publishing. Being a young, small publishing company, Musa closed in 2015 as so many small publishing companies are forced to do. After a lot of thought and advice-seeking, I decided to self-publish it this time. A lot of reasons went into this.

1. I didn’t want to wait anymore. Publishing through a traditional publishing company takes time! There’s waiting to get accepted by a publisher, waiting to sign a contract, waiting to get assigned an editor, waiting to get all the edits done on your part, waiting for the company to finish their edits, waiting on the cover art, and then finally waiting for the release date (they often have a long line ahead of you). Self-publishing is much faster, and having gone through it all before, I really just wanted to get Shadow Eyes back out there as fast as I could. I have a sequel waiting in the wings for goodness’ sake! Let’s get this show on the road!

2. I was tired of searching and getting rejected. That may sound shallow or childish, but come on, who likes getting rejected. And, believe me, I know rejection by publishing companies is normal and not to take it personally. I went through a lot of them the first time around before Musa picked it up. Many of the rejections were most likely by companies who didn’t even look at the book because they didn’t have time or space for new authors. Most others have certain tastes and a certain market they are trying to sell to, and my book just didn’t fit.

I didn’t take it personally. But it still got old. When doors kept slamming in my face, I didn’t doubt myself or wallow in self-pity. I got frustrated and discouraged. I kept seeing the light at the end of the tunnel grow dimmer and dimmer as the end kept getting farther and farther away. I started to feel like I’d exhausted all possible options, and what would I do then?

That’s when I realized there was another door. A door that wouldn’t slam in my face. Sure, the world beyond that door was new and scary, and I was sure to be met with opposition and possibly judgement. But it was an open door nonetheless. And it gave me a breath of fresh air.

3. My genre and content has a unique and specific market. Most traditional publishers don’t want a book with a limited market, so if yours doesn’t seem like it would appeal to a wide audience, they won’t want to take a chance on you. This is probably what influenced my decision the most. After talking to a trusted author/editor about it, I realized that what she said about my genre and content was true. It is unique. And that’s okay!

In fact, I'm proud to not fit their traditional, mainstream, please everyone and cater to everyone mold! My books will find an audience that will love them for what they are -- bold, unapologetic, unique, spiritual and morally grounded, yet too edgy to fit a Christian mold either. I will find my audience without a publishing company’s help. Thank you.

4. Self-publishing gets you more profit for the same amount of time promoting. True, you may not have quite as much reach as you would with a publishing company, but you will make much more profit. Also, I found that with a small publishing company, I was doing most of my promoting anyway. They helped out with what they could – gathering a few reviews from me, helping their authors cross-promote, giving us ideas, hosting tours, etc. But much of the promoting fell on me. So that much isn’t very different now.

5. I learned to view self-publishing in a different light and swallowed my pride. It’s no lie. Many people in the book community have a prejudice against self-published books. They view these books as “not good enough” to get picked up by a traditional publisher. Like a lot of prejudices, there is some foundation for this. The truth of the matter is anyone can self-publish. Sure it takes some research and asking a lot of questions, but anyone can do it. The book doesn’t have to be professionally edited, and the author doesn’t have to be any good. The thought is that if a book is traditionally published, at least it’s been screened by someone out there who deemed it as worthy enough to be in the book market.

But here’s another truth. Just because a book hasn’t been screened, doesn’t mean it’s not any good. Now, I do still think books need to be professionally edited because even the best writers are blind to their own limitations. We all need an outsider who knows what they’re doing to help us with what we can’t see. But if it has been edited, who’s to say it’s not just as good as a traditionally published book?

I just had to get out of that prejudiced mindset, swallow my pride, and simply be secure and confident in my work, knowing it’s just as professional and worthy as any other book out there, with or without the “self-published.”

Closing thoughts – I will say that going through the traditional publishing process the first time was extremely valuable! I learned so much that I believe will help me be successful this time around. The connections I made, the lessons I learned, and the ideas I gleaned have all been very helpful. Plus, having been traditionally published at least once does help give you some credibility amidst the sea of self-publishers out there.

So, if you’re looking to publish your first book, I recommend at least attempting to go the traditional route first. After that, it’s totally up to you and what you feel is best. Just don’t let fear or your own prejudice get in the way of your decision.

About the Author


Dusty Crabtree loves a good story, but she also loves young people. These two loves are evident in all parts of her life. She has been a high school English teacher since 2006 and a creative writing teacher since 2014. She's also been a youth sponsor at her local church for as long as she’s been teaching. She feels very blessed with the amazing opportunities she has to develop meaningful relationships with teens on a daily basis. With her love of reading in the mix, becoming an author of young adult books was just a natural development of those two passions in her life. She lives with her husband, Clayton, in Yukon, Oklahoma, where they often serve their community as foster parents.

Blog / Twitter / Facebook


About Shadow Eyes


Iris thought she could ignore the shadows…until they came after everyone she loved.

Seventeen-year- old Iris Kohl has been able to see both dark and light figures ever since a tragic incident three years ago. The problem is, no one else seems to see them, and even worse…the dark figures terrorize humans, but Iris is powerless to stop them.

Although she’s learned to deal with watching shadows harass everyone around her, Iris is soon forced to question everything she thinks she knows about her world and herself. Her sanity, strength, and will power are tested to the limits by not only the shadows, but also a handsome new teacher whose presence scares away shadows, a new friend with an awe-inspiriting aura, and a mysterious, alluring new student whom Iris has a hard time resisting despite already having a boyfriend. As the shadows invade and terrorize her own life and family, Iris must ultimately accept the guidance of an angel to revisit the most horrific event of her life and become the hero she was meant to be.

Goodreads / Trailer 
Available for pre-order Amazon / Barnes and Noble / Apple iBooks / Smashwords


a Rafflecopter giveaway

To see other posts on this tour and to increase your chances of winning, visit Dusty’s blog for the schedule with links as they are posted. 
Friday, August 26, 2016 Laurel Garver
with guest author Dusty Crabtree
Phoenix art by Laura

I know a number of author friends who were delighted to publish with a small publisher that felt like family. But in today's publishing climate, it's tougher than ever for small publishers to survive. So what do you do when your cozy family in the publishing world decides to close its doors? If rights revert to you, you might decide to go the route of today's guest. I asked her to share her experiences with that starting over process with an existing book. Take it away, Dusty...



Thank you for hosting me again, Laurel! Last time I was here it was for the one-year anniversary tour for Shadow Eyes. Now, here we are three years later releasing it again.

(Be sure to enter the rafflecopter at the bottom of the post for a chance to win a print copy of Shadow Eyes and a $50 gift card to Amazon!)

Shadow Eyes, my YA urban fantasy, was first released in 2012 by Musa Publishing. Being a young, small publishing company, Musa closed in 2015 as so many small publishing companies are forced to do. After a lot of thought and advice-seeking, I decided to self-publish it this time. A lot of reasons went into this.

1. I didn’t want to wait anymore. Publishing through a traditional publishing company takes time! There’s waiting to get accepted by a publisher, waiting to sign a contract, waiting to get assigned an editor, waiting to get all the edits done on your part, waiting for the company to finish their edits, waiting on the cover art, and then finally waiting for the release date (they often have a long line ahead of you). Self-publishing is much faster, and having gone through it all before, I really just wanted to get Shadow Eyes back out there as fast as I could. I have a sequel waiting in the wings for goodness’ sake! Let’s get this show on the road!

2. I was tired of searching and getting rejected. That may sound shallow or childish, but come on, who likes getting rejected. And, believe me, I know rejection by publishing companies is normal and not to take it personally. I went through a lot of them the first time around before Musa picked it up. Many of the rejections were most likely by companies who didn’t even look at the book because they didn’t have time or space for new authors. Most others have certain tastes and a certain market they are trying to sell to, and my book just didn’t fit.

I didn’t take it personally. But it still got old. When doors kept slamming in my face, I didn’t doubt myself or wallow in self-pity. I got frustrated and discouraged. I kept seeing the light at the end of the tunnel grow dimmer and dimmer as the end kept getting farther and farther away. I started to feel like I’d exhausted all possible options, and what would I do then?

That’s when I realized there was another door. A door that wouldn’t slam in my face. Sure, the world beyond that door was new and scary, and I was sure to be met with opposition and possibly judgement. But it was an open door nonetheless. And it gave me a breath of fresh air.

3. My genre and content has a unique and specific market. Most traditional publishers don’t want a book with a limited market, so if yours doesn’t seem like it would appeal to a wide audience, they won’t want to take a chance on you. This is probably what influenced my decision the most. After talking to a trusted author/editor about it, I realized that what she said about my genre and content was true. It is unique. And that’s okay!

In fact, I'm proud to not fit their traditional, mainstream, please everyone and cater to everyone mold! My books will find an audience that will love them for what they are -- bold, unapologetic, unique, spiritual and morally grounded, yet too edgy to fit a Christian mold either. I will find my audience without a publishing company’s help. Thank you.

4. Self-publishing gets you more profit for the same amount of time promoting. True, you may not have quite as much reach as you would with a publishing company, but you will make much more profit. Also, I found that with a small publishing company, I was doing most of my promoting anyway. They helped out with what they could – gathering a few reviews from me, helping their authors cross-promote, giving us ideas, hosting tours, etc. But much of the promoting fell on me. So that much isn’t very different now.

5. I learned to view self-publishing in a different light and swallowed my pride. It’s no lie. Many people in the book community have a prejudice against self-published books. They view these books as “not good enough” to get picked up by a traditional publisher. Like a lot of prejudices, there is some foundation for this. The truth of the matter is anyone can self-publish. Sure it takes some research and asking a lot of questions, but anyone can do it. The book doesn’t have to be professionally edited, and the author doesn’t have to be any good. The thought is that if a book is traditionally published, at least it’s been screened by someone out there who deemed it as worthy enough to be in the book market.

But here’s another truth. Just because a book hasn’t been screened, doesn’t mean it’s not any good. Now, I do still think books need to be professionally edited because even the best writers are blind to their own limitations. We all need an outsider who knows what they’re doing to help us with what we can’t see. But if it has been edited, who’s to say it’s not just as good as a traditionally published book?

I just had to get out of that prejudiced mindset, swallow my pride, and simply be secure and confident in my work, knowing it’s just as professional and worthy as any other book out there, with or without the “self-published.”

Closing thoughts – I will say that going through the traditional publishing process the first time was extremely valuable! I learned so much that I believe will help me be successful this time around. The connections I made, the lessons I learned, and the ideas I gleaned have all been very helpful. Plus, having been traditionally published at least once does help give you some credibility amidst the sea of self-publishers out there.

So, if you’re looking to publish your first book, I recommend at least attempting to go the traditional route first. After that, it’s totally up to you and what you feel is best. Just don’t let fear or your own prejudice get in the way of your decision.

About the Author


Dusty Crabtree loves a good story, but she also loves young people. These two loves are evident in all parts of her life. She has been a high school English teacher since 2006 and a creative writing teacher since 2014. She's also been a youth sponsor at her local church for as long as she’s been teaching. She feels very blessed with the amazing opportunities she has to develop meaningful relationships with teens on a daily basis. With her love of reading in the mix, becoming an author of young adult books was just a natural development of those two passions in her life. She lives with her husband, Clayton, in Yukon, Oklahoma, where they often serve their community as foster parents.

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About Shadow Eyes


Iris thought she could ignore the shadows…until they came after everyone she loved.

Seventeen-year- old Iris Kohl has been able to see both dark and light figures ever since a tragic incident three years ago. The problem is, no one else seems to see them, and even worse…the dark figures terrorize humans, but Iris is powerless to stop them.

Although she’s learned to deal with watching shadows harass everyone around her, Iris is soon forced to question everything she thinks she knows about her world and herself. Her sanity, strength, and will power are tested to the limits by not only the shadows, but also a handsome new teacher whose presence scares away shadows, a new friend with an awe-inspiriting aura, and a mysterious, alluring new student whom Iris has a hard time resisting despite already having a boyfriend. As the shadows invade and terrorize her own life and family, Iris must ultimately accept the guidance of an angel to revisit the most horrific event of her life and become the hero she was meant to be.

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Available for pre-order Amazon / Barnes and Noble / Apple iBooks / Smashwords


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To see other posts on this tour and to increase your chances of winning, visit Dusty’s blog for the schedule with links as they are posted.