Saturday, September 29, 2012

Reading round-up

In going through old blog posts for another purpose (read the upcoming post for Tuesday's workshop), I realized I hadn't recorded what I've been reading since June. And I have been reading. Lots.

I read several romance novels, but, alas, did not record the titles anywhere. I know there was one Nora Roberts and two Jude Devereux though.

I've re-read The Hobbit, several times in the past two months as I'm teaching it. This was the first Tolkien book I read way back in high school. All my friends had read it and they kept telling me how good it was. I remember reading it in the car on the way to a speech tournament (I competed in Dramatic Interpretation). I also remember not liking it at all. I didn't see what the fuss was.

Several months later I read The Lord of the Rings and loved it. He wrote The Hobbit in a very different style than he used for LOTR and I found I liked the adult style much more than the children's story. Re-reading it now, I find I still hold that opinion.

But, as Bilbo would say, The Hobbit is "just a bit of fun." :)

Mostly I've been reading through L.E. Modesett's Recluce series. My husband bought me 15 out of the 16 books in the series, you may recall. I started reading them in the order in which they were written only to discover he didn't write them in chronological order. His official website says they should be read as he wrote them, but I found myself so confused by the jumping around, I've ignored that directive and am reading them in time order as the events occur in the world.

I'm so much happier.

It's pretty obvious why Modesett wanted people to read them as he wrote them, however. His style as a writer grew and got MUCH better as he went along. He stopped writing in present tense and the stories are tighter. Still a little too much repetition for me, but that's probably my own hang-up.

Reading them in chronological order means I skip back and forth in his style. But I'd rather that than be confused as to the story lines. Currently I've read all the books through Natural Ordermage, which puts me at book ten of the sixteen (I don't have Arms Commander which comes in the first ten, so I have only five more to go). Mage-Guard of Hamor is sitting beside me as I type and I might start it later today.

And that brings me up to speed!
Play safe,

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Point of view

How many points of view do you tell your stories in?

Okay, so the grammar police might want to get me on the construction of that question, so let me rephrase: when you write your stories, how many points of view do you use?

I was taught short stories could only reflect one person's point of view. That made sense to me. They're short. There isn't time enough in a story that short to have more than one point of view. As far as I'm concerned, that rule still stands.

But what about longer works? How many points of view are you allowed? Well, that depends. J.R.R. Tolkien has nearly 30 major characters in The Lord of the Rings and, at some point or another, almost all of them get a chance at telling at least a piece of the story. Romances are written from the points of view of both the male and female protagonists; modern murder-mysteries often have not only the detective's point of view, but the murder's as well.

The trick is balancing them all.

Some authors use the chapter break as a point of view shift. Some go so far as to put the character's name as the chapter heading and then further's the plot through only what that character sees at that particular moment. Still others will tell the same event twice, first from one point of view, then, in the next chapter, from the antagonist's side of the story.

Other authors will use spaces within a chapter to denote a change of point of view. I see this a lot in romances (and am guilty of the technique as well). The first half of the chapter will be presented through her eyes, the second half through his (or vice-versa). This works well only if you have two protagonists of equal strength. Favoring one over the other tends to lead to unbalanced storytelling.

What you want to avoid is the malady known as "head-hopping." This is where the point of view constantly changes between and among the characters in a scene. Worse than watching a ping-pong match* the continual back and forth, in and out of character's heads can be dizzying for readers trying to figure out what's going on.

The key with any point of view shift is to make is clear so the reader can follow. It should also move the plot forward, not simply rehash action the reader already knows (my personal pet peeve). Katherine Kurtz published an entire book of short stories culled from the "extras" in her Deryni series. Whenever she had to remove a section because it slowed down the plot, she saved it, then later wrote it as a companion piece to the main story. By the time she was finished with the series (some 12 books in all), she had enough of these cut scenes to make an entire book of short companion stories.

Write scenes from other's points of view, especially if it helps you figure out a plot point or character motivation. In fact, I encourage it. You can find out some really cool stuff about your stories, your style and your characters that way.

But don't become married to those scenes. They might, or might not, belong as part of the larger story you're telling. Be prepared to cut and slash if necessary.

But keep them. Off to the side. tucked in a folder. And later, after the big story is published, pull them out, dust them off and fix them up. Then release them as their own short stories, with links, of course, to the larger work. Companion pieces or enticements, they will not go to waste.


Keeping point of view as your focus, examine your current work in progress. What character's pov are you in? Are you consistently using that point of view throughout the story? Should you be? You decide then write a reflection in your journal justifying your choices (remember, taking time to reflect on what we do is a part of the craft of writing. It's how we get better!).

Choose one scene from that same work and write it from a different character's point of view. Could be a minor character or the antagonist. Again, your choice. Once you're done, what did you learn? Again, take time to reflect and record your observations.

Enjoy and leave a tip on the way out :)


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Doing more than seeing the scene

"It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with paneled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats--the hobbit was fond of visitors."

The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien

Many artists over the years have found inspiration in those words. John Howe, Alan Lee, Ted Naismith, the Hildebrandt brothers (among others) all painted Bag End in their own unique styles, yet it was Tolkien's words that inspired their imaginations and gave birth to their artistic creations (click on the names to see their versions of Bilbo's home).

This is the writer's goal: to write descriptions so lush and detailed that artists can picture the scene inside their heads and then draw or paint so that you, the writer, could look at their work and say, "Yes! That's exactly what I had in mind!" Then you'd know your writing was successful.

Take a look at the types of words Tolkien used in those two sentences. Adjectives describe some the things of the scene (shiny yellow brass knob, comfortable tunnel, paneled walls, polished chairs), while verbs are used to describe other items (floors tiled and carpeted). He even throws in two similes to help with the image (like a portholea tube-shaped hall like a tunnel). The closing image, that of the many pegs for hats and coats, leads to a statement about character: Bilbo likes company.

(Sidenote: notice he also throws an adverb in there (a perfectly round door), a part of speech many writers eschew and for good reason. Still, the judicious use gives a simplicity to the style that fits with the personality of hobbits.).

Note the description does more than just allow us to see the setting, however. It also gives us character clues. In only two sentences (the fourth and fifth of the entire novel) we discover that Bilbo's home is comfortable, neat, clean, smoke-free and has room for company -- a traits that are later reinforced by Bilbo's words and actions. Tolkien sets us up right from the start so his reactions to Gandalf's proposal are not a surprise. We know Bilbo from his home and we understand why he would not want to leave it for "an adventure."

This is what we want to accomplish in our own writing. Descriptions that are clear, yet do more than simply describe the room, the building, the field. Remember, a complete scene has several parts: setting, characters, rising action (what happens later as a result of this scene?) How can you write your settings so that they do double duty and bolster character or plot?

How? By focusing on the specific items that reflect on either. Tolkien chose to describe the door, the hall, the chairs and the coat rack, each of which comes in to play later. He's given us character clues about Bilbo, but also already set the scene for the entrance of both Gandalf and later, the dwarves. That way he's free to simply mention "a tremendous ring on the front door-bell" and we fill in the rest from his previous description.


You can use either a scene you've already created or write fresh. In either case, you're looking to create a description that either 1) gives us character clues or 2) sets up a later plot point. You're going beyond just describing what's there and giving specific pieces meaning.

A caveat: be careful not to over describe. It is possible to get so lost in the description and in layering in meaning after meaning, that you forget to tell the story. I love Taylor Caldwell's book, but will admit that I often skipped over her very lengthy descriptions because that's all they were: descriptions of setting. I found they bogged down the story and made it lag because nothing was there that moved the story forward. In fact, it was as if the story stopped so there could be description and then, once it was given, the story could move on again.

As you write (or rewrite), be aware that you're always moving forward. You might slow the pace some, invite the reader to linger in a particularly pleasant spot, but you're still planting little gems that will come in handy later. A character point there, a piece of foreshadowing there...all add up to create a beautiful scene that will inspire artists for years to come.

Go write! And leave a tip if you find this useful :)


Friday, September 14, 2012

I'm on Itunes!

Did you know you can get my books through Itunes? You can. Just purchase through the Itunes store and download to the device of your choice.

To make it easy, I've included direct links to the books on the Purchasing Info page of this blog (use the tab at the top of the page). Just click on the link and purchase!


PS. With all the 50 Shades wannabees...maybe people should check out Stress Relief. Talk about being dominated!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Today marks the anniversary of an event we are still trying to understand. Eleven years ago, four planes were taken down on American soil in an act meant to bring us to our knees.

For those who died and for those who still grapple with what happened that day, my thoughts and prayers are with you. May you find the peace you deserve.

For others, this video is one worth watching. It's about the boatlift that occurred eleven years ago today, acts of courage and fortitude that got lost in the many other events of that day.

If you can, take time today and write down where you were, what you experienced eleven years ago today. Where you were, who you were with, what you felt. Record it for yourself and for your family.

God bless,

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Identifying theme

My apologies. My intent was to post this last night, but I fell asleep early. :( With no further ado...this week's writing workshop!

I've done workshops on plot, character (here, here, and here) and setting. But up until now I haven't talked much about theme.

Briefly put, theme is the main idea behind your novel. In the romances I write, it's often that love will conquer all obstacles.

Long works often have more than one theme. While readers expect the hero and heroine to get together at the end of the story (genre rules come into play there), they also expect a deeper story when reading a novel, another layer to keep them interested. Since the Dominant/submissive dynamic is one that fascinates me, the themes surrounding that relationship often show up in my works. How can a woman be a feminist and a submissive at the same time? Where is the line between abuse and BDSM? What does 'total power exchange' mean, anyway? I start with the question and then find the answers as I write. These questions become the backbone of the book's secondary theme.

Identifying your genre's theme(s) comes first. I mentioned one of the more traditional romance themes above. For a murder-mystery it would be that the criminal must always be caught and justice served. Horror novels center around a particular fear, coming-of-age novels deal with emotional growth, fantasies with what it means to be a hero.

Determine the genre of your story and identify the theme as dictated by the genre. That's step one.

Step two is looking at the particular theme for YOUR story. "Main idea" is, to me, too generic a descriptor for theme, so I tend to phrase my theme as a question that is then answered throughout the book. Identify your central question and you've found the specific theme of your story.

And step three is reading through your book to 1) make sure you've answered the question for the reader through the character's actions and/or through the events of the plot and 2) check your story arcs. Where is the theme introduced? explored? answered? Double-check scenes in the story that don't deal with your theme. Are they really needed? How would the story read if they were removed?

In a short story, you only have time to deal with one theme, so you want the writing to be spare and specific. Longer works often have several themes interweaving at the same time, so when you're doing your re-read for theme, keep that in mind. If you're a pantser like me, you might find you wrote in a whole 'nother theme without realizing it.

Getting an outside view also helps. Beta readers or a critique group will look at the story with fresh eyes and may see things you, the author, didn't. That's a good thing. Use their comments to sharpen the story's theme and bring it into focus for a more general audience.

Theme doesn't get as much press as character and plot, but it serves as the backbone of your story. Don't sell it short.

As always, if you find these useful, use the link below to tip!


Tuesday, September 04, 2012

today's workshop will be delayed

My apologies. Over the holiday weekend I got busy and didn't get the workshop finalized. Will do and post tonight.

:( Diana