Sunday, April 29, 2012

Blogging at the Scribes!

Longtime fans know I'm part of a collective of writers (collective? Or should that be gaggle? a flock? a pride!). We have both a website and a blog and this week is my turn over there. Stop by and join the discussion!

Play safe,

PS. These are the last few days to get "I Stay a Little Longer" for 99 cents. Price goes up to $1.99 on Wednesday, so get your copy before the price hike! Available in all ebook formats.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

I've been cleaning...

Spring is here (even if the weather is wonky) and I get the urge to clean house. Maybe its because I read too many novels with industrious Victorian mothers who feel it necessary to strip the house of furnishings and give every room the once-over, maybe because my mother scolded a sense of order into me. But whatever the reason, every spring I find myself going through rooms with vacuum in one hand, dust cloth in the other and toting my family behind (who are never as enthusiastic as I am for some reason).

The hardest clean-up, however, is always the study. In particular, the shelves of books in the study. We have well over a thousand-book library with six shelves a yard long devoted to Shakespeare alone. Another seven of the same length are scripts of plays (we were both theatre majors in college and our daughter just graduated with the same degree. She's a stage manager and always looking for her next gig. If you happen to know of any openings., drop me a line!).

It isn't the dusting of them (that's easy), it's the cleaning out to make way for new. What do I give away? Notice I didn't say "toss away." I can't toss books into the recycling bin. On the very rare occasions when a paperback book has become just so disintegrated that its missing pages or that pages are torn, I agonize and apologize to the author when it goes into the blue bin.

But give away I do. Our local library stopped taking used books a couple of years ago so for quite some time the unwanted, but in good shape books collected in boxes in my attic. Then I found out the Salvation Army will take them. I've forgotten how many boxes I took them in that first drop, but it was a lot - and I've given them several more since.

The fact that they're going to a good home, however, doesn't make it any easier. I have to harden my heart and suck it up like a big girl every time a book leaves my hands. What is it about them that makes them so precious? It's not like I don't have enough (obviously we have too many). I grew up in a house that allowed me to keep all the books I bought, so there's no deep-rooted need to hoard in my childhood.

Perhaps it's because they are works of art. For they are, you know. Every one of them. Some are more to my liking than others, but in truth, each one is a creative endeavor on the part of an individual who put thought and time into the creation. One would not give away (or toss!) a Mondrian or Monet, so why would I get rid of a Nora Roberts or David Eddings?

But it's spring and cleaning-time is here. For now the Star Trek books are safe (two shelves worth, a yard across), as are the scripts and Shakespeare. But some of the others have to go.Let the agony begin!

Play safe,

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Characterization III

How well do you know your characters? Do you know what they hold as truths so evident they don't even need to be spoken? Do you know what abhors them? What makes them smile? What revolts them and everything in between?

When we speak of characterization, we're really talking about what makes up a person's character. What he/she holds as near and dear. How the character behaves when no one's watching. Who he/she is at the very core of his/her being.

To that end, below the jump is a jpg. you can print out and use as a way to rank what's important to your protagonists (and antagonists -- they have character, too!). Take your time over this. What is the most important value your characters holds as truth? What values are less important?

Then go through your manuscript and see if that truth shines through. Does your character actually behave the way he/she would if that value were the most important? Can you create a scene (or even add in a line or two) that reflects the values not deemed important?

For example: Two people in a fancy restaurant having just finished an expensive meal. Both pull out credit cards to split the bill and one waves the other off. "My turn," the character says. 

We know several things from this generic scene, including that one character is generous with money. That's a value statement. Now imagine the other character comes back with this:

"No, I won't be beholding to you for anything. I'll pay for my own meal and you can keep your money."

An entirely new value comes into play. Was the first character's motivation altruism? Or power? Is the second character's reaction based on independence? Or is it a plea to save face?

You see how important values are to the character of a character?

(SIDENOTE: To some writers, plot is the most important element of a story. Think Lord of the Rings or the Star Wars trilogy. What happens is more important than what the characters think of what's happening. Any of the current crop of superhero movies tends to be the same (with the arguable exception of the latest incarnation of the Batman series with Christian Bale in the title role).

To other writers, however, character is the most important element. Who the events happen to are the most interesting part. The motivations, the thoughts that go on inside their heads - these form the basis for the story.  Think Jane Eyre or Stuck in Neutral or heck, anything by yours truly!

(sidenote to the sidenote: wait till you get a load of the cover on this copy of Jane Eyre. What on earth were they thinking???)

Both approaches obviously have their place. And of course, the best literature is that which equalizes the two; stories where both what happens and who it happens to are of equal interest to the reader. Feel free to name your favorites in the comments.)

Okay, get to work! Remember, the jpg is below the jump and you can save to your computer and print out as needed. What are the most important values to your character?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Artists often choose their subjects from the pages of literary works. From the ancient tales of the Ramayana to the 20th century writings of JRR Tolkien, painters, sketch artists and sculptors have been inspired by story.

But the reverse is also true. A sketch, a photograph or a painting often works to inspire a writer. Who is the person in that painting? What is his/her story? What's happened just before this photo was taken to make this scene so lonely, so scary, so beautiful?

When using art for inspiration, it helps to go back to the old newpaperman questions: Who, What, Where, When and Why? Add in How and you have an entire story.

Below are two pictures you can use for inspiration, although any photograph or artwork will do. Use the questions below to get the creative juices flowing:
  • Who: Who is in the picture? Why is he/she there? Who is missing from the pic?
  • What: What is going on in the picture? What is the action? What emotions are evoked by looking at the scene? What emotions are the people in the picture expressing? Why do you think they're having those emotions?
  • Where: Remember, there are three ways to think of setting: geographical, historical and physical. To that end,  Where is the scene set as far as location? What time period is it? What are the physical details of the scene?
  • When: When does this scene take place? The time of day? the season? Are there any cultural mores that come into play because of when it's set?
  • Why: Why on earth would anyone want to capture this scene to begin with? Why is it important?
  • How: How did this person (these people) get here in the first place? How will they get out of their situation? How will they react to what is happening? (NOTE: This is where you build your conflict. The others are all details, but here is where it turns into a story instead of a news report).

Who: Who is in the picture? Why is he/she there? Who is missing from the pic?

What: What is going on in the picture? What is the action? What emotions are evoked by looking at the scene? What emotions are the people in the picture expressing? Why do you think they're having those emotions?

Where: Remember, there are three ways to think of setting: geographical, historical and physical. To that end,  Where is the scene set as far as location? What time period is it? What are the physical details of the scene?

When: When does this scene take place? The time of day? the season? Are there any cultural mores that come into play because of when it's set?

Why: Why on earth would anyone want to capture this scene to begin with? Why is it important?

How: How did this person (these people) get here in the first place? How will they get out of their situation? How will they react to what is happening? (NOTE: This is where you build your conflict. The others are all details, but here is where it turns into a story instead of a news report).

Go write!

If you like this workshop, please donate to the cause!


Sunday, April 15, 2012


Okay, so a week off from the day job leads to two things: lots of writing (nearly 10,000 words this week -- newest novel is nearly finished!) and lots of reading (3 books this week!). Will hold off telling you about the latest work in progress (will save for a later post when the first draft is done. Don't want to jinx it.) but here are the four books I read:

Decided I didn't want to wait to borrow the rest of the Hunger Games series, so went out and bought Catching Fire and Mockingjay. I really liked Suzanne Collins' writing style. She's clean and sparse, yet I never had trouble envisioning the characters in my head. Am I the only one, though, who sees a young Sean Astin in the role of Peeta? Good reads all the way through.

Just before break a friend handed me a copy of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein and told me I was going to love it. Sorry. Didn't. It isn't that I don't like philosophy books hidden inside novels, I do. My favorite is Illusions by Richard Bach followed closely by Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. My husband is reading Eat, Pray, Love  by Elizabeth Gilbert and tells me I'm going to like it when he's done (saw the movie and enjoyed that, so looking forward to reading the book).

No, I'm afraid I'm just not the target audience of The Art of Racing in the Rain, kinda the same way I'm not really the target audience for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance --and pretty much for the same reasons. The metaphor just doesn't resound with me. I'm not into car racing, so didn't relate to Racing because Stein used that extended metaphor to get his philosophies across. Plus, I'm not a dog person. Don't really like dogs (have been afraid of them ever since I can remember) and while the narrator of the book (Enzo, the protagonist's dog) is one cool animal, I still am not a dog person.

So don't let my shrug towards The Art of Racing in the Rain dissuade you. You like dogs? You'll enjoy it. You like the races? You'll like this book. You like philosophy? You'll like this book. Me? I'm just odd that way...

Play safe, everyone!
PS. Do you find the links helpful? I'm never sure if anyone uses them to learn more about the authors or to look at the books? Drop me a comment or an email and let me know?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Writing the synopsis

I debated quite a while before deciding to go ahead and post this workshop. At one point, the synopsis was a necessary step to selling your novel. If the purpose of the cover letter was to get the editor/agent to read the synopsis, then the purpose of the synopsis was to get the editor/agent to request the full manuscript. With more authors not going the agent route or opting to self-publish, however, the synopsis is needed less often for that purpose.

Then again, there are many authors who start with the synopsis. They flesh out their entire story before sitting down to write it out. Those writers are "plotters" and I discussed that approach here. For those, the synopsis is an important writing tool whose importance is vital. I did this only once and only because there were three of us writing intertwining stories so we all had to be sure our plot lines and characters meshed (for the record, I hated it and haven't done it since). Remember, I'm a pantser, so, with only the one exception, I always write my synopses after I've written the novel.

The guidelines below are written with selling in mind. although there are lots of reasons to write one even if you're not using it to snag that agent or editor. Is it for you to work out a plot complication or character arc? Will you be using any of it in the description boxes of some of the self-publishing sites? Who, besides you, is going to see it?

The answers to those questions will go a long way toward quelling any nervousness you might feel at condensing your story. With any luck, the "rules" below will take away the rest of the stress. :)

Rules of thumb for writing a synopsis:

1. If you're writing a synopsis because you're sending your manuscript to a publisher and it's required, first find out what the editor/publisher wants! Some want only 2 pages, others want more. Check their websites; many publishers put their requirements right out there. The current trend is to shorter a shorter synopsis.

2. Length – when all else fails, 1-2 pages of synopsis for every 100 pages of manuscript. Another alternative is to give one paragraph to each chapter.

3. Write it in present tense, and in 3rd person.

4. Tell the ENTIRE story, including the ending. Fill it with spoilers!

5. That said, stick to the MAIN plot. Unless the subplot eventually weaves into the main one, it’s best to leave it out.

6. Write spare. Don’t fill it up with adjectives and adverbs.

See? Nothing to be afraid of. It really isn't that bad. The biggest thing to remember is that you're telling, not showing your story.

There are TONS of websites that will give you lots of conflicting advice. My guidelines come from my own experience and from Absolute Write (the site uses The Lady and the Tramp as a model. Language is simplistic, but certainly easy to follow!). And if you're still nervous, have others read it over for you, preferably people who haven't read your novel. They'll tell you if they're confused or if you're saying too much.

I've been offering these writing workshops for several months now. You can view the entire list of them here. If you've found any of them useful, please consider a donation. Thanks!   Diana


Monday, April 09, 2012

Reading books!

Just wanted to bring my "Books Read This Year" list up-to-date. Not too many to add this time, though.

First one to add is The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean, the book my book club is reading this month. The prologue put me off some and I was concerned about the voice but it got better the more I read. Still felt like she was telling me the story too much though. I prefer to "see" the action more clearly. And, if this is released as a "super ebook", I hope they include pictures of the paintings she described. The word-descriptions were very well done, but I'd like to see the actual paintings as well.

Am also re-reading One Child by Torey Hayden before I teach it. This will be my sixth or seventh time through the book and it gets to me every time. If you haven't read it, this is a must read.

Last, but not least (actually, none of these three are least. I liked them all, though for very different reasons), is Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I'd read it before, but wanted to read it again before going to see the movie. Haven't read the other two books yet, so no spoilers! I only got halfway through before we went to see it and I thought the movie stayed true to the spirit of the book even if it changed up some of the details. They make good companion pieces. 'Nuff said. Any more and I'll be breaking my own no-spoiler rule!

That it for now. Play safe and read more!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

The Brink of Spring

Every year my husband remarks on how fast the trees go from their first budding to full-leafed in what seems a matter of hours. One day they're budding, the next morning they're all leafed out and ready for summer. I tell him that's just because he's not looking. He sees the start of spring, then gets busy and doesn't look up until he's standing in the shade.

Last year we made a concerted effort to watch the trees unfold. We both remarked on them when the buds appeared and made daily progress comments to each other. Within four days, the trees were decked out in new leaves. Congratulating ourselves, we made a pact to watch every year and not miss a moment of the season's changes.

For many of us in North America, however, this year our Spring awakening is on hold. As early as February, the flowering bulbs started popping up and by mid-March, many gardens were in full bloom. The forsythia blossomed, the fruit trees bloomed and the trees came out with tiny leaf-buds ready to pop.

And then Spring entered a holding pattern. For the past two weeks, nothing has changed. My forsythia is still blossoming, the yellow flowers brighter than I've ever seen them. The daffodils and narcissus are nodding in the breeze just as happy now as they were when they first came out. My hyacinth are still making my garden fragrant and the trees are still budding with their new leaves.

I'm a writer and use words to capture the scene. My husband is a painter. This paused spring gave us the opportunity to really pore over what happens to the trees, giving us the luxury of extended study. You can see his painting here. It's almost as if Mother Nature hit the "hold" button, slowing everything down so we could take a good, long look at the miracle that's wrought every year. The colors are more delicate, and in fact, more reminiscent of autumn with so much of the branches still showing through. The light is brighter, probably because the leaves are still in their infancy. The entire scene speaks of sunlight and promise, just what spring should be.

Soon the seasons will move on again, Mother Nature will let go of the button and send us on our way. But for right now, I'm very much enjoying the extension of a too-brief moment.

Play safe, everyone!

PS. The link for Steven's painting is a Facebook link. He doesn't have it on his website yet. If you want to see the speed painting, you can go here (it's on YouTube). Be sure to subscribe while you're there! :)

Tuesday, April 03, 2012


No, I'm not talking about what happened in junior high when someone pulled your pants down. I mean pantsing as in "flying by the seat of your pants." And that's what many writers do.

I am an admitted pantser. I start my stories with no clear idea of where they're going to go or what's going to happen. I've tried writing synopses before but, once I finish them, I find I'm no longer interested in writing the story. I already know how its going to turn out, why would I want to spend any more time on it?

So yes, I start, let the characters dictate the story and reel them back in only when I see they're moving too far off the main story line. How do I know the main story line? I write romance and it isn't hard to find. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. Basic plot line.

And that's probably why I spend so much time with my characters and fleshing them out. All my stories are more character-driven than plot driven. We all know the basic plot. The fun is watching new people, people we've never met before, come up with new reactions, new perspectives on the regular old plot. Remember, there are only 37 plots to begin with!

Although I compose my stories on the computer, I have a spiral notebook with pages dedicated to each character. As decisions are made regarding physical appearance, character traits, likes/dislikes, or any other information that comes out in the story, I write it down in the notebook just so I have a reference to go back to when I can't remember his hair color or whether she said she liked Italian food or that it gave her indigestion.

I also include a timeline of events as they unfold. This serves me well after the first draft of the story is written (my "throwing up" on paper, or the computer screen nowadays). Once the entire story is drafted, I can use the timeline to make sure I didn't leave any plot holes or start a subplot and then drop it partway through. Some people might call this plotting, but since I do it AFTER I've written the story, I consider it an editing tool rather than what a true plotter does.

Does this mean I sometimes overwrite? That I write too much story and have to pare down? Of course. But I like it that way. I hate writing the first draft and then finding holes. I'd much rather write extra and have to condense and tighten up the story. In fact, every single novel I've ever published has a companion folder on my computer called "extras". These are pieces of the story I cut out - sometimes only a paragraph in length - sometimes entire scenes. I throw nothing away.

Later those extra pieces sometimes become stories of their own, like "Secret Signs", a cut scene from Secret Submission that is now included in the Timeless Love anthology. Sometimes I change the character names and they become entirely new stories (Love in the Afternoon). And sometimes they just sit there, waiting their turn.

So...are you a pantser or a plotter?