Tuesday, July 31, 2007


One of my favorite writing exercises is to mimic other authors. There is no better way to get a handle on what voice is than to try writing in another author's style.

Turnabout is fair play, though, so I thought we'd have some fun with this and hold a PBWisms contest. If you'd like to enter, in comments to this post write something in 25 words or less** that you think I might say here on the blog by midnight EST on Thursday, August 2, 2007.

Da rules: To keep it fair, please only post one PBWism and only one entry. You may cancel an earlier entry if you come up with a better idea, but if you post more than one PBWism and/or entry, you will be disqualified from the contest. Your entry should be something original, not a quote of something I've already said. If you're not sure about my writing voice, you've got three years of archive links to study over there on the right side bar.

I will pick three winners, one in each of these categories: Best in Contest, Funniest, and Most Unlikely. The winners will each receive a Bookwish* and a surprise. This contest is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

*A Bookwish is any book by any author of your choice, provided that 1) the book is currently available for order from an online bookseller and 2) the book is priced up to a maximum of $30.00 US dollars. I will throw in whatever shipping costs are involved for free.

**In response to many anxious requests, I'm removing the contest's 25 word or less limit, so your entry length is now open (Shiloh, yours is fine.)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Easy Ten

Ten Things to Make Your Writing Life Easier

Freeware caution: always scan free downloads of anything for bugs and other threats before dumping the programs into your hard drive.

1. Looking for a free journal/diary program that also features an event reminder, address book, an alarm, picture manager, built-in mailer, HTML & Web Diary and To-Do List? Check out DiaryBook.

2. Another journal-keeping freeware, eJournal, can also be used as a project diary.

3. MikkoMatrix freeware "randomly selects words from two different lists, and displays these words. The user can use the included lists or may elect to replace the lists for his or her own specific purposes, such as creating random character names."

4. Magnify anything under your cursor up to 20X with MouseCam freeware utility (scroll down.)

5. RapidKeys freeware is an intelligent virtual keyboard for the disabled that suggests words as you click-type.

6. Create standards compliant bibliographies with ScholarCite freeware.

7. Scrapbook is an unstructured freeware program that simply saves and stores chunks of text for you.

8. SpeakOut text-to-speech freeware will read any text or text file to you. It can also monitor your Windows clipboard and read the contents to you.

9. Organize your time, stay on schedule and never forget another task again with TaskPrompt freeware.

10. Improve your vocabulary, create your own dictionary and more with Vocabula freeware.

While I was out freebie-hunting, I also found a virtual dictionary freeware for bad spellers: Fredal's Dictionary.

Upcoming on PBW this week:

The Art of Coining Words

PBWisms Contest

RW: Holiday Wishlist

Sub Ops

Buzz Kills

August Biz Post: Finding New Markets

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Character Palette

One of my new favorite online toys is Degraeve.com's Color Palette Generator. All you have to do is enter the URL of an online image, like this, and it gives you two palettes with codes based on the image's colors (great if you design websites around an image, or you're a quilter trying to balance fabric values.)

Last year we talked about the possibility of using a color wheel to aid in creating character casts for our stories. I played around with the idea for a while, trying a couple of variations that I mentioned in comments. At one point I had made fifteen different wheels and I still wasn't getting any closer to a finished prototype.

I hate waffling like this, so I shoved all my wheels in the filing cabinet and sulked for a while. It wasn't until I was generating a color palette for a quilt I'm restoring that the Bright Idea Fairy bonked me over the head with a lightbulb.

The wheel won't work because our characters can't be grouped that way; Dean was right. It would only work for stereotypes. Unique characters demand unique palettes. You just need a starting color to work from, but it has to be your character's color.

Let's say I have a protagonist who is feminine, delicate, shy and obviously not based on me. We'll call her Rose, and her character color will be the same as a rose from my garden. I'll load it into the palette generator, see what sort of colors I get, and use them as inspiration for the characters in Rose's story:

Character Palette
Rose's Mom
Hero's Brother

Those character assignments are straight off the top of my head, but I hope that gives you the general idea. The method needs more refinement, too, but I believe I'm on the right track now. What do you guys think?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Helpful Hobbies

I had such a good time reading the entries for the Fruit, Strange & Otherwise giveaway. I'll never look at billboards, tabloid headlines or geese the same way again.

We put the magic hat to work, and the giveaway winners are:




Winners, please send your full name and ship-to info to LynnViehl@aol.com, and I'll get these books out to you. My thanks to everyone who joined in.

Writing is regarded by many outsiders as a hobby, not a career. This doesn't change when you turn pro. You can work twice as many hours as your spouse, and slog your way to the top of the industry, but not having an office, 9 to 5 hours or weekly paycheck somehow invalidates your labor as "a real job."

Some writers do view their work as a hobby, and there's nothing wrong with that. One of the great things about writing is that you can do it however and whenever you like.

As for me, people in my family stopped calling my work "Lynn's little hobby" when my books started showing up in airports and grocery stores. The only thing about my writing that ever genuinely impressed my teenager was finding Night Lost being sold at Wal-Mart. Evidently when you make it to Wal-Mart's shelves, you're the real deal.

Writers do a lot of things besides write, and we get as much pleasure out of our hobbies as anyone else. I've noticed two things about writer's real hobbies over the years: 1) there's almost always a creative aspect involved and 2) in some significant way they help with writing.

I think the most common hobby is some form of art. Whether a writer collects it or creates their own, art stimulates the imagination, provokes emotion and thoughts, and contributes to a creative environment, both inside and outside the writer's head. I'm very visual, and painting and sketching have helped me flesh out and nail down characters, settings and scenes. I put together sketches or digital art composites of character models to show my editors what I think a certain character looks like (very helpful during cover art conferences.)

Book binding is an interesting hobby as well as a labor of love, but it's also educational and an art form all on its own. I took one class in Japanese book binding and became so fascinated with the process that I've made most of my journals, private editions and gift books ever since. Being able to make my own books got me in touch with my work in a very different way, too. It's nice to be able to bypass the publishing process and do everything myself.

Many writers become serious book collectors. Collections range from rare editions to covers, authors or genres (I like to collect my favorite authors' complete works.) A few years ago I joined LibraryThing and began cataloguing my personal library online, and have since met some terrific collectors, swapped books with them and found some great new resources for rare editions. Being able to collect all the works by one author has given me a lot of insight into how writers change and grow over the course of a career.

There are probably as many types of crafts out there as there are writers. Whether you're a quilter, knitter, jewelry-maker or potter, your chosen craft allows you to express yourself in the same way a traditional artist does while still making something useful. Crafts are also an excellent way to work off writing- or life-related frustration. I often try crafts that I've chosen to be my characters' hobbies to get a more hands-on experience of what they do.

Do you guys have any hobbies that help you in some way with writing? Tell us about them in comments.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Friday 20

Yesterday I went out to weed and found some uninvited pests hanging around the edge of the garden:

Attack of the Giant Shrooms

This is just a close up shot; eight mushrooms in all had sprouted up (bad weather has kept me from my routine weeding rounds.) Two had already grown to the size of cake plates.

I hate mushrooms. They're repulsive, invasive and worthless, and still they sprout up wherever and whenever they please. Like they own my garden. Every time we weather a bad storm, we get hit with plagues of them. The only thing uglier than how they look is the way they smell.

They're dangerous, too. I never know how poisonous they might be, and I worry about the one airheaded member of this household who refuses to stay away from them:

I only sniffed them, Mom

Picking mushrooms also disgusts me. Even with weeding gloves on, I hate to touch them. You know the slimy way they feel, and the creepy sounds they make when you pull them out of the dirt? That's my definition of gross. I'm not the girly, squeamish type, either, but I'd rather handle ten snakes instead.

But to let them squat in my garden? That would be worse.

Anyway, after I trashed the unwelcome parasites, I went to inspect an ailing rose bush. It's one that I've been trying to keep alive for years, and it is the most stubborn, cranky, depressed, suicidal plant I've ever had to deal with. Every time I prune it, I'm convinced I'm going to do it in for good. Plus it hardly ever blooms, and when it does I get maybe one or two flowers from it.

But oh, when it does:

The pink and apricot flowers it produces are like those wonderful old Victorian roses. They don't last long, only two or three days, but their scent is so powerful that one rose perfumes an entire room.

It doesn't seem fair that my rose bush will never grow as fast or thrive the way those idiot mushrooms do. One day I'll walk out and probably find the mushrooms clustered and feeding on the dead rose bush. Still, I'm not ready to give up the fight. I know what that bad-tempered bush can produce, and that makes it worth my nurturing. Just as all the mushrooms will ever get out of me is a fast trip to the trash bin.

That's it from my corner of the publishing garden this week. You all have any questions for me?

Thursday, July 26, 2007


I brood a lot about the last line of a story. I would love to write profound, inspirational end lines that transport my readers to some distant, post-reading Nirvana where they feel as if book slaves have fed them grapes, rubbed their feet and painted their toenails. I know I don't. My enders tend to be very short and pithy, usually made up of character dialogue or thoughts:

I'd just make more tea.

"Send my regrets."

That is all that matters now.

"Think about it, dimwit."

"Here we go again."

I'm not sure why I'm so skimpy with my last lines. I hate ending a story (obviously, or everything I write wouldn't grow nine heads and turn into a series on me) and I'm lousy at making farewell speeches. I go with what feels right for the scene and the story, which is all I think you can do when you're not particularly ender-gifted.

Other writers come up with some great last lines. Here are some that have resonated with me, turned me vivid green or kept me thinking long after I finished their books:

Altashheth. -- Anne Rice ended Servant of the Bones with this ancient Hebrew word, which translates to "do not destroy." This one is my all-time favorite ending line.

As for ghosts, they filled the streets. -- As they do the pages of Stalin's Ghost, Martin Cruz Smith's latest Arkady Renko novel. Pretty much perfection.

"Because you need me," he said, and Jennifer opened the door. -- Linda Howard sent another of her ender shockwaves through the romance community with this final line from Open Season. And she left us all to imagine what happens next. And I still mutter bitch under my breath every time I read it, too.

Destiny has given me something even better -- a lover as faithful as honor, in this life and in whatever may follow. -- I (heart) the ender from Talyn by Holly Lisle because it's elegant, true to the character and a lovely wrap-up of the entire story.

He seemed to me to have lived before his time and to have died before he was sufficiently understood." -- Wendy Moore ends her first book, The Knife Man, with that quotation from William Clift, the young apprentice/assistant of eighteenth century Scottish surgeon John Hunter. Hunter, the subject of the book, was a genius and a lunatic, and this odd homage ender seemed almost like an authorial apology.

How do you writers out there handle your final lines? What are some of your favorite enders?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

RW: Fruit, Strange & Otherwise

My editor sent me this promo info on my latest publication:

"The New Writer’s Handbook 2007 is the inaugural edition of a new annual collection of articles to refresh and upgrade any writer's skills, with advice on craft and career development. It offers an eclectic mix of expert how-tos, short pieces on creativity, marketing, and professional issues, and other insights on being a successful writer today."

[Note: You see how he doesn't specifically mention my topic. Understandable. When you're marketing a new how-to writing book, the last thing you say is "Oh, and there's this thing about mutant grapefruit by that multi-genre chick with 486 pseudonyms."]

He continues:

"The 63 selected articles mostly are drawn from pieces published in 2006–early 2007. Contributors include winners of the National Book Award, Newbery Medal, and other honors, along with working journalists, writing instructors, authors with books on bestseller lists, editors, literary bloggers, and more."

[I believe I would be in the "and more" category here.]

Sections include:

• Creativity, Motivation & Discipline
• The Craft of Writing
• Pitching & Proposals
• Marketing Your Work
• Internet Skills
• Literary Insights & Last Words

Seriously now, it's really a lovely book, and in addition to my adventures at the pack-n-ship in town contains a lot of interesting advice from some very experienced, successful writers. But as always, you don't have to take my word for it.

In comments to this post, tell us about something strange or odd that inspired you in some way (or if you are feeling uninspired of late, just throw your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Friday, July 27, 2007. I'll draw three names at random from everyone who participates, and send the winners a signed-by-me copy of The New Writer's Handbook 2007. Giveaway open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Public Service Announcement

My sixth Darkyn novel, Swans Fall, was renamed last week. The new title is Twilight Fall. Please note that while swans occasionally do fall in strange places, the retitling was requested by the publisher for marketing purposes only.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled PBW posts.

Writing Triage

In trauma medicine, we evaluate multiple injured patients during triage to prioritize the order of their care. If you've ever watched M*A*S*H on television, this is what Hawkeye, B.J. and the other doctors do before they go into surgery. In domestic situations, most patients are first evaluated by their ABCs, or airways, breathing and circulation.

As writers, we have to evaluate our work in progress after we write the first draft for any care and repair it might need. We call this form of self-torture editing, and we all have different ways to do it. Some writers prefer a one-pass edit, while others edit dozens of times. There is nothing wrong with multiple edits, but writers can develop a bad habit of backtracking so often that they get trapped in an editing loop, and never write more than a couple of chapters before they get bored, start a new project, and trap themselves again.

I thought a triage approach might help writers who have a hard time with editing. Imagine for a moment that your latest chapter or scene is a patient in need of evaluation (yes, you get to play doctor.) Instead of a stethescope and an exam room, you'll need a hard copy of what needs editing and a highlighter.

To begin your evaluation, read through the chapter or scene you'd like to edit, look for the following conditions, and flag them with your highlighter:

A: Arresting -- any words, phrases or sentences that for whatever reason stop you from reading past them or throw you out of the story.


Squilyp wished to argue with me, but he knew we did not have time to debate my prognosis. He did, however, insist I activate the transmitter in my vocollar and keep the channel open as I operated on the patient. I wondered what I was going to make for dinner tonight; Reever didn't care for much protein. A training monitor in the surgical suite would provide a visual feed for him to observe the entire procedure.

Note: it's nice that Cherijo thinks about preparing meals, but now is not a time she would be doing that. Cherijo's focus should be on the patient she's about to cut open.

B: Baffling -- any point in the story that is unclear, whether it needs more detailing or streamlining.


Squilyp stayed with the patient while I donned a surgical shroud and listened to an ongoing thermal/subdermal aspiration of a v'relkas miatas nearby, and then stopped me as the drone surgical assistance unit rolled its instrument tray past us and into the suite. "I cannot allow you to do this alone. I will stay and assist."

Note: Do you know what an ongoing thermal/subdermal aspiration of a v'relkas miatas is? Neither do I, but it sounds pretty cool. Anything you put in a story just because you thought it sounded cool? Needs to go.

C: Cluttering -- any portion of the story that has no purpose except to occupy space, such as filler or housekeeping dialogue.


"Color is normal, with some arterial pulsation. A considerable amount of distention in the valve, but the tissue appears viable. Thermal scanner." I used the non-invasive instrument to pinpoint the exact location of the mass. "The obstruction is approximately fourteen centimeters by eight centimeters length-width, possibly five centimeters deep, somewhat oblong in shape with rounded edges that remind me of any number of objects, like a small handheld container for personal items, the Jorenian version of Tupperware, or my author's last StarDoc manuscript, and is still partially lodged in the pyloric sphincter adjunct to the secondary chamber. That is causing the bulge."

Note: This sort of over-detailing is common SF TMI. It has nothing to do with the exact location of the mass, so it slows down the passage. I threw it in there deliberately to give Cherijo more to say, which is a filler tactic and doesn't serve the story.

While you're being a story doc, pay close attention to your pacing. Disruption of pacing is always a dead giveaway. When you pinpoint the things that speed, slow or stop the heartbeat of the story, then you've successfully diagnosed what you need to rewrite or remove to save the patient.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Book It Ten

Ten Things for the Book Junkies

Freeware caution: always scan free downloads of anything for bugs and other threats before dumping the programs into your hard drive.

1. Find the best online price for a book with Books Price Comparator freeware.

2. BookSearch freeware allows you to "search a number of large book search engines on the Internet for new and used books. Ideal for finding rare or hard-to-find books, or for comparing prices. Search by keyword, title, or author name."

3. Download and manage books from Project Gutenberg with eLibrary freeware.

4. Flying Books screensaver freeware will send up to 32 books flapping across your screen.

5. Thinking of starting a bookselling business from home? Have a look at Home Base freeware.

6. Get your book collection catalogued and organized with The Libellis Personal Library freeware.

7. LibriVox offers 755 free audiobooks (created by volunteers reading public domain works.)

8. Another, simpler book collection database freeware, The Librarian.

9. TitleScroller will scroll text files on your screen at your preferred speed for reading.

10. Read e-books on your iPod with WordPod freeware.

I find a very interesting project -- Ocean -- which offers a freeware collection of over a thousand books of ten world religions in English, as well as collections in French, Spanish, German, Russian, Dutch, and Portuguese. The project hopes to promote more understanding among persons of different faiths, never a bad thing.

Also, one more book link -- if you'd like to take a text file and print it out in book form, try Gordon Reynold's Book Format freeware.

Upcoming this week on PBW:

Writing Triage


Win a copy of The New Writer's Handbook 2007

Missing in Action posts: Helpful Hobbies and Character Palettes

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Revised Novel Notebook

I'm in the process of updating my old novel notebook examples, forms, and worksheets. I tried to get it done before the virtual workshops, but that didn't happen. I would like to finish this project sometime before civilization falls into ruins and we devolve back into lemurs.

For those who don't know what the heck I'm talking about, I make novel notebooks for every book I write, and they've been very helpful to me when I'm in the planning and outlining stage of the game. It also gives me one place to put everything: notes, sketches, changes, plot diagrams, plans, promotional ideas, etc.

Ideally I'd like to create a novel notebook template for other writers to use that would be universal for all genres, but that's not working out. There are so many genre-specific writing issues, like charting relationship arcs in romance, creating magic systems in fantasy, inventing new tech for SF and so on. All genres share some of the same characteristics, but none of them are interchangeable.

At the moment I'm wrestling with the idea of dividing it into sections by genre or putting together different versions of the notebook for each genre. I also want to add some new ideas, like the character color wheel I've been working on and some other stuff.

In the meantime, I've put together a rough draft in .pdf form of what I've already done (click here to download)*, for those of you who are interested in having a look.

*This link no longer works, but you can find my Novel Notebook on Scribd here, and it's free for anyone to read online, download, print out and pass along. *Note 9/3/10: Since Scribd.com instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I have removed my free library from their site, and no longer use or recommend using their service. My free reads may be read online or downloaded for free from Google Docs; go to my freebies and free reads page for the links. See my post about this scam here.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


I love hearing what sort of music inspires other people, but I'm really impressed by the range of performers and songs posted for the Wednesday giveaway. You all are definitely not slaves to the pop charts. Now if we could just get our music stores here in the States to carry more Canadian and European indie bands, I'd be a happier girl.

Nevertheless, we put the magic hat into action, and the winners of the Heart and Soul Songs giveaway are:

Terri W. (whose comment began with For me it's Depeche Mode because it's written from the heart.)


Kerry Allen



Winners, please send your full name and ship-to information to LynnViehl@aol.com, and I'll get your books out to you. My thanks to everyone for joining in.

Friday, July 20, 2007


I'm going to bail on you guys today to catch up on mom and writer stuff, so no Friday 20 this week.

I mentioned a while back that I accepted an offer to reprint my Strange Fruit post in a how-to writing anthology. The editor promised me a copy of the final edition along with my check, but to be honest, I pretty much forgot about it. I'm not a snob or anything, but it's a small press, and they asked me to be a contributor. Not like they were going to have National Book Award winners in it.

Well, the anthology arrived in the mail today, and I opened the package and took out this nice-looking trade paperback. The rather lengthy title is The New Writer's Handbook 2007: A Practical Anthology of Best Advice for Your Craft and Career, edited by Philip Martin, published by Scarletta Press. Preface by Erica Jong.

I had to read that part three times. Erica Jong? The Erica Jong? What the hell?

I opened the book and checked out the table of contents to see just who contributed to this antho. I'm the fourth writer listed (under Creativity, Motivation and Discipline, page 14.) Right next to writers like Jonathan Carroll, Neil Gaiman, Rosina Lippi and Richard Powers.

Yes, that would be Richard the winner of the 2006 National Book Award Powers.

As soon as my chest pains subsided, I checked out the rest of the contributors and spotted a few more familiar names -- Jenna Glatzer, Steve Weber and Bookseller Chick -- and felt a little better. I might be the only vampire fiction writer in the bunch, but at least there were some other bloggers and onliners. So it's cool, and now I think I'll go hide under the bed for a couple of years.

And all this came from that one chance meeting with an old man and his mutant citrus at the pack-n-ship in town. If this isn't the strangest fruit of all, I don't know what is.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

As Promised

Left Behind and Loving It, the E-book

Click on the cover to download to .pdf file.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

RW: Heart and Soul Songs

I'm suffering from a severe case of cover art envy this week. Yes, this means that Marjorie M. Liu's latest novel is out.

Soul Song by Marjorie M. Liu

He's like Adonis of the Waves, right? Yeah. I thought so too.

Having a new installment of Marjorie's Dirk and Steele series to read does take most of the salt out of the wounds, though. In addition to beautiful covers, Marjorie has gorgeous titles for her novels, and I really like this one. Soul Song fits the novel perfectly. It's also a great analogy for the way Marjorie writes; her prose sings to you from the page and her heart. From what she's just posted over on her LJ about her novel soundtracks, it sounds like music is as much a writing partner as an inspiration.

Having spent the afternoon writing Valentin's book with Bach constantly playing in my head, I can definitely relate.

What performer, musician, band or composer plays your soul songs? Let us know in comments to this post by midnight EST on Friday, July 20th, 2007. I'll draw five names from everyone who participates and send the winners an unsigned copy of Soul Song by Marjorie M. Liu. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Catchup & Wrapup

The winners of the VW#6 giveaway are:



Winners, please send your full name and ship-to address to LynnViehl@aol.com, and I'll get these goodies out to you.

I'm spending today tackling the questions left in comments that I haven't answered yet. Once I'm caught up, I'll put all six virtual workshops and my answers to all the questions together in an e-book in .pdf format, and park a link to it on the sidebar for free download.

Thanks to everyone for participating, sharing your opinions and problems, and making this into another great series.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Portrait of Ten

The winners of the VW#5 giveaway are:


Jessica D. Russell

Winners, please send your full name and ship-to address to LynnViehl@aol.com, and I'll get these goodies out to you. On to the Monday ten list:

Ten Things for the Art and Graphics Lovers

Freeware caution:always scan free downloads of anything for bugs and other threats before dumping the programs into your hard drive.

1. Anry Color Picker freeware not only identifies a picked screen color, but shows you a harmonious color palette to go with it (good for web site builders/designers and making your own cover art.)

2. Get a free 3D modelling and rendering studio with The Art of Illusion freeware.

3. Create your own geometric designs with BezierDraw vector graphics freeware.

4. Digitizer freeware "will convert any image into a colorized textual representation of that image."

5. Paint online with the free web-based drawing service, Litha:Paint Beta.

6. Offtype.net offers a basic paint/canvas program, which you can use online or download as a freeware, as well as add to your weblog or web site as a widget for your visitors to play with. According to the site, they will store your saved artwork on their server, too.

7. PhotoShape freeware "gives a different perspective to your image and photo by letting them be rotated three dimensionally."

8. PosteRazor freeware makes images into poster pieces that you can print out and assemble yourself (no-cost option for authors who want to make cover art posters.)

9. Paint and animate your art painted with Project Dogwaffle 1.2 freeware.

10. Want to paint on your PC, but prefer using natual art tools? Have a look at Pixarra's TwistedBrush freeware.

One of my favorite online art toys, Segmation, breaks down famous artwork into a paint-by-numbers pattern which you then have to fill in. It has different levels of difficulty, and a counter that starts ticking down as you begin. If you'd rather create music than art, check out FractMus, an algorithmic-music generator freeware that creates melodies using mathematical formulas.

I'm still putting together my post plans, but here's some of what's upcoming this week on PBW:

Helpful Hobbies

The Revised Novel Notebook

Character Palettes

Heart and Soul Songs

Sunday, July 15, 2007

VW#6: Career Writing

The winners of VW#4 giveaway are:


Adele Dawn (whose comment read Just came by to check out the Workshop and would like to be tossed in the hat.)

Winners, please send your full name and ship-to address to LynnViehl@aol.com, and I'll get these goodies out to you. On to the workshop:

I. Paperback Writer, the Novel

Once upon a time, in a trailer park far, far, away, a writer wrote her first novel-length manuscript on a second-hand manual typewriter her mother had given her for her birthday. She'd written quite a few short stories and some novellas in longhand on legal pads and notebook paper, but having a typewriter gave her the confidence (and the writing tool) she needed to attempt something far more complex.

She finished that manuscript about a year later, and submitted it to a publisher. She was so excited, and so sure it would be accepted for publication. For she had written a book -- a whole book -- and no one had helped her. For the first time in her life, she knew that she had created something important and beautiful, and she had done it all on her own.

Now all we need is an ending . . .

Ending #1: The publisher stole the brilliant manuscript, and sent a deranged intern to assassinate the writer. A failed literary agent coming off a twelve-step program heard the publisher plotting the writer's demise, and raced to the ghetto to stop the madness. Mayhem ensued, a kindly but disposable sidekick met an untimely end, but the failed agent was able to save the writer and bring the publisher to justice (crime fiction.)

Ending #2: The publisher invited the writer to New York to work with an editor who wore designer jumpsuits and tortured the writer, mainly over her thrift-store wardrobe. After agonizing over never being able to afford the right shoes for BEA or please the boss from hell, the writer fell in love with the illegitimate son of Manolo Blahnik, quit publishing and lived almost happily ever after (chick-lit.)

Ending #3: The publisher invited the writer to New York, where she was bitten by a vampire agent on the subway. After suffering a horrible but non-fatal transformation into a dhampir novelist, the writer discovered publishing was being run by werewolves, some of whom wanted to have wild monkey sex with her, and all of whom were locked in an eternal battle with the fanged literary agents. The writer spent the rest of her immortal life avoiding one tall, dark and furry were-editor, occasionally having wild monkey sex with him, and battling the evil blood sucking agents (dark fantasy.)

Ending #4: The publisher hated the brilliant manuscript, because that's how publishers are, and told the writer to buzz off. The poor writer starved to death in meaningless poverty, misery and sorrow. The manuscript was recovered from the trash by a sensitive but jaded intern, who found a publisher for it. The manuscript became an immediate worldwide bestseller while the writer's ghost watched from heaven. After the dead writer's book received a Pulitzer, the intern died in a pointless car accident and the publisher kept all the royalties but commissioned a nice, cheap little series of artistic suitcase shrines depicting the lives of the intern and the writer using their own hair (literary.)

Ending #5: The publisher loved the brilliant manuscript, made the writer an offer that allowed her to escape the poverty in which she dwelled and meet a hunky, brooding but monogamous ex-editor who protected her from brutal, maniacal reviewers, until she discovered he once wrote reviews. After that horrible black moment, she forgave him, he proposed, they married, and they lived happily ever after. (romance)

Ending #6: The publisher accidentally exposed the manuscript to an experimental print-on-demand machine, which acquired sentience, infiltrated an editor's human form and used the secrets in the manuscript to trigger the singularity, which wiped out 99.9% of human life. The writer, her dog and a brilliant but surly astrophysicist then battled the POD thing for Earth's dubious future. Not that there was any icky romance whatsoever between the writer or the astrophysicist, you understand (science fiction.)

Ending #7: The thirteen-year-old writer received a very kind rejection letter from the publisher. The editor addressed her as an equal, and let her down gently and politely. The letter ended on a generous note, with an offer by the editor to consider any other novel she might write in the future. The writer never stopped writing after that, grew up and, after about thirteen hundred more rejections, became a career writer (YA.)

Guess which one is the ending to my story, folks?

II. Writing as a Career Choice

As much as we would like to be the heroes to Publishing's villains, choosing to write professionally is generally not the stuff of novels. It's a job.

Actually, it's a couple of jobs. Being a writer and making a career as a writer are two separate but equally frustrating occupations. There is so much involved in the art of writing that it can be considered a full-time, unpaid job on its own. Most writers would like to make a living doing what they love, so they must take on a second job: pursuing publication. Add to that caring for a spouse or partner and family, a part- or full-time day job, a home, a car, a social life, and all the daily requirements of being a functional part of society, and you end up with one very overworked, under-appreciated individual being pulled in five different directions.

This does not get any better after publication, because the writer acquires another full-time job: being an author. This means working with an editor, a copy-editor and possibly an agent and publicist, negotiating contracts, meeting deadlines, assisting in production and otherwise contributing to the final product. Then there is the ever-increasing pressure to network, mingle with other people in the biz, create and maintain an online presence, make public appearances and promote the final product.

Are you sure you guys want to do this, and not try something easier and less stressful, like disarming landmines?

III. The Writer Vs. the Career Writer

You're still here, so we'll assume the bomb squad will have to go find new recruits somewhere else. Let's discuss a common career situation involving a request from an editor:

Editor: Your title doesn't have the same oomph that the previous books have had nor a hint of the genre you're writing in. Can we discuss some other possibilities?

As a writer, my first reaction to this request is to say no, don't you dare touch my title. This is because:

A. I work very hard on coming up with my titles.

B. I don't like anyone else "contributing" to my work. I work alone, thank you.

C. I've already had too many editors stick me with titles for my books, most of which were beyond lame and all of which I still hate, to this day. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

The part of me that is reacting is the writer. She's angry, insulted, fearful and disappointed. She's a bit irrational, too. This is why she is not allowed to talk to the editor. Instead, the part of me that is the career writer steps in to try persuasion:

Writer: To explain the reasoning behind my title, I went with that to make the connection back to the mythology that I established for this character in an earlier book. I think that continuity is important for the readers. I did have a tough time coming up with it, but as soon as I read the Keats poem, it all came together for me. The parallels to Greek mythology are resonant, and an ideal fit for the protagonist. Obviously I think it's beautiful, poetic and perfect for the novel, and I hope after reading this you will, too.

That's calm, reasonable, and still defends the original title. It's a professional response. It also doesn't work:

Editor: I'm sorry but we need a new title. You've made some good points, but it's just not suitable. We think it sounds too dull.

The writer in me blows a fuse. Dull? Excuse me? It's from Greek mythology. You know, those guys who invented civilization? Didn't they teach you any of that at the University of Frat Parties? And whose name is going to be on this book, anyway? I'll give you a hint: NOT YOURS.

God, I loved writing that. But that's not how the career writer responds, of course:

Writer: I'm sorry to hear that no one cared for my choice. I appreciate all you did to support it, and I'll get to work on a list of new ones.

The career writer will get a decent list of alternatives to this editor within twenty-four hours, too. Why? To be helpful and cooperative, which is the career writer attitude, and because the last thing both the writer and the career writer in me want is for the editor to think up the titles.

Just a side note: perhaps the single greatest invention of all time for writers pursuing a career has been e-mail. Before e-mail, a writer and an editor or agent had to communicate by meeting in person, talking on the phone or relying on the postal service. E-mail is better than flying up to New York for a meeting, is as fast as a phone call, and whips the postal service on delivery 100% of the time. E-mail also acts as a damper between the writer and everyone trying to mess with their work. E-mail allows your career writer time to think of how to respond (not something you can do in a meeting or on the phone) while the outraged writer can curse and kick the office trash can around the house out of Publishing's beady little eyesight.

Some of you know that anti-perspirant commercial, during which a celebrity says, "Never let them see you sweat." In publishing, never let them see how much they piss you off.

IV. Writing as Chief Biz Navigator

All week we've been talking about how to write books. I've thrown in a little about handling the biz, but I believe writing should be our priority at all times. Collectively we are not celebrities, publicists, agents or media specialists. We're writers. Writers write.

Publishing isn't as heartless as we might think. There are editors and agents who honestly care about us. Some of them even understand what we go through for the work. Publishing is a business, however, and a business must generate profits or it can't compete with other businesses. When it comes down to being supportive to writers or making a profit, publishing is always going to pick door number 2.

Writing is our talent, and over the length of a career it becomes the only real weapon we have in the battle of the shelves. Some ideas on how writing can help you get through the long haul:

A. Write to create the best books you can: Writing is your job description, and it's the only thing in your career over which you have significant control. Writing, nothing else, should be your priority.

B. Write to publicize yourself: How many of you have met me in person? How many of you know me from reading one of my books or visiting the blog? What keeps bringing you back, my gorgeous face, my genial personality, my fantastic wardrobe, my shelf of important industry awards, my brilliant advertising all over the Internet, or the writing?

I rest my case.

C. Write to generate interest and opportunities: July's Biz post was about how to find Supplemental Writing Income. It's also free publicity. When you sell an article to a print magazine, you have the chance to interest whoever subscribes to or buys that mag. Some of these people will go out, look for and buy your books. Readers aren't the only ones reading, either -- one article I published in an industry trade resulted in about a dozen job offers.

D. Write to teach and inform: The next generation of writers needs all the help they can get. Investing in them by writing to teach them about the biz and to keep them from getting scammed is simply the right thing to do. This is good for your soul, pays it forward and even helps boost your self-esteem.

E. Write to support your colleagues: I've gotten a lot of flack from the powers that be for the way I support other authors. I'm an idiot; I could be doing for myself what I do for others, and become as self-absorbed as that jackass we were profiling yesterday, and sell a couple more books. Or I can help spread the word about talented writers who deserve a lot more recognition than they get, maybe nudge some of my colleagues into doing the same, sell a lot of great books, feel great and help the industry. Hard choice.

If that still doesn't convince you, guess whose name and endorsement are on some of the bestselling novels of the last couple of years? Yep. That idiot who doesn't pimp her own books.

I'd like to thank everyone for stopping in this week and joining in the virtual workshops (and I will now go and catch up on answering all the questions in comments.) I'd also like to thank all the writers who so generously answered my call, and gave of their time and wisdom to hold their own virtual workshops: Joely Sue Burkhart, Gabriele Campell, LJ Cohen, Rosina Lippi, Jordan Summers, and Shiloh Walker. Ladies, you are the best.

For a chance to win one of today's two Left Behind and Loving It goodie bags, in comments to this post ask a question or share your view on career writing, or just throw your name into the hat by midnight EST on Monday, July 16, 2007. I will draw two names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners a backpack-styled tote filled with a signed copy of Ring of Fire, edited by Eric Flint, which features my 1632-based short story A Matter of Consultation (paperback), as well as unsigned copies of In An Instant by Lee and Bob Woodruff (hardcover), Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati (paperback), Wild Mind ~ Living the Writer's Life by Natalie Goldberg (trade paperback), Letters to a Young Brother by Hill Harper, Tied to the Tracks by Rosina Lippi (trade paperback), Bacchus by Jordan Summers (e-book), the July/August 2007 issue of Organize magazine and some surprises. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Other sources on career writing:

Create a Successful Career as a Freelance Writer by Danielle Hollister

Writing as a Career by Kacey

Deborah Lapoint's Maximize Your Writing Career

Questions About the Business of Writing, Questions About Going Pro,, and Life Changes Writing: Writing Changes Life by Holly Lisle

Courage by PBW
Other virtual workshops now in progress:

Joely Sue Burkhart's Do You Know the Secret?

Gabriele Campbell's How to Make a Battle Come Alive on the Page, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

LJ Cohen's Organize your Novel with a WIKI

Rosina Lippi's Workshop Day 1: The Story Machine, Workshop Day 2: Ask Your Characters, Workshop Day 3: Rev Your Engines, and Workshop Day 4: Mix It Up

Jordan Summers talks about writing outside the traditional boundaries of romance, and her own trials and triumphs as an example of what roads are available and how to avoid some of the potholes

Shiloh Walker's Heat with Heart Day 1, finding that missing emotion, Exploring that Backstory (where she briefly grills me). She will be continuing the workshop as a series every Wednesday at her blog, so do check in here to follow along.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

VW#5: Seducing vs. Slapping ~ Self-Promotion Styles and Strategies

The winners of VW#3 giveaway are:

Katherine Hazen


Winners, please send your full name and ship-to address to LynnViehl@aol.com, and I'll get these goodies out to you. On to the workshop:

I. Disorderly Conduct

A friend and I were playing the "What psychological problem does your online behavior reveal?" game, and trying to decide if one chronic offender was displaying a borderline or narcissistic personality disorder. My friend decided the excessive dependency on ego-feeding indicated borderline, but the exaggerated sense of self-importance made me go with narcissistic. We're waiting for a third pal who was a psych major to make the final call.

Yes, this is what we do when we're not playing Amazon.com review poker. We profile jackasses.

It got me to thinking, though, about the psychological aspects of self-promotion. Being the obsessive-compulsive organizer I am, I decided to come up with a classification system. When it comes to self-promotion, writers tend to fall into one of three general categories:

A. Avoidant: for whatever reason, these writers dislike or resent self-promotion intensely, and thus try to avoid it. Like anything, you never know how good you are until you give it a shot. These folks would rather never know (and this would be my category.)

B. Dependent: these writers are submissive types who lack self-confidence and do whatever self-promotion their publisher, writer friends, or writing organization tell them to do. They rely almost entirely on others to make decisions for them. These writer may be good at promoting, but they never think they are, so they follow the herd (the most prevalent category of self-promoting writer.)

C. Obsessive-Compulsive: self-promotion is one of the secret handshakes these writers believe exist, so they obsess over it, go to extremes, and take on more and more of the responsibility for promoting their books. Like the dependent, they may actually be good self-promoters, but they're never happy with the results, and escalate until they blow up, burn out or give up (this one is always a heartbreaker to watch.)

I think we need a fourth option. One that doesn't require us to be control freaks, herd followers or conscientious objectors. One that permits us to promote intelligently and effectively without feeling shame, dependency or disgust.

And I'm still working on what that option is.

II. Trends

Self-promotion follows as many trends as publishing does. Whenever a few authors start doing a new type of affordable self-promotion, and it looks like it's working for them, every other author online jumps on the bandwagon. When I was blogging back in 2001, I knew maybe a dozen other authors who were doing the same. Now it seems like everyone in the biz has a weblog, and a MySpace.com page (okay, I don't, but I also avoid anything that requires me to learn new HTML.)

This doesn't just happen with the low-cost self-promotion, either. Having a professional book trailer, which can cost thousands of dollars, made for your book became a trend for a while. The quality ranged from excellent to counter-productive. Virtual blog tours, which also have a hefty price tag, were another popular trend.

I keep thinking of that thing our moms used to say: If all your friends jump off a cliff, that doesn't mean you have to.

It surprises me, too, because writers have such creative minds and are talented problem-solvers. Our books are all different, we're all different, yet the general strategy being used for self-promotion is to clone what everyone else is doing? That makes no sense to me. There is no safety in numbers, not in publishing.

Look at it this way: if you're a tree, and you want to stand out in the forest, the last thing you try to do is look like all the other trees.

III. Take My Book, Please

I can't tackle all the problems with self-promotion in a single workshop, so let's focus on one issue: tone.

The tone of your self-promotion says a lot about you the writer. If the reader percieves your self-promotion to be strident, demanding, egotistical, phony, tentative, clumsy, etc., they will apply that opinion not only to your work, but to you as a person. We all think SPAM is irritating, impersonal and offensive, and when an author SPAMs us, we think the same about them.

When appropriately presented, well-crafted, genuine and artistic self-promotion has the same effect. A beautiful, thoughtful or sincere presentation says great things about the author, especially if they created it. Personally when I see writers doing innovative things with their self-promotion, I respond to it by buying their books and talking about them here on the blog.

Achieving the right tone is tricky. Even defining it is problematic. It's like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's infamous quote about obscenity given in his opinion on Jacobellis vs. Ohio -- I know it when I see it. What I do know from my observations is that people largely respond to how they perceive they're being addressed as much as the content of the address. Some examples:

A. Love Me, Love My Book -- authors often objectify themselves in their self-promotion by tossing out lists of awards, professional achievements and other forms of special recognition to portray themselves as successful industry icons. Everyone loves a winner, and this does impress some readers, but it only works on a large scale if the writer actually does have the professional clout to back it up.

B. Buy My Book Before I Starve -- self-promotion that involves the writer confessing their personal or financial straits in relation to their book sales can create reader empathy and a desire to help. This can be dangerous, though, because there are authors who use this approach with every book they promote, and readers get tired of hearing how desperate they are, or perceive them as liars trying to get a mercy read.

C. You're Not Smart Enough to Read My Book -- this is my personal favorite; also known as the Stone Soup approach. Authors who use it actually try to persuade readers to buy their book by convincing them that only extremely intelligent people will be able to understand it. And yes, a few people with low self-esteem fall for it, but I think most readers have a pretty solid sense of how smart they are, so it can backfire on the author.

D. Don't Buy That Idiot's Book, Buy Mine --
The gleeful online trend of schadenfreude self-promotion depends on people's need to vent some hostility to generate sales out of comraderie, gratitude and support. Most of us do respond to authority figures, especially if they present themselves as judges, but often the author's anger and self-righteousness slips into unreasonable outrage whenever they are judged and found wanting, which makes them appear largely hypocritical, and can quickly disperse their following.

IV. Honey and Vinegar

As much as I avoid self-promotion, I have learned a few things from watching it over the years. Readers are book lovers, and they don't want to be ridiculed, kicked, punched and slapped by a potential new flame. They want to be respected, intrigued, involved, appreciated, and seduced.

It's the classic honey vs. vinegar situation. If you want to catch more flies, you don't put out a dish of vinegar.

The fact is that readers seem to respond most to sincerity, humor, honesty and a certain level of enthusiasm. The problem is that all of these things can't be faked, or not for long, anyway. So to find the right tone for your self-promotion, you have to think about how you feel about your readers, and how much of your real self you want to share with them.

Then? Get real.

For a chance to win one of today's two Left Behind and Loving It goodie bags, in comments to this post ask a question or share your view on self-promotion, or just throw your name into the hat by midnight EST on Sunday, July 15, 2007. I will draw two names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners a tote filled with a signed copy of my novel Dark Need (paperback), as well as unsigned copies of The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid (hardcover), The Writer's Portable Therapist ~ 26 Sessions to a Creativity Cure by Rachel Ballon (paperback), Deborah's Story by Ann Burton (paperback), Tied to the Tracks by Rosina Lippi (trade paperback), Working Man by Melanie Schuster (paperback), Hunting the Hunter and Hunter's Salvation by Shiloh Walker (paperbacks), the July 2007 issue of Scientific American magazine and some surprises. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Other sources on self-promotion:

Astrid Cooper's Marketing and Self-Promotion

Self-Promotion Means Always Having to Say You're Somebody by Morris Rosenthal

Self-Promotion by Robert J. Sawyer

Barbar Stahura's Shameless Self-Promotion

Other virtual workshops now in progress:

Joely Sue Burkhart's Do You Know the Secret?

Gabriele Campbell's How to Make a Battle Come Alive on the Page, Part 1 and Part 2

LJ Cohen's Organize your Novel with a WIKI

Rosina Lippi's Workshop Day 1: The Story Machine, Workshop Day 2: Ask Your Characters, Workshop Day 3: Rev Your Engines, and Workshop Day 4: Mix It Up

Jordan Summers talks about writing outside the traditional boundaries of romance, and her own trials and triumphs as an example of what roads are available and how to avoid some of the potholes

Shiloh Walker's Heat with Heart Day 1, finding that missing emotion, Exploring that Backstory (where she briefly grills me)

Friday, July 13, 2007

VW#4: Plotting With Purpose

Running behind today, folks, sorry -- the winners of VW#2 giveaway are:

Kasey Mackenzie


Winners, please send your full name and ship-to address to LynnViehl@aol.com, and I'll get these goodies out to you. On to the workshop:

I. Reasoning Plot

I never plot without a purpose in mind, even when I'm just writing something for the blog. You may remember that back when I first introduced John and Marcia, my novel crash test dummies, I told everyone up front that John, our hero, was half-demon. Considering how honest I was from the very beginning, the fact that John also turned out to be the diamond-thieving demon shouldn't have been a surprise, but it was.

Nothing happens in a story without a reason, even if that reason is known only by the writer. This is why purpose plays such a huge part in plotting a novel.

II. The Purpose Driven Plot

You want to tell a love story, but you're not sure why. Maybe because romance pays so well, or you don't feel like writing a mystery. You pick an ex-Navy Seal as your protagonist because, well, it worked for Linda Howard and Suzanne Brockman, didn't it? Ex-Navy dude shall rescue a virginal librarian from a Fate Worse than an IRS audit -- not sure what that is, exactly, or why, but those are bridges you'll cross when you get to them. So these two will wander around the story and a lot of stuff you'll think up later will happen, until they fall in love, get married and live happily ever after, because . . . that's what happens.

This is typical plotting without purpose. You have a plot, sort of, and an idea of what to write, kinda. Essentially you're going to make it up as you go along. And while a few pansters out there are fabulous spontaneous plotters, and don't have to worry about planning anything in advance, most of you are likely going to stall at some point and/or have to rewrite significant portions of this story.

Let's try this again, shall we?

You choose to tell a love story because you have something to say about men, women, love and relationships. How love redeems us is the theme you choose to bring to the story. You select an ex-Navy Seal not only because he's single, physically fit, trained to take out terrorists and a hunk, but because he's emotionally damaged by his experiences and finds life after the military empty and lonely. His quest, whether he realizes it or not, is to redeem himself.

Redemption comes in the form of a timid librarian who has buried her life in her books. She is in her own way as damaged by her solitary life experiences as the ex-Seal is by his. They bump into each other repeatedly as the ex-Seal hides out in the library to avoid his well-meaning aunt, who wants to marry him off to any cute single woman she can get him to blind date.

Meanwhile, a rare book collector, who has become obsessed with obtaining a book he needs to complete a set he's been slowly acquiring all his life, discovers that the librarian owns the only known copy of it in the world. At first he approaches her about purchasing the book. As the book is the only thing the librarian has left that belonged to her anti-war protester father, who wrote odd numeric codes in the margins, she refuses to sell it. This refusal unbalances the collector, who proceeds to stalk, harass, burglarize and finally attempts to murder the librarian.

I could outline the rest of the novel, but by now I'm sure you get the idea. This is a plot with purpose: one that clearly maps out the story so you know not only what you're writing, but why.

III. Purpose Points

Every choice I made in outlining the example novel had some point of purpose, as follows:

A. Main conflict: whatever you choose to make your main conflict, it has to have a purpose and a catalyst, or something to set events into motion that will eventually resolve the conflict.

In the case of my example story, the main conflict centers on the romantic relationship between the ex-Seal and the librarian. Both are going to have to work together and face their past in order to move on with their lives and have a chance at a happier future (which in my book may or may not involve marriage.) This conflict is symbolized by the rare book the librarian owns -- the book in some way symbolically embodies all of the characters' pasts. The conflict catalyst is the attempt by the book collector to purchase it: As the book is the only thing the librarian has left that belonged to her anti-war protester father, who wrote odd numeric codes in the margins, she refuses to sell it.

B. Characters: Character choices shouldn't be accidental. I prefer main characters who oppose each other in a definitive way while still sharing some common underlying principal; your mileage may vary.

My obvious choice of heroine for an ex-Seal was the daughter of an anti-war protester. If the main conflict revolves around a book, the story needs someone who wants that book, hence the rare book collector. The ex-Seal's aunt can provide a little comic relief as she tries to fix up her nephew with the ladies in town, and she is also the reason the ex-Seal and the librarian initially come together.

C. Subplots: The ex-Seal's past comes into play as he becomes the librarian's voluntary bodyguard; I'd definitely work a subplot where at some time during his military career he failed to save an innocent. This subplot can tie in with the main conflict, or merely provide a little extra motivation for the ex-Seal.

The same goes for the librarian's relationship with her anti-war protester father -- secretly she resented the time her father spent protesting the war rather than being a better parent to her. Her father's beliefs resulted in her being made into the town outcast, too.

The aunt could have once been in love with the librarian's father, and only ended the relationship because he began protesting the war -- justifying her resentment of the librarian.

As for the rare book collector who snaps when the librarian refuses to sell him her book, I'd probably go for a backstory subplot of what sets him on this greedy, self-destructive path. Obsessional collectors are usually loners who try to make up for childhood deprivations and enforce a sense of superiority to others by collecting rarities. Perhaps our collector grew up poor in wretched circumstances, and had to do terrible things to fight his way out. Despite his wealth, the collector has never felt adequate as a person. His rare book collection makes him important in the way nothing else can. To fail to complete that collection makes it worthless in his eyes, therefore he must have that book.

D. Setting Small town U.S.A. would be the setting I'd pick for this novel, as you have more shared history in that sort of setting versus a big anonymous city, but an old ethnic neighborhood in a city would work as well. The setting you choose should be purposeful and logical, not only to your characters, but to the other elements of the plot. Small towns have smaller police forces, which would not have the manpower to guard the librarian (compelling the ex-Seal to watch over her himself.) A rare book collector might be a long-time resident, or an outsider who has come to town not to become a resident, but to pretend to while he stalks the librarian.

IV. A Readable Feast

Let's move out of the writing space and into the kitchen for a minute.

When I put together a meal, I consider my family's likes and dislikes with food. I read recipes to find one I think they'll enjoy most, prepare and measure my ingredients, set out what tools I need and take the time to figure out when to start cooking every component of the meal, so that it will all be ready at the same time to serve. I also look at my food choices to see that they complement each other. I may taste what I cook as I'm preparing it, to see if it needs a little more spice or something. But I know that if I follow the recipe, use the ingredients it calls for, and time it correctly, I'll end up serving an enjoyable meal.

I could go into the kitchen and just throw whatever appeals to me into a pot and see what happens. The family may or may not like it, but this is all about being a creative cook, not what they like or will eat. I'm not a naturally gifted spontaneous cook, though, and I'll probably end up throwing out two or three batches of glop before I find the right combination of stuff to make an edible dish. Certainly it's more creative and fun to mess around in the kitchen like that, but I'd rather not waste my time or supplies, or risk making something that will make my family go euwwww.

I know that plotting is a lot of work, and for some people it sucks all the fun out of writing. The main difference between a plotter and the pantser, however, is that expectation of fun.

From the way it's been described to me, the pantser is all about the joy of spontaneity and puttering around the novel kitchen. Writing is art, and you can't plan great art -- you have to be free to create and explore and toss out five or six different batches of novel glop before you hit on the right story. Personally I may not be able to do that, but I do get it.

I know some of you pantsers out there are marvelous spontaneous plotters, too, so don't consider this workshop a criticism of your methods or reasoning. You do get the job done; I just can't figure out how.

I have fun when I write, but I don't write to have fun. I think the main reason to cook is to feed people, and I apply the same philosophy to writing. I write books for people to read them. For me this means turning out a quality product on schedule, without wasting time or resources. Because I know that the hungry family in the next room wants to be fed, and if a satisfying meal doesn't hit the table on a regular basis. they're going to order out for pizza.

For a chance to win one of today's two Left Behind and Loving It goodie bags, in comments to this post ask a question or share your view on plotting, or just throw your name into the hat by midnight EST on Saturday, July 14, 2007. I will draw two names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners a tote filled with a signed copy of my novel Bio Rescue (paperback), as well as unsigned copies of The Spooky Art ~ Some Thoughts on Writing by Norman Mailer (hardcover), Don't Look Down by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer (paperback), After Dark by Donna Hill (paperback), Emperor ~ The Gods of War by Conn Iggulden (paperback), When I Fall in Love by Lynn Kurland (paperback), Tied to the Tracks by Rosina Lippi (trade paperback), Wabi Sabi for Writers by Richard R. Powell (trade paperback), the August 2007 issue of Psychology Today magazine (this one has a great article on rebounding from rejection)and some surprises. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Other sources on plotting:

Plotting the Novel: Otherwise Known as The Real Reason Writers are Neurotic by Lisa Gardner (.pdf file format)

Randy Ingermanson's How to Write a Novel using the Snowflake Method

Holly Lisle's two workshops on plot: Beyond the Basics: Creating the Professional Plot Outline and Notecarding: Plotting Under Pressure

Writing a Novel - Plotting by Joanne Reid

Other virtual workshops now in progress:

Joely Sue Burkhart's Do You Know the Secret?

Gabriele Campbell's How to Make a Battle Come Alive on the Page, Part 1 and Part 2

LJ Cohen's Organize your Novel with a WIKI

Rosina Lippi's Workshop Day 1: The Story Machine, Workshop Day 2: Ask Your Characters, and Workshop Day 3: Rev Your Engines

Jordan Summers talks about writing outside the traditional boundaries of romance, and her own trials and triumphs as an example of what roads are available and how to avoid some of the potholes

Shiloh Walker's Heat with Heart Day 1, finding that missing emotion, Exploring that Backstory (where she briefly grills me)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

VW#3: Turn Up the Wattage ~ Story Power

The winners of VW#1 giveaway are:

Jaye Patrick


Winners, please send your full name and ship-to address to LynnViehl@aol.com, and I'll get these goodies out to you. On to the workshop:

I. The Terminal Manuscript

A submission lands on an editor's desk. The manuscript is perfectly formatted, printed, and meticulously proofed. The prose is well-written, the characters fully-fleshed out, the settings precisely detailed, and the plotwork completely logical. Even the title is a fitting choice.

If this submission were a bed, it would be all starched sheets and hospital corners.

The editor reads the first chapter or reviews the synopsis, and then composes a letter to the novel's hard-working author. She might praise the author for their competence, but she does not make an offer. Instead, she rejects the novel and moves on to the next submission.

Why does the editor do this? The author covered all the bases. The writing is at professional level. The story is seamless. All the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed, so what's the problem?

The problem is not the manuscript -- it's the story that it tells. It's bland, unoriginal, muddled or uninteresting. No matter how competently it's packaged as a submission, a story that doesn't have the power to captivate and excite the editor is not going to snag you an offer.

II. What Makes a Story Powerful?

When we read, we want to experience the following:

1. Emotional Connection: a great story affects us emotionally, and the only way it can do that is to resonate with us on some emotional level. A love story taps into how a reader feels about desire, love, and commitment between two people, just as a science fiction story invokes the reader's sense of adventure as well as their fears and hopes for the future.

2. Enchantment: like a treasure chest, a story should reveal things that dazzle the reader. If you're showing the reader nothing new, they're going to yawn through your story.

3. Entertainment: a story has to compete with the other pleasures in our lives, like sex, food, television, computers, video games and long hot bubble baths. If a story doesn't entertain us at least as much as a good flick, most readers will toss the book aside and turn on the TV.

4. Escape: everyone can use a few hours off from the burdens and stresses in life, and a great story will whisk us away from them.

Why are the readers' desires so important? A story is only as powerful as the reader's reaction to it.

Remember that these days, most dedicated readers are as sophisticated (and often as jaded) as publishing editors are. If every story out there has already been told a thousand times, readers have probably read nine hundred and ninety-nine versions of it. To push past all those mediocre memories, you need to think about how your story will be different from everything they've already read.

III. Delivering the Goods

To crank up the power of your story, keep all four aspects of reader expectation in mind as you create or polish the work:

#1 -- Make the emotional connection with the reader early on in the novel, and use tension and conflict to increase the stakes. Avoid the same-old-same-old with your plot; take the reader on a rollercoaster ride instead.

#2 -- You can't enchant someone without magic, so look at the elements of the fantastic in your story. Are they unique and unexpected, or dull and predictable? What will thrill the reader? What will bore them?

#3 -- Humor always entertains, but so do scandals, risks, thrills, irony, poetic justic and twists of fate. Any of those in your story? Think about your book being made into a movie -- as it stands, would it be a box-office smash, or tank on opening night?

#4 -- If you want to whisk me away from doing the laundry for a couple of hours, you've got to give me the vicarious thrill of being a voyeur. Show me new worlds, exciting people, and provocative situations. Don't show me more laundry.

IV. Power Generators

Powerful stories are the ones that start trends, propel their authors to publishing rockstardom, and end up occupying our keeper shelves. Ask Helen Fielding, the perpetrator of chick-lit, or Anne McCaffrey, the grand dame of science fantasy. John Grisham gave us the courtroom thriller; Stephen King has remade horror in his own image. We just lost Kathleen Woodiwiss, whom most of us consider to be the mother of the modern romance.

All of them have the same thing in common: they wrote powerful, original stories that blew away their readers.

It's tough to take risks with your fiction, though, especially when you could be writing a competent knockoff. We all want to feel safe, especially when we're first starting out, because God forbid we get our foot in the door only to blow it. But I think we have to pour as much power as we can get into our stories, because the readers are so bored that they're finding other things to do, and we're losing more of them with each passing year.

Or maybe I'm wrong, and readers will collectively run to the stores to buy up the two hundred very competently written vampire brotherhood series that will be published in the next year.

We'll see.

For a chance to win one of today's two Left Behind and Loving It goodie bags, in comments to this post ask a question or share your view on story power, or just throw your name into the hat by midnight EST on Friday, July 13, 2007. I will draw two names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners a tote filled with a signed copy of my novel StarDoc (paperback), as well as unsigned copies of The Writer's Book of Matches ~ 1,001 Prompts to Ignite Your Fiction by the staff of Boiled Peanuts, a literary journal (hardcover), Unbound by Lori Devoti, One Night with You by Gwynne Forster, Raintree: Inferno by Linda Howard (paperback), Tied to the Tracks by Rosina Lippi (trade paperback), Night Echoes by Holly Lisle, the July/August 2007 issue of Poets & Writers magazine, and some surprises. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Other sources on story power:

Kim Kay's To Speak or Not to Speak ~ Creating Dazzling Dialogue Part 1 and Part 2

Lost on the Border at Twilight: Finding -- and Using -- Your Life's Essential Strangeness by Holly Lisle

Play It Again, Sam - Redundancy in Writing by Tina Morgan

Rob Parnell's I Can't Put It Down - How to Write Compelling Fiction

Other virtual workshops now in progress:

Joely Sue Burkhart's Do You Know the Secret?

Gabriele Campbell's How to Make a Battle Come Alive on the Page, Part 1

LJ Cohen's Organize your Novel with a WIKI

Rosina Lippi's Workshop Day 1: The Story Machine, Workshop Day 2: Ask Your Characters

Shiloh Walker's Heat with Heart Day 1, finding that missing emotion, Exploring that Backstory (where she briefly grills me)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

VW#2: Editing and Revising That Won't Drive You Crazy

I. The Conversation No One Hears

Writer: I've been trying to think of how to best describe a writer's internal editor. Remember Mr. Hyde from the film The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Take that monster, add in the English teacher you hated most in school, plus a little rabid Doberman, and that comes close.

Internal Editor: Paging Dr. Jerkyl -- your kickoff is weak; borderline pathetic. Trying to think? Thoughts that tough for you? And ye olde movie analogy, how original. So? I'm getting insult but no insight here. Where's the burning bush? P.S. If you trot out your issues with your ninth grade English teacher one more time, I will puke on your keyboard. SohelpmeGod.

Writer (patiently): Anyway, rabid Dobermans, hated English teachers, Mr. Hyde -- dealing with that kind of attitude from the internal editor can be daunting. Especially when--

Internal Editor: Daunting? What's that? Did Mr. Peabody crank up the Way-Back vocabulary machine?

Writer: --you're trying to write, and the internal editor keeps butting in--

Internal Editor: Excuse me. Am I the one who can't remember how to spell occasionally with two c's and one s, or who makes her angry male characters sound more like whiny ass little girls?

Writer: --because that constant nag, nag, nag just kills your forward momentum. That's why--

Internal Editor: Oh, just wait until we go through the rest of the WIP, Honeybunch. You're going to be my rewrite bitch for the next month. In fact, I think I'm going to changes the names of every single--

Writer (muzzling the Internal Editor): --you may find it easier to write without the internal editor shrieking in your ear the entire time.

II. Write First, Edit Second, Revise Third

I do not, under any circumstances, engage my internal editor while I'm writing. I don't backtrack, reread or make quick fixes during my writing time. When I write, I am a writer, and all I do is write, nothing else. The internal editor goes bu-bye and remains perfectly silent until I'm finished writing my new material.

The internal editor cooperates because she knows she'll get a brief shot at the new material that evening. I let her off the leash long enough to read through my new material, editing as she goes along for spelling, grammar, typos, and any other technical blips. We then put away that section of the manuscript and start over fresh the next morning with writing more new material.

Once the manuscript is finished, and I have no more new material to write, I take a couple of days off to get some mental distance between me and the work. Then I remove my internal editor's choke-chain and let her take over for the final read-through, edit and revision of the entire first draft manuscript.

This method may not work for everyone, but by completely separating the two main tasks of creating a novel -- writing and editing it -- I find I am happier and more productive on a daily basis and less likely to hit a block while composing the original story. I also have an easier time when it comes to the massive edit because I'm working with a completed manuscript, not story pieces. I have the confidence of knowing that I finished the story, which helps steady me for the less pleasant job of putting it under my internal editor's microscope and picking out every flaw in it.

III. My Approach to Editing and Revising

As I mentioned above, I do a daily technical edit on the new material I write each day. That means:

A. Opening up the file, performing a spell-check, and correcting whatever the computer finds wrong with the work.

B. I then read through the new material from start to finish to see what the computer missed or I don't like, and make corrections again (I usually do this via a computer screen instead of printing out a hard copy because it's convenient and conserves paper.)

C. Occasionally I jot down notes on a pad while I'm reading on some aspect of the story that will affect the next day's work, because once I save this part of the book after the daily edit, I won't look at it again until I'm finished the manuscript.

As thrilling as writing the book is for me, I look forward to the final edit, because I really haven't reread the daily edits, and now look at them through fresh eyes. This waiting-until-it's-over approach to in-depth editing also creates a certain creative distance from the work which I think allows for more objectivity.

How the final edit goes:

D. I use a printed copy of the manuscript for the final edit simply because I catch more on paper than I do on the screen, and this is when I need to nail every problem.

E. As I read through the manuscript, I use a highlighter to mark non-specific problems (such as a scene that reads flat or a chapter ending that doesn't flow into the next chapter's beginning.) I also keep a red pen on hand to make direct corrections to the text (almost exactly as a copy-editor from the publisher does.)

F. I may also jot down notes on a pad at this stage if I need to verify something or do more research.

Once I've read and marked through the entire manuscript, checked through my notes and made sure I have everything I need in order to revise, I then:

G. Sit down at the computer, open the electronic file, and begin typing in my revisions.

H. Once that's finished, I spell-check, correct typos, and then print out a second, revised manuscript copy.

I. I perform one more complete read-through for missed typos, grammar blips and so forth with the changes I've made.

J. After the last pass, I correct any pages that need it, and then ship off the manuscript to the editor.

My approach to editing and revising is very precise and tailored to my writing schedule, which is often so tight you can bounce a quarter off it. It requires a lot of self-discipline to make it work. I do recommend giving it a try, though, because if you follow my methods you have a better chance of finishing your manscript versus being trapped in a three-chapter loop of writing, back-reading, editing, rewriting, back-reading, editing, etc.

IV. Still Crazy, Now What?

If you find you're reluctant to change even a single word in your story, you're either 1) the best damn writer in the world or 2) you've fallen in love with your manuscript. Chances are it's #2 and it's paralyzed your internal editor, who doesn't want to get between you and your sweetheart. My advice is to save a copy of the complete first draft, put it in a pretty box under your bed, and then get back to work.

Sometimes the problems in the manuscript befuddle you, and you're not sure how to handle them. When I get that feeling, I know I'm not editing at a professional, objective level. My own solution is to take a short break from the work and read one of my favorite novels by another author. I always go for the ones that I think are perfectly paced, superbly plotted or that contain something I admire, and they often change the way I perceive my own drafts (nothing makes your mistakes shine like beacons than reading a great book someone else wrote.)

The most frequent problem writers tell me they have with editing and revising is that their repair work makes the final draft of the manuscript read stilted, patchy or clunky. This is caused by trying to save too much of the original draft to avoid a big rewrite. I think your novel is worth some extra effort, don't you? So don't avoid the rewrite work.

Editing and revising are as important as writing, so you writers out there, don't ignore your internal editor. Just see that they do their job, and leave you alone while you're doing yours.

For a chance to win one of today's two Left Behind and Loving It goodie bags, in comments to this post ask a question or share your view on editing and revising, or just throw your name into the hat by midnight EST on Thursday, July 12, 2007. I will draw two names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners a tote filled with a signed copy of my novel If Angels Burn (paperback), as well as unsigned copies of Kiss Her Goodbye by Robert Gregory Browne (hardcover), Rahab's Story by Ann Burton (paperback), One Gentle Knight by Wayne Jordan (paperback), Tied to the Tracks by Rosina Lippi (trade paperback), Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing by David Morrell (trade paperback),Abandon by Carla Neggers, the July 2007 issue of The Writer magazine, and some surprises. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Other editing and revising resources:

Self-Editing by Lori Handeland

Holly Lisle's One-Pass Manuscript Revision: From First Draft to Last in One Cycle

Editing Made Easy by Lee Masterson

Jane, Stop This Crazy Edit Machine by Tina Morgan

Painful Prose: How to Edit Your Paragraphs to Make Them Great

Other virtual workshops now in progress:

Joely Sue Burkhart's Do You Know the Secret?

Gabriele Campbell's How to Make a Battle Come Alive on the Page, Part 1

LJ Cohen's Organize your Novel with a WIKI

Rosina Lippi's Workshop Day 1: The Story Machine

Shiloh Walker's Heat with Heart Day 1, finding that missing emotion

Note on comments: We had a massive electrical storm here, and I was obliged to keep the computers shut down for most of the day and use my handheld for updates, which gets me into e-mail to moderate your comments but not into Blogger to respond to them. Weather permitting, I will catch up on answering your questions from VW#1 in the morning.