Monthly Archives: September 2014

Writing Tuesday: What Muppetvision 3D taught me about writing

I love the Muppets. Kermit. Gonzo. Sam the Eagle. Beaker. Love them. So when my family visited Walt Disney World a couple of weeks ago, we headed to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Our very first stop was the Muppetvision 3D experience. Not only do I love the Muppets, my kids also appreciate them. Chunk can watch the YouTube clip of Ringing of the Bells with Animal, Beaker and Gonzo, no matter what time of year it is. When we headed inside the theatre, the front gathering room for Disney patrons reminded me something important about writing: each character has to come alive on the page, from the supporting characters to the main ones.

The front room is set up like the backstage of The Muppet Show. There are costume trunks with Miss Piggy’s name and the words “Satin Evening Dresses” on them. There’s a box labeled The Great Gonzo Stunt Props. Fozzie Bear’s crate tells of the prank equipment located within the box. Different Muppets from Kermit to the newest Muppet, Walter, have crates which show some unique aspect of their character.

Likewise, writers need to dig deep to individualize characters and have each character have likes and dislikes. How do we do this? There are some tools at our disposal.

Character sketches. No matter whether a writer is a plotter or a pantser, the writer should have very clear ideas and details about the different characters, from the main characters to the supporting ones. For instance, Miss Piggy’s character sheet would detail her love for Kermit, her love for herself, and her love for the dramatic. Her physical characteristics would include that she is a pig with long blonde hair and big eyes. Her mannerisms would include that she likes to refer to herself as “moi” and Kermit the Frog as “Kermie.” Her occupation would be actress, although she would clarify this as the world’s greatest actress.

Similarly, a writer might start with some of the same details on character sketches of his or her characters. What are the character’s physical attributes? Any distinguishing marks, tattoos, scars, etc? What age? When is the character’s birthday? What’s the character’s backstory? What are the character’s habits or mannerisms? Even for the details never chronicled in the book, the character may become more alive for the writer and, ultimately, more alive on the printed page.

GMC charts. When I attended my first Georgia Romance Writers meeting in January 2013, the wonderful Sally Kilpatrick whispered to me, “Have you read Debra Dixon’s GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict?” I shook my head no. She replied that I read the book immediately. I went home and ordered it, using the advice Sally gave me (at the time, the book was not available for e-readers). The book shows the importance of having each character have a goal, motivation and a conflict, none of which should be that the character wants to fall in love.

When an author knows the character’s goals and motivations, this can increase the conflict factor and add depth and layer to the story. It’s more interesting to read about a character who must overcome an obstacle to get what he or she wants than to read about a character who has no conflict in his or her life.

For example, Bunsen Honeydew is the Muppet scientist. His goal is usually to perform a scientific experiment. His motivation is to learn more about the scientific method and learn from the results obtained in the experiment. One of his conflicts is that he has Beaker as his assistant. Great for comic relief. Not so great for a perfect experiment. But see how Beaker ups the watchability factor.

Dialogue. A character’s speech and words can differentiate him or her from another character. If I ask which Muppet says, “Waka waka,” I bet you immediately thought of Fozzie Bear. Same thing for the Muppet who says, “Me, me, me, me.” (Beaker). One pure giveaway. Which Muppet always cries out “Animal!” Why, Animal, of course!

Their words and distinct phrases give each of them life and emotional resonance. Something all of us writers strive to get across in our writing.

So who’s your favorite Muppet? I can never decide between Gonzo, Kermit and Sweetums. What can I say? I love them all. So who’s your favorite? Let me know.

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Reading Wednesday: Audiobooks, anyone?

imagesA couple of weeks ago, during my reading Wednesday blog, I shared that I was reading Stephen King’s On Writing. I finished the book and cannot rave enough about this treasure. King entwined stories about his life with tips on writing throughout the book. Fascinating and readable, this book captivated me from beginning to end. Interspersed with stories of selling copies of his first stories to voracious, young readers are tips about writing such as write every day and give yourself some time between writing and editing. But even as important, he admonishes writers to read and read often. He shared that he not only reads every time he has a chance, but he listens to audiobooks when he can’t read the printed word. King surrounds himself with stories, both on the written page as well as from the audio side. I sat back and digested this information. I try to read books whenever I have the chance, but there are long stretches when I’m in a car and would have an opportunity to listen to an audiobook. Why not give this tip a chance? I visited my local library (where I often write) and picked up two audiobooks. For the past three days, I’ve been listening to Carolyn Hart’s Set Sail for Murder. At present, I’m on disc three of seven. And to my great surprise, I’m enjoying the audiobook. I also checked out Jude Deveraux’s Someone to Love audio CD set.

I remember reading Set Sail for Murder a long time ago. Ms. Hart is one of my favorite mystery writers and I’ve read almost every book she’s written. I’ve also had the pleasure of attending one of her autograph sessions and lectures. I cannot praise her enough for her dedication to the mystery genre, generosity to other writers, and love of books. I must admit that I confused this Henrie O novel with Dead Man’s Island, a book that was adapted into a TV movie starring Barbara Eden and William Shatner and a guilty pleasure TV movie for me. This audiobook, however, tells a different story, but one that is equally enthralling. I’ve enjoyed the plot and the narration by Kate Reading is top notch.

But what’s especially fun about an audiobook is that you have to listen to the words. Ms. Hart paints a picture that I’m noting more with the audio version than the first time I read the book in print. She uses descriptive words to shape portraits of each character. I’m seeing them all in my head as much, if not more, than if I were reading about them.

But, of course, I’m also reading print books and Kindle books as well. I have finished Stephen King’s On Writing and highly recommend the book. Well worth the time whether you are a writer, a fan, or a reader, this book reads more like a narrative story than a dry tome on tips about writing. Since finishing On Writing, I am enjoying Rock Your Plot and Rock Your Revisions, two craft books about writing by Cathy Yardley. They both deal with plotting stories to weave a writer’s book more efficiently and more succinctly. I’m also reading Mistletoe Cinderella by Georgia Romance Writers member Tanya Michaels. This is the second of a four set series of books all written by Michaels set in the fictional town of Mistletoe. It’s a cute and rather quick read.

My main focus this week was to share the enjoyment I’m finding in listening to books. What a wonderful tip from Stephen King. I’m already figuring out what books I’d like to listen to after these two. I have nixed nonfiction for the simple reason that fiction is easier to listen to in a car.

Do you listen to audiobooks? If you do, why? If not, why not? Let me know.

Writing Monday: Journey Into Imagination

IMG_0127Last week, my family (yes, all six of us-myself, wonderful hubby, 16-year-old Kath, 11-year-old MJ, and four-year-old twins Cupcake and Chunk) ventured to Florida for a vacation at Walt Disney World. While there were some moments I devoted exclusively to family fun, there were moments in line where if I wasn’t doing a head count that I would think about the plot of my next book or about posts for my blog. Everywhere I looked, there were rides or encounters that triggered my imagination about writing. Over the next four Mondays, I hope to share some of these writing tips with you.

On Wednesday, we visited Epcot. Kath and WH (wonderful hubby) both love Epcot, rating it the best of the four main Disney World parks. There were three rides we went on two times: Test Track, Spaceship Earth and Journey Into Imagination with Figment. During both of the Journey into Imagination rides, I kept thinking how much this ride cries out to writers. For those unfamiliar with the ride, I’ll give a brief description. Eric Idle plays Dr. Nigel Channing, a scientist who is friends with a purple dragon named Figment. Dr. Channing appears on a screen to ask the riders to come along with him through his institute’s open house so they can get an idea of what type of research goes on at his institute. Figment takes over as the ride guides the passenger through the five senses of hearing, sight, touch, taste and smell. At the touch and taste portion, Dr. Channing reappears to say that wraps everything up with the ride when Figment reminds him of the purpose of imagination and takes the rider into his house where everything is upside down. Dr. Channing comes back to wrap up the ride having learned the importance of imagination when the screen floats upward to reveal a world where all the senses intertwine in a magical, imaginative area.

So what does this have to do with writing? Everything. A book without a journey through the five senses would be flat. Writing needs to incorporate the five senses so the reader can live through the POV character. As a reader, I don’t just want details about what the writer is thinking all the time. I want vivid descriptions of how their world engages the POV character through all of the senses.

Sight. If a book is set in a small town, I want to see what the POV character sees. Does she see a special festival? Farmland? Nearby lakes? What about the people? Are they tall? Short? Long hair? Clothing style? Tattoos? Distinguishing features? Different authors have excellent descriptive skills. I love the Anne of Green Gables series and L. M. Montgomery uses the sense of sight so the readers feels Anne’s depth when she sees the Lake of Shining Waters for the first time.

Sound. If the book is set in the big city, I want to hear the noise of the city: the people, the stores,  the transportation system, any construction, ambient noise, etc. Sarah MacLean did a good job of showing the sounds of foils when Callie and Gabriel fence in her book Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake.

Touch. No matter the genre, touch can still be utilized. The soft downy feel of a baby blanket? The hard cold steel of a revolver? The stiff spring sticking up from a sofa? How do they all feel to the characters? Does how something feel bring back memories or does it evoke emotion? Carolyn Hart does a great job with the sense of touch-from the feel of Agatha and Dorothy L., the cats of Annie and Max to the spines of the books Annie lovingly feels at her bookstore. Jill Shalvis, the author of steamy and fun contemporary romances, uses the sense of touch throughout her books from describing the relationship and beyond.

Smell. This can be fun for a writer. During the ride, there are barrels marked with words that evoke wonderful smells like roses, cinnamon, and vanilla; however, Fidget warns the crowd that the smell he’s about to release isn’t one of those delicious smells. Instead, he lets loose with a not-so-pleasant smell. Depending on the genre, different writers can deepen what the POV character feels by utilizing smells. Mystery writers may write about the coppery odor of blood. Culinary mystery writers such as Katherine Hall Page may write about different recipes concocted in a kitchen. Romance writers may have different smells corresponding with the hero or heroine’s profession. Bakers may be around sugary and yeasty smells. Vets around dog dander and fur. Big animal vets such as Fair Haristeen, husband of Rita Mae Brown’s heroine Harry Haristeen, may be around horses and different stable scents. Even science fiction authors can research what astronauts have said about space and the moon. A spent gunpowder smell is the way Harrison “Jack” Schmitt described the moon’s smell. Smells are all around us, and readers want this element, too.

Taste. The sense of taste can also enhance the reading experience. There’s a book by Robert Munsch called “M-m-m Cookies” where a boy makes play clay cookies and pranks his parents into eating them. They are not delicious, but Munsch evokes the sense of taste so you taste the play clay. In Diane Mott Davidson books, the reader gets to experience Goldy Schulz’ delicious culinary efforts when Goldy tastes small samples. Romance novels have different approaches to taste depending on the genre and heat level, but most heroes and heroines still taste a meal or a kiss or something that helps us go into their point of view. Kristan Higgins’ heroine of The Next Best Thing, Lucy Lang, is a bread baker and the hero, Ethan Mirabelli, hails from Italian parents who own a restaurant. Needless to say, lots of yummy bread and lots of yummy pasta scenes.

In your work in progress, do you explore the five senses? It will help show what your characters are experiencing. Thanks to Journey into Imagination with Figment for making me think more about the five senses as applied to writing.

Who are some of your favorite authors who use the different senses? Let me know.

Reading Wednesday: A PSA about the importance of reading plus Three New Books

 love_of_books_202371I love to read. That’s why I have reading Wednesdays. To share books that I’m reading because I don’t agree with the statistic that says 89% of Americans never pick up a book after high school. At least I hope that many people don’t stop reading after high school. Reading opens doorways to bold characters, different lives, and new worlds. Reading challenges the mind and opens the heart. Recently someone asked me about my four year old son, known on my blog affectionately as Chunk, who has been reading for two years. This woman asked me, “How did I do it?” First of all, I didn’t DO anything. He learned by himself. But when I recounted this story to my wonderful hubby, I added something to the story. I told my wonderful hubby that I wished I had told her it doesn’t matter at what age someone starts reading, it matters that people continue to read. My four children each have a different path to learning how to read. For me, however, as their mother, I’m not as concerned with how they learn to read, but whether they continue to read after high school. As their mother, I hope they all see me reading different books and want to continue reading about new worlds.

     On my last reading Wednesday, I highlighted three books: Techniques of a Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain, The Lawyer’s Luck by Piper G. Huguley, and Somewhere Along the Way by Jodi Thomas. I’m happy to write that I’ve finished all three. The first, Techniques of a Selling Writer, is a must for any wannabe writer. This is essential reading for establishing the importance of scene and sequel. Detailing the structure of a book through the beginning, middle and end, this book covers a lot of ground. For anyone who wants to write a book or does write books, I highly recommend this guide. The second, The Lawyer’s Luck, is a thought-provoking novella (with emphasis on novella). While too short, I highly enjoyed reading the story of Lawrence and Realie. Rather than painting two dimensional characters, Ms. Huguley depicts layered emotions for each character in her novella. The novella challenges a person to reconsider what he or she learned in history class and dig deeper into the complexities behind the heinous act of slavery. Told in alternating points of view between a runaway slave and a free man with African, Native American and white ancestry, the inspirational romantic novella examines the courtship of Lawrence and Realie over a geographic area from Ohio to Georgia. I recommend this and look forward to reading its sequel, the full length inspirational romance, The Preacher’s Promise. The last book, Somewhere Along the Way, is the second in the Harmony series which is more of a novel with strong romantic elements. I’d definitely start with the first in the series. While this book can be read as a stand alone, the characters’ stories are continued from the first book. I’d have felt lost if I started with this one. But Ms. Thomas weaves interesting characters in an interesting town that I’ll continue to visit from time to time.

     But now I’m reading three new books. I’m at the very beginning of two of them. I’m reading one book about writing, one book from the library, and one on my Kindle.

     ON WRITING BY STEPHEN KING. When I started Techniques of a Selling Writer, I decided to read five to seven pages a day since the writing was so dense with practical advice. So when I started On Writing, I didn’t know what to expect. I have never read a Stephen King novel. Don’t get me wrong. On a personal level, I have the highest respect and admiration for this author whose books have gripped so many. My grandmother was a Stephen King fan. She thought he wrote dark comedy. I’ve only seen one movie adaptation of his work: The Shawshank Redemption. This movie gripped me, and I watched with my husband wondering whether Tim Robbins’ character would break free of prison or get caught in his attempted escape. The acting of Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins bringing such subtlety and humanity to complex characters still astounds me even though I saw the movie eight or nine years ago.

    Even though I liked the movie, I’ve never read the short story Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption on which the movie is based. I’ve never read Carrie or Cujo or The Shining or The Stand or one of the many other novels read the world round. But everyone says On Writing is a must read for writers. And now I know why. This book is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Hands down. I’m reading it everywhere I go. On MJ’s curriculum night, I had my head stuck between the pages as I navigated the familiar hallway taking care not to step on anyone’s feet, but I had to keep reading the story of Stephen King’s 8th grade self selling his jelly-print published copies of his take on The Pit and The Pendulum. When I pick up Cupcake and Chunk, my head is stuck between the pages while Stephen King describes his grandfather’s toolbox and the tools that should be in every writer’s toolbox. I had to laugh at one point when he wrote about the act of writing. The line is “It’s not church.” I had my head stuck in the book on the grounds of the church where my twins attend preschool. I’ve read this in a doctor’s office, while waiting for children, on curriculum night and nearly everywhere else. I am engrossed in his curriculum vitae, his toolbox, and his advice about the act of writing. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. I understand why everyone recommends this book.

    The Whole Enchilada by Diane Mott Davidson. Even though I love On Writing, I’m also reading some books for fun. I’ve gravitated toward reading more romances lately because I’m a romance writer and I read them for pleasure as well as to analyze POV, characterization, dialogue, etc. But I also love mysteries, and I’ve allowed myself to catch up on three of my favorite series by three of my favorite mystery authors. I recently finished the latest Rita Mae Brown mystery as well as Carolyn Hart’s latest Bailey Ruth book. I’ve read all of the Goldy catering mysteries, and this book was finally available at my library. I’ve only just started and am at the start of Chapter 3. I’m already hungry as I am whenever I read one of Ms. Davidson’s mysteries as the heroine runs a successful catering company. My wonderful hubby and I listened to one of her books on tape during a trip a long time ago. He even told me his stomach grumbled at the description of all the marvelous food. 

     I keep reading these books because I admire Goldy’s resilience and tenacity. I also like the cast of supporting characters from her police husband Tom to her best friend Marla (and I keep reading because Goldy found happiness with someone after the Jerk and I want Marla to find someone also) to her catering assistant Julian to her teenage son Arch. Jake the Bloodhound and Scout the cat are also making appearances. 

     Pull Me Closer by Lauren H. Kelley. I belong to Georgia Romance Writers. At the first meeting I attended, I met two writers: Lauren and Jeanine. Lauren has gone on to self-publish three books in a series and Jeanine has become my critique partner. I love GRW, and I love to read works by the talented members who help and encourage each other. I spent three very enjoyable days with Haywood Smith’s Wife-in-Law, laughing and commiserating with the main characters. I thoroughly enjoyed Piper G. Huguley’s The Lawyer’s Luck (featured above). And I’ve spent quite a few hours enmeshed in Tanya Michael’s books revolving around either a family or a hot cowboy. 

     At RWA’s National Conference, Lauren asked me to read her third book. I’ve written it before and I’ll write it again, I can’t start in the middle of a series. So I purchased the first two books for my Kindle. I’ve started reading the first book. This steamy novel set in corporate America is a change of pace for me. I generally gravitate to romance books that revolve around a small town or regency England or the the pioneering wilds of America. I’ve only just started Pull Me Closer as well, but it’s interesting to read Kerrigan and Axel’s story. This is a steamy novel, and it targets an adult reader. Ms. Kelley’s background in corporate America is helping add detail to her story.

     So I’m reading three totally different books. But the important thing is that I love reading. I hope I pass that love of reading onto my children.

     What are you reading? Let me know.