Wednesday, October 27, 2010


How much distance do you put between yourself and your writing to create objectivity?

For me, write rough draft, set it aside for 2 - 3 weeks, then begin edit phase. Complete first edit phase, set aside for 2 - 3 weeks, then begin next edit phase. And so on . . .

I mentioned to a friend of mine, who is also a beta reader, about needing to create the necessary distance. What I said, well, wrote, since it was in an email, was this . . .

As much as I love writing, as much as I believe in what I write, I always fear that I cannot create the necessary distance between myself and my writing to look at it objectively, i.e., with the eyes of a reader and not the eyes of the writer/creator.

The response I received is . . .

And Scott, honestly, don't be so critical of yourself. You have such a talent in your writings. When you write....I am literally there. I can visualize the characters, feel the mood, and become enthralled. Not many have this talent. And don't distant yourself from the writing....that again is what makes it very very special and wonderful!!

Now, stop thinking: oh, it's a friend, she has to be nice. You don't know my Suzi. This is the woman who told me one day: You look like crap!!! Yes, she did! She's brutally honest with me, and with everybody . . . which is one of the things I love about her. She's not going to hold back, she's not going to coddle me, she's going to tell me a) if I look bad, b) if my writing sucks, and c) what the hell were you thinking wearing that outfit.

Yes, I know, writers shouldn't let friends beta read because friends - allegedly - can't be objective enough. I beg to differ. If a friend can tell me I look like crap, said friend can be honest about my writing.

Anyhow, back to this distance thing. What do you think of her statement - and don't distant yourself from the writing . . . that again is what makes it very very special and wonderful!!?

Are we creating too much distance between ourselves and our writing in the editing process? Is the whole distance thing just a big myth used to create havoc in aspiring writers lives? Do we, as writers, create too much distance in the different phases of writing, and is this a good or bad thing?

I don't know. I always fear I'm too much in love with my writing to be objective. If I'm too much in love with my writing, can I edit objectively? If I create too much distance, do I somehow, during the editing phase, edit out too much and somehow diminish the work? Is there a fine balance between distance and objectivity that we, as writers, as humans, can somehow find so that we don't lose what makes our writing very very special and wonderful!!?


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Flawed Characters

What issues do your characters have?

Oh, I'm not talking about the fact that Character A made the fashion faux pas of wearing white socks with dress pants and shoes - the horrors. I'm talking about the issues that make your characters a) more human and b) relateable.

Lynn Price over at Behler Blog did a great post about Character development - Ken and Barbive vs. The Seven Deadly Sins. Go check it out!!

The post talks about the importance of character development. Go on - check it out!

Now that you've checked it out . . .

. . . let me tell you a bit about my characters: they're flawed! Yup, flawed. They're far from perfect.

My characters . . .

. . . have receding hairlines. Yup!
. . . have weight issues.
. . . have money issues.
. . . have other issues.

I have a character who, just upon seeing a cookie, has fat cells that go into a multiplying frenzy similar to the feeding frenzy of piranhas when a stray cow happens to fall into their path!

My characters are far from perfect.

Okay, I've had a perfect character . . . or twelve, make an appearance in my writing. It happens. Perfect hair. Perfect teeth. Perfect life. Perfect relationship. Blah, blah, blah.

Personally, I don't want to read about perfect people who have their lives perfectly together.

I have bad hair days. Boy, do I have some bad hair days.

My characters have bad hair days as well. My characters step in cat vomit that squishes up between their toes and make them curse their cat. Yes, that character is based more than a bit on my real life. Dang cat, throwing up just where I'll step on it in the dark. She's sneaky, my Squeaky! Ha!

Nobody, not nobody, has a perfect life, and the characters we create shouldn't - aside from the imperfection of the main conflict of the story - have a perfect life either.

What fun is perfection?

What fun is having an unrelateable character?

You know what I love about the character Stephanie Plum - created by the amazing Janet Evanovich? She can barely make ends meet and often, the only thing in her refrigerator is peanut butter, bread, and olives so she can make herself a peanut butter and olive sandwich. Eeeew! She also, more days than not, has bad hair days. Woo-hoo for bad hair days. She struggles to make ends meet, she has a dysfunctional family, and . . . I can relate to the character.

I want to relate to the characters I read about . . . on some level.

So, what issues do your characters have? Are they too perfect? Do they suffer from the Barbie and Ken Syndrome? If so, perhaps you need to add some flaws to your characters.

Just saying . . .

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Still Here

Sorry, been absent for a bit, had some things going on.

I've started the initial revision phase - typos, incomplete sentences, etc. My betas deadline is this weekend, so I should have input from all of them and can delve into the depths of despair! Ha! Kidding.

I have the most recent issues of Writers Digest and The Writer, so next week I'll post some things on the blog from the magazines. Those are two great magazines with great info. If you don't subscribe, you should. Just saying . . .


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Read Through - FINISHED

So, I finished my read through of the rough draft of my cozy! Woo-hoo!

Boy, are there some typos out there. Okay, there are a lot of typos. It's all part of the writing process.

I've written . . .
  • her for here
  • here for her
  • down for done
  • Jospeh for Joseph - and a few other misspellings as well. What the heck???
  • I have a few incomplete sentences or sentences that just don't make sense.
  • There are a few other issues as well - things to fix, time spans, etc.

All in all, I'm pretty impressed at how little needs to change . . . at least at this point in the game. Yeah, there's a chapter I want to delete and incorporate a small portion of said chapter into another chapter. There's a sentence here or there that needs to come out as well.

I didn't find any major plot holes. Okay, I found a few small ones - easy to fix. I have my clues laid out, one or two more to add, but . . .

Overall, the revision process - knock on wood - shouldn't take that long.

I still have to hear back from my beta readers, but I plan on starting on fixing the typos and other issues this weekend. My instructions to my beta readers were quite simple: I'm looking for flow issues, as in does it flow easily, are there plot wholes, and are there moments that make you go huh!!!?

Any of those issues can be fixed at a later date, well, not too much later, since I'm on a deadline.


Friday, October 15, 2010

100 Pages and . . . Stuff

So, I've been doing the read through of the rough draft that's out to beta readers because I want to submit this manuscript to a contest.

I have 100 pages left to read. This has been an interesting experience. First, I'm reading the rough in .pdf format so I can't change things as I find them. If I was reading the document in Word, then I'd be changing things here/there/everywhere and not getting the essence of whether the story flows or not.

Yeah, I'm noticing mistakes. Mistakes happen. Such is life.

I also know, when I sit down for the actual revision stage, I'll find those mistakes.

I have printed off a few different pages where I needed to make notes. A few, i.e., less than 10. I think that's pretty good.

I also think, in the future, I'll always do my read through this way since I'm less tempted to start changing things because I really can't change things in PDF format.

Project Runway - what can we learn from Project Runway?


Last night, one of the designers didn't go with her instinct she, as she put it, lost herself somewhere. She wasn't listening to her inner voice.

We need to listen to our inner voice. We need to believe in ourselves. If we don't, then like this person on PR last night, we'll come very close to losing the competition.

We screw up our lives when we don't listen to our instinct, when we pay attention to what other people our saying/doing, versus what we know we should be doing.

Case in point: one designer last night told another designer that his/her outfit looked like it was a madame (i.e., street walker) outfit. The designer in question really began to doubt his vision and couldn't get the image of a hooker dress out of his mind. In the end, he stuck with his gut and didn't change things.

Now, back to the person who said the dress looked, basically, like a hooker dress: personally, I think said designer did it on purpose because it's all about the competition. Later on in the episode, said designer was like "oh, maybe I shouldn't have said anything" . . . Yeah, ya think?

Which, brings me to the second lesson from PR: sometimes people aren't going to like our work, they're going to criticize our work and we, as is part of human nature, are going to think "OMG, I just wrote the biggest piece of crap ever!" Then, hopefully, we're going to take a step back, realize that everybody has their own opinion, everything is subjective, and that if we believe in our work, that's enough.

So, when a critique comes back, look at it both subjectively and objectively. Examine it, study it, analyze it, and really think about what the person is saying before you go off willy-nilly and change everything!

Have a great weekend.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

WiP Wednesday - October 13, 2010

Well, I'm done! Woo-hoo! I finished the rough draft of Book II on Monday! Yeah!!

At this point . . . I'm in downtime mode. No writing. I'm reading a book. Yes, just reading. No writing. Did I mention no writing?

I'm on a writing break . . .

Okay, it's a very brief break. I don't want to immerse myself in any other writing project because I'm about to immerse myself in revision mode on a project I'm thinking of submitting to a contest.

I have a very narrow window of time to get the edits complete. The rough of that project is out to beta readers. Their deadline to finish is fast approaching . . . like this coming Saturday.

So, once I hear back their initial thoughts/impressions/whatnot, I'll delve into edit mode and whip the manuscript into fighting shape to submit to the contest.

Then . . . I'm not quite sure what I'll do. Will I finish up another project I set aside so I can finish Book II? Will I edit other rough drafts? Will I write something new? Will I work on that query I've needed to work on for-like-ev-uh?? Who knows? Only the shadow knows . . . Ha!

Seriously, I don't have a clue. I just know, here and now, I'm gearing my mind toward the edit phase. I sent off for the guidelines - haven't heard back yet, but should soon - they do have my SASE envelope, and I'm not going to be happy if I don't hear back. I'm just saying . . .

On that note . . . what are you up to? Where are you, dear readers, on your current projects?


Monday, October 11, 2010

First Chapters

Nathan Bransford had a great post about first chapters.

My problem: in what I'm reading, I'm not seeing this phenomenal first chapters. I'm seeing so-so chapters that give me an intro, but nothing standout dynamic.

Yes, I know, we're all supposed to be writing these phenomenal first chapters. It's one of those rules.

Well, if we're all supposed to be doing this, then why am I reading more and more first chapters that aren't phenomenal. Oh, they're good, some are bad, but . . . I keep reading.

Agent A might discard a potential book based on a so-so first chapter. Agent B might snap up the book. The thing is . . . it's all subjective.

None of us are psychic. If we were, we'd know which agent to query so we become the next hot author.

None of us can know whether we've written a phenomenal first chapter or a so-so first chapter. We might think we know, but, in the end, it comes down to the subjectivity of an intern and/or agent and whether they think we've written a phenomenal first chapter or a so-so first chapter.

So, in the end, we have to write the best first chapter, and subsequent chapters, that we can write and understand that, to some, those first chapters might not be phenomenal. To others, those first chapters might be literary gold.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

WiP Wednesday - October 7, 2010 and . . . things!

First - WiP Wednesday: I'm at the Ta-Da Moment of Book II, i.e., the Climax. Woo-hoo. Next is Falling Action and then the Denouement. As I was working on the Climax scene - confession, gun, life threatening moment - I suddenly shifted gears. This was something I had considered, very briefly, earlier in the novel, and somehow the idea stayed with me and appeared, almost on it's own, while working on a chapter Monday evening.

As I was writing the chapter, I had a different scenario in mind for the end of the chapter. I'm typing away and suddenly - BAM - I end the chapter a bit differently. Now, I have to pick up from that point and begin the falling action.

Check out this prior post about The Basics as well as the links in that post. Good stuff.

Now, on to other things . . .

Here's my question: when setting fiction in a real town, do you use real television stations and newspapers, or create fake ones?

To me, if I set something in New York City, I'd probably, at some point, have a character reference The New York Times. If I set something in Nashville, I'd have them reference the local paper The Tennessean and/or an actual television affiliate like Channel 2 - WKRN. It's just me.

Okay, the reason for my question: reading a book, set in Nashville, and the author created a fictional newspaper. I'm just wondering . . . why?

How about you? Would you create your own newspaper or use an actual one? I'm just confused.

Is it easier to make up newspapers and/or television stations? Does it give a novel a more realistic feel to reference actual realities of the setting? I mean, yeah, most people aren't going to know there isn't a newspaper called The Nashville Hound Dog (no, that's not what the author in question used in their book). Still, I like, especially when reading about cities I've lived in or visited, seeing the, well, realism.

Case in point - I just read a book set in Salem, MA. I go there every year for a work conference. I knew the streets and landmarks the author mentioned in the novel. I could, well, relate.

So, I'm thinking - yes, I know, a dangerous thing for me to do - that by inserting actualities (i.e., real newspapers, landmarks, etc.) into my writing I'm creating a bit of realness.

How about you? Thoughts?


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

One Clue

So, I'm reading a cozy (mystery) this past weekend and I'm taking notes. Yes, you read that correctly: I'm taking notes.

As the amateur sleuth compiled her lists of suspects, I compiled my list of suspects. As the amateur sleuth crossed names off of her list, I crossed names off of my list.

Holy Oleo, Batman, we've crossed off every name on the list . . . and still haven't found our murderer!

Yes, every single name gone from the list and the murder was still at large.

Never fear, Polly Purebred, Underdog is here!

There was one clue only to the alleged identity of the killer.

One Clue!

Yes, this confused me just a bit. You see, the author gave a list of names in the beginning of the book - first/last, you know the drill. Then, slowly, the last names disappeared.

Now, I'm lucky to remember my own first/last name (on a good day) let alone a list of 10 or so suspects! Yes, 10!

So, when the one clue appeared, I took careful note. I traversed my memory trying to match up the one clue (an email address, btw) with the names of the alleged suspects who - did I mention this - had all been crossed off the list already.

Then, I thought - gee, I bet the author is being really clever and the I need to decipher the meaning of the email address. Then, I thought - oh, wait, the author used these specific initials multiple times already . . . and my thought process continued as I kept reading.

The end result: I didn't have a clue who the murderer was until the big reveal.

Not fun, not fun at all. This was no fair game I was set to play. How in the heck can I solve a mystery with only one clue? How in the heck, with the amateur sleuth's ah-ha moment shrouded in mystery - she knew more than she (or the author) told - could I solve the crime?

I couldn't.

Yes, again . . . this was no fair game! The clue was obscure and there were multiple possibilities for the email address in question. The last name was only briefly mentioned - possibly twice - at the very beginning of the book. So . . .

. . . as I examine my own cozy, I realize I'm pretty safe because I clearly identify the suspects, and provide their motives, early on in the manuscript. There is no doubt who the suspects are, and it is only through the clever - okay inept with a bit of luck - work of my detectives that both they, and the reader begin to suspect the truth.

There isn't a vague clue about a person who - if I remember correctly - wasn't ever on the suspect list in the first place.

So, this author - while writing a great book, and I'll read more of her stuff - left this reader feeling a bit, well, cheated.

You see, according to some things I've read, the reader is supposed to learn the clues along with the amateur sleuth. The killer shouldn't be a total surprise. There should be, at some point fairly early within a novel, a hint of the killer's identity.

This didn't happen.

Still, reading this particular cozy was an enlightening experience and has helped me know what is needed, and not needed, as I immerse myself in the revision process.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Random Things

Book II - in the homestretch. Lead in for the BIG CLIMAX was written this weekend. This week I'll write the climax chapter, and then wrap things up. I should end up around 50K words. Woo-hoo.

Book I - revisions should start this weekend. Well, maybe not until the following weekend since I'm waiting for input from beta readers before I dig too deep into revisions.

Authenticity - okay, I live in the Nashville area. No big secret. So, I know a bit about the city, local haunts and dives . . . how people talk. Yeah, just a few minor things. Everybody in the south doesn't constantly say y'all. There are educated people in the south. We also don't always say you'uns (this is basically y'all but in a different context) or fixin' (as in I'm fixin' to go to the bar with my friends) and not fixings (which is the side dishes at dinner). I've also rarely heard people say Well, he's itchin' like a hounddog with fleas.

Sorry, those are stereotypes more fit for television than real life . . . not that some people might say those things.

My point - still in Authenticity for those trying to keep up with my randomness (ha): if writing about the south, don't play into stereotypes. Learn a bit about the location, especially if you're not a native, and make it true to the area, rather than true to your perception of the area. You never know, someone who lives in Nashville might read your book set in Nashville and might get a bit ticked at the dumbing down portrayal.

Yes, I'm reading a book set in Nashville that is so stereotypical it's not even funny. The writer is from New York. I don't have a clue whether the writer has ever been to Nashville. At this point, four chapters in, nothing is coming across as authentic and . . . I've lived here 18 years.

Now, in the writer's defense - the main character is a transplant, so some of the non-authentic stuff could - in an odd way - make sense. Then again, maybe not.

I set the majority of my stories in Nashville for a reason: I know the area, the backroads, the slang, the places people hang out, the subdivisions, where the wealthy live, and some historical info as well. If in doubt, I get in my car and drive around to make sure I'm being authentic.

To me, to do otherwise is, well, just wrong.

Yes, I probably shouldn't bash - not that I'm technically bashing - another writer's work. The writing is good. I like the book. I'm just sort of pulled out of the reading by the less than authentic vibe that keeps coming across time and again.

I think, in the end, my goal as a writer is to keep my readers immersed in my writing. I don't want moments that make them stop reading, shake their heads, and go WTH?? I want uninterrupted reading for my readers . . . and my self.

So, if writing about an unfamiliar location (i.e., you're from Nashville trying to write about Chicago and have never been), do some research, take a trip, explore the town, listen to how people talk, look at how people dress - the locals, not the tourists wearing their cowboy boots (little known fact: more tourists than actual residents wear cowboy boots in Nashville) - and so on and so on. Don't play into stereotypes that aren't the norm. Yeah, we talk a bit funny in the south . . . but have you ever been to New England! Ha! Oh, I have and have friends in New England.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Doing It Right

How much of writing is instinct versus knowledge? How much is a pool of knowledge in our subconscious that is just waiting for our brain cells to synapse in the right direction and pull forth from the pool of hidden knowledge within our brains?

No, haven't been drinking . . .yet! It is Friday, and margaritas are in my future this evening.

As any reader of this blog knows, I recently wrote a cozy mystery. I pretty much did it on instinct, that is . . . after writing the manuscript, I went back and researched cozies and found that - somehow - I had used most of the elements for cozies in the current project. Woo-hoo!

Now, my question: how much was instinctive, and/or pulled form that pool of knowledge slumbering in my subconscious?

I don't have a clue. Yeah, I read Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Goodman. I devour Mary Higgins Clark's books. Her books, for the most part, are cozies. I also absolutely love the Midsomer Murder series (television, only read a few of the books) that used to air on the Biography Channel and were always followed by the Peroit Mysteries. So, knowledge of cozies, while not in the forefront of my brain, was in my brain.

Somehow, without trying, without thinking, I was able to write a cozy, incorporate the necessary elements, and - very freaky - end up in the mid-range of the genre word count. That, dear readers, freaked me out.

So, in writing the manuscript, I would veer off the case and insert bits and pieces of life for the main characters. They might be thinking about the case, but life itself still existed beyond the case. I wasn't totally positive whether this was the right thing to do.

Well, yesterday, at Borders, I bought a cozy mystery and immersed myself in the pages of the book. You know what? My little forays into the lives of the main characters is pretty standard.

You know what? I was doing it right.

So, this long, rambling post is really about doing it right . . . even if we don't know we're doing it right. Every chapter, every sentence, every word doesn't have to involve the forward arcing plot. Yes, plot is important, the story must move forward, but we - or rather, me, I, whatever - must also realize that our characters have lives outside of the plot, or the mystery in this case. Just because Character A is investigating a murder doesn't mean that he doesn't have a tension filled dinner with his mother or can't realize he's attracted to another character or . . . whatever.

So, this long rambling post, beyond being about doing it right, is about going with your instinct.

On that note . . . have a great weekend. Back to reading.