September Blog Fest: Preparing to Publish

J. Leigh got us started with a bang yesterday with her fantastically funny (but sadly all-too-accurate) post on creating a YA cover for your novel.  If you haven’t read it yet, do.  Hopefully it will make you smile!

All this month, J. Leigh and I will be writing about the process of getting your manuscript ready for publication.  If you’re planning to self-publish, you won’t want to miss this series! And even if you’re planning to work with a traditional publisher, you’ll find lots of useful tidbits here on finalizing, editing, and reviewing your manuscript.

This week, we’ll talk about putting those finishing touches on your manuscript: editing techniques that will save you time and sanity, avoiding common editing pitfalls, and perfecting your prose.

Next week, we’ll focus on the pesky but necessary process of formatting your manuscript for both print and ebook editions.  Choosing a font type, setting the margins, and placing your page numbers may seem like insignificant details, but managing the visual appeal of your book is hugely important, especially for print.  We’ll also offer helpful tips for navigating the KDP and Smashwords formatting processes, which can be frustrating in the extreme the first time through.  Finally, we’ll address the review process: how to ensure that your print proof copy is gorgeous and error-free and that your ebook is digital perfection.

And then the grand finale…J. Leigh’s real post on book cover design!  We’ll also talk strategies for writing great back copy and for putting your best face forward (literally) with your author bio and photo.

Editing, formatting, and packaging…it’s the nitty-gritty of our writing profession, but that doesn’t mean it has to be  drudgery!  We’re planning some fun contests to liven up each week’s focus…can’t wait!

And last but not least…  We love all our readers, and we’re hoping to hit 200 blog followers this month!  So exciting!!!  You can help us by spreading the word and bringing a friend!  🙂

Happy writing!

SK

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How to make a YA book cover in 4 easy steps!

Okay guys, this is totally a spoof entry.  But after seeing about 10 YA PNR books in a row that looked like near-identical copies of each other, I decided to tell you how you, too, can create a bestselling YA book cover!

Step 1

Find a great background.   This should preferably be something gothic or haunting.  I chose this photo of my own that I snapped up in Maine a few winters ago.

Nice Background

Step 2

Find a nice photo of a girl wearing a prom dress.  The more risqué, flowy and colorful this is, the better.  And be careful about the model you choose — she has to look steamy, pouty, angsty, tragic, or terrified.  OR, as an alternative, you can choose a back-view photo of said girl.  Oh, more requirements.  She must be Caucasian, stick-skinny but well-endowed, with long hair that is preferably blowing in the wind.

Here is my girl, courtesy of eidress.com, situated nicely against my background.  Don’t worry about silly things like lighting or perspective.  That’s not all that important.

The requisite prom dress photo

Step 3

Now at this point, you can add a title and call it quits, OR, even better, you can add in a photo of a shirtless hunky young man, looking as angsty and pouty as the girl.  While the girl must be in a prom dress, the guy must look as tattered and scruffy as possible.  He should be posed behind the girl.

I found my young man at Shutterstock, hence the watermark I left visible to show where I got it.

Shirtless Hunk – check!

Step 4

Now all you have to do is select a title.  This should be a single word, and it should be edgy, angsty, unexpected, or obsolete.  Opening a thesaurus at random and selecting the most pompous word you can find on the page is a good trick.  Or choose from a list of women’s perfume names.  The title should be written in as dramatically flowy a font as possible, or something hard, cracked, edgy and unexpected.

I think Flux is a pretty fantastic word, so that’s my title.

Voila!

And there you have it!  😉

Hope you enjoyed this very tongue-in-cheek post.  (N.B. — NO.  No. No. No.  I am NOT writing a YA PNR titled Flux.  Just no.  Hence why I did not put my own name on this…..thing.;)


Mirror, Mirror…

A month ago or so, I finished reading all the entries I had received to judge for a writing contest.  I read both children’s lit and YA fiction this year, and it’s been fascinating.  I have so many things on my mind to say about what I observed, but I wanted to take a step back today and reflect on the big picture.

When you look in a mirror, why do you look in the mirror?

I’ll bet that if you look in a mirror — even if you just happen upon a mirror and pause to glance at your reflection — you don’t just stand there and stare at yourself.  You probably find something to fix — hair out of place, lipstick needs refreshing, and hope no one noticed that piece of spinach in my teeth.  Or you consider that you really should head to the gym today even though you don’t feel like it, or you notice that the baby spit up on the back of your shirt, or you realize that your tie is crooked.  And you proceed to fix whatever needs fixing.

Literature, in so many ways, functions like a mirror.

It shows us the best and worst of human nature, revealing the struggles of  man against some force internal or external.  But we don’t just read books to gawk at ourselves (collectively) in some voyeuristic fashion.  We read books because they can teach us something — they change us somehow, whether we mean them to or not.  Books encourage us to grow, to adjust, to become better human beings.  We identify with a character and his or her struggles, we watch him or her confront and (hopefully) overcome, and then we see how we can apply his or her experiences to our own lives.  And the goal is one of improvement, not just of recognition.

Lately, though, I’ve noticed a trend — and perhaps you’ve noticed it too.  There are some books where the characters just seem to develop…sideways, if that’s possible.  They change, but not in a positive (or even a negative) direction.  Something seems to push them sideways for a bit, and then they snap back and continue on.  There’s no indication that their decisions in the future will be affected by what’s happened to them over the course of the novel…no indication that they’ve become better people – or even different people — for what’s happened to them.

Reading a book like this is like looking in a mirror and saying, “Yep.  That’s me.  Yep.  Spinach in my teeth.  Tie crooked. Yep.  Guess that’s just how I am.  Oh, well.”

And in YA fiction, there’s often a follow-up to this admission of imperfection with no desire of amendment: “And if they don’t like it, well, screw them, because I won’t change.”

It’s not a question of whether or not literature will teach.  So, there’s a choice we face as writers.  Will our writing inspire our readers to be better people?

Or will we just teach them how to scuttle sideways?


Understanding Character Voice

So, I had intended to write a follow-up post to the last one on scene-setting by S.K., but instead I’ve decided to write about Character Voice.  It’s something that’s been on my mind lately, and I think it’s one of those essential vocabulary terms for all writers to understand.

If you sit in a room with a bunch of writers, chances are one of them will eventually start tossing around words like voice, tone and mood. For beginning writers, all these concepts can seem a little fuzzy, not to mention a little scary.  What exactly do they mean?  How do you know if you’re doing it right?  Don’t panic.  It’s not nearly as intimidating as it sounds.

Though writers often talk about voice, tone and mood in the same conversation, don’t mistake these concepts for synonyms.  Tone and mood have more to do with the storytelling itself, whereas voice is a matter of characterization.  We might talk about a book’s mood being dark, gothic, atmospheric, or it’s tone being bubbly, sarcastic, or ironic. To put it briefly, mood describe the overall feel of the story, while tone is how the author approaches the story.  But I’ll come back to the question of mood and tone in a future post.

Character voice, on the other hand, has to do with the personality of the character, shining through how they see, understand, and discuss the world.

Think of ten of your friends.  They’re probably a lively, diverse bunch.  Now, think about the greeting you get when you reach their voicemail.  Some of them might use the automated robot response: “The number you are trying to reach is not available”, or some such.  But for your friends with personalized messages, do they all have their own robot response saying, “The number you are trying to reach…”?  No.  Probably not.  In fact, their messages are probably quite a good reflection of your friends’ personalities.  One of my friends has a very standard, serious, no frills message.  One of them has a great message that starts, “Congratulations!  You have failed to reach [friend’s name].”  I smile every time I hear it.  Another one offers the psychologically damaging message: “Hello? [five seconds]  How are you? [five seconds]  Sorry you missed me!  Please leave a message.”  Gee, thanks for making me feel like an idiot.

Okay, that’s great.  So what?  What does that have to do with character voice?  Well, everything.  If we, as writers, give all of our characters dialogue that sounds identical — and identically robotic and bland — then we have failed to give our characters a unique voice.  Voice is the principal way readers can identify a character’s personality.  It’s how, if we’re reading an untagged bit of dialogue, we can identify who is speaking simply by the way it is said.  Consider this example:

Joe glanced up in surprise as Ms. Mary Rhodes entered the coffee shop.  A fleeting sense of panic seized him, nudging him to hide behind his newspaper. He forced himself to be calm.  Mary might be the CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation, while he was just the electrician, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t exchange a polite greeting.  He got up and crossed nervously over to the smartly-dressed woman, who turned to him in surprise.

“Hello.”

“Hello.”

“How are you doing today?”

“I’m all right, thank you.  How are you?”

“Very well.  Are you here for a cappuccino?”

“No, actually I drink espresso.”

“Really!  I never would have imagined that you would be an espresso drinker.”

Okay.  Pop quiz.  Who started the conversation?  Who is the espresso drinker?  Honestly, I don’t even know.  Two computers might be talking to each other for as interesting as that exchange was.  Now, what if the dialogue ran like this?

“Hey…uh, hello!”

“Oh.”  Pause.  “Good morning.”

“Nice day, huh?”

“It was.”

“Guess you’re here for a coffee, huh?  You drink them fancy cappadachinos or what you call them?”

“Actually, no.  I’m a bit of an espresso connoisseur myself.”

“No sh— I mean, never would have guessed that!  Hard core!”

All right.  So basically, we’ve had the same dialogue exchange here, and we still didn’t use any tags to mark the speakers.  But it should be fairly obvious who’s speaking.  We’ve already set up that Mary is the CEO of a highly successful corporation, and Joe is an electrician with low self-confidence. Now, unless we seriously wanted to shatter some reasonable expectations, we know that the nervous speaker who mispronounces the word cappuccino must be Joe, while the snobby, slightly catty speaker who uses words like connoisseur must be Mary.

That, in a nutshell, is what character voice is all about.

The concept becomes more interesting when we start talking about 1st person POV narrative, where character voice begins to usurp the place of author tone.  What 1st person POV does is put the reader directly inside the mind of the narrator, who is a character and not just an outside story-teller.  It’s basically me, as character, relating the world and the events of the plot as I see them, to you the reader.  Everyone has a unique personality (think about those voicemail greetings).  Some people are positive and outgoing.  Some are shy.  Some are gloomy.  The vocabulary and phrasing you use for the narrative must all reflect that personality in 1st POV.

For instance, if I have Joe, the gloomy, broken-down, pessimistic electrician as my narrator, would this bit of description feel authentic?

Continue reading


Dressing the Set(ting)

I happened to catch a fascinating show the other day on the DIY Network – Hollywood Builders.  They were following the construction of the sets for the new Total Recall movie, and I found it riveting (pun intended).  Watching the set electricians wire up the set for futuristic lighting, watching CGI transform a “green screen” backdrop…it’s stunning.  Really stunning.  But I found the segment on set dressing most fascinating.  The set dressers are responsible for making a set look like real by their attention to every conceivable visual detail.  In this case, they were dressing the marketplace set – using everything from swimming goggles to a martini shaker to baskets of some kind of dried fruit.  Will Douglas Quaid (the main character, played by Colin Farrell) interact with these tiny details?  No.  Most of these details simply form a backdrop – something the eye will catch in a glimpse as the characters interact in the foreground.  But, were these details lacking, there would be a hiccup in our suspension of disbelief, jeopardizing our engagement in and enjoyment of the film.

How does the idea of “set dressing” play out in a novel or short story?  It goes without saying that a story with ineffective or insufficient description will be drab and lifeless.  So how do we write successful, incredible, imagination-filling settings without using pages and pages and pages of description?

First, we have to remember that the written word is actually a visual medium, though not in the direct way that film is a visual medium.  The reader has to translate the words on the page into an image in his or her head.  When I say the word “tree”, for example, you form a picture of a tree in your head.  Now, the writer’s job is to try to ensure that this translation is as accurate as possible, so that whatever the writer is transcribing out of his or her own head makes it intact into the reader’s head.  So, to return to my example, if I write “tree” and want to evoke the image of a birch, but you see the word “tree” and imagine an aspen, I haven’t conveyed things precisely enough.  If I want you to imagine a birch tree, I need to write “birch tree”.

This brings us to our second consideration.  The writer also has to follow the principle of economy in description.  If I were to describe the Total Recall marketplace set in the sort of painstaking detail that the set dressers used in creating it, I would lose all of my readers within minutes.  They would be snoring with their noses in the pages (or snotting up the screen of their e-reader of choice).  No one wants to read ten pages of pure description – or even ten paragraphs, for that matter.  As an author, though, I desperately want the reader to see what I see when I imagine a scene, so the temptation to over-describe is intense.  How can I convey a setting in all its rich detail without boring my readers to death?

Choose setting details like you’d choose antiques: keep them few in number, but make each one priceless.  

Consider what you notice first when you walk into a room.  Is it the lighting, the flooring material, the way sound echoes (or doesn’t), what adorns the walls?  Then consider how you could make each of these details count.  Remember, no matter what you’re writing, you are constructing a world.   Be vivid.  Use a few chosen aspects of your setting to illuminate the rest.

So, if you’re going to mention the lighting, be precise: is it an oil lamp, an LED panel, or a torch?  If you’re going to mention that your character has a lot of books, give us a sense of the predominant type: does he have cookbooks, or the complete works of Jane Austen, or mathematics texts? The precision of these details reveals or enhances your setting and your characters.  Choose details that do more than just look pretty – for really power-packed, punchy fiction, make your setting details do some heavy lifting.

To offer an example of the brilliant use of this technique (again from film), consider how Holmes cracks Moriarty’s code in Game of Shadows by observing the contradiction of the dying plants in the window with the prominence of the horticulture book in Moriarty’s office.  These two details and their correlation reveal something about both Holmes and Moriarty and advance the plot, all at the same time.  Not every setting detail is going to be this powerful, but it’s a good reminder of the enormous potential that precise, vivid setting description carries.

So, as you dress your settings, focus on details that can reveal your characters, advance your plot, or capture your world, and then let the reader color in the rest of the picture on his own.


When the Going Gets Tough….

Bother.

It’s hard to write about not following your own advice, isn’t it?

In the last post, I made very true remarks about the importance and necessity of daily writing.  Slogging ahead.  No matter what.  Right?

Well…I got off my routine.  I realized that my July 4 deadline for Lords of Askalon was incompatible with producing a quality product.  Could I get it written?  Yes.  Would it be worth much? Probably not.  Leaving myself no time to work it over, to edit, to mull, to contemplate, to tweak…not good.  I think this really hit me when Brandon Sanderson tweeted that he planned 9 revisions for his new book.  Nine.  And he’s Brandon Sanderson.  And I wasn’t going to give myself time for one?

So there’s the reason for the new release date.  But on to the inevitable, awful consequence of this decision: I stopped writing.  I got caught up in other things.  Meaningful and necessary things, to be sure, but not writing things.  I let myself get caught, too, by the self-criticism monster that paralyzes all it touches.

The horror.

Today, for example, when I opened up my manuscript and got ready to write, I caught sight of the last scene I had written.  I promptly closed the window and wrote a journal entry instead.

One could make the argument that any writing is better than no writing, and I think there’s something to that.  But I don’t particularly have writer’s block…my huge and beautiful butcher-paper outline of this novel is pinned to the wall right beside me.  I know where I need to go, what I need to write.  But that last scene is so…flat.  Ugh.

Having a clear plot outline isn’t the same as having a strong sense of the characters, of their purpose, of the dynamics that guide their interaction.

Before I can come back to the story, I need to establish those things clearly for myself.  And work out nagging details like timeline issues.  For me, simply pushing through won’t do the job.  Will that method get the plot written?  Yes, probably.  But it will be as lifeless and sketchy as the outline on my wall.

So sometimes, when the going gets tough and your narrative feels flat, it pays to take a step back and consider a few things about the deeper structure of your story in general, and the characters inhabiting your world in particular.  Ask yourself:

  • Do you really know your characters?
  • What are their personal conflicts? (A character’s personal conflict is not necessarily the overarching conflict of the book.)
  • What drives your characters in their interactions with other major/minor characters?
  • How do these interactions meaningfully reveal their character arc?
  • How does each character arc intersect with the plot?  What events need to happen for that character to develop?

Once you find the answers to these questions and have a clear sense of each character’s purpose and role, you’ll see the life flowing back into your bloodless plot structure.

So…I’m off to reacquaint myself with my characters.  How will you move your story forward today?


The Daily Grind

I’ve been working diligently on The Lords of Askalon this past week, and I’ve learned something that I suppose I should have learned a long time ago…or perhaps I’d just forgotten it since my frantic dissertation writing days.

There’s just no replacement for honest hard work when it comes to writing.

I’ve called this post “the daily grind” for a couple of reasons:

  1. Sometimes writing is a grind.  It doesn’t come easily.  Every word has to be squeezed out, like giving blood when you’re dehydrated.  But daily is the operative word: it doesn’t matter whether it’s easy or not.  It must be done.  Must.  Daily.
  2. I don’t know about you, but the phrase “daily grind” also conjures up the lovely image, experience, and smell of freshly ground and brewed coffee.  And so take this meaning away as well: the daily grind of writing may be hard, but there’s reward at the end of it.  A completed page…ten pages…a chapter.  A step that much closer to your goal.  And that is a sweet thing indeed.

How can you make your daily grind resemble #2 more than #1?  Here are a few of my favorite tricks to force motivation and enthusiasm when you’re running on writerly fumes.

Assemble an awesome writing mix of music.  I am seriously contemplating putting together a “soundtrack” for The Lords of Askalon – songs that inspire me to work on this story, right now.  Just like every movie has its own score and soundtrack, every novel does too.  Find music that inspires you.  (I’ll have to explore this idea further!)

Set a time of day when writing rules.  For me, this has to be the littles’ afternoon nap time, and my older kids are (thankfully) enthusiastically supportive of my escape to the office – partly because they want me to hurry up and finish the book so they can read it.  No matter when it is, make sure that your backside is in front of the computer at the designated time and write.  Do your best to eliminate distractions (read: social media or that search for writing music) and crank out as much as you can.

Don’t worry about quality control right now (or, don’t listen to your gut).  Unless you’re in the finishing stages of your project and editing is your new daily grind, just write and worry about smoothing things out later.  It can be hard, especially when your gut tells you that this isn’t your best work.  But I’ve found that sometimes my gut does a great job of killing my writing enthusiasm and dragging me down into the maelstrom of self-criticism and self-pity.  Tell your gut to take a hike, and listen to your music instead.

Find a writing buddy and set some goals together.  I am so thankful all the time to have J. Leigh Bralick for my writing buddy – she keeps me on track, and we inspire each other to work harder and write better.  If you don’t have a SisterMuse or writing buddy already, check out Camp NaNoWriMo (the summer version of the official NaNoWriMo in November), which is going on right now.  If that’s not what you need, there are many online boards devoted to writing.  Local writers’ groups are also an option, if you prefer warm bodies and live conversation to messaging and virtual comradeship.  When you putter out, call or message your buddies and let them help you get up and running again.

Bottom line: Writers write. We don’t just talk about writing or whine about writing or dream about writing (though we may do this too).  If you want to be a writer, then write!

(This post is also up on my personal author website – head over to skvalenzuela.com and check it out!)


Inspiration…or Insanity?

First of all, it’s been too long.  Life happens…and this time it pretty much swallowed me up.  Well, at least as far as blogging is concerned.  But here I am again…and glad to be back.

I have written before about diversifying your writing portfolio, and I’ve been in the midst of doing just that over the past few months, working to establish myself as a freelance writer.  (Progress report: one article accepted so far and several more out there…waiting…).  It’s a grueling struggle in some respects: doing this right, just like doing a novel right, takes persistence, patience, and a solid knowledge of the craft and business of writing.  It doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen without a lot of work.

So, with that bit of background out of the way, let me move to my topic for this morning.  In his sonnet, “When I Have Fears”, John Keats beautifully expressed in fourteen lines the fear that must lie in every writer’s heart: that he or she will never be able to write out everything in his or her “teeming brain”.  It’s the “teeming” part that always catches me.  It’s a good word.  It doesn’t presume that all your ideas lie along one trajectory: that, if you write sci-fi/fantasy novels, this is all you think about, or that, if you write historical romance, you don’t dream of freelancing as a food critic.  Teeming is…well, teeming.  Brimming over.  A superabundance.  The difficulty is this: in a culture that specializes in specializing, and where every marketing guru will tell you to make a name for yourself in a particular genre (at least at first), is there a path to success for writers whose teeming brains refuse to be pigeon-holed?

To put it another way, there are two sides to the coin: write what you love and what inspires you, and write what you can sell.  Those two aren’t always compatible, it seems.  So this is the dilemma for all you writerly folk to consider as you build your own careers.  When you are hit with an inspiring idea that seems completely outside your current modus scribendi, do you jump for it?  Or do you dismiss it as practically impossible for platform and identity reasons and therefore toss it in the “insane” bin?

I was hit with an idea this morning, as I’ve been contemplating markets and avenues and audiences, that could certainly qualify as insane for a number of reasons.  But I see a niche, an opportunity, a void to fill, and I am inspired to say, “Why not?  Others have done it…why not I?”  And yet, I hesitate.  Am I losing focus?  I have a novel to write — The Lords of Askalon is still in the works, behind my self-imposed schedule and deadlines.  I’m writing an article under deadline…and am hoping earnestly to have this problem for a long time to come.  I have books to review.  I do not lack for projects…there is plenty to occupy my teeming brain for quite some time.  Writing, I remind myself, is a discipline, and success (which is usually defined by completed projects, not half-baked ideas and half-cooked plots) depends in large part on focused energy.

And yet…

It bears contemplation and reflection.  And perhaps, a few months from now, I’ll have an announcement to make.  But at the moment? I’m off to teach the kids their math lessons, run some errands, hash out the rest of Chapter 10 of The Lords of Askalon, and finish roughing out this article.

What will you do to glean your teeming brain today?


Paying Attention

Well.  I don’t think I need to point out that my last post was for the New Year.  *cough*  Things never do slow down, do they?  Sometimes, just when we hope we’re settling into a nice rhythm, life has a way of raising a maelstrom around us.  I had all manner of good resolutions about keeping current with this blog and everything else.  Hey, I even wanted to have a real website up and running in January.  I haven’t even had a moment to spare for working on that.

At any rate.  That’s not exactly what I wanted to write about today.  I actually wanted to write a little about what goes on inside a writer’s mind, because, somehow, I get the feeling that writers have a tendency to see the world a little bit…differently…than other people.

Artists see the harmony of shapes and colors, the contrast of lights and shadows, the perfect composition of a scene.  Musicians hear the melodies in everything, the poetry in speech and emotion, the movement of harmonies that speaks a language more subtle than words.  (To take a peculiar and crazy fun example of this, go watch a few of Pogo’s musical compositions. I recommend this one – Kadinchey – in particular. This amazing musician has the uncanny ability of hearing the song in everyday speech and sounds. Very cool.)

Anyway. So, artists have their way of seeing the world, and musicians have a way of hearing the world. And writers, well, writers have a way of writing the world. It’s sort of a constant internal process (and it can be kind of annoying when the inner writer doesn’t know when to shut her mouth).  Everything we see and experience, the wheels are turning in our heads — How would you describe this building?  What color is that, exactly?  What kind of physiological feeling am I experiencing, exactly?  

That last one is the one I — in a weird sort of way — enjoy a lot.  Maybe this is disturbing, or maybe it’s neat, I don’t know, but when I’m writing, I’ve actually gotten to the point where I can cause myself to feel most emotions my characters experience.  Of course, emotions come with physiological effects.  Fear makes your skin prickle and your heart race.  Sorrow, longing and regret give a twisting, tugging, sick ache in the heart, while the throat burns and the whole body stings.  Realization of something terrible makes the blood drain away, slow or all at once.

The really, really strong emotions are harder — overwhelming, paralyzing terror, for instance — but the others are relatively simple to conjure up.  Then I can sit there and analyze the physical sensation and say, hm, well, this isn’t exactly a chill but more prickly and creeping…how would you put that into words?  Or — Yes, when you’re scared, everyone knows your heart pounds or hammers.  But how else can you describe that sensation?  What new words can breathe life into old metaphors?

The world is full of things that need writing.  For example, when the sun has set, but before the blue dusk covers the sky, what color is that?  Like in this person’s amazing picture — that color there behind the clouds?  Is it purple, really?  Is it really blue?  To me it feels silver-blue.  When you hear the sound of a strange bird, like this, do you just say it’s a bird call?  Maybe a bird song?  But is that really what you hear?  I heard this the other morning, maybe at 5:30 or so?  There must have been thirty birds calling back and forth with this song.  I listened to it trail away into the distance, and knew it was a goose call.  Canada goose, to be precise.  But how do you describe it?  It’s not your typical goose honk.  There’s a haunting, clarion quality to it, something that evokes the call of horns and bells.

I guess all this is to say that, when you want to write, the first rule of writing visual, visceral narrative is to pay attention to the world around you.  Now, can dramatic descriptions be overdone, dripping with the amethyst grandeur of verbal luminosity?  I.e., can it become purple prose?  Yes.  Absolutely.  Writer Beware.  But sometimes the best way to imbue real depth, feeling, and vividness into your writing is to learn how to overdo it first, and then learn how to apply it tastefully later.

Think of how a pianist, just learning, will play all songs either sforzando or pianissimo.  All transitions will feel abrupt and artificial.  But slowly, they will learn to be subtle, applying just the right dynamic shifts to delight without drawing attention to its skillful use.  This is the goal for writers, too, to become in some way invisible, to let the writing speak as subtly as a breeze.  As you read, you feel, and see, and smell the world of the novel, and your stomach tightens with the hero’s fear, or turns to butterflies with the hint of new love, but you don’t really pay attention to how it happens.  If you go back over and read again with an eye to the actual writing style, maybe then you’ll be struck by the lovely turns of phrase or elegant metaphors.  But they’re not purple.  They don’t beat you over the head with how brilliant they are.  They’re just there, like the world.

Writers — pay attention to the world around you.  Write everything you see and hear and feel, at least in your mind.  Then you can better create new worlds where the reader can live…without even realizing they’ve been transported.


Happy New Year!

Just wanted to wish everyone a happy, fulfilling, and wonderful 2012 from us here at SisterMuses!

We’ve had an incredible year in 2011, and I know I have so much to be thankful for—including all of you!  I truly hope you are all leaving behind one amazing year to step into another even more fantastic than the last.  ^_^

And, of course, the New Year means time to think about all those resolutions and plans we hope to carry out in the months to come.  For me, I know I want to do what my cousin said so well: “Live more, worry less.”  Spend more time with family and friends.  Waste less time.  Learn a new skill, or maybe a new language.

Of course, I’ve got to make some writing resolutions too.  I’m going to finish Prism, Book 3 in the Lost Road Chronicles.  I’d also like to finish Ethereal, my YA fantasy that I started for NaNoWriMo last year.  And making some progress on my fantasy trilogy would be awesome as well.  Maybe even finish the first book.  Might as well be ambitious, right?

Well, I’m off to start work on one of those projects.  Once again, hope you all have a happy, safe, healthy, and amazing New Year!

Do-svidanya, 2011.