Monday, December 1, 2014

Good news and Not so good news.

Okay, first the not so good news. I didn't win Nano. Boo.

Here's proof:

Now on to the GOOD NEWS:

I did get over thirty thousand words written in the next Casey and Nate book! Yay!

Which, by popular demand, will be called COUNTER CLOCKWISE. 

No, I don't know when it will be released, but I'm hoping sometime next year before summer.

Also, more good news.... CLOCKWISE will soon be an audio book! I just hired an incredibly talented narrator and I'm so excited to hear this story come to life. More on this later!

And, if you read your e-books on an android, The Clockwise Series books along with Seaweed are now available on Google Play!

I hope you had a good Thanksgiving Weekend!

Love, Elle

Friday, November 14, 2014

Nano Update and Title Poll

So it's half way through November and I'm right on the half way mark: See the widget in the top left corner.

I admit it's a crazy mess, but there is a cool twisty story developing that I think will work out well. Right now I'm making clay--once I have that, I can go back and sculpt it into something worth reading!

In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts on a new title. Here's a tentative blurb:

Distressed over Nate's trip with his basketball team (and an accompanying flirtatious cheerleader) to Europe, Casey makes a sudden decision to join a class trip to Hollywood, where she meets up with Adeline, the only other teen time traveler she knows. A field trip, a cocky classmate, and a social network induced misunderstanding of epic proportions push Casey and Adeline together and thrust them into the past... but into who's? Trouble seems to follow Casey no matter what era she's in, and this one filled with gansta's and raucous dancing is no different. Casey and Adeline need to find away back to the 21st Century before they end up in jail with the key tossed and in time for Casey to return to Cambridge and beg a certain worried, angry and gorgeous boy for forgiveness. 

There's more to it than that - a twist I hope you don't see coming in the second half and more trouble for Nate and Casey, maybe more than they can bare...

So what do YOU think it should be called?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

NaNo is on and so comes the first pages of a new Clockwise Series book!

Yes, I know, finally.

I'm excited to get back into Casey and Nate's world, but also Adeline and Marco's -- remember them from Like Clockwork? Worlds will collide when Casey and Adeline meet again. You know what's going to happen....they go back in time together... but to when, exactly?

Ha, you'll have to wait and see!

Nate and Casey will have new relationship obstacles to overcome, of course... :)

Okay, here's a hint:

For those of you who don't know what NaNo is, it's short for NaNoWriMo which is short for National Novel Writing Month (link). Every November writers from all over the world commit to writing 50,000 words in one month! 

Once a week I'll give an update on my word count - I hope you'll cheer me on!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Clockwise is Three Years Old! Enter to win your choice of my boxed sets!

Three years ago today I Indie published my first book - CLOCKWISE. Twenty-plus titles later, I'm still going strong and not looking back!

To celebrate I'm giving away one of my e-book boxed sets - WINNER'S CHOICE!

The Clockwise Series, The Perception Series, The Minstrel Series or Love, Tink the Complete Set.

Click on this link to enter!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Writing Tip #24 - World Building

This is the last Writing Tip post I have - at least for now. I hope you've enjoyed reading the tips and have found them helpful.

Before I get to that I want to share a little excitement The Clockwise series had this week. I put the set on a steep sale for four days and this happened : =>

It only lasted for a couple days but it was pretty exciting to see that Best Seller Badge!

Okay, on with the last (to date) Tip:

World Building

From the quiet romance to epic fantasy all stories need a world. Think of fictional world building as a series of inter-locking settings. Most stories take place in more than one spot, but even if your story unfolds on a park bench, you must make your reader feel like they’re sitting there with you.
World building sounds like a large overwhelming task, but it doesn’t need to be. Just begin with your opening scene. Imagine a dart board. The opening scene is the bulls-eye. The second ring is the setting outside of the opening scene and the ring beyond it the setting that expands beyond that.
What you don’t want to do is spend the opening pages describing your world. You want to gradually build your world as the story is told.
The Harry Potter world starts at Number Four Privot Drive. We learn quite a bit about the Dursleys and how they feel about the Potters as the opening scene is established. We see the house the neighborhood, the room under the stairs. This is the bulls-eye. Once Harry is whisked away to wizard school, the world is gradually expanded. Platform 9 ¾ , the train ride, Hogwarts and so on. The world grows as the story grows.
In Perception the opening scene is a beach. While Zoe Vanderveen is secretly planning a surprise party for her brother we see the glass-boxy house on the ocean with the tiered patio and eternity pool. A cool, sparse but expensive home interior, her vast bedroom. Then the gadgets are introduced. The communication ring, the digi wall, inference to robotic domestic help. It’s unfolded little by little as the characters are introduced and the inciting incident is set up.
We find out about the walls and the gates that serves as a cocoon, protecting the clean, efficient, perfect city from whatever lies outside of the wall.
We find out that the citizens of Sol City are free to leave, but can’t reenter without scanning a chip that is embedded in their hand.
Eventually, the world expands to what’s outside the walls. A crowded, smelly city, with electric pod cars, sky trains and people who resent the utopian community in sight but out of reach.
When building your world keep in mind all the senses. What does your character see, smell, touch, what mood does his environment create?

A story might only require a simple world. A whole story could take place on a plane, for instance. Or you might need an extravagant world filled with mythical creatures and exotic locales as in The Lord of the Rings. The key is to build the world in the context of an unfolding story with changing characters moving through the three acts in a 45 degree angle up hill.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bookbub picked up TWO of my Boxed Sets! The Clockwise Series & The Perception Series only 99CENTS for a SHORT TIME!

It's raining deals on boxed sets!

On sale for only .99 until Friday at most e-stores!

A teen time traveller accidentally takes her secret crush back in time.

Only  99 pennies - two days only!


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Book Bargain Bundles for iBook Readers!

I'm in two of them!

I'm very happy to be part of is called TEXT ME - 8 Novels of First Love. This is suitable for a younger YA reader and I'm proud that Like Clockwork is included.

All only .99!

Check out the many Book Bundles on sale HERE.

You can find TEXT ME  by clicking here.

The second bundle I'm in is called Girls on Fire - Ten Powerful YA Heroines Kicking Butt and Fighting for Love!

Link to Girls on Fire here.

I so excited I can share this fantastic book bundle bargain bin with you.

Happy Reading!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Writing Tip #23 - He said, She said--Creating Believable Dialogue

You have two or more characters in a room and they need to talk. How do you make it believable and compelling and not stunted and boring?
It can be tricky. First of all you have to remember that dialogue is there for a reason. It's meant to move the story forward. It's not a place filler.
 Here's a list of dos and don'ts to help you along.
1) use dialogue to reveal character. Instead of saying your character is angry or selfish, show it by what they say and how they say it.
2)use dialogue to catch the reader up on back story. Sometimes it's more interesting that way.
3) use dialogue to create tension. It should never be smooth sailing between your characters. There should always be some underlining tension or foreshadowing of tension in what is said and how it's said.
4) use only the words you really need (see point 1 in the Don't list). Keep dialogue precise and to the point.
1) try to write dialogue the way we actually speak. In real life we use a lot of filler sounds, like "um", "like" and half sentences.  It's okay to use certain slang words sparingly to emphasis a character trait, but the key word here is sparingly.
2) let all your characters speak in the same manner. Especially watch out that they don't all speak like you. :)
3) forget to add action in your scenes of dialogue. People are usually doing something while conversing, even if it's just making an expression with their faces.
4) use fancy dialogue tags like "exclaimed" and "shouted."  This should be obvious in they way they say something. "Said" is the best tag because the eye just skims over it and it doesn't jolt the reader. Also acceptable in moderation are tags like "asked," "replied," "prompted," "stated," and "probed."

Great dialogue reveals great character. How each of your characters speak reveal who they are and hopefully they’re interesting! And unique to the other characters around them.
Here's a scene from Leif Enger's terrific novel, PEACE LIKE A RIVER.  His two main characters, a brother and sister called Ruben and Swede are butchering a goose. Watch how he reveals character and builds tension through their dialogue. Notice that they aren't just talking at each other, but DOING  something at the same time.  Both the talking and the doing reveal character and create tension.
Rueben's POV:
I had, of all things, a lump in my throat. Luckily Swede was standing at my elbow and said, "First thing, you have to cut his head off."
"Well, I know that."
She prodded the goose with her finger; plucked , it looked pimply and regretful.
"Then the wings," she said.
"You want to clean him?"
Swede let it go and stepped over to the ruins of a grain truck that had been parked behind the barn to rot. She shinnied up the big rumplike fender and sat there with the wind tugging her hair. It was a cutting wind; the light was leaking from a mottled yellow sky. Imagine a sick child all jaundiced and dirty about the cheeks--that's how the sky looked. I picked up Davy's knife and tried it against my thumb, then beheaded the snow.
Watching, Swede said, "Forgive me running, Rube?"
"I ran away."
"From the goose? Swede, it wasn't any big deal." I tossed the head into a cardboard box we'd found in the barn and went to work on the wings. They came off a lot harder than the head; I had to saw the knife blade back and forth.
"Come on, forgive me," she insisted.
I nodded, but said nothing. Those wings were gristly fellows.
"Out loud," she said.
She was the most resolute penitent I ever saw. "Swede, I forgive you. Is it all right now?"
She hugged her elbow. "Thanks, Reuben--can I have the feet?"
I whacked them off at a chop apiece and tossed them up to the truck. Swede caught them and scrambled over to the grainbed. My hands were freezing and I dreaded the next part--I ought to've taken Davy's offer to clean the goose. Aiming at a spot under the breastbone, I plunged in.
"Swede," I said--just talking so she'd stay with me--"I don't get what's wrong with Davy."
She didn't answer right away. She sat on the flatbed toying with the goose feet. She took so long to speak I got involved in a tangle of guts and forgot I'd said anything.
Finally she said, "He's mad about Dolly."
"Oh." Davy's girlfriend. "How come?"
She looked at me. "You heard," she said. "Last night, driving over."
We'd gotten a late start, as I mentioned. The football team had been busy getting whomped; it was almost eleven before we got on the road.
"I was sleeping."
"You were faking, I could tell. Just like me."

Here's a short scene from LIKE CLOCKWORK (companion book to Clockwise)
Adeline goes on a drive in 1955 with a guy she's just met.

We pulled into a lookout with a view of the Hollywood valley. A couple of kids in the car next to us were making out. I hoped Howard didn’t have any ideas. I wasn’t ready to let our relationship go that far yet.
Especially since we weren’t in a relationship.
Howard motioned for me to follow him out of the truck. We leaned up against the front bumper watching as the streetlights in the valley below started to pop on.
Howard shoved his fists in his pockets. “How old are you, anyway?”
“Eighteen.” It just slipped out. I couldn’t believe I'd just lied about my age.
“Eighteen,” Howard said, like he was rolling the number around in his mouth. “Are you sure about that?”
It was my ponytail. It made me look too young. “I think I know my own age,” I insisted.
“Well, then, would you like a beer?” Howard stepped over to the side of his truck and reached in to open a cooler.
“Eighteen’s not drinking age,” I said. Besides I hated the taste of beer. I shook my head.
“Who’s gonna tell?” Howard had a can opener on his key chain and used it to remove the cap off the bottle. He took a swig then eyed me with a tilt of his head. “I don’t really like girls who drink beer, anyway. Not very attractive.”

So in summary: dialogue, used together with action, reveals character and backstory, and creates tension compelling the story forward.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Writing Tip #22 - The White Room Syndrome

Have you ever read a story where it's all action and dialogue but you can't quite picture where it's all taking place? This is what I call the White Room Syndrome. It happens when the author fails to give the reader enough setting for the scene. As a rule of thumb I try to always provide at least two or three setting details to anchor the scene.
For instance, many YA books have scenes that take place in a classroom. Because most of us already know what North American classroom is like, it's easy to assume that we don't need to provide setting details because we believe the reader will provide those on her own. This may be true, but it doesn't provide for an engaging reading experience.
Say we have two characters sitting together in a classroom. There's tension, conflict and witty dialogue between them, but beyond their shared desk it's a white out.  A few details added by the pov character will create a sense of dimension.
A poster of the cross section of a man's chest hung on the wall, heart, lungs and liver exposed, the corners curling with aged tape held firm by tacks. Across the room a warm breeze blew in through open windows. Mr. Jones's back faced us as he scribbled on the board, chalk scratching in rhythm.
Now back to action/ dialogue between characters. See how mentioning three things brings the setting alive?
Of course the opposite problem to the white room syndrome is excessive descriptive passages. If I went on and on about every detail in the classroom the reader's eyes would begin to gloss over before he even got to the action/dialogue.
Here's an example from Divergent by Veronica Roth. Her main character has entered a room where she'll be tested to determine what faction she's from.
Mirrors cover the inner walls of the room. I can see my reflection from all angles: the gray fabric obscuring the shape of my back, my long neck, my knobby-knuckled hands, red with a blood blush. The ceiling glows white with light. In the center of the room is a reclined chair, like a dentist, with a machine next to it. It looks like a place where terrible things happen.
"Don't worry," the woman says, " it doesn't  hurt."
Ms Roth even uses this passage to describe a setting as an opportunity for us to see what her main character looks like. You can see that she picked out three things to brighten the setting--the mirrors, the ceiling and the reclined chair.
In Clockwise, Nate and Casey are in the cabin for the first time and Nate's asking questions. Casey pauses to consider her surroundings before answering.
... two cots with a night table between them--a candle and a box of matches the only thing on it--and a larger table under the window with a pitcher and bowl for washing up. A small brick fireplace was built into the corner with a little pile of kindling and a stack of wood against the wall. I lit the candle, then stepped across the room, the wooden floor squeaking under my feet.
Three things are described and elaborated on which erases the white room syndrome: the cots, a larger table, a fireplace. Now when Casey and Nate talk, we can really picture where they are.
Sometimes it just takes one or two details to brighten a setting in order to the ground the reader in the setting and make for a more engaging and enjoyable read.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Tip #21 - Protagonist vs Antagonist

In case you don't know, and some people don't and that's okay, Protagonist is a fancy word for Main Character. Harry Potter is a protagonist. Bella Swan is a protagonist.
I like to call my main character, Protag for short, but it's not a word you'll find in the dictionary or that spell check recognizes. :)
Most books have only one protagonist, but if you're writing a book from more than one point of view, then each pov will have it's own protagonist. Maggie Stiefvater does this in her Shiver series when she alternates chapters between Grace and Sam and later, Cole and Isabelle.
You already probably know that the antagonist is the bad guy. The most obvious antagonist in Harry Potter is Voldemort. 
Often in any given story the protagonist faces more than one antagonist. We see this a lot in comic book stories such as Spiderman. In the first movie Spiderman had to take on the Green Goblin.
But, your antagonist or antagonists are not only other humans or human-like forces. An antagonist is any one or any thing that gets in the way of the protagonists quest or goal.
The antagonist can actually be a situation like a war or bad weather that is the protag's hurdle.
And very often, I'd say almost always, there is something called the Inner Antagonist. The inner antagonist is a belief system that gets in the way of the protag's goal or quest. In Harry Potter one of Harry's inner antagonist's is his belief that he can't be the one chosen to conquer his outer antagonist, Voldemort. He is constantly questioning his call and abilities.
In Twilight, the human antagonist is James, the vampire that hunts Bella. Her inner antagonist is her belief that she is not worthy of Edwards love, and also her growing mixed feelings for Jacob.
In Spiderman, Peter Parker's inner antagonist is his desire to get revenge and his belief that these feelings won't change him for the worse.
When you are plotting out your stories, make sure you understand who your antagonists are, both inner and outer, and how they are going to work towards thwarting your protag's quest or goal. And in the climax, your protag must conquer his outter and inner antagonists.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Tip #20 - I Say, I Said--Choosing Tense

When you decide you’re going to write a novel, soon after you have imagined your characters and mapped out an outline, you’ll have to decide on tense and point of view. We covered point of view in the last chapter, which in a nutshell, is your decision on whether you’ll tell your story from first person perspective or third.
Once you’ve decided on that, you also need to decide on what tense you want to write it in. There are two tenses to choose from Present Tense and Past Tense.
Present tense gives the reader the sense that the action is happening just as the reader reads it. This can give the prose a feeling of immediacy, which can be very effective for thrillers and suspense stories. On the other hand, some readers find it distracting to be told that something is happening “right now”. Present tense can also be difficult to write.
Let’s look at DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth who writes in Present Tense
sit on the stool and my mother stands behind me with the scissors, trimming. The strands fall to the floor in a dull, blond ring.
sneak a look at my reflection when she isn’t paying attention.
If Ms Roth had decided to write her book in Past Tense it would read like this.
sat on the stool and my mother stood behind me with scissors, trimming. The strands fell to the floor in a dull, blond ring.
sneaked a look at my reflection when she wasn’t paying attention.

The reason Present Tense is difficult is because when you are referring to things that happened in the past, you have to use past tense, even while writing in present tense.  
“I sit here writing this post. I drink my coffee. I type. Yesterday I did the same thing. I drank my coffee and typed.  The cat comes in to disturb me again. I love routine.”
See how, even though that paragraph is in present tense, when I referred to the past, I had to switch to past tense, but it’s still present tense prose.
This is it again in past tense.
“I sat there writing my post. I drank my coffee. I typed. Yesterday I had done the same thing. I drank my coffee and typed.  The cat came in to disturb me again today. I loved routine.”

Sometimes a story works best starting in one tense and then switching to another as I do in CLOCKWISE. I use present tense when she talks about her hair and how everyone has to live with something, but switch to past tense when she catches the ball at the school. The rest of the novel remains in past tense.
Be careful that you don’t mix your tenses back and forth. If you’re writing in past tense, don’t all of sudden switch to present and then back to past in the same scene. This is very easy to do, and is something to watch for during your revision process.

Things to watch for:
Present tense:  I say, he says, she says. I do or don’t, she does or doesn’t. I will or won’t, he will or won’t. I am writing, He is writing. I can or can't.
Past tense: I said, he said, she said. I did or didn’t, she did or didn’t. I would or wouldn’t, he would or wouldn’t. I was writing. He was writing. I could or couldn't.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Tip # 19 - Point of View

Your story has to be told by someone. That person is called the point of view character. Some stories are told by more than one point of view, or POV, characters.
Most Young Adult books are told from the First Person POV.  "I went to the store. I called my friend on the phone." It's a close story telling perspective because we are inside the main character's head all the time. We never leave. The advantage to First Person POV is the sense being in the front row of the action. The disadvantage is that you can only reveal information that the main character herself knows, when she knows it.
Clockwise is told in First Person: 
 I was sitting with my best friend, Lucinda, on the sidelines of the football field. As usual, we were watching the yummy football players rather than the scrimmage going on because really, who cared about the actual game? Despite the glare of the setting sun, I saw the brown speck hurtling towards me.
The most common form of story telling is Third Person, either Limited or  Omniscient.  When a story is told in  Third Person POV, the author uses Proper Names and Pronouns. "Kathy went to the store. She called her friend on the phone."
Limited means you stay in the head of one character and tell the story from their perspective. The author tells us the main character's thoughts and actions. Omniscient third is when the narrator (the author) jumps around from head to head when telling the story. We are told everyone's thoughts and actions.
Playing with Matches is told in Third Person Limited.
Emil Radle limped across the sloping field that was brittle and dry from lack of rain and irrigation. He lost his footing twice, falling, grabbing at his leg, his mouth opening in a wide teeth-baring groan. The first time he beat the pain, pulling himself back onto his feet, hunger pushing him on. The second time he gave into the primal urge to scream and cry, until sleep threatened to take him again. The warm sun beat down, heavy, his mind lapsing into a drug-like state.
Somewhere in his subconscious, he knew he couldn't stay here; if he did he would die. He pulled himself up again, shaky and quivering.

Second Person Pov is story telling with the use of  the pronoun "You" where the narrator is speaking directly to the reader and is rarely used in fiction."You went to the store. You called your friend on the phone."
Here's the rule of thumb: only tell one point of view at a time and (please) don't jump around from head to head in the same scene. If you have more than one point of view character, separate their narratives with new chapters or at least new scenes with a space dividing them.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Tip #18 - Super (8) Dialogue

Great dialogue reveals great character. How each of your characters’ speak reveal who they are and hopefully they’re interesting! And unique to the other characters around them.
Movies are an excellent media for show casing good dialogue.
The movie Super 8 has superb dialogue, especially between the kids. It’s realistic and revealing. Here is a scene at the beginning of the movie at a wake. A short conversation between two adults looking out of the window at a young teen boy on a swing in the snow tells us it’s the boy’s mother who died.  His friends are gathered around the food table.
Kid #1  What do you think was in the coffin?
Kid#2  Geeze, shut up.
Kid#1 I’m just saying because of how she died. You guys weren’t wondering that?
Kid #2 No, I’m eating macaroni salad.
Kid # 3 I was wondering about that too. I heard it crushed her completely.
Kid #2 Steel beam? Those things weigh a ton. Literally.
Kid#4 I don’t know how you guys can eat.
Kid #3 Try a turkey roll and you’ll discover how
(a man with a dog enters the scene asking  for Joe, the boys stare)
Kid#3 I bet Joe’s not going to want to do my movie anymore.
Kid #1 Why?
Kid#3 Why do you think why, the story. It’s about the living dead.
Kid #2 His mother’s not a zombie.
Kid #3 But she’s dead sh*t head.
Kid #1 Those turkey rolls are pretty good.
Kid #3 Told you.
 This is just a scene of a group of boys talking, but what they say and how they say it tells us so much about what kind of kids they are and what has brought them to this point. You already want to spend the next couple hours hanging out with them.

True Grit, True Brilliance in Dialogue
Another great movie with terrific dialogue is True Grit a movie based on the novel by Charles Portis.
Here are two scenes that happen early on. Mattie's character alone is enough to keep you reading, uh-hum, watching even though she hasn't even started on her quest yet.
In this scene Mattie looking for Marshal Rooster Cockburn. (How great is that name?) She knocks on outhouse door. We never even see Cockburn's face.
R:  (Low, rough, smoker's voice).The place is occupied.
M: I know it is occupied, like I said I have business with you.
R: I have prior business.
M: You’ve been at it for quite some time.
R: (angry) There’s no clock on my business! (bangs on the door). The hell with you. How did you stalk me here?
M: The Sheriff told me to look in the saloon. In the saloon they referred me here. We must talk.
R: Women ain’t allowed in the saloon.
M: Wasn’t there as a customer. I’m fourteen years old.
R: (silence) Well, the place is occupied. Will be for some time.
You have to love Mattie's tenacity. It's obvious that these two characters are extreme opposites, full of conflict. We want to see more scenes with them together. 
This is a scene not too long afterwards. Mattie negotiates with the clerk her father bought ponies from. I didn't catch his name, but he's an older, white haired business man who's round in the belly. This conversation moves very quickly: the clerk starts off with a patronizing tone, soon to realize he's met his match in a young girl. 
M: I’m Mattie Ross. Daughter of Frank Ross
C:  Oh. Tragic thing. May I say your father impressed me with his manly qualities, he was a close trader but he acted the gentlemen.
M: I propose to sell the ponies back to you, that my father bought.
C: Now that  here is out of the question, will  see to it that they’re shipped to you at my earliest convenience.
M: We don’t want the ponies, we don’t need them
C: That hardly concerns me, your father bought them and paid for them and that there is the end of it . I have the bill of sale.
M: And I want three hundred dollars for the saddle horse that was stolen from your stables.
C: You have to take that up with the man who stole the horse.
M: Tom Chaney stole the horse while it was in your care. You are responsible.
C:I admire your sand, but I believe you will find that I’m not liable for such claims.
M:You were the custodian. If you were a bank that was robbed, you couldn’t simply just tell the depositors to go hang.
C: I do not entertain hypotheticals. The world as it is is vexing enough. Secondly, your evaluation of the horse is high by about two hundred dollars. How old are you?
M: If anything my price is low.  Judy is a fine mare, I’ve seen her jump a fence with a heavy rider. I’m fourteen.
C:That’s all very interesting. The ponies are yours, take them. Your father's horse was stolen by a  murderous  criminal. I had provided reasonable protection for the creature as per our implicit agreement. My watchmen had his teeth knocked out and can take only soup.
M: I’ll take it to law.
C: You have no case.
M: Lawyer Dacket (from?) might think otherwise, as might a jury. Petitioned by a widow and three small children.
C: I will pay two hundred dollars to your father’s estate when I have in my hand a letter from your lawyer absolving me of all liability from the beginning of the world to date.
M: I will take two hundred dollars for Judy, plus one hundred dollars for the ponies and twenty-five dollars for the grey horse that Tom Chaney left. He was easily worth forty. That’s three hundred and twenty-five...
C: the ponies have no part in this, I will not buy them.
M: And the price for Judy is three hundred and twenty-five dollars.
C: Ha, I would not pay three hundred and twenty-five dollars for a winged Pegasus. And as for the grey horse, it does not belong to you.
M: The grey horse was lent to Tom Chaney by my father. Chaney only had the use of him.
C: I will pay two hundred and twenty-five dollars and keep the grey horse. I won’t take the ponies.
M: (she stands) I can’t accept that. If there is no settlement after I leave this office it will go to law.
C: All right, this is my last offer. Two hundred fifty dollars I get the release previously discussed, and I keep your father’s saddle. The grey horse is not yours to sell.
M:  The saddle is not for sale. I will keep it. Lawyer D will prove my ownership of the grey horse and he will come after you with a writ of  (? didn't catch the word)
C: A what?
M: A writ of rec....
C: (exasperated) Oh, alright, now listen very carefully as I will not bargain further. I will take the ponies back and the grey horse, which is mine, and settle, (pause) for three hundred dollars. And you can take that or leave it and I do not much care which way it is.
M: Well, lawyer Dacket would not wish me to settle for anything under three hundred twenty-five dollars, but I will settle for three twenty, if I get the twenty in advance, and  here’s what I have to say about that saddle.

End of scene. 
Isn't that fabulous? You just want to stand and cheer for the girl. Did you notice how much we learned about her character, just in the way she spoke with a man who could very well have intimidated her? These strong scenes make her situation, a 14 year old girl traveling with one sometimes two US Marshals to find her father's killer and bring him to justice is suddenly believable. 
Dialogue has to sound natural, and be believable. Less is often more. Do you have a favorite movie or book that has dialogue that inspires you?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Writing Tip #17 - Back Story, Flashbacks and Foreshadowing

Back story is the story that happened before your story starts. As the writer, it’s good to know the history of your characters--what brought them to the place they are now, and how those events have shaped them as characters.
But what you don’t want to do is give the reader all that information up front. This is an error that many beginning writers make. There’s a belief that if you don’t tell me everything about the character and what led up to “where they are now at the beginning of the story”, that somehow I, the reader, won’t “get it.”
A story that is front loaded with back story is boring. If you need the back story to be part of the story, then start your story at the beginning of the “back story.”
Think of back story like salt. You shake a bit on your story as you go along to add flavor. Too much in any given spot ruins the taste.
Let’s look at CLOCKWISE. I start the story when Casey is fifteen, watching a football practice at the school. Every thing before that is back story. How would the opening have worked if I’d spent the first chapter explaining when she started time traveling and how often it happens, and that she accidentally took her best friend back once, all before she jumped and caught the ball? Snoozeville. It’s all interesting information that needs to be told, but sprinkled throughout the story.
Or with TWILIGHT, Edward could’ve sat Bella down and explained the whole history of his life and the vampire clan in the first chapter, just so she’d really understand what she was getting into, but that would’ve made for a dull story.
Likewise with HARRY POTTER. If JK Rowling had started the first book with Voldemort killing his parents and leaving the scar on his forehead as a baby, that would’ve probably been interesting to read, but then we’d have ten years of his life to go through before being called to Hogwarts, and that wouldn’t have been so interesting.
Flashbacks should be avoided. Stories are interesting because they are happening to the character as we read it. Reading about something that has already happened, not so much. It takes a lot of skill as a writer to sustain tension and suspense while writing about something that has already happened (and obviously the character having the flashback is okay.)
Foreshadowing is an important writing tool. You’ve probably heard it said that if a gun shows up in chapter three, it better go off sometime before the end of the book. Likewise, if you want the reader to believe that your character would do something courageous at the climax of the book, you need to show him being courageous in the beginning. In my book PLAYING WITH MATCHES, I wanted one unlikely character to do something heroic that would cost him his life. He wasn’t the hero type but I knew I needed show him facing a fear, so I had him accomplish a scary test of bravery he had to perform for his Hitler Youth group.
In TWILIGHT, we hear about the bear attacks at the sport shop (Mike’s, I believe), before we know for sure it wasn’t the bears.
Foreshadowing is important to help the reader suspend disbelief when the twist happens.
Any questions about the above points? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Writing Tip#16 - Chapters & Scenes

If you’ve ever read a book you’ll know that a novel is a series of scenes strung together to make the whole. These scenes are often grouped together to make chapters. So how does a writer know how many scenes to include in any given chapter? How long should a chapter be? What should be in it? If you’re like me, you kind of just go by your gut. I think the chapter should end here. Or here. Or maybe here.  But maybe I should add some more—is it long enough? Or maybe it’s too long? Or????
I had an epiphany a while ago on how to write a chapter. I’m not saying it’s an original idea, just that it was the first time I’d thought about it. It came while reading The Art & Craft of the Short Story by Rick DeMarinis, while simultaneously reading The Atonement by Ian McEwan.
Here’s the epiphany: Chapters are short stories.
A short story is a fictional telling that runs between 500 and 2500 words.  It has a beginning a middle and an end. The beginning, as Rick DeMarinis teaches, drops the reader into a situation that has a history. A chapter has a history (unless it’s the first chapter). The history lies in all the chapters previous, and also in things the writer knows about the back story of the character and situation. And according to DeMarinis, the ending has to illuminate all that has gone on before.
I couldn’t really encapsulate what he had to say about the middle but I’ll say that the middle is comprised of well crafted tension, conflict and detail that propels the reader to the ending.
As mentioned, I happened to be reading The Atonement at the same time, and it occurred to me that McEwan’s chapters are exceptionally well written short stories. When strung together they made a bestselling novel. I took this approach to chapter writing while working on my latest wip. With each new chapter I’d think about the character involved and what was to happen. Like any good short story it must have a creative, intriguing opening line. The middle must be rich with detail and build tension. It can’t have a limp ending.
The beginning of a chapter must hook and the middle go “up hill.” The difference in a chapter ending and a short story ending (or novel ending, unless you want a cliff-hanger), is that you want to stop at the top of the hill, at the height of the tension, if you want to the reader to turn the page and start reading the next chapter.
One chapter ends and the next begins at the top of the bell curve.

I came across this graph from the crafty writer, who drew this to illustrate how to write short stories. I think it works to illustrate how to write chapters as well. 

She describes short stories as a slice of life that when strung together make the whole life story, or in our case, the whole novel.
Of course there will be some story styles when short, more dramatic chapters work, but this is a good principle to keep in mind when crafting scenes and chapters.

How about you? Do you have your own approach to chapter writing?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Writing Tip #15 - It's All in the Details

Details make the difference. When I make a second, third, fourth, etc pass on my ms, I'm always on the look out on how I can add details to add dimension. Details are what help to keep our characters and settings from appearing flat and two dimensional.

To demonstrate I'll use THE CAY as an example, re-writing the first two paragraphs here, first without the details, and then again with the details the author, Theodore Taylor, provided.

Like sharks that swim in the sea, the German submarines arrived at night.

I was asleep in our house in Willemstad, on the island of Curacao, the largest of the Dutch island just off the coast of Venezuela. I remember that, in February 1942, they attacked the Lago oil refinery on Aruba, the island west of us. Then they blew up our lake tankers, the ones that still bring crude oil from Lake Maracaibo to the refinery, Curacaoshe Petroleum Maatschappij, to be made into gasoline, kerosene, and  diesel oil.  One sub was even sighted off Willemstad at dawn.

You get the picture--you can envision this, right? The scene is set accurately. But the author wasn't satisfied with just accuracy. He wanted to paint a picture. He wanted to add depth. So he wrote this:

Like silent, hungry sharks that swim in the darkness of the sea, the German submarines arrived at  in the middle of the night.

I was asleep on the second floor of our narrow, gabled green in our house in Willemstad, on the island of Curacao, the largest of the Dutch island just off the coast of Venezuela. I remember that on that moonless night  in February 1942, they attacked the big Lago oil refinery on Aruba, the island west of us. Then they blew up our small lake tankers, the ones that still bring crude oil from Lake Maracaibo to the refinery, Curacaoshe Petroleum Maatschappij, to be made into gasoline, kerosene, and  diesel oil.  One sub was even sighted off Willemstad at dawn.

 This version as found in the book tells us all the same things the first version did, but the details added entice the reader, helping him or her to really see it and want to read on.

Here is a scene from THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX with the details removed.

I wonder how Lily knows a priest in a mission so far from Boston. We reach the end of the cemetery and come to the wall of the church that borders it. Lily pulls open a wooden door, and  we slip inside. My eyes adjust and I see a domed ceiling and then a crucified figure. Christ. Yes, Christ. I remember. 

Now as the author, Mary E Pearson, wrote it:

I wonder how Lily knows a priest in an ancient mission so far from Boston. We reach the end of the cemetery and come to the great wall of the church that borders it. Lily pulls open yet another large wooden door, and this time we slip inside into cool blackness and the sweet smell of burning candles, mustiness and age. My eyes adjust and I see a domed painted ceiling and then a guilded crucified figure. Christ. Yes, Christ. I remember. 

Ms Pearson's use of detail in this passage not only permits us to fully see/smell/taste the setting, it enlists our emotions--we feel Jenna's emotional process of remembering.

Please note that I'm not saying you should just add a bunch of adjectives and adverbs to your text, though some of those may be useful. The point is to create depth and emotion by adding worthy details--details that enhance the writing, not bog it down.

Stay tuned for next week's post on Chapter and Scenes.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Writing Tip #14 - Characters Who Have, uh, Character

Why do we sometimes say that a person we know is "quite a character"? You know the type I'm talking about. This person is distinctive, amusing, mystical, humorous, larger than life,etc. In a word Interesting.

Characters in a book can't be run of the mill. They need to be interesting, so that your readers will want to hang out with them for the course of the book.  No one wants to be exiled to yawnsville when they start reading.

So, how do you make your characters interesting? It's all in the details.

For instance, I wrote a Middle Grade that was based on a story I'd written when I first started writing.  The MC is forced to visit his grandfather who lives in a small town. This is the scene where he meets up with a couple kids down the street. The original reads like this:
  "Hi Tim. It's me Nathan." He didn't say anything.  "I'm here for the summer."
Tim kept silent, narrowed his eyes and glared at me. He finally said, "Nice hair-do" in that sarcastic way where you know he doesn't mean it. What's wrong with my hair? I wondered. My hand instantly went to my head. I had just been to the barber. Then I noticed that Tim hadn't had a haircut in a while. At least not a good one.  
  "Where's Mikki?" I said. Tim stood up. I noted he was tall for eleven, about the same height as me. Then he just walked away. I was flustered at this cool reception and started kicking small rocks in the street, trying to figure out what to do next. Just as I was about to leave, Mikki walked around the corner with two little girls following behind her. 
What's wrong with it?  Well, besides being boring.....oh, that's enough, it's boring!  Who'd want to hang with these people for a whole book?
This is the current version, from IT'S A LITTLE HAYWIRE. You'll notice name changes, a change in the MC's voice and perspective, as well as in the secondary characters. Notice also, the details sprinkled in. 
        I can't breathe. I rest my hands on my knees, feeling stupid. Why didn’t I stop to catch my breath before I rounded the corner looking like a feeble dweeb?        
       Mikki and Mason don’t say a word, just stare at me, eyes narrow and searching.      
       "Hi Mikki. Hi Mason,” I say once I can inhale and exhale again like a normal human being.    
        “Well, if it ain’t Owen True.” Mikki's voice is stretched and thin, like she’s forcing herself to be friendly.       
      Mason's lips turn up in a smirk. “Nice hair-do.”  My hand automatically brushes across the top of my head. My Mom made me get my hair buzzed for the wedding. Mason snorts then gets up and goes inside. Two little girls come out at the same time, skipping down the steps.   
          “Oh crickets,” Mikki says. “Opal and Ruby, you two need to clean up this mess. What do you think this is? A pig pen?” I’m glad she hadn’t asked me. I'd be forced to lie.
            Mikki stands up as if to supervise. She props her hands on her waist and her pointy elbows stick out on either side. The triangular spaces remind me of space shuttle wings. I bet she’d like to just fly off if she could. Get outta Haywire. I feel a little sorry for her then.  Even though I’m stuck here for the whole of August, at least I get to leave when it’s over.
I'm hoping this example explains what I'm trying to say, better than my trying to describe the difference. To form interesting characters you need character arc, felt need, distinctive character voice and details.  How about you? Do you have anything to add? What do you do to give your characters character?
We'll talk more about the need for details in the next post.