Craft: When your laptop blows up

My net-book and my laptop have both gone kaput in the last two weeks. The net-book found out it couldn’t swim when the 3yr old twin tipped an entire cup of water on it, and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in sorrow at my house (the teens had confiscated it from me and were using it to look at Zac Efron).  The laptop has been on its last legs for over 6 months now and the other 3yr old twin accidentally pushed it off my bedside table.

So my two computers are now going to visit Oscar the Grouch. Unfortunately for me I found out that my insurance does not cover electrical accidental damage. So not very happy in our house right now. And I’ve been relegated to writing by pen/pencil and paper.

The family computer is fought over constantly, so rather than throwing my weight into the ring I’ve tried the alternative and grabbed a pen and paper. I’ve complained to hubby that my fingers are sore, and he suggested it’s because I’m using different muscle groups in my fingers now. I can type 80+ words a minute on a computer but with the pen and paper it’s much, much slower/lower word count.

But the good thing is I think before I write now, instead of just letting anything come out, I’ll pause and put down the better sentence, after I’ve thought/ pondered on the text I’m trying to share. I don’t know how long this will last, I think come tax return time there’ll be the sound of brand new keyboard typing happening.

What tips do you have for pens/paper writing? Does anyone have a favourite pen they can recommend. I’ve be left with the old bic pens my kids no longer need for school, but I’d like to know if there any pens other writers recommend.


Craft: Reading Aloud

I’ve come across several blog posts lately that encourage writers to print out their mss and read the story aloud to spot hiccups or problems. Being conscious of dwindling tree populations I’ve resisted this message until now, relying instead on allowing Microsoft Mike to read my mss out to me while I fix problems on the file itself. I thought I was doing a good job at it. Um, can I admit I was wrong?

Yep, it seems Microsoft Mike and Mary and Sam, just don’t cut it when it comes to reading your own work out loud. They can’t get the nuances right, nor do they have one ounce of enthusiasm or acting ability. So reading your own work out loud will catch more mistakes than they ever will.

Sorry this is a short post, I’m way behind in my writing goals and must concentrate on killing a few characters in the next chapter (always makes me feel better).

Craft: Secondary Characters

For most of us, secondary characters in our story are there to support the hero/heroine in their journey/quest for fulfillment. Many times they just pop up unexpectedly in the story. But how much effort do we need to put into these characters without them taking over the storyline itself?

Literary agent Nathan Bransford said this in his blog :

“Every single character you introduce, major or minor, should also have their own plot arc(s) with defined goals and motivations. The more important the character the longer and more complex the plot arc(s.)” He goes on to say, “This is often where writers miss opportunities: every character, big or small, has to show motivation, agency, and desire. They have to have their own plot arcs. And it’s important that the arcs have a beginning, middle, and end.”

My favourite secondary characters include: Dr Watson; Silk from David Eddings “Belgariad” series; Lula from the “Stephanie Plum” series by Janet Evanovich.

What is it about these ones that keep me interested? With Watson it’s the underlying loyalty to Holmes, even though he’s probably a lot smarter than Holmes, his loyalty keeps him going.

With Silk it’s his sense of humour and the mystery of being a spy. And with Lula, well, Lula is a character unto herself, she really does need a book just her own. Her flamboyant ways help her say and do things that the main character never could. She lets the steam off the pressure cooker at just the right moments, but never to the point that she takes over and dominates.

Who are your favourite secondary characters? What it is about them that helps them stick in your mind? What about the story you’re writing now, are the supporting cast fully fleshed out? Do they dominate or support your heroine in her role?

Craft: 50K in 30 days.

Okay we’ve got a week people, one week until the official launch of 2010’s 50k in 30 days writing frenzy. And yes the panic has set in at our house. How on earth am I going to get all this done in such a short amount of time?

Well to help out I thought I’d go through a few plotting devices you might like to try.

The first up is Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet. It’s used mainly for screenwriting, but it works well when you’re setting up a romance story. Kind of helps you sort out the direction of your story and where major points will occur. Blake’s book “Save the Cat” is a must have for any writer, he breaks down popular movies for writers to understand the steps involved in story making.

Here’s a sample:

Opening Image  – The first impression of a movie – its tone, mood, and scope.
Theme Stated – Thematic premise.
Set-Up  – Introduce the heroine, the stakes, and the goal.
Catalyst  – A life changing event for the heroine.
Debate  – The heroine must decide how to proceed in life
Break Into Two  – Entering the new world of Act Two.
B Story  – Second plot that gives a breather to the main story.
Fun and Game  – Having fun in the new world.
Midpoint – Stakes raised with a false victory or false collapse.
Bad Guys Close In – Villains/conflict issue regroups against the heroine.
All Is Lost – Opposite of the Midpoint that signifies transition from heroine’s old ways.
Dark Night of the Soul  – Worse moment for the heroine.
Break Into Three  – Main Story & B Story converge for heroine to find a solution.
Finale- Heroine triumphs over villains/conflict to create the life she wanted.
Final Image  – Opposite from Opening Image to show a change occurred.

Another good device is to go through the Snowflake Process by Randy Ingermasson. I’ve heard numerous RWA members rave about this method but have yet to try it. He starts with an opening premise/tagline/logline and then expands upon it, then expands again. I might have to try it.

The best solution I’ve found so far in completing 50k in 30 days is to know your characters. When I don’t I get blocked, I’ll be writing great guns and then whammo, nothing. My characters refuse to talk to me, no amount of literary dynamite will push them out of the slump. It’s then that I realise I don’t know my characters that well and they know it. I’ve tried to make one react a way that really isn’t them. They’re actually doing me a favour by not talking. I would imagine a reader would throw my story against the wall if the heroine acted totally out of character. So work out who you’re writing about and make sure you have a good understanding of their motivations. Motivation is everything. You can chuck your heroine into a pit of roiling fire ants if you really wanted to and she’d work out a way to get out of there.

Congrats to those who have signed up. It’s a great way to get that book finished, or start a new one. 50,000 words seems like a daunting task, but the girls/guys here at RWA have nightly word sprints to help those of us who, um, procrastinate the daily word count (not pointing fingers at anyone)…

50k in 30 days, try it, you’ll be hooked.

Craft: Publishing Jargon – what does that mean?

The publishing industry can be a bit tricky when you first start writing, what do all the terms mean, who does what? and so forth. To help answer a few of these questions I’ve put together a small list of jargon that’s used everyday. Please feel free in the comments to add other terms that are sometimes confusing to newbies.

  • Acquiring or acquisitions editor–The editor involved in signing authors to write books. The acquisitions editor generally manages the manuscript as it comes into the publishing house and then passes it on to a development editor.
  • Advance–Money paid by a publisher to an author or illustrator before the book goes on the market, in anticipation of sales. The advance is charged against royalties and must “earn out” before any royalties are paid.
  • ARC (Advanced Reading Copy): A sample publication produced with author/customer submitted material.  Usually in an alternate binding with words Advanced Reader Copy on the front. Sent to reviewers to spread the word of forthcoming titles.
  • Backlist – titles that are being published for the second time or more.
  • Buying calendar – the points in the year where retailers decide what to buy from publishers.
  • Controlled circulation – Free distribution within a certain area or demographic group.
  • Copy editing – Finding and eliminating grammatical, spelling or similar errors, and checking for style conformity.
  • DRM – digital rights management – who owns the rights to your ebooks.
  • Flat fee–A payment made as the only compensation; the opposite of an advance against royalties.
  • Galleys–Long pages of typeset text, not yet broken out into book pages, not much used today due to computerized typesetting and page layout.
  • Midlist–Books with reliable but not outstanding sales–the ones in the middle of the list.
  • Nameplate – The area, usually on the first page, that prominently displays the name of a publication, usually in a stylized form such as a graphic trademark or logo.
  • Niche publisher–A publisher who specializes in a subject of interest to a small group of people and sells its books nationally, but only in specialized outlets.
  • Option clause–An item in a contract granting a publisher the right to consider an author’s next work.
  • Page proof – Reproduction proof of a single page of your manuscript.
  • Query letter–A letter you send to a publisher or agent to ask, or query, if they are interested in seeing your manuscript.
  • Remainders–Surplus books sold at a steep discount.
  • Royalty–Money paid to an author by a publisher on the basis of books sold. It may be a percentage of the list price, the price for which the book supposedly will be sold to a consumer; or of the net price, which is what the publisher actually receives (often 40 percent to 50 percent less than the net price).
  • Simultaneous submission–Sending the same manuscript to more than one publisher at the same time.
  • Tagline (or Logline): A short teaser phrase, sentence, or sentences used to promote a book, eg. “Pretty Woman by Candlelight”.
  • Target market: The audience a project is meant to attract.
  • Vanity press–A company the author pays to publish a book, rather than the other way around.

Here are some other websites that offer a more comprehensive list for your perusal:

Craft: Be Concise

So this week I’ve been editing a manuscript I had shoved away for a few months. It’s good to have fresh eyes when looking at the story. I can now see things that need fixing that before I would have just skimmed over.

One thing I have noticed is the need to be concise in my sentences. I tend to waffle on a fair bit. In fact I have found run on sentences that take up nearly a paragraph in some of my earlier writing (I have an aversion to full stops).

I’ve eliminated a lot of waffle, and have found that rather than wrecking the scene I’ve actually made it stronger (who would have figured?).

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.  — William Strunk Jr. in Elements of Style

Oh no, if Mr Strunk were here today and had a look at my latest WIP he’d be very upset in deed, I’ve had all sorts of extra bits I didn’t need. Sort of like a sewing machine with gun turrets, no need for them I just like the fire power.

Omitting needless words is a major effort for me at the moment. I like long, flowery prose, but my scene doesn’t need them. Instead it needs the pace sped up, and my long winded sentences are getting a right royal kicking.

Here’s an example:

Loni had a vague suspicion, but didn’t know for sure that Bert liked her more than a friend.

And the cut example:

Loni assumed Bert loved her.

Can you make your sentences more precise? Do you suffer from wordy-itis? Too many words all trying to convey the same thing? Do you tend to repeat yourself often in a paragraph or page?

I do. I admit, I suffer wordy-itis terribly. But I am making progress. Today I cut out 43 “oh”s. They were tacked here and there in dialogue, and really served no purpose other than to up the word count  I guess. I also had about 20 “Well”s that weren’t supporting anything important. I took a deep breath and got rid of them. The dialogue runs smoother since I did it.

I still have a long way to go. But if I stick to my goal of keeping it concise then little by little I’ll improve.

Craft: Entering Contests

So you’ve written and polished and scrubbed your mss to the Nth degree, now what?

Send it out to agents?But what if it’s not ready? What if they don’t like it and I could have improved it even more?

Manuscript appraisal?I don’t have the money right now, besides there are soo many types of appraisal how do I choose?

I know of a way that you can get a fairly decent appraisal of the first 25+ pages for about $30, and you get three different opinions of your story. You also get a chance to get your mss in front of the agent of your dreams. Are you interested?

But I must warn you, you need a tough hide to deal with some comments. Even the most gifted writers have had some negative feedback at some stage of their career. If you can cope with criticism from complete strangers, you should enter.

But which ones? Which contests offer the best chance at improving your craft and a shot at an agent/publishing deal? Well it depends on what you’re writing. Category/Single Title have fantastic competitions around the world you can enter that will put your novel in front of some of the leading agents/editors.

Charlotte Dillon has compiled a great list of writing articles relating to Romance Writing Competitions, and she has a list of most RWA competitions deadlines etc. I recommend scrolling through her page to get a good looksy at things.

For writers of Young Adult stories there are fantastic opportunities to not only enter but judge contests throughout Australia and beyond. A great contest to enter is the CYA (Children’s and Young Adult Authors contest) coordinated by our own Tina Clark.

Trish Morey has a great post about entering contests and judging them. I would like to just copy and paste her words actually. Please drop by and have a read, her argument for becoming a judge of writing contests is well thought out and convincing.

Don’t forget our own contests at RWA Australia.

So why not enter? I’ve found some of the best AHA moments (not to be confused with the Norwegian 80s band) have come from critiques I’ve received from contests both here and overseas.  And you never know, you could just win.

Which contest have you found gave the best feedback? Which do you think is worthwhile entering?

Craft: Research Websites

I’ve been trawling through the interweb and found some great resources that could come in handy some day soon. I thought I’d share them with you.

First off: The Gun Zone – a US site that lists a whole lot of info on guns and ammunition. What type of guns different enforcement agencies use, what their specifications are, etc etc. Just right for someone writing a Suspense or Thriller.

Wilderness Survival – another good site which has links to different spots around the web with information from how to light a fire to packing your backpack.

Australian War Memorial – has good information on historical events and equipment used during war times.

Medieval Warfare – a solid site which leads you to information on what type of weapons were used, how they used them, the background to different skirmishes, etc.

As I said, just a few little sites to peruse for information. Hope this helps.

Craft: I want to be an Airborn Ranger

Okay so I’ve been reading a lot of books lately that include military themes, and weapons, great big assault weapons.  *cheesy grin*

photo courtesy of

I have to confess that I’ve never ever fired a gun, I’ve held one – a .22 rifle, but never pulled the trigger. So why all of a sudden am I in this mood for books with guns and war tactics? It started with Barry Eisler’s RainFall series, I loved the idea of an assassin with a conscience, this then led me on to Mark Abernathy and a few other Aussie authors who write about SAS type situations. And then of course I had to check out Youtube for any videos on the SAS (Special Forces). Which led me to find a short Scottish bloke who could kill you with a toothpick at twenty paces (or thereabouts) – Eddie Stone.

I am fascinated by the SASR and the British SAS guys and their ‘double-tap’ shots.

Eddie Stone has done a couple of series using British SAS techniques and situations to explain what it’s like in the Special Forces, called – SAS: Are You Tough Enough. In series 2 a woman won – girl power!

And then I came across the video of the Australian Tactical Assault Group (East) – a SASR operation, which I found out on the weekend is the unit that The Biggest Loser’s Commando (Steve Willis) was a founding member of. Now I’m putting these videos up not for gratutious drooling, but for research purposes. Trust me.

Ahh, has that wetted your appetite? What is it about a man in uniform and a honking big gun that sends women barmy?The fact that they are super fit could have something to do with it, and know how to keep their cool in dangerous situations. Maybe it is that danger element that makes books featuring these heroes sell like hotcakes.

Now I don’t know much about weaponry, in fact I’m pretty clueless, but the abseiling out of a helicopter? Hello! That sounds like fun to me.

Oh and I can’t miss out on plonking former British SAS soldier Bear Grylls into this  post. His Man vs Wild tv series is a hoot, the guy shows you how to survive in the strangest of places, and how to eat almost anything (yeesh – don’t watch if you’re squeamish).

Suzanne Brockman has a great Navy Seals series and Alison Kent has a very hot and heavy SG5 series as well if you’re interested in military romance books. I can’t seem to find any romance books featuring our Aussie blokes, if anyone knows any please let me know.

Sorry girls, I have to go research a bit more. It’s a sacrifice, but I’m willing to give it a go.

Craft: Heroes Journey vs Three Acts

Erica Hayes brought up a really good issue last week: organising your plotting is great but you need to know how to plot first.

So this post is dedicated to giving a short overview of two types of plotting techniques: Heroes Journey and Three Acts.

Let’s start with my favourite fantasy plot: The Hero/Heroines Journey.

It can be broken down into relatively easy steps (now remember these are just building blocks, and there are a million variations on all of these).

Joseph Campbell in his book “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” explained the basic premise of the heroes journey. I highly recommend this book, but even better is Christopher Volger’s “The Writer’s Journey” where Campbell’s archetypes are expanded upon.  Here’s a short summary of the Heroes Journey for you.

  • Heroes are introduced in the ORDINARY WORLD, where
  • they receive the CALL TO ADVENTURE.
  • They are RELUCTANT at first or REFUSE THE CALL, but
  • are encouraged by a MENTOR to
  • CROSS THE FIRST THRESHOLD and enter the Special World, where
  • they encounter TESTS, ALLIES, AND ENEMIES.
  • They APPROACH THE INMOST CAVE, crossing a second threshold
  • where they endure the ORDEAL.
  • They take possession of their REWARD and
  • are pursued on THE ROAD BACK to the Ordinary World.
  • They cross the third threshold, experience a RESURRECTION, and are transformed  by the experience.(

The Three Act Structure is an alternative plot technique. Harlequin has simplified it for us:

Act I:

The set up—shows your protagonist’s natural habitat—her day to day life (this is necessary to measure the change she undergoes through her journey). The inciting incident—the thing that happens that sets a course of motion—the reason why your protagonist goes on her journey.

The point of no return—your protagonist is so committed to her goal that she cannot turn back.

Act II:

The middle—your protagonist begins to try to achieve her goals Here, she can either achieve her goal and find a new one.

Or, she can pursue her goal through the whole second act and face obstacle after obstacle End of act II—something must happen that makes us think that our protagonist will never reach her goal. This is where we think that “all is lost.”

Act III:

Resolution—What does your character learn, prove or discover? This is where we begin thinking about themes and what we are really trying to say.


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