• Who We Are

  • Schedule

    Mondays ~
    Tuesdays ~ Snarky
    Wednesdays ~ Dreamer
    Thursdays ~ Naughty
    Fridays ~ Dreary
    Saturdays ~
    Sundays ~

    Whenever ~ Smokey, Mighty, Eerie and Wicked

  • Snarky’s Tweets

  • Kinetic’s Tweets

  • Dreamer’s Tweets

  • Wicked’s Tweets

  • Eerie’s Tweets

  • Mighty’s Tweets

Editing Tips- After You Think You’re Done

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You write something awesome, reread and edit it multiple times, maybe get an editor, and you think you’re done, right? Wrong. After being in a critique group for four years, I’ve learned some invaluable things that every writer should consider.

  1. The first time you introduce a character, use his or her name.
    1. Example: “She rolled and struck him in the chest. Hot blood oozed down her hand as his screams filled the air. Heather smiled.”
    2. Instead: “Heather rolled and struck him in the chest. Hot blood oozed down her hand as his screams filled the air. She smiled.”
  2. After that, you can mostly just use pronouns (he or she), unless there are other characters, and it’s getting confusing.
    1. Example: “Heather liked to watch people die. Heather waited until the life drained from their eyes, then went on with her day, feeling like she’d had a dozen cups of coffee.”
    2. Instead: “Heather liked to watch people die. She waited until the life drained from their eyes, then went on with her day, feeling like she’d had a dozen cups of coffee.”
  3. Put down your work for a minimum of a few weeks, so you can read it with fresh eyes.
    1. There have been COUNTLESS times I’ve received feedback and disagreed with it. Then, week or months later, I read my work again and realize I was wrong. When you are too “close” to your work, it’s hard to see the truth.
  4. Read through your work, look specifically at the adjectives and adverbs to see if you are over-using them or could remove them and use a better word.
    1. Example: “She spoke loudly.”
    2. Instead: “She shouted.”
  5. Don’t forget your character’s thoughts and emotions. Without them, you have more of an outline of a story rather than a story.

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On writing Fast

Near the end of last week’s blog post, I alluded to the fact that you should be writing 1000 words an hour, and I stand behind that number. In fact, I double it, fold my arms, and stare you down into your side of the room because of my moral superiority.

2000 words an hour? That’s right, and you could technically do more if you put your mind to it. Or don’t put your mind to it, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m a busy man. I work for a living, IT, which frequently involves off-hour work, on-call schedules, patching, and myriad of other things. 60 hour work weeks are pretty normal. I have a wife. I have children, with lots of homework each night. I enjoy playing video games. I have a couple of my favorite shows I can’t miss, you know—normal person stuff. I don’t have a lot of time for writing each day, so I have to make the most of what time I do have.

My daughter, 16, is also doing NaNoWriMo with me this year. On weekends when we finally have some time to write together, she comments that I type quickly.

I asked her how fast she typed. Being of a generation that doesn’t take typing classes in school, she had never figured it out, so I challenged her. We found an online typing test and we took the test at the same time. She was around 60 words a minute, I came in a little higher at 70, but for the sake of this argument, let’s stick with 60 wpm.

I told her 60 wpm means if you typed for a solid hour with no breaks, you could reach 3600 words.

I usually write in 45 minute sprints then take 15 minutes to get a drink, take a short walk, refocus my eyes and what not. (You should be taking breaks from the computer).

60 wpm times 45 minutes is 2700 words per hour. See? 2000 words an hour, easily.

“But Tom!” You say.

And I fold my arms even harder and glare at you.

I know, I know. It’s hard to write at one word per second for a solid hour. I get it. It’s not impossible though.

There are three major things I do to help:

1. Plan ahead. Do some outlining, even if it’s a single paragraph telling you what will happen to the character that chapter. Something so you know where you are going with your story when sit down. I personally outline more than that, usually 3 paragraphs per chapter, and I also read the outline each day before I sit down to write so I know where I’m going today.

2. Re-read what you wrote the day before. This is something new I’ve done recently. It gets you focused on where your immediate story has been, so your mind is in the zone for what you need to write right now.

Advanced tip: take notes on a separate piece of paper, note issues you have or anything you already know you want to change. When you start writing you’ll keep the revised notes in your head and you can write like you had already edited the previous day’s content.

3. Write non-stop. This is the tough part, I know, but it is possible. Remember when I said don’t put your mind to it? That’s one of the tricks here. Fix it all in editing phase. Treat your daily writing sprint like it’s NaNoWriMo. Spew the words down on the page, you can always fix it later.

So does this work all the time?

Of course not. But I can get over 1000 words an hour most days. 2000 a couple times a week. I’ve even hit 3800 one time when I was really ‘in the zone’.

I have days where each word is a struggle too, where I’m lucky to hit 200 words. I will blog about tricks to get yourself writing next week.

The point of all this rambling math was to put words per hour into perspective. We all type much faster than we need to because our brains rarely keep up with our fingers. It’s important to realize that, if you turn off your internal editor and just let your fingers do the typing, it’s quite possible to attain 2000 in an hour.

For now though, I should be writing because *ahem* I’m behind on my NaNoWriMo word count for the month.

How to Start a Book

It’s really easy for me, when I’m writing, to jump right into a story and keep the tension high and the pace fast, immediately grabbing hold of my readers. But then the first chapter or two ends, and some of the problems with diving instantly into a heart-pounding scene with no real exposition becomes annoyingly obvious. People don’t understand the world, or how it works. They start to have questions that I’m torn about. Part of me wants to say, you’ll find out, and the other part of me wonders if they should already know the answers. So taking some time, I decide to pick and choose, weaving some of this important information throughout my story. But then, I get a lot of this and this, slows down the tension.

Sigh. What am I to do?

Most of the time, I end up going back and adding a chapter in the beginning. This chapter still has great tension and character development, but it also explains some of the vital information about my world, so the rest of the story can move faster. But it isn’t as heart-pounding as my first draft, at least not right off the bat.

I still haven’t completely decided about the best way to start a book. Is it better to get right into things and then slightly slow the pace later on by adding the vital information? Or is it better to start a little slower, get that information on the page, and then dive into the really good stuff?

But for the two novels I’m working on right now, I’ve changed them to slow the pace in the beginning, so I can quicken the pace throughout the rest of the novel. This is not necessarily what I’ll do with ever book I write, but right now, it seems like the best decision.

My Fumbling Attempts to Write Erotica

I had an idea for a great story. Isn’t that always the way it starts? In between a busy day of almost non-stop responsibilities, I forced myself to type up a short summary (because I couldn’t get it out of my head). As the day wasted away, I finally got to sit down and start the actual story. For two weeks, I was obsessed. This, I thought, is good.

And then I let a couple erotica pros read it.

Consensus: not good.

Feeling crushed, I re-read the story. How had I gone wrong? Strong characters. Interesting world building. Great (if amateur) sex scenes. This was what a good story was all about. This was me stretching myself as an author and exploring something I’d never written before. So why did it suck?

The Short Answer: I don’t read erotica. Other than a couple of pages once or twice, I’ve never really picked it up.

Why’s that a problem?

This took me weeks to figure out, even though it should have been minutes. This genre, like all others, requires an author to understand it and its readers.

But when did I finally realize this?

I sat down with a friend who walked me through some of the big issues that I just didn’t completely understand. I’d been told of these issues, but it didn’t click. The first one was that there was no emotional connection between my character and the man she sleeps with. So, I thought, a one night stand is still hot to read about. And it is, but even a one night stand has to be more than sweaty bodies pressed together. There has to be something that draws the characters together, even if it is just a sexual magnetism. But what comes along with that is the feelings of the two people. What are they thinking and feeling as they see one another? What fantasy does the man or woman awaken in the other?

I hadn’t thought of this. But still, my main problem didn’t really click.

Then, she walked me through some of the erotica “sins” I’d committed. Every time she mentioned one, I died a little inside. This is a good story, I thought, doesn’t that count for something?

And then one of my erotica goddesses handed me a giant-ass bag of books on writing erotica, as well as, collections of erotica short stories. As I carried them home, I felt a strange sense of empowerment. Now, now I had the tools to figure out what I’d done wrong.

I started one book at random. It gave a short autobiography on the writer, then moved on to a section basically encouraging writers in this genre. When I finally put it down, (not finished yet), I still didn’t know a thing about writing erotica, but I looked at it through new eyes. I felt the same way I did after leaving an English class in college where somehow the debate had turned to feminism, and the many ways we were still fighting to be seen as equals. Erotica, I felt, was a genre that was still fighting to be recognized as an equally respectable genre.

Then, finally, I did the one thing I’d been putting off. I picked up the collection of erotica short stories.

There is something dangerous about reading this genre. About knowing you can be reading a sentence, only to come across words you’d never read in any “polite” book. It is almost like walking down a shadowy alley and wondering if something unexpected is going to jump out of the shadows. Only, you know it is going to happen. It is more about the when.

Most of the stories were not my cup of tea, so to speak, but I learned something about them all the same. It doesn’t matter what the reader is into, it is about drawing the reader into your fantasy. Things I would never find sexy, I still found intriguing and interesting. When something is written well enough, it almost doesn’t matter the content. You can appreciate it. And that’s what I did, I read. And studied.

And finally, I got it.

There was no way I could write erotica without reading it. Without studying this genre. Without embracing and appreciating it for what it is.

I’m excited more than ever about venturing into this genre, as well as, many others. I feel like the only way I can become a really great writer is to constantly push myself to try new things. Not all of them may work, but at least I’ll learn something in the process.

Why?

“Because I said so.”

I never thought I’d be the parent to speak those words. But it turns out, I was wrong. At least fifty times a day, I’m asked why. And most of the time, I manage to answer patiently. But sometimes I honestly don’t know what else to say. All I know is the question makes me grind my teeth at the end of a long day. I even swear the word why haunts me even when I’m alone, especially when I’m trying to sleep, and trying to write.

But asking this question also helps improve my writing. These are some frequent ones that pop into my head:

Why does this matter?

Why does she love him?

Why does she react this way?

Why does this motivate her?

Why is she afraid of this?

Asking these questions, and others like them, are a great way to dive deeper, to make sure I understand my characters on every level. My readers might not know the whys of everything I write, but I want to make sure I do.

What are some other great why questions that help you as a writer?

Growing as a Writer

This past week, I’ve been editing a book I haven’t picked up for a year. In my mind, the novel was a handful of weeks from being ready to publish. But I found something interesting as I started reading; I’ve grown a lot as a writer since my last draft. The beginning of one of my chapters read something like this:

Three dreary months had passed since coming to the castle. During this time, I was trained by Emily and Sara. Both had vastly different teaching styles, but I also came to learn a great deal about them as people.

It goes on like this for two and a half more pages, recapping all my character learned over three months. I got to the end of this section and thought, I’m telling a lot, but I’m showing nothing. So, I rewrote it to sound more like this.

I loved the training room in the mornings. It was the one place I could be alone with my thoughts.

“You’re here early.”

I whirled to find Emily staring at me from the doorframe. My heart raced. She never instructed me without sending a missive first, her time was too valuable.

“I couldn’t sleep.”

She crosses her arms in front of her chest. “It’s been three months since you first arrived. Emily and Sara have trained you the best they can, now it’s time to test your new skills.”

These examples aren’t perfect yet, but they show a little bit about how my perspective has changed as a writer. Every time I write something, I try to ask myself if I am showing or telling my reader. Because if I am only telling them what is happening, they aren’t going to feel like they are in the story. And if they don’t feel like they are in the story, then I don’t feel like I’ve done my job as a writer.

Feeding Your Muse

I love to write. I don’t know why anyone would pick this profession for any other reason. A month ago though, the dark monsters of the swamp came out to haunt me. You know the ones with those killer claws: stress, anxiety, and insecurity to name a few. And with writing content articles and editing my current novel, writing had morphed into some twisted self-deprecating job.

I needed a break. I needed to close my computer for a few days and feed my muse.

It was difficult at first to shut down the nagging voices telling me to be productive. But I closed my laptop, packed my bags, and escaped to the country.

I went for walks. Got caught in the rain. Read for enjoyment. Mother Nature calmed my soul and left my imagination free to play.Cabin sunrise

Not everyone is not able to run away, but we still need to make time for ourselves and, as Elizabeth Gilbert referred to it, Our Elusive Creative Genius. In this TED talks, she explained that when we see our muse, or creative genius, as something outside of us, then it is easier to maintain our sanity. It is worth the time to watch.

I enjoy thinking of my muse as a separate identity or creative genius. One we must feed and nurture in the hope that it’s won’t torment us.

How do you feed your muse?

Learning Lessons from the Greats

I’ve just started reading Stephen King’s novel On Writing. It is a fascinating and well-written book that has the feel of an autobiography, with writing advice if you pay close enough attention. However, what I really love about this book is that it is inspiring. I just finished the section of the book where he discusses getting Carrie published. Through his recollection of this, I learn a lot about his life, but also about how the publishing process worked at this time. But even more than that, I learned something I felt I could apply to my own writing.

Stephen King mentions that the first version he wrote of Carrie wasn’t very good. He throws it away, only to later be inspired by his wife’s interest in it. The problem is that he knows very little about high school girls and doesn’t feel particularly connected to his main character. He goes on to explain how he “fixes” this problem.

I think we’ve all had a character or a situation we tried writing about, even though it wasn’t in our comfort zone. Just recently, I really pushed the boundaries of what I write, to see what I am capable of creating. But I think I learned the same lesson Stephen King learned, although I didn’t get a multi-million dollar book out of it. It is fine to write about things we are unknowledgeable about, but until we do some research, and find a way to connect personally with our characters and topic, the piece will never live up to its full potential.

Have you ever written something that was out of your comfort zone? And if so, what did you do to better understand and connect with your topic or characters?

The Impenetrable Forest

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Greetings and Salutations Insightful readers of the blog,

Sorry about the interruption last week. I hope the zombies didn’t eat too many of you as you made your way here. The muses only rounded up 20 of our missing zombies last week. Mischievous is meeting with the producers of The Walking Dead today. He will try to appease them after we shorted the order by 5 zombies. The muses got distracted when they were searching around Dreamer Dwarf’s cottage. It seems the pretty flowers she grows do more than provide a colorful backdrop. Some of them can be ingested for medicinal purposes. The muses aren’t sick mind you, unless using Dreamer’s flowers for recreational use is an illness. In short, last weeks search was abandoned by the muses for more nefarious motives.

Today we will be embarking on a dangerous excursion through the Impenetrable Forest to seek the assistance of the Werewolf Monks. They live in the monastery on the other side of the forest. I hope their extensive library and knowledge can help us with the zombies. Who currently have The Swamp surrounded. They’re scaring away visitors and eating everything in sight.

While in the forest keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times. In the event we lose cabin pressure a mask will drop down from the overhead compartment, place the mask over your nose and mouth and… sorry wrong script.

15 YARDS TO THE IMPENETRABLE FOREST TURN BACK NOW

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Pay no attention to that sign. it’s there to scare you away.

10 YARDS TO THE IMPENETRABLE FOREST YOU ARE IN IMMINENT DANGER

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Stay close together now. If you get separated from the group blow the whistle that I handed out earlier.

5 YARDS TO THE IMPENETRABLE FOREST YOUR DEATH AWAITS

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Stay alert it is mating season for the Piranha Hummingbirds, they are especially hungry during this time of year. When the Piranha Hummingbirds attack the only way to identify your remains is through dental records. They pick your skeleton completely clean.

WELCOME TO THE IMPENETRABLE FOREST

WE HOPE YOU ENJOY YOUR BRIEF VISIT

HAVE A NICE DAY

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It is most important to be silent as we venture in. The Killer Koalas are vicious, but slow. We will stay in a tight formation. Hold hands with your neighbor. Don’t scream under any circumstances. Human screams drive the Giant Vampire Tarantulas crazy. Does everyone have a partner? Good.

Any questions? Listen up people, the question is, what happens if Killer Koalas attack? If you’re attacked by Killer Koalas, trip the person next to you and run like hell. Don’t Scream.

Next. Don’t worry about The Piranha Hummingbirds. They are to busy finding mates, they shouldn’t be a problem.

All right one more, then we’ve got to go before it’s gets dark. What if someone screams?  Good question. Get down on the forest floor, tuck your head between your legs, and kiss your butt goodbye. If your remains are ever found, a dry husk will be all that’s left. Giant Vampire Tarantulas drain every last drop of moisture from you. Then they use your dried carcass to build there nests. Nothing gets wasted in nature.

Let’s review the rules. Don’t scream. Stay together. Don’t scream. Watch for Piranha Hummingbirds . Don’t scream.

Let’s go I’ll see you all on the other side.

One last thing, this weeks quote, it may be the last.

This one come from Tom Waits. The song Mr. Siegal

“Where they live hard, die young
And have a good lookin’ corpse every time”

Write On,

Eerie Dwarf AKA Dave Benneman

 

 

Perfect Characters

Recently, I’ve realized that some of my favorite characters are ones who are far from perfect, and some of my favorite books have the most flawed characters. Don’t get me wrong, I love a book with a kick-butt female who loves to wear leather that hugs her perfect body, but there is also something appealing about a very different kind of character.

One book I read had a female lead who settled in life, held back her feelings, and feared even the smallest changes. As the book progresses, she changes and grows as a character. It isn’t necessarily that she wants to change, or that at the end of the book she is a completely different person, but the plot forces her into situations where she has a chance to be something greater than she was. And as much as she doubts herself, she rises to those challenges. This character appealed to me on so many levels. There is something amazing about watching an ordinarily-seeming person in a fantastical world.

One of my current books has a character whose father makes a bad choice that ultimately impacts her in a very negative way. As the book progresses, we see she is angry and confused by her father’s decision, but ultimately still loves him. Someone asked me why she still valued his opinion when he’d treated her so badly. I wanted to say, “haven’t you ever cared about someone’s opinion when you really shouldn’t?”

To me, it was easier to have a character who just writes off her father, someone who sees the world in black and white. But that isn’t how real life is. There are so many shades of gray, so many complications, and facets to every relationship. I wanted this character’s relationship to reflect real life, because to me, my characters feel real. (Just a side note: The feedback I received can also tell me something from a writing standpoint. If that didn’t come across, then I knew I needed to develop the relationship more. This is why feedback is so important. I may feel justified in how my character feels, but my readers should feel this way too.)

So even though I love to write my prefect characters, the ones with great bodies, all the confidence in the world, and some major “flaw” like too much pride, I also like to create characters that are as complicated as real people. What are some of your favorite imperfect characters?

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