• 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

paper and pencil

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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Critique Groups

critique group

A critique group can be defined as a lot of things, but to me, it’s simply a group of people who get together to go over their writing. If you are a writer and you aren’t in one, I highly recommend either joining one or creating one. I spent years writing on my own, working my hardest to reach my goal of becoming a published author. Yet, it wasn’t until I joined a critique group that I not only grew a lot as a writer, but had the confidence and knowledge to become a published author.

But what makes a successful critique group?

  • The most important thing is that all the members have personalities that work well together. If everyone can’t get along, they can’t work together.
  • Trust is equally important. If you don’t trust the members of the group, it’s hard to accept and give critiques. The whole experience leaves you pretty vulnerable, which means you need people there you know want the best for you.
  • Depending on your groups goals, the members should always be thinking, “what can we do to improve their story so it can be published?” If the members are just trying to tear apart your work, the group isn’t helpful for anyone.
  • Keep the group small. More than ten members would make it very difficult to have time to read and review people’s work (well). I actually think five or so members is plenty.
  • Meet regularly. Every two weeks seems to work well for me, but each group will have different needs.
  • Submit each meeting. The only way you’ll see a lot of growth is if you have regular feedback. Each meeting you’ll try to apply the comments from the last meeting so that your problems change and minimize. This really helps your growth as an author.

I asked my fellow critique group member and friend Aeon Igni her thoughts about the benefits of a critique group, and I think her response was brilliant:

“If you’ve ever read Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, you know that much of business success comes from individuals grouping together to accomplish greater tasks than any one person could accomplish alone. A good writing group gives an author this power. With several minds focusing on their process, product, and career rather than their single mind, it is almost assured that the end product will be exponentially greater than what the author could create without this feedback.

Critique groups share information, techniques, tips and tools of the trade, as well as powerful brainstorming sessions and constructive criticism. We can see the power of critique partners and critique groups among published authors today – many authors I follow reference each other on social media and post pictures of themselves dining out or taking cruises together. 

For me personally, it is comforting to know that I don’t have to go it alone – that there are others to turn to when I am struggling or need advice. Even a simple text with an article to read or asking how my writing is coming along can be powerful motivation to keep moving forward. I expect that I will always be part of a critique group, and I can’t imagine a writing life without one.”

So if you aren’t in a critique group yet, find one or created one. It may be the single most important thing you do as a writer.

InstaFreebie and Bitly

There are so many incredibly useful resources out there for authors, just waiting to be explored. Just this week, I finally took the plunge and checked out InstaFreebie and Bitly. I’ll share general information about these great sites below, as well as, my experience using them.

InstaFreebie

This is a website that is mainly used by authors who want a simple and safe way to give away free copies of their books. A few fellow writers recommended it when I asked about giving away copies in exchange for honest reviews. So far, I’ve only sent this link to a couple of reviewers, but this is what I noticed right away:

  • It is extremely user-friendly. It takes just a few steps in order to get a book giveaway up and running.
  • You have to have an ePub file, while I’ve never used before. I was able to get a free trial of a program (ePub Converter) in order to convert a word document into an ePub file.
  • When I opened the book on their site, the formatting was off. I resubmitted it with my CreateSpace formatting (which is my stripped down copy of my work), and it still had a space between each paragraph. I’m not sure how to fix it, but I’ll play with it some more.
  • The other thing that I couldn’t seem to figure out was how to view a copy of my book without actually going in and requesting a copy through the giveaway. I’m sure there is a way, but I may need to explore the site more.

Bitly

This is a website that takes links and shortens them, but it is so much more than that. This site also tracks how many times someone clicks on your shortened link, so you can monitor how useful your different advertisements are and how many people you’ve reached with them.

For example, here are two links that go to the exact same page:

The second link is the one that took me less than a minute to shorten using Bitly. Having a shorter link is nice, but what’s even nicer is that after I run this blog, I can go to Bitly and see how many people clicked on it.

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Book Covers and Blurbs with that Extra Something

Creating a cover is such an emotional process. “They” say the two things that help to sell your book the most are the cover and the blurb. It’s heart-wrenching to create a book that makes you sing with pride, but worry that no one will ever read your story if the cover and blurb aren’t good enough.

Luckily, I have a friend who has some computer magic and was excited to use it on my book cover. It was awesome to sit down together and come up with an idea of what I wanted it to look like, but then to actually have him create it. Because the truth is, I have some skills, but creating an amazing cover is not one of them.

I also luckily have an amazing group of writers, the 7 Evil Dwarves, who were willing to look at my blurb and help give it that extra something. Most people have no idea how hard it is for a writer to try to sum up their book in just a few paragraphs, but trust me, it’s painful. A special thanks to Jami Gray who sprinkled some writer-magic on it.

After several drafts, and countless hours spent constructing my vision, here is the cover to my first young adult fantasy novel, along with the blurb:

Book- Without Back Cover- 1500Pixels

When eighteen-year-old Rose is chosen to join a mysterious order of women known as The Protectors, she hopes to escape a forced marriage and a miserable life. Instead, she unveils the dark secrecy surrounding The Protectors, and uncovers the horrific truth behind their power source. With her loyalty in tatters and her best friend’s life held hostage, she must learn to unlock the powerful magic slumbering deep inside her.

But time is running out.

The Undead Wizards, a dangerous enemy, have re-emerged from the Underworld, plunging The Protectors and the kingdom into a brutal war. Unfortunately, The Fates decree that Rose is the answer to the war may cost her more than she ever imagined. To win, she must decide whether to join them and betray the man she loves, or risk the annihilation of all she holds dear.

What are some of your favorite blurbs or covers?

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Navigating Kindle Direct Publishing

KDP

Learning to use Kindle Direct Publishing to publish my novel To Kill a Wizard wasn’t nearly as hard as learning to properly format my book for Kindle readers. Both, however, had their challenges, which I’ll share here, as well as, some tips on how I formatted my novel.

Things I learned:

  • First, I uploaded my book and made sure there were no basic issues.
  • After that, I looked at how my book actually appeared on my Kindle Previewer. I found I needed to adjust my spacing, indents, and font size, depending on what I thought looked best.
    • In “page setup,” I changed the page size to be six-by-nine.
    • Then, I had to select a “custom margin” based on the size of my book. I believe I went with the “top,” “bottom,” and “outside” being .5, the “inside” being 0, and the “gutter” being .75.
    • I selected “mirror margins” and applied it to the “whole document.”
    • But these numbers vary based upon the number of pages in your book.
    • A lot of writers also choose to space their lines by 1.5, but I found that it looked like way too much, so I played with it until I found the perfect number (for me) 1.35.
    • I finally changed my “style set” to “simple.”
    • (For more information on formatting these areas for Kindle, check out: Createspace Help.)
  • Youtube was my friend for the next step in formatting. Creating a table of contents within the novel, with links to each chapter in my book, sounds like an easy process, but it wasn’t. I used buttons in Microsoft Word that I’ve never used before. I’ll sum it up below:
    • I changed the “style” of my document to “simple.”
    • Then went to “Insert” and “Table.” It then warned me “No Table of Contents Entries Found.”
    • I highlighted each chapter title, clicked “Heading 1” under the “Home” menu in Microsoft Word.
    • When I was done highlighting each chapter, I hit “Update Table,” and it all showed up.
    • Finally, I highlighted “Table of Contents” and made a “Bookmark” (Found under the “Insert” menu). When the box pops up, name it “toc” for table of contents.
    • And that’s about it!
    • (For more information on formatting your table of contents, check out: YouTube Video.)
  • Finally, I uploaded my cover. The first time, I included the entire cover. But then, I realized that the image people saw when searching for my book was the entire cover, including the back, so I had to reload my image with just the front of the cover.
  • After that, I had to determine the cost for my book, the channels I wanted it distributed on, and whether to join KDP Select. I think these options are personal choices, so I won’t go into that.
  • One thing I will say, however, is that because I was setting things up for pre-releasing my book at the end of June, it seemed I had a lot of options. Most everything appeared like it could be adjusted up until right before the date the novel would be available. So, I selected July 4th as my release date, thinking I could change it later. Turns out that’s a big no, no. I contacted Amazon who explained I could move it up once, without penalty, but not back. Next time, I’ll make sure I am 100% sure about my date before I choose it.

So overall, Kindle Direct was really easy to use, but it did require some internet research, random texts to my good friends Amber Kallyn and Aeon Igni, and picking the brains of several other writer friends. I’m sure many people have done this completely on their own, but there is nothing better than an assortment of awesome people to help make the process easier.

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Publishing My First Novel, Using CreateSpace

Amazon CreateSpace

Publishing a novel really does take an entire team, or a writer willing to learn a lot of new skills. Recently, I published my first novel (which is available for pre-order): To Kill a Wizard, through Amazon. Even though I’m definitely not an expert, I thought others might benefit from my experience with CreateSpace.

CreateSpace:

  • This is an author friendly program, if you know how to use it. Otherwise, make sure you’re a member of some author groups where you feel comfortable asking questions.
  • Youtube is your friend. After reading a number of step-by-step guides, I found it so much easier to visually see what I needed to do.
  • Use their cover creator program. I uploaded a completed cover and struggled with why it wasn’t meeting their requirements, because I couldn’t actually view the issues with it. In the cover creator, they have a template for covers that are completed. It was much easier to use. I will say, however, I still had my cover rejected twice, before one was accepted. Each time it took about a day to discover if I’d been approved, so leave yourself some time.
  • The inside of the book requires a certain structure, including making sure you have mirror indents, so it actually looks like a “real” book. You might also need to spend some time messing with the font size and spacing. After asking a number of authors, I realized everyone sets their books up differently. Some people use size 14 font, others use size 12. Some people insist it must be double spaced, others use single space, and still others use whatever looks right. But playing around with everything takes time. And sometimes everything looks perfect to your eyes, but it won’t pass review for one reason or another. I know I uploaded at least ten different versions of my document before everything “looked” right and passed their requirements.
  • After you’ve created your book, you can order a proof. This was the most exciting part for me! I’m still waiting to actually be able to hold the book in my hands, but I’m beyond excited about it. This is the moment when everything becomes real.

I’ll continue to share my experiences with the publishing process, even though right now I’m working on the two short stories I plan to release before my novel is available to order at the end of June. If all goes well, I’ll have my hands full with a lot of fun projects!

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Books by Lisa Morrow: Lisa Morrow Author Page

Creating Interesting Characters: Part 2 By Tara Rane

interesting character

I love book and movie characters with surprising twists (see my latest blog post about this at www.tararane.com). In my opinion, the best kind of characters are complex and anything but stereotypical.

A common trap that writers often fall into is having one dimensional heroes and cardboard cutout villains. For example, the heroine is sweet/sassy nurse or teacher, while the hero is a stoic alpha male working in some branch of the military/law enforcement. The villain spends all his time harming innocents, and plotting the end of the hero. These characters (and the books they appear in) are often generic and forgettable.

My previous post provided some suggestions for developing interesting and believable character personalities. The next challenge is getting away from the default characteristics associated with the roles of our characters. In a recent writing workshop, Mary Buckham (a USA bestselling author of an exciting urban fantasy series and several outstanding books on the craft of writing), offered some tips on how to do this.

Mary proposed creating a list of characteristics often associated with disparate roles. For example, let’s take engineer, rock star, nurse, and escort. Below I’ve listed several attributes that came to mind when thinking about these roles.

Engineer Rock Star Nurse Escort
Nerdy Dramatic Caring Desperate
Analytical Self-Absorbed Hard working Risk taker
Antisocial Rebel Nurturing Materialistic
Intelligent Charismatic Generous Damaged
Focused Social Empathetic Uninhibited

engineer rock starnursesexy woman

The next part in the exercise involved flipping the roles. Also, if there is a stereotypical gender associated with the role, you can switch that too. What you end up with is a template for interesting and memorable characters. Who wouldn’t love to read about a nerdy, highly intelligent male escort or a desperate, risk taking female engineer?

Escort Nurse Rock Star Engineer
Nerdy Dramatic Caring Desperate
Analytical Self-Absorbed Hard working Risk taker
Antisocial Rebel Nurturing Materialistic
Intelligent Charismatic Generous Damaged
Focused Social Empathetic Uninhibited

Another exercise I enjoy doing (especially for my villains) is taking the stereotypical attributes associated with two (often) opposing roles, and mixing them. For example, let’s take the characteristics associated with clowns and psychopaths.

Clown Psychopath
Flamboyant Violent
Jokester Bold
Zany Cruel
Self-depreciating Lack of Empathy
Entertainer Amoral

If you created a character possessing both types of attributes you’ll have brought to life the nightmares of millions of children throughout the world. We don’t expect the evil villain to come cartwheeling into the room. Nor do we expect the bad guy (or girl) to wear a friendly face. There’s a reason why Joker in the Batman comics and the clown from Stephen King’s It stick out in our minds as the creepiest villains of all time.joker

You can create al kinds of  interesting character mashups. Stay at home mom and serial killer. Veterinarian and mad scientist. Sunday school teacher and cyborg. Play around. Mix and match. The combinations are endless and the results are unique characters that stick with readers long after they finish your book.

Creating Interesting Characters: Part I

Characters

This weekend, I attended a writing workshop led by Mary Buckham, a USA bestselling author, who feels that having interesting characters is the key to writing books that readers can’t put down. Since I was already mulling over the main character’s role in eliciting emotional reactions from readers and viewers (see my latest blog post on my website), I paid close attention to what she said.

Initially, she had us take a personality test (similar to this one). The point of the exercise was that we needed to understand ourselves before we create characters. If we don’t do this, we run the risk of creating characters just like us. How many times have you read books by authors whose characters are essentially the same in every book? The likely problem is that the characters are just extensions of the authors.

My personality type came back as Helper/Giver (no surprise to me). And upon reflecting, I’ve found that there are pieces of myself in all my characters. Since they came out of my head, there is no getting around that. But, overall, I hope I’ve done a good job of separating my characters from myself. From the beginning I understood that they needed to be internally consistent and true to themselves. My emotionally scarred rock star heroine couldn’t react like I would under pressure. And my alpha male hero sure as hell couldn’t think like me during an intimate moment with that rock star.

I’ve used personality types in character creation since I first started writing. Understanding the different personality dimensions is an excellent way to flesh out protagonists and antagonists and make them interesting. Some good ones to check out include the Myers-Briggs and the Keirsey personality types. I’ve also gotten good ideas from going through the different characteristics associated with astrology signs.

You can mix and match personality characteristics to make fascinating characters. Maybe your Scorpio (INTJ) villain is a rational thinking perfectionist type whose idyllic vision of the future is a great one (if only she didn’t go about killing people to obtain it).

Once you’ve decided on your character’s personality, put them in situations designed to challenge them. For example, throw your Pisces (ISFP) Artist Type heroine into a war zone and hand them an M16.

Conflict is at the heart of good stories and what better way of stirring things up than throwing together two characters with diametrically opposing personality types. For example, toss your Pisces (ISFP) artist type into a life or death situation with a Leo (ENTJ) commander type and watch the sparks fly.

These are just some initial ways to create interesting characters. In my next post, I’ll go through a fun exercise I learned through Mary’s workshop on bucking character stereotypes.

How to Avoid Pissing Off Readers

angry woman

As I mentioned in this week’s post on my personal website, inaccuracies and factual errors in stories upset the most tolerant of us. Fortunately, there are numerous things we writers can do to avoid ticking off our readers.

Internet Research

The world is at your fingertips. You are writing a fight scene that takes place in a Russian bath house, but you’ve never been to one. Never fear. Google it my friend. You will find enough photos and videos of bath houses to be able to describe them in exquisite detail.

If you were to look at my Google searches for today you would find:

  • What does gun oil taste like?
  • What’s the Spanish word for skull?
  • How many people fit in a military helicopter?
  • How long can you live with a stab wound to the gut?

Don’t worry. These searches were for my zombie urban fantasy series. No need to put me under psychiatric evaluation….yet.

The internet isn’t perfect and you should always fact check the information you glean against other sources. However, it does provide a wonderful place to start.

Field Visits & Interviews

Visiting the locations featured in your novels, and interviewing people who are similar to your characters are excellent ways to improve the realism of your stories. If your main character is a Funeral Director, try tracking one down and seeing if they will answer some questions. Better yet, ask if they can give you a tour of their mortuary (fun for the whole family).

Don’t be shy. Take advantage of opportunities to spend time in places (and with people) that will star in your stories. For example, when Dreamer Dwarf was stranded in the vehicle repair shop, I jumped at the opportunity to join her. One of the scenes I was working on took place in a similar location. After dumping my dwarfing at her feet, I ran up to the harried looking store manager and started peppering him with questions about his shop.

As soon as he found out that I was writer, he was thrilled to talk to me. He answered all of my questions and he even pointed out specialized tools on the service floor. Of course, as soon as I asked him if he thought a horde of zombies could break through the bay doors, he suddenly got too busy to chat. Even still, I left with enough information to take my auto shop scene to the next level.

Write What You Know

This is standard advice doled out to writers like toothbrushes at the dentist’s office. There is no denying the advantage in being able to describe, with rich authenticity, the places you’ve lived and the experiences you’ve had.

I spent nearly nine years of my life working for a law enforcement agency. If I ever decide to write any crime fiction or feature police officers in any of my books, I’ll bet dollars to donuts (cops hate that association by the way) that I’ll probably have an edge over someone who has never set foot in a police station.

These are just a few methods I use to strengthen the validity of my stories. What other suggestions do you have for preventing inaccuracies and adding realism to stories?

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.

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