8 Writer Tips To Keep Your Butt in the Chair

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane



I like to reexamine what tips I would give to aspiring authors, or even experienced authors, when I get a chance to speak to a group. Invariably the question comes up on advice and I’ve noticed that what helps me now is different than what I might have found useful when I started. Below are 8 tips I still find useful. Hope you do too, but please share your ideas. I’d love to hear from you.

1.) Plunge In & Give Yourself Permission to Write Badly  – Too many aspiring authors are daunted by the “I have to write perfectly” syndrome. If they do venture words onto a blank page, they don’t want to show anyone, for fear of being criticized. They are also afraid of letting anyone know they want to write. I joined writers organizations, took workshops, and read “how to” articles on different facets of the craft, but I also started in on a story.

2.) Write What You Are Passionate About – When I first started to write, I researched what was selling and found that to be romance. Romance still is a dominant force in the industry, but when I truly found my voice and my confidence came when I wrote what I loved to read, which was crime fiction and suspense. Look at what is on your reading shelves and start there.

3.) Finish What You Start –  Too many people give up halfway through and run out of gas and plot. Finish what you start. You will learn more from your mistakes and may even learn what it takes to get out of a dead end.

4.) Develop a Routine & Establish Discipline – Set up a routine for when you can write and set reasonable goals for your daily word count. I track my word counts on a spreadsheet. It helps me realize that I’m making progress on my overall project completion. Motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, said that he wrote his non-fiction books doing it a page a day. Any progress is progress. It could also help you to stay offline and focused on your writing until you get your word count in. Don’t let emails and other distractions get you off track.
5.) Have an Outline – Even a pantser like me needs a guidepost for a story. If I don’t have a good idea of general plot movements, I hit the halfway wall and stall out. I push through it, but it can take time. I posted an article on TKZ about my plotting/storyboard method. This method has helped me write my proposals with ease and I have a clear idea on major turning points in my novels. When you have deadlines to meet, it helps to have a good notion about your plot going in.
6.) Have More Than One Idea – I have recently tried writing different genres and have done something I never thought I would, which is write more than one book at a time. Crazy, I know, but I found it easy to work on my stamina and write a word count goal for one story in the morning session, then write a different project and shoot for a word count there too. I got the idea from a young writer friend, but it worked for me. That allowed me to make progress on two projects at once. This year I have pushed out of my comfort zone and have more than one project proposal with my agent on submission. I create a proposal that my agent can submit (synopsis and writing sample) then go on to finish the book while she’s taking it out. I’m not waiting by my desk for a quick response. I keep writing and moving on to finish my books so I have more options if I choose.
7.) Keep An Open Mind to Feedback – There definitely is a benefit to having beta readers. My agent also shares her invaluable insight to improve my proposals. I’ve found, in general, that if someone takes the time to share what makes them stumble or question my story (pulling them out of the world I want them to remain in), they are probably right. But since it is my story, how I choose to take their advice is up to me. By staying open, I often surprise myself.
8.) Know When to Step Away – If you reach a stall spot—some people call this writer’s block, but I choose not to believe in that—walk away and do something else. Your brain will work the problem, even as you sleep, and the ideas will come eventually. Trust your talent to find a solution or kick brainstorming ideas around with someone else. Often you will come up with your own resolution just by talking and explaining to another person.
So TKZers – What keeps your butt in the chair? What drives you and what works to keep you motivated?


Blood Score now available in audio from Audible Studios.

A dangerous liaison ignites the bloodlust of a merciless killer
When a beautiful socialite is savagely murdered in Chicago’s Oz Park, Detectives Gabriel Cronan and Angel Ramirez find her last hours have a sinister tie to two lovers. One is a mystery and the other is a famous violin virtuoso. A child prodigy turned world class musician, Ethan Chandler is young, handsome – and blind. He’s surrounded by admirers with insatiable appetites for his undeniable talent and guileless charm. From doting society women to fanatical stalkers and brazen gold diggers, the reclusive violinist’s life is filled with an inner circle of mesmerized sycophants who are skilled at keeping secrets.

After Cronan and Ramirez expose a shadowy connection between Ethan and the victim with a private elite sex club, they discover intimate desires and dark passions aren’t the only things worth hiding at all cost. A vicious killer will stop at nothing to settle a blood score.

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First Page Critique–Brooklyn Nights

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

iStock_000002398839Small
Purchased image from iStock by Jordan Dane/Novel Shout Media




Now time for another edition of FIRST PAGE CRITS, brought to you by TKZ. One intrepid author. One daring submission. My two pennies worth on the flip side. Care to play along? Read the opening 400 words to a courageous author’s work and give constructive criticism. Now for your consideration – Brooklyn Nights.


Brooklyn Nights
Chapter 1


The room glowed green in rhythm with the flashing neon of Gerry’s Irish bar across the road and two stories down. Frank Daley, fully dressed and lying on his back on the cheap bed, put a period on the light show with the red tip of his Chesterfield.

The sounds and smells of the Brooklyn neighborhood floated through the open window, Antonio’s Pizza Pies blending with the odors of cigarettes, sweat, and sex that filled the fleabag he had rented for the month. It’d have to do. He’d lose his security deposit anyway, once he robbed the joint.

The whore beside him stunk of cheap whiskey, her snores a discord of nasal wheezes that drowned out conversations of the restaurant patrons below as they came and went to an irritating bell dangling above the door. He leaned over and pinched her nose until she opened her mouth to breathe. What came out overwhelmed all other aromas, pleasant or otherwise.

She was naked except for a pair of black lace panties and a gold strapless sandal on her left foot, the heel worn on one side. He had noticed it earlier on their walk up the staircase. There was no significance to the worn heel, but it represented something he knew that no one else did. It was one of his better qualities, a keen sense of observation. It had kept him alive and out of jail since the war.

Her breasts rose and fell with her breathing, the air once again escaping through the clogged nostrils. Between the bell over Antonio’s door and her nose music it sounded like a bad Salvation Army band.


Feedback:

Overview: Well, Frank is a piece of work. Charming man. I think I used to work with this guy, but I’d never admit it. It cracked me up that he thought about his lost security deposit considering he planned to rob the flea bag. Stellar ethics. I do love the cesspool details of this scene. All the senses are triggered and the imagery is here. Frank’s got an attitude with a hint of dark humor. I would definitely want to read more to get a sense of Frank and where this story will lead. There’s no indication that he is a main character. He could be a mood setter, secondary character. I’ve opened more than a book or two with fun secondary characters who pave the way for my protagonist to make an entrance. For me, there needs to be more to Frank than what I’m reading here to carry my interest through a whole book of him, but I like the edgy writing style.

Suggestion 1: There appears to be much more to this story, considering Frank is fully dressed and waiting for something. That leads me to suggest a better, more gripping first line that would pull the reader into the mystery of Frank.  

Example: Like most people, Frank Daley had ambitions for a better life—money, a sweet ride, and respect—but the drunk hooker lying next to him, snoring and wheezing like a busted radiator, had become his upside.


I’m sure the author could come up with a better line, knowing the story, but this is an example of a first line focused on Frank.

Suggestion 2: The scene is set and the senses are triggered, but another way to begin this would be to focus on Frank more than setting the stage. Make the hooker and the cheap digs be the backdrop for what’s going through his mind and lure the reader in with his story. With only a scant 400 words, it’s hard to know what to suggest, but my instincts tell me there is more to Frank, even if he’s a secondary character. The hooker, the Irish bar, and the pizza joint are colorful, but I’m thinking they’re only window dressing for what’s about to play out with Frank. A better way to show Frank has keen observation is to show it, rather than tell it through the hooker’s sandal. Have Frank sitting in the dark and listening, smelling, sensing everything both in the room and outside on the street, as if he were a predatory animal. Again, the focus should be on him and not the room or the hooker or the street outside.

Suggestion 3: To introduce Frank to the reader, the author might have him do more in this opening scene. Have him interacting with another character in dialogue or in a conflict to see how he handles it. Encapsulate his personality in a defining scene that will show the reader what he’s all about. Creating a scene like this, it would be the difference between Johnny Depp making an entrance in Pirates of the Caribbean. You wouldn’t write him sitting in the dark, waiting. You’d make him come alive and do something, whether his character is intended to be funny or deadly serious. Maybe have him get up from the hooker, dress, then go down and rob the motel – but before he leaves the dump, he asks, “I guess this means I don’t get my deposit back?”


Suggestion 4: I had to reread the following two sentences. They were too long. They’d be more effective broken up.


Before: The sounds and smells of the Brooklyn neighborhood floated through the open window, Antonio’s Pizza Pies blending with the odors of cigarettes, sweat, and sex that filled the fleabag he had rented for the month.


After: The sounds and smells of the Brooklyn neighborhood floated through the open window. The aroma of Antonio’s Pizza Pies blended with the odors of cigarettes, sweat, and sex that filled the fleabag he had rented for the month.


Before: The whore beside him stunk of cheap whiskey, her snores a discord of nasal wheezes that drowned out conversations of the restaurant patrons below as they came and went to an irritating bell dangling above the door.


After: The whore beside him stunk of cheap whiskey. Her snores were a discord of nasal wheezes. The noise coming from the drunk hooker drowned out the conversations of restaurant patrons as they walked under an irritating bell that dangled above the door.

Summary: This author has an engaging style that I like. The writing basics are here, but the right scene selection, an intriguing first line, setting up a conflict or an evocative escalating situation that will keep the reader turning the page, is the challenge with every book.

What say you, TKZers? Please share your comments on Brooklyn Nights.



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Can Storytelling Be Taught?

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane




I posted some quotes below from bestselling authors on the craft of writing and the writer’s life. Some are funny, most are thought provoking, but the one at the top of the list from Willa Cather struck me as a topic for conversation here at TKZ.


From Cather’s quote, it would appear she believed that most of an author’s innate ability to write comes from how their lives were shaped in the first 15 years. We can read craft books, attend lectures, and follow as much advice as we have time to absorb on how to write books, construct stories, create characters, and world build, but there is also a part of who we are that makes up the total author.

For me, I grew up in a large family and our parents taught us how to laugh and we used our imaginations to tell stories and have adventures outside, not with video games. We even had skits we did for summer projects on our own. We did audio recordings of scripts I wrote as TV show parodies, complete with fake commercials. We chose video recordings (like a filmmaker) for class projects. We were all about theatrics and drama, for fun. 

I wrote a lot of things and had always been drawn to the written word. My grandfather had been a big influence on me. He came to this country from Mexico after fleeing the revolution in his country. He wrote for the Hispanic newspaper, La Prensa, in San Antonio and he eventually managed the Alameda Theatre that brought in vaudeville acts and Mexican movie stars to the stage. As a young child I rode a pony across the stage of that theatre as part of an act. 

Mostly I remember listening to my grandfather’s many stories. Some were real and others, not so much. What he didn’t know, he made up with a flourish. All of these influences became ways for me to tell a story and stretch my imagination.


I can see what influenced me as a writer in those early years, but I’d love to hear from you about your lives and formative experiences.

1.) What in your earlier years influenced you to become a writer?

2.) Do you agree with Willa Cather that most of a writer’s basic skills are experienced before 15 years of age?

3.) What do you think influences authors most in those first 15 years?

Quote For Discussion:
“Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.”
Willa Cather





Quotes On Craft & The Writer’s Life:

“All the information you need can be given in dialogue.”
Elmore Leonard



“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
E. L. Doctorow



“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”
William Faulkner



“People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.”
Harlan Ellison




HUMOROUS (I hope):

“A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it to be God.”
Sidney Sheldon



“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”
Mark Twain


“Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it.”
Truman Capote



“I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.”
Stephen King


“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
Ernest Hemingway



“Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.”
Robert A. Heinlein

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
Douglas Adams

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The Three Elements Writing Exercise

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane



Lately I’ve become a fan of crazy unrelated ideas being woven into the fabric of a story. The farther apart the elements are, the bigger the challenge to make a cohesive story out of them, but I think this can be a good exercise for writers to “think/plot” out of any proverbial corner. If you can train your brain to free associate, without filtering your thought process through common sense or your inner naysayer, this could be a good way to jump start your creativity and brainstorm into something fun to write. Who knows. You might come up with a real story you’d like to develop and feel like this guy on the top of a mountain.

The idea is that plots can come from a myriad of inspirations. Recently I was asked to join a group of authors for an anthology of stories themed in an area I’d never written. I loved the authors so much that I said yes, but the crazy part came when I liked the plot so much, that I developed it into a series with a bigger scope. Keep an open mind to ideas, almost especially when they push you out of your comfort zone, because you never know where your next big inspiration can come from.

Bear with me and try this exercise. Pick one of these “3 Elements” and tell us your story. (This would be similar to pinning crazy notions on a dartboard and letting the dart decide what your next story will be.) Try the exercise below and enter as many times as you’d like (by posting your story in a comment) or pick a different “3 Elements” and go for it again. 

Pick any of these THREE ELEMENTS and tell us a story: 

1.) A priest, a skin rash, and a cell phone GPS mistake
2.) A singing competition, a family ring, and an over protective grandmother
3.) An abandoned farm house, breast augmentation, and a lumpy mattress
4.) A malfunctioning elevator, a pickpocket, and a mother’s Last Will
5.) A stolen lap top, a favorite love song, and a wager
6.) Pink eye, a get well card, and a run in with someone famous
7.) A funeral, a missing cat, and a promise


Our little family here at TKZ is very creative. Give this exercise a go and have fun. Make us laugh or share a poignant idea.

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Five Ways to Stand out with Humor in Your Writing

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

Orphan Black

I learned early on that I can’t write the serious suspense plots that I do and NOT add humor. People/characters use humor when they’re nervous, or a fictional buddy is a cynical smart ass and great comic relief at key times. Laser sharp wit can become a way for any writer to stand out in a crowd of authors or a slush pile. 

I remember reading Robert Crais in an airport when Elvis Cole was on stakeout and spied a small dog taking a dump in a yard, ‘straining so hard its back hunched double.’ Elvis thought, “Awful, the things you see in my line of work.” That line made me laugh aloud and I had to call my husband to read him the passage before my plane boarded. I never forgot it.

Lately I’ve been influenced by odd/dark humor in shows like FARGO and Orphan Black, where the writers do the unexpected. They take quirky characters, weird outlandish settings, and put those elements into over-the-top plot notions. This type of humor isn’t new, but I love that the only limits are the writer’s imagination. It feels like the writers took a dartboard of wild ideas/settings/elements/characters and whatever they darted, they had to come up with a story. So I thought it would be fun to talk about use of humor in novels and break it down into elements I have tried (not just read about) and enjoyed writing.

FIVE WAYS TO ADD HUMOR


1.) Put Serious Characters Into Ludicrous Situations

I used this strategy for a novella I wrote and sold recently – Lillian & Noah – An uncommon Coming of Age Novel. Picture a small fictitious town in Texas, called Why. A well-intentioned bowling team of widows, called the Ball Busters, meet on league night at Why Bowl & Tanning Spa to brainstorm a scheme to compromise certain influential citizens of the town, in order to stop one woman from financially ruining a nice young man who’s trying to send his sister to college. The Ball Busters convert an old carwash at the edge of town (the Why ScrubADub – Motto: “You like it clean, we like it dirty”) and remake it into a sexual fantasy hotspot to raise money for tuition. Harold & Maud meets Risky Business for the baby boomer generation.

BBC America’s show Orphan Black is a prime example of this brand of humor. The characters are deadly earnest in their attempts to dig into the clone conspiracy and stay alive, but in each episode there are ridiculous situations that make a viewer laugh aloud. One incredible actress, Tatiana Maslany, plays all the clone parts from a crazed Russian assassin to a soccer mom to a scientist to this week’s gender challenged Tranny. One example of their over-the-top humor: several of the clones are discussing strategies on Skype with one who can’t be there because she’s sewing costumes for a play she is starring in after she killed her neighbor (by garbage disposal) who had the starring role.

With this type of humor, don’t edit your ideas. Fling them onto a notepad or whiteboard without censorship. Maybe brainstorm with your craziest friends to see what makes you all laugh.

2.) Write Earnest Dialogue With a Sarcastic Internal Monologue from the POV Character

Cut loose on your inner smart ass with this type of scene. The dialogue lines would read as idle banter or may not appear to have color, until the reader sees what the character is thinking or gets a whiff of their cynicism. Whether you write in first person POV or deep third, you can make this happen and add attitude to your character. Remember, people don’t censor their opinion when they think no one hears them, in their head. So let the sarcasm fly, without filter.

Example: From My WIP – Legacy in Blood. My 24-year old bounty hunter wannabe, Trinity LeDoux, argues with Hayden Quinn about coming along on a dangerous trip:

“We? Oh, no,” he said.

“Yeah, but that’s the deal. I go too.”

“That’s crazy. I’m not a coaster ride at Six Flags. You can’t buy a ticket and climb onboard.”

If Quinn were a ride, I’d definitely buy a ticket, but now wasn’t the time to embarrass us both. I had to find another way to pique his interest before he voted me off his island.

Example: Hayden notices Trinity is carrying a weapon when he “visits” her condemned warehouse home

“You’re carrying a weapon,” he said as he let me pass. “I feel better already.”

Busted. Okay, yeah. I had a gun tucked under my Ren and Stimpy T-shirt, my one big investment in my new career. I couldn’t read Hayden’s reaction, but his deadpan sarcasm had begun to grow on me.

I’d once argued that bullets were more valuable than a gun. My shooting instructor went ape shit crazy over that one, especially when I said, ‘Without bullets, any gun is only a passable paperweight.’ It’d been a chicken and egg argument. You had to be there.

3.) Use Funny Sounding Unusual Words to Add Color & Humor

How about these zingers? Bamboozled, bazinga, bobolink, bumfuzzle, canoodle, carbuncle, caterwaul, cattywampus, doohickey, gobsmacked, gunky are but a few of the words listed in my link below, but imagine how you might use these words in a story and who might say them. These words alone could stir your imaginings on a character.

Example: The word ‘parsimonious’ means stingy. Here is how I used it in my latest WIP – Legacy in Blood:

I hadn’t eaten since early yesterday. If Hayden didn’t kick me off his property, I’d eat enough to last. I’d stuff it in my cheeks like a parsimonious squirrel if I had to. 
(The internal voice of Trinity LeDoux. She’s presently homeless and beggars can’t afford to be persnickety.)

4.) Try Tongue-in-Cheek/Deadpan Delivery in the Banter Between Characters 

In my opinion, less is more. Write the banter in short punches and don’t explain. If the reader finds it funny, that’s good, but don’t overwork it by trying too hard to be funny. Also be mindful of pace. Too much of a diversion can slow the plot. Get in, get out. Or in the case of Robert Crais’s example below, add several quick schticks of the same idea (ie. John Cassavetes) through the book to reinforce the humor in short spurts.

Example: In Monkey’s Raincoat, Robert Crais carries on a schtick with Elvis Cole, PI. A new client flatters him by saying he looked like a young John Cassavetes. After that, Cole asks others if they think so too. Each short punch is funnier and funnier. Here’s one encounter:

“Tell me the truth,” I said. “Do you think I look like John Cassavetes twenty years ago?”

“I didn’t know you twenty years ago.”

Everyone’s a comedian.

Example of Lillian’s POV from my novella – Lillian & Noah:

“It’s a sexual fantasy site,” I said. “Members share their most intimate erotic fantasies on their profile.”

“In my day, guys just wrote those on a bathroom wall.” Vinnie snorted.

“Shut up, Vinnie. Let her finish.” Candy shushed him with her red nails. “What happens next, doll? I think I saw something like this on Days of Our Lives.”

I clenched my jaw as heat rushed to my face. Not even a pig in a blanket helped.

5.) Use Odd Parings in Comparison Humor
In the examples below, it would take a witty or outlandish character to come up with these descriptions, so get your creative juices flowing to conjure who might say these lines. In the case of Schimmel’s bittersweet memoir on cancer, I can see my younger brother saying things like this. When he had his cancer scare, he made sure I was with him at his doctor appointments (along with my mom) because he knew I would laugh at his defensive humor. Mom couldn’t. So I was stuck between my more serious worrying mom, and my irreverent bro who had to laugh or go crazy(ier).

Example:
Games of Thrones is like Twitter. It’s got 140 characters and terrible things are constantly happening.” 
This kind of comparison takes a poke at Game of Thrones AND twitter.

Example: From the late Robert Schimmel’s memoir ‘Cancer on $5 a Day’

“…this stupid hospital gown is riding up my ass. I try to pull it down and it snaps up like a window shade. I cross my legs and suddenly I’m Sharon Stone.”

Any book can be enhanced with some humor. Think about people you know. Most everyone has humor in one fashion or another. Maybe you need a funny secondary character to offset the dire circumstances as comic relief, or the clever banter between a man and a woman could focus on their gender gaps. By adding humor, you put another layer to your writing and another tool in your arsenal of tricks.

Humor Writing links:
Writer’s Digest Article on Humor Writing.
Funny Words

So for TKZ Discussion:
1.) Share some of your funny (short) scenes or one-liners.
2.) Or post authors you’ve enjoyed who use humor in a memorable way.

0

Five Ways to Stand out with Humor in Your Writing

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

Orphan Black

I learned early on that I can’t write the serious suspense plots that I do and NOT add humor. People/characters use humor when they’re nervous, or a fictional buddy is a cynical smart ass and great comic relief at key times. Laser sharp wit can become a way for any writer to stand out in a crowd of authors or a slush pile. 

I remember reading Robert Crais in an airport when Elvis Cole was on stakeout and spied a small dog taking a dump in a yard, ‘straining so hard its back hunched double.’ Elvis thought, “Awful, the things you see in my line of work.” That line made me laugh aloud and I had to call my husband to read him the passage before my plane boarded. I never forgot it.

Lately I’ve been influenced by odd/dark humor in shows like FARGO and Orphan Black, where the writers do the unexpected. They take quirky characters, weird outlandish settings, and put those elements into over-the-top plot notions. This type of humor isn’t new, but I love that the only limits are the writer’s imagination. It feels like the writers took a dartboard of wild ideas/settings/elements/characters and whatever they darted, they had to come up with a story. So I thought it would be fun to talk about use of humor in novels and break it down into elements I have tried (not just read about) and enjoyed writing.

FIVE WAYS TO ADD HUMOR


1.) Put Serious Characters Into Ludicrous Situations

I used this strategy for a novella I wrote and sold recently – Lillian & Noah – An uncommon Coming of Age Novel. Picture a small fictitious town in Texas, called Why. A well-intentioned bowling team of widows, called the Ball Busters, meet on league night at Why Bowl & Tanning Spa to brainstorm a scheme to compromise certain influential citizens of the town, in order to stop one woman from financially ruining a nice young man who’s trying to send his sister to college. The Ball Busters convert an old carwash at the edge of town (the Why ScrubADub – Motto: “You like it clean, we like it dirty”) and remake it into a sexual fantasy hotspot to raise money for tuition. Harold & Maud meets Risky Business for the baby boomer generation.

BBC America’s show Orphan Black is a prime example of this brand of humor. The characters are deadly earnest in their attempts to dig into the clone conspiracy and stay alive, but in each episode there are ridiculous situations that make a viewer laugh aloud. One incredible actress, Tatiana Maslany, plays all the clone parts from a crazed Russian assassin to a soccer mom to a scientist to this week’s gender challenged Tranny. One example of their over-the-top humor: several of the clones are discussing strategies on Skype with one who can’t be there because she’s sewing costumes for a play she is starring in after she killed her neighbor (by garbage disposal) who had the starring role.

With this type of humor, don’t edit your ideas. Fling them onto a notepad or whiteboard without censorship. Maybe brainstorm with your craziest friends to see what makes you all laugh.

2.) Write Earnest Dialogue With a Sarcastic Internal Monologue from the POV Character

Cut loose on your inner smart ass with this type of scene. The dialogue lines would read as idle banter or may not appear to have color, until the reader sees what the character is thinking or gets a whiff of their cynicism. Whether you write in first person POV or deep third, you can make this happen and add attitude to your character. Remember, people don’t censor their opinion when they think no one hears them, in their head. So let the sarcasm fly, without filter.

Example: From My WIP – Legacy in Blood. My 24-year old bounty hunter wannabe, Trinity LeDoux, argues with Hayden Quinn about coming along on a dangerous trip:

“We? Oh, no,” he said.

“Yeah, but that’s the deal. I go too.”

“That’s crazy. I’m not a coaster ride at Six Flags. You can’t buy a ticket and climb onboard.”

If Quinn were a ride, I’d definitely buy a ticket, but now wasn’t the time to embarrass us both. I had to find another way to pique his interest before he voted me off his island.

Example: Hayden notices Trinity is carrying a weapon when he “visits” her condemned warehouse home

“You’re carrying a weapon,” he said as he let me pass. “I feel better already.”

Busted. Okay, yeah. I had a gun tucked under my Ren and Stimpy T-shirt, my one big investment in my new career. I couldn’t read Hayden’s reaction, but his deadpan sarcasm had begun to grow on me.

I’d once argued that bullets were more valuable than a gun. My shooting instructor went ape shit crazy over that one, especially when I said, ‘Without bullets, any gun is only a passable paperweight.’ It’d been a chicken and egg argument. You had to be there.

3.) Use Funny Sounding Unusual Words to Add Color & Humor

How about these zingers? Bamboozled, bazinga, bobolink, bumfuzzle, canoodle, carbuncle, caterwaul, cattywampus, doohickey, gobsmacked, gunky are but a few of the words listed in my link below, but imagine how you might use these words in a story and who might say them. These words alone could stir your imaginings on a character.

Example: The word ‘parsimonious’ means stingy. Here is how I used it in my latest WIP – Legacy in Blood:

I hadn’t eaten since early yesterday. If Hayden didn’t kick me off his property, I’d eat enough to last. I’d stuff it in my cheeks like a parsimonious squirrel if I had to. 
(The internal voice of Trinity LeDoux. She’s presently homeless and beggars can’t afford to be persnickety.)

4.) Try Tongue-in-Cheek/Deadpan Delivery in the Banter Between Characters 

In my opinion, less is more. Write the banter in short punches and don’t explain. If the reader finds it funny, that’s good, but don’t overwork it by trying too hard to be funny. Also be mindful of pace. Too much of a diversion can slow the plot. Get in, get out. Or in the case of Robert Crais’s example below, add several quick schticks of the same idea (ie. John Cassavetes) through the book to reinforce the humor in short spurts.

Example: In Monkey’s Raincoat, Robert Crais carries on a schtick with Elvis Cole, PI. A new client flatters him by saying he looked like a young John Cassavetes. After that, Cole asks others if they think so too. Each short punch is funnier and funnier. Here’s one encounter:

“Tell me the truth,” I said. “Do you think I look like John Cassavetes twenty years ago?”

“I didn’t know you twenty years ago.”

Everyone’s a comedian.

Example of Lillian’s POV from my novella – Lillian & Noah:

“It’s a sexual fantasy site,” I said. “Members share their most intimate erotic fantasies on their profile.”

“In my day, guys just wrote those on a bathroom wall.” Vinnie snorted.

“Shut up, Vinnie. Let her finish.” Candy shushed him with her red nails. “What happens next, doll? I think I saw something like this on Days of Our Lives.”

I clenched my jaw as heat rushed to my face. Not even a pig in a blanket helped.

5.) Use Odd Parings in Comparison Humor
In the examples below, it would take a witty or outlandish character to come up with these descriptions, so get your creative juices flowing to conjure who might say these lines. In the case of Schimmel’s bittersweet memoir on cancer, I can see my younger brother saying things like this. When he had his cancer scare, he made sure I was with him at his doctor appointments (along with my mom) because he knew I would laugh at his defensive humor. Mom couldn’t. So I was stuck between my more serious worrying mom, and my irreverent bro who had to laugh or go crazy(ier).

Example:
Games of Thrones is like Twitter. It’s got 140 characters and terrible things are constantly happening.” 
This kind of comparison takes a poke at Game of Thrones AND twitter.

Example: From the late Robert Schimmel’s memoir ‘Cancer on $5 a Day’

“…this stupid hospital gown is riding up my ass. I try to pull it down and it snaps up like a window shade. I cross my legs and suddenly I’m Sharon Stone.”

Any book can be enhanced with some humor. Think about people you know. Most everyone has humor in one fashion or another. Maybe you need a funny secondary character to offset the dire circumstances as comic relief, or the clever banter between a man and a woman could focus on their gender gaps. By adding humor, you put another layer to your writing and another tool in your arsenal of tricks.

Humor Writing links:
Writer’s Digest Article on Humor Writing.
Funny Words

So for TKZ Discussion:
1.) Share some of your funny (short) scenes or one-liners.
2.) Or post authors you’ve enjoyed who use humor in a memorable way.

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For the Love of Horror & History

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane


On Monday, my lovely TKZ blogmate Clare Langley-Hawthorne had a post called “Losing the Past” where she discussed the state of the historical. I must admit I’ve been intimidated from trying to write an historical. The research seemed daunting, not to mention the world building and dialogue challenges, but I’ve always loved classic literature set in a historical time period made into movies, like Little Women, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, David Copperfield, and Jane Eyre. There is something very compelling about taking a peek into the past to see the cultures, classes, location settings, and period clothing. Whether in a book or on screen, it’s a beautiful escape to a different time and place. Historicals aren’t dying out, they’ve become the new black if they’re reimagined into something fresh.


Lately I’ve become enthralled by TV period pieces, especially if the writing and storytelling are solid and the visuals and world building are memorable. Shows that have pulled me in are: Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, BBC’s Ripper Street, and Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. I watch other shows for different elements towards my writing, but these shows have influenced me into crossing the line of my comfort zone. I firmly believe, for me, that I must seek out projects to push my perceived limits. I think I learn more about myself when I do it. The only limit to any writer is the limit of their own imagination.


So when I was recently asked to contribute to a time travel anthology (with an amazing group of authors), I accepted with great enthusiasm (even though it scared me). I accepted the challenge because of my love for these three shows and my desire to push my writer limits. I wanted to share these feature film quality shows with you to see if they stir your imaginings as writers for inventive plots, attention to detail on world building and research, and the fearlessness of the creative mind to combine ideas that may not connect easily.


Icabod with skullSLEEPY HOLLOW – The motto at Sleepy Hollow these days is “Embrace the Ridiculous.” Show creators and the talented writers have thrown together very unlikely elements to create what’s been called WTF TV. On paper, the pitch for the show would’ve sounded absurd – Washington Irving adaptations of Headless Horseman and Rip Van Winkle, mixed with Revelations in the Bible and the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse and historical conspiracies from the Revolutionary War. Icabod Crane is reimagined as a Revolutionary War hero and Revelations “witness” who arises from his secret grave at the same time as the Headless Horseman (aka Death) starts a killing rampage in the quiet town of Sleepy Hollow. The battle of good versus evil has found a home. Crazy, yet it works. The added touch of humor to this “man out of time” story makes Icabod a very endearing character. There’s tongue in cheek humor and the show is notably very ethnically blended. Sleepy Hollow is making history in more ways than its flashbacks.


Ripper SettingRIPPER STREET is set in Victorian London right after Jack the Ripper left his mark. Fear runs high that the monster will return. The shows are tightly written, very emotional, and there is great sensitivity to social issues of the time that reflect on those same issues today. Another thing I love about Ripper Street is the portrayal of early forensics and crime scene analysis. Many scenes are laughable (ie surgical operations done in the open without sterilization or proper care for infection) yet accurate for the time period. Costumes are stunning and the street settings are vivid with great care for detail.


Penny Dreadful BooksPENNY DREADFUL – The show title of Penny Dreadful comes from history, the name given to paper pamphlets filled with terrifying stories. Such stories (also known as Penny Blood, Penny Awful, & Penny Horrible) plus stage performances of the genre were the rage in London during the Victorian time period. They were printed on cheap pulp paper and aimed at working class adolescents. Fear abounded and made fertile ground for when Jack the Ripper wreaked havoc on the streets.


Cast 1Penny Dreadful is an homage to literary horror and classic monsters of the time: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, etc. What I love about Penny Dreadful is the intense world building in every scene. The details of lush sets and gorgeous costuming and the use of practical literary monsters (not animated computer generate imagery). The horror is visceral.

Dr VicHere is Dr Victor Frankenstein slaving over his “creature” in secret. The scene where Victor lays eyes on his living creature (and the creature sees his creator for the first time) is an unforgettable moment where the viewer holds a breath to watch the touching intimacy. Everything about this show speaks to me of good writing, solid storytelling, and memorable characters in classic conflict. Visually stunning. It’s a feast for the eyes, mind, and heart.


For Discussion: What shows stir your writer imaginings? Have they ever influenced you to write a genre you’ve never tried before?

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Five Key Ways to Create a Character’s Distinct Voice

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane
 
Inspired by Joe Moore’s excellent post yesterday on Narrative Voice, I thought about my process for making characters distinct in the worlds I build in a novel. We are all influenced by where we grew up or where we live now, our race, social class,  jobs, friends, religious beliefs, and other factors. Any character an author creates is no different. It’s not enough to picture their outward appearance. Give them a background and sphere of influence. Sometimes it helps for me to hear their voices in my head. (Yes, that’s allowed without taking medication. Special dispensation for authors.)
 
I recently binged on Sherlock (a la Benedict Cumberbatch) and Sleepy Hollow (British star Tom Mison’s reinvented Icabod Crane). I loved the notion of Sherlock’s brilliant mind leaps and I also loved the idea of a more stilted proper speech of an educated scholarly man similar to the Oxford professor of Icabod Crane, but I wanted my character to be American with a brash punch to him when he wanted to make a point. Those rare moments of punch give him a sense of gravitas and unexpected depth of personality. Being familiar with these TV characters, it became a fun challenge to meld their distinct voices and mannerisms into my American FBI profiler haunted by visions of crime scenes when he sleeps.
 
It’s amazing fun when you can hear the character voice in your head and write with a good pace, without filtering the words you type on the page. I call this “free association” where you channel the voice of your character without having to think about it. Over the years I’ve gotten better at this, which also comes with a cautionary warning born of experience. Often if you THINK in free association without filter, you will SPEAK that way too. Not always good in a social setting. #FilteringSavesLives
 
Five Key Ways to Give Your Character a Distinct Voice
 
1.) Word Choices:

  • What is your character’s vocabulary?

 
  • How educated is he/she?

 
  • How much does race/culture play into his/her narrative?

 
  • Are there regional influences on his/her speech? (I feel most comfortable writing in Midwest, TX, OK, and Alaska, places I’ve lived and worked.)

 
  • Is slang or pop culture references a part of his/her speech patterns? (A secondary character can use slang as a way to distinguish that character’s voice from the protagonist. Fewer tag lines necessary.)

 
  • How old is your character? (Don’t force a more youthful influence if you aren’t comfortable, but be aware of generation gaps.)

 
  • Is your character from another country? (Word choices and even spellings can indicate where a character is from. I wouldn’t take any short cuts here. If your character is British, but YOU as the writer aren’t as familiar with nuances of a particular region in the UK, get help from a native speaker or build a backstory where your character has other influences that will temper their voice into more of a melting pot.)

 
  • What gender is your character? (Gender can play a big part in making narrative distinctive. Avoid the cliché, but men and women are fun to contrast, no matter what your vision is for unique individuals.)

 
2.) Confidence Level:

  • If your character is an assertive cop or from a military background, he or she would expressive themselves in a more direct and decisive fashion.

 
  • How forceful or passive is your character? (A deliberate use of the passive voice can be an indicator of a submissive character. Use of “Uh” or “Um” can indicate hesitation and lack of self-confidence.)

 
  • Does he or she take charge and have a no nonsense approach to dealing with conflict or do they only react and let others take over? (Even their clothes choices can indicate how confident they are.)

 
3.) Quirks/Mannerisms:

  • Does your character have distinctive habits or mannerisms? (Sometimes a facial tic can be fun to exploit at key times.)


  • Does your character have a unique hobby or interest that affects how they speak? (Someone into sailing could infuse nautical words, for example.)


  • What humor do they have, if any? (Characters can have humor play out cynically in their internal monologue, yet their dialogue lines don’t reflect humor at all. This can be great for comic relief. Also characters can have distinctive sense of humor from very dry to crass bathroom humor.)

 
4.) Internal/External Voice:

  • Your character might have a day job, but at night they come home to a family with small children or a demanding pet. How does their internal voice change when they let their guard down? Do their internal thoughts show a more tender vulnerability? This duality can bring depth and complexity to your character.

 
5.) Metaphors/Similes/Comparisons:

  • I love imagery, but let’s face it, some characters will never think in terms of elaborate metaphors. It would not make sense to force it. In the case of my educated professor type, for example, his narrative could be infused with imagery/metaphors or perhaps literary influences because that’s how his mind works. He sees reality of the world around him yet he longs for the fictional world of his favorite book. If my character is a street kid without much education, he might be more influenced by rap music lyrics or the daily hustle on the street where he fast talks to survive everyday. No matter who your character is, they would have their own frame of reference for making comparisons.

 
FOR GRINS & GIGGLES: I took a little New York Times Online Test of 25 questions that analyzed how I spoke to determine where I live. (Best suited for residents of the U.S.) The test came back with a result that I lived in Rockford Illinois, New Orleans, and Rochester NY. Totally wrong since I live and grew up in Texas, but my mother was a Yankee and I’ve lived all over the country, so apparently that has also influenced me.) Take the test and see what your results are. Did they get it right? Let us know.
 
For TKZ Discussion:
How do you infuse a unique voice to your character? What are your key influences? If you’ve written characters outside your comfort zone, what tricks can you share about how to make that work?

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Give it Up or Suck It Up

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane




This anonymous question was submitted to our blog. I thought I would attempt an answer and would love it if everyone could share their own answer.
“When you were at your lowest point and about to give up writing fiction, what pulled you through?”

I distinctly remember this low point. Ironically it came after a huge high. Go figure. I’d been working full time in the energy industry, doing a demanding job with travel, and had been writing for 3-4 hours every night (much longer on weekends). I did this grueling schedule for 3 years and it felt as if I worked two full time jobs at the same time.

I had joined a writer’s group, attended conferences & craft workshops, entered national writing contests, and submitted proposals to agents and editors with countless rejections. Mind you, I’d been named winner or finalist in half the contests I entered and I’d been receiving “good” rejections. The ones with handwritten notes or encouragement to resubmit from editors and agents, and I had 7 full requests out at the time. This kind of feedback requires risk. A writer has to dare to put their work out there for public scrutiny and rejection in order to learn and open your mind. Here’s an excellent post from TKZ’s James Scott Bell on the importance of Rhino Skin.

With every one of these aspiring author stories, there often comes tantalizing peaks along with devastating emotional valleys. I had entered (for the first time) the Romance Writers of America’s (RWA) Golden Heart contest for aspiring authors and had been named a finalist. This is like the Oscars for RWA. This was the Mt Everest high I’d talked about.

A good friend of mine, who had also been a finalist that year, gave me good advice. She told me to simply focus on my writing (a new project) and not get caught up in all the hoopla of the event, like what formal dress I would wear, or my shoes, or hair. From her experience, she knew it was too easy to get distracted and that if I didn’t sell from this, I would have to find a way to carry on and keep going. As high as I’d been from the contest, I felt my hopes dashed when I didn’t sell by the time the event came around. (Often, expectations are the proverbial albatross.) My friend had been right. I had to focus on what was important.

What got me through the crashing low after such a Rocky Mountain High was one question. I asked something that would change how I looked at my writing from there forward. “Would I still write if I never sold?” When I answered with an enthusiastic “YES,” I knew why I wrote. I wrote for the passion of the process and the love of storytelling, my way. I had tapped into a form of self-expression, creating something from nothing, that I hadn’t experienced any other way. The love of writing and reading had been with me since I was a child. It would always be a part of me.

Writing has elevated my quality of life. It’s changed me forever and in that moment, the burden of expectation (something I had no control over) was lifted. After I’d let go of the Must Sell mentality, it wasn’t long after that I sold big. My first sale story is here at this LINK. Yes, I sacrificed a body part to sell. But after I finished “No One Heard Her Scream,” I knew it would sell. Don’t ask me how I knew. I just did. Who needed pain killers when the euphoria of writing had me walking on clouds?

In that stage of my writing journey–after I’d rediscovered the joy–I focused on the craft of writing and forgot about what was popular or what some publishers were wanting in their detailed submission guidelines. I never was one to worry over or chase trends. I had my day job. I treated my writing as something I did because I loved it. Writing still brings joy to my life and I continue to write the stories I want to read.

I’d love to hear from others in our TKZ family. What gets you through the slumps? What keeps you going?

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First Page Anonymous Submission–Whisper Creek

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane



Here’s an anonymous submission for comments, entitled WHISPER CREEK. Enjoy and my feedback will be on the flip side.


Excerpt: Whisper Creek
The bullets whizzed by his head. How they missed him—he did not know. The night became a blanket of darkness—no light. Mark couldn’t see his hand in front of his face. The only light came from the intermittent flashes from the end of the muzzles pointed at them from somewhere up ahead. He squeezed off several shots from his M16 rifle, then nothing.

Empty.

Gunpowder filled his nostrils. An uncomfortable premonition of fear pervaded his senses.He blinked sweat from his eyes.

Keep it together.

Mark pushed the magazine release with his thumb, inserted another twenty round mag, and pressed the slide release. Locked and loaded. He saw a flash of light up ahead followed by another. Mark steadied the weapon on the meaty part of his shoulder, aimed, and waited. He focused his attention at what lay ahead—the enemy—Charlie—the Vietcong.

When he saw another flash, he fired several rounds at the target. No more flash. The platoon of Marines continued to fight…no matter the outcome they must push forward. Never retreat—never surrender.

Through the noises of gunfire, men screamed in agony from being shot, but the unit continued to move through the jungle. Then a fire settled into his right thigh like a hot poker. Mark realized he’d been shot, but pressed on despite the pain. They all knew what happened to Prisoners of War in Vietnam. A quick death in the jungle would surely be more humane than being tortured by sadistic men in a camp. The warm liquid snaked down his leg, but he refused to stop. If he did, he might lose the momentum to keep going.

Ring…ring…ring. Had those sounds penetrated the darkness? Light began to infiltrate the blackness in the distance. Ring…ring…ring. The noises of gunfire faded. The pain subsided.


FEEDBACK


OPENING LINES:
1.) Bullets whizzed by his head – Think about how this must feel. The noise. The chaos. His not so lucky buddies getting hit around him. In the dark, can he even see what’s going on around him? Does he feel alone in his push to follow his last known orders or is he blindly following others? Every time he moves, he risks getting killed. What’s driving him? My best advice is for the author to stay in the moment and not follow this first line with cliched phrases that take the reader from the immediacy of the battlefield. “How they missed him—he did not know” and “the night became a blanket of darkness—no light (redundant)” dilute what could be an embracing opener. Stay long enough in the moment to put the reader fully in it with their senses.


2.) To convey the chaos of battle, it might be good to shorten the sentences with the bare essence of how Mark is thinking – quick short staccato spurts, rapid fire like the bullets screaming by his ear. The line “the only light came from…” is an example of a description that strikes me as too long to convey the intensity.


3.) M16 is enough of an explanation. Adding M16 rifle reads as redundant, given that Mark is an experienced soldier.


AWKWARD PHRASING:
Gunpowder filled his nostrils – I’m sure the author intended for this to be the stench, but I am visually seeing his nose filled with black gunpowder.

An uncomfortable premonition of fear pervaded his senses – I’m not sure a premonition can be considered part of the 5 senses since it refers to a 6th sense. Rather than “tell” the reader that he’s feeling fear and it’s uncomfortable, it would be better to “show” the reader how Mark reacts to the dark notion that he’s marked or the next bullet is his. How does fear manifest in this guy? Does he develop worsening symptoms of an anxiety attack from the start to the finish of this opener…until he wakes up from his presumably troubling PTSD riddled sleep?

Never retreat—never surrender I have to admit my thoughts went immediately to Galaxy Quest. Anyone else? (I’m sure it’s just geek me.)

Through the noises of gunfire – This read as awkward to me and it’s repeated in the last lines as well. A distinctive phrase like this would be easily noticed as repetitive. Gunfire is a plural noise, not noises. 


FOLLOW LOGICAL ORDER OF ACTION:
A common thing I am seeing in this opener is leaping around with images, rather than sticking with a logical progression and flow to the action. For example, “Gunpowder filled his nostrils. An uncomfortable premonition of fear pervaded his senses.He blinked sweat from his eyes.” We move from the stench, to the bad feeling, to sweat. (This leaping can be seen in the 2nd to last paragraph as well where we too quickly move from gunfire, men dying/screaming, Mark shot, POWs & torture, then back to his leg wound.)


The author would do better to view the battle from behind the eyes of Mark and follow him through the scene, staying within his senses in a natural flow. I would recommend the author look up “PTSD” or “anxiety” disorder symptoms and build them into this scene in a subtle way so Mark builds the intensity of his reactions through the opener until he can’t take it anymore. Symptoms could include: Panic, losing control, chest pain, dizziness, hyperventilation, hot flashes, chills, trembling/intense shaking, nausea/stomach cramps, the feeling of being distanced from what’s going on. Pick the ones that would work best and build them into the scene until the reader realizes/feels his mounting affliction.

ENDING:
Ring…ring…ring. Had those sounds penetrated the darkness? Light began to infiltrate the blackness in the distance. Ring…ring…ring. The noises of gunfire faded. The pain subsided – I’m not a fan of noises being described like this – ring, ring, ring. Anyone else feel the same? In this instant, it does not appear to be Mark’s POV. It’s like an omniscient narrator is observing him from outside his body and making sure the reader knows something is ringing. Would Mark be so aware? I doubt it. I imagine where this is going is Mark wakes up from his flashback or nightmare to the shrill sound of a phone. To someone sleeping, how would that come across more realistically?


Discussion:
If war is hell, so is writing. Thanks to this brave submitter. An exciting scene of being in a battlefield would capture my attention if the author savored the rich sensory experiences and not rush it. The author’s instincts to begin here seem right if the execution could be improved a bit. What say you, TKZers?

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