Thursday, August 30, 2012

What to Do When Your Characters Stop Talking

I've been trying to wrap my head around one of my characters lately. It's not just any character. It's the character... ya know, the main character of my book. It seems the more I edit, the more I feel like I just know this character externally. With all my other protagonists, I can feel them at my core. I can feel their motivations for why they make the decisions they make. But with this protagonist, I just can't quite get there. I'm not sure if I even did when I was writing her.

So, it dawned on my today that maybe I should get to know her through others. I've got a pretty firm grasp on the other characters' voices, so I decided to sit down and hone in on what they had to say about her.

I asked her mother figure, her best friend (female), her other best friend (male), the guy who's crushing on her, and some of the other people who know her. I was somewhat surprised by their answers. When I asked one of her tutors, I was downright surprised at the answer.

Then, I went and took these answers to my MC (main character) to find out what she had to say... to see how these answers resonated with her. And there it was, like a pulsing beacon deep inside me, I found out why I couldn't connect with her before... more on why I couldn't connect with her later.

In any case, the truth is we all have that moment where we start panicking over the fact that a character has stopped talking to us.

1. You've done something to upset your character.
  • Example/Problem: I did this once. And when I tried to continue the story from this one point I'd written to keep the plot going in the direction I wanted, but I found I couldn't hear my character anymore.
  • The Fix: Rewind and delete. Ask your character what you did wrong. Chances are you made a decision for your character that your character would not make. What would your character do? Close your eyes and let your character envelope you. Play out the scene in your head up to that moment... then wait. Wait for your character's action and/or response. You might be surprised by what happens. It's probably better than what you'd planned originally.
2. You've fallen out of contact with your character.
  • Example/Problem: You've brought your story to a certain point or maybe even completed it, and your characters have gone all mute on you... as if they don't even exist except on paper anymore.
  • The Fix: Try rereading your favorite or most climatic scenes... the ones that should be wrought with emotion. If this doesn't work, talk to your other characters. A lot of us are only let the MCs in our head. Try talking to some of the smaller parts.
3. You've gotten bored with your character and they have ceased to exist in your world.
  • Example/Problem: How many times has this happened? You've come up with some other idea or character that has completely ransacked your world, dominating your thoughts and screen time.
  • The Fix: One option is to let that WIP (work in progress) go cold for a while. If it's something you've finished, it helps to have a cooling off period before edits. If this is not the case then: Lists. Yes, no writer likes extra work, but it helps. They do this in therapy to help people learn who they are. Write a list of character traits, thoughts, expressions, etc.
4. None of the above fit?
  • Well, chances are your characters are fine and you are self doubting.
  • The Fix: Stop self doubting. It gets you no where. If something is bothering you about your WIP, go and fix it. Whatever it takes. The old "it's just not good enough" isn't reason to give it up. Write a list of what's not good enough, then read articles, research, and find out how to fix it. Chances are you are better than you realize.
Sample Questions I asked my characters:
Insert your character names into the parenthesis, and come up with your own! These were all directed towards particular characters that fit their relationship with my MC.
  1. Why do you like (the protag)?
  2. Why is she different to you than (insert other character name here)?
  3. What makes you worry about (MC)?
  4. Why are you so flirtatious with (MC) when you know you don't like her like that?
  5. Why do you look up to (MC)?
  6. Why have you taken care of (MC) so long?
  7. Why are you so certain (MC) is who you say she is?
  8. Can you tell that (MC) is nervous?
  9. Do you feel that (MC) resents you for bringing her into this world?
  10. How could you abandon (MC) knowing what she had been through?
  11. Why is (MC) so important to this cause? Why does it have to be her?
  12. Would you still like (MC) if (MC) gave up?
Just something you guys to mull over. Please add any questions you've used to open your characters up in the comments below or email them to me at Ashley dot AE dot Elizabeth at gmail dot com. I'll be compiling them into a much larger post.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Corrupt Indie Downfall

Just read something online, and of course, my feathers are more than a little ruffled.

Let's put in this way.... I am starting to think that there should be laws implemented to regulate the behavior of indie authors. If I see any more coddling or "down with the system" indies on their soapbox, I'm going to go on strike. Which means, I will no longer speak to any new indies that don't first sign some contract stating that they are not idiots.

One of my main issues right now is that there are A LOT of indie writers out there who are preaching wrong practices to newbie writers. This whole "down with the system" is complete crap. I'm serious. The system is falling apart at the seams and people are looting in the streets. That's not how it works folks. It's simply not.

If your book doesn't get accepted because the market is bad or publishing houses don't think it will sell, then fine. Self-pub away. But, usually those are NOT the reason books aren't getting accepted. All writers, indie and trad alike, should follow a process. Don't even bother trying to preach to me about the chinks in the armor. I know that bad books get trad published just as much as I know that good books get passed over.

Have you guys not seen the movie He's Just Not That Into? The whole point of that movie is, "You are not the exception, you are the rule." I'm tired of people operating on the basis that their book is fantastic, it's probably not. Have some humility. Do what writers have been doing forever.... write, edit, beta, re-write, edit, beta, rinse and repeat. This system has only just started to really fail with the crap they're putting out now. But, in the past, it worked and put out great novels.

The system teaches you hard lessons... like rejection. It happens. All the time. I can't imagine Edgar Allen Poe getting coddled by anyone else but his cousin/wife. Stephen King, while some hate him and some love him, has given us some great stories... IE Carrie, the Shining... and in the beginning he worked for scraps and only had his wife rooting for him. It happens. They didn't beg their readers for great reviews (or pay them as we can now do), they sat down and honed their craft.

I'm so sick of indies right now. Granted, I'm hoping that it's the minority of indies out there that are shouting, "Hey, look at me! Love me! Give me money for a bad book!" But, they are the ones that are getting all the attention, and they are the ones giving us a bad rep.

On top of all of that, I think a lot of indies do not realize that they are representing the industry and giving BAD, HORRIBLE, DISGUSTING advice to newbie writers. What comes out of your mouth as a writer is looked at by other writers, keep that in mind as you post your blogs, tweet, or otherwise.

Maybe, if enough Respectable Indies stand up and stop being afraid of what these mobs of angry indies have to say we can regain some respect in the community. Hell, there are reviewers who are getting tired of dealing with us. I don't know about you, but when I publish I don't want to have to go knocking on doors of reviewers only to be met with shotguns and warning signs that say "no indies allowed". Because if we don't start shaping up this community ourselves, that's exactly what's going to happen.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Critical Review of Melpomene's Tears by Jonas Hyde

Please note that this is more in the style of a critical analysis as opposed to your typical reader review.

I finished this book in a few hours. Then, I went back and read it again. Hyde’s style completely baffles me. I feel that I should really write two reviews for this collection. Throughout this review, I go back and forth. With almost every noteworthy good, there’s also a “yeah, but” or vice versa. On one hand, I found myself boasting about a few of the poems. On the other hand, I felt like I was reading someone’s journal.

Melpomene’s Tears definitely has a medieval feel to it, as you will often find words like “nous”, “ain”, and some apostrophe words like “ne’er”, “’twas”, and “tho’”.

Okay, truth is, I’m struggling to write this review. I will say it’s worth the buy. Yes, go ahead and download it. Now onwards to my thoughts…

His content was great. His narrative poem (poems that tell a story) Lament for Lady Beth was one of my favorites. It was twisted, and I really enjoyed the story. Hyde went to great lengths to make sure the rhyming scheme (ABABCBCDCDD) was kept intact throughout all twenty-five stanzas. That is very impressive. However, his meter was all over the place. His stanzas went something like this:
Stanza 1: 11, 6, 10, 7, 6, 6, 7, 9, 8, 8, 21/
Stanza 2: 9, 9, 15, 12, 10, 12, 12, 11, 8, 10, 19/
Stanza 3: 8, 13, 8, 9, 8, 9, 8, 7, 16/
Stanza 4: 10, 5, 11, 9, 8, 19, 11, 12, 9, 14, 12

Yes, I went through and counted out every syllable (aka the meter) for the first 15 stanzas. There was no meter. In a lot of cases, I’m okay with not having any meter, except as you can see from the stanzas above, the general flow of the work was all over the place. If you tried to read it out loud, which I did, you’d fall all over yourself because his scattered meter won’t let you fall into any steady pace in this particular piece.

That being said, the story stuck with me. It stuck with me in a way a Grimm’s fairytale would. I just had that sort of feel to it.

My favorite story was probably The Bounty. This was also a narrative poem, and it also stuck to a rigid rhyme scheme (ABBA). This time the meter, though not really definitive, was regular… meaning it had a “beat” to it. As in most of the poems in this collection, The Bounty had a narrator. As it was only a few pages long, I can’t say much about the actual story without giving it away, but I loved the emotional joys and tragedy of it all.

The reason I am so conflicted about this review is there were definitely some moments that were getting under my skin. There were several overused words. By the end, I felt if I’d read the words “ain” and “nous” one more time, I’d have to buy this guy a medieval thesaurus and give it to him. It was also relatively depressing. However, it was very personal, and you could definitely feel that. This seemed like it should have been very cathartic for Hyde. Having said that, I don’t think Hyde played to his strengths throughout the collection. I would have been much happier getting a collection of just his narrative works. While I could totally get on board with what style he was going for, sometimes it seemed like he couldn’t make up his mind, his words were often unnecessarily inverted, and thoughts were left incomplete. Though, I think a lot of that was fixed in his narrative poetry.

Overall, I have to give this 3-stars. There were some great lines in it, like “for words further/ would only waste a moment and a breath”. I found myself really falling for some of his phrases. But, on the same hand, I think that “for further words” would have flowed a lot better without losing his style or meaning. This was the case in a lot of places. But, the content itself connected me to the author’s innermost grief. The content of the narratives could very well be likened to Grimm’s Fairytales.  

The main reason I give this 3-stars is because I feel that this is not the height of Hyde’s skill and talent. I would happily give this a 5-star review just so others would buy it, but this is not Hyde’s 5-star work. I would be very anxious to see more… much more… from Jonas Hyde.

Friday, August 17, 2012

How To Write a Bad Review

It just so happens that reviews are a very touchy subject lately. Duh, there are indie vs. reviewer wars, author's giving fake good reviews to friends, and glib smack talk akin to what you'd find in high school. Then, there's also that 5 star system that just makes me want to gag.

It's about time I address what I feel needs to be in a review that is written by a regular book reviewer or a writer. For those part time readers who just do the, "Hey, this was good," you can probably ignore this post.

I've seen some very long winded reviews and some very short reviews. Abe Lincoln said it best, and I agree... you cannot please all of the people all of the time. But, here's some tips worth noting.

1. Define your Taste Profile
  • I prefer happy endings, so I don't like martyr scenarios. I just don't. That's my preference. I'm likely to knock off a star for that. 
  • How about the pace? I can read a slow book. For example, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. The book was pretty slow. It was too slow for one of my favorite reviewers, Kara Malinczak. She couldn't even finish it! I, however, loved the book. I felt it was something to be savored.
Most reviewers feel their audience knows what they like, but I still think it's important to point out that something might not have been suited for your tastes. I will always point out if a book lost a star due to my personal preference and not because of the author's skill level.

2. Don't Be Rude
Francois Rude (He's seriously Mr. Rude)
  • You can absolutely be snarky without being disrespectful. There are certain adjectives that reviewers should not use. You know what they are. I don't need to list them. Try to stay away from negative hyperboles, metaphors, and analogies.
3. Find Some Nice to Say
  •  I can already hear the naysayers on this tip. But, I stand firmly behind it. Sometimes the only nice thing you can say is that it did not suit your taste.  I once read a book that had obviously not been edited. I was only out $0.99 so I wasn't too bummed. In the review, I stated the fact that it had obviously not been edited (and seriously it hadn't and it was obvious). Then, I went on to give the book compliments. The story itself was really cool, and I ended up giving it 3 stars just because of the plotline and dialogue. The grammar and some of the pacing should have made it 1 star.
4. Stick to the facts
  • You'd think this was a no brainer. If you want to write a good review, stick to the facts. There are things that different reviewers look for. Plotline, character development, pacing, and general quality of writing. Some people are just in it for the romance or how romantic a certain character is. That's fine. Stick to that.
5. Try and Be Polite... for the Author
  • Okay, while I realize this is not the job of any reviewer, I think it should still be said. If you have never written something for the public before, you have no idea how devastating it can be to get a bad review. While authors are taught to try and take it in stride (some have obviously missed this lesson), this is still their creation you are talking about. Be respectful of the time and effort they have put into it. If you are an author who thinks that other authors should develop the thick skin you have, get off your high horse. Some people are more sensitive. I'm not expecting coddling here, just some level of respect.

See the "Polite Literature" part? Ha, it does exist.
With all this being said, no one is perfect. And lately, I've been a pretty bad offender myself... especially when it comes to my rants about the poor prose of Fifty Shades of Grey.

So, after reading this blog and Indie Authors: Your Sales Are Your Fault, you probably think I'm taking the reviewers' side. I'm not. I'm a writer and an editor. I'm taking the writers' side. I expect good quality to come from writers... after all, in a way, we all represent each other.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Forgetting Main Ingredients in YA

I think there are a lot of experiences that get missed in books.

I read a lot of YA, and lately, I feel like the storyline is quite flat. It usually is all some version of boy meets girl. And for the most part, I'm okay with that.

But there are times when my mind is dark that I realize or at least feel that something is missing in those tales. When we write, we are supposed to draw from experiences. Most of us have experienced loss or bullying or parental frustrations. So those I don't have a problem with. But what about the real darkness?

I don't see many monsters in YA. Not real ones. Maybe that's why I liked Maze Runner so much (books 2 & 3 were not the same). I felt that James Dashner had brought some of my nightmares to the page. He had brought some despair to reality, and for once it had nothing to do with a girl. Sure, there were romance issues, but it was hardly the focus. As a side note, I love it when authors say that their YA has romance but it is not the focus... cause most of the time, that's not true. What they mean to say is that their book's plotline is not derived from the romance itself. The romance is still in focus...

Anyway, back to my point. I've not read much YA lately that has really evoked a strong emotional response. Honestly, I've set down my Nook. I've been up to my elbows in work and trying to reap the remaining benefits of the summer's harvest.

Well good readers, without spelling it out detail by detail, all I'm saying is... I hope you don't forget to put the stuff in your books that has made you question life. Or the things that really catch you off guard. For me it's when I'm faced with something I have a hard time putting into words. Like the feeling that some absolute trust has been betrayed... by someone who you've been entirely vulnerable to. There a lot of raw moments in life that teens encounter outside of high school and who they are crushing on. They have a lot more phenomenal and extraordinary questions and emotions than that.

Monday, August 6, 2012

All These Confessions Make Me Nervous

I've tried not to hate on writers who spam their books constantly because I knew I might find myself in that same position one day. I knew very well that I could find myself with a greater understanding than I had when I was getting annoyed with the "look how great my book is, go buy it" tweets that would fill my feed. Well, that day has arrived. Sort of. But don't worry, I haven't started spamming...

I have been down on my luck as of late. Due to my health issues, I can't get a "normal" job. So I work from my home editing and writing. As a hobby, I do crafts and furniture refinishing. (There's something to be said for using power tools to relieve stress.) These all help pay my bills. But lately, they have been falling short, and I've felt the pressure of not having enough work coming in and not selling enough of my other pieces.

There are a million things I could do to rectify the gaps in my finances, and trust me, those are in the works. One, I could be more open about the fact that I edit. As of right now, it's barely a mention in my bio on Twitter. (The one reason I haven't said much about my editing services is because my website isn't up yet, and it sounds a bit amateur to shout, "Hey, I edit! Email me!). Most of my clients were born from writing friendships that I've acquired and those they have recommended to me. And this is enough to get me by. But, that is all it has been doing, getting me by. I drive a beat up old Honda that's recently broken down, and in my panicked "Oh my God, I don't have a car" state, I added a Donate button to my blog. (Top left corner of the blog, right above all your shining, following faces. In the meantime, here's a picture of my car.)

Hey, it looked like this when I bought it. If it has AC/Heat, good gas mileage, and runs I couldn't care less how it looks.
I can't tell you how tragic that day was. It was rather painful. What was more painful was tweeting about adding the donate button. I hung my head in shame. Even in the one tweet that said I had added a donate button, I felt like I had fallen into the "spammer" category. That I had lost my integrity in the field.

But since that first tweet, I've been checking my numbers, seeing if anyone has donated. Only an act of good faith. And it's killing me, I want to tweet, "Hey look, I've got a Donate button!" but I haven't. All the while I'm screaming in my head, "Please, pay it forward, be kind. I need this." I want to boast about how I've supported indie projects and donated to many kickstarters, even if it's just a dollar. Even typing that for the world to see, I feel like I'm throwing away the good spirit in which I gave it. I didn't do it to win some sort of "good person" campaign. I did it because I wanted to support others. Because I believe we all have a chance. We all deserve a chance. And the projects I donated to were people who had talent and were trying to create something, but just didn't have the financial backing.

Now, I look at my feed and I see people spamming their books and I find myself praying that they are not in the same position as I am.
Reading back through this post, I can't help but think I sound pathetic. I've probably rolled my eyes at myself at least six times. And that's a lot for a single post. My point is not that you should go donate to me. I have two far more important things for you to see.
Here's what you should get from this:
  1. You never know what people are going through. If you hate the spamming, just think about what they might be struggling with. Maybe they are posting about their books because they really need to pay the water bill or buy some diapers or as it is in my case, buy parts to fix a car. You never know.
  2. Pay it forward. We all support each other in RT's and FB posts etc. But honestly, the money has to come from someone somewhere. So donating or buying a book helps. And yes, spending less than a cup of coffee to support a fellow human being is worth it, and I hope for all that's good in humanity, that you feel the same way too.
Basically, a lot of us tend to glaze over when people ask for money. I've come to believe that people are either givers or non-givers. We approach the world with a biased view. We either see the world as just a bunch of hacks and scammers or lazy people unwilling to work for their money, or we see them as people who have suffered and could use a hand up. (While I realize this is an extremely polarizing statement, I say it in good faith that you will realize I'm not an idiot and I know there's gray area to this.) When you see a post for a Kickstarter or Indiegogo do you just glaze over? Or how about that book reviewer who spends most of their days reading just so they can save you the time of having to weed out the good books from the bad? Do you donate? A dollar? Five? Ten?

What seems like eons ago, these people would have been paid to have their reviews and articles printed in the paper. Now, they are running blogs for free in hopes that the interwebs will see their worth. If we go even farther back, we will see a time when artists and writers had patrons, who paid for their living expenses and gave them a stipend. But those days are long gone. Now, we have donate buttons, and we all have the opportunity to be patrons.

A grease monkey's heart. :)

Amendment to Original Post:
Okay, almost immediately after posting this, some of my clients were a bit upset for a variety of reasons. But, the main reason for discord came from the  fact that I failed to offer any information about my editing services. I didn't mention prices, I didn't mention what I do. I didn't even list my email for people to get in touch with me. Gasp!

The truth is, I didn't want to lose the integrity or message of the post by giving out my information. This post is genuinely about helping people. But, as it was pointed out to me, there are probably people out there who would want to know about what I do. If I was going to announce in a blog that I edit, shouldn't I make it clear how to get in contact with me? That's what they said, and I believe in my clients. So, here you go... all the dirty details.

  • My email is, feel free to contact me with any questions.
  • My prices vary based on the job, but I am willing to work with any budget, because I honestly cannot stand the idea of people not being able to afford getting the most out of their own work.
  • I offer typical editing services, but I personally like to work with the depth and strength of the characters and story. That's why in my Twitter bio I say I'm a great content editor.
  • I also have references available upon request, and I really do encourage you to ask them any questions you like about what I'm like to work with.