Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thursday's Children: The Unwritten Journal

Inspired by the Unwritten Journal.

A weekly blog hop where 
writers share their inspirations. 
Join, yo! 

I keep journals. Most of them are written. One is not. The Unwritten Journal. 

It contains every second-hand kiss, every turbid memory, every elusive emotion. When cloudshadow dulls the window or prickly silence permeates the house, I sense one of those thoughts stalking me, lurking in the periphery. Turn too quickly and the thought scurries into the line where walls meet. Too slowly, and it transforms into the jerking tick of a second hand. 

Stay still, don't breathe. 

Let it infuse you, possess you, compel you to scrape off your scars, gouge out your mouth, score your heart until you spew forth a million molecules of vitriol. 

We could call such a thing divine inspiration or a gift from the muses. But this type of inspiration needs no mythification. It's the things we don't want to remember, think about, or talk about. Often, they defy words.

In that defiance I find the reason why they need to be written down. Then they need to be cleaned up a bit so I can understand them, so I can understand myself, so I can share it and we can understand each other just a little bit more. 

This inspiration, found within your secret regrets, powerlessness, horror, lust, grief, desire, covetousness, and rage, can unlock motivations for the most heartless villains and humanize the most valiant hero. Or it can simply inspire a bridge of communication like the poem it inspired below.

For Lack of a Better Word

Would you give it up?

That somber silence stealing sound,
So complete, so perfect, so absolute zero in its
Weather. Would you give it up?
That darkness, for lack of better words
To describe a unique affliction. That
Miasma of color as black as your father's hair and
Genetics, it must be genetics that you can blame it on.
But would you

Give that up, that cave of boundless isolation,

That masochistic promise of solitude,
Borne inside you despite the crush of bodies
And the thrum of voices
And the Whats and Whys of living.

If you gave it up,

If you give over and listen up,
If you turned over and swallowed it up,
And let the meds fill you like the undesired
Cum of ones that burn your shell with claws like fire,
(for lack of better words). Just so you could
Not be so empty, and alone, and all those
Adjectives so profanely small to
Describe how sacred your
Potential can be.

Then you could have it,

That other type of quiet they call
Normal. That other type of darkness they call
Safe. That other type of life that you call Boring, Pathetic,
You could lose it, that wondrous silence
That makes each word gleam like teeth in dusklight,
That lovely darkness that makes each sight blinding
In its sudden lucidity. So losing that, but gaining the other,
You could have what they want for you,
At the cost of your Self,
And you could have, with that medicated, sedated emptiness,
An easier acceptance of
The lack of better words.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Laura Oliva Guest Post

GUEST POST by Indie Author, 


Concluding Character Module 1 with this epic guide on Character Development via Sexual Tension and Relationship.

How To Boil Water (And Other Things)

"Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, make 'em wait." -Charles Dickens

Heat.  Chemistry.  VavaVoom.  Sexual tension has fascinated us since we first started walking upright.  Look at our art, our literature, our music.  The ones that grab you, the ones with staying power, are the ones that illustrate the delicate dance of desire.  Gustav Klimt's The Kiss.  Any of the works of William Shakespeare.  The violin solo from "Scheherazade."        

You'll hear plenty of people say you don't need sexual tension in your writing.  They're right.  Technically speaking, you don't need it.  Certain genres- young adult, mysteries, thrillers- can do perfectly well without it.  

But that doesn't mean you should rule out incorporating sexual tension into your story.  Why?  Sexual tension can be a valuable and powerful writing tool.  The way two (or more) people fall in love has the potential to show you more about them than almost anything else.  

And as writers, we're all about "show."

So what is sexual tension?  And perhaps more importantly, how do you get it?

Simply put, sexual tension is the awareness that flares between two (or more) people when they find each other attractive.  

As with certain other things I can think of, when writing about sexual tension, technique is everything.  You want to use a fine hand so it doesn't seem obvious, but not so light a touch the page goes cold.  That said, here are a few techniques I've found to be particularly helpful:

1) Begin at the beginning.
Duh, right?  But bear with me.  As a romance writer, nothing makes me crazier than when I hear people say, "Romances are just a bunch of sex scenes strung together, with some fluff in between."  Um, no.  If that's what you've come away believing, something has gone very wrong.  Because sex scenes don't start with, well, sex.  They start from the moment the hero and heroine (traditional gender pairs used solely for brevity) first lay eyes on each other.  

Even if you have no intention of writing a sex scene, from the moment your characters meet, they should be aware of each other.  Maybe not attracted.  Hell, they could hate each other.  But they should definitely know the other person exists.

2) Make them wait.
You've heard the old cliché, "everything worth having, is worth waiting for." Well, it's a cliché because it's true.  Have your characters throw themselves at each other too soon or too often, and your sizzle will rapidly turn to fizzle.  Put up roadblocks.  Interrupt them.  Tease.  Let them marinate in their own juices for a while.  Then, when you- and they- can't wait anymore, turn them loose.

3) Introduce them to each other.
"But they already know each other..."  Do they?  Do they really?  Does your hero know the heroine has a soft spot in her heart for pit bulls rescued from dogfighting?  Does your heroine know the hero takes care of his sick mother with selfless attentiveness?  No? 

These "getting-to-know-you" scenes are gold for writers.  Not only to they help your characters worm their way into each other's hearts, they are also an opportunity to give the reader information about them without it turning into a lecture.  Show the hero meeting the heroine at the kennel.  Have the heroine run into the hero at the drugstore while he's picking up his mother's prescription.  Seriously.  Use this. 

4) Put them in a bad situation, then make them work together to get out of it.
Nothing has the potential to make or break a relationship like adversity.  Again, this is a great opportunity to work in some information about your characters.  How do they respond to a crisis?  Do they shut down?  Take charge?  Take orders?  How well do they work with each other?  And once the situation is resolved, hey, why not let them blow off a little steam?  You know?  Together?

5) Touch is powerful.
Let's get one thing straight: touch does not equal sex.  Touch does not equal groping.  Touch does not even equal kissing.  Don't get me wrong, all those things are lovely, and personally I employ them often, but they are not the end-all-be-all of romantic touches. 
Touch should always convey emotion.  Period.  It should never appear in your book for its own sake.  And don't think just because you're writing a PG-rated book, touch is off-limits.  It's not.  A well-placed brush of the wrist or touch of the jaw can be just as hot as a full-frontal, no-holds-barred fuck-fest.
6) But emotions are sexy as hell. 
There used to be two distinct types of stories: character-driven and plot-driven.  Character-driven focused on the characters, their feelings and motivations, sometimes at the expense of a good storyline.  Plot-driven focused on the storyline, even if it meant reducing the characters to little more than Monopoly pieces.  

I believe these are stale distinctions.  Today's readers want a balance of both, which means even if you don't plan on writing a character-saga, you should still spend some time developing your characters' emotional lives.  Especially because emotions are depth-charge weaponry when it comes to sexual tension.  

Have you ever read a sex scene where the emotions were left out, or not paid enough attention to?  You can have all the naked body parts you want, it still reads like an instruction manual for a piece of Ikea furniture.  Real people have feelings, even if they try to convince you otherwise.  If you use none of the above techniques, don't forget this one.  Engage your characters' emotions- engage your readers' emotions- and sexual tension is a natural byproduct.

I wasn't just being cute when I described desire as a "dance".  Like dancing, it takes practice and a fine touch to get the rhythm right.  Don't let that scare you off!  Used well, sexual tension can add more to your story than almost any other plot device.  Give it a shot!  Play around with it! 
Because more than anything else, a little healthy sexual tension is a hell of a lot of fun.

When not sweating blood over the keyboard, Laura Oliva is a full-time mom, wife, amateur chef, gardener, and (non)recovering clotheshorse.  She discovered her love of storytelling as a child, after successfully blaming a broken vase on her younger brother.  A functioning cynic, she writes tender love stories about tough people.   


Her first book, All That Glitters, is now available on Amazon and Smashwords.

Follow Laura Oliva on Twitter @writermama for clever quips and insipration. 

Her blogs are:

This concludes Character Module 1. To see the rest of the Character Development posts, click on the links below:
Character 1: The 5x5. Creating a go-to, one page reference to hone your revisions regarding Character Development. 
Characters 2: The Good, the Bad, and the Fugly, Quirky, Snarky. How unique is your super spesh Protagonist?
Characters 3: The First Date. Three ways to start your story with a bad first impression.
Characters 4: The Promise. Promises you and your characters make to the reader, and two ways you break them. 

Happy Writing!

Coming Up! I'll be on vacation for two weeks, then:
Dialogue Module
Robert Bevan 
Nat Russo

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


The Promise 

So you're absolutely sure you have a compelling, unique,specific Main Character (MC) who can lead a reader through your story. 

Chapter One is like the first few dates in which the reader gets to know MC (and you!) through voice and thoughts and perhaps some conflict. The whirlwind courtship hopefully ends in an exchange of promises. 

The reader promises to read the rest of MC's (and your) story. You (and your MC) promise to be as truthful and clear as you can in recounting events so they make sense. 

But if you're getting comments from your Betas or friends that some things are "confusing" or "don't make sense" in regards to your Protagonist, you might be breaking those promises. 

Here are two common ways that promise is broken:
Change in Character Voice
Out-of-Character Moment

I see the Change in Character Voice most often in Portal Fantasy, when a character from "our real world" goes through a portal or somehow gets transported into a fantasy realm. (However, it can happen in any genre, usually due to a huge gap in Real World time between writing chapters, like doing the first half of the book, taking a long break, then finishing it.)

For now, let's look at the portal fantasy example. In chapter one, MC was a Californian, perhaps saying things like "Dude was totes ice about me slumping in on his Betsy." (Translation: The man was very angry when I complimented his girlfriend.) Or thinking things like "We had to drive two hours in the middle of bum-f*ck nowhere, past stinky brown fields of future steaks, to get to the stupid town that smelled like week-old Taco Bell and had no free wi-fi." 

But as soon as he's ported over to fantasy realm, suddenly he thinks things like "The green valley stretched towards the horizon like a gossamer gown of emerald lace. Vermillion banners, embossed with an iridescent sapphire glyph, were hung across the parapets and barbicans spanning the ancient footbridge." 

That extreme example seems like a no-duh no-no, but check your WIP for instances where your MC starts talking and thinking in a way which doesn't match your character 5x5. 

Can you match that scene to an answer of one of those five questions: Who is your character? What profession/social class is your character? Why is your character the Point of View through which you're showing that particular scene at that particular moment? Etc. 

The example violates the "What is your character?" question and should be changed, which might indicate a drastic revision for the whole story to maintain the promise of your Character's Voice. 

It's not going to be as simple as going back to chapter one and saying "oh, by the way, California dude studied castles in college." The information he knows might be believable, but not the drastic change in his voice. You might have to go back and carve in some foreshadowing about the change in how he thinks in order to make the change itself believable, tone down the differences, or stretch the change so it's more gradual.

Another ways to lose Character Voice, reaching for familiar cliches or lack of realistic descriptions:

MC is a farm boy or sorcerer in a fantasy realm and describes another character eviscerating someone "with the precision of a surgeon" or leaping off a building "with the grace of Jeremy Lin."

Or MC is a surgeon and describes a scalpel as "the pointy thing next to the whirlygig."
Caveat! Don't over edit and make the Character's voice monotone. People have different ways of speaking in different contexts. For example, a classic noble-born medieval fantasy hero traditionally speaks with a different register and uses different words when speaking with "commoners" versus with superiors. A Young Adult will speak differently to his or her parents, versus with peers, versus with teachers or a cop who pulls him over. 

Keep your 5x5 card handy. Refer to it. If the Character's Voice, reactions, and dialogue within the scene are faithful to your list of answers, the issue might not be the Character but a different aspect (plot hole, description clarity) of the scene.  

The Out-of-Character moment usually happens later in the story, when the MC literally acts in a way which takes him out of the role he's been filling. I'm not talking about a character acting a little differently from a stereotype or trope, like a good guy stealing an apple or a bad guy petting a dog. 

Nor am I talking about the Character surprising us, like choosing to pursue Best Friend through Forest of Evil instead of chasing after Love Interest to Ends of the Earth. 

It's when the Character does something with no explanation for his motives, as if everything that would explain why he chooses not to pursue Best Friend or save Love Interest and instead goes home and knits a sweater happened off screen or in a scene you deleted. 

Perhaps you never wrote the scene. Perhaps that scene is in your head, so it makes perfect sense to you why your Main Character goes home to knit the sweater. Perhaps several chapters later you reveal that the sweater is actually a cloning device which will allow Main Character to be in two places at once, thereby saving both Best Friend and Love Interest. 

If you didn't foreshadow this, if you didn't show enough of his planning or thought process, if you didn't even hint at the possibility that this could be done, if none of the other characters comment on MC being "different," you've broken your promise to the reader to be as truthful as possible. You're being coy and sacrificing the reader's trust in order to have a surprise. 

It doesn't read as "ooh, surprise!" It reads as "Damn writer doesn't know what he or she is doing." 

Like I've said before, you can't be behind every reader's shoulder, whispering "keep going, I totally explain why he does this in the next chapter." 

In your WIP, try to foreshadow, try to plant clues, try to be truthful. 

Lastly, here's a list of some situations which may cause abrupt changes in Character Voice or cause Out-of-Character moments. Check with your Betas to see if you or your Main Characters break your promises. 

Love Interest Totally Reciprocates Feelings (usually ties up storylines, and might literally weaken Main Character.)

Heinous Act Pushing MC Past Point of No Return (Plot point forces Heroic MC to act in a traditionally un-Heroic manner, ie. killing an innocent, infidelity, usurpation of a throne, cheating on an exam.)

Virtuous Act Pushing Ancient Evil Past Point of No Return (Plot point forces baddie to act in a WTF way, usually as an attempt to humanize or garner sympathy for baddie, ie. saving Hero's Love Interest's life, not completely killing Hero's BFF.)

Team Win! (Plot point forces Hero and Villain to work together to save the world, save Prom, save a puppy. Are they only too glad to be working together at long last? Do they bounce back to original roles, or did you create new ones for them?) 

For your WIP, the best way to see how successful you are in keeping your promises is to first go through the story with your 5x5 card or with your character interviews. Then, have some Betas go through it – without the aid of your 5x5 and answers – and check where your message gets garbled. 

Characters – people – naturally change and in real life, we don't always know or understand why. But in a story, whose main goal is to be understood, drastic changes without plausible explanation can hurt your story's credibility and your credibility as a writer. 

Happy Writing!

Coming Up:
Laura Oliva
Dialogue Tags
Robert Bevan 
Nat Russo