Monday, June 25, 2012

Titles - Oh, the Terror

Titles. It's something writers stress over, possibly even more than the dreaded synopsis, for if you can't create a stunning title for your written gem, it might not ever get noticed. The title is important for marketing, for recognition (so readers know it's the one their friends were going on about last week at lunch), for grabbing attention in that giant sea of titles out there.

So what's the best way to create a fantastic title?

Here's some tips:

  1. Think about what the story is about - the ideas behind it, the plot, the characters. Write down any and all words that relate to anything tied to the tale. Fill the page, or pages, with as many nouns and verbs as you can.
  2. Cross out ones that are too cumbersome, bland, overused, or otherwise not pleasant. 
  3. What's left? It might seem like a jumbled mess, but start rearranging those darling words anyway, add conjunctions, prepositions, adjectives - don't be afraid to get wild with it. Keep it simple, keep it catchy, keep it connected to something in your story. 
  4. You'll be left with a list of a few groups of words, some you'll cross off just because they don't click, others might be so-so. If you can't pick out one with a "That's it!" kind of feeling, hold on to a few good ones while you write, chances are, as the story and characters unfold, one of those options will get stronger, or change a bit to reach that point. 
A bonus step is to Google your choices to see if any other book, blog, movie, painting, or other artistic expression out there has a similar title, or the same. If so, ask yourself if you need to adjust your title or if it's good to have it similar to the other book, blog, movie - well, you get the point.

The title is often your book's first impression (its cover the second), so great care needs to be given to those first few words the world will see. It can seem like an impossible task, but if you do the steps above, use a thesaurus to make your choices more vast, have fun playing with words, you can create just the right one for the job. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Attention spans

Attention spans. Now there is something I know a little about. Having raised my three girls, I can remember times where I struggled to grab and then hold their attention either for school work or chores or what not. "Stay on task" was something not easily done. Yet my middle girl would sit in the middle of the chaos with a book in her hand, completely absorbed and oblivious to anything around her. A book.

So when I saw another blog making comments about today's youth not being interested in books due to addictions to cell phones, Ipads, email, facebook, twitter and the like, I'm afraid I can't fully agree. I've been immersed in the younger crowd with my kids, their friends, and my nieces and nephews. What impresses me is the number of kids nowadays who love books.

As my middle daughter, and now my youngest say, books can take you somewhere nothing else can. I had a technology addict (my oldest), but even she is more interested in living life now. The arrival of technology for books (Kindle, Nook etc) has blended the two, but I still hear from so many how reading a book in actual print is so much better.

Being an author and an editor, I've known there is a difference between reading on screen and reading print for me, at least. Recently I read an article bringing up the question of how our brains take in print words differently than electronic ones. No studies that I know of are complete on the actual differences, but there are many opinions on the subject. Read this article from The Chronicles of Higher Education here  just to get you started.

For me, growing up in the '80s, and raising my girls through the 90s and 2000s, I'm seeing a trend that encourages kids to read. Some won't, we can't all love books, but in my opinion, the percentage of those who know the value of a good, print book has gone up from when I was a kid. Electronic for some does the same. Either way, we all still love a good story to whisk us away and give us an escape like nothing else can. That, I hope, will never change.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Writers Never Stop Learning

I remember when my writing grew from something more than a kid jotting in notebooks to something I  might actually be good at. It was a wild and crazy thought, just out of high school with no great grades in any English (now called Language Arts) class. And I sure wasn't brave enough to let many people ever even look at a page I'd written.

I credit my parents really. I had the opportunity to take a creative writing course, one I couldn't afford, yet my enrollment happened anyway - didn't take me long to figure out who made that happen. My mom has always been my biggest fan, and my biggest critic when I needed someone to point out when something was bad.  I learned a lot in that two year course. But it wasn't enough. I gobbled up "How-To" books on all topics related to writing. Articles and stories from Ray Bradbury, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Mary Higgins Clark and many others taught me how to improve my techniques for suspense, horror, and fantasy weekly. And I wrote nearly every night after tucking my girls into bed.

I worked with editors for my first book and got some bites from publishers, but things just didn't sit right with me, the changes they wanted, the things they demanded. I kept studying, kept writing.

I published my first book in 2002. I had people coming to me for advice shortly after, got invited to offer novel writing workshops for Long Story Short School of Writing, workshops I still teach. I keep writing.

And I'm still learning. I've made mistakes in my writing, but I'm learning from them and fixing them. The biggest lesson I had to learn was that my voice, just the way it is, is fine -- readers like it. I have a couple titles where I tried to listen to editors or the well meant advice of other writers, but I did not do myself any favors by letting my style and voice get muddled. I've worked that out now, but I'm still learning.

If I live to be ninety years-old and write fifty novels, I'll still be learning. And I wouldn't want it any other way.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Once Upon a Time

Okay, so Specters of the Lawless doesn't really start like the title of this blog post, it has started. Here's a little sampling of the first draft:


The snap of the woman’s neck dropped the crowd into silence, all but the three youngsters tied and standing below the gallows. A scream broke louder than the youngest’s sobs. A bellowed promise that they would all pay.

“You hear that?” Uncle asked, his face painted with lines of anger and contempt.

Eagan peered up into his father’s much gentler eyes, eyes that mirrored the will for mercy.

“Brother, they’re just children,” Father said.

A sneer angled Uncle’s jaw strangely. “Every enemy began as a child,” he said.  He turned and descended the stairs, shouting out to the young girl, then ordering her instant death.

Eagan dashed to the left, following the twin set of stairs out the opposite side, ignoring his father’s shout.

The girl was not much older than he, maybe thirteen, but she was slighter, small and thin like all the woods people. Her hair was dark and tangled, as dark as her eyes. Uncle said their eyes were black like their souls, but Eagan had gotten close enough to see the irises, which appeared black, were truly a rich deep brown. When he asked his father, he learned it was a very normal eye color in some areas, not at all indicative of the soul like Uncle claimed.

He ran faster than his uncle walked, shouted at the unsheathed swords and raised rifles, and leaped from the lowest landing to take a stance before the girl who shepherded her two younger siblings behind her despite her bound hands and being trapped between the weapons and the gallows where their mother still hung.

His young legs were not fast enough. The air was still heated from the laser blasts when he whirled to face the girl. Her expression had softened to a wince of pain. Tears still dripped from her lashes and beautiful eyes so deep and full. Instinct had him clutching her shoulders when she faltered. The two youngest lay dead behind her, their souls already lost, but she remained standing, her hands clamped around his wrists. He sank to the ground with her, nothing else existing but her. He didn’t even know her name.

Her tears dried, her full attention only on him.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “Please, don’t go.” He wanted to help, wanted to take the pain away, wanted to stop the leaking of her life. He held her, gripped her more tightly when she could no longer stay upright, willed her life to remain even as her gaze wavered, locked on his, but then went blank with no light within. He clenched his eyes against the sight of it, but even in the darkness he saw her.

Anger grew through him, worming deep to his gut, fraying his young mind. The vicious grip of a large hand around his collar, yanking him away from her, snapped him back to reality. He shuddered at the hateful expression on his uncle's round face.

“Put him down, Amras.”

Eagan pulled his head to the left, startled by the stern look on his father’s face. Whispers rose up from all around.

“Of course,” Uncle said.

Air rushed down Eagan’s throat so quickly it nearly choked him. He fell to his hands and knees only to be pulled upright a second later to peer up at his father and away from the dead girl.

“Never falter,” his father said. “Keep your feet, keep your head.” Then Eagan was gently nudged behind him.

Other things were said between the brothers, none of which Eagan heard. Father guided him back up the stairs with an apology for subjecting him to such an event. It was just to be a lesson in law and consequences. Father had no idea the woman had children or that they would be involved.

Eagan snuffed out the bedside lamp that night a different boy with new understanding and the memory of the girl with beautiful brown eyes.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

I am a writer

I was a writer before I was an author. I was a writer before I was an artist. I was a writer before I started editing, teaching, publishing, and all that. I've been a writer for more than twenty years with twelve published novels. I recently finished a 7 book series -- big relief. Then something happened. While I had a little success a few weeks ago with starting my next book, it was mostly because I know the writing tricks now to force it. Problem is, forcing it only happens for so long and there is no passion in it, nothing to carry it forward. Each word feels like the yanking of a tooth. That doesn't make for promising results.

I have to chase away the naysayer comments erupting from the back of my mind. Saying I'm not good enough, saying no one wants to see the world like I do or read a story my imagination creates.

I am a writer, and I am very good at what I do. My stories are deep, crafted, and not predictable. My characters are developed, real, with heart and soul. I know this. Now I have to work on truly believing it.

Specters of the Lawless will be no different in those respects despite it being a different kind of tale for me. I'm actually looking forward to the unique aspects of it now. If only I can find the time to devote to it. Hopefully soon.