Archive | July 2008

Reading for a good cause…


2008 “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing

The “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing has become one of the most popular events at RWA’s annual conference. Over 500 romance authors participate in this two-hour autographing event, and each year we raise thousands of dollars, which are donated to ProLiteracy Worldwide. Since 1991, RWA has donated over $600,000 to literacy charities.

The 2008 “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing takes place on Wednesday, July 30, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the San Francisco Marriott, Yerba Buena Ballroom. (This event is open to the public.)

Characters and Contests and Stories–oh, my

Been doing the contest reading thing, and have to say, people–writing skills are good, but story telling skills?  Bleh.  Are all the writing classes/workshops out there focused on technique, and not how to build a story (as in how to build solid characters)?

Two biggest mistakes I’m seeing on a regular basis is that folks seem to mistake backstory for characterization.  People, backstory is what happened to someone.  Characterization is how a person deals with, or has dealt, with those happenings–it’s their innate ticks that make them unique.  You can have two people both with the same event in their past–and you’ll get two different reactions.  But what I’m reading mostly just has characters shoved through a plot.  Not good.  And that brings up the other big mistake–plot needs to come from characters, folks.  If you make up events and throw them at your characters, the characters need to react ‘in character’.  If they don’t, plot comes across as ‘contrived’ — it feels made up.

And, yes, I know–fiction is made up.  But this is a magic act, people.  Story telling gives the illusion of real people. Fake people have to be more internally consistent, more structured, more real than real people ever are, or the illusion doesn’t work.

So–is this not being taught anywhere?  Are we producing people with writing skills, but no story telling skills?  I have to say, I’d much rather be bitching about untangling sentences, or making paragraphs make sense, or even adding tension to a scene, or how to punch dialogue–those are all common enough mistakes, but that’s craft you can learn.  Or is this the thing you really can’t teach?  Is this something you figure out on your own, the skill that isn’t a skill, but is a knack or a gift, or is something that you have or don’t?

Writers in SF

Next week is the RWA conference in San Francisco, and it’s a bit sad when that kind of event looks restful. It’s not, but it’s sure as hell a change of pace, and that’s sounding very, very good. But, honestly, it’s a bit silly that every year when I go to one of these, I spend good money to not listen to workshops–but the bar is worth the price of admission, and I at least get to listen to Susan Elizabeth Philips, who is as funny and charming and smart as she writes. That is no small thing. Writers are often not what they write. Actually, writers usually aren’t what they write. There are a few times when I’ve met someone and they’re so much like their books, it’s just silly. Usually, it’s a disappointment–I’ve learned to be very wary of meeting favorite authors (or even finding out much about them, since if the fiction is good, much else should be ignored). But the real fun of conference is often to be found in the bar, because that’s where you find someone who’ll talk about the craft.

And that’s what gets me jazzed.

A late night with too little sleep and just enough to drink that regular boundaries get a bit slurred, and that’s the kind of madness where you can dig a little deeper into questions about what does matter. My suspicion is that this is my frustrated desire to have been a member of The Algonquin Club–or at least a waiter at the hotel, someone who could eavesdrop shamelessly, and don’t tell me that Parker and Benchley and the like didn’t know they were playing to an audience.

Conference, however, always makes me wonder why a couple of thousand women in one room do start sounding like chickens in a coop. That’s just not fair. And why is it that the two things you never pack are the two things you need most, while the five things you were sure you needed remain unused? My other fantasy of convention travel is to show up with an Amex card in hand and nothing more and buy everything as needed–that’s not happening this year, but that’s one of those someday promises. (Along with getting out of the conference hotel more, and also finding the time to take a real vacation.)

And there will be books–not that I don’t have a stack of twenty to be read (and two I’m wandering my way through). But, lord help me, I can no more resist a book that looks interesting than I can stay out of a conversation about writing. So much easier to talk about, than to do. Back to doing more now….

Other Past Events

The Regency Academe, “Breaking in with A Regency” an online class on writing and research

Los Angeles Romance Authors Speaking “The Black Moment”

Monterey Bay RWA Chapter,  “From Unpublished to Multi-published in One Year.”

OCC Workshop,  “The Golden Heart–should you enter?”

Beau Monde Regency Conference, “Horse Sense for Your Regency Characters”

The Learning Tree University, Irvine CA – “Using the Internet for Research”;  “Technical Writing”

UCLA Extension – Computer Game Design

Digital Video Conference 1999, 1998, 1997 – “When to Use Digital Video”

IGDN Conference, October, 1998 – UCLA, CA – With Sam Palahnuk, “Creativity is Dead”

Computer Game Developer’s Conference, May, 1998 – Los Angeles, CA – With Sam Palahnuk, “Do You Have What it Takes to be a Game Designer?”

American Children’s Interactive Conference, 1996

National Writer’s Association, 1996

Workshops 2004

October 2004 – OCCRWA Online Workshop – The Selling Synopsis

October 2004 Los Angles County Library Romance Workshop – Speaking with Jill Marie Landis, Susan Squires, Jackie Diamond, Linda O. Johnston, Linda McLaughlin.

September 2004 Authors Talk – Barnes & Noble, Valenca

August 2004  Ask An Author OCCRWA Chapter Meeting

Workshops 2005

October 12 to November 8 2005 – OCCRWA Online Class – “The Selling Synopsis”

July 7 – September 7, 2005 – UCLA Online Extension Class – “Chick Lit and Her Sisters: Writing Marketable Romance Novels”

July 27, 2005 – Beau Monde Conference, Reno, Nevada – “Historical Characters in Fiction”

May 2 – 31, 2005 – “The Selling Synopsis” – Earthly Charms Workshop

May 2 – 31, 2005 – “Show and Tell”- Eastside Romance Writers

April 15 – 17, 2005 – Historical Novel Society Conference, Salt Lake, UT

January 11, 2005 – Eastside Romance Writers, “Plotting From Character”, Bellevue, WA

Words on Workshops Given

Because praise is always nice, and self-promotion is vital….

Words on Shannon’s Workshops–

“I did revamp the entire thing according to this workshop and guess what? I got a request for a full (manuscript) off of my synopsis! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge!”   Kim Daniel — Selling Synopsis Workshop

“I’ve finaled in the Sharp Synopsis contest. Using the synopsis we created in your class, by the way. Thank you so much for teaching me so well!”  Wendy-Marie Foerster — Selling Synopsis Workshop

‘Writing synopses is hard; I’ve done about six of the beasts by now and it never seems to get easier. Your approach is very, very helpful.”    Nancy Herkness — Selling Synopsis Workshop

“I learned a great deal from your expertise as a writer and a special “thanks” for your patience as an instructor.”   Diana Hizar — Selling Synopsis Workshop

“You definitely added more tools to my writing toolbox… Thank you!”  Genene Valleau — Show and Tell Workshop

“You gave valuable info regarding the use of telling and showing and now better understand when to use them in my writing. Thank you for teaching this course.”  Gerry Jove — Show and Tell: An Interactive Workshop

“Thank you for the huge amount of really useful information. I especially appreciate how you broke down what seemed to be an impossible task into doable parts.”  Jocelyn McGrath — Research Workshop

Synopsis Checklist

This has been developed from various workshops, tip sheets and classes taken — please feel free to take this, add, delete and create your own checklist.

1. Does it cover the hero and heroine’s relevant character traits and goals in a fresh way?

2. Does it tell the scenes with the most conflicts–internal and external–for the hero and the heroine, with an emphasis on the main character’s conflict?

3. Does it offer specific dramatic scenes for the main turning points, detailing what happens, where it happens, escalating the risk to the main character’s goal, and offering harder and harder choices for the main character in each of these scenes?

4. Does it have scenes that show a developing relationship, including attraction and hero and heroine compatibility, with mention of the feelings of the characters, and also telling what is keeping a relationship from working between these two?

5. Does the story include scenes with sexual developments between the characters and how those scenes impact character conflicts, compatibities and emotions?

6. Does it tell all characters’ motivations–including for any villain or antagonist?

7. Are the characters fresh? Are they developed by looking past cliché to what is core and specific to the characters?

8. Do the characters make choices that come from within that specific person, rather than from the writer manipulating the story? Can you say, “Yes, if I were this person, I would make this choice.”

9. Does it raise questions to keep interest going–and then provide answers to all questions raised?

10. Does it include a scene that is the climax or black moment, and make clear the resolution of the story with an ending that wraps up all story elements?

11. Does it include a strong theme that is woven into the scenes and character choices–and which is revealed strongest in the climax of the book and the character’s ultimate choice?

12. Is the voice active, with all extra words cut, and with the best possible word choices with the clearest, most concise writing possible in a tone that matches the tone of the book?

Courting the Muse

Then, rising with Aurora’s light,
The Muse invoked, sit down to write;
Blot out, correct, insert, refine,
Enlarge, diminish, interline.
                   Swift, On Poetry

Most of us allow our characters more foreplay than we allow ourselves. I’m not talking sexual foreplay, but creative foreplay. Think about it. Do you plunk yourselves down to work! Do you sit, staring at a blank page or an empty computer screen, demanding your creative side to get busy and produce. Do you tackle your manuscript with a red pen and the attitude that you’re going to get through that entire sucker tonight and make it shine? Is this any way to really be creative?

I thought about this article for some months before I sat down to write it. I mulled over the title, made a few false starts, tried to force out a few paragraphs. Then, sitting in the hot tub up to my neck in bubbles and staring up at the stars after a very unproductive day, it all came together in that one key word–courting.

How many of us court our creative muses? Do we send our creative side flowers? Do we mutter soft flattery? Do we evoke an inviting environment with soft light and music? Do we honor any of the rituals of courtship–or even half of what we’d like on a first date?

For me, it’s more often a matter of, “Gee, muse, I’ve got an afternoon to get some work done, so get your tail in here and get down to it.”

Now, I’d toss any potential romantic hero out on his semi-colon if he showed up in my manuscript with that kind of charm. But I’m guilty of approaching my ‘work’ with that same knuckle-dragging grace. Too often, I’m under pressure to produce, or I’m trying to squeeze in that extra bit of writing into an already packed day, and so I demand roughly, “Strip baby!” as I try to get under the skins of my characters. Their usual response is to freeze up, and refuse to even participate in the story. Wit turns wooden and dialogue flows about as well as lumpy oatmeal pours.

To court…to woo…to try and gain the favor of. From court we get courtship, courtesy, and even courtesan. The word implies grace, irresistible charm, and facinating allure. But exactly how do you court your muse? How do you woo creativity so that you don’t waste precious writing time.

Well, for me, I’m better off wasting that time.

You see, I believe that for a writer, no time is ever wasted. Half of writing is figuring out what to write, when to start the story, who the characters are. Personally, ‘down time’ is as vital to me as breathing. Sometimes the bad writing, the stiff dialogue, the stuff I look at and go, “yuck!” that’s really just my muse screaming for some attention. She dries up like an old heifer and sulks at my poor treatment of her. So, I do as I would have done to me. I take her out for a date.

The nice thing is that she’s a cheap date (really cheap). I can lie in a park and stare at clouds. I can garden a little (meaning pull a few weeds and just poke around). Or I wander around a farmer’s market (with no intention of buying anything and every intention to sample the sights, smells and produce). Or I just sit somewhere. And drift.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about this as taking an artist date. For me, it’s even less structured than that. It’s a matter of clearing away the rest of the world so I can get quiet enough to hear my muse. It’s a matter of soft lights, of sitting in a hot tub, of not having anything else to do. It’s not having the TV on, or a book open, or the radio playing, or a record sounding, or someone talking at me. It’s just wandering–sometimes physically and always mentally. Because that’s when my muse comes to me.

She comes on soft and darting feet, as elusive as a dandelion on a summer breeze. She speaks in whispers quieter than a moonless night. She stays long enough to laugh at mortal whims, and then she glimmers out of sight. And if I’m lucky–and have nothing else in my head–I see that what she leaves behind are golden rays of ideas. And these pour out of my fingers in such a rapid flow that my keyboard clatters late into the night.

That’s how this article happened. And all because I got up from my chain and keyboard and stopped trying to work. I started goofing off. I started wooing and stopped demanding.

It is called foreplay for a reason. Fore as in before, play as in have fun. Let’s face it, writing is not work. It’s hard. But it’s not work. Ditch digging is work. Writing is art. It’s black magic. It’s farce and tragedy, and bloody amazing that anyone can learn to speak to another soul so directly with print on a page and this clumsy, lovely, mysterious thing we call language.

So next time, before you sit down to write, waste a little of that precious time. Treat yourself, and your muse, to some creative foreplay. Don’t just slam, bam on the keyboard. Goof off a little. Let your characters roll around in your head without the encumbrance of shopping lists and chores. Ease yourself into it as if you were going out on a date with someone you greatly admire–and lust after. Apply a little courtship, but then, be warned–when the muse whispers to you, you must write.

Write at once. Not tomorrow, not later. Grab a pencil, switch on that computer. Get that hot flow of words onto paper before they dart away.