Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Your book should toy with our emotions!

Originally posted on Xomba. Click here to see it.

Emotions are the fuel for books. It's what keeps a reader engaged in the story, and keeps the story going. Without emotions, a book would only be pages of shallow boredom. This is why it is not only an author's goal, but their duty to line their pages with emotions that their audience can relate to.

Before we get into this post, I'd like you to look at your drafts, your scribbled pages, your notes, and see if your story and your characters display realistic emotions. Look for traces of happiness, sadness, anger, angst, confusion.

What emotions did you go through while writing?

This is a general rule I give to many of the new writers that come to me. If you don't feel anything at all while your writing, not happiness, not anger, not sadness, just neutral contentment, then you know something is wrong. It doesn't matter if you're the toughest dude on the corner; if your story truly means something to you, you will go through a range of emotions while you are writing. You will get mad, pissed off, depressed as hell, happy, and everything that can be felt on the spectrum of emotions.

One day you will say "Oh my god. I can't believe I just killed off Fabio. Now Sally May is going to be all alone for the rest of her life." Then you will be sympathetic for the fictional character you created, and you will go through bouts of sadness and depression. Then, one day, you will find the courage to pick up that pen again and start writing.

Authors go through these phases of emotions because their writing and their characters are very real to them. If you aren't experiencing any emotional attachment or feelings at all in your story, then neither will your audience.

Is there a mix of each?

If your story is too happy, too sad, too angry, your audience will sooner or later get tired of reading your book. Like most things in life, people want an interesting, colorful variety so they are never left bored and intolerant. Create your scenes so that they are believable. No one in life is always happy or sad or mad. We always go through a rollercoaster of emotions, and so should the pages of your book.

Sometimes having a variety of emotions is difficult in a book. To this, I ask my writers the following question:
What does your character want to feel?

Most answers would be: "My character wants to be happy."

Alright, so if your character wants to be happy, how is she going to get there? Are there some obstacles she has to go through, problems she has to deal with? If your character wants to be happy, then that should be their goal and their feeling at the end of their long journey.

Some individuals would give me the dreaded answer: "But my protagonist is already happy."

If you are telling yourself this, then you MUST change something about your novel. Otherwise, you are telling me that your character is emotionally well, and therefore will be unattached to the plot at hand. Odds are, if your protagonist doesn't give a crap, neither will your audience.

Does it flow?

If you're going to have a chapter of someone dying and going through utmost grief, then your next chapter has to be either the same feelings or a transition to something else. Do NOT continue with a happy, sunny-day, everything-is-right-with-the-world scene; the change is just too much and too confusing to handle. It is unrealistic and a major turn-off for many readers.

Does it matter?

For many of the writings I receive, it is quite often the case that there ARE emotions, I just don't feel like I should care about them. For example, if Sally May's story revolves around trying to deal with the death of her mother, then her emotions should revolve around angst, sadness, and perhaps anger. Thus, it would be inappropriate to mention Sally May seeing a couple kissing on the middle of a sidewalk, and her going through a phase of love-angst. Why? Because it just doesn't matter, and it adds irrelevant clutter and confusion to your story.

But, and I stress this immensely, it all depends on your story. If your protagonist wants love and the emotion contributes to the overall plot, then so be it. If finding a new love, perhaps a future husband who helps her deal with her situation, is the solution to her conflicts, then by all means add love to your story. But if love plays no role whatsoever in your story, please just leave it out.

How to put it all together?

That, my fellow readers, is a skill that can only be accomplish through practice, thoughtfulness, and hard-work. I cannot answer that question for you because it is so dependent on your story and your situation. But you will know, deep in your gut, when that time comes. The moment you get that feeling is the moment you know you have created a masterpiece.


May your joy in writing lead you to happiness,

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Don't rely on some premade template!

Originally posted on Xomba. Click here to see it

I often get many questions regarding how long a chapter should be. Quite honestly, I find this question absurd and shallow. The worst thing a future author can do is conform to some template of another successful book just so they can make some dough. Don't write a novel because you want to make money - write it because you want to tell a story through textual means. If you write because you are trying to meet some quota or some format, your audience will see the shallowness of your pages.

Now, there is a difference between getting some help and trying to fill in the blanks on a template. We all have to build from somewhere, build our foundation from the education of others. But once you piece that information together, it is up to you to use your brain to make it your own.

Remember grade school essays with the general format that teachers tended to exhaust? It looked something like this:
  • Introduction Paragraph
  • Thesis
  • Body Paragraph 1
  • Body Paragraph 2
  • Body Paragraph 3
  • Conclusion
File:Crystal Clear app korganizer.png
No matter what you did, your essay HAD to be in that order or else it would be considered a failed essay. Hell, a lot of English Teachers base their grading on that format, and they refuse to flex their minds and be creative. Because of this, I am doomed to peer correct and read essays with this dull, repeated format that holds no creativity whatsoever. The writers are forced to fill in boxes and bullets points just so they can get that awesome grade. This is why I'm against rubrics of utter specificity.

What does this essentially mean for writing? It means the student has to conform to preset formats so they can pass the class. They have to base their opinion and create it in a way so that it comprises of three points. Some people want to have more points, or less points, but because of this restriction they are forced to create this BS essay just so they can meet the criteria of their teachers.

Don't make this mistake. Don't base your book on some templates just so it can look pretty. Don't tell yourself that each Chapter just has to be twenty pages, or ten pages, or five pages. Otherwise you'll find yourself trying to fill up the remaining space with useless crap that no one wants to read, or trimming stuff that is totally fine and essential to your book. There are hundreds of books out there that do not follow any typical formats. Hell, the book I'm currently reading right now, Beloved by Toni Morrison, is in no logical order whatsoever, but the format works for her book. With this book she won a Pulitzer Prize and a Nobel Prize. And why? Because she was creative, thoughtful, and all her content came from her heart. You should create your story in the same, rule-free way.

If you want to create a book, disregard any templates or premade formats. It's fine if you need them to get some organization going, but do NOT base your whole book solely on them or else your novel will just be another clone in the batch of preformatted books.

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    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    Useless Descriptions - Take out the clutter in your novel!

    Originally Posted on Xomba. Click here to see it. 

    When writing a novel, it is often the case for many people to quarrel with themselves over what types of scenes they should put in their book. It is an author's pleasure to illustrate every single detail about their flawless story in hopes that the reader would catch the plot's charm. They wish to describe everything, from the cracks on the walls, to the hue of a random leaf, to the crease-lines on a character's eyes. They want to capture the audience's attention, bring them into their mind, and overwhelm them with the spectacularity that is their world.

    Does it work? To put it blunty, No.

    Many authors struggle with the aspect of Useless vs. Essential Illustrations - determining whether or not a scene or passage is essential to the story. No reader wants extra fluff they have to read through.

    For example, I can literally talk about a guy named John sitting by his desk thinking about how to propose to his girlfriend. I can talk about the cups on the table, and the dull creases on the wall, the pile of books on the corner, and how he has them but never reads them. I can talk about the dustiness on the desk, the hues of the rather grey room. I can talk about feelings, his appearance, his life. I can literally spend twenty pages telling the audience all this, and after I'm done, I have not progressed even one second in his world. John is still sitting at the desk thinking about his girlfriend, and he still has a problem. 

    You are not happy, John is not happy, and the audience is not happy. No one likes fluff. Get rid of it.

    Fortunately, there's a way for you to determine whether or not a passage is truly essential to your story. Just answer the following questions for that specific passage, and answer them TRUTHFULLY.

    1. What does this passage offer to the plot's storyline?
    2. Is the scene progressing?
    3. Is this progressive dialogue, or casual dialogue?
    1. What does this passage offer to the plot's storyline?
    File:Quill pen.PNGIf it's obvious that your passage doesn't affect the plot at all, alter it and answer the question again, or get rid of it. If you are not sure if the description of some scenes are necessary, ask yourself: is it essential for that leaf to be described? Is it vital that I give a paragraph on my character's deformed fingernail? Is it important to know that my character ate lasagna the night before the big fight? Will any of this hold an importance later on in the story? If not, get rid of it.

    2. Is the scene progressing?
    If you find yourself page after page describing nature and it holds no importance (see Question 1), then delete the fluff. Have you ever read a story and felt the need to skip over some paragraph descriptions because you want to get right into the action? Those paragraph descriptions are what you want to get rid of.

    3. Is this progressive dialogue, or casual dialogue?
    If your scene has dialogue, ask yourself if the stuff between the quotes are absolutely necessary for the story. No one wants a scene like this:

    "Hey Bob. How are you?"
    "I'm good. What about you?"
    "Swell. It's a nice day isn't it?"
    "Yeah. Oh hey, did you hear about the murder down the street? I heard Mrs. Cane was accused!"

    The audience does not read a story just so they can get bombarded with dialogue similar to the ones they have every day. Make sure each dialogue is essential to the story. Remember: When a character talks, He/she is either gaining information that will change the course of the story, giving information that will change the course of the story, or talking about something that will change the course of the story. There is no casual talk in a proper story. 

    Now, there is a difference between the above dialogue and saying: 

    Bob saw John, and greeted him.
    "Did you hear about the murder down the street? I heard Mrs. Cane was accused!" John suddenly blurted.

    Now that is something the audience wants to hear about.

    Remember when writing a story to put yourself in the audience's shoes. Would the audience be interested in what you're talking about, and is it truly necessary for the story? By making these decisions accurately and thoughtfully, you'll be one step closer to publishing that novel, and one step away from having to delete hours of work because of its uselessness.

    May your joy in writing lead you to happiness,


    File:Open book 01.svg

    Friday, April 8, 2011

    The Very Annoying Mary and Gary-Sues

    Have you ever read a novel that had the most cheesiest, predictable, stereotypical characters ever created? Do you cringe at the cliches, the overused quotes, the sexist roles?

    I have seen a series of stories (some already beyond editing, may I add) that have these predictable roles. They drive me insane, I tell you! Because society feels the need to coin, phrase, and define every single aspect of our lives, they gave the name of these typical characters the Mary-Sues and Gary-Sues of a story. 

    The Mary and Gary-Sues are men and/or women with typical, sexist roles that provide no uniqueness to the story. They are annoying, overused, and are often so shallow you can almost see them popping through the book's pages. 

    File:Cinderella 1865 (1).png

    In the case of a Mary-Sues, these are little, innocent, flawless girls that need the Gary-Sues to always save them. They are often beautiful and elegant. They are usually blonde with blue eyes, and have these perfect body forms that would lead all girls to deep envy. They are also usually very stupid, co-dependent, and lack the ability to think and act upon their own decisions. Mary-Sues often get into trouble and are continuous victims to villains. They get raped, abused, and do absolutely NOTHING about it. Why? Because they are Mary-Sues. They are the maidens in distress.

    File:Cinderella 1865 (4).pngOn the other hand, Gary-Sues are the macho, perfect, muscular, and often handsome protagonists of a story that never seem to lose. They don't have any problems, they always seem to know what to do, and they are powerful from beginning to end. They are often suckers for the elegant Mary-Sues, and will do anything to please them. While Mary-Sues are annoying and sexist, they don't necessarily ruin the story if used sparingly. On the other hand, Gary-Sues can KILL THE STORY. They don't add interest to the story because they are too perfect; readers can't relate to him, and conflicts are barely what they are because Gary-Sues seem to solve them right away.

    Do you have any Mary or Gary-Sues in your story? If you do, I advise you to change them AS SOON AS POSSIBLE to prevent the oncoming of any angry readers. 

    If you plan to create a character for your story, consider the following questions:
    • What makes your character unique?
    • What does your character hate about themselves?
    • What is their purpose in the story?
    Answer these questions as fully and as truthfully as possible.

    What makes your character unique?

    If you find that you can't think of anything here, then you already know you need to rethink that character. For uniqueness, you want to focus on anything from their personality, to their frequent thoughts, to their actions, etc. So if you're character used to be a rapist and just got released from jail, and is currently going to go visit his grandmother for revenge, then that's pretty unique! If you're character has been abused and raped, that is not unique (I can't tell you the endless amount of rape butt-hurt scenes that I have had to read. Trust me - having a character victim to rape is not so special anymore). If your character MUST be a rape victim in order for your story to unfold, then at least make how they reacted unique. So for example, since your character was a victim of rape for years and years, she was finally fed up with it and when her father was asleep, she sliced his genitals off. Now that's a story!

    What does your character hate about themselves?

    Again, if you cannot think of anything you need to redo your character. A character is depicted as something or someone with conflicts and feelings. Every character has to have SOMETHING they hate about themselves, or something that is imperfect in their lives they want to fix. You can come up with anything, and It does not even have to be mentioned in your story, either! As long you have this mindset about your character and can get into his/her role, then you'll have a better chance of making them appear believable, and relatible. 

    What is their purpose in the story?
    I'm going to keep this short and sweet. If your character has no purpose whatsoever in the story, get rid of them. They are just excess flying crap that your reader will have to dodge. Keep whoever is essential and that will be all that you'll need. 

    Remember: When writing a story, uniqueness is the most important. Do not conform to the Cinderellas, the Princes, the Snow-Whites, and whatever Disney flung at you when you were an innocent child. Don't be afraid to branch out from the norm, and don't be afraid to express yourself through writing.

    Good luck to you and your writing ventures!

    Sunday, April 3, 2011

    Featured Work - April 3, 2011

    How to be Happy After a Divorce by JustAMom1974

     Tonight, after talking for over a year about a divorce, my husband finally left our home. A peace and calm came over this house when he shut the door behind him for the last time. How did it come down to this? This is my story. Out for the world to see. I hope that in some small way my story can help someone else that is going through the same kind of situation. This is my story.

     Our marriage began fifteen years ago. We didn't know each other very well. We certainly had no business getting married at the point that we did. We met in February 1995. We married in June of the same year. March of 1997 we had our first child. Followed in January 1999 by our second. The last child was born in 2001. Our problems first began to show, okay not really began. The problems really picked up in 1999. It was shortly after the birth of our second child. She was about two months old when I caught him for the first time. I walked into our living room to find him sitting at the computer chatting with a woman and telling her that our marriage was over. That he loved her, not me.

     We argued a lot about that. He agreed to stay off the computer. Which he did for a while. It took a long time to get over the fact that he was professing his love to another woman. Advance to 2001, I walked into our office and again caught him online telling another woman that he was divorced. Telling her that he only stayed around the area so that he could see his kids. We fought badly over that one. It was really difficult but I finally put that behind me.

     I thought it was behind us this time for good. But in 2005 I began to have suspicions that he was doing something on the same lines as before. I decided that the only way to know for sure was to catch him in the act. So, I found a key logging software that I installed on our computer that would take screen shots of what was on the screen every ten seconds. Those photos were emailed to me on an account that I had set up for just that purpose.

    One afternoon I asked him what was going on. Please tell me what you are hiding I begged him. He insistently told me nothing was going on. I asked him right out if he was chatting to women again. No came the answer that I got from him. A little later he left for work. I went into my email account that he knew nothing of. I sat there for hours going over each and every screen shot that was there. There were well over 5000 photos.
    Each one that looked out of line I saved. Those that seemed harmless I deleted. What I had left in the end was thirty five images on my screen.

     Each image worse than the last. He was corresponding with a woman that he had met while playing on a poker website. It started fairly simple. That he was divorced. Before I knew it the screen shots showed him talking of moving to Michigan to be with her. That he was just biding his time a little longer so that I wouldn't stop him from seeing the kids. Telling her that he wanted to take her to bed. It only got worse from there. Nothing that any wife wants to see her husband saying to another woman.

     I kept those images open on the screen but thrown to the bottom so that the kids wouldn't see them if they happened by the computer. I waited getting more and more angry by the minute. By the time that he walked through the door I was completely enraged. I asked him again what he had been doing on the computer. He again swore that he had been doing nothing at all on there. So I said, "Really" whats this then? I opened each one of the screen shots so that he could see what I had found. He became extremely outraged. He began yelling and asking why the hell I had those and where I had gotten them. I told him that I had been asking, begging him to tell me and that he wouldn't. So I installed software that would show me what he was doing. He then said, so you don't trust me enough that you are checking up on what I do?

     Apparently I can't trust you. It's time you leave. I have had enough of the lies and the internet cheating. He left, only to come back the next morning saying that we would just stay together because of our kids. That our marriage was over. I agreed to let him come back on the grounds that it was only because of the kids and that nothing had changed between he and I. We agreed that night to just be parents to the kids, and that when the youngest was to turn 18 that he would move out. So that was how we lived those last few years. We kept separate lives. 

     Well that brings us to November 2008. Since we were just together for the kids and our marriage was non existent, I felt that I could finally be free. I ran across an amazing website called Classmates. I put my profile on that site thinking I would be able to find some friends that I hadn't spoken to in years. What I came across shocked me. I found the man that I had fallen in love with when I was sixteen. He had posted photos of him then and now, and photos of his kids.

     I sent him an email telling him how beautiful his kids were and that I always knew he would be a great dad. I never in a million years thought that I would ever hear anything back from him. In fact, I had sent that email in November of 08. I didn't hear anything at all back from him until February  09. I could not believe my eyes when I got his email. He remembered me, and was shocked to have gotten my email. He didn't think that I ever wanted to talk to him again. I had thought the same of him.  We spent a couple of weeks emailing back and forth talking about old times, and things we had been doing over the last sixteen years.

     One email from him asked me to call him sometime because he would love to hear my voice again. I couldn't believe how that made me feel. I for the first time in a long time had butterflies. He knew I was not divorced yet. He still wanted to talk to me. One night I went to the store, I called him. I sat in the parking lot of the store and we talked for what seemed like forever, but in fact was only a couple of hours. Still to this day I can't wrap my mind around the fact that he wanted to talk to me. It was a shock.

     Anyway, we talked as we could over the next few weeks. I went home after work one night and came clean about it to my husband. I told him that I had been talking to a man from my past that I had never fallen out of love with. I told him everything. Yes he got mad, he had every right to be mad. I in turn reminded him that we had only stayed together because of the kids. Had it not been for them we would have gotten a divorce years earlier. I told him that I was going to go for a weekend to see this man. I had to see if what he and I had shared in the past was still there or not.

     So in May 09 I went to meet with him half way between where he lived and where I lived. The very moment I saw him, all of those same feelings came rushing back. Was it only because I was reliving the past? I thought in the beginning that it might have been just that. As time has gone on I realize that, the past is the past. We love each other now for who we are today. We both have gone through so much and grown over the years. We were but mere children ourselves back then. We have grown up in more ways than age.

     After our weekend together, we decided we wanted to be back together. I went back home and he went to his home. We kept in contact the next few weeks. My husband and I talked in length about the fact that I was no longer willing to stay together because of the kids. It did the kids no good to be living in a home where there was so much tension. So, as a somewhat dysfunctional family we moved to the state where my love lives. It was hard for my husband, but I felt that the kids needed to still be able to be close to him. I live closer to the man I love now. We are only about fifty miles apart. My husband was still living with me and the kids until tonight.

     The straw that broke the camels back? I finally realized that I had been doing everything for the kids myself. Paying bills, taking care of their needs and as many of their wants as I could. Meanwhile my husband was sitting at home complaining about the fact that I want to divorce him. Literally everyday after I left for work he would complain to our kids about how mom and this guy were always seeing each other. We aren't, it was only in his mind. We see each other every couple of weeks for a few hours. My husband seems to think that everyday when I go to work that I am going to meet this guy before work.  It doesn't happen but that is what he thinks happens.

     So tonight, we argued about what else. This other guy and how when I see him I hug or kiss him. Yet how I don't kiss my husband anymore. I told him when he started yelling about it tonight for the millionth time that he has known that this was what was going to happen. That he has known it for the last nine months. I have been as honest with him as I can possibly be.

     When he left tonight he told our kids that it was mom that told him to leave. I didn't in so many words. I just told him that I was so over this. That I was completely over it. So he left. Am I upset by it? No. This is better for all of us. Our kids no longer have to listen to anyone yelling all the time. They were happy little kids again after he left tonight. I sat here and listened to them laughing and playing. Something that I have not heard in a long time.

    We also sat and talked about how daddy was not going to be living with us anymore. But that he will always love them, and that they will still get to see daddy. I asked him before he left to please call to talk to his kids when he could. They still need their daddy. I do not want to take that away from them or him. He called them before they went to bed tonight to tell them that he loves them.  I was glad he called for them. They deserve to have him in their lives as much as they do their mom.

     As for me, I will be glad once the divorce is filed and final. I need to move on. I need to know that although it is over between the kids dad and I, I can and will be okay.  Divorce may not be for everyone, but for me it is what is best. Living with a man that you do not love, never truly loved, is not the answer. Having a life filled with happiness and peace, is.  Can anyone be happy after a divorce? I think so, I think that in some cases being divorced is better than being married. At least when you are married to a man or woman that you do not really love, divorce is best.

     So where do I go from here? I am moving forward with my kids. I may from time to time see the man I moved here to be close to. I don't know where the future may lead me.  Until then I plan to do my very best at making my kids lives full of happiness and peace. They deserve no less.

    Congratulations JustAMom1974!
    You can follow her on her blog, Just A Mom's Blog

    Thursday, March 31, 2011

    Our first featured work!

    Desire by Evan Hoffman

    Not desire,
    Not you who drags at torn up cloths,
    Not you who talks with infidelity.

    Why pretend to be a rose,
    Your thorns are finely honed,
    Waiting to tear into fresh regimented flesh.

    You come and wave at passersby,
    But when they raise a hand,
    You disappear in a cloud of sooty smoke,
    You choke them in a firestorm of hate and ash and melting glass.

    You try to help with overpowered lust,
    Yet you only further hope that still remains,
    Now locked up in a disbanded broken vault.

    You have a craving for desiccating all of love and jives.
    Though some still come to find you lurking in their dreams,
    Some still want you to become that of stolen lies.

    You play along with imprudent games,
    You slash and tatter at human veins,
    But one day we will realize,
    You are that of thought,
    Not that to be seized and sized.

    Congratulations Evan Hoffman! You can follow Evan Hoffman on Twitter.

    Illustrate your story - don't just say what's happening!

    It is the author's job to make sure the audience knows what is happening. In order to do that, an author must always relate to the 5 senses when they are writing: Sight, Smell, Sound, Touch, and Taste.

    I can't tell you the amounts of stories I've read that lacked the use of these five senses. You have to keep in mind that the readers aren't in your head; they cannot see what you see. If all you have is the actions and dialogue, your story is more suitable for a script! Describing your scenes in a vivid, imaginative, illustrative way will allow your readers to enter the world of your story, and be captivated by what is happening.

    If you're not sure whether or not you have these illustrative skills, try the below exercise:

    The Spaghetti Bowl
    Take out a piece of paper, or start a new Word document.

    Look at the picture below:

    Now imagine yourself (or your character) eating the spaghetti.

    In the new document or piece of paper, create a scene about you or your character eating the spaghetti. This segment can be in First Person or Third Person, whichever you choose.

    Keep in mind:
    • Sight: Bright red colors, pale noodles, brown table top, blue plate
    • Sound: Squishy sounds of the sauce, clanking plates, slurps from you or person next to you
    • Smell: Delicious (explain why), disgusting (explain why), nauseating, enticing
    • Taste: Delicious (explain why), disgusting (explain why), bland, bitter
    • Touch: Spaghetti feels too hard, too soft, overcooked, fork is too cold, plate is too hot
    Remember: you can add anything to the scene. Perhaps you started eating the spaghetti, and you hated it, so when your mom wasn't looking you threw everything in your dog's food bowl. Perhaps it was too hot you burned your esophagus and had to be rushed to the doctor.

    Be creative! If you would like some pointers and hints, you can send this exercise to Jayfsxomba@gmail.com (there is an active link on my "Contact Me" page). I will tell you what you're good at and what you need. Good luck everyone!

    May your joy in writing lead you to happiness,