Marcy’s Blog

The Danger in Trying to Revisit the Past

Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to watch the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. For both of us, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a childhood favorite. We watched the cartoons, watched the movies, played the video games, had the Halloween costumes.

We went for the nostalgia.

But they’d downgraded the acting, had less plot, and made the turtles seem less like teenagers and more like twelve-year-olds. I was disappointed because I wanted to re-experience the joy I found in the Ninja Turtles as a child.

I think most of us have the desire to relive some of the happy moments of our past and re-experience some of the things we used to love.

Most of the times I’ve tried, though, they haven’t been the way I remembered.

When I was a kid, I loved those Hostess chocolate cupcakes with the white filling and white icing loops on the top. When I tried them as an adult, they tasted stale and lacking in flavor.

Maybe the problem was in looking back rather than looking forward. Maybe we shouldn’t be trying to relive or recapture the good moments of the past. Maybe we should leave those as happy memories and instead focus our time on forming new happy memories in the present.

Have you tried to recapture a happy childhood memory? How did it work out for you?

If you like suspense, I hope you’ll take a look at my ebook Frozen, on sale for 99 cents. Twisted sleepwalking. A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag. And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.

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Does Genre Matter?

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I was interviewed by Julie Duffy of Flash Fiction Chronicles for her ongoing series of practical articles about genre. Let me give you just a taste of how the article starts.

No longer simply a genre of heaving bosoms and discreetly closing doors, Romance burst into the digital age as one of the broadest, most forward-looking—and profitable—genres in the publishing business. Romance titles represented $1bn in sales last year, or 13% of the adult fiction market. There couldn’t be a better time to be writing Romance, so whether you’ve ever hidden a Harlequin between the covers of the latest Pulitzer Prize winner, or if you have no idea what all the fuss is about, prepare for a brief encounter…with Romance.

Julie goes on to cover the importance of the central love story, whether or not you need an optimistic ending, and much more. I hope you’ll swing by and read “Does Genre Matter: Romance.”

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Grammar for Fiction Writers, is now available from Amazon, Kobo, or Smashwords. (You might also be interested in checking out Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction.)

Both books are available in print and ebook forms.

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How to Save Money on Editing Your Book

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Self-publishing your work means all the profits are yours, but it also means all the costs are yours. The two universally accepted areas where you shouldn’t skimp on quality are your cover and editing.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t keep your costs to a minimum when it comes to editing without sacrificing quality. Today, in my guest post at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University, I’m going give you tips that can help you save money no matter what level or levels of editing you need.

Click here to read the rest of How to Save Money on Editing Your Book.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Grammar for Fiction Writers, is now available from Amazon, Kobo, or Smashwords. (You might also be interested in checking out Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction.)

Both books are available in print and ebook forms.

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Kiss Your “As” Goodbye: A Simple Grammar Trick for Better Fiction

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

A good grade in a high school or college English class doesn’t necessarily translate into the ability to write great fiction, so it’s easy for us to mistakenly think understanding grammar isn’t important for fiction writing at all. Isn’t that what a copy editor is for? Won’t they fix all your mistakes?

A copy editor will fix our actual errors, but some of the rules we were taught in English class will actually hurt our fiction writing, not help it. And some easy grammatical tricks that our copy editor won’t do for us can improve our fiction.

In my work as an editor, one of the most common mistakes I see made by fiction writers is the reversal of the necessary order of cause coming before effect, action coming before reaction.

When we reverse the two so that the effect comes first or comes at the same time as the cause, our readers will feel thrown off-balance and disconnected from our writing, even if they can’t always explain why. In real life, cause always comes before effect. The effect can’t come before what caused it. They expect the same in fiction (unless we’re writing a science fiction story with a temporal paradox, of course).

If you’d like to read the rest of this post, please join me at Kristen Lamb’s Warrior Writers blog.

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Behind the Scenes: Ava Louise and Mail Order Brides in Space

Ava LouiseI have a special treat for you in this episode of Behind the Scenes. I asked Ava Louise to write a guest post for me because of how much the idea behind her series Intergalactic Matchmaking Services intrigued me. I don’t want to give too much away–I’ll leave that for her post–but I do want to introduce you to her.

Here’s what Ava said about herself:

I was born an Army brat overseas, and have been married to a retired Navy sailor for 25 years. Life in the military has given me many opportunities to see different parts of our beautiful country. Currently, we live in the Midwest. Since writing came to me later in life, I like to think I’m living proof that it’s never too late to reach for a dream or to achieve it. Before I started writing my own stories, I usually read from a wide array of genres. I love Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Mysteries, Thrillers, and Young Adult.

And now for her post where she shares with you what aliens and mail order brides have in common and how they inspired the books in the Intergalactic Matchmaking Services series. Take it away, Ava!

**************************************************************************************************************************

Thanks for the opportunity to guest on your wonderful blog. It’s a true honor to be here.

You asked how I came up with the idea for the Intergalactic Matchmaking Services series. This was a case of art inspiring art fed by a dare. When I read, I like to immerse myself into the story to the point of asking myself, “What if?” A truly good book, in my opinion, makes the reader ask that question in one way or another. What if this were really possible? What if it happened in MY life…how would I react?

Last Fall I was on a reading kick about Mail Order brides in the Old West. While mail order brides did (and still do) exist, I wondered what it would take for a woman to give up her current life for a completely unknown environment. The bravery it took to embrace that choice must have been tremendous.

A friend and I were talking about books and this topic came up. She suggested I write a book about it…she dared me. Writing about mail order brides sounded fun, but I didn’t want to write about the Old West. Inspiration struck!

Being a fan of science fiction and fantasy, I’ve always been fascinated by space travel. It’s an area that is open to endless possibilities in reality and fiction. I chose that route for my story.

I started by asking “What if?” From there, the ideas just sort of blossomed. What would make a modern-day woman give up her life? How bad would things have to be for her to make that decision? What if she had an emotional tie to someone or something here on Earth? How much harder would that make it? How would that emotional entanglement impact her interactions with an alien race?

When it came time to think about the males in my story, I didn’t want to go the route of the Tarzan/He-Man/Caveman stereotype. I don’t find that personality appealing, and I figured there had to be readers out there that felt the same. Give me a man who has manners and can still be strong without dragging his knuckles, thank you!

But what would make an alien race consider approaching human females—without just kidnapping them and racing off to the other end of the universe like some galactic Neanderthal? What could force the necessity while demanding diplomacy at the same time? The only thing I could think of would be that they were in danger of extinction, therefore, they needed other races.

Then, because my cat, Mamzell, is such a large part of my life, I wondered “How would I leave her behind?” The answer was simple, I couldn’t. So Mamzell was woven into the first story! What cat wouldn’t want to be the first one into space? And how would an alien race react when faced with this relationship? Mamzell offered me many avenues of humor in the first book!

I like to think Maggie’s Story or Shirley’s Story could happen one day. Not exactly as I wrote them, of course. But hopefully there is life out beyond our own galaxy. Perhaps we humans aren’t alone. And perhaps we have a role to play in the lives of these as-yet-unknown races.

Shirley's StoryAbout Shirley’s Story (Intergalactic Matchmaking Services, Book 2):

Just as Shirley decides to try opening herself up to a chance at love, a stalker from her past returns. How does she move forward when her past comes knocking? What’s going on with her young student, Hannah? Will her dog, Oreo, be okay with Shirley looking for love?

This is a novella-length story.

You can buy a copy of Shirley’s Story on Amazon!

Find Ava Online:

Email: AvaLouiseAuthor@yahoo.com
Website: http://avalouise.net/

Blog: The Road to a Dream: http://avalouiseauthor.blogspot.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/@avalouiseauthor

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Five Words That Weaken Your Writing

Weak Words

Image Credit: Andrzej Pobiedziski (freeimage.com)

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Last week, I released my newest Busy Writer’s Guide, Grammar for Fiction Writers, so today I wanted to give you a taste of what you can find inside. This is a section from “Chapter Nine: Weak Words.” I’m going to share five unspecific words that weaken your writing.

Weak words are words that don’t pull their own weight in a sentence. Most of the time, they’re useless. So useless, in fact, that, by taking them out, you make the sentence stronger.

At first this might seem like a strange chapter to include in a grammar book. Technically speaking, there’s nothing wrong with weak words. But this is a book on grammar for fiction writers, and so one of the things we have to look at in terms of grammar is tightening up our writing and bringing it to life by removing useless words from our sentences.

Both weasel words and helping and state-of-being verbs could have been included under unspecific words because of how they tend to tell rather than show, but I broke them up because of the slight differences between them. In this section, I want to focus on five words that are weak specifically because of how vague and generic they are.

Got/Get

Get (and its forms) isn’t always wrong, but you want to be careful because it can lead to confusion. It means “to receive,” “to take possession,” or “to obtain.” However, some people also use it in place of have.

Let me show you how this becomes a problem.

I got five dollars.

Does this mean “I have five dollars,” as in “I currently possess five dollars”? Or does it mean “someone gave me five dollars”?

To avoid vagueness like this, you should rewrite your sentence.

Grandpa gave me five dollars.

I have only five dollars to my name right now.

As you go through your writing, don’t assume that your got sentences are clear. Make sure they are.

Things

Like got, things isn’t wrong, but we often use it as the lazy way to escape putting in the work to define what we mean by things. Things could stand in for problems or reasons, which are two very different things.

When your character says, “I have things to do,” what does she mean? Does she mean she has errands to run? A house to clean? A doctor’s appointment? The only time you should have a character saying they have “things to do” is if they’re being intentionally vague, such as if they don’t want their girlfriend to know that they’re planning a surprise proposal. But even then, why not have them give a more specific excuse?

Moved/Took/Looked

How many times have you written something like this?

He moved across the room.

Grammatically, there’s nothing wrong with this sentence. The problem comes from its vagueness. It doesn’t give the reader a clear picture of the way your character is moving.

Look at these three possible types of movement.

He shuffled across the room.

He stalked across the room.

He sauntered across the room.

In each sentence, we have him moving across the room, but they’re extremely different types of movement. Don’t leave your reader guessing.

Both took and looked fall into the same category as moved.

She took the letter from him.

This doesn’t show us what’s happening.

She snatched the letter from him.

She delicately plucked the letter from him using only her thumb and forefinger, as if she were afraid contact with it would contaminate her.

Two different emotions are behind those ways of taking the letter.

Here’s the one I see most often in my editing work.

She looked at him.

But how did she look at him? Was it a furtive glance from the corner of her eyes as if she didn’t want to be caught? Was she glaring? Was she giving him an I-dare-you-to-try-it look?

None of these unspecific words are technically wrong, but you’re shortchanging your reader and yourself.

For more of Grammar for Fiction Writers, please pick up a copy from Amazon, Kobo, or Smashwords. (You might also be interested in checking out Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction.)

Both books are available in print and ebook forms.

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The Fine Line Between Forgiveness and Accountability

Transformers Age of ExtinctionBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I’m going to admit up front that I haven’t been a huge fan of the Transformers franchise. I loved Transformers as a child, but I felt the first of the more recent movies was okay, and then the second two went downhill from there.

So I went into Transformers: Age of Extinction (movie #4) not expecting much. I only went because my husband loves the special effects and REALLY wanted to see them on the big screen.

And then I had to eat crow. Nicely roasted and basted with a raspberry-chipotle sauce of course, but crow nonetheless.

It wasn’t a perfect movie—far from it—but the dialogue made me laugh (in a good way), and I found myself drawn in by a new wrinkle. Optimus Prime was fed up with humanity and was tired of waiting for them to change.

Gone was the sacrifice-for-the-humans-at-any-cost Optimus from the past movies. He’d been disappointed and betrayed one too many times, and all he wanted to do was collect up the surviving Autobots and leave Earth for good.

Cade Yeager, the inventor and single father who is trying to help the Autobots, begs Optimus to give humanity a second chance. He claimed that screwing up is part of what humanity does. It’s what makes us human.

On one level, I agreed with Cade. Humans make mistakes, and we should be willing to forgive people for those mistakes. We should give second chances.

On another level, I disagreed because it sounded like Cade was arguing we should not only always forgive those who make mistakes but that we should continue to help them indefinitely, no matter how many times they make the same mistake and no matter how much we’re hurt by that mistake.

It’s the line between forgiveness (which I believe should always be extended) and allowing someone to walk all over you, never holding them accountable for their actions.

I know that the Transformers couldn’t hold humanity accountable or there wouldn’t have been a movie, but Cade’s answer felt trite. So many of the Transformers had been wrongly slaughtered, despite all they’d done in the past to save humanity. A “we’re humans and we make mistakes” reply didn’t cut it for me. And I had to wonder, is that how our society really feels now? Is there no place left for justice and accountability? Are we really expected to give infinite chances?

I believe mercy needs to be balanced with justice, and help needs to be balanced with accountability.

What do you think? Am I right or wrong? Is this how our society views mistakes, wrongs, and accountability now?

If you like suspense, I hope you’ll take a look at my ebook Frozen, on sale for 99 cents. Twisted sleepwalking. A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag. And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.

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5 Guidelines for Approaching Book Review Bloggers

 

Image Credit: Michael Leach (freeimages.com)

Image Credit: Michael Leach (freeimages.com)

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Last month I talked about self-published book awards as one means to help build word of mouth and credibility for your book. Today I want to talk about another important method for letting readers know our book exists and (hopefully) that they’ll enjoy it—blog reviews.

I know blog tours have become a debated topic of late. Are they worth it? Aren’t they worth it?

In this post, I’m not talking about you running a blog tour where you do interviews and guest posts. I’m talking about approaching book review blogs to have them review your book.

If you follow these guidelines, you’ll increase both your chances of a review and your chances of a good review.

Join me today at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University for the 5 Guidelines for Approaching Book Review Bloggers!

I hope you’ll check out the books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, including Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction and How to Write Dialogue.

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Behind the Scenes: Elementals and Tricky Mother-Daughter Relationships

Melinda VanLoneToday I’d like you to welcome special guest Melinda VanLone. Melinda writes fantasy and science fiction, freelances as a graphic designer, and dabbles in photography. She currently lives in Rockville, Maryland, with her husband and furbabies. When she’s not playing with her imaginary friends you can find her playing World of Warcraft, wandering aimlessly through the streets taking photos, or hovered over coffee in Starbucks. And today she’s taking us behind the scenes into a world where people wield elemental magic.

Take it away Melinda…

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of elementals, probably because in the online game I play, World of Warcraft, my character is a mage who has a water elemental for a pet. He protects her by shooting at the enemy, and provides companionship just by always being there. Sort of like a dog, but without the messy business of poop removal. When I first toyed with the idea of elementals, nothing seemed right because they seemed more like pets than people. I had a hard time ascribing desires and goals to something like that.

For the Xannon series, I took my love of the elements and gave the ability to the people instead, letting them be human first, with the ability to harness elemental power second. Just as some people tap into a natural musical or athletic ability, the people in the Xannon world all tap into one element or the other to fuel their natural magical ability. Most humans tap into one main element and, to a lesser extent, one other element. Tarian taps into Water and Air very strongly, and to a lesser extent, Fire, which is what makes her so powerful. Controlling three elements is extremely rare. Her sister Calliope is mostly Air, with water as secondary. It’s all hereditary, like having blue eyes or blonde hair, which means they came by their skills because of their parents.

The twist, of course, is that in general nobody knows who the father of the Keeper (heir to the House of Xannon) is, because of the Succession Ritual. Multiple partners donate their abilities to the child, which means Tarian’s strength is a blend of several men, plus her mother (a fierce and strong power all by herself). The same will be true for any of Tarian’s children. In Stronger Than Magic, Tarian’s journey toward motherhood begins and the spark of possible magical abilities swirls around the conception. Air, Earth, Water, and Fire. Four elements. A child who could wield that might be the strongest magical user ever in existence. Stronger, perhaps, than the Ancients themselves.

I suspect raising such a child might be a bit…problematic. How do you teach a child to control their magic when they’re stronger than you are? And once she’s grown, what might she accomplish?

That is what the House of Xannon series is all about. The cycle of life, mother to daughter, over generations, and the power of love to bind, protect, energize, and strengthen.

Promise Of MagicTarian’s story begins in Stronger Than Magic. Tarian Xannon fights demons like the rest of us. This time, the demon just happens to be real.

When Tarian Xannon is attacked by a demon-like creature, she realizes her talent with water, air and fire, while strong, might not be enough to protect herself or her family. She also learns that some things are stronger than magic, and worth fighting for.

Finding Flame introduces Macari, an air daemon who can walk the Corsaerie, a manifestation of pure Air energy that contains every event that has ever taken place, both daemon and human. When Tarian’s exploits cause ripples that spread through the Corsairie into the daemon plane, Macari is sent to investigate the cause of the chaos. She must report her findings before the mark of Air fades from her hand or be banished from her home forever. But the journey seems impossible, the human plane full of danger, and the way home is not easy. All that has been is written on the Wind, but can the past show Macari the way to a better future?

Tarian’s story continues in Promise of Magic. Despite the advanced stage of her pregnancy, Tarian has some explaining to do. Fulfilling her Agreement with the Carraig was an issue of honor—but it led to complications. Tarian embarks on a dangerous mission which could cost her the life of her unborn daughter, end in disaster for all planes of existence—or save the world.

Some promises are deadly to keep. Will the promise of magic be one of them?

If you could wield one elemental power, which would you choose?

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Have You Orphaned Your Dialogue?

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Image Credit: Debbie Schiel (www.freeimages.com)

Image Credit: Debbie Schiel (www.freeimages.com)

Have you orphaned your dialogue?

You might think the question is odd, but orphaned dialogue is dialogue where the reader isn’t sure whose speaking, and it happens more than you might think. As the writer, we know exactly who’s speaking. We forget the reader can read only our words, not our minds.

Today I’m going to explain three ways we orphan our dialogue and how we can make sure it doesn’t happen. But first, some reminders.

If you’ve already read my How to Write Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide, then you’ll remember that every time you have a new speaker, you need a new paragraph, even if the dialogue is only one word long.

I hope you’ll also recall that I recommended you usually place your beat (the action) before your dialogue or at the first natural pause in the dialogue. If you choose to break this rule, I advised you to make sure you had a good reason for it.

These aren’t arbitrary guidelines. They’re recommended because they make your writing flow better and sound more natural, but also because they help you avoid orphaned dialogue. As we walk through the different ways dialogue can become orphaned, and you’ll quickly be able to see in some of the examples how following these guidelines could have avoided the problem.

So without further delay, here’s how we orphan our dialogue.

#1 – Too Many Lines of Unattributed Dialogue

We can have a speaker “claim” their dialogue using either a tag (like said or asked) or through an action beat.

Action Beat: My brother patted Luna’s head. “You dog looks like an alien.”

Tag: “Your dog looks like an alien,” my brother said.

However, not every line of dialogue needs a tag or a beat to identify the speaker. If you have only two speakers in a scene, you can leave up to three or four lines unattributed.

Frank tossed the apple to Mary. “An apple a day and all that.”

“I don’t like apples.”

“Everyone likes apples.”

“Not me. They crunch. I don’t like fruit that crunches.”

Frank held up a hand. “Give it here, then. No sense letting it go to waste.”

Orphaned dialogue can happen when we leave dialogue unattributed for more than three or four lines. Three or four lines is the most people can easily keep track of. Once you go beyond that, you risk the reader needing to count backward through the dialogue to figure out who’s speaking. (Three is a guideline, not a rule. Occasionally you can have more, but you need to be very careful that it’s not confusing.)

#2 – Scenes With Multiple Speakers

Scenes with multiple speakers are especially problematic because we need to be certain it’s clear who each line of dialogue belongs to. An unattributed line of dialogue could belong to anyone present. Let me give you an example to show you what this might look like and how following the two guidelines of a single speaker per paragraph and placing the beat before the dialogue makes sure we’re not leaving our dialogue orphaned.

In this example, we have three characters. Dorene, Dorene’s son Edgar, and the nun (Sister Mary Martha) who has come to speak to Dorene about Edgar’s behavior in school.

Dorene sighed and shuffled over to her stove. She fished around in the cupboards above.

“Do you mind if I have a cup of tea while we talk?”

She glanced at Sister Mary Martha.

“Would you like one?”

Sister Mary Clarence shook her head. Dorene fumbled with the lid on the kettle.

“I would like one.”

Edgar peeked hopefully at Dorene. Dorene scowled.

“I didn’t ask you.”

It’s almost impossible at times to know for sure who’s speaking. We can guess, but it’s not clear, and as soon as something isn’t clear, you risk losing the reader. Here’s how it should have been written.

Dorene sighed and shuffled over to her stove. She fished around in the cupboards above. “Do you mind if I have a cup of tea while we talk?” She glanced at Sister Mary Martha. “Would you like one?”

Sister Mary Clarence shook her head. Dorene fumbled with the lid on the kettle.

Edgar peeked hopefully at Dorene. “I would like one.”

Dorene scowled. “I didn’t ask you.”

I didn’t change any of the wording. All I did to make sure our dialogue wasn’t orphaned was follow the guidelines about beats and paragraphing. Now, even though we have multiple characters in this scene, it’s absolutely clear who is speaking what.

#3 – Writing About Two Characters in the Same Paragraph

But the sneakiest of the forms of orphaned dialogue is when we write about two characters in the same paragraph and then tack on a line of dialogue at the end.

Ellen waved her arm above her head, and Frank sprinted towards her. “I’ve missed you.”

Who said “I’ve missed you”? It could be Frank or it could be Ellen, and the reader has no way to tell which one it really is.

Ellen waved her arm above her head.

Frank sprinted towards her. “I’ve missed you.”

Now we know that it’s Frank who says “I missed you.”

When it comes to avoiding orphaned dialogue, always ask yourself, “If I hadn’t written it, would I know who was speaking?

Do you have any tips you’d like to share for avoiding orphaned dialogue? Is this something you struggle with?

Want more help with dialogue? Check out my book How to Write Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide. In it you’ll learn how to format your dialogue, how to add variety to your dialogue so it’s not always “on the nose,” when you should use dialogue and when you shouldn’t, how to convey information through dialogue without falling prey to As-You-Know-Bob Syndrome, how to write dialogue unique to each of your characters, how to add tension to your dialogue, whether it’s ever okay to start a chapter with dialogue, ways to handle contractions (or the lack thereof) in science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction, and much more!

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