Marcy’s Blog

Creating an Author Business Plan: Our Product Plan

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

We’ve now reached a milestone in writing our author business plan. Last month, we finished our author business plan summary and our Business Operation section. In other words, we’re officially into the body of our author business plan where we need to start laying out practical steps to reach our goals. (If you missed the earlier posts, it’s important to start from the beginning because we’ve already talked about setting our goals, choosing our stories, and identifying our audience.)

Everything we’ve written down in our author business plan prior to this point will remain fairly stable. In the upcoming sections, we’ll need to be much more flexible, adjusting as we go. What we write down is our starting point.

In the coming posts, I’ll be talking about our competitive analysis section, our marketing plan section, and our professional development section, but before we can do that, we need to complete our Product Plan.

Please join me at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University for the rest of this post on Creating An Author Business Plan: Our Product Plan.

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 Showing and Telling in Fiction or Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide.)

All three books are available in print and ebook forms.

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6 Major Writing Problems with Avengers: Age of Ultron – Part 1

Avengers Age of UltronBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

When Avengers first came out, I saw it twice in theaters and brought the DVD as soon as it was available. Very few movies rate highly enough with me to be watched a second time in theater or to be purchased afterward for repeated home viewing.

So I went in to Avengers: Age of Ultron with high expectations…that weren’t met. The trailers looked fantastic, but the movie itself didn’t deliver. The more I’ve thought about it, the sadder it makes me. It makes me sad because of all the missed opportunities. It makes me sad because, given all the money this movie is almost guaranteed to make, some writers out there will use it as an example of how they should be able to do the same–flawed and awful–things in their story. It makes me sad because it sets a precedent for more movies in the future where the special effects and fight scenes are valued over the actual story and character development.

I ended up with enough material for more than a single post on this, so this is going to be a two- to three-part series, but I believe there’s a lot we can learn–as writers–from where this movie went wrong. While I normally like to use only positive examples, things that we should be emulating, I’m making an exception this time because this movie has the potential to send future storytelling in a negative direction. So grab a snack, settle in, and at the end of each post, please let me know what you think.

Mistake #1 – No Character Arcs

I respected Joss Whedon’s writing in The Avengers not only because of his snappy dialogue, but also because he found a way to allow the characters to be unique and to grow, despite the large ensemble cast. As a general guideline, the more characters you have in a story, the more difficult it is to bring each of them to life. One of the ways Whedon did this in The Avengers was through the character arcs.

In The Avengers, Tony Stark wasn’t originally considered for the Avengers Initiative because he doesn’t play well with others. He’s not a team player. Early on in The Avengers, Captain America accuses Stark of not being the type of guy who sacrifices himself for others. He says Stark isn’t the one who’ll lay down on the wire and let others crawl over him. Stark, flippantly, replies he’d just cut the wire.

And then, at the end of the movie, when there is no option to “cut the wire,” Stark has grown enough as a team player that he sacrifices himself to take the nuke into the alien realm and blow them up rather than allowing it to destroy New York and everyone there. Everyone thinks that’s a one-way trip and Stark is going to die. Tony even tries to make one last call to his girlfriend to say goodbye. He’s willing to lay himself down on that wire and make the sacrifice.

Stark isn’t the only one with an arc. In The Avengers, Bruce Banner is the tormented genius who believes he’s a monster and who fears himself as much as other people fear him. He doesn’t believe he has anything of value to offer. He hates himself so much he’s tried to commit suicide. He doesn’t know how to properly harness his anger so, when the movie starts, he’s hiding.

Through the course of the plot, he’s put into situations where he has to face what he is and figure out a way to make peace with the Hulk inside him. He has to accept himself and realize that his anger can be used for good. Because he needs to become part of the world, as the Hulk, to save it. (If you want to see my in-depth look at his character arc, check out my post “It’s Okay to Be Angry.”) The pay-off moment in this arc is where the Hulk smashes Loki into the ground as Loki tries to tell him how worthless he is. He won’t listen to those voices anymore.

In Avengers: Age of Ultron, the groundwork is laid for another growth arc for Tony Stark. He’s going to have to face his narcissism this time…And then it’s never fulfilled. It’s worse than never fulfilled. It’s almost like Stark backslides from where he was in the first movie. So does the Hulk.

In fact, none of the characters have a significant, satisfying arc, and I think that’s in part because of Mistake #2.

Takeaway:

Your main character needs a character arc because great stories are about growth and change. Your character has a problem/character flaw. The story puts them in situations where they must confront and deal with their flaw no matter how much they don’t want to. They’re forced to change. Seriously, that’s all there is to a character arc, and it’s the core of a memorable story. Even in a large or ensemble cast, make sure you give some of the characters a complete and interesting growth arc.

Mistake #2 – Too Many Characters

The Avengers was already an ensemble cast, which can be tricky, but in the first movie, they managed to find the balance. They had six star characters (Tony Stark, Captain America, Bruce Banner, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Thor), and they found a way to make us care about each of them. They even found a way to make us care about Phil Coulson, a secondary character. (So much so that his character had to be brought back to life to star in Marvel: Agents of Shield.)

Part of how they managed this was each character had a distinct personality, and they had enough room in the movie to give each of them emotional struggles and a bit of their own plotline and backstory. I won’t go through all of the characters, but I’ll show you a couple more (we talked about Stark and Banner above) and hopefully you’ll see what I mean.

Captain America is the straight-laced, honorable one who was struggling with his place in a world that had changed so much since he’d last been in it. He feels the world is evil and his morals are no longer valued. What he discovers is that there will always be evil to fight, and so there’s still a purpose and a place for him.

Thor is the arrogant “god” from another realm who is hurt by his brother’s continued betrayal and who needs to learn that he’s not as superior to humans as he originally thought.

When we move into Avengers: Age of Ultron, they dumped in Falcon, War Machine, Scarlett Witch, Vision, and Quicksilver. In other words, they almost doubled the key cast. And all those additions weren’t necessary. What was the point of all those characters? They didn’t improve the story.

My husband pointed out that “they’re assuming you’ve watched all the other movies.” But I’ve watched all the movies, and that didn’t make it any better just because I knew who Falcon and War Machine were. I can’t help but wonder if it’s more about trying to make you want to watch the other movies, and doing a crap job of it because they don’t seem to understand that a walk-on cameo by a character won’t make anyone interested enough in them that they run out and buy the other movie to find out more about them.

By adding in so many of them, none of them received the development they should have had. And, as I mentioned above, the development of the original characters suffered as well.

I wasn’t as invested in the characters, and the story felt scattered and shallow.

Takeaway:

Too many characters can clutter our stories rather than making them feel populated and real. How many characters do we really need to tell our story? Can we cut a character and give the role they play to someone else? Have we given each of those characters (at least the ones who are supposed to be important) a distinct personality and struggles of their own?

One of the current trends is to write short stories, novellas, or even whole new series about secondary characters in an already popular series. That’s a great idea, but we need to be sure those characters deserve their own stories. Cameo appearances by characters also shouldn’t be added just to “check in” with those characters. If they don’t forward the plot of the current story, they don’t belong in it. (This also ties in to Mistake #4 that I’ll share next post.) This is especially true if we’re bringing in cross-over characters (character who appeared in a separate series and are playing a walk-on role in this one). We can’t assume that all readers will have read the other series as well, and so we need to make sure they can follow each series independently of the others. (Again, more on that later in Mistake #4.)

What do you think? If you think I’m off-base about Avengers: Age of Ultron, I’d love to hear your reasons. If you think I’m right, did you enjoy the movie anyway and will you watch a third one?

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 Showing and Telling in Fiction or Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide.)

All three books are available in print and ebook forms.

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It’s Okay to Be Angry

AvengersBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Too often we’re made to think that anger is a negative emotion, one we should avoid because it’s weak or shows a lack of self-control.

You can see it in The Avengers in the way Dr. Bruce Banner is treated. His character is a personification of anger. If Banner gets angry, he turns into a giant green monster capable of breaking an entire city. 

When we first meet Banner in The Avengers, he’s working as a doctor in the slums of Calcutta. S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff tricks him into coming to a deserted hut on the edge of the city. The hut is secretly surrounded by snipers just in case Banner loses control.

Banner ducks inside, and she steps out of the shadows.

“For a man who’s supposed to be avoiding stress,” she says, “you picked a hell of a place to settle.”

Banner turns around. “Avoiding stress isn’t the secret.”

“What’s the secret then?”

Banner doesn’t tell her how he’s managed to go a year without turning into the Hulk, and throughout the movie, that becomes the question.

The others either tiptoe around him, try to provoke him to expose his “secret,” or they take protective measures in case he does get angry. (Measures that include a giant cage that will drop him from the sky.)

We treat anger the same way in our lives. We block it off, pretend we aren’t angry when we are, or try to learn techniques and tricks to keep from getting angry.

But the secret isn’t to keep from becoming angry.

At the end of the movie, the Avengers line up to fight the alien army set to invade earth.

“Dr. Banner,” Captain America says, “now might be a really good time for you to get angry.”

Banner strides toward the aliens. “That’s my secret, Captain. I’m always angry.”

Everyone thought that Banner had discovered some way to keep from getting angry and that was how he prevented himself from becoming the Hulk.

The truth was he hadn’t purged his anger. He’d learned how to control it. By the end of the movie, he’d even learned how to harness it and redirect it for good.

Feeling angry isn’t wrong. Anger is merely an emotion. Sometimes it can even be healthy if we’re angry over injustice or true evil. And denying it or hiding it won’t make it go away.

It’s what we do with anger that matters. (Click here if you’d like to tweet that.)

Do we allow our anger to hurt and destroy? Or do we channel it into righting wrongs?

It’s the difference between a father who goes out and murders the drunk driver who killed his only daughter and a father who finds a way to bring about stricter punishments for drunk drivers and establishes a safe ride program in his town. Both were justified in their anger. But one used it for evil while the other used it for good.

It’s the difference between saying something cruel back to a person who’s hurt our feelings and using that anger to remind us how not to treat other people.

It’s the difference between screaming at our spouse because we feel like they never help us around the house and letting that anger be our cue that it’s time to have a painfully honest talk about weaknesses in the marriage that we need to work on.

What do you think? Is it alright to get angry? Or should we work on trying to purge ourselves of anger?

If you like suspense, I hope you’ll take a look at my ebook Frozen (it’s only 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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I Miss Old-Fashioned Values

Captain America The First AvengerBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Avengers: Age of Ultron comes to theaters this Friday, and because of that, I thought I’d take a look at some of the lessons hidden in the first movie. A couple of the posts I’m going to share in this Tuesday series are flashbacks (I posted them when the original Avengers movie released), but I’m going to be adding a few new ones as well. Hopefully, I’ll find as many gems in the second movie as I did in the first. So here we go…

Do We Need to Be a Little More Old-Fashioned?

If you woke up one day to find that 70 years had passed, would you be excited or would you mourn for lost friends and family and the way of life you’d known?

When we meet Steve Rogers again in The Avengers, he’s still struggling with this very thing. Back in 1942, a special serum turned him into Captain America, and in the middle of fighting a rogue group of Nazis known as Hydra, he accidentally ended up in suspended animation. He wakes up in the “present day.” The world has changed a lot since 1942.

Not surprisingly, Steve feels like he and his values are obsolete. He doesn’t understand Tony Stark’s cavalier attitude or circumvention of the rules, or Bruce Banner’s scientific mumbo jumbo, or any of the pop references the others make (except for one about flying monkeys—and he’s almost pathetically excited about finally “getting one”).

It doesn’t look like there’s much that can break up the gloom surrounding what should be a golden boy character. But on their way to the flying ship, Agent Coulson tells Steve that they’ve updated his Captain America costume.

“Aren’t the stars and stripes a little old fashioned?” Steve asks.

Agent Coulson looks him straight in the eyes. “With all that’s going on in the world, people might want a little old fashioned.”

Throughout the movie, Steve comes to realize that Coulson was right. People are starting to not only want a little old-fashioned, we’re starting to need it.

And it’s not about the evils of technology. Technology isn’t evil. It’s not about needing to reconnect with nature and unplug. It’s not about retro becoming the latest fashion trend or collecting records or bottle caps.

It’s about reviving some old-fashioned values. I suspect that, like me, a lot of people long for the return of some of the things we’ve lost.

I’m only 30, but when I was a child, stores in my town were closed on Sundays. Was it an inconvenience if you wanted to buy something? Yes. But didn’t we always manage to survive until Monday? And wasn’t that a small price to pay to give everyone a day of rest, a day focused on friends and family?

I miss the idea of a day of rest. And a 40-hour work week that gave you enough income to live off of. Not only live off of, but raise a family on.

I miss when a handshake meant something, people did what they promised, and you could leave your doors unlocked.

I miss teamwork. Days when it wasn’t about getting ahead as an individual by stepping on others, but rather about working together to make sure everyone achieved their goals. We didn’t feel the need to shout to be heard. We didn’t feel the need to sing our own praises because we knew that if we did a good job, someone else would sing them for us.

Those are the type of things that made the good old days good. Those are the things that are now old-fashioned, and those are the things I think we need to fight to get back.

I’m an optimist, but even I know that I can’t turn back time. I can’t change society to make stores close on Sundays again, and we can’t safely leave our doors unlocked even in small towns anymore.

Captain America couldn’t force Tony Stark or any of the others to accept his values either, but he chose to act on what he believed, and by the end of the movie, however subtly, it was his example they followed, even Stark. The man who “didn’t play well with others” worked as part of a team, and even risked sacrificing himself to save the world.

While I can’t change the world, I can change me. Like Captain America, I can still live by those old-fashioned values.

I can refuse to work seven days a week because my body and my relationships need that day of rest. My handshake and my word can still mean something. And I can support others and let my actions speak for themselves. I have control over me.

And maybe, just maybe, if enough of us change ourselves, the world will one day follow.

What old-fashioned value do you think needs to be revived? How are you helping to bring it back?

If you like suspense, I hope you’ll take a look at my ebook Frozen (it’s only 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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Why I Hate the Jedi

Why I Hate the JediFor those of you who missed it, I’ve been having an…interesting few weeks. You can catch the pertinent details in my post I’m Having One of Those Weeks. Thank you to everyone who sent me kind messages and helped to cheer me up. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. Unfortunately, since I wrote that post, my grandma fell and fractured her pelvis. Because I’ve been caring for her, my wonderful husband (and resident Star Wars expert in our house) offered to write a guest post for me to prevent my blog from sitting dormant. So I’ll hand my blog over to him…

(P.S. For those of you who were wondering about the results of the poll I took last week, the results were overwhelming. Over 75% of you like both the writing and the “other” posts and don’t want me to change this blog. So I won’t :) )

Why I Hate the Jedi

And Why I Love the Mandalorians

By Marcy’s Husband Chris

For many Star Wars fans, Luke Skywalker is a hero. He’s the hometown boy who discovers himself and goes on to save the galaxy, starting with a two-meter-wide exhaust port on the Death Star I. But what makes Luke Skywalker able to do these things is that he’s a Jedi, maybe one of the greatest ever. In my mind, it’s quite possible that Luke Skywalker—not Darth Vader—was the Chosen One of the Jedi prophesies.

But he’s also whiny and indecisive. He spends too much time meditating and trying to peer into the Force to find guidance. He lacks the killer edge needed to finish a fight against a deadly enemy.

But the main reason I dislike him is simple–he’s a rotten, stinking Jedi.

You might be wondering whether I’ve had too much ale if I have such a view of the Jedi, and maybe on some counts you’d be right. But I’ve read too much about the Jedi to continue to have a view of them as heroes. So here’s a list of why I hate the Jedi—and why I love Boba Fett’s fellow Mandalorians.

Why I Hate the Jedi

They’re only special because of a random genetic manifestation. The Jedi are only able to do the things they do because the Force manifests itself in them. Take away the Force, and the Jedi are just regular beings like you and me. They generally do nothing that makes them special in the grand scheme of things—they don’t cure diseases, they don’t avert wars, they don’t create inventions that revolutionize the way the people of the galaxy live. In short, they’re only special because of their genetics, and that doesn’t make them very special in my book.

They rely too much on their feelings. From the time they’re young, Jedi are taught to trust the Force, to rely on their feelings. They aren’t encouraged to think for themselves or to develop their brainpower. They don’t know how to effectively analyze a situation and come up with the best solution. And they allow their feelings to drive them, rather than trying to strike a good balance between emotion driving them and logic directing them.

They are hypocrites. This point goes hand-in-hand with the next point. The Jedi profess to holding all life as being sacred, but they don’t seem to live up to that mantra very often. They’re too quick to pull out their lightsabers and lop off limbs or sever heads from bodies. With all their powers, they too often resort to violence. But the worst part of this was the way the Jedi accepted command of the clone army at the start of the Clone Wars. The clones were bred to fight; they had no choice. The clones had no rights, no freedoms, no possessions. The Jedi unthinkingly accepted command of this army, despite having little to no training at leading troops, and got untold numbers of clone troops killed during the war. And none of the members of the Jedi leadership cabal stopped to ask where the army came from, or questioned the use of the Jedi as generals in fighting a pointless war. This is the biggest reason I hate the Jedi.

They aren’t held accountable for their actions. Too many times, Jedi caused massive property damage or loss of life and weren’t held accountable for their actions. When they commit crimes, they don’t have to go to prison the way anyone else would. It’s almost like they feel being Jedi gives them a blank slate to do what they want without thinking about the consequences of their actions or having to deal with the consequences of their actions in any way. They’re above the law, and that makes them selfish and cavalier with the lives and possessions of others.

So there you have it: four reasons why I hate the Jedi. Now I’ll give four reasons why I love the Mandalorians instead—even though they’re almost universally considered to be thugs.

They aren’t afraid to love. Mandalorians love strongly and unflinchingly. They willingly adopt people as their own children, including those they would otherwise hate. They aren’t afraid to wear their emotions on their sleeves, but unlike the Jedi, they don’t let their emotions guild them. Emotions are the Mandalorians’ power source, but their brains remain the pilot. This is how the Jedi should operate.

Family is paramount. Mandalorians are very family-oriented. Their families and their clans are all that matters to them. Fathers take their sons out to teach them their trade, and everyone contributes to the effective running of the homestead. It is also common for a Mandalorian to formally adopt the child of a comrade that was killed in battle—no Mandalorian should be without a family to love them and care for them.

They are a united front. Regardless of their personal feuds, Mandalorians put aside their differences when facing a common enemy or threat. Antagonists become allies, and they apply all of their considerable ingenuity and martial skill to defeating their common enemy. Nobody wants to mess with a combat-ready force of Mandalorians—not even Jedi.

Cin vhetin. This is a phrase meaning “fresh start.” Regardless of who you are, no matter what your past is, once you join the Mandalorians, nobody cares about who you once were. You are now a Mandalorian, and that’s all that matters. This also applies to settling feuds between Mando’ade; once cin vhetin is declared, those two might become the best of friends.

What do you think? Do you still love the Jedi? Do you still think the Mandalorians are violent thugs? Or do you maybe think I’m right?

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I’m Having One of Those Weeks

Chance and Diesel - This is what I felt like last week :)

Chance and Diesel – This is what I felt like last week :)

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Last week, I had “one of those weeks.” Again.

My husband and I both came down with a cold/flu bug that (literally) knocked us off our feet for days. I couldn’t stand up long enough to even cook dinner. Before we were back to full health, one of our cats cut her paw pad and we had to take her to the vet. We came home to find that the snow plow had destroyed our mailbox. Lopped it off right at the ground. The frozen ground. Which you can’t dig a new post hole in for at least another month.

I got up the next day and, thanks to a shower that felt like someone was stabbing me with icicles, discovered that our water heater had stopped working. Just as I got out of the ice shower, my grandparents called to say their ride to water therapy had cancelled for that day and Friday and could I take them? And of course I took them and worked late to try to make up for the time I lost. Last count I had over 1,000 unread emails…if I ignore them, will they magically answer themselves? A girl can hope. (P.S. If you’re one of those emails, I’m not ignoring you. Promise. It’s not you. It’s me.)

To top it all off, our car, which was nearly totaled in my husband’s car accident on February 1st, still hasn’t been returned to us. The repair shop has given us yet another delay and excuse, and since the accident happened four hours from home, we can’t even check on it. I’m starting to think they’re secretly renting it out or trying to source used parts from a junk yard…or maybe that’s just my paranoid writer-brain talking. I think I might be sleep deprived.

By the time the weekend hit, the time change felt like adding insult to injury. I needed that extra hour that we lost.

I don’t normally blog about a lot of the little, private, personal struggles in my life because I know that so many people have it worse than I do. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. I have a good life. I’m mostly happy.

But when the cut-paw cat with the cone on her head tried to jump up on the counter and fell in the sink (taking everything on the drain board with her), and I noticed that our teething kitten had chewed the tail off the dog’s brand new toy monkey (along with the cord on my housecoat and the tie on my yoga pants), and I realized that even though I’d managed to get my grandparents’ laundry washed, we ourselves were one (cold) shower away from having to use the spare pillowcases as towels, I think I might have snapped. Just a bit.

So I had to share. Because sometimes “those weeks” reach absolutely ridiculous proportions, and you find yourself sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor with the choice of either laughing until you snort or crying until you run out of tears. Maybe both. I’m not admitting to anything. *insert shifty eyes here*

I wanted to let anyone else enduring “one of those days,” or “one of those weeks,” or even “one of those years” know that you’re not alone. I’ve been there too. You’re not being punished. You haven’t done anything wrong. Hang in there. Think of it this way. It has to get better soon…because, after a while, there’s pretty much nothing left that could break, backfire, or be delayed :)

Have you ever had one of those days/weeks? I’d love to hear your story!

I’m also taking a little survey. I’ve been considering making this blog entirely about writing and moving my fantasy, unbelievable real life, and mythology-type posts to a newsletter (that you’d sign up for separately if you wanted to keep receiving them).

I’d appreciate it if you’d take a second to let me know your thoughts on the potential change because this blog is for you as much as it’s for me. Please pick the answer that fits you best. For those of you reading this post via email, please click through and vote.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

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Why I Hate Gale in The Mockingjay

The Mockingjay Part 1By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

When The Hunger Games first became popular, readers were drawn into picking sides about who was the best match for Katniss Everdeen—Gale or Peeta. It never reached the level of Twilight’s Jacob vs. Edward debate, but any love triangle encourages people to pick sides.

I always felt like Peeta was the right match for Katniss, but I didn’t have anything against Gale. He seemed like a nice guy, just not the right guy.

When I watched Mockingjay: Part 1 in theater, one line sparked a lot of anger in my towards Gale. (And, I admit, I can’t remember if this line was in the book or not.)

Over the course of the movie, Katniss and the rebels in District 13 watched Peeta on TV. He encouraged the rebels to stop. He spoke out against the rebellion. It was clear the Capital and Snow were doing something to him as he began to visibly disintegrate.

But Gale had no compassion at all. He insisted he’d never say what Peeta had said. No matter what they did to him. He’d rather die.

It struck a nerve in me. I’ll admit that I’m not objective. One of my pet peeves is people who judge others that way. Gale had never experienced what Peeta was going through. He didn’t even know the full extent of what Peeta was going through. He saw one small aspect and felt justified in condemning Peeta.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t call wrong wrong. If someone is clearly doing something they shouldn’t, then we need to acknowledge that what they’re doing is wrong.

But life is much more grey than it is black and white. How many hours someone works, the clothes they wear, whether or not they volunteer, how clean their house is…I could drag that list out almost indefinitely.

We can’t know what’s going on behind the scenes in their life so we shouldn’t judge them. The older I get, the more people I meet who are struggling quietly and bravely with extremely difficult situations. They don’t publicize what’s happening. Maybe they’re private people, maybe they don’t want pity, or maybe they know—better than most—that everyone is struggling in their own way and they don’t want to add pressure to someone else.

I wish more people would show mercy and grace, rather than criticizing others when there’s no way they can know exactly what those people are going through.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

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

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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Are Writing Rules a Myth?

Image Credit: Brad Harrison (www.freeimages.com)

Image Credit: Brad Harrison (www.freeimages.com)

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Because of how many times I find myself having to address the concept of “writing rules” with my editing clients and in the writing classes I teach, I thought it might be time to talk about it in an open forum. Let’s call the elephant out and decide whether to keep him as a pet or set him free.

Are writing rules a myth?

The answer is yes.

And no.

Let me give you an example of a true writing rule.

Internal dialogue shouldn’t be placed in quotation marks because quotation marks signal audibly spoken dialogue.

That’s a rule. Every writer needs to follow it. A rule is authoritative. Unless the rules change, we should follow them.

True writing rules are rare.

Most of the time, what we call writing rules are actually writing guidelines.

That might seem like semantics, but it isn’t.

Writing guidelines tell us the best practices to follow to achieve success. These things should be done 99% of the time. There are exceptions, but guidelines are how you should normally act for the best results.

Rule: Don’t put a metal fork in your microwave because you’ll burn up your microwave.

Guideline: If you don’t want food to splatter all over your microwave, bake onto the sides, and start to stink a few days later, put a cover over your food before you heat it up and use the correct setting on the microwave.

See the difference? It’s stupid to break a rule. If you break a rule, it never comes with good results (unless your desired result is a negative one).

If you violate a guideline, you might be okay. You might not. It’s a calculated risk.

When it comes to the craft of writing, the distinction between rules and guidelines is an essential one to make because I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon among writers. If you call something a rule, when it’s actually a guideline, then without fail a conversation will begin about how we need to “know the rules to break them.” For whatever reason, many writers feel like they need to be rule-breakers.

The problem with that is a big one. We get so bent out of shape by the word rules that the focus shifts from what it should be on—making our writing the best it can be.

And the mantra about “knowing the rules so we can break them” quickly becomes an excuse to ignore good advice for how to make our book better. (Want to tweet that?)

By the very definition of best practice guidelines, we lose that excuse.

If we’re going to stray from these guidelines, we need to make sure we’re getting a bigger improvement from it than we’ll be losing in what it costs because violating these guidelines always costs something. If we’re going to violate them, it should be a conscious, well-reasoned decision. A cost-benefit analysis.

Asking ourselves why we’re violating the guideline and what bigger benefit it’s giving us also helps us avoid another trap called “My book is the exception.”

Since guidelines are normative, but not infallible, the “my book is the exception” thought train turns into a bug zapper for many writers.

“Those guidelines are only right 99% of the time. I’m the 1%.”

You might be. But the truth is that more writers think they’re the 1% than can possibly be the 1%. We are probably not the exception. Our books are probably not the exception. That’s usually an excuse we make because we don’t want to honestly face the problems with our story or our writing. We don’t want to have to revise again. We don’t want to have to put in the grueling work of learning to make it better.

Try that in the rest of your life and see how well it serves you. Quick fixes and ignoring the truth almost always lead to disaster later on.

Don’t try to be innovative in the craft of writing. That’s not where brilliance is hiding, waiting to be found. Be innovative in your plot and in your characters and fresh in the emotions. Those are the things readers talk about long after they’ve set the book down.

I’d love to hear from you even if you disagree with me. What’s your opinion on the existence of writing rules?

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 Showing and Telling in Fiction or Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide.)

All three books are available in print and ebook forms.

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Unbelievable Real Life: A Waterfall of Blood

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Welcome back to the first Unbelievable Real Life feature of 2015!

Because we’re stuck in the doldrums of winter, I thought it might be a good time to explore some very cool wintery spots (no pun intended…well, maybe a little). If we’re going to be buried under mounds of snow, we might as well make the best of it.

Today I’m taking you to Antarctica where Taylor Glacier seems to spew a waterfall of blood.

Image Credit: Mike Martoccia (CC License)

Image Credit: Mike Martoccia (CC License)

Glaciologists and microbiologists finally figured out that the likeliest cause of this phenomenon is an underground lake where the water has a high iron content. As the water interacts with the air around it, the iron starts to rust, making the water look like blood.

Image Credit: Zina Deretsky / US National Science foundation (NSF)

Image Credit: Zina Deretsky / US National Science foundation (NSF)

Have you seen something strange or unusual this winter?

If you like suspense, I hope you’ll take a look at my ebook Frozen (it’s only 99 cents). Twisted sleepwalking. A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag. And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality. I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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Creating An Author Business Plan: Choosing Your Stories

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Last month we started writing our Author Business Plan Summary by setting our author goals. Now that we’ve laid the foundation through deciding on our goals, it’s time to take the next step and decide on what type of books we plan to publish.

This can be one of the most difficult things for an author to do. I hope you’ll come by and share your experiences with this part of the process, how you chose what type of books to write, or the struggles you’re facing in doing so.

Click here to read my post on “Creating an Author Business Plan: Choosing Your Stories” at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University.

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 Showing and Telling in Fiction or Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide.)

All three books are available in print and ebook forms.

I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

Enter your email address to follow this blog: