About Marcy Kennedy

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5 Writing Tips from Historical Fiction Author Jody Hedlund

Jody Hedlund inspirational historical romanceI’m very excited to welcome Jody Hedlund to my blog today for an interview.

Jody Hedlund is an award-winning historical romance novelist and author of the best-selling books The Preacher’s Bride and The Doctor’s Lady. She received a bachelor’s degree from Taylor University and a master’s from the University of Wisconsin, both in Social Work. Currently she makes her home in Michigan with her husband and five busy children.

At the end of this interview, I’ll give you a chance to win a copy of Jody’s newest book, Unending Devotion.


Marcy: As a historical fiction writer, what tricks have you found to help keep anachronisms, modern day ideas, and modern day dialogue from sneaking into your work?

Jody: I’m definitely not perfect at keeping modern day thoughts and verbiage out of my historicals. Actually, I don’t think historical writers can stay completely true to the past. There are too many things about bygone eras that modern readers wouldn’t be able to relate to or understand. So, while historical writers must do the best they can to represent past time periods, we can’t strive for perfection.

However, with that said, here are several “tricks” I use to help me stay as true to history as possible:

  • I immerse myself in time period books—fiction written from the era, diaries, first-hand accounts, autobiographies, etc. Through reading the actual words of people who lived during my story’s setting, I’m able to pick up language, beliefs, nuances, etc.
  • I try to learn as much as possible about the setting, culture, customs, and history before starting my book. I need to feel that I’ve traveled back in time and have a good grasp of what it was like to live “back then.”
  • When in doubt, I look up words and usage on Phrases.org.
  • I have a critique partner who writes historical fiction. She often catches things I miss.
  • My in-house editors check and double-check word-usage. Since they edit for many different historical writers, they’ve become experts at historical trivia.

Marcy: How do you manage to keep your dialogue true to the time period without allowing it to sound stilted?

Jody: I don’t try to imitate the time period speech exactly. I usually pick out distinct words and assign them to particular characters to use throughout the book. For example, in The Preacher’s Bride, I gave John Costin the word “Methinks.” And I gave Elizabeth the words “’Tis and ’Twas.” I sprinkled their specific tag words into their speech.

Of course, the characters use other time period words too. But I try to keep them minimal so that I don’t take readers out of the story as they try to read the dialog.

Marcy: When you reached the point that you were ready to begin querying agents, how did you decide which agents to contact?

Jody: Since I write inspirational historical fiction, I used Michael Hyatt’s list of Literary Agents who represent Christian authors. I researched the agents further by visiting their websites/blogs, looking at their guidelines, authors they already represent, and books they’ve sold. I also checked ACFW’s website for the list of agents that attend their annual conference. The list specifies what kinds of projects agents are actively seeking.

Marcy: What’s the biggest myth about being a published novelist that you think it’s important for new writers to realize is a myth?

Jody: Many writers look at publication as the destination, the end goal. They believe that when they get a book contract they will have finally arrived. After all the hours, months, even years slaving over a book, writers often expect that after publication, the road will be smooth and easy.

What I’ve realized is that publication of our debut book is only another stop in the journey. When we reach the summit of publishing our first book, the range of taller and steeper mountains looms ahead. If we hope to build a readership and have a successful writing career, then we will need to keep persevering, working hard, and climbing mountains. Being a career author in today’s crowded market is rewarding but not easy.

Marcy: What would you say is the secret to your social media success?

Jody: There are a lot of factors that have helped me to grow my web presence. If I had to pick the top ingredient—the one thing that has helped me the most—I’d have to say hard work. There’s no easy way to gain a following. It takes dogged determination day after day.

Yes, hard work is key. But other ingredients are important too. Here’s my top ten list of how to grow your web presence:

1. Provide quality content. Make each post relevant and interesting.

2. Meet reader needs. Put readers’ needs above our own.

3. Be real and open. Share personally. Be vulnerable.

4. Value followers. Interact. Answer questions. Be available.

5. Reach out. Don’t be shy. Make new friends. Follow & support others generously.

6. Be consistent. Post regularly. Be reliable.

7. Interweave all social media sites. Link to posts on Twitter and Facebook. But support others generously (and yes I mention this particular point again because it’s SO important!).

8. Give it time. Don’t expect overnight success. It takes months, even years to grow followings.

9. Persevere. Keep at it regularly. Work even through dry spells.

10. Work hard. Realize it’s not easy. It won’t ever be. It’ll always be hard work.

You can connect with Jody on Facebook at Author Jody Hedlund, on Twitter as @JodyHedlund, or on her website.

Do you have any questions for Jody about writing historical fiction (or writing in general)? What do you like/dislike about historical fiction?

To be entered to win, all you have to do is leave a comment below (but I’d love it if you’d also share this post to help spread the word about Jody’s new book).

Unending Devotion by Jody HedlundIn 1883 Michigan, Lily Young is on a mission to save her lost sister, or die trying. Heedless of the danger, her searches of logging camps lead her to Harrison and into the sights of Connell McCormick, a man doing his best to add to the hard-earned fortunes of his lumber baron father.

Posing during the day as a photographer’s assistant, Lily can’t understand why any God-fearing citizen would allow evil to persist and why men like Connell McCormick turn a blind eye to the crime rampant in the town. But Connell is boss-man of three of his father’s lumber camps in the area, and like most of the other men, he’s interested in clearing the pine and earning a profit. He figures as long as he’s living an upright life, that’s what matters.

Lily challenges everything he thought he knew, and together they work not only to save her sister but to put an end to the corruption that’s dominated Harrison for so long.

(This interview was originally posted at Girls With Pens upon the release of The Doctor’s Lady. Due to the retirement of Girls With Pens, Jody graciously allowed me to bring it over here to celebrate her new release because I felt her tips were too good to lose.)

SPECIAL REMINDER FROM MARCY: This is your last chance to register for How to Write Faster and Make the Most of Your Limited Time. The class starts October 13th, and costs only $30. Time is also running out to register for Story In A Sentence: Creating Your Logline, starting October 15th. (Cost is only $40).

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Revolution: How Do You Remember to Be Grateful?

Revolution on NBCBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I take my washing machine for granted. And my refrigerator. And cheesecake.

What if they were all gone tomorrow?

New to the fall lineup of TV shows on NBC is Revolution. An unknown phenomenon knocked out every power source across the globe. No electricity. No cars or planes. No batteries. Nothing works.

In the pilot episode, Ben Matheson (who knows the secret behind the power outage and knows the power won’t be coming back on—ever) empties the ice cream from his family’s freezer. He sets an entire carton down in front of his young daughter, Charlie.

“Really?” she asks.

Her mom nods. “It’s all going to melt anyway.”

Charlie shovels ice cream into her mouth.

Ben stops her. “Slow down. I want you to really remember what ice cream tastes like, okay?”

He wants her to savor it because he knows that carton will likely be the last ice cream she ever has.

Charlie nods, but you can tell she doesn’t really understand.

We’re a lot like Charlie sometimes.

No, we’re not in danger of the power going out forever (all joking about the zombie apocalypse aside), but we don’t always recognize how good we have it at this very moment.

So we forget to savor life and easily fall into the pattern of complaining rather than stopping to be grateful for what we have.

We rush through our meals without appreciating them. We grumble about having to do a load of laundry without being grateful for the fact that all we really have to do is sort, load, and fold. My grandma still remembers washing laundry by hand.

Because most of us haven’t truly known the kind of hardship where we go to sleep hungry and don’t know where we’ll be sleeping tomorrow, we don’t understand how blessed we are.

I’m a big offender.

Today is Thanksgiving in Canada, so I’m calling this my fresh start.

Starting today, I’m going to try to eat a little slower, appreciate the time spent with my family a little more, and grumble a little less.

When I’m annoyed about having to change the toilet paper roll, I’m going to be thankful I even have toilet paper (my husband says that people in Iraq use their left hands for the same purpose).

When I’m tired and don’t really feel like cooking dinner, I’m going to be thankful we have the option of take-out or, if I cook anyway, that I didn’t have to raise, kill, and pluck that chicken myself.

My life might be far from perfect, far from what I want it to be, but I have it pretty good.

What mundane item are you most thankful for?

And remember to vote for Zerynthia the warrior My Little Pony in Rebecca Enzor’s PonyFest12!

For writers, there’s still time to register for How to Write Faster and Make the Most of Your Limited Time for only $30. All the classes I’ll be teaching this fall are now also listed here on my website under the classes tab on the menu bar.

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Time to Vote for Zerynthia

Last Sunday, I shared my My Little Pony version of Zerynthia, the Amazon princess from The Amazon Heir, my co-written historical fantasy with Lisa Hall-Wilson.

The voting is now on for PonyFest12, so please visit Rebecca Enzor’s blog and vote for Zerynthia! It only takes a few seconds, and Zerynthia and I are up against some fierce competition. We need every vote we can get 🙂

Here’s Zerynthia again to remind you.

Zerynthia The Amazon Heir

When Is It Time to Quit on Our Dreams?

Quitting vs. Potential Insanity

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I thought about quitting today.

It’s not the first time. I’m sure it won’t be the last.

We all hit that point.

It’s that point where the one rejection letter outweighs all the acceptances because it was the one that really mattered to you.

It’s the point where you get tired of hearing you have a strong voice, intricate world-building, an interesting premise, solid writing, BUT this story isn’t for them or they don’t see a market for it.

It’s the point where your blog stops growing or you lose a few subscribers or fewer people are commenting, and you wonder if blogging is really worth the effort.

It’s the point where you buy a new writing book or take a writing course, and instead of feeling excited you want to cry because you realize how much you still have to learn. Because you know that good isn’t good enough. And suddenly you see how far away from your goal you still are.

It’s the point where the one person you thought believed you were going to be a success starts talking about how realistically, even if you go indie, you’ll never make as much as you would at a normal job.

It’s the point where you retire a story you loved, still love, to a drawer and start over. Again. And you wonder how many times can I keep doing this?

It’s that point.

When you hit it, you have to decide—do I give up and walk away or do I keep pushing and hoping?

And what you hear in your head is that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting something to change.

What you hear in your head is all the times in an argument you’ve been told you don’t know when to quit (and it wasn’t meant as a compliment).

And you think what if they’re right? Is there a time when the right and smart thing to do is to finally, at last, give up the fight?

Or is that point the point where we need to push harder? To plant our final seed of courage in the cracked ground and pray it grows? To drag ourselves forward one bloodied-fingered inch at a time because we’re almost there?

Is that the point right before we succeed?

 “So many people quit right before they hit the inflection point.” – Michael Hyatt

You stand there holding quitting in one hand and potential insanity in the other, and instead of thinking about which is better, you think about which comes with the greater cost.

If you quit, you’re going to look back in one year, ten years, your last hours and wonder what if? What if I could’ve done it if I’d tried just a little longer?

If you go forward, you risk spending your life on something that never pans out. Could you have been successful at something else instead? Happier even? You know there are other things you love to do.

To quit or to persevere. To embrace practicality or to embrace hope.

You start to ask yourself, if you knew you’d never succeed, if the 80-year-old you took a time machine back to tell the present you that you didn’t make it, would you do it anyway?

Would you write for hours, sacrificing time with friends and opportunities for fun?

Would you ignore the pain in your back and the aching and stiffness in your hands that feels suspiciously like early-onset arthritis in order to write?

Would you continue to sink money into your dream that you could have otherwise used for vacations or to make your spouse’s or children’s lives a little easier?

Would you do those things if you knew they would never yield the results you wanted? Is there enough value in fighting for it to keep going even if you lose?

With all of that tumbling around inside, you stop and ask yourself–how much do I really want it?

Maybe you decide to walk away. Perhaps you’re smarter than me.

Because, for today at least, I want it bad enough to cling to the belief that one more step might bring me to the inflection point. I want it bad enough that I’m going to keep working until it happens. I want it bad enough to put in the work to make it happen. And I still believe that there’s value in chasing our dreams, even if we never catch them.

Do you ever feel like quitting on your dreams? What (or who) talks you down off the ledge? Or do you think there is a time to stop and move on?

I hope you’ll check out the newly released mini-books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series–Strong Female Characters and How to Write Faster–both currently available for 99 cents.

Photo Credit: Billy Alexander (from www.sxc.hu)

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Real Steel: Some Things Are Worth Fighting For

Real SteelBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

So often we hear the advice that, if you love something (or someone), you should let them go. But part of the reason I fell in love with my husband was his willingness to fight for me. His willingness to fight gave me the invaluable gift of knowing I was worth fighting for. And I hope my willingness to fight for him has done the same.

In Real Steel, a movie set in 2020, when robot boxing has replaced human boxing, Charlie (Hugh Jackman) has forgotten what it means to fight for anything.

Charlie is an absentee father who ends up taking care of his eleven-year-old son during the worst time of Charlie’s life, when his last robot has been destroyed and he’s in enough debt that people want to kill him. The woman he loves won’t have anything to do with him because he’s immature and irresponsible, and Charlie doesn’t want anything to do with his son, Max. In fact, he “sells” Max to the aunt and uncle who want custody. Charlie only takes Max for the summer because Max’s uncle pays Charlie to care for the boy while the aunt and uncle travel to Italy.

And then Charlie loses the money in a single boxing match.

Desperate, Charlie and Max pull a sparring bot from the junk yard and restore it just to earn a few hundred dollars in throwaway matches. At least, that’s Charlie’s plan. Max has a different idea. Their sparring bot starts winning. They move from illegal, unsanctioned matches to a professional match. And they win.

After their big win, the man Charlie owes money to beats up both Max and Charlie and takes all their winnings.

The next day, Charlie returns Max to his aunt and uncle early. Max is furious.

“What do you want me to say?” Charlie yells at him. “I’m sorry? No, you knew. You knew from day one what this was. You decided to take the ride. What? You actually thought me, you, and the little robot from the junk heap were gonna ride off into the sunset? Come on! No, you forgot who I was. I mean, what do you want from me?”

Max turns on him, eyes filling with tears. “I want you to fight for me. That’s all I ever wanted.

I think that’s what we all want in some way, because the person who will fight for us is telling us we’re valuable. We’re worth the trouble. We’re something special.

Fighting for someone means you have their back. My career choice isn’t popular with everyone, but my husband refuses to allow anyone to criticize the choice I’ve made. Whatever private disagreements we might have, we’re a united front in public. You attack one of us, you attack both of us.

Fighting for someone means you prioritize your relationship above everything else. I love my job, but I think it’s foolish to “make whatever sacrifices it takes” to succeed. I won’t sacrifice my relationship with my husband, and that means setting aside inviolable time for him (and recognizing when I’m working too hard).

Fighting for someone means you cut them some slack when they’re hurting. Sometimes hurting people will shove us away as hard as they can, trying to prove themselves right that they can’t count on anyone but themselves, but secretly, desperately, hoping you’ll finally be the one to prove them wrong.

Fighting for someone means you compromise and value their happiness equally with your own. Putting someone else’s happiness above your own is a fast track to resentment. However, valuing their happiness equally to our own means we’re always looking for win-win situations rather than trying to be the martyr or walking all over the one we claim to love.

Fighting for someone means you don’t give up on them when trouble comes. Traditional wedding vows talk about “in sickness and health, for richer or poorer.” In our time together, my husband and I have weathered specialist visits, wisdom teeth removal, and torn hamstrings. We’re still in the penny-pinching stage. We’ve even dealt with border and immigration hassles. But those problems are minor to us compared to what being together gives us.

The advice to let something go if you love it gives us an out to quit too soon, when if we hung on, we’d find that the struggle, the fight, brought us to something greater than we could have had if we’d walked away. I know it did for me.

Who (or what) have you been willing to fight for?

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Zerynthia the Warrior My Little Pony

I know this isn’t a normal day for me to post, but I’m entering Rebecca Enzor’s PonyFest12 with a My Little Pony inspired by Zerynthia, the Amazon princess in The Amazon Heir, my co-written novel with Lisa Hall-Wilson.

I’m not an artist, so I had to use a pony creator and Paint to come up with this.

Zerynthia The Amazon Heir

Pony Zerynthia’s eyes are blue and her hair is a golden copper color like the character in our novel, and her mane is tied back in a warrior’s tail. The crimson markings represent the tattoos for each man she’s killed. Her unicorn’s horn stands in place of her spear, and I gave her the symbol of the bow and arrow the Amazons were so famous for. She might look fierce, but inside she feels an intense need to prove herself and to be loved.

The Amazon Heir is Xena Warrior Princess meets Game of Thrones.

As a special treat, here’s a sneak peak at Zerynthia’s grand entrance into The Amazon Heir.

A tattoo for each man she’d killed decorated Zerynthia’s back, left shoulder, and upper arm.

She pushed against the familiar red binding constricting her breasts and tightened the tie fastening her hair in a warrior’s tail down her back. One final achievement stood between her and the throne—a daughter born from Scythian seed. Everything rested on winning in this final round of bull-leaping and earning the right to have her daughter credited with the blood of their fiercest allies.

If you want to help me win a package of books along with an actual custom My Little Pony based on this design, please vote for Zerynthia from October 5th through 13th on Becca’s blog. (I’ll be reminding you because I really want to win.) You can also see the other entrants by clicking the link at the beginning of the post and scrolling down to the links in the comments.

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Write Or Die

Write or DieI first heard about a program called Write or Die a few months ago. I looked it up online to find this description: “Write or Die is a new kind of writing productivity application that forces you to write by providing consequences for distraction and procrastination. As long as you keep typing, you’re fine, but if you become distracted, punishment will ensue. Everything is configurable, name your word goal, time goal and preferred punishment, then start writing!”

I don’t like pressure, but I’m intrigued by anything that can help me meet my word goals, so I posted on Google+ asking if anyone had tried Write or Die. It turned out a fellow WANA writer, Samantha Warren, regularly used it, and she agreed to write a guest post to explain how it works and how anyone who wants to try it can use it most effectively. Join me in welcoming Samantha!


Product Review: Write or Die

By Samantha Warren

Samantha Warren Fantasy Author

You can feel the words, buried somewhere in that foggy brain of yours, but you can’t seem to make the fingers that hover over the keyboard do their job. You stare at the blank screen until your eyes start to cross, sigh, and wander away to do something else until your “muse” returns.

It’s often referred to as writer’s block, a term I don’t exactly agree with. Writer’s block implies that it’s something you can’t fix, something that has to go away on its own, like you have to wait for the creativity to return. Any writer who has ever been on a deadline knows that sometimes you just can’t wait for the mood to strike. So what do you do?

For times like these, I use Write or Die. It’s this nifty program created by Dr. Wicked that keeps your fingers moving, even if your brain doesn’t want to. I’m going to deviate from writing for a moment to try to explain what Write or Die does. In Simon Pegg’s Run, Fatboy, Run, Dennis is trying to run a marathon. There’s a scene where he’s reached a figurative wall. He just doesn’t think he can go any further. But he summons what little strength he has, focuses on that wall, and busts through it. It gives him the motivation to keep going and finish the race on a strong note.

Write or Die helps writers do just that – break through the mental wall. As it claims on the website, it kills writer’s block.

Here are a few tips to use Write or Die more effectively:

  1. Block it out. Use fullscreen mode. It’s too tempting to be able to see other screens and it’s easy to get distracted.
  2. Be gentle. If you’re writing anything you plan on actually keeping, do not, I repeat, do not use Kamikaze mode. Kamikaze mode will start deleting words if you stop writing for too long. I use Normal mode and set the Grace Period in the middle. You don’t want to be losing those ever-precious words if you’re planning on publishing them. Understand that there will be times when you get slightly distracted. It’s okay. That bright red screen and screaming baby will bring you back to the task and set you back to work, but it’s a lot harder to do so if you have to rewrite everything you had already written. I also turn off the “Disable Save” option. Sometimes you’ll have to handle an emergency, and you don’t want to lose everything you just wrote.
  3. Give yourself time. Set word goals and time goals that you can actually reach. I know that I can write 1000 words in 30 minutes if I really set my mind to it. But that’s not what I set my goals at. I use 1000 words and 45 minutes. That gives me time to deal with any distractions and still meet my goal. I’m usually done way before the 45 minutes are up, but setting an attainable goal is less stressful and allows me time to think about the words I’m writing.
  4. XXX marks the spot. I’ll often be writing and run into a spot where I can’t remember a name, have a brain fart, or need to look something up. I will not stop writing to go find that information. Instead, I use XXX in place of names I need, or I surround my question with asterisks. For example, in my most recent novel, one section looked a bit like this:

Two double ***will people know what double means*** beds sat side by side along one wall with a night stand in between. A large armoire stood along another wall, in addition to a captain’s desk ***What’s a captain’s desk?***

Editing while you are trying to write is a sure-fire way to lose your motivation and bring your writing to a grinding halt. Mark trouble spots and keep moving ahead. You can fix any issues later, once the WIP is finished.

Those are just a few of the tricks I use to keep the words flowing and my fingers moving. Write or Die is available in three formats: directly on the website, as an app from the Apple app store, or as a download for your computer. The website version is completely free, so you’re not losing anything to try it. The app is $4.99, and the download is $10.

The great thing about the download is you only have to pay once. Dr. Wicked insists that you should never buy it again, and if you need another copy, just email him. He seems like a great guy, and he’s a writer, too, so he understands our pain. I also hear he’s coming out with an EditMinion program, which will be very interesting to see. And you can do Word Wars with your friends. Nothing like a little friendly (or not-so-friendly) competition to keep you going, right?

So those are just a few of my tips for beating writer’s block. What are yours?

The Seven Keys of Alaesha Samantha WarrenSamantha Warren is a fantasy author who spends her days immersed in dragons, spaceships, and vampires. With her pet dragon, Anethesis, she ventured to the ends of the universe, but the cost of space travel cut into her sock fetish fund, so she sold her ship and returned home. When she isn’t writing, she’s milking cows or trying to feed them Pop-Tarts. She spends a lot of time in her weed patch (aka: garden), watching any show featuring Gordon Ramsay, or posting random things on her blog (http://www.samantha-warren.com). Her newest novel, The Seven Keys of Alaesha, will be released on October 1st.

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Do You Love Yourself Too Much? The Story of Narcissus

Greek mythology NarcissusBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Maybe we need to focus less on loving ourselves and more on loving others.

In Greek mythology, Narcissus was the son of a river god and a nymph. When Narcissus was young, a blind soothsayer prophesied Narcissus “would live to an old age if he did not look at himself.”

The soothsayer based his prediction on Narcissus’ beauty. All the women he met, human and nymph, fell in love with him. And he rejected them all, feeling he was better than any who sought him.

After his pride and cruel treatment broke the heart of the nymph Echo, Nemesis (the goddess of revenge) tricked him into looking down at a pool of water. Narcissus fell hopelessly in love with his reflection.

In one version, Narcissus fell into the water and drowned while trying to embrace his reflection. In another, he couldn’t bear to leave his reflection and finally starved to death.

Pride and excessive self-love killed him.

Narcissus’ story gives us the name for narcissistic personality disorder. A narcissist is preoccupied with himself and has a sense of self-importance that’s out of kilter with reality. You can see why psychologists chose Narcissus to give the disorder its name.

While most of us aren’t narcissists, we can still fall into the trap of being too absorbed with ourselves and too enamored with our own strengths.

And the longer we look only at ourselves, the more in love we fall with our own virtues. The more in love we fall with our own virtues, the easier it is to look down on other people and get angry when someone suggests we might have room to improve.

Amber West talked about this phenomenon in her thoughtful post on Confidence versus Doubt: Becoming a Better You. “People don’t try to be better,” she wrote, “they just become self-involved. Why look externally if what’s internal is so amazing?” She concluded that it’s not enough to “just be you.” We all need to work toward being “the best you.”

In many ways, our society now values self-esteem over self-improvement. We don’t want anyone to feel like they’re imperfect, as if the knowledge of imperfection will destroy us.

But the opposite is true. When we start focusing on how great we already are, when we’re afraid of offending anyone by telling them they need to change, we stop growing.

I believe in the value of accepting ourselves for who we are and finding people who love us for who we are. I was born with a personality that won’t change, and I developed likes and dislikes that are at the core of my personality and make me happy. I’m learning to be comfortable in my own skin. But I also have weaknesses and faults and bad traits I need to fix. I’m far from perfect, and I will never be perfect. If I start to think I’m perfect, that I have all the answers, I risk becoming mean, critical, and self-righteous.

Recently, I was on the receiving end of a “perfect” person’s well-meaning opinions. I tried to shrug it off, but the comments still stung days later. It reminded me how much I don’t want to be that person, and I started thinking about what I could do to protect myself, and by extension, protect everyone around me from me.

When I look at someone else, instead of looking at the areas where they’ve failed or picking on them to make myself feel better (writers are particularly at risk for criticizing successful authors), I’m going to look at what I can learn from them. I’m going to look for their strengths.

Instead of focusing on myself, I’m going to figure out ways I can make someone else’s life a little better.

And when I’m tempted to look at someone else and judge them, I’m going to remember that everything looks easier from the outside.

“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection—or compassionate action.” ― Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships

Do you think our society is becoming too focused on self-esteem and not focused enough on improving ourselves? How can we walk the balance between liking ourselves without becoming too proud?

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Image Credit: Alex Bramwell (obtained from Stock.xchng)

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7 Tricks to Add Variety to Your Dialogue

Add Variety to Fiction DialogueBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

A simple back and forth exchange in dialogue is like a plain chicken breast. It’ll keep your body full and moving, but pretty soon your taste buds get bored. You need BBQ sauce. Or Ranch shake-and-bake. Or spicy raspberry-balsamic marinade. You need to add variety.

The same principle applies to your dialogue, and the best way to add variety is to imitate real speech patterns.

(1) Answer with a Question

When someone asks you a question you’d rather not answer, how do you react? Most people deflect.

“I tried calling you yesterday night. Where were you?”
“Where do you think I was?”

(2) Interrupt

Interruption can characterize a person who’s impatient or self-centered by nature. It can also heat up an argument or give the reader insight into a deteriorating relationship.

“You really need to—”
“I know. You don’t need to keep reminding me.”

(3) Let Silence Speak

In Ernest Hemingway’s classic short story “Hills Like White Elephants,” a man is trying to convince a woman to get an abortion. Her reaction—silence. And it conveys her resistance to his suggestion more clearly than if she’d said it aloud.

“It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” the man said. “It’s not really an operation at all.”
The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.
“I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air in.”

Your character might resort to silence for a number of reasons. Maybe they’re passive-aggressive, maybe they’re afraid of angering the person they’re talking to, or maybe they feel like nothing they could say would make a difference anyway.

(4) Add a Beat in the Middle

Sometimes you’ll notice a pattern like this appearing in your dialogue.

Action beat. “Dialogue.”
“Dialogue,” tag.
Feeling. Action beat. “Dialogue.”
Action beat. “Dialogue.”
“Dialogue,” tag.

If it goes on for too long, the lack of variety in structure can become boring regardless of how thrilling the content of your dialogue is. Often you can fix it by simply inserting a beat in the middle of two sentences of dialogue.

Original: Melody crossed her arms over her chest. “I don’t like it here. I want to go home.”
Revised: “I don’t like it here.” Melody crossed her arms over her chest. “I want to go home.”

It adds a pause to the rhythm.

When to add a beat and when to leave the dialogue straight is almost more a matter of instinct and hearing the cadence of your character’s speech patterns than it is a scientific formula of tag here + beat there = interesting dialogue.

(This doesn’t violate the concept of F-A-D explained in my previous post on dialogue. It’s a variation of it. You’ll notice that the beat isn’t moved to the end of the dialogue, but is instead used as a pause in it, almost like the speaker is taking a breath–-the same way we do in real life.)

(5) Add Subtext

In Creating Unforgettable Characters, author and Hollywood script director Linda Seger describes subtext as “what the character is really saying beneath and between the lines.”

It’s that argument with your husband about the toothpaste tube that has nothing to do with toothpaste at all, the talk with your child that lets them know you found out they’ve been stealing even though you never mention the word theft, or the veiled threat from the woman whose job you got.

Try using subtext in an emotionally charged conversation that would otherwise be in danger of melodrama if you wrote it directly. You’ll also often find subtext in a conversation where characters can’t speak openly for fear of being overheard.

For more on subtext, read this excellent post by Shannon Donnelly at Writer’s in the Storm.

(6) Echo

In real life, we often echo a word when we’re nervous, lying, or stalling for time.

“Do you think she’s pretty?”

(7) Misdirection/Non-Response

And sometimes, if the conversation isn’t going where we want it to, we just refuse to go along with it.

“We’re going to lose our reservation. You almost ready to go?”
“I saw you with her again today.”

If you missed Part 1 of my series on dialogue, “5 Basics About Dialogue You Need to Know,” now’s a great time to go back and check it out.

I’d love to have your input as well. How do you add variety to your dialogue? Have you tried any of these techniques?

I hope you’ll check out the newly released mini-books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series–Strong Female Characters and How to Write Faster–both currently available for 99 cents.

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Photo Credit: Jer Wilcocks Photography (from my wedding)

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Why Does Fear Exist?

Purpose of FearBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Fear can kill us in more ways than one.

In the Star Trek: Voyager episode “The Thaw,” the crew of the starship Voyager finds a planet that suffered an ecological disaster. Five of the aliens who lived there placed themselves into a timed stasis, set to release them when the surface was safe for them to live on again. The only problem is, when Voyager finds them, their scheduled time to emerge is four years in the past.

The crew brings the stasis pods on board Voyager to see what went wrong. Two of the aliens are dead of heart attacks, and the other three should have emerged, but for some reason, they haven’t. The problem isn’t mechanical, and they can’t wake them. They also can’t simply shut down the stasis pods without causing brain damage because all the aliens’ minds are connected to the central computer.

Two Voyager officers use the extra stasis pods to go in and see what’s happening. They find that the virtual reality where the aliens’ consciousness lives while they’re in stasis is pulling from their own fears to create Fear, a cruel, horrifying being. The two aliens who died were killed because Fear guillotined them, quite literally scaring them to death.

Fear refuses to release the surviving aliens—and now one of the Voyager officers—because, without them, he will cease to exist.

To rescue them, Captain Kathryn Janeway needs to figure out what it is that Fear wants. Why does fear exist?

“Why do people enjoy dangerous sports?” she asks Voyager’s doctor. “Why, after all these centuries, do children still ride on rollercoasters?”

She has a revelation about the answer, and she convinces Fear to trade her for the hostages.

“You show remarkable trust, Captain,” Fear says when she enters his world. “How could you be so sure I’d keep my word?”

“I’ve known fear. It’s a very healthy thing most of the time. You warn us of danger. Remind us of our limits. Protect us from carelessness. I’ve learned to trust fear.”

As Janeway’s consciousness filters into the system, Fear realizes she’s tricked him. She’s not actually in a stasis chamber at all. They’d found another way to let him feel her mind without putting her in danger of becoming trapped.

She tricked him because she realized the real reason for fear’s existence. “You know as well as I do,” she says, “that fear only exists for one purpose. To be conquered.”

It seems so simple. Whether we conquer fear by removing the threat, backing away from the limit we were about to break, or understanding, as Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” fear only exists to be conquered. It was never meant to be an emotion we lived with constantly.

The unhealthy type of fear (that doesn’t warn us of danger or exceeded limits) is the hardest to conquer. Fear was, quite literally, all in the aliens’ heads, but they couldn’t control their emotions enough to get rid of him. He held them prisoner—just as our fear, fear created by our minds rather than by reality, so often holds us prisoner.

And just like Fear killed the aliens, our fear can kill our dreams.

In his speech, Roosevelt defines this type of fear as “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

So what can we do to make sure unhealthy fear doesn’t stop us?

Learn to recognize when fear is hiding behind the mask of other emotions. Fear is sneaky. When you snap at your spouse because they were late getting home, you’re probably not actually angry. You were afraid something bad happened to them. But they don’t know that, and your fear just hurt your relationship. Until we recognize fear, we can’t deal with the root cause and stop it from hurting us. We can’t conquer it.

Let go of your illusion of safety. I’m a hypochondriac (and very embarrassed to admit it, actually). I routinely believe I have cancer, a blood clot, food poisoning, or a host of other problems most people have probably never heard of. Does fearing them actually keep me safe from them? Nope. Sometimes fearing something has zero value.

“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” – Helen Keller

Recognize that failure can be a beautiful thing as long as we use it to learn. Many of us let fear of failure hold us back. If you try to reach your goal and fail, you’re back in the same place as if you’d never tried. So not trying doesn’t protect you; it keeps you stuck. In fact, if you don’t try, you’re actually further behind because you haven’t learned the lessons failure taught.

Have a contingency plan. I get laughed at sometimes because I’m extremely detail-oriented and I have contingency plans for my contingency plans. But I’m rarely caught off guard with something unexpected. I’m not afraid or stressed out because I know that if something goes wrong, I have a plan to deal with it, and I know it won’t take me long to recover. My much-mocked plans are actually my secret source of confidence.

Have you let fear hold you back? What’s your best tip for combating unhealthy fear?

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For an excellent post on how fear can be a gift, check out August McLaughlin’s Lifesaving Resolution #4: Trusting Your Instincts.

Image Credit: Lena Povrzenic (from www.sxc.hu)

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