fantasy author

Do You Like to Have the Last Word? The Story of Echo

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Do you always have to have the last word in an argument? Do you know someone who does?

Echo, a mountain nymph in Greek mythology, had to have the last word in everything, and it was her undoing.

Echo was beautiful with a musical voice. People enjoyed hearing her talk. Eventually, this went to her head, and Echo took too much pleasure in having the last word in both arguments and normal conversations.

Greek mythology has two separate stories about how Echo’s unique ability to dominate a conversation became a curse that destroyed her.

In one story, Echo was a pawn, and in the other, she was a hero.

In the first version, Zeus, ruler of Mount Olympus, hired her to distract his wife while he engaged in one of his numerous affairs. Zeus’ wife Hera figured out what Echo was doing and punished her.

In the alternate version, Echo learned that Hera sought to wreak vengeance on the nymphs for the infidelities she believed Zeus had committed with many of them. Echo used her speech to distract Hera until the other nymphs escaped.

Both versions led to the same consequence.

“Because you’ve cheated me,” Hera said, “you forfeit the use of your tongue except to reply. You’ll keep your power to speak the last word, but will never know the relief of speaking the first.”

Hera doomed Echo to repeat forever the last words spoken to her.

Echo felt the sting of this especially when she met and fell in love with Narcissus.

When Narcissus exclaimed in disgust, “I should rather die than let you have me,” all Echo could reply with was a pitiful plea of “Have me.”

After Narcissus broke her heart, Echo wasted away until nothing remained of her but her voice, which continued to haunt caves and mountain cliffs.

The Greeks believed when they called out and heard a reply, it was Echo speaking to them. (Hence the origin of the word echo in our language for when sound reflects back to us.)

Whether Echo had a good reason for it or not, needing to always have the last word doomed her to a sad life. It may not destroy our lives, but it can certainly punch some holes in our relationships. And if we’re not the person who always needs to have the last word but we know someone who does, it’s important to know how to deal with it.

I’m a person who always needs to have the last word. If you’re like me, here’s what I’ve found helps.

Look back at when it started.

I’m very different from a person I was close to growing up. I’m a quiet introvert. He’s a charismatic extrovert. I have a dry, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. He has a sarcastic, have-the-room-in-stitches-and-hanging-off-his-every-word sense of humor. I’m like the china cup, and he’s like the bull.

When we’d argue, he won by strength of personality alone. He’d talk over me and mock every logical argument I made. I never felt like I won a single disagreement.

As an adult, this translated into me wanting to have the last word in every argument because, subconsciously, I felt like that meant I was heard and respected.

The first step for me toward letting other people sometimes have the last word was recognizing that not everyone was like what I’d experienced. Other people would listen to me and respect my different opinion even if I didn’t have the last word.

Ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?”

As crazy as this might sound at first, I figured out one of the reasons I seek to have the last word is a control issue. I was afraid that if I didn’t have the last word, I was giving up all control of the situation, and that meant all the horrible possibilities I’d imagined were going to come true. Flawed logic, I know.

But if you find you need to control an argument or win an argument, ask yourself what you’re afraid will happen if you lose the argument. Express that to the person you’re arguing with.

If you’re not someone who needs the last word, but you need to deal with someone who is, here are my tips from the other side.

Realize that they probably just want to know that you hear them and respect their opinion. They want to know that you’ll consider their side rather than just walking all over them because you think you know better.

Pick a time when you’re not fighting to talk to them about it. They might not even know they always try to have the last word.

Accept that having the last word doesn’t really mean anything. They didn’t win the argument simply because they had the last word, so don’t let it get under your skin. Be the bigger person.

Give them the last word gracefully. Sometimes you’re going to get tired of arguing. The quickest way to appease a “last worder” is to ask something like “Is there anything else you want to add?”

Don’t assume that someone needs to have the last word just because they win most of the arguments/finish most arguments. Sometimes I’m not actually trying to get in the last word. Sometimes I just see a flaw in the argument just made and want to address it. Having the last word and needing to have the last word are not the same thing. Don’t be too quick to judge someone.

Do you feel the need to always have the last word in an argument? Do you know someone else who does? How do you handle it?

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Does Your Dialogue Deserve to Exist?

Does Your Dialogue Deserve to ExistBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

The biggest mistake writers make when it comes to dialogue isn’t what you might expect.

The biggest mistake we make is forgetting that dialogue—like everything else in fiction—needs a reason to exist.

If dialogue comes easily to you, then this is going to be something you need to watch. Because dialogue is your strength, your tendency will be to allow your dialogue to dominate your story.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can also trip you up. You’ll be prone to adding empty small talk or to depending on dialogue to the exclusion of other action, internal monologue, and description. A well-rounded story needs them all.

To give your dialogue a reason to exist, make sure every passage does at least one of these three things. (Bonus points if it does more than one.)

Reveal Character or Character Relationships

I’ll go into detail in my next dialogue post about revealing character in dialogue, so for now, think about how the way we speak to someone reveals our relationship to them.

Are they comfortable enough with each other to tease? To disagree?

If they give their opinion, do they do it in a way that shows they’re speaking to a superior, an equal, or an inferior? The way we give a suggestion to our boss is very different from the way we give a suggestion to our teenager.

People who are newly dating speak to each other differently from a couple who’s been married for five years. A newly dating couple will be more tentative, wanting to put their best foot forward. A couple who’s been married five years will have private jokes, old wounds, and a closeness that allows them to convey their meaning without explicitly stating it. If the marriage is good. How a couple speaks to each other reveals a lot about the condition of their marriage.

Whenever your character speaks to someone else, their dialogue should be tailored to who they’re speaking to. If you can swap the listener without changing the dialogue, you need to rethink how you’re writing it.

Advance the Plot

We hear the advice to “show, don’t tell” so often it’s almost clichéd.

Using dialogue to advance the plot makes our scenes more active, avoids author intrusion, and “shows.”

But what does it mean to say dialogue is advancing the plot? Dialogue can advance the plot by…

  • providing new information
  • increasing suspense, tension, or conflict
  • revealing new obstacles
  • reminding us of the characters’ scene or story goals

The trick to making this work is to avoid As-You-Know-Bob Syndrome.

A character won’t say something the character they’re talking to already knows.

E.g., “When our Aunt Edna died, I wasn’t upset because I didn’t know her that well.”

A character also won’t say something that wouldn’t come up in conversation because it’s common knowledge.

E.g., “Hi Mary, my best friend since childhood. Won’t you come into the new house I just bought?”

In Revision & Self-Editing, James Scott Bell says the easiest way to fix (and avoid) this problem is to remember that dialogue is always from one character to another. It can’t sound like you’re manipulating it (even though you are). It must always be what a character would naturally say.

Another solution is to pick a fight. Characters who are fighting will dredge up things the other character already knows and use them as weapons against each other.

Echo the Theme

Every good movie does this. According to Blake Snyder in Save the Cat, creating a line of dialogue to echo the theme isn’t negotiable—a movie must include it to work.

Good books will do it multiple times in subtle ways.

If you’re a regular reader of my Monday posts, you’ve watched me pull themes from books and movies and find a lesson for us.

In The Amazing Spider-Man, Uncle Ben is fed up with Peter acting out and shirking responsibility. He tells Peter that his father lived by a code: “If you can do good things for other people, you have the moral obligation to do those things.”

In Chapter 7 of The Hunger Games, Peeta and Katniss argue about which of them has the better chance of survival and of getting sponsors. Each believes it’s the other. Peeta turns to Haymitch (their mentor) in exasperation and says, “She has no idea. The effect she can have.”

Echoing the theme doesn’t have to be obvious. You can work your theme into dialogue using subtext and foreshadowing as well.

Does dialogue come easily to you? If so, do you find that when you revise you need to cut out dialogue that doesn’t have a purpose?

If you missed the 7 Ways to Add Variety to Your Dialogue and the 5 Basics About Dialogue You Need to Know, you can catch up by clicking the blue text.

Registration is also now open for A Growing Tweeter’s Guide to Twitter. If you’re new to Twitter or if you’ve been on Twitter for a while and just aren’t getting the results you want, this is a good place to start. The class is four weeks long and the Bronze level is only $50. A Silver and Gold level are also offered. Check them out on the Current Classes page at WANA International.

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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!

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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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How to Help Your Readers See Your World

Sense of Sight in FictionBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I have a confession to make. It took me three tries to finish Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.

I stalled out the first two times in the same place—at the house of Tom Bombadil. I tried to slog through all the description, but my attention would slip, I’d set the book down, and something more interesting would steal its place. On the third try, I skipped that section and sailed through the rest of the series.

Most readers aren’t going to be so determined to read your book, and the biggest trap when it comes to over-describing is the sense of sight. And that’s logical. It’s the sense we use the most, and it’s the sense we need to include the most so the reader gets a solid grasp of our setting.

But how do we include enough sight details without creating the Tom Bombadil problem?

Allow Your Character to Put Their Own Twist on It

We hear this advice all the time. Everything needs to be said the way your point of view character would. What would your POV character notice? How would they describe it?

Take it bigger.

Is your character an optimist or do you want to show her in a good mood? Have her notice the one point of beauty in an otherwise ugly item.

Want to show the character arc? How does what they notice about a particular object change over the course of the story?

Use Carefully Chosen Items to Foreshadow

The problem with sight is every day we’re overwhelmed with thousands of meaningless, extra images. Consequently, when we write, we’re tempted to also fill our books with images that don’t serve a purpose. In fiction, everything needs to serve a purpose.

We can include sight details so people see the setting. We can include sight details to set the mood. We can also use sight details to foreshadow.

Foreshadowing is hinting at what’s to come in your story. You can foreshadow a major plot element, the character’s internal state or future transformation, or a secret (either not yet revealed or revealed to the reader but not to the POV character) all through little sight details.

Remember the key here is subtle. So subtle in fact that not every reader will catch it. But the ones who do will love you for it.

Put What Your Character Sees Into Motion

Unlike the other senses, sight often takes more than a single detail to give us a vivid picture, especially if the setting or character you’re describing is important. While adding action (or at least a feeling of motion) won’t fix a giant info dump, it can ensure longer descriptions still have forward momentum.

Suzanne Collins used this expertly when describing Rue, the youngest competitor in The Hunger Games.

She has bright, dark eyes and satiny brown skin and stands tilted up on her toes with arms slightly extended to her sides, as if ready to take wing at the slightest sound. It’s impossible not to think of a bird (pg. 98).

N.K. Jemisin did the same thing in her Hugo and Nebula-nominated novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

Face like the moon, pale and somehow wavering. I could get the gist of his features, but none of it stuck in my mind beyond an impression of astonishing beauty. His long, long hair wafted around him like black smoke, its tendrils curling and moving of their own volition. His cloak—or perhaps that was his hair too—shifted as if in an unfelt wind (pg. 30).

So How Can We Balance the Five Senses?

Here’s my tip for figuring out your weaknesses when it comes to the five senses in your fiction or memoir. Take your first chapter, last chapter, and five random chapters from the middle. (No cheating and picking your best.) Assign each sense a different color and circle or highlight every time you use a sense. Once you finish, spread the papers out around you. You’ll immediately be able to see which sense you use the most and where you’re weak.

How do you feel about sight descriptions in books? Do you like to be shown everything in detail or do you prefer the author leave much to your imagination?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series on the five senses. If you missed the first four installments, you can check out my posts on taste, touch, smell, and sound here.

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 subscribe. I’ll be kicking off a series on dialogue soon.

Photo Credit: Raphael Pinto on www.sxc.hu

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Three Ways The Emotion Thesaurus Helps You Write Better

The Emotion Thesaurus

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

As writers, our job is to create a meaningful emotional experience for readers. One of the best ways to do this is to convey the quality and depth of our characters’ feelings through their thoughts, body language, and visceral reactions. This is the primary focus of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression and is at the root of the “show don’t tell” principle.
–       Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi in Emotion Amplifiers (A Companion Guide to The Emotion Thesaurus)

Writers are just like every other profession in one important way—the right tools make our job easier.

The Emotion Thesaurus is one of those tools.

When we’re writing, it’s easy to fall into certain standbys without even realizing it. He’s angry—he frowns. She’s frustrated—she sighs.

But those unimaginative responses don’t begin to do credit to the variety of non-verbal communication we use every day or to the unique, three-dimensional characters we’re supposed to create.

That’s where The Emotion Thesaurus comes in. Today I wanted to give you the three ways I think The Emotion Thesaurus can help you write better stories.

(Just for the record – I don’t get any sort of compensation if you buy The Emotion Thesaurus after reading this. I’m recommending it because I’ve used it, liked it, and think it can be a tool almost any fiction writer could benefit from.)

(1) The Emotion Thesaurus Saves Research Time

Because I want to find fresh ways to express emotions in my writing, I often spend a lot of time, especially at the editing stage, looking up emotions online and studying non-verbal communication. Even as someone who has a degree in Social Psychology and loves digging into what makes people tick, I don’t enjoy how much time this eats up and I’m tempted to skip it.

The Emotion Thesaurus brings the research you need together in one place. Each entry defines the emotion and gives physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, signs of that emotion over the long-term, and cues that the emotion is being repressed.

What that allows us to do is figure out what emotion our character is feeling and look through the lists to find expressions that fit our character and the situation they’re in.

Then we can personalize it. For example, one of the internal sensations for agitation is feeling overheated. How will your character describe that sensation? A middle-aged woman with a good sense of humor might think of it in terms of getting a taste of the hot flashes she’ll experience in menopause. A teenager might liken it to when the air conditioning broke in their house for three whole days. A character with money might describe it as similar to how he felt when he stayed in the sauna too long. Same sensation. Different points of view. Infinite possibilities.

(2) The Emotion Thesaurus Helps with Ideas for Increasing Tension

As you read through the list of characteristics for the emotion you want to convey, you’ll notice some symptoms of that emotion are perfect for increasing tension.

In the agitation entry, the first three mental responses listed are

  • Mounting frustration that causes thoughts to blank
  • Compounding mistakes
  • A tendency to lie to cover up or excuse

You can use agitation to lay the groundwork for bad things to come or to make the current scene more stressful. Many emotions, even positive ones, can have these undesirable consequences.

Becca and Angela also include a “Writer’s Tip” at the end of each emotion with a special hint for other ways you can use that particular emotion to add tension or some other depth to your story.

(3) The Emotion Thesaurus Keeps Characters’ Emotional Arcs Believable

One of the tricks Blake Snyder shares in Save the Cat is that in every scene the character needs to end at a different emotional place from where they began. I struggle with this because I tend to be hyper-logical and tamp down on my emotions. I’m not always certain of the progression an emotion might take in someone who’s less like a Borg.

Becca and Angela added a “May Escalate To” list for each emotion. So, for example, if your character starts the scene agitated (or becomes agitated early on in the scene), you can look at the list and see that likely emotional outcomes by the end of the scene or in the following scene are annoyance, frustration, anxiety, or anger. Then you can go look at the physical signs of those emotions. In helps us bring our character to that next step.

Another thing mentioned by Becca and Angela in their front matter (which is a great look at emotion in itself) is that we often need to seek the root emotion to bring out the correct signs. A person might believe they’re angry, but that anger might actually be a cover-up for something else. So while your character might be screaming at their teenager for wreaking the car, they’re also grabbing their child into a hug because the true emotion isn’t anger—it’s fear and relief that their child survived.

For places where you can buy The Emotion Thesaurus and a lot of great free resources, make sure you check out Becca and Angela’s site The Bookshelf Muse.

What’s your biggest struggle when writing character emotions? Have you checked out The Emotion Thesaurus?

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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How to Use Sound to Make Your Novel Stand Out In A Sea of Noise

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

If you’re limiting yourself to just naming a sound, you’re missing out on the richness that the sense of sound could bring to your fiction. You’re speaking to your reader in a monotone.

Next to sight, sound is the most commonly used sense in fiction, but three techniques can help you change the sounds you use from plain background noise into something that adds new depth to your stories.

Use Onomatopoeia for an Echo

Onomatopoeia is when a word sounds like its definition—hiss, buzz, creak, swish, clatter.

The blade scraped across his stubble.

If you’ve ever listened to a man shave using a razor rather than an electric trimmer, scrape imitates the sound you’ll hear with each swipe.

Another poetry technique worth judiciously stealing is the repetition of sounds within words to mimic the sound you’re describing. One of the best known examples is from the final lines of Tennyson’s “Come Down, O Maid.”

The moan of doves in immemorial elms
And murmur of innumerable bees.

A morning dove’s call at a quiet summer’s twilight carries the same long o sound as moan, and the sequence of m’s and n’s followed by the zee sound in bees creates a buzz like a swarm.

Because most of us vocalize in our minds when we read, onomatopoeic words and phrases help us hear the sound you’re describing. (Speed readers are trained to stop this internal vocalization because it slows reading speed, but it’s also one of the things that helps make reading so pleasurable.)

Don’t overuse this technique. Not everyone likes it. Personally, used frugally at moments when you really need to emphasize a sound, I love it. (And so does Janice Hardy, former instructor for Writer’s Digest, so I’m in good company.)

Play With the Emotional Effects of Sound Deprivation or Sounds We Can’t Control

Using the sense of sound effectively in fiction isn’t all about the type of sound. Sometimes it’s about the lack of sound, the volume, the duration, or whether we have any control over the sound.

When the power goes out in your house at night, do you sleep through it or does the sudden loss of the white noise of the appliances wake you up? Do you find the loss peaceful or, after a while, does the silence become almost oppressive and ominous?

Scientists have studied the effects of sensory deprivation on the human body, and discovered a short period of sensory deprivation, like being underwater, can be relaxing. Over extended periods of time, though, it can lead to hallucinations, decreased memory function, and loss of identity, which is why it’s used as “white torture.” If you place your character in a situation where they can’t hear, they’re likely to be disoriented at first, feeling almost like their ears are clogged. If you place them alone for a long period of time somewhere like the wilds of Utah in winter, the silence will begin to play tricks with their mind.

If we have the ability to make a sound stop, we’re more able to tolerate it than if we have to endure it with no knowledge of when it might end. While our body eventually learns to ignore soft noises like the ticking of a clock in the background, louder noises or noises intended to motivate us to action can’t be tuned out in the same way. In my last truck, the parking break broke, but I didn’t realize it until I’d set it for a ferry ride, and the warning ding kept going after I released it. I had to drive over an hour with no way to make it stop. The sound never bothered me before, but by the end of that drive, I was tense and irritable and fighting a headache.

Let Sound Set the Mood

They don’t call it mood music for nothing. Your choice of sounds can alter the whole feel of a scene, so choose carefully to create the mood you want your reader to feel. If you want to lighten a scene, add a funny or embarrassing sound to a somber or romantic moment.

One of my favorite lines from my co-writer in our historical fantasy is when our female lead’s closest friend says to her, “The wind carries the voices of the dead tonight.” It highlighted not only the grief they shared but couldn’t speak of, but also their dread and uncertainty over what they’d face the next day.

What sound annoys you most? And which do you find most soothing?

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.

Enter your email below to receive updates next time I post here because you don’t want to miss the final sense! If you missed the previous posts, you can find the three techniques for smell, taste, and touch here.

Photo Credit: Peter Mazurek (Obtained via www.sxc.hu)

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Are You Working Too Hard?

Are You Working Too HardAre there limits beyond which we can’t—and shouldn’t—push ourselves even in pursuit of our goals?

In Episode 1 of Battlestar Galactica’s first season, the humans are on the run from the Cylons (machines originally created to serve humans). The Cylons’ attempted extermination of humanity left less than 50,000 survivors, and all of them now live on the small cluster of ships protected by the Battlestar Galactica.

Somehow the Cylons are able to track the human’s FTL (faster-than-light) jumps. They attack every 33 minutes, down to the second. FTL jumps are extremely difficult to plot safely, and when the episode opens, the humans are struggling to have jump coordinates ready every thirty-three minutes while also maintaining their equipment. If a ship breaks down and they can’t repair it in 33 minutes, the Cylons will kill everyone on that ship.

Because FTL jumps feel like riding a rollercoaster, not even the civilians have had more than a few minutes sleep. The fleet’s fighter pilots and other essential military personnel are running on stimulants (what they call stims).

“Five days now,” Dr. Gaius Baltar says in a rant to the Cylon delusion only he can see. “There are limits…to the human body. To the human mind. Tolerances that you can’t push beyond. All those are facts. Proven facts. Everyone has their limit.”

They can’t keep going. They have to find a way to shake the Cylons or they will all die.

The Cylons’ plan of attack is perfect because, as humans, we do have limits. We can only push so hard for so long before our bodies give out. No amount of determination can change that.

For the last year and a half, I’ve been working seven days a week on average. During some stretches, I worked 12- to 14-hour days. I was tired. I was sick every month with something new (and worked anyway). My creative well was dry. And even though I was working hard in pursuit of my dream and trying to be a responsible adult, I recently realized that I’d reached my limit physically, emotionally, and creatively.

In her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who works with palliative care patients in the final months of their lives, explains that the second-most common regret expressed by dying people is “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” They feel like they missed out on the more important things in life in order to succeed at work.

The temptation to burn ourselves out in support of our dreams is something almost anyone in any profession can fall prey to. We might think we’re being dedicated, and sometimes there are times when we do need to push hard, but we also need to rest. Without it, we’ll ruin our health and relationships. We won’t be doing our best work. And when we look back on the end of our lives and see only work, we’ll regret it.

Ignoring the need to rest is short-term thinking.

Because of this, and because I want my life to be more than the sum total of what I’m able to produce, I’m making a change. It’s not going to be an easy change for me. I have emotional baggage (why can’t the airline lose that for us, eh?) that means I feel guilty and afraid when I’m not working. I know it’s not healthy. It’s not balanced. And there’s only one way I know to fix it.

I am taking one day a week completely off from work. No social media. No writing. Maybe even no housework. I’m also setting aside one afternoon/evening a week to spend time with my husband. He deserves more of my time than he’s been getting.

Maybe this change means I’ll reach my goals a little slower. Maybe it means we have to live a simpler life and pinch a few more pennies in the short term.

And you know what? I’m okay with that, because I’m in this for the long haul. A life well-lived is about the long haul.

Have you been burning yourself out in the pursuit of your dreams because you think that’s the only way to “make it?” Or are you instead fighting, like me, to find a balance? I’d love to hear about the choice you’ve made and how/why you’re putting it into action.

(For an excellent, non-geeky look at this topic, check out Emma Burcart’s post “Sometimes We Just Need a Break.” For writers, I also love Kristen Lamb’s beautiful post “There Is A Season” where she talks about needing to let our minds, bodies, and imaginations rest if we want to be career authors rather than one-hit wonders.)

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Photo Credit: Michael Lorenzo (obtained via www.sxc.hu)

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How to Use Touch to Pull Your Reader Into Your Novel

Did you know that leprosy doesn’t actually make your fingers and toes fall off?

I didn’t. What happens is the bacteria attack the nerve endings in the body so the sufferer can’t feel pain. When they injure themselves, they don’t feel it, and this can lead to infection and gangrene before the injured person realizes it and can get treatment. Imagine if they lost their sense of touch entirely.

Touch is the one sense we can’t survive without, so if you’re not using it in your story, you’re dooming your manuscript to an early death.

Over the past months, I’ve looked at three ways to make your novel scratch and sniff and three ways to use taste to make your readers hungry for more. This week, it’s time to look at three ways to use the sense of touch to touch your readers.

Use All Aspects of Touch

Touch is one of the most multi-faceted senses. You can touch and be touched. You can be touched by another living being, by the weather, or by an inanimate object. To convey touch to your readers, think about temperature, texture, pressure, and intent.

Temperature is about more than hot and cold. It’s about hot and cold within context. A cool hand on a feverish forehead soothes. A cool hand in a handshake is often interpreted as a sign of a cold personality. In an old an episode of Columbo, a character’s cold hands tipped him off to their poor circulation, and that in turn helped him solve the case.

Texture also goes beyond the gritty sand between your toes or the sliminess of separating an egg with your fingers. My co-writer Lisa Hall-Wilson recently wrote a post on how The Details Make the Story. For one of her earliest attempts at a novel, she wanted to write about a fireman and so she booked a tour of a fire hall. Near the end of the tour, she asked to feel one of the firemen’s hands because she needed to know if they were rough like a farmer’s or smooth like a mechanic’s.

Pressure can show intimacy, a threat, or add humor. At my best friend’s funeral, a well-meaning older lady took my hand and squeezed it while she talked to me. The pressure she used normally wouldn’t have been a problem except that when she took my hand, the ring I had on twisted, and every time she squeezed, the stone cut into the finger next to it. She interpreted the pain flashing across my face as emotional and squeezed harder. It was funny in hindsight. Not so much at the moment.

Intent adds layers. I once read that women don’t slap men they’re genuinely furious with. They might punch them, knee them in the groin, shove them, or simply walk away, but they won’t slap them because a slap says that part of them isn’t angry. Part of them secretly knows the man was right or is secretly attracted to him because of what he did. A slap is ambiguous.

Observe (or Break) the Continuum of Intimacy

By its very nature, touch is an intimate sense. You can smell a scent carried on the wind, hear a sound from a mile away, look at stars through a telescope. To touch something, you need to be within arm’s reach.

Jenny Hansen had a helpful post on Using the 12 Stages of Physical Intimacy to Build Tension in Your Fiction where she points out that skipping over any of the stages of intimacy causes conflict. Drawing out these stages amps up the tension as your readers hold their breath to see when your characters will reach the next milestone. You can observe or break the order of the touch levels on this scale depending on what emotional effect you want to have on your reader.

Jenny also notes that the stages of physical intimacy speak to boundaries. Personal space boundaries vary by individual, by gender, and by age, but they also vary by culture. In North America, you don’t kiss an almost perfect stranger on the cheeks in either greeting or farewell. In other cultures, straight men kiss on the lips in greeting. You can add richness to your story by having touch interact with personal boundaries and cultural norms.

Consider How Your Character Will Interpret It

The most important thing for touch, though, is to know how your character will interpret it. A woman whose love language is physical affection will interpret a hug differently than will a woman who was sexually abused as a child. How will a germaphobe handle touch? What about an aging musician whose fingers are going numb?

Do you have a funny story about touch? What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever touched? What did it feel like? (I held a baby crocodile once. He wasn’t slimy at all, and his belly was actually very soft.)

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.

Be sure to sign up to receive free email updates so that you don’t miss the last two senses.

Photo Credit: Britta Kuhnen (obtained via www.sxc.hu)

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Five Benefits You’re Missing If You’re Not On Twitter

Twitter for WritersIf you’re not on Twitter already (or have an account you barely use), you probably have good reasons. You’re afraid it’s a black hole time suck. You don’t see the value it adds over Facebook. You’re worried about privacy. You’re not sure how to make the best use of it, it moves too fast, or it’s confusing.

While I agree those are valid concerns, they can all be fixed with a little time and training. And if you’re not on Twitter, there are five amazing benefits you’re missing out on.

(1) Twitter Has Over 100 Million Active Accounts

Whether you’re seeking traditional publication or plan to self-publish, whether you’re a non-fiction author, a novelist, a poet, or a short story writer, you need a platform to sell your work. Your audience is on Twitter. You just need to know how to tap in to them. This is true even if you write children’s books or YA. Your readers might not be on Twitter, but their parents and aunts and uncles and even grandparents are, and your books might just be the perfect gift they’re looking for. 

Because of the ability to participate in conversations through hashtags, Twitter also allows you to build a following faster than any other social networking site. People who find you on Facebook usually already know you. People who find you on Twitter are more likely to be complete strangers, and that’s a good thing because you’re expanding your friendships and your reach. I met some of my favorite writer friends on Twitter.

(2) Twitter Makes You a Better Writer

Twitter gives you 140 characters to work with. Not 140 letters or 140 words, but 140 characters. Spaces count, and so does punctuation. Links count as well.

Working within those constraints forces you to write tighter. No purple prose allowed. You need to figure out exactly what you’re trying to say. Twitter’s character limit also helps you value strong verbs and specific nouns over adverbs and adjectives. Both of those skills translate directly into better writing elsewhere.

(3) Twitter Brings You the News Faster than Any News Site Can

Twitter is real time, which means that while reporters are putting together their stories and getting approval from their editors, normal people on site are tweeting. Last August, Twitter lit up like a firefly on crack about the 5.8 earthquake in Virginia before the news stations could catch their balance. In the plague of tornadoes that rolled through Texas this spring, Twitter might have even saved lives.

(4) Twitter Allows You to Keep Your Finger on the Pulse of the Publishing Industry

Twitter is like a writer’s mecca because you can quickly find out about interesting and informative new blog posts (already vetted by others), get tips on writing and publishing from agents, editors, and bestselling authors, and keep up on industry trends and new releases. No searching involved. It comes to you in a bite-sized 140 character nugget. If you decide you want more, you click the link.

(5) Twitter Helps You Research

In her bestselling book We Are Not Alone: A Writer’s Guide to Social Media, Kristen Lamb tells the story of how she needed information on bounty hunters for her novel. Rather than wasting hours trying to sort through results on Google and still not coming up with what she needed, she tweeted about it and received replies from actual bounty hunters willing to answer her questions.

But it’s not only facts you can research on Twitter. If you’re not sure your main character’s name is a good fit for his personality and job, ask. If you want to know what writing software other writers actually trust, ask. In my co-written novel with Lisa Hall-Wilson, I mentioned Sodom and Gomorrah, and we debated whether enough people would know what we meant. So I asked, and we ended up leaving it in the book.

In August, I’ll be teaching a course to help people who aren’t on Twitter get started or people who are on Twitter but are struggling to improve. For eight months, I let Twitter intimidate me. I barely used it and only had five followers (two of which were my brother and sister-in-law). Then, in less than a year, I learned to love Twitter and went from five followers to over 3,600. This course will save you the wasted time, headaches, embarrassment, and learning curve I had starting out on Twitter, and show you how fun and helpful it can really be.

Learn more or sign up for this 4-week Twitter course here.

Twitter is where I hang out most days, so if you’re already on Twitter, I’d love to hear from you. My username is @MarcyKennedy (straightforward right – it’s very important on Twitter to use your name). And please help me spread this post not only on Twitter, but also on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ (where the folks who aren’t yet on Twitter are likely to be).

If you’re already on Twitter, what do you love best about it? If you’re not, what’s the biggest thing holding you back?

Sidenote: Since I know this is the busiest time of year for everyone, I’m going down to two posts a week for the rest of the summer. Starting in July, I’ll be doing my science fiction/fantasy themed posts on Mondays and the regular post for writers will move to Thursdays. I’ll be back to the three-day schedule come fall 🙂

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Four Ways We Should All be More like Star Wars’ Mandalorians

Tie Fighter - Star Wars MandaloriansYou might remember that I’m married to one of the world’s largest Star Wars’ fans. In the past, he’s written guest posts for me on Five Reasons I Wish I Was a Jedi and Ace Combat: Wedge Antilles vs. Kara Thrace. Since we were out of town most of last week, he agreed to visit my blog today with another Star Wars post. Please give him a warm welcome and some comment love.

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Mandalorians aren’t all bad guys—even Boba Fett.

In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, the Mandalorian bounty hunter Boba Fett helps the Sith Lord Darth Vader freeze Han Solo in carbonite. He then loads the now-frozen Han into his ship, Slave I, for the flight to Tatooine, where he turns Han over to the crime lord Jabba the Hutt. The situation is made all the more poignant because it comes on the heels of Han and Leia finally coming to terms with their feelings for each other.

Thus begins a years-long feud of sorts between Boba Fett, considered a typical honorless Mandalorian, and Han and Leia, who become heroes to most of the civilized galaxy. Throughout the Expanded Universe books (and somewhat in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi), Mandalorians are portrayed as violent, money-loving, honorless, uncultured brawlers who care more about their bounty commissions than about anything else.

But that perception of Mandalorians, long held by even major Star Wars nerds like myself, is wrong. It’s often said that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Mandalorians are a perfect example.

In fact, I’ve become quite a fan of Mandalorians because their culture, while seemingly at odds with the rest of the galaxy, embraces some of the attributes that I personally value and strive to incorporate into my life. I think there are four ways in which we should all be like Mandalorians.

A Mandalorian’s Word Is His Bond

It used to be true that, when a man gave his word, you could count on it. If a man told you he’d do something, he did it. Everybody was more or less able to trust everyone else. Mandalorians are the same way—their word (or contract) is always kept, exactly, no matter what. You can always trust a Mandalorian to keep his word to you.

Mandalorians Spend Time With Their Families

Mandalorians take their children into battle with them starting at age 8, and Mandalorian children are considered adults at 13. Both mothers and fathers teach their children how to fly, fight, cook, and perform the family trade. Mandalorians take an active role in raising their children, and they also take an active role in the greater good of Mandalore (their planet).

In fact…

Mandalorians Take Care of Their Own

Mandalorians have a very Marine Corps-like mentality when it comes to taking care of their own. Even though, in the heat of battle, they put their mission’s success above all else, when the fighting is done, they regroup, take stock, and take care of any of their casualties. Mandalorians don’t leave anyone behind on the battlefield. They also don’t shirk their responsibility to the dependents of those who die. It’s very common for a Mandalorian to adopt the children of a comrade who died in battle. In fact, Mandalorians are habitual adopters, and think nothing of enlarging their clans through adopting those in need.

And this leads me to my next point…

Mandalorians Don’t Discriminate

It doesn’t matter to a Mandalorian who you are, where you come from, what you did in the past, or even what species you are. Anybody who throws their lot in with the Mandalorians becomes Mandalorian, with no exceptions, no questions asked. All that matters to Mandalorians is what you do starting now. If you do right by your fellow Mandalorians, they’ll do right by you. Remember: a Mandalorian’s word is his bond.

Which Mandalorian quality do you think we need more of?

Photo Credit: Aksoy on www.sxc.hu

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