Friday, August 19, 2011

The Power of Editing

Sometimes it can be hard to let go of things from your first draft. I loved the beginning of my book, and was rather proud of it. So when I posted it on the WriteOnCon forums and was getting negative feedback, I was really frustrated with myself. What if I wasn't good enough? What if it was all just a waste of time? (See my 'To give up or not to give up' post here.)

But then I had a change of heart. What if I can make my beginning even better than it already was? So I opened up a new document, copied and pasted chapter one of my WIP, and made plenty good use of the backspace key.

Here's the difference:

Previous Draft (There was a prologue before this, too, and I cut it)

The room was darker than the blackest night, and colder than the depths of winter. Only one candle burned, the rest snuffed out by the wind. No sound pierced the silence but the barking of the seals resting blissfully on the beach. No movement disrupted the still air but the birds flying overhead. 
That was because they were all dead. 
My Clan—my family—of Witches had been unearthed. We’d been too confident in our magical abilities, and as a result lost all of our accomplishments. Pride made us careless, and the Knights took advantage of that weakness. We’d heard the King ordered all Magic Holders exterminated, but we didn’t think it could actually be done. I stood shaking amongst the bodies of my Brothers and Sisters, overcome with the horror of just how real the threat had been. 
My teeth ground against each other. I should have fallen victim to this massacre. Every other week, one member of my Clan left for a few days and gathered plants for the Green Witches—the healers and potion makers. This particular week I was chosen. To obtain all the supplies they needed, I traveled into the hills. As a White Witch, someone who works with spirits and the Other Worlds, I spent more time gathering than others. Everyone thought I would be in more danger than the rest of my Clan, but we didn’t know the Knights started searching for Magic Holders by sea. 
I was welcomed home by corpses. Twenty-three were my Brothers and Sisters, and the remaining forty-eight were Knights. The stone shelter we’d built was now merely a shell of what it had been, the roof almost completely caved in as the walls struggled to remain standing. We’d only been living in this location for a couple of weeks, but all of us thought we’d finally found somewhere we could stay longer than a month. 
It was my birthday.

New Draft
My feet flew across the ground, oblivious to the rocks beneath them. My Clan’s stone shelter caved in on itself, the walls struggling to remain standing. Bodies scattered the ground outside the one door, bodies of the knights so intent to destroy Magic. I prayed silently to God as the scene grew steadily closer, pleading that my Family was all right—

I stumbled through the door, avoiding the corpses around me. My bag fell to my side, and I stopped short.

They were all dead.

A sob escaped my throat and I collapsed to the ground. No, no, no…

Elizabeth. The woman who’d raised me, treated me as her own daughter, lay a few feet away, her eyes staring blankly into the stars. I crawled over to her lifeless body and took her in my arms, shaking. Not Elizabeth…

A seal barked on the beach, but my wails drowned the noise. Though Elizabeth’s dress was stained red, my clothes remained free of blood. She’d already been dead a day. A day. And I hadn’t been here.

I took a deep breath and glanced around the room. Everything was gone. Our cauldrons, candles, talismans, even our cooking pots. What was once a home was now a burial chamber—four thick stone walls surrounding this massacre. Their deaths wouldn’t be remembered, forgotten, or even noticed. All we had was each other.

But now I was alone.
I don't know about you, but I see a WORLD of difference in those two drafts. I was so scared to change anything, but once I did, I was given a better beginning because of it.

And it'll just keep getting better.


(To read the first five pages of my book, OPEN EYES, click here!)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

To give up or not to give up...

I don't know about you, but I love de-motivational posters. I found this one today:

I don't know about you, but I feel like this all the time. Especially this week. I've worked so, so, so hard on my MS, and it comes time to query and I'm petrified. I send out a few, get a few rejections, send out a few more. I feel like I'm wasting my time.

Posting on the WriteOnCon forums hasn't helped with this feeling. I do get people saying my story sounds interesting, but almost everyone agrees that it's confusing and it needs a lot of work. I'm on draft seven now, I think. I've lost count.

So what do you do when you feel like giving up? Personally, I wallow. I know I shouldn't, but I think about all the reasons I should give up and how someone else would be better to write this story than me. I look for motivation somewhere, but I have a real talent for twisting the good into bad.

The only solution is that I need to change my thinking. I need to take down my de-motivational poster and replace it with one more like this:

How hard is this? Insanely. But I read an awesome post by Michelle McLean over at Operation Awesome entitled How Darth Vader and Decapitation are Like Writing. If, like me, you need to remind yourself of all the hard work you've done and the milestones you've already crossed, this is a great pick-me-up!

What helps you not give up? What do you do to keep yourself motivated?


Friday, August 12, 2011

Villains Worth Hating

I am by no means an expert on this subject, but it's been on my mind. As this picture says, you have to know your enemy, and you have to make sure your readers know your enemy. If the reader is confused as to why they should hate your villain or why he IS the villain, you're not doing your job. (Unless your villain is supposed to seem like a good guy, in which case you're doing exactly what you need to do until you reveal his treachery.)

But I'm talking about the villains that you KNOW are villains, from the first time you see them. They may think what they're doing is right or better, but to the readers it is glaringly obvious that they are NOT the good guys. Like the first time my villain, Captain Lewin, appears, he tries to kill Kenna, my main character. That's a red flag for a reader.

So how do you make your readers hate them as much as you want them to? I struggle with this, because I often happen to like my villains and feel sympathy for them. Something made them this way. But in the end, what matters to your readers is how they are now, not how they got there (except in some cases...)

As you can tell, this post is very subjective, but in my writing I tend to have three types of hate-worthy villains:

1) The Killer
2) The Plotter
3) The Best Friend

1. The Killer

Colonel Miles Quaritch from Avatar
This doesn't mean that other kinds of villains don't kill. But the Killer is the villain who is very abrupt and, for lack of a better term I can think of, physical. He is focused on his goal, and nothing's going to stand in his way. He doesn't waste time trying to play with people's minds. If his goal is to take the Kingdom, he kills the King. He'll blame it on someone else, of course, but he is a man of action. A doer. And he actually likes to get his hands dirty himself.

I find Killers some of the easiest ones to hate. Reason one: they're killing people themselves, not just ordering their death. Reason two: they're usually very rough, unattractive people. At least that's the case in my stories. When he has a vendetta against someone, that person merely dying is not good enough. He wants to be the one to kill them.

See? Easy to hate.

2. The Plotter

The Plotter is someone who has everything planned out perfectly. He's the mastermind behind all the action. Usually, he likes to keep his hands clean, but he's not above stepping if his cronies fail him. He loves toying with people's emotions. When he himself does get involved, it's more mental than physical. But his cronies are one hundred percent walking battering rams.

While Killers are easier for me to hate off the bat, Plotters scare the heck out of me. If someone is able to get into your brain and manipulate your thoughts, even when you escape you're not safe. It's still your brain. The thoughts are still there. To me, they are the most dangerous villains, and they employ the Killers. Not always the case, but it is in my book.

3. The Best Friend

They don't actually need to be the MC's best friend--just someone that they trust. This is someone you have complete faith in throughout the entire book, and at the end it turns out they were against them the whole time. These guys are usually plotters, or cronies to the plotters. Think Barty Crouch Jr. posing as Mad-Eye Moody in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It can also literally be their best friend, or the best friend of someone they care about, but a mentor or close acquaintance also fills this category.

Best Friends can sometimes be the most hated of the group. You put your faith and trust in them, and they let you down. Even when Laurent in Twilight tried to kill Bella, I felt this way. I was like "Wait, you helped them in the last book!" Imagine how I feel when it's actually the character's best friend! Betrayed. Hurt. Angry.

So that's what I've been thinking about lately. Hardly refined thoughts, but definitely an important point in writing your novel. If your MC doesn't have a villain worth hating, there's not enough conflict.

What are your favorite kinds of villains to write? To read? What kind of villain makes your skin crawl?


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Blogosphere

"Hey Tiffany, I need your help unpacking today."

"Sure thing, Mom. Just let me go through my blog updates."

*An hour later...*

"Tiffany, what are you doing? I need you up here!"

"Sorry, Mom! Just three posts left!" Dang it, another one just posted...

Does this happen to you? I am currently following 40 blogs, and that's just on blogger. I have even more that I get e mail updates from because they don't have the google 'follow' tool. I pick one or two more blogs to follow every day, it seems like, and I try to read all of them.

It's not just because I want to be more a part of the online writing community--it's also because I really enjoy reading what everyone has to say. Some of the books that are reviewed are absolutely fantastic, and when I pick them up I am so happy I did. People have such good advice, and great discussions can start in the comments section. It's kind of addictive.

So what do you do to manage your addiction? Do you pick and choose which ones you look at? Do you only follow a select few blogs? Do you skim over the post to see if there's anything that catches your eye and answer the question at the end?

For your reading pleasure today, I have picked out a few of my favorite blogs from this morning and posted the links here. All of these blogs are awesome in general!

"The Write Environment" on Writtled by Kelley Smith
Conversation on what your optimum writing atmosphere is. If you say something, go back! Kelley responds to every comment!

"Teaser Tuesday: LOVE ME OR LET ME DIE" by Katrina L. Lantz
Not your usual "Teaser Tuesday." Katrina shares a snippet from her WIP, a Dark Paranormal Romance that's a modern retelling of Hades and Persephone. I can promise you, it's going to be awesome!

"Blogging Platforms" on YAtopia by Sarah Nicolas
Thinking about starting a blog? Starting a second one? Changing your platform? Sarah has some great advice for you.

"Book Review: A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan" on Presenting Lenore by Lenore Appelhans
This book looks intriguing, and Lenore gives great, honest, reviews. Also, stick around on Presenting Lenore for Dystopian August! So much fun!

"He's Just Not That Into You" on Unedited by Jen Daiker
Great post on your secondary characters and how to get them to open up. The conversation in the comments section is also worth reading!

"Tell the Truth Tuesday: Balancing is A Tough Act" by Elana Johnson
Elana is wonderful, and this post just proves it. Great discussion and pointers on how we can handle our busy lives in the blogging/writing world as opposed to family, church, friends, and work. (And in my case, school.)

There you have it! Hope you enjoy the blogs!


Monday, August 8, 2011

Critiques, anyone?

Sometimes it can be incredibly hard to ask for critiques. I know that when I first started working on OPEN EYES, I didn't want anyone to see it. I was so scared of everyone hating it that I kept it all to myself.

Then my wonderful roommate forced me to hand it over. I sat impatiently as she read it every day, bringing it on campus with her so she wouldn't have to wait until she came back to the apartment. It appeared she was liking it, but you know how it is. All those doubts in your mind, wondering if she's just being nice because she's your friend (or cousin), yadida. The book wasn't even finished when she made me hand it over, and I was extremely nervous.

When she got to the end of that draft, we sat up late one night talking about the story. I divulged everything in my five book series to her, and guess what? She loved it. More importantly, she made it even BETTER. The draft I gave her turned into two books, OPEN EYES and SECONDHAND HEART (btw, Kelley, thank you for the compliment!! :D). Plot points that I'd been unsure of were set in stone, and characters were developed. We were up till about four in the morning just brainstorming how to make the story better, and we came out with a wonderful story that I can't believe I'm writing.

Had we not had that conversation, half of OPEN EYES wouldn't be there, and SECONDHAND HEART would be covered in just a few chapters. It would hardly have been adequate. Now, I have wonderful people like Katrina Lantz and Angela Townsend (go read FROZEN FURY!) helping me make not the story better, but the writing. Changing my passive verbs to active verbs. Making the actions of the MCs clearer. I can't even describe how much of a help they've been.

I've yet to join a critique group, but I would love to. I know many of you are already in one, but if you're not and are interested in someone critiquing yours as well, go to the Projects tab and check out OPEN EYES. I enjoy reading almost every genre of fiction, but I do gravitate towards YA. If you're interested in forming a group with me, e mail me at

Other than that, what do you find the most useful critiques? How did your story become what it is today?


Saturday, August 6, 2011

FROZEN FURY by Angela J. Townsend

Kidnapped by a band of deranged mountain men in the Alaskan wilderness, Amber Hatchet is driven by one harrowing thought: these monsters might have her eleven-year-old son. But her attempts to escape lead to the unearthing of deadly secrets, ones better left buried. Amber's only hope lies with her husband, Jack Hatchet, confident Manhattan attorney and swindler extraordinaire. Problem is, Jack cares more about protecting his shady backroom deals than the life of his wife. In fact, he'd prefer her dead, rather than alive.

So, I read this book about a month ago, and immediately posted my review on Kindle. Here's what I said there:

"Whether I was caught up in the suspense of what would happen next or captivated by the unlikely romance, my heart couldn't stop pounding as I read this book. I read it in one afternoon, and could barely make myself stop to eat dinner. I loved the excellent descriptions throughout the story of what the main character, Amber, was feeling emotionally and physically. I was easily able to imagine myself in her place. FROZEN FURY is really a page-turner, and definitely worth the read."

But I thought I should expound on that, because it truly is an AMAZING book!

Angela has such a talent for descriptions. She brings you into her world effortlessly, and I could clearly see the little cabin Amber was held in. The villain was disgusting and frightening, and I was able to truly fear for the characters. Jack, Amber's husband, was very easy to hate, and I cringed every time one of his scenes started. It was wonderful writing.

And then there was Mitch. What a hero! His large heart makes you care for him even more, even before you're sure whether you can trust him or not. What great characterization!

So I know I've been talking about the characters here, but the suspense in the plot was just as impressive. You're unraveling a dark mystery at the same time as you're running for your life with Amber. Thrown in is some wonderful romance that makes your heart melt.

This wasn't my usual read, but I'm so glad I picked it up! Not only did I get to experience a great story, I gained a wonderful friend. You all should follow Angela on twitter (@AngelaJTownsend) and check out FROZEN FURY on Kindle! Only $0.99, and definitely worth it!! Also, check her out at Angela Townsend Books.

To read Katrina's Afterglow review, click here!


Friday, August 5, 2011

All my good ideas come when mowing the lawn....

If you've been following me, you probably saw my 'Mowing the Lawn' post a while ago. I tend to think a lot while I'm out there, because it's the only way to distract myself from the sweat getting in my eyes (it's the middle of summer!) and the roaring of the engine. About a week ago, I actually mowed the lawn in the dark. Talk about a challenge! But from that experience (and from chatting with Katrina Lantz about it) I came up with a super creepy opening scene for a new book. Unfortunately, that now means I have something to work on on top of my five book series. It's a blessing and a curse.

Today was no different. A million story ideas popped through my mind, as did ideas for more scenes in my series VICTIM OF PROPHECY. (as if I need to add another book! Sheesh!) I kept playing them out in my mind like a movie, running through various situations and solving current problems or inconsistencies.

So where do you get your ideas? Mine of course are not limited to the lawn, but that's just somewhere I'm noticed they come :) Do you have any situations or places that tend to give you spurts of creativity?


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cleaning out the clutter

This week, my family moved from Georgia to New Jersey. Big change, huh? Even though I'll be going back to school soon, I helped them move, and still had things from my room that needed to be unpacked. My entire afternoon was devoted to this, and I was surprised opening some of the boxes. I kept thinking to myself, I thought I sold that in the garage sale...Why is this still here?....This is going into the garbage.

I feel the same way going through my MS for the #th edit. My awesome cousin, Katrina Lantz (see her blog to the right!), has been helping me edit Open Eyes in preparation for querying, and I have to laugh at some of the things that are still there. Like the word slightly. I'm slightly surprised to see that I used slightly to qualify almost every verb in my MS. It's slightly annoying, actually.

My point is, even when we think we've gotten rid of everything, there's always more to cut. Though it can be hard sometimes, we have to go over our Word Documents over and over and over again, and have others go over them as well. After all, if we want everyone to be able to pull this off a shelf, shouldn't we want to make it the best it can be?

Happy writing!


Excited for POTTERMORE

I am part of the Harry Potter generation, no doubt about that. If it hadn't been for Harry Potter, I never would have started reading, and I never would have even imagined a career as a writer. It's true that it could have been another book that caused my world to open, but it wasn't--it was JKR's  world.

So imagine how excited I was to hear about Pottermore! The last movie came out, and I felt like my childhood had left me behind completely. Now there's an interactive website for us to continue living the experience on, and WE get to be a part of the story!

I'll let you know more about it in the next few weeks, because I'm one of the BETA members!! That's right, I'm going to be one of the lucky few who get to shape the experience for everyone else come October. I'll let you know just how awesome it is and how to make the best use of this site.

For your own chance to become one of the BETA members of Pottermore, check the website daily and follow @pottermore on Twitter. Every day until August 6th, there will be a new question on the homepage, and by answering that question you have a chance at finding the Magical Quill and getting you name in the book right next to Harry's! (For more information, visit the site!)

Like I said, Harry Potter truly has changed my life and inspired me to write. What books inspired you?


Monday, August 1, 2011

Wait...There's a world beyond my laptop?

I posted on twitter a few days ago a conversation I had with my brother:

My brother: "You've been doing too much book stuff lately." Me: "There's no such thing."  
 I still hold by what I said, but in the past couple of days I've made a shocking realization:

There's a world beyond my laptop. 

Shocking, isn't it? But it's the truth! Outside of this cyberspace of internet and Microsoft Word, there is a living, breathing world out there with a wonderful sun that does nothing but turn my skin orange no matter how hard I try. (Hence my current lobster tan) My family is in the process of moving right now, and as a result all of my friends want to spend time with me, no matter how much reading/writing/editing I feel like I have to get done.

And guess what? I like hanging out with them!

Sometimes as writers and readers we forget that there are other people in the world that are not contained on the pages of a book or in a Word Document. And those people are, in most cases, much more exciting to be around then the ones on the page. I know it sounds crazy, but it's true. No matter what crazy things our favorite characters do, nothing can compare to real human interaction, especially with our best friends (yes, Rachel Strain, I'm talking about YOU!)

So no matter how focused you are on your goal, don't forget to take some time off for the real people in your life. Your characters may need you, but not as much as friends and family do. As always, it comes down to a question of priorities, and real people trump my characters any day of the week.

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