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Friday Flashback: Finding new authors November 26, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Friday Flashback.
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Friday Flashback from May 30, 2008.

When you find a favorite author, it’s a unique pleasure. You love the way they tell a story, their creative characterizations and the spine-tingling plots. It’s a reward for wading through authors you find dull, trite and uninteresting. But the danger is getting stuck reading only the same authors, without expanding your library. But how do we choose new authors wisely? After all with job, kids, family and friends there’s only so much time to find for reading. Here are my suggestions:

1) Read the websites of your favorite authors. Often they will list their favorite authors, which has always steered me right.
2) Read reviews of your favorite authors to see what is suggested as similar literature.
3) Join Shelfari.com. My co-author introduced me to this and it’s a great way to get an idea what books are out there.
4) Join a book club. There’s tons online and in your local community.
5) Go to the library! Many people spend more time buying books and so they’re reluctant to try new authors. The library is free, so you can pick up the world’s most awful book with no trouble! I discovered my favorite author by picking a book by it’s intriguing cover, and if I had been a book store I may never have risked it.
6) Finally, read one classic or one New York Times bestseller at least once a year.


Friday flashback: Outlining November 19, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Friday Flashback.
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Most writers have mixed feelings about the value of outlining. Many will argue that an outline is best after you’ve completed a first draft and explored your ideas for characterization, plot and scope of your novel or story. An outline, they argue, will stunt creativity, even if you  have to throw out 3/4 of what you wrote before the outline. Other writers argue that an outline is the only way to effectively structure a long work without degenerating into broken and unresolved plots or a monsterous multi-plotted work. An outline is a way to structure the bones of your work, so the flesh can be built around it.

I fall into both catergories. On shorter works I make sure to have a general idea of characters, basic conflict and what I’d like to see happen but I don’t outline much beyond that. With longer works I start out writing without an outline, getting a feel for characters and interactions. Much of that will end up in the delete trashcan, of course, but it gives me an idea for what works and what doesn’t. Then I try to make sure to have a general outline for the mechanics of the world I’m working in  (for sci-fi and fantasy) and as much of a general outline of major plots as I can. Now it may be possible to come up with a chapter by chapter outline early on in your writing, but I find keeping a working outline that expands and changes as the writing goes on is most feasible. Having a goal to work towards in the next session eliminates frustration, alleviates writer’s block and makes your writing time more productive.

– Jana

Friday Flashback: Abuse your protagonists November 12, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Friday Flashback.
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Friday flashback from May 23, 2008

I just read the latest Harry Dresden, which brought to mind one of the most common pieces of advice authors are given. We’re told to “abuse your protagonists” and how it’s boring if you aren’t throwing them curve balls, and wrenching the carpet from under their feet. Which is certainly true; without conflict there isn’t much of a story. Our characters have to have goals and room to grow.

However, there comes a point when there’s too much abuse and you can destroy a reader’s sense of disbelief. In Small Favor Harry was nearly assassinated four or five times, and had three different ‘hit groups’ after him. In the majority of the book, Harry was fighting for his life and being thrown through walls, attacked by monsters, nearly drowned and attacked with swords. Exciting? Sure. However, I started to lose my sense of fear by the third or fourth time Harry was thrown bodily across a room (complete with soreness and broken bones). It’s important, I think, for our heroes to have the time to recover between spats of violence (and yes, even the time to suffer a little and to recover). Feeling pain, recovering from danger and illness are characteristics that allow us to identify with a character. And, it allows us to feel fear. In order to create suspense in a story, there has to be the real fear that a character may well be permanently injured, die or otherwise be harmed when the bullets start flying.

An author who does this very well (in fact, almost too well), is George R.R. Martin. His Song of Ice and Fire series is a sweeping medieval epic set in a very turbulent and war torn time period. Magical monsters are encroaching on the land, and men and women are swept up in battles for power and land. Martin spares no character, and when danger begins you’re turning page after page, wondering who will survive and who won’t. Now, I do describe it as a stressful read for that reason. You never know which belove character may die, and so the sense of peril is real.

I liked both books, but I think a truly enjoyable suspense story is somewhere in the middle. Danger interspersed with peaceful periods is important. Second, battles with real results and true recovery time is vital. Even if you know the main character won’t die, you can make sure to set the stakes high for what he may lose other than his life. Finally, sometimes your good guys should win completely, sometimes they should have a pyrrhic victory and sometimes, yes, they should even lose. This keeps it ‘real’, and keeps your reader wanting to know more.

Friday Flashback: Books on tape November 5, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Friday Flashback.
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Friday flashback from May 16, 2008

Well I just discovered a wonderful capability my Ipod has: the ability to download books on tape! I downloaded The Alchemist by Paul Coelho which I enjoyed, but I think I need to ponder a bit more before I can properly review it. Anyway the joy of books on tape is actually hearing how someone’s prose sounds when read aloud, and it gives you the opportunity to fit in “Reading time” while driving to work, working out or whatever you need. It’s vital to keep reading in order to be a good author, we know this. It’s just great when technology gives us tools to make this easier. Another good source for books on tape is Cracker Barrel. You can rent a book for 3 dollars, which is far cheaper than buying.

A piece of advice, though… beautiful soothing voices reading a book can make for an easy hypnosis! I found myself having to rewind a few times as I nodded off. It’s a lot easier to pay attention when you’re sitting up and actively listening.