Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Trying Out This Whole Unplugged Thing

I'm getting down to the last 1/4 of my work-in-progress so I'm trying the unplugged thing for the next two weeks. Try not to miss me too much. ;)

My post on the 80's last week got me thinking, so when I come back I'll be posting on "Inappropriate Song Lyrics That Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time."

Dwell on that...we'll discuss later.

Friday, May 14, 2010

10 Reasons to Wish You Didn't Grow Up in the 80's

10 Reasons to Wish You Didn’t Grow Up in the 80’s

1. Fighting the occasional intense urge to put on more than one pair of socks.

2. Resisting the instinct that headbanging makes any song cooler.

3. The sad knowledge that you shouldn’t ever wear your hair that high again.

4. Ignoring the desire to tie your shirt in some kind of knot any time the temperature goes over 65 degrees.

5. Understanding that minus all the hair and plus all the wrinkles, those Hairband idols are significantly less hot.

6. The realization that nearly every celebrity you looked up to back then was high as a kite 99.9% of the time.

7. The follow-up realization that most of them are now in AA or dead—neither state being remotely as entertaining.

8. You still wonder what happened to spandex.

9. The self-loathing that comes from still loving those power ballads even though you comprehend just how cheesy they actually are.

10. Being unable to discern between good hair days and bad hair days.

I decided I needed to make this list when I realized I suffer from all of the above, especially the last one. The other day, I decided my hair sucked and was boring so I cut myself bangs. Yes…bangs…with naturally curly hair.

Someone kill me now.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Three Act Structure

Before I start, I wanted to post a link. I'm a little late joining in, but I wanted to post a link to Do the Write Thing for Nashville. If you haven't heard about it, it's a group of amazing authors getting together to help raise funds to help with the horrible flood damage in Nashville. Check it out. It's a great cause with great people.

Today I want to talk about three act structure. The diagram above shows a pretty basic format for a three act structure. I'd probably label the middle hills "try/fail" instead of "crises" but you get the general idea. I hadn't heard about this until about a year ago. I was using it, but I never really knew what it was called. We see it all the time--in plays, movies, tv shows, books. It's everywhere. Why? Because it works.

Aristotle was the one who original divided drama into the three act structure--beginning, middle, and end. As part of the three act structure, there are generally five main plot points--beginning, inciting incident, plot points one and two, and ending.

Almost boring, right? Yes, but we can apply this very simple format to nearly every form of entertainment around us. Try it some time... No, not right now, finish the post first. Sheesh--rude. :P

I've heard the three act structure described in many ways. One I think I heard on Writing Excuses, was as follows:

Act 1: Get your characters stuck in a tree.
Act 2: Throw rocks at them.
Act 3: Get them down.

I love this one. It's much more visual than the other descriptions I've read, and I'm a VERY visual person.

The question I found myself asking is, why does this format work? I think part of the reason it works so well is because it is used so widely. People go into any form of entertainment with certain expectations. Those expectations are set by everything else they have seen before. If the entertainment doesn't meet those expectations they naturally feel disappointed.

How do you feel when a plot fizzles at the climax. Or there isn't a viable resolution. When they don't have enough tension to hold your interest. If it isn't all there, we're bothered because it wasn't what we were expecting.

One aspect of this structure that I think is crucial is the try/fail cycle. If your MC overcomes their obstacles on the first try, it just doesn't work. In life, few things go perfect on the first try. Your tension is gone, your story is over and you haven't hit the half way mark yet.

Try/fail cycles are where your characters adapt and grow. Stagnant characters are boring. Give them a chance to get interesting.

How about you? Do you follow the three act structure? How many try/fail cycles do your characters have? Is there any part you struggle with?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Book Giveaway Winner

Before I announce the winner, I wanted to tell the story of the signed copy I'm about to give away.

I've had the pleasure of meeting Dan Wells several times. The first time I met him he read a section from "I Am Not A Serial Killer" and I was hooked. I went home that night and ordered it from the U.K. because it wasn't available in the U.S. yet.

It was totally worth it.

When I saw him at a conference last month, I had him sign my copy, a copy for the giveaway, and a copy of the sequel - "Mr. Monster." We got chatting and even though I'd told him not to personalize the giveaway copy, he started writing my name before I could stop him. So he scribbled it out and wrote, "Please scribble on this page." above his signature. :)

He's just as funny in the book.

Now, on to the results.

Thanks to everyone who entered in the Spreading the Awesome giveaway. It was an astonishing turnout with 141 Awesome Entries!!
I, of course, used a random number generator and the winner of this very unique copy is:

Michelle McLean

Yay! Congratulations, Michelle! E-mail me your info and I'll send you the book. :)

Friday, May 7, 2010

How Do You Drag Emotion From Your Reader?

There is a direct correlation between how much stress/relief you provide a reader during your story and how passionate they feel about it after it's over (more on that next week). How passionate your reader is about your work will determine how many people they tell about it.

So how do you make them feel those peaks of stress and valleys of relief? Well, the first thing we have to do is make our characters compelling and relatable( <--Blogger tells me this isn't a word, but Webster says it is... I'm going with the dictionary on this one, sorry B). If our readers don't care about the characters, then why would they care what happens to them?

Another important aspect, is to make sure the conflicts are both central to the story and that they incite a change in the characters. Characters that are evolving = much more intriguing.

We can also make the stakes huge--to the characters. Every story can't be about saving the world, but if our main characters feel like the stakes put their own lives, happiness, future, etc. in jeopardy--it will be just as moving.

Another way to bring emotion out in the reader is to make the scenery itself, match or conflict with the emotions (mostly with really powerful emotional scenes) within the scene. A peaceful emotion within a peaceful scene makes the reader feel one way, but a peaceful emotion within chaos makes them feel something different. Just don't stick a powerful emotion in a lame scene with no power--Go Big or Go Home. ;)

I discovered this last tip with my first book, ORACLE. There are a couple of scenes where Lexi is feeling seriously messed up--utter inner turmoil. In one scene, the world around her is also in chaos. In another, she's curled up in a tire swing in the backyard on a quiet night trying to hold perfectly still so no one will find her.

Which one got a bigger response from my readers? The tire swing, every single time.

Anyway, I've been thinking about this a lot lately because my current WIP is somewhat draining on my readers. I need to pull appropriate emotions at appropriate times. What do you guys do to pull that perfect response from your readers? What aspects of a book make it the most powerful for you?

P.S. If you haven't yet, don't forget to enter my giveaway by tonight! :) Because, really, who doesn't like winning stuff?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

One of THOSE Days

I woke up this morning wondering when my story became my nemesis? I'm beginning to think that the connection between a writer and his/her story is more like a relationship than anything.

At the beginning, everything is rosy and sweet. You both think the world of each other and together there is nothing you can't do.

A few weeks pass and the writer might start thinking the story isn't all that great after all and the story might start thinking they should have held out for a better writer. But you both keep quiet, because you still hold out hope.

After a few more weeks/months the writer wants to kill off the MC, let the antagonist win and run off with his/her leading love interest. The story is trying to figure out which circuit inside the computer it would need to tweak to send an electric shock through the keyboard.

This is where I am today.

*sigh* I kind of want to wring my story's neck.

Story, please look better to me tomorrow.

P.S. If you want to win a book in which the story at least attempted to behave itself, check out my giveaway. I'll still be accepting entries until this Friday night. ;)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Spreading the Awesome - Dan Wells - Giveaway

The marvelous Elana Johnson came up with the idea to do this Spreading the Awesome Blogfest featuring 60 of our favorite, amazing authors. I knew I had to take part because, let's face it, Elana's a genius and I am pretty fond of basking in her general brilliance. :)

I decided right away that I really wanted to do a debut author because supporting debut authors just oozes the awesome. With that criteria (and the idea of oozing) in mind, I immediately thought of Dan Wells. His book, "I Am Not A Serial Killer," is one of my all time favorites. It's described as a "sickly-disturbing, darkly-comic thriller." His protagonist, John Cleaver, is fifteen, a mortician, and a sociopath--but he is NOT a serial killer...at least not yet.

Here are a couple of my favorite lines from the book to give you a little flavor.

"This was it. This was what I'd never felt before - an emotional connection to another human being. I'd tried kindness, I'd tried love, I'd tried friendship; I'd tried talking and sharing and watching - and nothing had ever worked. Until now. Until fear. I felt her fear in every inch of my body like an electric hum, and I was alive for the first time, and I needed more right then or the craving would eat me alive."

"I felt like one of Max's video games, fumbling with unfamiliar controls and watching as my character on the screen ran helplessly in circles."

" 'You're weird, man,' said Max, taking another bite of his sandwich. 'That's all there is to say. Someday you're going to kill a whole bunch of people - probably more than ten, because you're such an over-achiever - and then they're going to have me on TV and ask if I saw this coming , and I'm going to say 'Hell, yes! That guy was seriously screwed up'.' "

John knows he's a sociopath and feels like fate wants him to become a serial killer, but he doesn't want to succumb. He spends much of the story trying to avoid what he considers to be his destiny by making a set of rules to keep him from the wrong path. When he's good, it's because he chooses to be good, and he's bad because he chooses to be bad. He takes on that massive responsibility, and I love that.

One of my favorite things about this book is that I've never seen a better juxtaposition of good vs. evil. There are times when reading it that you're not really certain whether the protagonist or the antagonist is actually the bad guy. It is dark and intense, but I heartily recommend it.

On top of all this awesomeness, Dan is part of the podcast Writing Excuses, along with Brandon Sanderson and Howard Tayler. If you are a writer and you haven't checked this out--I am saddened on your behalf. Do it.... well, not now, but after you've finished this wonderful blogfest. ;)

SO... I'm doing a giveaway! Yay! I am giving away a signed copy of "I Am Not A Serial Killer" that comes complete with a unique story about the signature. :) I will post that little anecdote when I announce the winner. The contest is open until Friday, May 7th at Midnight EST, and I'll announce the winners on Monday, May 10th. Anyone is welcome to enter, and there are three ways to earn entries.

1 - Follow me or already be a follower (here or on twitter, both count).

2 - Tweet about the contest or link to it in a blog post (again, both count).

3 - Comment on this post (this one is required for any entries to count because in spite of what rumors you may have heard, I am not psychic--or really all that organized--and I need you to update me on your entries.)

Hooray for Spreading the Awesome! The next stop on your blog tour is Stephanie Thornton. She's going to be highlighting author Kate Quinn. :) Let the fun continue.

Okay, and we're closed to entries. I'll be posting the winner on Monday! :D Yay! Good luck everyone.