Monday, February 27, 2012

Writing Help - Cover Copy

Once you've published a few books, your editor will probably contact you while you're still finishing a book to say, "I need a brief synopsis of the plot to give to sales." Encapsulating a whole plot in a few lines is a real challenge and it takes a lot of practice to do it effectively. One of the best ways I've learned how to do this (which is the same thing an agent/editor wants to see in a QUERY---take note, new writers!) is to make a visit to the library or bookstore and start to read the backs of books.

What the sales department often wants to see is the "hook" of the book. Short, snappy and filled with vague details that make you want to pick up the book to find out more. It's how they're going to sell it to the distributors and book buyers (who also want short and snappy---because that salesperson is only one of a dozen they might see in a day.)

But what should be included and what should be EXCLUDED? Here's what I've learned so far and I would love other authors, as well as readers, to share what you like to see in back cover copy:

1. The names of the primary protagonist(s.) At least first names. If a romance, give me BOTH names so I at least know what variety of book it is (M/F, F/F, M/M/F, etc.) If a UF or other genre, just the main person.

2. Tell me what's at stake in the broadest possible view. Will the world end if they fail? Will someone die? Will the ranch be lost and cut up for development? Will the person go bankrupt, wind up in jail or lose a child? Remember to be BROAD and use the worst case scenario. If the worst case isn't "worst enough" in your copy it's harder to sell it to someone who knows nothing about your people or world.

3. What does the person have to lose EMOTIONALLY? Will they have to compromise their values (or morals?) Will they have to disown someone, or be disowned? Will they wind up hated or feared or even fall in love? Remember--short and snappy.

4. Make sure your blurb doesn't require knowledge of any prior books. Sure, it's terrific if the sales people (or agent) already know your work, but really---you should give enough information for someone to pick it up as a FIRST book, even if it's the tenth in a series. Because people change jobs frequently in a city the size of NY. The salesperson assigned for your last book might not be the same person for this one, and might never have even heard of you.

5. Leave them with a question. Not necessarily with a punctuation mark, but with a "will they succeed? will they fail?" concept that is grabbing.

Here's what I came up with for the "rough copy" for Demon Song.


Celia Graves believed she'd severed the ties between herself and a demon who had plagued her but all the exorcism really did is delay the inevitable. For the unholy entity raised by the siren Eirene has found a new home---in a prison for the magically insane. A rift has opened between the dimensions, unseen since the destruction of Atlantis. It threatens to set loose all the demons of hell upon humanity. Celia has the tools to close the rift, if she can only discover how to use them in time. But to overcome the death curse which nearly guarantees her failure, she'll have to join forces with people she never wanted to trust again, along with those she fears getting closer to.


Obviously, the editor made some . . . well, edits. But a lot of it remained as I wrote it. This is only six sentences (even if a couple are compound), which fills the bill of "short" for an editor. Did I succeed or fail in implementing my own rules? Would you want to read more? Let me hear you!


Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Shorts - Part Two of Story!

What happens next between Dan and Meg? Read on!


Dan’s face dropped into serious lines and he leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. He took a deep breath and said what everyone said lately. “We didn’t know about your diagnosis until last week or we would have come sooner. Sally wanted to come with me today, but she was afraid she’d get ‘all weepy-washy on you,’ as she puts it. She doesn’t remember her mother, and always thought of you as—” He let the sentence trail off and reached over to grasp her left hand.

She patted his wrist lightly and smiled. “Really, it’s okay. They were able to do a simple lumpectomy, and I just finished chemo. Now it’s just a waiting game to see if we got it all.” Meg wished Dan didn’t look so stricken. But at the same time she felt flattered he would care at all. For herself, she was long past tears. They’d come often at first, but soon the doctors settled her into a treatment routine that left little time for self-pity.

He nodded and took a shaky breath. “Yeah, Dr. Brugetti said things looked good.”

The way he said it sounded odd to Meg. “Was Sally back in for more testing? Is everything okay?”

Pale red flowed into his cheeks and he pulled his hand away from hers a little sheepishly. “Actually . . . I went to the hospital to look for . . . well, you. But, of course, you’re on medical leave. That’s when Dr. Brugetti told me.”

“For me? Why?” A deep breath and then a rush of words made a fine trembling begin in Meg’s chest. “A week ago, I found Sal alone in her room, looking through her hospital box. You remember, the one with toys and games and photos to keep her busy. I saw your picture in there—that day when you played dress-up after her hair fell out. You were both so wrapped up in ribbons and feather boas you wouldn’t know if you had hair or not.” He laughed and she joined him. But when the laugh was done, his smile was warmer, more . . . personal.

“Dan, I—” she began nervously, but he stopped her with a raised hand.

“I realized that moment I missed you. Not the nice nurse who kept my little girl happy and safe while she was sick, but the beautiful, smart woman who kept me sane.”

Meg touched the turban again. “Hardly beautiful.”

He shook his head in mixed amusement and frustration. “You have no idea how beautiful you are, hair or no.” He shrugged like he didn’t know what else to do. “I went to the hospital last week to ask you out to dinner, and I’m asking now.” He reached out, picked up the box and held it out to her. “But before you answer, Sally insisted she wanted to do this, even though I don’t think it’s necessary.”

Meg took the box curiously and allowed her fingers to rest on his for a long moment. He noticed and smiled. She could only stare at the contents in disbelief. She still remembered Sally’s soft blonde waves, so very like her father’s—so very like her own when she still had hair. She took the wig off the foam head and held it up.

“Sally still remembers the day you cut your own hair short and sewed curls on the bottom of the turban I bought her, to make her feel better. She wanted to return the favor.”

Meg only thought her tears were long gone. Dan didn’t seem to mind them as he gently helped her take off the turban and put on the blonde wig. When they walked over to the mirror, she was taken back in time, and then propelled into an unknown future when he leaned over and pressed his lips to her cheek. His fingers tightened around her shoulders, making her shiver with something she didn't expect.

The whisper in her ear turned the shivering into trembling. “I want to be here for you, Meg. You’ve always been there for others, and what goes around, comes around.”


Monday, February 20, 2012

Writing Help True Confessions - I write long

Hi, my name is Cathy and I have a secret...

I write too long.

Whether it's a blog post, a magazine article, a short story or a novel, I write until I'm done writing and it's always long. Every time. Now, most published writers, along with editors and agents will tell you to 'write until you're done' but that's only somewhat true. See, there are times when it's not in your best interests---especially when you're starting out.

I started writing for newspapers and magazines before I turned to novels and when a newspaper says "one column inch" they MEAN one column inch. When you sell a magazine article of 1,500 words, 1,499 should be your goal. A short story anthology that wants 7,000 words won't want 10,000. A category romance which needs 85,000 to fit the pre-cut cover stock simply can't squish in 120,000. Can't be done, no matter how much you shrink the font and narrow the gutters (margins).

So what to do? How do you go about trimming your masterpiece? Fortunately, it's easier than you think. Here are some of the tricks I use when I'm a thousand or even ten thousand words too long:

1. The word "that" is evil. EVIL, I say. Nearly everybody does this because it's proper grammar and we all learned it in school. But few people actually SAY the word, so it can be pulled out of nearly every bit of dialogue you have without effect (you'll be surprised how many there are!) What do I mean? Here's an example:

"I think that we should go to the mall today."

"I think we should go to the mall today."

Which sounds more like what people would say? The second one is more natural. The first one sounds stilted. Unless your character has a very formal personality, you can safely eliminate most of the 'that's. If you have the nerve, do a global search for "that" you'll be both surprised and slightly horrified how many there are.

2. Does the reader REALLY need to know that cute little bit of backstory about the time the heroine fell out of the tree? Does it really matter to the plot, or is it just a nice bit of chit-chat while she and the hero are on their first date (or while in the hospital waiting room, or whatever.) Slash and burn, baby. When you're over word count, the editor is depending on you to make hard choices.

3. Sometimes, the literary metaphor can be trimmed. Do you REALLY need to say that her eyes are "shining emerald orbs" or would "green" work just as well? It's two words down and over a hundred instances that adds up.

4. People speak in contractions. They just do. Use won't, don't, isn't (and even ain't, depending on your character) plus can't, doesn't, wouldn't, couldn't and shouldn't. Again, unless your character is a very formal speaker, a typical American really does use contractions more often than not. Do a global search for "will not", "do not", "is not" etc., to see if you can shorten.

Those are a few of my quick tips that won't require you to cut important scenes. What do YOU do to trim word count? Or have you never considered the possibility you might have to? I'm interested to know!


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Now at ConDFW!

I arrived in Dallas yesterday for the first day of ConDFW. ConDFW is:

•A literary-focused science fiction convention.
•Happening February 17-19, 2012. (Our 11th year!)
•Brought to you by the Texas Speculative Fiction Association (TSFA).
•Run by a team of volunteers with varied years of experience.

There are dealer rooms and fan tables, readings, signings and lots of panels for both readers of science fiction/fantasy, but also writers of the genre.

You'd be surprised just how many of your favorite SF/F writers are based in and around Dallas who attend every year (including ME! Well, not every year, but when I can.)

Drop by to say HI! or tell me if you have ever been to a con. I'm interested to know what you think about book conventions. :)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Shorts - New story!

This is a little quickie that I did for a romance magazine. It wasn't quite what they were looking for, and was really too short to put anywhere else. Enjoy!

What Goes Around...

by Cathy Clamp

The doorbell rang just as Meg started a kettle for tea. She turned off the stove and automatically raised her hand to the floral turban to make sure it was straight as she walked to the door.

Soon. The doctor said I should start seeing hair again in a few months, now that the chemo’s done.

A glance through the window made her check her appearance in the nearby mirror once more in surprise and delight.

She opened the door with a smile. “Well, for heaven’s sake! What a pleasure to see you again, Mr. Baldwin. I didn’t even know you knew where I lived.”

He flashed the same white teeth and dimples that had made her heart skip while on rounds. She fought not to blush as he stared into her eyes with both nervousness and intensity. “I hope it’s okay, Nurse Chapman. I asked Dr. Brugetti for your address. I wanted to deliver this in person. Do you mind if I come inside?”

That’s when she noticed the white box. It was about the size of a cake box, but didn’t look very heavy. Her curiosity overcame
her nervousness and she stepped back, opening the door wider. “Of course. Please come in.” She waved him into the living room, thankful now that she’d had enough energy this morning to dust.

He carefully placed the box on the coffee table and sat down on the couch with arms folded across his broad chest. The thick cushions molded around him as though the couch was custom made. Meg fought not to stare at his muscled bare arms. He’d always visited the hospital in a suit and tie.

When she cleared her throat she realized her mouth had been open, nearly drooling. How embarrassing! Abruptly she sat down in the chair across from him and asked the obvious question. “So, how is Sally, Mr. Baldwin? I so seldom get to hear updates on my patients after they leave the children’s ward.”

He smiled, his face filled with love and happiness. “Please, call me Dan. You’ve earned that right.”

“Then I’m Meg.”

He nodded and continued. “Sally turned eight last week and just joined a Red Cross class at the pool. She wants to be a lifeguard.” He shrugged and chuckled. “Well, this week, anyway. As for next week, we’ll see.” His eyes took on a faraway look that Meg knew well. They’d nearly lost Sally to the cancer that had attacked her bones as a toddler. But she’d been one of the lucky ones. After many months of treatment, she’d been proclaimed

Sally tried to laugh off the comparison, not even sure Dan knew the truth. "I hope one day they’ll say the same about me."

(to be continued!)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

Today is Valentine's, the day when lovers everywhere express their feelings for the one they love. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do it EVERY day, of course, but if you've been shy or forgetful of that special person, today's the day!

And speaking of that special person, which one of Celia Graves' potential boyfriends should she end up with? Come over to Coffeetime Romance and vote for your favorite. One lucky commenter will be picked to win a special Valentine's suprise package!

You should also visit our second Poll at Coffeetime: Who is your favorite Sazi of all time? Again, prizes galore to one lucky winner!

Finally, over at Absolute Write, we're going to be talking about what is the BEST thing that ever happened to you on Valentine's Day. Come join in the fun!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Writing Help - Avoiding scams!

Today is a good time for me to touch on one important aspect of agent hunting that is often only briefly touched on in loops and groups: SCAM AVOIDANCE.

This post is for all of those aspiring authors who are seeking representation. It's a sad fact of life that there are people out there who make their money by scamming aspiring authors. The most unfortunate part is that a scammer can give every appearance of being a legitimate agent. They might have a great website, have advertising and even appear at conferences to listen to pitches. But there are no entrance exams necessary, no state or federal regulatory bodies overseeing literary and artistic agents, so they operate with general success unless revealed. But even after revealed, how does the word get out to authors? Well, you're in luck, because there are a number of ways to educate yourself about the scams out there so you can look for solid representation to get your book sold!

Our first stop is the Writer Beware website. Writer Beware is a free service of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Run by literary watchdogs and multi-published, bestselling fantasy authors A.C. Crispin and Victoria Strauss, they regularly expose the incompetent, dishonest and outright bad agents in the writing world. Here you'll learn what makes a bad agent . . . well, bad. There's a vast difference between an agent who is unable to sell a manuscript and one who has NO INTENTION of selling the manuscript.

"But wait!", you say. Why would an agent accept a manuscript with no intention to sell it? How would they earn any money? Often, it's with fees to the author. As a society, we're accustomed to fees---per page copy costs, postage, processing, handling, shipping, etc. It's logical and even acceptable to us to expect to pay out of pocket costs to a service provider. The confusion comes because many legitimate, selling agents also want to be reimbursed for certain expenses. The difference between scammers and legitimate agents is that the legitimate agents (if they charge expenses at all, and many don't)take these reimbursements out of COMMISSIONS . . . AFTER THE BOOK IS SOLD. Scammers, on the other hand, take the expenses out of the author's pocket by billing them or requesting advance "reading fees" or "escrows against expenses."

Why is this significant? Well, think about it. If you charge a small fee to read a manuscript or $10 or $20 a month for "postage" to a whole list of authors, but never actually do the work involved---how much free money can a scammer earn in a year? Yeah, you guessed it: a surprising amount. And it might not be until YEARS later that an author learns of the deception. They can say all the right things, and an author might already have had a history of rejection, so it's no surprise if a scammer tells the author the very same thing.

So, after you've read through the Writer Beware website, your next stop should be the Association of Author Representatives (AAR) The AAR is an organization of selling agents. In fact, in order to become a member, an applicant must have sold 10 different "literary properties" in an 18 month period. Since an author's whole purpose for hiring an agent is to sell the book, starting the search with agents who have already demonstrated sales is a good first step. The link above is to the AAR's Frequently Asked Questions page, which is a really good introduction to agencies and even gives a list of questions to talk to your agent about after you've been offered representation. It should be mentioned that not all selling agents belong to AAR. It is, after all, like any other organization. But many do, and many others subscribe to the Canon of Ethics that forbid cheating authors and artists.

You can also learn about which agents have sold what (thereby knowing if the agent you're approaching has actually ever sold a book in your genre, despite requesting them in guidelines) at Publisher's Marketplace. The only trick with this particular link is that the "Deals" section of the site is a paid-only site. It costs $20 per month to belong (billed to a credit card), but even a single month is well worth the price, IMO, because you have unlimited search abilities for multiple years and agents.

Our final stop (in the interest of blog space) is Preditors & Editors . The founder of this site has exhaustively researched and exposed scammers---to the point that he's been sued by negatively reported agents and publishers for various reasons. But that hasn't stopped him from doing is best to help YOU, the aspiring author, discover who is a good, selling agent and who isn't. You can search by company or individual name and also read up on his rating scale at this link.

Remember that just like publishers, the golden rule of hiring an agent is simple: Gold flows TO the author.

I hope this little primer will be useful to all you out there. You know those old sayings: "Forewarned is forearmed" and "Knowledge is Power." Here's your chance for both!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Shorts - Part 2 of story!

What happens next to Barbara? Will she get the tattoo and will it be more than she planned? Read on...

Becoming Alive (part 2)

At last, Barbara found a small shop, tucked between two apartment buildings on a narrow street. A dim light shone through the plate window, where a painted sign read, ‘Tattoos’. She moved closer to the pale shaft of light. Photos of exquisite tattoos stared back at her--multi-colored exotic birds; stylized flaming skulls and all manner of wildlife. Several of the animal tattoos looked nearly alive. The eyes glowered, followed her movements. One photo caught her attention, and she instantly decided. It was a griffin; half lion, half eagle. The guardians of kings and castles. The photograph showed the griffin in traditional posture, one taloned foot raised, its beak opened in defiance. The art was superb; Barbara could see each feather, see a glint of life in the amber eye.

An old, frail man greeted her inside the door. “Welcome!” he said quietly. “I have been expecting you!”

His phrasing made her smile. He made her feel as though she was arriving for a scheduled appointment. She told him what she wanted; complimented his exceptional work. He nodded graciously, and asked her to sit in an old, heavily cushioned chair in the tidy little shop.

“This is your first tattoo?” he asked, as he prepared the needles. Barbara had decided not to watch the process. She was nervous around needles, and wasn’t terribly fond of blood--especially her own.

“Yes,” she replied. “I’ve always wanted one.”

He cocked his head, a bird-like gesture, and asked, “Why wait until now? Why begin life at this time?”

She pondered the question. He made it seem important, not at all casual. “I don’t know,” she replied honestly. “I guess it’s time for a new beginning. I don’t really feel alive anymore.”

The old man nodded his head, as though she had said something very wise. He smiled secretively, and began his work. Barbara winced as the needle first punctured her skin, injecting the dye, but soon the muted buzzing lulled her. Her already drugged mind edged toward sleep, and she dozed in the chair. Dreams slid through her mind, filled with buzzing insects and thick jungle scents. In the corner of her mind, she heard the old man telling her stories of the Mayan culture. About great kings, and conquests, and treasure.

She woke to the old man shaking her shoulder lightly. Her arm ached under the thick cotton dressing. She started to remove the bandage, to see the beautiful art, but the old man stopped her.

“Wait,” he said. “One more day, and you will see it as it was meant to be seen. It would only disappoint you now. Tomorrow you will understand.” She believed him, not knowing why. Barbara opened her purse to pay, only now realizing that she had never asked the price. Nor had he offered one. She removed a hundred dollar bill, but he pushed it away.

“Art is meant to be shared,” he said with that secret smile. “It cannot be sold. This is my gift to you. For your new beginning.”

Barbara insisted, but the old man stood firm. He would not take money for his art. Then he tilted his head again, looking for all the world like a curious jungle bird, and raised one trembling finger. “But wait,” he said, moving further back into his shop. “If you insist on payment, perhaps you would be interested in this.”

When he returned, he placed an object into her hand and closed her fingers around it. The item was smooth and cool, and she opened her hand to see a large jade stone. It was exquisitely carved with lines and spirals in an oval, slightly elongated shape.

“It’s beautiful!” she breathed softly, but then shook her head and offered it back. “But it’s too much. I could never afford it.”

The old man smiled again. “It was passed down to me by my father, and by his father before him. It would please me to see you use it. It is very lucky. You must keep it with you always. I would take for it the money you offered for my art.”

Barbara was stunned. A carved jade stone like this was worth far more than one hundred dollars, but the man would not be swayed. No, she must have it, and that was the price. No more, no less. She finally relented and left the tiny shop with her lucky charm and her new tattoo.

The next morning she woke and again boarded the bus. She was actually excited, for today the guide told them that they would visit a Mayan temple. Her head was still filled with the dream-like remembrances from the old man. Soon she saw the temple soaring out of the verdant jungle, a masterpiece of stone. As they approached it, the skin under the dressing began to tingle. No matter, she thought, that’s probably normal. As they edged closer on the winding path, the tattoo started to itch. Soon it was as though a thousand ants were crawling on her skin; biting and clawing.

She could stand it no more by the time they reached the parking lot. She raised her sleeve and gingerly untaped the dressing. One glowering green eye greeted her gaze. Her jaw dropped. For there, on her arm, was not the anticipated griffin, boldly screaming to the sky. In its place was a great spotted cat, its tail lashing each time her skin moved. It was beautiful, incredibly detailed. She could see individual hairs rising from its tail. A tiny slitted pupil stared out of the gold-flecked emerald eye, and white teeth gleamed from the open jaw.

No matter how beautiful it was, she was furious! He had done this deliberately. He could never have mistaken a cat for her beloved griffin! She climbed the stone stairs with rising outrage, the “lucky” stone digging into her hip with each step. It probably wasn’t even jade, she thought angrily.

The inside of the temple was cool and dimly lit. She walked around with the others, forcibly turning her mind to the walls carved with glyphs, bright paint still evident here and there. As she approached the altar, one carved figure made her stop and stare. In front of her was a great cat, its spots permanently carved in stone. It was a mirror of the creature on her arm, except that the cat on the wall was missing its eye. A round dent in the wall showed where the eye should be. She lifted her foot to the top step, and the stone in her pocket again pressed on a nerve. She removed the stone and looked at it. A thought struck her and she held it up before her, lined it up with the carving on the wall. It might just fit! Her mind remembered the artist’s words, “his father and his father before him.” How many generations had the stone passed down?

Barbara wedged herself between the altar and the wall, stretching on her tiptoes to place the stone in the hole.

“Excuse me, Ma’am,” called the guide. “You can’t touch . . .”

His words came too late, for the stone slid into place with an audible click. Barbara gasped as stones began grinding open. She shared the others’ wide-eyed stares as the heavy slab altar top slid aside, revealing gold objects, jade carvings, and multi-colored stones of every description.

Barbara tried to answer the questions posed by the police and the man from the ministry of antiquities. It was clear they didn’t believe her story. She explained where she got the rock, and showed them the tattoo. Finally, she agreed to lead them to the shop, and let them talk to the artist. When they arrived, she stared in shock. It was vacant! The glass was old and the paint faded. There were no photos in the window. Dust coated everything. A young man approached the police and asked what their business was with his property. Barbara explained why they were there, and about meeting the old tattoo artist.

The man’s eyes grew wide. This had been his grandfather’s shop, he said. It was left to him after the old man died. Poppy had been a master artist; his work was unmatched. But he had been dead for many years. How could she have met him? Barbara didn’t know. She only knew what had happened. She told the young man about the griffin, and how angry she had been that the artist had tattooed a great cat instead.

The young man’s face paled, and he raised his sleeve. There was the griffin! Barbara gasped, but then reached out and touched it gently; reverently. The man asked to see the jaguar, his Grandfather’s favorite subject, and Barbara raised her sleeve. He studied the tattoo, turning her arm to catch the light. Yes, he said, his voice filled with wonder, this was created by my grandfather. You can tell his art, because he used powdered Mayan gold in his ink.

“Gold?” asked Barbara, alarmed. “Isn’t that dangerous?”

The young man raised his brows. “For anyone but Poppy, yes! It makes the process risky, but no work of Poppy’s ever was rejected,” he claimed. “He never told his secret.”

After a moment’s thought, she voiced the question that resonated through her mind. “But why!?!”

The grandson understood the meaning the question, and smiled. “Poppy said gold and life were both created in the fires of the earth, two halves of a whole. He couldn’t replicate one without the other. It’s why El Gato seems so real. Only living skin can make Poppy’s art exist.”

A sudden realization staggered Barbara She didn’t just animate the cat, it had changed her, too. She was becoming more aware; more truly alive.

The officials were frustrated. No one could explain how Barbara got her tattoo or jade eye. Still, in gratitude, they offered to let Barbara take home one item from the altar. She chose the jaguar’s eye over all of the treasures.

The next morning, bags packed, jade tucked in a small leather bag around her neck, she boared the bus to the airport. Raising her sleeve, she spoke to the great cat on her arm. “Well, Gato, shall we go . . . live?”

The cat’s emerald eye sparkled in return.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Writing Help - Creating your character!

I'm an unusual writer, in that people don't spring into my head fully formed. I have to actually WORK to make a character become flesh and blood. Something that's really helped me make great people is a "character profile." People aren't just visual, after all. They have lives before the book opens and continue to have lives after the book shuts. This list of questions has really helped me hone in on what makes a character tick. If you're like me, I think it'll help you too!

Answer these questions for each character you need to make rock on the page:

1. Character Name.
2. Where did character grow up?
3. Choose three clubs/sports the character was involved in in high school.
4. What is a quirk (such as spinning hair around a finger when nervous, etc.?)
5. When decorating an apartment, where would your character shop?
6. What role does money play in your character's life (is a 20" b/w television just as good as a 50" HD flat screen?)
7. Inspiration for Character (i.e., character from a movie, fairy tale, story, etc.)
8. Possible physical features like scars, tattoos, etc.
9. How do you see the character (i.e., sterotype, caricature)
10. Possible conflicts in personality (i.e., likes to watch sports, but hates to PLAY them.)
11. Possible need for change.
12. Values and beliefs (church-going, would the character steal if starving, etc.)
13. How beliefs and values clash (would the character steal if sufficient reason? What is that reason?)
14. What do they need in a mate?
15. Who is the worst person for them to fall in love with?
16. What makes the character emotionally dangerous (seeing someone strike a child, etc.?)
17. What is it about the character that makes it impossible for him/her to simply "walk away" from the crisis of the plot?
18. What does the character most admire about their best friend?
19. What drives the character insane about their best friend?
20. How does the plot help the character learn a lesson or grow?
21. What is the error in thinking during the plot (i.e., thought they could trust someone untrustable, so didn't spot the danger, etc.?)
22. Why do they hold this belief?
23. As a result of this belief, what do they need to learn?
24. What is keeping them from learning it?
25. What are the ways the character tries to "cheat" to keep from having to grow?
26. What event in the external plot forces the character to either grow or change?
27. Pinpoint your character's greatest fear.
28. What is your character's greatest secret?
29. What is your character's best childhood memory?
30. What is your character's WORST childhood memory?

Hope these help! Good luck turning the paper person into a living being!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Friday Shorts - New story - Becoming Alive!

Here's a little story I wrote long ago. It's just a fun piece that really never found a home. So it's now yours to enjoy!

Becoming Alive

By Cathy Clamp

Barbara stepped off the bus and stood, immobile, in the searing Mexican sunshine. “So, here I am,” she said to herself, and then shook her head in frustration, “Am I a complete idiot?”

The other passengers pushed and jostled their way past her, cursing and muttering with impatience. She ignored them as she tried to combat her apprehension. She finally came to her senses as the driver set her bags next to her on the hot sidewalk.

“Señora,” he said, “You should go inside. The sun, it is very . . .. what is the word?” He struggled internally for a moment, as she stared at him blankly. “Ah, yes!” he exclaimed, “Dangerous. It is not safe for you to be out for too long. Your skin is too pale. You will burn.”

Barbara looked at her bare arm. Her skin was indeed pale. Pale and lifeless. Without looking up, she said, “Señorita.”

“Que?” asked the driver quizzically.

“I’m not married. I am a señorita.”

He shrugged and returned to the bus. She picked up her luggage and checked in, her thoughts occupied by friends left behind. She was annoyed with herself for missing them. They had thought her foolish for scheduling this trip. Single, almost forty-five years old, and newly wealthy. They said she would be a sitting duck for con artists. She was too naive. Barbara had felt insulted. She wasn’t stupid, and she didn’t consider herself naive. She understood darkness; but it baffled her. Then again, sometimes pure motives puzzled her, as well.

Sweet old Mrs. Pederson, her next door neighbor for the last ten years, was filthy rich?? Barbara never knew, certainly. It wasn’t why she’d kept Mrs. Pederson company on the weekends, listening to the old lady’s stories and helping her with yard work. Nobody had been as surprised as Barbara when Elizabeth left her entire sizable fortune to Barbara. Overnight, she had the freedom to never work again; to do whatever she wanted.

Sadly, Barbara didn’t know what she wanted.

She’d always yearned to travel; to see things, do things, be something other than what she was--a dowdy, slightly overweight, stick-in-the-mud.

“So,” she said again, under her breath, as a dense curtain of melancholy fell over her, “Here I am. Now what?”

She dejectedly boarded the bus with the others in the morning, barely hearing the energetic ramblings of the guide. They saw statutes, buildings, art. At some point she realized that she didn’t want to see things. The monuments were dead. They had no spirit left. It had all been sucked out by the mindless hoards that visited. She wanted to see people; see life, energy.

After the tour ended, they were returned to the hotel. Barbara retired early, ignoring her companions in the group. Like the monuments, they were all old; lifeless, struggling to feel vital and needed again. Perhaps, she thought, she’d left it too long. She might be too old for real adventure. Dejected, she went to bed.

Barbara woke in the middle of the night to the sound of firecrackers and loud voices outside. As she stepped onto the balcony, her senses were engulfed in marvelous sights, intense sounds, and exotic scents. She vaguely remembered the guide mentioning that today was a Mayan festival of some sort. Below her, dark skinned bodies flowed and writhed to pulsing music. Colors and light exploded in the sky, illuminating the costumes of the dancers. Her mind awoke as though it had been sleeping. Here, here was life! Barbara quickly dressed and bounded into the throng. Energy moved through the crowd like lightning, making her head reel. When she was handed a drink, she took it, never asking what was in the cup, and never caring. The drink was sweet and thick, like honey, but the alcohol content was strong.

Barbara was soon having the time of her life. She laughed and danced with strangers. She felt the weight of years lift from her shoulders. Everything dazzled her. One man in front of her with skin the color of polished wood was covered with the most beautiful tatoos she had ever seen. A dragon curled around his bare shoulder and spit fire at an eagle with bared talons. Birds rose from blue barked trees, and lazy sapphire clouds drifted over an indigo stream. She was entranced, staring at the beauty of the pictures, more fine art than simple designs.

“A tattoo!” she thought to herself suddenly. “I’ve always wanted one.” She moved away from the crowd, intent on finding a tattoo parlor before the inspiration passed her by. Her vision was blurry, her movements sloppy, but she moved from street to street, searching...

(to be continued)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Writing Help - Dialogue Tags, Part 4

Today's entry in lessening your dialogue tags is using EMOTION to take the place of the tag. Emotional development is always a great thing in fiction, whether it's a romance story or a thriller. This is a big part of "show" over "tell." You can use the character's emotion to give backstory about what the words are hiding. For example, let's go back to Part 1 of this week, when Jane revealed she was going to the store with a bad dialogue tag:

"I'm going to the store!" Jane sobbed.

As we discussed, you can't 'sob' words, any more than you can kick them. BUT, the goal is to tell the reader she's crying when she's saying the words---or at least that she's in emotional distress.

Here's a better solution to "Jane sobbed."

"I'm going to the store!" Jane tried to keep her voice steady, but the look on Bob's face revealed he realized she was about to burst into tears. It was the first time she would be back at that store since that fateful night when her mother was killed in a drive-by.

Yes, it makes the paragraph longer, but you have so much more insight to why Jane was just sitting on the couch and is now suddenly sobbing.

Even if her mother's death has nothing to do with the plot or hasn't been brought into the plot yet, it give more depth to the character that can later be discussed . . .or not.

Emotions, particularly emotions that conflict with the words being said, are terrific for beefing up a short manuscript without having to add subplots. It's also a way to add tension between people that only the reader can see. Not every emotion shows on a person's face for the other people to see. We keep much inside us and feel it without revealing it to the world. But the reader isn't the world. The reader deserves special insight into the characters that only you, the author, can reveal.

So, now you have some methods to remove some of those pesky dialogue tags that will not only improve your writing but really grab a reader's attention (including those agents and editors you want to LOVE your story!)

Good luck and Happy Writing!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Writing Help - Dialogue Tags, Part 3

Yesterday we talked about grouping text as a way to eliminate dialogue tags. But another spiffy way to both eliminate tags and beef up the characterization and plot is to add SENSES in place of tags.

There are five senses: sight, scent, hearing, touch and taste. Every piece of fiction,no matter what genre, can benefit from the use of the senses. Very often, in the rush of the plot and movement, new writers forget about at least two of the senses. They remember sight and hearing. Sometimes even touch. But scent and taste are two AMAZING tools in the author's arsenal that are often overlooked. The senses not only convey information about the character's surroundings, they often bring conflicting emotions to the table during conversations. How many times have you tried to concentrate on something dull, only to have the scent of something wonderful, like baking cookies (or something horrible, like a sewer back-up) distract you from the task? A woman's perfume can linger in the air long after she leaves. A taste of hot chocolate can trigger happy memories of playing in the snow as a child.

"Yes, yes," I can imagine you saying, "Emotions are well and good, but how can they REPLACE dialogue tags?" Very simply. What is more interesting reading? This:

"I can't believe you said that!" Jane said angrily.

or this:

"I can't believe you said that!" Jane inhaled a harsh breath. Even the scent of cookies baking in the oven couldn't calm her.

Readers know that speaking expels air, meaning she has to breathe in. Using that moment to SHOW Jane's anger with both the exclamation point and a harsh breath, reads better. Also, "angrily" doesn't say how angry Jane is. By adding that cookies couldn't calm her reveals more about Jane's character---she likes to bake, and scents can calm her. This is important stuff to a reader. Little things like this become part of the character's backstory and give the reader both insight and depth into your world. "Angrily" simply can't do that. :)

Taste is also a vital replacement to dialogue tags (provided not overused). How many times have you been nervous enough to taste bile on the back of your tongue? What about a metallic taste when you're sick, or even tasting really strong perfume when someone walks by? Taste adds richness to the text and allows the reader to become more immersed in the story without even realizing it's happening.

Tomorrow we'll give examples and please feel free to ask questions about your specific WIP.