Tuesday, March 19, 2019

3T Writing Tidbit

This is another in my 25 Ways You're Losing Readers (and what you can do about it) series.

Ignore your readers' expectations at your own peril.

As I write this,  I've just seen How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. I'm a big fan of the Netflix series How to Train Your Dragon: Race to the Edge, and was looking forward to the movie for several months.

The day before we went, I was baffled by the relatively low score on IMDb (and relatively high on Rotten Tomatoes).


If you haven't seen the movie How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and don't want any spoilers, don't read this post. I will discuss the ending.

If you don't know what the series is about, this is a DreamWorks animation series based on Cressida Cowell's children's books. There are three movies and a large number of shorter adventures that follow Viking chief's son Hiccup as he meets and befriends a dragon enemy. Hiccup starts as a young boy, but by The Hidden World he's a young adult and chief of his village, and all the Vikings there have befriended and work with dragons.

The basic plot is that Hiccup is looking for a way for humans and dragons to live together in peace. There are greedy human dragon-thieves and nefarious human dragon-hunters who keep trying to destroy Hiccup's dragon friend. There are further complications, but all you really need to know to understand my point is this:

  • Hiccup yearns to create a home for his people and their dragons.
  • And that's exactly what we want, too.

So when we get the more tragic (and adult) ending of Hiccup letting his dragons go instead, it's a resolution that's flat. Because Hiccup suffers, not to get his happy ending--he suffers to get nothing he wanted.

And by the sobbing of the little kids in our theater, his audience didn't get what they wanted, either.

Contrast other films. Once Dorothy suffers Oz, all she wants to do is go home--and she does. The Ghostbusters want to be taken seriously and to vanquish the ghosts--and they do. Luke wants to avenge his aunt and uncle, rescue the princess, and learn about the Force--and he does. Harry Potter wants to end the threat of Voldemort--and he does.

And these are all things we wanted, too. So when the protagonist accomplishes these things, it's satisfying.

Here's the big one. The Avengers are a bickering mess of would-be superheroes who need to give up their egos and learn to work together.
  • They don't want to be a team.
  • But we want them to be a team. (There's even an audience substitute, unabashed fanboy Agent Coulson.)
We're pulling for them to be a team, so when that epic moment comes and they circle back to back to back to fight together (can you hear that triumphant horn tune?) it's cathartic and jubilant and most of all deeply satisfying.

I understand now why the critics on Rotten Tomatoes love The Hidden World--and why the general public didn't. It's not satisfying. Not because it doesn't do things right, because it does. It does things wonderfully well--for an adult tragedy.

But the kids in the audience didn't go to see an adult tragedy. They went to see an uplifting kids' movie. The movie broke their hearts, and it broke mine a little, too, when what I went to the theater for was to be made whole.

Remember this when you write your next story. What are your readers expecting? If they're coming to you to be made whole, or even just to be entertained for a while, the best story in the world will fall flat if it doesn't fulfill their needs.

Published since 2009, over the years I've accumulated various items of writing wisdom. The Third Tuesday Writing Tidbit showcases these items in no particular order. Click here to see all 3T Tidbits. Click here to see all 25 Ways You're Losing Readers

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

2T Repeat Performance

In December 2016, the lovely Magical Musings crew decided it was time to close down their blogging shop. I had three wonderful years with them. This is another of those posts.

photo credit: The Quest via photopin (license)
Readers--I need your help deciding something--originally posted September 16, 2015.

I've been re-reading one of my favorite mystery writers lately--Rex Stout. Stout began writing his 1/7 ton, orchid-loving gourmand genius detective Nero Wolfe in the thirties (just after the end of Prohibition, Wolfe's first recorded words are, "Where's the beer?"). But the stories are lively and readable for today's audiences, thanks to entertaining narrator Archie Goodwin, Wolfe's feet, eyes and ears on New York--and ours, too.

I admit that I was worried that I wouldn't enjoy reading Stout as much, since my author training means I see the puppet strings and the puppeteer behind the words.

photo credit: Puppet via photopin (license)
But no. I actually enjoy Archie and Nero more, because Stout's such a freaking great writer. There's an impact seeing a genius use the tools of writing that a teacher's telling (even with examples) doesn't have. Don't believe me? Think of any occupation where you've seen someone who blows you away. For me it's Brett Favre, whatever you might think about his career. I see anyone throw a football and it's caught and I think yay, amazing, because frankly I can't throw a ball a foot to a receiver dressed in two-sided tape. But Favre...when he threw the ball, the receiver didn't catch it so much as Favre seemed to place the ball directly into the receiver's hands. Artistry, poetry in motion.

Anyway, the point to all this is that Stout made me reconsider one aspect of writing that has plagued me my whole career. What makes something mysterious? Frankly, I always thought you had to write vague unsettling creepy stuff.

Here's what I now think is true, and this is what I need you to confirm or not: The way to be mysterious is to be crystal clear about your mystery.

Example: Which is more mysterious?
  • Jen thought she saw a shadowy figure in the dark bushes.
  • Jen saw the bushes stir. Not a cat-size stirring, but man-size.

Or this:
  • The victim wrote something in her own blood before dying.
  • The victim wrote "rache" in her own blood before dying.

So which is more mysterious to you? First or second point in each example? Please let me know!!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

1T Status Update

The countdown continues! Only eight more months until Night's Kiss, second book in the Ancients trilogy and sixteenth book in the Biting Love Universe! Enter to win one of two copies of The Bite of Silence here.

Times Square. New Year’s Eve. This year, it’s a Countdown to Death.

Twyla Tafel has uncovered an insane plot to unleash vampires on the unsuspecting revelers. She’s armed only with her great admin skills, her useless art degree, and Nikos—a seriously hot vampire she’d love to paint as a Spartan king roaring his muscular challenge at the Persians.

This one's super-hot.  Adults only, please.

In other news:
  • Tentative release date for Night's Kiss is November 18, 2019!
  • I'm still anticipating Night's Kiss edits this month. They should hit just in time for spring break (no rest for the wicked--or authors, lol).
  • I've finished the first draft of the first novella in the NEW VAMPIRE filler project I mentioned last month. Super excited about these.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

3T Writing Tidbit

This is another in my 25 Ways You're Losing Readers (and what you can do about it) series.

Show, don't tell.

Not always.

In Biting Nixie, I showed the love develop between opposites Nixie and Julian. But one of the first criticisms was... "They never said 'I love you.'"

??? I showed it, right? Wasn't that enough?

Nope. Some readers need the words. But beware! Some readers hate the words. They already got it from the context.

A series I love recently had one character go through a traumatic separation. It was beautifully shown as the character, numb, pushed away the pain and anything to do with the situation. Some readers found her wooden and uncaring instead. ??? For those readers, throw in a quick, "She was numb, unable to deal with the horror her life had become. So she didn't. One day she would, but that time wasn't now." And move on.

For big changes, especially those that are emotionally fraught, it's safest to explicitly acknowledge the emotion before moving on.

Published since 2009, over the years I've accumulated various items of writing wisdom. The Third Tuesday Writing Tidbit showcases these items in no particular order. Click here to see all 3T Tidbits. Click here to see all 25 Ways You're Losing Readers.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

2T Repeat Performance

In December 2016, the lovely Magical Musings crew decided it was time to close down their blogging shop. I had three wonderful years with them. This is another of those posts.

The Weird Disorder--Guest Elle J Rossi--originally posted September 3, 2015.

Author, artist, singer, extraordinary friend. Please help me welcome Elle J Rossi!

I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve heard that book people, in general, are weird. They talk about characters as if they’re real. They have book boyfriends. (I’ll admit to having three—okay, maybe five.) They debate book cover choices and cry over the end of a series. They believe in time travel and lore and second chances and happily ever afters. They plan their days around words.

If the people—book people—I’ve come to know over the last several years are considered weird, then I feel very fortunate to be amongst such an awesome crowd. Matter of fact, I wear the bookie label with pride. Someone get me a T-shirt!

Let’s take a few minutes to talk about one facet of the book world. Authors. Not only do authors have to have crazy levels of imaginations, they also need to have a head for business, a shiny personality that makes people want to interact with them, focus, determination, and above all, drive.

On any given day, an author can wake up and have no clue who they are. Will they be a young girl fighting her way through the streets of Chicago because her parents are too wrapped up in their own lives to care? Or, perhaps, a mother of three who’s put so much energy into her husband and children she’s forgotten who she is. Maybe she’s a badass huntress covered in demon guts or a thirsty vampire trying to control the urge. She is all these things and more. Becoming these characters is paramount to getting to the heart and soul of their story.

But wait! After the words (not to mention the blood, sweat and tears) are on the page, many deep breaths are taken and the gears are switched. Time to handle the business end—I won’t even get into the many details of that aspect. In between writing and business, maybe we take a few moments to peek in at the social media sites. Har-har. Peek? Yeah, right. We lurk, we scroll, we crack jokes, we interact. For many, this is our only interaction with people who don’t reside in our heads. Here, we can be whoever we want to be.

When I asked other authors if they ever feel like they have multiple personalities, I got a lot of awesome answers.

Kemberlee Shortland, author and CEO of Tirgearr Publishing, said, “I'm definitely a Sybil!! Three pen names plus my writer persona. Add to that my publisher persona, the 'me' who deals with authors, the 'me' who deals with frisky cover artists, the 'me' for business dealings, the 'me' when I'm promoting, the 'me' for family and the other 'me' for friends... I'm basically the one person and yet also a myriad of other people I drag out when situations arise.”

Author Peggy West said, “This morning I am a woman wearing a bathrobe, drinking a cup of coffee and wondering about the meaning of life yet am also a young woman in 1840 who takes a dangerous chance as she walks along the raging sea to the dark mansion where she will go through the hidden closet of a missing woman and will get stuck there. Writing day.”

Me? I am a reader, an author, a cover artist, a wife, a mother, a friend, and, depending on the day, Wonder Woman. These multiple personalities create the whole me. I’m weird. So what? I’d rather be weird than boring.

So, who are you today?

Check out the newest release in Elle's popular Josie Hawk Chronicles, Indigo Dawn.

IndigoDawnVampire Lust and Pixie Dust.

Josie Hawk is a Huntress. A killer devoted to protecting the humans of Nashville from the shadows that lurk in the night. But the shadows are gaining ground. When an infamous pixie tricks Josie into a drug-induced nightmare, Josie envisions the death of her vampire lover, Keller O'Leary. Was the vision a threat ... maybe even a promise? But from whom?

Desperate to track down the source of the toxic psychedelic pixie dust, Josie kicks and punches her way toward the truth. But her efforts backfire, provoking a deadly attack at Wolfie’s—the bar Josie co-owns with her sister-in-arms, Sage.

Tag. You’re it. Haunted by the threat to Keller, Josie scrambles to outwit her elusive opponent before the deadly game escalates and claims more lives. But in saving Nashville, will Josie lose those she loves? Or will she be too late to stop the deadly game of tag?

Amazon | BN | Kobo

Scarlet TearsAnd look for Scarlet Tears this fall!