Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Writers and Readers Websites Wednesday - Story Generators

Kinda desperate for a new story idea? Or at least something that will kickstart the creative process and get that brain wandering off in new directions? 

Toss in location generator, first line generator and more and this site is perfect to get those ideas churning. 

About themselves Writers Plot Idea Generator says: This plot generator creates original and random story lines for plays, novels, short stories, soap opera, TV series or a movie script. The plot lines generated are not guaranteed to make sense but they do inspire writers by triggering a creative chain of thought. Most of the results might be off-the-wall but some are pure gold. Keep trying and sooner or later the perfect idea will appear. Some plots sound like a short story; some will fill a novel or could even be the start of a huge franchise. 

Go ahead, test it out, play a little! 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

“I cannot live without books.” (writing, reading and learning) ― Thomas Jefferson

Have you ever thought about how much the United States – and all it’s readers and writers owe to Thomas Jefferson?  

Throughout his life, books were vital to Thomas Jefferson's education and well-being. When his family home Shadwell burned in 1770 he most mourned the loss of his books.

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, in Shadwell, Virginia. As a boy, Thomas Jefferson's favorite pastimes were playing in the woods, practicing the violin and reading – yes, READING. He began his formal education at the age of nine, studying Latin and Greek at a local private school. At the age of 14, he took up further study of the classical languages as well as literature and mathematics. A boy who grew to a man for whom reading and learning was second only to breathing.

Yes, he drafted the U.S. Declaration of Independence; he was the first secretary of state (1789-94), second vice president (1797-1801), and, as the third president (1801-09), the architect of the Louisiana Purchase.  Impressive. 

But, for those who love books, even more impressive is his gift to the nation of the Library of Congress. Now I’m not saying he built it, but he did acquire thousands of books for his library at Monticello, that personal library constantly evolving. And when the British burned the nation’s Capitol and the Library of Congress (with it’s 3,000 book collection) in 1814 Jefferson, having acquired the largest personal collection of books in the United States, offered to sell his library to Congress as a replacement for that loss, promising to accept any price set by Congress.

The broad scope of Jefferson's library was a cause for criticism by congress of the purchase, but Jefferson extolled the virtue of its broad sweep and established the principle of acquisition for the Library of Congress: " I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from this collection . . . there is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer."   

The total number of books received by the Library of Congress from Jefferson was 6,487 which more than doubled the original size of the library. Then, proclaiming that "I cannot live without books," Jefferson began a second collection of several thousand books. The man was obsessed – but in the view of readers in a very positive way. 

Jefferson hoped for a national impact from his library and commented, "an interesting treasure is added to your city, now become the depository of unquestionably the choicest collection of books in the US, and I hope it will not be without some general effect on the literature of our country."

Then, disaster, a second fire on Christmas Eve of 1851 destroyed nearly two thirds of the books Congress had so recently purchased from Jefferson.

Nevertheless Jefferson's collection was the seed from which the Library of Congress grew into the world's largest library today. It is these days accessible to all Americans through its Web sites and in three buildings on Capitol Hill (if you haven’t visited, put it on your list) and it continues to grow. 

Other than books, the collection includes millions of newspapers, maps, prints, photographs, sound recordings, films and digital materials, as well as the personal papers of hundreds of famous Americans including 23 U.S. presidents. 

If you have a shelf of books at home, and I suspect you do, think of it as the beginning of your own private library. Imitate Mr. Jefferson. 

Take time to visit your public and school libraries often (yes take a break from the computer). From the beginning, libraries have played a vital role in American democracy. And we all know librarians are not to be messed with!

And don’t forget to thank Thomas Jefferson, source of a whole lot more than the Declaration of Independence.  A modest man, one who believe that his greatest gifts to posterity came in the realm of ideas rather than that of politics. 

Upon his death, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the declaration of independence, his simple tombstone in the family cemetery at Monticello reads: "Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and father of the University Of Virginia."

We could sure use Mr. Jefferson now.

Images – library of congress 


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Writers Wesites Wednesday - the belated edition

Well, Wednesday just kind of whipped on past with no Writers Websites Wednesday post - so I'm doing it a day late. What can I tell you, sometimes we run a little behind. 

Have you seen CJ Lyons' site for writers? She doesn't give a lot of lectures, just cuts to the chase and tells you how she does it when it comes to writing and promoting her books. Helpful site, check it out. have I mentioned I've just released my first comic for young kids? It's called The Guardian and it's on Kindle now. Grab a copy!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Writers Revealing What Characters Don’t Want To Show

Oh, come on, you know your characters are just like you. They say one thing and think something else entirely, try to conceal you’re really doing that – and then give it all away with a flick of an eye, a gesture or some muted (or otherwise) sound you make.  Yep, that’s reality. Us humans evade, lie and maneuver (just for starters). We do it to protect ourselves, to protect others, out of embarrassment or an assortment of other reasons.

Now, knowing this it becomes a challenge for the writer. In a script for a movie the writer sets the scene, the mood, tweaks details to make things clear and then actors take over to do the subtle little things that portray what’s in the script, the character’s inner monolog.

For novel writers it’s a different kind of challenge.

The writer is dealing with characters who might be suppressing emotion, hiding them from outsiders as well as themselves. And the writer has to telegraph to the reader this is going on. So, just as we telegraph in real life, whether we intend to or not, the character can do the same in the novel. He or she can have something as obvious as a ‘tick’ of the eye when lying, or something as subtle as a lift of the chin. There can be a high-pitched laugh, the recognizable smell of sweat on the air or maybe hands that fiddle with a pencil or each other, or words that come out in a flood when the character normally speaks in a more reserved fashion.

All of these little signals (and oh so many more) telegraph through tension the movement of the story forward; they build up expectation for the reader and empathy from the reader for the struggling characters.

There are so many things that give us and the characters in a novel or movie away, things that let the watcher (or reader) know all is not as it should be.

As writers we need to remember how us human beings work, tap into our own experience. Remember smiling when you didn’t mean it, that stillness that settled over you when you were embarrassed or cornered, making excuses to leave a situation, using gestures that cancel each other out like telling someone no, but then stepping forward and reaching toward them, or the opposite, yes, then stepping away.  Can you recall avoiding eye contact or just flat out ignoring someone? Have you felt your chest tighten as you withdrew from a conversation or literally left a group of people?

All that and more you can attribute to your characters when writing. They are human. You created them. Fortunately for you, as the writer of a novel, if you’re writing the Point Of View character you can let the reader know something of the thoughts going through his or her head. The character can ‘act normal’ while all sorts of thoughts and intentions race through the character’s mind. And it’s a good idea to spice the novel with just such information.

However, to breathe intense life into the writing, you, as the writer, don’t want to depend on that little cheat exclusively. Seeing what’s going on and reaction to it is much more fulfilling and draws the reader or viewer much more deeply into the story.

So do a little people watching. Add to your repertoire, hone your writing skills and let the readers see just how writingly human you make your characters.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Writers and Readers Websites Wednesday - an online museum - looking for grist for the mill? Unusual ideas as a basis for strange tales?

Readers - fascinated by the strange and unexplained, the unnatural and bizarre?

Then here's a stop off place for you: The Museum of Unnatural Mystery.

Yes, you find here sailing stones, strange science, ancient wonders, troubled history, their own small gift shop (of course!) and much more to keep you fascinated and confused. 

Stop on by the museum and troll for fun and ideas.
*** slightly over four days left in STormrider signed paperback book and totebag giveaway. (Ends July 7.) Head over - click giveaway tab and see easy ways to enter.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Writers, Are You Writing?

Giveaway ends July 7!

No, really, are you writing the projects you want to and need to complete? Are you getting those ideas down on paper? Writing stories? Writing articles?

Or, do you feel like you’re not getting any writing done despite the fact that you sit in front of a computer for hours, fingers flying? Do you feel like you’re accomplishing little to nothing, that you’re procrastinating, not getting to the writing you need to do? 

Of course you’re writing. I’ll bet you’re sending emails to friends and business associates, probably texting like crazy, posting to Facebook, maybe writing promo blurbs. How much writing does all that add up to? Have you added it up? How many words did you write with all that?

Well, doesn’t matter really, so many of us writers are writing what we think we need to write; posting to blogs (like this one!), tweeting, facebook pages, Linked In and even more. 

And yes, we pretty much do need to do those things, but that means there are more and more demands on time we’ve carved out for writing stories, articles and the like. 

Look, Hemingway and Steinbeck didn’t have these problems. I mean don’t you find yourself putting off the ‘real’ writing to get these other chores done? And what about cell phones, tablets and laptops? Yep, we’re constantly in touch, constantly working, constantly writing. At the same time we wonder why we aren’t getting more done. 

Have we all gone insane? 

Technologies that promised to lighten our work load (such as computers in the beginning, word processors that meant we wouldn’t have to type and erase and retype any more) have actually ended up adding to it. 

So, what are we to do? 

Want my advice?

Yep, I write this blog, guest on TV Writer, I Facebook and I Twitter. Even Pinterest. But here’s the thing. I focus on what counts and a bit of small distraction I enjoy. I focus my time (even give myself allotted minutes to accomplish tasks), then get off the net and get down to writing work. Put away the phone and the tablet, close my browser.

Slow down, pull back. In an era when we can ‘do business anywhere’ …. we shouldn’t. You can’t do it all even if you’re foolish enough to want to. And, keep in mind, you’re not going to be able to promote your work to all those ‘outlets’ if you don’t get that writing work done. 

Hey, that’s where technology can help again. Tweets will pile up – you can check them later. Same with Facebook. Phones can take messages. Emails can wait, they’ll be saved on your account, even if they’re fan mail. Give yourself a break and get down to what you really want to accomplish. 

Be a writer first and write…for real.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Writer’s Right Dither And Stormrider Giveaway

 ** Don't forget the Stormrider signed paperback book and Unique Totebag giveaway ends July 7!  Enter now!

Well actually it’s the ‘wrong’ dither. Are you a writer who’s trying to get your word count down and can’t figure out why it is you can’t?  All those words are so special, so pertinent, so important to the story.

No they’re not.

Here’s the thing. First of all word count is important. You shouldn’t be obsessive about it, but if whoever you’re writing for has a word limit then stay within it. Don’t think because you write so brilliantly they’ll make an exception.  They won’t.

So, to reduce the word count (funny how we almost always over-write and not under-write) remove empty words. You know all those words that get thrown in to express an idea (or even to pad out a story or article) that you might not even be aware of.  Words like “maybe”, “try to”, “perhaps”, etc.  (yes, the etc. means something – think about all those other ‘filler’ words.)  The spinning and multiplying of words as a writer whirls and dance with language because he really doesn’t know what he wants to say.

And think about sentences like this: He decided it was about time he should be beginning to be learning about science.

Huh? What? How about: He decided it was time to learn about science.

Most of the time there are simple ways to cut lengthy sentences which not only reduces the dreaded word count, but believe me it will help hold the interest of the reader – after those cuts keeps a deciding editor happy.

Now, before I get everyone jumping all over me, there are times when the longer sentences are a necessity. There is such a thing as beautiful prose; that in which the writer creates a world, uses poetic metaphor and scintillating adjectives. So, as the writer (and at least first editor) the writer (you) is going to have to weigh exactly what is what in the story being written.

But, as a reminder, at the same time don’t fall into the cliché trap. That’s not poetic writing, it’s simply boring and shows the world the writer is a bit low on imagination. Let’s just skip things like “looking like the cat that swallowed the canary,” or “the early bird catches the worm,” or “things that go bump in the night” –  get it? It’s so much easier to avoid adding all those words, to create better, smarter and tighter sentences and create a much more engaging story all with just a little extra thought. It’ll become so easy over time that very little conscious effort will be needed to create your own metaphor and skip those old, worn out ones that have morphed over time into clichés.

So, instead of “he looked like the cat that swallowed the canary” how about, “he looked smug.”

Instead of “things that go bump in the night” how about “his heart pounded in the wake of the thump in the dark, deserted basement.”

Make words your playground ~don’t let them fence you in.

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