Thursday, May 27, 2010

iLesson: The Empty Gesture

Gesture: 1. A motion of the limbs or body made to express or help express thought or to emphasize speech.

During a great, productive writing session last night, my friends and I got to talking about character gestures in our writing. We tend to do them a lot, as action tags and as 'shorthand' for showing emotion. But are they actually effective, or do they just clutter up writing with meaningless stage business? And if you don't have any gestures at all, then will your scene be two talking heads?

I don't like to be wrong--ever--but looking at the chapter that they were critiquing, I could see exactly where my characters' gestures were basically just empty motion. Not all the time, of course, 'cause I'm awesome. But there were a lot of 'dancing eyes' and 'curling lips' that were quite cliched superficial.
Say your character is supposed to be mad, and she stomps her foot. By itself, that foot stomp is just a placeholder for authentic emotion. If you do your job, then her dialogue (internal or external) will leave no doubt that she's angry, and the gesture becomes unnecessary.

Your point of view character has a brain, and is able to interpret expression, tone of voice, and, yes, gestures, just as well as you and I. If she's been on the planet for any length of time, she'll know that a stomping foot means that her sister is angry.

Compare: "She vibrated with fury." with "She shook all over."

Compare: "His hands clenched." with "He looked like he wanted to wring my neck."

It goes back to the pizza pie in the face method of writing. Are you, the writer, making your character stomp her foot because that's what people do when they're angry? Or is the action motivated by your character's emotions?

Actions, like everything else on your page, have to be multitaskers. They can reveal character and give a sense of movement and move the story along. If a character action is just a placeholder for real emotion get rid of it, and replace them with something that will pull it's weight.

(Credit where it's due: This post owes much to Jenny Martin, Jamie Harrington, and Chantal Kirkland. They rock.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Book News!

Cue drumroll...

The trade paperback of The Splendor Falls
comes out on January 11, 2011.


1/11/11. How cool is that! So for those of you who are cheap (like me!) and have been waiting for the book to come out in paperback, you have... well, still a bit of a wait. If you think you can wait that long, you can already pre-order the paperback at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

You may notice, there's no cover image for the paperback on those sites. That's because TSF is getting a new and ultra spiffy cover for the rerelease! I'm so excited. It's gorgeous. I can only show you a teaser right now (*points to picture*), but I'll let you know how you can get a sneak peak soon.

And... (more cowbell drumroll, please)...

My next new novel will be released in June 2011. So about a year from now. Seems like forever, I know. The title?

Texas Gothic

What do you think? Two words that you'd never put together? Does it make you say Ew, Texas or Ooo, Gothic?

In honor of the new title, let's have a quick and dirty contest. (Well, not dirty.) In the comments post what you think a book called "Texas Gothic" might be about.

I'll give you two hints:
1) It's not a sequel to The Splendor Falls, but it has some things in common with it.
2) It has nothing to do with black eyeliner or striped and/or fishnet stockings.

Be as creative, crazy or silly as you want. Prizes for the funniest, most romantic, most spooky, and most like the real book*. Let's go 'til Friday to give you time to think of something good.

*Members of the League of IHOP Writers are ineligible for this category.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Movie Report: Robin Hood

(Reminder: Booksigning at the Hurst Barnes and Noble this Saturday from 2 - 4pm!)

So, Robin Hood. I confessed in the comments on Cleolinda's blog that I had a hard time sorting out my feelings on this movie, and it probably sounded like I didn't enjoy it. Untrue. I absolutely enjoyed watching it... for the most part.

Let's do the math (points are somewhat arbitrary):

Carnage and badassery 5 minutes in......+357

Weary warrior Russell is a bit of a rogue as well.....+674

(Merry Men R Awesome + Alan Doyle from Great Big Sea).....+1892

Russell and Cate Blanchett flirtery........+5365

Robin and Merry Men actually rob from rich and give to poor.....+2024

But only once......-3024

Feudal politics......+57

MORE feudal politics......-157

General Spoilerific WTFery......-1215

Russell Crowe w/ horse, sword, bow, and armor.....+510,934.5

Russell Crowe's accent(s)......-.5

Let's face it. I got my $9 worth when weary warrior rogue Russell saved the cat young archer then kicked ass, then got his ass kicked by Kevin Durand as Little John (excellent casting) and the Merry Men went back to England. I joke about loving Russell Crowe in Heroic Guise, but it's because he is proof that you can play an actiony hero and still act the hell out of it. (Even with a script that relied on cliche rather than character development.)

I would have gotten more of my money's worth, if the movie had stuck with Robin, Not-Maid Marion, the Merry Men and the doings in Nottingham. I adored the interaction of the guys, and that camaraderie, which was established so well early on, was seriously underutilized. I loved the excuse for getting Robin to Nottingham (he masquerades as a noble, the continues the charade for pretty good reasons), and there was a cool story there. I loved that additional element, and when the Hoods pulled off their first caper, I was really liking where the movie was going.

And then the story had to get all Epic and Important (and historically ridiculous) so they could have a Big Epic Battle Scene. And you KNOW how much I love Big Epic Battle scenes, and yet... It seriously lost something by not staying Robin's story. Note, I'm not saying it has to stay the Same Familiar Story. I'm just saying it needed to stay centered on that character. He didn't need to save all of England by initiating the rights of the common man and what not. He needed to save England (and complete his journey from rogue to rogue with a purpose) by holding it together in Nottingham.

At least, that's how *I* would have written it. Which is always a frustration when a movie is full of so much of what you love, yet it doesn't quite come all together the way you could wish that it did. It's still enjoyable (depending, I guess, on your generosity about the above mentioned historical head spinners), but you can see very clearly what might have put it on your Best Movie Ever List.

So there's my review. Russell, Ridley, I still love you (even if one of you gets a little cranky on the press junket).

Thursday, May 20, 2010

iLesson: The Perils of the Prologue


One of my favorite Shakespeare lines comes from the prologue of Henry V.

O for a muse of fire, to ascend the brightest heaven of invention.

But let's face it. We're not all Shakespeare.

Recently I read a book that I really enjoyed, but I almost didn't make it past the (to me) problematic prologue. I'm glad I kept reading, because I thought the book was great. But by showing the MC's backstory stupid mistake before I'd had a chance to get to know and like her was a big risk, especially when (in my humble opinion) it could have been easily covered in the main story.

It's always tough getting the start of a book just right, but prologues in particular can be tricky, not least because there are readers who have been burned so often, they'll put down the book at the "P" word.

Potential Pitfalls of the Prologue
  1. It is always unnecessary. (Or it would be called "Chapter One" instead of "Prologue.")
  2. It delays the start of the real story with backstory that may be better revealed in the story.
  3. One person's 'teaser' is another person's spoiler.
  4. An exciting prologue does not excuse a boring chapter one.
  5. Cliches proliferate in prologues. (See: Death in the Prologue: main characters dies, almost dies, thinks she's about to die, or hovers near death. See also: Car Accident Where Everyone Died But Me)*
Unnecessary, however, doesn't mean worthless. The prologue is the sesame seeds on the hamburger bun of your story. Your burger should be well made, and the top-bun of your chapter one should be golden and toasty enough to stand on its own. But a sprinkle of sesame seeds can add a little texture and make the dish look inviting and tasty.

Here are some suggestions to keep your prologue tasty and not tacky:
  1. Make it earn it's keep. It should reveal the character, set the tone, initiate the theme of the novel.
  2. Introduce people and things that are going to be vital to the story.
  3. Avoid cliches or give them a twist.
  4. Raise questions, not confusion. (Conversely, don't give away all the answers, either.)
  5. Keep it short!
To prologue or not to prologue comes down to what works for each book. The first pages of your book, whatever the heading, should make the reader want to dive into the story! How you accomplish that is up to you.

*I'm not picking on any particular book or writer, just pointing out the trend. To tell a story on myself, The Splendor Falls originally started with the line "I died twice that year," and Sylvie was going to break her leg in a car accident. Even after the change, I still have Death In the Prologue--the figurative death of her breaking her leg, the end of her dancing life. So, you know... guilty as anyone.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

News and Events

Tomorrow (Wednesday at 5:30 PM US Central Time), I'll be on Blogtalk Radio, chatting with the Writing Mafia about the basics of How To Go About Getting Published In Fiction. (Not a very pithy title, but that's what I'm talking about. When I started writing, I had no more idea how to submit a manuscript than I knew how to split an atom. The good news: submitting a manuscript is much easier and somewhat safer.)

You don't have to listen live. The Podcast will be available afterward.

For those of you who follow my tweets, you may have seen that I got a look at the mock up of the cover of my NEW BOOK.  So expect book news soon. If you want a super sekrit sneak peak however, you can stop by...
Barnes and Noble in Hurst, TX
Saturday, May 22
2 - 4 PM

If you've been waiting for your chance to pick up the latest Maggie Quinn book in paperback, now is your chance! Highway to Hell came out in trade paperback in April (the day before I had surgery!) so I didn't have a chance to celebrate.

Even if you have all my books (or, you know, hate my books but but find me winsome and charming), stop by and chat. (Little tip about writers at booksignings. You don't have to come to an event only if you want to buy a book. We also like it when you just stop by and make us feel important. Just lie and say you have them all already.)

If you don't live in Texas, you'll just have to wait until next week for Book News.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Go Bront√ęsaurus Go!

LOL! Where can I get on of these?

(Thanks to the lovely and talented Candace Havens, I already own the Jane Austen Action Figure. It would be great to have a set!)

(I saw that YouTube video on Nathan Bransford's blog, to give credit where it's due. I like him. Great blog.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

iLesson: Don't hammer the funny

Mosquitos Suck contest update. Thanks to your generosity, and helping me spread the word, we contributed hundreds of dollars to the efforts to end malaria. I have the winners of the drawing, and I'm contacting them via e-mail. I'll post those that are cool with my putting their name on the blog (hey, not everyone is) when I've heard back from everyone.

Nothing but Nets continues their efforts to stop the spread of malaria and mosquito borne diseases in Africa. Click here for more information on this cause.

Ironically, mosquitos factor into the inspiration for today's lesson. I couldn't sleep the other night, and The Land of the Lost was on. The recent movie, I mean. (Don't judge. It was 3 am.)

I must have been really tired or desperate for distraction, because I ended up watching the whole thing. Every time I reached for the remote, something juuuuust amusing enough to give me hope would stay my hand, until I got to the point that I figured I may as well watch to the end.

Funny bits? Grumpy the dinosaur, don't trust anyone wearing a tunic, Matt Lauer's deadpan self-portrayal.

Unfunny bits? Giant mosquito and other bloodsucking insects. *shudder* Not. Funny. Ever.

One of the problems with this movie (among many) was that the jokes weren't allowed to stand by themselves. They had to be spotlit, underlined, italicized and beat to death.

This is something I notice with writers in my critique group who are good writers but haven't learned to trust their own writing yet. They'll write something funny or evocative, then immediately explain the joke or metaphor.

Going back to Land of the Lost. There was this bit with the T-Rex, where Will Farrell,, had escaped over a ravine and the dinosaur couldn't follow. He was turning away in resignation when "Dr. Marshall" goes, "Don't worry about him, he has a brain the size of a walnut." There's a nice, full-stop beat of reaction from Grumpy, and he resumes the chase.

Then later, while the humans are hiding in a cave, there's this thump of something heavy hitting the ground outside the entrance. They go outside, and there is a leaf-wrapped gift on the figurative doorstep. A walnut the size of a kitchen table. Cut to Grumpy, watching. Waiting to exact his revenge.

I laughed out loud, not just at the walnut, but the image behind it, of this dinosaur planning and executing this message/threat, grumbling to himself, "Walnut my scaled ass. There's a day of reckoning coming, you human butthead."

Then the actors had to open their mouths: "Wow, that's a big walnut. Oh, we get it. You're smart."

They'd just show me Grumpy was smart. They didn't have to tell me. Apparently they didn't think *I* was smart enough to get it.

The lesson here is this:

  • Trust your writing.
  • Show it. Don't show, then tell me what you've just shown.
  • Give your readers some credit, too.
It's a balancing act, like everything else in writing. The only way to find that balance is to keep writing, and keep experimenting!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday Five: Happiness is...

It's Genreality day. Today's post is on tips for writer happiness, adapted from the tips from some guests on the Today Show earlier this week. You should go read it.

It prompted me to note five things that are making me happy right now:

  1. My thyroid biopsy came back negative, so I don't have cancer, and I don't have to have the other half of my thyroid out. Yay!
  2. I'm watching David Tenant and Sir Patrick Stewart in Hamlet (recorded from PBS).
  3. My friend Jamie featured The Splendor Falls in her Spreading the Awesome blog post (until today (Friday) to comment to win a signed copy of the book. So run over there and comment to enter.)
  4. I'm (finally) getting the air conditioning fixed in my Jeep. Because it's already 90 degrees here, which doesn't make me happy, and neither does the cost of the repair, but I'm focusing on the positive: Not dying of heat in the car.
  5. Puppies!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

iLesson: Step away from the Internet, and no one gets hurt

Sometimes people tell me "I don't have time to write." (Okay, actually, this was me telling myself that.) But If I'm really honest with myself, I waste a lot of time on things that are suppose to SAVE me time. Theoretically, Facebook, Twitter, etc. is supposed to make it easier to keep up with what's going on in the world. But really?

Here's how my daily blog reading usually goes:

1) Scroll through the google reader.
2) Ooo, Tera Lynn Child posted a YouTube video.
3) Ooo, look at the latest LOLcat video.
4) OMG, new Robin Hood trailer.
5) What is Russell working on next? I'll just pop over to IMDB and take a look...

So the next time you think you don't have time to write (or read, or do homework) look at much time you spend reading blogs, commenting on facebook, yadda yadda yadda. Make time for your favorite blogs (like this one!), but realize that sometimes you have to step away from the Internet to get stuff done.

And don't get annoyed with your favorite authors (like me!) when they don't blog for a week. The good news is, we're most likely writing our next masterpiece!