Saturday, February 27, 2010

Welcome Guest Blogger Linda Swift




Today our guest blogger is Linda Swift. Linda divides her time between her native state of Kentucky and Florida. She has been writing since she was ten and is an award winning author of published poetry, articles, short stories, and a TV play. Her first two books were published by Kensington.


Linda's Awe-Struck Publishing books include Single Status, available as an e-book and in print and The Twelve Days of Christmas, an ebook. Her first published historical will be available in 2010. Her contemporary books also include Circle of Love, available as an e-book and in print and Let Nothing You Dismay, an ebook, from The Wild Rose Press.


NO APOLOGY NEEDED

When I began writing romance about fifteen years ago, I learned very quickly that the genre was looked down upon by a surprising number of people. I had read only a few paperback romance books and considered myself a mainstream writer at the time. Several of my short stories had been published by small presses and I'd had a play produced on television but my two finished book manuscripts had not found a home.

While attending a writers' conference in Missouri, I met a romance writer who encouraged me to contact her agent. At the same conference, a New York editor introduced a new line of romance books targeted for women over fifty that her publisher was launching and she invited me to submit something. I had an idea for a story that would fit and I put together a synopsis and the requisite three chapters and sent it in. Almost simultaneously I acquired a publisher and an agent and gave my attention to finishing the book on schedule.

I was elated to have a book accepted and announced my success to all my family and friends. It was then I realized that romance authors were not necessarily held in high esteem. An older cousin who was a school principal told me that she was concerned about my good mind now that I was wasting it writing romance books. After the book was published, my husband and I visited another cousin and his wife and attended a program where my cousin was performing in a musical show. At intermission, he introduced his visitors to the crowd and told them that I wrote "those…little paperback books." He could not even bring himself to say the embarrassing word "romance."

Then there were all the people who asked if the book was about my own life. The heroine's husband left her for a young woman during his mid-life crisis. When my husband and I were having breakfast out, we saw one of his former classmates. My husband introduced me and the man asked if I wasn't the writer. (I'd had some local promotion on the newspaper and on TV) When I said yes, he looked at my husband, then me, and said "Didn't he leave you for another woman?" And we both said together, "No, no, that's in the book. It's fiction."

Mainstream writers aren't usually asked if they have done everything in their plots, but it seems romance writers are suspected of having experienced every passionate scene they write. Don't they know romance writers can do research as well as resort to hands-on (pun intended here) encounters? When people used to raise their eyebrows or smirk at the mention of romance books, I defended them by saying they were more chaste than mainstream as the plots involved love between one man and one woman. But of course, the genre has changed and I couldn't say that now

Today I am writing ebooks which, depending on the publishers' guidelines, may also be available in print. This has presented another stigma with which to deal. There seems to be a general consensus that ebooks are somehow inferior to trade paperbacks. And that authors only resort to that type of publication if they can't get "real books" published. So to be a romance writer of ebooks is reason to be doubly apologetic.

But I have finally reached the conclusion that those of us in this category have no reason to apologize to anyone. If people weren't reading romance, this genre wouldn't have the impressive sales record it has today. And if electronic books were not in the forefront of the publishing industry, the NY publishers would not be getting onboard. So I take pride in being a romance writer and being among the current trendsetters. I hope my friends and family can appreicate my accomplishments as an author, but if they can't it is their loss, not mine. For my creative passion has found an outlet that gives me great pleasure and the friendships I have made in this business are an added benefit. And you know, I'll bet if Shakespeare were alive today, he would be leading the way in this challenging new direction.
Linda can be reached at her website at www.lindaswift.net

Friday, February 26, 2010

Archetypes


This year I signed up for a novel-writing course with Forward Motion for Writers, a link through the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Each week we are given an assignment to complete and post on a closed blog where the assignment is read and critiqued by our classmates. At the end of two years we will have completed a novel.

This course is going to be both exciting and boring. I have no doubt I will learn a lot, but the thought of dragging the process out for two years will definitely be an exercise in patience. I expect there will be lags of time where we are doing very little, and other times when we are in a frenzy of writing to get assignments completed.

This week our assignment was on character archetypes. Archetypes are typical or classic examples of characters, a model or pattern for all characters of the same kind. They are recognizable in the sense that they represent an aspect of human nature that we can all identify with.

The following archetypes were part of our assignment:

Mentor
Mentors are the characters who give the protagonist some kind of education or insight that is needed to be successful by the end of the novel. The mentor generally has had an important role in forming the philosophy of the main character. The mentor archetype that comes to mind for me is Dumbledore for a young Harry Potter.

Threshold Guardian
These are the bad guys who hold the hero back, be it physically or in the form of information, from getting what he needs. These characters can be actual guards or gatekeepers the hero has to get past by either fighting or negotiating. Overcoming the threshold guardian is usually a point of change, and after they have successfully triumphed over the threshold guardian the hero is typically stronger than before. Draco Malfoy was likely a threshold guardian who gave Harry the opportunity to fortify his will and evolve.

The Herald
This person announces the hero’s quest; the required accomplishment the main character needs to achieve in order to be successful. The herald provides the protagonist with a challenge of some sort, which moves the character toward the work they need to accomplish. A notable herald would have been Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars.

Shapeshifter
This does not have to a literal shapeshifting beast, but rather a character that changes roles in the book, such as the backstabbing friend who ends up saving the main character’s life. The shapeshifter may demonstrate both sides of the tale by showing the lure of good or evil. They represent betrayal and change. The Senator Palpatine in Star Wars is a great example of this archetype because he appeared good but was really evil.

Shadow
The shadow is the dark archetype, the evil villain who has real motives for their evil beliefs and behaviours. Sometimes there is a shadow character who is the villain’s devoted helper who may be acting out of power alone, making them personify evil even more than the villain they are devoted to. Voldemort and Darth Sidious were shadow characters, where Darth Vader was the devoted helper.

Trickster
This archetype is the amusing sidekick, like the sassy little sister or the traditional mythological trickster figure. The trickster creates ambiguity in absolutes because they are less about right and wrong. Sometimes they lead the main character astray, but not to be intentionally harmful. They may lighten the story with comic relief. The Weasley brothers fit the trickster archetype nicely.

When we assign an archetype to a character it helps clarify that person’s role in the story as well as provide an overall theme of the story itself.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Guest Blogger Linda Swift


Linda Swift is our guest blogger this Saturday, February 27. Here's Linda's bio:

Linda Swift divides her time between her native state of Kentucky and Florida. She has been writing since she was ten and is an award winning author of published poetry, articles, short stories, and a TV play. Her first two books were published by Kensington.

Linda's Awe-Struck Publishing books include Single Status, available as an e-book and in print and The Twelve Days of Christmas, an ebook. Her first published historical will be available in 2010. Her contemporary books also include Circle of Love, available as an e-book and in print and Let Nothing You Dismay, an ebook, from The Wild Rose Press. You can reach Linda at www.lindaswift.net

Snowflake Please

I am not inviting more snow - honest! Heaven knows Saskatchewan has plu-plenty snowflakes. But there is one snowflake I would like to examine, and that is Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method of Writing. You may have heard about it but not examined it as it might apply to your work.
Pantsers, please hang in.
First of all, Randy Ingermanson is a physicist, award winning author and writing conference speaker. He freely admits the method is to make money. However, he displays the whole method on his webpage - for free! www.advancedfictionwriting.com.
The download costs money. The difference is, there are voice lectures you can choose to hear, lecture notes, help notes and templates for each step in the downloaded version. There is also mildlya special offer which gives you the download and his new help book Fiction Writing For Dummies. I haven't read the book yet. I am allergic to anything '....For Dummies'.
Your book is not written for you or for free - you do all the work. (Step ten is "write your novel") The method clarifies what you are doing - characterization, plot etc. By following all the steps, which are darn hard work - which part of writing isn't - you will find there are unexpected benefits. When you finish the first eight or nine steps (Step Nine is optional) you will have described your novel in one sentence, written your pitch, your synopsis and, after Step Ten, you will have written your first drat er draft. I can accept that!
Ingermanson emphasizes design before you write your novel. He says that character driven fiction doesn't flow from the brain to the gilded pen, but needs a design.
The 'Snowflake' itself comes in handy as an example of design as applicable to writing fiction. Actually, it is a heavy duty math/science sort of beast but it works well as an example to explain the method. It starts with a triangle, which I interpret as idea. By bending each straight line so that it has a triangle emerging from it, over and over and over, you will eventually have an outline of a snowflake. Fortunately, you don't have to do that! You don't even need to have done well at highschool physics to use this method of fiction writing. Thank heaven. The snowflake is an example of how the method works at building up your first draft.
I haven't tried it yet, but I intend to soon, probably with the ring story.
Randy Ingermanson is an unusually helpful man who shares what he has learned from experiences in his novel writing. He and I have emailed back and forth and he answered all my questions, even though one was not about the snowflake method.
While at his web page, you can sign up for a free ezine, which I have found worthwhile so far.
By reading comments from items on the Google menu page, (I entered Snowflake Method) I learned of another method you might like to check out, called the Liquid Story Binder at Blackobelisksoftware.com. I did get a phrase I like from the comments - 'analysis paralysis'.
That method has some interesting features such as hunting down words or phrases in your manuscript for you, and allows you to overlay pages to compare, take from, add revision markers and 25 other features I won't go into here. Its main point is that it lets you create your own writing environment. I suggest you have a look. It appears too complicated for my aging? lazy? self.
Would you try using a method? If you already do, what do you like and dislike about it? Which one do you use? Are there others you know about that we should look at?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Courage

Courage is a word we’ve heard a few times throughout the last week and a half at the Olympics. I’m sure everyone will agree that courage is a prerequisite for being an Olympian. It takes a great deal of courage to move away from your home to train, to postpone marriage and family, to take a poor paying job because it fits with your training schedule. It takes courage to overcome personal challenges, injuries and family tragedy and to endure incredible public pressure and scrutiny. Anyone who relentlessly pursues a dream that may seem unrealistic to others is definitely courageous. You need courage to push all those issues and thoughts aside and focus on the ultimate goal when it is time to perform and a single second’s distraction can determine whether you earn a medal or not.

As viewers, we may marvel and wonder at the single-mindedness and determination of these athletes. We admire them, we cheer for them, we hope and we cry for them as we do any individual who demonstrates courage.

As writers, courage may be the most common and most important trait we instil in our characters. This is true in any genre be it Suspense, Intrigue, Fantasy, Romance... With courage your hero may tackle gunmen, leap off buildings, take a bullet to protect someone, or drive like a maniac to make sure the villain doesn’t escape. With courage your heroine may battle supernatural forces, run into a burning building to save a loved one, or trust a man she knows nothing about. Undoubtedly both hero and heroine will require courage to overcome personal challenges or tragedy, to take a risk and to grow and develop into a stronger individual. Falling in love might be easy, but it takes courage to act on it.

If it is the conflict that drives the story, it is the struggle for courage to overcome that conflict that drives the characters.

But courage isn’t just for elite athletes and fictional characters or even rescuers and proclaimed 'heroes'. Every time we put our deepest most personal thoughts and ideas down on paper, we—writers—are courageous. For many of us, writing is an intensely personal experience. Some writers have pieces that they refuse to share, ever—these works are too important and personal to the author to be put out there for other people to read, evaluate, and judge. What we write, what we share, is a deep part of us. It takes courage to share oneself. 

It might be hard the first time you send your writing to your critique partner. It is harder still to send your precious manuscript to an editor because you know you will receive negative feedback. I think one of the hardest things might be standing up in front of a room of people and reading your own writing out loud. As if sharing your work wasn’t hard enough—you have to read it out loud to a group of people who will react immediately to what you’ve read.

The good thing about courage, I think, is that it is often rewarded. When you step out of your comfort zone, you allow yourself an opportunity to grow and to learn.

Writers...step out of your comfort zone. Push yourself to create better, stronger, more courageous characters. (Remember courage doesn’t necessarily mean leaping tall buildings in a single bound—in fact, that took very little courage since Superman could fly.) Set deadlines for your writing and tell people about them. Share your writing with a critique partner and listen to their feedback. Take a chance on a new story line. Write for a different genre. Ask yourself what would happen if your character took a risk and stepped out of their comfort zone.

A big cheer out to Annette Bower, Anita Mae Draper, Karyn Good, and Susan Easton who demonstrated enormous courage when they shared their writing last night at the Regina Public Library’s  Romancing the Word: An Evening with Saskatchewan Romance Writers. Super job ladies!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sex Scenes in YA?


Sex scenes are fun to write, don’t you think? Or are you like some people who avoid writing them until the last possible minute to just “get it over and done with”? For me, a writer of YA fiction, the question about sex scenes is: should I or shouldn’t I? The answer is elusive. Richelle Mead, YA author of the well-known Vampire Academy series said the inclusion of sex scenes in YA is at the discretion of the publisher; some are rigidly against it, while others say “Sex it up!” My problem is threefold, I have to decide whether to include sex at all, and if yes, how much, but I also have to consider what the moral/ethical ramifications of doing so might be.

Adolescence is a time of sexual discovery. Sexuality is one of the major developmental milestones of this stage. I’m not suggesting adolescence is a time to start sexual activity (although some do). Statistically, most teens have had sexual intercourse by the age of seventeen, and like it or not, we as adults have to face that.

I think most of us would agree that if there are sex scenes in YA, that there should be A LOT less detail than in adult fiction. Why? Well....I think you know why. So if we go ahead and include it, there has to be a reason. I like to look beyond physical descriptions and the obvious feelings of lust and desire, into secondary emotions that drive the characters. What about insecurity, fear, a need for love, or power? These are important themes in the lives of adolescents, and to avoid them would be dishonest. I work with adolescents every day and they can sniff out a fake faster than Hercules the police dog.

In this day and age of sexting, webcam sex, and sex chat, I think there’s a duty as adults to bring some of the mystery and specialness back to sex, to highlight the importance of waiting, the value of monogamy and the connection between sex and love. It also allows us to explore complicated themes such as unplanned teen pregnancy and sexual health. The young adults I work with appreciate my direct and honest approach to the topic, so why wouldn’t I do the same as an author?

So I have decided....well, I haven’t actually. My YA novel Indigo Blaze had two sex scenes that started out with a fair bit of detail, but then I got nervous and cut them. The other option I have is to do it “behind the scenes”, but for now I have gone back to add them back in, but this time with less physical detail and more emotion, more tension. Before I get a tongue lashing, keep in mind my protagonist is eighteen years old, and my target YA audience is sixteen and up.

What do you think? Do we have a duty in our writing to address the topic of sex with honesty and respect for the reality of teen life? Will teens enjoy....er, appreciate this honesty? Will parents prohibit their teens from reading it? Will it corrupt young innocent minds?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Hectic Times, Competition, and Cheering Crowds ...

No, I'm not talking about the Olympics. Janet covered that scene for us last week. Yes, I am in the midst of hectic and exciting times with my grandchildren while their parents do some travelling (some of it upcoming as the Olympics come to a close next weekend), but I gave you a peek into my life with the children two weeks ago. The cheering crowds could refer to my grandsons' hockey games I have been attending. But, no ... I am talking about the turbulent era of the Tudors, and the lives of people who observed and were part of the court of King Henry VIII of England. And because I have just finished reading The Other Boleyn Girl, by Phillippa Gregory, I have so many thoughts running through my head as a result.

I had the book on my TBR list for months, and finally, when the movie based on it was about to be released, I pulled it from its spot in the pile. (I usually try to read the book before I see the movie.) I brought it with me to read this month while I stay with my grandchildren. This is the story of Mary Boleyn, whose life was every bit as dramatic as that of her older sister, Anne, though not nearly as well-known. I also watched the television series, The Tudors, which was broadcast on CBC, and the period has come alive for me through these dramatic and fictional treatments of the events of that era of history.

Anita posed a question in her post last Thursday concerning what we are currently reading and how the books we read may change or influence us. Philippa Gregory's intensive research into the the historical periods she writes about guarantees her readers an experience they will never forget. I have read two of her earlier books, Earthly Joys and Virgin Earth, which were about John Tradescant the Elder, and his son, John Tradescant the Younger, respectively. The Tradescants were seventeenth-century horticulturists, and to this day are honoured for their work in establishing some of the great English gardens that are still in existence. Their lives were intertwined with the political intrigue and civil unrest of their times, and both men travelled the world on British trading voyages, sent by royal edict to search for and return with plants to grace the gardens of the nobility and royalty. Reading those novels a few years ago in preparaton for a trip to England to tour famous gardens with a group of gardening enthusiasts was very enlightening, in terms of both political and horticultural history.

As for the Boleyns ... well, what a power-hungry family they were! Through the story of the Boleyn girls, who were sent away to France at an early age to learn how to become members of the royal court, we see how women were used in the pursuit of power and influence. In their early teens, they became ladies-in-waiting to Katherine, then Queen of England. When they caught the eye of the king, each in turn was ordered by the Boleyn uncle and father to submit to his fancies. When his interest in Mary waned and he turned his attention to Anne, Mary was ordered to support her sister regardless of the feelings that she had developed for young King Henry. Both girls were expected to marry men, chosen by the family, who would bring titles, land, and riches to all members of the family, and, of course, a greater influence at court. (Translation: Power)

The 'other Boleyn girl' was the younger sister Mary (although in the novel, Anne once referred to herself in those terms because Mary had become King Henry's mistress before he married Anne). That particular term was probably coined by the author, but Gregory did use an extensive list of twenty-one books in her research of the era, in particular, the politics surrounding the clergy and the Pope's attitude to Henry's attempt to annul his marriage to Katherine, the attitudes toward women, sexual matters, birthing customs, witchcraft, and also the family history of the Boleyns. In her acknowledgments and notes from an interview, she attests to the accuracy of the personage of Mary, but freely admits that the fictional part of the story is her attribution of motivations and feelings of the characters. I found it a fascinating study of the relationships between the sisters, the Boleyn family, and the other courtiers, not to mention King Henry himself.

From the perspective of a writer, I was intrigued that Gregory chose to write the story in first person from the point of view of Mary Boleyn. When asked about this, she explained: "I found Mary, rather than 'picked' her. I was delighted to come across a character who was in the spotlight, but mostly in the wings of one of the most intriguing periods of British history, and her relationship to Anne was something that I knew would be stimulating and provocative." She also expanded on why she thinks Mary's the best narrator for the story: "I think history is always more interesting when told by the 'losers' or those on the margins. This is because most conventional history is that of the 'winners,' so you get a different slant. But because she is badly treated by her family and by the king, it is possible to show her development from naive and trusting and very young girl, to a woman who is ready to turn her back on the court. The way she tells the story is also part of the story itself."

So, in part, my answer to Anita's query is to say that every novel I read, from whatever genre, gives me insight into how writers construct stories, how they approach perspective and character, and I become aware of the enormous importance of research, especially for an historical novel. Philippa Gregory followed this novel with several more about the Tudors. As you can imagine, my TBR pile just got larger!

What are you reading today? How do you, a writer, relate to the novels that you read, whether they are in the genre you write or not?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

And the Winners Are...

Congratulations:

Jackie Smith

and

Martha E

- you're the winners of Gail Pallotta's draw from Saturday's post. You've each won a CD copy of Gail's debut novel Love Turns the Tide. Woo Hoo!

E-mail Gail at pallotta at mindspring dot com to claim your prizes. And thanks for joining us here on The Prairies.

Thanks also to Gail for the great post and best of luck with your novel, Love Turns the Tide.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Welcome Gail Pallotta

Why Write a Romance?

People have been asking me, “Why did you write a romance?” That question made me start thinking, Why do people write romance? A brief answer might be that it’s part of life. But, I think there’s more to it. When I was five yeas old, for the first time I saw a house burning. When my parents and I rode by it, my father slowed down. We all gazed out the window at the horrifying sight, and my mother made statements such as “I hope the firemen can save something.” But I got a sick feeling in my stomach and wondered if the fire had killed the children’s pet or burned their favorite toys.

I believe as writers we ponder such truths as loss, happiness, faith, human nature and the presence of good and evil. Viewing the world as our kaleidoscope, we zoom in on one picture and make it sharper, so others can see it more clearly. Why not choose love? Love, possibly more than any other emotion, can lower us to the deepest depths of despair or raise us to the loftiest heights of ecstasy. Not only that, when two people try to come to terms with different backgrounds, society’s demands and dissimilar hopes for tomorrow, their lives drift into a tornado of twists and turns.

Say someone has loved and lost or never found love. She trudges through life in a day to day grind, feeling like she’s drifting alone on a raft in a sea filled with sharks without even a glass of clean water. After days, months, maybe even years of feeling as though she’s all alone in a cruel world, she’s miserable. In a romance she can meet a handsome man, and her perspective changes. The two of them travel to their own little paradise filled with bluebirds, magnolias and blue hyacinths.

Of course, that’s just when they first meet and realize they’re not alone anymore. Maybe one night while walking through their enchanted land, they stop at an ice cream parlor and discover that she likes pineapple-orange. He only eats chocolate chip, and they have enough money for one cone. For a while the difference places them back on separate rafts in the shark-filled ocean. But wait! He asks if they can get one bowl of ice cream with two flavors. The waitress agrees, and once again the lovers are in their own little cosmos, where paradise lasts until they discover another impasse to conquer.

Cammie O’Shea, the main character in my first romance, Love Turns the Tide, is drifting alone, and she feels betrayed. Right after she suffers a traumatic split-up with her fiancĂ© she relocates to Destin, Florida, to take a new job. Heartbroken, she wants no relationships with anyone, because she never wants to experience the pain and deception her engagement caused. A Christian, she turns to her faith. When she picks up her Bible right after she moves, it falls open at a bookmark to Romans 8: 28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him….” In her heart she knows the words are true, but she can’t imagine how a move to Destin possibly can be good for her.

Her main source of angst is Vic Deleona, the influential real estate developer she has to write about to generate interest in the newspaper. However, after her friend has a break-in at her condo someone vandalizes Cammie’s unit, and Vic comes to their rescue. He even tries to solve the crime. Just as Cammie gets to know him better she has an offer to return home. She has decisions to make, and Vic complicates her life, but she is no longer miserable. And, that’s why I wrote a romance.

Why do you like to write or read romance? As a reader do you prefer it to other genres? And why?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Be sure to leave a comment, Gail will be choosing two winners today (each will receive a CD copy of Gail's debut novel Love Turns the Tide). And don't forget to visit Gail at http://www.gailpallotta.com/ for news, pictures, and a excerpt from her novel. Gail also blogs at http://www.gailpallotta.blogspot.com/.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Name Picked for Lisa Wingate's Grandprize Draw

On Feb 11th, the Prairie Chicks hosted Lisa Wingate's blog tour.

This morning I assigned a number to each person commenting on that post who left their email address and I entered the numbers in a random generator. I love this generator because it proved itself a true random generator by picking number 1 which is the one number no one usually picks when you ask them to pick between 2 numbers.

And who owned #1 on this day.... 

DebH

So DebH's name has been sent as an entry in the fabulous Grand prize Drawing of Donetta and Imagene's Texas Road Trip Basket (approximate total value over $150).

Congratulations DebH and good luck in the Grand prize draw!

Update...

The winner of Lisa Wingate's grand prize draw was Tammy Griffin.

I'm sad that our own DebH didn't win, but hoping it brings Tammy joy.

Olympic Sports VS Writing...Let the Games Begin!

(I feel like I'm writing a series here). If you’re like me, you’re glued to the TV watching the Olympics (hosted right here in Canada, beautiful British Columbia). There have been some great moments, the opening ceremonies one of the most spectacular, and I’m sure there will be many more before the flame is extinguished and the athletes go home. I plan on watching as many of them as I can.

As a writer, I can’t help but make comparisons between the world class competitors and my own quest for gold. So, Writing versus Olympic Winter Sports: Let the Games Begin!

Winter sports require cold weather and, well, winter. I really don’t like winter. Writing, on the other hand, is done in my temperature-regulated house with no possibility of frostbite.

A point for writing!

Practice, practice, practice. Just like figure skaters, writers are often up early in the morning or awake well after normal people go to bed perfecting their craft. They know, just like athletes, that practice makes perfect. The bonus – a writer doesn’t land on her ‘axel’ unless she misjudges where the chair is, as she is about to sit at her desk.

Another point for writing!

Some winter sports are team events. Women’s hockey constitutes a group of women all playing together for a common goal (pun intended). There is teamwork, camaraderie, shoulders to cry on when the team loses, and backs to pat when they emerge victorious. Writing is a very lonely sport. There are, however, critique partners and writing friends whom will lend you a shoulder at the first sign of rejection. They will offer their services for reading first drafts, second drafts, and twentieth drafts. But unless you’re writing with a co-author, the quest is a solitary one.

A point for winter sports!

Writing is a scary venture. You need to have or develop a very thick skin for possible rejections, bad reviews, or poor sales. BUT, at no time whatsoever do you fly down a steep, ice crusted track face first on a slip of plastic known as a sled experiencing forces up to 5g. Oh, did I mention the sled has no steering or braking mechanism?

Two points for writing!

Endurance! Wow, cross-country ski and biathlon athletes are amazingly fit individuals. They race 10K, 30K, even 50K while co-ordinating long skis and equally long poles. Most times on icy conditions and sometimes with guns on their back which they remove and shoot at targets in-between skiing (the ability to slow the heart rate down to shoot a gun, let alone hit a target astounds me). But writers can face years of lonely solitude writing a novel, then revising a novel and always pushing forward in the quest for the finish line (publication). This endurance may not require an athlete’s heart, but the heart must be strong and resilient.

A point to each!

Run, jump in and go – bobsled racing doesn’t really have a lot of rules or strategy (please, if you’re a bobsledder, don’t send me hate mail – there probably is tons of strategy to the sport, but from my perch on the couch…). Writing has rules. Publishing has rules. And if you’re going to be a writer, then you better have an imagination. There’s a lot more work than running to your computer, jumping into your chair, and typing.

A point for winter sports!

If you take up a winter sport, you will learn very quickly if you have what it takes to get to the top. The speed skating event is filled with top-notch athletes all vying for gold – athletes who are the cream of the crop. Writers keep writing. There is no filtering system to inform you early on whether or not you should quit your day job or start searching for a sponsor. It could take you your entire life (if you are persistent and relentless) to figure out whether or not you have what it takes. Boys and girls who take up speed skating will know within a few years whether or not they have what it takes to make it to the Olympics.

Another point for winter sports!

And there’s the buzzer. Looks like writing has squeaked out a win at 5 points to Olympic Winter Sports’ 4 points. That was a close one.

I figure even if winter sports had come out the winner, I am and will forever be a writer. As mentioned, I don’t like winter. And I am not a sporty person at all. And even though I gave a point to winter sports for having rules and no strategy (again, no hate mail), therefore making it less taxing on the brain, I wouldn’t trade my imagination in for the world. I love the characters that come and whisper in my ear, demanding their story be told. I love plotting out a mystery or creating a scene that will bring my hero and heroine together (or make them so mad, there doesn’t seem to be a chance for happily ever after). And I love making up stories to entertain myself and others.

So, People of Blogland, are you a writer or a sportsman? What’s your favorite Winter Olympic Sport? What’s your favorite part of the writing process? And I have to ask – is there any way in you-know-where you’d go down a frosty track, face first, on a piece of plastic? I think you already know my answer to that question!

Janet (Go, Canada, Go)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Prairie Chicks Welcome Gail Pallotta


Join us this Saturday, Feb. 20th, as we welcome Gail Pallotta to The Prairies. Gail is very excited to be blogging with us and she's offered not one, but TWO book giveaways. That's right, two of our lucky readers (those that leave a comment) will win a copy of Gail's debut novel.

Here's Gail's writing history, links to her website and blog, and another reminder about the fabulous giveaway happening this Saturday.

Love Turns the Tide is Gail’s first romance, but she’s been writing for as long as she can remember. Her first story appeared in a grammar school newspaper. Much later, she worked as an editor and copywriter. Then while helping her husband with his business she published several poems and one hundred articles. In 2004, the year she published her first book, Now Is the Time, the American Christian Writers Association named her a regional writer of the year. Learn more about her from her Web site http://www.gailpallotta.com/ and visit her blog at http://www.gailpallotta.blogspot.com/.

Everyone who posts a comment on the blog before Sunday night will be entered in a drawing. I’ll give away two C Ds of Love Turns the Tide to two winners.

See you Saturday!

Status of Emma's Outlaw

A couple weeks ago, the members of my inspirational group blog, Inkwell Inspirations (Inkies), were talking about the upcoming American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Genesis contest. The Inkies are comprised of talented writers who for the most part are multi-contest finalists and winners. Two of these writers volunteered to critique our Genesis entries. To set the stage further, these writers know what they’re talking about having judged numerous contests for Romance Writers of America (RWA) as well as the ACFW.

After months of working on Emma's Outlaw, I’m at the final stages of revision and ready to send the manuscript (ms) out for critiques. So, I confidently emailed the 2 Inkies and my critique partner my 15 page entry plus synopsis.

Within days, I was reeling. Positively floundering.

I wandered the house in a daze wondering what I was supposed to do now. I mean, I know I haven’t finaled with this entry yet, but everyone seemed to like it. And yes, the Inkies liked it, too. And they said they could tell I did a lot of research. But it really needs work.

Basically, here’s what they said:

- Conflict - Not enough conflict to carry the book to 90,000 words. I thought having Emma as the victim and Dan as the abductor was enough of an external conflict. It  isn’t. As Dan develops feelings for her, he could turn against the gang and let Emma go. Snap conflict over. Well, I knew that but had been naively hoping it would be overlooked. I guess not.

- Pacing – The inkies were divided over where I needed to work on this but they all agreed it needs work. I've explained the biggest problem below.

- Synopsis - in the one page single-spaced synopsis we’re allowed, I’ve explained the complete story, however I haven’t shown the required character or spiritual arcs.

After coddling me for a bit, Gina, Deb and Gwen joined me through emails and chats in several brainstorming sessions. I liked some of their ideas, threw some out, and created others. Here are the results:

- Conflict – I'm giving Dan a legitimate reason for being with the gang other than that he's trying to prove himself. Emma is still an innocent bystander but now she's in the way as her presence and actions create havoc for Dan and his mission. He's trying to lead the gang one way and Emma’s doing everything she can to stop them from going anywhere. Yet helping her escape will blow his cover.

- Pacing – It was suggested I cut down the abduction scene to just a few sentences. I positively bristled. It took me so long to write that action scene to ensure I got it perfect with all the sounds and smells Emma experiences. I decided it was one of those things where subjectivity comes in and I’d leave it alone. But when I went back and re-read the comments, I latched onto the main one… there really wasn’t enough time to experience all what I’d written in the few seconds it would have taken in real time. So, I’m agreeing it was too much however, I’ve decided to put my own spin on it. Instead of writing it in Emma’s Point of View (POV), I’m switching to Dan’s. The reader is going to guess what Emma is going through as they abduct her so I shouldn’t have to state the obvious. But, what is Dan thinking? Dan is a good guy and suddenly, he’s part of something he totally disagrees with. Everything in him is screaming, ‘No!’ and yet if he objects too strongly, he’ll blow his cover. Can I write his POV in a few sentences as they grab the girl and make a run for it? I’m working on it.

- Synopsis – A synopsis isn’t just for the storyline. It’s about the characters, too. (See Jana’s post on Monday) You need to show who the characters are, what they’re faced with, how they dealt with it and what they’ve learned. (Thank you, Gina.) That’s the character arc. And in an inspirational romance, which this is, I need to show a spiritual arc along the same lines. In the process of thinking about rewriting my synopsis, I realized one thing… although I’ve written both character and spiritual arcs for Dan in the story, Emma has neither. She’s a nice, good Christian girl at the start and a nice, good Christian girl at the end. And except for a couple heart-stopping moments, she levels out. But that’s not going to work, is it? Emma must go through trials, doubts and fears, especially spiritually just like the rest of us. I really need to expand Emma’s character.

Of course, I’ve only chosen a few things to bring to your attention, but they have a major bearing on the story. It means another big rewrite is in order. And what would happen if I ignored the suggestions and submitted it as is… then an editor or agent would suggest the changes and I’d have to do it anyway. I think I ‘d rather change it at this level and then submit my very best.

Sigh. Back to the Page 1.

Question for today: What are you reading now and is it affecting you in any way?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Letting Go

"When you come to the edge of all the light that you know, and you are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, Faith is knowing one of two things will happen: there will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught how to fly." Barbara J. Winter

So, the other day I was convinced I’d written myself into a corner. It was a very nice corner, nice things were happening in the corner. I just didn’t know how to make my way around the corner to what I knew had to happen next. Of course, the whole idea behind being a fiction writer is writing your way out of the corner. I didn’t mind the idea of navigating around the corner. Only what popped into my mind felt more like reconstructing the corner and the surrounding area. Stripping down the walls of the corner down to the studs and re-evaluating the placement of electrical outlets, etc. Major changes. Again.

I resisted. I pondered. I looked for an efficient and neat way out.

Why?

Because I don’t want to be writing this one book FOREVER.

No way was I breaking down walls, ripping out electrical wires, and starting even a small-scale remodel. At some point I have to be able to say enough is enough. It’s as good as it’s going to get at this point in time. So I’m mapping my way out of the corner, finding the best course and making my way down the short corridor to The End. I mapped out ten or so probable route ideas. Picked out the most interesting possibility and noted how it worked with The End and made it happen. That’s what you do when you’re a writer, right? Make it up as you go along. Change it to work for you. It is after all fiction. I still chose the path of least resistance.

Because if I don’t, I’ll be writing this one book FOREVER.

Never mind the last minute big changes that come to mind, there will always be some little thing I can change or improve or tweak or fiddle with or …well, you get the idea. Small things to be reworked, minute changes that will make no difference to the plot, the characters or their goals, motivations and conflict. I think it would be fair to call the act of constantly implementing this small revisions, stalling. Because the next step is almost as scary as writing the darn book in the first place. The business of writing query letters, attempting a synopsis, sending them off to an agent. What will an agent think? Will it ever be perfect? Should I keep at it until it is?

I can’t, or I’ll be writing this one book FOREVER.

So in the spirit of moving forward, I plan to send The End off to Lesley, my fellow SRW member who has been reading and helping me along, and see what she thinks. I will write a first draft of a synopsis (thanks Jana for the valuable information given in Monday’s post) and send it to Janet (thanks for the links) to see what she thinks. I have people who are cheering me on and helping me out so I'm inspired to sit down and figure out which agents/editors to query and perhaps post the letter on our SRW private blog for review.

For the sake of my wonderful and supportive husband who is beginning to wonder if I’ll be writing this one book FOREVER.

And who could fail to be inspired to push forward as we watch the Olympic Games and cheer on our athletes, many of who have trained for years in their respective sports. So I’ll gather up my writing nerve and put myself out there. I’ll work on the confidence to knowing when to let go. I’ll start working on my next project. I'll see what come next.

But until someone else tells me there is more work to done on Common Ground. I’m done. It’s hand off time.

Did you have a hard time letting your first manuscript go? Did you tweak forever? Are you like me, an avid Olympic Games watcher? Are you inspired by their determination, drive and courage? What’s your favorite sport?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mad, Bad, and Dangerous To Know

Joanne blogged last Tuesday on Lord Byron and the evolution of vampires in fiction and presented me with the perfect opportunity to follow up with a topic I've been meaning to write for a while -- the Byronic hero. If you've read Joanne's post (you have, right? Why on earth haven't you?), you've already got a good sense of the sort of characters we're dealing with, and you probably already know 'hero' isn't really a good word for it.

The Byronic hero refers to both Lord Byron's own character and those in many of his works. It is a character both idealized and deeply flawed, a precursor to the sort of characters we would call anti-heroes, although often lacking the requisite 'heroic' element. These are heroes in the older sense of the word, whose actions are immortalized because they are larger than life, rather than because they are morally good.

Some of the most well-known Byronic heroes include Wuthering Heights' Heathcliff, Jane Eyre's Rochester, and the titular Count of Monte Cristo, but these heroes have been around long before Byron's time. Milton's Satan of Paradise Lost seems a perfect fit for the Byronic hero mold alongside his usual tragic hero mantle.

So what makes a Byronic hero unique from antiheroes, tragic heroes, and all their lot? While there's no hard and fast formula, several trends quickly emerge.

* Contempt for the world
* Intense, conflicting emotion
* Loner or outcast status
* Troubled past
* High intellect
* Arrogance
* Cynicism
* Dark and wild appearance
* Self-destructive

There are many others, and of course many minor traits that spin off of these when you put them together (arrogance and contempt for the world breed a tendency to use people, for example), but these traits are always present in a true Byronic hero. They are desperately tortured and appealing, but they are not good people. They torment, they manipulate, they abuse...they keep madwomen locked in the attic, but ever with a sophisticated bearing.

As the Devil himself is ever the gentleman, Byronic heroes are cultured and refined, but with a wild, elemental fury restrained beneath the surface. In Wuthering Heights, Nelly Dean described Heathcliff upon his return after three years absence: "a half-civilized ferocity lurked yet in the depressed brows and eyes full of black fire ... but his manner was dignified."

It's no wonder, then, that Byronic heroes occur so often in Gothic fiction, blending wild Romantic settings with tormented lineages and hidden secrets. Likewise, with the constant conflict of greater-than-human emotional toil, tight restraint, and infernal ferocity, it's no surprise this hero type has become nigh supernatural. After Heathcliff digs up his beloved Cathy from the grave and dances with her corpse by moonlight, it's not so great a stretch to find similar characters rising from their own graves. Still, it's the traits that make the Byronic hero, not the possible fangs or hunger for blood.

With such grand beyond the norm expectations, it's no wonder film adaptations of Byronic heroes often have so much trouble casting appropriate actors to portray iconic roles such as Heathcliff. It's simply not possibly to condense all the facets of such a primal force into a walking, talking human. They become more than they are, more than even Lord Byron, with his considerable biography (complete with exile) could ever truly embody all at once. The stuff of crackling narrative.

Monday, February 15, 2010

So You Want to Write a Synopsis?

Fellow Prairie Chick Karyn mentioned she had never written a synopsis and was gearing up to create her first one. I thought this might be a good time to review the process of synopsis writing for veterans, or to talk about them for the first time with synopsis virgins.

Here are some synopsis basics:

1. The synopsis is formatted much like your manuscript. Use a font like Courier or Times New Roman that is easy to read. Double space all text with a least 1” to 1 ¼” margins. Justify the left margin only. Even though the temptation may be to cram as much of your story into the small space available, resist the urge to use single spacing and tiny margins. Your editor’s tired eyes will thank you.

2. On every page except the first, create a header in the top left hand corner consisting of your last name, a slash, your novel’s title in capital letters, another slash and the word Synopsis. For example: Richards/TILL SEPTEMBER/Synopsis. Number the pages beginning with the second page in the upper right-hand corner.

3. On the first page, against the top and left margins, type single-spaced your name, address/email and telephone number. Against the top and right margins, type single-spaced your novel’s genre, its word count and the word Synopsis. Double-space twice, center your novel’s title in capital letters, double-space twice and begin the text of your synopsis.

4. In the text, type a character’s name in capital letters the first time you use it. Also, to avoid confusion, always refer to a character the same way throughout the synopsis (not Dr. Martin in one place, the doctor in another, and Martin some place else).

5. The synopsis is always written in present tense.

6. The synopsis tells your novel’s entire story, even those chapters you may be enclosing in your proposal, and always the ending. The synopsis is a miniature version of your novel. To leave anything out defeats its purpose as a selling tool.

7. Follow the publisher’s/agent’s guidelines as to the length of the synopsis they would like to see. If no specific length is advised a general rule of thumb is one synopsis page for every 25 pages of manuscript, but even that can be too long. Remember that editors and agents read many, many synopses. If yours goes on and on they may not bother with it.

8. One method of boiling down your novel is to do a read-through, jotting down main points of each chapter. Then you further condense these points into the most essential elements of the story.

9. To condense your manuscript into these few pages, you must write as clean and tight as you can. Cut extra adverbs and adjectives. Focus on the story’s essential details and plot points. Actual dialogue is rarely used in a synopsis.

10. It is usually best to write a unified account of the whole story rather than breaking it up into chapters.

11. Since you have to grab your editor’s attention in the same way with the synopsis as you do with the manuscript, begin with your hook. Show the problem the hero and heroine are facing, and how they are going to solve it.

12. Don’t forget to show in your synopsis the emotion and motivation that happen in your story. They are just as important as any physical action a character might perform. In a romance it’s also important to show the characters falling in love. Without these things, synopses are dry and uninteresting. Editors and agents are looking to see if you can deliver this emotion and human drama to readers.

13. Give a sense of the tone of your novel. If it is a romantic comedy, show some humor; a gothic novel would have a sense of foreboding, and a romantic suspense would be filled with mystery and danger.

14. Stay invisible in your synopsis. Don’t use devices that emphasize the mechanics of storytelling, such as using headings like “Background”, “Setting”, “Time”. These elements should be woven smoothly into the narrative. Also, don’t use character sketches at the beginning or end of the synopsis. Again, background and important facts about the characters should be smoothly woven in.

15. Never review your own story, as in “In a heart-wrenching confession…”, or “This is an exciting, fast-paced story of love.” Let your story’s attributes speak for themselves.

16. Once your synopsis is finished, polish, polish, polish. Editors and agents will judge your writing by the quality of your synopsis. If it has grammatical and spelling errors, or sloppy presentation, they will assume that the rest of the writing is the same and will not ask to see more.

So that’s my two cents on synopsis writing. If you don’t believe me, here are other sources on the subject:

http://www.writing-world.com/publish/synopsis.shtml
good basic info

http://www.writing-world.com/publish/leblanc.shtml
deals with writing various synopsis lengths

http://www.charlottedillon.com/SynopsisSamples.html
synopsis samples

One thing to always remember: check the guidelines of the agent or editor you are submitting to see what length of synopsis they prefer and how they like to receive it (snail mail or email). Be prepared to write more than one synopsis in various lengths. The synopsis is part of your selling tool kit so treat it as carefully as you do your manuscript.

Have you written a synopsis? Does condensing 350 manuscript pages down to 10 pages of synopsis make you want to rip your hair out? What is your most burning synopsis question? Do you have any tips to make writing a synopsis easier?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Welcome MaryLu Tyndall

Romance, it’s not for sissies!
By M.L. Tyndall

I’m a romance novelist, so you could say I spend a great deal of time thinking about romance! Fortunately for me, it’s a subject that fascinates me. I love to analyze relationships between men and women and figure out why some work and others don’t. I love to study the various roles each play in the relationship and the way our present culture has twisted them and changed them from what they were intended to be.

Do you know what I’ve discovered? Romance works best and is most enduring and exciting when men and women assume their God-given roles. Now, I’m not talking about keeping women home barefoot and pregnant while the men go out and work. I’m all for women having careers and getting equal pay for equal work. I’m all for women making themselves known in business, politics, and the arts. And I firmly believe God created men and women equal in all their rights. But let’s face it, He didn’t create us equal in our desires, temperaments, and needs.

Women want to be loved and cherished and taken care of. Men want to be admired, respected and depended upon. God made us fit together so perfectly! Why are we trying to change something that works so well? Why does the world want to make us equal in all respects? We aren’t. And personally, when we step outside of our roles, I believe it takes all the fun, all the romance, out of a relationship.

Who wants some wimpy, whiny man who’s so much in touch with his feelings that he seems more like a girlfriend than a husband? Who wants a man who falls apart during catastrophes, or one who cowers in the face of danger, or doesn’t work to support his family? I don’t know about you, but I want a man who’ll be stronger than me both emotionally and physically when hard times hit. Basically, I want a hero. And from the popularity of romance novels in our culture, I’d say most women agree.

Truthfully, there’s nothing more of a turnoff for me than a man who acts like a woman. And you can bet the same is true for men in regard to women acting like men. Men may respect a strong forceful woman, but you can bet if given a choice, they’d find the softer, more feminine, weaker woman far more attractive.

I suppose that’s why I love writing historicals. Times were simpler in days past. Men were men and women were women. Yes life was much harder and there were always bad guys, but what woman wouldn’t swoon with delight when her hero rides in on his black stallion, sword at his side, to rescue her from some imminent danger? Call me a hopeless romantic if you want. I guess that’s what I am.

If you spend some time examining some of the more popular romance novels today, you’ll see the men are strong, heroic, decisive. They rescue and care for their women. They cherish them and make them feel safe and loved. Take the popular series, Twilight, for instance. The hero is strong, sure of himself, powerful. Hey, he’s even immortal! He takes care of his lady. And although vampires are not my type, I can see why girls all over America are so infatuated with these stories.

In novels where the women are strong and heroic, the heroes are even more so. I’m not saying that women can’t be strong. Of course we can. Men don’t respect weakness anymore than we do. But be strong within the confines of your womanhood. When you’re with your husband or boyfriend, don’t take charge. Let him be the leader.

That’s just how it works. That’s how God created it to be. And it’s these differences between men and women that make the relationship so magical. It’s what makes romance so utterly divine.

Do you want to add some spark to your marriage, to your relationship on this special Valentine’s Day? Put on something feminine and lacy and let your man be a man. Let him protect you, kill the bugs, lift the heavy things, open the doors! Let him be the hero. And thank him for it. Depend on him, lean on him. I believe you’ll be surprised at his reaction. Never ever underestimate the power of femininity.


Charles Towne Belles series:

Book 1 - The Red Siren

Book 2 - The Blue Enchantress

Book 3 -  The Raven Saint




~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

M.L. Tyndall, a Christy Award Finalist, and best-selling author of the Legacy of the King’s Pirates series is known for her adventurous historical romances filled with deep spiritual themes. She holds a degree in Math and worked as a software engineer for fifteen years before testing the waters as a writer. MaryLu currently writes full time and makes her home on the California coast with her husband, six kids, and four cats. Her passion is to write page-turning, romantic adventures that not only entertain but expose Christians to their full potential in Christ. For more information on MaryLu and her upcoming releases, please visit her website at
http://www.mltyndall.com/   or her blog at
http://crossandcutlass.blogspot.com/

Friday, February 12, 2010

Villain or Antagonist? The Semantics

This post originally featured on Eventide Unmasked in August of last year.


The terms villain and antagonist get bandied around quite a lot, and everyone means something a little different when they use them, but I realized recently that I hadn't defined what I mean when I use these two terms. Synonyms they may be, but synonyms only ever mean similar things, they never mean exactly the same thing.

Antagonists are not the same as villains.

The words can be interchanged (villain, antagonist, bad guy), and technically mean the same thing, but it's rather like talking about sex (making love, having sex, screwing). The terms all reference the same thing, 'a character who acts as an opposing force to the hero/protagonist/good guy', but each term carries subtle nuances conjuring up a different type of character. You may not consider them different words, but I'd be willing to bet you don't use the terms for precisely the same characters.

So, realizing my oversight, I sat down to try and nail down the difference between villains and antagonists in conversation with an old friend, Angela Sasser. Fairly quickly, we realized it wouldn't be so easy.

We could say, for example, that Harry Potter's Lord Voldemort is a villain, while Professor Snape is an antagonist, but that doesn't mean an antagonist is always an 'inferior' threat to the main villain. Nor does an antagonist have to wind up on the side of protagonist in the end. So what makes the difference? It certainly isn't depth of character or believability vs. caricature. Some of the finest villains I know are rich in depth and realism, yet they're through and through villains. Voldemort and Snape both boast dimension of character. Another old favourite, Billy (played by Thomas Jane) from Original Sin (2001), has great character complexity as well, but he's a villain for sure.

So what about conviction? I've read suggestions before, and wrestled with the prospect as well, that villains are the people who know they're doing bad, while antagonists hold a strong conviction in the rightness of their own (potentially horrible) actions. Now, I like this, I really like this. I think it captures part of the essence of the sort of villains and antagonists I write, but it still felt like something was missing. This view becomes a question of intent, an issue that came up a lot when I studied the philosophy of sexuality at university, so I will already say intent alone is no justification.

As one article said, everyone doing something does not make it morally right. Likewise, good moral conviction does not make a bad action good, regardless what the character thinks. As Angela pointed out while we hashed the issue through, society's view comes into play as well.

There are some acts we would expect almost anyone to know are morally, primally wrong (look at the reams of cultural taboos on cannibalism), and some acts simply cross over the reader's own moral threshold. No matter how convinced an individual character is of the rightness of an atrocity, the audience simply cannot abide by them, and those acts throw that antagonist far far into the realm of villainy, never to return. Conviction doesn't make something less villainous for the reader to experience.

So the antagonist's career lies somewhere in the grey area, where things may or may not be acceptable, and an explanation can make the difference in the audience's perception. Perhaps we're getting somewhere. Villains hold the stereotype of black and white, good vs. evil, high fantasy novels like Lord of the Rings where there's no question of whose side is right. Antagonists, then, get the grey areas, the murky depths, the low fantasy premises. Each type is equally worthy, but certainly different. Still, saying antagonists are grey is like saying food tastes good. What food? How does it taste? Why do you like it?

So what defines grey? Moral ambiguity, in this case. What makes someone morally ambiguous? I could say their realism (actual people are complex and ambiguous), or their conviction in something I think is wrong... but then we'd be going around in circles. Angela posited a scenario.

The main character, a daughter, struggles to overcome a father's abuse. If she wins and he just gets carted off to prison still believing it was his right, he's a villain. Now, what if he apologizes? If he comes to her at the end and repents for his treatment of her, does he change from a villain to an antagonist? Was he an antagonist all along?

Two conclusions emerged from this scenario. First, oppositional characters need not stay fixed in one state. Darth Vader does not remain a villain through the whole of the original Star Wars trilogy. In time, his role as villain is taken over by the Emperor, as he becomes an antagonist instead. The climax of Return of the Jedi heralds his final change. So, a villain is not always a villain, an antagonist is not always an antagonist, and honestly, a hero is not always a hero either, right? More importantly though, we begin to see the common thread here. Change.

A villain stands and falls by her convictions. Villains die, get locked away, tumble off buildings or into family-friendly Disney darkness still spitting their animosity. Billy's screen time in Original Sin ends with the belief he's about to win, he's finally going to get the reward for all his hard work and sacrifice, and then--*bang*

Antagonists change. When a character repents, switches sides, or a secret noble agenda is revealed, we confidently label them antagonists, because they weren't the villain.

Even if they don't join the protagonist's side, however, they are still antagonists. They are the grey characters because their views can change. Their potential for revising morals makes them morality ambiguous. While they may not side with good by the end of the story, they may have simply broken sides with evil, and chosen to look out for Number One. If Catwoman sides with Batman, it's only because it's in her own interests. In the next installment, she'll likely be the problem again.

Antagonists can change, like anyone else, which can make them sometimes seem lesser. They might one day become good guys, so they don't seem like true enemies.

Villains don't change, so they're not like anyone else, which makes them seem like caricatures. They can wind up straight and simple evil, without the depth and realism they deserve.

So, while I may glide between 'villain' and 'antagonist' to describe oppositional characters, often for the sake of typing fewer keystrokes, I hold the two terms in separate, distinct categories. Villain and antagonist are not synonymous, but neither are they permanent states. The lines are not clear cut, but the nuances remain.

Agree or disagree? I'd love to hear your thoughts. What favourite villains and antagonists do you have, and what makes them one and not the other?


If analyzing the minutiae of writing and storytelling catches your fancy, stop by Eventide Unmasked for more discussions on craft, character, world-building, and folklore.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

ML Tyndall to Visit on Saturday

This Saturday, MaryLu Tyndall comes to visit at Prairie Chicks. MaryLu is one of the new edgy Christian authors who are pushing the limits.  Back in 2006 when I first saw the cover for MaryLu's pirate book The Redemption,  I thought there was no way I would be entertained by an inspirational swashbuckler book. I mean a pirate hero isn’t your average Christian literature. Wow! Was I wrong. When I'm reading her books, I keep flipping to the spine to check the publisher's insignia. Even if you've never wanted to read an inspirational book, if you like excitement, passion and history, you'll be fully entertained with MaryLu's books.

MaryLu's new release is The Raven Saint. It's the third book in her current CharlesTowne Belles series. I'm reading this one now and it's every bit as entertaining as  her other books.

M.L. Tyndall, a Christy Award Finalist, and best-selling author of the Legacy of the King’s Pirates series is known for her adventurous historical romances filled with deep spiritual themes. She holds a degree in Math and worked as a software engineer for fifteen years before testing the waters as a writer. MaryLu currently writes full time and makes her home on the California coast with her husband, six kids, and four cats. Her passion is to write page-turning, romantic adventures that not only entertain but expose Christians to their full potential in Christ.

 For more information on MaryLu and her upcoming releases, please visit her website at

http://www.mltyndall.com/
or her blog at  http://crossandcutlass.blogspot.com/

Welcome Lisa Wingate

I'm giving up my spot today so you can participate in Lisa Wingate's Blog Tour and Grandprize giveaway.

Lisa is promoting her current release, Never Say Never:

Kai Miller floats through life like driftwood tossed by waves. She's never put down roots in any one place--and she doesn't plan to. But when a chaotic hurricane evacuation lands her in Daily, Texas, she begins to think twice about her wayfaring existence. And when she meets hometown-boy Kemp Eldridge, she can almost picture settling down in Daily--until she discovers he may be promised to someone else. Daily has always been a place of refuge for those the wind blows in, but for Kai, it looks like it will be just another place to leave behind. Then again, Daily always has a few surprises in store--especially when Aunt Donetta has cooked up a scheme. More


Lisa, how did you develop the initial story idea/plot line for this book?

Some book ideas you search for, and some just blow in on the wind. For the past several years, dating back to Hurricane Katrina, we in Central Texas have been the recipients of massive hurricane evacuations. These massive exoduses of people, pets, and belongings are frightening, frustrating, challenging, and at times oddly wonderful. When so many are on the road seeking shelter, the worst, but also the best qualities of humanity come to the surface. Hurricane evacuations truly provide times when we ask the question, "Am I my brother’s keeper?" In answering that question, we’ve enjoyed amazing moments of friendship and fellowship, family reunions, and chances to share a food and space with strangers from other parts of the country. We’ve traded stories and recipies, laughter and tears.

One thing we’ve learned about hurricanes, living here, is that the paths are never predictable. Storms waver, hesitate, speed up, slow down, and sometimes change course unexpectedly. Evacuations needs can change and develop quickly. What better way for the beauty shop girls to find their inner strength and to show Daily hospitality, than for their cruise plans to land them smack in the middle of a sudden and chaotic hurricane evacuation?

Almost every author puts a little of themselves into their stories—what did you put of yourself into this one? (personality traits, life events/jobs, settings, characters based on people you know, likes/dislikes, etc.)

There’s a bit of me in the setting, of course. I love Texas, in all its variety of cultures and landscapes, but, living in a small town, I have a particular affection for little bergs like Daily, where the coffee’s always hot, and a good slide of pecan pie can cure most ills. Having watched our little town mobilize to take in hurricane evacuees several times now, I’ve been reminded that sometimes the worst things that can happen bring out the best in people. Given the opportunity and faced with the need, regular people can rise to the occasion in amazing ways, as do the citizens of Daily in the book.

Some members of the Wingate family might also claim to recognize themselves among the citizens of Daily, Texas. I would offer the disclaimer that any resemblances are completely unintentional, but that would be a bald-faced lie. When you come from a family of great storytellers and colorful characters, there’s nothing to do but make use of what you’ve got.

Did you encounter any interesting challenges while writing/researching for this book? Please explain if so.

The most difficult part of working on Never Say Never was researching and reliving the devastation left behind on the Texas gulf coast last year after Hurricane Ike. While interviewing family members about their experiences during the evacuation and return, we shared laughter and quite a few tears. For those who have lived in southeast Texas all their lives, talking about familiar landmarks, heirlooms, and old family places that were washed away forever, knowing some things will never be the same, is both difficult and devastating. For those of us who have so many memories of family gatherings and vacations there, it’s hard to believe we’ll never visit the old places again.

Why is this book/story relevant today?

Despite our best-laid plans, we all experience storms in life—whether those storms be of a weather-related nature, or due to an illness, death, or in recent months, job loss and financial misfortune. When the parameters of life and our ability to control fate suddenly change, we’re confronted with our own helplessness and need to rely on other people and God. In a culture that values independence and self-sufficiency, it’s important to remember that we all have a common need and a common responsibility for each other and that without faith we really are alone in the storm.

Thank you, Lisa.

One person who comments on this post will have their name entered for a fabulous Grandprize Drawing of Donetta and Imagene's Texas Road Trip Basket (approximate total value over $150). Please remember your email address, preferably using (at) and (dot) so the net spammers can't find you. Only those leaving an email address will be entered.

For this blog tour contest, you have until midnight Feb 18th to leave a comment. I will randomly pick one person's name on Feb 19th from all those who've left email addresses, to submit for the Grandprize drawing. Complete list contents of Grandprize can be found here.

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Lisa Wingate is a popular inspirational speaker, magazine columnist, and national bestselling author of several books, including Tending Roses, Talk of the Town, Drenched in Light, A Thousand Voices, and A Month of Summer. Her work was recently honored by the Americans for More Civility for promoting greater kindness and civility in American life. Lisa and her family live in central Texas. You can find more info on Lisa and her books at http://www.lisawingate.com/

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Lisa Wingate To Visit Thurs

I'm giving up my Thurs posting day so Prairie Chicks can participate in the Lisa Wingate blog tour as she promotes the release of her newest book, Never Say Never. Excerpt

Lisa Wingate is a popular inspirational speaker, magazine columnist, and national bestselling author of several books, including Tending Roses, Talk of the Town, Drenched in Light, A Thousand Voices, and A Month of Summer. Her work was recently honored by the Americans for More Civility for promoting greater kindness and civility in American life. Lisa and her family live in central Texas.
 
 By participating in this blog tour, one person who comments on Lisa's interview will have their name entered for this fabulous Grandprize Drawing of Donetta and Imagene's Texas Road Trip Basket (approximate total value over $150). Take a Texas road trip, without ever leaving home! It contains:
 
- Daily Texas Series by Lisa Wingate:
  • Talk Of the Town
  • Word Gets Around
  • Never Say Never
 - The Blue Sky Hills Series by Lisa Wingate: 

  • A Month of Summer
  • The Summer
  • Kitchen 
- Beyond Summer (a special advance copy not available in stores until July 2010)
 
- Road Trip Snacks (Straight from Texas, of course!)
 
- Wrap it all up with a fuzzy, fleecy Texas throw blanket for those cold nights on the road (or curled up with your books!)

 
So come back here tomorrow and leave a comment with your email address, preferably using (at) and (dot) so the net spammers can't find you. Only those leaving an email address will be entered.
 
For this blog tour contest only, you have until midnight Feb 18th to leave a comment. I will randomly pick one person's name on Feb 19th to submit for the Grandprize drawing.
 
You can find more info on Lisa and her books at http://www.lisawingate.com/

The Secret to Completing a 1st Draft

My mind is full of characters. Some have names, some have faces; some have both, some have neither. Evil villains, fantastical creatures, ordinary woman, handsome men, troublesome children, meddlesome grandmothers, disillusioned side-kicks, slobbering pets...

My mental notebook is full of plots: Historical battles, mythical lands, scandalous adventures, surprising coincidences, mistakes, mayhem and even ordinary days...

My electronic files are filled with character charts, plot lines, mind-maps, research, writing resources...and, unfortunately, a whole lot of unread, abandoned and incomplete stories.

What is the secret to completing a first draft?  

There are a lot of us who’d like to know the answer to that question. To those of us who’ve never done it, it seems like a big mystery. How do you start? How do you finish? How do you make your characters real? How do you drive the plot? How do you fix the middle—how do you get a middle?


So, like I’ve done with any other question I have had in the past ten years...I Googled it.

Not surprisingly, “write a draft novel” turned up a number of results. (I wonder if there is a statistic on the number of people trying to write a novel?) The first result was a link that led to a page of ads—not helpful. The second link was about writing using the Snowflake Method (I have one very advanced plot thanks to this link—the novel is still unfinished though). The third link talked about manila envelopes??? The fourth had a few helpful tips like “write every day” but nothing in the way of a concrete strategy.

Needless to say, there wasn’t a lot of helpful information out there. So, how do you do it? How do you get all your ideas down on paper? How do you make the characters and events in your head come alive? How do you make them real for other people?

I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t. (Sorry if you thought I had some magical formula.)

But I do know what won’t work...

My Top 10 Ways to Ensure You Will Never Finish a First Draft
10. Make writing it your 2011 New Year’s resolution.
9. Sit in front of a blank screen and wonder what to write about.
8. Worry about what other people will think.
7. Forget to write.
6. Research without a specific goal.
5. Delete everything you don’t like.
4. Find the perfect words.
3. Wait until you have time.
2. Tell yourself you can’t.

And the number one way to ensure your will never complete your first draft....

1. Don’t try.

Maybe some of the draft-writing pros out there can help the rest of us. How do you go about writing your first draft? What does your first draft look like? How do you keep yourself on track? What motivates you to keep writing? What is your secret?