Tag Archives: emotion

Nov 30

Author Mary Deal Writes About “A False Sense Of Value” On The Child Finder Trilogy

When we writers select a topic on which to expound, chances are, we choose that topic because of its emotional impact on ourselves. We feel something strongly and want to let the world know our opinion. If we felt nothing, what’s to write?

Once the essay or story is finished and we’re feeling good about having gotten our brainstorm on paper, the next step is to decide if what we’ve written is important enough to send out to get published. Or have we simply committed a lot of weak personal opinion and gibberish to paper? Read More

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Jun 22

ACTION WORDS! An Article by Mary Deal

Action Words
by
Mary Deal

When you write your first draft, perhaps you simply write whatever comes out just to get the ideas onto the page. You know you’ll go back time and time again to get it polished just right. Maybe you polish your sentences or paragraphs before going onto the next one. Then, after all your editing, you feel something is still lacking. Maybe it’s the way you phrase the action. Maybe it’s a simple matter like your choice of words.

To help you make your prose as descriptive as possible without sounding flowery, read your composition again and look for specific words that could be replaced with descriptive VERBS that zero in on the exact action taking place.

I’m no stranger to getting the first word out that comes to mind and then needing to go back and clean up my grammar. Here are some samples from the novel I’m presently writing. I first wrote this:

Afterward, she went on her way.

If you write a sentence like this, ask yourself, How did she go? Instead of went describe her movements or gait:

Afterward, she sauntered away.

Afterward, she slipped away

Read this phrase:

Danced across the floor

Danced is a descriptive word, but it’s also a little common and could refer to many, many ways of dancing. How about…

Did a two-step across the floor

Waltzed across the floor

And this:

She felt around the floor of the car, trying to find the cell phone

Felt is also quite common.

She groped around the seat and on the floor of the car…

She slid her hand between the seats

Although a lot of emotion can be stirred just reading certain words they, too, can be made more descriptive. Replace this:

The thought of dying came to mind.

…with something like this:

The thought of bleeding to death came to mind

The thought of succumbing to coma, never to wake again, came to mind.

The above has two words to watch. We could have used:

The thought of slipping into a coma… instead, succumbing is more dramatic than gently slipping into a coma. Slipping hints at the character gently fading. Succumbing tells us she would put up a gallant fight to stay alive until, perhaps, more powerful forces overtook her. It’s more dramatic.

Here’s another sentence with two words:

The fireman holding up her head managed to get his upper body through the open windshield space.

More exciting:

The fireman supporting her head managed to squeeze his upper body through the open windshield space.

All of the words replaced above, and many, many more, are common words. The actions need to be exactly defined, made more exciting with better, more descriptive verbs and adverbs if your grammar is to stand out.

Your prose must sing and dance off the page. Anytime you describe what a character does, always check to see if a more descriptive word might apply. Using words that better show the exact actions that your character performs helps your reader become the character. That’s exactly what great prose does.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Jun 08

Details! Details! “Unseen Background Details” by Mary Deal

Unseen Background Details
by
Mary Deal

As a writer, you may find that TV characters can be emotionally flat time and again. What sets them apart, even what gets the viewer to like them, is that we can see them. We see their facial expressions and how they react to other people and occurrences. We see their actions, which express motivations and emotion. We see the background scenery and how they act and react in such a setting.

What we see on TV or in a film is exactly what many writers fail to include in their stories. What we see in a picture doesn’t have to be explained because we see it. When writing our stories and books, we have to describe most of this for the reader.

A simplified example: If the reader doesn’t know the character is caught out in a rainstorm, how will the reader know anything except that the character is walking down a street?

We must describe the setting. If it was raining, don’t stop there.

Was it a thunderstorm or simply sprinkling?

Did the character get caught without a raincoat and umbrella?

Was the sky dark, or was the sun shining through the rain?

Was the wind blowing?

Who else was nearby and how did they react to the rain?

We writers have to include in our written works anything that might otherwise be seen when viewing the same scene on TV or in a film. Yet, we cannot over-do the details by stopping the story and describing the background.

Every detail necessary should be woven into the action. Which do you prefer?

The sky was dark. Lightning lit up the distance sky. Thunder rolled. The wind was fierce. It bent her umbrella backwards. She discarded it. Rain pelted down. She wore a raincoat but was still caught in the rain.

Or this:

When lightning flashed and thunder rolled again and the deluge came, she grabbed the collar of her raincoat, drew it up around her neck, and began running. Her umbrella bent backwards as the wind tore it from her hands. Her hair hung in loose wet ringlets as water streamed off the ends and ran down inside the coat. How did she ever let herself get caught alone on a dark street with wind strong enough to blow her over the side of the bridge? And why had that dark sedan slowed its speed to keep pace directly behind her?

The rule is never to stop the story to describe the background or scene, but to include the surroundings among the action performed by each character and as it affects that character.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Apr 06

Sex…with Finesse by Mary Deal (Contains Adult Content: That Ought to Bring in a Few Extra Visitors!)

Sex…with Finesse
by
Mary Deal

(Adult content)

One way to ruin a good story is with a lackluster sex scene or bedroom scene.

As I edit writers, one of the most important problems I find is that fledgling writers have great difficulty writing the obligatory sex scenes, love scenes, bedroom scenes, whatever. Men and women have different types of difficulty. Some women seem afraid to put their feelings and emotions on paper for the entire world to see. Men write withholding or censuring words, or they express the idea of sex without emotion.

What I tell both men and woman is to secretly write down – commit to paper in longhand – everything they know about sex – everything beautiful or every lewd act they know of. Writing with pen and paper keeps a person connected to their concentration. These can be quick notes or the whole scene in paragraphs. Write every dirty word that comes to mind. (Are there really any dirty words anymore?) In committing to paper, something they must do is to additionally write from the POV of the opposite gender. Too, the writer should describe the sex act from the first gleam in the eye all the way to orgasm. Since no one will ever see what is being written, they are to use any words or any language to describe the scene they wish to express.

Another exercise is to write a column of one-word descriptions. When finished, begin again at the top. Only this time, write a complimentary word from the POV of the opposite sex. This provides not only an idea of how well you understand the opposite gender’s POV but also provides a measure of how well you’ll be able to write a response from the opposite sex into the story.

Write everything you know about sex. Take the time to do the exercise just once. When I once ask a guy how much he knew of his real life partner’s ability to respond to him, his response was, “I just keep trying to —- her. She’ll come around.” Needless to say, he wrote some of the most worthless and incomplete sex scenes I have ever read.

One writer reached a point of having finally written a sex scene so well that she went on to write more. I know what her motivation was, considering when you write thorough love scenes, it has the potential to keep you rocking on the edge of your seat!

The simple rule is just once; write everything you personally know about sex. Every bad word and every phrase. When it’s all written down, for sure, you won’t want anyone seeing it or pre-reading some juicy love scene you’ve decided to include in your next story. Heaven forbid they might get to know you better!

This is only an exercise. To keep your thoughts private till you’re ready to do some serious writing, destroy your notes when the exercise is completed. But don’t just simply tear them up and flush them. Celebrate. Burn ’em! Tear them up into fine little pieces and burn them in a bowl much like a funeral pyre. Celebrate the end of frustration and inability to write about sex.

What one gains from the exercise is this: Once completed in privacy, with the repressed thoughts on paper, you will have brought yourself in touch with sex as you know it. You will have faced the fact that you’re either too shy about sex or too brazen, or anything in between. The simple act of committing your knowledge to paper in private seems to allow us to better write about the act when it must be included in stories. For once, you will have written all you know about sex. The initial reason for clumsily stumbling through the obligatory scenes is gone. Committing your views to paper that first time only once is, for the writer, like the first step on the moon. Once you take that first step, you overcome hesitation and apprehension.

You needn’t analyze your responses to these exercises and try to convince yourself that you understand yourself sexually. All this exercise accomplishes is to help you find easier ways of expressing sexuality through writing. It’s almost like saying, “Never mind who you are. Just get in touch with it.” The premise is that once you have written all you know about sex, you will not hesitate to write about it again.

You may not be happy with the very next love scene you write but now you will be able to examine and critique the scene in first draft. Having already written something you know conditions the mind, and the Muse. Now you’ll want to improve upon your scene and your Muse will happily comply. After all, you’ve already written out far more than you need.

Most critics say that in writing sex scenes that we are to suggest, or imply the action. Tantalize your reader with only suggestions of what people do in the sex scenes. Suggest. Writing out every last detail of the sex act becomes nothing more than pornography. That could ruin the image your story needs to convey. You will know exactly what you wish to include in your descriptions and what to leave out after having completed this simple exercise.

This is a good sex scene, leaving something to the imagination:

With all the teasing they had done through dinner – subliminal foreplay – he was already too excited when he slipped between the sheets beside her. He seemed hesitant. The moment she pressed her body against his, he pulled away suddenly and his breathing changed. He clutched a handful of sheet and drew it to himself as he struggled to maintain his composure. Then he said, “I-Im sorry. We’re going to have to wait a while.”

At first she was disappointed. Then she realized she had teased him mercilessly and kept him waiting right through coffee and desert and had herself, brought on his great embarrassment. She smiled, nibbled his ear then prodded his shoulder. “Roll over,” she said. “I’ll give you a feather massage.”

This, to me, is what I call porn writing:

With all the teasing they had done through dinner – subliminal foreplay – he was too excited as he slipped between the sheets. He pressed hard against her and his body felt coarse and clammy. He clutched at her buttocks and breathed heavily and immediately lost it on her thigh.

She felt dirty and frustrated. Her super stud was a dud. In disgust, she threw back the sheet and made a dash for a hot shower where one potential evening of good sex slid down the drain.

Did the coarseness of the second version destroy the sensuousness you felt from the first?

While I realize both versions will appeal to different audiences and that both versions have their places in appropriate plots, it’s still better to leave something to the imagination even if you have your character purging her disappointment in the shower.

Learn to write sex scenes with finesse. It’ll work in every plot.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Mar 09

Character Mannerisms as Told by Mary Deal

Character Mannerisms
by
Mary Deal

In fleshing out the narrative of a story, writers need to describe mannerisms of the characters. These gestures and habits help the reader know your story people and what makes them tick. The actions each character performs must be in accordance with the scene and their responses to it.

These seemingly innocent extras that the writer adds must be accurate. Readers, especially avid readers, know when something isn’t right as the plot moves along. A wrong point or description can stick in the readers mind and distract from their ability to suspend disbelief and to lose themselves in a story.

An example might be when you have your character making physical gestures. When they roll their eyes, make sure it fits what you having them doing. Neurolinguistics teaches that a person rolls their eyes to the left if telling a lie, also known as constructed (made up) information. So if your character is telling a lie, make sure you don’t say he rolled his eyes to the right, which is from where remembered (true) information is pulled in.

Instead of being so detailed, which necessitates accuracy, you might simply want to say something like:

“He rolled his eyes, looking disgusted, and then studied the papers again.”

That’s a simple sentence that not only provides a good description of what is happening with the character at that moment, but also allows the reader to feel the character’s emotion.

A different example is if you have a left-handed cop. You might assume all cops in your story are right-handed, but suppose you make your cop character different. To flesh out his actions, you might want to add something to the fact that in spite of being an awkward left-hander, he was an award winning sharp-shooter quicker than lightning with his left handed draw. His left hand draw was quicker than any of the right handed cops on the force.

To include something like this about the cop does not and perhaps should not all be added when the cop first enters the story. Defining actions and gestures such as these are parsed out throughout the story whenever a scene allows for them. Perhaps with the cop, he might be identified as a sharp-shooter early in the story. Deeper into the story when the scene dictates him drawing his service revolver quickly, the rest could be added. Breaking up the information like this adds cohesiveness to the telling of the tale. Readers will remember that he was a sharp-shooter and will feel the connectedness to this character.

As with psychological aspects such as rolling the eyes in one direction or another, or other physical gestures, these must be accurate or they should not be included if the writer is unsure about the legitimacy of the facts.

Keep your readers in mind at all times during the writing of a story. Know that readers have read enough stories to know when an author is weak in their research.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Feb 23

So How’s Your Subconscious Creativity? Listen to What Mary Deal Has to Say About It

Subconscious Creativity
by
Mary Deal

Years ago, I took a couple of weeks of oil painting lessons. The instructor, a world-renown artist, always said that I worked from the subconscious.

That was a compliment because she always said it in the same breath when saying I had talent. But after a while, she would pick up a brush, dip it into a color I wouldn’t think of using, and commence to leave her telltale marks on my painting.

I never understood how she could compliment me and then enhance my work with her touches and still call it my art. Soon, I left her and went on to produce paintings that sold in spite of the lack of professional input.

Yet, after all these years, her words about working from the subconscious stuck with me.

In recent times, as a writer instead of a painter, I hear writers being told to write from the subconscious. Sometime during the last two decades that I’ve written seriously, I’ve come to fully understand the meaning of that advice.

When I write, I type as fast as I can to keep up with my thoughts. I ignore any mistakes. Hand writing is much too slow for me. Those little squiggly red or green lines that pop up under words and incorrect punctuation drive me nuts, but I’ve learned to live with them because they help in the editing phase later. I just wanted to get my words and concepts committed, but it wasn’t always like that.

Several times, I also tried to create by slowing down and perfecting every paragraph, every sentence and every word before going on to the next.

Writing this way seemed very cumbersome. It stops my creative flow. If I must censure everything that comes out of my mind – correct it before I actually get the complete idea or premise written – it seems my creativity is put on hold while I detour to perfect only a portion of an idea. The whole scene needs to be gotten out of my mind so I can see it written and relate any changes to the whole.

When I know my story, even have a chapter or paragraph firmly fixed in my mind, my thoughts sometimes wander. When I look again at the screen and read what I produced, I find myself asking, “Did I write that?”

To write this way is to allow my mind to free-flow. This method allows creativity to create, without censure. This is what writing from the subconscious is all about. After all, it is the conscious mind, the left-brain that censures, edits, tears apart and reforms what it thinks we should write to suit some future reader or publisher. Creativity, from the right-brain, never cares about those aspects. It just wants to kick out the important details, the major threads, while they are hot and felt in all their strength and emotion. Once the story is written to first draft, creativity is free to do the one and only thing it should, and that is to conjure another scene, maybe another story. The conscious left-brain then perfects the written piece.

You may be one of those people who need to perfect one line before going on to the next. This may be where your strength lies, but it is all left-brain work, logical and, to me, requires little of the creative Muse.

If you wish to put your Muse to work, try it sometime. Just sit and write your story without looking at what you’ve written. If you must keep your gaze on the keyboard (I have to watch my hands a lot), then do so. You’ll find your story flowing faster than you can keep up with. Or should I say you’ll find yourself writing as fast as your mind can think. Editing after the fact is not bad at all when the whole idea smiles back at you from the monitor screen.

Writing from the subconscious definitely gives full rein to creativity to get the story out, and can cut down on unnecessary rewriting of any work you thought you had already laboriously perfected.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.
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Nov 26

Cynthia Vespia, a Veteran to Mike Angley’s Blog, Returns for a Second Visit

MA: It’s always fun to have authors make return visits to my blog, and today I am joined by one such previous guest, Cynthia Vespia. Cynthia first posted with me on January 8, 2010, and you can read her original post here: Cynthia Vespia, Demon Hunter Author, Guests with Mike Angley.

Cynthia’s first novel, a medieval fiction entitled The Crescent (iUniverse) was published in August 2005. The novel was unanimously praised as “an engaging, descriptive read” which prompted a sell-out at Borders Bookstore in less than one hour during the first official autograph signing.

In 2009 she released Demon Hunter: The Chosen One (AspenMountainPress.com) which quickly reached number 3 on the Fictionwise.com bestseller list. The success of Demon Hunter was followed up by the sequel, Demon Hunter 2: Seek & Destroy which takes the characters and the reader on a journey that begins on the high seas and ends in Hell. Both novels (published in e-book format) were nominated for Best Series in 2009 by LRC Cafe.

Cynthia’s latest release returns to the contemporary side of thrillers but still contains that special “twist” that her novels are fast becoming known for. Life, Death, and Back (WeavingDreamsPublishing) delves into the paranormal when a man’s life is tragically cut short and he remains on Earth in the spiritual form to tie up loose ends.

Welcome back, Cynthia, and congratulations on your new release. Tell us a little more about you and what drives you to write.

CV: I believe we are all born with an innate talent and desire, something that drives us above anything else. Whether we develop and pursue that talent is up to us in the end. I’ve been interested in writing since I was a little girl and I’m fortunate enough to have realized my dream of publication. Most people never ever see their dreams realized. Sometimes life becomes what happens to you while you’re busy making plans. That is why my new release Life, Death, and Back is so special to me.

MA: And you mean it just released, as in two days ago, I believe! What do you enjoy most about the writing experience?

CV: Story telling. I like the escape novels bring. Creating worlds, characters, it’s always juiced me. I used to read alot as a kid and I loved the way writers like Piers Anthony, Robert E Howard, and C.S. Lewis used to draw me in to their stories. It’s been a passion of mine for years.

MA: You have to tell us all about Life, Death and Back.

CV: In the wake of his death Bryan Caleb begins to realize how precious living is and how much he’d taken for granted. Now he has unfinished business. In exchange for more time on Earth, Bryan has been granted guardianship. Even as he struggles with his own mortality Bryan must find the compassion within himself to help guide Lisa Zane, an emotionally and spiritually drained young girl, through her troubled life to find her true purpose. For it is only with Lisa’s help that Bryan can rescue his very own son from the life of crime he has fallen into before Kriticos Caleb’s fate mirrors his father’s…in death.

Life, Death, and Back was written in the spirit of all classic thrillers and suspense novels, but it carries with it crossover appeal. The phenomena of ghosts and angels is a widely discussed topic spreading to many channels. There are many who have seen and experienced things not completely explainable. This novel is intended for them as well.

MA: How risky was it for you to develop your protagonists’ character?

CV: Usually when writing a contemporary thriller you can push the boundaries but it needs to stay based in reality otherwise you lose your audience. But I had alot of freedom in the development of Bryan Caleb because you tell me how someone who comes back from the dead is going to act! It did present a challenge though. I wanted Bryan to be ethereal but remain emotional at the same time. Without emotion you can’t drive the story and Bryan needed to draw from his heart and soul to take on some of the obstacles that I put in his path.

MA: I like obstacles. They make thrillers…well…thrilling! What makes Bryan “tick?”

CV: Bryan’s a guy who’s had a blessed life but it has been cut short so he’s pretty bitter about it. He’s caught between worlds unable to contact his loved ones and presented with a task of helping this troubled girl Lisa Zane get out of the trouble and danger she’s found herself in. So his current predicament represents both strengths and weaknesses at the same time.

MA: So who is the main character that torments Bryan? Who’s the bad guy?

CV: I have my antagonists such as Cyrus Houston the criminal mastermind holding Lisa against her will. And also Kriticos Caleb, Bryan’s own son, who poses a very real threat and detriment to Bryan’s causes. But I’d say the nemesis in Life, Death, and Back is really Bryan’s ability to cope with everything that is being presented to him. From being tragically killed and walking the second plane as a ghost to being resurrected and having to relearn life skills, it’s all alot for one man to deal with…how does he do it? Well you’ll have to pick up your copy to find out!

MA: How did you come up with the idea for the story?

CV: The idea to write Life, Death, and Back came from a need to delve into the mysteries of death and the afterlife. At an early age I had to overcome some tough losses to my immediate family. Dealing with such tragedy sticks with you, it becomes part of your soul, and is probably reflective in this story. The novel is a fast-paced thrill ride that asks and answers alot of questions. How will we be remembered? Who will we leave behind? What is our legacy? And most importantly how can we make a difference while we still live? Not often in life do we get second chances. We make our mistakes and must continue on, hopefully a little wiser having learned from the experience.

MA: Some lofty questions, indeed! What are your future writing plans? Any new ideas?
CV: I have many. At the moment I’m seeking a home for my suspense novel Lucky Sevens which captures the spirit of my hometown Las Vegas and focuses on the raw human emotions unique to the people who live, work, and play there. In correlation with that I’m going to be focusing on more contemporary thrillers and suspense novels…and as always they will be real life situations you could find yourself in but hope to God you never do.

MA: Will you continue to feature the same protagonist in future stories? Will any other characters migrate over to future books?

CV: That’s an interesting question and I’m filing it into my subconscious right this minute. I can’t really say what the future will hold except that I will continue to bring you more exciting reads so stay connected via my website. By the way, Life, Death, and Back is available through WeavingDreamsPublishing.com and your local retailer. Look for me on Facebook and Twitter.

MA: Thanks, Cynthia. Folks – visit Cynthia’s website for more information about her and her stories: http://www.cynthiavespia.com/

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Sep 29

“Taking Liberties” by Mary Deal

Taking Liberties

Encouragement for novella writers.

Take liberties with your writing process. I did. You can too. No matter what people said I couldn’t do, I knew what I wanted to accomplish and did it.
The seed for the novella, Caught in a Rip, which is the second story in my novel The Tropics, germinated ages ago when I first read Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. At that time, I asked myself why I couldn’t write a story like that. Yeah, sure, I wasn’t seriously writing then. Yeah, sure, I finally said. Me, write like Ernest Hemingway?
My flaw was in thinking that I had to emulate Hemingway’s style. That concept didn’t come to me till after I had written my first novel and found my own style.
All those years, I toyed with the idea of writing a sea story, one where the protagonist faces her devils alone. Yes, a female protagonist, after all. I knew it would have to be a serious story, because I didn’t excel at humor. I wasn’t sure what kind of story to write about a woman in a dire situation, but in the interim, I read Hemingway’s book again because that’s from where my first inspiration came.
After finishing my first novel manuscript, I decided to take some time off to better learn the art of manuscript submission. I could take a sabbatical from writing, study the “how to” submission manuals I’d accumulated and do my conjuring on the beaches of Kauai. Why live here if you never get into the ocean, right? I really had been immersed in my writing instead.
During one of my all-day outings to Ke`e Beach on the North Shore, I discovered those huge docile green sea turtles. I just happened to have my camera along. I spent more than two hours bobbing and diving around the deep side of the reef photographing when I realized I was exhausted. When I tried to haul myself back to the reef, I could barely fight the outbound tide. I nearly panicked.
Yet, at that very moment, the story of a woman in danger jelled in my mind. I would write about a woman photographing turtles and who gets caught in a rip current and swept out to sea.
At that very moment nothing could keep me from getting back to the beach and to my pen and notepad.
I thought I had a short story. I wrote for days. By the time I had polished the manuscript (or so I thought) I had a novella. At that time, I had no idea what to do with stories this length. Never mind that books like Hemingway’s and John Steinbeck’s The Pearl are only a couple hundred pages as completed publications. People said, “No one takes novellas anymore.” I just didn’t know what to do with a novella. So I posted it in an online workshop hoping to get a clue.
In the meantime, I was so jazzed at having written Caught in a Rip that I decided to lengthen another of my short stories languishing with no direction. At best, I might be able to publish a book of three to four novellas.
Then reviews began coming in from other novella writers in the workshop. So if the novella was a dying writing form, why were all these people writing them? I received reviews from mild comments to graciously picking my story apart. But everyone’s final comment was that Caught in a Rip was a great story, full of emotion, pain and epiphany and worthy of the 10-star ratings. Then I knew I needed to see it published. Why, it even had humor—in the last paragraph!
I formulated a plan. If incidences in both novellas written so far were similar, why not make my separate protagonists know one another? All that was left would be to decide which story came first. That led me to the fact that the two stories still did not make a “good” length for a whole book. I decided to rewrite both stories, leaving some clues dangling in each. Both my protagonists would then be brought together and all foreshadowing wrapped up in a third story—an ongoing time line with characters progressing through each story. A trilogy of sorts. That sounded right even though further comments told me no one publishes trilogies anymore.
By the time I finished the third story, I had a solid body of work with positive comments from everyone who read the manuscript.
In the end, I had taken liberties with progressive protagonists and time line. One of the most difficult aspects was wrapping up each story so that each could stand on its own and still leave some mystery to wrap up in the third and final story. Each of the three stories, if published separately, would be the size of Hemingway’s or Steinbeck’s books mentioned above. And so, three novellas comprise my novel entitled, The Tropics: Child of a Storm – Caught in a Rip – Hurricane Secret.
Liberties. Take them. Your Muse will respond and you will free your writing. Read More

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Sep 22

“Reader Empathy” An Article by Mary Deal

Reader Empathy

A rejection that I received for a short story caused me to take a look at the beginnings of all my stories, short or book length.

Your reader needs to make a connection with your main character. Your heroine or hero needs to have at least one strong quality with which a reader can empathize. When your readers make such a connection, they experience the story through that character’s senses.

Reader empathy must happen at the top of the story. When your reader cannot find anything about your story or characters to like, interest quickly wanes. Then they may not read deep into the story; if they get so far as to finish, the lack of connection will leave them asking “So what?”

I received a rejection from a magazine editor for my fantasy story about a woman’s experience with a UFO and aliens. While I thought it was one of my best fantasy stories, he said,

“I don’t know what to make of the protagonist’s experience. On one level, I don’t need to know whether they’re real or imaginary, but I didn’t learn enough about her to feel much empathy. Although I can’t use this story, please feel free to submit another.”

This editor didn’t say that I should tell more about my protagonist at the top of the story. Placing additional information at the top is my idea for the re-write. After all, how far into the story will a person read when they cannot find rapport with the main character? This editor, most likely, read or scanned the story all the way through because that’s an editor’s job. A reader is not obligated to do the same.

Another possibility of building rapport exists with the reader learning about the main character as the story unfolds. But again, how far into the story will the reader pay attention in order to build empathy? In the case of my story, I see that I can add two sentences at the very beginning of the story that should solve the problem.

Building reader empathy can happen by revealing anything about the main character that will draw the reader to them. The characteristic may be something that elicits any type of emotion, be it love, pity, admiration, or anything else that helps the reader feel connected to that character.

When your main character is the villain, you must still build a trait into her or his makeup to keep the reader’s eyes glued to the page. In a case like this, it might be someone we love to hate and will keep reading just to see that the villain gets a comeuppance. Yet, how many people write stories from the villain’s point of view?

Usually, stories are written from other than the villain’s POV. Not too many readers want to identify with a villain.

Test this advice next time you read a story or, specifically, when you are looking for a new novel to read. Usually readers test the story by reading the beginning paragraphs or pages. How soon do you make a connection to the main character, or even a secondary character? What was the connection made? Was it strong enough to keep you reading, even purchasing the book?

Clues, such as I received in the rejection, help so very much. If I must receive one, it’s the type of rejection I welcome. I’ve already fixed my story and sent it elsewhere. You can bet I will be sending other stories to this very generous editor. And I’ve already rewritten the beginnings of two of my future novels. Read More

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