Blathering: Christmas Movies

I’m a sucker for sappy Christmas movies, and they almost always start showing them in November. I spend pretty much two months watching these things!

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Here are some of my favorites:

  • A Christmas Carol – in pretty much any adaptation
  • One Magic Christmas – cowboy angels… how much better does it get?
  • The Christmas Card – a Hallmark classic
  • The Gathering – Ed Asner as a crusty old goat? Who knew?
  • The classic cartoons: Rudolph, Frosty, Peanuts… I’m a cartoon fan
  • The Santa Clause trio – especially Chance look-alike Bernard the elf
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • Most of the Hallmark movies, actually

And HERE is a list of the Top 100 Christmas Movies of all time – or you can make up your own list!

Use Your Experience

The old advice is “Write what you know.”

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That’s a misleading phrase, and it stymies many a beginning writer. The actual phrase should be “Write what are willing to learn about exhaustively.”

You don’t have to experience skydiving to write about a skydiver … but it helps. Any experiences you have that are similar or identical to what the character is going through are experiences that will enrich your book. If you’re not willing to learn skydiving, perhaps you could ride a roller coaster to feel that stomach-churning weightlessness. Or read exhaustively about the experiences of people who do skydive.

The more research you do, in other words, the better your writing. And, of course, the more research you do, the more you know. So … Write what you know.

Use the ordinary experiences you’ve had in your writing as well. How does it feel to wake up on a crisp morning in a camping tent? What do the mountains look like on a Winter afternoon? How does it feel to wear an evening dress or a wedding gown? What does a family football game feel like?

The more personal you make your character’s experiences, the more vivid they’ll be for your readers. Just don’t write exactly what happened at your cousin’s wedding, or your relatives will recognize themselves and you’ll have a family argument to include in your next novel.

Blathering: A Nibble

So at the Tony Hillman Conference, they had a session where you could put your name into the hat for a reading of your first page in front of two best-selling authors and an agent.

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I got lucky (gulp!) and my number was drawn, so I read my page, voice shaking with fear.

And they all loved it! I was so stoked, especially when I approached the agent after the session, and she said to send her the first 50 pages.

Just got an email from that agent this week, too. She wants to see the entire manuscript once she gets back from her holidays!

Wish me luck, guys!

5 Tips to Writing Emotionally

One of the areas many new writers have trouble with is emotional content. Their writing may have a lot of description, even vivid images, but there is no connection for the readers.

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Here are some tips to help you include emotion in your writing:

  • Remember – use your own memories to help you understand how your characters would feel in certain situations
  • Imagine – how would you feel if you were in the same situation as your characters are?
  • Talk – talk to your friends and family about their feelings, and ask how they would feel if that situation happened to them
  • Research – read about real people in real situations – you know how the media always asks people “How do you feel about that?” when there’s a news event? That’s so they can connect to their viewers and readers.
  • Feel – allow yourself to really feel whatever emotion you’re trying to evoke in your characters, so you know what the emotion brings

The important thing about emotion in your writing is that you must not be afraid to include it. Many writers are embarrassed by emotions, and fear that their readers may ridicule them or think less of them for having certain emotions in their writing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Readers cannot connect to characters without emotion, so the more emotions you can stir up in your characters, the better the readers identify with them.

The Art of Blogging

This was a panel at the Hillerman Conference, featuring Dawn Wink, Susan Tweit, and Joe Badal.

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Advice from Dawn, whose blog is called Dewdrops:

  • Follow your passions
  • Figure out who your community is
  • Strive for character, personality and texture

from Joe, who writes a blog on Everyday Heroes:

  • Write interesting articles about subjects that complement your book
  • Do not share photos of your meals … unless you write cookbooks
  • Do not share stories about your adorable dog Fluffy … unless you write dog books
  • Do not share how romantic your significant other is … unless you write romances
  • Do not share your illnesses and disorders
  • Do not blast-market your books

And from Susan, who is also a plant biologist:

  • Add value with your blog
  • Convey your passions
  • Bring added dimension to your books

To Outline or Not to Outline

This was a panel at the Tony Hillerman Conference, featuring Anne Hillerman, CB McKenzie, Sara Hoklotubbe, and John Sandford.

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Q: Do you outline or wing it?

John: There’s no right way to do it. I actually do both. I do not outline for the first 75-80 thousand words. As I’m struggling through the story, a lot of weird stuff comes up, and can add a funky quality to the work. Then, when I need the velocity to pick up, I outline to the end. Outlining makes your prose tighter and faster.

Sara: I wrote a synopsis, started on an outline, kept changing it so much that I finally threw it away. I do have a large whiteboard that I keep everything on: each character, how old they are, etc.

CB: It depends on what you’re doing. Different works require different approaches. I outline for a plot-driven novel, but if a character goes off in a new direction, I’ll follow the character.

Anne: My whole writing background has been nonfiction. You don’t really outline, but you know what you have to include in each section. I got a few scenes down, and realized that I needed some structure. I’ve tried to be more organized with my second book.

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Q: How do you keep from getting lost if you’re not outlining?

Anne: Thank goodness for “find and replace!” I can go back and take out all those lovely descriptions and whatever wasn’t part of the story.

CB: If you’re writing a certain type of story, the story itself will keep you on track. Make your story compelling enough. If you’re failing to do that, you’re failing at the novel.

Sara: When I write, it’s like watching a movie in my head. I’ve been called a perfectionist. I revise as I go along.

John: I work much the same. I’ve been doing this long enough to have an instinct for what’s good. The most important chapters are the first and the last. Remember that you don’t have to write the entire story at once: you can go back and fix stuff.

Anne: One reason it took me three years to write Spider Woman’s Daughter was that I’m also a perfectionist. I finally realized I was just treading water, and I’d have to move forward and revise later.

CB: That’s where an outline can help you; they give you a practical way to move on.

Thanks for the great advice, guys!

The Serious Art of Writing Humor

Kris Neri shared some of her secrets with us at the Tony Hillerman Conference. Here are a few tricks of the trade.

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Teaching humor is hard, Kris says. To teach, you must analyze and explain, and the more you analyze humor, the less humorous it becomes!

Humor is semi-verbal, semi-visual, and semi-visceral. It is often a leveling device, sometimes a more acceptable way of expressing anger or coping with other emotions.

Humor can show aspects of your characters that you can’t show otherwise. It provides an emotional break for your readers. It softens tough ideas (the “candy-coated pill” approach). It also provides a great writing voice.

Here are some tools of humor:

  • Expectation and reversal – taking an unexpected reversal to an expected outcome
  • Incongruity – pairing concepts in an unconventional or illogical way
  • Hyperbole – stretching the truth to a level that becomes comic
  • Understatement – downplaying, or a droll presentation (the opposite of hyperbole)
  • Absurdity – exaggeration pushed to a ridiculous level, often for a satirical effect
  • Contrast and proximity – pairing contrasting elements that become absurd when coupled together
  • Miscommunication and misunderstanding – cross-purpose communications that cause comic confusion

Concept of creativity. Tin can.

Some additional guidelines:

  • Simple is almost always better than complex; short is better than long
  • Determine the purpose of your scene and always factor your humor to non-humor ratio into that purpose
  • Humor must come from the character for – for the character to point out the absurdity of a situation, he has to see things a little differently from a non-humorous character
  • Abandon logic – humor thrives in chaos, not order
  • Don’t over-analyze
  • Be willing to surprise yourself – to write someone ho sees the humor in a situation, you’ll have to open those pockets within yourself
  • Abandon your dignity – you can’t be funny if you’re afraid of embarrassing yourself – you also can’t write serious prose if you’re afraid to take emotional risks!
  • Let your voice and attitudes, as well as those of your characters, flow
  • Trust your own humor; don’t try too hard to be funny
  • Don’t sacrifice truth for a funny effect – good humor always contains a grain of truth
  • Don’t let your characters laugh at their own jokes – that’s the prose equivalent of a sitcom laugh track
  • Handling taboos: the more absurd your material and the farther its set from reality, the more sacred cows you can make fun of