You Need to Read to Write Well

booksMany well-known authors will admonish new authors and wannabe-authors to read, read, read. Yet, what many of them fail to make clear is why reading is so important. You’re not reading simply for the fun of it (although, that certainly helps); you’re actually reading to learn.

You need to select books that may not normally appeal to you; you need to look outside your genre and your preferences, but most off all, you need to read with awareness. You need to do more than just enjoy the story, you need to be aware of what you are reading. You need to notice the broad strokes and the details; understand and note the word choices; listen to the cadence of the author’s speech patterns; notice how the author sets the pace and note the story’s structure; pay attention to the characters and their actions and reactions; and hear the overall voice of the story. If you don’t read with awareness, you may fail to learn anything about why the book appeals or fails to appeal to you.

Enjoying books is great—I’ve enjoyed reading and books since I was about 2 or 3; however, like any artist, you need to study others in your field so that you can understand what and how they do what they do.  Writing, to me, can be every bit as complex and mystifying as a magic trick. While you’re busy watching the characters over here, the author is quickly rearranging the sets and hiding clues over there.  Therefore, to see the tricks as the magician (or author) is performing them, you need to keep your eyes and your mind open.

Some readers claim there is a formula or a predetermined framework to how stories are created, and, in some cases, that may be so. I think all good mysteries, romances, and thrillers follow a certain pattern or flow. However, I think a great story takes those same frameworks or formulas and stands them on their heads, but an author can’t do that until he or she fully understands what all the nuances and tricks are to writing a good story, first. Once you’ve discovered the secrets to building a good story, you can easily create a great one by tweaking the rules to suit yourself.

But how do you learn that formula or where can you get a copy of that structure? By reading and writing. Reading helps you identify the building blocks of a story. It shows you what is good (and bad) about plot and character development, about pace and flow, and about how much truth is required to make that fictional piece feel so real. Reading with awareness helps you see those ‘magic tricks’ so you can understand what to emulate and what to avoid when you build your own books. As you read through a story you can note the pace, the sentence and paragraph structure, and the different facets of the overall tone and voice of the piece. You need to make notes, highlight passages, and, much like you did in those long-ago, dreaded English and Literature courses in high school and college, explain why you like those passages or what is wrong with them. Explain (to yourself) what the theme of the piece was, the character’s motivations, and (yes) even the author’s motivation for writing the piece (and don’t use the old “…because they needed the money…” cop out). Really delve into the story and understand it.

And, if doing this on your own is difficult, then join a book club or reading group. These types of groups can help you refine your reading techniques and your ability to be aware of every part of that book. Reading is fun, but it’s also an exercise in understanding how to build a great story. If you want to learn to be a great author; then take the time to read…everything.

Mastering Meditation…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

It’s FREE, and it’s coming soon!

Did you ever want to try meditation but didn’t know what type? Or maybe you didn’t know there were different types of meditations? Well, there are. And in my soon-to-be-released FREE book, Mastering Meditation, you can check out the different types of meditation, try some of the different meditations from the book, and see which of them works for you. Do you want to relax? Or are you looking for help or guidance?

Do you wonder what types of lives you might have lived previously, or what lives you might live in the future? Using the regression and progression meditation techniques included in the book can help you find out. The book also contains some examples of past life memories as recalled by me and several others who have used these meditation techniques. So, get ready…this FREE book is coming soon.

 

A Review of “Xoe”

XoebookcoverXoe: or Vampires, and Werewolves, and Demons, Oh My! (Xoe Meyers #1) by Sara C. Roethle

Summary: Xoe Meyers had a normal life. So she was stuck going to high school, and she only had a few friends to call her own. She liked her normal life. Things were about to change though, because there’s a new guy in her small town, and he is anything but normal. Before Xoe can say, “Werewolf,” her best friend’s life is in peril, and Xoe’s world is turned upside-down. Then, of course, there’s Jason. Xoe doesn’t trust him as far as she can throw him, and given that he’s a vampire, she’d have to be able to catch him first.

Recommendation: Yes

Review:
Being an adult, I toned down my expectations and dove in…and was very pleasantly surprised.

Xoe was not the typical angsty teenager. Instead, she used sarcasm and wit (but in a rather intelligent way). She had more of a pragmatic view of life, but was definitely a teenager with a teenager’s penchant for living in the moment rather than thinking about long-term consequences. Xoe was a well-defined character, whose personality brought her right into the room with you.

Each of Xoe’s friends, as well as her antagonists, were also well-defined. They each had characteristics and personality traits that made them come alive, and I had no problem envisioning their world and identifying with their problems.

I thought the book would be a typical werewolves versus vampire type of story, but was rather surprised by the direction Xoe’s transformation took. It was different and interesting, and added an extra zing to the story.

The author’s writing style is reminiscent to Rick Riordan’s, which makes these books a pleasant and fun read.  Her story was fun, witty, and unusual, and I believe the intended audience will enjoy it immensely. (And I can’t wait to download number 2, “Accidental Ashes.”)

Choices

It’s how we live; it’s how our realities are created; and it’s the name of the new 2-book set available from most online book retailers.

2-bookset_cover

I’ve combined my near death experiences and death escort experiences with the years of information received regarding relationships of all sorts (spouses, companions, friends, co-workers, and family).

Life is all about the choices we make in our everyday lives. How we choose to act and react to the stimuli around us and the actions and reactions of others. Sometimes we choose to react in love, and sometimes we choose fear. Every choice is a valid one, but each one also has consequences and spawns further actions, reactions, and choices.

Each of my books shows examples of how choices affect our lives–little choices and major choices–and how every day we are constantly making thousands of choices without even realizing it.

If you have enjoyed the articles in this blog, then you will love the books, I’m sure. I hope each of you finds something meaningful and helpful in my writings and I will continue to answer your questions as best I can.

Happy Reading!

(Check it out at Smashwords!)

The 5 Keys to Building a Character

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My friend wanted me to attend a writing seminar with her, so I agreed to go. However, the summary said it was geared more for novices, so I didn’t really expect to learn much. Boy, was I surprised.

The speaker, a creative writing instructor from one of the top schools in the south, came in and took her place at the podium. After introducing herself and giving us a brief synopsis of what the presentation was to be about, she asked us to take five minutes to describe her as if she was a character in one of our stories.

The results were pretty much as expected. Most of the attendees gave similar descriptions to this:

Melanie is a 30-ish woman with brown, shoulder-length hair, dressed in a gray suit with a lacy, rose-colored blouse.

She told us to hang on to those descriptions, and then she went on to give us her presentation. That’s when we all learned how wrong we had been in actually thinking we had described a character. What we had described was a one-dimensional, uninspired, and uninteresting person.

A story character should be as varied as someone in real life. They should have substance, not just a description. They should come alive for the reader and become someone that the reader can actually believe in. The 5 primary attributes that each character needs in order to achieve this kind of depth are:

Mannerisms/Traits: These are the tics or compulsions that a character displays consistently. For example, the character paces when nervous or agitated, chews gum or tobacco, hums to him- or herself, blinks excessively, clicks a pen without realizing it, taps the end of a pencil on the desk all the time, bounces his or her foot, plays with his or her hair or runs his or her fingers through his or her hair, chews his or her fingernails, rubs at a scar on his or her chin, cheek, nose, etc., stutters, or laughs inappropriately.

Behaviors/attitudes: These are how the character displays his or her feelings. For instance, the character might be belligerent, argumentative, disagreeable, a yes-man, Polly Anna-like, naïve, happy, bland, or teasing.

Scents (what smells are associated with the character, if any): Most memories are related (and often triggered) by scent. Yet, as authors we tend to forget about the smell-factor. Perhaps, because books (even electronic ones) don’t yet include the ability to smell our characters or their surroundings. Still, even a description of an odor or an aroma can evoke a sense memory and help our readers remember and relate to our characters. So, include references to scents whenever possible. As it is, most people have a particular scent, and those that wear perfumes or aftershaves, or use perfumed dryer sheets, usually have a cloud of odors surrounding them. Or perhaps, your character forgot to bathe, was climbing about in a dumpster, or lives with a herd of cats.

Sounds (what sounds are associated with this character): Sounds are another overlooked, yet memorable way to help your readers remember and relate to your characters. Perhaps your character whistles, imitates bird calls, makes clicking sounds (of fingernails on a desktop or keyboard, of tongue against the roof of the mouth) or tapping sounds (of shoes or cane or fingers while texting), drags his or her foot, is associated with a rustling (of petticoats, silk fabric against skin), snapping (of cape or of gum), clomping (of boots or shoes), or wheezing (due to asthma or being overweight).

Looks: Physical attributes are the easiest to describe and usually what we (as authors) tend to focus on. However, since most readers are inclined to let their own imaginations flesh out the character, this is where the author needs to be more sparing. Include only a few basics and let the reader do the rest. For instance, relate your character’s hair color, hair style, eye shape and color, colors worn (bright colors, dull colors), clothes styles, height, weight, or unusual physical features (scars, nose size, ear shape, piercings, missing limbs, or tattoos), but describing the shoe size, exact height, and a detailed discussion of the character’s wardrobe is rarely useful and is, most times, distracting.

With all this new information at hand, she again asked us to describe her as if describing a character in one of our stories, and the results were profoundly different. For example:

Melanie, our instructor for the day, was a professional-looking woman, who paced the stage in her enthusiasm. Our eyes followed her tapping heels, while her down-home voice engaged our ears. She was a southern lady, from her warm smile to the hint of jasmine that surrounded her.

Now, which description makes you feel as if Melanie was, or could be, a living person? Which description helps you connect on all levels with this person?

So, the next time you need to describe a character for your story, remember there is more to people than just how they look. Ask yourself: what does the character sound like, smell like, and act like. Add each layer to that character until you have someone so real you can see them standing in the room with you. That’s a character that your readers will remember. That’s the type of character you need to help you tell your stories.

Book Review, With Apologies

“Stone of Fire” by J.F. Penn

Summary:  Forged in the fire and blood of martyrs, the Pentecost stones have been handed down through generations of Keepers who kept their power and locations secret.

The Keepers are being murdered, the stones stolen by those who would use them for evil in a world transformed by religious fundamentalism.

Oxford University psychologist Morgan Sierra is forced into the search when her sister and niece are held hostage. She is helped by Jake Timber from the mysterious ARKANE, a British government agency specializing in paranormal and religious experience. Morgan must risk her own life to save her family, but will she ultimately be betrayed?

Recommended:  No

Review:

I usually try very hard to find something good to say about every book I review; however, I found little to recommend about J.F. Penn’s “Stone of Fire” book. It’s free; the concept is interesting…did I mention that it’s free?

Despite all the hype that Ms. Penn issues regarding her novels, I was far from impressed with this book. The premise was interesting: stones from the Pentecost that might contain mystical powers. However, the writing was less than stellar…in fact, it was barely adequate.

During the first third of the book, the plot and story were so thin that the framework she was building for the book was easily visible. It was like sitting in the audience of an amateur drama and watching the actors mill around while the stage hands pushed and pulled the various sets around. The characters were undefined and unclear as was the plot and the story. Someone told her she needed to have something dramatic happen in chapters 1, 3 and 5, so she focused on making that occur, whether those occurrences worked within the framework she was struggling to build or not.

About mid-point, the author finally seemed to have figured out the plot and the story started to come together. Unfortunately, she still hadn’t defined her characters. In fact, they were so ill-defined that she couldn’t even keep the POV straight. A paragraph would start out with Morgan’s POV (the female protagonist) but end with Jake’s (the male protagonist). And if the author can’t tell one character from another, how are we, the readers, supposed to? The mixed POV’s continued throughout the rest of the book, leaving me distanced and struggling to care about these characters at all. The only character that the author seemed to know and understand, and that I enjoyed, was the clergyman, Ben. However, we only got his POV for about one chapter.

In the last third of the book, Ms. Penn seemed to have finally figured out the basics of storytelling; however, she still couldn’t seem to determine whose POV she was using as we drifted from head to head, sometimes even mid-sentence. The ending was as weak as the overall book was poorly written. And the author added an addendum, which was her way of “fixing” the story so that it could become a series.

Overall, I would give this story a half-star (if only for its original premise), but since that’s not allowed in Amazon or Goodreads, I will give it one star with the note that it is half a star too much.

I just love it!

I don’t know which I’m more proud of, the fact that I have a two-ebook-collection ready for sale, or the great cover that DL-Designs and Digital Art created for it on such short notice.

bk1-2cover

So, what do you think? Isn’t it a great cover?!

To check out the 2-book set go to Smashwords.