Friday, November 26, 2010

Using Your Computer to Strengthen Your Language

by Scott Rhoades

We live in a wonderful age for writing. The personal computer has made writing and editing so much easier than it was in the old days. Word processors, with their spelling and grammar checking, make it easy to find the basic errors we all make. We can edit a manuscript without having to retype the whole thing because our changes on page 28 messed up the pagination.

We can use our computers to do much of our research from our living rooms, to keep track of notes, to create mind maps and other planning documents. We can even have our computers read our stories back to us.

There's another computerized tool that can be exceptionally valuable and goes deeper into what computers can do than many of the applications that are part of our writing routines. Computers can provide an analysis of our text that would be impossible or at least extremely laborious without them.

Many of us already use computer analysis tools to check the complexity of our documents and to help us determine the grade level of the language of our stories. But there's another analysis tool that never fails to surprise me when I run it: a simple word list.

I recently installed a free program called TheScribe, developed as a simple word processor and detailed language analysis tool for linguists. The feature I find most valuable is the word list. I pasted the first 30 pages of a manuscript I have revised several times into TheScribe, and viewed the word list. What I found was much more enlightening than I'd hoped.

For example, the word "was" appears 39 times in those pages, even after editing specifically to reduce "to be" words. "Wasn't" is in there 19 times, "be" 20 times, and "were" 11. There are 37 uses of the word "but," which could indicate a need for more variety in my sentence structures. Other words appear more often than they probably should, and for no good reason. I don't know why "Something" appears 24 times in 30 pages. I also don't know why a weak verb like "put" appears 12 times. Approximately once every three pages a character puts something somewhere. That might be a problem, or might not, but it's definitely something to look at. Something is "held" 12 times. There are certainly more interesting words than that. And why would "like" be useful 38 times, more than once per page?

Analyzing my word list makes it obvious that there's an even bigger problem, potentially, than repeating some words that are not especially strong. I'm very aware that the senses are important for helping the reader become absorbed in the character's experiences. I try to pay attention to all five senses, I think. (See the "Sensory Details" post by Julie Daines.) And yet, in these 30 pages at the beginning of my novel, "looked" appears 22 times, "see" is there 16 times, "saw" twice, and other words like "stared," "glanced," "gazed," and similar synonyms for seeing make one or two appearances each. Other sense words like "heard" are almost non-existent--not necessarily a bad thing because those verbs are almost always telling words, and there are better ways to show the senses. Still, it's clear that I rely heavily on vision, and not in especially interesting ways, and need to go back and look at those sentences.

It's hard to find these kinds of problems when you read through a manuscript, no matter how carefully you edit. But, when you take the words out of context and look at them in a list, possible problem words stick out. Many of those might be perfectly fine, but the word list gives you a guide to potential problems that need to be examined.

If you know what to look for, a word list generated from your manuscript can be enlightening and troubling. Patterns emerge that you might not be able to find on your own. Weak verbs and nouns that feel fine in context look dull in a list. Adverbs and adjectives jump out. Examining those potential problems will help you strengthen your writing in ways that would have been nearly impossible 40 years ago.

TheScribe is a Windows application, available from (While you're there, check out their excellent dictionary and thesaurus application.) It is not necessarily the best of its kind for Windows, just the latest one I've tried. I've also used TextSTAT with success. Other free word list generators can be found for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Try googling "mac word frequency" or something similar and you should find something you can use, such as Word Counter for the Mac, which I've never used, but looks interesting on its Web site.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Book Promotion: Compelling and Enticing

Why do you choose to read a given book?

All the reasons you might give can be reduced to either you felt compelled or enticed. (Actually, our reasons can be spread along a spectrum from compelled to enticed, but it's easier to talk in terms of dichotomies than the fine shades in a spectrum.)

Books that become a cultural phenomenon (i.e., most people have at least heard of them), do so on the strength of a social compulsion. How many times have you picked up a book because everyone else was talking about it and you wanted to be part of the conversation?

As writers, there's nothing we can do to cause our books to become a social phenomenon. So the more interesting question is how, given the means in our power, can we appeal to readers. Which brings me back to compelling and enticing: we can pitch our books either as "something you gotta read," or as "something you want to read."

A compelling pitch usually centers on a situation or issue the reader might confront. There's an immediacy because it's in the world of our common experience. An enticing pitch plays on mystery, wonder, intrigue, or as the kids say, something cool. There's a fascination because it's outside the world of our common experience.

Reading a list of new YA novel recommendations, I noticed a pattern: the realistic stories had compelling pitches and the fantastic stories had enticing pitches. The former implied, "This could happen to you," while the latter asked, "Wouldn't it be cool if this happened?"

I find this a useful distinction as I choose books to read and think about promoting my own projects. How about you?

Deren blogs daily at The Laws of Making.
Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sensory Details

By: Julie Daines        

When I was a kid, my mom had this crazy wallpaper in one of our bathrooms. It was black and white, and covered in pictures of cartoon people poised by outhouses—all kinds of outhouses, in trees, on beaches, in the woods.

Whenever I went in that bathroom, I’d stare at the wallpaper until I noticed something different, some tiny detail that I hadn’t seen before. The older I got, the harder I had to look, but eventually, I always found something.

One of my main characters in my current work in progress is blind from birth. It’s been a real challenge trying to “see” the world from her point of view. I’ve blindfolded myself just to see how long I could go without using my vision. It hasn’t been very long. I had a terrible hair day and typed several paragraphs with my fingers on the wrong keys.

But I did learn to pay attention to the other senses, and how those other senses make me feel. So, take a second and learn to notice.

Close your eyes in the shower. What does the water feel like when it hits your back? Your face? Does it relax you? Or hurt? (I’ve stayed in a friend’s house where the shower pressure was so strong the water stung. We had to cover the showerhead with a sock to diffuse the powerful spray.)

What does it sound like when you unload the dishwasher? Or start your car on these freezing cold mornings? What can you hear in bed at night? From my house, I can hear the train whistle—but only at night. It comforts me.

Take a bite of a food that you hate and focus on why it is you hate it? Is it the texture? Or the taste? Or does it remind you of hospital food? Close your eyes and run your hands over your desk. Or over your family’s faces. I’ve done that a lot recently, and it’s an interesting experience.

It’s these details that add life to our stories. We all know this, but sometimes, when we’re writing we get bogged down in the plot and our characters, and miss out on the opportunity for some great sensory details. 

These details gain value as they often become the source of symbolism and themes, and carry unifying motifs throughout the story. A splinter in the finger that grows, festers, and is finally removed. The smell of mom's bacon and eggs luring the family out of bed--until the mom dies, taking that smell with her. The touch and swish of a girl's first silk party dress becomes a symbol of her coming of age.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"Think like a Child" by T. Lynn Adams

Think like a child
By T. Lynn Adams

My youngest son came to me the other day with a drawing of a bird he claimed to have seen at our bird feeders. The bird, he said, was ‘giant’. It had a “grey vest that had those black spots all over the front and black like leopards.” The bird was wearing “a red mask like the one I wear outside when it’s cold.” Its wings were colored, he said, and it had a long tube instead of a beak.

Well, since no one else saw this bizarre bird I thought it was his imagination until, a few minutes later, he excitedly called out, “Mom, it’s back!”

I looked out the window and saw a very large woodpecker feeding off our suet block, dressed exactly as my son described. I was amazed as I watched the bird through the description of a child.

It made me remember another time my daughter, then three, grew very upset because I couldn’t find the video “what has the little gold girl and the red suitcase.” After a very frustrating half an hour, I figured out the little gold girl was Goldilocks and the red suitcase was the color of the video case, not a sign the heroine was running away from home.

It is just evidence that young children see things literally. Why do you think the characters of Amelia Bedelia and Ramona are so popular?

The mental innocence of a child gives writers a great chance to play with their stories in imaginative ways. So, here is a fun assignment to get you started. Write a short, two-page story using one of these ideas or one of your own.

1. The child is told Mom is clean the “dust bunnies” out from under the bed. When the child finds a real, dusty rabbit under his bed, no one believes him.
2. Dad comes in and says it’s “raining cats and dogs outside”. The child immediately dresses in raingear and goes out to find and rescue those hapless animals, bringing home every pet in the neighborhood.
3. The child is told to get the cheesecake out of the refrigerator and when he doesn’t find a cake made out of cheese, sets out to create his own.

Remember, when writing for children think like a child, act like a child, then bring it properly back to the adult world and both parents and children will smile as they read your book.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Two Easiest Ways To Kill Emotion In Your Writing

by Scott Rhoades

This is the third post in a series about emotional writing. You'll find the first two here and here.

Emotions create the story behind the plot and give your story meaning. There are two easy ways to kill the emotional content of your story, both common, especially among inexperienced writers.

1. Use Abstract Emotional Nouns and Verbs

Stories thrive on emotions like love, anger, joy, hate, sadness, and fear. The easiest way to kill the emotion in a story or scene, though, is to use any of those words when describing your character's emotions.

The problem is, most words that describe emotion are abstractions. Abstract nouns and verbs are always weak. Often, they have too many meanings to do any good for your story. Take love, for example. You can use the same word to describe how you feel about your family, your car, a favorite TV show, your pet, an enjoyable school subject, your friend's dress or hair, or a kind of cheese. In each of those examples, the word love has a different meaning, with different associations. Do you really feel the same way about Gouda cheese as you do about your baby? Your husband, maybe, but your baby?

Even kids know that abstractions don't really work. "I love my car," I might say. How is a kid going to respond to that? Of course: "Then why don't you marry it?" It's an absurd idea, marrying a car, but a lot of you married somebody because you loved that person. It's the same word, so what's the difference? Well, you can't marry an object. That's just nuts. Fine. I love my grandmother. She's a person, but it's crazy to think I should marry her because I love her. It's a different kind of love than I have for my wife.

But the word is the same in all of those cases, even if it means different things. When we write, our job is to convey the real meaning, a character's real emotions, in a way that makes the reader share those feelings. Merely saying your character loves somebody or some thing isn't going to do it. Because love is an abstract word, it has too many meanings.

In college, a writing professor gave us an assignment to write a love poem without ever using the word love. This was difficult for a lot of us. Several of the resulting poems substituted other abstractions that fell short of their goal.

Why do abstractions fail to communicate their real meaning? Because they are "telling" words. They are weak words, and they are often accompanied by their weak buddies. Take the following:

Never had he felt such joy.

This doesn't mean anything, really. It tells you something, but it does it weakly. Abstractions like joy often require weak to be or to have verbs, and commonly bring other weak filter verbs, like felt, that tell something and show nothing, and thus put distance between your reader and your characters by failing to help the reader share the character's feelings.

When you edit, look for abstractions. Wherever you can, replace them with concrete words and actions. Show the character's emotions. Your character can "love his car." That tells me something about he feels about his ride. However, if he's constantly buffing it, wiping off dust, looking at it in the driveway from the closest window, or if he sits in it and reads or listens to music or whatever, and if he stresses whenever his wife drives it, that shows us how he really feels about it and leaves no question, as well as showing us some things about his character, his priorities, and what drives him.

When you see an abstraction in your work, kill it. Replace it with concrete words and actions that show us what the abstract word can only hint at.

2. Wallow in the Sentimental

Emotion is effective. Sentimentality is affective.

Sentimentality is exaggerated emotion, usually without purpose. Sentimentality is often created with abstractions, but taking any emotional content too far and exaggerating it puts you at risk of wallowing in sentimentality like a pig wallows in mud. Like "like a pig wallows in mud," sentimentality is cliched.

One way to avoid sentimentality is to list the possible reactions the character might have to show the emotions you want your character to feel. Then, cross out the cliched reactions, like the pounding hearts, raised eyebrows, the clenched fists. Tap into your own emotional memories to create realistic reactions that make the reader feel the emotions you're trying to describe. When you show real emotion, you eliminate the need to pile on the cliches to try to convey the way the character feels, exaggerating the reactions and creating sentimentality.

How do you do this? No real surprise. Again, you use concrete nouns and verbs to describe concrete, meaningful reactions.


Writing effective emotions comes down to the same thing as any other effective writing: use strong nouns and verbs to show instead of tell.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Writerly Advice From Brandon Mull

Write what you know.
Write what you love.
Write what you love to read.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thrillers and Mysteries: Compelling and Enticing

What's the difference between a thriller and a mystery?

A thriller is compelling; it pushes you along.

A mystery is enticing; it pulls you along.

It's an important structural distinction.

We clearly need to know what's at stake in a thriller because it is fundamentally a story about an effort to avert the peril. Worry about how to prevent the worst outcome drives this kind of story forward.

In contrast, a mystery is a story of discovery in which the scope of the peril is revealed over time. Worry about what might be hiding around the corner drives this kind of story forward.

With that background, we can make the general observation that fantasies tend to be structured as a mystery and thrillers are usual set in the world of our common experience. In fact, most fantasies are not just mysteries in an abstract form but explicitly involve some form of discovery, often a quest or voyage.

When a story is set in the real world, the author has the luxury of relying on common knowledge and convention when declaring the stakes. In a political thriller, for example, it is sufficient to say that the conspirators are working to topple the government and proceed on the assumption that the reader agrees such an outcome would be a bad thing.

But with fantasy, an author has the additional problem of introducing a reader to a world that contradicts or extends their common experience. That makes the prospect of a thriller set in a fantasy context more challenging--unless one relies on the conventions with which readers in the genre should be familiar (which is why urban fantasies and paranormals do well).

As a reader, you should be clear on the distinction between thriller and mystery because you're sure to be disappointed if you expect one kind of story when you're reading the other.

As a writer, you need to be clear about the kind of story you're telling because if you mix them up you'll deliver a thrill-less thriller or a spoiled mystery.

Deren blogs daily at The Laws of Making.
Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /

Friday, November 12, 2010

Why Is Emotion So Hard When It's So Important?

by Scott Rhoades

Why is it so much easier to plot the action of your story than to write the emotional content that makes that plot matter? Every action in your plot must be motivated by emotion. The action is the plot, and the emotion is the story. No action should be there because it's convenient to the plot, without heightening the characters' emotions and thus involving the reader more in the story. If the plot is meaningless without emotion, why do so many of us have trouble including the emotional content in our drafts?

I think it's because we can write well and enjoy our own stories by focusing on plot, but we can't uncover the emotional story without revealing our inner selves. It's in the emotional content of the story that our needs and fears and issues come out, whether we've shared the characters' experiences or not. Maybe we've never explored the planet B'zerkn'd with a reptilian dog named X'x'melv'n, but we've been some place where we didn't know what we'd find, where we felt unsafe and insecure, and where we felt instinctively that we couldn't necessarily trust our companion in the adventure.

In writing about our character and his lizardy doggy thingy exploring a new world, we have to reveal the POV character's fears and insecurities, and when we do that, we reveal our own. Few of us enjoy opening our souls to our friends, much less to total strangers. We reveal only what we want to reveal in life, keeping the rest closed inside. What's more, what we show is usually a carefully crafted version of the truth that we put together in an attempt to not show too much.

I know this is likely as true for you as it is for me because so many writers are introverts. We think deeply and we feel deeply, but we're not used to letting others see what we hide in those depths. We're highly aware of our internal struggles, and we're experts at hiding them from others. We often write, whether we admit it or not, at least partly to help ourselves work through our internal issues. The problem is, as we write, we're able to feel the characters' emotions, even if we don't actually put them on the page, because we feel them as we write. We get our catharsis without necessarily letting our emotions break through the walls of our inner citadels.

And if we're just writing for our own catharsis, we can leave it at that. Unfortunately, we seek validation of the feelings we'd rather not show. We want to demonstrate our value through our stories. And we want our readers to like us, or at least to like us through our stories, which is better than letting them close enough to us to either like us or reject us as people. We're introverts, so how they feel about us personally isn't that important, we think, but how they feel about our work is a critical reflection of what we really want them to feel about us, whether we admit it or not.

And for that, we need to make them feel what we feel, even if it means revealing more than we intended about ourselves. Otherwise, our work means nothing and the reader is bored and gives up on our story, and on us. That's a double rejection. It's shattering.

If we hold back on the emotions the way we've taught ourselves to do during our lives, we have no story. We have a series of events that might be interesting on their own, but they have no meaning. Even if the reader sticks around to see what happens, the story won't stick with her, and all our hard work will be forgotten almost as soon as the book is put down.

So instead of hiding, we should let those emotions out through our characters. It's really a pretty safe way to do it. We can make our characters suffer the things we're afraid we'll suffer if we reveal too much. We can even go to extremes that will never happen to us, but that we imagine might. And if we don't, as I've said, we have no story.

Don't be afraid to show your fear through your character, to let the character deal with the griefs you lock inside, or to let your character express the joy you feel but have trouble showing. You do this by making sure every action has an emotional counterpart, and that you show both the plot and the story.

If it reveals too much, you can also keep your story to yourself. You won't, though, because it will be too good to not let loose on the world. So let it out and let us, your readers in.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Linguistic Spices

Spices are an interesting sub category of food that, to the best of my knowledge, have the common property of a little working wonders in a dish but too much ruining everything.

It's an interesting analogy: used sparingly and purposefully, linguistic spices* (of which objectionable language is a subset) can convey volumes. Consider a character established as proper throughout the story who loses their composure at a critical moment. Or a villain, who when unmasked, chooses to show his contempt with contemptible language.

The analogy also applies in terms of tastes: young people are often not ready for spices (my son hasn't yet learned to appreciate some of the things I enjoy after living in New Mexico). A good host should serve foods their guests will enjoy.

But I wouldn't want to clear out my spice rack because some of the items might not be appropriate everyone's tastes. Doing so would be as limiting as going to the other extreme and adding cilantro to everything because it's the fashionable ingredient.

The attribute that should distinguish those of us who call ourselves writers from other people who put words together is our ability to use language to achieve an intended effect. To that end we ought to master all the facets of our language so that we can write with intent and use the right ingredient for the job from a full, rich palette.

* Dialect and slang are examples of other linguistic spices.

Deren blogs daily at The Laws of Making.
Image: Simon Howden /

Monday, November 8, 2010

Scene It:

By: Julie Daines

Hopefully, most of you are in the thick of NaNoWriMo!  This is my first NaNo, and I’m finding it a unique and challenging experience. 

Contrary to everyone’s good advice, I set off on this great adventure without a road map.  I just sat down on November first and started typing.  Not a good idea.  With so much emphasis on word count, I’m finding it easy to let other areas of the writing craft slip. 

So here’s a little reminder to myself, and anyone else wandering aimlessly through their plot, or lack thereof. 

The Basics of Writing Scenes:  Scenes are the story within the story, where the actions and emotions that forward the plot take place.  To create great scenes, follow three simple steps:

1- Open each scene with a hook, something to grab the reader’s attention and peak their interest in the events waiting to unfold.

2- Create conflict.  As we all know, it’s conflict that drives the story, whether emotional turmoil or impending peril.  As I’m working on my NaNo project, I’m finding it convenient to build my word count by writing easy scenes where not a lot happens, but my characters have interesting conversations about food, love and life.  Yeah, I’m setting myself up for a lot or revising.  So remember: conflict, conflict, conflict.

3- End each scene with a hook to keep the reader wanting more.  As each scene concludes, drop a hint of something even more intense lurking just around the corner—or in our case, on the next page.

Good luck to you all in your quest for the 50,000.  Stay tuned in December for tips on how to clean up your mess.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Act and Dress the Part with VS Grenier-Part II

So now that we have a better understanding about what we should say and how we should act, what about how we should look? This is my biggest pet peeve with most people in my generation. I am an ‘X’er and for some reason my generation thinks they can dress however they want and should not be judged. WHAT? I do not know where they get this crazy idea. It would be nice if it was true, but it's not. I am here to tell you today that if you truly believe this then you are missing many opportunities.

Here are a few examples about what I mean. When I worked at Frederick's of Hollywood I made my sales team were causal suits. The reason? My sales team was treated differently when they wore anything other than a casual or business suit. Most of the men shopping in my store thought they were at some strip club and the women either were afraid of them or thought of my team as hookers. Now my team did not dress like a stripper or a hooker, but the image was preset in the customers mind because of the image Frederick's of Hollywood gives most people. It was my job as manager to help change this image and so the business attire was set to help change the mindset of the customers and it worked.

Another place I learned this example was when I interviewed with Hot Topic. I am sure most of you are familiar with their stores. I was a buyer by this time and I knew wearing my suit to the interview wasn't right. This is a company about music, culture and well . . .  rebels. Therefore, I wore something you would find me wearing in a club vs. at my desk talking with vendors. What I wore to my interview was a pair of leather pants, a tee with "Bad Kitty" printed on it and a matching leather jacket. I got the job and helped to design, market and open 15 Torrid stores nationwide before I left the company.

Another example was when I was still working with Hot Topic. As a buyer, you travel a lot to trade shows and conventions. On one such trip, I was traveling with the body jewelry buyer, the band tee buyer and some assistants. For those who have not been in a Hot Topic store, let me first describe how the employees dress. Do you remember the 80's punk bands? That is how a Hot Topic employee generally looks. However, when the buying teams get on a flight who works for Hot Topic, you would not know it by how they dress. Their hair is tamed down; the clothes are more like the norm and all the jewelry is taken off except a pair of earrings. I kid you not. They know how people look at them and so they change their appearance to fit it while traveling on flights to make those sitting near them more comfortable.

How you dress, act and what you say when you first meet someone, no matter how much you don't want to believe it . . . MATTERS!

Here are a few pictures to help you get an idea about what people think when they see someone wearing different outfits. Look at each photo and think where you would wear this. The descriptions next to each photo is what a buyer classified each outfit. They are not my opinions.

Picture 1: Did you think I would wear this to a conference? Believe or not someone did wear this at a conference I attended, however, a buyer would tell you this is for “Around Town and/or At Home” only. Now I want you to think about something. If you are going to pitch your ideas and books to editors, publishers and/or agents . . . shouldn't you dress your best? Wearing jeans, a tee shirt and button down shirt is not the way to do it. Think about going to an interview. Would you wear this outfit to that?

Picture 2: How about this outfit? Where would you wear it? A book signing, around town or at home? This was an actually person at a conference. Now a polo isn't all bad as long as you are wearing dress pants with it at a conference. However, if you are wearing a polo with jeans, forget it. You would not wear this to an interview would you? Now you could wear this to a book signing for children and get away with it. You may want to dress a little nicer for an adult book signing though.

Picture 3: Did you guess around town, conference, book signing or school visit? This is what my hubby wears all the time when off from work, but you would never catch him wearing this to a city meeting. Jeans have no place at those functions and neither does a tee shirt unless it is under your button down shirt as an undershirt. Even the button down shirt is really pushing it because it is a causally cut style. If you are going to pull this look off for a conference, make sure to wear a dress shirt. It dresses up your jeans (make sure they have no holes or worn areas) and with a pair of dress shoes you are ready to go. I am not sure this would be a great outfit for speaking though. You will have to consider your audience and venue.

Picture 4: Here’s another one. What do you think? Conference, book signing, school visit or speaking engagement? Both outfits work because they are linen and comfortable . . . yet fashionable and professional looking. You can still have comfort without giving up the professional image. You want to look nice and like you are going to be interviewed when going to these places. Put your best foot forward. If that means buying one or two really nice outfits, do it.

Picture 5: What are your thoughts on this little ensemble? This looks like a jogging outfit and has no place anywhere but in your home or when working out. As an ex-fashion buyer, I would have to tie you up and leave you in your hotel room if you showed up wearing this somewhere you are trying to sell yourself as a writer. I know it's comfortable, but just don't do it. You will thank me later.

Picture 6: Okay, this picture was taken at a real writing conference. I kid you not! This is just a big NO-NO. Another thing about this outfit that just say's "DON'T DO IT OR I'LL SEND THE FASHION POLICE AFTER YOU" is how tight the outfit is on the person. Please people wear clothes that do not hug every part of your body. It does not look professional. It makes you look really bad. You maybe a size 4 or 6 and workout, but don't do it. I do not care if you have the best body in the world. We do not want to see that as an editor, publisher or agent. Parents do not want their young children influenced by such people and well . . . you do not want to give someone who could help your career along the wrong idea. Your body is not going to sell your book or you. In addition, when I saw this person, I wondered if I was on Hollywood Blvd. Sorry, it was the first thing that comes to my mind.

Picture 7: This outfit, even though the top is a tunic, is in a dressy material—Rayon. If the outfit has what we call DRAPE in the fashion world . . . it's professional looking. Now I do not mean to wear something that looks like a tent such as a Hawaiian dress or House Coat. Be smart about how the style flows, drapes and fits your body in a nice attractive way.

Now I do not expect you all to become fashion experts. I have the upper hand because of my former career. I use to do a professional wardrobe workshop for people who traveled when I first got into fashion. Here is the key saying: 5 over 4. This means 5 tops and 4 bottoms. Why more tops than bottoms, because one pair of pants should be black which means you can wear them an extra time. (Just make sure they are clean.)

The best place to shop for clothes that are professional looking and travel well is (for women)Cold Water Creek and (for men & women) Eddie Bauer. I know they are pricey, but it is well worth it. Another thing to think about is this: Cheap clothes wrinkle more and wear out fast. You should have a couple of professional outfits that are pricey. They will last years because of how well they are made (one reason for the high prices) and they travel better. They tend to wrinkle less or not at all.

Fabrics that tend to travel well: Poly blend (and I'm not talking about the old 70's cheap poly either.), Twill slacks, Rayon Blend (normally a Rayon/Cotton or Rayon/Poly), Spandex/Poly/Rayon blends travel great (just make sure they are slacks or a nice skirt), wool (if you can wear it and it is cold weather), and cashmere.

Nice fabrics, but you will have to iron (also great for warmer climates) Linen and Poplin.

Colors to wear: Medium to dark blues (navy or cobalt), black (a must have), white, red (in the blue hue. not fire engine red), tans, browns, and deep greens.

Stay away from bright colors unless you are dark skinned. It just looks too causal on a light person. Pinks turn men off so stay clear of those when looking professional. You will come off too girlie. Neon colors are a big NO-NO. Plaids do not work for everyone so stay clear of them. Animal prints are not professional looking unless done right so do not try it. Keep embellishments to a minimum or do not wear them at all. Jewelry should be fashionable and not overly done. There is a thing as too much.

Well that is the basics anyway. My advice. Have someone take pictures of you in the different outfits you plan to wear. The song and saying are true, "A Picture Tells A Thousand Words."

Think about what you have on when you go out to pitch, spread Word of Mouth about your book, and do those visits for book signings, schools and speaking engagements. Now with that said, if you write Vampire novels and you are doing a book signing . . . maybe wearing that Gothic dress is the right idea. After all, you are the author of a Vampire novel. So you can dress the part, but make sure the part your dressing fits your book, your image and what you want people to be talking about.

I hope my tips, suggestions and comments help you along your path to publication. This is why I did these blog posts. I not only wanted to give you the tools to write better letters, a synopsis, media release, blurb or give a better pitch. I wanted you to also think about how you act, talk and look.

Remember only you can Sell Yourself and your work. No one knows you or your work better than YOU do!

To learn more about VS Grenier visit

Friday, November 5, 2010

Emotional Plotting

by Scott Rhoades

Most of us are probably pretty good at planning a plot, to whatever extent we like to plan. It's something we learned to do in school, whether plotting a story for Creative Writing class or outlining a research paper. Even if we don't formally plan our stories we know where we want to go, more or less.

This kind of planning is usually based on plot points, on events, following the path our characters will take. A plot map is our storyboard, a useful tool--many writers will say it's an essential tool--for keeping the story moving and even for fighting writer's block by reminding us of where we need to go next. The quality of the plot aside, a plot plan or story summary is not that difficult to do because it follows the natural development of story that we learned when we were very young: this happens, then this happens, then this happens.

There's another kind of planning, though, that is much less natural, requires more thought, and makes the difference between a readable story and one that sticks with you. In a memorable story, the story events are accompanied by an emotional plot. It's the emotional reactions and effects of a story that make the reader sympathize (or loathe, or whatever) the characters as they move through those story events. It's the emotional content that gives the story meaning. And yet, we don't usually think about the emotional content when we plot out our stories.

Some tools for planning a novel, such as yWriter, help by encouraging the writer to note the characters and conflicts that occur for each scene. These help, but they are still more or less plot based. They don't delve into the emotions of the characters, the reason why the plot twist or the event matters.

Any writer who plans has favorite tools and methods, so I'm not going to try to suggest The One Surefire Way to plan the emotional plot of your story. But I will give one example, a pretty old-school method that we can all understand and adopt to our own preferred tools.

I'm talking about the good old index card.

If you've used index cards (or some computerized alternative) to plot, you know they work pretty well for planning the basic content of your scenes in one or two lines. They can be shuffled and rearranged and played with until you have a structure you like. This works very well. If you use this method, or a similar one, you only have to do one more thing to plot your emotional structure. For each scene (or whatever unit you use per card), turn the card over and note the emotional structure of the scene. This might contain the character's reactions, how it makes them feel, or whatever works for you. Basically, it's the why of the plot, the reason the events on the front side of the card matter, what they mean to the character, and (don't forget this part) the way you hope to make the reader feel.

You don't have to go into great detail about the emotional structure. Make notes for yourself so you remember what you wanted to accomplish with each scene. The front of the card might say something like "Billy finally finds the magical talisman in the undersea city, but the evil seahorsemen get there at about the same time and whisk it away. " The back might say, "After all he's been through, all the danger and disappointment and close calls, to get this close and then lose the talisman is too much for Billy, and he seriously considers giving up. It's not worth the trouble. Why should he care if the island princess gets her trinket? Volunteering for this mission was a bad idea to begin with. Let her find her own dumb talisman."

Whether you use index cards, stickies, a spreadsheet or database, plot software, a mind map, a Word file, or a pile of napkins, you can adapt it to include the emotional content of your story. Doing so reminds you that every scene, every event, every thing that happens, has to have a purpose, and has to affect your characters' emotions in some way. We've all been told by our beta readers or critique group that an event is cool, but they want a reaction. This method helps you remember that reaction, the thing you know the character feels but might not always communicate well. Your readers read your pages, not your mind.

Remember, the plot keeps the story moving, but it's the emotional structure that makes us care. It's the emotional roller coaster ride the character goes through that keeps us involved and that creates the real payoff in the end.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Creative Process

This is NOT you!
This is Murray the Nut.
Now get back to work.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Best Stories are Always Edgy

[I'm going to use my time this month to follow up on several topics that generated a fair amount of discussion last month. First up, "edgy."]

We often hear that agents and editors want stories that are "edgy," that "push the envelope," and that talk about how things "really" are.

The edge in question is usually the edge of social acceptability, where the scent of the forbidden entices our voyeuristic impulses. From a business perspective (and without trying to sound too cynical), it's much easier to sell something offering readers a chance to step vicariously outside their constraints.

The topic can easily become contentious. There are readers who feel life is too short to waste on vanilla when the "edgy" offers more exotic flavors. There are others who hear "edgy" and immediately think "uncomfortable," "gratuitous," or even "marketing gimmick."

It's unfortunate that there's a fair amount of ammunition for readers who associate "edgy" with "gimmicky" because there's an important place in the grand conversation for stories about the edges, not of acceptability but of society.

Stories from the social periphery give voice to people and experiences that are minimized or ignored. Going to the edge is certainly important for social justice, but it's even more important as a source of variability and vitality.*

But there's an even deeper point: at a structurally level, the best stories are always edgy in the particular sense that they take the protagonist out to the edge of their known world and then beyond. Whether the journey is actual or emotional, it's only in the unmediated wild beyond the edge of the safe and comfortable where character is revealed and proven.

* Chaos theory, for example, shows that the dynamic equilibrium between order and chaos is the region where the most interesting and complex things happen. The intertidal zone at the shore is a natural example of dynamic equilibrium. Another way to think of it is that the tendency of society to move toward monoculture is offset by the variations and novelties that arise on its periphery.

Deren blogs daily at The Laws of Making.
Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /