Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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Don’t Let Thrillers Hog The Freezer!
We're so excited to have with us today at WITS: Tiffany Lawson Inman -Naked Editor! She's not only Margie Lawson's pride and joy, she's an amazing editor who can help take your writing from good to great! Here's Tiffany: Why is it, we think only of a high intensity thriller when we hear the phrase, “Gripping page turner?” Is it the: Non-stop action, fast pace, a billion plot twists, high stakes, extreme emotions and exhilaration? The stereotype breakers are the ones that I like to read.  Lisa Unger, Tana French, Elliot Perlman, Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson.  While reading  each of these author's novels, I have been on the edge of my seat, literally. Why?  Was it because of a brawny uniformed man swooping in to save the day? The convenient mass market size and price?   Nope. I read books based on these three elements: 1. Writing craft 2. Character development 3. Plot Well, gosh…ALL three of those elements are at the top of my list for reading other genres too.  Hmmmmm…. Precisely.  What am I saying? Strive to make EVERY novel a Thriller. Not with hype and a million plot twists, but with quality writing.  Just because you are writing Women’s Lit or a Western Romance, doesn’t mean you scrimp on the high intensity.  It means add it in, in an alternative way. Learn how to tell your story.  Find out what works and what doesn’t. That’s what those pesky NYT best sellers are doing.  They’ve learned how to ramp up the character's emotional detail rather than the gory detail of a thriller. NYT best sellers have learned how to show action when it’s simply a scene in a kitchen or coffee shop.  You say your Romance novel isn’t about life or death? Phooey!  It is.  The stakes can be just as high as life or death because your character's spirit will die if she doesn’t have her happy ending. Right? I don’t care what genre you are writing, I want you to be at the top of your game.  One genre is not above another in terms of writing craft…or it shouldn’t be.  From writers that pump out a book every three months for Harlequin to writers that have been working on the same novel for years and make it to Oprah, if you are striving to be published in ANY capacity, I expect excellence on that page. Not because I am an editor, but, because I am a reader. You don’t want your readers passing on your book because they have read the first chapter on their Kindle and they aren’t impressed.  You don’t want your readers struggling to finish your novel and in turn, never buying another of your books.  You do want your reader to be dazzled and emotionally attached to your characters, plot, and sucked in by writing craft.  How are you going to do this?  By following in the footsteps of the THRILLER. Dig in to a quality thriller and take note of how they:
  1. show emotion through EVERY aspect of writing craft
  2. show active description
  3. show active dramatic moments within the dialogue
  4. show character description and characterization through body language and dialogue cues
Here’s a strange question for you: What does The Shining have in common with Little Women?   They are both good enough novels to go in the freezer.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this is a Friends reference.  Season 3, episode 13,  where Joey is so grippingly scared by what is happening in The Shining, that he puts it in the freezer when he’s not reading it.  To somehow stop or “freeze” the events happening in the book, so he can breathe.   Episode summary: Rachel gives Joey her well worn copy of Little Women to read; a book he didn’t think could match the gripping ability of his much loved page turner, The Shining. The last scene of the episode shows a distraught Joey, so emotionally caught up in the character’s lives, that he is then forced to put Little Women in the freezer too.  This is what I want to read, every time I crack open a novel, thriller or non-thriller. So, writers.  Is your novel “freezer-worthy?” Let’s do a quick 'n easy Naked Editor Dramatic Dissection on a snippet from the first chapter of: Darkness, My Old Friend by Lisa Unger.   “I’m Eloise Montgomery.” It took a moment. Then he felt the heat rise to his cheeks, a tension creep into his shoulders. Pop- visceral reactions as his response. Christ, he thought. “What can I do for you, Ms. Montgomery?” Showing us his thought and then the line – immediately gives us an invisible tone to his voice, without saying, “ he said, with an irritated tone.” She looked nervously around, and Jones followed her eyes, to the falling leaves, the clear blue sky.  What a fabulous way to show setting and a little of what this lady is all about.  Why would she be looking at these things, unless she didn’t want to look at him directly? Unger is a master of active description. “Is there someplace we can talk?” Her drifting gaze landed on the house.  Interesting – she is showing a lot with the way this woman is approaching the situation. She doesn’t want to look at him, she doesn’t want to intrude on his home, and yet there is a look to the house, as if to will him to invite her in, without her asking. Lots of stuff going on here between, under, and above the actual words.  Can’t we talk here?” He crossed his arms around his middle and squared his stance. Maggie would be appalled by his rudeness. But he didn’t care. There was no way he was inviting this woman into his home. A strong reaction and an internalization – both very informative about his character.  And this raises a lot of questions in my reader brain – why is he behaving like this.  What has this woman done to him? A lot of emotion here for a man who didn’t remember who she was at first. “This is private,” she said. “And I’m cold.” She started walking toward the house, stopped at the bottom of the three steps that led up to the painted gray porch, and turned around to look at him. She still has not verbally invited herself in – but her actions say something else entirely.  Her dialogue is short and unapologetic, which raises MORE questions about who and what this woman is to the man in the scene. He didn’t like the look of her so near the house, any more than he did those doves.  On the previous page he mentions having to upend the home of some doves that had taken residence in the light inside his garage. They didn’t belong in his use either.  Birds make messes.  This is a fabulous tie in to something he doesn’t have to describe again for us – we know he is thinking she is invading his space and is likely to make a mess. Very nice technique. She was small-boned and skittish, but with a curious mettle. As she climbed the steps without invitation and stood at the door, Nice slice of character description here. Love her word choice. he thought about how, with enough time and patience, a blade of grass could push its way through concrete. Perfect use of active and emotion infused analogy. He expected her to pull open the screen and walk inside, but she waited. And he followed reluctantly, dropping his gardening gloves beside the rake. The next thing he knew, she was sitting at the dining-room table and he was brewing coffee. Simple compression of time here.  Very smooth, no speed bumps for me.   My assignment for you: Dig through your manuscript and make sure you are:
  1. showing emotion through EVERY aspect of writing craft
  2. showing active description
  3. showing active dramatic moments within the dialogue
  4. showing character description and characterization through body language and dialogue cues
Go forth and write! P.s. I’m on page 267 of Lisa Unger’s book now and, yes, I want to put it in the freezer.   I'll tell you mine, if you tell me yours! The Lovely Bones and The Secret Life Of Bees are two of my freezer dwellers... My body can't handle those high impact emotions all at once.  It's the curse of Theatre School and the ability to live through the minds of characters. Which books on your shelves, have you running for the freezer?  Have you learned anything from them? Do tell!    Tiffany Lawson Inman is a freelance fiction editor. Find more about her at www.nakededitor.net   Updates on where she’s been guest blogging, where she’s going to be next, and other writing/editing tips at Naked Editor Blog: http://bit.ly/NakedEditorFictionWritingBlog   Want to learn from Naked Editor? Tiffany teaches online at Lawson Writer’s Academy.  Check out the course she has coming up in January– you don’t want to miss it! http://bit.ly/LawsonWritersAcademyCourses Comment today and you could win her lecture packet: Triple Threat Behind Staging a Scene. An Actor’s Take On Writing Physicality, Choreography, and Action --- based on the current class she is teaching.   **Don’t worry, if you wanted to take the Triple Threat course and learn in the one-on-one atmosphere with Tiffany, this course will be back in the spring!
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Critique Groups: How To Find Your Dream Team
By Sharla Rae I’m very proud of my critique dream team here at Writers In The Storm. We started out liking each other, but we’re now sisters both in the family sense and as professional writers.  Unfortunately, not all critique groups are created equal. We’ve all heard critique group horror stories: unprofessional back-biting, petty jealousies and nit-picking a writer’s work to pieces.  At the same time, we’ve heard of critique dream teams like here at WITS. These groups give constructive criticism, share professional information, cry and hold each others’ hands after rejections, kick a partner in the behind when needed, and when a fellow member wins a contest or publishes, they break out the champagne. Not only do they care, they also share in the accomplishment. Last week, Jenny talked about supporting your critique partners in 10 Power Tips For Critique groups. But what if you don’t have a critique group? How do you find your dream team? I’ve belonged to three different critique groups in three different states. All were different in both culture and the way they worked. I learned that finding or forming a great critique group is like writing. Both take time, effort, determination, patience and yes, a little luck. So don’t waste time. Start by being honest with yourself. Ask these questions: 1] What do you expect from a critique group?

Line edits, grammar, punctuation Story construction and characters Plotting only Sharing up-to-date Industry knowledge Developing writing technique All or some of the above

2] What can you offer critique partners?

What are your writing strengths? Even newbie novelist bring something of value to the table. Maybe you’re an English teacher, an executive secretary, the editor of a company newsletter, a whiz kid at computers or selling yourself. You get the picture.

3] Are you willing to join a mixed-level group of writers?

By mixed-level, I mean, newbies, pros and published. If a mixed-level group doesn’t appeal, stick to your guns. If you don’t, you won’t be happy and neither will your partners. At the same time, beginners need to understand that while having a published author in their critique group is beneficial to them, they may not have the expertise to meet the author’s needs.

When I moved to California, the first thing I did was join my local chapter of Romance Writers of America - OCC/RWA. Then I looked for a critique group. Finding one proved more difficult than in the past – different culture. Californians don’t come to you; you must go to them. I inquired about critique groups at chapter meetings, but the chapter is large, and I’m shy with new people. When I did muster the courage to ask about crit groups, nothing seemed a good fit. Next, I ran an ad in the newsletter. Still, no go. Finally I joined the chapter loop and advertised for a critique group. Because I didn’t want to waste more time, I decided I needed to be forthright and tough about my needs. Easier to do online than in person. <g> The ad read like a job want ad including the implied “no loafers need apply.” It read something like this:

I’m a published author starting a critique group in the Irvine area. You must be actively writing and serious about a writing career. Please no newbies. I don’t want to be a writing teacher.

Must be willing to e-mail a chapter for critique and consideration. I’ll also submit a chapter to applicant for critique.

If I like the writing, we’ll meet and critique each other in person to learn if we’d make a good fit as critique partners.

As ads go, it sounded mean and stuck up, but I was determined to gain as much from my critique partners as I was willing to give them. Despite my rude manners, I received responses from like-minded writers who liked my honest approach. And so the interviews commenced.

What I Looked For

Personality:

Is this person open to constructive criticism or are they defensive to the point of only wanting to hear the good stuff?

Do I think I could like this person or did they rub me the wrong way? Liking a critique partner is no petty wish. Personality clashes do not belong in a critique group.

Writing Level:

Is the writing on a par with mine or at least close? Again, I didn’t want to teach writing 101.

Genre didn’t and still doesn’t matter to me at all. I may not write a particular genre, but I read all of them. If genre matters to you, then say so upfront. Personally, I think a mix really adds new depths to my own writing, but that’s another blog.

If the writing isn’t quite up to my level, does this person have potential? What else can they bring to the table? I know, I know, sounds mean. But this is a profession, not a hobby. I’ll give, but I want something in return. An English professor or teacher who is new at writing, earns mega kudos with me. Same with editing experience etc. Something else that goes a long way is enthusiasm.

Critique Style:

Does this person critique me on all the aspects I expect to be critiqued on? Do they understand the basics of plot, characterization, emotion, setting etc.? Did they suggest something interesting that I hadn’t considered? Was the critique constructive without petty nit-picking?  Did they find my critique helpful -- too little or over the top?

I was lucky to find Theresa, Deb, and Jenny. Together, we decided on a central location, time and place to meet. We’re somewhat flexible for holidays and vacations. When Theresa, our English professor moved away, we lost not only our grammar queen but also a wonderful friend with a nutty sense of humor. When I looked for Theresa’s replacement, I didn’t do it alone. As a group, we interviewed and critiqued new applicants. It took us three whole months! Why? One rotten egg, spoils the cake. Although we hadn’t started our blog yet, word had spread about how well our group worked. We had a huge response. Still, the way we work, we decided adding only one person was for the best. That was when we discovered we had a problem. We fell in love with two of the applicants. We finally agreed to make things easy on ourselves and invited both of them. Laura and Fae joined the group and boy oh boy did we luck out. Our WITS method of recruiting and interviewing may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I do believe the method is way better than jumping into a group situation, not knowing if you’ll fit their culture and methodology. It would be like taking a job without truly knowing the job description.

Three Rules For Those Gun-shy Of Critique Groups

1] Don’t give up on critique groups. Get tough!

If you’re a member of the critique group from hell, depart with due haste! Then try another group or start your own.

2] Know your own expectations and stick to them.

Critique groups are like jobs. How they operate varies as does employ/writer culture. Don’t settle. If you don’t love your critique group, soon you’ll hate writing too.

3] Be patient.

Finding the perfect fit takes time, but the rewards are great when you do.

So how about you? Are you looking for a critique group, leaving a bad one? Do you have a great story about the critique group you’re now in? Tell us how you found your dream team.
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Guest Blogger: Bestselling Author Karen White - Living with Both of Me
We are very excited to have with us at WITS today, NYT bestselling author, Karen White. If you've been on vacation in Atlantis for the past ten years and haven't read her, you're missing out - hers are some of the best novels we've ever read.  Seriously. Here's Karen: I was putting laundry away today in my teenage son’s room and paused in the threshold, unsure of the best way to navigate the floor strewn with books, school papers, empty water bottles, shoes, clothes (dirty and clean, from what I could tell), and unpacked suitcases from last weekend’s trip.  I’d take a picture to include here, but I don’t want DFCS calling on me.  Whose child is this? I’m a far cry from the character of Melanie Middleton in my Tradd Street series—the anal-retentive real estate agent who even schedules her potty breaks on a spreadsheet.  But I do like everything in its place.  I like neat piles of paper on my desk (my version of a “to do” list), and I like my countertops and bathroom sinks clear of clutter.  A cluttered house means a cluttered mind—at least that’s what I’ve read.  And since I work at home, I consider the entire house my workspace, and everybody had best keep it neat and clean!  I’ve been known to collect items without warning into a large garbage bag and place in the garage.  It’s amazing how seldom they miss anything. I manage to keep things tidy in most parts of the house, but in my children’s rooms I’ve simply given up.  I just don’t have the energy anymore.  My daughter is now in college, but when she’s at home, both kids are required to straighten up everything when the cleaning people come, but then it goes right back to requiring yellow tape across the doorway.  I’m thinking of reporting them to that A&E show, Hoarders.  I have an iPhone that keeps me organized—with every event color-coded by family member and subject.  Even the dog has his own color.  I set an alarm for each event just in case I’m distracted and forget.  Even better, when I sync with Outlook I can send reminders to various family members, too.  But not the dog, of course, as he doesn’t have thumbs and finds operating a handheld device too much of a challenge. You’re probably thinking that my organization spills over into my writing.  And there you’d be wrong.  I don’t outline.  I don’t do character sketches.  I don’t even do a first draft.  I just sit down somewhere with my laptop and start writing a story about characters I want to know more about.  I’ve been told it’s the “wrong” way to write a book, but I figure after fourteen published books (including one that debuted at #14 on the New York Times list), I can keep doing it the “wrong” way. I started out being a reader, and I write the way I read—without really knowing what’s going to happen next.  How excited would you be to read a book that you know how it ended?  Part of the fun of writing is discovering what my characters are going to do next. The only “organized” thing about my writing is my research.  Even though my stories have contemporary settings, I always use some kind of historical context—or some kind of passion that I know nothing about.  In The Memory of Water, the main characters were sailors, so I had to learn how to sail.  In The Lost Hours the protagonist was an Olympic equestrian, and in The Strangers on Montagu Street and the entire Tradd Street series, the heroine has to restore an old house.  This means lots and lots of research to make sure I get it right. I do most of my writing in a chair in my sitting room.  Next to the chair is a bookshelf where I keep all of the current project’s research books and notes within easy reach.  Since I don’t always know what I’m going to write, I don’t always know what I’m going to need in terms of research material, so I make sure I have a good supply just in case.  For my November release, The Strangers on Montagu Street, I had to know about all things Charleston:  where somebody would buy an antique wedding gown, what’s the hottest restaurant, what do interiors in Charleston’s historic district look like, who made miniature dollhouse furniture in the early twentieth century, and what colors can my heroine paint her historic home among other things.  I also needed to know what her fabulous garden would look like for a large outdoor birthday party that happens halfway through the book.   I had everything organized by subject (including pictures and articles torn from Charleston magazine), and my notes stuffed neatly in folders.  I read and researched as I wrote, sometimes writing new scenes to accommodate something interesting I’d learned. Now with the book done, those books have been cleared off and filed downstairs in my study on the large bookcases for future reference, and now my St. Simons Island books are filling the shelf by my writing chair to help with the writing of my book due out next summer. Sure, writing this way probably does take longer.   But I just can’t imagine doing it any other way.  I think that after a writer finds the process that works for her, she should stick with it. My children are trying to convince me that the cesspools of their rooms are part of their learning process, and it works for them.  I don’t buy it.  I think it’s just laziness.  When my daughter headed off to college last month, all I could think about was seeing her clean room, day after day.  Friends told me I’d miss the mess once she’d gone.  Ha!  I didn’t miss her dirty diapers when she was potty-trained, after all.  Maybe HGTV will be interested in a “before” and “after” show about children’s rooms after they depart for college.  I’m already envisioning the neat and tidy bins I’ll have stacked in my son’s now unreachable closet, the sharply folded clothes in the drawers of his dresser that right now can’t be closed. Or maybe I’ll write a book with a mom and two messy teenagers.  I wouldn’t have to go very far to research, and the time saved might allow me to reorganize my office.  And my kitchen.  Or maybe I can just catch up on the sleep that I’ve been missing for the last nineteen years. Do you live with people who "organize" differently than you? Where do you write and what is your process? After playing hooky one day in the seventh grade to read Gone With the Wind, Karen White knew she wanted to be a writer—or become Scarlett O'Hara.  In spite of these aspirations, Karen pursued a degree in business and graduated cum laude with a BS in Management from Tulane University.  Ten years later, after leaving the business world, she fulfilled her dream of becoming a writer and wrote her first book.  In the Shadow of the Moon was published in August, 2000.  This book was nominated for the prestigious RITA award in 2001 in two separate categories.  Her books have since been nominated for numerous national contests including two more RITAs, the Georgia Author of the Year Award and  has twice won the National Readers’ Choice Award for Learning to Breathe and On Folly Beach. Karen currently writes what she refers to as ‘grit lit’—southern women’s fiction—and has recently expanded her horizons into writing a mystery series set in Charleston.  Her fourteenth novel, The Beach Trees, was released in trade paperback by New American Library, a division of Penguin Publishing Group, in May, 2011 and debuted on the New York Times bestseller list at number fourteen.      Karen hails from a long line of Southerners but spent most of her growing up years in London, England and is a graduate of the American School in London.  She currently lives near Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and two teenage children, and a spoiled Havanese dog (who appears in several of her books), Quincy.  When not writing, she spends her time reading, scrapbooking, playing piano, and avoiding cooking.  Her next book, The Strangers on Montagu Street, will be published on November 1st, 2011 and she is currently contracted with Penguin for four more novels. Facebook: www.facebook.com/karenwhiteauthor Email: AuthorKarenWhite@aol.com Website: http://www.karen-white.com
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