Posted in General

Twisted Tales

In cultures all over the world, there are timeless stories. Often these are oral stories we might hear from parents or grandparents. Most of them have a moral bend—instructing the listeners to be kind, to have compassion and to stay hopeful. A lot of these stories get lumped in under fairy tales.  

There’s a lot of reasons why fairy tales and children’s stories remain so popular. Their elements show up even in modern storytelling. This isn’t just aimed at children’s movies either—the entire romance genre and its respective subgenres hinge on having a happily ever after. Even Star Wars has a call to fairy tales in its opening crawl: A long time ago, in a galaxy far away.

Depending on the fairy tale, you may know how easy it is to twist them. Red Riding Hood is a classic example of this—in some cases Red is gobbled up by the wolf and only saved by a passing woodsman. In others, Red fights back and frees her grandmother from his stomach by using a woodcutter’s axe.

The same can be said in many other fairy tales. Cinderella either gets help from the mice she feeds, or from her mother’s spirit. Her awful stepsisters aren’t immune either. Rather than breaking the shoe by forcing it on their improperly sized feet, older versions have them cutting off parts of their feet to fool the prince.

This should tell you how easy it is to twist a fairy tale. What if rather than harming themselves to fit the shoe, the sisters had tried to create another glass shoe? What if Gretel hadn’t freed her brother?

And, in the modern age where we know things like computers and cars and many other wonders, what happens when you change the genre of the fairy tale?

Can you imagine a sci-fi retelling of the Goose Girl? How would a vampiric Cinderella work? Would Snow White be able to solve the murder of the seven dwarves?

Also, consider swapping the characters. Could Rapunzel find an escape from the Giant’s Beanstalk?  Would the sister of the six swans be able to outsmart the wolf of the three little pigs?

Fairy tales have been getting twisted and turned about since they were first told. How would you twist these classic stories?

Posted in General, writing

Daily Writing Habits

One of the most common pieces of advice thrown around for writers is to write daily. There’s no arguing that even just a hundred words a day will add up at the end of the year (you’d have just over thirty-six thousand to be exact). The key to that however, is in not missing a day.

Sometimes, sitting down at the keyboard for an hour or more just isn’t possible every single day. There are days where I struggle to find even a half hour, and frequently it’s in little scattered chunks of time. Five minutes here, ten minutes there. Tiny chunks that get interrupted.

The key to making writing a daily habit is often in size. I can’t always sit down and hammer out three thousand words a day—but I can certainly find fifteen minutes to scribble something down.

By keeping my daily habit small, it’s manageable. Even when I’m just not in the mood to write, having a small goal means I can be done with it and move on to the next thing. And sometimes having that fifteen minutes is enough to find my groove and get into a flow.

Sometimes, writing doesn’t actually mean writing. There are dozens of workbooks out there that ask all manner of good questions about your story, your scene, your setting, your characters and anything else in your story. It’s not a bad idea to consider answering one or two or even three of those questions a day when you’re not actively putting words to the page. It helps sharpen your craft and polish your story.

  To set a reasonable daily habit for yourself, take a few minutes and consider all the things you have to do on the daily. Include things like household chores, cooking, caring for children and the hours you spend at work. Now, consider how quickly you can write. What is the smallest possible number you can write in five minutes? Set that as your daily goal.

As a back-up for those days where writing just isn’t going to happen: Find or make a list of general questions to try and answer for every story you write. Consider things like identifying themes, recurrent messages, character motivations. Scale these questions up to be story-encompassing, and down to cover scene-level details. Set an alternate goal to answer a couple of questions (even if you don’t write the answers down right away) on your non-writing days.

What do your daily writing habits look like?

Posted in General

Five Unusual Words

Words do a lot of work. Between their actual meaning, their syllables and their connotations, they can invoke emotions and images. Consider sibilant and hissing. They both indicate the same ‘s’ sound associated with snakes and harsh whispers. Some dictionaries even use one to help define the other! Yet, they evoke and conjure entirely different connotations. Hisses are often considered sharper, but sibilant tends to be associated with a softer sort of ‘s’.

There’s a lot of words out there too, including some unusual ones you might want to try out.

Defalcation: the theft, misuse or misappropriation of funds. More specifically, this is aimed at funds the defalcator had been trusted to use appropriately. The term actually shows up in US Bankruptcy Code to help define funds that have been tainted by misuse and therefore can’t be cleared by filing for bankruptcy. Use it to spice up your next gripping embezzlement thriller.

Frisson: the shiver from a sudden strong emotion. If you’ve ever had a horror movie raise goosebumps or the thought of trying a new roller coaster send a tingle up your spine, you’ve experienced frisson. And don’t worry about that shiver up your back now, that’s just a frisson of excitement about learning a new word.

Limerence: is the state of being infatuated with someone, and typically carries a strong desire for reciprocation of that attraction. Before you romance writers get any ideas though, keep in mind that limerence itself tends to be short-lived. If you’re still finding some attraction to this word though, consider how it might be useful for your villain.

Pot-valor: if you feel a little bolder after drinking alcohol, you have pot-valor. Typically, this is that point of inebriation where bad ideas (like texting your ex) start to sound like good ideas. You can also use pot-valiant and pot-valiancy as needed. Next time you have a few drinks with friends, impress them with this word instead of your own pot-valor.

Vulpine: of or pertaining to foxes. (Come on, how could I pass this one up?) Just like wolves have a certain sense about them, so do our clever fox friends. A lot of times vulpine is used to indicate something is sly or coy. Consider this word the next time your friend shoots you a vulpine smile.

There are thousands of words out there. What are some of your favorite unusual words? Let me know in the comments below!

Posted in General

Converting Notes

Spring is starting the last preparations for its summer leave, which means this is one of the last few opportunities to do some spring cleaning. For me, that includes reorganizing my notes. More specifically, it’s been going through old story notes to see what I still need and what can go.

Unfortunately, that’s a lot of notes, some of which while still useful, need updates and new additions made. Being that these are all hard copies, there’s no easy way to find and replace things like old names. And, when I do need to consult on a note, I have to manually flip through the notes to find the one I need. That alone can take chunks of time away when I’m working on a project.

Which is why part of my spring-cleaning to do is converting all of my hardcopy notes into digital copies. Because I want to make sure they’re both searchable and easily updated, scanning the majority in isn’t a great option (there are some sketches and maps that can be converted easily).

Laid out to sort and count.
Most of the sketches will scan in with no problem.

The biggest hurdle I’m seeing however is that I have a lot of hardcopy notes owing to the fact I think best when handwriting something. For me, that’s an easy fix, since I have a graphics tablet with Windows Ink functionality—I can continue handwriting my notes and have it corrected into typed word. That makes it both readable for later, and lets me preserve a method that works best for me.

Because most of my notes are contained in setting-defined binders, I’m going through them alphabetically. In total, I have thirteen binders to convert. Once I’ve emptied them, I’m planning on donating any that are still in good condition and recycling the ones that have gotten torn up and damaged from use.

 This is going to be a long process, but I’m excited to get through it. I’m also curious. How do you keep your notes? What solutions do you have for organization? Let me know in the comments below!

Posted in General, writing

Creating Titles

This post is an update to one published March 8, 2018.

Titles and first lines are two of the hardest things to come up with in writing. Titles can be the easiest things to come up with, and other times a good title evades us for months on end.

There’s a good reason for that as well. Titles, like your first line, have to hook the reader. Unlike first lines, your title stands alone, without the potential for readers to try just one or two more lines. Your title has to catch your reader’s attention in a sea of other disconnected titles. Essentially, a title is your most basic (and important) piece of marketing. After all, you can’t tell your friends about a book with a title, so how can your readers?

A title has three main functions. Firstly, it catches attention. This is it’s first and foremost function—again, not unlike the first line. The idea is to give your reader enough of a hook that they’re at least interested enough to read the blurb.

Secondly, a title helps your readers predict the content. Don’t think this is a bad thing either—if you’re looking for a light historical fiction romance, you’re not going to be looking at titles that indicate a lot of heartache and blood, or even titles that indicate you’re dealing with the factual accounting of Henry VIII’s sordid affairs.  

Third and final, your title is an identifier for your story. This sounds complicated, but it’s really not. Going back a little earlier…you can’t recommend a book without a title, how can your readers? A title identifies your book, and gives you a basic place to start your marketing.  

The good news is that your title may end up changing up until publication. This might occur during edits, or as you’re working on marketing materials. Depending on the route you go to publication, it might happen because of something your editor or early readers suggest. While searching for a title, it might help to have a working title on hand—that is, something you plan on changing later.

Your main character’s name might very well step up for the title, a la Jane Eyre or Harry Potter. There are entire series which are known by the name of the main character. Think Anita Blake or Sherlock Holmes. This also applies to locations. Think something like Bridge to Terabithia.  

Alternately, theme might give you a good place to look. Think not only Sense and Sensibility or Eat Pray Love but also things like the Fast and Furious franchise. This gives you a chance to pinpoint what your story should feel like and what it’s going to focus on.

Playing off theme, you can also use key or symbolic items. This might give you something like Blood and Chocolate. It’s an easy option that can help you earmark other points of metaphor in the story. If your story features a MacGuffin, you’ve got a ready-made option here.

Finally, use your main concept as your title. Star Wars springs to mind easily. The basic idea behind the story has a lot of unexpected power. Concept titles tap into that.

Remember that you can mix and match titles as well. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix does just that: uses both the main character’s name, and the main concept. Try mixing and matching a couple of different options.  

As an exercise: To give yourself a little material to work with, try to come up with a list of at least ten different titles (hint, come up with two from each of the above categories, plus another two mix-and-match options). Following that, try to find ten lines or phrases in your manuscript that resonate with the story as a whole. You should end up with roughly twenty titles, all of which you can now tweak and play with.