Friday, April 10, 2009

Bringing Back The Spark—Writing Three-Dimensional.




~Sia McKye~


To me, the connotation of “spark” is putting life in your writing. I think you can have a distinct voice and still not quite have the spark there. For me, it’s that moment when my characters become real, or come to life on the pages. They act and react realistically, and not always as I may have originally envisioned the situation. It’s not so much you, the author, writing their lines…more like you as the author are channeling your character’s lives on to the pages of your story.

One of the ways I know I haven’t gotten the spark is when I’ve written something and there is that niggling feeling that tells me something isn’t right or something is off in this scene. It feels …flat. It might be that I’m trying to force my characters into a situation, or plot area, they wouldn’t be in, or have them reacting in a way, given their backgrounds, they wouldn’t. Or I’m trying to take the easy way out in solving their problems.

I think about how an actor approaches a role. As an actor, you have to step into your character, see who they are, how they react, understand what their goals are, what their motivations are, and what their conflicts are. Once you understand those things, then you know how these characters will act and react in pretty much any situation. You have to be able to do that to portray them in a play or on the screen. An actor can know the character they are depicting so well, that if a scene is rewritten they can and will argue it isn’t right, the character wouldn’t do this or that.

I think as a writer we need to do the same. We have to know our characters well to do justice to them. Some writers put together elaborate files on each character, likes, dislikes, favorite colors, etc. My files aren’t that elaborate. Many times I don’t have the character file when I start my story. I do by the end of the story. I usually write the beginning of the story. My file grows as I write. This is also where I dump exposition edits I’ve done that define my characters, things I need to know, but my reader doesn’t.

There are times when something doesn’t feel right but I can’t put a finger on it, other than my characters are feeling like one-dimensional paperdolls. It’s time for what I call Dr. Sia’s couch time. I put my characters on the psych couch and start analyzing them. I will sit down and write out each main character’s goals, motivations, external and internal conflict. I do this with the villain too. By the time I’m finished, sometimes before I’ve finished, I usually have that ah-ha moment and I can see clearly where I went wrong. The black moment is in the wrong place, or I’m making it a soft gray moment rather than black, maybe my hooks to draw my reader forward are dull or indistinct—not good. Seeing what’s wrong may also mean some rewrites but it puts me back on track and my characters and story again become three-dimensional. It makes their reaction to conflict sharper. Reaching their goals sweeter. It makes a better story.

Life is good again because my characters are back to being real people acting and reacting realistically.
The spark is back and the one-dimensional paperdolls are gone.



***

Sia McKye has spent over twenty years in marketing and promotion. She's written and published various articles on writing, marketing, and promotion. She's a Marketing Rep by profession and also writes fiction. Sia has completed a single title romance trilogy and is busy at work on a fun paranormal series.



Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Sweet Justice Is Coming



A frequent question readers, and often—other writers, ask a Best-Selling author, is where do you get your ideas? How do you develop the idea into a story? How do you research it? What is your motivation for using certain topics?

Best selling author, Jordan Dane, answers some of these questions and explains the reasons behind her Sweet Justice Series.


Imagine the horror of going to your teenager’s bedroom one morning only to find her missing. Her bed hadn’t been slept in and her clothes are gone.

In 2000, that’s what one mother in Florida faced. Her only child had conspired against her and ran away. And worse, she later discovered that her daughter had left the country—without having a passport. From the moment I read this news story, I was hooked and had to know more about how such an atrocity could happen. The teen’s trail might have gone ice cold, but her mother pushed authorities in a direction.

She knew where to start looking.

Only six months earlier, the girl had received a computer for a gift—a thoughtful present from a mother who wanted the best for her child. But this gift soon brought a virtual menace into their home. A charming and anonymous stranger lured the 14-year old girl to Greece—a man she’d met in a teen chat room. We’ve all heard stories like this. But after researching the facts behind this case, I was amazed at the audacity of this Internet predator.

And I wanted to shed light on the shrewd tactics of online predators in my upcoming book—Evil Without A Face (Feb 2009, Avon, $7.99)—the first book in my Sweet Justice series.

The online predator not only manipulated the teenager in Florida, but he also convinced law-abiding adults to cooperate with his schemes. These people thought they were helping an abused kid, but they didn’t know the facts, check with her family or contact local law enforcement. This stranger duped an employee of the local phone company into arranging for a private cell phone to talk to the girl directly. His slick manipulation scored him a purchased airline ticket (without a direct connection to him) and a clandestine ride for the girl to the airport. But after he bribed a child pornographer to acquire an illegal passport for her to leave the United States, the girl was out of the country before her mother knew she was gone.

And the chase to save the girl was on—a mother’s worst fear.

Now I know what some of you are thinking. This happened in 2000, before the added airport security measures were implemented after 9/11 in 2001. The girl would never have been allowed on a plane without proper ID. But after contacting a source in the airline industry, I was shocked to learn how many children travel unaccompanied and without a valid ID on domestic flights these days. So this extraordinary Florida case became the framework for my novel, Evil Without A Face. And I chose to set part of the story in the unique venue of Alaska where I had lived for ten years.

My novels have the feel of being ripped from today's headlines because real crime inspires me. Who says crime doesn't pay? Violence is like the ripple effect on the surface of still water. The wake radiates out from the victim and touches many people. In my books, I give a voice to the many victims of crime.

In Evil Without A Face, an illusive web of imposters on the Internet lures a deluded teen from her Alaskan home and launches a chain reaction collision course with an unlikely tangle of heroes. A new kind of criminal organization becomes the faceless enemy behind an insidious global conspiracy. And the life of one young girl and countless others hang in the balance. This is the initial driver to my new series. With an international setting, these thrillers will focus on the lives and loves of three women—a bounty hunter operating outside the law, an ambitious vice cop, and a former international operative with a mysterious past. These women give Lady Justice a whole new reason to wear blinders.

And their brand of justice is anything but sweet.

After researching the case in Florida, I became more concerned for na├»ve kids socializing in cyberspace—young people like my nieces and nephews. Savvy online criminals lurk in anonymity and carry on without fear of repercussion. I’m an active member of MySpace and Facebook and know how they operate. But these social networks aren’t the problem—the criminals are. And as you’ve seen in the headlines and on TV, the online community has become a real hunting ground for predators.

Why not? It’s easy pickings.

For the most part, the Internet is an invaluable tool. And it breaks down the barriers between countries, allowing many of us to have international friends. But the anonymity of cyberspace attracts all sorts of users with criminal intent. Terrorists have found new high-tech ways to recruit online and they have duped some Internet users into funding their activities or have resorted to outright stealing through subterfuge. And since crimes that cross over jurisdictions and international borders are harder to prosecute, offenders often get away with their schemes. That's why I wanted to write Evil Without A Face and dole out my brand justice. After all, who couldn’t use a liberal dose of ‘Sweet Justice’ when reality becomes stranger than fiction?


How has your use of the Internet changed over the years? Have you become more suspicious of certain behaviors from online strangers? And if you have children who use online resources, can you share some tips on how you keep them safer?

***
Avon/Harpercollins launched Jordan Dane’s debut suspense novels in a back to back publishing event in Spring 2008 after the 3-book series sold in auction. Ripped from the headlines, Jordan's gritty plots weave a tapestry of vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense pacing to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag—romantic suspense that “crosses over into plain thriller country”. Pursuing publication since 2003, this national best selling and critically acclaimed author received awards in 33 national writing competitions. And recently, her debut novel NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM was named Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2008 and Romantic Times Magazine nominated NO ONE LIVES FOREVER as Best Intrigue Novel of 2008. Formerly an energy sales manager in the oil and gas industry, she now is following her passion to write full time. Jordan and her husband share their residence with two cats of highborn lineage and the sweet memory of an impossible to forget canine. For more, visit www.jordandane.com.

Coming in November, 2009: THE WRONG SIDE OF DEAD










Monday, April 6, 2009

Mining Personal Gems

Award-winning author of The Chameleon Chronicles, Beth Ciotta, is my guest Over Coffee today.


Readers and writers both often wonder where an author gets their ideas. How to build believable characters that ring true and resonate with their readers. Where does a writer get the needed inspiration for realistic characters?

Today, Beth shares with us how she finds her inspiration for believable characters.


There’s a saying: Write what you know. Writing about something you’ve experienced—a job, a tragedy, a thrill, an encounter with certain personality types—lends authenticity to your tale. That’s not to say you shouldn’t research and write about what you don’t know. Why box yourself in? But if you’re ever stuck for an idea or material, consider the value in mining your own buried gems.

Evie Parish, the featured heroine, ALL ABOUT EVIE, EVERYBODY LOVES EVIE, and EVIE EVER AFTER, is a veteran performer—like me. Her struggles and triumphs within the entertainment industry ring true because they’re based on my own experiences and emotions. The same goes with her body-image issues as an over-40 woman living in a youth obsessed society. Because I’m personally keyed into these subjects, I write about them with an honest passion.

No matter your occupation, age, or personality there’s something within you and your history that will strike a chord with readers. I wasn’t always over forty and I couldn’t always support myself on performance gigs. The other day I thought about some of the odd jobs I've picked up over the years to make ends meet. Each one of these inspires an idea for a story or at least a character within a story.

1. Car hop waitress at a hot dog stand (developed an addiction to root beer and chili-cheese dogs)

2. Front desk clerk at a dry cleaner (Man, it's HOT in there! All that steam. Hmm.)

3. Sales-person at a men's clothing store (That employee 40% discount killed me. Spent more than I made. Although I did learn the 'correct' way to fold clothes)

4. Music teacher at a Catholic School, K-8 (Love kids. LOVE 'em. Except for that one out-of-control 5th grade class that made me cry.)

5. Entertainment Coordinator at Resorts Casino (My first taste of being on the supervisory end of entertainers. Whoa.)

6. PR Coordinator at Tropicana Casino (Perks? Learning how to write a press release, and escorting VIPs around the casino. Gary Sinese comes to mind. What a doll!)

7. Secretary/Assistant at two different entertainment-booking agencies (Something I was really good at, but didn't feel it was I was meant to do.)

On the subject of writing what you don’t know, I also have some dream jobs.

1. An ongoing job as a character at Disney World (Snow White's my first choice. Although I'd be happy with Cinderella.)

2. A travel writer (Getting paid to write about exotic foods and locales? Come on!)

Now it’s your turn. Name one real job and one dream job. I’m betting one
or both could inspire a fascinating tale or character. We’re all brimming
with personal gems. Sometimes you just have to dig.
***

Storytelling comes naturally to award winning author, Beth Ciotta. Limiting herself to one sub-genre does not. Dubbed “fun and sexy” by Publisher’s Weekly, Beth specializes in writing Romantic Comedy with a Twist of Suspense and is published in contemporary, historical, and paranormal romantic fiction. Beth’s latest release, EVIE EVER AFTER, is the third in a series with HQN Books and is currently earning rave reviews. Into the Wild, a romantic jungle adventure, is set for release in 2010. Look for these connected stories from HQN Books.

Beth lives in New Jersey with her husband, a zany dog and one crazy cat. To support literacy, Beth works at her local library where she enjoys hawking books almost as much as writing them. To learn more about her chaotic life visit her website at
www.bethciotta.com and her blog at http://bethciotta.blogspot.com/