One Writer’s Journey: Honing the corkscrew brain

Come with me on a dangerous trek, a journey through my writer’s brain.

Ever do those maze puzzles?  Your job is to get from point A to point B through a series of baffling twists. There are a zillion ways to go from point A, each turn multiplying the possibilities. They’re frustrating and fun and before I finish I inevitably want to scream at the guy who drew all those *&@!! twists.

That’s a writer’s job in a nutshell: to write those screaming twists.

Last month I talked about verbing. Today I’m contorting the average storyline into something more–interesting. I’m taking my example from Biting Me Softly, because it’s handy and I know how I changed it. Oh, and because it just released in paperback this month (wink-wink, nudge-nudge say no more). “I” in this case is Liese, a girl-next-door computer geek. Logan is six-three of golden graceful vampire. Liese has followed Logan into a dark sewer, lured by odd howling. She has tripped and fallen.

Here’s the original.

I breathed deep, put my hand out to push up and encountered boot leather. Was this what tripped me?

This goes from A to B to C. Breathe, hand out, boot leather. No surprises.

Here’s the updated version. Note the expectation set explicitly, A, expecting B, getting C:

I put my hand out to push myself up. Instead of cold concrete my palm hit leather. I froze. Was this what tripped me?

And from there:

I brushed tentative fingers along the leather, identified a work boot attached to something. Stiff fabric, like jeans. Moving farther I encountered what felt like a leatherette coat.

A man? If so, he wasn’t moving, like…a dead body. I panicked, scrambled on hands and knees to find the neck, to find the pulse.

Where there should have been a neck, there was nothing.

This is pretty good, especially the part where she searches for a pulse and not only doesn’t find one–she doesn’t even find a neck.

My secret for solving those *&@!! maze puzzles is to start at the end and work my way backwards. And that’s the secret to writing those lovely twists too! Decide what you want to have happen, and set a different expectation first. Simple, but not easy. :) Easiest is to set the opposite expectation, like expecting concrete and getting a boot. Harder but sometimes more satisfying is veering slightly off, like a car chase where you’re expecting a car to chase Our Hero but instead a monster truck screams onto the road. Or if you’re going for humor, a unicycle.

What about you? If you write, how do you create twists? If you read, what are your favorite twists?

maryhughesbooks.com

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One Writer’s Journey: Verbing

Cars chasing, crashing, exploding. Fireworks shooting, color splashing in the sky. A fire licking in the fireplace on a cold winter night.

Motion attracts us. I learned this early in my marriage, when I had to compete with a flickering television for my tired husband’s attention after a long day’s work. To be fair, he had to also compete for mine. 🙂

We writers can’t make words physically dance across the page. Or at least, not yet 🙂 For now we have to evoke motion with strong clean verbs.

Last month I talked about immediacy. Today I’m pushing (shoving forcing selling driving thrusting) verbs. I’m taking my example from Biting Me Softly, because it’s handy and I know how I changed it—and okay, because it’s coming out in paperback February 1 (bats eyelashes appealingly). “I” in this case is Liese, a girl-next-door computer geek. Logan is six-three of golden graceful vampire. They’ve just met but the attraction is instant and explosive.

 I squeaked, trembling between cold hard steel and hot hard Steel. My lips parted on a gasp and in that instant Logan’s mouth claimed mine.

His kiss was hungry, deep and driving, like he wanted to eat me to my toes. I was instantly on fire. I wrapped my arms around his neck, tried to fuse with his scorching strength to burn more. My breasts rasped against his thrust of chest, my nipples cinching. Logan’s fingers found the hard nubs, tightened around them like vises. Lightning bolts of need streaked through me. My respiration shot into overdrive. I swallowed a cry and arched into his palms. Logan’s fingers clamped harder. I shrieked.

Dropped, eat, fuse, and rasped are good strong verbs. I personally like squeak because it conveys character too. But I “was” on fire? Logan’s fingers “found” the hard nubs?

What verbs would you use instead? How about swept, grabbed, seized?

Fire swept my body, melting bones and muscles. I wrapped my arms around his neck to save myself from liquefying into a puddle of 10W-Liese at his feet. My breasts rasped against the thrust of his chest, my nipples cinched at the scorching heat. He grabbed my breasts two-handed, long fingers seizing the hard nubs and pinching them like vises.

What verbs would you choose? What are your favorites, and why?

BOTTOMS UP Manifesto

Anyone else feeling a little blue? Months of Holiday excitement – beasts to roast, gifts to buy, parties to rock – then suddenly it’s Boxing Day. (Actually it isn’t. Little know fact: if Boxing Day falls on a Sunday it gets moved to Monday. Somehow, I don’t think that’s going to effect the activity at the malls today!) We now have one week to get ready for the last party of the year, one week to make New Year’s resolutions, one week to decide how best to change our lives for the better. It’s enough to make a girl want to crawl back into bed!

How about… not? I just don’t think I can do it this year. I don’t want to take a good look at this self who has been indulging in fruitcake, chocolate truffle bars, Chex mix and booze and say, “You must go the the gym three times a week in 2011! You must put away the laundry immediately! You must read to your children and not let them play Wii all day over break!” I don’t know about you, but as a general rule, I’m pretty hard on myself ALL the time, due to a lifetime spent trying to gain my father’s approval. (WHEN will I grow out of that? Ugh.) Instead of examining my life for flaws and resolving to fix them, I’m going to look at my life and say, “Good job, you!” Trust me, that’s going to be much harder than making a list of New Years resolutions.

For example, just yesterday I was freaking out because my father-in-law sent out a mass e-mail telling all the relatives about Bottoms Up, my first-ever release which is coming out on December 28th – my kinky, twisted, deviant, angst-ridden BDSM love story. I hope at least a few of you cocked your heads in interest. You are my target audience, after all! However, the relatives? Ahhhhhhh! While I was assimilating this info by reading the e-mail aloud to my husband, he suddenly said, “Enough!” I swiveled around in the computer chair and found him glaring at me. “You are doing what you always do, finding something to feel bad about in the middle of something fantastic. Quit it. You have a book coming out on Tuesday. You worked really hard to make this happen. Be proud, and don’t make excuses for the kink- even to my relatives!”

I love that man.  That is why Bottoms Up is dedicated to him. A few minutes later, my manifesto was born.

I hope you’ll join me this year in focusing on the positives instead of emphasizing the negatives. Let’s end the year believing in our abilities, our prospects and our people. Life isn’t perfect, neither are we – but it’s all good. And let me be the first to say, “Good job, you!”

For a chance to win the first author copy of Bottoms Up, enter Miranda’s Contest.

After the NaNo Holidays–AND A GIFT FOR YOU

Did you do National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? Or are you mid-holiday frenzy? Both explode a lot of energy through a short time.

Here’s my question: What do you do when it’s all over? Are you like me, and find cleanup a little dull after all the excitement? How do you combat that?

How about a *FREE* Kindle or Nook story for you? Five Angel Recommended Read* star The Bite of Silence, my short erotic vampire action-filled New Year’s Eve themed romance is FREE at Amazon and Barnes & Noble for a limited time.The Bite of Silence

Well, sure, that’s one way :)

After running full out I only have so much oomph, so I tackle the post-holiday jumble one small item at a time. The shards of wrapping paper are first. Then the boxes and plastic packaging my kids inevitably leave strewn around the living room.  The kitchen is next, putting away dishes from the feast. Decorations and cards come down anywhere from a week to a month laterbhey, they’re not in the way, right?

And after the NaNo? What do you do after pouring out fifty thousand words in thirty days? Maybe your prose is gorgeous, neat and complete. Maybe it looks like my house after the holidays. There’s a nifty book on how to handle that written by the NaNo guy called No Plot? No Problem! But this wouldn’t be a blog if I didn’t throw in my own two cents, one small item at a time.

Last month I wrote about The Bra Maneuver (Separate and Lift). Today I’m pimping IMMEDIACY. I’m taking my example from Biting Nixie, because it happens to be handy and I know how I changed it. “I” in this case is Nixie, a five-foot-nothing punk rock musician. Julian is a six-plus vampire lawyer. He’s really hot. Trust me. In this scene they’re getting attacked by bad-guy vamps.

In the dark beyond [Julian] I caught the impression of movement.  Blurs, two of them, coming in fast.  I couldn’t see much, sequestered behind Julian.  He was lean, yes.  But big.  His chest was solid and his shoulders broad.  His waist was easily as big as my hips.  That lean, flat waist.

In front of me, Julian’s arms jerked.  Cut through the air, hard.  His hands almost whistled with the force he used.  If he’d held knives, whatever he hit was now sliced, diced, and julienned.

Okay, there are two problems. Can you spot them? First, two good guys, two villains. How much tension is there with even odds? Second, you see the bad guys swooping in, and the next thing you see is Julian fighting. But where is the immediate cause of Julian’s slice-’n-dice?

Here’s the revision:

In the dark beyond him I caught the impression of movement.  Blurs, three of them, coming in fast.  I couldn’t see much, sequestered behind Julian.  He was lean, yes.  But big.  His chest was solid and his shoulders broad.  His waist was easily as big as my hips.  That lean, flat waist.

“Get him!” someone growled.

In front of me, Julian’s arms jerked.  Cut through the air, hard.  His hands almost whistled with the force he used.  If he’d held knives, whatever he hit was now sliced, diced, and julienned.

I’ve bolded the fixes. The frosting on the cake is GET HIM. Yes, I could have also elicited Julian’s response by shoving the bad guy right in his face. But dialog is fast, immediate. Command imperative is even more so. For more impact, show the threat as immediate before responding.

What about you? What do you do after the holidays? Or after the NaNo?

* Reviewed by Hayley for Fallen Angel Reviews

One Writer’s Journey: Picking out a muddled sentence

Come with me on a writer’s journey.

Writing is a journey. The grail might be writing the One True Prose on the first try, but I don’t know anybody who’s achieved it. Especially not me.

So I plan, then I write, then I edit. Then I read. Then I plan, write and edit some more. A key aspect of self-editing that I’ve discovered is the ability to see the problem in the first place.

One of my problems is the muddled sentence.

I’m taking my example from Biting Nixie (it’s handy, and I know how it got changed for the better. Always good to have the answer book 🙂  ). Bo’s a male vampire, friend of the hero Julian.

The scene: Chaos.  Violence.  Screams. 

Gaunt, fiery-eyed men rampaged outside.  Skull-headed, unnaturally fluid men with teeth like jagged glass.  Evil-looking men, seemingly hundreds of them.  A knot of red fire and flashing knives, surrounding… Surrounding Julian and Bo.

Here’s the original next paragraph:

Bo held a limp bundle, fought ferociously with one bare hand.  The bundle seemed to have two blonde heads.  Then I realized it was two people, one a child.  Both were as limp as puppets.  Neither moved.

Here are the revised paragraphs:

Bo held a limp bundle in one arm.  The bundle had two blonde heads.  I realized it was two people, one a child.  They seemed unconscious…or dead.

Bo fought ferociously with one hand.  He wielded what looked like a long knife, or a sword.  The blade whistled through the air, forcing the gaunt men back.

First, how did I know there was a problem with the original? Well, it feels muddled. It takes a bit of thinking to picture what’s going on. Something–language, sentence structure, something–has come between  the reader and the story.

Once I know something’s wrong, it’s a matter of figuring out exactly what it is. In this case, there’s two different things going on in that first sentence. “Bo held a limp bundle,” and he “fought ferociously”. The tension surrounding Bo’s limp bundle is lost because you’re immediately distracted by his fighting. To fix it I used a variation on the old bra slogan–Separate and Lift.  First paragraph talks about Bo’s limp bundles. Second brings in the fighting.

Clarity is vital in writing. Actions convey emotion to the reader. For greater impact, the actions (and thus the emotions) must be clear, discrete–separate. Kind of like color pixels separated by black on a high def TV gives you a better picture.

This isn’t the One True Prose. But it’s a step on the journey to get there.

Win a Biting Love ebook! I loved Nikki Duncan’s November 4 post so I’m also staging a drawing for commenters.

What about you? Do you have a favorite book on writing, or a writing gotcha to share? Or a special writing tic?

Comment on any or all. Commenters through November 20 will be entered into a drawing for any ebook title from my backlist  (erotic humorous paranormals). Share this post! Comment (with the share link) to get another entry. Adults only, please.

Happy writing!
Mary