Are We TRULY Thankful? Unseen Blessings that Can Change Our Lives

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PLEEEEAAASE. Just ONE enchilada. I will love you FOREVER!

One thing I’ve learned is that happiness is a fleeting shadow. Contentment and gratitude are all that last. When circumstances dictate how we feel? Just accept that life is going to feel as if we are strapped to Hell’s Tilt-A-Whirl.

Because cats will never puke on tile instead of carpet, cars break, sinks leak, pipes bust, bills come, illness happens, kids act up, family WILL make us nuts, work will suck, some people will NEVER learn not to CC ALL in an e-mail, and the news will always be filled with the worst examples of “humanity.” EVERY network will spew doom, gloom, division, hate and hopelessness.

On the other side of that?

We also live in a society that tells us everything should be a highlight reel, that everyone ELSE is living a highlight reel, when truth is? That’s a lie. Most of life is Behind the Scenes and ugly and sticky and coated in cat fur and cracker crumbs.

I make it a point to begin every day with an attitude of gratitude. I think it is important, especially these days where it seems like every commercial tells us we aren’t thin enough, rich enough, successful enough, happy enough. We always need more “stuff” to be enough.

Stuff your Stuffies with MORE STUFF! Order now and we will sent you two FREE Stuffies to stuff EVEN MORE stuff!

I wrote a blog ages ago about focusing on success, that we tend to drift where the eyes focus. Race car drivers learn that if you want to cross the finish line, never ever take your eyes off the goal line. Look at the wall and you will hit the wall. I believe everything is that way. If we focus on where we are lacking, what others appear to have that we want? We run the danger of being deeply ungrateful, and that can be an extraordinarily defeating way to live.

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Lately, I’ve had a hard reality to face. I’ve always been very healthy and exercise was a part our lives. Then, in late August, I came down with Shingles. It’s been three months of non-stop nerve pain and exhaustion. Since I can’t move a lot, I can’t work out, thus I can’t pass a mirror without cringing. I’m also an author and a small business owner and it feels like everything is going to seed before my eyes.

But? I have a malady that will eventually heal.

I have a wonderful little boy who is HIGH ENERGY. My author friend J.E. Fishman writes a thriller series about Bomb Techs. Highly recommended, btw.

ANYWAY….

As part of J.E.’s book promotion, he sent me a gift. Stress balls that look like little bombs with a fuse. This means every time I go to the bathroom, Spawn flings open the door and lobs a grenade and shouts “FIRE IN THE HOLE!” seconds before a stress ball dings off my head….then he runs away laughing.

It was seriously funny the first 7,651 times.

But shouldn’t it be funny EVERY time? Am I taking enough time to ENJOY this little boy who will grow up all too soon? There are the dishes, the laundry, the dusting, but am I ENJOYING the home I have? I love serving writers, blogging, teaching, but am I taking a moment to ENJOY all of you? I have the world’s best husband. I make it a point that, when he gets home from work, a fresh, hot meal is made and his clean pajamas and towel are laid out next to the shower, but am I ENJOYING him?

My legs went to sleep an hour ago...

My legs went to sleep an hour ago…

Am I truly giving thanks?

I don’t know about you, but I know this is an area I can ALWAYS come up higher. Grateful people are happy people.

Thanksgiving seems to be the middle child of holidays. Halloween is fun and glitzy and exciting. Christmas is cute and we adore it and look forward to seeing it…and oh yeah, there’s Thanksgiving. Hey, do we even have decorations for that? Christmas is this magical time, and we often hear how we need to keep Christmas in our hearts all year long. Well, that is a great idea, but we would be wise to keep Thanksgiving there too.

We have all kinds of ways to be thankful and many things to be grateful for that we might not even notice. The next time you go to complain, I challenge you to think of the blessing that inconvenience really is. I do this myself when I hear complaints and grumblings coming out of my mouth. I’ll show you what I mean…

I am thankful for the searing nerve pain in my leg, because I still have a leg. It wasn’t blown off by an IED or amputated because of diabetes.

I am thankful for all the laundry I have to do, because it means I have clothes to wear.

I am thankful for the dishes that need washing, because it means I didn’t go hungry.

I am thankful for my BAZILLION food allergies, because it means my family eats very healthy.

I am thankful for the ENORMOUS electric bill, because it means my home has lights and heat.

I am thankful for the sheets that need to be changed, because it means I own a bed.

I am thankful for all the reading I have to do, because it means I’m literate.

I am thankful for the car that needs all new tires because it means I don’t have to walk miles and miles to get what I need.

I am thankful for that parking space waaaaayyyy out in the back, because it means I don’t have to park in a handicapped space. I can walk.

I am thankful for the garage that needs to be cleaned out, because it means I am blessed with plenty.

I am thankful for the chores to be done, because it means I have mom who loves me enough to travel to see me.

I am thankful for the litter-box that needs cleaning and the dog blankets that need washing because it means I have pets who love me unconditionally.

I am thankful for Johnny Cat who I have to shoo off counters and who breaks EVERYTHING, because he nearly died and now he’s back, healthy enough to wreak havoc (refer to above pic).

I am thankful for the split ends and six inches of roots I have, because it means I haven’t lost all my hair to chemo.

I am thankful for the Christmas cards I need to send, because they could as easily be funeral announcements.

I am thankful for the traffic snarls that catch me, because the body the firemen pulled out of the fatality accident could have been me.

I am thankful for the persistent leak in my sink, because it means that I have a home.

I am thankful for all the Christmas shopping I have to do, because it means I’m not alone.

I am thankful for my fluffy body because it could be emaciated and waiting on a food relief truck.

I am thankful for the son who would make a nest in my bra if he could (especially when I am WRITING), because it means I have a son who dearly loves me.

I am thankful that I sometimes have doubts and confusion about my future and my purpose when I think of the lives cut short before they ever had a future.

I am thankful for my freedom and the amazing men and women who put their lives on the line to protect it.

I am definitely thankful for all of you who bless me on this blog by giving me your time. Time is the most precious commodity we have and we never seem to have enough, but all of you are so generous to me. You share the very thing we all need more of….TIME. Thus, I’m immensely grateful you guys give to freely to me. I’m WAY thankful for my amazing WANA community. You guys are the bright spot to each and every day in my world and the world around you. It is such an honor and privilege to serve you.

And for a laugh and even a little food for thought, I LOVE this video…

What are you guys thankful for? Maybe things that vex you, but when viewed another way are unseen blessings. I’d like to hear your comments (which I am super especially thankful to get, by the way). Do you feel Thanksgiving kinda gets steamrolled? Do we need to learn to be more grateful as a culture? Is consumerism taking the place of genuine joy? What things do you do to make sure you remain grateful!

I LOVE hearing from you!

****

Yeah, yeah, I just griped about consumer culture, but writers need to eat too. Feel free to ignore and scroll down, but I DID write a book and it IS very helpful ;) . Happy Thanksgiving!

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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43 Comments

7 Essentials Every Author Needs to Know About Twitter

Hmmm, looks like a ticket to TWITTER JAIL

Hmmm, looks like a ticket to TWITTER JAIL

I’m still delusional that I might finish NaNoWriMo. I can write 16,000 more words in five days, right? Sigh. I’ve been away from the blog because I’m in the trenches with the fellow Nanos. Also I really needed to take a bit of a break. To help me with my pseudo-sabbatical? The AMAZING Social Media Maven Marcy Kennedy is here to help you learn how to use Twitter effectively. 

Using Twitter effectively is important. Twitter is a tool, but we can look like a tool or act like a tool if we rush in not knowing what we are DOING.

Great news is I have done all the dumb stuff so you don’t have to. Marcy might have, but I can’t speak for her (and she is kind of a Hermione) so she probably was smart enough to learn from MY dumb stuff…..

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“Marcy”

Take it away, Marcy!

***

Twitter often gets a bad reputation from people who don’t understand it or don’t know how to use it to its full potential to build an author platform. If we’re misusing it or not using it to its full potential, not only will it not help us, but we also won’t be having any fun. And social media should be fun!

So today I want to walk through the seven essentials every author needs to know about Twitter. When used correctly, Twitter can be one of the best tools for increasing traffic to our blogs and gaining new readers for our books.

Essential #1 – Which Tools Work the Best for You

Social media can feel a little like THIS...

Social media can feel a little like THIS…

When we are new to Twitter, we might not realize we have options for tweeting other than using the twitter.com website. Hint: You don’t want to actually use Twitter.com to tweet. It only gives you one column and very few options. We need something more effective to manage our tweeting.

There are two basic choices—TweetDeck and Hootsuite. (There are others, but these two are the best.) You’ll hear from people who love one or the other, so the important thing is to choose the one you like the most.

Essential #2 – How to Use Hashtags

Using hashtags allows people we’re not already connected with to see our tweets (and vice versa). Effectively using hashtags is one of the quickest ways to build relationships with new people on Twitter…if we use them well.

Since I don’t want this post to be as long as a novel, I’ll direct you to a post I did for Kristen earlier called “Twitter Basics–The Proper Care and Feeding of Hashtags.”

Essential #3 – How to Use Lists

SO ME!

Organize ALL THE TWEETS!

One of the most common complaints I hear about Twitter is that the amount of tweets is overwhelming. There’s a simple solution—Twitter lists. A Twitter list can be added to a column in TweetDeck or a stream in Hootsuite so that we’re able to watch only the tweets made by the people on that list.

Once you know how to use them, they become a powerful tool not only for making Twitter more enjoyable, but also for building a viable author platform. Twitter lists can help:

  • Make connections with agents, editors, or book reviewers
  • Build relationships with other writers in your genre
  • Keep track of subject matter experts; connect with writers who live in your area
  • Reciprocate for people who regularly retweet your tweets
  • Stay in touch with fans who contact you about your book or say something good about your writing.

Essential #4 – What to Tweet 

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We’re writers, so the temptation is to be the “all writing, all the time” channel. Tweeting about writing some of the time is fine because it helps us connect with other writers, but it won’t help us connect with readers.

Connecting with readers is about joining in conversations and tweeting links to material that your potential future readers might be interested in. If you’re writing science fiction, tweet about new scientific inventions, for example.

If you’re writing romance, your audience might be interested in posts about love and relationships, about the latest fashions, or about exotic locations. If you’re writing thrillers, you could find true crime posts and interesting tidbits from the news to share.

Essential #5 – Avoid Connecting Facebook and Twitter

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We won’t have success on any social media site unless we’re there, actively participating and building relationships. That means that connecting any two sites so that what we post on one automatically shows up on the other is a bad idea.

But connecting Facebook and Twitter so that your tweets carry over is also a terrible idea because what people look for from the two sites is different. You might think you’re saving yourself time, but you’re risking coming across as a spam bot instead.

Essential #6 – What Can Get Us Sent to Twitter Jail?

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When it comes to Twitter, there are three big no-nos that can land us in Twitter Jail. Consider these the equivalent of speeding, driving down the wrong side of the road, and driving under the influence.

  • Follower to Following Ratios

People hit the magic number of 2,000 people they’re following and suddenly Twitter won’t allow them to follow anyone new. This happens when we don’t have enough people following you compared to the number of people we’re following.

If this happens, you’re going to have to go and clear out some of the people who aren’t following you back using a tool like justunfollow.com. If your ratio is so far off that you’ve been thrown in Twitter jail, you’re not going to get out just by begging a few more people to follow you.

  • Tweeting Too Often

I’m still shocked that people have this happen given that the technical limit is 1,000 tweets per day. However, this is also broken down into hourly limits. So if you think of it that way, you’re limited to approximately 83 tweets per hour. That might sound like a ridiculously high number you’d never hit, but if you’re taking part in some kind of Twitter party (e.g., a launch party for a book), you may actually find you hit this limit.

With the growing popularity of those types of events, as well as themed chats, you need to be especially careful about this limit if you’re the administrator of the event.

  • Spammy Behavior

Most of you are probably already aware of the major spam behaviors to avoid. Kristen has done an amazing job of educating writers about what counts as spam, but in case any of you are new to Twitter or don’t read Kristen’s blog quite as dedicatedly as I do, I really think these are essential to know.

Spam = If you post duplicate content over multiple accounts or multiple duplicate updates on one account.

So let’s say you created an account both for yourself and for your book and you post the same updates to both. That technically violates Twitter’s spam policy. If you post the same updates over and over again on a single account, it’s also spam and Twitter will suspend your account for this kind of behavior.

Spam = If your updates consist mainly of links, and not personal updates.

This is another reason why the conversation aspect of Twitter is so important. This is a social media site founded with the intent of both sharing information and providing people will a quick, easy way to voice their opinions and chat with others. Be aware that if you’re only posting links, you’re technically in violation of Twitter’s user policies.

Essential #10 – How to Connect Your Website to Twitter

Original image via Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of FEMA

Original image via Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of FEMA

Our home base on the Internet should never be a social media network. We should have a website (and ideally blog on our website as well) because that is a solid foundation to build upon.

Part of what we want to do is create a circle between our blog and our social media networks. We share material on social media, which draws people back to our blog, and they enjoy the content, so they return to social media and share it with the people they’re connected with. And the cycle continues and grows.

You’d be surprised how many people chop a hole in this cycle because they don’t enable sharing buttons on their blog or website. Make sure you have a button that people can click to tweet your blog post right from your website.

Want More Help with Twitter for Authors?

Please check out my book Twitter for Authors: A Busy Writer’s Guide (available in ebook and print forms). Building a thriving social media platform doesn’t have to steal all your precious writing time or cut into your time with your family. Twitter for Authors is about building a successful Twitter platform that’s sustainable for busy people.

In Twitter for Authors, you’ll learn…
• essential Twitter terminology,
• how to set up your account,
• the differences between TweetDeck and Hootsuite,
• techniques for staying safe on Twitter,
• how to build columns and lists and use them to find readers,
• the value of link shorteners and hashtags,
• what to tweet about,
• the most common mistakes writers make on Twitter,
• how to run a successful Twitter event,
• how to manage your social media time,
• and much more!

Twitter for Authors contains helpful advice for both Twitter newbies and long-time Twitter users who want to take their platform to the next level.

 

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21 Comments

Book Promotion that Makes an Impression—Don’t Advertise When You Can PADvertise

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Since most of us are neck-deep in work and NaNoWriMo, I thought it was time to talk about something OTHER than writing. How are you going to MARKET that NaNo novel by December 3rd, 2014?

Only amateurs need “revisions” *rolls eyes*.

We all know what we are writing is PURE GOLD begging to be unleashed  available for purchase in time to pay off all the money we’ll spend on Christmas gifts. That and being a NYTBSA by the end of January of 2015 is a great start, right?

Any of you who regularly follow my blog know that I am totally out of my mind a bit eccentric. Saturday, Hubby took pity on me and let us go out to eat (a rare treat around here). As I closed the door to the stall, I noticed all the advertising on the back of the bathroom door. This cluttered wall of ads made me think about all the authors spamming non-stop about their books on Facebook and Twitter.

In fact, just a couple days ago, a writer who’d never even said, “Hello” asked me to promote his new sci-fi book. Suuuuuure, right on that.

Some writers are becoming worse than an Amway rep crossed with a Jehovah’s Witness. I mean, can the author book promotion get any more invasive?

Wait…

Maybe it can.

I’ve blogged so many times about the dangers of automation and how spamming people is counterproductive. I’ve talked until I am blue about how advertising our books has a terrible ROI (return on investment) and how most people don’t pay attention to it. Ah, but then it hit me. The main reason spam doesn’t work is because people ignore it and no longer “see” it, but what would they see?

Panty Prose—Not Advertising, Padvertising (TM)

We all know that roughly 85% of readers are women, and what do women need? Panty liners. YES, but what do they need more than springtime fresh girl parts? More FREE! books. Indie authors shouldn’t spam about their latest book release or .99 cent promotional sale.

Why?

Because it’s rude? No! Because it is obnoxious? Not quite. Because it smacks of desperation? Not at all. The reason authors shouldn’t spam about their books is because spam is for amateurs.

The real writer of the Digital Age doesn’t settle on blasting out non-stop self-promotional tweets. That is SO 2012. The REAL writer of the Digital Age realizes a captive audience is a a buying audience.

Catch readers with their pants down with Panty Prose.

Panty Prose is perfect for the indie author. Most readers are female and even females need something to read in the bathroom. We at Panty Prose (an imaginary division of W.A.N.A. International) have teamed up with Always against their will to offer your readers the best deals right in their pants. PADVERTISING.

Panty Prose not only offers you Padvertising to a guaranteed clientele, but we have all kinds of layouts to suit your Padvertising needs. Technology is your friend with Panty Prose. Put your book where it counts…

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At Panty Prose, we even make it affordable for you to place your face in your reader’s pants…

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As you can see, Panty Prose is inserting your ads into a virgin market begging to be tapped.

Why are all the romance authors giggling?

Anyway, while others might see a protective strip that gets tossed in the bin, we see an unused space to Padvertise your latest novel AND save trees! Instead of throwing away that paper strip, we can print catchy lines from your book so fans can collect them ALL…

Kristen Lamb, Author Kristen Lamb, WANA, We Are Not Alone

Make Your Readers Want MORE….

Make Your Readers Your Fan for ALWAYS….

My writer pal, Chad, was happy to step in and help me with a mock up of The Panty Prose Motivational Series:

Panty Prompts for Writers:

PantyPrompt

Serious Chad, the choice for the Serious Writer.

Panty Praise:

Available in "You're Losing Weight" and "No, Your Butt Doesn't Look Big at ALL"

Available in “Yes, I Noticed Your New Hair Style” and “No, Your Butt Doesn’t Look Big at ALL”

Panty Prose is dedicated to keeping women fresh while selling your books. Attending a writing conference? Well, there is a bathroom and everyone knows that even agents have to go potty sometime. Why not help them out? Keep them springtime fresh and give them your query. Elevator pitches are for losers, when you can use the Panty Pitch. The Panty Pitch comes in three fragrances, Sonnet’s Eve, New Office Supplies, and Double Espresso.

Panty Pitch:

Save agents time and keep them fresh!

Save agents time and keep them fresh!

Panty Prose for the Published Professional is a smart, savvy way to stand out from all the competition that still is relying on scheduled tweets, auto-DMs and posting ads on new FB friends’ walls.

Make an impression that will last for Always.

Yeah, I am a wee bit tired from NaNo and not enough meds. You know you’re punch-drunk (and have no social filters) when you spend a full day Photoshopping your face on a pic of a panty-liner, LOL. When I’m tired, my humor gets warped, even for me. But you know I am on to something!

W.A.N.A. is dedicated to giving you the evil genius you need for success. Aside from Panty Prose, what other “free spaces” could we exploit for book advertising? You know, to catch those who missed our 23 tweeted links, 6 auto DMs and five form letters.

So what do you think? Has the book spam gotten completely out of control? Are there other ways you can think of that are utterly invasive creative ways to market our books (Keep it PG, Please :D )? Does promoting/book marketing feel about as bad as Padvertising? ***Btw, it doesn’t have to be ;) ***

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE (without using something as AWESOME as Padvertising), pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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103 Comments

Point of View—What IS It? How to Find the Perfect Voice for YOUR Story

Geiko Caveman.

Geiko Caveman.

Monday, we talked about the Three Acts of a Writer’s Journey. The first hint we might be tipping into The Apprentice Phase is we hear the word P.O.V. and panic. What is THAT? Prisoners of Vietnam? Pets of Vegans? Pals of Viagra?

We ALL know writing a novel is FAR from easy. We just make it look that way ;) .

Today, I’m putting on my editor’s hat. Many of you decided to become writers because you love to write. Duh. I’ll even bet most of you, back when you were in school, also made very good grades in English. Thus, you might assume that you naturally know how to write a novel that is fit for successful publication.

Maybe you do. But, if you are anything like me when I started out? You might not know as much as you think you do.

Why?

Our high school English teacher didn’t care that we used 15 metaphors on one page. Why? Her goal was to teach us how to properly use a metaphor…NOT to prepare us for a career in commercial fiction. Same with college.

The single largest mistake I see in new manuscripts is the author does not understand P.O.V. and often this is why agents and people like me only need a page or two to know the manuscript/writer isn’t ready to publish.

This is an easy mistake to make, in that, as I stated earlier, formal education classes aren’t neccessarily there to teach us how to be great novelists. Some writers pick up on P.O.V. intuitively, but most of us need to be taught, lest we leave the reader feeling as if she is being held hostage on Hell’s Tilt-A-Whirl.

P.O.V. Prostitution (A.K.A. Head-Hopping)

Let’s step back in time to the days before we all made the decision to become writers. I would guess (hope) all of us were readers. We loved books, and books were a large part of what prompted our career choice. Ask yourself the following questions:

Have you ever tried to read a book, but eventually had to put it down because it was too confusing? You couldn’t figure out who was doing what, and you needed Dramamine to keep up with the perspectives?

Have you ever read a story that was so good you actually felt as if you had taken on the character’s skin? His success was yours, as was his failure. By the final page, you were sad to say good-bye?

P.O.V. used properly can create entire worlds, and breathe life into characters. Used improperly, it can make your reader feel like she’s been bungee-corded to Satan’s Merry-Go-Round—not good.

First, we have to know what P.O.V. is if we hope to use it to our advantage.

P.O.V. stands for Point of View.

Although this literary device is one of the most vital tools an author possesses, it is probably the number one style problem I encounter as an editor. I cannot count how many new writers (and, sadly, some not-so-new writers) give me a blank stare when I write P.O.V. in big red letters all over their manuscripts (and H.H., but we’ll get to that later).

The best way to describe point of view is to think of your story as viewed through the lens of the video camera. How many people (characters) are going to be permitted to hold that camera?

Image courtesy of Jon Gosier, via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Jon Gosier, via Flickr Creative Commons

Is your camera going to travel with one main character through the entire story? Or, do others get a turn? Is “God” holding the camera? These are simple questions you can answer to help you select the point of view perfect for your story.

There is no wrong P.O.V., but we do have to be consistent. P.O.V. is a HUGE factor in determining our writing voice.

What are the types of P.O.V.? What are their inherent weaknesses and strengths? For the record, this is HIGHLY redacted for the sake of time.

A quick overview:

First-Person P.O.V—uses “I” a lot. Only one character (the narrator) has the camera.

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There are three disadvantages to this P.O.V.

1. This P.O.V uses a lot of “I” which can become repetitive to the point of distraction.

2. The reader can only see and hear what the narrator knows. This limits the flow of information. Probably good for a mystery, but if you aren’t writing a mystery this may not be the right P.O.V for you.

3. First-Person P.O.V is a bugger when it comes to tense. Why? Because First-Person breaks into two camps.

There is the I Remember When camp and the Come Along with Me camp.

One is in past tense, a recollection. “I remember the day my father and I were attacked by a pack of Mary Kay ladies gone feral….”

The other is in present tense, and the reader is along for the ride. “I walk these streets every morning, but today I am just waiting for something to go wrong….”

Note of Caution: It is extremely easy to mix the two camps together. Tense can be problematic…okay, a nightmare.

The benefit of First-Person? First-person P.O.V. adds an intimacy that no other P.O.V. can, and is useful for stories where we might want to withhold information from the reader.

Third-Person P.O.V—is when you, the writer, permit one or more of the characters to lug the camera through your story.

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Um…YES.

Third Person Locked allows only one character access to the camera. The entire story is told through what that particular character can experience through the 5 Senses. So, if your character’s eyes are “shining with love,” then she’d best be holding a mirror, or you are guilty of head-hopping.

Third Person Shifting allows more than one character access to the camera. Here’s the rub. Your characters must to play nice and take turns. Only one character with the camera at a time. When the next character wants a turn, there has to be a clear cut.

Think of the director’s clapboard ending one scene before shifting to the next. It is usually a good idea to limit one P.O.V. per scene. When we switch perspectives inside the same scene, that is called head-hopping, and it will confuse and frustrate our readers.

There are advantages to Third-Person Shifting:

1. It can add additional depth and insight to your story.

2. It can allow you (the writer) to hold back information and add to suspense.

3. Third-Person Shifting can allow other characters to take over during emotionally volatile points in the story.

For instance, if your protagonist walks in on her brother lying dead in a pool of blood, the emotions experienced are realistically too overwhelming to be properly articulated by your protagonist. In this scenario, First-Person P.O.V might not be the best fit. The scene might be more powerful if told from someone watching this protagonist react to discovering a deceased loved one.

Ah, but there are also inherent problems with Third-Person Shifting.

1. Your characters must play nice and take turns. Otherwise, your reader will likely become confused and eventually frustrated.

2. It is best to permit camera access to key characters only. The reader has to stay in one head long enough to feel connected. Too many perspectives can easily become overwhelming and dilute the strength of your characters.

Omniscient P.O.V is when “God” gets to hold the camera.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 7.33.18 AM

Oh stop mucking it up and give Me the camera…

This P.O.V is like placing your camera up high over all of the action. The narrator is omnipresent and omniscient. “If Joe had only known who was waiting for him outside, he would have never left for that pack of cigarettes.”

Joe cannot experience anything beyond the 5 Senses (third-person). So, unless Joe is actually Superman and possesses X-Ray vision, it takes an omniscient presence to tell us someone bad is lurking outside waiting to do Joe harm.

There are advantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Omniscient can relay information that would be far too overwhelming to describe if limited to the 5 Senses. Epic battle scenes are a good example.

2. Omniscient can give information critical to the story that the character doesn’t have to personally know. For instance, in NYTBSA Bob Mayer’s Area 51 Series (which I HIGHLY recommend), he relays a lot of factual and historical information that is critical to understanding the plot. But, it would really seem bizarre to the reader if his characters just started spouting off the history of the pyramids like an Egyptologist.

To avoid this jarring scenario, Bob used an omniscient presence to relay the information so the prose would remain remain nice and smooth and the fictive dream could stay in tact.

There are disadvantages to Omniscient P.O.V.

1. Third-Person P.O.V. and Omniscient P.O.V. are VERY easy to tangle together.

2. Omniscient P.O.V. and Head-Hopping are not the same, but are easy to confuse. I’ve edited many writers who believed they were employing Omniscient P.O.V. In reality, they were just letting every character in the book fight over the camera simultaneously, leaving me (the editor) feeling like I was trapped in the Blair Witch Project.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 8.01.36 AM

Whose head am I in? I can’t tell. Help meeeee…..

Proper use of P.O.V. takes a lot of practice to master. It is very easy to shift from one type of P.O.V. to another, or what I like to call “P.O.V. Prostitution” or “Head-Hopping.”

Key Points to Remember:

In First-Person—Come Along with Me stories can easily turn into I Remember When stories (or vice versa). Tense is a big red flag. Do you shift from present to past or past to present? Pay close attention to verbs.

In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting)—Characters will only play nice and take turns if you, the writer, force them to. Make sure whatever is happening in a scene is something that could be filtered through ONE character’s 5 Senses.

In Third-Person (Locked & Shifting) —“God” is really bad about grabbing your character’s camera, so keep an eye on Him. If there is suddenly information your character has no way of knowing through the 5 Senses, that is a big clue the Big Guy snagged your camera. Just remind Him nicely of commandment number eight, and ask Him to give the camera back.

In Omniscient—“God” is in charge. Be careful your wide-lens isn’t zooming in and out and making your reader dizzy in the process.

P.O.V. is one more reason it is critical for writers to read if they hope to become great authors. Read, read, read. Read all kinds of books by all kinds of authors using different P.O.V.s to see how it is done well.

EXAMPLES:

Suzanne Collins brilliantly employs First-Person in the Come Along with Me fashion in her Hunger Games Trilogy. Her choice of P.O.V. gives an intimate feel no other P.O.V. can, and, since it isn’t an I Remember When story, Collins is able to maintain reader suspense.

Stephen King does a great job of using first-person in an I Remember When style in The Green Mile. King chose this P.O.V. for a very specific reason, which I will not say so as not to spoil the ending even though y’all have had like, TWENTY YEARS to read it.

Dennis Lehane does an amazing job of employing omniscient in Mystic River. If you think you might want to use omniscient, I’d recommend reading him.

James Rollins uses third-person shifting very well in The Doomsday Key. Third-shifting is generally a great P.O.V. for thrillers in that it helps manage/reveal a lot of information that the protag may or may not know.

I would recommend Jonathan Maberry’s Patient Zero: Joe Ledger Series.  I HIGHLY recommend Iron River by T. Jefferson Parker. Both these authors mixed third-limited and first-person and the effect is impressive.

P.O.V. when used properly can take a story to a whole new level. Read, experiment and practice. I know I just touched on a handful of suggestions, so feel free to add your thoughts, expound, ask questions.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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73 Comments

The Three “Acts” of a Writer’s Journey—From Newbie to Master

Pirate Code=Writing Rules. Clearer now? :)

Pirate Code=Writing Rules. Clearer now? :)

The mark of a great storyteller is they make our job look easy. The story flows, pulls us in, and appears seamless. Many of us decided to become writers because we grew up loving books. Because good storytellers are masters of what they do, we can easily fall into a misguided notion that “writing is easy.” Granted there are a rare few exceptions, but most of us will go through three acts (stages) in this career if we stick it through.

Act One—The Neophyte

This is when we are brand new. We’ve never read a craft book and the words flow. We never run out of words to put on a page because we are like a kid banging away on a piano having fun and making up “music.” We aren’t held back or hindered by any structure or rules and we have amazing energy and passion.

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 8.32.50 AM

Woodleywonderworks Flikr Creative Commons

But then we go to our first critique and hear words like “POV” and “narrative structure.” We learn that maybe we don’t know as much as we think we do and that we need to do some training. We also finally understand why so many famous authors drank…a lot.

Act Two—The Apprentice

The Apprentice Phase comes next. This is where we might read craft books, take classes, go to conferences and listen to lectures. During the early parts of this phase, books likely will no longer be fun. Neither will movies. In fact, most of your family will likely ban you from “Movie Night.” Everything now becomes part of our training. We no longer look at stories the same way.

The apprentice phase is tough, and for many of us, it takes the all the fun out of writing. The apprentice phase is our Act II. It’s the looooongest, but filled with the most growth and change. It’s the span of suck before the breakthrough.

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 8.34.46 AM

Image via KcdsTM Flikr Creative Commons

It’s like when I first started learning clarinet and I had to think of SO MANY THINGS AT THE SAME TIME. I was new at reading music, and I had to tap my foot to keep the beat at the same time I keyed notes (which I keyed incorrectly more times than not). I had to hold my mouth a certain way, blow air with just the right force, pay attention to the conductor…and most of the time I needed a nap afterwards.

Not to mention I sounded like someone was water-boarding a goose.

WHY did I want to play clarinet? I wondered this a lot.

Same with writing. Many shy away from craft books because they fear “rules” will ruin their creativity. Truth? They will, but only for a little while ;) .

Eventually we realize that rules were made to be broken. BUT, the difference between the artist and the hack is that the artist knows the rules and thus HOW to break them and WHY and WHEN. We start to see rules as tools.

As we move through The Apprentice Phase and we train ourselves to execute all these moves together—POV, structure, conflict, tension, setting, description, dialogue, plot arc, character arc—it eventually becomes easier. In fact, a good sign we are at the latter part of the apprentice phase is when the rules become so ingrained we rarely think about them.

We just write.

We’ve read so much fiction, watched (and studied) so many movies, read so many craft books, heard so many lectures, and practiced so much writing that all the “rules” are now becoming instinct and, by feel, we are starting to know where and how to bend, break or ignore them.

Writing is now starting to become fun again, much like it was in the beginning when we were banging away on the piano keyboard. Like the clarinetist whose fingers now naturally go to the right keys without conscious thought, we now find more and more of the “right” words and timing without bursting brain cells.

The trick is sticking it through the apprentice phase long enough to engrain the fundamentals into the subconscious.

Master

This is where we all want to be. In fact, we all want this on Day One, but sadly, I believe this Day One Master is reserved for only a handful of literary savants. Mastery is when we return to that childlike beginning. We write with abandon and joy and, since the elements of fiction are now part of our DNA, our literary marrow, what we produce isn’t the off-key clanging of a neophyte, it’s actually a real story worth reading. Granted, it isn’t all kittens and rainbows. Masters have a lot of pressure to be perpetual geniuses.

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Portrait by Yosuf Karsh via Wikimedia Creative Commons

I believe most of us, if we stick to this long enough, will always be vacillating between the Advanced Apprentice Phase and the Mastery Phase. If we choose to try a totally new genre, we might even be back to Neophyte (though this will pass more quickly than the first time).

We have to to keep growing. The best writers still pick up craft books, refresh themselves in certain areas, read other authors they enjoy and admire to see if they can grow in some new area. Masters seek to always add new and fresh elements to the fiction.

The key to doing well in this business is to:

1. Embrace the Day of Small Beginnings—Starting is often the hardest part. Enjoy being new. Enjoy that feeling because you will reconnect with it later because you recognize it.

2. Understand We All Have an Apprentice Phase—We will all be Early, Intermediate, then Advanced Apprentices. How quickly we move through these will be dictated by dedication, hard work and, to a degree, natural talent.

3. No One Begins as a Master and Few Remain Permanent Masters—Every NYTBSA was once a newbie, too. When we understand this career has a process, it’s easier to lighten up and give ourselves permission to be imperfect, to not know everything. Many writers get discouraged and give up too soon because they don’t understand there is a process, and they believe they should be “Masters” right away.

Hey, I did.

We need to give ourselves permission to grow. If we love and respect our craft, we will always be learning, so we will continue to dip back into “Apprentice” to refine our art even further.

Does this make you feel better to know this career has a process? Are you in the Act II span of suck and getting weary? What are you doing to remain focused? Which part has you the most discouraged? Frankly, I am in the trenches doing NaNoWriMo with you guys. I can say it is A LOT easier this year than in previous years. We can’t refine and edit words that don’t exist. Write with the abandon of the Neophyte then edit with the eyes of an Advanced Apprentice or Master ;) .

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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98 Comments

Writing Spies: Five Dos and Don’ts

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 10.49.02 AM

Piper is back to guest post once more. I’m scrambling to catch up after being flattened from travel/work. Le sigh. Also have to get my NaNo tools together. Coffee, candy, energy drinks, stun gun, duct tape. So enjoy your Halloween. It’s kind of like New Year’s Eve of the Writing World. Party hard and have your fun because tomorrow….

Anyway, if you happen to be working on an action or thriller or some book involving those of the intelligence community, this post will help tremendously. Great writers ALWAYS do their homework. No one cares about our glorious prose if we goof something that five minutes on Google would have answered. But for the stuff maybe Google CAN’T answer? We have Bayard and Holmes…

By Piper Bayard

Spy thrillers are a staple of genre fiction, and a good “Bond” never goes out of style. However, a bad “Bond” can have those in the know throwing your book out the window of an Aston Martin faster than you can shake your martini. My name is Bayard. Piper Bayard. And my best friend and writing partner, Jay Holmes, is a 40-year veteran covert operative. I’m here today to help you write books that stay inside the sports cars.

Sean Connery and his Aston Martin Image from Goldfinger Many books have been thrown from this car.

Sean Connery and his Aston Martin
Image from Goldfinger
Many books have been thrown from this car.

 1. DON’T let your covert operative announce her identity, or that she is a covert operative.

Cover operatives are . . . wait for it . . . covert. Unlike James Bond, covert operatives don’t reveal their identities, and especially not while on missions. Even decades after they are out of deep cover, they keep their work to themselves. That’s because when they are revealed, former assets and current loved ones alike can become targets.

That also means that, when a celebrity author shows up in an “I’m a Spook” T-shirt flaunting a “covert” career, it’s a dead giveaway that though she may have done some great and necessary work with an intelligence agency, she has never been a covert operative in the field. Covert operatives must forever keep a Chinese wall around their true identities.

2. DON’T call your spooks “spies.”

Yeah, I know. Then what’s with the title of this article? I hadn’t gotten to tell you that “spies” are actually “spooks” yet. I didn’t want to confuse you on that point before you got this far.

Holmes and his ilk are “spooks,” not spies. As Holmes says, “Spying is seamy. It’s what the Russians do.”

Spooks refer to each other lightheartedly as “spooks.” That’s also what military personnel call them when military and intelligence operations overlap. For example, if an intelligence team is working in a secured area of a ship, the crew refers to them as “the spooks.”

There is no official Dictionary of Spook Terminology, but the proper terms for spooks are “intelligence operatives” and “intelligence agents.” By habit, “operative” is used by CIA personnel when they are talking among themselves or reviewing an operation, and “agent” refers to someone – usually a foreigner – who is collecting information in a foreign country. Intelligence personnel are the “operatives” who are managing the foreign “agents.”

Note the spook putting on his seatbelt Not Holmes Image from CanstockPhoto

Note the spook putting on his seatbelt
Not Holmes
Image from CanstockPhoto

3. DO put on your spook’s seatbelt.

Car chases happen, but they don’t happen without seat belts. Every now and then, a spook might have to drive the wrong way up a one-way street or wheel down the Spanish Steps. *cough, cough, Holmes, cough, cough* But when he does, he wears his seatbelt. Religiously. “Because you can’t finish the mission if you’re dead.”

4. DON’T let your spook duck into a doorway to spy on her target.

That’s a good way for a real spook to get dead.

One of the first things spooks must learn about following people is to not be followed themselves. It’s common for bad guys to have their own people tailing them to pick up any newcomers, so spooks can’t only focus on who’s in front of them. They have to be acutely aware of who is behind them, too. If they duck into doorways and peek around the edges, they are making it obvious to anyone behind them that they are watching someone.

That means that if a spook wants to watch someone from a doorway, she has to take her eyes off the target, go all the way inside a building, and only turn around once she’s out of sight of the street. Then she can come back out and stop in the doorway under some other pretense than watching someone. It also gives her the chance to handle the bad guy’s trailing entourage.

 

Rosa Klebb -- Room service gone bad. Image from From Russia with Love

Rosa Klebb — Room service gone bad.
Image from From Russia with Love

5. DON’T let your spook order room service.

How many times has Bond ordered room service? And how has that worked out for him? You’d think he would have learned after Rosa Klebb’s stunt in From Russia with Love that this is a seriously bad idea. Even the spooks in the otherwise realistic movie Act of Valor ordered take out and paid the price.

This isn’t only because of the opportunity for an enemy to poison them, it’s also because it’s generally bad juju for spooks to invite strangers into their space when they are on missions. In fact, Holmes won’t even have a pizza delivered to his house. The only food he actually enjoys is his own, his wife’s, or mine if it includes chocolate, and only then if he is eating at home or at the home of a trusted friend.

These are only a few of the most common blunders that Holmes and I see in movies and books. If you’d like to learn more about writing spooks, keep an eye out for Truth & Fiction posts at Bayard & Holmes.

Do you have any questions? I will answer some here in the Comments section and some on posts over at Bayard & Holmes.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Don’t miss The Spy Bride Blogger Challenge and Giveaway!

Click HERE for details.

We have some wonderful prizes for readers to celebrate the release of our debut novella, THE SPY BRIDE, in the RISKY BRIDES Bestsellers’ Collection. Sign up for the Bayard & Holmes Newsletter and be automatically entered to win a Secret Decoder Ring, a stash of Ghirardelli chocolate, or a bottle of sparkling wine from Mumm Napa vineyard.

Bayard & Holmes Newsletter Link–Click Here to Enter

The Spy Bride Risky Brides Boxed Set final Cover

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Bayard & Holmes Official PhotoPiper Bayard is a bestselling author and a recovering attorney. Her spy thriller writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

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Write a Terrific Novel (NaNo), Minimize Revisions, & Improve Odds of Finishing AND Publishing

Image via Flikr Creative Commons. Bansky's "Peaceful hearts Doctor" courtesy of Eva Blue.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons. Bansky’s “Peaceful Hearts Doctor” courtesy of Eva Blue.

We’ve already discussed the importance of  fueling the muse BEFORE NaNo. But, fueling the muse, creativity, talent and all that jazz IS NOT enough. Finishing, while fantastic, is ALSO not enough. If we finish, yet have written something that can never exist off life-support? We’re back at Square One.

Though I am a fan of NaNo (National Novel Writing Month which is NOVEMBER) and Fast Draft, these tactics will work for writing ANY novel and minimize revisions.

AND…you don’t even have to be a plotter (Hint: I’m not. More of a Plotser–> Plotter + Pantser)

One of the major reasons many writers fail to complete the story is there isn’t a single CORE story problem in need of resolution. The story dies because it lacks a beating heart and a skeleton.

Stories with no hearts and skeletons are primordial adverb ooze and not good for much other than scaring small children.

A great trick one of my early writing mentors taught me was to go to the IMDB and look up log-lines of movies. Search for ones similar to the story you want to write and use it as a template. I will use an older and timelessly popular movie so I don’t spoil anything. Y’all have had 30 years to see the movie, so, yeah.

For instance, the log-line for Romancing the Stone is:

A romance writer sets off to Colombia to ransom her kidnapped sister, and soon finds herself in the middle of a dangerous adventure.

Okay, so here is “Kristen’s story”:

An OCD accountant sets off to Mexico to find her missing little brother and soon finds herself in the middle of a dangerous adventure.

It’s good enough. But, I am a perfectionist and not a fan of “good enough.” Let’s give more detail. When it comes to log-lines, I would have written Romancing the Stone THIS way with this formula:

Protagonist must do X (active goal) in order to stop X (antagonist) before super bad thing happens (ticking clock).

A fraidy-cat romance (INHERENT PERSONALITY TRAIT THAT ASSUMES ARC) author (PROTAGONIST) must travel to Columbia and partner with a shady smuggler to rescue her sister (ACTIVE GOAL) from jewel thieves (ANTAGONIST) before they feed her sister to alligators (SUPER BAD THING/ TICKING CLOCK/STAKES).

Using this formula and log-line, we can use it as a pattern for my made-up-this-morning story:

An OCD accountant (PROTAGONIST) must travel to Mexico City and partner with a former Green Beret ex-patriot to save her prodigal brother (ACTIVE GOAL) from a drug cartel (ANTAGONIST) before the cartel makes him an example to other dealers who lose shipments to Border Patrol (SUPER BAD THING/ TICKING CLOCK).

I just made up this log-line, but doesn’t it speak VOLUMES about the story? Why is the accountant OCD? Is she the older child who took care of a younger brother who was out of control? The more little brother got involved with bad people, the worse her OCD became? By using “prodigal brother” we get a sense that maybe he was trying to turn his life around and leave being a user and a dealer.

Ah, but “getting out” isn’t so easy.

By saying we have an “OCD accountant” we’ve picked the WORST person to send into the filthy bowels of cartel-land, let alone partner with a Green Beret. She’s going to want to control everything and maybe even use disinfecting wipes on all things in sight (including her Green Beret friend). We see how this could easily be a thriller, a romance, or even a comedy depending on how we write it.

With just this ONE sentence, we KNOW how the story ends and where. It ends in Mexico with brother alive and drug cartel either dead or in jail. So, we know where we are GOING. This makes plotting (even very basic Pantser-Plotting) simple. If our OCD accountant ends up in Kansas instead of Mexico, we know we took a wrong turn.

NaNo can feel a little like THIS...

NaNo can feel a little like THIS…

There are now only so many options that lead to Mexico and finding little brother. There are only so many ways she can encounter an ex-pat Green Beret. Does he save her from being mugged? Does she HIRE him? Does he hit on her in the airport and she turns him down because his clothes are wrinkled and now she can’t get rid of him?

This log-line tells us VOLUMES about character arc, and, as the late Blake Snyder said, “Everybody arcs!”

Accountant is going to have to get over her OCD and become less controlling/neat-freakish and probably FORGIVE little brother, and maybe Green Beret needs to lighten up or even be more serious. If he’s an ex-pat, he could be running a sunglass kiosk on the beach and his motto is “Don’t worry, be happy” because he spent enough years being serious. His relaxed manner might drive her insane.

Formula for AWESOME conflict.

By looking at the IMDB, we can check out movies we loved and likely find there was a solid core story problem (code for “good log-line”). Most of the movies we hate? The ones where we are all like, “Great, two hours I can NEVER get back.” Odds are? Crappy log-line.

Worst….movie….ever (and I don’t give a rip what Sundance says). Melancholia. But I should have known from the log-line:

Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide with Earth.

Image from "Melancholia" but also Kristen's face the ENTIRE TIME WATCHING THIS MOVIE.

Image from “Melancholia” but also MY face the ENTIRE TIME WATCHING THIS MOVIE.

Who is the protagonist? There ISN’T one (trust me on this). What is the active goal? Again, NOT THERE. “Finding a strained relationship challenged” is NOT AN ACTIVE GOAL.

It’s a sentence for misery. And, yes, I am bitter.

The movie is literally two sisters b!tch!ng at each other until everyone dies….and there was much rejoicing because I hated everyone in the movie and was happy they were all obliterated.

Yes, there is a super bad thing/ticking clock (a mysterious planet threatens to collide with the Earth) but there is NO WAY TO STOP IT. So the viewer is trapped with the Family from HELL until everyone dies.

The end.

ARRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!

We can learn a lot about what TO DO by studying what NOT TO DO. Yeah, yeah, Melancholia was pretty and had great cinematography and if you watch the movie on MUTE, it probably rocks. But for story? Not there. Trust me. This is three and a half hours of my life I will never get back AND $15 because I was stupid enough to BUY the movie and I can’t even regift it because there is no one I hate that much.

Sorry if I have offended any readers who LOVED Melancholia.

And for a movie that was NOT just supposed to be “art” here’s an older post about how Spiderman 2 (also known as THE MOVIE THAT WOULD NOT END) blew it because the log-line was LAME. Never underestimate the teaching capabilities of movies or books we hate. Why did we hate it? When did we lose interest? Why? Now, make sure WE don’t do that in OUR book ;) .

But, feed your muse a solid log-line to keep hold of and this will help you spot Bunny Trails of DOOM far easier. It will keep you on track and make that 50,000 words something solid that can be revised, because there will be the bones and beating heart of an actual story beneath all the superfluous description, poor dialogue or small rabbit trails all of us have to edit out later.

What are your thoughts? Does this formula help? What are some of the best/worst movies you have seen? Can you tell a stinker from the log-line? What catches your attention? What loses it? What movies are ones you watch over and over and buy a copy? WHY? Why THAT movie? For me? Minority Report, I Robot, and Monty Python’s–The Holy Grail. Generally because every time I see these movies I catch something NEW.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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89 Comments

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