Monday, 31 December 2018

Weekly Update: December 23 to 29

Weekly word count: 569

It's been a challenging week.  A reminder that no matter how much I plan and prepare, sometimes life will have other ideas.  It wasn't a particularly productive week but then I took a look at my annual word count from 2018 and I felt a lot better.

2018 word count: 290 997

That's pretty darn good.  Almost half again what I normally write in a year.  And considering I took the month of July off for writing, that's even more impressive.  Now, not everything was sustainable but I've now got a much better idea of what works for me and what doesn't.

Out of that 290k, I wrote a 120k novel, 80k on a second novel and a 16k short story.  That's pretty cool and I'm hoping to carry the momentum forward into 2019.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Hidden Diamond - A.M. Griffin and A World of Gods, Magic and Danger

There are lots of authors and books out there, so many that it can be hard for readers to find the books that they'll love to read.  So I want to share the gems hidden among the chaos.  Each month I'll feature a new Hidden Diamond author.  If you want to know more, I can make sure you discover the diamond you've been searching for.

I first met this month's Hidden Diamond at Romancing the Capital when we shared a panel on urban fantasy.  A.M. Griffin struck me as a funny, witty lady and her description of her Babylonia Jones series had me ordering the first book that very night.  I love strong female characters who stand up for themselves and find their place in the world and after reading The Undercity Chronicles, I can confidently place Babylonia among my favourite heroines.

But there's more to A.M. Griffin than just one urban fantasy series.  She also has Sci-Fi romance, contemporary romance and paranormal romance under her A.M. Griffin pen name.  Her tagline is Love That's Out Of This World, and she lives up to her hype: whether it's post-alien invasion civilization or a secret underworld of vampires, werewolves and fairy tale creatures, every story comes with love, passion and excitement.

Today she's sharing her thoughts on creating fantastic worlds and her answers to the Hidden Diamond author questionnaire.  So if you'd like to know what the craziest thing she's ever done to research a book is or her opinion on cavemen vs. astronauts, keep on reading!

Making The Fantastic Into The Everyday

For those who don’t know me my name is A.M. Griffin and I write paranormal, science

fiction, urban fantasy and dabble in contemporary romance. I also write monster erotica under my alter ego B.A. Thruster.

I enjoy writing in those genres because those characters and worlds are limitless. For my sci-fi series (Loving Dangerously), I had to build a completely different society with alien norms and acceptable practices then plop humans into it. Under normal circumstances any human would’ve had a hard time adjusting to an alien culture, but the humans in this series witnessed the destruction of Earth, death of family and friends and were sold to the highest bidders.

Yeah, imagine having all that thrown on you.

Those characters have some mighty big chips on their shoulders and I loved writing every minute of it. The hardest part about writing the Loving Dangerously series was that it was pretty hard convincing my characters that they loved the hero/heroine. Usually they just wanted to kill them and move on to the next alien. LOL!

I didn’t have to create such elaborate worlds for my paranormal (Dark Wolf Enterprises and When A Vamp Falls) and urban fantasy (The Undercity Chronicles of Babylonia Jones) series. Both of those series take place on good old Earth, present day, but what I find most intriguing is that in those series was there’s a thriving paranormal world hiding in plain sight. Humans go about their days obliviously unaware of wolf-shifters and corporate embezzling and a half-human, half-goddess running a PI agency in Detroit.

I love writing because I love reading. Growing up as an avid reader I often found myself immersed in in books and often times imagining and continuing the story long after I’ve put a book down. I’m often asked why I write the stories that I write and what’s the motivation behind them and one answer is consistent. I write the stories that I want to read, which I do, often! I’ve read Dangerously Forever about five times and I’m on my second round of reading On These Pages. I really do hope that readers enjoy my books as much as I do!

- A.M. Griffin

An Author Interview with A.M. Griffin

What is the craziest thing you've done to research a book? 

I think actually typing some of my searches in Google is dangerous enough. If the government ever decides to pull my search history I would have A LOT of explaining to do.

What is your writing process?  

I’m a pantser. I write whatever is on my mind and just let the story flow. For some stories where I have very strong characters I do find that about half-way through I have to plot out the end chapters to help get the story back on track. I’m not saying that works all the time, but it does help to curtail the character from going rogue some of the time.

What is your favourite thing to do to relax? 

I love reading. Whenever I have a particularly hard day at work I find that curling up with a good book does wonders for my soul and peace of mine.

Who is your favourite fictional crush? 

Ash from the Dark Hunters series by Sherilyn Kenyon. I would do so many wicked things for that Atlantean God.

And in the spirit of the great Joss Whedon debate, who would win: astronauts or cavemen? 

Cavemen. Cavemen adapt. It’s scientifically proven (hello present day humans). Astronauts, while having smarts, really would be hindered if technology was taken away. Honestly, I don’t think anyone walking Earth today could outsmart a caveman when it came to survival.

Thank you, A.M., for being one of my Hidden Diamonds!  And for those who want their very own copies of A.M. Griffin's books or who'd like to follow her on social media, you can find her at the following links:

Come back and discover my next Hidden Diamond on January 31st!  Or have a look at last month's Hidden Diamond, Jenn Burke.

Or you can join the Hidden Diamond mailing list and ensure that the perfect gems for you are sent right to your mailbox.

Previous post: Alpha vs Alpha, a look at when two strong-willed characters fall in love

Or check out my monthly Heroine Fix to see other amazing and interesting female characters from pop culture.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Weekly Update: December 16-22

Weekly word count: 3 056

It was a quiet week this week as I prepare for the family events around Christmas.  I'm feeling kind of run down and overwhelmed and so I gave myself permission to take things easy.

I'm starting up the research for Until Proven Guilty, the second Special Investigations book.  Which means I'm playing around with close up magic again.  Which is awesome.  I won't be starting to write it for another few months, but I love researching interesting things.

I don't know how much I'll be able to write next week so I'm taking the "any progress is good progress" attitude.  Once the kids are back at school, I can look at doing more work.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Alpha vs Alpha

I like alpha characters, by which I mean I like characters who are risk-takers, protectors, and are a little broody.  I like characters who don't hesitate to say what they mean and who also don't hesitate to throw themselves into the path of danger.  To be clear, being an alpha doesn't give a character the right to be a jerk and I've got no patience for domineering characters who are mean, dismissive and disrespectful.

I know alphas aren't everyone's cup of tea.  Some people prefer beta heroes and heroines, defined by their kindness, consideration and support of others.  And I like those as well, but there's something about a character who skirts the edge of darkness that I find appealing.  Maybe it's because I've had my own challenges with depression and I've had to find the energy to keep fighting.  Or maybe it's because I've felt like the outsider and needed to find my own path.  Or maybe I just enjoy reading about bad-asses who kick butt and take names.

But one thing I find frustrating is when those alpha characters cross lines and there's no character arc about consequences for those actions.  A few weeks ago, I mentioned on Twitter that I was frustrated with a series that I really enjoy reading, in part because both the hero and heroine tend to be alphas and the author generally does a good job of showing the challenges of two alphas learning to live with each other.  But as I was reading one of the books, I noticed that the compromises tended to be one-sided with one character acquiescing to the other and the other taking a "take what I say or leave it" approach.

That didn't sit well with me.  And not just because it was the heroine who was the one compromising.  Part of what I love about stories about alpha characters is that character learning that they can't stand alone.  That letting other people in is a risk, but it's a risk that is worth it because spending their lives alone and miserable isn't actually a sign of strength.  

If a character only sees their romantic partner as a liability, someone to rescue and be worried about, then that's not really kind of character arc that I want to read.  Even if the character makes the same decision to share their lives because they no longer want to be miserable and alone, if they're not compromising in other aspects of their lives then the happily ever after doesn't read true because I wonder how the partner will feel long term.  Even if the character is devoted to making sure that their partner is happy and has everything they want, I wonder how many fights they'll end up having because of the fundamental lack of respect.

I'd like to see a story where two alphas are getting together and there would be the initial "my way or the high way" arguments but then the character realizes the fundamental problem with treating a romantic partner as if their thoughts, opinions and reactions are unimportant.  Even if they are convinced that they are completely in the right, they realize that dismissing their partner will create a fundamentally flawed and unhealthy relationship.  And then that alpha character takes the time and effort to truly open themselves up to an equal partnership.

Previous post: Heroine Fix: Seizing the Day with Georgia Byrd from Last Holiday.

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Monday, 17 December 2018

Weekly Update: December 9-15

Weekly word count: 4206

Monday and Tuesday were dedicated to being a parent instead of writing.  But I'm pleased with the progress made on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, especially considering that I have an hour less of writing time each day compared to my schedule during Nanowrimo.

I'm hoping that I can make some more good progress next week before the holidays hit.  Once the kids are home, the word counts are going to go down.  But on the plus side, I'm always itching to hit the keyboard by the time they head back to school.

I'm in a much better headspace than I was at this time last year, which I'm grateful for.  Even though there are still plenty of challenges and obstacles, I feel more ready to face them than I did in December of 2017.  

I'd really love to take another five or seven days dedicated to writing Division rather than having to split my attention between my day job, my family responsibilities, and my writing career.  But there are no plans for another writers' retreat and realistically, I need the income from my day job right now.  But it doesn't stop me from wishing and keeping my fingers crossed that 2019 might hold the change that will allow me to move to being a full time writer.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Heroine Fix: Last Holiday with Georgia Byrd

I'm addicted to strong and intriguing characters.  Heroine Fix is a monthly feature examining female characters that I admire and who influence my own writing.  Warning: this post will contain spoilers.

This month's Heroine Fix is actually more about me than my writing.  Last Holiday is my favourite holiday film and it's all because of Queen Latifah's portrayal of Georgia Byrd.  It's a great character film about a woman who is initially trapped in her life.  Every choice is decided by fear.  She loves to cook and dreams of opening a restaurant, but instead is sticking with her dead-end job selling cookware in a department store.  She has a crush on her co-worker, played by LL Cool J, but is scared to ask him out in case he doesn't feel the same way about her.  She cooks beautiful, delicious meals but doesn't eat them, instead taking pictures and putting them in her "Possibilities" book.  Her life is defined by waiting and hiding in the background, not living.

Then she learns that she has a fatal disease and only has weeks to live.  As expected, she makes some big changes but what I like about this film is that she doesn't immediately throw everything out overnight.  It takes her time to get used to the idea of only having a limited amount of time left and to get used to the idea of acting on what she wants instead of reacting from fear.  It becomes a beautiful unfolding of spirit and self-confidence.  When she decides to book the trip she's always wanted to take, she automatically books it coach and then only upgrades to first class partway through the flight.  The same with her hotel, at first she's booked in a standard room and then upgrades to the Presidental Suite.

I think part of what appeals is that the idea of a consequence-free life is tempting.  Telling off an obnoxious boss or spending thousands of dollars on a luxury vacation or eating a dozen different gourmet dishes in a single meal would be wonderful... if we didn't have deal with the results thereof.  Maybe it strikes a chord with me because I'm a cautious soul at heart and there have been a lot of times that I've told myself "no" on something I want because the consequences outweigh the pleasures of the moment.  But it's so tempting to forget the future and just enjoy the moment.

Some of what Georgia does is predictable.  She withdraws all of her savings, she buys a fancy new couture wardrobe, and she goes base jumping.  She enjoys fancy meals and spa treatments and blunt talk.  

But some of what she does is much more interesting.  She encourages her crappy boss's mistress to stand up to him and reclaim her own life.  She calls out a senator for ditching coming to her church and refuses to cut him any social slack, telling him that he disappointed the people who voted for him.  And she cooks with a celebrity chef, one of her idols, becoming his friend.

She's not selfishly dedicated to her own pleasure.  Even though she would have every right in the world to focus solely on herself, she shows her true heart by helping others to become better versions of themselves and break out of their own self-locked cages of fear.  The story emphasizes this with the counterpoint character, Miss Gunther, the bitter floor valet who snoops through Georgia's things in an effort to expose her.  Miss Gunther tries to make people smaller than they are while Georgia makes them more.

Another reason that I love this movie is the romantic plot.  LL Cool J's character, Sean, loves Georgia long before her transformation into her genuine self.  He's not attracted to her new bold self, he's the one who saw who she really was even when she didn't.  And I'll admit that it's pretty awesome to me to see a plus size romantic lead whose weight is never raised as an issue.  I decided to do the same for my most recent heroine, Martha, where I only mention her size a few times in the book and her hot hero finds her irresistible.

One part of the movie that always sticks with me is Georgia's speech to herself on New Year's Eve: "You have been very lucky.  Maybe we didn't get everything we want, but....  Next time, we'll do things different.  We will laugh more, we'll love more, we'll see the world.  We just won't be so afraid."  And "I wasted too much of my life being quiet."

I say it to myself when I need to remind myself that we aren't guaranteed a "next time" in life.  Refusing an opportunity to laugh and love out of fear isn't being cautious or prudent.  It's robbing ourselves of an opportunity to enjoy our lives.  

So when I'm faced with a situation where the little voice in my head is saying "But what if I look like an idiot?" then I remind myself of Georgia and that confidence is what separates the timid fools from the admired brave.  And that no one ever achieved their dreams by being quiet.  So whether it's dancing until my socks melt, or talking to a stranger or pitching my latest book, I channel my own inner Georgia and seize the day.

(Keep on reading for more information on next month's Heroine Fix and a special offer on my own books.)

Part of seizing the day is sharing my own work with you.  The first book in my paranormal romantic suspense series, Revelations, is on sale for 99 cents US (1.27 Cdn) on all platforms.

Or you can check out some other posts, like last month's Heroine Fix: Kira Nerys from Deep Space Nine.  Or last week's post on how you can boost your word count.  Or visit my Hidden Diamond page to discover new authors who write paranormal romance, romantic suspense, and strong female characters.  November's feature is a sister ORWAn: Jenn Burke.

Next month, I'll be looking at a heroine who crosses the line between good and bad, playful and dangerous.  The woman who always steals the scene from her caped crusader co-stars: Selena Kyle, Catwoman.  I'll be talking about Batman Returns and The Dark Knight Rises, and maybe even the Halle Berry movie.  Join me on January 10th for your next Heroine Fix.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Weekly Update: December 2-8

Weekly word count: 4258

This week I worked on Third Eye Open and managed to get a first draft finished.  I still need to go through and make sure everything flows smoothly, and do a search and destroy on words that I overuse.  Then I can get it edited and get my cover and all of that.  

Next week, I'll go back to working on Division.  I'm excited to get it finished.

I'm feeling a little worn out with getting things organized for the family holidays but that isn't unexpected.  I've got a week or two to recuperate before the big family events.  I won't be getting much writing done once that happens.

I'm also going to have to accept that I'll probably have lower word counts for the next month or two because I'll be putting in extra hours at my day job.  But that's okay (or so I keep telling myself).  The words will come, even if it takes a little longer.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Writing More: Not As Impossible As It Seems

Last weekend, ORWA's monthly workshop was a panel of prolific authors sharing their secrets.  Two of them, Eve Langlais and Mandy Rosko have over 300 published titles between them.  Of the other two, Lucy Farago has written 6 books in the last 3 years, and Carey Decevito has written 10 books in the last 5 years.

There was some good advice about how to increase your word counts, with the best piece of advice being to just get started writing.  Don't worry if it's crap.  Don't get hung up on the amount of time or the number of words.  Just sit your butt down in front of a keyboard and start writing.  Keeping doing that and the word totals will continue to rise and eventually, you'll have a book.  Whether plotter or pantser, New York Times Bestseller or new author, independing or traditionally published, we all have to go through the same process of actually sitting down to write.

Ask a dozen authors how to write more and you'll get dozens of different answers.  Sometimes the answers will work for you and sometimes they won't.  If a technique doesn't work, it can be discouraging but the truth is that writing is a skill and like any skill, not everyone learns that skill the same way.

So my first piece of advice is to be gentle with yourself.  There will always be someone who writes more or faster but the only person that you should be in competition with his your past self.  If you want to do more, then aim to do more than you did before.  And if you fail, remember that it is a setback, not a judgment.  And when you do succeed, take the time to appreciate your accomplishments.

The next piece of advice is to experiment.  Try different things, different locations and different times of day.  Try a strict daily writing schedule or writing blitzes.  Keep track of what you write and it may surprise you to find what's most effective.  I've always been a night person but I was surprised to discover that I write best in the late morning and early afternoon.  I do best with writing for an hour or two, then a half hour to an hour break, and then back into it.  I can push myself to write daily but I do better long term if I give myself the weekends off (or at least, the weekend writing different projects).

And the last piece of advice is to remember that writing is a creative skill, and all creativity can be affected by what's going on in your life.  If you're stressed, sick, or overwhelmed, it will change what works for you.  Just because a technique worked in the past doesn't mean it will always work in the future, so you will always be adjusting.  Which circles back to my first point, be gentle with yourself.  

And get yourself in front of a keyboard and write.

Previous post: Hidden Diamond: Paranormal Romance author Jenn Burke and End of Year Lists and her series, The Gryphon King.

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Monday, 3 December 2018

Weekly Update: November 25 to December 1

Weekly word count: 3770

This week I got hit hard by life.  Several big personal things happened.  I'm okay and my family is okay.  We've been dealing with a difficult situation for the last few months and while we've tried to be cooperative and helpful, the other side has not and now we're going to have to stop being nice and start protecting ourselves and engaging professional help.  It's discouraging, but I am stubborn and the people opposing us have severely misunderstood my level of resolve.

I also spent some time helping a friend with her Victim Impact Statement.  Her partner was killed in a hit and run and going over the impact on herself and her children was heart-wrenching.  I'm pleased with the statement, which lays bare the damage that has been done to her family, hopefully in a way that will bring some justice and closure.

Next week, I"m going to concentrate on finishing up Third Eye Open so that it can go for editing and then I can release all three short stories in their final form both individually and as a group.

I've been talking to the folks at Soul Mate Publishing about changing the title of Deadly Potential and it's been a little intimidating to watch the latest scandal over similar titles unfold.  The title I'd like to use is being used by other authors but our books are all very different.  

I'm hoping that next week goes better and maybe life will surprise me by being better than I'm expecting.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Hidden Diamond: Jenn Burke's Gryphon King and Year End Lists

There are lots of authors and books out there, enough that it can be difficult for readers to find the stories they want to read.  So each month I'm sharing the gems hidden among the chaos with my Hidden Diamond authors.  If you want to know more, please connect with me and you won't miss the diamond you've been searching for.

This month's Hidden Diamond is a fellow ORWAn with a big heart and an impressive insight into her characters.  Jenn Burke is a fellow geek and the co-author of the critically acclaimed Chaos Station science fiction romance series (along with Kelly Jensen) and today she's sharing her new book, The Gryphon King's Consort from Dreamspinner press, along with her thoughts on all the year end lists (and why authors shouldn't get too invested in them) and her answers to our author questionnaire.

The Gryphon King’s Consort is a paranormal tale set in contemporary Canada, where a kingdom of mythological creatures exists side-by-side with humans. After the death of the Gryphon King, Crown Prince Luca must rush his marriage to Eirian, a gryphon he’s never met, to stabilize and reassure the kingdom. But Eirian has more modern views than traditional Luca, and learning how to live and work together won’t be easy…particularly not when it seems there are forces determined to keep them apart.

The Fine Art of Ignoring End-of-Year Lists

Thanks so much to Jenn for hosting me today. It’s an honour to be featured on your Hidden Diamonds blog series!

As we approach the end of the year, it’s a great time to reflect on the books we really enjoyed in 2018. So many “best of” lists will start to pop up in the next few weeks. As a reader, it’s fantastic, because I’ve found some gems through these lists to add to my ever-growing to-be-read pile.

As an author—particularly if I’ve had a book out that year—the “best of” lists can be really discouraging…because my books rarely appear on them. So, if you’re an author in the same boat as me, here are some things to repeat to yourself every time a new list comes out.

1.      It’s not you (or your book).

Romance readers and bloggers have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to books released in any given year. It’s tough for one title to compete against books and authors that have bigger marketing budgets. There’s an arcane mix of luck, marketing and right-place-right-time that needs to happen to get books noticed.

2.      Time of year matters.

A book that comes out in December is probably not going to make any lists that year…and it’ll be skipped over for the next year too. Same goes for books published early in the year. By the time the “best of” lists come out, it may very well be forgotten.

3.      Subgenre and pairing matter.

Romantic suspense has the biggest audience in romance (half of romance readers, according to the Romance Writers of America). If you’re writing in any other subgenre, your audience is going to be smaller. And if you’re writing any pairing other than female/male, it’s going to be smaller still. But really…you’re not writing to appear on these lists, right? So write what you want to write, what you enjoy writing, and focus on the story you want to tell.

4.      It’s great validation but…

…unless it’s a HUGE blog or list, it’s probably not going to make a difference in your sales. And in commercial fiction, that’s what really matters.

5.      It’s so subjective.

This is the biggest lesson new authors need to learn. Every reader brings their own perspective to their reading. One reader may hate your book, another may love it…and their reasons for each reaction are completely valid, because there’s no right or wrong way to interpret a book. Same goes for picking books to add to “best of” lists.

6.      Keep writing.

So at the end of the day, the only think you can keep doing is write. Write your next book, then write another, and another, and try not to pay attention to those end-of-year “best of” lists…unless you’re looking for new reading material.

- Jenn Burke

An Author Interview With Jenn Burke

What's the craziest thing you've done to research a book?

Maybe not crazy, but definitely exhausting: I climbed down (and then up!) the steps behind Parliament Hill that lead to a path by the river. This was for my first book, Her Sexy Sentinel. In it, there’s a hidden cave in the hill under the Parliament buildings, so I wanted to see if that location would actually work. Climbing back up those stairs was not easy!

What is your writing process?

I used to be a pantser, but now that I’m writing for publication, I plot out my books. I have to know where I’m going, particularly if I’m writing a book that I’m already contracted for.

What is your favourite thing to do to relax?

Read. I’m a voracious reader.

What is your favourite fictional crush?

I love Sam Kage from Mary Calmes’s A Matter of Time series. He grows so much over the course of the series.

In the spirit of the great Joss Whedon debate: who would win: cavemen or astronauts?


Thanks, Jenn, for being one of my hidden diamonds and if you'd like your very own copy of one of Jenn's books, you can find them at the following links.

Come back on December 28th for my next Hidden Diamond!
Or check out last month's Hidden Diamond: Rosanna Leo!

Or you can join the Hidden Diamond mailing list and have the perfect gems for you sent right to your mailbox!

Monday, 26 November 2018

Weekly Update: November 18-24

Weekly word count: 9206

Another good week of writing progress on Division.  And I started talking with my editor at Soul Mate Publishing about Deadly Potential and when that book will be available and it looks like it might be sooner than I anticipated (no formal dates yet but I will be keeping everyone posted).

I will not be making my goal of 45 000 words for Nanowrimo by December 1st, but I still feel I've made very good progress on Division.  Things will be slowing down a little in December.  I will be taking some time to finish off the third Spirit Sight short story and I know better than to assume I'll be able to make much progress once the kids are out of school, but things are still going much better than I expected and I'm grateful for that.

I'm looking forward to moderating the Prolific Authors Share Their Secrets panel for ORWA's next workshop on December 2nd.  There should be some really good tips for increasing word count and managing multiple projects.

All in all (and if I dare say so without jinxing myself), 2018 is ending on a professional good note.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Getting the Tension Out of Your Head and Onto The Page

I was watching Batman v Superman recently (and there are going to be some spoilers in here if anyone cares about that).  There are some great moments in that movie but the whole thing suffers from a challenge that I've seen in a number of stories: not setting up the conflict properly so that the audience cares about the tension.

Why can't I just pour the words directly out of my brain?
It's actually pretty easy to understand how this happens.  Most writers work backwards from the central conflict.  I almost always start with what will become the most intense moment in my stories and then take the time to figure out how the characters will get there and how to make the reader care about that moment the same way I do.  The second part is actually the hardest.  It's fairly easy to come up with a map of scene A will lead to decision B that will lead to my Big Moment.  But in order for the reader to care about the Big Moment, I need to make sure they connect with the characters, can identify with the conflict and becomes emotionally invested in the characters' choices.

In Batman v Superman, the reason for Batman deciding to fight Superman and vice versa is actually fairly weak.  Superman doesn't like Batman's vigilante justice model and Batman fears Superman going rogue.  Nothing about those reasons explains why they choose this particular moment to battle it out.  Even adding in extra pressure with Lex Luthor kidnapping Superman's mom and demanding that Batman be killed doesn't really add tension or seem realistic (since we've seen Superman effortlessly save the people he cares about any number of times previously).  

If I were to rewrite that story, I would want to play up Lex Luthor's role in manipulating both Superman and Batman.  Feed Batman some false news stories about Superman abusing his powers.  Give Superman information that Batman has targeted innocents.  Spend actual time exploring the real fears that Superman has no checks on his power, but give Batman a reason to believe that there is imminent danger, maybe by having Superman make comments that he is tired of rescuing people constantly and has thought about taking charge.  Have Superman fear that Batman is becoming more violent and reckless as he gets older.  Or show that the two of them have an existing relationship and have already been in conflict over the best approach to fighting crime and protecting civilians.  

If the audience knew that both of them were being manipulated, that would increase the tension as we wonder if they will discover the truth in time to prevent catastrophe.  If we knew they had a pre-existing relationship, we could enjoy petty bickering which would draw us into a deeper emotional connection.  There could have been an escalating series of arguments which end with the protagonists on opposite sides.

So how can an author make sure that the tension in their head is actually going onto the page so that the reader can be caught up in it?

1) Make sure your readers connect with your characters.

This is different from making your characters likable.  Audiences connect with unlikable characters all the time (though it is harder and requires more sophisticated techniques).  There needs to be something unique about your character, something that transforms them from a flat stereotype or caricature into someone that feels real to the reader.  The audience needs to care about this particular character making it through the plot.

There are a couple of techniques that can help an author create connectable characters:

* Give the character an idiosyncrasy.  
* Take the time to get deep into their point of view and show them reacting emotionally to the plot events.  
* Explore their backstory to show how they reached this particular point.
* Make the character an underdog or struggling against a greater challenge or in some kind of physical danger.
* Make the character exceptionally skilled at what they do or give them a strong sense of humour.
* Show the little everyday human moments for your characters.

2) Show your readers the main conflict in a way they can identify with

Most of us will never have to save the world.  But everyone has had to make a difficult decision about whether or not to draw a line in the sand when someone was pushing our boundaries.  The challenges the characters are facing might not be something that a reader has ever experienced or they might be everyday struggles.  But even the most esoteric conflict can be broken down into something familiar.

The key to identifying with a conflict is to find the universal element, for example:

* fear of disappointing someone we love or admire
* choosing between our comfort zone and our dreams
* wanting to be accepted by our peers/family
* feeling rejected, abandoned or hurt
* fear of failure

3) Get your readers emotionally invested in your character's choices

Even if a reader loves a character, it's hard to care about mundane, every day decisions that don't affect the greater plot: like choosing what to have for dinner or what to wear.  In order for tension to matter, it needs to be about something significant and the reader needs to understand that it's significant.  For example, deciding what to wear could be a significant decision if the character is an ambassador and the choice could insult their hosts.

An author needs to find ways to explain without bogging the story down in an info-dump:

* tell a story within the story (anecdotes, a news story, a flashback) that explains the stakes
* use the character's emotional reactions to show that a decision is significant
* establish the consequences of the big conflict early on in the story as part of the initial world-building

Sometimes authors get caught up in making sure the plot flows quickly, but taking a scene or two to make sure that your readers are caught up in the building tension is always worth the time.

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Or see how well I follow my own advice in my own stories about a secret society of superheroes living among us.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Weekly Update: November 11 to 17

Weekly word count: 7 458

And I'm going to take a moment because I realized I have written over 60 000 words in the last eight weeks.  Granted a big chunk of that was at the writers' retreat in October but regardless, it's still an awesome accomplishment and I'm feeling pretty good about it.

It was a quieter week progress wise for me.  I spent some time on a minor rewrite this week but still managed to get two solid chapters done.  

I keep waiting for the moment when I realize I have to rewrite a bunch of it, because I've done that with every previous manuscript, but so far, I'm really liking where I've gone with this story. 

Fingers crossed I can keep up the progress.  Taking the weekends off has been working well.  Friday ended up being a really difficult day for me and because I haven't been writing on the weekend, I could take time on Saturday and catch up instead of beating myself up for falling behind.