Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How-To Author Brandilyn Collins

Welcome to the How-to Author Series hosted by Five Scribes. Today's featured How-to author is the fabulous Brandilyn Collins. Post a comment today and you may win: Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors by Brandilyn Collins or a Lecture Packet from me, Margie Lawson.

A big thank you to Brandilyn Collins for joining us today. She'll drop by the blog several times to respond to posts. With housekeeping out of the way, how about some Factoids and Funtoids about Brandilyn Collins!


  • Best-selling novelist known for trademarked Seatbelt Suspense Trademarked ® tagline

    "Don't forget to b r e a t h e..."

  • Appeared on the Phil Donahue and Leeza shows for her first book (true crime) A Question of Innocence.
  • Awards include the ACFW Book of the Year (three times), Inspirational Readers' Choice and Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice.
  • Now working on her 20th book!!!
  • Popular teacher at writers' conference.
  • Lives in two homes -- in the California Bay Area and Northern Idaho.
  • Makes herself a latte every morning -- better than Starbucks!
  • Started college at 16.
  • Married to the best husband in the world.
  • Sickness times aside, has jogged five miles a day (win Sundays off) for more than 20 years.
Getting into Character Reviews...

"One of this year's best books on Writing." -- Writer's Digest, list of 2002

Exposure Reviews:

"High caliber suspense and engaging mystery ... Collins is a master of her craft." - Jake Chism, The Christian Manifesto

"Dynamite!... a roller-coaster thriller for the first line to the last sentence." - Dianne Burnett, fiction editor,

"Best stand-alone suspense of 2009!" - A Peak At My Bookshelf Reviews

ML: I have a multi-sticky-tabbed copy of Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors. What a fabulous how-to book! Every concept resonated with me. Let’s start with the premise. Why should novelists care about Method Acting?

BC: Method acting characterization techniques start with the inside of the character and work outward. Motivation at the soul level is all important. Who is this person? Why does he talk and act like he does? What is his major desire that drives him through this story? Actors are our first cousins. They bring characters to life on the stage; we bring them to life on the page. By looking at method acting techniques, we as writers can learn a lot. These techniques usher in new ways of looking at how to create memorable characters and plots.

ML: Of your seven secrets novelists can learn from actors, your first secret is personalizing. You state, as mentioned above, that personalized characters are built from the inside out. Could you explain part of that process?

BC: The full Personalization process is too intense to explain it all here. But in a nutshell it does build the character from the inside out. Instead of just saying something like, “Mary Doe is shy, and she has a nervous tic at the corner of her mouth,” Personalization starts with the core of the character. What are her “inner values” or core beliefs and attitudes about the world? From what experiences did these inner values come? When you get to know your character deeply enough to discover her inner values, these then give rise to personality traits such as shyness. And these traits, in turn, can give rise to outward bodily habits, such as a certain way of moving or a nervous tic. The point is that characters, as humans, should be deeply complex. If you just start throwing traits and mannerisms onto characters, they can so quickly become stereotypical and shallow. You need to dig deeper. Way deeper.

ML: Your chapter on Subtexting is incredibly rich. Can you share some guidelines regarding subtexting dialogue?

BC: Subtexted dialogue means that the words spoken do not reflect what is actually being communicated. That communication lies beneath the surface. People subtext in conversation often. Strangers do it, new friends do it, husband and wives do it. When we write dialogue “on the nose”—that is, every character says exactly what he is thinking—it sounds false. Stilted. And we miss out on portraying deeper emotions of the characters.

In short, dialogue should be subtexted when (1) the character doesn’t want to state what he’s thinking, or (2) the character doesn’t need to state what he’s thinking, because the other character already knows it (as is the case with many arguments between husbands and wives—on the surface they can be fighting about silly things, but what are they really fighting about?).

If the meaning of the dialogue isn’t in the words, but of course you want the reader to understand it, how to get it across? I use the TIME acronym: through a character’s Thought, Inflection (as in voice), Movement (of body), and Expression. The chapter on Subtexting explains in detail how to do this and uses an example of how just five ordinary words of dialogue between a husband and wife can team with meaning: “Morning.” “Morning.” “Sleep well?” “Yeah.”

ML: When you wrote ALWAYS WATCHING, were there some scenes that were difficult to write? If so, how did you use Method Acting to make your scenes stronger?

BC: What’s important in a novel, what turns the pages, are the driving questions of the story. In Always Watching, since it’s a suspense, there’s the driving question of who killed Shaley’s best friend on tour? And will Shaley be next? Another driving question comes from Shaley’s personal life: will she find out about her missing father? During the Personalization process with Shaley, my teenage daughter, Amberly, and I (we co-wrote the book) discovered an inner value of Shaley that had to do with the lack of a father. This was such an issue at the core of Shaley that it gave rise to ways of behaving, especially with her mom, who holds back the answers Shaley so desperately wants. This rift between Shaley and her mom gave a richness to the characters. Shaley loves her mom yet resents her mom. How does that kind of complexity play out in a teenager’s life?

You see, no matter the genre, even in my highly plotted, twisting Seatbelt Suspense

novels, characterization drives the story.

ML: Your section on Sentence Rhythm is packed with information writers may not find elsewhere. You addressed how to structure a passage to reflect the chaos in the scene. Could you expand this concept – and share an example?

BC: The bottom line of sentence rhythm: sentences should have the same “beat” or rhythm that you want to evoke in your readers. If you want your readers’ hearts to beat fast in a tense moment, mirror that beat with staccato sentence rhythm. Far too few novelists think in these terms. In an action sequence, sentences should be short and choppy, maybe even incomplete phrases. And avoid “ing” verbs, which have the connotation of the passage of time. Action scenes are fast--boom, bam, bam. In thoughtful, quiet scenes the sentences can be long and in complex form.

However, there’s another kind of rhythm in which the action is so intense and all-at-once that total chaos occurs, confusing the character. Here you want your readers to feel that lack of ability to hold to any steady thought. Shift abruptly into a streaming structure of sentences and phrases that reflect this confusion. It can be very effective.

In the passage below from my novel DREAD CHAMPION the streaming sentence rhythm is used in a dream sequence (therefore present tense) to evoke the horrific slow-motion, drawn out seconds the character experiences as a truck forces her boyfriend’s car into a couple of 360s before crashing into a tree.

…Her hands rising to her mouth, hair floating around her face, sticking to her tongue. Dave’s head slowly turning, his eyes drifting too late behind him to check for traffic, his head turning back. The squeal of tires against wet pavement, sounding on and one like a stuck record as their car merges onto that record, revolving, revolving, the world spinning, the tree, its bark shiny with rain, disappearing, cycling closer, disappearing, cycling closer. Nausea rising in Kerra’s stomach…

Read the last groups of phrases aloud-- disappearing, cycling closer, disappearing, cycling closer. The very rhythm of these words and their accented syllables are designed to evoke that sickening, drawn-out rhythm of whirling toward disaster.

ML: In your chapter on Coloring Passions, you share how to make scenes more emotionally vivid. In one part of this concept you talk about finding opportunities to portray the opposite of a character’s personality trait. Could you share your three- step process on how to do this?

BC: Again, this concept is hard to convey in few words. In a nutshell, this technique goes back to Personalization. The three steps are: (1) Trace a trait back to the inner value that gave rise to it, (2) Find a second inner value of your character, (3) Ask yourself in what situation could you place your character so that the second inner value conflicts with the first, thereby producing the trait’s opposite.

The point is this: human beings are complex creatures. Sometimes our behavior is just the opposite of what you’d expect. What situation would make an ultra shy character not show shyness? What might make a seemingly always confident character not confident? It’s these complexities in a personality that need to come forth in a novel. We need to show all sides of a character. However, the problem with writing a scene in which a confident character doesn’t show confidence is that the character can end up looking wishy-washy or just not well formed. But again, in life, we know these antithetical behaviors are true. So to write a scene that feels right to the reader, that truly reflects the multi-layered human condition, we need to go back to the character’s inner values before writing the scene. What might make two equally strong inner values within a character conflict with each other? What different sort of behavior will result? In this way the core of the character will come through as true to life.

ML: My next-to-last question is about the FOUR D’s in your chapter on Action Objectives. It’s a huge topic. You devoted thirty-four pages to the FOUR D’s. Could you share the FOUR D’s – and give our blog guests a few hints about each D?

BC: You’re right, another huge topic. In short: Desire, Distancing, Denial and Devastation.

Desire—what does your character WANT? The Desire should be stated very specifically using an action verb. The more specific the Desire, the more ideas you’ll get for conflict to arise to oppose that Desire. The protagonist’s Desire drives the entire story. “I want to be rich” is not a well-formed Desire. Too general. “I want to become CEO of XYZ Corporation, making $5 million a year, so that I can prove to my abusive father I can BE SOMEBODY.” That’s a specific, action-oriented Desire. Now you add conflict to each part of that Desire. Opposition to becoming CEO. The if the character becomes CEO, maybe his salary is drastically cut due to hard economic realities. Or maybe he achieves part 1 and 2, but his father still won’t acknowledge him. Or maybe he achieves all three, only to find he doesn’t NEED his father’s acknowledgment to be a whole person, etc.

Distancing—as conflicts arise, they push the character further and further off course from his direct path to fulfilling his Desire.

Denial—around the climax, when all seems lost. The character’s Desire will never be fulfilled.

Devastation—that final gotcha twist. When things can’t seem to get any worse, they do. The Denial is so turned on its head that these terrible consequences of pursuing the Desire would never have even been considered. From here your character can fight back with all he has to regain his footing.

When you’ve got the Four Ds down, you’ve got the core of your story. But the final 3 arise from the first, Desire—and that arises from WHO your character is.

ML: Here’s your final question. Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors was published in 2002. If you were writing it now, what’s one thing you’d add?

I have examples in each chapter, one from classic literature and one from modern. So naturally I’d update the modern examples. I’d probably spend even more time explaining each concept. When I teach these concepts in person, readers of Getting Into Character understand them much more than from reading them on their own. To a large extent, however, that’s because these techniques need to be applied to individual manuscripts to best understand them. Understanding conceptually is one thing. Understanding to the point of putting them to use for great writing is another.

ML: A fun postscript to my interview with Brandilyn. Always Watching has been launched with a national “Live Like a Rock Star” sweepstakes, open to ages 13-18. The Grand Prize is an $850 night on the town, including dinner for six at a restaurant of the winner’s choice and limo service. The first 200 entrants will receive a free copy of the book. Teens can go here to enter.

Thank you, Margie for bringing Brandilyn Collins to writers and readers today. And Ms. Collins, what a treat for writers and your fans!! Tune in next month, when Margie's guest Author Bob Mayer, will be promoting his How-to book -- The Novel Writer's Toolkit: A Guide to Writing Novels and Getting Published.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

New Writing Book-

William Noble's book, Conflict, Action & Suspense isn't newly released.  It came out in hardback in 1994, but it's new to me.  After having recently judged dozens of entries for The Sandy, The Daphne, and The Genesis, I'm reminded of the elements of great writing by the mistakes many newbies make.  In the future, I'm going to blog on each newbie mistake I see--not only to help others, but to remind me of the basics of great writing!

Anyhow, I'm only on page 32 of Noble's book and I'm very happy 'cause he speaks in a language that I understand and I understand his examples.  You know what I mean?  Some writing teachers or books describe the process in different ways.  How many different ways have you heard "inciting incident" described?  Several, I'm sure.  But if you're like me, one sticks with you better than others.  Inciting incident works just fine for me.

Anyhow, as I'm puzzling out the basic characterization and major plot points of my new book, reading this helps remind me of what to do right, to minimize the weeks--okay, months, of revisions.

Check it out,

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Words of Wisdom

"The image that fiction presents is purged of the distractions, confusions and accidents of ordinary life." – Robert Penn Warren

From CS Weekly;

Friday, April 24, 2009

Airing a Grievance or Popping a Cap in Your Own Foot?

Recently, I read a letter to the editor of a magazine that left me stunned. The author of the letter had won a fiction award sponsored by this magazine, and her piece was published in an anthology with runners-up as well as an abbreviated version in the magazine itself.

After reading this letter, I wonder how many times the editors she worked with wished someone else had won the award.

This author redacts the version of her story published in the magazine, spends time detailing the woes of editing and of losing the one most-revered sentence of the piece, and even calls out her editor by name, blaming her for the apparently sorry state of her award-winning tale. I don't wish to detail the contents of the letter, since this isn't about her. Rather, it's about a very odd mindset I've seen lately, and I really think it's counter-productive to anyone who actually wants to publish.

I will admit, the made a splash with all that drama. When I saw the word "redact" in the header, I was sucked in, and now I'd like to reread the story and compare the two versions. At the same time, I think about what her editors are saying now and whether they'd ever willingly work with her again (assuming she'd ever allow them to touch her pearls again).

This letter to the editor came at the same time that I began seeing more of the same type of drama over the Twitter campaign called #queryfail. For those of you who haven't heard (and I only just did), several agents got together one day to tweet their responses to queries as they read them. Can you say invaluable information? I can. If nothing else, you can learn what one agent prefers or despises, and you can look into their brain as they are responding to a letter they have just decided to reject.

Yet there are some who apparently don't find this a useful exercise at all, and they've taken to accusing agents of purposely representing low-quality work. Lilith Saintcrow has responded to the backlash, and I've seen at least one agent applaud her response while pointing to the agent-bashing as What Not To Do. Clearly, the agents are aware of the uprising of anti-agent writers who've decided to become very vocal in their militance.

Obviously, the attitude won't win any favors with agents who see posts like this. And, if the vocal authors decide to delete, the Google gods remember all, and their memory is called Google Cache (and those who live to capture the cache for posterity).

We also hear about the long memory the publishing industry has. We're told that agents and editors talk about more than just the manuscripts they're considering. If an author sends a snide response to a rejection letter, if she blogs about how horrible one agent or all agents are, if she insults an editor while one of that editor's authors is standing right behind her, is she doing herself any favors?

Wouldn't it be better to consider the rejection experience as information, not a personal insult, and move forward? After all, the agent who rejects her manuscript today might see her promise as a long-term client in her next book. The editor who published her last piece might have been the last reputable industry professional willing to consider her work.

This industry is hard enough without making enemies of those who might have been an author's biggest champions.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Borders in Big Financial Trouble?

Borderline Play?  NYT reports on Borders' financial woes and possible merger with Barnes and Noble.  Wow.  Shocking news to this author/reader.  I'm used to the demise/struggle of the independent bookstores, but . . . wow.  What does it say when a giant like Borders is in danger of extinction?  

Maybe nothing more than Amazon is the new giant in the kingdom?  I have to admit that there's nothing like saving money and Amazon seems the cheapest way to buy my books, but I'm also a big fan of instant gratification--and impulse.  I can be an impulse book buyer.  

I've even been known to be called, impatient.  I know, say it isn't true, but, yes, a couple of Scribes informed me that the publishing industry doesn't understand "Theresa time".  But I digress.  Borders seems such an institution.  But then, if they merge with Barnes and Noble will anybody even notice a difference?

Maybe all my gasping is for naught.  What say you?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Review of Dean Koontz -- Your Heart Belongs to Me

My husband and I recently took a trip to the library so he could feed his passion -- nonfiction -- while mine of course is fiction. As I looked around volume after volume of tomes, I did something unheard of, I checked out a book. As a writer, I prefer to buy my books and support the craft, but Dean Koontz' Your Heart Belongs to Me, virtually leapt off the shelf.

I have to say if I was judging this book from a writing contest perspective -- where many say: Is there a good balance between dialogue and narrative? -- I would have to score this book low. However, this book which is in a three-part series and full of mundane workings of a man awaiting a heart transplant held me spellbound.

Why? I've been contemplating that question for weeks. The book breaks every rule in Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel. We learn what he eats for breakfast, dinner and lunch, his preferences on TV, how much he sleeps, and yet I was flipping through pages.

The book is full of description of setting and yet I remember each and every detail as though I finished this book yesterday. When Koontz does slip into dialogue, which is flawless and natural, and changes scene to advance his plot, I'm there and my eyes are fixed on the page. His research was impeccable and I was in the head of a man who, although rich beyond words, was desperate to live, but vulnerable because he could lose it all literally with the end of a heartbeat.

The times his protagonist has an episode where you think he's about to have a heart attack, I was clenching my fist then taking my pulse. This book wasn't the typical Dean Koontz grab the reader by the throat and don't let him breathe until the last page thriller. It was more. In this reader's viewpoint Mr. Koontz practices psychological warfare on the purchaser. Which one of us us hasn't on occasion touched his chest for reassurance that his heart is still functioning properly?

On the cover jacket, one of the critics writes, Dean Koontz is a wordsmith.

This reader concurs. And that's why he was able to break every supposed writing rule in the book, and why this reader couldn't stop reading. In the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, the contest I coordinate, one of the tie-breaking statements that exists on the score sheet reads: This manuscript is superb - masterfully written.

I now know the meaning of the statement. Your Heart Belongs to Me is such a book. Mr. Koontz, you're amazing.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Help! My baby is ugly

Imagine you've just given birth. It's the happiest day of your life, and you are the proud mama or papa of a beautiful new baby. Now imagine, an associate comes to see you, flowers in hand, and full of anticipation to see your new bundle of joy.

As he zooms in on your precious package, he stiffens, throws down the flowers and says, "Oh... my... word, that's got to be the ugliest baby I've ever seen."

Horrifying experience? I should say. And that's exactly what a writer risks every time he sends his work out for critique. The chance that one of his critique partners might say..."Excuse me, your baby is ugly."

For writers, there is nothing more personal than their manuscript, and the words they put down on the pages are indeed their "babies." I am blessed to have critique partners who on occasion have insulted my baby. But, it's getting better. The more I write my baby goes from grossly deformed to an occasional bout of diaper rash. I'm also fortunate to have critique partners who leave their egos at the door and say, "This is working," and vice versa.

I've heard some writers say they've left critique groups and they prefer to write alone. While others claim they can't write a book without them. So, what about you? What do you think of critique groups? What works for you and what doesn't? And has anyone ever insulted your baby and lived to tell about it? I'd love to hear your stories.

Monday, April 20, 2009

And the winner is...

Thanks for everyone's participation in the POV discussion, and thanks to Donnell for poking me with a stick! My brain, it is on walkabout.

Drum roll...

Here are your random numbers:


Timestamp: 2009-04-20 15:59:54 UTC

By my count, #8 would be Nancy Haddock. Nancy, please contact me at klgrady (@) g mail, and let me know which e-store you prefer.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Top 100 in Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award!

The Road Between made the cut to the top 100 in Amazons Breakthrough Novel Award --out of thousands of entries from 7 countries and 33 States!  AND the best thing is the Publisher's Weekly Review of the whole manuscript--which I included below.  The day the top 100 were announced, an agent from a great NY agency emailed me, congratulating me asking me to send a partial!  

So excited!  Now, Penguin Editors all read the top 100 manuscripts, the Publisher's Weekly review, and all our Amazon customer reviews and pick the top 3 by May 7th.  The top 3 then are voted upon by Amazon customers and the one with the most votes wins the $25,000 publishing contract with Penguin.

Thanks to all who downloaded the free excerpt and left a review--and it's not too late to read & review if you want to.  Here's the link:
Thanks everybody!

From Publishers Weekly
This charming novel gracefully addresses embryonic stem cell research and garnishes it with a powerful, tender romance. Reporter Skylar Kendall, grieving for a young niece whose death could possibly have been prevented with stem cell treatment, puts the blame on Senator Edward Hastings, a staunch opponent of embryonic stem cell research. Edward's best friend, Mark Dutton, starts out trying to distract Skye and ends up in love with her. As Skye opens up to Mark and begins to appreciate Edward's commitment to his moral values and his family, she struggles to come to terms with her anger and write the exposé that her career depends on. When Edward's wife suffers a spinal injury that could be treated with stem cells, the political becomes deeply personal. Though occasionally leaning too much on foreshadowing and coincidence, the author otherwise handles the complexities of science and morality with tremendous care and nuance; there are no hypocrites or villains here, only loving people doing their best in terribly difficult situations. Contemporary romance readers of all political leanings will be enthralled. 

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Plea to Authors of Urban Fantasy

In case I haven't mentioned it often enough here at Five Scribes, I'm a student at Seton Hill. Part of my thesis work is a paper that deals with some element of the genre I'm writing in, which is urban fantasy.

There's a wee problem, though. Urban fantasy is such a new genre, there's very little critical study out there. Okay, there's none. I've tracked down a few articles posted online and one in a magazine, but it's not enough for my purposes.

I whined and moaned about the problem for a while, but then I realized I could just create the information I need by handing out surveys to UF authors willing to give their opinion. I've created that survey, and it's a mere ten, a few of those are multi-part, but the whole thing is full of fun, fun, fun. if you're a nerd like me, I guess.

If you're an author of urban fantasy (or if you write paranormal romance in a series that has no Happily Ever After at the end of book 1, since I think that straddles the line between para rom and UF), please contact me at UrbanFantasySurvey (at) g mail (dot) com. I'm not rushed for time, so if you're working against a deadline right now, there's no pressure to get to it. I'll only start freaking out if I don't have enough surveys back by, say, September. ;)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Scriptscene's "Share The Dream" Sceenwriting Contest for RWA Members Only

Polish that script and enter Share the Dream, the screenwriting competition sponsored by Scriptscene RWA and judged exclusively by industry professionals!
The deadline is soon; act now!
Deadline - May 15, 2009
~ Final judge is Lew Hunter
We are also excited to announce that this year's contest is accepting electronic entries. The entrants are asked to:

Send the first 15 pages in which you set the tone of the story, establish the characters and setting, and hint at the conflict to come. These pages should pull the reader into the story and make her want to continue reading.

PLEASE NOTE: ENTRIES WILL BE a story with romantic elements. They can be light on romance and the romance may not be the focus of the story.
FEE: $25 per entry/ US funds for non-Scriptscene members $20 per entry/US funds for Scriptscene members
ELIGIBILITY: RWA members only; scripts must be registered with WGA or copyright office
ENTRY CONSISTS OF: First 15 pages of a completed screenplay. Any romance category; romance must be the A or B plot.
JUDGES: Check out our outstanding industry judges at
FMI, entry form and rules, visit

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Industry Trend or Silliness?

This is the third year of The Sandy writing contest for unpublished writers and I noticed an interesting thing as the entries rolled in.  While the contest has continued to grow averaging more than 36 % each year, the trend in each category genre has been surprising. 

The second year, Mainstream grew 32% more than the contest overall growth of 39%, Romance remained fairly steady at 34% below  overall contest, Fantasy/SF grew 39%, Thriller/Suspense was 8% below avg growth and Childrens/YA  4% below avg.  The highest quality (the most number of high-scoring entries) genres were F/SF and Childrens—hands down.

This year (yr 3), Mainstream grew 35% above the contest growth of 33%, Romance popped up by 26%, but F/SF decreased by 45%, T/S rose by 21%, and C/YA was 13% below contest growth.  The highest quality finalists were in Mainstream and C/YA.

2009, F/SF dropped significantly in both numbers and quality, and Mainstream continues it’s steep climb in both numbers and quality.  C/YA remains relatively steady in quality and numbers.  Romance and Thriller/Suspense are creeping up in numbers, but not so much in quality.

I wonder if this is a reflection of a sampling of what writers are choosing to write, of the popularity of the The Sandy spreading to more genres, or the number of available competing contests for unpublished authors in each of the 5 genres.  Probably it’s a combination of the three. 

In the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award—a world-wide writing contest for unpublished authors, the number breakdown of the top 500, by genre follows:

General Lit: 212,  Fantasy/ SF:  88,  Historical Fiction: 54,  Mystery: 46,  Suspense/Thriller: 78,  Romance: 18,  Western: 3  They too have FAR more mainstream quarterfinalists than an other genre.  Interesting.  Trend or no trend?

Somehow, my results seem skewed ‘cause romance sales typically account for 52% of paperback market, but . . .  Could this be reflective of the beginning of waning popularity of F/SF and the rising of  Mainstream?  Has the world been saturated with Harry Potters and Twilights, and the new rising genre could be Mainstream?  

What do you think?


Friday, April 10, 2009

Do You Smell Something Burning?

As I'm neck-deep in thesis revisions, my mind refuses to let go of any writing topic but the thesis. Lucky you, that means you get to hear my lightbulb moment this week, and it's about point of view.

I don't know about the rest of the writing world, but POV has always been my least favorite topic. I caught onto the idea of POV very easily as a newbie romance writer, and I fell in line with the single-POV group without any arm wrestling involved. I never head-hopped, and my POV slips were minimal and minor. So leave it to me to get cocky about it.

My thesis is urban fantasy, opening up my choice on POV. Romance, with its once iron-clad third person POV rule, had never given me that opportunity. The Urban fantasy genre is full of first person POV with just a smattering of third person. Since the topic of my thesis revolves around what goes on inside the main character's noggin, I thought first person would be just peachy. I considered it a bonus that I could step outside of third person for the first time in a novel.

I started writing in first person and didn't look back. Until this week.

After receiving feedback from my mentor that my voice and the character's voice created an inconsistency, I considered switching to third person. I looked through the manuscript, a huge, intimidating pile of white paper on my desk, and pondered how changing the POV would change the story. I didn't like the shift, so I tossed third person as a choice and went back to considering my options.

Then my mentor wrote once more and offered a nugget that flipped that lightswitch in my brain.

My mighty mentor brought up an element of POV I never hear my fellow romance authors consider and had only unconsciously acknowledged to myself. POV isn't just about who's talking. It's about perspective. And by perspective, I don't just mean that the POV character can't possibly see the serial killer sneaking up behind her.

My mentor pointed out a perspective of time. When is the POV character telling this story? Is it tells-as-she-goes? Is she telling the story right after the events have occurred? Or is she an old woman reminiscing on those events, with all of the insight generated after years of mellowing memories? That time perspective has a very subtle impact on the narrative, verb tense, and word choice. For example:

1. I hear a twig snap, and my skin goes cold as I realize he's right behind me.
2. I heard a twig snap, and a wave of cold fear washed over me. He was right behind me. I knew it.
3. I never considered my mortality until I heard a twig snap behind me. Instead of running or screaming, I froze like a fool. For a long, arctic moment, I let fear win. I would live to regret it.

Same moment in time, same character, same point of view, yes? Not quite. That internal perspective changes the point of view. The time it's taken for that character to consider the events changes the perspective and the way the story is told. Is any one of these perspectives more effective than another? It depends on your goal as the storyteller. How do you want to convey the story? Which option frames the story in the most effective manner?

Maybe this is obvious stuff for most, but I've never stopped to consider that impact before. The lightbulb moment has been so intense for me, it's actually singing my hair.

Point of view is often nothing more than a check box on a critique partner's list of slip-ups to look for. But more goes into point of view than just what the character can see or know. Many decisions you make about how you write the story will nuance the point of view. Besides verb tense, time perspective, and storyteller point of view, what do you think plays a role in the greater point of view of a story?

And...since I have a feeling nobody's really paying attention, here's a contest for those of you who have read this far and are brave enough to play along. The one who makes me squee or laugh the loudest will receive a $10 gift card to your online bookstore of choice (B&N, Amazon, etc.). If there's a tie, I'll toss a random number generator at the responses and pick a winner that way. So here's how you enter: answer my question from the previous paragraph and/or post a few of your own examples (horrible, awful, terrible, no good, very bad obviously works...after all, I posted mine for your consumption) of variances in POV. Ready, steady, go!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Let's be frank ... about contests

This article is for anyone who has ever entered, judged or coordinated a writing contest. Please welcome award-winning writer and contest-coordinator Gina Welborn as she in her own indubitable style tells it like it is.

Every so often, I hear someone mention being discouraged. The shocker? It’s usually because of contest scores and judges. Hey, I’ve worn those flip-flops. Being the kind-hearted gal that I am, I came up with a sweet response.

(1) Quit being so narrow-minded, pig-headed, and stupid, and actually entertain the notion that YOU are NOT RIGHT but the JUDGE IS. Seriously!

What's it gonna hurt to double-check your research on the item the judge questioned or a grammar book on the proper usage of a semi-colon?

Even if you aren’t receptive today, don’t throw away the scoresheet. Recently, I got to looking at some scoresheets from two contests I’d entered my Victorian in last year. Interesting stuff, Maynard. See, some judges make points that seem stupid but are really things entrants should key on. I know you're probably thinking, "Duh!" Oh, dear little pigeon pie, hold on to that "duh."

Each of my judges mentioned paragraphs they didn't feel were necessary. One said, "The maid is such a minor character you don't need to take time to describe what she looks like." Now that "time" I took was two fantabulous sentences—how her clothes drew attention to the pallor of her face and she looked like she was grieving.

Last year I thought, "Duh! It's not a waste of time. She plays a key role in a sub-plot, in the spiritual arc of both lead characters."

This year I thought, “Duh! The judge didn’t NEED that information.”

Take time to pimp your entry. Ruth Logan Herne knows this because she's finaled or won more contests than I've even thought about entering. She says…

"My friend Andrea Wilder (Fearless, Dorchester, 2007)…admits that she tweaked the story to make judges happy. When Alicia Condon (Dorchester) saw the real deal, the story written as it was meant to be, the opening was more fully developed, but Andrea had learned what takes some of us longer to figure out. Lots of judges want that instant fix, that WHAM! GMC that spills the internal organs of the story in full-blown instant fashion. By tweaking her story to give that punch, she ended up winning the contest and ultimately was contracted. If you’ve ever entered Romancing the Tome, that’s a basic example of story punching right there. In five pages you have to sell the judges on your amazingly wonderful opening to get a seat in the finalists’ box. Five pages."

To read more, go to

When you enter the next contest, don't just send in the maximum pages tweaked only so the last page ends on a hook. Copy and paste 10-15 pages more than the contest page limit in to a new Word document. Ask yourself some key questions.

Is this prologue necessary to the judge understanding the first XX pages? Is the problem the heroine is having with this secondary character necessary to the judge understanding the main plot? Is this description of this minor character necessary to the judge seeing this character as needed in the opening pages? And so on. Question every sentence, every freakin’ paragraph.

FORGET ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW OF THE ENTIRE STORY AND HOW EVERY SCENE, EVERY DETAIL PLAYS TOGETHER. It's only about giving the judge the information she needs to focus on the main plot, setting, leads, GMC, etc. Don't leave anything in that could make her think "this isn't needed, slows pace." True, it may really not be necessary. But it could be a case of where the info is only needed if one was reading the entire manuscript and could see how all the threads weave together.

Feel free to assume judges are stupid and clearly layer in GMC in relation to individual story goals. Feel free even to add in some emotional "telling" words in addition to the "showing" paragraphs. Heap on those sensory, setting, and character details.

Ultimately, your goal is to final and to get a full request. That's when you send in your real manuscript.

(2) Quit being so insecure, wishy-washy, and stupid, and actually entertain the notion that YOU are RIGHT and the JUDGE is WRONG. Seriously!

Judges are human. They make errors unintentionally, ignorantly, and despite having good intentions. Like wine, cheese, and many singers, judges get better as they age. I was a TSTL judge the first year I judged RWA contests (fortunately I only judged 3 contests that year). Then Linda Windsor taught me how to judge by teaching me how to critique. Yes, it was quite painful at times.

Some judges, though, are aliens. Really. Had one last year in one of the contest categories I coordinated. You do not know how seriously tempted I was to change some scores and delete comments. Uggh! Having an honor code sometimes sucks.

Realize some judges think they need the answers to GMC internally and externally in the first 15/25/30/50 pages. This can be even worse in inspirationals because judges then want to know exactly what the leads' spiritual struggles are and why. In 25 pages?! Double uggh!

Some judges, however, don't think. You can show the hero resisting the urge to throw something against the wall, but they won’t know what he’s feeling unless you write, "Furious at what he heard yet concerned about not scaring the kids in the room, Bob gripped the team's trophy instead of throwing it against the wall like he really wanted to do ’cause he was a man and men like to throw things." (I am not advising you do this.)

But you say, “It's a contest’s duty to keep out bad judges.” When you're gotten 20+ entries than you anticipated in almost every category, you’re desperate for folks willing to judge. If every published author, every writer who enters contest, every member of each RWA chapter would all judge a RWA chapter contest a year, then there wouldn't be any contests begging last minute for judges.

On the other hand, I know several published authors who REFUSE to judge another contests because of the complaints they hear about judges. Judging a contest means taking your own personal time away from writing. For a published author, that's like a day's pay. And what do they get in return: unpublished writers yakking and cracking about their $*%&@ judges.

That's why I say if you enter contests, you need to go through a judge training session because you should be judging. If you can't find a free course, google "how to judge a RWA contest." There's enough good judging tips on the internet to train/educate yourself. Charlotte Dillion's RWC website is a great place to start your education.

(3) Quit being so sensitive and thin-skinned. Listen, growing a thick-skin is smart. Growing a hard-heart isn't. Keep your heart sensitive so your characters will be too. Learning not to take personally the criticism will prepare you from when you are published.

Oh, and contest coordinators: If the entry deadline hasn’t arrived and the entry isn’t properly formatted or doesn’t end on a hooky COMPLETE sentence, give the entrant a chance to fix. I hate disqualifications for formatting. Yeah, I know they’re mature adults who should have read the rules. Grace goes a long way toward a contest’s reputation.

While we need to keep are hearts tender, we need to stop letting our feelings get us through life. The true test of character is having a great attitude when all is not going well. That happens when we have the right mind-set. Oh, go ahead and vent and whine because we need to purge those negative feelings. Just don't let venting and whining become your mind-set.

"Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did." ~Newt Gingrich

Mind-set: Despite and because of what my contest judges say, I will learn to write better because I'm not satisfied with average.

"The drops of rain make a hole in the stone not by violence but by oft falling." ~Lucretius

Mind-set: While I may not hit my target the first time, eventually I will because I've determined to hit it.

Oh, I forgot…

(4) Remember YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

When you're struggling, share how you're feeling because someone(s) will be there to encourage, uplift, and inspire you to continue on following for your dream.

Touched by Love SC & LC coordinator 2009
Golden Pen Historical coordinator 2009
2008 RWA Maggie inspirational finalist
2007 RWA Golden Heart inspirational finalist
"light-hearted romance, deep-seeking faith"

Robert Gosnell's "The Elements of Screenplay" Is Now Scheduled

The Elements of Screenplay
Short Course

The "Elements of Screenplay" Short Course is a one-day seminar which provides the same basic information as the original two-day version, but in an abbreviated format and at a reduced price. The primary difference between this seminar and the two-day course is the absence of the use of film clips and the second-day screening of the film "A Few Good Men." All topics presented in the two-day course will be covered by this class. Informational handout packets will also be provided to all participants. Please refer to the "Course Content" page (click link) for the specifics on the topics covered.

The cost of this seminar is $125.00 paid at the door. To register, simply e-mail and confirm. Space is limited to 20 participants, on a first-come, first-served basis. To ensure a spot you may pre-pay by mail by sending a check or money order made out to Robert Gosnell to: Robert Gosnell Screenwriting Services, PO Box 351, Pine, CO 80470. In the unlikely event the class is cancelled, all pre-paid fees will be promptly refunded.

When: Saturday, May 16, 2009 9:30 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Where: The Hampton Inn, Denver-Southwest
3605 S. Wadsworth Blvd. Lakewood, CO 80235

Coffee, tea and ice water will be provied by the Hampton Inn. There will be a one-hour lunch break from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. There are many sit-down and fast-food restaurants with a short drive, including McDonalds, Starbucks, Bennigans and Subway. A Denny's and an Old Chicago are within walking distance.

Handout packets will be provided, which contain information on the following topics:
Margins & Format Rules
Screenplay Language
Screenplay Terms
Scene Transitions
The 3 Act Structure
Beat Sheet Sample
Character Check List
Bio Sample
Synopsis Sample
Cover Page Samples
WGA Registration Information
Screenwriting Resources on the Net
ADDENDUM'S - Standard Contract Forms, Standard Release Forms, Sample Query Letter, Copyright Form PA

Note: While not required, it is highly recommended that participants view the film "A Few Good Men" prior to class, as many examples from that film will be cited. Other notable movies from which examples will be taken are "Rocky", "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", "Apocolypse Now", and "Jaws."

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Feel Good Screenplay Contest

Submit your FEEL GOOD SCREENPLAY to Hollywood’s 2nd Annual FEEL GOOD FILM FESTIVAL. A proud partner of InkTip, the Feel Good Film Festival is a non-profit film & writers showcase encouraging the development, production, and distribution of short or feature length films with happy endings, that make audiences laugh, and that capture the beauty of our world.

Held annually at Hollywood’s historic Egyptian Theatre on the Walk of Stars, FGFF creates a warm and happy environment for every screenwriter, filmmaker, and musician.