Leo's Angel Oak Tree

Friday, April 29, 2011


I'm tired.  Really, really tired. This week marked the state testing week in Texas. We've worked hard, done the work, and now the waiting for scores begins, but today, I'm celebrating with a big N-A-P!

I've loved this A-Z Challenge, but I'm so exhausted, I can't think straight.  And one thing I've learned as a writer is the writer needs sleep to function and think creatively. So, in order for me to have some creative juices flowing in the morning, I need to go to bed.

So, peace out! See ya tomorrow for the last post in the A-Z Challenge.  And I promise, I'll make it a good one!

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Are you a xenophobic writer?  I think I am.

Xenophobic is the fear of the unknown.  Sometimes the fear what others will think of my writing is stifling.  And it's kind of unfounded.  Anyone who has read my writing has always encouraged me to keep going.  And when they have offered criticism, it's always been because they want me to improve. 

Once, an editor I had a consultation and critique with told me I was a very promising writer.  She showered me with compliments, and even when she declined my manuscript a few weeks later, she told me she wanted to see more from me.  Which I have to say inspired me and kept me writing.  Then, why do I let the fear in?

I think its because I am my own worst critic.  I see the flaws. This is something I strive to work on.

Are you a xenophobic writer?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Writing what you know doesn't mean to limit your writing in a way to make everything too familiar or cliche. It means to use your life experiences as a jumping off point for your writing. 

Writing what you know can help you develop details that bring a rich quality to your story structure.  It can also bring about a familiarity that helps give you confidence to create unique characters, visualize setting, and infuse action and tension in crucial scenes.

Some of the most memorable characters in literature are based, even loosely, on someone the author knew. Almost like the author used their best strengths or limitations and amped them up or down.

When I begin writing a novel, I like to use names of people from my hometown for characters.  I even use some of their idiosyncrasies to develop that character like accent, gestures, hidden talents, even voice. Then, I amplify those tiny distinctive qualities to make a totally new character full of rich detail and life.

What ways do you write what you know?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


We are almost there! Four more letters to go.  I hope you all have learned something new this month.  I tried really hard to give diverse topics. Don't forget to comment.  I love hearing from you all! 

Today's topic is developing your VOICE.

When I go to conferences, read agent/editor blogs, or read tweets, I often hear these words, "I'm looking for characters and a story with a distinctive voice."  What exactly does that mean?

It think voice is the way you put words together and the unique way you express yourself. It's the way you look at the world, the way you show your personality, or the way you communicate ideas. I can tell an author's book by their distinctive voice.  I can tell a Stephenie Meyer from a Brandon Mull, or a James Patterson from a Stephen King.  Each writer has a certain cadence to their writing. That's their voice.

Characters have voices as well.  When you read a novel with multiple main characters, each one has a certain flavor to their dialogue, a way they enter a scene or leave one, and even how they relate to other characters.

For example, in "The Mortal Instruments" series, the character, Jace, is sarcastic, vain, and very confident.  Jace doesn't walk passively into situations.  He commands attention on the page, and he gets it.  For example, in a scene from City of Fallen Angels, Clary comments to Jace that he's usually amazing at all kinds of Shadowhunter skills.  Jace calm and coolly responds, "I was born amazing."  This is so Jace.  No other character could pull off that line but Jace. 

The same goes for the character of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games.  She is brave, bold, and selfless.  I instantly know when I'm reading a Katniss scene or a Jace scene.

It's hard sometimes to find a character's voice.  I like to first find a picture that can inspire the character's face in my mind, then I write several situations without action, just the character talking.  Sometimes I'm surprised at what comes out, but that's how I find my character's voice.

How do you develop your VOICE?


As writers, we have a lot of decisions to make. Which words do I choose? What setting is best? Who should tell the story? How do I describe this situation?  We can also make a lot of mistakes that will be fixed in the editing process. But the worst mistake a writer can make is underestimating their reader. 

As a teacher, I see time and time again that kids really do get things when they read.  They visualize, infer, draw conclusions about characters, and think while they read.  So, we shouldn't water down our novels because we write for middle grade or young adult audiences.  Our novels should be as rich and complex as an adult novel, just minus the adult themes (or some of them). 

So, if you want to use a certain word but worry that younger readers won't understand, stop yourself from over explaining.  They really do get it.  If they can sound it out, they can understand.  And in most cases, there's an adult nearby who can help.  Plus, they are learning from you in the process. 

When you're tempted to describe everything to the nth detail, stop yourself.  Keep your descriptions neat and tight, don't ramble.  That actually makes young readers abandon books.  I watch my students when I do a read aloud and when it comes to long descriptions, they listen to get the gist, then they tune me out if the description becomes too long.  They want action!  Young readers would rather you spend four paragraphs on the action scenes than the description scenes. Trust me!

Here are some examples of writers underestimating their readers: (examples courtesy of http://www.culturefeast.com/dont-underestimate-your-readers/)

EXAMPLE: The judge sentenced the thief to six years in jail.

BETTER: The judge sentenced the thief to six years.

EXAMPLE: The house was painted green in color.
BETTER: The house was painted green.

EXAMPLE: The whistle had too loud a sound.
BETTER: The whistle was too loud.

EXAMPLE: He was over two hundred pounds in weight.
BETTER: He was over two hundred pounds.

EXAMPLE: Each tire lasts for a predetermined number of miles when the car is driven.
BETTER: Each tire lasts for a predetermined number of miles.

JK Rowling once said in an interview that she received several rejections for Harry Potter that simply said this book is to much for children, it's too wordy, there are too many pages, etc.  Her response to them was brilliant.  She said, "I'm going to write the book the way I want to write it.  Publishers today underestimate the reader, especially young readers, and I choose not do that."
So, here's the advice.  Write what you want to write, write it the way you want to write, and never, ever underestimate your reader!


Sunday, April 24, 2011


Happy Easter everyone!!

I am reposting a blog from a while back on the first pages of your novel.  It's really important to nail those pages.  Suzie Townsend and Joanna Volpe are taking on critiques of first pages on their blog, Confessions From Suite 500.  If you want to know more, check it out: http://confessionsofawanderingheart.blogspot.com/2011/04/first-page-shooter.html

They have already posted blogs on awesome first pages and two critiques.  I think this is AWESOME!


If you're like almost every writer in the world, those first two pages of your new manuscript are hell to perfect, and they are so important to whether you get published or not. It's the first impression of your writing style (and your characters) an industry professional gets, so you better make them great!

At the recent South Carolina Writer's Workshop Conference in Myrtle Beach, I was one of a lucky 20 people who got to learn from one classy literary agent, Suzie Townsend from Fineprint Literary Management. Ms. Townsend took us through the essential parts and purposes of those first two pages. Here's what I learned:

The first two pages should:
1) Begin with a hook: A OMG first line that makes the reader stand up and pay attention.

2) Create an interesting character & plot.

3) Create a sense of intrigue.

4) Create investment in the characters.

The first two pages serve several functions:

1.)Establishes character's voice.

2) Establishes the conflict.

3) Establishes the tone.

4) Indicates the setting.

Then, she asked us to answer this question for our hook:


She gave us several examples of FANTASTIC first pages. Here are just a few:
1) The Electric Church by Jeff Somers

2) Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

3) You by Charles Benoit

4) The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

This was an outstanding intensive workshop. Take a look at your first two pages with these things in mind, and see where you can improve!

Saturday, April 23, 2011


I love to read! It wasn't always so, I'm ashamed to say.  In school, I HATED to read.  I thought I had better things to do with my time. (Don't judge, I learned my lesson!) However, I also never had a teacher, not one, that encouraged me to read or introduced me to good books. 

So, when I began to teach, I had a student ask me about a book and told me he wouldn't read it until I did. I planned on just telling him it was good, but after reading one chapter, I was hooked.  I've been reading ever since.  Thanks to Steven and JK Rowling, I now love to read.

So, what does that story have to do with sense of humor.  A lot. For me, a book grabs me when it has great characters and fantastic dialogue.  If the book can keep me laughing or pull at my heart strings, I can't put it down.  Harry Potter and his friends were hilarious.  I loved the snarky sarcasm of the character's voices.

I recently read a book that had me in stitches!  Infinity by Sherrilyn Kenyon was a book I devoured. 

Infinity (Chronicles of Nick, #1)

From Goodreads, this is the book description:
        At fourteen, Nick Gautier thinks he knows everything about the world around him. Streetwise, tough and savvy, his quick sarcasm is the stuff of legends. . .until the night when his best friends try to kill him. Saved by a mysterious warrior who has more fighting skills than Chuck Norris, Nick is sucked into the realm of the Dark-Hunters: immortal vampire slayers who risk everything to save humanity. Nick quickly learns that the human world is only a veil for a much larger and more dangerous one: a world where the captain of the football team is a werewolf and the girl he has a crush on goes out at night to stake the undead. But before he can even learn the rules of this new world, his fellow students are turning into flesh eating zombies. And he’s next on the menu.
As if starting high school isn't hard enough. . .now Nick has to hide his new friends from his mom, his chainsaw from the principal, and keep the zombies and the demon Simi from eating his brains, all without getting grounded or suspended. How in the world is he supposed to do that?

Even the description screams VOICE! Nick and the cast of characters had me rolling, and this is a book about zombies, for pity's sake. My favorite characters, besides Nick, were Bubba and Mark.  Here are two snippets that shows you great dialogue adds sense of humor.

INFINITY by Sherrilyn Kenyon   pg. 127
The barrel swung wide and instead of hitting the jocks, the shot blasted a huge hole right through the eyes of the picture of Bubba's mama that hung on the wall near the register.  Nick stared at the hole in absolute terror. Ah God. I'm so dead.  Bubba really loved his mama. And he'd shot her right between the eyes...
The look of Satan's wrath on Bubba's face nauseated him. "Bubba...I'm sorry."

He stalked Nick like a hunting lion out for dinner. "Not half as sorry as you're gonna be.  Make me shoot my mama.  Boy, what are you thinking?  What the hell's wrong with you?"

INFINITY by Sherrilyn Kenyon  pg. 133
His face was streaked with camouflage paint and he wore yellow contact lenses that had a rim of red around them. Zombie eyes. Also for camouflage.  But that wasn't the worst of it.  As he stopped next to Nick, there was an odor so foul it took his breath.  Nick covered his nose to keep from being sick over it. "What is that smell?" It was like three-day-old cat vomit mixed with rotten asparagus.

Mark scowled at him as if he was crazy for even asking. "Duck urine.  It keeps the zombies from thinking I'm human."

Nick snorted. "Yeah, well it keeps me from thinking you're sane."

Ms. Kenyon has mastered the art of making totally engaging characters and a perfect sense of humor for each one.  I loved this book so much.  If you are writing, especially a male POV, you have to check out this gem.

So, what is your main character's sense of humor?

Friday, April 22, 2011


What is one problem most novice writers have with their manuscript? If you answered, the word count is too high, then you are reading my mind. Ha!

So many times I have heard agents, editors, and other writers talk about the dreaded word count question.  And, it's true, so many writers have bloated manuscripts.  One way to combat an overloaded novel is by editing out unintentional repetition.

Good writers know how to toss out repeated words and phrases, but what I want to talk about today is slicing redundancies of an effect.  In other words, cutting two or more sentences or paragraphs that convey the same information, meaning, description, personality traits, or even characters who fill the same role in the novel. 

This is something I have been learning how to do in recent days with my new WIP.  Sometimes they are very difficult to find because we are so in love with the words we have written. That's mainly why people tell us to put our manuscripts away for a few weeks to gain new perspective when starting to revise and edit.  Here are some examples from one of my WIPs.

Example #1: I was determined not to leave without my answers.  No matter how hard he might try, he would not deter me.

This basically says the same thing.  So, I had to choose which one I thought was stronger.  For me, it was the first sentence.

Example #2: Her skin was more olive toned, and she looked Mediterranean.

This example shows a redundancy in description. I'm essentially describing her skin tone two different ways. Once is usually enough.

Here's a checklist you can use to help spot those pesky repetitions in your manuscript.

1. Reread your MS focusing on the mood, background, or point you're trying to set.  How many different ways are you doing each of them?

2. Check the chapter level too. Do you have more than one chapter that accomplishes the same goal?

3. Are your antagonists evil in more than one way?

4. As always, check for word and phrase repeats.

Remember to trust your reader.  Give he/she just want he/she needs to get into your world. Don't over explain everything. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Oh, the dreaded query! I remember the first time I tackled a query letter.  It was awful! But, thanks to a wonderful workshop given by Suzie Townsend of FinePrint Literary and an amazing e-book by Elana Johnson, queries don't seem as threatening anymore.  So, I wanted to expound on a few things I've learned about the query process.

1. A query letter is a formal letter (business, serious)
2. You should show, not tell (Don't say you like strong female characters, show a strong female character)
3. Personalization: Some agents like it, others do not.  Know the agent you're querying!
4. MUST include word count and publishing credits (However, don't go on and on if you don't have any)
5. Never give the theme or complexity of the novel.
6. A query letter is just the set-up, the enticing appetizer to the main dish.
7. A query should focus on the main character, and in romance, it should include the MC and love interest.
8. It should contain the least possible words.  Make every one count. Keep it concise!
9. Don't cut and paste the query letter.  Type it into the email because some fonts are different when emailing.
10. All pertinent contact info should be included after your name at the bottom of the query.

Suzie Townsend also gave us this framework.

The main character must decide whether to _____________ or ______________.
If he/she decides to do ____________, the consequences/outcome/peril he/she face are ___________.
If he/she decides not to do _____________, the consequences/outcome/peril he/she face are _________.

One of the great things I learned from reading Janet Reid's blog is to answer these questions when working your query letter.

1. Who is the main character?
2. What happens to him/her?
3. What choice does he/she face?
4. What terrible thing will happen because of that choice?

Elana Johnson wrote a wonderful e-book titled From the Query to The Call.  Check it out here.

In this e-book, Elana breaks down the query into four sections known as Hook, Setup, Conflict, Consequence.

1. The HOOK is the log line, or one sentence that sums up the novel.
2. The SETUP is where you provide a few details about your main character and the catalyst that moves the
character forward.
3. The CONFLICT  is the main thing that prevents the character from getting what they want.
4. The CONSEQUENCE is what will happen if the protagonist doesn't solve the conflict. 

Then, you can write everything else like word count, pub credits, bio information (limited, very limited!)

Put all of these things together and you, too, can write a KILLER QUERY!

Lastly, here are a few tidbits I've learned through websites, published authors, writing friends, and critique partners. A query letter (in full) should range from 250-300 words (with at least 150 of those words being about the novel itself, although most would say 200!). Never put in the letter that this is your first novel, and always end with "Thank you for your consideration."

If you are a book nerd like myself, some books I've read on the subject can be found here. Just scroll down to the bottom of the page for more titles.

Do you have any query nightmares you wish to share?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


When we listen to other authors explain their manuscripts to us, it usually sounds something like this:

Well, I heard of a creature that I thought was fascinating so I began to write a story to go with that creature and four hundred pages later, I had a novel.  I had no idea how big it would be!   or    I awoke from an erotic dream where two characters are talking, and I started writing that day.  I never wanted to be a writer; it just happened.

Helpful, right?  If we believe that great novels are born this way all the time, it would appear that the thousands of writers who are trying to get published are working too hard. Those novels and authors' journeys are the EXCEPTION.  It's great that it worked out that way for them, but we have to be more realistic and practical.

But there is a lesson we can each learn from their stories of high-energy writing and publishing gold.  The lesson is that each of those novels began with a KILLER PREMISE, an idea. One idea.

I know it sounds like magic (a la JK ROWLING developing the Harry Potter storyline while sitting on a train with no pen or paper), but it really isn't. Premises can come to you anywhere, anytime. The trick is not to let the idea die on the page without the proper planning.  Rowling proudly states that it took her five years to get the planning and writing correct.  She displays the mounds of notes, research, and revised manuscripts for that first Harry Potter novel. That is the epitome of taking a fantastic premise and turning it into a solid storyline.

Don't wait until you're at the query letter stage to figure out your plot is weak.  Begin with your premise and then plot!

So here's the challenge question: How do you know when you have a good premise or a bad one?

Monday, April 18, 2011


I woke up this morning feeling enthusiastic and overjoyed.  I had a great weekend at the Writer's League of Texas YA-Z Conference. I met some fantastic writing peeps, awe-inspiring YA authors like Carrie Ryan (The Forest of Hands and Teeth) and Cynthia Leitich Smith (Tantalize, Eternal, Blessed), Mari Mancusi (The Blood Covered Vampires: Stake That, Bad Blood, etc), and some fabulous agents like Mary Kole, Kathleen Ortiz, Regina Brooks, Elena Mechlin, and John M. Cusisk.

I'm so overjoyed, I feel like dancing!  Let's dance to this mash-up of three of my favorite songs courtesy of Sam Tsui!

Sunday, April 17, 2011


First Person? Third Person? Which shall I choose?  Make the wrong decision and I might have to write the whole manuscript over.  Heaven forbid!

Who is the best narrator for your story?

To choose the best narrator, you must decide who is in the best position to learn the most during the story.  Who has the most to gain/lose in the plot? This character might be the best choice for the narrator.

In Twilight, Bella tells the story in first person narration.  It gives us an intimate look at what she thinks or feels about Edward, his family, and the Vampire World.  How would the story have been different if Edward, Jacob, or Charlie would have been the narrator.  Very different, I think.

One of the advantages of Third Person is that the opportunity is there for the writer to explore multiple perspectives. For example, The Mortal Instruments series has multiple perspectives based on scene. Cassandra Clare doesn't switch perspectives within a scene, but she does from one scene to another.  One scene could be from Clary's POV and another might be from Simon's POV.

I think the main point to consider is not pairing narrator and protagonist, but pair narrator with theme.  Who is the most changed?  Who learns the lesson?

A lot of YA novels are written in First Person because the audience likes that intimate feel from one character.  The choice, though, is yours.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


I'm behind with my A-Z challenge posts because I came home from work yesterday and crashed...HARD! I bet many of you understand that feeling of extreme fatigue.  So, I'll be doing my M post today and N tomorrow to get back on track by Monday.

Also, a milestone to report today.  I reached 100 followers yesterday! YAY! I really appreciate all of the encouragement and support I get from you all, my blog readers.  Your comments mean the world to me.  So, I will be having a 100 Followers Giveaway next week.  Hint, Hint: it  might have more than one winner (I've been known to do that!)

Okay, so my M post today is for MAKING A GREAT IMPRESSION! It's Conference Season, and I know many of you will be or are already signed-up for one.  Last year, I attended three and learned a lot about what not to do to impress the agents and editors in attendance. So here are some tips to help out.

1. Dress Professionally: I don't mean three piece suits or church attire.  I mean casual professional. Cute Capri's and a top or skirt and a comfortable shirt for the girls, khakis or dark jeans and a polo for guys.  Maybe not those specifically, but you get my point.  Something that looks good on you, makes you feel comfortable, and highlights your best features.  It's like a job interview so treat it like one.

2. Bring Business Cards: A few weeks or a month before going to the conference, have some business cards printed.  Vista Print is a great, fast way to get nice quality ones.  Agents and Editors may not ask for them, but some do.  It's easier for them to remember who they requested material from during pitch sessions.  Have them on hand.  But, the best reason to have them is for networking purposes with other writers you meet.  I can't tell you how many connections I've made!

3. Shake the agent/editor's hand: Make sure you have a free hand to greet them during your consultations, pitch session, or just at meet and greets.  I haven't met one yet who didn't shake my hand.  Make sure its firm and smile. This is their first impression!

4. Don't go all FAN GIRL/BOY on them: I learned this one big time!  We all follow our top agents on Twitter, Facebook, or blog.  So, when you get a chance to meet them in person, stay calm.  I met my dream agent at a conference recently and although I handled myself well, I think, there were moments my friend and Critique Partner had to pull me back down to Earth.  Luckily, I never did anything stupid in front of her!  If you're lucky like me to get a consultation or pitch with this agent, don't do all the talking.  Listen to what they are telling you and only answer direct questions.  Be prepared ahead of times with questions you may have because when you're seated in front them, your mind goes blank (trust me!). Don't follow them everywhere, either. I could write a whole book on this one, so I'll stop here!

5. Don't be nervous: I know, easy to say but harder to do! Agents and Editors love conferences because it's their chance to meet writers and talk about their projects.  They really do want to find something amazing.  Don't go in expecting to sign with someone.  Some agents/editors request materials sometimes just to be nice.  Read their expression and interest level to see if they are really interested.  Have fun and relax.  Talk passionately and professionally about your project and don't get discouraged if they don't request material.  And, don't get overly excited if they do. Most agents and Editors will give you tips and feedback.  Also, don't sound too rehearsed during a pitch.  One wonderful agent who I met at a conference told me during dinner: Don't memorize an elevator speech to impress me.  Let's have a conversation.  Start with the word count and genre and tell me the logline.  Then, I'll ask the questions I need to know.  I did what she said and we had a great talk about my book, characters, setting (she even offered to be my beta with all the New York scenery: She ROCKED!).  I could tell instantly she liked the premise of my book, gave me great advice, and requested the full manuscript.  Agents don't want to be pitched as much as have a conversation about your premise.  Most asked question: What happens in the climax?  They want to know you have thought through your entire plot.

Conference are meant to be learning experiences.  Take craft classes!  Don't just go to a conference to pitch, it won't be worth the money.  Go to learn and make a lasting impression! That's what I've learned. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011


I couldn't let the letter L pass without honoring my favorite character, Leo St. Clare.  Leo is the reason why I write. His voice came through my unconsciousness so loudly that I felt like he was there in the room with me.  I jumped out of bed, rushed to my computer, and started typing.  All the while, he was speaking to me this story. Six months later, SOLSTICE became a completed manuscript. 

I recently thought about my inspiration for Leo.  I didn't really have one at first.  He always had a shape in my head.  I could see his face very clearly, even his build and the way he walked.  But, it wasn't until I began to explore his character more that I realized some deep secrets.

(Those of you who have read all my excerpts and short passages about LEO and have swooned.  You'll like getting to know him a little better)

Here are ten things you don't know about LEO ST. CLARE:

1)Aerosmith is his favorite band.
2)He once tried broccoli, but couldn't stomach eating something that looked like a small angel oak.
3)Leo has a small scar above his right eyelid.  (His sister, Sophia, has a great right hook.)
4)He prefers all white linens and is immaculately clean and organized.
5)He has a great singing voice.
6)His first fight with a Death Demon was at the age of nine.  He won!
7)He feels most at home in NYC.
8)He swims every morning.
9)His favorite food is spaghetti and meatballs.
10)He's only been in love once.

Here is a little description of him:
The face staring back at me stole my breath. It clung to my throat refusing to budge. There were high cheekbones, a chiseled jaw line, and the cutest nose I had ever seen. It was like a male model from the GQ catalog I was reading had leaped off the pages and came to sit and chat.

His hair, the color of the russet autumn leaves, complimented his skin tone perfectly. His black ribbed t-shirt wrapped tightly to his chest, and the darkness of his attire made his eyes pop. It was very hard not to notice the blueness, like the pureness of the sky was poured into these two sockets and heaven had lit them on fire. I stopped breathing altogether.Before I could follow his gaze, he gripped my hand and stood up. I
immediately noticed how muscular he was, tall with elongated muscles like a swimmer. Hot! 

So, I hope you enjoyed my little expose of LEO.  What are ten things we don't know about your favorite character?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I write paranormal romances so I have an affinity for romance scenes, especially the ones that involve kissing. To kiss someone leaves you vulnerable and gives you a sense of connectedness.  A kiss can be very emotional and could also give the reader of sense of several emotions. 

The way a character kisses someone tells a lot about the characters mind frame in that moment.  Hard, aggressive kissing could show frustration, anger, or control.  A tender, gentle kiss could tell the reader the character is simple, sensitive, or sad. Kissing tells more about the scene than mere desire.

In my opinion, the only bad kissing scenes in novels are the ones that end too early! = )

For you kiss-aholic readers, here's a scene from one of my WIPs.  See what the character is saying with this kiss.

Before I made it to the bed, Leo rolled over to the edge and pulled me to him.  He stood up and every connecting point on our bodies clung together.  I caressed his skin with my fingertips.  Oh, how I loved the feeling of him pressed against me. His lips found purchase in mine and before I had a minute to breathe in his sweet scent, Leo gripped my hips and hoisted me into the air.  My legs wrapped around his midsection, and I felt his muscles contracting against my inner thighs.  Leo carried me to the closest wall and backed me up against its hard surface without ever letting his lips slow their rhythm.  He pressed himself against me in order to keep me right where he wanted me, and I ran my fingers through his tousled auburn hair.  I needed to come up for air. Any minute I would spontaneously combust. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


It can be so easy to become jaded, especially in the publishing world. We write, rewrite, edit, and re-edit into total insanity. Then, when the manuscript isn't snagged, we start all over or abandon it. Sound familiar?  Ever hear that too much a good thing is bad for you? Sometimes I feel like my creativity is just sucked right out of me when I overwhelm myself with the process.  I do too much!

How do we as writers lose that jaded feeling?  How can we get out of the funk and produce better novels?

I might have an answer.  It's more about quality than quantity. Let me explain...

Often I hear you can get better at writing by writing often, every day even. But, I stepped back from that and thought; is it really writing everyday or writing smarter everyday?  Sometimes you need time to just think, research, learn craft, or sketch. If your writing in first person, you have to have time to get into that character's head.

So, to avoid getting jaded, I've learned to stop and savor the journey I'm on.  Take some time to live in my novel, with my characters, and produce more quality writing.  I'm normally an infectiously happy person, but this is something I struggle with everyday. I have to remind myself why I write. Why I care so much. Then, I slow myself down and get real with my manuscript.

Have you ever been jaded?

Monday, April 11, 2011


I  stands for an INACTIVE HERO!

Blake Snyder said in "Save the Cat" that a common mistake found in most rough drafts is the problem of the inactive hero. I would have to agree. Sometimes I will be reading a manuscript and the main character seems to be dragged through the story. Sure, the main character shows up but is lacking in purpose.

What's the remedy? A PROACTIVE hero. If he/she isn't proactive, he/she isn't the hero!

Here's a simple checklist you could use to discover if you're having this issue in your manuscript.

1. Is your hero's goal clearly stated in the set-up of the novel?
2. Does your character seek out clues or do they just come to him/her?
3. Is your character active or passive?
4. Do other characters tell your character what to do or does he/she tell them?

Some examples of very proactive heroes:

1. Harry Potter: "The Harry Potter Series"
2. Jace Wayland/Morgenstern/Lightwood (To me, he's just Jace!): "The Mortal Instruments"
3. Katniss Everdeen: The Hunger Games
4. Bianca Piper: The DUFF
5. Alex Fuentes: Perfect Chemistry
6. Patch: Hush, Hush

How does your hero stand up to these? Is he/she proactive or inactive?

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Since technically, it's still the letter H day in the A-Z Challenge, I had to share the news.  I have just finished up my plot board and scene progression for a novel I am rewriting from start to finish. I am so happy that I wanted to share that happiness with a wonderful duet with my two favorite singers.

What are you happy about?


When I first started writing it was because I kept hearing this conversation in my head.  Sometimes I even spoke the words out loud, in the shower, in the car, alone in my classroom. Someone had something to say and I had to write it down. That was the beginning.

I heard Leo and Grace (my two MC's in SOLSTICE) very clearly discussing everything from their relationship to how to protect themselves from others. I feel sometimes like I'm just the recorder.  It was, as if, Leo was speaking this monologue and would occasionally stop and say, "Write that down before you forget it!"

Now, I don't actually hear voices, but my characters are in my imagination screaming their words until I write them down. Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night with a scene that flashed in my dreams. The times I have the most trouble with a scene or a conversation is when I don't listen to my characters in my mind.

So, the point of this post is simple. Stop to listen to your characters. They will tell you everything they need you to know. When you're stuck, stop and listen.  They have something to say, and as writers, it's our job to listen.

I'd love to find out how you hear your characters?  Do they speak to you? OR...am I just crazy?

Friday, April 8, 2011


I have been so excited for the letter G to get here so I could talk about some great books I have recently read.  So here are some titles you should definitely buy at your local bookstore.

CITY OF FALLEN ANGELS  by Cassandra Clare

If you have read the first three books in the Mortal Instruments series (and if you haven't, shame on you!), this is the next book in the series. I have stayed up late the past two nights savoring the words in this novel.  It's AMAZING!  Get it, get it today!!

THE LIAR SOCIETY   by Lisa and Laura Roecker
Kate Lowry didn't think dead best friends could send e-mails, but when she gets one from Grace, she's not so sure. Now Grace must prove that Grace's death was more than some tragic accident. The voice in this book is unbelievable and I was riveted until the end. It had a great premise and engaging pace.  I love a good mystery. Everyone should buy this book and die their hair pink!

THE DUFF  by Kody Keplinger
Who is the DUFF? Bianca Piper finds out she is, when the school's resident player calls her the D word. Desperate to find a distraction from family trouble, Bianca throws herself into an enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley.  This is my favorite book of the year! Bianca is a strong female character whose snarky voice had me in stitches and the love scenes (oh my!) I have bookmarked on my iPad. A MUST HAVE!!!

CLOAKED   by Alex Flinn
Author of the NYT Bestseller novel, Beastly, comes another modern-day fairy tale retelling about a poor shoe repair guy who finds adventure and romance with a beautiful princess, six talking swans, two giants, and one magical cloak. It had great voice and the plot was fast paced!

POSSESSION  by Elana Johnson

Goodreads: Vi knows the Rule: Girls don't walk with boys, and they never even think about kissing them. But no one makes Vi want to break the Rules more than Zenn...and since the Thinkers have chosen him as Vi's future match, how much trouble can one kiss cause? The Thinkers may have brainwashed the rest of the population, but Vi is determined to think for herself.

I was very lucky to be given an ARC of this soon-to-be published book by Elana Johnson. It was so awesome I read it in two sittings (it would have been one, but I had to sleep in order to teach the next day!). It is a YA Dystopian novel. I found it fresh, action-packed, and Vi is a girl after my own heart (snarky and cool!). Mark your calendars, folks! It'll be available on June 7, 2011!

So, those are my salutes to my favorite, GREAT novels of 2010-2011! What great books have you devoured?

Thursday, April 7, 2011


The letter F stands for the FAT, and learning how to cut it from your manuscript.  If your looking for ways to edit down your manuscript to a more appropriate word count, here are some small steps to take that will make HUGE impact.


*START WITH THE SMALL STUFF:  This means the adverbs, adjectives, unnecessary dialogue tags, repetitive words and phrases, and the tedious action sequences (blow-by-blow details).

1. ADJECTIVES: Don't use more than one adjective per noun.
Use This: The cocoa colored chihuahua...         
Not That: The short, brown, pointy-eared dog...

2. ADVERBS: Instead of an adverb, use a stronger verb. 
Use This: The girl panted.                            
Not That: The girl exhaled intensely.

3. AVOID OVERUSING DIALOGUE TAGS: If the reader can tell who's speaking, you don't need a dialogue tag!

4. DON'T OVEREXPLAIN ACTIONS.  We don't need a blow-by-blow account of everything.
Use This: I slammed the car door.                
Not That: I waltzed to the car, opened the door, and slammed it shut.

This is usually what I do first when cutting the fat. A valuable lesson I learned from a fabulous author friend and one of my awesome critique partners who butchered my manuscript. I have cut at least 10-15% of the MS already! I will include more cutting the fat tips in future posts, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


What matters to your character the most? What would your character die for? Establishing personal stakes for a character is discovering what makes them tick.  It answers the readers' question, Why should I care about this character for 400 pages?

Every great story has two things: great characters and conflict. Both internal and external conflicts are needed to progress your plot. But, you also need to think about the what if scenarios. And that is how you identify your character's stakes.

Now, take those stakes and escalate them. Turn them into calamities, natural disasters, and time bombs.  Put more at risk for your character.  Make them squirm a bit, make them suffer, and definitely put more on the line.

To escalate the stakes, you must make the reader feel like there is more to lose.  Put your characters in a situation where they have to fight to survive. Answer the question: How could things get worse?

Try these prompts:

1) Who is the ally your main character cannot afford to lose?  (KILL THAT CHARACTER)
2) What is your main character's best physical asset? (TAKE IT AWAY)
3) How much time does your main character have to solve the problem? (SHORTEN IT)
4) What does your character cherish the most? (DESTROY IT)

That is escalating the stakes! Though it seems terrible, in a way, to torture the characters we love the most, it provides the most drama and conflict. The more you push your character toward the edge, the closer you will pull your reader in. It's the law of force and motion.

There are a lot of examples of escalating the stakes in YA.  Look through your manuscripts or books you have read recently. Where does the author escalate the stakes?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


 Today is the day for a serious pep talk. The letter D stands for Don't STOP Believing!

Sometimes, I get so bogged down with trying to get published that I doubt myself and my writing ability. Who can relate?  Most of you, I'm sure. For the past couple weeks in my class, I have been talking to students about the seven habits of happy kids.  Habit one is BE PROACTIVE, habit two is BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND, and habit three is PUT FIRST THINGS FIRST. This week, I realized I wasn't putting into practice what I've been telling them in regards to my own writing. So, I'm going to make this pledge:

I, Melissa Dean, will write every day and learn tips to write smarter. I will be true to my characters and give them a voice, and I won't ever stop believing in my dream of being published. I'm a writer and I can do it!

So, who's with me? I printed this pledge and every time I doubt myself or my writing, I will read this pledge and get back on track. And to hammer the point home, enjoy this video. Kurt Schneider had a dream to make music videos, so he asked his childhood friend, Sam Tsui (who wanted to be a singer) if he wanted to make a music video. Sam said yes and an unbelieveable partnership was born. Kurt started filming Sam singing covers and mash-ups, duplicating Sam to match the five and six part harmonies of the songs.  They believed in their dreams of singing and making videos. Now, they are the most watched videos on YouTube. 
We can help each other realize our dreams if we don't stop believing!

Monday, April 4, 2011


Today, the letter C will symbolize characteristics of great characters:

Do you know your characters? Generally? Mostly? or Intimately?  JK Rowling once said, "It's important that I know everything there is to know about my characters, but it's not important for my reader to know them as well as I do."

I love that line because it is completely true. Writers should have a deep personal relationship with their characters.  As Donald Maass says in his novel, Writing the Breakout Novel, all stories are character driven. If you are going to write about someone else's journey, it is your responsibility to portray them accurately.

Case in point: I recently began rewriting one of my novels (I know...the horror!). The character (who shall remain nameless for the moment) in my head is very strong willed, mischievous, dedicated and loyal, not to mention, fiercely competitive. He likes to showcase a bad boy image with a good guy heart, and in one scene, he has just been violently ill.  I wrote a line where he is doubled over in pain when a rival approaches and instead of toughening up and appearing strong, the character reads like a weakling. My critique partner nailed me on it. She said, "In these lines, he comes across as puny and shallow, but in the next line he is tough. Which is it?"

It made me start to think about what I wrote in regards to his actions. All I focused on was his sickness.  He would have been stubborn and cantankerous, even if not feeling well.

So, here's my challenge to you...read a few action lines from your manuscript and see if it rings true to the character in your mind.

Lastly, here are my characteristics of great characters:

1. Strength
2. Forgiving
3. Self-sacrificing
4. Self-aware
5. Conflicted
6. Wit/Humor
7. Consistancy

Things to think about with the characteristics of character: (courtesy of Donald Maass's twitter feed) 

1) Whom is your MC afraid to let down? What is the sacred trust between them? What would cause your MC to break it? Then, Break it.

2) What secret is your MC keeping? Who is keeping one *from* your MC? Spill the truth at the worst possible time.

Until tomorrow...

Sunday, April 3, 2011


I know...I'm one day behind in the A-Z Challenge. Today is supposed to my day off from blogging, but I have to catch up. Maybe that should be my C post for tomorrow.  You'll have to check back tomorrow to find out!

Today, the letter B stands for BACKSTORY!

Do you ever feel like you don't know when to add backstory? I always hear from other writers the following things:

1. Never, ever put backstory in the first two pages.
2. Never, ever add backstory in large chucks.
3. Never, ever put backstory as a flashback.

So, when do you add it? When is it too much? When do you have too little backstory?

Well, I'm by no means an expert, but I did a little research. This is what I learned:

From Wikipedia: As a literary device backstory is often employed to lend depth or verisimilitude to the main story. Backstories are usually revealed, partially or in full, chronologically or otherwise, as the main narrative unfolds. However, a story creator may also create portions of a backstory or even an entire backstory that is solely for their own use in writing the main story and is never revealed in the main story. Backstory may be revealed by various means, including flashbacks, dialogue, direct narration, summary, recollection, and exposition.

And here are some tips to avoid the dreaded comment, "This is all info-dumping!"

1. Add backstory as it applies to the situation at hand.
2. If its not a flashback, add in small doses, just a few sentences.
3. Make sure the backstory doesn't take the reader out of the moment.
4. Add backstory as a part of the detailed description.

    For example: John was the blond hair bad boy of our town, whose ghastly over-the-eyebrow scar proved
                         farm boys should never race with their tractors.

5. Lastly, backstory should be just that, BACKSTORY, not the main story. So use sparingly and wisely!

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Hello fellow writers...

I'm such a terrible person. No, really. I have left you hangin' for almost a month. My sincerest apologies for my lack of blogging. It's not that I don't have tons to tell you, it's that I don't have time during March. I'm a teacher and March is our state testing month. So, I've been swamped trying to get my students ready.  But, that ends today.

To make it up to you all, I decided to join the A-Z Blogfest. Click here to sign up with the 1156 other writers from the blog-o-sphere. Every day in April (except Sundays), I'm going to be blogging using the letter of the day to theme my post. Sounds fun, right?

So today, A is for ACKNOWLEDGEMENT!

Since, I'm not currently published, I haven't been able to do that almighty thanking of all the people who have helped me along the way. But, I wanted to take the time out today to do just that.

I don't have one agent and editor to thank because I don't have one yet, but I wanted to thank all of them today for all of their hard work and dedication to the business of publishing quality books. It doesn't go unnoticed. Writers, like me, are in awe of you and hope to one day be able to call one of you up and say THANK YOU! I've met many outstanding agents at writing conferences this past year. Suzie Townsend (Fine Print), Diana Fox (Fox Literary), Brandi Bowles (Foundry Literary), Laurie McLean (Larsen/Pomada Literary Agents), and Susan Hawk (The Bent Agency) are just a few that stood out and made me feel like I'm a writer.  I would love to learn more from them and possibly be represented by them one day. So, thank you!

My beta readers: Margo, Julie, Rosie, Shannon, Alison. You all rock! Also, thank you for the hours of reading, critiquing, phone calls, and late night cry fests.  You have all read my work and have encouraged me to keep going!

My students: You always are fascinated to hear my words read aloud. You're so proud to have a teacher who is a writer. You encourage me everyday!

David, my rock. Thank you for your love, support, endless gab sessions, logic/plotting expertise, and being the love of my life.

So, today is about ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS! Don't wait until you get a published book to thank the ones who helped you become the writer you are today.