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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Writers Dont Cry, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Things to Consider When Plotting World Domination: Play to your Strengths

WritersdontcryYou there! Stop! Whatever you do: don’t touch that pen. Before youRachel E. Morris write even one word of that outline, there’s something you need to think about long and hard. It’s a very important question. It will determine whether your first draft is filled with tears of rage and despair or with joy, rainbows, and mechanical unicorns. It is the most important of important questions, and I ask it with all seriousness: Have you sat down and thought about what kind of a writer you are recently? And no, I don’t mean what overworked, underappreciated, underpaid writers whose creativity’s constantly under assault by the mundane demands of everyday life we all are. I mean what you do well, what you suck at, and what you hope one day to not suck at. Believe me, this is a far more important question than picking out your hero’s name (though that is also a process rife with peril).

See, the success of a book isn’t just the quality of the idea—it’s also how well the idea fits your skill set and interests. I know designing your book around things you do well and avoiding things you do badly sounds like a total no brainer—but it’s actually not very intuitive. Most people are so wrapped up in the agonies of the harrowing that is outlines that they don’t think about how they made that thing they hate integral to the plot until it’s far too late—or worse, they don’t even have an outline, and they wrote themselves into a literary corner filled with all their least favorite writing techniques. Not to mention, giving your talents a place to shine can be hard when you happened to design a plot that doesn’t give you a place to show them off.

So take a little time and think about yourself.  You’re far more likely to finish a book you’re jazzed writing than one that fills you with dread. And who knows? You may even come up with an idea or two for a new book while you’re at it! Here are a few questions to get you started.

Brag to Me, Baby

Humbleness is well and good. But pre-book time is no time to be humble. I want you to brag to me, baby. Toot your own horn. Sing your own praises from the rooftops. Because I want you to think about what you do really well—and I don’t mean about how you really know your way around a comma, or how you hardly ever misplace quotation marks. I mean the kinds of scenes you delight in—and that equally delight your readers. Those blessed writing moments that are so “easy” you don’t spare them a second thought—may we all have more of them.

It is important to actually think about what you do well before you start plotting your shiny new book. Not only will this provide the confidence and mood booster you’ll need to get through the hell that is outlining and the inescapable killing field of infinite woe that is first drafts, but it’s also a good sign of things you should maybe try to touch on in your book.

Do evocative descriptions come as naturally as breathing to you? Then make sure your book has plenty of occasions for those. This means making sure that descriptive passages enhance your story—without detracting, breaking pace, or feeling out of place. And it means considering things like setting. If there i

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2. Five Steps to Finding Your Voice

WritersdontcryVoiceWriters worry constantly over how they sound. They worry that they don’t sound smart enough, hip enough, deep enough, or worst of all, writerly enough. That their writing is regressing, that everyone will find out that they’re faking it, that they’re frauds, that the only thing they know about writing is banging out words on a keyboard, and that sometimes, those words don’t even make sense. They worry that they don’t have a good voice.

But here’s the big secret: they--and you--probably already have a wonderful, authentic voice that is all your own. One that will endear you to readers and give your stories that elusive transportive quality you’ve been searching for. The key is freeing it from your preconceived notions of what a good voice is. See, the goal of writing isn’t to write just like George R. R. Martin, or to sound writerly, or even to obey all the grammar and spelling rules. The goal of writing is to tell a damn good story. And that means you can’t afford to let your writing get in the way of what you have to say.

Good writing sounds effortless, natural, and 100% authentic. Which means that when it comes to your voice, you are at your best when you’re just being you. Sounds easy right? I mean, you practically live with yourself! But believe it or not, most people spend so much time listening to other people’s voices, that they aren’t the best acquainted with their own. With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you find, get to know, and finally claim your voice.

Step One: Getting to Know You

This is my favorite part. This is where you start to define what it means to be you—what your voice encompasses and evokes. Basically, you know what you do for your characters? We’re going to do that for you. Because, in many ways, finding your voice is defining your character on the world-wide stage.

Your voice is essentially the embodiment of your personality. So, to start, come up with three or four adjectives that you feel really fit your personality. Like sharp, friendly, honest, irreverent, witty, charming, or cheeky. Next, try to pick the three or four songs that perfectly express those parts of you. You’ll know you’ve hit it when the songs suit your mood so perfectly they are completely unobtrusive—as if they belong there. Try writing about your favorite hobby while playing this soundtrack in the background, and see what happens.

Step Two: And All Your Hats

I'm a bitch, I'm a lover
I'm a child, I'm a mother
I'm a sinner, I'm a saint

Of course, you’re not just one mood—nor do you wear just one hat. You are a person of many hats you wear with many different people—a wayward son, an outlaw lover, but also a friend, programmer, martial arts student, and gardening enthusiast. Just so, you will have multiple voices you can use, depending on the situation—each one of them indelibly and undeniably you.

Try expanding those three tracks into a twelve-track soundtrack to your life. Make sure you encompass th

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3. Introducing the Hero: How to Flirt with your Reader

WritersdontcryIntroductionIf there’s one thing authors like to talk about more than their cats, it’s their characters. There are so many things to tell us about your character! Like, the depth of their wine-dark eyes, the whalebone curve of their lips, how their favorite color is the orange-pink of ocean sunsets…. And so on, down through favorite animals and up through the way they smell. And it’s understandable! You’ve spent so much time with this character that the moment they appear on the page, you want to share them in all their incredibly detailed glory.

But that’s kind of like grabbing someone you’ve just met in a full-throttle, full-body hug—while you whisper in their ear about every success you’ve achieved since the 2nd grade. All in hope of impressing them enough that they’ll like you. It’s a little too much, too soon, and no matter how awesome you actually are, they’re liable to back away slowly until they can bolt out the door.

When your reader first meets your main character, it’s a lot like flirting in a crowded room. You’re competing not only with all the other characters and setting elements in the room, but also with all the other books out there. And on top of that, you are forbidden from making the first move! So of course you want to do everything you can to help your character make an impression. Here are a few tips to help you—and your character—flirt your way into readers’ hearts.

1. Smile like a Sphinx

Nothing is more engaging than a secret. It’s like a flickering smile and a promising glance from across a room. One that hints at your clever understanding of the world, the startling depth of your personality, and the scintillating nature of your wit. It begs further investigation. It could be that the ruffian in the back of the bar with the too-intense eyes is actually a ranger-king-in-exile with a heart of gold, it could be that your hero was raised by a clan of chimera everyone assumes are the product of her imagination, or it could be hints from a devil that one twin is markedly different from her sister in ways unaffiliated with her appearance. Hinting at your hero's secrets flirts with the reader, drawing them in with the promise of learning more.

2. Be Positive

People—or heroes--with strong voices can think, emote, do, or say anything, and we’d be totally enraptured. A strong voice is pure charisma, and it’s almost always positive--or at least tempered with some combination of humor, confidence, and drive. After all, if your hero’s sick of your story, why should we want to read about it? And a charismatic voice means you can get away with starting characters in terrible, devilishly intriguing situations, as we have the confidence that we will be reading about daring escapes and derring-do rather than a cynical bastard’s humorless whinging.

3. Show Us You’re

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4. Brilliant Beginnings: Engaging Readers on Page One

WritersdontcryIntroA brilliant beginning takes your breath away and steals time. It makes you forget yourself and draws you in. You won’t emerge until hours later when you’re pulled out by a knock on the door—a knock you’re quite certain, just for a second, is a dragon. You know upon reading just a page of such a book what you’ve found: the perfect beginning.

Strong beginnings not only set the stage, they let readers know what they’re getting into, what your voice is like, who the hero is, and why they should care. Authors know this better than anybody, and so spend an inordinate amount of time fiddling with—or completely rewriting—their first chapters. And for good reason: first impressions kill. Readers decide whether or not to buy your book within a page. Editors sometimes decide within a paragraph. You have so little time to hook your reader, it’s no wonder it sets authors to hyperventilating.

But how to write that most brilliant of beginnings? If you look it up, there are enough damning reviews of bad first chapters that you might suppose it’s better to just not have one at all. And it’s true that when editing, the number one thing I ask authors to change is the first chapter—sometimes even cutting it altogether. But it’s a mistake to condemn these clichés entirely. Each cliché beginning springs from a place of resonance—and that resonance is something worth looking into. I’ve delved into a couple of the most common false starts, what they do right, what they do less than right, and what you can take from them to make your own perfect beginning.

False Start: Waking Up

The Idea: The number one piece of advice found on the internet about starting novels is to never, ever--on pain of the groans of a million jaded readers--start with your character waking up. And yet, this has to be the single most popular way for writers to start their new novels. Followed by a yawn, a look in a mirror that describes the hero, and a brief depiction of the hero in their natural habitat.

What It Gets Right: Waking up is one thing just about everyone has in common. It’s the ultimate common ground! And it is really good to think about how you’re going to get the reader to identify with your character, as that goes a long way to getting them to like your character. There is also something to be said for establishing what is normal for that world, to ground your reader and make their journey more dramatic and the magic or magical. But…

What It Gets Wrong: The number one cause of this kind of beginning is the desire to keep the cool stuff secret so it’ll make a good surprise later. Don’t. Don’t hide the good stuff. Surprises are overrated, and we need at least a glimpse of the good stuff early because otherwise we will never get to it. Waking up is a little too universal, in that it doesn’t usually tell us anything about your character, and so doesn’t really help us to identify with them. It is safe to assume that we will understand your character got up in the morning when we see them awake.

The Takeaway: Start with something a little more unique to your character—something that defines them as an individual. Like start with them sneaking out their window at night to go play midnight Frisbee in the park. Immediately, you get an image

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5. Writers Don’t Cry: LIVE at Emerald City Comicon


YAmazonheadou’ve read my columns—now drop by and say “hello!” I’ll be doing a panel at Emerald City Comicon on a subject close to my heart: villains. I know I don’t have to tell you how much cooler they are than heroes. Anyway, I’ll be bringing fabulous guest author extraordinaire Erin M. Evans, five-star author of The God Catcher and Brimstone Angels, which features some totally delectable villains. I’ll even have a few signed copies of her wicked book to give away to lucky participants.


Come for the books, stay for the villainy, and leave a little bit eviler than you walked in the door.




Friday, March 30th
Sympathy for the Devil: Creating Killer Villains for Games and Books

Room: L-102
Time: 7:00 - 8:00

Fascinating and devastating in their sharp suits, with their killer smiles, and their eyes that will eat you alive, villains are strong, smart, and motivated. They have that lean and hungry look. They stand alone. And say what you like about villains, but they know what they want. And that confidence is sexy.

Without the villain, there is no story. Without the villain, the heroes aren’t heroic. And without the villain, things are a lot less interesting. What is Star Wars without Darth Vader? Who is Harry Potter without Voldemort? Kick your game or book up a notch and learn the secrets behind creating killer villains with author, editor, and Amazon columnist Susan J. Morris of “Writers Don’t Cry.”

Emerald City Comicon
Washington State Convention Center
800 Convention Place
Seattle, WA 98101-2350<

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6. Valentine’s Day Special: Six Steps to a Sizzling Subplot

WritersdontcryRomance1Storm the castle, defeat the dragon, rescue the princess, land a proper smooch and—BAM—instant romance and happy endings for everybody! Right? Call me jaded, but I think that story is missing a little something. Sure, the dragon fight might be interesting, and of course I’m appreciative the lady wasn’t eaten by a dragon, but is that really the right way for a hero of that proportion to find a soul mate? And does that mean that once you get married, your heroic deeds are at an end? I mean, either you’re going to have one seriously disappointed second princess, or else your first princess is going to have one helluva surprise! And then, your hero will be engaged in a fight of an entirely different nature—and far less heroic.

But the problem here isn’t that a damsel is being rescued and that they fall in love—the problem is that, for all intents and purposes, there is no damsel. There’s only a golden, damsel-shaped statue in a lockbox of a castle surrounded by the cutting edge security of the day—I mean, it doesn’t get much hotter than dragons, now does it?

And while the damsel-shaped statue may be sparkly, don’t be fooled: it won’t keep you warm at night! (Also, it’s not fooling anyone—seriously.) Take it from me, if you can do a search-and-replace for a love interest with an inanimate object, and the story remains essentially the same, then it’s not love--it’s property. And dating your legos? Totally unsexy.

So, how do you keep your romance riveting and your damsels animate? Here are a few tips, just in time for Valentine’s Day, to help you heat things up for your characters.

1. Play Hard to Get. Falling in love is an exhilarating affair shot through with enough adrenaline to hopefully help you survive the crazy-stupid decisions you’ll make. Add to that the fear-based adrenaline of the dangerous and the forbidden, and you have one hell of an electric romance. So, while most of us don’t pray every night that someday we’ll be lucky enough to be a part of a treacherous love triangle, that's precisely what makes these situations so interesting for a novel. So have an angel fall for a devil, have a woman who craves a rough touch fall for a chaste man, or even turn the whole notion on its head and have a society where love is considered a dangerous disease—and have your character fall for someone. Not only will that keep things interesting, every sacrifice made in the name of love will make the love ring truer.

2. Keep it Complicated. Unlike at home, in a book, relationships are only interesting when they’re complicated. Without some tension to keep things interesting, your characters are happy, and happy characters are boring characters. Granted, the complications don’t have to be in the relationship, but the complications should affect the relationship. It certainly complicates matters, for instance,

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7. Rivi… Rive… Revision (Or, How to Love the Red Pen)

WritersdontcryRevision? You might say, In the romance month? What are you, crazy? But I tell youRevision truly: as an author, editing is the greatest act of love you can perform for your book, your characters, your editor, and your readers. And, of course, I make no secret that I am an editor--and that I LOVE editing. So, think of this as my funny valentine to that most unpopular of tasks--revision.

When editing a book, it helps if you review it three times: once to find the heart of it, once to find the bones that give it structure, and once to smooth the words that clothe it. These three anatomical passes should be done in this order, as each step builds upon and is more detailed than the last, starting with the essence of your book, and diving down into the details of how that essence is expressed on sentence and even word level.

By the time you are done, you will understand your story front to back, inside and out. Your words, scenes, and twists will fit together like puzzle pieces, and your character and plot arcs will sing seamlessly throughout your story, echoing and building until they sweep your readers off their feet. But the path to all that glory is paved in the dark arts of the red pen. So, if you’re not afraid to get a little detailed, let’s dive right in.

The Heart: What Is Your Story About, Anyway?

The first thing you have to do is to find the heart of your story. It may sound silly, but figuring out what your story is actually about is the single most important question you can ask yourself . . . after you finish your book. I mean, I’m sure you had some idea of what you were about when you started to write the whole thing, but books are a funny thing. Like living creatures, they grow of their own accord, twisting and taking in everything that you feed it--consciously or not. And in order to polish and cut your story to best show its brilliance, you have to first identify what makes it sparkle.

This means coming up with your version of the daunting “elevator pitch.” An elevator pitch is a one-sentence version of your book that captures its essence. This is unbelievably difficult, especially when you have been so close to your book for so long. I mean, if you could express your book in one sentence, you would have done so, and cut all those extraneous sentences that make up your book! But remember--you just need to grasp the heart of it, the thing that makes it compelling, the thing that tugs at your soul. Not the thousand little darlings that make it glitter.

Try It At Home: As an editor, I’m almost as immersed in a work of fiction as the author. But one thing I’ve noticed is that as soon as I write the copy that goes on the back of the book--an act which forces me to really think about the heart of the story--I suddenly have a much deeper grasp of the book. This, I’ve found, improves my suggestions tenfold, as I can keep the beating heart of the manuscript in mind while I read. So here’s my challenge to you: before you do your first revision, force yourself to write imaginary cover copy for the back of the book. Here are some of my favorite examples of cover copy that I feel really capture the essence of the book: Divergent,

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8. The Sexy Space Cowboy Mystery Elf Brigade: Crossing Genres Like a Pro

WritersdontcryMixinggenresHorror is scary. Romance is steamy. Westerns are manly. And sci-fi/fantasy is imaginative. But why not slip a little western swagger into that epic fantasy, just to spice things up a bit? Or set the fear of god into some sci-fi fans, by giving your aliens a Lovecraftian twist? Of course, the answers are yes, please and you can; and many have, to great success.

Genres are fickle things. We tend to talk about them as though they were physical enough to be transcended, but genres are far from immutable. They’re really just the shorthand used to help readers find new books they might like. And to that end, it works! But this doesn’t mean that genre should tie the hands of writers looking to tell an amazing story that doesn't quite fit in a genre box. Many of my favorite books take their complex flavors from multiple genres, mixing them together with enough alchemy and skill to turn their words into pure gold.

Crossing genres expands the stories you can tell, as well as the themes you can tackle. It can also lend a freshness to a story it might not otherwise attain, were it to cling too fiercely to the expectations of the genre. Because of this, the very best authors are often those who read widely, and read with open minds. Even if a genre isn’t to your taste, who knows? You might pick up a few tricks. To that end, here are a few tips to get you started.

Western: Rugged Underdogs for Frontier Justice… IN SPACE

Westerns are sexy and enduring. It often centers on the lone vigilante who wanders the rugged edge of the world, bound only by honor and unable to turn his back on those need. The vigilante’s adventures often start in a saloon filled with all manner of dangerous, manly, uncivilized things, which the hero is good at but takes no pride in. From here, the hero usually takes the side of the idealistic underdogs against more organized, almost imperialistic forces in a battle with well-drawn lines between good and evil. Some even take it a step further and deal in moral ambiguity—like the film Unforgiven, or the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, taking into question the kind of man who would take on such a life.

There are so many similarities between sci-fi/fantasy and westerns that it is no surprise they have made for successful genre crossing. After all, space is the final frontier, and how many fantasy stories center on a lone hero’s moral code, or start in a tavern? Star Wars. Firefly. Cowboy Bebop. You could even make an argument that V for Vendetta is a western, with the assertion that a corrupt city can be as wild as the wildest of Wests (

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9. Making Magic Work (in Books)

WritersdontcryMagicdesignMagic has fascinated me ever since reality first smacked me down. Flush with disappointment, I started wondering, like most children, what it would be like to be able to break the rules. What if, instead of a bruised nose and a messy closet, I had found Narnia? What if I could stop time, turn invisible, or make the sun come out on a cloudy day? What if I could fly--instead of fall?

That’s the kind of wonder and willful belief magic should evoke. Magic should be so solidly thought out, so detailed and consistent, that you could almost believe the author a wizard. It should make you want your own wand—and look for the signs of enchantment in found objects. It should make you concentrate really hard on a couple of twigs wound with grass, willing it to turn into a flower. And it should make you open doors and hope, just for a second, that you’ll emerge in another world.

But to do all that, you’re going to need to think seriously about exactly how magic works in your world. Sure, you can make things up in fantasy, but consistency is what gives your story the elements of surprise, tension, and believability. And having magic in your world has a much bigger effect than just allowing you to have a wizard. Magic opens up whole new worlds of possibility—and with those, possible holes in your story. And that doesn’t even get into the effect of magic on society!

How you handle magic impacts how readers react to your book. I’ve broken down the elements of making a magic system into five basic questions. If you can answer these, you’re well on your way to creating an enchanting magic system to call your own.

What Makes a Wizard?

Wizards are born—not made. At least in most books. How about in yours? Mages can be special snowflakes, defined by rare, inborn talents they got courtesy of mutations, genetics, and accidents of fate. But mages could also be anyone—with the proper application of elbow grease and a few other reagents, that is. One book even pitted both schools against each other, with one school adhering to talent alone, and another, to education. Which one sings more to your soul?

No matter which way you go, there’s a lot to be said for making magic exclusive. This can be done by limiting the number born with the gift or by making magic as difficult to master as Advanced Nonlinear Dynamics. Not only does this make magic feel special and, well, magical, it also helps limit the effects magic has on your w

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10. Making People Laugh: The Secret Art of Funny Fiction

WritersdontcrySeriousfYou ever have that one friend who is really awesome and hot and skilled, but just way too intense? Like laughing would somehow ruin the brood they’ve got going on? That’s what dealing with heroes is like. Heroes have some serious baggage—and that has a tendency to weigh them, and the story, down. A little injection of humor here and there can do wonders to lighten things up, as well as give some contrast to your heroes. Humor is also automatically engaging and conversational; it says your audience is important to you, and that in itself goes a long way. Take it from a sidekick, whether you’re writing essays, books, or tweets, humor is an invaluable tool.

Of course, humor is also terrifying. Nothing is louder than the absence of laughter—expect, perhaps, for a pity clap. When I asked what people feared more—writing a love scene, a fight scene, or a humorous scene, people overwhelmingly said humor. (Which is news to me, because love scenes are freaking terrifying.) But if you’re going to use humor, you need to check your fear at the door. It takes thick skin and lots of practice to perfect the art of making people laugh, and even then, it might not always work—but it’s well worth the attempt. Seeing your audience smile is one of best rewards an author can ask for. And besides making people laugh, you can make people think, saying things with humor you couldn’t get away with any other way. 

But how to unlock the benefits of this trickiest of tools? There are plenty of excellent and detailed guides for budding comedians out there, but just to get you started, here are some of the funny business basics, and how you can use them.

The Set-Up
The unexpected is the heart of humor. We love to be surprised—and humor often plays on our expectations to serve us up deliciously funny points of view. The set-up is where you set up your audience’s expectations so that you can surprise them later. In most forms of humor, the set-up is in total stealth mode: you only recognize it if you’re really looking for it. It usually consists of something so mundane our unsuspecting minds glaze right over it, with something else to distract us for good measure. This is a very important part of humor: if the audience is prepared, your punniest pun will evoke far more groans than laughter. Here are a few of my favorite examples of strong set-ups--and don't worry, I'll give the punchlines in the second part!

Form: Innocuous Conversation
Distraction: Slightly Icky
Example of the Set-up of a Joke: " ‘It's unpleasantly like being drunk’
‘What's so unpleasant about being drunk?’"—Douglas Adams,

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