To Blog or Not to Blog?

blogThere was a time when I didn’t spend much time on the internet, much less read or follow a blog. Yet, in the last 3 years, I’ve become an avid blogger! Who knew? During this time my blog has undergone several revisions…from colors, to layouts, blogging platforms…and most importantly, what I blog about.

So, why did I start blogging? The answer is simple….to become a better writer.

Sounds crazy, right?

When I started blogging in 2009, I had no idea what I would write about. I mean really, at the time I was a stay at home mom who was attempting to write a book. What did I have to talk about? Hmm…kids, the community, my dogs. BORING!!! Who wanted to read that? LOL! In the beginning I had about 4 people who stopped by to read what I wrote. And that was only because I asked them to check it out. I had no idea how to format a blog post or how long it should be. Adding a picture was a hair pulling experience (did I mention I wasn’t THAT computer savvy?). Yep…suffice it to say I didn’t blog very often. Those blogs are still available if you’d like to read them:

 Four Miles and Counting….(my very first post!)

…Two Pit Bulls, One Paper Clip and a lap top to put it all in! (the next daring endevor!)

I know, I know, the big question is: did it actually help your writing?

The answer: YES!!!! (Seriously, take a look back then and now and you’ll see my writing technique has changed though my voice is pretty much the same.)

What are the benefits to writing a blog? As I stated above, writing a blog helped me find my writing voice, or rather, get comfortable with writing something, having people read it. Getting used to receiving comments and feedback about my blog post helped me get used to the idea of reading reviews as a published author. You can’t please everyone and of course everyone will not agree or like what you have to say. As writers, we have to get used to that idea. Why not do that with a blog?

And as they say about anything you strive to get better at: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE and you will improve. I strongly suggest that if you are an aspiring author looking to practice the craft of writing, start a blog! Find a topic or subject that is important to you (your writing platform or niche), and use it!

As time went on, I gave up on my blog for several months until I discovered my blog niche was writing about my experiences as an aspiring author. The more information I ran across, practiced, or new technique I found, I wrote about it. Sharing my story led me to other writers who were doing the same thing I was. Forming connections with other writers lead to networking, networking lead to learning new writing techniques from more experienced writers…and well, here I am today! It took a lot of work and continues to take a lot of work to keep this blog going, but I am proud to say that as of right now, I have over 900 blog followers.

I guess what I have to say and share means something! Thank you guys!!!

The question I am asked most by writers who would like to start a blog but fear they will never have a following is: “I have something to say, but who is going to read it? How do I promote my blog?” The answer is simple. If you’re tied into the major social networking sites: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Linkedin, Stumbleupon, etc., your potential readers are right there waiting. Choose a snazzy topic, a witty title, develop your layout, and use those free social networking tools. Before you know it, you’ll have a blog following, too!

Good luck and happy blogging!

MJ

Finding Inspiration: Part Three- Characters Close to Home

Building Real Characters: How to Bring Them From the Page and Into Your HeartWriters find inspiration anywhere; at the grocery store, the bank, even the activities of driver sitting next to you at the red light, can get the muse flowing. Then of course there are my favorites: family and friends.

If you have a Facebook account, I’m sure you have seen the pictures posted by someone at least once a month that says: (in a nutshell): BEWARE, I’M A WRITER, ANYTHING YOU SAY CAN AND WILL BE USED IN MY NEXT BOOK.  I was at the bank the other day and had a lively conversation with my banker. Upon completion of my transaction, she asked me, ‘is this going to be in one of your stories?’ I laughed and said quite possibly.

It seems no matter how hard I try; my Muse is always working, always observing and cataloging the statements and actions of others, especially when it comes to my kids.

In the last few weeks, my children have shocked me with their ‘Remember when…’ tales. Being an only child, it never ceases to amaze me what  my four kids get into when they are unsupervised in their bedrooms. First, there was the ‘broken-glow-in-the-dark-stick incident’ that led to fluorescent yellow liquid being splashed over bedroom walls. (According to them, it wore off withing minutes, thus leading to doing it again in order to illuminate the room.  No evidence was left behind. Imagine my horror!!!) Of course a lot of sibling smacks upside the head, and then the sneaking to cut hair or trim their eyebrows disasters that ended with bad results. (Those I knew about, but it still makes me laugh to remember the results.) Funny stories that made my eyebrows shoot into the hemisphere and start to give the ‘you know better’ speech. But then I realized the issues happened months, even years ago. What’s the point?  All that’s left is ‘don’t do it again.’

Once the kids go about their evening activities, my Muse sorts through the information, while not inspiration for my adult characters’ lives, they make great character back story.

***Back Story: Insight into the protagonist nature or history through reflective flashbacks, scenes, or dialogue. This information is used to show how a character will react to certain situations.***

There are various ways to use back story.  Some authors like to use flashback during a scene or as a scene to show an incident that explains the reason for their character’s actions during the course of a story. (Think about the show LOST, whose episodes focused on the back story of a character’s life, decisions, made, and how they related to the present situation). In novels, the most common use is having a character allude to their past through dialogue, thought, or peppered in by the omnipotent voice. (Dialogue is the best way to share this information without slowing down your prose and boring a reader.)

How do you know what your characters back story will be?

By writing character outlines.

If you have  followed my blog, you know a large portion of my writing begins with focusing on deep character development. I love writing characters my readers can relate to either through their own personal experiences or someone they know. Creating well-developed back story can do that. Knowing where your characters have been, what experiences have affected them – good and bad – will give your characters a strong voice that makes them stand out.

Even if it starts from when they were kids.

In a nutshell, a well-developed back story lets you know your characters. Knowing and understanding your characters will explain their motivations. Motivations are what set up a plot. Reactions to plot twists/turns are what provide scenes. Scenes mixed with reactions are what create drama.

Whew!  Sounds like a lot of work, right? It is, but as with all things in life, you get what you put in. Taking the time to sit down and understand your characters will show in your writing. It will help you understand why they interrupt your writing, and no matter how much you want the story to go one way, they hijack your manuscript.

For more on writing character outlines and finding writing inspiration, visit my previous posts:

M.J.’s on Writing- Helpful Advice for Aspiring Authors

MJ

Guest Post: Minnie Lahongrais

Writing Divergent Lives

Divergent Lives JPEG One Page CoverIn July of 2011, I sat at my computer to write what I thought was going to be the story of a woman, born of Puerto Rican immigrant parents raised in El Barrio who was conflicted about the ideals she was raised with. I wanted to show how those ideals played out in the revolutionary times of the 60s.

The working title for the story was Standing on the Precipice. I thought I knew how the story would play out when I sat down to write it. I wrote the prologue as well as the first chapter in one sitting then printed that section with the intention of reading it on the train on my way in to work the next day.

The next morning, while putting on my makeup, a childhood memory came rushing back to me. I should have been asleep, but I was eavesdropping on my mother who was having a conversation with my older brother’s girlfriend when I heard this little tidbit:

“The baby died in utero; choked by its umbilical cord when its twin, in a hurry to be born, climbed over it and killed it.”

I was horrified because I knew the person she was talking about! I didn’t read that excerpt on the train that morning. Instead I played out several “what if” scenarios in my head.

“What if that child hadn’t died? What kind of life would it have had? What if the baby had been born with an abnormality? How would the family handle it? What if they gave up the child? What if they think the child is stillborn and it’s sold on the black market instead?”

While discussing the possibilities with another author one night, I decided on a title and release date. Both decisions were important in order to make an impact. Divergent Lives was born that night.

I threw out the prologue, made the first chapter the second chapter and wrote the ending. Now all I had to do was get there.

I began my research in earnest. I studied the differences between psychopaths and sociopaths but became frustrated because I found that both mental conditions could easily be confused for one another. I did find one tiny difference and settled on making these two main characters — the twins — sociopaths.

I studied Bolivia during the end of World War II.

I spoke with an OB/GYN who had knowledge about how things were done in the 60s. I met with a psychotherapist who practiced in the 80s.

I set about studying the laws governing drug sales in the 80s and spoke with real estate experts about amenities that were available in the early 00s in newly built condominiums.

I studied the growth of technology between 1990 and 2000 and I spoke with retired policemen about police procedures.

Once I had all that information in one place, I knew I had my work cut out for me. I was pretty excited. The thoughts and ideas ran rampant in my mind 24 hours a day. I couldn’t get them all down on paper fast enough and resorted to voice notes. Today I listen to those breathless notes filled with excitement in my voice and I can only chuckle.

I would rush home to write. What was once the first chapter became the second chapter, what was once the last chapter became the first and I continued on from there, writing consistently and steadily for almost a year. Then I hit a brick wall.

A year after starting this story, I was two thirds of the way through – I had a beginning, an ending and a big hole in the middle. I called my manuscript my “donut” and put it aside to ruminate on how I was going to close up that big ole hole. I put together a list of thirteen issues I needed to address.

I was getting ready to go in for surgery and I knew I would be convalescing for three months. I figured I could address those issues during that time. Wrong again. The first six weeks after surgery were pure hell. I couldn’t focus, I was drugged up, and my characters abandoned me.

I was taken off medication during the 7th week after my surgery and my characters came alive for me again. I finished the story over the next five weeks.

Divergent Lives is a psycho-thriller with decidedly deviant twists to a sociopathic theme. It tells the story of RJ and Adina who enter the world as fraternal twins, one raised by old-world, controlling immigrants in El Barrio, the other sold into a religious home filled with lies and scorn. Both are sociopaths.

Turns out, RJ’s got a secret that enrages him with the flip of a switch. Adina uses her sexual power to dominate every man in her life. They are on a mysterious trajectory to cross paths in New York City, where the end of their lives culminates in an apex of horror and carnage.

A quote, written by Marquis de Sade in “Dialogue the Fifth” from his Philosophy in the Bedroom aptly states the message I wanted to convey with this story.

“One must feel sorry for those who have strange tastes, but never insult them. Their wrong is Nature’s too; they are no more responsible for having come into the world with tendencies unlike ours than are we for being born bandy-legged or well-proportioned.”

Think about that. Are we to blame for who we are?

 Divergent Lives is available now on Amazon.com in the US as well as in the UK Additional purchase links for other parts of the world can be found on my website.

Minnie Lahongrais

Contact Minnie on the following sites:

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My Website – Worldwide purchase links can be found here

Divergent Lives on Amazon.com

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To Hire an Editor or Not to Hire an Editor…That is the Question!

Editors. In the world of writing, we all need one. The question is when.

During my writing journey, I’ve heard various tales, feedback, and opinions.

No, don’t hire an editor to read your work before submitting. You’ll be wasting money. Let the publisher pay for it.

Yes, hire an editor; it could increase your quality of your product and give you an opportunity to actually find and agent and/or publisher.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

When it all comes down to it, the true question is: how much money do you want to invest?


Two years ago, the thought of an editor reviewing my work scared me. The idea of someone ripping it to shreds, and spitting it back at me, demanding that it be re-written because it wasn’t good enough, had me cursing the profession. I pushed that thought aside and focused on writing a story I wanted to tell. Next, I focused on learning as much as I could about sentence structure, setting up the paragraphs, scene breaks, chapter breaks, and POV changes. Then, I built the infamous repeated/passive word list to tighten up my prose. I’ve gone over my list so many times while doing my own edits, I rarely have to pull it up to know what words to avoid. In fact, when I write a scene, I now catch those words and change them before they hit the screen.

However, that doesn’t cover everything. There are still the annoying details of correct grammar usage, using the right word tense, and spelling. Unless you were a serious English major in high school, college, or took a class specifically for this type of detail, there’s no possible way you’ll ever be able to catch every errorl. To be honest, no one ever will, even if that’s what he or she does for a living. Why? Because we are all human. And humans make mistakes, whether we want to believe it or not.

A perfect example: how many times have we as readers picked up a novel by one of our favorite New York Times Bestselling authors who have the backing of a big name publishing house, only to discover a major editing error? Come on, we’ve all done that. Why? Human imperfection. No matter how many hands and eyes touch a manuscript is read, no matter how many attempts are made to dot all the ‘Is’ and cross all the ‘Ts’, humans make errors, especially if it is your own writing.

So, what does that mean for the aspiring author, or for an author who is self- published?

It means you have a decision to make. How much do you want to invest in yourself?

The investment is not only about money; it’s also about time.

If you decide to use an editor, how do you know you’ve found an editor you can work with and who is qualified? Of course, the first thing everyone looks for is reputation. Word of mouth from other authors in your writing network is great, too. Nevertheless, in the end, it comes down to one-on-one communication. Does the editor understand your type of writing ? Do they edit a lot of work in your genre? Will they be able to understand the rules of the genre you’re writing? What time-frame are you looking for? Will it take a few days or a few weeks before they return your work? What type of editing are you paying for?

Type of editing? If this is new to you, then it’s something you must know. There are several types of editing available. What’s the differences?

Copywriter or Copy-Editing:
Their job is to be sure your story is written well and logically structured. Correct grammar and spelling is checked, as well as ensuring the manuscript fits the publishers ‘style’. They ask questions of the author and check story facts.

Content Editor:
Their job is to ensure your work meets the standards for accuracy and style. They check for spelling, grammar, coherence, consistent style. They also proofread to be sure copy-editing work has been completed.

Proofreader:
In the publishing world, a proofreader is generally the last person to see your manuscript after it’s been through other editors’ hands and before it goes to print. Their job is to do a final read through to catch any mistakes the first editor may have missed. This is generally the most affordable.

If you are not shopping your manuscript around and have decided to self-publish, you should seriously consider having at least one of these editors review your work. Depending on what phase of your writing career you are in, it may not be in your budget. If you go the proofreading route, then know, you MUST review your work again after it is returned. If you don’t and there are issues that were pointed out and you don’t review them, it is on you, not the editor.

So, what route will you choose?

Here’s what I’ve learned. Today’s agents are meticulous. Not only does your story have to engage them and keep them interested for at least the first three chapters, the quality of your writing has to as well. Sending them an unedited copy – and by that I mean, work you haven’t spent time searching for errors yourself – makes a difference. The cleaner the read, the more focused on the story they will be, not the plethora of errors littering the pages. Taking that amount of time, or money, also lets them know that you, the author, are willing to put in the work it takes to make a better product. With the current economy, every business is looking for ways to cut down their expenses. If you walk in the door offering a product they can spend less money on before making it available for sale, you increase your chances of them choosing your manuscript.

Sell yourself.

Here’s another fact you must remember: if you decided to use an editor…don’t just pay them and expect what they send to you in return doesn’t need to be reviewed. Any editor, especially a professional, will tell you that after they do their magic, it’s up to you, the author, to review your manuscript. Just because they make changes or suggestions does not mean you have to accept it. It’s up to your discretion. But, you still have to re-read your work from beginning to end. It’s up to you to put that stamp of approval on it before sending it out into the world . That requires more work on your part. If you don’t do the work, then you will have to deal with the consequences of any un-corrected errors. The editor’s job is to work with you, which means you in turn must work with them.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a proofreader many of you may have seen on Facebook or Twitter, @TJProofs. She shared some helpful information on how to determine what type of editor you need, depending on the amount of work you’ve put into cleaning up your manuscript.

“A proofreader, which is my specialty, is generally the last person you see. They focus on clean manuscripts, after they’ve run their gamut (through a publisher), but many people try to skip the steps. The fact of the matter is, if you are horrible at punctuation, you choose a copy-editor. If you feel you’ve got punctuation licked, but your story needs a scouring for consistency, you may choose a content editor. If you have a great idea, but need someone to go through your MS with a fine-toothed-comb – rewriting sentences for clarity, passive statements, content, and punctuation – then you need a full-scale editor.” 


To learn more about TJ and the services she offers, visit her at www.ManuscriptProofing.com. Other places where she can be found are:

Facebook, Twitter
Blog: manuscriptproofing.blogspot.com
Email: TJProofs@gmail.com or TJ@ManuscriptProofing.com

I hope this information has been informative. Whether or not you choose to use the services of any of the above editors, I wish you the best on your writing journey!

MJ

 

Building Real Characters: How to Bring Them From the Page and Into Your Heart

I’ve read many articles and blogs dealing with character development. Each has taught me something I have used to aid me in making my characters real. Though I must confess, it is impossible to create a lovable character – or one you hate – without doing several ‘passes’ over your MS. But before you reach the writing stage, you have to know who it is your birthing into your ‘world’. Whether your genre is sci-fi, paranormal, or contemporary, the ‘world’ your character inhabits needs real people in it. Creating characters that are neither cardboard nor two-dimensional takes time. Just like getting to know someone in the real world, or cyber world,  if you spend as much time on Twitter or FB like I do.
So, how is it done?
Google character building and you will find tons of research articles to point you in the right direction. Today, I decided to share a few things that I’ve learned, as well as few tricks I’ve pulled from my own hat to make them even more realistic.

The Physical:

One of my critique partners showed me something one day that I could never, ever write without. She had a picture collage she put together of actors, actresses, and models that fit the physical description of the way she saw her characters. Not only is it a great way to actually ‘see’ your characters in the real world, it’s a great way to reference them without mixing them up with their sidekicks or other family members.

My favorite thing to do when writing is pull up pictures of my h/h side by side and look at them. I’ll imagine what expressions they’ll make while having a conversation, sort of like animators do when drawing a cartoon character. Bringing the characters to ‘life’ is so much better than just imagining them in my head without a visual reference.
Character Charts:
I’ve mentioned them before on a previous blog, (The Importance of Writing Outlines, Part Two), but there’s no harm in mentioning them again. Every writer knows the type of story they want to tell and can envision the types of characters that inhabit that world. But who are they?
Unsure of what traits to give your characters? This book by Linda N. Edelstein, PH.D is a great place to start!

My first attempt at writing a character chart focused on the basic information: name, age, height, weight, race, parents, you know the drill. Pretty much the average questions we all answer when writing a bio for our FB accounts. But does that say who we are? What our life experiences have been? What events in our lives make us who we are?

Nope. But we need these things in order to create real characters. Who is in their family? What was their first job? What are their beliefs? What would they be willing to fight for and can’t live without? What dirty little secret sits in the closet and threatens to ruin their life if anyone found out?
Being able to answer those type of questions – even if they are not relevant to your story – will help you fill in the blanks as you write. Establishing these things is like having the character sit next to you as you type and say, ‘Hey, I wouldn’t do that. This is what I would do.” Oh yes, that wonderful moment when your character interrupts your train of thought as you write a scene and hijacks it. Next thing you know, they’ve taken over and what you imagined would be brilliant looks like dog crap next to what they’ve shown you.
That type of moment can’t be found without having the correct tools to get to know them.
A year ago, I was pointed in the direction of this writer, Charlotte Dillion’s, website.  There I found the most detailed character outline chart I’ve ever seen. I’m sure we’ve all ran across them in books on writing, but this one, in my opinion, took it a few levels deeper. You have to check this link out: Character Charts. (Besides this character chart, she has a wealth of other writing information to share. Stick around and check it out.)
At first glance it’s a little daunting. When printed out, page, after page, after page of questions. My first thought was, “How am I supposed to answer this?” I knew then I had no idea who my characters truly were.  I spent the next two weeks getting to know my hero and heroine. I invited them to move in with me and my family (yeah, the kids thought it was kind of weird, but hey, they’re fictional, at least they didn’t need food or a place to sleep!) and spent a week getting to know each character. I interviewed them, learned about their family history, bad dating experiences, dream jobs, and things they hated the most. When the two weeks were up, I knew them as well as I know myself and could understand why they’d fall in love. I also understood how they would react to the issues I threw at them. My hero took one look at the original ending of my story and flat out told me he wasn’t a punk. I needed to give him some balls or else he was gonna walk. I took a look back at the interview we’d done, looked at his convictions, and beliefs and said, ‘Yep, your right. You’d definitely kick his butt.’ And from there came a perfect ending to their story. Okay, okay, now I sound like I have a multiple personality disorder. But lets face it, all serious writers are look over our shoulders for that little white truck with the ‘special’ white jacket that make you hug yourself from time to time, right????

Tip:If you find yourself stumped on how your characters would react in a situation, try researching astrological signs. It’s a great way to discover the way people react to different situations. I don’t follow them, but I have to admit it did help discover my characters. Also, try checking out psychology books that delve into typical character traits. The book I enjoyed was, Writer’s Guide to Character Traits, by Dr. Laura Edelstein.

Careers, Homes and That All Important Fragrance:
To get to truly know my characters, I had to do research.
Askhow.com was a rich resource for learning about what it took to get the job my characters wanted.  Google pictures of the house they lived in, geographic maps for the town, even Craigslist was a great source for ideas on what type of car they drove. Magazines with pictures of model homes, housing floor plans online, and my all time favorite, perfume and cologne samples. Yep, nothing puts you in the frame of mind of writing your h/h’s significant other than the fragrance they wear. I must say, Polo Black, by Ralph Lauren, is sexy and smells perfect for my first male lead. I think I’ve actually fallen for Brian after smelling that scent. I can only imagine how Ebony feels every time she sees him.
So, that’s a few of the things I’ve done to help my  along my writing journey. How about you? Got any tips, tricks or things you do that you will like to share? Leave a comment!
Until next time: Write Well!!!
MJ

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