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On November 20th, I attended the all day Margie Lawson Workshop sponsored by CTRWA. The topic was Empowering Characters’ Emotions. The training was intensive and well worth the cost.
Margie is a psychologist and helps individuals to write the story to where the reader gets to experience what the character experiences.
She can teach writers how to stretch the brain and have readers crawl inside the POV character’s skin and reside there. She has other online courses as well as lecture notes available for purchase from her website: http://www.margielawson.com
Here are some of the key points from her workshop:
- In order to make your work a page turner, it has to be viscerally empowering: character’s heart races and reader grabs their chest
- Visceral is what happens to the body
- Involuntary physical responses
- Shortness of breath, flush or blush of face, pupils dilate, stomach clenching, heart pounding, sweating palms, dry mouth
- Disbelief is a cognitive response not a visceral response
- Characters’ visceral responses hook the reader viscerally
- Visceral is what happens to the body
- Editing speaks to the reader’s subconscious
- FLOW TRUMPS EVERYTHING
- Be careful about sequencing problems: She turned her head at the knock at the door (Knock happened prior to turning head)
- People are victims of patterns
- When you identify the stimulus and the response make sure they are in the correct order
- She employs a color coding methodology that shows the patterns and voids on the page. It also shows what isn’t there.
- Nonverbal communication–body language is very important
- Cliche busting–either eradicate cliché or rewrite to specificity by adding a twist on a cliché
- Steer clear of trite
- Example: Quirking an eyebrow
- When we read clichés we know what the next words are. Our minds take a cognitive break and pull out of the story. We think about chores and may put book down
- Be careful that dialogue isn’t loaded with clichés
- Play with a cliché, amplify it and give it punch
- Example: “Drinking was a mad dog on a chain, when it got loose, it chewed through our lives”
- Steer clear of trite
- Power Words
- Depends on context–can be a power word in 0ne sentence and not in another. They add psychological power for story
- Never power words: it, them, they, that some
- Love, lust, rage, rape, dead, throb–usually power words
- Power words should be backloaded
- At the end of the chapter there is an important thing to share–the last word carried power
- Put power words at the end of sentences to boost reader into the next sentence
- Power words can be anywhere in sentence
- Not required on every page
- FLOW TRUMPS EVERYTHING
- Anadiplosis is a rhetorical device involving the repetition of power words
- Example: She was jealous. Jealous of her job. Jealous of her hair. Jealous of her life
- White space on the page is important
- Ping pong rapid dialogue
- Increases pace
- Readers devour it like cotton candy
- Readers need it to fully experience am emotional reaction
- Cadence is important and you can develop an ear for it
- A pause that adds meaning
- Rhetorical devices often use cadence to improve a line
- Facial expressions carry emotion but are not a visceral reaction
- Backstory must be managed
- What is critical/imperative to reader
- Make a list, then break it into tiny pieces to insert in an active way
- Avoid clumps of backstory that invites reader to skim or put down the book
- Writer needs to build the world, readers do not need to know all that
- Mini flashbacks are okay 4-6 lines if desperate to show something
So I have a little secret that I can finally share with the world. I just finished the last Harry Potter book. But Kourtney, it was published in 2007! Yup. And I avoided all spoilers for 3 freaking years.
Because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the Potter books. I loved Harry, Hermione and Ron. They felt like old friends and I refused to say goodbye.
It was one of the main reasons I started writing my book. So I’d have characters to come back to as often as I wanted.
Finally with the first installment of the final book coming out as a movie, I decided now was the time to read it. I started in late October and finished last week. It was awesomeness. Totally worth the wait. Like a chocolate cake after 2 years of strict dieting. I was delighted to have another Potter to read. The final one. Sigh.
Was it worth it? Definitely. Would I do it again? Yup. Am I sad to say goodbye to the beloved characters? Of course.
Have you ever held onto the last book in the series, refusing to read it? Because you knew it would be so good and leave you bummed that there weren’t more? What got you over the doldrums?
In honor of Turkey Day, I’d like to post pictures of some moments this year that I am grateful for….
Crimebake Vampire Ball–Meeting Clare “The Hamburgler”
Meeting Charlaine Harris at Crimebake
Attending Margie Lawson’s workshop with M and catching up with J.E.
Cherry Blossoms with Lily
Seeing the fall foliage with Grandma H
Vatan with Oliver
Blaue Gans with Anthony
San Diego beaches–finally being able to go back…
Holidays with my family
Time to play with Emerson
Spring Brunches and Outings with B including Smorgas Chef
What are you thankful for?
Thought I’d mix it up a little with a quick update on my day-to-day life. Six days of Crimebake summaries may have addled your brains. Whoopsie.
Last week Grandma E and I went out to L restaurant in Middlebury. It’s a lovely place for a quiet grandma-granddaughter lunch. The waitress was a sweetie pie. The owner–very down to earth. They started us off with their bowtie pasta and garlic snack–Delish. The bread was good too. I ordered the Chicken Milanese and Grandma E had a sandwich. My chicken had the perfect amount of breading. The meat was tender and moist. It came with fresh spinach. Yum.
We had a leisurely lunch ending in the apple turnover. Worth every calorie, though more like a cobbler than a turnover. Good size portion too. By the time I finished, I was stuffed.
Grandma and I stopped in at Hidden Treasures to look at the Vera Bradley bags–Grandma E loves them. The owner was super friendly and chatted with us. All and all a night day out.
The next night, I went to The Palace to see Lisa Williams, a psychic medium.
Gotta say, the place looked AMAZING. First time inside it. Lisa Williams was very cool. Wonderful personality. Very warm and friendly. The things she said were freakily on target for the audience members. Sadly she didn’t have any spirits with messages for me or my friends. Oh well. A fun night out.
Last Friday, I went to a wedding at the Society Room in Hartford. Jaw dropping venue. Gorgeous bride. Great night out.
Here’s me in one of Momo Falana’s amazing creations with an underskirt fluffing it out.
Okay so none of the interior shots came out well. This is the best I can do.
Anyway, met some of my mom’s co-workers and the bride’s neighbors. Lovely people at our table.
Mind you all these social things were going on as I overhauled my YA novel for the umpteenth time for a contest.
And that’s the quick and dirty on my social calendar.
Today is the first guest blog ever by my amazing friend and fellow author, Nora LeDuc. I met Nora at the Backspace Conference last May. She went out of her way to help me work out some of the issues in my story, becoming a close writing friend.
When we met up at Crimebake, I found out she attended workshops I didn’t, so I asked her to share some of what she learned here on my blog. Nora, being one of the nicest people I’ve ever known who also writes a great mystery, agreed.
Guest Blog from Crimebake Conference Workshop
By Nora LeDuc
Last week at the Crimebake, I had the opportunity to attend the Master Class: How to talk about Your Book on the Radio and Create a Podcast by Jordan Rich. For those of you unfamiliar with Jordan he is the host of “The Jordan Rich Show” on WBZ News Radio broadcast from Boston. I can guarantee if you turn on his nightly show, you won’t fall asleep. First the man’s voice is the kind radios producers dream about. Second, the man does his homework and researches his guests to ask intelligent answers.
Jordan’s first piece of advice for us was to do your homework. If you’re planning an interview at a particular station, go to their website; know your host and the format. Ask questions. Will the show be taped or is it live? How long will I speak? Will I take phone calls etc?
Mr. Rich suggested you be prepared and don’t ask your listeners for questions. Plan some topics and questions you’d like to discuss. Your homework will always pay off. Be sure to ask about the parameters of the show.
Can you mention where to buy your book? Sometimes nonprofit shows cannot advertise. If you can mention where your book is selling, try to reintroduce it after 2 to 3 minutes. Jordan himself follows this format. He’ll reintroduce his author guests and where to pick up a copy of their latest release. A good reason for this strategy is that the radio audience changes during the show.
Other important hints for guests included: be aware you will need to wear earphones, should take off jewelry and remember, don’t pound on the table to make a point. Use good posture and keep the mike 3 to 5 inches from your mouth. Tell stories. The audience loves them.
If you’re interested in podcasting from your computer don’t use a cell phone. Jordan noted that phones are worse today than years ago because of the cell phone. Dropped calls result in more lost guests than any other problem when you’re podcasting. He also advised against using a head set. He offered us the names of decent microphones and a brief step by step guide to getting started.
His last piece of advice for us novices was, be enthusiastic. I can say our speaker certainly was a great model for enthusiasm. Thanks, Jordan.
Crimebake saved one of the best panels for last. A detective, whose group specializes in blood spatter analysis, walked us through some of what his job entails, including a couple examples of crime scenes and how to examine the blood spatter evidence. His group examines the crime scene for physical evidence, latent fingerprints, bloodstain patterns and footwear/tire tracks.
Here are some of the highlights of his presentation:
- During a homicide when it gets down to the actual act, most people do not anticipate what will happen and that is where they make their mistakes
- Whenever you see teardrop-shaped blood dripping from knife–that is unrealistic. Blood forms a sphere when it pulls away from the knife
- THE SMALLER THE BLOOD STAIN, THE CLOSER TO THE SOURCE
- Bloodstain pattern analysis is one component of a crime scene reconstruction
- Things can mimic things. It is important to make sure an artery was breached on victim before attributing blood on walls to an arterial spurt
- Many things can affect spatter such as layers of clothes, weight of victim, etc.
- Blood spatter is like a water balloon, the harder you hit something, the smaller the stain. Smaller drop moves faster than a large one
- Bloodstains have been studied since the late 1800s but crime scene blood pattern analysis developed in the 1970s
- Blood is a fluid and the circulatory system is pressurized. When there is a breach of the circulatory system on a live person there will be different results than on a dead person because the pressure has dropped inside the dead person’s circulatory system
- There is an adhesive quality to blood
- There are four stages to a drop of blood hitting a surface:
- Blood always dries from the outside in
- The length of time varies depending on the temperature, the humidity, and many other factors
- Diameter of blood stain increases with the height you drop the blood from
- The bigger the surface area, the more blood wells up before it breaks away
- There is a certain height at which terminal velocity will hit
- Sometimes suspects have wounded hands because their hand slid down knife and this will cause their blood to drip onto victim
- Skin is a rough surface and gets spatter on it
- Directionality is important in bloodstains
- Tail of bloodstain points to where the blood came from
- Blood travels in parabolic arc
- Smaller stains go the least distance because of air resistance and gravity
- Killer tends to forget to wash high and low and leaves blood stains
- The flow pattern follows the path of least resistance
- Vacoules are the little air bubbles in blood
- Castoffs occur when the weapon is pulled back and forth and the blood comes off
- Tiny amounts of spatter on shoe means the person was close to the scene
- Gunshot have a back and forward spatter
- If the bullet doesn’t exit, there is a larger back spatter
- Diluted blood stains in kitchen and bathroom point to the killer cleaning up when the person may still be alive and calling for help which is considered cruel and unusual punishment
- Absence of evidence is not the same thing as evidence of absence
A great way to wrap up Crimebake! Thanks to the organizers and everyone who participated in the panels. You made it a conference to remember.
We watched one of Charlaine’s favorite episodes of TrueBlood with her (I Will Rise Up from Season 2) and had a Q&A about it on Friday night. Then Saturday there was a Q&A with her during lunch hosted by the Crimebake Co-chairs, Pat Remick and Margaret McLean (pictured above). These were such amazing events, I thought I’d share my notes from the Lunch Q&A.
- Sookie was a grandma’s best friend’s name and is a nickname for Susan or sister.
- Her advice to aspiring authors:
- Rejection hurts and you do take it personally
- Write the best book you can write
- Research agents you send to so you find the right person
- Check the agent’s website before you send a query
- Don’t send your book out until it is ready
- How to determine it’s ready: reach point where you know it’s mature, you put your best effort into it, and you let it go
- Find a peer to read it and give opinion
- The writing process is always hards
- Starts with crying even when writing a long time
- Have a writing routine. Go to work everyday. She works from 8-12, breaks for lunch, and writes from 1-3:30.
- The more successful you are the more demands on your time
- The business of being a writer takes up more and more of your time
- There are times she laughs out loud when reading her books
- Sex scenes are hard to write because she wants them to be good
- One time a fan told her she liked to re-enact the scenes from the book with her boyfriend!
- Experts like to be asked about what they are experts in. For example, a funeral home guy loved to tell her all about his job
- If she could write any book it would be Jurassic Park
- Her beta readers are Toni Kelner and Dana Cameron.
- She had never had a writing critique group
- How has being famous has changed her life? The money increased but brought along responsibilities, it’s nice to be recognized, and it’s been good for her kids
- Her writing process is more of a pantser.
- She edits as she goes and writes 4-8 pages a day.
- Each day she starts by reviewing what she wrote the day before and changes things as she goes.
- She doesn’t write an outline
- She edits as she goes and writes 4-8 pages a day.
- It took 2 years for Dead Until Dark to be picked up. She didn’t write other books in series. She wrote other books she was already contracted to write
- She was turned down very harshly. Her agent didn’t like Dead Until Dark. But her friend Dean at Murder by the Book loved it and gave it stamp of approval. It was enough to keep her agent working on selling it.
- She’s edited several anthologies and highly recommends editing other people’s work
- Her books are published in 25 countries
- France had translation issues where they took out the sex scenes and any mention of menstruation. Readers were very upset and publisher had to retranslate and include those scenes
- She keeps all her foreign rights
- She and her editor have vision for the books–they’ve had intense discussions but never had a huge blowout
- Harper Connelly series was optioned by CBS and a pilot show is being taped–Hope they pick it up!
- She is contracted for two more Sookie Stackhouse books and might write a third, but she wants to end the series while it is still good. The readers deserve nothing but her best :)
I also had Charlaine sign a few books. She is the most gracious author I’ve ever met. For me this was the equivalent of meeting the biggest hollywood movie star. Her books inspired my writing and I go back to them constantly as a reference tool on how to write great scenes and characters. Here’s a picture of us from the Vampire Ball!
Most people would rather leap off this rock than pitch face-to-face with an agent. My huge fear of heights, however, does not make me one of them.
Since I signed up for an agent pitch at Crimebake, I also signed up for the seminar on pitching. It was extremely helpful. There was an overview of pitching with handouts conducted by Lynne Heitman and Paula Munier.
Here are some of the key points:
- 50 word opening pitch including:
- word count
- type of book
- unique selling point
Titles can be based on: objects of desire, action, one liners, setting, twist on a poem, song, book, or cliché, theme, symbolism, or character.
With wordcount read agent blogs and do Google searches to make sure your wordcount is inline with industry standards.
For type of genre, research the conventional genre names.
The unique selling point is what differentiates your book from every other book. It can be:
- High-concept premise
- Unique setting
- Unique characters
- Unique voice
- Author credentials
During the rest of the session, an agent sat at each table and helped the author’s hone their pitches for the next day. We had Ellen Pepus whose insightful comments helped get my pitch in shape.
The pitch should tell what the story is about and what makes it marketable. The thing mine lacked was specificity. Ellen also stressed the need to be colorful and catchy.
There are great resources on the web about pitching–some of which I list in my blogroll. My favorite is this Nathan Bransford’s blog on pitching.
I also had a manuscript critique done by Kate Flora. She raised many good points. Having digested them, I’m working on serious revisions again. Manuscript critiques with published authors are offered at most conferences and are a golden opportunity to get critical feedback. I recommend getting one if you can. Take lots of notes and give yourself a few days to process it all. Several points that Kate pointed out were also mentioned by a couple beta readers. Whenever 3-5 people point out a similar issue/concern, I know there’s a problem and I have to figure out how to fix it.
Crimebake was a huge learning experience and I can feel my manuscript improving because of all the amazing people I met who shared their knowledge with me.
The second workshop I attended at Crimebake on Friday night was called Techniques for Using Humor in Mystery and our speaker was Toni L.P. Kelner. Humor tends to seep into my writing, so I knew this was a must-attend workshop.
She started by talking about the different ways humor can be incorporated into a mystery:
- Crazy capers
Mysteries can be funny throughout or simply have a smart aleck character. There can be humorous moments to allow the reader to catch their breath. It also makes it easier to ratchet up the suspense. When building tension you can use humor before inserting a clue so that you are hiding information in plain sight.
There can also be humor in the setting. Keep in mind that everything in the story should be doing something. Don’t insert humor unless it performs a function for the story. Humor must pull double duty such as exposition or catching your breath between tense scenes.
Humor can be risky because no one loves the same humor. You also run the risk of losing a reader. There is no margin of error for humor. Your book can be a moderate thriller, a tepid romance, or sorta sci-fi. If you miss the mark with humor, it fails.
It is important to realize that humor differs by age, background, culture, etc. Things will not translate. Be aware that humor can hurt people’s feelings.
Revision is key–If I had longer, I’d have made it shorter. Remember to whittle down your humor. If it’s not moving the action, cut the humor.
Keep in mind there is a time and place for humor, but it slows down the pacing. And some moments cannot be funny,
Humor can be very visual and hard to do in a story–like when the Three Stooges throw pies in people’s faces.
Structure matters with humor. Don’t tell the funny line first.
Topical humor can be a roadblock–try for age trying to get to.
In her mysteries, Toni found that the more specific she got, the more universal it got. She didn’t set out to write funny, she just based things off of the people in her life and readers found it very funny.
Timing is essential with humor.
Note: This week my wordcount is not moving. I am doing another serious revision of my first book for a contest including new chapter breaks. So second book is on the back burner until next week when I get this contest submission in.