Character Traits Entry: Conceited

Definition:
An overly favorable view of oneself and one's abilities, vanity, egotistism

Causes:
Being in an environment where others reinforce one's abilities or gifts with excessive praise (the star athlete, the genius with braggy parents, etc); a belief that bloodline, wealth or fame equals a higher self worth; overshooting confidence when battling low self-esteem or insecurity

Characters in Literature: 
 Malfoy in Harry Potter, Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice

Positives:
The conceited character will often be the first to step up in a difficult situation, eager to prove himself or assert himself as superior. It is easy to egg this person on if needed, and they have both the drive and determination to get the job done. Conceiteds are noticeable and talked about, (not always in a positive way) but this trait stands out in a crowd and often accompanies wittiness. They can be counted on to put forward ideas and opinions when leadership or decision-making is needed.

Negatives:
Conceiteds have an opinion about everything, and often voice it. They are quick to anger or even become violent if their ego is called into question. Their own needs always come first and they avoid seeking help. If assistance is needed, they obtain it through manipulation to avoid appearing weak. Conceiteds find it almost impossible to be objective about themselves and only have the drive to improve if they feel they are already above all others and simply wish to 'widen the gap'. Very few Conceiteds have genuine friendships--they view relationships as stepping stones.

Common Portrayals:
The loud braggart, the jock who talks continually of his own contribution to the team; the coworker who believes she is the hub of the operation and shows false patience (adopting crossed arms or a fake smile, etc) as others speak or pathetically try to 'contribute' in some way; the professor who continually cites his degrees & books written; the socialite who name drops well-known personal connections and deliberately displays wealth to reassert importance.

Cliches to Avoid:
The 'perfect storm' character: wealthy, beautiful and popular (& flaunts it); conceited, overbearing men who turn out to be cowards; the flashy and rude celebrity; the handsome star quarterback airbag

Twists on the Traditional Conceited: 
  • Conceited characters are often dismissed as shallow. Why not pair this negative trait with a noble goal, desire or undertaking?
  • Bring about the epiphany of how this trait holds a person back by exposing your conceited character to another with the same trait.
  • Show a Conceited battle this trait because of a desire to learn and grow, or connect with others in a meaningful way
Conflicting Characteristics to make your Conceited unique or more interesting:
Nobility, Selflessness, Caring, Lazy, Honest, Humble, Shy, Loyalty


Weather Thesaurus Entry: Drought

WEATHER is an important element in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).



Drought: A period of abnormally dry weather sufficiently prolonged for the lack of water to cause serious imbalance in the affected area. --Glossary of Meteorology (1959)

SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:

Sight:
drooping/dying/yellowing plants, brown patchy grass, dry cracked ground with no grass at all, stunted crops, skinny/bony livestock, topsoil being blown away in the wind, increased dust and dirt in the air, dirt piling up in corners and crevices, dust coating windowsills, smoke from wildfires in the distance, heat waves rising off the concrete, dried-up lakes, rivers reduced to streams and trickles, lethargic people and animals

Smell:
overheated air, dirt

Taste:
dust in your throat, dry mouth

Touch:
dust coating your skin and clogging your nostrils, hot wind, winds laced with dirt and sand scraping your skin, sun beating down on you, thirst, irritated throat and nose from increased allergies, ground-heat seeping up through the soles of your shoes

Sound:
wind, dry twigs and branches clacking together

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood: Water is one of our most basic needs. When it stops appearing in the form of regular rainfall, and existing water slowly starts to disappear, desperation is spawned. People turn anxious as they wonder when it will rain again and if it will happen before the crops fail or grocery bills skyrocket or someone's future disintegrates. Because it is entirely out of our control, drought also can produce a sense of helplessness.

Symbolism: Need, desperation, survival of the fittest, barrenness, failure

Possible Cliches: 

  • the lion and the deer, out of desperation, drinking from the same water hole 
  • the arrival of long-awaited rain at a climactic point in the story
  • a lone tumbleweed blowing across the scene when the character is most vulnerable

OTHER
For most of us, drought is an inconvenience that drives temperatures upward, uglifies our pretty waterfront areas, and inflicts water restrictions upon us. But in certain areas and at certain times, it can be devastating, leading to long-term economic, social, and environmental problems. Check out this site for a detailed list of the effects of drought.

Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come.

Character Traits Thesaurus Entry: Bossy



Definition: A person inclined to dominate, dictate, be pushy and overbearing

Causes:
Wanting to be in charge, a need to be in control, exhibiting taught behavior (domineering parents, siblings, friends, etc), being the eldest child, being the youngest child, a lack of control in other areas of life, an overindulged childhood, insecurity that results in a need to prove something (intelligence, knowledge, being right, capability, etc), self-righteousness (the belief that the character truly is the best person to do the job and therefore is justified in telling others how to do it)

Characters in Literature:
Hermione Granger (Harry Potter), Mr. Dussel (The Diary of Anne Frank)

Positives:
Bossies are usually comfortable leading. While some are incompetent, others are legitimately good at what they do, efficient, always striving to be and do better. They are bold and outspoken. Bossies are often very knowledgeable in specific areas. Some supporting characters will follow and respond to a Bossy if he is strong enough in other areas (effective leadership, clear communicator, ability to produce favorable results, etc). 

Negatives:
Bossies can be demeaning, insulting, and degrading. Many of them lack the social skills necessary to develop meaningful relationships, which is ironic since most of them really want to be in charge of others. Their belief that they can do things better than anyone else often results in impatience, self-righteousness, and snobbery. Bossies have a very difficult time working with other Bossies. The incompetent Bossy is one who uses bossiness to mask his insecurity. He is always fearful that others will discover the truth about him, and will go to great risks to protect his secret.

Common Portrayals:
An overseer who is always hovering and micro-managing, the student waving his hand in the air, speaking out of turn, interrupting, correcting misinformation, offering information that may or may not be relevant simply to show how much they know, sneering, sniffing in disdain, looking down their noses at people, offering advice when it isn't wanted 

Possible Cliches to Avoid:
The overbearing schoolgirl or bossy little sister, the clearly incompetent but dictatorial manager, know-it-alls

Twists on the Traditional Bossy:
  • Instead of having a Bossy character who's bossy just for the sake of meanness, give him a reason to be that way. Show why he is the way he is.
  • Create a Bossy who knows he's incompetent and doesn't hide it, but for whatever reason, still is compelled to push people around
  • Bossies don't have to be know-it-alls! A person might be bossy by constantly finding fault and criticizing others in an effort to change them. Another kind of Bossy could be the expert at  "delegating" (ie, sitting back and giving orders while others do the work). Redefine Bossy to make it work in a new way.
  • Traditionally, villains and mentors are bossy. Try a bossy hero or trickster instead.
Additional characteristics to make your Bossy unique or unusual:
polite, nervous, shy, thoughtful, affectionate, charming, charismatic, non-confrontational

I'M NOT HER WINNER

All right, after a deeply complicated thought process on how to go about this draw, I simply glanced across the desk and asked hubby to pick a number. And his number means TAFFY is our big winner!

*Throws Bacon Bits*

Taffy, just contact me HERE via email with your address so I can send you your signed copy of I'M NOT HER!

Thanks everyone for entering. Janet's book is an excellent read, so please keep it in mind when your TBR pile needs to be beefed up!

Weather Thesaurus Entry: Breeze

WEATHER is an important element in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).

SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:

Sight: 

A breeze will bestow the impression of fluid movement on any lightweight, freestanding objects. Fabrics, whether they are flags on flagpoles, skirts, or tablecloths on an patio bistro table, will ripple or billow in a breeze. Leaves shift, hair blows away from the face and grasses bend and rustle. A breeze can also carry things on it, dirt and dust particles, dandelion fluff or gently push at forgotten trash or dead leaves on the ground.

Smell:

Breezes carry the scent of nearby stimuli. A briny or salty scent might carry on the breeze near a beach, along with the odors of coconut scented suntan lotion and food smells from open air cart vendors (hot dogs, burgers, deep fry oil, etc). In an urban area, a breeze might have the acrid scent of motor oil, car exhaust, refuse in allies, cement and metal. In a wooded area, pine needles, earthy soil, greenery and wildflowers would be the most noticeable.

Taste:

None

Touch:

Breezes can be warm or cool and are almost always pleasing against exposed skin because of the immediate sensory input. Skin may prickle if too cool, hair can blow across the eyes and need to be tucked back, and clothing can flutter against the body. People often turn into the breeze to feel the sensation of hair blowing back and air sliding across the forehead and cheekbones. A breeze can dry the eyes, resulting in squinting or more frequent blinking

Sound:

A gentle rustle can be heard if leaves, grass or undergrowth is present. A breeze can cause a ticking sound if strong enough to sway something, such as a hanging blind cord in a window, cause gates to creak if left ajar, the flutter of curtains, etc. If there are no objects light enough for a breeze to move, there is no discernible sound.

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood: A breeze can lighten the mood of the characters within the setting, or pull characters out of internal thoughts or reverie. Breezes act as triggers to both the characters and readers, reminding them of the outside world and the setting, and can also act as a welcome reprieve during heat or battle.

Symbolism: Change, reminders, the supernatural/paranormal, a shift in thought, bringing about calm

Possible Cliches:  Breeze blowing hair in front of eyes to allow a POV character to self-describe the color or length

OTHER:
Breezes are strongest near oceans, known as sea breezes, and can be warm or cold depending on the season. Breezes will also distort high cloud into feathery streaks, disperse smoke in battle or break up fog/mist. A breeze running through a crop creates a wave-like effect as the grain heads nod in tandem.

Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come.

Introducing...the Character Traits Thesaurus

Quick, name your favorite character.

Now list a trait or two that defines him/her.

Chances are, you were able to come up with a defining trait fairly quickly. That’s because likable characters are memorable. They exhibit qualities that we admire or can relate to. Creating memorable characters is key to creating memorable stories. To test this theory, ask yourself if your character’s story is on your list of favorite books.

Like any important job, character creation isn’t easy. You have to consider what traits to give your hero to make it possible (or seemingly impossible) for her to achieve her goals. She’ll also need characteristics that readers will relate to or empathize with. Having a flaw to overcome is always nice, too. And you don’t want to recreate any existing characters, so you’ll need to combine her qualities in a way that has never been done before.

It’s a tough job, but we all have to do it. Here’s hoping that our new CHARACTER TRAITS THESAURUS will help.

The goal of this resource is to examine many existing character traits through the lens of character creation. What might have caused this trait to surface in my character? What are the positives and negatives of this quality? How might I pair it with other characteristics to create someone truly original and interesting?

Our hope is that these entries will shed new light on existing traits, enabling you to create some new favorite characters. All entries for this thesaurus can be found in our SIDEBAR...enjoy!

Author Janet Gurtler on VOICE + GIVEAWAY

I'm thrilled to have good friend and YA Author Janet Gurtler here today. Janet's newest book, I'M NOT HER is a compelling story of sisters. A terrible cancer diagnosis forces Tess to reevaluate her complex feelings for her perfect sister as she's pushed into Kristina's popularity spotlight both at school and at home. Forced to carry an unfair burden of responsibility as her family's strength crumbles, Tess must fight to remain herself and let her own light shine.

Voice is a huge component of I'M NOT HER, allowing Tess to stand out amid such devastating circumstances, and so Janet is here to share thoughts on this critical, yet complex, element of fiction.

JANET: One thing I heard a lot in the beginning phases of my writing journey (and still hear now) was how important voice was to selling a novel. How imperative nailing voice is to writing a good story. Editors and agents often speak about how they’re looking for a strong voice. Well, I thought back then, I can easily do that. Right?

Of course, first I needed to figure out exactly what this elusive voice thing was. And soon I discovered nailing voice often requires extensive research and always requires careful thought about who your characters are. And how you write best.

VOICE. 

It’s the way a story is told, a distinct style of writing. Maybe you use short choppy sentences and lots of sentence fragments (Hello, Me!) or perhaps your voice sings with long lush prose. The voice creates a tone and the author conveys their own voice in the manner they write in. Clear as my son’s fishbowl that he hasn’t changed the water in for three weeks?

Voice also helps elicit emotion from the reader and sets the mood. It’s not so much what you say, but HOW you say it. There are intelligent humorous voices in Young Adult fiction, like John Green. There are lush literary voices like Malinda Lo. Discovering who you are as a writer and being true to that is part of finding your own voice.

Voice pulls readers into a story by making a story real, no matter what the story is about. Real applies to paranormal and dystopian fiction as well as contemporary. Voice makes characters leap off pages and come alive in a reader’s mind. Voice conjures up vivid, visual settings and invites readers along for the ride. How do you show that to your reader?

Take a moment to listen to the voice in the opening of Libba Bray’s book, GOING BOVINE:

“The best day of my life happened when I was five and almost died at Disney World. I’m sixteen now, so you can imagine that’s left me with quite a few days of major suckage. Like Career Day? Really? Do we need to devote an entire six hours out of the high school year to having “life  counselors” tell you all the jobs you could potentially blow at?”

That small passage is ripe with voice, both Libba’s voice and the voice of her narrator, a sixteen year old boy named Cameron. Right away we kind of get a sense of who Cameron is because of what he tells us and the way he tells us.

Voice embodies the way a character speaks. What they say as well as how they say it. So voice is partly how a character sees his world. A fifteen year old boy does not have the same reaction to events or the same conversations a 25 year old woman would. This character doesn’t use the same words or have the same thoughts as another. The dialogue of different characters should be distinct. Use their voices to convey your own.

An eighteen year old girl who lives on a farm in Canada is not going to view the world the same way an eighteen year old girl from New York is. Nor will they sound alike when they talk. So as an author we need to understand our characters in order to properly convey their voices, which in turn helps to create an author voice.

Character interviews and exercises are helpful if you’re inclined to do that sort of thing, but also try to notice things the same way that your character would notice them. It’s both a conscious and unconscious process. In I’M NOT HER, my main character Tess, is an introverted artist. To convey this I tried to show her viewing the world the way she would as an artist. Here’s a passage where Tess is staring at her sister in her hospital bed:

Her cheek bones look more angular and her collarbones jut out from her blue hospital gown. I’d have to use different techniques to sketch her now. Her essence has changed. She’s less charcoal and more shading.

Another character might describe her completely differently. If Tess were a boy, she might have simply said, “She looks skinny and gross.”

When we write characters it’s important to try to be authentic to their voices. Characters likely do not share the same morals of the author, or even the same likes and dislikes. Sometimes our characters have to say or do things we may fully disapprove of. And that’s okay. An author’s experiences and beliefs might naturally flow into character and story, but learning to filter or rework them to suit a story or character, is part of the conscious process of voice. Listen to your characters.

An author may use multiple first person narrators or tell the story as a memory from an omniscient narrator. The voice of the story is definitely shaped by the POV the author writes in.

Have fun with voice. Make it your own. Better yet, make it shine! 

Want to win my signed copy of Janet's I'M NOT HER? Just leave a comment & some contact info! Contest runs until Thursday AM, May 19th.

CONTEST is now closed. The winner will be announced tomorrow--thanks everyone!

Gremlins & Contest News!


Hi everyone--as you are all aware, Blogger's been experiencing gremlins the last few days and as a result comments were lost and posts deleted. Hopefully this is the end of their reign of terror, but I wanted to apologize to anyone subscribed by email who may have received months old posts in their in boxes as a result of their meddling. Hopefully if you did, it was only a single post and nothing that clogged your box too badly. :)

We were going to have a guest post today on Voice by Janet Gurtler & a SIGNED Giveaway for her awesome book, I'M NOT HER, but I don't feel uber confident trying to launch a contest today when Blogger's still fixing itself. Check in tomorrow for both her take on FINDING VOICE, and for the giveaway!

And stay tuned for next week when we announce a NEW THESAURUS to add to our collection!

Weather Thesaurus Entry: Rain

WEATHER is an important element in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).

SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:

Sight:

The presence of rain affects light, causing a grey, washed out look. The sky will be a blanket of dark cloud overhead, and fat droplets will leave dime sized wet patches on dry sidewalks. As rain quickens, wet darts pelt skin, buildings, cars, plants, glass, trees and roads, and creates a glossy look on smooth surfaces. Leaves and grass shake as rain hits, and damp patches quickly spread to a uniform wetness. Water drops splash up from puddles in a patterned dance, rain slants against windows, blurring the glass and collects in streams in gutters and roadways. In populated areas, people will rush to find a dry place or huddle under an umbrella or store overhang. Rain will flatten hair, soak through clothing and drip off the chin. If wind is present, rain is angled and speeds the pace of the flow until sheets of it slash at the buildings, ground and trees, reducing visibility.

Smell:

Rain is often accompanied by the smell of ozone (if lightning is present) and also cuts through any other local smells & pollution, leaving a fresh, crisp scent in the air.

Taste:

Water, possibly an acrid aftertaste of pollution if near or in an urban area

Touch:

Wet and cold go hand in hand, creating a clammy feeling of discomfort and heaviness as soaked clothing adheres to skin, hair hangs in wet slicks against the neck and forehead and water will drip into eyes and mouth. Body temperature drops, enducing shivering. Rain invades footwear and causes make up to run. Hard rain can be quite painful against exposed flesh, and may even bruise in extreme cases. People tend to hunch over as they run to get away from the rain, keeping the head down and using upturned collars for protection. On route to shelter, people will use anything close to hand to protect themselves from the driving force--a newspaper, purse, briefcase, or pull their shirt/coat up to cover their head. Tight clothing, once wet, will rub the skin and cause itchiness.

Sound:

Rain can vary from a gentle plonking sound as it collides with foliage, earth and buildings, to a louder, more forceful drumming noise. The pitch of rain changes based on velocity and water droplet size. Glass muffles the sound of rain while metals, especially tin, can create a loud pinging or banging clamor, even to the point where it is difficult to hear anything else, including another person trying to speak. The harder rain falls, the louder rain becomes as it collides with surfaces. In wooded areas, the sound is similar to wind ruffling the leaves as foliage is shaken as millions of water droplets fall from the sky.

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood:

Unless following hot weather, rain triggers a flight response. To avoid the cold, pelting rain, people will hurry to find shelter to stay dry until the rain passes. If the weather has been very hot, then rain can bring about a sense of relief and release built up air pressure. In the greater setting of a book, rain can create a roadblock toward goals, bogging down character movement, force characters together who might not otherwise choose to be in the same space and offer an opportunity for reflection as a POV character waits for the storm to pass. Rain can also be an excellent counterpoint to internal pressure & stress felt by a POV character, symbolizing a tipping point where they are either broken by that pressure or they act to overcome it.

Symbolism:

Depression, a heavy burden of responsibility, heavenly disfavor, cleansing, sadness, the life cycle

Possible Cliches:

Pairing the pain of losing a loved one with rain, having rain be a conduit to showing a morose/depressed character's inner emotional landscape, rain washing away sins of the soul, a feeling of 'drowning' in sorrow

OTHER:

Rain occurs as humidity reaches a breaking point, and happens most frequently during the months of Spring. Rain can last for minutes, hours or days depending on the size of the storm cell, and may also accompany thunder and lightning, sleet and hail. Before rain hits, the air can seem pressurized and weighted. Summer rain tends to be hard and driving, and of a shorter duration than Spring rains, which are steadier and can last for days, sometimes causing rivers to rise and flooding to occur.

Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come.

Blog Labels = Longer Visits

A lot of people wonder how they can create a Breakout Blog that will help build platform and connect them to their audience. This series on Blogging Tips looks at ways to maximize blog performance so they can reach these goals.

Thought I'd chime in with another very simple blog tip...using your Labels (in blogger) and Topics (in Word Press). These are the little content tags you can attach to posts and display in your sidebar.

Some people have theirs show up as a word cloud, where the most blogged about topics have a larger font. Others use a list format (like us), where each blog label has a number next to it, showing how often the topic is mentioned.

Other blogs do not use tags for their posts. This is a shame, because using labels is a great way to keep visitors at your blog!

Let's look at an example: a new visitor comes to your blog. They read your current post, maybe comment, and now want to see what other topics you like to explore. Sure, they can see the last few posts, but are these representative of the best your blog has to offer? Will a user have time to search for a keyword, hoping something they need pops up?

Now, take this same visitor, only this time they can view topic labels in your sidebar. Right away, the tags tell them exactly what you blog about. If a label catches their eye, you can bet they're going to click on it and read a few more posts.

Labels showcase your CONTENT, acting as a GATEWAY to your blog's older entries.

Some people assume a post archive works as a way to find those older posts. The truth is, knowing you posted 12 times in January doesn't help me much. If I'm in a time crunch, I won't have time to search your blog. I'll simply move on.

So, bottom line? Use Labels. They are easy enough to add to your posts, and you should see an option to do so in your blog settings. In Blogger, you go to Design, then Blog Posts, edit and then, tick off 'add labels'. I'm sure it's something very similar for Word Press blogs. Or add a widget that displays your most popular posts. Either way, visitors will have a road map to your best content!

The second bottom line is this: Use Labels Effectively. Try to create labels that are specific and allow you to group several posts together. Using bizarre or random labels might seem like a fun way to categorize posts, but they can make it hard to search your blog for specific content. As well, you end up with way too many tags, which bloats your sidebar and makes it harder to search. Fun tags are fine, in moderation.

Don't be afraid to give a post several labels. Maybe your post is about description, drafting and voice. Great! These are all concrete labels that will help your readers find exactly what they need, and may also give them more ideas on how your advice can help them. :)

Happy Mother's Day, all!

Just a quickie post to say HEY to all the Moms out there. You are wonderful, you are valued, and what you do is the most important job in the world. Thank you so much for always taking such good care of everyone around you!

My boys, Darian & Jarod
Children are such a blessing in our lives, aren't they? Have a great day with the peeps that you love. :)

Setting Thesaurus Entry: Coffee Break Room

Sight

Dated & cheap table with a scarred surface, rickety chairs, lockers, sink, paper towels, coffee maker, mis-matched coffee mugs with cheesy sayings on them, box of tea/coffee/hot chocolate, vending machine, attached bathroom, radio, trash overfilled with take out containers and food wrappers, scuffed cupboards, small fridge, bland walls, safety posters, cork board filled with notices, microwave, newspaper pile on the table, crumbs on the table, coffee rings, shoe marks on the floor, employees talking/laughing/gossiping/complaining, managers meeting to discuss paperwork over coffee, making everyone else uncomfortable

Sounds

The gurgle of a coffee pot, cupboards opening and closing, water dripping from the faucet, voices bouncing off the cramped walls, whispering, talking, laughing, wrappers rustling, chewing, wadding up trash, the shuffle of paper work, chairs squeaking against the floor, the squeal of a shoe on lino, chairs creaking, tapping a pen against the tabletop, the radio, grumbling over hours/wages/other employees/customers, slurping drinks, spoon stirring coffee, napkins crumpling, people talking with their mouths full,  lockers slamming shut, swearing, the hiss of a pop can opening

Smells


Burnt coffee left in the pot, popcorn, fast food smells (spices, hot cheese, bread, oil, garlic, herbs), hair products, Doritos, mints, perfume, feet, sweat, bad breath, ink from newsprint, something moldy in the back of the fridge, microwave food ghosts, old carpet

Tastes

Food brought from home (leftover pasta, soup, salads, sandwiches, etc), fast food (burgers, pizza, fries, subs, pretzels, wraps, etc), junk food (chips, chocolate bars, donuts, candy, etc), water, coffee, tea, slushies, pop, juice, etc

Touch

Pushing the door open, rummaging through mugs for a clean one, the weight of the coffee pot in hand, water splashing on hand as you rinse out a mug, crumpling a napkin, brushing crumbs off the table, fiddling with a drink cup, popping the tab of a pop can, trying to get comfortable on a hard plastic chair, opening and closing the fridge or cupboards, propping face up with hand, staving off boredom, rubbing at eyes, yawning, sipping a hot drink, leaning forward at the table to listen, pace the small room, waiting for break to be over, changing the radio station, washing hands, digging a fork into a salad, adding condiments to food, leaning back in a chair, leaning close to the notice board, flipping through notice items or paperwork


Helpful hints:


--The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.

Example 1:

Tough to say what was worse--the disgusting food smears and fingerprints stuck to the break room wall, or the garlic breath wafting from the obese store manager as he huffed and puffed his way through my interview questions.

Example 2:

I opened the fridge door and flinched from the eyeball-burning stench. Clearly I'd uncovered a portal to another reality, one where the inhabitants feasted on rancid, green-edged mystery meat, organic carrot-speckled slime and washed it down with a glass of chunky brown sludge.

--Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.

Example 1: (Simile)

The ancient coffee machine brewed a pot of coffee, hissing and spitting like a demon from the seventh circle of Hell.

Example 2: (Metaphor)


Chip crumbs, spilled cream soda, a bitten slice of pepperoni frozen in dried tomato sauce--an ice age of fast food crept across the table toward my corner, the last habitable place to eat lunch.

Weather Thesaurus Entry: Tornado

WEATHER is an important element in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).

SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:

Sight: Overcast sky, super-dark clouds--almost black/green/purple, thunderstorms, lightning, clouds that are divided by a definable line (wall cloud), swirling clouds, a funnel varying in color from transparent to dark gray reaching to the ground, shifting winds reaching up to 300 miles per hour, debris (grass, twigs, branches, garbage, roof tiles, siding) flying through the air, hail, rain. Aftermath: demolished houses, strange destruction (houses with only one wall missing and nothing else touched), trees ripped up by the roots, a path or circle of destruction where everything is destroyed, cars flipped over, power poles knocked down, flash floods

Smell: rain, ozone,

Taste: humid air, rain

Touch: a change in air pressure that makes your ears pop, wind knocking you off balance, rain flying into your face, debris scraping your skin, a sudden calm as the storm approaches, hailstones pelting you, the heat from bodies pressed together in a room with no air conditioning

Sound: tornado sirens, howling wind, rain pelting the windows and roof, small hailstones pinging off the house, large hailstones smashing glass and bouncing off the sidewalk, a sudden quiet, the sound of a freight train as the storm barrels down on you, windows shattering, the house creaking, beams breaking, the roof being torn off or caving in, household items smashing to the floor

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood: The nearness (or even perceived nearness) of a tornado can make people highly anxious and fearful. Luckily, there is often a bit of warning before these storms, so they can also create a sense of apprehension as people wait in their windowless basements to see what happens.

Symbolism: disorder, chaos, power or powerlessness, instability

Possible Cliches: The all-destructive tornado that causes a victim to recognize what's truly important in her life. A storm flattening one house but not touching the one next door. The discontented rebel who refuses to go in the basement, choosing instead to stare down the storm.

OTHER: Tornadoes occur in warm, moist air that precedes a cold front. They most often occur in spring and summer but can be spawned any time of year. Tornadoes can often accompany tropical storms and hurricanes that move onto land; these tornadoes usually occur ahead and to the right of the storm center's path as it comes on shore. Funnel clouds can't always be seen, due to precipitation or transparency until the cloud starts picking up dirt and debris. In semi-arid regions, rain doesn't usually accompany tornadoes. Related phenomena: waterspouts, dust devils, and cyclones. These phenomena will be covered in future weather entries.

Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how a peaceful character in a quiet basement could contrast the storm outside. Or how the homeless man living in his car has as much to lose from a deadly storm as the millionnaire across town. Likewise, a conflicted character could encounter revelation rather than chaos in the midst of a storm.

Face-to-Face Writing Groups

I tried a face-to-face writing group once. It consisted of a couple of very talented poets, an aspiring journalist, and a nice lady who was working on a family cookbook. All lovely people, but none of them seeking publication for their book. No one who could give me really helpful feedback on my YA novel. So I quit that group and stuck with my online critique circle. And for awhile that was enough.

But since my return to writing, I found myself wanting more. Maybe I needed a little extra encouragement, since my skills had deteriorated over the break. Maybe I just wanted some adult conversation. Regardless, I decided to find an SCBWI group that met in my area and I went to a meeting.

Oh. My. Gosh.

Kidlit authors. Seeking publication. Reading their stuff and giving feedback. Sharing snacks. I was ET and the mother ship had landed. That first night, I didn't share any of my work, but I listened to chapters from MG and YA books in various stages of completion—paranormal, historical fiction, humorous contemporary, sci-fi. A couple of really awesome and publishable picture books. I listened to feedback and shared some of my own. The moderator read a snippet from a book on writing and organization, and we talked about scheduling our writing time—how we struggle, what works, what doesn't. After two hours, I left feeling completely rejuvenated. My writing cup overfloweth. I can't believe I have to wait a month to go back.

Why so rabid, you wonder? It's because this is what happens when you write alone:

No, seriously, here's the deal. I'm a shy person. I don't like meeting new people. I'm usually in my pajamas by 7:30 and would much prefer an evening in to socializing after the kids go to bed. But I already know that stepping outside of my comfort zone one night a month with this group is going to make me a better writer. They're people I can talk to about all things kidlit, people I can get together with because they don't live a gajillion miles away (Ange, you know you're the Rocky to my Road. You'll always be top shelf in my freezer no matter how far away you are). And let's be honest: they're contacts. I'm networking here and I didn't have to shell out a registration fee or drive five hours to do it.

Clearly, writing groups aren't for everyone. No time, no sitter, no group in your area—those are real reasons, and I feel your pain. But…if you haven't attended a face-to-face group because you think it isn't worth the time or energy, or you just don't know where to look, here's my challenge for you. Go to the SCBWI website (click on Regions, then Regional Chapters. Choose your region and click on the official website on the right-hand side to find groups in your area). See if any groups meet near you and go to one meeting. It may not work for some of you, but I'm betting that for most, it will rock your world. Then email me and tell me about your experience. Good or bad, I really, really, REALLY want to hear from you.

Anyone out there already in a group that you can't live without? What do you do at your meetings and what's so great about your group?

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