Character Trait Entry: Wise

Definition: characterized by wisdom; marked by keen understanding and discernment

Causes: intense study, a thirst for knowledge and learning, many and varied life experiences, being raised in a culture that values knowledge, having not only studied others but applied their lessons to one's own life

Characters in Literature and popular culture: Yoda, Gandalf, Charlotte (Charlotte's Web)

Positives: The wise character is one who sees more than most people see. He looks farther ahead and identifies more possibilities. Wise characters are helpful to have around because of the knowledge and guidance they impart to the hero. As such, they're often cast as mentors.

Negatives: Wise characters are usually right, which makes them predictable and potentially boring. Because of their lofty and superior ways, it's easy for the wise person to look down on those around him, to have no patience for others' lack of wisdom. They can be insufferable, impatient, and self-righteous. Because of their removed status, their social skills may be somewhat lacking. They may also consider themselves to be outside the law.

Common Portrayals: wizards, mentors, teachers, coaches, judges, therapists, the elderly

Cliches to Avoid: the wise hermit living on the outskirts of society because he can no longer stand to live among humans; the kindly grandfather or grandmother; the crackpot wise person

Twists on the Traditional Wise Character: 
  • Because these characters are so often right, they're sometimes cast as being perfect and never making mistakes. Make sure your wise person has some flaws.
  • There's nothing more boring than a character who always makes the right decisions. To make him more likable, give your character some quirks or goofy habits. Even better, make him a person who knows the right thing to do but who struggles to do it.
  • Wise characters are supposed to have all the answers, but part of wisdom lies i knowing when you're out-matched. Limit your wise character's knowledge. Don't make him or her omniscient.
  • Age isn't a requirement for wisdom. To switch things up, choose a child or teen to mentor an older hero in need of guidance.

Conflicting characteristics to make your wise character unique or more interesting: impulsive, lazy, apologetic, reluctant, hyperactive, unreliable, dishonest

Thankful for You



Happy Thanksgiving to all out Musers!

Becca and I just want to take a sec to thank everyone for all their support and kindness over the years. We really appreciate all the time you spend with us here. We have learned so much and continue to grow, thanks to you!

Wishing each of you a wonderful holiday with friends and loved ones. And lolcats, of course. Relax, nom some turkey and enjoy a great day--you deserve it!

Writing Heroes: the Spies at YA Confidential

For a long time now, Angela and I have wanted a way to acknowledge the people who have helped us develop into stronger writers and who add to the writing community as a whole. As a new feature here at The Bookshelf Muse, Angela and I will take turns giving well-deserved recognition to some of the people who really make an impact...people who truly are Writing Heroes.


The operatives at YA Confidential get my hero vote for all that they do for the YA writing community. If you don't write YA, you may not be as blown-away, but you can at least respect their ingenuity and creativity. First of all, it must be said that this awesome blog just started in September, so the operatives have achieved hero-dom in just a few short months. Here's how:

Reason #1: a can't-beat posting schedule. They post 6 days a week. Six. Days. A week. As a blogger, I totally dig that. Yes, I know there are 7 of them, but that's part of their genius. Want to really help writers? Give them lots of excellent content. Can't do it by yourself? Convince, finagle, or entrap six others to do it with you. Brilliant. 

Reason #2: excellent teen-centric content. If you write for teens, you need to know your audience. You really can't do too much research in this area, and when it comes to research, this site is totally awesome because you hear, from the mouths of teens, what teens like: what turns them off in a romance, do they read the newspaper or keep up with current events, what's cool for teens to do on Halloween?

 <insert stupefied silence here>

You can't get this kind of intel short of doing the footwork yourself, and why bother, when the operatives do it for you every week? 

Reason #3: The man's perspective. The latest operative to join YA Confidential is The Black Wiggle, who posts about male stuff that, as a woman, I still just don't get. Not only does he give tips on how to write the male voice, but he also answers questions girls send in about guys. Again, genius.

So if you haven't checked out the YA Confidential blog, run on nimble little fingers to have a look-see. And thank you, tricksy spies at YA Confidential, for being mWRITING HEROES. You inspire me, people!

To pay it forward, Angela or I will give a 1000-word critique to each Writing Hero we profile. The hero can then choose who to grant it to, or offer it as a giveaway on their blog. All writing heroes will also have a permanent link in our header!

So tell me Musers...do you know the operatives at YA Confidential? Have they helped you or your writing in some way? Please tell us in the comments and help celebrate these amazing WRITING HEROES! 

Character Trait Entry: Ruthless

Definition:
Having no pity; merciless; without compassion

Causes:
Growing up in a loveless home; a society or environment where only hardened individuals survive (like prison or criminal/mafia hierarchy, repression during a dictatorship, etc) ; belief that emotion equals weakness; suffering a deep betrayal during an impressionable time which leads to a shutting down of feelings and lack of trust; adapting to survive a life altering event (famine; war; abuse; disease or plague; homelessness); a sociopath diagnosis

Characters in Literature: 
 Rumpelstiltskin (Brothers Grimm); Michael Corleone (The Godfather); Uncles Balder & Grim (Troll Fell)


Positives:
Ruthless characters are exceptional leaders and are fiercely loyal to those they love. They protect those they are responsible to and see that their needs are cared for. They are not afraid of what must be done, and they can act decisively under pressure without being bogged down by emotions. Ruthless individuals stay focused on the big picture and are goal driven. Logical, shrewd and opportunistic, they execute decisions regardless of ethics or morals if they deem it is in their best interest to do so, and so rarely face dilemmas that can stymy others. A ruthless nature means always watching for weakness and being prepared to take advantage of opportunity. Ruthless people are often highly accountable because they see their actions as being right for the situation and so are willing to stand behind decisions.

Negatives:
Ruthless people, by nature, create collateral damage. Their lack of an emotional barometer means their actions often hurt others. Decision-making and execution of plans often include a steam-rolling approach, and the people around them either get out of the way or become victims. It is difficult to trust a ruthless person for fear they may 'turn' in favor of a more appealing opportunity or partnership. Ruthless people are users who will not hesitate to cast aside someone after they cease to be useful. At best, the people closest to an openly ruthless person tend to be wary, and at worse, a bed of hatred and resentment can create fertile ground for undermining and subversion. Ruthless people do not inspire others (unless they themselves are ruthless) and they lead through fear.

Common Portrayals:

Third world country dictators, criminals, prostitutes,  junkies, psychopaths, CEOs, stock market tycoons, soldiers in prisoner of war camps, rapists, serial killers; drug cartels; fringe religious movements; terrorists; slave & sex traders

Cliches to Avoid: 

The Hitler-esque military leader; the vampire killer bent on eradicating a species; the ruthless & beautiful female assassin; the guillotine-happy ruler or king; the stereotypical cardboard 'power at all costs' villain

Twists on the Traditional Ruthless:  

  •  Ruthless individuals are almost always cunning and intelligent. If a character with this trait did not have smarts to fall back on, how would they compensate?
  • Because ruthlessness and success go hand-in-hand, a archetype triangle is often created: rich, powerful & influential. Cast that cliche aside! Give us a ruthless grandmother, a cunning soccer mom or a shrewd bus driver.
  • Ruthless is most frequently presented as a negative. Challenge yourself to create a character who uses this trait for the greater good.

Conflicting Characteristics to make your Ruthless unique or more interesting: shy, honest, proper, worry-wart, friendly, funny


Weather Thesaurus Entry: Summer

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: kids playing outside, sprinklers on, people wearing tank tops/shorts/flip-flops, crowded pools and beaches, people fanning themselves, panting dogs, heat waves rising off the concrete, sunny days with intermittent showers and thunderstorms, lush green plants, fireflies blinking, bats dipping and flitting at dusk, tall grass, lawns being cut, fire hydrants gushing, bonfires and sleep-away camp

Smell: meat grilling on the bbq, sunscreen, bug spray, sweat, chlorine, rain, fresh-cut grass

Taste: sweat, sunscreen, salt water, ice cream, watermelon, popsicles, beer and soda, lemonade

Touch: sting of mosquitoes, sweat trickling down your face, clothes that stick to you, sunburn, too-hot asphalt, breezes that are warm and cloying, the shock of cold as you jump into a pool, the heat of the sun beating down on you, hot air rushing in as you open the door

Sound: the whir of oscillating and overhead fans, a/c humming, children laughing/running/squealing, thunder, falling rain, water splashing at the pool, fireworks booming, mosquitoes buzzing, lawnmower noise

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood: Many peoples' memories of summer revolve around summer vacation, picnics, barbecues, and staying up late. Summer evokes happiness and nostalgia and memories of carefree childhood.

Symbolism: childhood, innocence, freedom. If using the seasons to represent the stages of life, summer can also symbolize maturity and adulthood.

Possible Cliches: ?

OTHER: As always when discussing the weather, the length and severity of summer vary by region. Also keep in mind that the cues from your childhood may no longer be common today, or may be confined to smaller, specific areas. Squeaking screen doors and open windows were summer fixtures from my past. But with changing times, more people have a/c, so unless your character lives in a less temperate region, these cues are now the exception rather than the norm.

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. 

Guest post at Sherry Soule's blog


Lately, I've been thinking about the importance of evoking reader emotion, and the best way to use backstory to do it. All of that pondering eventually turned into today's post, which is being featured at Sherry's Fiction Writing Tools. Her blog is a resource for writers that offers self-editing tools, tips on revision, and savvy manuscript advice, and I'm more than happy to hang out there today.

Character Trait Entry: Independent

Definition: not requiring or relying on others

Causes: trust issues, control issues, shyness, a person who is more comfortable being alone than with other people, a history of oppression or inequality, the belief that one can do things better/more quickly/more efficiently than others, healthy self-confidence, a history of personal success and capability, a desire to be beholden to no one

Characters in Literature: Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice), Laura Ingalls Wilder, Han Solo

Positives: Independents see themselves clearly. They know what they can do and are comfortable taking action when others might be cowed. Their past successes prove their capability, so they're able to work alone, and often prefer to do so. Independents are sure of themselves and so aren't overly concerned about the perceptions of others. As a result, they are better able to maintain focus on their goals and the job at hand. They also are often forward-thinkers, moving past the status quo to embrace ideals that are ahead of their time.

Negatives: Because they are so often alone, Independents may have difficult working with or relating to others. Their lack of concern with what others think may create a perception about them of aloofness, smugness, or superiority. Their dependence on self may give loved ones the idea that they aren't needed or even much wanted, and may widen the gap between Independents and the people in their life.

Common Portrayals: women suffragettes, Civil rights leaders, inventors, explorers, geniuses

Cliches to Avoid: the independent, strong-willed, kick-butt woman who doesn't need a man in her life; the loner who claims to need no one, but by the end of the story realizes his need for intimacy with others

Twists on the Traditional Independent: 
  • Give your Independent the confidence to stand alone, but provide him with a core group of friends/allies whose support and feedback only strengthen him (think William Wallace).
  • Rather than making a character independent by nature, what if independence is a trait he must choose in order to meet his goals? 

Conflicting Characteristics to make your Independent unique or more interesting: outgoing, popular, doubtful, nervous, obedient, apologetic

Writing Heroes: Elizabeth Spann Craig

For a long time now, Becca and I have wanted a way to acknowledge the people who have helped us develop into stronger writers and who add to the writing community as a whole. As a new feature here at The Bookshelf Muse, Becca and I will take turns giving well-deserved recognition to some of the people who really make an impact...people who truly are Writing Heroes.

Elizabeth is one Writing Hero who has accomplished so much, and given back so much, that I really will need to practice word economy in order to fit it all into a single post. I'll begin by stating the obvious: Elizabeth is amazing.

She's the author of not one, not two, but three mystery series! Her specialty is cozy mysteries flavored with good food and quirky, unique characters. Now you would think this would keep her crazy busy, pounding out all these books and then marketing them, but no, she does so much more!

Most writers know that Twitter is an excellent networking tool, allowing us to stay up-to-date with the concerns of the industry and gain information on timely writing topics. However, with the wide reach of twitter, none of us can possibly keep up with all the great articles week-to-week. Round ups help of course, but once the week is over, most links are lost...or they were until Elizabeth came along.

Along with the ever-brilliant computer wizard Mike Fleming of Hiveword, Elizabeth found a way to collect this trove of links in a way that it can always be accessed. The Writer's Knowledge Base was born: a search engine just for writers! Every week, Elizabeth scours the Internet for great blog posts on writing, publishing and marketing and tweets them to the #amwriting hashtag. Then Mike collects these bits of goodness to add to the WKB database. Like I said, A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!

I admit, at this point, I have to suspect that Elizabeth may have a clone. Or six. And I can't even tell you that this is it, the end of the line. In addition to all this, Elizabeth runs a fantastic blog, Mystery Writing Is Murder, a great resource for writers, and offers her help and experience whenever it's needed. She's also created a e-book database for people looking to take advantage of the growing demand of ebooks.

She inspires, gives back, and truly is a writing hero. Do check her blog and books out! Find her on Twitter & try out the WDB for yourselves--it's such a great tool for writers.

To pay it forward, Becca or I will give a 1000 word critique to each Writing Hero we profile. These writers can then choose to keep it for themselves or offer it as a giveaway on their blog! All writing heroes will also have a permanent link in our header.

So tell me Musers...do you know Elizabeth? Has she helped you or your writing in some way? Please tell us in the comments and help celebrate this amazing WRITING HERO!

On Your Mark: Marketing Your Novel (Part 2)

We're back talking MARKETING with Janice Hardy, author of the MG Healing Wars trilogy and dispenser of writing wisdom through her blog, The Other Side of the Story. Yesterday Janice gave examples of her Marketing Copy and showed how to take advantage of marketing opportunities, the importance of having a website & business cards and the necessity of creating blurbs to assist in marketing and sell books. 

Over the course of selling three novels, Janice has tackled many aspects of marketing and has more to share, so I'll turn it over to her now. You can find PART 1 of this marketing post HERE. 

OTHER MARKETING OPTIONS

Swag

I get asked for swag all the time from bloggers doing giveaways for their readers. Having things on hand helps. Let’s go through the more common ones:

Bookmarks: Very handy for swag, though I didn’t find them that beneficial for bookstores or conferences. Everyone is handing them out there and they usually wind up stuffed in a bag or pocket.
Postcards: Swag friendly and handy to have to put on the “freebie” tables at conferences. I’ve also found them great for school visits because the kids love to get autographs.
Pencils: I found color shifting pencils that fit the theme of my book. Great fun.
Buttons: I’ve yet to do these, but I’ve seen other authors do it. My husband still has one from a book festival pinned to his backpack.
Magnets: Just like buttons, a handy giveaway for both bloggers and events.
Books: Yes, books can be swag. I get asked for books for giveaways. Sometimes they’re in combination to a guest post or interview, other times it’s a charity or special event. But it gets your book out there and all you have to do is send it.

Blogs, Blog Tours and Guest Posts

Blogging is a lot of work and takes dedication, so unless this is something you enjoy doing, I’d skip it. What? Sound crazy? Don’t authors have to blog? Nope, not at all. There are so many blogs out there that it’s impossible to keep up with them all. And the more I talk to readers, the more I hear how they don’t read author blogs very often. Writers are the most frequent readers of other writers’ blogs. If you enjoy it, do it, but don’t feel you have to. What matters more is having a way to connect to your readers. (More on that in a minute.)

Blog Tours are also a ton of work, but they can be very beneficial. A lot of it depends on your target market and where you do your tour. If you’re touring on sites that reach your readers you can tell a lot of folks about your book. If not, you won’t. I did a large tour for my second book (Blue Fire), but I toured on fellow writer and book blogs. Since my readership is middle grade, I didn’t see a spike in book sales. So while the tour was beneficial in other ways, it didn’t appear to work to sell more books. But others have had great success with it because their readers were the ones who found those tour posts.

Guest posts (like this) are great ways to expand your readership if you blog, but they may or may not improve book sales. Again, it depends on who you’re reaching with those guest posts. And what your goal of the guest post is. I promote my writing blog as much as I promote my novels, so guest posts are very effective for the blog marketing side of it.

Making a Connection to Readers

The most important thing is to find a way to connect to your readers. They want to be able to interact with you in some way. Be that a blog, a website, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or whatever, pick something you can keep up with and enjoy doing. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it and it’ll be a waste anyway. Social media works when you get engaged. If you’re not engaged, it’s just more spam.

Personal Appearances

Book signings are probably one of the first things you think of when you think “author appearances,” but they aren’t what they once were. Before the web and social media, an event was the only way you could interact with your favorite authors. Now, not so much. The downside to book signings is that people usually only go to them if they’re already a fan (or they happen to be in the store while you’re there). You get a chance to make a connection (which is great), but how many new fans will you attract? Odds are not many. Doing them can be fun, but don’t feel you have to do them to be successful.

I feel reader related events are a much better way to reach readers, and this is where I’ve been focusing my efforts lately. Book festivals, conferences & school visits if you write for those age groups. Whenever I’ve been in a situation to tell people about my books, with my books for sale right there, I sell books.

This is also why it’s good to have that marketing copy handy. I keep a spreadsheet of events for the year that might be beneficial for me to attend, and when they’re open for author submissions, I can quickly and easily put together a proposal and send it in.

If you want to do events (not everyone does and that’s okay), you might consider putting together a variety of proposal packages. I have five different workshops ready to go so I can jump when opportunities arise. For example, this past week the call for proposals for the 2012 RWA (Romance Writers of America) conference went out. I was ready and zipped off a few session ideas to them. Even better, writing the proposals helped me develop that skill, so I’m able to more quickly write a specific proposal when needed. As I said, opportunities are everywhere, and sometimes you don’t have a lot of time to take advantage of them. You hear about a great event nearby and find out it’s the last day for submissions, you don’t have a lot of time to write a proposal.

Make an Offer

Marketing is about getting out there. Spamming folks about your book doesn’t work, because we get spammed by so much already. But if you have something to offer, you stand a much better chance of making that all-important connection. Entertain, teach, inform, support, whatever works for you. Network and build a community, both of fans, readers, and fellow writers. Give more than you take, and you’ll see much better results.

The sad truth is no one knows for sure what works and what doesn’t. Worse, it’s different with every writer. Do what you enjoy and what allows you to connect with your audience, and you’ll be doing the right thing. 
~~~

Okay Janice, my brain is spinning! Again, thank you for sharing your Marketing observations--you've given us a lot to chew on, and challenged some of the 'set beliefs' we may have had about Marketing. I love that. :)

I think the issue of spamming is something that hurts us all, which is why offering information on Marketing is SO IMPORTANT. Many people spam because they don't know what else to do...and they think that in a busy Social Networking environment, they need to make lots of noise to be heard. Unfortunately this only turns people off. Post like this can help us from making mistakes as we launch our own marketing efforts, so again THANK YOU!

MUSERS! Have you thought about marketing yet? If you're an AUTHOR, what's been the most successful way for you to reach your reading audience? Please share in the comments so we cal all learn together!

If you love Magic, Fantasy, Teamwork and a Hero torn between right and wrong who is up against impossible odds, you'll love Janice's MG Healing Wars Trilogy. Do check it out!

Missed PART 1 In this Marketing Series? Click HERE!

Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, and BLUE FIRE, and her newest release, DARKFALL. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel. You can visit her website, chat with her about writing on her blog, The Other Side of the Story or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.

On Your Mark: Marketing Your Novel (Part 1)

Today we are thrilled to host Janice Hardy, author of the MG Healing Wars trilogy and dispenser of writing wisdom through her blog, The Other Side of the Story. Anyone who visits Janice's blog knows the amazing wealth of knowledge it holds, and if you've read her books, you've no doubt fallen in love with the rich world and characters and seen how Janice puts honed technique into practice.

The third book in the series, Darkfall, has just been released, and it got me to thinking about the huge challenge it must be for any author to promote a sequel or series. I asked Janice if she'd share some of her Marketing Fu, explaining what she's found to be successful as she dives into promoting her third book to readers. So, take it away Janice!

After I sold my first novel, (The Shifter) I spent weeks scouring the web looking for advice on how to market books. I knew it was important, but had no clue what to do. It’s been four years now and I’ve learned—and tried—a lot of different things. Some worked, some didn’t, and some I wished I’d done differently right from the start.

MUST HAVES...
Website

I could do a whole post on this alone, but this is probably the most important thing you can do to market your novel. In today’s world, folks are used to popping online and looking up the things they’re interested in. Having a website gives them something to find. And right or wrong, businesses without a website always feel less professional. Your book is your business, so make sure it feels like a pro.

Business Cards

You really want to have a card with your name, the book’s name, and the cover image on it. Not only are they great for conferences, but hand one to everyone who asks about your book. They’re great reminders of not only your name, but the title, and we all know how easy it is to forget things like that.

A Pitch Line

I just heard a lot of you groan, but this really is a must have. When those folks ask you about your book, you need to be able to tell them what it’s about in one or two sentences. Typically, it’ll go like this:

Person Who Just Found out You’re an Author: Oh, what’s your book called/about?
You: The Shifter, and it’s about a girl who can heal by shifting pain from person to person, and when her little sister disappears, it turns out to be the only weapon she has to save her. Here’s my card.

Then you hand them that nifty card with your cover on it. It may get stuck in a pocket and forgotten, but it might just lead to a sale. I’ve gotten invitations to events because of random “here’s my card” moments with people I met in line at bookstores.

Marketing Copy

Do I hear more groans? Probably, but this is also pretty important. At the very least, you’re going to need copy on your website about your book. While the cover copy is good, having something punchy that’s sales focused is even better. It’s about marketing, remember? If you do ads, postcards, bookmarks, media kits, or anything PR related, you’ll want something that sells the book, not just describes it.

A tagline is great to have as well. Taglines are those short slogans that grab attention. Just like an ad or movie poster, they’re designed to intrigue and make you want to know more. Here’s mine for The Shifter:

Sister. Healer. Deadly Weapon.
Nya has a secret she must never share.
A gift she must never use.
A world she must never question.
And a sister whose life depends on her doing all three.

It’s a tad long, but it works as both tag and copy sometimes. This is on my business card, postcards, the media kit, and all kinds of marketing materials. As a summary tagline, I also use:

Discover a war-torn world where healing is dangerous, and those with the best intentions often do the most harm.

When I need a short description (like for events or proposals), I use this:

Nya is a Taker: with her touch she can heal injuries, drawing the pain into her own body. Unlike other Takers, she can’t push the pain into the enchanted metal used to store it. All she can do is shift it from person to person, a skill she must conceal or risk being used as a human weapon. But when her sister mysteriously disappears, Nya must decide—how far will she go to save her?

I also have a short blurb that describes the entire trilogy:

Nya is a Shifter, someone who can heal by shifting pain from person to person. She’s hunted by those eager to exploit her ability for their own purposes, determined to make her a weapon, a killer, even a symbol for the war that’s brewing.

All Nya wants is to protect her family and regain her people’s freedom, but the more she’s drawn into the plans of others, the more she realizes how key to everyone’s victory she really is.

And how much she’ll have to sacrifice just to survive.

Notice how similar these are to a query. This is why those skills are so important to develop! Once you can describe your book in marketing terms, you can craft the sales copy to help promote it. I know it’s hard to write these, but having several options ready and waiting when you need them will make it easier for you to promote your book in a wide variety of places. People need copy about your book if they’re doing something about you. Make it easy for them to talk about you in a way that helps sell your book!

~~

WOW! How often do we get a window into actual marketing material like this, and the why behind it all? Thanks Janice! (And if you aren't already following Janice's blog, do your writing a favor and go visit her writing craft treasure trove!)

There is much, much more...so much we've had to break this into 2 POSTS. So, in true marketing fashion I'm going to tease you to make sure you tune in: Is blogging worth it for Authors? How about Blog Tours and Guest Posts? What type of swag is the most popular, and what about those *gulp* author appearances?

Click HERE for PART 2 of Janice's Marketing insights!

Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, and BLUE FIRE, and her newest release, DARKFALL. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel. You can visit her website, chat with her about writing on her blog, The Other Side of the Story or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.

Character Trait Entry: Critical

Definitioninclined to criticize severely; to evaluate judiciously

Causes:

Being pushed hard as a child by parents or adults in positions of power; family abuse rooted in not measuring up or being good enough; exposure to a military education or experience; employment in an area where scrutiny at all levels is expected and held in high esteem

Characters in Literature: 

Headmistress Trunchbull (Matilda); Professor Snape (Harry Potter); Norma Bates 'Mother' (Psycho)

Positives:

Critics have an eye for flaws and their high standards mean they expect nothing but top effort from themselves and others. As such, critical people can often hone a talent into something exceptional through a regime of discipline and determination. If ego can be set aside and instruction taken, people can achieve great things under the tutelage of someone who is both highly knowledgeable on a subject and critical enough to demand best efforts. When praise is given by someone who is critical, the person receiving it often feels extreme pride in knowing they earned the compliment 100%. When respect is given to a critical teacher, coach or person in authority who is seen as tough but fair, it is often accompanied by unshakable loyalty and gratitude.

Negatives:  

Critics can often cause upset and hurt through their words and actions. People can feel as though their efforts are never good enough, or assume they are worthless in the eyes of the critic. Overly-critical people can cause low self esteem in others, damage relationships with those they love and make people feel guarded during interaction.  They often do not see the difference between encouraging someone to give their strongest effort and pushing someone until they feel worthless and bullied. Critics can break not bend, causing lasting damage and resentment.

Common Portrayals: 

Unyielding coaches, professors and teachers; nuns who run orphanages & schools; pressuring parents living their dreams through their children via sports/activities; Army boot camp trainers

Cliches to Avoid:

The overbearing parent or grandparent; a sadistic principal or teacher who enjoys brow-beating students; the older sister who is over critical of her younger siblings; the boss for whom nothing is ever good enough
   
Twists on the Traditional Critic: 

  • Critics are often portrayed as negative within a storyline, or even as villains. Try creating a critical character as a positive force, rather than a 'necessary evil' device for another character to succeed (like your typical coach/star athlete duo).
  • Most critics are seen as hardened individuals made that way by circumstances & the environment. Try to infuse soft-hardheartedness in your critic, or give us a critical character who is emotional &/ encouraging.
  • The critical character's biggest target is often themselves. They can drive themselves with high expectations and then hold others to the same standards. What happens when a critical, driven character is placed in a situation where the goal is to ensure a defeat of some kind, not success?
 Conflicting Characteristics to make your Critic unique or more interesting: lazy, impulsive; reckless; shy; eccentric

Weather Thesaurus Entry: Heat Wave

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: panting dogs, people sweating through their clothes, animals and people more lethargic than usual, a pale cloudless sky, a general decrease of animals and people outside for long periods of time (at playgrounds, exercising, at the park, etc.), increased acts of violence, brushfires and wildfires, shimmery heat waves rising off the concrete

Smell: hot air, asphalt, sweat

Taste: n/a

Touch: clothes sticking to the body, sweat slicking the skin almost immediately upon stepping foot outside, hot air rolling over you as if you were standing in front of an oven, sunburn, the feel of heavy air weighing you down

Sound: the crunch of dry grass under your feet, air conditioners and oscillating fans blowing full-blast, weather reports issuing from TVs and radios, people complaining/talking about the heat

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood: Heat has an escalating effect on emotions. Long-term heat makes people crankier, impatient, and short-tempered. Violent acts often increase during a prolonged heat wave. Being uncomfortable without knowing when it will end and being powerless to do anything about it can evoke feelings of desperation. The lethargy that accompanies prolonged heat can slow mental processes and effect production at work and school.

Symbolism: oppression, sin/punishment, 

Possible Cliches: the heat wave that builds throughout the story, only to break at the climax or point of revelation; the heat wave as a backdrop for the steamy love scene; the heat wave that is broken by a welcome rain just before the crops go under

OTHER: Technical definitions vary, but a heat wave is widely accepted as being two or more days of excessively hot weather (which varies according to region). Power outages are common, as are burst water lines, wildfires, heat stroke, and increased mortality among infants, the elderly, and the chronically ill.

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.

Wanted: an Agent Like Sam Phillips

Today we're hosting KIM VAN SICKLER, a MG writer who, along with six other writers, blogs at Swagger, a new community for writers and readers! Go check them out and give them a warm blogger-y welcome, yes? Kim's short story fantasies have won first and second place in the Center for Writing Excellence's Fiction in Five contest and are published in anthologies.

Some day soon I hope to find my Sam Phillips.

He's the sound engineer who ran Sun Records and discovered & guided the careers of Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis, elevating them to greatness. He saw the raw talent and potential in these artists and invested in their careers. These four men received invaluable mentoring, and Sam Phillips went down in rock-n-roll history as a legend: the only non-musician to be inducted into the Rock-n-roll Hall of Fame. (And their romanticized story is told in the Broadway musical, Million Dollar Quartet.)

Sam Phillips was never about the money. It was nice, but it wasn't his top priority. His top priority was finding the next big act. It was the discovery and collaboration that drove him.

As a writer embarking on a search for an agent, finding a Sam Phillips would be a huge break. And it's something I'm willing to wait for. I've interacted now with two agents I've met at SCBWI conferences. I've paid for their critiques. Both of them gave me valid, constructive criticism in a brutally blunt manner. Neither of them were the least bit interested in retaining me as a client.

But that's okay. I learned that I didn't want them as agents either. Meeting those two agents showed me that I didn't want to land just anyone so that I could say, "I'm represented."

I'm discovering through sites like Literary Rambles and Query Tracker and from reading the "Ask the Agent" page & the "Breaking In" section of Writer's Digest, that agents are as multi-faceted as writers. They're all looking for different things and bringing their unique experiences and temperaments to the table. These resources and others show me how to go about submitting my work for an agent's consideration and find the right fit.

What I will be looking for is an agent that I'm excited to partner with. I want someone who can compliment as well as criticize. I want someone who loves and believes in what I write. I've got friends who celebrated landing their agents only to find that their agents were no use to them whatsoever. Their agents didn't sell their manuscripts, or give them useful advice, or buoy their spirits. My writer friends wasted precious time believing in people who didn't believe in them.

I will rewrite, restructure, and revise until I get it right! I'm a hard worker and determined to write good stories. Finding an agent who can appreciate me, and partner with me to sell my fantasies is my own personal fairy tale ending.

~~Kim

Are you on the Agent Hunt like Kim? Do you worry about finding that perfect fit? There are many things a writer needs to factor in before saying yes...what are your core needs when considering whether to sign on the dotted line?

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