3000 Thank Yous & GIVEAWAY

So, last week something pretty cool happened...we managed to attract our 3000th Esteemed Stalker. Look to the right. Now back at me. Now eat some bacon. Back at me.

Worthy of celebrating, yes? We thought so too!

Becca and I are super fond of celebrating around here: Milestones. Writing Heroes. Our awesome Musers. So it's only fitting we SMOOSH everything together for a fantabulous giveaway!


1 copy of WRITING HERO JANICE HARDY'S MG Fantasy THE SHIFTER (or any other book by this author)


1 copy of WRITING HERO ELIZABETH SPANN CRAIG'S Adult Mystery HICKORY SMOKED SUICIDE (or any other book by this author)


1 copy of WRITING HERO CYNTHIA LEITICH SMITH'S YA Paranormal DIABOLICAL (or any other book by this author)

Oh, and there's MORE.

...Do you use the EMOTION THESAURUS?
...Are you excited to see it in book form in April 2012?
...Would you like to WIN a PRE-RELEASE ebook copy?


10 pre-release e-copies of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression (as soon as they're finished being formatted, we'll get them into your hot little hands...no waiting for a release date!)

Becca and I are super excited about this book, and up until now, its contents have been a well kept secret. Well, time to spill the beans. Here's a peek into what the ebook version offers to writers:

  • 75 Emotion Entries PACKED with physical, visceral and mental responses
  • Hyper-linked suggestions for when an emotion ESCALATES, allowing writers to move from one entry to others associated with it
  • Additional body language and action cues that cover ACUTE & SUPPRESSED forms of expression
  • Suggestions that range in emotional intensity to match a character's SPECIFIC experience
  • A breakdown of common emotion-related writing problems and how to OVERCOME them
  • 75 description TIPS on emotion, dialogue, characters & setting

SOOOOOO....want to win? Just enter this FORM!

As always, we appreciate Tweets, Blog links, Stumbles, Google+ & FB mentions. Most of all, we appreciate ALL OF YOU, and the time you spend here with us. Contest runs until Monday, March 12th. Winners announced Tuesday March 13th! 

One last thing...if you would like to sign up for our NEWSLETTER, you will get occasional mailings from us which will include links to incredible writing resources, writing articles, news on The Emotion Thesaurus & other books to come as well as special offers and contests! 


Character Trait Entry: Diplomatic

Definition: acting with fairness and equality; appearing to have unbiased judgment and neutrality in order to achieve an end

Causes: growing up with two or more siblings; being responsible for people who's views, attitudes and needs differ; working in management; obtaining a position of power and wanting to keep it; trustworthiness; a strong sense of  teamwork and community; a desire to support or advise someone in power

Characters in Literature: Astrophil, Petra's tin spider (Cabinet of Wonders); Alfred Pennyworth (Batman); Minerva McGonagall (Harry Potter)

Positives: Diplomatics are often wise, far-seeing and intelligent. They can remove themselves emotionally from the situation and are skilled at providing insight and details that will help others make decisions that will best serve the greater good, or the good of all. Natural peacemakers, this character type tends to not let passion rule them. Diplomatics are careful with their words and will seek out information, investigate, gather intelligence and obtain feedback before weighing in or offering potential solutions. Diplomatics are supportive, loyal and trustworthy and make good confidantes.

Negatives:  Diplomatics can sometimes be viewed as cold or emotionless, because of their ability to take a situation with real human costs and whittle it down to a set of choices or possible outcomes. Diplomatics are not usually sole decision makers, and often look to others to bear the final responsibility that comes with making choices. Friends will bring their disputes, beefs and arguments to this character type, expecting to be heard and counseled. This can lead to high stress and unhappiness, as well as a sense of frustration born from knowing that whatever is decided, someone will always be dissatisfied with the outcome, because fairness often means no winners or losers.

Common Portrayals: Government diplomats, parents, teachers and principals, professional advisers, counselors and psychiatrists; business consultants; a best friend; butlers, secretaries and loyal support staff

Cliches to Avoid:   The diplomat who is power hungry and completely undiplomatic; the 'third wheel' friend who becomes a trusted confidant to his or her bestie's romantic partner, all the while harboring a secret crush for them

Twists on the Traditional Diplomatic:  
  • Diplomacy is easier if one does not have personal stakes in the possible outcome. Show us a character who is invested in what happens, and the moral tug-o-war that goes with attempting to not influence decisions based on one's own emotions. 
  • Diplomacy is often trying to satisfy all involved parties with a decision that provides a best case scenario outcome across the board. What happens when there is no best case...all options are equally painful or terrible to fathom?
  • Put the fate of a Diplomatic character in the hands of a rash, emotional opposite. How do they cope without that sense of fairness and careful consideration? How do they find a way to influence, reason with or work around this type of opposite?
Conflicting Characteristics to make your  unique or more interesting: Reckless, Shy, Stubborn, Critical, Eccentric

Weather Thesaurus Entry: Flood

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).


Sight: water covering land where it normally wouldn't, swollen rivers, expanding ponds and lakes, heavy rains, floating debris, rushing or stagnant water, people sitting on rooftops, people rowing in canoes or boats, stalled cars, rescue teams, water rising to submerge cars and single-story homes, flooded roads and bridges, power outages, discolored water (orange or brown) from heavy dirt composition

Smell: water and damp, wet wood, earth and dirt, mud

Taste: water, dirt

Touch: wet clothes and skin, pushing your way through water, chills and shivers, the squish of wet carpet underfoot, mud pulling at your shoes, wrinkling skin from being wet for so long

Sound: rushing/lapping/dripping water, walls settling and creaking, debris tapping or scraping the side of the house, people yelling, the whoomp-whoomp of rescue helicopters, voices amplified by bullhorns, wind and rain


Mood: Floods are powerful and destructive, bringing about a feeling of helplessness and despair. In life-threatening situations, a flood might cause a person to think about the "big picture" questions of mortality, life after death, and gratitude for the important things. As with any natural disaster, it may isolate people or draw them together in the face of danger.

Symbolism: power, God, the wildness and unpredictability of nature, cleansing

Possible Cliches: a flood as a judgment and sign of God's wrath, Noah's ark

OTHER: Floods have a variety of possible causes: heavy rainfall, snowmelt in rivers, over saturated soil, deforestation, dam or levee failures. Some floods occur seasonally in certain areas while others are completely unexpected. Flash floods are the most dangerous and cause the majority of flood-related deaths.

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. 

Writing Heroes: Cynthia Leitich Smith

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, we will take turns giving well-deserved recognition to some of the people who really make an impact...people who truly are Writing Heroes. People like


Looking at this author’s accomplishments and all that she does, I think we may need to rename this feature "Writing Superheroes." Her blog was named one of two most read blogs by the SCBWI, and Writer’s Digest declared her website one of the top ten writer sites on the Internet. As if that wasn't enough, her website contains this totally awesome Childrens and YA Literature Resources page, with links to state and national awards criteria, author and illustrator interviews, and bibliographies sorted by age group and theme, to name just a few incredible resources.

When you look at these treasure troves, you have to kind of think that no mere human could possibly accomplish so much. Which is why I’m pretty sure she’s got some secret superpowers that enable her to watch over and come to the rescue of the global writing community.

Superhero Power #1
Cynthia’s knowledge of what’s happening in the industry is, frankly, astounding. Through her blog and website, she shares information on grants, contests, and literature awards in numerous countries. Clearly, she has some kind of previously undiscovered POWER OVER TIME AND SPACE to know so much about so much happening in so many places.

Superhero Power #2
Once a week, Cynthia releases a feature on her blog called Cynsational News and Giveaways. This feature comes out every Friday, and is chock full of links that writers all over the globe are bookmarking left and right. I dare you to read this feature and NOT come away with either a new blog/author to follow or some priceless bit of information that you didn’t know before. Each week’s entry includes links on a variety of subjects, including
  • the craft of writing
  • editor and agent info
  • literacy issues
  • marketing and publicity for authors
  • upcoming writing courses and classes in various locations
This is just a smattering of what she shares. I can’t cover it all because I simply don’t possess the MAD HACKING SKILLZ she must have to find all of this good stuff.

Superhero Power #3
I’ve never seen someone so generous in her willingness to increase exposure for other authors. Through interviews and giveaways, she is constantly providing new and returning authors the opportunity to plug their books. In this way, the Grinch is probably her Supervillain, and she’d easily defeat him via her SUPER-SIZED HEART.

Magnificent! you say. Truly, she is a superhero! And yes, you’re right. But the most amazing part comes when you look at her credentials:
  • New York Times and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author
  • Published author of countless books, including YA novels, picture books, works of fiction and non-fiction, short stories, essays, and a graphic novel
  • Award-winning blogger
  • Instructor
  • God only knows what else
Looking at this list, you realize that, by many peoples’ standards, Cynthia has already “arrived.” Yet, she’s still giving back so much of her time, energy, and knowledge. This is what makes her a superhero in my book.

So, thank you Cynthia, for being one of my WRITING HEROES. You inspire me, woman!

To pay it forward, I will give a 1000 word critique to Cynthia. She can then choose to keep it for herself or offer it as a giveaway on her blog! As a resident writing hero, she will also have a permanent link in our header.

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

Character Trait Entry: Naïve

Definition: marked by unaffected simplicity; lacking in worldly wisdom

Causes: a sheltered upbringing, an innocent nature, a determination to only see the good in people and in life, deliberate avoidance of negativity, mental deficiency

Characters in Literature: King Arthur, Wilbur (Charlotte’s Web), Forrest Gump, Primrose Everdeen (The Hunger Games)

Positives: Naïve characters are usually innocent and pure. They take what they see at face value, always finding something worthwhile where others only see the negative. Naïves are childlike in their innocence, and therefore vulnerable, making them easy to like and protect.

Negatives: In their determination to only see the good, Naïves may not see the world and other people as they truly are, which puts them at a disadvantage. While some may admire their innocence, others see it as a weakness to be exploited, making the Naïve an easy mark. Still others view naivety as a disdainful trait and will attempt to set the Naïve straight by revealing the truth and destroying their childish delusions.

Common Portrayals: children, the mentally challenged, the elderly, recent graduates, the uneducated, Christians and other religious people

Cliches to Avoid: the naïve character who falls in with the wrong crowd and becomes jaded by the story’s end, the poor widow being financially ruined due to her naivety, the naive graduate who learns the ways of the world and ends up a savvy, ruthless businessman

Twists on the Traditional Naïve: 

  • In literature, Naïves are always cured of of their naivety by the story’s end. What about a naïve character who is able to resolve her conflict while maintaining her innocence and purity?
  • Naïve are often cast in the supporting role, with a main character who looks out for them. Instead, make the naïve character the one who must be responsible for someone else.

Conflicting Characteristics to make your Naïve unique or more interesting: popular, rowdy, unfriendly, grouchy, arrogant

Weather Thesaurus Entry: Sleet

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).


Similar to hail, sleet occurs in the winter but is much smaller in size and melts quickly. Starting off as raindrops, sleet freezes as it passes through cold air, and then melts quickly as it hits the warmer surface air. It's granular in nature, like coarse sugar. In large amounts these frozen ice pellets in can accumulate like snow, but if the ground is especially warm or the precipitation is not aggressive, will turn quickly to a slushy wet mess, leaving puddles on roadways and flat surfaces. Sloppy and messy, the cold slush can ooze into shoes, make roads and walkways slippery and create muddy splash ups on pant legs as the watery ice mixes with surface grime. Sleet can clog drainage systems and pile up in gutters. Puddles appear soupy, the half-melted pellets floating on the surface.

Like all precipitation, sleet carries an ozone smell to it (a slight metallic odor). It can also create a sense of freshness as it falls and 'dampens' other forms of pollution present in the air.

Water, a metallic tang

 Sleet is slushy and cold, bringing pain and numbness to exposed skin. Unlike snow which can slide off clothing without melting, sleet will often soak in, driving a chill deep into the body. Hair grows damp, drizzles of icy water will slide down collars and clothing will grow heavy.

Sleet may make a slight pinging on dry surfaces, but turn into a slightly louder 'slap' sound on wet ones. The speed, accumulation and warmth of the air will factor in on the noise level, which can range from a nearly soundless snowfall to a louder rainfall.  


Sleet generally infuses a scene with a sense of misery. Unlike other weather forms, people do not relish the presence of sleet as it only represents a messy, sloppy condition that is a pain to deal with and is often dangerous to commute in.

A dreary existence; unhappiness; emotional numbness or pain; dangerous conditions

Possible Cliches:
None come to mind.

Sleet occurs in winter months and is often accompanied by freezing rain, which can create a sheet of ice on surfaces that is very hazardous to motorists and those on foot. Areas that do not experience snow often yet still have colder temperatures often have to contend with sleet conditions.

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. 

The Plot Thickens

Today we're hosting editor and author C. S. Lakin on the importance of plotting in layers, and how these layers work together to enhance your character's struggles and challenges.

Creating plots and subplots is one of my favorite parts of writing. I love to think about how everything ties in together, adding to the whole. I know that many people struggle with plotting, especially creating meaningful subplots that add to the story. So read on and get C. S. Lakin's take on this critical part of any story or novel!

Novelists focus heavily on plot, and rightly they should. Your novel needs a well-crafted and believable plot. A great story will have many plot layers. You could call them subplots, but I find it helps to think of them as layers because of the way they work in your story. Plot layers come in all thicknesses of importance, and if they are designed carefully, they will make your story a rich one with unique and lasting flavors that will linger long after your reader finishes your book.

One way that may help you in developing and deepening your plot layers is to think about your own life. You have some big goals—long-term, long-range goals, or maybe even just one—on the horizon at the moment. Maybe it’s to finish college and get that degree. Maybe it’s to start a family and create your dream life with your spouse. In a novel, that might be your main plot, which features the visible goal your protagonist is trying to reach. This is the overarching plot that all the other plot layers will sit under. But just as with a multilayer cake, when you take that bite, the different flavors of the layers should complement each other and create a delightful overall taste.

Life as Layers

As that “plot” plays out in your life, other things encroach or dovetail that goal. You may be dealing with some personal issue—like a recurring health problem or a former boyfriend who keeps showing up against your wishes. You may also be dealing with trivial things like trying to decide what color to paint your bedroom, and the paint store guy, who’s completely incompetent, can’t get the color right.

Life is made up of layers. I picture them by their size and scope. You have the big, fat layer of the main plot on top, then different layers underneath of different thicknesses and flavors. All this creates a very rich cake. If life were just one sole “plot” (“I gotta get that college degree”), it would be boring and so would you. And so are novels that only have one plot layer. Life is complex. It’s messy. We’re told to complicate our characters’ lives. Well, this is the best way to do it—by introducing many layers of plot, and not just for your protagonist but for your secondary characters as well.

Vary the Intensity of Each Layer

If you can create three layers at least, think of them as plots A, B, and C. You know your A plot—it’s the main one driving your story. But now you need B and C. You want B to be an important layer that will help the main plot along—either something that enhances Plot A or runs headlong into conflict with it. Plot C will be thinner and more trivial, and may even add that comic relief in your tension (picture your character trying to get the paint guy with myopia to see the obvious difference between the two mismatched paint swatches). Believe it or not, Plot C can serve the purpose of revealing a lot of emotion and character (ever thrown a hissy fit at a store when you’re having a bad day over something else?).

Take this a step further and imagine one of your secondary, supportive characters in your novel dealing with an issue that juxtaposes with your protagonist’s issues. What if Ann, your hero, is fighting infertility, and at her peak of despair at being unable to conceive, her best friend Joan not only learns she’s accidentally gotten pregnant—she’s going in for an abortion. Can you see how this plot layer can add depth to your story by providing a place to reveal more of your protagonist’s needs, fears, and personality?

In a mystery I wrote that needed a big revision, I decided to make a secondary character my protagonist. Fran is a bit sketchy in the original story; you know a little about her life, personality, and tastes. She’s a homicide detective investigating the hit-and-run that frames my story. But now I needed to bring her to the forefront. Not only did I deepen her involvement with the main plot and increase the number of her scenes, I added an ongoing, growing tension with her teenage son that exposed issues of trust and believability—elements that are key themes of my main plot. Fran doesn’t really believe in her perp’s claims of innocence, nor does she believe her son’s when he insists he didn’t hack the school’s computer. In the midst of all this, she hates the LA heat, has terrible asthma, so my Plot C is the aggravating element of her air conditioner at home always going on the fritz—which compounds and exacerbates the tension and “heat” in her house and family life. Play with your themes; think of ways you can create these plot layers, and then find places in your novel, or create new scenes, where you can add these in. If you do, you will end up with a delicious, irresistible story readers will love to dig into.

C. S. Lakin is the author of twelve novels, including the seven-book fantasy series “The Gates of Heaven.” She also writes contemporary psychological mysteries, including her Zondervan contest winner Someone to Blame. She works as a professional copyeditor and writing coach and loves to teach the craft of writing. Her websites are dedicated to critiquing fiction and building community to help survive and thrive in your writing life: www.LiveWriteThrive.com and www.CritiqueMyManuscript.com. Come join in! You can read more about her and her books at www.cslakin.com.

Follow @cslakin and @livewritethrive. Facebook: C. S. Lakin, Author, Editor.

Mastering Words: Transform Writing Weakness into Strength

Hi everyone! I hope you'll follow me over to the fantastic WRITE TO DONE, where I'm talking about the mental shift writers needs to make in order to turn Writing Weaknesses into Writing Strengths. There's also a list of strategies on how to shorten the learning curve!

I'd love to hear what methods have worked for you, so please drop in and share your processes!

Character Trait Entry: Clever

Definition: Resourcefulness marked by inventiveness or originality

A higher intelligence; growing up in an environment where one must be resourceful to survive; an intuitive need to know how things work; learning quickly from one's mistakes; a desire to make things more functional and efficient; a strong imagination; being an independent thinker or innovator

Characters in Literature:
Master Kronos (The Cabinet of Wonders); Nin Redstone (Seven Sorcerers); Hansel & Gretel (Hansel & Gretel)

Clever people are creative thinkers and often see what others miss or dismiss. While others are content to follow along, Clevers are interested in 'the how and why' something is done and like to pursue their ideas on how to how to make things better. Clever people may not always be the smartest or fastest, but they have a gift for seeing and taking advantage of opportunities. Clevers also have an uncanny ability to assess a situation quickly and focus on a solution that may be simple yet innovative, leaving those around them to wonder how they had not thought of the same solution long ago.

Clever people have a hard time being told what to do and often balk at performing a task in a specific way. Many flout the rules or ignore instructions if they view them as inefficient or flawed. They also can have a strong opinion of themselves and their ideas, believing them to be the best. Because of this, they may be judgmental and dismissive to those who also want to have their ideas heard. Some manipulate in order to get what they need. Clever people can also sometimes get caught up in their own cleverness, and by focusing too hard on a single facet, lose sight of the big picture.

Common Portrayals:
Thieves, inventors, lawyers, criminals, pick pockets, con artists

Cliches to Avoid: 
Clever antics bordering on either risky or absurd, yet they still succeed

Twists on the Traditional Clever:  
  •  Trip your Clever up by using his ego and focus level against him. Have the antagonist direct his attention to a red herring task in order to distract him from the real danger.
  • Nothing stirs up trouble like a little competition. Great things happen when two clever protagonists friends face off with only one winner...but what if losing means something dire or dangerous, something neither wants the other to pay? 
  • Is cleverness innate, or learned? Put your amnesiac Clever character in a situation where free thinking is discouraged and find out! 

Conflicting Characteristics to make your Clever unique or more interesting: Thoughtful, Responsible, Charismatic, Eccentric, Loyal, Impulsive

Weather and Earthly Phenomena Entry: Eclipse

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).

There are two different kinds of eclipses: LUNAR and SOLAR. 

Lunar Eclipses:  In the presence of light, everything casts a shadow, including planets. The Earth's shadow stretches nearly a million miles, far enough to touch the Moon. This is what happens when the Earth passes between the moon and the sun. As the moon orbits the Earth, it falls into the Earth's shadow, which will turn a quadrant of the moon dark. As the moon continues its orbit, the shadow passes over the moon until its entire surface is darkened. Then the process is reversed as the moon moves out of the Earth's shadow; little by little, the shadow will lessen until the moon has passed completely through and is bright once again.

The quality of the shadow can vary from dark to slightly reddish, depending on which part of the Earth's shadow (the dark middle part or the lighter outer part) the moon travels through. Eclipses where the moon is made nearly invisible are called total eclipses. Lunar eclipses vary in length but usually last at least a few hours.

Solar Eclipses: A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, and the moon's shadow is cast over the Earth's surface. The position of the three players will determine if the eclipse is total or partial.

  • A total eclipse happens when a new moon is positioned directly between the Earth and the sun. These conditions occur about every year and a half and cause the moon to block out the sun completely. But the effect is only visible from a small portion of the Earth's surface (a strip about 150 km wide). From the areas outside of this strip, only a partial eclipse is seen--when the sun is only partially covered by the moon. This is why witnessing a total solar eclipse is a rarity.

  • A partial eclipse occurs when the moon, sun, and earth are not lined up perfectly. Only part of the sun and its light are blocked.
During a solar eclipse, the sky darkens as the moon slowly moves in front of the sun, blocking out light and casting the moon's shadow on the earth. When the moon has moved directly in front of the sun, the sun's corona will be seen shining around the moon. Then the effect is reversed as the moon continues its progress in front of the sun. The sky brightens with the moon's progress until the everything returns to normal. Solar eclipses usually happen every 1-2 years.


Mood: Eclipses are infrequent occurrences, and so inspire in viewers a feeling of anticipation. The sun and moon are unshakeable fixtures in our sky; when they suddenly look different, it can bring about a variety of responses: excitement, awe, anxiety, and unease. In the same way, when an eclipse is finished, viewers may feel disappointed or relieved. An event like this can also cause people to ponder questions they normally wouldn't consider, about life, destiny, the universe, and God.

Symbolism: mystical events, synchronicity, the coming together of two things that normally would be separate, miracles

Cliches: None come to mind.

Other: Eclipses are infrequent and only occur when certain factors perfectly align. When utilizing an eclipse in fiction, make sure you've laid adequate groundwork so it makes sense within the framework of your story. The different eclipses also look very different from one another, so solid research is required to make the event believable. For an example of an eclipse used effectively in fiction, check out the movie Ladyhawke. And now I've completely dated myself.

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. 

Writing Heroes: Janice Hardy

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.

It is a pleasure to start our 2012 Writing Heroes off with a bang, and that can mean only one person: Janice Hardy.

Janice is simply one of the nicest and most giving authors out there. Not only does she run The Other Side of the Story, one of the most valuable blogs on writing I know, she is the author of an engaging Middle Grade trilogy, The Healing Wars.

Janice has held her door open to me whenever I have needed help and has been an invaluable resource for my writing and my sanity (whether she knows or not!) She has incredible passion for writing, and her blog posts are always thoughtful and relevant to writers. Janice is not only writing savvy, she's marketing savvy and is willing to pass on what she knows. When I asked if she might share what she did to steer her marketing efforts for The Healing Wars, she wrote not one but two great articles (part 1 & part 2) on what writers can do to take advantage of marketing opportunities

One of the things I admire most about Janice is how I see her interact online, but still PUT THE WRITING FIRST. She offers up an incredible blog (if you do not follow this blog, GO NOW! It is a go-to resource on all writing topics!) and utilizes social media. But, the way she organizes herself and her time she can be 'out there' but not let Social Networking demands control her. As someone always struggling for balance, I need to strive to be more like her.

I love seeing people like Janice succeed--she works hard and gives back! Her Healing Wars Trilogy was an absolute pleasure to read and I can't wait to see what she comes out with next. If you're looking for a great Middle Grade read that has an unusual form of magic and a compelling main character, definitely check Janice's books out. Don't forget to follow her on Twitter and visit her Facebook page if you like!

Thank you Janice, for being one of my WRITING HEROES. You inspire me, woman!

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 Janice? Has she helped you or your writing in some way? Please tell us in the comments and help celebrate this amazing WRITING HERO! 

Setting Thesaurus Entry: Catacombs

Today we're happy to host Joanna Penn, author of religious thriller novels Pentecost and Prophecy, and host of TheCreativePenn.com. Never having visited any catacombs, we're extremely grateful to Joanna for providing some insight into such an interesting and mysterious setting.

Catacombs are subterranean passageways used for religious practice. In modern times they house the homeless, in wartime they act as refuges, and in novels, they're used for hidden treasures, cult meetings and sinister events. Many are under the streets of huge cities, like Paris and Rome, and they all have grisly histories that can be used as layers in your story.

I visited the Paris catacombs as inspiration for my religious thriller novel Prophecy. The corridors stretch for kilometers underground and contain nearly six million skeletons. The bodies were moved from public cemeteries at the end of the eighteenth century to stop the spread of disease from the overflowing mass graves. The dead were brought to the catacombs at night in order to save the people of Paris from the disturbing scenes. But there were the inevitable rumors of grave-robbers, the dead rising as zombies, and the hand of Satan hovering over the city.

My overwhelming sense at the catacombs was that the skeletons had been witnesses to life but they had passed on. They were architecture now, forgotten individuals, but together they became a fitting memorial for the deaths of unknown millions in the Black Death and the poorhouses of Paris.

In PROPHECY, the theme of bones and death is pervasive and I use crypts and ossuaries as well as catacombs for scenes in the book. In the examples below, I use text from PROPHECY to fill in the categories of the setting thesaurus.


Example 1 from Paris catacomb: “A multitude of bodies locked together in death, fitting perfectly like one enormous body. Skulls in decorative arches and rows broke up the pattern. Some had holes in them, some cracked and others smooth. All had the dull patina of age and they seemed to be cemented together, as if they had sunk into each other after years of standing here, sentinels to death.”

Example 2 from Palermo crypt: “The bodies exhibited here were fully dressed, some just skulls and others with brown skin stretched around screaming heads like mummified horrors. The bodies were stacked two levels high, hung on hooks to keep them stable in a minstrel’s gallery of mortality. Their clothes were mainly in tatters now, but Morgan could see that they were once fine fabrics with trimmings of lace and fur. She looked more closely at one of the mummies. His teeth were bared in a grimace, lips shrunken back. His eyelashes still lay upon leathery cheeks. He had been posed as if at prayer, in a tribute to the God he expected to meet.”

Example 3 from Sedlec ossuary: “Franco looked up at the great chandelier, which apparently contained bones from every part of the human body. It had eight candelabra, each made of a spinal column with vertebrae lining the arms. Femurs hung down, the balls of the knee joint rounded and smooth. Candles were cradled by plates of pelvis bones, each topped by a skull. Everything was nailed into place and that made Franco shiver a little. Bones don’t bleed but the nails were an offense, forcing these dead to their display of ashen grace. Ropes of skulls with crossed bones were draped around the vault, empty eye sockets peering down at the gathering crowd below. Franco grimaced. We are all reduced to this, he thought, just another femur, just another skull.”


The lack of sound was the notable aspect in the deserted catacombs. Dripping water was the only noise. There was no city noise that penetrated this deep.

“She could hear the dull thwack of water dripping from a low ceiling nearby. Morgan listened intently. In the distance, she could hear voices muted by the heavy air.”


The ancient dead don’t smell and the earth has a clean scent. Certainly not unpleasant, more like a cave.
“Her fingers dug into the dirt. It smelled like peat, earthy and pleasant.”


Example 1 from Paris catacombs: “Her fingers brushed a cold wall and she moved to face it in the dark. She traced the ridged surface. It felt hard like concrete but the texture was unusual, a repeating pattern of knobs and notches with smooth patches between. She used the wall to pull herself up and then felt along the top of it. There was a gap so she reached an arm out, touching a pile of debris that lay on top. It was spiky in parts, with irregular shapes and some loose pieces. Picking one up, Morgan ran her other hand over the object. As she felt its smooth length with a ball on one end and scalloped notches on the other, she realized it was a human femur. Fighting the urge to drop it, she focused on the cool of the bone she held. After all, the dead couldn’t hurt her. The dead didn’t drug her and leave her here in the cold. This femur could be a weapon, a makeshift baseball bat.”

Example 2 from Palermo crypt: “She could feel the hard cold flagstones through her jeans and she shivered, and not just with the cold. This place was beginning to get to her. It had echoes of the past hiding in dark corners, nightmares of little children locked down here, their flesh decomposing over centuries. Perhaps it was unnatural, the way the physical bodies had remained so long after the soul had departed. It felt like Death’s trophy case, with bodies stolen from a world of light and life above.”

If you aren't able to visit the places you want to write about, I recommend using Flickr.com to write from photos as well as the official websites you find. Flickr photos are more natural and often show detail you wouldn't find out about any other way.

Joanna Penn is the author of action-adventure thriller novels Pentecost and Prophecy.

Joanna’s site TheCreativePenn.com helps people write, publish and market their books and has been voted one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers 2 years running. You can follow Joanna on twitter @thecreativepenn

Images: Flickr Creative Commons - Catacombs my own, Sedlec ossuary MilanBoers

Character Thesaurus Entry: Visionary

Definition: having unusual foresight and ingenuity

 having experienced success in the past, the mindset that each failure is but a stepping stone to future successes, growing up in an environment that fosters free thinking and problem solving, being surrounded and influenced by other big thinkers, a persistent dissatisfaction with the status quo

Characters from Literature and History: Dr. Frankenstein, Merlin, Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci

Positives: Visionaries see the world through a lens of possibility. Where others see problems, they see solutions. They are confident, usually of high intelligence, and bold. Visionaries are so secure in their vision of what can be that they are not easily swayed by criticism and what others may think. They are incredible problem solvers and strong under pressure. Visionaries are responsible for much of the positive (and negative) change that happens in the world.

Negatives: Having a vision often means standing alone; this means that many visionaries live lives of isolation. The more radical their ideas, the more likely they are to be vilified rather than praised by others. While visionaries may clearly see what can be, they often lack the practical understanding of how to reach the goal. Their impracticality can frustrate those around them and undermine the visionary's ability to succeed. Due to their high intelligence, visionaries can also come across as condescending, impatient, and socially awkward. Because of their inability to accept the status quo, visionaries often find themselves opposed by powerful enemies.

Common Portrayals: scientists, inventors, magicians, geniuses, world leaders, artists

Cliches to Avoid: the egomaniacal crazy visionary bent on taking over the world; the eccentric but lovable magician or scientist; the passionate inventor who creates something that changes the world but sacrifices his family and values to do so

Twists on the traditional Visionary: 

  • Visionaries usually envision something that is beneficial or helpful. But what if their goal is ambiguous--good for some, detrimental to others?
  • We like to remember the "good" visionaries, but many horrible ideas and events were also birthed by those with incredible foresight and boldness. Instead of the purely evil visionary who sees nothing wrong with his pursuit, conflict your villain. Show him struggling with right and wrong just like the good guys do.
  • Complicate things for your solitary visionary. Out of necessity, give him a partner.

Conflicting characteristics to make your Visionary unique or more interesting: timid, ignorant, anxious, pessimistic, selfish

Creating An Author Platform That Sticks

Two guest posters in one week? Oh heck yes!

Today we welcome S.R. Johannes, author of the YA Wilderness Thriller, Untraceable and the newly released On The Bright Side, a super fun Tween Paranormal about a girl becoming a guardian angel after she dies, only to discover her charge is her biggest ex-high school nemesis!

Shelli is also a Marketing Maven with an MBA in Marketing. She owns her own company, freelances as time allows and knows a ton about what an author needs to do in order to give their book the best chance of success. We've stolen her from her blog to pick her brain about PLATFORM, a concept important to all writers on the path to publication. :)


A platform is an identity that people - potential readers, agents and publishers - recognize your name when the time comes.

In a nutshell, it is how you present yourself to the world. Kind of like an online business card. What defines you as a person, what motivates you, and how you want others to think of you.

Tips For A Stronger Platform

1) Be concise and connected. Everything you have in terms of marketing should be done in a cohesive way. So if you have a blog, web site, and twitter – they should all look alike – no matter what. Same colors, same fonts, same taglines. It should be concise and connected so people start to recognize you.

2) Get on the Web. You MUST have a web presence in this day and age. I hate to say this but if you Google someone and they are not there –in today’s world - people assume you are a nobody. If Google finds you – you are somebody. Sad but true. Believe it or not, people still ask me about this and people still don’t do it.

3) Be you. From a marketing perspective, make sure you project the right image and can be found easily online. The worst thing is creating a platform that is not in alignment with you. People will see right through it. So get to know yourself and identify what you want to project and what kind of writer you are – before you start creating a platform.

4) Do a few things well. Pick what is right for you. First of all – I don’t think everyone has to do certain things – besides having a web site. You don’t have to blog or be on twitter but you have to be somewhere. Some people are great at Wattpad, some at Pinterest, and some at Tumblr. So find something, do it well, and be sure to stand out. Whether it is style, voice, or topic driven. Think of how to be different.

5) Get followers. No matter where you are, you need to find a way to be different and attract people to coming back. Have something they care about. Make sure your blog is talking about something that audience wants to know. If you are blogging about writing – you will not touch teens and that is fine as long as you know that. Visit other blogs that are popular and see what they are doing.

6) See it as friending. Facebook got onto something when they called people “friends”. That is what social networking is about. Think of it as making friends. YOU would never walk up to someone you just met and said “hey you - buy my book”. But if you had a friend for a while, they would buy it without you asking just because it’s yours. Find blogs you like and go to them regularly. Look at it as making a friend online. Some of my closest friends I met online. You don’t just say – “hey you be my friend.” You reach out a little and see if they reach back. Comment on other blogs, especially ones that you like or new ones. People love that. It shows that you care about what they are saying.

7) Target the right audiences. Focus on a few different ones too. Don’t just focus on the publishing industry. Be sure you are touching the end user –teens if you are in YA. I see too many authors marketing their stuff to the book community and nowhere else. You need to hit all your targets differently. And know that you have more than one. Break down YA into segments so you can reach them more personally. If your book is about nature, go to where the teens are.

8) Be authentic. Do onto others what you would want them to do to you. Include them on blog rolls, help promote them, and comment consistently. Eventually they will be your blog friends. Don’t be fake about it. Bloggers know if someone is fake. Call it a cyber sense.

9) Give and take. I personally believe in giving back FIRST. I have spent 2 years giving back without asking or expecting anything in return. It was what I wanted to do for the writing community. I would never have felt comfortable reaching out to people for help when my book came out had I just took without ever giving in some way.

10) Give yourself time but start now. Building a platform takes time. It does not happen overnight. So don’t pressure yourself. Start now and it will grow over time.

S.R. Johannes is the author of Untraceable (a teen wilderness thriller) and On The Bright Side (a tween paranormal). She lives in Atlanta Georgia with her dog, British-accented husband, and the huge imaginations of their little prince and princess, which she hopes- someday- will change the world. After earning an MBA and working in corporate america, S.R. Johannes traded in her expensive suits, high heels, and corporate lingo for a family, flip-flops, and her love of writing.

You can find her blogging at Market My Words, tweeting wisdom on Twitter and getting her book on at Goodreads. Don't forget to visit her Facebook Author Page for all the latest news and upcoming books!

Want to find out more about Untraceable and On The Bright Side? You can purchase Untraceable or On The Bright Side in paperback and ebook at Amazon as well as other booksellers.

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success WINNER

Earlier this week author K.M. Weiland introduced us to the concept of Reverse Outlining, a great technique to use when you get stuck on how to bring about an event in your novel, creating a seamless timeline for your book.

Katie's book, Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success is filled with great ideas on brainstorming and outlining as well as leading writers through the process of writing a novel. Anyone who follows her blog knows the quality advice she gives, so I'm excited that S.P. Sipal of Harry Potter for Writers blog has won a copy of this book!

Thanks to everyone for entering and sharing a bit about your writing woes and the techniques you've embraced to work through them--it was great to read so many views of fellow writers. And, if you still want to get your hands on this book, simply click on the cover! Also, don't forget to make K.M.Weiland's blog a regular pit stop to visit. Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors is bursting with excellent articles and one of my favorite places to visit. :)

Happy writing!


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