Character Trait Thesaurus Entry: Optimistic

Definition: an inclination to anticipate the best possible outcome or see events in the most positive light

Causes: an honest belief that people are basically good and well-intentioned; the philosophy that if you believe things to be a certain way, they will be; naiveté; a sheltered upbringing; a deliberate refusal to see or give credence to anything unpleasant; a desire to maintain a good attitude and avoid negativity by always looking on the bright side

Characters in Literature: Pollyanna, Anne Shirley (of Green Gables), Cinderella

Positives: Optimistic people are usually pleasant to be around. They are peacemakers, striving to maintain happiness and good relations, so they're not usually the cause of conflict. An optimist's positive vibes rub off on others, and seemingly beget more positivity. Optimists often have other admirable qualities as well, such as respect for others, compassion, and diplomacy. In a world full of naysayers, the optimist brings light and hope and can be a safe haven for your hero in a difficult time.

Negatives: Some optimists choose positivity over reality, refusing to accept things the way they really are. This can render them unrealistic and impractical. In serious situations, the optimist's die-hard hope despite impossible circumstances can become frustrating. At times like these, they lose credibility for being naive and unrealistic. The extreme optimist is completely unprepared to cope with the worst-case scenario; in such a situation, she may become a burden to those around her instead of a support.

Common Portrayals: little old ladies, Southern belles, mothers, children, religious people

Cliches to Avoid: the wide-eyed child wholeheartedly believing in the impossible, only to see it miraculously happen the way she imagined; the optimist whose faith never wavers; the quiet, timid, but wise-beyond-her-years optimist 

Twists on the Traditional Optimist:  
  • Optimists are almost always portrayed as girls. Please, for the love of all that's chocolate, someone give us a strong, credible male optimist.
  • Many optimists remain true to their beliefs no matter how bad the situation gets. I'd like to see a more realistic optimist whose resolve is tested and wavers in the light of horrible circumstances but returns when it really matters
  • Instead of the typical naive optimist, how about a wise one? Or an intellectual one? A highly respected one?

Conflicting Characteristics to make your Optimist Unique or More Interesting: wise, intelligent, bold, confrontational, rowdy, honest

Update & Kindles for Kids!

Howdy Musers! I'm back from Mexico, am semi-tanned and rested up for the final gauntlet run through the MASSIVE To-Do list that comes with producing a book. We've gotten some great feedback from some kind early readers that has taken the book to a new level and Becca and I are almost out of our skin with excitement. 

Our business paperwork came in while I was away, meaning we can finally look at setting a date for the book! As we suspected, it will be in May, but I promise, this is worth the wait.

In the mean time, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression is up on Goodreads! Perhaps you will show it some love and put it onto your To-Read list? *showers everyone with chocolate sparkles* 

Okay, enough about all that. I have something else I want to bring to your attention--Kindles for Kids!

Becca and I are blessed to know many wonderful, generous people in the writing community. One of the kindest, most thoughtful people I've met is Danyelle Leafty, and she's once again doing something awesome to Pay it Forward and help out the children in the pediatric unit of the Utah Valley Hospital. 

It's no fun being in a hospital bed, especially if you're a child. Danyelle has set a goal of buying 10 Kindles to donate to the hospital to lift some reading spirits and make a child's stay go a bit smoother. To do this, from March 12th-31st (2012) she's donating her royalties from THE FAIRY GODMOTHER DILEMMA: CATSPELL--both in paper and e-book form--toward the purchase of the Kindle Fires.

I think this is an AWESOME thing to do! If you're interested, please check out Danyelle's book, or enter her Short Story Contest to have your story included in an anthology to be uploaded onto these Kindle Fires! There are other ways to help, like donating books and spreading the word, so please visit this post for more information.  

I know the 31st is coming up quick, so I'm off to grab my copy of CATSPELL. Any tweets you could send out about Kindles for Kids would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, everyone--you rock!

Character Trait Thesaurus Entry: Curious

Definition: marked by a desire to investigate and learn

Causes: a naturally inquisitive nature, growing up in an environment where exploration and asking questions was encouraged, the optimistic belief that there is always something more to be learned, a thirst for knowledge, a desire to right wrongs or make things better 

Characters in Literature: Alice (in Wonderland), Curious George, Harriet (the Spy)

Positives: When others see problems or inconveniences, those who are curious see an opportunity to gain knowledge. Their curiosity can make them adventurous, spurring them on to do things others wouldn't do. They are also often very knowledgeable, either in a general way, or about something specific. Characters who are curious easily stumble upon secretive things, or involve themselves in things they shouldn't; as such, they can conveniently introduce conflict into a story line.

Negatives: Curious characters are often impulsive, acting without thinking when an opportunity arrives. They can be single-minded to a fault, focused on their pursuit, or hopelessly distracted, following whatever rabbit trail appears before them. Those who are curious are frequently more interested in their current topic of exploration than they are in their relationships and the people in their lives. They may not understand or appreciate people who aren't as curious as they are.

Common Portrayals: scientists, inventors, children

Clichés to Avoid: the feeble minded but good hearted bumbler who finds everything interesting; the child who repeatedly asks "why?", the eccentric scientist

Twists on the Traditional Curious Character:  
  • Curiosity is usually displayed as a childish characteristic. What about a competent adult with a childlike curiosity about the world or a particular topic?
  • Curious characters are usually somewhat awkward or socially backward and so are often cast as secondary characters. How about a curious hero? Or a curious villain who's motivated by his need to know?
  • Those who are curious usually love to share their knowledge with others. Why not create a curious character who is secretive and selfish with his findings--maybe one who's curiosity is a means to a conniving end?
Conflicting characteristics to make your curious character unique or more interesting: bitter, solemn,  popular, evil, fierce, selfish

What's your Canon of Literature?

I blogged a few weeks ago about Lin Oliver's Forty Years of SCBWI Wisdom presentation at the Florida conference. I've been pondering some of her points, and one of them has really stuck with me:

Develop Your Own Canon Of Literature

She talked about how writers may read gajillions of books in their lifetime, but certain ones that touch a person so deeply that they come back to it repeatedly, even many years later. This collection becomes the author's own personal canon (defined as the authoritative list of books accepted as Holy Scripture, or a sanctioned body of related works.)

I've been thinking about why identifying your own canon is important, and I've come up with a few ideas.

1. Your personal canon shows you where you came from. Most of the books on my list, I read as a kid. They spoke to me on a new level and made me think of things I'd never considered before. These books molded me as a person.

2. Your personal canon reveals what you value as a writer. Examining my favorite books made me see what I respect from a writing standpoint. These books molded me as an author.

To illustrate, I'm listing 5 of the books from my personal canon of literature. They're not in order. They're definitely not comprehensive. They're just some of the books that impacted me so deeply that I bought them young and continue to re-read them as an adult.

  • Alas Babylon. As a young teen in the early 80's, reading about the aftermath of a nuclear war was a little scary. And therefore, exciting. But more than that, I was intrigued by the social dynamics--how some people pulled together while others fell apart when faced with the end of the world. Almost all of my stories have some kind of survival element. This book has a lot to do with that.
  • Watership Down. Another survival story. But also an example of pristine characterization and voice.
  • The Little House on the Prairie series. Something about the simplicity of the times and the resourcefulness of the people speak to me in these books. I'm inspired to think that stories so simply written, and so pure, can capture a child's attention. These were the first historical fiction books I read; they're undoubtedly responsible for my love of the genre.
  • Anything by Robin McKinley. Her world-building is freaking amazing. I vividly remember one sweltering summer laying on a couch under the window a/c unit and reading The Blue Sword for the first time. I recently bought the digital version because the last time I tried to read my paperback, it fell apart.
  • The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I also remember exactly where I was when I first read The Hobbit--in front of the fireplace on a rare cold night in Florida. For the longest time, I re-read the Lord of the Rings trilogy every year. All three books. Middle Earth was like a real place to me. I wanted a vacation home in The Shire. My love of reading and writing fantasy was definitely born in Tolkien's world.

    Time to buy new copies
    Clearly, these books had a hand in shaping me as a human being and an artist. But what about you? What books have effected you so indelibly as a person and as a writer that you can't give them up?

    Writing Heroes: Operation Awesome

    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.

    I heart the 7 ladies at Operation Awesome. Since setting up camp in 2010, they've been hard at work making the writing world a happier place. They are, in a word, awesome. (Sidenote: As awesome is my adjective of choice, I will be substituting it with other nifty descriptors for the duration of this post, so as not to let the A-word take over. Consider this a Bookshelf Muse Thesaurus special.)

    First off, their book reviews are amazing. I read a lot, but I just don't have time to do many reviews, so I have a lot of respect for authors who do--particularly reviewers like these, who choose such exceptional books to plug. If you're looking for a tasty read, seriously. Check out their site.

    Second, and maybe most outstanding of all, are the Mystery Agent Contests. On the first day of each month, a mystery agent posts what she'd like to read at Operation Awesome. Then, for a finite period of time, followers can pitch any completed book of theirs that fits the agent's specs. Once 50 people have entered, the contest closes, the agent goes through the entries and picks the ones she finds most appealing. The agent's identity is revealed, and the winners get to send their work, in part or in whole, to be read. 

    Do you get how fantastic this is?? These are big-time agents, telling you exactly what they're looking for and inviting you to pitch any project that fits the bill. It's like...throwing your query into a slush pile that only contains 50 letters, and guaranteeing that it will be read by said agent. As opposed to the usual slush piles where Junior Assistant Editor X is assigned to read the thousands of queries that come in that month. 

    AS IF THAT WASNT MAGNIFICENCE ITSELF, when each agent is revealed, an interview is posted on the OA Mystery Agents page. These snippets are gold for anyone looking for an agent. They tell more about what the agent wants to see, what she's thoroughly sick of, submission pet peeves, etc. This makes it super easy for authors on the prowl--just click through the archived interviews to find out more about each agent. You'll also see a number of success stories, where OA followers scored representation through these monthly contests.

    So. As you can see, these ladies absolutely deserve to be exalted to hero status. Thank you, Lindsay, Amparo, Kristal, Kelly, Angela, Michelle, and Katrina, for being so, well, awesome

    To pay it forward, I will give a 1000-word critique to the Operation Awesome group. They can choose to give it away, assign it as contest fodder, or do whatever they like with it. As resident writing heroes, their blog will also have a permanent link in our header.

    So tell me you know the Operation Awesome ladies? 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: Cautious

    Definition:  watchful or careful; alert to risk

    Causes: experiencing negative consequences first-hand or witnessing them happen to others; a bad track record regarding risk-taking; overly protective parents; being given responsibility over others at a young age; believing in superstition and 'bad luck'; exposure to danger long-term; being a leader or adviser to people whose welfare depends on sound judgement

    Characters in Literature: Elrond (Lord of the Rings); Hermione Granger (Harry Potter); Stanley Yelnats (Holes)

    Positives: Cautious people are observant, connected to their environment and are aware of shifting dynamics. When emotions are high, cautious characters can restore balance and apply reasoning techniques to bring people back to a place where they can make decisions with a clear head. Cautious characters try and look before they leap, think before they act and generally are the ones still alive at the end of a Horror movie.

    Negatives:  Cautious characters can sometimes be seen as mood-killers when others want to be spontaneous. Worried about possible risks, this character type relies on data and fact--they need to know the possible variables and potential outcomes before they act. They also see it as their duty to point out risk factors to others, which can be viewed 'mothering'. Cautious people may have a hard time relaxing in an environment that is not part of their comfort zone and may be adverse to trying new things. If too much of a path is unknown, they are often unable to commit to it.

    Common Portrayals: Parents, politicians worried about voters; health and critical care specialists (surgeons, doctors, nurses and hospital staff); the police, firemen and other first responders; military leaders; publicists; people keeping secrets

    Cliches to Avoid: The sheltering parent who practically bubble-wraps their kid before letting them out the door; the teacher or committee that over plans, sucking all the fun out of an event; a cautious character used as a plot device, warning the main character that their reckless ways will land them in deep trouble...and then it does
     Twists on the Traditional Cautious:  
    • Anyone bearing responsibility for others is naturally cautious. However, few truly dangerous situations allow time to plan. Put a Cautious character responsible for more than himself in a situation with a high stakes and a ramped up 'ticking clock', forcing them to act.
    • Do caution and instinct go hand-in-hand, or do they lay at opposite ends of the spectrum? Explore this relationship with a cautious character--will their instinct lead to caution, or does caution actually hamper their instincts, forcing them to stop and think about the pros and cons rather than act in a way that feels natural?
     Conflicting Characteristics to make your Cautious Character unique or more interesting: Lazy, Independent, Irresponsible; Eccentric, Witty, Disorganized

    Ask a Designer About Covers & Reveal

    Becca and I are no good at keeping secrets, and everyone has been so incredibly patient with us over this book, so when when we saw our final cover yesterday we had to share it. So... Ta-da! 

    We are incredibly pleased with the job that our designer Scarlett Rugers has done here. It completely embodies the concepts of emotion and creativity, doesn't it?

    It is great to be one step closer to release. I know that most people have a date picked months in advance and carefully plan out each detail. We wanted this too, and months ago, targeted for an April release date. And then we found out that while Becca and I love working together, our governments don't. Needless to say, we are snipping our way through red tape, but hope everything will be fixed soon so we can release this book. We haven't given up on April, but likely we will have to push to May.

    So...back to the cover. :) We thought it might be great to have Scarlett on the blog to answer a few questions about covers to anyone curious about them. A good cover can do wonders and a bad cover can kill a book. But what constitutes a good or bad cover? How do trends change? What about colors, styles and what happens when a type of cover reaches saturation point? *cough cough floor-length ball gowns in YA cough cough*

    Scarlett has a great eye and has created some amazing covers. This is your chance to pick a designer's brain and ask about the most important things to factor in when creating a cover. Please leave any questions you have for her in the comments below! We'll gather them up and pass them on to her to answer. :)

    3000 Thank Yous WINNERS!

    Wow--what a fabulous contest! Thanks to everyone who entered, and to those who graciously volunteered to review The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide To Character Expression. So many more offered than we ever could have expected...Becca and I are speechless! We wish we could pass out review copies to everyone, but unfortunately we can't.

    On our form we asked about your audience and blog numbers. This is where the business end of things comes in, and I know you guys understand that. However, some folks wanted to review but didn't have a blog, or worried that their audience wasn't big enough for us.

    Our thoughts are this: writers are writers no matter if they blog or not, or where they spend their time. We don't want to exclude anyone based on numbers or anything else, so we've decided a portion of our review copies will be selected by random drawing. This way, everyone who showed an interest in being a reviewer has a chance to snag a review copy, regardless of blog size or where post your reviews. We'll be contacting those reviewers soon, and our sincere thanks to everyone offering to get involved. :)

    Okay, okay...I know everyone wants to get to the goods, so we'll move right on to the contest winners! picked:

    Leslie Carmichael is the winner of a book of by author Janice Hardy!
    Jennifer Garvin Jensen is the winner of a book by author Cynthia Leitich Smith!
    JGalt is a winner of a book by author Elizabeth Spann Craig!

    And the 10 winners of an ecopy of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Guide To Character Expression are:

    Meghan Kirkland
    Michelle D. Gregory
    Kristin Lenz
    Dana Evans
    Kate @ Sit There And Read
    Janet Smart
    Keyhole Conversations
    J. McSween
    Clare Chu
    Jami Davenport

    If you see your name, look for an email soon! And no worries, there will be more giveaways to follow. Why, we're creeping up on that magical 1 Million Hits, and something pretty sweet is in store!

    If you want to make sure you stay up to date on giveaways, great writing resources, tips and more, please sign up for our (occasional) newsletter:


    And one last thing...if you're deep in the editing cave, don't miss TAMING THE REVISION BEAST by Becca who's guest posting over at the National Novel Editing Month blog! She's got some excellent ideas on how to turn this huge job into a manageable project. Happy writing!

    Stop This Hamster Wheel! I Want to Get Off!

    Today, I'm welcoming my friend Donna Gephart, to talk about writing with Purpose, Peace, and Presence. This article was originally published in the Jan/Feb SCBWI bulletin and definitely bears repeating.

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, once in a while, we could access right brain bliss and creativity while quieting left brain chatter? If we could approach our work with focused purpose, peace and presence?

                In my twenties, I worked full-time, part-time and freelanced in my “spare” time.  Then came marriage. Kids. More work. More freelancing, etc. Basically, I got an A+ in being a Type A personality through my thirties and into my forties. I assumed the never-ending hamster wheel of life occurred outside myself, and I had to keep up.
                It took 46 years, a restorative yoga class and listening to Eckhart Tolle’s The New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose to understand the hamster wheel was spinning furiously, but it was inside my own mind. Ceaseless chatter filled my mind from waking till sleep. (If I slept.) Eckhart Tolle calls that voice “ego” and says it’s not who we are. It’s outside of our true essence.
                Some left brain chatter is necessary, of course. It’s the left brain that helps us make deadlines and arrive on time for meetings. But that same noisy left brain tells us we’ll never be as good as J.K. Rowling so why bother trying, and dust bunnies are spawning under our furniture because we’ve neglected cleaning to finish writing that last chapter and, um, let’s check our Amazon ranking one more time. Too much left brain chatter all day, every day leaves us exhausted.  It drains energy we could use to create art and literature.
                I have three words for my loquacious left brain:  SHUT UP ALREADY!
                Jill Bolte Taylor, in her book My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, wrote about the morning a stroke affected her brain’s left hemisphere. She was in a brilliant state of bliss with her left brain nearly incapacitated. It took her hours to activate her left brain enough to call for help. She survived and wrote about the nirvana of accessing the right side of our brains.
                Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, once in a while, we could access right brain bliss and creativity while quieting left brain chatter? If we could approach our work with focused purpose, peace and presence?

                My yoga teacher often asks during class, “What is your intention? In this class?  For your life? For our planet?
                What is your intention? What are you uniquely qualified to do? To what effort will you give unbridled enthusiasm?
                Thinking deeply about your intention/purpose will guide you away from actions that don’t support your purpose (i.e., scrubbing toilets) and toward actions that do support it (i.e., penning a novel that will illuminate the world for your reader).

                I recently discovered that sitting in stillness for a few minutes leaves me alert and aware, peace-filled and quietly energized. Want to try?
                Sit quietly. Palms up. Eyes closed. Focus on your breath. Feel it fill your body and release. If a thought flies into your mind, be aware that it doesn’t need to be acted upon and let it fly out again. Back to the breath.

                Being aware of your breath makes you unaware of your thoughts and draws you to the present moment. According to Eckhart Tolle, it’s really all we have. In the present moment, we’re not thinking of the speech we’ll give next month nor the mistake found in a book we’d written. We’re not recalling the sting of a recent rejection nor the deadline we might miss because of a family emergency. In the present moment, all memory and future thinking falls away. In this space, we can practice our writing and illustrating with clarity, purpose and focus.
                Yoko Ono once gave John Lennon a card that read simply: “Breathe.”
                So, every once in a while, hop off the hamster wheel in your mind.
                Consider your intention/purpose. Sit in stillness. Breathe.
                Then create with great purpose, peace and presence.

    Donna Gephart writes award-winning, funny fiction for tweens from her home in South Florida. Her new middle grade novel, Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen (Delacorte Press), is about a girl who will do anything to get on the TV quiz show Jeopardy! Visit Donna at

    Character Trait Entry: Affectionate

    Definitiondisplaying fondness or tenderness through action and deed

    Growing up in a close, nurturing family; feeling content and happy with life and wanting others to feel the same state of love and well-being; a desire to show appreciation to those who add to the richness of one's own life; a strong sense of empathy and connectedness with others; living in a family dynamic where physical touches and thoughtfulness are the norm; being in love

    Characters in Literature:
     Diana Barry (Anne of Green Gables); Mrs. Bucket (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory); Romeo and Juliet; Beth (Little Women)

    Affectionate characters have a knack of making those around them feel special and valued. They raise the spirits of others, love unconditionally, and tend to focus on a person's positive attributes not their negative ones. Affectionates are open, giving, and put themselves whole-heartedly into situations involving family and friends. They are not stingy with praise or gratitude and their kind gestures and affectionate touches reinforce how much they care. Affectionates are quite loyal and protective of those closest to them.

    Affectionates can sometimes make other people uncomfortable through their openness and readiness to offer attention. While a kiss on each cheek might be an acceptable way to greet for an Affectionate, it may lead to awkwardness when bestowed on someone not expecting something so intimate. Affectionates also sometimes blur the line between private and public, and displays of affection may be viewed as inappropriate to others. People who tend to be more reserved may find an Affectionates' behavior off-putting. Showing too much affection may also damage relationships if the feelings motivating such actions are not returned in kind.

    Common Portrayals:
    Kindly grandmothers, close sibling relationships, children with their parents; people and their pets; couples in love

    Cliches to Avoid:
    The fake Affectionate socialite, who acts one way in private but another in public,  bestowing air kisses and "Darling" platitudes for show only; the obsessive Affectionate who tries to win over the love of another, ignoring every rejection signal than comes his way; 'baby talk' between couples in the honeymoon stage of their relationship

    Twists on the Traditional Affectionate:  
    •  Affectionates are energized and fulfilled through giving, loving and being open. Place a character with this trait in a high stake situation that requires the opposite: secretiveness, distance and reserved behavior. 
    • Affectionates tend to go out of their way to not hurt or harm. What if to serve the greater good, an Affectionate needed to reject another, and not be gentle about it?
    • Place an Affectionate into a situation where they must successfully work alongside someone who has directly hurt someone they deeply care about.
    Conflicting Characteristics to make your Affectionate unique or more interesting: selfish, impulsive, witty, shy, honest, proper, disorganized

    Book Review: Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen

    Now, normally, The Bookshelf Muse isn't about reviewing books. But we ARE all about helping other writers, and when I heard that my friend Donna's newest book was soon to be released, I begged her for a sneaky-peaky. And I'm so glad I did because it's definitely worth blogging about:

    Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen

    Blurb: Olivia Bean knows trivia. She watches Jeopardy! every night and usually beats at least one of the contestants. If she were better at geography, she would try out for the show’s kids’ week. Not only could she win bundles of money, she’d get to go to the taping in California, where her dad, who left two years ago and who Olivia misses like crazy, lives with his new family.

    One day Olivia’s friend-turned-nemesis, Tucker, offers to help her bulk up her geography knowledge. Before Olivia knows it, she’s getting help from all sorts of unexpected sources: her almost-stepdad, superannoying Neil; her genius little brother, Charlie; even her stressed-out mom. Soon she has breezed through the audition rounds and is headed for Hollywood! But will the one person she wants to impress more than anyone else show up to support her?

    Now, I don't read a lot of middle grade, and I hardly ever read contemporary. But I. Loved. This. Book. Donna has a gift for creating quirky but likable characters that everyone can relate to, and Olivia Bean is no exception. This brainy heroine is in middle school hell, working her way through a new (and awkward) family dynamic, changing friendships, and the weirdness of 7th-grade boys. Her trials are believable and contemporary, but still unique--how many kids dream of winning Jeopardy!? And right up to the end, I didn't know how it would all wrap up. I don't have much patience with predicability in fiction, so I really appreciated Donna's superb storytelling that kept me involved to the very end.

    This book will be available for purchase on March 12th, but you can pre-order at Amazon, put it on your To-Read shelf at Goodreads, or head over to Donna's blog to read about her and all of her excellent books.

    Congrats, Donna! You are a wonderful and talented human being and I wish you huge success!

    Writing Hero: Martha Alderson

    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.

    Today I'm celebrating the incredible Martha Alderson (AKA The Plot Whisperer)!

    Martha is the complete PLOT package for writers. Not only does she have an amazing blog (Plot Whisperer for Writers and Readers) with a TON of excellent articles and resources, she is also the mastermind behind PlotWriMo (a plot-fest during the month of December), Blockbuster Plots for Writers & has a dedicated You Tube channel which looks at step-by-step planning to Plot a Novel (or screenplay, memoir, etc.) This series is so incredibly helpful for anyone looking to build strong novel structure! She tackles everything in this 27 video plot smorgasbord: thematic tension, conflict resolution, turning points, protagonist & antagonist development, setting, sub-plots and more. It is a MUST-WATCH!

    Martha is E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E, running fantastic workshops on plotting, speaking at conferences and hosting incredibly helpful retreats for writers. She's also the author of The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Story Structure Any Writer Can Master, and Blockbuster Plots. She loves to teach and it shows, and she has mentored thousands of writers and screenwriters along the way. Did I mention we have the same agent? We do!

    This is really only an overview of the AWESOME-THAT-IS-MARTHA. I strongly recommend you check out these links to really see how she can help you with your writing, just like I did. Don't forget to sign up for her e-zine on Plot Tips, too.

    Thank you Martha for being one of my WRITING HEROES. So much work has gone into your websites and your vlog boggles the mind. You inspire me and I appreciate all you do! :)

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

    So tell me you know The Plot Whisperer? 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: Thrifty

    Definition: marked by economy and good management

    Causes: having economical or penny-pinching parents, growing up in an environment of need, having a desire for efficiency, a fear of going without, a fear of what the future may hold

    Characters in Literature: Marilla Cuthbert (Anne of Green Gables), Dicey Tillerman (Homecoming), Mrs. Weasley

    Positives: Thrifties are not wasteful. They make the most of what they have. Their thriftiness in the area of money may cause them to be economical in other areas, too--with their time and materials, for example. When others are in need because they haven’t been careful with their resources, Thrifties usually don’t have to go without, and they may be in a position to help others or further themselves. Their penchant for saving rather than spending makes it easier to buckle down during difficult times.

    Negatives: Because Thrifties are so used to saving, they often have trouble spending. Their compulsion save can turn them miserly or stingy. Other people may view Thrifties as tightfisted because of their self-discipline. On the other hand, Thrifties may look down on others as being wasteful or extravagant. They may view money, resources, or results as being more important than people, which could make it difficult for them to relate to others.

    Common Portrayals: the elderly, accountants, bankers, single parents

    Clichés to Avoid: the elderly woman with no bank account but thousands of dollars stuffed in mattresses and cookie jars around her house; the crotchety gajillionnaire who has scads of money but no joy and no one to share life with; the single mom that counts every penny and goes without so her children can have what they want (while this is a real and admirable character in the real world, it's has been done a lot in fiction; utilize with care)

    Twists on the Traditional Thrifty:

    • Thriftiness is a usually a characteristic that goes back to a person’s childhood or a specific event/time period. What about a wasteful person who must become thrifty in order to accomplish a certain goal?
    • Thrifties are so often portrayed as stingy. Twist the cliché by making your Thrifty generous and unselfish.
    • Make things difficult for your Thrifty by surrounding him with extravagant characters.
    • Make thriftiness a negative trait in society--something your Thrifty has to overcome, rather than something to strive for.
    Conflicting characteristics to make your Thrifty unique or more interesting: generous, wild, irresponsible, immature, foolish, glamorous

    Forty Years of SCBWI Wisdom

    Before I get to today's post, I'd like to remind everyone that we're in the middle of a SPECTACULAR 3000-Follower-Celebration-Giveaway Extravaganza, complete with fabulous prizes and exciting news. The contest will continue through March 12th. Here are the details, in case you missed it. 

    You're probably expecting a weather thesaurus entry today, but, quite frankly, Angela and I have reached the limits of our meteorological knowledge. I'm not Jim Cantore, people. Thank goodness, because my cousin has a huge stalker-ish crush on him and her confusing me with Mr. Cantore would be creepy on a number of levels. That being said (although it probably shouldn't have been), hopefully you've been inspired and informed by the 35+ weather entries we were able to offer. Another thesaurus will be forthcoming, sometime after the April release of the ebook & print version of The Emotion Thesaurus. And now...on to today's post.

    I recently attended a Florida SCBWI conference in Miami, and holy cannoli, it was totally awesome. There were nuggets a-plenty to glean, but the coolest presentation, imo, was the one given by Lin Oliver, co-founder of the SCBWI. In her talk, Lin reviewed keynote presentations from the past 40 years and picked out recurring themes--writing truths that never seem to go out of style. Here are the common threads she found, and my summary of what she had to say on each:

    1. Take lots of showers. The inspiration for writing is in the subconscious and you can’t just power through that. The muse doesn't want to be forced; she wants to be set free. This is why so many of our good ideas come to us in the shower, or while washing dishes, or driving the kids to school. So put down the horsewhip and relax. Release yourself from the job of writing and open yourself up to the inspiration.
    2. Read deeply. Develop your own personal canon of literature that’s meaningful to you, that inspires you, and revisit the titles often.
    3. Keep a journal. As artists, we’re interesting because we have many thoughts. Write them down, then see where they take you.
    4. Follow your weirdness. Ask big questions. Embrace your different-ness.
    5. Do the work. Enough said.
    6. Write in scenes. Characters need to move forward. Every scene must move the story forward
    7. Frustrate your main character. We did a whole post on this, so I'll just leave the link.
    8. Build your vocabulary. This doesn't mean more words that are bigger. The idea is to use few words that are the right words.
    9. Eavesdrop. We are writers of dialogue. Dialogue is the oxygen of the story, and it's all about ear. The most important skill of a writer is listening.
    10. Read everything aloud. Reading aloud develops your writer’s ear like listening to music develops your musical ear.
    11. Shorten it up. No explanation needed.
    12. Don’t ever talk down. Avoid sentimentality, reminiscence, and empty emotion.
    13. Do not preach. Every writer has virtues and themes that are important to them, but they don't need to be soapboxed. Allow them to come through in the writing. Explore your own values through your writing. Have influence, not an agenda.
    14. Give the children the power. It’s not a children’s book if the children don’t solve the problem.
    15. Join the tribe. Children’s writers have optimism for the future, a belief in the capability of young people, and a lot of love in our hearts. Join up, through critique groups, conferences, author events, promoting each others' books, etc.

    A lot of these, we've heard before, yet so much of it still rings true for me. And though most of this is nothing new, there are still a bunch that I personally need to work on. #9, for instance. What about you? Is there anything on this list that jumped out at you?


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