"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." - Walt Disney

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Unsolved

Unsolved cases are a common theme in books, movies, and television. We crave puzzles, and our curiosity drives us to resolve a mystery.

Bestselling fiction author DiAnn Mills is just one example of a writer using real-life cold cases in her writing. Her newest series is based on Houston FBI cold cases. Many authors have used unsolved murders, and unexplained phenomenon to create their own tales. Our obsession with the Titanic, the disappearance of Amelia Earheart, UFO's, and the Bermuda Triangle are just a few other examples.

I challenge you to a writing exercise. Take all of the available research on an unsolved case, and condense it into a feature-length story. If you choose a homicide case that has been under investigation for years, especially if there was a trial, you will have to condense hundreds of pages of material into one compelling story. Once you have mastered all the facts, see if you can figure out exactly what happened and why the killer has been able to elude the police.

What are some of your favorite unsolved cases?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Teaching

Just as learning is an important function of the hero, teaching or training is a key function of the Mentor. Training sergeants, drill instructors, professors, trail bosses, parents, grandparents, crusty old boxing coaches, and all those who teach a hero the ropes, are manifesting this archetype.

Of course, the teaching can go both ways. Anyone who has taught knows that you can learn as much from your student(s) as they do from you.

Who have been some of your favorite teachers, Mentors, and/or hero turned Mentor?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Submissions

I'm working to complete several submission pieces right now. Deadlines are looming and I'm excited about finishing a few projects.

Most recently I've been writing for Southeast Texas Family Magazine - you can see my April article here: http://setexasfamily.com/2014/03/25/11-perfect-picnic-spots/ and for Southern Writer's Magazine - you can find some of my agent interviews in the March and May issues. They are both good quality magazines working toward meeting the needs of two of my passions - family and writing.

Some of my other submission ideas (for other publications) have fallen by the wayside. I'm hoping to get back to them when I have more time. If you're looking for some submission opportunities, try my post last week on Markets. or try a short story contest from Southern Writer's Magazine: http://www.southernwritersmagazine.com/contest.html.

What submissions pieces are you working to complete?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Reading

"Reading usually precedes writing and the impulse to write is almost always fired by reading. Reading, the love of reading, is what makes you dream of becoming a writer."   - Susan Sontag

Most writers don't have a favorite book, they have a hard time narrowing the choice down to just one. They may name several, a series, or a favorite author instead.

However, if you ask any teacher, or successful author for their writing tips, reading will certainly be recommended. In fact, for many, reading occupies more of their day than the act of writing. When asked to describe his daily routine, Portuguese Nobel Prize winning novelist Jose' Saramago answered, "I write two pages. And then I read and read and read."

If you plan to write, keep a reading journal. Record what you read, what you liked, or what struck you as powerful.  Thinking about and understanding why a book appeals to you will help you develop as a writer. Try reading a variety of genres. It will inform your writing and help you understand the minds of your own readers.

So, what are you reading? What books do you recommend, and why?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Questions

Whether you are interviewing someone for an article or a character for your novel, you should vary your questioning styles to gain the most valuable information. Here are four of the best type of questions to prepare.

1. Closed - These can be answered with a one or two word response, usually "yes, or "no". Generally, it is better to avoid these unless you want a precise response that you have not received using other methods. Ex: "Do you feel he is the best candidate for the position?"

2. Open - Requires a more elaborate response, giving the interviewer more details. Most closed questions can be transformed into open by adding "Why" or "How" to the beginning. Ex: "Why do you feel he is the best candidate for the position?" You can also gain more expansive information if you lead with an encouraging statement, such as "Can you explain...", "Describe...", or "Tell me the story of..."

3. Rephrasing - If you are unhappy with a response, try rephrasing or repeating to gain more information. Politicians are used to this media tactic, and will continue to evade the same question repeated several different ways. But it's a useful strategy to employ with other contacts when they have avoided the question or you would like a more detailed response.

4. Loaded or Leading - You want to avoid these type of questions at first. If you begin a question by providing the answer in the beginning, some subject will close down as they will feel you are telling them what to think.  Ex: "Don't you feel he is ill qualified to be a candidate?" However, if an interview is going nowhere fast, these questions are a good way to inspire emotional responses, and answers. Ex. "Would you agree that...", or "Is it fair/accurate to say that..."

Friday, April 18, 2014

Perseverance

"Perseverance is the difference between good and great..."

The American work ethic is based on the idea that hard work is rewarded. Do you believe this to be true, or do you think that there are other mitigating factors to take into consideration when it comes to success? Is all that hard work really worth it?

For example, take the classic children's book, The Little Engine That Could. In print for more than 100 years and still selling 10 million copies annually in English alone, this story is a metaphor for Americas can-do attitude. While larger locomotives insisted they couldn't get over the mountain, the smaller locomotive chugged along, all the while saying, "I think I can, I think I can." Even when faced with overwhelming odds, the little train persevered, finally getting to the other side of the mountain.

How about you? Has perseverance ever paid off for you?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Options

In some stories, tension is created when the hero is running out of options. The coping mechanisms no longer work, other people get fed up with the hero, or the hero is placed in increasingly dire straits until the only way left is to jump into the adventure.

In Sister Act, Whoopi Goldberg's character witnesses a mob murder and has to go into hiding as a nun. Her options are limited - pretend to be a nun or die.

Other heroes don't even get that much choice - they are simply "shanghaied" into the adventure, conked on the head to wake up far out at sea, committed to adventure whether they like it or not.

Tension can also be felt when a character knows what they want, but then discover they have options they never dreamed of, or thought possible before. Will they leave their job, home, friends and family for the adventure?

How do you use options to create tension, or dilemma for your characters?