Finding the Time to Edit

This summer is the first time I’ve ever had a full-time job. Shocking, I’m sure. It’s led me to realize how spoiled I’ve been. As a student, I could stay up late writing and go to an early class without a problem, because I’d scheduled a two hour break in my day where I could eat lunch and take a quick nap to recharge for afternoon classes. No such luck with a full-time job.

I’m beginning to understand these adults around me who say they’ve started a novel, but can’t seem to find the time to complete it. When sleeping and writing compete for the time, writing usually wins for me. But now I’m not so sure. I come home from work exhausted after an 11 hour day so that it takes two hours, roughly, to get all my mental capacities back. That’s two hours I could have spent editing!

So to do my last round of edits on the WIP, I printed the entire draft and put it in a binder. I take it to work with me, and edit during my lunch break. I also try to sneak some edits in when I’m not on assignment. I had a goal to edit a chapter a day, but since I’m reading each chapter at least three times, I suspect my goal was a bit too lofty. (The good news is that I’m really liking the draft so far. It’s covered in pencil from my markings, but I’m finding more gems than rocks, proverbially speaking.)

So you full-time workers, do you have any advice for the newbie? How do you balance being a professional and a writer at the same time?

Developing Villainous Characters – Part 3

Just coming into my three-part series on developing villainous characters? Make sure to read my suggestions in part one and part two!

Give your villain/character a fatal flaw.
There are multiple movies that showcase this trick (Pulp Fiction, Scarface, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Romancing the Stone), and often it is the fatal flaw that brings the villain to their downfall, rather than the hero being the ultra-smart, ultra-handsome hero that we know he is. It adds complexity if the villain is the reason why he doesn’t win. Here is a great list of phobias to help you.

Give the villain a good side.
Surprise your reader by showing the softer side to your villain so that they’re not so sure he’s such a bad guy after all. If he can show he has a good side, then he gains the reader’s sympathy and suddenly makes things more complicated. Now that’s putting some twists into the mix.

Finally, maintain control over your villain.
Don’t just let him disappear at the end of the book! Give your reader a sense of closure, even if you’re writing a series. Your villain must suffer some sort of punishment/consequence for their actions, fitting to their crimes. Or, better yet, let them get away with a couple of things so the reader gets blindsided.

Thanks for participating! I hope to have another set of series about setting and research, two of my favorite topics. If you have a topic you want to discuss, contact me about guest posting!

Do you have any other tips and hints for developing villainous characters? Leave a comment and let everyone know about it!

Developing Villainous Characters – Part 2

Just coming into my three-part series on developing villainous characters? Make sure to read my suggestions in part one!

For part two, we’re going deeper into the mind and actions of the villain. We’re going to try to see the entire plot from the villain’s perspective, push ourselves to the limits, yet attempt to moderate how far we push our villain’s actions. So let’s get going! First and foremost, here is something that really helped me get into the mind of my villain: I suddenly realized that…

The villain in your story is the hero of his own story.
We always hear how we should write each scene from a single point-of-view. That is, no head-hopping to get multiple perspectives within a single scene. This fact helped me realize that if I were to switch around each chapter so that I told the story from the villain’s perspective, rather than the hero’s, I would have a greater, more realized understanding behind the villain’s actions.

By doing this, I grew to love my villain almost as greatly as I love my hero (that is, heroine), and sympathize with him as things didn’t go his way. As I wrote one of the villain’s climaxes, which happens to be different from the heroine’s, I wrote it with tears in my eyes because of the unfairness of it all. Yet, when I wrote the same scene from the heroine’s perspective, I felt sad, but justified.

Which leads me to my next point…

Don’t be afraid to go beyond evil in describing the villains actions.
It seems to me that, as writers, we tend to write what we want to read. At least, that seems to be what I do. And for some reason, readers like to read about particularly bad people and see what happens to them.

I used to be the sort of writer who didn’t make my villain to mean, or his actions too hurtful. I thought there was enough evil in the world, why should I write about it? And then it occurred to me that it is how we face evil that defines the good in us. That led me to writing villains who really do hurt others. But I still held back. I could write the scenes no problem, even chuckling along with the villain as his plans unfurled.

Which meant I wasn’t making him villainous enough. Rather than chuckling, I should have been shaking my head in dismay, because that is the sort of villain I like to read about. I want to see a villain that is cruel, and suffers the consequences for it… but it needs to be bad enough to warrant said consequences. So if you’re cringing while writing a scene, or reacting in some other way, you’re probably doing something right.

That being said, don’t overdo it, either.
Only make your villain as evil as he needs to be for your plot, and no one else’s. A sweet romance like Bright Arrows doesn’t deserve a Hannibal Lector, the same way Barnaby Barnacle from Babes in Toyland wouldn’t do Silence of the Lambs any justice. Determine the theme and purpose of your work to define the level of evil and goodness which should occur. Certain actions and motives won’t work for young adult, others won’t work for inspirational fiction, etc. Read books in your genre to get a feeling for what is appropriate.

For part three, I’ll finish my series on developing villainous characters by helping you flesh out your villain even more by adding unexpected details.

Do you have any other tips and hints for developing villainous characters? Leave a comment and let everyone know about it!

Developing Villainous Characters – Part 1

Due to finals, graduating, and spending time with the extended family, I’ve missed about 75% of Eliza’s villain month over at Tales of a Fantasy Scribbler. I did want to participate, but couldn’t commit due to my, uh, other commitments. So here is the first of my three-part series on developing villains, as my way to contribute.

First, research villain archetypes and decide which is the basis for your villain.
To do this, read Stella Cameron’s wonderful villain archetype summary or Tami Cowden’s sixteen villains, and pick your villain’s basis to your heart’s delight. Every character, and therefore villain, most likely fits some sort of generic archetype, at least to help you begin molding.

Now, the nice thing about Stella Cameron’s villain archetype summary is that it suggests generic back-stories that help explain why the villain is the way he is. Use this to your advantage by using this as a template and adding your own details to the mix. Tami Cowden’s sixteen villains, in comparison, has brief descriptions of the villains based on their generic motive and how they might pursue their villainy.

Keep in mind that the best characters have the most detail. For example, we’re fascinated by Hannibal Lector because he is so precise, and unbelievably detailed about his heinous crimes… it is art to him, the ultimate luxury. The luxurious and sensual nature of his descriptions about murder and cannibalism are what fascinate us, despite ourselves. Such a little detail, but a defining one.

So once you’ve determined your archetype, the next step is to add details that make the villain believable, rather than shallow and silly. To do that, you need to…

Give the villain a motive.
This is very similar to #1, but now you actually have to provide the details behind the archetype. Are they a spurned lover? Were they thrown out of their family/job? Do they just not take insults very well? Or all three? Personally, I think the more motive you give the character, the better.

It’s not enough to say he is the ignored second son, for instance, if you’re writing about a bitter villain out for revenge. Sure, maybe the family didn’t treat him the way they treated the firstborn. That happens. But what if the firstborn stole the villain’s girlfriend? Or actively turned his parents against his younger brother, depriving the brother of nurturing, thus turning the younger brother into a villain?

Then again, sometimes it’s nature rather than nurture which turns our character’s villainous. Maybe your villain, for some reason, feels entitled to everything, and when she doesn’t get his way, it’s a personal insult. Or, perhaps she is just the jealous type, and never learned how to control it.

Of course, now that we have a skeleton, of sorts, that gives us an initial definition of your villain, here comes what I think might be the most important step when working on your villain. You need to make sure to…

Devote as much time defining the villain as you do the hero.
The hero and villain are supposed to be antagonists of one another, right? (You should be shaking your head yes.) A synonym of antagonize is “oppose,” meaning they must be opposite and balance one another. But if one character is weaker, then the duo is weak altogether. If you spend three months developing the hero, I hope you’re doing the same for the villain, for the following reasons:

  1. One strong character cannot carry an entire plot.
  2. If you over-develop your hero and under-develop your villain, your characters will fall flat because of the lack of balance.
  3. One weak main character can ruin your plot.
  4. When your readers ask why your character did/did not do something, it’s better to pull out a journal full of details about the character, rather than to sit there blinking.
  5. It’s fun to develop the villain! My next post will go into more detail about why this is, even for those of us who don’t like to hurt our characters (therefore making our villain weak and laughable).

Do you have any other tips and hints for developing villainous characters? Leave a comment and let everyone know about it!

Thursday Fifteen: Book/Fiction Marketing

Today’s theme for my Thursday Fifteen (and here I was afraid I wouldn’t get thirteen items each week!) is book marketing, something many of us assume our publisher will handle. Wrong-o! In fact, if you pitch a book with a complete marketing plan, you’ll have a better chance at getting an agent/publisher. The book biz is hard work for everyone involved, so an author who shows foresight into the process gets brownie points. So here is my list to help you rack up those points!

  1. YouTube. Have any of you seen Meg Cabot’s viral marketing videos? You have to see them, they are hilarious. Obviously this method doesn’t work for everyone, especially if you’re camera shy. But if you have a penchant for acting and/or chatting, people always love a friendly face and a two minute video that makes them laugh. There are also book trailers, but in all honesty, I still haven’t seen one that inspired me to pick up the book.
  2. Author website. And while we’re talking about Meg Cabot, check out her stellar website. This was obviously professionally designed. Even if you can’t afford big bucks, try to find a reputable web designer, please. For some authors, a blog is sufficient for their online presence. It’s up to you to decide what’s best.
  3. Virtual Book Tour. Free and easy for everyone involved, you visit a series of reader/writer/niche blogs and talk about your book, or the issue the book tackles, etc. For instance, when my WIP is ready for full-blown marketing, I mean to find websites dealing with adult grief because that is a major thematic issue my MC struggles with.
  4. Polish your “About the Author” blurb for your book, any blogs you guest post for, your website, and your own personal blog. Then if people talk about you they have solid facts to reference from your press kit.
  5. Use typical marketing materials differently. Bookmarks can be more than bookmarks, you know. Leave a copy when you mail your bills, leave it with your tip at a restaurant, or go to your local library/bookstore and find books similar to yours and leave an unexpected freebie for the reader.
  6. Put your website URL in your e-mail signature.
  7. Make sure to comment on the blogs you read because you’re introducing yourself to the writing community. Making consistent, frequent, and insightful comments are even better, because now you’re impressing the writers who impressed you, and (maybe) they will be more likely to take a chance and write a blurb for you once you’re in the publishing phase.
  8. Everyone likes free stuff! Have contests where you give away books (yours or someone else’s). Provide short stories that relate to your books or are a completely different genre.
  9. Talk to your local libraries and independent bookstores months in advance of your release date. These places love local authors, especially if they have a marketing plan all ready to go. Make sure there’s something in it for them, and they’ll give you the opportunity of a book reading/signing. You self-pubbed authors, Barnes&Noble and Borders are hard to get into. Just a warning. Their policy is to only stock books that sell highly on their website, and they expect to be compensated for their time. Stick with the local clubs, libraries, etc. If there are reading groups in the area, even better.
  10. Join social networking sites like Facebook  (don’t forget to friend me!) and Shelfari. Shelfari is excellent for reader/writers because we’re networking through one of our biggest passions, books.
  11. I live on an urban university campus where there are fliers everywhere for clubs, events, etc. Why not make a flier for your book with tear-offs that have your website address on them? Leave them on your library bulletin boards, etc. If you’re allowed to do the same at work, leave a copy there, though, if you didn’t know that everyone, at one point in their life, has started a book, you’ll soon hear about it as your co-workers realize what you’ve accomplished.
  12. If someone is trying to sell you something, tell them you will listen to their pitch if they’ll listen to yours. (This is a great way to lose telemarketers, and so much fun!)
  13. Have special business cards for your writing career made up with your book cover on one side and your contact info on the other. Think of it as a special-sized bookmark and apply #5.
  14. I haven’t tried this website, but Author Marketing Expert  provides a free marketing newsletter and offers services to those who just don’t know where to begin (even after reading this supremely helpful list, though I say it myself, har-har).
  15. Ask someone (someone objective) to write a book review.

Thursday Thirteen: Exercises to Prevent Carpal Tunnel

Morning Yoga II by Shanya
As writers, we tend to spend a lot of time in front of the computer. As a computer scientist, my time in front of the computer is magnified, because it’s my livelihood and my hobby. Over the past year-and-a-half, I’ve come to regret that sort of dedication to the machine, as I’ve suffered back injuries, and continued leg pain if I don’t stretch and move away from the computer regularly. And I’m not even 25, yet! This is a good thing, however. I’ve rediscovered the joy of writing in a paper journal (I hope to post some of my scribbles soon), reconnected with yoga, learned t’ai chi, and I am a much happier person all-around.

So here are the thirteen exercises and bits of information to keep in mind. Please print this list and do try the exercises yourself. I’d sincerely not wish my own back/wrist troubles on my worst enemy.

  1. To start out, most forearm/wrist pain comes from tightness in the neck and lower back. So if you start to feel shooting pains of any sort, step away from the computer and start moving around.
  2. Make sure to stretch SLOWLY, maintain proper posture, and always return to the natural face-forward position between each stretch. Rolling your head around is bad for you because you’re actually popping your tendons and muscles over your joints, which can lead to tenderness and eventually swollen bursas.
  3. Braces should only be used when you are feeling actual pain, because a brace will actually weaken your muscle. The brace does the work your muscles should be doing, so when you rely on that you might be prolonging the problem.
  4. Touch your chin to your chest/collar bone. Hold. This one is the hardest for me because I like to hunch my shoulders. Don’t hunch your shoulders! Keep them relaxed and dropped, breathe deeply, hold by counting to ten, and then raise your chin and look forward. Then sigh, because you’ve just released some upper-back/neck strain and it feels oh-so-nice.
  5. Try to touch your ear to your shoulder. You can use your opposite hand to help pull your head over, as long as you aren’t forcing anything. Hold. Return to the natural face-forward position and do same to the other side.
  6. Touch your chin to your shoulder. Hold (or count to five/ten). Return to the natural face-forward position before doing the same to the other shoulder. You should start to feel pressure release in your neck, and possibly your back if you’re very tight.
  7. Put your arms out perpendicular to the sides of your body. Raise your hands at the wrist so your fingers point toward the ceiling, hold. Drop your hands at the wrist so your fingers point to the floor, hold.
  8. Do thumb stretches. This loosens your forearm and hand muscles.
  9. Clench and unclench your fingers, ten times to get the blood rushing.
  10. Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Now s-l-o-w-l-y fold forward until your chest touches your knees. If you can’t bend that far forward, go as low as you can, making sure to keep your shoulders down, your limbs relaxed, and no sensations of pain. Count to five. S-l-o-w-l-y sit upright. Did I mention to go slowly? This is very important because you can hurt your back if you do this move quickly.
  11. Hold your hands up as if you’re being robbed (try to keep them just before your shoulders, palms facing forward). Hunch your shoulders as high as you can, keeping your hands in front of your shoulders. Do this slowly, ten times.
  12. Now do the same as # 11, except pull your shoulders back rather than up, keeping your elbows down. These two exercises strengthen your upper back muscles which support your neck.
  13. Stretch your hamstrings and hips, which support your lower back muscles, by crossing your right foot in front of your left and bending as slowly as you can at the waist. Try to touch the floor. Support as much of your weight on your right foot; you should feel the stretch in your left hip. Hold, and as you feel your muscle relax, try to get half an inch closer to touching the floor. If you can’t, no big deal. Slowly stand up, switch your legs so your left foot is in front of your right, and bend again. This is my favorite stretch because it targets about four different muscle groups. I always feel better after this one.

How do you battle the hazards of being a butt-in-chair writer? Do you take walks? Jog? Play with the kids? Or do you try things like yoga and t’ai chi (my new favorite pasttimes)? I’m always looking for new ways to stay healthy, so leave a comment with your suggestions!

* Inspired by my comments at The Good Girls Kill for Money Club.
** I’m not a doctor. If you’re feeling actual pain, please get help. Don’t forget that pain is our body telling us we’re doing something wrong!