Are You an Obsessive Series Reader?

If you read and enjoyed Book One of a series, do you then have to read all of the rest? I just finished reading all eleven books in JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series–I started on March 29, and chewed through all of them by this past Saturday.

As I step out of this Ward fog, life is still going on around me. And I’m kind of relieved actually. I really have other things I need to be reading, but more importantly–doing. Because when I get my teeth on a series like this, I’m reading when I don’t normally read. Barring something unusual going on, I read every day, but within certain time allotments. But this past month, I was reading in the mornings on weekends, or coming home from work and reading, when I should be concentrating on writing or revisions.

But I also miss the Brothers! I love getting immersed in a world like that, with an author who delivers. I’m not usually someone who tears up reading romances, but man, the emotional rollercoasters she executed were quite something, and more than once had the ol’ tear ducts working. I think my favorites were V and Z stories, and my heart just broke for Qhuinn. And Lover At Last was my first M/M Romance. I think my least fave was Phury’s, which was disappointing because I was really looking forward to his.

Reading them also had a side benefit–they were a great lesson in Deep POV writing. If you’ve been wanting to see Deep POV in action and don’t mind walking on the dark side for your romance, you can’t go wrong reading these.

What about you? Do you chew through a series that grabs you to the exclusion of other things you should be doing? Have you read the BDB series? Which were your faves?

Agent Pitch Prep Tip: Make Dossiers

agent_megibowConference seasons is here again! Some of you may be headed to the RT Convention coming up shortly and participating in their Pitch-a-Palooza, or taking advantage of the pitch appointments at the RWA conference, or those at regional conferences. Whichever you’re doing, it’s best to be prepared. I’ve now pitched seven times at three different conferences and I thought I’d share one of my tips: Make a dossier on each agent!

This serves several purposes:

  • Ensures you’ve researched the agent
  • Helps you get to know them a little before you meet them
  • Helps make you feel like you’re prepared
  • Provides you with info to help break the ice
  • Gives you something to review quickly while you’re waiting for the appointment to start

This last is super-important if you’re pitching to more than one. You can quickly review and remind yourself that yep, this is the one that likes The Hobbit, or this is the one that loves dorky heroes. Whatever it is that you have in common that will help cement that agent in your mind before you go in.

Things to include:

  • Photo
  • Agent Name (Duh)
  • Name of Agency
  • Location of their office
  • Who their agency represents (only list those authors you know or are familiar with)
  • Who they represent (again, just the ones you’re familiar with)
  • Books they like (Obviously only ones that you like too or that might be comps for your work)
  • Other Items of Note (anything else about what they’re looking for, personality quirks you have in common, anything else that’s relevant to your project. I knew one agent hated having pitches that started with the author handing her a business card, so I made sure to note that)

Things I didn’t list, but that could be good to add:

  • Questions to ask
  • Possible icebreaker topics

I took these sheets and made a folder with each one, complete with a label printed for the tab.

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What if you don’t find much?

Some agents keep a low profile on the web (like mine!). But still it helps to put whatever you can find. To the right is all I could glean on my agent before I pitched to her. But it really helped to review this and know what she looked like. Be careful what you do find on the web–QueryTracker accidentally had Vicky Dreiling listed as being represented by her and it turned out that was incorrect. Double-check what you find with another source.

Anyway, I think my ice-breaker was going to be about her looking for quirky characters, but it turned out I didn’t need one. We were interrupted right when I sat down because I’d dropped my little stuffed Yoda that I had attached to my conference bag as a mascot and quick way to identify it amongst other bags. We had a laugh over it and she said “I love Yoda!” and off we went.

After the pitch

Afterward, I wrote down what they wanted on the sheet and their contact info. If they gave me a business card, I attached it. It also came in handy to keep any relevant info that transpired afterward in that folder or written on the sheet (like date partial full sent, reply, etc).

What about you? Have you used something like this and did you find it helpful? If you haven’t, would doing this help you? Can you think of other things to add that might be good to keep track of?

There’s More to Paranormal Than Fang, Fur and Wings

Today I’m over at Paranormal Unbound with a post called “There’s More to Paranormal Than Fang, Fur and Wings.” Are non-creature but otherworldly stories paranormal? Is there room for time travel and the like? Come on over and visit and give your opinion!

Paranormal Unbound

Hi, I’m Angela, and I don’t write about supernatural creatures. (LOVE to read them though!) What the heck am I doing on a paranormal group blog then? Good question.

There seems to be a prevailing belief that paranormal romance is purely a romance involving some kind of supernatural creature, be it vampire, were, angel, demon, or what-have-you. And the sheer numbers of these stories out there help reinforce this conclusion. Many of them are wonderful explorations into what it means to be different, or human, and synthesizing or creating complex myths and worlds.

It’s so pervasive, I can’t tell you the number of times my time travel romance MUST LOVE BREECHES was dinged by a contest judge for “not being a paranormal romance” and so shouldn’t have been entered in that category. But let’s step back. What is the definition of paranormal? If someone hurtling through time is not “beyond the…

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Melding the Enneagram with Brooks’ 3 Dimensions of Character

E-TypesNameI’ve been meaning to pen this post for a while, and Jami Gold’s post from yesterday, How to Use Character Flaws to Develop a Plot, spurred me on. In her post, she talks about using either the Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram to help with finding character flaws, and syncing them with Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Development.  Definitely scoot over there and read it–I’ll wait 😉

Back? Cool, huh? Can you see why we’re Beta buddies? We’re both plot nerds 🙂 I haven’t studied Hauge’s techniques, but I definitely will now. Another one I really like is Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing. It’s a must-buy, I think, but one of the aspects he covered that really stuck with me was his talking about the three dimensions of character. He says that all characters, like people in real life, have three dimensions, or aspects.

  1. First Dimension – Surface traits, quirks, and habits. These are things the world sees about this person, which may or may not be what the person thinks it says about them. It’s the person’s outward identity. In fiction, a writer can show aspects of a person’s character (what they drive, what they eat, etc) and a reader may or may not assign meaning to it. The reason it’s not good as a writer to stop here for main characters is that illuminating a character’s first dimension does not tell us his true self; it could all be a smoke screen.  If, however, as a writer, you show the meaning behind these outward traits, you’ve now crossed into the
  2. Second Dimension – The realm of backstory and inner demons.  In this dimension, the writer gives the backstory, agenda and/or meaning behind the surface traits, and what the reader assumed might be totally different. It adds depth to the character. It’s their inner landscape. It’s all the juicy backstory stuff that prompts, explains, and motivates the character’s first dimension choices of identity. First dimension is what you see– a guy with a tattoo. Second dimension is why he has that tattoo. Illuminating the second dimension creates reader empathy.
  3. Third Dimension – Where the true character emerges through choices made when something is at stake. Basically, when push comes to shove, just who is this guy? The true character is not defined by their inner demons and/or backstory until the character does something under pressure, which exposes who they truly are (good or bad). Usually in fiction, this decision comes at the end to show the character’s arc. It’s what shows the character as a villain or hero. A villain will continue to define himself by his backstory, while a hero will overcome it.

Around the same time I was digesting all the wonderful advice from Brooks, I was also obsessed with the Enneagram. I probably have about seven books on it. So when I read about the three dimensions of character, I saw a connection I could use with the Enneagram. Remember in Jami’s post where she talks about Average health and Healthy versions of the same personality? What I like to do is pinpoint a character in the Average health range and have their responses to stress, their third dimension choices, come from the Average health range. Then by the end of their arc, they’re making third dimension choices in the Healthy range.

So just how to use/study the Enneagram? Word of caution–you could easily get sucked in trying to find your own type and those of your loved ones. Try to stay focused on your characters. With that in mind, here’s some books I recommend to help with character development:

Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery — this is the one you want to get to learn about the stages of health for each personality type. It breaks it down to nine levels: three in the healthy stage, three in Average, and three in Unhealthy. To keep with Jami’s example of a Enneagram 2, Mother Theresa was a Level 1, a selfless giver. Tons of wonderful traits at this level, but when you get to the unhealthy levels? An unhealthy two partly corresponds to aspects of histrionic personality disorder in the DSM-IV psychiatric types! I like to put my characters at or around a Level 4 (Average, but at the highest rung for Average) and move them to Level 3 or 2.

Are You My Type, Am I Yours? : Relationships Made Easy Through The Enneagram – since I write romance, I like to use this to get some ideas for how their relationship dynamics might work. It has a comparison for each type match. So if you have a 2 with an 8, it’ll tell you what they like most about each other and what annoys them. For an in-depth look at the Enneagram, this is not your book, however. It’s pretty basic.

Believable Characters: Creating with Enneagrams – this is a good one for looking at the different types specifically with creating characters in mind. It goes into each types Inner Fear/Wound and their heroic strengths. If you’re on a budget, you can skip the Are You My Type book above, as this one also compares each type together in a relationship.


The Literary Enneagram: Characters from the Inside Out — This one is great too, but it approaches it in a different way. It goes through each type and uses examples from literature to demonstrate/show each type, from healthy to average to unhealthy.




Related posts:

Or if you’re of an age where this makes sense (I’m not), here’s another way to look at them 🙂

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So have you used the Enneagram or Myers-Briggs to help with character development?

Ack! I have a plot hole! Techniques to Solve in an Early Stage

download (5)So, last time I truly posted, I was taking a blogging hiatus to work on the sequel to MUST LOVE BREECHES. I’ve since then finished the first draft and have been working on high-level revisions since. I love plot and am a nerd about finding different ways to tackle looking at it. I definitely needed to find a different way to handle this one, because it had problems, and I knew it.

The biggest problem? I knew the ending before I ever started writing it, so my plot points just before the big Crisis were pushed to make this crisis happen. Result? It lacked believability and motivation. So much so, readers would’ve likely thrown the book at the wall.

Also, some of my major plot points were tied with the specific time period and I wanted to make sure the history was sound.

The first thing I did was make a spreadsheet with my scenes and it helped me a little–I saw gaps and plugged in new rows for scenes that needed to be there. When I thought I had it figured out, I transferred it to a Word Document that I created, where I just gave summaries of what happens in each chapter, a Chapter Outline. This I sent to one Welsh historian and a couple of Beta readers. Because of the possible plot problems, I didn’t want to wait until I had a readable full-length draft. I got great feedback and took that and revised the Outline again and sent it to a couple of other historians who helped me shore up the historical plot points.

But the Crisis? Yep, everyone came back and said it didn’t work–wasn’t believable. But it was the one thing in my whole plot I couldn’t throw out–it was the image I had in my head when I first started noodling this WIP around for possibilities and I also knew it was a strong image. So, it had to stay.

Back to the drawing board. I really worried each time I sat down to try to solve this that I wouldn’t figure it out. I felt like I was so close but couldn’t quite get there.

I could also tell that the Outline, while it helped as an instrument to gain feedback from others in an early stage, wasn’t helpful to me to try to make sense of it; I couldn’t play with it. Then I remembered my plotting board and fondness for stickies that I’ve used on other WIPS, so pulled it out and went to town.

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It helped me a little, some of the smaller plot issues I was able to see and fix by adding new stickies and moving others around. But the Black Moment leading up to the Crisis was still a problem. So I went to my trusty Beta partner Jami Gold and sent her my bulleted list of events leading up to the Crisis and she came back with a wonderful idea for the motivation, but also helped me look at the Black Moment I had and came up with some other suggestions for how to have it play out. This got my mental juices unblocked and at the plotting board I began making stickies, rearranging scenes, and then also saw how I could tie her idea in with the Antagonist and pull it all together. I also then saw that having a change of location helped raise the tension and stakes. I was then able to see how the heroine’s personality could be tweaked to make it even more impactful. Excited, I typed up version 3 of my Chapter Outline and sent it to Jami and some new victims for feedback.

But I can feel it–I can feel the story works now. My gut wasn’t wrong when I finished that first draft, and I’m so glad I listened to it and found a way to get valuable input in such an early stage. I really dreaded revising this WIP with my gut feeling that way, worried that I’d go to all this trouble revising and polishing and then have my gut proved right when Beta feedback came back and pointed out the plot problems. Now I feel much more confident going into actual revisions; the framework for the story is much more solid. Now I can work on all the other fun stuff I like to do during revisions and get this revised and polished. Now, hopefully, my Beta readers will be able to help see smaller issues instead of pointing out big macro issues that should’ve been firmed up before I ever got to that stage.

I also liked working with an outline and fiddling with it, not touching my prose at all. It was much easier to see, without running the risk of overreading the WIP too early.

So, to distill this for others that might be in the same boat (I’m a “plantser” –someone who does some pre-plotting but pantses the rest of the first draft):

  • Take your first draft and make a chapter outline. Mine came out to ten pages.
  • Just like in the Beta stage, get a variety of folks to look at it. I had historians who knew nothing about the writing craft, as well as others who did. Evaluate their comments just like you would on a full manuscript. See a pattern? You have a problem.
  • Fiddle and revise. Go back to any tools you’ve used in the past to help you look at your manuscript differently (for me it was the plotting board)
  • Get someone who is deeply familiar with plotting and structure, and that you trust to be honest with you, to take a look at it

How have you handled plot problems in the past? Have you also pulled in outside eyes at this early stage? Has it helped you? What techniques have you used to look at your plot in a high-level way?

DISCLAIMER: I don’t watch Dr. Who, so I have no idea if the image I used is a fair assessment of that episode, but I thought it seemed appropriate to the post to illustrate a problem common to many writers when working out their plot. Plus, appropriately enough, it deals with time travel 😉

Believability in high stakes with paranormal fiction–can death be pulled off?

download (5)!SPOILER ALERT! I will be mentioning by name the death of a secondary character in a Nora Roberts’ Circle Trilogy book, and characters in a Joss Whedon film, so if you’d rather not know, don’t read further.

Okay…

I’m the the middle of reading Morrigan’s Cross by Nora Roberts, and King just died and I didn’t have the reaction I think I probably should have last night, and it made me start to wonder, and so because of that, I thought ‘hey, self, blog post!’

So this isn’t any well thought out treatise, but rather my thoughts this morning in case anyone else could add to this.

Anyway, here’s how my reading experience went last night when I got to that part of the book: I completely missed that he was dead. Sure, I read the lines where he was drop-kicked over the edge of a cliff, but it didn’t click with me that that equaled truly dead (it also happened extremely quickly). So I’m reading further along and the other characters are all angry and weepy and I’m confused, because my brain hadn’t registered it. I kept expecting for it to be a mistake, for King to stumble back and say “I’m not dead, caught a ledge guys” and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. But it hasn’t happened (yet) and this got me to thinking:

is it harder to convince a reader of a character’s death when writing paranormal fiction?

heck, even Sherlock Holmes survived a fall like this. Are we now trained to think that if we don’t actually see the death, it hasn’t actually happened in fiction because too many times authors have pulled the gotcha?

Even if you do pull a gotcha (And Nora might still pull one with King; I haven’t finished it yet), as a writer you’d want the reader to still believe the death happened. But you don’t want to yank them too much and this book is a great example of this. I remember thinking when these characters who make up the team were first getting introduced that I hoped Roberts wasn’t going to kill one of them, and that if she did, I’d be really pissed. But when it happened, I didn’t throw the book at the wall, so she’d skillfully not gotten me too invested in the character. Looking back, he’s the only one, besides Larkin, whose head we haven’t hopped into, Nora-Roberts-style. And killing off a team member is a great device to show the stakes are real (Serenity!). But even in Serenity, we saw both Book and Wash truly die. The stakes were real and felt/mourned at the time. Here, I’m not feeling it, yet I wouldn’t have wanted to feel it too much. So it’s definitely a hard line to navigate.

Anyway, that’s it. Just wanted to put this out there and see if anyone else had thoughts on this 🙂

Do you think it’s harder to pull off a death in paranormal fiction? Have you read this book–what was your reaction? (don’t tell me the end)

Announcing a new Paranormal Group Blog!

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Super excited to announce the launch today of Paranormal Unbound, a new group blog dedicated to exploring the paranormal genre in books and pop culture! I’m proud to be one of nine published authors making up this blog! The others are Amber Belldene, Celia Breslin, Lexi George, Erica Hayes,  Suzanne Johnson, Lisa Kessler, AJ Larrieu and Elisabeth Staab! All week we are giving away copies of our book to celebrate. Stop on by and check us out!

Also, I wanted to let y’all know that I’m rededicating myself to posting regularly here again. The break was needed, but I need to get back into the swing o’ things! See ya around!