Thursday, December 6, 2012

NaNoWriMo and Me Redux

Well, 30 November has been and gone and I completed NaNoWriMo. Yes—applause, applause— I did it. I finished off with a very healthy 51000+ word count, and I will be submitting the book—The Lady’s Revenge— to my romance publishers (gulp, yes I write historical romance for fun) MusaPublishing. This is the sixth novel I have written in the romance genre and it is a whole lot of fun. My romance pseudonym is Arabella Sheraton. You can find my Regency romance books on Amazon.

So, what did I learn from NaNoWriMo?
I learned how to write a lot in a short space of time and under constant pressure. The problem with authors is that there’s always time to fiddle about, tweaking a paragraph, rewriting a section, and changing words here and there. Often a whole day passes, with no real word count achieved. The pressure of NaNoWriMo soon clears that up!
My own style is linear, with deviations into the subplots. I often have whole scenes or else the ending written in my head, and I occasionally write a scene that is much later in my work. However, I usually progress at a steady pace, tying up the plot links as I go along. NaNoWriMo forces you to see the whole story in a big global picture. Well, if you want to keep track of where you’re going, that’s what I mean. I like to develop chapters by going back after a day or two, and fleshing them out. Not a chance here. With a word count pressing,one has to leave the cosmetic stuff until much later.

One might think that just over 1600 words a day is not difficult to achieve. No, it’s not, but how about the days when you just cannot write because pesky old life and responsibilities get in the way? I found a sense of drive developing in me, like an obsession. I had to get over the daily word count; I just had to!
Then there is the ‘don’t edit’ rule. Impossible. I must edit as I go along. I would sneak back, under cover of darkness and edit what I had done that day. I could not bear the red and green lines, bleeping signals that my grammar and spelling looked horrendous in the flurry of flying fingers. Actually, my spelling is perfect; it’s my typing that isn’t.

I am a disciplined writer. Being a writer is like having permanent homework; you feel guilty if you are not pounding away at the keyboard. However, this was a different kind of discipline, or even pressure. There was a definite end date in sight. Many writers let the work dictate the finish time. Not so with NaNoWriMo.

I am reminded of lines from Andrew Marvell (metaphysical poet 1621-1678) in a poem entitled To His Coy Mistress:

“ ...But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near…”

Kristen Lamb talks about discipline in her blog post entitled NaNoNowWHAT? Small Steps for BIG Change. She discusses how you don’t always get what you wish for: you get what you work for.

Becoming an Olympic champion requires more than just athletic prowess; it also depends on the ability to focus, mental toughness, drive, optimism and emotional control.
We could just as easily reword this statement:

Becoming a successful author requires more than just creative talent; it also depends on the ability to focus, mental toughness, drive, optimism, and emotional control.

I loved the NaNoWriMo experience and the sense of being part of a writing community is great. The total number of winning participants was 170294 worldwide; the combined word count was a staggering three million and some change. That’s something to be proud of!

By Fiona Ingram

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Reading with the Children of Fire

Meeting some of the Children of Fire was a most surprising experience. With my beloved mom passing away recently, and my adopted daughter graduated from high school and in college, I now have a few extra hours on my hands each week. You might think, “Oh, write, write more!” But there’s a limit to what one can squeeze out of an already-squeezed brain when it comes to creativity.

The American tradition of Thanksgiving also made me start thinking about what I have and giving thanks for it. After all, I have so much to be grateful for. My wonderful mother left me comfortably established, and her help enabled me to give up the rat race and just stay at home and write all day. There are so many needy organisations, run by wonderful selfless people, that I didn’t have to think very hard about where to devote some of this extra time.

I met Bronwen Jones (the founder of Children of Fire) briefly about ten years ago, with her badly burned daughter, Dorah. At the time, I was struck by Dorah’s happiness and self-assurance, despite her terrible burns. Bronwen gave me her card, which I kept, and the encounter stayed in the back of my mind somewhere.

What is Children of Fire?

Children of Fire is a charity based in the UK and in South Africa, which assists badly burned children with reconstructive surgery and other necessities. The organization also promotes legislation and legal assistance for children who are disabled through burn injuries.

In 1997, the organization began as a charitable trust to assist Dorah Mokoena, a badly burned South African child who was turned away from several hospitals. After The Times of London published an appeal, the Dorah Mokoena Charitable Trust was formed in London to accept donations, and the Children of Fire in South Africa to handle Dorah and other children's rehabilitation. This evolved into one name Children of Fire active mostly in Southern Africa, but with legal entities existing or in progress in the USA, North Africa, Central Africa, South Africa, and the UK, which all assist other children injured by fire. Since first helping Dorah 17 years ago, ChiFi has helped 350 children with severe burns as well as others from across Africa who required less complicated surgery.

Children of Fire keep smiling!
I went along on Saturday afternoon to offer my services in the reading/writing/acting/having fun with books department, and to meet some of the kids. It was great. A mixture of ages, and varying degrees of disabilities, but a wonderful sense of fun and excitement. They all have remarkable self-confidence, laugh, talk, and jostle for attention, and I can only put this down to Bronwen’s love, compassion, and ability to make each child feel special. They had just been to a function that involved lots of popcorn, party hats, and a piñata that gave out sweets, so all the kids were in high spirits.

I took my book, The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, as well as a large full-colour (fabulous) book on Egypt, some posters, bookmarks, and we went for a brief little holiday to Egypt. Reading aloud to kids who want to listen, and experience some of the wonder of imagination and fantasy is very rewarding and fulfilling. Because of their injuries, some kids do not get enough schooling—much time is spent in hospital, with ongoing procedures interrupting the learning process. ChiFi has a sister charity the Johannesburg School for Blind, Low Vision and Multiple Disability Children (known as Beka), a school with a staff of three teachers to ensure the children have access to education while undergoing treatment. Other kids have coped wonderfully and are about to embark on high school, some are in university, and some are employed.

Seiso's torture burns are hidden by clothes
Burn injuries are a terrible and harrowing experience for children. More than 90 percent of burn injuries occur in developing countries and 70 percent of these are in children, according to statistics compiled by the Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery in the United Kingdom and the Dow University Medical College Burns Centre, Pakistan. Accurate paediatric burn statistics in Africa are hard to find.

At least 15,000 children in South Africa are burnt every year, according to ChiFi estimates. The figures are higher in winter when the chances of children rolling half asleep into open fires lit to warm their rooms are higher. Sadly, one in three severe child burns are intentional in South Africa.

In the five biggest cities in South Africa an average of 200 people die in shack fires every year, according to Abahlali baseMjondolo, a South African shack dwellers' movement.

Little Perlucia rebuilding  life
Apart from the actual burn injuries, many children come to the charity with extra problems such as starvation, malnutrition, HIV/Aids, as well as poverty-related illnesses. Added to the trauma of the burn experience is fear of the reconstructive and healing process with children being terrified at the sight of medical doctors in white coats, the fear of pain, and ultimately having to learn to live again.

ChiFi works with a network of doctors, surgeons and health care specialists, many of whom volunteer their services. The charity has never received any government aid and operates entirely on public donations, using volunteers from across the world. Reconstructive surgery is incredibly expensive, and funding is always welcome.

Education is the number one priority. Besides helping children with burn injuries, ChiFi also tries to educate communities on how to prevent fires. The charity also helps communities affected by fires rebuild their lives with construction materials and other household essentials. However, the biggest challenge is educating people to see these Children of Fire not as victims but as tough survivors. These children have ongoing lives to lead, goals to achieve, and the ability to give and receive love.

How You Can Help!
Visit the website and see how you can help. Your few dollars and pounds translate into a nice big amount, given the exchange rate for foreign currency. If you live in South Africa, visit the site and ask to be emailed the latest wish list. They need so much that we take for granted. Charity begins at home, and if we all help, in whatever small way we can, ChiFi can expand its operations to take in many more needy children and set them back on their life path.

Monday, November 19, 2012

NaNoWriMo and Me!

NaNoWriMo and me. Sounds ominous, like a showdown at the OK Corral. In a way, it is. NaNoWriMo can trigger a deluge of creativity, or show you just how much time you can waste fiddling about, waiting for a good idea to emerge.

I am a NaNoWriMo novice. I found out about it two years ago, but was too nervous to enter. I thought everyone knew what it was, until so many of my online and writer friends kept asking me why I was now secluded in a mysterious project with a funny name.

To quote the website: “National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000-word (approximately 175-page) novel by 11:59:59 PM on November 30.”

Sounds easy? Wait, there’s more!

More from the website: “The very first NaNoWriMo took place in July, 1999, in the San Francisco Bay Area. That first year there were 21 of us, and our July noveling binge had little to do with any ambitions we might have harbored on the literary front. Nor did it reflect any hopes we had about tapping more fully into our creative selves. No, we wanted to write novels for the same dumb reasons twentysomethings start bands. Because we wanted to make noise. Because we didn’t have anything better to do. And because we thought that, as novelists, we would have an easier time getting dates than we did as non-novelists.”

Novel idea (no pun intended).

By 2012, they had a huge(ish) organisation, zillions of participants worldwide, an office and a website, and masses of publicity. Not bad for a fun gig!

The rules are simple:

• Write a 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.

• Start from scratch. None of your own previously written prose can be included in your NaNoWriMo draft (though outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine, as are citations from other people’s works).

• Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you’re writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!

• Be the sole author of your novel. Apart from those citations mentioned two bullet-points up.

• Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.

• Upload your novel for word-count validation to our site between November 25 and November 30.

Helpful tips include:

Eat lots of chocolate!
• Begin procrastinating by reading through all the great advice and funny stories in the forums. Post some stories and questions of your own. Get excited. Get nervous. Try to rope someone else into doing this with you. Eat lots of chocolate and stockpile noveling rewards.

• On November 1, begin writing your novel. Your goal is to write a 50,000-word novel by midnight, local time, on November 30th. You write on your own computer, using whatever software you prefer.

• If you write 50,000 words of fiction by midnight, local time, November 30th, you can upload your novel for official verification, and be added to our hallowed Winner’s Page and receive a handsome winner’s certificate and web badge. We’ll post step-by-step instructions on how to scramble and upload your novel starting in mid-November.

That’s it in a nutshell. So, how am I doing four days over the halfway mark? I have written a grand total of 31 949 words! I have no idea how to capture a screen image, but here it is in figures. The amazing little calendar on the side of your NaNoWriMometer works everything out for you (no more calculators) and at the end of each day’s writing, just log it into the cute convenient boxes.

Your Average Per Day: 1,681

Words Written Today: 0

Target Word Count: 50,000

Target Average Words Per Day: 1,667

Total Words Written: 31,949

Words Remaining: 18,051

Current Day: 19

Days Remaining: 12

At This Rate You Will Finish On: November 29, 2012

Words Per Day To Finish On Time: 1,505

So, I am ahead, just a little bit. I did not do any writing today (see note further down about malevolent fates) so I HAVE to catch up tomorrow to get back onto schedule. I have never written like this before! No more dabbling around tweaking here and there. One is expected to forge on, relentlessly like a juggernaut to complete the final words—THE END— on 30 November.

The organisers give you loads of gadgets, badges, goodies, and help. They also give you regular pep talks, too. Along the lines of:

1) It’s okay to not know what you’re doing. Really. You’ve read a lot of novels, so you’re completely up to the challenge of writing one. If you feel more comfortable outlining your story ahead of time, do it! But it’s also fine to just wing it. Write every day, and a book-worthy story will appear, even if you’re not sure what that story might be right now.

Nervous writers should plan in advance.
2) Do not edit as you go. Editing is for December and beyond. Think of November as an experiment in pure output. Even if it’s hard at first, leave ugly prose and poorly written passages on the page to be cleaned up later. Your inner editor will be very grumpy about this, but your inner editor is a nitpicky jerk who foolishly believes that it is possible to write a brilliant first draft if you write it slowly enough. It isn’t. Every book you’ve ever loved started out as a beautifully flawed first draft. In November, embrace imperfection and see where it takes you.

3) Tell everyone you know that you’re writing a novel in November. This will pay big dividends in Week Two, when the only thing keeping you from quitting is the fear of looking pathetic in front of all the people who’ve had to hear about your novel for the past month. Seriously. Email them now about your awesome new book. The looming specter of personal humiliation is a very reliable muse.

3.5) There will be times you’ll want to quit during November. This is okay. Everyone who wins NaNoWriMo wanted to quit at some point in November. Stick it out. See it through. Week Two can be hard. Week Three is much better. Week Four will make you want to yodel.

And we’re talking the good kind of yodeling here.

Pep talkers include Neil Gaiman (Coraline), Meg Cabot (Princess Diaries), Sue Grafton (Alphabet murder series), Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus), Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler’s Wife), Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials), Lemoney Snickett (A Series of Unfortunate Events), and loads of other awfully clever and famous people.

Audrey says: “National Novel Writing Month was a chance to jolt your story onto the page, to use the magic of a deadline to whap out your novel. Now that it is December, I hope you will kick back, have a cup of coffee, reread your 50,000 words, ponder a bit, and then… go for a walk. And on that walk I hope your novel will unclench itself in your brain and let you begin the long, slow, delightful work of rewriting it.”

I started with a great, big, whopping over 4000 words on day one. Wow, I thought, I’ll be finished by next week. Alas, it doesn’t work like that. Somewhere along the line, all sorts of malevolent fates conspire against you, the writer. All sorts of domestic problems or necessities, like shopping, (What happened to the food I bought last week? You ate it?? Why????) just intervene in a most annoying way. In the past, I would have carried on, and not sought to make up the word count I had missed. Aha! Suddenly I had to catch up what I had neglected.

No mistake about it—NaNoWriMo makes you work. I’m loving it!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Apocalypse Now?

Given that we are creeping closer to the Mayan calandar's predicted catastrophic date of 21 December 2012, Have you ever wondered what it’s all about? Why are we here? Where did we come from? Where are we heading? Given the chaos, crime, pollution and society’s troubles, are the old biblical prophecies correct and the hellfire and damnation scenario awaits us when the end of the world comes? Recently I read and reviewed Alpha to Omega: Journey to the End of Time for some answers.

Author Matthew Petti formulates a fascinating theory that only by knowing where we came from do we have an idea of where we are heading. In this book, he sets out to prove our true ancestors. Our flaws as humans, and our failure to change, arise from our historical thinking. Yes, we are simply repeating what we have learned. Today’s chaotic world mirrors the cumulative effects of the unchanging flaws in our most basic assumptions. Beliefs about God, our origins, human history and the hereafter are deeply embedded into the collective mind through the inheritance of age-old teachings and behaviors. The author investigates the metaphysics of faith, and why old beliefs have failed humankind in a modern world. This includes as analysis of the Book of Revelations as an indication of what may (or may not) transpire if the world continues on its headlong course of destruction.

This is a controversial book. The author delves into ancient history (including prehistory and Biblical history), archaeology, geography, myths, and legends to link together a collective mind-set or ethos for human society from those small beginnings many thousands of years ago. One may or may not believe in the supremacy of angels and the workings of heaven in human affairs, but Matthew Petti puts forward an intelligent and logical argument to substantiate his theories. He discusses his ideas of the ‘God’ spirit within humans, a controversial topic on its own, including free will and God’s will, and the concept of obedience to a higher power. To fully appreciate the author’s thinking it’s better to either have belief in some higher power and acceptance of Biblical references and characters, or else (if one is an atheist/agnostic) to suspend disbelief and simply read this book as a fascinating investigation of man’s possible superhuman and human origins. Well-researched and -argued, the book is a journey in itself for anyone interested in our physical origins and spiritual development.

I enjoyed this book because I find ancient history and man’s origins fascinating. I also decided to ask the author a few questions about it.

1. What made you write this book? You’ve done a huge amount of research and put a lot into it – there must be something driving your work.

Author Matthew Petti
My lifelong search for meaning to our existence began at the age of 22. One summer evening in 1977, while driving on an open highway, I had a thought, “There really is a God.” This wasn’t new to me, having been raised Catholic, attending 12 years of Catholic School and following all the rituals of the religion. As I began to agree with the thought, it echoed with an extreme profoundness and suddenly I found myself gasping for air as a surge of new conceptual information began to flood my mind and overwhelm me. I couldn’t assimilate all the information, but an INSATIABLE curiosity to dig deeper into the book of Revelation immediately ensued.

2. The idea of an ancient higher civilization has fascinated many people. How old do you think this civilization is, and why do you think there is so little left of their existence (apart from the monumental architecture)?

The remnants of ancient advancements dating to about 15 to 20,000 years ago, which have been found on the Yucatán Peninsula, Mesoamerica, Easter Island and Machu Picchu, just to name a few, are a thorn in the side to the archaeologists, scientists and historians who preach the linear view of evolution and human development. The problem with other theories, which attempt to explain these advancements as the result of a recent previous civilization eradicated by some sort of cataclysm, is that they cannot be supported by prevailing scientific evidence proving that never in the history of humans (1.5 million years) has the world and its inhabitants been completely annihilated.

Ancient alien theory has emerged as the only explanation to the architectural wonders discovered because it circumvents the scientific evidence. The traditional scientific viewpoint holds that mankind was strong enough and willful enough to account for many of the ancient mysteries. Ironically, the most glaring contradictory evidence is swept under the rug in an effort to maintain the support of uninformed constituents.

Meanwhile, the religious viewpoint claims a great flood occurred, which totally wiped out a society, except for eight people and hundreds of thousands of animals on board a ship, who were somehow able to completely repopulate the Earth. Once again, scientific evidence proves that this could not have happened—at least not in the last 1.5 million years— while common sense tells us that it would've been impossible to board a ship with seven pairs of every species of animals on earth.

Since there is no evidence of a supreme society in our recent history, but instead, remnants of advanced achievements, which surpass both the technologies available during those times and today, then we can assume that the gods and demigods of ancient myths were the offspring of those who survived a cataclysm of 7 million years ago.

3. Why can’t we recreate the level of achievements they left behind, given our computer advantages, and other developments that would surely outweigh the flaws you say are inherited from the past and a previous, repeated mindset.

The flaws inherited from the past have been in our misinterpretation of events and circumstances. Our repeated mindset is the battle between truth and belief. What we accept as truth is limited by what we can imagine as possible. What we imagine as possible is limited by what is presented and agreed upon. What is presented and agreed-upon is limited by the scientific and not so scientific assessment of the information and the predispositions of an authority.

4. I read authors like Andrew Collins and Graham Hancock who also share your interests. What do you think of their investigations and conclusions?

Their investigations, among others, were paramount in providing the evidence I needed to faithfully assert that science and archaeology are equally as biased in their determination of history as religion. It is equally absurd to believe in the 6000-year-old creation story as it is to believe that the Egyptians built the Great Pyramid. Thanks to them and others like them, I was able to provide my theory.

5. Your book is heavily based on the Bible, and your discussions of the angelic/divine relationship between heaven and earth reflect this. How many people think of the Bible as a history book, not just a book of inspired writings from long ago?

I'm not sure how many people, as a percentage, view the Bible as a history book. I don’t want people to think my book is really “based” on the Bible, because that might imply that I accept the literal translation. My book is a NEW way of explaining it and other pertinent mysteries relating to our past and the inevitable future to which it is bound. The book of Revelation is a cryptic message that has unveiled more than just the future to me.

6. The Book of Revelation features strongly in your work. Do you think it’s possible to avoid the apocalyptic forecast of what will come, given the nuclear arms race, the declining state of the planet, and man’s inhumanity to man? Or is it too late?

All events and circumstances are shaped by Truth to reveal the errors in our beliefs. If we really believe that we create our own destiny, then our choices and actions will affect our future both individually and collectively. All of our choices and actions are based upon our beliefs. If there are errors in our beliefs or assumptions, we will make the wrong choices, and suffer the consequences.

War, devastation and all of life's tragedies are inevitable until we completely awaken to Truth. The events, which have always been attributed to God's judgment, are really a gift that will eventually lead us back to the Omega, which is absolute fulfillment of Truth and Knowledge. So yes, the events are unavoidable but so is the return to Paradise!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

10 Reasons Why We Love James Bond

Daniel Craig

The recent James Bond film festival on television and the 2012 release of Skyfall sparked this post. Who is James Bond and why do we love him? The movies are possibly the best way the world has come to know and appreciate Bond.

Bond the Moneymaker: The James Bond film series is a British series of spy films based on the fictional character of MI6 agent James Bond (code designation "007"), who originally appeared in a series of books by Ian Fleming. Earlier films were based on Fleming's novels and short stories, followed later by films with original storylines. It is one of the longest continually running film series in history, having been in ongoing production from 1962 to the present (with a six-year hiatus between 1989 and 1995). In that time, Eon Productions has produced 23 films, at an average of about one every two years, usually produced at Pinewood Studios. The series has grossed just over US $5 billion to date, making it the second-highest-grossing film series (behind Harry Potter), and the single most successfully adjusted for inflation. Six actors have portrayed 007 in the Eon series, with the Sean Connery films largely setting the style and mood of the series, and Roger Moore starring in the most films.

Sean Connery

Bond the Character: In Bond and Other Conspiracy Theories journo Stephen Kelly says: “There’s always been something a bit off about that suave, mysterious, sexually charged murderer, James Bond: he appears to be a shape-shifting immortal. Or at least that’s what the franchise suggests, what with the same man being played by six people over 50 years, making for quite the hefty 00-pension. But where pop culture logic is broken, there’s a fan theory to fix it. In this case: that James Bond is not a single man, but a code name given to agents who fit a certain profile.

George Lazenby
 Makes sense, doesn’t it? For even if this is a profile to which psychologists refer as the Dark Triad of the psyche—a combination of Machiavellianism, narcissism, and a psychopathic disregard for life—each incarnation does come with its own set of characteristics.

Sean Connery, for instance, was smooth and deadpan; George Lazenby: clunky and… forgettable; Roger Moore had fun with the role; Timothy Dalton preferred a serious approach; cigar-smoking Pierce Brosnan played it rugged and old-fashioned; whereas Daniel Craig, moonlighting from his full-time job of protruding out of Mount Rushmore, portrays a more tortured, layered Bond.”

Bond the Hero: For me, James Bond is the hero we love. He’s flawed, he’s brave, he is what we all want—what more can I say… he’s a hero!

Here are my ten reasons why James Bond is the perfect hero. And heroes, to be heroes, are not perfect!

Timothy Dalton
1. He sets out to be a hero, although he may deny it.

2. He saves the world, no matter what the baddies throw at him.

3. He is flawed. He makes mistakes, he lets his heart rule his head, and he always goes back to save the girl.

4. He suffers loss, pain, and anguish. Sometimes a friend dies, sometimes the woman he loves dies, and it cuts him to the core of his being.

Roger Moore
5. He always gets the girl in the end. Despite the fact we know he is a womaniser/playboy/Casanova, we want him to ride/fly/float off into the sunset with the Bond girl in his arms (and all the actresses who’ve played a Bond girl say the same thing!)

6. He has a great sense of humour. Dry wit and a martini shaken not stirred are his trademarks. He laughs in the face of death and usually flings a (cheesy) quip at his nemesis.

7. He loves gadgets, and boy does Q make sure he has plenty of them. Cars that can assume an invisibility cloak as well as packing an arsenal in the trunk, exploding pens, belt buckles with escape wires, watches that can set off bombs, even watches with lasers installed—Q has a gadget for every day of Bond’s week.

Pierce Brosnan
8. He is fanatically loyal to Queen and country. He serves the crown and he will die for his country’s security. You can’t get more loyal than that.

9. He has feelings although he may hide them under that impenetrable mask.

10. If he could, he’d date Miss Moneypenny!

So, out of all the Bond actors, who portray Bond the best?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

POV: Three's a Crowd!

Point of View is something that besets and often bedevils many writers. It took me ages to work out the nuts and bolts of this technique. However, I could not explain it to anyone in terms that they would understand. Luckily for writers out there, here's an excellent article by Randy Ingermanson, and all is revealed.

Is Headhopping A Sin?

 Every so often, the issue of "headhopping" comes up among writers, and the fur soon begins flying. It came up recently in a circle of novelists I belong to. Some writers insist that there is no sin more vile than headhopping, except possibly teaching the cat how to smoke. Other writers claim that headhopping is an acceptable practice in romance, where many readers like it and a few editors even insist on it.

Is headhopping a sin? If it's so horrible, then why does Joe Bigname Author hop heads like crazy? Is headhopping just another "gotcha" invented by writing teachers to put newbie writers in knots? Isn't headhopping just the same thing as the omniscient viewpoint?

First things first -- we need to define "headhopping."
To do that, let's review the main alternatives. The two most common points of view in fiction are first-person and third-person.

1st and 3rd person POV
  • In first-person POV, the author writes as if she is one of the characters, using the pronouns "I" and "me" to refer to that character. When you write in first-person, you put your reader firmly inside the head of that one character and it would be unnatural to get out.
  • In third-person POV (the most common POV these days), the author chooses one particular character in each scene to be the viewpoint character. The author uses the pronouns "he" and "him" or else "she" and "her" to refer to that character.
When you write in third-person correctly, you put your reader firmly inside the head of that one character. You show only what that character can see, hear, touch, taste, smell, or feel. Nothing more. So third-person is very much like first-person, except for the pronouns you use.

Either first-person or third-person puts your reader on intimate terms with the viewpoint character for the course of any given scene. This makes it easy to give your reader a Powerful Emotional Experience, which I believe is the main goal of writing fiction.

Now of course it's possible that a writer will do a bad job of writing either first-person or third-person, which means that the reader will have no Powerful Emotional Experience. But tens of thousands of professional novelists use these viewpoints effectively because they work.

Two or more POV
 Now we can define headhopping. Headhopping is like third-person, except that the author uses two or more viewpoint characters within a single scene. In headhopping, you put your reader firmly inside the head of one character for a while and then hop into another character's head for a while.

Let's look at those questions we raised at the beginning of this article:

Is headhopping OK?

My own opinion is that it's OK to do this IF you do it well. But it isn't easy to do it well, for two reasons.
  • First, those pesky transitions from one head to another are hard to get right. If you confuse the reader, then that's a speed bump in the reading experience and that's bad.
  • Second, even if you do the transitions well, doing them too often will make your reader feel jerked around.
 Why does Joe Bigname Author use headhopping in his novel?

Good question. Some authors actually don't know any better (and neither do some editors). Some authors know that headhopping is risky but do it anyway because they believe they can do it well and the rewards are worth the risks.

Is headhopping just an invention of selfish writing teachers who want to earn more money by putting up more roadblocks for new writers?

Three's a crowd!
Not that I can tell. Headhopping is hard to do well, and very often it just plain doesn't work. Headhopping by novice writers almost always doesn't work. Writing teachers spend most of their time working with novice writers, so they spend a lot of time telling them not to hop heads.

Is headhopping exactly the same thing as the omniscient viewpoint that was used so successfully by the great 19th century writers?

In my opinion, no. I believe that omniscient viewpoint means that the narrator is actually omniscient and can know things that NONE of the characters know. I am tempted to say that all right-thinking people must agree with me, but I know at least one writing teacher who believes that headhopping is the same thing as omniscient.

I'm afraid that rational discussion will never settle this argument. However, kicking, biting, scratching, and hair-pulling might, so I have hope that someday all writers will agree with me on this point.
Let's fight about it!

So should you hop heads? Will you suffer eternal torment if you indulge in the forbidden fruit of headhopping? My own opinion is that if you're a new writer, then it's best to avoid headhopping, for two reasons:
  • Headhopping requires that you master third person viewpoint AND that you master transitions from one head to the next. It's easier to master one skill than two.
  • Some editors will reject you outright for headhopping.
 Once you've learned to write third-person Xtremely well, then you'll have the skills to try hopping heads when you have a scene where you believe it makes sense.

At the very least, if you're going to hop heads, you should be aware that you're doing it, you should have a reason to do so, and you should make it work.

The goal in writing fiction is to give your reader a Powerful Emotional Experience. Do whatever it takes to do that.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 32,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

Randy Ingermanson Publisher, Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine

Thursday, October 4, 2012

5 Easy Steps to Better Writing

John Yeoman has a novel approach to writing—he suggests a lazy 5-step program to improving your writing. Lazy? LAZY???? Does the word even feature in any dedicated writer’s vocabulary? Aren’t writers supposed to slog all hours that God gives in order to squeeze out some creative scribblings that may or may not be the next Amazon bestseller? I must admit, I feel guilty if I miss a day of writing. I read the phrase “It’s like having permanent homework” somewhere and it’s true. However, John has some very good advice in his article, which I have reproduced here with his kind permission.

A Lazy 5 Step Program to Make Your Stories Glow
Yes, and a thousand writing mavens on the web will hustle to reveal it to you. Truth is, there’s only one formula that succeeds, time and again. And here it is... the 5-step program that most top authors use, although they’ll rarely spell it out for you.

#1. Don’t be afraid to write dross: We’ve all heard that we must write every day, and it’s true. But what shall we write? Perhaps we’re developing a story or novel. We know where it should be going, but we’re stuck for words. Solution? Write garbage. And write it fast.

Drop in the first phrases that come into your head. Your object is not to write great literature—just to get that wretched episode finished! There’s no point in playing word games. Not just yet. Probably you’ll junk that whole episode anyway at the final ‘cut’.

Amazingly, the garbage approach works. We have no problems going back to a page of rubbish and, with an amused sigh, editing it into something sensible. Writer’s block? Forget it. There’s no anxiety in this approach so our mind stays calm. We can hack out 1500+ words a day, without pain. Make it your goal to draft total nonsense for an hour. How can you fail? You can then have fun improving it later.

#2. Study television dramas: Now you have a great excuse for watching television. Study how the actors in sitcoms and soaps behave. Every five minutes, somebody will insult, distress or romance somebody else. Watch their faces, lips, and body movements. Also hear how their voices change. Jot it all down. True, the actors overact. But you could use that body language, toned down, in your stories.
Also take careful note of every ‘scene hanger’, the way an episode closes. Maybe it’s an unresolved question or note of alarm. That uncertainty will tease us into the next scene, even across a commercial interlude. Adapt those scene hangers and you’ll soon have a wealth of ways to link the episodes in your own stories, so the reader stays hooked.

#3. Act as a walking tape recorder: Christopher Isherwood inspired the phrase ‘I am a camera’. It described his work. He had reproduced, without judgement or interpretation, what he actually saw and heard in post-war Berlin. You can do that in conversations that you overhear. Take a discreet note of every colourful turn of phrase. Folk say the most amazing things that you would never be able to invent for yourself.

Okay, we know that ‘real’ people do not speak the way they do in books. But you may be amazed at how often people fail to complete a sentence, or reply to a question, or even speak coherently at all. Almost all communication is done ‘between the lines’. If you get that sub-text into your stories, your characters will seem ‘real’.

#4. Find something boring to observe: Boring? Yes. Here’s a wonderful way to make a walk productive. Stop at random, wherever nobody can see you. And just look. Are you staring at a shop window? A poster? A car-filled motorway or a placid park? And is the scene boring? That’s wonderful! Why? Imagine what a child would make of that scene, if they had never seen it before but possessed an uncanny gift with words. A bare brick wall becomes a magic landscape. A mundane street is an adventure to be explored...

Write a description of that scene, using all the five senses—as if you had never seen anything like it before. And pack all that sensual detail into one sentence. Now is not the time to be lazy. Use words that precisely convey the uniqueness of that moment. In effect, write a haiku.

True, this is a tough exercise. How can we describe, say, a graffiti-covered wall in words that make it fascinating? But it’s the key skill of a great writer. Master it and you’ll be able to ‘switch on’ this habit of perception instinctively.

I once had lunch with a popular UK author. ‘Look over there,’ she said. ‘Who?’ ‘The man with a face like a pork pie.’ She was describing her publisher, who had just entered the restaurant. I wager that phrase found its way into her next novel (if not her conversation with him). Point is, she couldn’t stop herself using colourful phrases, even in casual observations!

#5. Acknowledge that your story will never be perfect: Can you write a perfect story? Of course, not. Nobody can. Even Shakespeare’s plays have lines that make no sense at all, even to scholars. (Perhaps he was drunk...) Point is, you have to re-write a story at least a dozen times before it’s fit to present to anybody, let alone a publisher.

One painless way to do this is: get your story as good as it’s ever going to get (you think). Then drop it into a closet for a month. Drag it out and try not to laugh at how bad it has become, all by itself. That wonderful paragraph you spent hours on? Dross. And why do your characters drone on, and on...

The ideal time to re-write a story is when it has spent a year in limbo. Of course, you can’t afford to leave a story on the shelf if you write for a living. Professional authors have to make do with getting their work 80% perfect and letting their agent and copy editor tidy up the rest. Still, everything they submit will have gone through the ‘closet’ process a good many times.

Yes, there is a sure-fire formula for writing stories that succeed. It’s the one above and it has been around since stories began. Of course, no formula will work unless you have some writing talent. If you have, it’s just a matter of developing good habits, like those above. It's how every pro author started...

John's free book How to Win Story Contests for Profit and free 14-part course in story writing for the commercial market can be found at:

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Free Kindle E-book: Behind the Scenes of The King’s Ransom

I first became interested in Cheryl Carpinello’s work when I began research on my own Arthurian-themed adventure novel for middle graders, The Search for the Stone of Excalibur. At the time, I read and reviewed the delightful Guinevere: On the Eve of a Legend. Read my review here. Cheryl’s book was a Finalist Pre-Teen Literature: Dan Poynter's 2011 Global Ebook Awards.

Cheryl says this about her fascination with all things Arthurian: “Although a retired teacher, I still have a passion for working with kids. I regularly conduct Medieval Writing Workshops for local elementary/middle schools and the Colorado Girl Scouts. It seems I'm not the only one who loves Medieval Times and the King Arthur Legend. The kids thoroughly enjoy writing their own medieval stories complete with dragons, wizards, unicorns, and knights!”

Next came The King’s Ransom (Book I of The Young Knights of the Round Table), a tween adventure novella. At Pembroke Castle in medieval Wales,11-year-old Prince Gavin, 13-year-old orphan Philip, and 15-year-old blacksmith's apprentice Bryan, brought together in friendship by the one they call The Wild Man, embark upon a quest to save The Wild Man’s life when he is accused of murder and robbery. If they have any hope of succeeding, the three will have to confront their fears and insecurities, and one of them will have to disclose the biggest secret of all. But it is the arrival of King Arthur and what he reveals that surprises characters and readers.

But wait, there’s more!

Hot on the heels of the book came a fascinating behind-the-scenes in Behind the Scenes of The King’s Ransom.

Have you ever wondered what writers do in addition to writing their books?

Behind the Scenes of The King’s Ransom lets readers meet the characters in The King’s Ransom (Young Knights of the Round Table), go on a virtual tour of the actual Welsh settings and sample Welsh food and drink, discover the secrets of the author, and other goodies. Read excerpts from The King's Ransom and Guinevere: On the Eve of Legend.

Sounds fascinating!

GET YOUR FREE COPY ON 20 AND 21 September!

(Originally priced at $3.50)

Take a look at Chery and her work here!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Transformational Fiction with Lisa Hilleren

Today’s book review post features author Lisa Hilleren and her hilarious transformational novel Reconstructing Eve. Lisa is generously giving away a 30% discount on e-book and paperback purchases. Scroll to the bottom of this interview for details.

Author Lisa Hilleren

Does life imitate art or vice-versa? Either way, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Like her fictional character Eve, Lisa Hilleren lives in the Garden State and drives a red convertible. Her personal journey of self-discovery began 15 years ago, when she learned the power of emotional intelligence, which she has since taught to countless others in her role as a professional trainer.

Let’s talk about Reconstructing Eve.

When Aidan Wharton asks Eve Merritt on a date, one might wonder why she refuses to go. After all, Aidan, a handsome, rich, well connected, 31 y/o, is most women’s dream date. That is, if you’re a supermodel look-alike, not a 44 y/o divorcée, with a grown-up daughter, and (even worse) jiggly thighs. To make matters more complicated, Eve used to babysit Aidan when he was little, and their parents know each other. However, temptation is hard to resist. Eve, who has been a good daughter, wife, and mother all her life, suddenly decides to kick over the traces and just take a bite of the apple. What she doesn’t expect is Aidan’s total adoration and commitment; her ex-husband’s bid to renew their relationship; a stalker from Aidan’s past creating trouble; and finally a crazed killer who seems to out to get both of them. Could things be any more complicated? Yes, when Eve finds herself falling hard for Aidan and tries to talk herself out of something that (of course!) can never work long term, especially not the happy-ever-after future complete with big wedding that Aidan has in mind. Has Eve got the courage to overcome the decades of old conditioning and for once put her own happiness and well-being first?

Q: In your own words, what is ‘transformational fiction?’ I’ve heard of inspirational fiction, but this is a new concept.
A: Thank you so much for asking this question! One of the reasons I chose to self-publish is that my novels don’t fit in any one of the established commercial fiction genres. Although there are strong romantic, comedy, and suspense elements in Reconstructing Eve, at its heart, it’s the story of a woman’s journey of self-discovery.

Princess Fiona rules!
 And that’s what transformational fiction is. Avatar, Shrek, and The Mask of Zorro are great examples of male protagonists transforming into their authentic selves. My novels center on women learning how to cast off the gender and generational conditioning that have inhibited them from leading truly fulfilled lives. Conflict abounds from both internal and external resistance to the heroine’s personal development, but at no point in any of my books does the heroine abandon her responsibilities in order to go find herself. Instead, as part of her transformation, she redefines the concept of what constitutes being a good wife, mom, and daughter, and by doing so, she ultimately comes to the realization that she can have it all. Hence the tag line, “Have your apple and your Eden, too!”

Q: What prompted you to take an inner journey, which you describe on your website, and turn it into something so hilarious and real that the reader can’t help laughing, nodding in acknowledgement, and saying, “Yep. I know exactly what she’s talking about!” (You could have written a serious non-fiction book with lots of reader exercises at the back – the kind we tend to buy and never read…).
A: Like countless other women, I grew up believing (thanks to fairy tales and television ads) that I should dedicate my life to taking care of everyone else’s needs. It’s not that anyone ever said as much, but when you are constantly barraged by images of women behaving in that manner--especially from a very young, impressionable age--you associate those actions (and through that association, form the belief) that that’s the ‘right and natural order of things.’

The carrot, as I saw it, for being sweet and selfless like Cinderella, was that I’d get to live happily-ever-after. So at 20, I married a prince of a guy, and by my 25th birthday I was mom to two beautiful children. Having been very poor growing up, I was determined give my children the material things I’d always longed for, and so, by my 30s, I was pulling down a handsome salary as a call center manager for a global insurance company. By society’s standards, I had it all: marriage, children, a career, a nice house, nice cars, etc. When I stepped back from my life and viewed it as a photograph, it screamed success!

But I didn’t feel successful. I felt restless. I felt that something was missing, and how could that be? I’d done everything right. I should have felt so fulfilled, should have been living--and reveling in--my richly deserved happily-ever-after. But no, the happiness I expected would be handed over to me (you know, in a ceremony rivaling that of the queen’s coronation) never happened. Leading me to the very unhappy realization that being self-sacrificing didn’t guarantee my own happiness as I’d falsely believed.

Bite that apple of life!
I was livid. I felt like I’d been suckered into the world’s biggest bait and switch. I demanded answers, which is what led to me to my inner journey and the discovery that happiness is a state of being, not a reward. Acknowledging that I was wrong in my thinking (and--gasp!--that I wasn’t perfect!) was so challenging for me. How I coped with it and kept myself moving forward was by focusing on the humor in my circumstances. That said, I initially wrote Reconstructing Eve for myself. Although Eve’s journey differs from mine, her emotions mirror mine and as difficult as it was to write about them, it was also tremendously cathartic. Too, being a storyteller, I still love fairy tales, and I wanted to honor that by writing one where the heroine is victorious because she has the courage to be herself, not because she’s being sweet and self-sacrificing.

Q: Do you think readers will better absorb the message in a wickedly funny and realistic package than if they pick up a book that outlines what they didn’t do/should be doing with their lives?
A: It’s been well-documented that our choices are emotionally-driven. That said, non-fiction can evoke certain emotions. For example, we can be inspired by the author’s journey, or conversely, intimidated by her credentials. We can be uplifted by the possibilities presented in a self-help book, or, as typically happens with adults, get stymied by our fear of failure. What’s different about novels is that the audience gets to "safely" experience the full range of emotions that the protagonist experiences in her journey of self-discovery: her hopes, her fears, her joys, her sorrows. The reader might fear for the heroine’s well-being, but on a subconscious level, she’s aware that her own well-being is not in jeopardy. Fiction creates an environment where the reader is comfortable lowering her emotional guard, and in doing so, vicariously lives the protagonist’s journey.

If what the heroine says or does strikes a deep emotional chord, chances are that the reader will respond with receptivity to the message as well as take into consideration the options presented to her for potentially leading a more fulfilled life.

Q: You’ve written other, still unpublished works (historical, paranormal and contemp. romance). What made you take the plunge and see Reconstructing Eve published?
A: I wrote the other books before and during my self-discovery journey. Although well-crafted, they didn’t sell, partly because like Reconstructing Eve, they didn’t neatly fit into a traditional genre. I believe the bigger reason, though, was that I was writing from my ego, not from my heart. The best advice I ever received as a writer was, “Write to express, not to impress.”

After years of receiving countless “good” rejections, I stopped writing and focused on my personal development. Reconstructing Eve is the result of me writing from my heart and from believing so passionately in Eve’s story that I chose to self-publish when once again, the “good” rejections poured in. As Aidan tells Eve, “You’ve got to put yourself out there.” (LOL, I’m laughing here because yes, I often take advice from my own fictional characters.)

Q: Eve is the original temptress, and she did go off the path a bit long long ago. In the book, are you giving readers a hint that it’s possible to, well, not turn back the clock, but start the path all over again? (and get it right)
A: My hope is that women continue to band together in rejecting the notion that by pursuing our own happiness we are somehow straying off the “straight and narrow path." Self-fulfillment is not selfish. Similarly, enjoying a healthy sex life does not make us immoral. Reconstructing Eve is about recognizing and addressing the dysfunctional aspects of conforming to the status quo. I deliberately had Eve give in to temptation as a way of showing how--once we stop letting the social norms dictate whether we are “bad” or “good” (and ergo, worthy and deserving of happiness)--we create the opportunity to truly have it all.

Q: Many women shy away at the idea of taking on a younger partner, who could easily have a young gorgeous woman in his life (sans jiggly thighs). What do you think is the reason so many younger men DO, in fact, gravitate to an older woman, and can this relationship work? (You can hear I am as much a Doubting Thomas as Eve is!)
A: LOL, I was too! Until I researched why younger men are attracted to older women. The top responses were:
1) Maturity

2) Their life experiences creates the opportunity for great conversation and camaraderie

3) They’re upfront about what they want

4) They aren’t looking to be endlessly entertained or forever on the go

5) They are interested in having a relationship, not just looking for a baby-daddy

6) They don't thrive on unnecessary drama; Instead, they tend to approach life's hiccups with a sense of humor, and for the most part, choose to overcome their challenges rather than incessantly dwell on them

In the articles I read, many of the May-December relationships outlasted those where the partners were of a similar age. And for those that didn’t, the men stated how much they valued the experience and continued to hold their former partner in the highest respect and regard.

Q: You do not have to answer this one (ha ha question) - is Aidan Wharton your husband in disguise?
A: He definitely challenges me the way Aidan challenges Eve! He’s more “alpha” than Aidan, though. I'd say he’s one-part Aidan and two-parts Will Merritt - which makes for a very lucky me!!!

Q: The secret question that no one has ever you have a garden like Eve’s?
A: Don’t I wish! My mother had a magnificent garden, though, and my vivid memories of it are what I visualized when I wrote the book. Me, I’m a brown thumb through and through! It’s only because my husband looks after my four rose bushes and two lilac plants that they have somehow managed to thrive.

My review:
This is more than just a fun, chick-lit read. Lisa Helleren taps straight into most women’s anxieties and insecurities when faced with a new relationship after the end of a long marriage. In many cases, women struggle to reinvent themselves after their former role of dutiful wife and mother has ended and it appears that they failed in their task. The dialogue is real and snappy, and the author takes readers right into Eve’s head. There is an underlying message that gives women hope, and the author herself says, “Supporting women on their journeys of self-discovery is my passion; it's the driving force behind my writing.” Eve learns her life lessons, and finally cultivates self-belief through love, regardless of jiggly thighs. The characters interact in a most credible way, making them believable and ultimately appealing. The author has a deft touch when it comes to characterization and there are no one-dimensional actors in this theater of life. Readers will laugh, and empathize. There’s passion, humor, tenderness, sadness, and ultimately self-discovery and redemption. There are a few adult love scenes but they flow seamlessly into this excellent story. Highly recommended.

Please visit Lisa’s excellent site, where her mission is to empower women through self discovery and celebrate the right values for them. In Lisa’s own words: “As I was writing Reconstructing Eve, I was privileged to have the most amazing conversations with other women about our journeys of self-discovery. This sharing of knowledge and insights inspired me to create an on-line community for women to connect and support one another.”

Be it through training or fiction writing, Lisa is passionate about sharing the knowledge and tools that help women to discover and embrace their authentic selves. Lisa has some excellent articles on her site. Read them. You’re in there somewhere.

Get your 30% discount off a Smashwords purchase using this code VL52H.
Get your 30% discount off a paperback purchase on CreateSpace by adding the book to your cart and on the checkout page, enter discount code BRQHNBWF.