Conspiracy Theories – Everywhere?

Admittedly, I love conspiracy stories; either in book form or big screen. I can’t seem to get enough of them, so I guess it’s not surprising that is my favorite writing genre. With a very divisive election behind us and polarized masses, I think it has become even easier to envision a conspiracy on any number of levels.

So what makes for a good conspiracy? I believe it must have components that the reader can either relate to, or believe could be easily set in motion. Simply, it is taking something from our everyday lives and giving it a sinister shading or background.

My personal area of interest is the field of medicine. Given this, there is a lot of potential fodder in that category. There are the cries against GMO’s, chemical alterations in plants, added substances to food items, the growth of Big Pharma, and testing on pharmaceuticals that may not be totally ethical. My novel, Against Their Will dealt with ethical treatments and practices on unsuspecting patients.

There is also the component of money in medicine. Corrupt practitioners who may push a treatment on a patient, not for the best interests of the patient but more for the financial or other benefit of the practitioner is one area with potential. Other possibilities could include harvesting organs for the black market, or even the legitimate market but with non-legitimate means. Just think of motivating factors to obtain the end result, money or power, and you’ve got a story in the making.

Power and money are just two examples of motivators for characters. What other things could define your character and provide motivation for them? Is it love? Or, acceptance, or even hate that pushes someone into action?

The blank page is your canvas so they say. But sometimes we need a nudge to put something on that canvas. Think of what motivates you and what you would be willing, or even unwilling to do? There you have a beginning for a new character!

Happy writing, everyone!

Emerald Beach a novel by Nancy Livingstone

Against Their Will by Nancy Livingstone

 

 

 

 

Web Conspiracies Everywhere? –

Just because a building looks official or imposing, does that mean everyone it represents is honest and trustworthy?

Just because a building looks official or imposing, does that mean everyone it represents is honest and trustworthy?

If you’ve read my book, Against Their Will, you know I’m into conspiracy stories. When the first stirrings of ideas for the book formed in my brain, it was still a bit inconceivable that normal, everyday citizens should ever have to worry about any type of conspiracy, much less ones government induced.

Now after the advent of Edward Snowden, the NSA, WikiLeaks, Drone spying, claims that vaccines harm us and that Wal-Mart is closing stores in the Southwest to make room for Chinese troops to come train on US soil and more, it is much more conceivable that things might be going on that we don’t really want to know are going on.

Granted there are all sorts of ideas floating on the web about who did what to whom. I will admit, some make a lot of sense. Others are discredited almost immediately when I see a lack substantiation or proof as to what the writer is claiming. Merely “preaching an idea” does not necessarily make that idea true. Nor does a credible looking website that states something is true without facts or references to back it up really mean that what is said is true.

Jazzy web-designs, easily obtained today in numerous places, can make a site credible looking. Formats that appear to be news-worthy can draw in visitors quite easily, and if the content is presented in the right manner, can even deceive the reader into believing all that is said is true.

This just emphasizes the ease with which a modern day web-surfer can be misled or down-right lied to. Fiction belongs in a book that is labeled as fiction and not pushed on the public in ways that deceive the reader into believing they are true, or fact.

Have I been stung by truthful-looking web-sites? Maybe. . . But, despite what I think about what I read on the web, I will say, there is an abundance of material out there that churns up a pot-full of ideas for plotting my next novel. No doubt, there is probably enough truth mixed in with the screaming headlines and provocative intros that even those ideas that are not true, may certainly seem true.

What’s good about all this? Well, this makes the beauty of fiction writing all the more alluring. It doesn’t matter! A fiction writer can craft just about any story, and given a few exceptions, never have to prove its merit or truthfulness!

But, as with all things, moderation is key. It all depends on the story being told and the audience to which it is pitched. Still, the internet makes for one huge world of interest just waiting to be manipulated into a best-seller. Thriller style!

Are Your Bad Guys Bad Enough?

Most people don’t like bad guys. After all, they spend their real or fictional lives antagonizing others or themselves!

The epitome of a "bad guy" stage!

The epitome of a “bad guy” stage!

Bad guys make us sit on the edges of our seats, get sweaty palms, or even raise our heart rates. But are they really necessary for a good story?

YES! It’s been stated many times that conflict makes a story engaging or engrossing. What better way to create conflict than to have a bad guy antagonizing our hero. The greatest thrillers use this model and even dramatic stories successfully incorporate the bad guys into the plot line.

I’m a fan of Diana Galbadon (The Outlander Series and Starz Network Show). She has successfully created a number of bad guys that really set my teeth on edge and make my fingernails grow a couple of inches; all the better to claw their eyes out with! I hate the bad guys. I want them dead, gone, kaput! But, if they left the scene right away, what consequences would ensue? Sure, the protagonist would be “okay” but, would the story be as interesting if there was nothing to fear or be angry about? Would the reader really want to continue reading?

Not all stories use human characters to facilitate the bad guy persona. While many do, many authors are quite adept at using events and inanimate objects to antagonize the protagonists. A hurricane, health scare or disease outbreak, or financial crisis are just a few situations that are “bad” and can do much to facilitate character development and story interest. Situations a reader can relate to also help to grow interest and empathy from a reader. An author is not limited to human, breathing bad guys, but objects and events can be drafted to do the job.

I must admit I love “pulling the chains” of my “bad” characters. It is fulfilling, at times, to inflict emotional and/or physical distress on them. No, I’m not a sadist! But, writing in this manner is a great release of frustrations in my own life. I find it very cathartic and liberating. However, it is also rewarding to let some bad guys find redemption and become someone who is forgiven, loved, or even a savior of the protagonist. Either scenario, letting the bad guy stay bad and resolve the issues encountered with tragedy or letting him or her change and resolve the story in a more positive note make for writing that is captivating.

And if it makes for a best seller, all the better!

Until next time . . .

Memorable Characters?

I love books, tv shows, and movies that develop characters that I can relate to one way or another.

Even characters from different centuries have the same basic needs as we do. Use that to make relatable characters.

Even characters from different centuries have the same basic needs as we do. Use that to make relatable characters.

As humans we love knowing we’re not alone. Seeing someone in a situation similar to one we’ve experienced, or in one that we’re glad not to be experiencing, helps us to develop empathy for the character. When we connect in such a manner, then most anything that happens in the story becomes interesting as we become eager to see how that character responds, or even survives.

In Against Their Will, I tried to make the characters human as we all are while instilling thrills, suspense and even some dreams into the equation. Who wouldn’t want to have success in Hollywood and garner fame and fortune from doing something one is driven and loves to do? Who wouldn’t want to have a charming and attractive hunk seek us out and devote his resources to saving (us) our female character?

So, I wrote about the things I like in a story! Fast paced, suspenseful, a little romance tossed in and the fear and rapid heart-beat of not knowing who or what is after our protagonists.

Lynn McCane is a strong-willed but beaten up reporter who has had more than her fair share of hard knocks tossed her way. She’s fighting to survive in more ways than one. Don’t we all? Matt Grayson is riding the rocket to blazing stardom and yet, he’s most concerned with the more important things in life, family, legacy and ultimately love.

Oh, I know a lot of this is wishful thinking; to have these things in life. But, I believe the human condition is made up of hope and looking for better things, and by giving these to the characters while putting them through the ringer is a way of capturing readers’ attention.

Not everyone likes this kind of story. I get that. But, the process of building characters so they can be related to, appreciated, sympathized with, and even hated, draws the readers’ emotions into the process and an emotional tie is hard to break.

My challenge to you, and to myself, is this; think hard and long about how you can make your characters relatable to your target audience. Not every audience will relate to your characters and we all like and are attracted to different personality types. So if one person doesn’t like your characters, it’s not the end of their world or yours. It just means that person does not represent the target audience you want to write for. And that is okay!

What can Book Clubs do for you?

Books of every genre can be promoted at a book club.

Books of every genre can be promoted at a book club.

Many of you may belong to book clubs, others may have utilized their exposure to boost name recognition and sales.

I recently made myself available to book clubs as a speaker and guest. It remains to be seen how profitable this will be (not just in sales made, but in gaining more exposure to future readers), but regardless, I think it will produce some helpful insight in how readers look for books, how they digest them and what they are looking for in a book.

I know, I know, we’re creative types, but business intrudes into our fantasy world, especially if we want to keep creating those fantasies for others to read. So, I feel this is a viable tool to help us research hot topics, see what is “happening” with readers as well as get a little much needed recognition.

Most of all, I would love to hear from others about his or her experiences in dealing with book clubs. Do you feel it is worth the time or effort? What did you find to be the best or the worst experiences?

Thanks for your insight!

Happy reading and writing!
http://bookclubreading.com/against-their-will/

 

Books waiting to be autographed.

Books waiting to be autographed.

Writer’s Block? Naaah…

Even when things seem mundane, look for the possibilities.

Even when things seem mundane, look for the possibilities.

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions and this year is no exception with one exception. I’m making one resolution. And this is one that I encourage all writers out there to embrace as well. That’s it, just one. Write. That’s right, write!

What’s so hard about sticking to this one demand? Well, I for one can wrangle just about every type of procrastination angle out there. I’ve written about procrastination before. I’m sure I will again, especially when I’m ready to beat myself up over it!

This year, I plan to change my ways. I plan to make time each day to write at least a paragraph on my latest book; hopefully more. Do I think I’ll be successful? I should, but who knows what sort of roadblocks will come my way. The cat wants out, so while I’m at it I should take the trash out. Then I see a stack of junk that needs to be hauled to the garbage, from there I find I’m now cleaning out my closet. By the time that is finished, it’s midnight and I’m pooped. Another day gone and no time at the computer. See how I think?!

Just write!

I challenge each of you to do the same. I would especially love to hear your thoughts on this and any tricks you come up with to overcome roadblocks (aka excuses) to keep you from creating those magical words that can transform any of us into a new place or thought pattern.

Focus! Just write!

Happy New Year and let the writing begin!

Winter’s cold or Frigid air with swirls of frosty breath that left ice crystals on his beard that soon became icicles – Huh?

As I write this, it is spitting out the first winter precipitation for our area (North Carolina Piedmont). We tend to get overly excited over just one flake or ice pellet. The bread flies off the grocery store shelves with just a hint of winter in the forecast. Milk is equally in high demand. We all learned that lesson several years ago when we had a whopper snow that kept all of us in our homes for ten days.

A rare event in NC - enough to clear grocery store shelves!

A rare event in NC – enough to clear grocery store shelves!

Okay, I know all of you who live in colder climates are laughing at us. And believe me, even we who are snow starved cried in sympathy with the folks in Buffalo over the excess snow they had earlier this season. Too much of anything is bad, just as is too little. Which brings me to my point; what does this have to do with writing?

I recently read an excellent blog about the proper amount of description to use when developing a story, characters, or setting. There were points made on both sides of the issue; all of them valid.

For me, less is more. I believe in the reader’s ability to fill in the details according to their take on the written word. Now, I’m not talking basics here. We all need to know the character’s sex, age, location setting, and basic personality traits. But beyond that, what is needed?

There is a very prolific author whose stories I enjoy. But, I’ve noticed that in more recent books, some of the descriptions are overkill; way too many words to describe a relatively unimportant action, or trait. And that is when I start skipping pages to get on to the meat of the story.

There is another prolific author that I also enjoy reading and this person has a skill I truly admire; that of minimal description. With one or two words, this author paints a complete picture that I can not only see in my head, but feel as if I know the character or scene in question.

So, which way should an author go to be successful in writing? My preference is obvious. But, what about yours? Next time I will discuss some ideas about developing one’s descriptive skills. Meanwhile, I hope each and every one of you has the best Christmas holiday ever and a New Year filled with the best of the best of God’s blessings!

Procrastination or Thanksgiving

Does procrastination freeze you in place, unable to move forward?

Does procrastination freeze you in place, unable to move forward?

We all know the holidays are breathing down our necks. Heck it’s less than a week until Thanksgiving. All of the obsessive-compulsive types lurking out there (ME), may be (ARE) panicked if he or she is like me and procrastinates until the last minute to get something, anything done.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and friends and very much enjoy gathering for the traditional dinner, and even cooking the usual dishes. The stress comes from waiting until the last minute to do it all. Year, after year; event after event, nothing changes, I’m always waiting until the last possible second to get the vacuum, feather duster and mop out of their dark, cob-web ridden corners. This year, I’m proud to say I’m ahead of the game. The vacuum cleaner is sitting in the living room, just waiting for me to plug it in and turn it on. It’s been there for over a week. I’m staring at it as I type these words. But, I just can’t get the gumption to walk three feet over to it and actually turn it on. It silently mocks me, daring me to overcome whatever fear it is that holds me hostage in my chair. But heck, that doesn’t bother me. I’ll turn it on when I’m good and ready and not a moment before!

I’m sure there are plenty of therapists out there that salivate over dissecting the causes and cures for people like me. I’m just not making myself available to them! Even though I know I have an issue with procrastination, nothing changes. And, I hate to admit it, but I’m the same way with my writing. Yep, something I enjoy and get energized by doing, I procrastinate on doing. Go figure. To my defense, the proscrianation usually occurs when there is a deadline. Perhaps I just love playing with fire and pushing my boundaries as far as I can just to see what I can get away with. Or, maybe it’s something deeper. I have no clue.

I think a lot of writers chant the “I-can-put-it-off-until-next week-next month-next year” mantra. We’re not that unusual a species. Are there advantages to being a procrastinator? I’m not sure. I can certainly rationalize why I put things off, but if there is a benefit to it, I haven’t discovered it yet.

Many people do their best work when under pressure, and writers often rank at the top of that list. Many don’t plan on putting off that all important assignment; but instead get caught in the pressures and demands of daily living. I know I can claim that excuse 90 per cent of the time. As writers we can claim “Writer’s Block” for a good amount of procrastination, but not all of it. We also can claim family demands; no one will argue with that. What I think it comes down to are priorities. What really is most important to us?
When I take the time to re-assess my reasons for writing, I somehow get a sudden inspiration and often find myself typing away within minutes of that revelation. If I could just keep it going. But, it’s like being on the never-ending diet, the motivation that gets one through the first day or two somehow likes to evaporate like a sun drenched mist in the aftermath of a summer thunderstorm. And I suddenly find myself staring at a blank screen not sure how I got there in the first place.

Whatever psychological reasons exist for one’s procrastination, I think it is critically important that we do not beat ourselves up over it. Instead, we need to accept who we are, determine our priorities of what must be done and even more importantly, what we want to get done. Just adding that little bit of “want” to the equation can often be all the impetus needed to get that wheel rolling. Just thinking of the rewards of completing a successful piece can sometimes be enough. Sometimes we need more motivation. Whatever is needed, please search for it. Those words, thoughts, emotions and scenes playing out in your head will be something that entertains, evokes thought, or can even change one’s life. Don’t keep it to yourself; feel free to share it. More people than perhaps you imagine can be affected by your work. And that in itself could be the best motivation to overcome procrastination yet.

Happy Thanksgiving! And yes, I did plug in the vacuum cleaner today.

Distorted Words

Distorted thinking. Most people hear this term and think some type of mental dysfunction is at play. But in reality, we all are affected by distortion in our lives.

These windows distort the light, so images cannot appear true when viewed through this distorted lens.

These windows distort the light, so images cannot appear true when viewed through this distorted lens.

We get so used to it, however, that after a while, we don’t see it or even notice it.

So, what does this have to do with writing? First of all, when writing, it is very easy to “get lost” in the story, the characters or even the setting. We see our work as “complete” when in reality it may be missing key pieces, such as words, punctuation, or even information that was intended to be included but left out.

Writing distortion can happen to anyone. You don’t have to be a new writer to suffer from it. In fact, seasoned writers may be more prone to distortion since they have developed a routine of writing that causes the brain to develop a picture of what is perceived and therefore makes it harder to detach from that picture and actually see missing words or words that are out of place.

It is frustrating to read works that are well thought out, executed and meaningful only to see the word that should have been deleted, or is the wrong tense, or uses the wrong “two” instead of the correct “too” glaring at you. It’s like an email you get that tells you “your” going to love whatever it is they are selling. Instead, most likely “you’re” going to by-pass that message, dismissing it because of the glaring mis-use of a word. I could just scream!

I recently read an excellent, fast-paced, and thrilling novel. It was truly one that I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. The problem? I lost count after finding thirty-five “distortions” (words missing or unnecessary, ones that made no sense, or had the wrong spelling) in the first chapter alone. I enjoyed the book but let the author know that a good and thorough copy edit was needed.

And this brings up the whole point of editing. We all need it! We need someone other than ourselves to carefully read through and check for these types of mistakes. In this day and age of computers, spell checks and even predictive text, it is easier than ever to overlook these distorted words.  It happens to every writer.

Yeah, I know. Not every writer can afford a professional edit. But the truth is, even if you get picked up by a traditional publisher, most authors, unless already well known, are responsible for the edit. So, how does a writer deal with such things?

Get a friend to read your manuscript. Be open to any suggestions made. If you have a friend who teaches or is a big reader; especially of the genre you are writing, even better. Again, it may not be the high priced edit, but it will help you get your work to the place you want it to be.

Another option is to put your manuscript in a drawer or somewhere that it won’t constantly remind you of its presence. This only works if deadlines are not in play! After your work has aged appropriately, pull it out and savor your words. Look at each one slowly and without haste. Judge it as if it is a fine wine that only gets better with time. Imperfections will show up easier and you won’t be as likely to overlook them. Even with this route, it is still a great idea to have another person read it, preferably someone who did not read it earlier.

None of us is perfect and that will never change. We can work to be the best we can be, with each attempt improving us and our talent. Even though we all know we won’t achieve perfection, we can reach for this goal and that makes for work that is worth attention, good, positive attention. We want to be noticed, but for all the right reasons.

Go grab that glass of wine. Swirl it about your glass. Notice the fine details. Consider how the meniscus marks the side of the glass. Study the clarity of the liquid. Inhale the vapors and savor the aroma. Don’t be afraid of age, both in the wine and in your work. Both can produce an even better product. Cheers!

How Not to Write a Book

Off chasing yet another tangent

Off chasing yet another tangent

From time to time I am asked where did I get the inspiration for and how did I plot Against Their Will. The answer is one that often surprises people, especially those who are preparing to write their own books. I simply started with a couple of people I could visualize, adapted a real life event in my own life and inserted them into it. After that event concluded, I had no idea where the book was going next or where it would end up. I just had two characters who had experienced a cataclysmic event in their lives. For those organized and perhaps anal writers, this is not the way to start! But, I will admit, I am a free-thinker, and being creative, I don’t want to be “boxed in” by parameters, especially those set by others. My husband often accuses me of deliberately doing the opposite of what I am told to do, just because I can. And, I do! It drives him crazy, but I’m happy.

When I started on my first novel (long since buried in the trash can), I wrote what I liked to read. I still do. Reading a variety of other works, and a good dose of those that fall into the same genre as what I am writing in, helps me to develop my own voice and style. This initially didn’t help me with the plotting conundrum, but as I have learned to step back and analyze my work, what I learn from other writers makes a big contribution to my own development. I’m not advocating any kind of plagiarism, but rather the studying the styles and methods of successful writers is a way, especially for new writers but also more experienced ones, to see the types of things that work and those that don’t work. .

Because I love thrillers and suspense novels and those are the books I want to write, I asked myself what could I do next to surprise the reader. Nineteen chapters and one prologue later, my novel was born.

Despite the challenge and fun of creating a story in this manner, I would never suggest to another author to use this method. Using an outline as a skeleton and then adding “meat” to it would be my preferred method. However, I am the kind of author that gets “lost” in the created world I am developing and it is just more fun to let the tangents rule and follow their trails in unknown directions. A pre-defined story map is often limiting to those of us who let their creative sides trump the more structured side of their writing minds.

One big set-back to the tangent writing style is the fact that it can get complicated keeping the story straight. This caused a lot of re-writes and edits in my case. It also necessitated a content edit to be sure all the dangling events were tied together and resolved.

Although I still utilize the Tangent Style of writing in my other books, I have incorporated a new method to help me focus. That is, I write the ending just as soon as I have the opening scene completed. This gives me a “finish line” or goal to achieve and helps to keep my wandering ways in check. It also helps when I get “stuck” or blocked. I re-read the ending and visualize what the characters would have had to do to get to that point. Soon after, the creative juices get flowing again and my fingers are tapping away on the keyboard.