Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Chisel Away by Lea Schizas

Starting out as a fiction writer appears frightening at first with tons of questions running through your mind, like:

Where do I begin?
What shall I write about?
Do I need to take writing courses?
Am I a fool to think I can write?

Let me say that the determined writer sticks it out and allows the questions to be answered as the career moves along. No one has the answers right from the start. This is a hands-on business, learning from your rejection letters, fellow peer critiques, and editors suggestions along with tons of reading.
Writing is an art that can be learned, regardless if the thought 'must be born a writer’ crosses your mind. This is negative energy you might as well toss out the door because I guarantee you this force will stagnate your writing.

Repeat: I am a Writer!

Now let me set the true writing descriptively—flushing out characters and plot lines are not easy but maintaining a positive energy intertwined with determination and perseverance will be your pulling force to succeed.

 As Pluto said, “The one thing I know for sure is that I know nothing.” 

As new writers you build your knowledge base one step at a time. I am sure if you ask almost any writer to go back and reread their first writings as newbies, they’ll cringe because they now know and have mastered writing tight. Those first pieces of penned stories will clearly display the lack of fine-tuning, more telling than showing, rambling dialogue unconnected to the plot, stick figure characters, and more.
Those same writers will all offer this bit of advice: read, read, and read some more. Reading helps to examine various writing voices until you finally have mastered your own.

Join a writer’s critique group. By reading and helping other writers, your own writing ability is honed. Noticing mistakes in other writings helps you to subconsciously avoid these areas.

Developing your craft needs patience but more than that, you need to schedule a writing slot each day. Regardless if you manage to only write 100 words a day, the satisfaction knowing you are maintaining your ‘status’ as writer will eventually spruce you into lengthier word counts.

To de-complicate your life as a fiction writer, let me offer 3 main questions I pose before I settle into the actual writing of any story.

Who is my main character and what is his/her story?

What is his/her obstacle/problem/goal to achieve?

What is standing in his/her way?

Answer these questions and you have a summery and condensed outline to begin writing his/her/story.
Ex. Using the questions above, this was my own summary to begin my young adult novel Rock Kingdom:

1-Alexandra Stone discovers her parents kept a family secret from her that may have prevented her current and dangerous situation if they had confided in her.

2-She needs to safely reach Rock Kingdom, evading the creatures from Dread’s Forest out to capture her.

3-She discovers along the way that it is her Uncle who has set these creatures after her. Yet, she is placed in a confused state trying to unravel the question eating away at her: Is he good or bad?

Above I had set the premise for my novel by simply answering three easy questions.

Writing fiction is like chiseling your first sculpture. At first the presentation of your bust looks scrambled, out of shape. As you move along you chip here, you file there, and slowly a shape begins to take place. With a consistent effort and determination to perfect your sculpture, the end result will be one of satisfaction only if you persevere and continue developing and fine-tuning all the rough edges.

I hope you've enjoyed this week's Muse Marquee article. Please join us again next Tuesday.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Grab Your Reader With Conflict

Grab Your Reader with Conflict
by Lea Schizas

No, not conflict of interest…not conflict within your being…but conflict found in a story.

What exactly is conflict in a story? Simple…a problem/obstacle your main character needs to overcome by the end of the story. Think of it as your engine that drives your car forward. Without one your car remains idle, collecting dust in the driveway. Give your car a super booster engine and you’ll be coasting the streets with no worries. Well, until the police stop you.

In a story conflict moves your character through various situations he must overcome. This intrigues and pulls your reader deeper into the story, connecting with your character’s predicament. A character needs to have a hurdle tossed at them, makes for an intriguing situation to find out the outcome. Without an outcome, there is no magnetic charge with your reader.

Before writing your story and making up your character profile, ask yourself these questions:

1-    What will be the main goal my character will face and need to overcome?
2-    Who will be my target audience?

The second question is important because it will help to focus your words and subject matter to suit the appropriate audience. For stories aimed at children, your focus will need to adapt to a child’s view of the world around them. Most of the time the story is told through the character’s point of view aged a few years older than the intended audience. For example, if you aim your story for the 8 – 10 age group then setting a story for a twelve year old character would be best since kids always like to read and associate with kids a bit older than them.

What subject matter can you write about for this age group? Middle grade readers love mysteries, soft spooky tales ( no knife-wielding maniacs, head chopping, blood and core etc, more suspenseful and ‘goose-bumping tales like in the “Goosebumps” books), magical tales (Harry Potter), even teeny bopper stories like “The Babysitters Club” or  “Sweet Valley High”. These latter ones are suitable for the Young Adult market, too.


Here are some examples of conflicts in some books:

- the almighty tried and successful ‘good against evil’
Think Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs…yes, these fairy tales were using the ‘good against evil’ method if you sit down and think about it. The wolves in both fairy tales were intent on overcoming their ‘so-they-thought’ weaker counterparts.

In the above examples, something stood in the protagonist’s way:

Harry tries to defeat Voldemort but problems and other antagonists along the way makes this quest difficult for him.

The Lord of the Rings finds Frodo’s quest to destroy the Ring but evil and dark forces stand in his way, too.

Luke Skywalker in Star Wars needs to defeat the new order of evil, and he, too, faces many obstacles and characters along the way.

In each of these examples, these obstacles (new smaller conflicts against the bigger goal they are after) causes a reader to continue reading to find out if he’ll be successful, how he will outsmart them, and what change will this cause in the main character. Along with these obstacles, throwing in some inner conflicts alongside the outer emotions helps to cast them more as three-dimensional beings, for example:

Luke Skywalker deals with the knowledge he has a sister somewhere out there. His inner being and emotions help to make him more sympathetic, which eventually bonds the reader to him. The same with Frodo; his world has been thrown for a loop when he takes on the quest of the Ring…along the way he begins to doubt if he, indeed, is the best man for this job. Also, he questions his will power to avoid succumbing to the dark forces once he has tasted the Ring’s power.

Another example to show you what ‘inner conflict’ means:

Let’s assume your book is based on a police officer who mistakenly shoots a young child while pursuing a suspect. It’s dark in the building and the kid jumped out of nowhere with a toy gun. The police officer is suspended while the case is being investigated.


How he deals and is dealt by his immediate peers
His struggle to remove the visions of the killing
The emotional turmoil as he waits for the investigation to conclude.
His dealings with the parents of the child he accidentally killed.

Throughout all of these emotions the one factor that will bind your reader to continue will be: How will he fare at the end of this book. The way you first portray this particular character in the beginning will be totally different by the end because of the various upsets he’s had to deal with. Show him as upbeat, nonchalant, no change at the end and you will lose your reader’s interest in the book and in you as an author.

Think of real life: if you had to go through a trauma as the officer in the example above, how would it change you? A writer needs to wear his character’s shoes and get inside his head to fully understand him. Write a story with a stick person and you get stale material. Write a story with powerful emotions and you have one interesting read.


By the end of your book all inner and outer conflicts need to have reached a conclusion. Whether your character overcame or failed is not as important as making sure he tried to meet them head on. You cannot place a conflict (or foreshadow) without making sure by the end of the story some sort of a resolution was made. This is cheating a reader and they WILL notice, especially if one of those conflicts was the one he’s been hoping to see the outcome to.
Thank you for reading this week's Muse Marquee. Feel free to share this with your friends, and join us once again next Tuesday.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sunday Musings: How much continuing series detail...

Welcome to your Sunday Musings, we're always thrilled to have you visit.

As you know we're musing on series this month and Chuck Bowie is asking:

When writing a series, how much detail (of the original plot, continuing characters) do you re-visit in subsequent episodes: Books 2, 3, 4...?

I believe, when thinking about detail and characters in subsequent episodes of a series, we're treading on a somewhat personal approach. I've read series, for example, where the same dozen characters 'inhabit' every novel. I can't do that, or at least, I haven't succeeded to date. When I create a series, I create their attending (no pun intended) world. In many cases, I try to make it much like the real world, since I write contemporary thrillers. So, just as in the real world, characters come and go. If we look at Murder, She Wrote, all the villagers would be dead and poor Angela would be all alone, wondering why folks don't visit. (It's because they were all murdered, Angela!)

So, I keep a very small core of characters, and others come and go, as the plot dictates.
And, since Life is Change, my characters tend to evolve. This is a good thing, but one cannot expect to have a man seeking redemption, as my guy Donovan is, be conscienceless in the first half of Three Wrongs, and to still be remorseless in Book 4. People change, and their actions and interests must change.

That said, the series is called Donovan: Thief For Hire, so our Gentle Reader can surely expect someone to get hired to steal. We have some measure of constancy, and some change. It's the way of the world, folks, even in my novels!

In my series I will try to drop reminders about who the secondary characters are, and I might refer to previous events in passing, like anyone would in real life, but I don't try to do a full recap of the previous book. I guess I have some expectation that the reader will begin with the first book, though I did get a nice review on Amazon from someone that couldn't get past the rough scene in the first chapter of Forging Day but still bought the sequel, Family Values. She read that, went on to read the companion book to Forging Day (which takes place before Family Values) and then finally picked up Forging Day. It's not how I would expect someone to read it, but it worked for her.

I found I had to revisit any details about events that were not discussed in the book. So really it was anything that happened in the first book that pertained to the plot of the second book. I did this either in narrative or in flashbacks to explain relationships between continuing characters and in conversation when an event is not understood for the reader. I tried very hard not to give too much detail, but I wanted to catch up the reader on the history of these events and relationships with the characters. My feeling is that the author needs to give the basic details of the first novel so someone can read this one without having the need to read the first novel. Yet, of course, you can’t give everything, so you pick and choose and generalize so the reader gets the basic gist of what happened. It’s like the previously’s on TV for a show. So in the first chapter a lot of the end of the first book was used to familiarize new readers to the story.

For example: Though Jennifer is the main character of the second book, when Carolyn is introduced in the second book their relationship in the first one is discussed. It is completely different from the first book so readers of the first one will be surprised. But new readers who have no idea of what their relationship was earlier need to be given their history. Then they will understand the change and be aware of the dynamics of the two girls’ friendship.

 Sunday's Child is the first in my series of novels set in the Regency era. Monday's Child will be published in Spring, 2016 and I have nearly finished Tuesday's Child, which I shall submit soon.

In each standalone novel, some characters from Sunday's Child take part. Monday's Child introduces three sisters, Georgianne, Helen and Barbara. Georgianne is the heroine in Sunday's Child, and Helen is the heroine in my new release, Monday's Child. The heroine in Tuesday's Child, my work-in-progress, is Harriet, a minor character from Sunday's Child. She is helped by Georgianne, who plays a minor but important part in the story.

Of course, ideally I'd love for everyone to have read my whole series and remember all of them perfectly :-). However, I am always trying to attract new readers, so I want to make it as easy as possible to start with any of the four books. Since my series, Novels of Aleyne, is science fiction, I have to include enough details about my aliens, the Aleyni, the culture, political situation, and whatever, for the book to make sense. In addition, although each novel features a different main character, the ones from previous novels keep re-appearing, and so I need to include enough details about their life situation to date for what I'm currently writing to make sense.

Of the four novels, the one with the most “recap” is Broken Bonds. The entire first chapter, which is about 5,000 words, is basically a retelling of the first novel in the series from the point of view of Brad Reynolds rather than from Keth's, the main character from Relocated.

For my upcoming series, Serpents and Flame, each book more or less directly follows its predecessor. My sequel picks up roughly a week after the first book ends. The same follows for the third book. Without reading the first book, you would have no clue what was going on or who people were. Some people write a series where, really, the plots are so singular that they could be read as standalones. For that I think of Sherlock Holmes; you have a hazy idea of how the stories connect, but really you don’t have to read A Study in Scarlet to understand The Adventure of the Speckled Band (as long as you have an idea of who Holmes and Watson are, at least). Mine are more of just a really long story broken up into volumes. A core group of maybe six characters appear in each book and have a central role in the plot, and then a larger group of secondary characters fall in and out. Everything in the latter installments is grounded in things from Book One.  

For me, a series, by its nature, means a continuous tie or multiple ties throughout all the books. Not only do I utilize continuing characters, but each book in the series advances my overall series arc. To do this, I have to bring in bits and pieces of previous plots or reappearance of characters. Because my PSY-IV Team books focus on different couples in each installment, the continuing character reappearance is vital. Not only does it give my readers a touchstone as they move through the series, but it helps to develop characters that may find themselves as the focus of their own story. On the flip side of this, I try not to revisit previous story elements if they have no impact on the current story. For example, if in Book 3 you mention the characters from Book 1 and how they got together, it could be a simple sentence of two, just enough to make the reader who’s been with you from day one nod their head in recognition and continue along, while the reader just joining you may make a mental note to go back and check out the story behind that comment. But only if their names come up for a significant reason, and their appearance fits in with the current story, otherwise you don’t want to be in Book 6, trying to recap the previous five stories and possibly pushing your readers out of the current story.

Character details must continue throughout the series.  The history must continue.  As for other details or incidents from the previous books, that depends on the situation.  Where the stories in several novels are following a continuing line, the earlier information is important.  For example, the hunt for stolen armaments began in FIRE PLANET, continued in JUNGLE ASSAULT, and finished in CALL TO ARMS, books 7, 8, and 9 in the Star Commandos series.  Details which impact on later stories must be recalled to the reader's mind in those newer works.  Those which deeply affect a character or characters must always be present throughout the series.

MJ LABEFF, New Mainstream author

This depends on whether or not the original plot or information regarding the continuing characters is needed to move the story or characters forward in subsequent books. Readers may need a bit of reminding but this brings us back to last week’s Sunday Musings where we talked about planting enough facts and actions in early episodes to sow the seeds for actions in subsequent novels.  In my series the Last Cold Case, I’ve found opportunities for the homicide detective and FBI agent to discuss previous cases, finding it important for two reasons. The first is to remind readers about those cases that had placed the homicide detective in grave danger, illustrating her obsessive and willing to risk-it-all, rogue attitude which makes the FBI agent a by-the-rules kind of guy absolutely mad, but somehow they manage to work together and even manage to find their happily ever after. The second is to pique the interest of a reader who may have picked up the series in the middle and is now intrigued just enough to go back and read the previous books. When writing a series much of this is organic, the information about the original plot and characters seems to just happen while writing subsequent books, and I think that’s because it is integral information needed to move the story forward.

In my developing series Adventures of the Half-Dozen, which are stand-alone books, I have mentioned, in passing, a couple happenings that are told in detail in the previous book(s), but it is not necessary to have read that book to feel the current story is not complete.  However, since they take place in the same location, the school, stores involved, friends met previously, and maybe an incident or two, are briefly mentioned, but not necessarily fully detailed.

For instance, in All Because of Chickens there is a complete description of when Sam saved his chickens from a hawk attack.  In the sequel, Lessons from the Sheepfold (due out this fall/winter), it is just mentioned as: “…otherwise, if you hadn’t deterred that hawk last month, there would be eleven hens out there on the steps instead of twelve!”  Sam felt a shudder shake his body as he remembered his fight with the hawk.

I guess it is a way to let the reader know there is a previous story, and something about it, if the current tale is captivating enough he or she would like to read another adventure of the same characters. 

Dear reader, thank you again for joining us and we’d love to hear from you. Keep smiling and have a fun week. Never stop believing. See you next Sunday…nothing better than being cozy in bed with some Musings.

If you have a question or comment you’d like us to muse upon, do not hesitate to contact me Christine Steeves-Speakman  at MuseChrisChat@gmail.com