Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Value of the Vulnerable Villain

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

With Halloween not far away, it seems a fitting time to honor the bad guys of fiction, without whom there wouldn't be much of a story.  Without a worthy foe, a hero is just another joe.

It's not hard to come up with a character whose wants are in direct opposition to those of our protagonist.  The trick is creating a bad guy to whom the reader can relate, a connection which inherently increases the fear factor.  To see ourselves reflected in a villain can be quite disquieting.

Hungry Hungry Hannibal
Who could resist the cultured charm of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs?  Certainly not FBI ingénue Clarice Starling, in spite of — or perhaps because of — his ability to get into her head. But Hannibal wasn't always a cannibal.  His propensity for people eating has its roots in a childhood tragedy in which his own sister was devoured.  While that would ruin most normal appetites, we can appreciate that it could put a side of insanity on the menu.

Speaking of charmers, the man Harry Potter fans know as Snape made his mark in the movies by playing Die Hard's dapper terrorist Hans Gruber.  (Not to be confused with classical composer Heinz Gruber, although there was a certain artful orchestration to his masterminding.) 

We may think of the Wicked Witch of the West as little more than the green face of evil.  But I'd be a little miffed too if someone dropped a house on my sister.  And I don't even have one.

Captain Hook's beef with Peter Pan goes way back, but wasn't helped by the fact that the very reason he has a hook is because of Peter.  Avenging an injustice, again, can be a powerful motivator.

More recently, a pivotal character in The Fault in Our Stars seems at first to have no redeeming qualities until the cause of his unsociable behavior is revealed.

A look at most of the classic movie monsters — presumably the most heinous of the horde — reveals a deep-seated humanity, often that of a misunderstood or tortured soul.  From the Wolfman to the Frankenstein creation that started it all, most were innocent recipients of their lot in life. Quasimodo and The Phantom of the Opera are at their core pathetic figures deformed by life and a lack of love.  

We do well whenever we can cast a villain who is more than a cardboard cutout of crime.  The more relatable he is, the more we sympathize with him, and the more real he becomes.

Basically, we love a villain who has a heart.  As long as it's not someone else's.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Why You Need a Social Media Audience

By Becky Muth

When I gave up a paltry retail job to begin a career in freelance writing, I had no idea it would lead to authoring a book. One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew I was registered for 2013 National Novel Writing Month. I met a wonderful group of local writers and plan to release the book, a collection of 13 short stories, this fall.

This spring I released one of the stories in digital format. It did not occur to me until after the fact that I needed an audience that was not only interested in the book, but that would follow its progress beyond its release date – especially if I planned to write additional books. After all, books don’t sell themselves.

Three Tips to Build a More Authentic Audience

Having an audience is a big step on the ladder to success. You don’t need thousands of social media followers, just the most dedicated ones who are sincerely interested in your work. These people are more likely to tell others about your work – up to ten other people per follower.

Naturally building an audience can be a slow process, but here are some of the ways you can attract genuine followers on social media, regardless of the network:

1.     Post Fresh Content Frequently – Your followers love fresh content. It keeps them interested. Google loves it, too and uses this to authenticate your internet footprint. That means when people use Google to search for you, you are more likely to show up at the top of the results.

2.     Respond to Reader Messages – When you respond to reader comments and questions, you send an underlying message that says, “I respect the time you spent to contact me.” A thoughtful reply can mean the difference between a fan for a moment, or for a lifetime.

3.     Keep Calm and Carry On – Avoid confrontation at all cost. Your job as a writer is to share the written word with your followers. If someone has an opinion about your work that you disagree with, then agree to respectfully disagree.

The Difference between Opinions and Trolls

While letting someone have a different opinion than yours is courteous, it is not an invitation for harassment or any other kind of online abuse. Wikipedia describes an internet troll as “a person who sows discord on the internet by starting arguments or upsetting people.” If you feel you’re being trolled, report it to the network administrator or block the person from following you.

Whether you’re tied to a publisher or are an indie author, it’s up to you to build your audience. Set aside 30 minutes a day to spend on the business side of your social media accounts. Success won’t happen overnight. Stay true to those who follow you on social media networks, and you’ll hold their attention. More importantly, they will be more likely to stay true to you.

Becky Muth never planned to write full time, but in January 2012 that is exactly what happened. Between freelance gigs for clients on four continents, she works to finish her debut novel, HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS, due out in the autumn of 2014. Becky lives with her husband (a retired career firefighter) and their two (home schooled) teenage sons, as well as their adopted pets, three mixed-breed dogs and a turtle named Speedy. During her free time she enjoys traveling with her family, reading, and knitting. Have you liked the page for my new book? Get updates about release dates and upcoming contests here: https://www.facebook.com/hauntedwomenoftheappalachians
Twitter: @beckythemom

Friday, October 17, 2014

My Voyage to Author

By Daniel O’Neil

It was Tuesday, July 29, 2014. Publication day for Bodies on the Potomac.  BOTP wasn’t my first manuscript, but it was the first to go the distance, to reach an audience. The feeling I had that morning was a combination of nerves, elation, apprehension, anticipation and wonder. And for just a moment, I sat in the big comfortable writing chair in front of my trusty iMac and reminisced about the journey.

As voyages go, it was not a long one if measured in terms of the age of the solar system. But fifteen years passed from the completion of my first manuscript to the time my third effort reached publication day. There’d been slush piles and agents; there were words of encouragement, there was much rejection; there were editors and rewrites; there were PR firms; there were moments of sunshine, moments of darkness.

But mostly, there were days of writing. Some long days, some short, but primarily days filled with surprises. What would Taylor Clark do today? How corrupt is the crowd in Washington? How evil is the bad guy? These questions and others surfaced repeatedly, but answered in the flow of a day’s work. The most fun was when a scene surprised even me. One incident was such a shock that I remember the hair on the back of my neck standing up as I wrote the last sentence. Fun stuff. And while I’ll never know if the reader experiences the same jolt, a guy can always hope.

The rewrite process cannot escape mention, because not only is rewriting the difference between a good book and a sloppy book, it’s also close quarters combat. No, I would not rather have a root canal than work on rewrites, but reconstruction is painful. It’s not so much that I’m admitting that what I put down the first time wasn’t good; rather it’s the difficulty of retaining proper story linkage when I delete or add or modify. At one point during a discussion of an editorial memo for BOTP, it was suggested that I consider ‘airlifting’ a section from the back of the manuscript to near the beginning. Panic flared. Frustration, too. I didn’t see it; this was all wrong; I would stand and fight.

Instead, I went out for coffee. I seethed. The coffee cooled. I cooled. I finished the coffee. And, son of a gun, suddenly it all made sense.  That’s not to say my acceptance made the constructing of the change any easier, but it taught a good lesson: outside, trustworthy eyes are an invaluable asset.

I’ll try to remember that the next time curses fly from my mouth. 
Daniel O’Neil is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a former sports broadcaster and current insurance consultant. His personal collection of fiction is extensive and serves as his inspiration to introduce readers to BODIES ON THE POTOMAC, his debut novel. O’Neil, the father of two sons, has lived in a variety of locations, including Wisconsin, California, Indiana, Kentucky, and South Carolina. He currently resides in Florida where he is at work on his next book. Follow Dan on Twitter: @danieloneilbook Like Dan’s Author Page: Facebook
Find out more about Dan on his website

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fall into Daily Writing

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

Most people turn over a new leaf with the ringing in of New Years Day and set new goals. However, when leaves begin to turn glorious colors and subsequently fall to the ground, I get geared up for a recommitment to daily writing. 

For me, it helps to set new daily writing goals before the busy holiday season begins. It also helps give me a kick start towards the National Novel Writing Month Challenge. What is the challenge?

Write at least 50,000 words in a month. Yes, it's doable. You will not go crazy, you just have to get the right mind set. Remember the first day of any college class? The professor gives out a syllabus listing various papers' due dates. Those dates always seem far away but quickly appear. The lessons I learned in my college years was to start planning for writing assignments in my career by daily writing. 

To successfully write 50,000 words in a month, you have to STOP the human nature of self editing. Silence that inner editor. That includes all temptations to edit. The purpose of NaNo Writing is to just get as many words on paper as possible. If you're a "seat of the pants" type writer, you will probably have an easier time in just free flow writing. However, if you're a "plotter-outliner" you can still be successful by doing a little bit of prep work before November 1st, start date of the challenge. Just jot out a short outline and then write.

Let me break it down for you. If you have a website and do a daily blog post of 500 words per post, you only need to write roughly 1200 more for a total of 1700 a day to easily meet your NaNoWriMo goal or over 50,000. Your goal isn’t to end the month with a completely polished novel, but to write each and every day. Successful authors always advise to become a writer you must write.

Are you curious of any best-sellers that started as a National Novel Writing Month projects? The following are just some of the success stories that came from the challenge; Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Wool by Hugh Howey, The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough, Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress by Marissa Meyer, Persistence of Memory by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, BreakupBabe by Rebecca Agiewich, Take the Reins by Jessica Burkhart, The Movie by Bosley Gravel, Livvie Owen Lived Here by Sarah Dooley,Losing Faith by Denise Jaden, The Compound by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, The Hungry Season by T. Greenwood, Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen by Donna Gephart, and The God Patent by Ransom Stephens.

So what do you have to lose? Nothing but a best-seller, if you don't even try the challenge.

Join with me writers and fall into writing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Free-Fall into Inspiration

By Ann McCauley

We won’t discuss how I look in a swimsuit. This is not an ad for Sports Illustrated, but imagine with me, if you will... I step onto a springboard, align my heart, mind, and body, bounce high in the air to free-fall, and plunge, hands outstretched, into a vast Olympic pool called today’s world of writing.

That’s the dream. Now, here’s the reality.

What exactly do I do all day? I pick brains, otherwise known as author interviews. I chat about my status with friends and colleagues on Facebook. I work hard at promoting other writers. I tweet, which is to feed a twitter, I suppose. I hoot scheduled announcements of wisdom, and… oh, did I say write? I did not say make money. I give away money (gift baskets, embossed pens, one sheets, and business cards), but I do not make money. Not yet.

Why? Why do I do this? Because, this is what I do. If I could escape it, I would. Who in their right mind wouldn’t?

You see, I have this springboard called vision. It’s flexible, yet sound—anchored. It’s a vision God’s planted on my insides. Quality control checks it! With one flutter of my eyelashes I can see myself poised, springing into a beautiful dive, and splashing into a pool of words that inspire and guide others, whether I’m published many times over or not.

The alignment of all that I have is continually tested. Will my posture maintain its right attitude, despite rejection, disillusionment, heartbreak? Okay, I sound like a drama queen, but I can wallpaper a room with rejection letters—yes, I can. I am continually (don’t be harsh about my “ly” word) washed, wrung, heat dried, and pressed, but I cannot stay down. I cannot quit. I must often strike a new pose, shoulder’s elevated, a determined gaze on the horizon.

Then comes the free-fall. My faith. It places me in thin air above deep waters. I am a weenie not a hot dog! Once I’ve jumped there’s no way back to the board. My faith shouts believe, while my vision says jump higher, and the attitudes shout rah-rah, rise to the task. All the while, I am in free-fall?

The free dive is the hardest. It’s a combination of all dives. While twisting and somersaulting, your body must be straight. Arrow straight. Like faith, it’s made of that firm, hopeful stuff unseen by the human eye.

This is not another don’t give up talk. There is one thing you can do, if you find yourself in my position. Make the most of every assignment on your list today. Whatever path writing takes you down, whether it’s social media, marketing, rewrites, blogging… do it with all your heart. Make the most of your moments. If your words are heard by one, you are accomplished. If your craft grows, you aren’t where you were yesterday. If writing brings you a friend, you could be blessed a lifetime. Renew your vision. Pump up those right attitudes. 

Have faith, writer.

Ann McCauley married her sweetheart thirty-eight years ago. The McCauley’s have seven children, four internationally adopted. Ann’s first stories were published by Baker/ Revell in the book, Loved by Choice—True Stories That Celebrate Adoption. She led a local chapter of The Compassionate Friends, a national organization for grieving parents, and a grief counseling support group, Wellsprings. Ann, a songwriter for many years, has led praise and worship, shared her original music with churches, and performed in fundraising for Holt International Adoption Agency. Mrs. McCauley has shared her adoption and homeschooling experiences with churches, rotary clubs, women’s seminars, and homeschool support groups. She’s been a speaker and singer throughout Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Ann’s motivational speaker service, The Power Behind the Story, can be found on her website. She is now taking bookings for engagements. Having written three historical novels, Ann hopes one will be picked up by a publisher soon. Her agent is Diana L. Flegal of Hartline Literary Agency. Website and Blogs:  http://anncoopermccauley.com/    https://twitter.com/ACMcWrites https://www.facebook.com/anncooper.mccauley  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Two Questions for Writers

By Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief, Southern Writers Magazine

Here is a question for a writer. Do you know that you are a business? Yes, you are the business; you create the stories that are published in the books to be sold to the readers.

Here is another question for you. Who owns this business? Yep, You. You are the sole owner of this business.

This can be scary for some people who like to work in a group. But if you are a writer, you know all too well writing is a one-person job unless you collaborate with another author. With that said, you are not alone though. There are people out there, just like you. When authors come together and share with each other it helps them keep from feeling isolated.

It’s important for writers to learn from each other especially what marketing avenues are working for each. For instance, Facebook–each author should have a Facebook page and interact with your ‘readers’. I know that is information everyone knows. But sometimes we forget how important those pages are and that they are a marketing tool for us as a business. This is a place we share information about what we are writing. It’s also a place for us to share information about our books we have already written. One of the best ways is to get feedback and interaction from the reader.

One of the ways to get readers interested is telling them how you came about writing a particular book. Maybe tell them about how you had to research it, give a little more info to get a little more attention. Think about things that you would like to know about a particular book written by someone. What questions would you like to ask them? Your readers will want to know the same type of things.

Now, another way to get them to interact is by posting contests and games, things that will encourage their feedback and participation. Use your imagination.

The important thing is for the reader to get to know you and be interested in what you are writing. 

They will be if you involve them in your process.

By the way, don’t just try this once. Create this into your weekly activity with Facebook. Use Facebook as a tool to increase your reader base.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Brainstorming Secrets to Build Story Conflict

By Michelle Lim

Secrets snatch up live news feeds, tabloid articles, history book pages, and even a parent’s diligent attention as their child reveals who really “started it.” They’ve long held our fascination and changed relationship dynamics.

We often forget to incorporate the power of secrets into our stories unless it is genre driven. What a missed opportunity!

Think of the secrets throughout history that caused scandal, intrigue, and continued study. People are still trying to solve riddles of historical crimes and missing treasures. It’s time to cash in on the power of secrets in our stories.

If you say, “That’s all well and good, but I struggle to brainstorm secrets,” don’t panic! Here’s a brainstorming strategy that helps me create plot-deepening secrets for my story characters.

Brainstorming Secrets in 3 Easy Steps:
Step One:
*Take a truth from your character’s values that would facilitate an expected response. Find an opposing value to pit against it.
Truth:  You’ve been offered a job as a nanny with a wealthy family.

Value:  Meaningful employment that allows you to support yourself.                           

Twist:   You have a stalker that might put the kids at risk.

Decision:  Take the job and keep the situation a secret from the family, reject the job to insure the children’s safety and lose your independence, or tell the family and accept the job if they will hire you.
Step Two:
*Give knowledge of our character’s secret to someone who will use it against them.
Secret:  Tammy received a DUI in college before she made the decision to quit drinking.

Deviant:   The fiancé’s former girlfriend discovered Tammy’s secret. She uses it to get the job remodeling the couple’s new house. (Think of the opportunities for conflict introduced by the former girlfriend’s proximity.)

Lie that deepens the internal conflict:   Her fiancé won’t love or forgive her if he learns the truth because his father was killed by a drunk driver.
Step 3:
*Use a secret to create confusing contradictions in the character’s behavior.
Secret:  Carrie has always been picked last since elementary school. In college her professors assigned her lab partners who were always disappointed to work with her. She avoids situations where she will be left standing last.

Situation:  She is expected to participate in a Picnic Lunch Auction to benefit the children’s hospital’s new neonatal unit.

Choice:   She refuses to take part in the auction, certain her contribution won’t receive a large donation and she’ll be humiliated when no one bids on her lunch.

Confusion:   The auction committee members assume she’s snobbish, uncooperative, or uncaring because she doesn't have children of her own. The hero believes she’s self-centered. Her secret insecurity could potentially harm her reputation and relationships.

Secrets don’t have to be skeletons in the closet—a murderous history or a past affair—to be effective in deepening those all-important conflicts in a compelling story. Experiment with the idea of introducing a secret or two that naturally increases tension.

Author Michelle Lim is the Brainstorming/Huddle Coach with My Book Therapy Press and the Midwest Zone Director for American Christian Fiction Writers. Michelle’s romantic suspense is represented by Mary Keeley of Books & Such Literary Agency. Michelle writes devotionals for The Christian Pulse Online and Putting On The New as well as articles for her own blog, thoughtsonplot@wordpress.com. Since her nonfiction book release, Idea Sparking: How To Brainstorm Conflict In Your Novel, through public speaking and online chats Michelle helps writers discover the revolutionary power of brainstorming to bring new life to their stories.
Her Social Media Links: Twitter:  @MichelleLim24 Facebook: Michelle Lim