Friday, April 27, 2012

Demon Goals

Leisha here, and as you can see from the title, I'm talking about goals.

Now, don't start groaning.

Goals can be fun.

They make you happy.


And I'm not talking about the kind of goals you make on New Year's Eve. You know, the I'm going to lose weight, or the I'm going to write a novel goals. I'm talking about smaller ones. Let me give you an example:

I (shamefully) admit to being addicted to DragonVale. It's a simple little game app for the iPad, in which you raise dragons, grow food for them, and build them lovely little zoo-like habitats. Yes, I know, it's kind of pathetic that a grown woman spends some of her time trying to cultivate dragons.

But it's fun.

Why? Because at the beginning of the game they have all these goals for you. Things like: raise a lava dragon, build ten farms, raise a rainbow dragon, win a gold medal in a dragon contest... Just little stuff like that.

It might seem corny, but it's not. Here's why. The game creators didn't set a goal that said: Win the game. They set a whole bunch of little goals that are really achievable. They gifted the players with milestones.

And here's the thing, I went through the game checking off those goals like they were the yellow brick road to Oz. It gave me pleasure to strive for them and meet them. It kept me coming back each day for more.

And, when I reached all the goals, I kind of felt sad. I floundered. I lost all interest in the game. UNTIL the game makers, in their great wisdom, came out with new things for players to strive for. New dragons. New goals. Suddenly I was interested again.

Goals are powerful IF we use them right. They're like presents that tantalize us with shiny promises. They urge us forward. They offer a sense of completion. And I'm telling you, that in the novel writing business, where writing THE END doesn't come around that often, completion is a big deal.

I have this goal to finish my present novel. I've had it awhile. Sound familiar to anyone out there? Yeah, thought so. Anywho, this kind of goal is big. It's huge. It's amazing.

It's hard.

Hard sucks.

BUT, setting a variety of smaller goals isn't hard. It doesn't suck. And I'm not talking about just breaking your novel into scenes. I'm talking about turning the writing into an adventure. How so? Well, setting a goal to write a scene today sounds boring and sluggish and boring. Setting a goal to discover my main character's greatest fear is fun. Why? Because it's doable. It's different. It's tantalizing.

And guess what? I'll do that in a scene that magically gets me closer to THE END. Tricky huh?

Tomorrow I might set a goal to find out what might be worse than my MC's greatest fear. The next day, what it feels like to kiss an elf prince, or how flying feels, or what rotten fire peppers taste like. Anything that sparks that creative demon inside my soul into wakefulness.

Demons hate being bored. And so do I.

What goals are you going to set to wake your demons today?

Leisha Maw

Friday, April 20, 2012


Hi Scribblers!

Just wanted to post a quick note about a giveaway of a signed hardcover copy of Renegade Magic by Stephanie Burgis. Details of how to enter are in the top post on the book's Facebook fan page. Head on over there now to sign up!


Ahoy mateys! We be up to 200 followers! Here's to the Scribblers Cove!

Thanks to all o' ye for making this blog a fine place for writers to gather and blether about our literary ventures.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Elizabeth Shorts

Family: I'm searching for a great balance between writing, marketing and family. It's driving me nuts! I want to find a successful path of working smarter, not harder.

Darkspell update: It's amazing what everyone experiences. I've been told that authors don't get very much on book signings, yet that's where I've made the most money--a place where I show my face and smile and make friends! I purchased 200 books at the start and now I'm down to less than 50. Amazing...

Social networking: I found that there's a fine line between necessity and addiction. Have you found yourself obsessing over emails, or who said what to every little post on Facebook, Blogger, or Twitter?

Authorness: Well, I'm still getting used to the idea of public appearances, namely presentations. *shiver* I know the last one at TABC was a smashing hit once I decided to just be myself and have fun. It's like my first time every time I hold one--I'm hoping to get over my fear of public speaking!

Writing: I'm currently working on Hidden, a YA thriller type book (not sure what the genre is since the criminal is one of my MCs and he's 'abducted' the heroine.) I started it March 21st and have reached my 50k mark a few days ago. Yay!

Darkspell sequel: Naughty me, I haven't really worked on Darkwraith because I've competed one other book, Kursed, but Darkwraith is in the works. RockStar is a YA about a rock star (Moggie) who falls for little country girl Beth who discovers she has terminal cancer. Being an author with the very independent publisher makes me feel I have no direction so I'm all over the place. Aaack!

Looptee doo, I see you . . .

The month of April is abuzz with the alphabet if you haven't noticed already. So what's the fuzz? It's crazy how over 1500 bloggers scramble every day, posting their thoughts of the letter that day. Guess what? I'm a co-host. :O

What's your life like?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Emotional Structure in Your Novel

I'm a huge fan of novel structure. I believe that using structure doesn't make your story formulaic, it strengthens its core so that your story can carry an awesome premise to its fullest expression. Structure is the steel beam that you never see in your house, without which it would cave in on your head. Necessary. Invisible. Allows things like skyscrapers (bestsellers) to exist.

I keep a beat sheet at the ready, revising it often as I write, and track my adherence to the form using a beat sheet excel spreadsheet. But it wasn't until I read Peter Dunne's book Emotional Structure that I realized the character arc of a story has a similar underlying structure that holds up the story and makes it shine.

Some people know what their story is before they start writing. I'm not one of those people - in spite of being a hyper-plotter and structure-lover, the emotional evolution of my characters is something I know intuitively, but have a hard time expressing in words until I'm a draft or two into the novel. So I often revise to get the plot to follow the emotional arc, as I come to understand it. In my just-completed novel Closed Hearts, I understood the emotional arc of my character fairly well before the first draft - partly because it was heavily outlined and partly because it was the second book in a trilogy: I knew a LOT about where my MC had come from and where she was going. Yet, I still found myself going over her emotional arc again, even in the final draft, revising and rewriting to sharpen and strengthen her emotional journey.

But how do you do that exactly?

Dunne lays it out (in a somewhat meandering fashion) in his book Emotional Structure, and I encourage you to read it. But here's my Emotional Beat Sheet to get you started (note that when I say "dangerous" and "survival" this can be in the literal physical sense but also the emotional/spiritual sense):

Emotional Beat Sheet

THE OLD WORLD - Hero has survived by using practical ways to avoid pain (aka the Set Up in Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet)

This is our hero’s emotional starting state. He gets by in his day-to-day life, pretending to be someone else, covering old wounds, using skills carefully honed to deal with the troubles in his life. It’s working (sort of) and given his druthers, our hero would stay in this state. Of course, that can’t happen (or there would be no story). Sometimes there will be a “sigh moment” that signals how pitiful and unfulfilling this life is, so the reader knows: this cannot remain as is, because it is a death-of-the-soul. But the hero is determined to stay here, because it works for them.

PLOT HAPPENS: Something occurs that so that her defenses don’t work very well and she’s forced on a new path in order to survive long enough to get back to normal (aka the Inciting Incident)
The hero’s world is upset in some dramatic way so that her old way of operating in the world doesn’t help - in fact, using those old coping techniques may actually get her killed (or lose her job, or lose her boyfriend). Our hero scrambles to react to the new circumstances - just temporarily - because she's just sure if she fixes this one little problem, everything will go back to “normal” again.

IT GETS WORSE: Something happens that pushes her completely out of her old world (may be the shift into Act II, where our hero enters a “new world” of the story)
Now our hero's normal tools for survival aren’t working at all. Her emotional walls start to crack and her weaknesses are exposed (maybe weaknesses she wasn’t even aware of). She starts to question those old ways of dealing with the world, because they’re not working at all in this new world. The new world is strange and dangerous (to her emotionally) and she realizes that getting back to “normal” is going to be a lot tougher than she thought. She’s moved fully into this “new world” that requires new skills to cope.

LEAP OF FAITH: Things get so bad that her old habits become useless. She must be brave, take a leap of faith into the unknown (maybe the All is Lost or Dark Night of the Soul beat or possibly the Midpoint; this leap of faith is the emotional pivot point of the story)
Our hero has run out of old ways of dealing with the world. He’s tried and failed. He's beaten down by the plot (which doesn’t exist to beat our hero, but to force him to change). He finally is forced to take that leap of faith. To change. Because in his moment of vulnerability, he finds that he can learn, he can change, he can reach down into the depths and find that thing (that piece of the divine) that will allow him to move forward and triumph. In reaching deep inside, he will learn the secret history of his past - the thing that caused him to build up those defensive habits in the first place. He has to face those demons to move past them. The plot serves to force this to happen, to connect this moment to his physical survival.

THE NEW YOU: After the MC takes the leap of faith, he has to use these new emotional tools to solve his problems. He may be clumsy and frustrated at first, but he has to use them in order to survive (maybe break into Act III).
Our hero isn’t going to be super awesome with these new emotional tools right out of the gate. He may have figured out that he has to change, but may not know exactly how to make that work. He will try, again and again, through action and decisions, until we get to the climax of the story, where his use of these new tools will ultimately be critical to his survival.

If you line up this progression with your story, you may find spots where your emotional arc could use some propping up. This emotional progression may (or may not) line up with the Beat Sheet PLOT POINTS that I've mentioned above. The plot and emotional arc are interwoven, but the emotional arc is primary - the plot exists to force the character through their emotional journey.

My favorite quote from Dunne (paraphrased): The life-threatening plot doesn't exist to kill your character, but to reveal her.

In other words, the gun isn't there to kill your character, just to motivate them to change.

(Aren't we authors mean?)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

How to tank your career

Yes, I'm posting late. The long post I drafted earlier this week got eaten by Blogger. I will be saving this one every other keystroke. An all day class and now EasterCon sort of consumed the rest of my week. EasterCon is the big UK science fiction convention, where I've been spending time with old friends. The Guest of Honor, George RR Martin, and I were in the same writer's group for a while. And get this: he's up for the Hugo for best novel, as is James SA Cory. James SA Corey is actually a pen name for cowriters, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Ty is George's personal assistant and Leviathan Wakes, the novel that got nominated, is the first one he's ever written. Ty met George and Daniel while out in New Mexico to visit me. He and I had been friends for years before that.

I'm going to be kind of rambly because it's late and I'm exhausted. Sorry about that. Okay, focus Emily!

On my blog I've been doing a series called The Indie Experiment about my experiences in indie publishing, and I have one last post to do in the series, so I'm posting it over here since it applies to both indie and traditional publishing. It's my list of ways to tank your career. It isn't an exhaustive list, please feel free to add more items in comments. In my eleven years working on the professional writing thing, ways I've seen people tank their careers:

1) Decide you're too good for your readers. Ever heard an author complain that their readers are too stupid to "get" what they write? The best place to find people like that? Not on the bestseller list. Just sayin'

2) Feel entitled to the royal treatment. I was talking with George this weekend about various other mutual friends and non-friends and he filled me in on someone who demands that s/he get the same treatment George does. You probably have not heard of him/her, s/he does not have a commercial success like Song of Ice and Fire and the associated Game of Thrones HBO series. George wasn't cruel or insulting when he spoke of this person- George isn't arrogant or disdainful like that -but he did detail how poorly this strategy was working for said writer who will remain nameless.

3) Complain about your publisher/cover designer/editor/etc. Listen, this isn't about kissing up to everyone or believing that everyone else on your team is flawless, it's about respecting the fact that they're on your team. Consider this scenario: You ask your favorite author why their book had an awful cover. Which answer makes them look good? "Yeah, that loser cover artist is an idiot. I think he had a drug problem. I hate the cover." Or: "The cover artist is a guy named Barry Madeupname. Great guy. I can see why the cover might not appeal to everyone, and it's fine if it doesn't appeal to you. Hope it doesn't put you off the book, though. I assure you, the inside is still all me." It's all about class. Show some.

4) Talk about yourself non-stop. When I spoke to Ty Franck the other day, I suspected he was up for the Hugo even though the news hadn't broken. How did I guess? He expressed the hope that someone else whom we know and respect would be nominated. Rather than gloat and make smug remarks, he expressed a desire that other people not feel left out. Ty is a likeable person. It's easy to feel unreserved happiness for his success, which I most certainly do. In the end of the day, art is an expressive process and we're all part of a larger community of people who lay it all on the line emotionally day in and day out. Selfish people are worse than the proverbial bull in the china shop.

5) Whine and beg for readers. Writing is like dating, and desperation scares people off. No matter how low your sales are, whining will drive them down lower. Even if you aren't the hottest in the market, behaving like you could be once the right readers come along will make all the difference.

Okay, a long, rambly, and not comprehensive list. There are many that I missed, I know!