Writing Tip: Always Give Your Character Something to Do

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Years ago, I took a fiction writing course where the instructor regularly gave tips on how to write an outstanding novel. Among those tips were, always give your character something to do.

If only I had remembered that recently.

Click here for original image on Jim Delorey’s website

As I was writing the follow-up to “The Dark Proposal” a couple of weeks ago, I was hit a brick wall. I was totally stuck on where to go and what to do next with the story. It was so frustrating because I had written scenes that I was proud of, and I was delighted with where the story was going. But then suddenly, it wasn’t going anywhere. I had hit writer’s block after doing so much with my WIP.

After a few days of editing, re-writing and deleting scenes that just weren’t working, I finally realized what was wrong: the story had become boring. Why though? Why right after such powerful scenes did it suddenly take a downturn. Was it because those scenes were hard to follow? After thinking it over, the memory of that instructor came back and realized what was wrong.

Claire was not doing anything.

Right after a few good scenes, the main character of my story was doing absolutely nothing. She was practically sitting around, moping and feeling sorry for herself. She was not doing any activity, any action, nothing. Just sitting there.

Was that boring or what?

So, I erased that scene and re-wrote it, giving Claire something to do. Then I was satisfied with it.

Now I understand why that writing instructor made an emphasis on giving a character something to do. Without any action or activity, a character is just sitting there. Does that sound fun? Interesting? Enticing? Heck, if I was bored with it, chances are, so would a reader.

So lesson learned and a tip from me: always give your character something to do. It gives momentum to the story, and it keeps it flowing. A novel should be rolling effortlessly, and any stalls means a stall in the storytelling. No one likes to be bored writing or reading. Then again, so doesn’t your character! Give them something to do. They’ll thank you for it.

 

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The Song That Inspired the Sequel to “The Dark Proposal”

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This week will be five years since I self-published “The Dark Proposal”. It was the first book I’ve ever written, and I felt a great sense of accomplishment and excited as I sent my baby out into the real world.

Five years since, I have grown so much as a writer and person. It’s hard to recognize myself during that time, honestly. That is why it has taken so long to write the sequel to “The Dark Proposal”.

But I’m not going to ramble on why and how the sequel has been delayed. I’ve done that enough times on this blog.

So, I’m here to present one of the inspirations behind the sequel. A few years ago, I was contemplating whether or not I wanted to write the sequel. And then I heard the song, “Lost in Paradise” by Evanescence, and it blew me away. For a while, I could see Claire saying the words to the song to her friends, Samantha and Monica. Or I could see Hilde telling Claire those words. Or any of the vampires. After all, my vampire trilogy is about the vampire world being in trouble with modern technology and surveillance threatening their existence. And also, there is a wonder among the vampires if their own existence is worth it. After all, what are they truly living for?

But that’s for a later blog post. For now, enjoy this beautiful song, “Lost in Paradise” by Evanescence:

TV Show Reviews: Summer 2017

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Hey everyone!

I hope you’re all enjoying the last days of summer! I certainly am, trying to enjoy the last bit of warm days as the cooler weather sets in.

I just want to make a note about a slight change to this blog. Earlier I said I would blog every Friday. Well, I’ve decided to instead blog every Monday due to my schedule. I do have a busy schedule, and I’m hoping Monday would be much easier for me to write on this blog. So let’s see…

Anyway, it is that time for me to review the TV shows I watched since the last TV review post. Like many, I prefer TV shows over movies, and I’ve been active on my TV viewing (or Netflix, or live streaming, whichever method). Here goes on my reviews…

WARNING: spoilers up ahead!

MASTER OF NONE:
I really did not like this second season. It started off being funny, but the part where Dev Shah started to fall in love with the engaged Francesca, I started to lose interest. That was the second time Dev got involved with a woman already taken (remember Claire Danes’ character in Season 1?), and I just felt uneasy with it. Yes, there was chemistry and love can be complicated. But, I just…I don’t know, felt uneasy. I kind of hope he and Francesca do stay together, but at same time I do not. Let’s see what Season 3 brings.

ORPHAN BLACK:

Image via Flickr via Creative Commons


The final season to one of the my favorite shows! Tatiana Maslany’s acting was great as always; it never fails here. I liked how there were flashbacks to when Allison and Helena learned they were clones. I’m glad Cosima and Delphine are still going strong. I also liked how at the end, they talked about the many clones all over the world, and the best part was the humbling of superbitch Rachel. The sad part was obviously when S was killed. I really like the actress, Maria Doyle Kennedy, and looking forward to see where she’ll pop up next. Heck, I’m ready to see where Tatiana will pop up next. This is not the last of her great acting. She’s got a lot to do in the future, and I’m looking forward.

HOUSE OF CARDS:

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Whoa, this show is something else.However, I felt this season, HoC got in over its head. There were too many deaths and “accidents” that can’t not be linked to Frank and Claire Underwood. Yes, it was obvious those characters would have met violent ends; that’s the way the show and the Underwoods’ work. But I felt this time it was overdone. And now the Underwoods are going to go against each other? Is Frank going to somehow kill Claire and make it look like an accident? Are these two going to kill each other in the end? Eh, it just seems like too much now. The psychopathy of the Underwoods just seems overdone. But that’s just me…

GAME OF THRONES:
What would a review post be without Game of Thrones? Like many, I obsessively watched and overanalyzed the show this season, and feeling devastated that it won’t be back until 2019 or so. But I’m glad Jon Snow’s parentage and real identity has been revealed in full, just as we take a look at the actors’ ass during an incestuous sex scene (sorry, I had to go there!). I’m also thrilled that Littlefinger has finally been killed off, by symbolically getting his throat slit. I, like many, got a little nervous with Sansa and Arya fighting. But I also read the many articles about those two, and was relieved to remember Arya had handed Sansa the dagger, and therefore was not going to kill her older sister. Whew!

But now there are only 7 episodes left for GoT. I can see the writers and producers cramming things into those episodes and not doing such a good job at it. I mean, I could see the final season for GoT be really rushed. If this past season was rushed, imagine what the next and final one would look like. But we’ve got a long wait…

SHAMELESS:

Image via Wikipedia


This is another show that I recently joined on the bandwagon. I binged on this Showtime show late last year, and this June, watched its seventh season on Netflix. I really like it, because the show is simply shameless. I mean, the characters have no shame! From Debbie raping a guy and then aimlessly getting pregnant, to Lip’s self-destructive ways, the characters live up to the show’s moniker. But it does it in a funny way! Like, there’s humor attached to the lousy behavior of everyone on the show. Amazing how that’s been worked out. I also like how the show brings to light bipolar disorder through Ian. Other programs, like Homeland and the movie Silver Lining Playbook, don’t treat bipolar disorder with much education and kindness. Shameless does, and I give it a lot of credit. I suspect next season will be the last, as it will be the eighth season. Looking forward to it!

 

 

As Stephen King Said, The First Draft is Yours…

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When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.

Wise words from the Master himself.

As a writer, I’ve noticed there is a balance between writing for yourself and writing for your audience. It seems like it is a delicate balance because a writer wants to please his/herself but at the same time, the audience must be kept in mind. We all write for someone when we write, and that someone isn’t always ourselves.

Image by Sideways Sarah via Flickr

Who do we write for? Is there a specific person in mind? Is it a specific demographic? Group of people? When I wrote The Dark Proposal, it was for people who wanted vampires to be evil again. The abusive relationship part was for me, I admit. But I did have an audience in mind when I wrote my first book, and have one in mind for its follow-up, which I’ll get to in a future post.

But I agree with Stephen King that when we first write a novel, it is to be for ourselves. Or else, it wouldn’t be fun. Writing to please someone the first time around is exhausting and takes to fun out, I think. It is when the actual work of a story, the editing part, is when it is time to get serious about the story.

I believe editing is where we all get serious about our writing work. We become aware of the mistakes and the things that don’t make sense. We become aware of what our audience really thinks, or at least, what we think they think. We become aware that our work is going to be read by hundreds or thousands of people. We realize this is serious business here. Enough of fun stuff, let’s get serious here.

That doesn’t mean rewriting and editing can’t be fun. You may be relieved to get rid of a couple of sentences or a whole scene that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the story, once you read everything over again. And let’s face it, if we didn’t love writing, we wouldn’t mind the rewriting and editing parts. It’s part of the job, so to speak. And don’t we want our work to be as polished as possible?

Come to think of it, the first draft of a story is more than just for you. It’s a gift you give yourself. The final draft of the story is a gift to your readers.

Onward…

Where Have I Been?

Hey everyone!

It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? I know I mentioned that I was going to blog more often, but that didn’t happen, did it?

So, you’re all probably wondering what happened to me.

Well, here it goes…

First off, I recently moved…again. I was living on Staten Island again for several months before moving back to Brooklyn. Looking for a new place to live, packing up and settling in to that new place is a full-time job in of itself. So that took up my time. Plus, I was teaching, writing, enjoying summer.

That is why I’ve been MIA on this blog.

But I’m back, and intend to blog every Friday as I originally planned. My WIP is still going well, and I get more excited by it as I progress with it. I can’t wait to share it with all of you! I may share another excerpt in the future, but we’ll see 🙂

 

R.I.P. Nelsan Ellis

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I know I am a few days late with this, but I have to say farewell to actor Nelsan Ellis, who was best known for his role as Lafayette on HBO’s “True Blood”. He died on Friday due to heart complications at the age of 39.

Wow, just wow. So young! And so talented! He was great at portraying Lafayette, who was sometimes the comedy relief on “True Blood”. His delivery of his character’s one-liners was often the highlight of each episode. Lafayette was a memorable character, and Nelsan Ellis portrayed him very well.

From what I understand, Lafayette was killed off early in the books the show was based on. But on the show itself, Lafayette stayed until the very end. I’m glad that happened because he was the funny, no-nonsense type of character that the show needed. And Ellis played him wonderfully.

Rest in peace, Nelsan Ellis. May you entertain all the angels up there as you did in life.

Here’s a YouTube video to showcase some of Nelsan Ellis’ Lafayette’s best lines:

Another Reason Why I’ve Delayed My Sequel…

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Before I start, I just want to make a couple of announcements:

First off, I will be blogging every Friday for now on. This is to gain momentum for the sequel to my first book, which by the way, is coming along smoothly. I’ve recently finished the first draft to Chapter 7, and have begun Chapter 8. That means I am about halfway, or more, done with the first draft! If all goes well – and I think it will – I’ll have the book published by February 2018.

If I do, it would mean I let five and a half years go by between my first book and its sequel. That’s a long time for an author to take a break between books within a series. I’ve written a lot about my insecurities with writing this sequel, as well as financial reasons for not going forward with it. But I had other reasons for not working much on this book.

It all started when I first moved to Brooklyn in May 2013. From there, I got busy adjusting to life on my own, and job searching. I mentioned on this blog that my job hunt was taking away from my writing, but I had to do with what I had to do. Eventually, I did find a job in the spring of 2014. At first, I was delighted with my new job at this small arts school. But very quickly, I soon realized I was in the job from hell.

And I mean, hell. Everything you can think of that can go wrong at a job happened. For starters, it was a shady place with rumors of grant money being pocketed, parents not seeing their money going where it was supposed to go, embezzlement, you name it. The owners of the school were abusive – verbally, emotionally and psychologically. There was also harassment and slander going on. The turnover rate was very high, and there was always a wonder when the IRS would show up. I was there for 15 months before leaving, or rather, running away from the place. Soon after, I sued my former employer in small claims court for tax fraud. We settled out of court, with me getting everything I asked.

Those 15 months took a huge toll on me. Everyday I would come home miserable, angry or even totally depressed. The strain of working at an abusive workplace caused me to have a mental breakdown. It also caused me to not have the energy to do any kind of writing. I believe that if I had not taken that job, I would have finished my sequel by now, and it would’ve been released by now.

So, that was 15 months taken away from writing. Granted, I was starting to have doubts about whether I wanted to continue writing anything fictional anymore when I first began the job. I was going through some personal changes and self-discovery, and was realizing where else I could point my writing skills towards. It is important not to put your talents or skills into a single box, and to know that your talents and skills could be used for multiple things. Basically, it is not the end of the world if you do not write a book.

But I still like creating characters, writing stories, making up worlds. It may not be the sole purpose to my existence, but it is a part of it. I have learned that I have other talents and abilities to add color to my life, and I intend to use them for places that deserve them.

At the same time, it is important to not waste your time at a job, or relationship, or anything, that sucks the life out of you. Life is short, and you are precious human being. There’s no reason to waste your self-worth on someone or something that doesn’t respect you.

And if you want to create, paint, dance, act…whichever, it is important that your mind is in the right place. Creativity is like a plant: If it doesn’t get sun, it withers. Bad energy blocks creativity, and it makes it wither.

So, there you go. One of the many reasons why my sequel to The Dark Proposal has been delayed. I hope what I told you here will be of help to you!

TV Shows: My Reviews Spring 2017

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As many of you know, I am more of a TV show watcher than a movie watcher. I just love how plot lines and characters develop over the course of ten or twelve episodes. And there’s much more to explore during those episodes than during a two or three hour movie.

Since January, I have watched four shows that I am going to review right here. Warning: SPOILERS!!!

THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE:

Season Two of this Amazon program was much like its predecessor. It was slow yet suspenseful, and you had to pay close attention in order to follow what was going on.

In the end, I felt the twist and turns were great, and really eyebrow raising, especially during the last episode. I really want to know what John Smith’s son is really going to do. Is he really going to sacrifice himself and practically commit suicide so he wouldn’t bring shame to his family? And just how did Trudy survive everything and where was she hiding?

Again, the show moves slowly, but it makes sense given all that occurs. It really makes you wonder what the world would be like if the Allies lost WWII. And as you might guess, it is not a pretty world!

VIKINGS:

Wow, just wow. Season Five of Vikings did not disappoint in a lot of ways, though there were a few parts that did. I can’t believe Ragnar Lothbrok is dead, and it makes me wonder why the show won’t end with that. Instead, it is going on for another season. That, I guess, would be the last one because the show seems so empty without Lothbrok.

But it looks like the story of his sons will be the focus, as well as Lagertha. But even then, as I think about it, there has to be a way to end Vikings with a bang. I do have faith that the writers of this show, who usually do an excellent job, will find a way. But as of now, I am feeling doubtful because Lothbrok is gone, as well as the King of Wessex. Rollo is still alive, but he seems to be retired from doing raids. What kinds of stories will be told, besides what Lothbrok’s sons will do with Lagertha? After all, she did kill Queen Aslaug, the mother of Ragnar’s four younger sons.

We shall see…

SALEM:

The third season of this WGN series was a lot better than the second. The acting was better, the story line was better. Last season was all over the place, and I was starting to think the actor who plays John Alden was miscasted. Here, he is less of a modern guy, and more of a soldier who has seen a lot. That’s a relief. Janet Montgomery who plays the main character of Mary Sibley is excellent in her role.

The best part of season three is the guest appearance by Marilyn Manson. Now, I am and never was a fan of his, but I feel his presence on this show adds a lot of flavor to it. The best part is when one of Satan’s agents comes to his door, and Marilyn Manson’s character humbly let him enter. I laughed out loud during that scene, because I’m sure if the day ever comes that Satan’s agents roam the earth, Marilyn Manson will certainly be delighted to let him into his home.

Anyway, this season was good. However, I felt during the final episode there were some closures going on that probably should not be. As in, why is Tituba sent away? Is she off the show for good? What will become of John and Mary if she’s bound to Salem for life? All this seems to indicate the show may not come back, yet it is popular enough to return for a fourth season.

I certainly hope it will return for another season because I find Salem to be very entertaining.

THE AMERICANS:

This fifth season of The Americans was a bit of a disappointment. I felt it moved too slowly and some of the things that could have led to something much bigger, did not. While I don’t feel the show has jumped the shark, I do feel the writers might be running out of ideas.

One thing I so believed during this season was that Philip and Elizabeth’s son, Henry, was secretly recruited by the KGB behind their backs. Claudia had told them the Center does that, and that was what led them into telling Paige about who they really were and what they really do. So I was certain that Henry was secretly a spy. After all, why else was he rarely on the show? Then the writers made him super smart and wanting to go to boarding school, and that theory fell apart, much to my chagrin.

There were some pluses to this season. The part where Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” played while Elizabeth took a close look at all of her belongings, and Paige left the church for good, was certainly sentimental. The scene where Philip and Elizabeth got married for real was sweet and touching.

The sad part was seeing Martha in the Soviet Union. She is clearly so miserable and lonely, and it is sad because she was totally duped by the man she loved. Granted, she did commit treason by putting that recorder in the pen, and could have gone to prison if she stayed in the U.S. But, she was manipulated and used as a pawn, unbeknownst to her. It makes you realize how life can go wrong for all of us just because we crossed paths with the wrong people!

So, next year is the final season of The Americans. I am so interested to see how this would go down. I predict Philip and Elizabeth will defect!

OK, that does it for the first half of year. I will return by the end of the summer with reviews for Master of None, Game of Thrones, Orphan Black, House of Cards and perhaps more!

Is A Writer’s Work Ever Done?

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As I work on the sequel to The Dark Proposal, I find myself writing and re-writing scenes or even entire chapters again and again. It is mainly because I am not satisfied enough with what I had written, so I re-write whatever I’ve done. I do this three or four times before I can say that I am satisfied with my work. Satisfied enough to move on to the next chapter (BTW, I’m up to Chapter 7 now!!!).

Which makes me wonder: is a writer’s work ever done?

Answer: Probably not.

Writers are often their worst critics. We always think there is a better word to describe a character or scene than the one we chose. We always think there are better words for our characters to use. We always think there is a better way to end a scene or chapter. There’s always the right words to use…and yet, we never seem to find them.

Famed science fiction writer Ray Bradbury was said to have put his away his work for a year, before re-reading and re-editing his WIP. James Joyce, the author of the classic novel, Ulysses, was said to have spent all day debating where to put a comma in his WIP.

Writers are never satisfied. There is always room for improvement. There is always something better to describe, explain or talk about. There is always a better word to use, or two or three. And with some stories, there are endless possibilities with the main character(s) that sometimes we wonder if we are covering all the necessary bases, and if we have to cover all of them at all.

Being a writer is frustrating.

And it is not only fiction writers, journalists, essayists, poets and songwriters who deal with this. Even college students writing their countless assigned essays are never completely satisfied with their work. When I discuss re-writing and editing one’s work with my students, I am amazed by how many admit to re-writing their essays even before they hand them in. They always say, there is always room for improvement.

Always room for improvement. So, if nothing is perfect, when does the room for improvement end? When does a writer say, enough is enough! When do we stop driving ourselves crazy?

For me, there is a level of satisfaction that comes with writing that makes me say, enough is enough. I could re-write a whole chapter ad infinitum. But it gets to the point where I cannot let my insecurities rule me like that and I have to say to myself, this chapter is good enough. I am satisfied enough with what I put down. Maybe not 100% satisfied with it, because that is starting to look like an impossibility. But 90% satisfied? 85%? Sure! I can live with that.

I may always want to improve on that chapter, and may just do so in the future before I actually publish my work. But there comes a point where I would need to stop, and say, enough is enough.

 

How Do You Choose a Story to Write?

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How does a writer decide which story they are going to work on? What makes them choose, out of all the ideas in their head, one specific one to work on and devote all their energy to?

Image via Flickr

From my perspective, it is all about timing. Sometimes there is something going on in the world that a writer has to respond to or interpret. Kind of like the 2011 novel, When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. That book is a take on the anti-abortion sentiment in the United States, which is relevant to many in recent years.

Or perhaps someone has something to say, such JRR Tolkien when he wrote The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Supposedly, he was inspired by the events of WWI, which he fought in, as well as his take on male friendships, which he supposedly felt was too fractured.

Or some writers pay attention to trends. A few years ago, BDSM erotica books were all the rage, thanks to the Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy. At the same time, YA dystopian books were widely popular, and there were many different books of that genre.

Or quite simply, a writer is inspired by a muse, and they have to get that story out. No matter the trends, no matter what is going on in the world. There is something in their subconscious that is forcing words to get to paper, or a computer screen. Sometimes the muse chooses what book to write, not the author.

How about you? Who or what inspired you to write your most recent work?