Wednesday, October 31

The 10 Best Halloween Films

The 10 Best Halloween Movies
"Pumpkin carving" by Kennymatic under CC BY 2.0

Okay, maybe not the 10 best films, just 10 of my personal favorites. :-)

Tomorrow NaNoWriMo begins and free time will be a fond memory. I propose we take a break tonight. Feed the trick-or-treating monsters then go to a Halloween party or settle in for your own film festival.

1) Fright Night (1985)

I saw Fright Night on TV when I was a kid and fell in love with the idea of vampires. I must have watched that movie 20 times. (Kids can be a little obsessive.)

2) Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

The only thing I didn't like about this movie was that Dracula dies at the end. I would have had Mina transform and the two of them live happily ever after. Literally!

Gary Oldman gives, as always, a great, eminently memorable, performance.

3) Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

I LOVED this book. The movie wasn't bad, but there's no way anyone could do justice to Ray Bradburry's book. That book swallowed me whole and changed the way I experienced Fall. He made it magical.

4) Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Awesome movie and awesomely creepy. (Yes, I know, like Dean Winchester, I overuse that word!) I need to watch this movie again. Soon.

5) Army of Darkness (1992)

Complete cult hit. I love horror with a little (or a lot) of humor.

6) Tucker and Dale versus Evil (2010)

Originally this list was going to be of my 5 favorite movies, then I realized I hadn't mentioned Tucker and Dale versus Evil so the list became my 10 favorite movies. :p If you haven't seen this movie, I urge you to. It's hilarious. Especially the first half.

7) The Cabin In The Woods (2011)

I can't believe I waited until a few months ago to see this film. If you haven't seen it GO WATCH IT NOW! Especially if you like Joss Whedon's work. Harkens back to hemes in Buffy and especially Angel.

8) Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

John Carpenter directed Big Trouble in Little China and, if I remember correctly, it was his last big-budget film. Roger Ebert did not like this movie, but it stands out for me as one of the most entertaining two hours I ever spent. (Well, more than two, since I've re-watched it many times over the years.)

9) Scream (1996)

A modern--or maybe not so modern--classic. It takes a tongue-in-cheek attitude toward its subject matter while still scaring the bejeebers out of you. Well, okay, out of me.

10) The Amityville Horror (1979)

There are so many movies I wanted to list but I have to mention the very first horror story I ever ... well I didn't read it. In grade 4 my teacher read The Amityville Horror to my class before lunch.

It was great!

Of course I never told my parents, they would have been appauld.

I'm not saying it was the best story or the best movie, but it as a special place in my heart because it was my first horror.

Okay, one more movie then I'll stop:

The Princess Bride (1987)

Hands down my favorite movie of all time. If you've never seen it you really must. Orson Scott Card used The Princess Bride as a text in his freshman composition and literature class the year he taught at Notre Dame (Orson Scott Card, Characters & Viewpoint). Not to mention that it's the funniest, freshest most heart warming, vengeful, (Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die), movies. Period.

Okay, that's it. Go out and celebrate your freedom for tomorrow we write!

Happy Halloween!! :-)

Other articles you might like:

- Dialogue: 7 Ways of Adding Variety
- Kristen Lamb: Don't Let Trolls Make You Crazy
- How To Record Your Own Audiobook: Setting Up A Home Studio

NaNoWriMo: A Survival Guide

NaNoWriMo: A Survival Guide
"November dreaming" by mpclemens under CC BY 2.0

A few months ago one of my friends recommended Jim C. Hines' blog, and I'm so very glad she did! Today, on the eve of NaNoWriMo, Jim gave us all a pep talk.

Before I get to that, though, let me wish you all the best of luck during NaNoWriMo. I'll be right there beside you, down in the trenches, scribbling away. At the end of this post I've compiled a list of links that I call my "survival pack". Now, back to Jim's pep talk.

Here are the highlights:

"Nobody is born knowing how to write"

So true! Although I'm reminded of something Stephen King wrote in "On Writing":
[W]hile it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.
I'm sure that Mr. King meant to be encouraging, but after I read that paragraph, for a whole week, I lay awake at night terrified I was a Bad Writer and there was no hope for me. I suppose it goes without saying I had a raging case of writer's block!

As a kid I was told there was an Unforgivable Sin. If anyone committed this sin they could not be redeemed and were doomed to hell. That worried me. A lot! Then someone said, "Look, if you're worried about committing the unforgivable sin, you haven't committed it".

Back to Bad Writers. If you want to get better, then you can. The only people who can't get better are those who don't try. If someone isn't a good writer (and, as Jim Hines points out, none of us come into the world that way) but they think they're awesome ... well, that's a problem.

So, never give up! All it takes to be a good writer is honesty and practice. Lots and lots of practice. (At least that's what I believe. I'll let you know how it goes. ;)

"There's no one right way to write a book"

Jim Hines writes:
There’s a lot of advice out there. Try different things. Experiment. Figure out what works for you. Anyone who preaches the Gospel of the True Right Way to write (or sell) a book? Smile and back away as quickly as possible. All those readers out there don’t care how you wrote the book. They just care if the end result is worth reading.
What he said.

"Give yourself permission to write crap"

I've found that if, on my first draft, I don't give myself permission to let it all hang out I'll wind up with something lifeless--if I'm able to write at all. Apparently I'm not alone. This is what Stephen King has to say:
If you're a beginner ... let me urge that you take your story through at least two drafts; the one you do with the study door closed and the one you do with it open.

With the door shut, downloading what's in my head directly to the page, I write as fast as I can and still remain comfortable. ... There's plenty of opportunity for self-doubt. If I write rapidly ... I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that's always waiting to settle in.

This first draft--the All-Story Draft--should be written with no help (or interference) from anyone else. (Stephen King, On Writing)
Stephen King goes on to say that, after you write the first draft, you should put it in a drawer for a few weeks. Forget about it. Write something else. When you come back it's no longer your baby. At that point you put on your editors cap, open the study door and let the world in.

But the first draft is just for you. Write crap if that's what it takes. Just write.

"Do edit and rewrite"

I would add: Join a writer's circle/critique group.

A number of years ago I wrote my first full-length book. I hadn't intended to write a book, I started out writing a short story for my parents at Christmas. I was a university student and wanted to give them something from the heart. Well, that and I couldn't afford anything else!

The short story morphed into a book, my first, and--gleeful at my achievement--I wrapped it up and gave it to them.

I waited impatiently while my parents read it. (Are you done yet? Are you done yet? Are you ...) When they had both finished I asked what they thought (something writers should never do! If someone loved your book they'll tell you). They were polite but it was obvious they hadn't cared for it. I was crushed.

Well. A few months ago I re-read that story. It was truly awful.

I'm not sure if my story would have turned out better if I'd put it away for a few months and come back to it with a fresh perspective. I think, often, our first attempt at a novel is just not very good and we need folks, other pairs of eyes, to examine it and give us a fresh perspective. Especially in the beginning.

A great way to meet people willing to read your work and give you their honest opinion is to join a writer's circle/critique group. If there isn't one where you live there are many online. I can recommend I was a member of Critters for a number of years and benefited enormously.

Write Every Day

This tip comes from me and is about life after NaNoWriMo. If you have a day job and kids and a life it can be excruciatingly difficult to write every day. But you don't have to write thousands, or even hundreds, of words. Some days life is going to overwhelm you. That's okay. But try to do a little bit.

If you're working on a first draft, try to write a couple hundred words. If you're editing, try for half a page. 

I'm a great believer in Jerry Seinfeld's Chain Method (How To Write Every Day: Jerry Seinfeld And The Chain Method). Try for that unbroken chain of X's. It will keep you from walking away from your novel for a week or two and forgetting were you were; losing the mood of the piece.

Of course, during NaNoWriMo you're not going to have to worry about this. It's kind of like a month of Write or Die.

#  #  #

Best of luck to everyone on the cusp of NaNoWriMo, the caffeinated month!

I've put together links to a few articles that might be of use:

The NaNoWriMo Survival Kit

- NaNoWriMo: 5 Tips On How To Get Ready

Jim Butcher: The art and craft of writing:

- Jim Butcher On Writing
- Jim Butcher: How To Write A Story
- How To Build A Villain By Jim Butcher

See also:
- 8 Ways To Become A Better Writer
- Writing Resources


- Orson Scott Card & The MICE Quotient: How To Structure Your Story
- Mary Robinette Kowal And The Mysteries Of Outlining


- 3 Ways To Create Incredible Characters

For when you're stressed and need a timeout:

- Helping Writers De-Stress: Meditation Apps

For those "butt in chair" moments when you just need to write:

- Write or Die: The App
- Aherk! Makes Writing App 'Write or Die' Look Tame

The postscript: Finding A Home For Your Book

- Query Tracker: Keep Track Of Your Stories
- 10 Reasons Why Stories Get Rejected

Tuesday, October 30

How To Get Honest Book Reviews

How To Get Honest Book Reviews
"workstation" by striatic under CC BY 2.0

Tonya Kappes has written a fantastic article on how to get honest reviews for your books. It's a must read. I'll summarize her points, below, but Tonya's article is one you're going to want to read and bookmark.

1) Do a Goodreads Giveaway

I've never tried this, but Tonya has. Hold a giveaway, get requests, then send a copy of your book to the winners. The winners promise to give an honest review of the book, AND you might get reviews from the people who didn't win but went ahead and bought your book anyway.

2) Create a press kit for each of your books

A press kit should include:
- your bio,
- a head shot,
- the cover of your book,
- the blurb for the book,
- a summary of the book, and
- all the links to where it can be purchased or downloaded. 
 The easier you can make things for potential reviewers, the better.

3) Amazon: Ask top reviewers to review your book

Tonya thoughtfully gives the link to a list of Amazon's Top Customer Reviewers. She cautions that you'll want to read each biography carefully to find out which people might like reading the sort of book you've written. Chances are a person who hates horror books, even if they agree to read your zombie novel, won't like it.

4) Announce your book launch to your community

Your loyal readers are going to want to know you've come out with a new book and chances are some of them would love to write a review of it.

As long as authors make it clear they want honest reviews, good or bad, I don't see anything wrong with this.

#  #  #

I love Tonya's tips! Great ideas that (hopefully!) don't take a lot of time to do. :)

Once again, this information is from Tonya Kappes' excellent article How To Get Reviews For Your Novel.

Other articles you might like:
- Book Review Blogs That Accept Self-Published Work
- 5 Ways to Spot a Trustworthy Amazon Review
- What to do if your book isn't selling: Tips from Johanna Penn

How To Record Your Own Audiobook: Setting Up A Home Studio

How To Record Your Own Audiobook: Setting Up A Home Studio
"I Giovani e la Musica" by SuperUbO under CC BY 2.0

I've wanted to make an audiobook for close to a year. I think it would be a great way to introduce my work to a new audience (I heard that only 95% of books are made into audiobooks) and some folks like it when authors read their own work.

I think I need to just jump in and DO IT. Go through the short stories I've written and record one. If it turns out ghastly I don't have to inflict it on the world, but if it's half decent it might make a good blog post or podcast. :)

Anyway, what has gotten me thinking about recording an audiobook again is a recent blog post by the singular Elizabeth Spann Craig, Getting the Hang of the Business End of Things in which she shares a link to Jeff Bennington's post, Creating Audio Books is Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy. (What a great blog title!)

Audio Creation Exchange (ACX)

Jeff talks about (If you know what ACX is, or you don't care, skip to "Making An Audiobook," below.) ACX stands for Audio Creation Exchange and was launched by Amazon-owned Audible in May of last year.

What is and what can it do for you? This is from their website:
ACX is a marketplace where professional authors, agents, publishers and any other Rights Holders can post audiobook rights to both new frontlist titles and to backlist titles that were never published as audiobooks. At ACX, those rights get matched with Producers, which include audiobook publishers, narrators, engineers, and recording studios. The result: More audiobooks will be made. (The Basics,
I first became aware of ACX because Neil Gaiman has his own line of books over at Audible: Neil Gaiman Presents. His audiobooks are sold through Audible and produced through ACX. Neil Gaiman has written a number of articles about his experience:

Neil Gaiman's audiobook record label (An interview with Neil Gaiman)
ACX - if you’re a writer, an actor, a producer (A Tumblr article by Neil Gaiman)

Making An Audiobook At Home

Before a writer can take advantage of ACX, or any other technology designed to help us sell audiobooks, we have to produce the darn things! And ACX will help with this, by either matching you with professionals (you either pay them outright or share royalties) or through umpteen tutorials on how to do the work yourself.

Since I'm a do-it-yourself kind of gal I'm going to try doing the recording myself. But it's nice to know that, if I fail miserably, I can turn to the talented folks at ACX.

Now onto the good stuff: How to record an audiobook yourself in a studio you cobble together.

What you need to make an audiobook at home

The number one thing you want to do is cut down on noise. Here are some tips on how to do that from the professionals over at ACX:

Reduce noise
- NO fridge nearby.
- NO heading system nearby.
- Hang blankets over the walls and put a rug on the floor to minimize sound reflection.

Office Equipment
- Desk for your computer.
- Stand for the script.
- Something--for instance, a blanket--to absorb the sound on surfaces.
- A chair that's comfortable and won't creak.

Recording Equipment
- Laptops get noisy when they heat up. Whemn this happens shut the computer off, take a coffee break, and let it cool down.
- Don't record directly to your computer's hard disk. Use a fast peripheral drive with lots of capacity.
- Become obsessive about backing up your work.
- Use a pop filter or shield. This deflects and minimizes sounds that can distort the recording. Sounds such as t's, f's, th's and w's. It will run you about $40 but you can also make your own.

You have a choice here, high tech or low tech.
- high tech: A large diaphram condesor mic is the standard for the industry and costs between $400 and $600.
- Low tech: A USB powered snowball mic will do the job if you want a lower cost solution.

The bottom line:
Research it and find out what is available in your area. Go to audio stores, try out their microphones, ask questions, and find a balance of price and performance that suits you.

These tips have been taken from: ACX: Setting up a Home Studio and Want To Narrate Your Own Book?

I've concentrated on setting up a home studio cheaply so I didn't mention some higher priced options a home narrator may want to consider. I highly recommend ACX's series of YouTube videos on how to record your own audiobook.

Here are the first two videos in the series:

This series continues on YouTube here: AudibleACX.

I hope you've been inspired to do an audio recording of your work! Or, if you have done an audio recording, I'd love to hear about your experience. Did you set up a make-shift studio at home, and, if so, perhaps you have some tips you'd like to share. :-)

Links to articles on recording an audiobook:
Podcasting on the iPad
How to record an audiobook at home
- Joanna Pen: How to Podcast (I love Joanna's advice: Just start!)

Other articles you might like:
- Making A Scene: Using Conflicts And Setbacks To Create Narrative Drive
- Building A Writer's Platform
- SEO Tips & Tricks: How To Make Google Love Your Blog

Monday, October 29

SEO Tips & Tricks: How To Make Google Love Your Blog

"Morpho peleides wings closed (blue morpho butterfly)" by Armando Maynez under CC BY 2.0

Yesterday Bob (that's not his real name, but he doesn't want me to use his real name) asked me for pointers on how to improve his blog's position in Google's search results. His goal: he wants a link to his website to be among the first five results returned when someone searches on a particular phrase.

I started to give Bob advice and then thought. Wait! This would be a great idea for a blog post.

First off, though, I want to assure you that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is falling-off-a-log EASY. Well, the beginning stuff, the stuff that can make a huge difference, is. A SEO expert could fine tune your site and your SEO presence would (hopefully) go from good to awesome, but if good is good enough, read on.

1. What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

This is the basic question of Search Engine Optimization:
How do I optimize my site so that links to my content are served up when users search on certain keywords? 
Here's another way of putting it: You want your site to be to search engines what catnip is to felines.

Ideally, you want your content to be returned first but I've found simply being on the first page of search results generates a lot of traffic, depending on how popular the search phrase is that your link is paired with.

An Example

Let's say I want to look at recipes. Using Google Search, I type in "recipes". Here's what I got back:
First result: from
Second result: from,
Third result: from,
Fourth result: from,
Fifth result: from
All things being equal, the first result returned will get most of the traffic, but all the links returned on the first page will do okay, especially the ones on the upper part of the page.

As you can see, there's a lot of competition to place high for "recipes". All of those sites get a lot of traffic and are maintained by many professionals. They're going to place better in the search results than you are since you're not an expert and you're only one person.

The solution: focus your content on one small area of cooking such as recipes that are quick and easy to make. Then you can try to get your site noticed when people perform searches like "recipes for writers" "recipes for the rushed", and so on. When you write a post for gingerbread cookies--cookies twice as good ready in half the time!--you can use keywords that will help Google identify what it is and return it if someone types in something like "gingerbread molasses cookie quick".

Summary: You likely have a chance of getting your site onto the first page of search results for less popular (long tail) terms and, using this method, you can still get a fair amount of traffic.

2. Why should I care about SEO?

If it doesn't matter whether your site gets traffic from search engines then SEO isn't going to be first on your list of priorities. That said, much of what I'm going to discuss is part of 'best practices' and, who knows, one day search traffic may be important to you. There's no harm in laying the foundations now.

So, why would someone care about optimizing their site so that it attracts search engine traffic?

- You're selling something. If you're selling anything on your site, or thinking of one day selling something on your site, you will want a lot of people to come look at it.

- Growing an audience. If you're not selling anything but want your writing to be read by someone other than your great aunt Edna, getting more eyes on your site is a good thing. It's one way of building an audience, a platform, a community.

- Best practices. Most of what you'll do when optimizing your site for search engines is clearly and accurately labeling your content, and this is something you probably should do anyway since it's part of best practices for site design.

3. SEO: Optimizing Your Site For Search Engines, What They Look For

Google (and other search engines, but in the following discussion, for brevity, I'm going to talk about Google) wants to give people the information they are looking for when they conduct a search and Google wants that information to be accurate, relevant and of good quality. Here's what that means for me as a blogger:

Accurate: I need to get my facts right. For instance, I can't say that dogs are felines. (You'd be surprised!)

Relevant: If you write a blog post on what substances are toxic to cats (chocolate, for instance) you want the post to be categorized as being about cats, not dogs, not sloths, not giraffes. You also want the post to show up on searches for toxic substances for animals, so keywords like "cute" and "kitten" aren't your friends.

Good quality: Don't ask me how Google determines this, but it's gotten very good. Books are written on this subject so I'll just say that you want to bring your A-game to your posts, while keeping in mind that a more informal style is the norm and an occasional typo is tolerated.

Okay, back to my friend Bob and what I would advise him to do to optimize his site to attract search engine traffic.

a. Use categories and tags

Bob runs Wordpress on his own hosting site, but what I'm about to say applies (I believe) to websites over at as well.

When you're writing a post in Wordpress, on the right-hand side of the screen, you'll see a place where you can select various Categories and Tags. Fill these in! You don't have to use many. Choose one or two categories and then refine it with two or three tags.

For instance, if you're blogging about Amazon's Kindle Fire HD tablet then your categories might be "Retail" and "Tablet" and your tags might be "Amazon" and "Kindle Fire HD". If your blog is on you don't have categories and tags, you just have labels, in which case I would just use "Retail", 'Tablet", "Amazon", and "Kindle Fire HD".

b. Use images and give them meaningful names and descriptions

Early on I found I got a lot of traffic because of the images I used on my site (of course "a lot" in those days was 100 pageviews a day!).
 Name. My camera automatically names my photos with (really long) numbers and, early on, I didn't bother changing the numbers to something more descriptive. Search engines look at things like names to determine what kind of content is on a particular page. The more consistent, accurate, cues you give the search engines the better they are at serving up your pages at appropriate times.

Alternate Text. If you have access to this field don't leave it blank. If you've turned off images in your browser then what gets shown is this alternate text so it is best practices to include it. But even if your visitor never sees the alternate text search engines do. This is another way of telling them what sort of content is on your page.

Caption. Same idea. Though since I use the caption to give copyright information I don't have a lot of leeway here.

Description. Again, very important for telling both search engines and humans what your image is about.

The rule of thumb: If there's a way for you to tell search engines about the content on your page, do it!

c. Choose a descriptive domain name

The more descriptive your domain name the better. For instance, if you're a horror writer a great domain name would be Naturally that one's taken, but you might try something like or You get the idea.

If you don't have a descriptive domain name but you have already built up a community then I wouldn't worry about it. If it works, don't fix it.

The only time I would think about changing a domain name that had been in use for some time was if it was misleading to both people and search engines.

For instance, a horror writer specializing in zombie stories probably wouldn't want to have or as a domain name. An exception to this might be It might mislead search engines but it is memorable and fun. Humans get the implication and, in the end, that's what matters.

d. Choose descriptive blog titles

In university one of my English teachers gave me heck because the title of one of my essays was too descriptive. He said I should be more creative, less literal. Perhaps he was right about the title of my essay (though I never thought so) but if he takes that attitude toward blog titles he's dead wrong.

Search engines aren't creative. They don't understand tongue-in-cheek commentary or puns. Which isn't to say you should never have a whimsical title. You have categories, tags, labels, etc., to let search engines know what your post is about. Just be aware that these kinds of titles are harder for search engines to make sense of.

Search engines also don't like vagueness. For instance, I could have titled this blog post "How to create a better web page". That's more or less what I'm talking about, but I used the words "SEO", "Google" and "blog" because they're more specific and so give search engines a better idea of what content is on the page.

e. Echoing: Repeating keywords throughout your post, your tags and your categories.

Here's a rule of thumb:
Try and work in two or more of your keywords into the title of your blog, the body of your blog and also use them in your categories and tags.
 Do this sparingly since it can feel spammy if overdone.

For instance, in this post SEO is a keyword. I have it in my title, I have it as a label, and I've repeated it several times within the body of my post. But only where appropriate. Google is smart, you don't have to repeat the world dozens of times to pick up on the fact that you're writing a post having to do with search engine optimization.

f. LEGITIMATE links back to your site are good, the more the better

Legitimate links, or backlinks, are those which folks put up on their pages because they like your content. If anyone tells you they can arrange it so that a lot of other websites will link to yours, run away. Run very very fast.

This trick used to work--some folks would have networks of hundreds of websites that would do nothing but link to other websites--but after Google's Panda and Penguin updates having these sort of links point to your website actually hurts you.

So how does one get legitimate links to your website? Here are a few options:


Bloggers love pictures so upload a few and make them available for others to use if they like, they just have to attribute the photo to you. Although it's not strictly necessary, it's best practices to include a link back to your site.

Guest Blog

Ask other bloggers if they accept guest posts. Most do. (I do!) As a courtesy, a guest blogger is allowed to leave at least one link back to their website. (7 Tips On How To Get Your Guest Post Accepted)

Blog Directories

There are various blog directories such as Technorati that you can register your blog with. I did this a year ago. While I'm not sure how much it helped I am sure it didn't hurt. Bottom line: it's another place for people to learn about my blog and it only took about an hour of my time.

Social Media
I'll be honest, I have a Facebook account but I really only use Twitter. Perhaps I should use Facebook. If I could magically squeeze more hours into the day I'm sure I would, but I love Twitter, I (think I) understand Twitter and I get a significant amount of traffic from Twitter.

Twitter is an awesome way of getting links to your website in front of people who would be interested in your content. How? Hashtags (eg: #). Using hashtags you can get your tweets in front of people who don't follow you. Folks who've never heard of you. (I talk about this more in 19 Ways To Grow Your Twitter Following.)

g. Create Great Content

Hands down, the single best way of making Google Search love your blog is to regularly post great content. That is, content that is accurate, well marked up and well written. Google is biased to favor new articles, so try to blog at least once a week, but if you can't manage it, try for at least once a month.

h. Google Analytics & Google Webmaster Tools

Google has developed many tools it provides, free of charge, that will provide you with valuable feedback on, for example, which search terms are bringing visitors to your site, how many times a particular article has been accessed, the average length of time a visitor spends on your site, and so on.

I highly recommend using both Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools, but if you're only going to use one I would say use Google Analytics. It's easy, vastly informative and takes only 15 minutes or so to set up.

I've only covered a fraction--a fraction of a fraction of a fraction!--of the material on how to optimize a site to attract search engines. If you have any questions, or you'd like me to say more about a point I addressed, please leave a comment and ask. I love hearing from you. :-)

Other articles you might like:
- Chapter Breaks: Where Should They Go?
- How To Attribute Artwork Licensed Under The Creative Commons
- Making A Scene: Using Conflicts And Setbacks To Create Narrative Drive

Sunday, October 28

10 Questions: The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

"Edgar Allen Poe - The Raven" by Ian Burt under CC BY 2.0

Kim Neville tagged me.

She emailed a few days ago and asked whether it would be okay to tag me for The Next Big Thing. I wanted to ask her what being tagged meant and what The Next Big Thing was but it seemed like a cool adventure, the sort of thing close examination might spoil--and, besides, I felt I should perhaps know what 'being tagged' meant--it felt Facebooky--so I just said, "Okay, sure!".

I can't sleep--bad cold--so I decided the perfect thing to do at 4:30 in the morning is The Next Big Thing.

1. What is the title of your work in progress?

"Spiderman" by Alan Turkus under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

It's been so long since I worked on my novel I had to look up the name. And then I had a moment of absolute panic when I realized the name of the file was the working title. Is that ironic or just bad planning?

I did find the file, finally. Samantha.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

"Put on your Sunday best" by Kevin Dooley under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

There's a very personal answer for that but I think it would be To Much Information so I'm just going to say I started writing it as a way to come to grips with something I learnt about someone who was close to me.

I hadn't intended to start a novel but my scribblings morphed into something more.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

"Premade BG 75" by Brenda Clarke under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Urban fantasy, but that category is large and very accommodating. It is interesting that Kim (who has been known to write stories about faeries from time to time) was the one who tagged me. My WIP is about faeries, but I don't think she knows that (yet)! :-)

My faeries are different from the ones you meet in Celtic lore, but I think they're enough like those faeries to be worthy of the name.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

"Morena Baccarin" by Alex Archambault under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Ohhh, decisions, decisions. Antagonists first. One of my favorite actors is Gary Oldman, but my Big Bad is a gal, so maybe not. Helen Mirren? She would do an excellent job. Or Deborah Ann Woll (Jessica on True Blood).

As for my heroine ... I think I'd choose Morena Baccarin from Firefly. Come to think of it, she would also make a great Big Bad. Hmm....

Actually, though, if I'm going to daydream ... This isn't an acting choice, but I'd want Jane Espenson to do the screenplay. I know she writes for TV (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Game of Thrones, Once Upon A Time, etc., etc., etc.) but if she could be persuaded I'd be over-the-moon happy.

5. What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?

"Vintage Brass Celtic Knot Circular Brooch Pin - 1970s" by Grannies Kitchen under CC BY 2.0

Samantha comes into possession of an object that could destroy humanity or bring peace to a world torn asunder.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

"Sharing Silent Moments" by Cris under CC BY 2.0

I will likely self publish. I would like to mention, though, that even if I traditionally publish I would try to avoid getting an agent. Many traditionally published full-time writers do not have them.

One of these writers, Laura Resnick, has excellent articles on this subject: The Author-Agent Business Model & Agents.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript.

"Isabella!" by Tricia under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

My first draft is only 25,000 words or so and I wrote it in about three weeks.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre

"Weta Cave wonders - who are you looking at Precious" by W J (Bill) Harrison under CC BY 2.0

Lord of the Rings meets Harry Dresden. Or perhaps Rachel Morgan.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

"FREEDOM" by Luz Adriana Villa A. under CC BY 2.0

My inspiration for the book ... Well, my idea for the book and the inspiration for the book are wrapped up in one another, but let me try to reach beyond that. One of the main themes of the book--although it's only in first draft form at the moment--is freedom and the price of freedom.

In mentioning the cost of freedom I don't intend to conjure up images of war and the cost of war. I'm talking about freedom on a painfully personal level. Friendship, community, being in relation with another, puts constraints on you; there is an expression, "the ties that bind". Cut the strings, all of them, and the individual is completely alone ... and completely, terrifyingly, free.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

"Fossil Sitting In Sun Light" by A Guy Taking Pictures under CC BY 2.0

I think writers write about concepts that fascinate them, concepts that some small (or large) part of them wishes were real. I had the idea of an artifact changing shape, form, depending on the person who was responsible for it. It turns out that the shape the artifact takes tells something about the person bearing it.

Include the link of when tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.

Kim Neville tagged me. Kim is an awesome writer who has a wonderful, and wonderfully intimate, blog. She is a magician with words and I love her stories.

(I'm reading Kim's blog post as I type this) I guess people who are tagged have a week to respond with their own posts. Good to know!

I've sent out emails but won't put up the names of those I offered to tag until they accept.

Thanks for reading!

Other articles you might like:
- Chapter Breaks: Where Should They Go?
- How To Attribute Artwork Licensed Under The Creative Commons
- Mary Robinette Kowal and The Mysteries of Outlining

Saturday, October 27

Chapter Breaks: Where Should They Go?

Chapter Breaks: Where Should They Go?
"Stairwell, Annecy" by Alex Brown under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

A couple of days ago a friend mentioned she had trouble deciding where to insert chapter breaks. I said something blithe about breaking in the middle of tension, but it got me thinking. Where should we put chapter breaks? Are there rules of thumb?

As I was surfing the web this morning I happened across, not one but two, articles about where to insert chapter breaks. I love it when things like that happen!

The first article is Writing a Novel: Chapter Breaks by Courtney Carpenter and the second is 3 Ways to Know When to End Your Chapters by Aaron Elkins. I summarize their points, below.

Where To Insert Chapter Breaks

The Goal

You want your readers to continue past the chapter break. Or, since it's unlikely someone will read your book in one huge eye-reddening gasp, you want them to be interested enough in your story that they will come back after laying the book aside.

1. Use a chapter break to mark a change or transition

When you do your outline you'll map out scenes and sequels and then, as you write your first draft, indicate where you feel a good place is for a chapter break.

But that's the question, isn't it? What IS a good place for a chapter break! Aaron Elkins advises that "Changes of place, changes of time and changes of point of view are all excellent places for chapter breaks. (3 Ways to Know When to End Your Chapters)"

For instance, does your main character have to take a flight somewhere? End one chapter with him getting into the plane and start the next with him landing. Do you want to shift your point of view from one character to another? This usually happens at a chapter break.

2. Put a chapter break where the action is most dramatic.

Courtney Carpenter in Writing A Novel: Chapter Breaks writes:
The most important thing is that at the end of each chapter the reader should be craving the next chapter. Make the reader want to turn the next page. An old-fashioned cliffhanger is not required (though they still work), but tension of some kind is essential. End not where the action lulls but where it is the most dynamic. Give the reader new information right before you cut him off.
When you want to increase tension and make it impossible for your poor reader to put down the book--even at 3 in the morning when he has a 7 o'clock meeting--you can use one of the oldest tricks in the book: the good old-fashioned cliffhanger. You want to put your main character in peril, it seems almost certain he's going to die, he has only one small, teensy, improbable chance to live. It would take an incredible amount of skill/courage/brilliance on his/her part to pull it off.

You get the idea.

Use this ending sparingly. If your hero is in mortal peril at the end of every chapter and manages to save himself at beginning of the next chapter the trick will stop working.

Keep in mind that, as Aaron Elkins mentions, the cliffhanger doesn't always have to be about putting your hero in physical peril. It could be she has a deep dark secret she has decided to tell right at the end of the chapter. She reveals the secret at the beginning of the next chapter. Nice!

I hope you found something of value here to help with chapter endings and beginnings. As with most things there's no clear-cut answer. But I suppose that's why, at it's core, writing is an art not a science.

Best of luck!

Other articles you might like:
- Mary Robinette Kowal and The Mysteries of Outlining
- Book Review Blogs That Accept Self-Published Work
- What to do if your book isn't selling: Tips from Johanna Penn
- Dialogue: 7 Ways of Adding Variety

Friday, October 26

How To Attribute Artwork Licensed Under The Creative Commons

How To Attribute Artwork Licensed Under The Creative Commons
"grulla" by Emre Ayaroglu used under the Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0

What would a blog be without artwork? Boring!

But artwork, like blog posts, is copyrighted. Unless the copyright holder gives permission, their artwork is off limits.

Fortunately, a wonderful group of people have set up the Creative Commons and given artists an easy way to license their work so that it can be used, free of charge, as long as certain conditions are met.

How To Attribute Art That Has Been Licensed Under The Creative Commons

List the:

1. Name of the work (keep intact any copyright notices for the work)
2. List the author of the work (If it's not obvious, look for it)
3. List the license under which you are using the work.

It isn't strictly required, but it's nice and best practices to:

a) link to the page where the artist is displaying the work, to
b) link to the creator of the work (e.g., her Flickr page) and to
c) link to the web page that describes the license the artist released his/her work under.

Also, it's nice to let the artist know you've used their work and thank them for making it available.

Unsure whether your attribution is correct? Here's the advice of the folks over at the Creative Commons:
Ask yourself whether an interested viewer/reader/listener/other user is able to easily discern who gets credit (attribution) for the original work, and the freedoms associated with that work (license notice). If they can, great! If not, consider whether you are making a good faith effort to use the licensed work according to its terms. (Is Your Attribution Good Enough?)


Example 1: Attribution Only

Let's suppose we find a gorgeous work of art like "Morning Fog Emerging From Trees" by A Guy Taking Pictures on Flickr. How would we attribute it?

"Morning Fog Emerging From Trees" by A Guy Taking Pictures. CC BY 2.0

You can see my attribution in the caption under the picture. That's how I did it because I didn't have a lot of space. Here is another attribution which would be just as good:
"Morning Fog Emerging From Trees" by Flickr user A Guy Taking Pictures. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

Example 2: Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND)

Here's a photo, "Playing with the ball 3", by the same artist I used in my first post today: Tambako the Jaguar. I love his work. The one I used this morning, "Roaring Lion" was under an Attribution Only license, but this one is Attribution No Derivatives.

No derivatives means if I wanted to tweak the oranges and blues in Photoshop I'd be out of luck. I can use it whole and complete, commercially or non-commercially, but it has to be attributed (of course!) and it has to be left unaltered.

"Playing with the ball 3" by Tambako the Jaguar under CC BY-ND 2.0

I did the attribution for Playing with the ball 3 a little different than Morning Fog Emerging From Trees, but this one contains the same information, it's a stylistic difference. Also, I was, again, trying to get all the necessary information into a small space.

If I had more room I would have done this:
"Playing with the ball 3" by Flickr user Tambako the Jaguar under Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivs 2.0.
(In the above I underlined where I would put the relevant links.)

Example 3: Attribution of an piece you altered

Sometimes I like to alter a photograph in a way that makes a certain color 'pop'. Or a photo might seem washed out and I want to make the colors more vivid.

Naturally I need to attribute the underlying work to the artist who created it but I also have to indicate that it has been altered. Additionally, even though I don't have to credit myself as being the one who altered it, it's probably a good idea.

I've looked for examples of how to do this but didn't find anything matching the situation, so this is my interpretation. In other words, I'm winging it! This is probably a good place to state that what I have written here in no way constitutes legal advice. I'm not a lawyer nor am I dating one. :-)

"~~LoVe nEvEr SToPs~~" by Vinoth Chandar altered by Karen Woodward
Both works CC BY 2.0

This is how I would word the attribution:
This work is based on "~~LoVe nEvEr SToPs~~" by "Vinoth Chandar" under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license. The above work is "Sapphire Night" by Karen Woodward and is also licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.
That's a mouthful! (Underlining indicates the relevant links) I don't have room to put all that in the caption so I am hoping my shorter version is fine:
"~~LoVe nEvEr SToPs~~" by Vinoth Chandar altered by Karen Woodward Both works CC BY 2.0

I wanted to put Vinoth Chandar's name first because all I did was make the water blue. If I had extensively altered Vinoth's photo I would likely have put my name first.

Clear as mud?

I don't want to lead anyone down the garden path so if you notice I've done something wrong, or you're wondering why I did something one way instead of another, please do leave a comment.

What the folks at Creative Commons say about proper attribution

I wanted to make available to everyone what the folks over at the Creative Commons have to say about proper attribution, but I didn't want to copy and paste it here. So I'll give you the link: Best Practices for Marking Content with CC Licenses.

The licenses available under a Creative Commons copyright

This page describes the various kinds of licenses available from the Creative Commons: About The Licenses. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see them.

Links: Places to get creative commons content

There are many places to get creative commons content, here are just a few:

- Flickr: Creative Commons
- Creative Commons Search
- FlickrStorm

I just found FlickrStorm and, hands down, I'm finding it the best, easiest way to search for creative commons content. Highly recommended!

- Want to display your licensing information as an image? Or make sure it's machine readable? Select your Creative Commons license here.

- A good article that discusses proper attribution is Best Practices for Creative Commons attributions - how to attribute works you reuse under a Creative Commons license.

Other articles you might like:
- Making A Scene: Using Conflicts And Setbacks To Create Narrative Drive
- NaNoWriMo: How To Reach Your Daily Wordcount
- Dialogue: 7 Ways of Adding Variety

Doing What's Right: How To Get The Rights To Your Books Reverted

How To Get The Rights To Your Books Reverted To You
"Roaring Lion" by Tambako the Jaguar used under CC by 2.0.

Awesome business post from Kris Rusch today! She talks about rights reversion and how you can get the rights to a book back from your publisher.

Rights Reversion

First, though, what is rights reversion? Kris writes:
When a writer signs a contract with a publisher to have a book published, that contract includes which rights the publisher is licensing and at what cost/percentage of that cost. All of this is based on the copyright, which can be sliced down to minute fractions, and each fraction licensed.
Essentially, you're asking your publisher to give you back all the rights you licensed to them.

Out of print = not available for sale

You might be wondering why an author should have to ask for their rights back. It seems as though the publisher should just give them back after some point. The question is, what point? It used to be that if a book was out of print--you couldn't buy it in any bookstore--then you got your rights back.

Nowadays we have Amazon and (to a lesser extent) Barnes & Noble and Kobo and Smashwords and ... you get the idea. Books never really go out of print, they continue life as ebooks or as print-on-demand paper books. Kris has experienced this herself:
[O]nly recently [writers and their agents] started adding the phrase along the lines of “the availability of a print-on-demand edition of the book does not count toward the in-print definition in this contract.”

The only reason I can’t get my rights back on my last remaining title with Simon and Schuster is because my very old contract with them does not have that line, and S&S counts the POD availability as “in-print.”

If contract terms can be bent or stretched to the publishing house’s favor, the publishing house will do so.

Out of print = sales velocity

It's a problem! How do we, as authors, determine when our publisher(s) should give us the rights back to our work? Some writers have used sales velocity. This is the idea that if your book sells less than X amount of copies in Y amount of time that it's out of print. For instance,
If a book sold fewer than 500 copies in a six-month period (for example), then that book would be considered out of print, and would, for the sake of the contract, be eligible for reversion.
The first time I read about using sales velocity as the criterion for rights reversion I thought it was a great idea, but I'd forgotten about something: Freebies!

You wouldn't think it, but free copies of books given away on, say, Amazon, can count toward copies 'sold'. Under this model all a publisher would have to do to keep the rights to your book from reverting to you would be to offer it every six months or so as a freebie on Amazon.

Out of print = limited term

Your publisher would like to hang onto your book forever, they don't want to give you the rights to it because they think they'll be able to make money on it down the road. And you know what? They probably will if they manage to keep it. After all, that's part of the reason you want the rights back!

What should you do? Never sign with a traditional publisher again? No, just make sure that your contract has a limited term. Kris writes:
... I’ve started recommending to writers that if they want to have a traditional publishing contract for their book, that contract has to have a limited term. The contract can exist for ten years from the date of the contract (or seven from the date of publication, which may not be unreasonably delayed), and can be renewed at the same or more favorable terms.
So just include in your contract that, regardless of where the book is being sold, and regardless of how many copies are being sold, the rights to the book will revert to you 10 years after you sign it.

That's a simple, clear criterion. So, problem solved. Right? Not so fast. Kris writes:
That’s how all of my foreign contracts work [they have a limited term] and most of my Hollywood contracts have worked. In fact, all of my subsidiary rights contracts work like that. But my former traditional book publishers in the United States have all balked at that suggestion—so I walked.
The problem: book publishers might say no.

Out of print: Which criterion should I use?

Whichever criterion you end up using in your next contract remember to plug the loopholes. Make sure that:
- Print-on-demand books and ebooks don't count toward sales.
- Free books and deeply discounted books don't count as sales.

How to get the rights to your book back: Getting a release letter from your publisher

Okay, let's say you've pulled out your contract, read it, and determined that according to it's terms your book is out of print and you should be able to get your rights back. Now what? How do you go about doing that, putting the legal wheels in motion?

Kris writes:
So it might look like your rights have reverted, but you don’t have full legal title to those rights until you have a release letter from your publisher.
Be sure to check your contract and make sure that, according to its terms, your rights really have reverted and make note of any special things you have to do to get the rights to revert. Generally, though, here's what you have to do:
Let’s assume, though, that the book is out of print by whatever standard is set in the contract. Then you have to go through the hoops that the contract establishes for rights reversion.

Generally, those hoops are pretty simple. You must write a letter asking for the rights to revert to you.

The letter should be formal. It should cite the contract, its date, the clause that pertains to reversion, and the proof you have that the book meets the definition of out of print. Then you should ask for a letter reverting the rights to you.
Let's break this down. In your letter to your publisher you need to include:
1. Cite the contract, its date and the clause that pertains to reversion.
2. Include the proof that your book meets the definition of out of print used in the contract.
3. Ask for a letter reverting the rights to you.
Kris writes:
Send this letter to the legal department at your publisher by snail mail with a delivery confirmation attached. Also send it to the legal department by e-mail.

You probably won’t get a response. Usually, they’ll just put the reversion letter into a pile and deal with it at a biannual meeting on rights reversions.
What NOT to do:
I would avoid both your agent and your editor in this process. They both have a vested interest in keeping that book under contract. In fact, contacting your editor before writing the letter might get that back-in-print process underway before your letter even hits the desk at legal.
Kris warns that you very well may not receive a response from the publisher. They don't want to give you back the rights so you're job is to become the squeaky wheel. The persistent, irritating-as-water-dripping-from-a-rusty-faucet, squeaky wheel. Kris writes:
If you get no response in a month, go through this process again. And then do so a month later. By then, someone will respond. They’ll be pretty irritated and they’ll probably tell you that they will get to you when they get to you.

Remind them that they have six months from the date of your original letter to put the book back into print, or they lose the right to publish the book. (If, indeed, that clause is in your contract. If it isn’t, simply state that they must respond to this legal request in a timely manner.)

What you want to do is get them to release your rights. You want to be that annoying person they grant the release to because they don’t want to deal with you any more.
The publisher may not release the rights to you even after six months and, if this places them in breach of their contract, you have to tell them. Or better yet, Kris recommends hiring a lawyer to tell them.

Don't be shy about keeping the pressure on your publisher.
If you want your rights reverted, then you need to be proactive about getting them back.  You have to show the publisher that this is important to you, and you will continue to push until you get your way.

Because publishers have so many writers and so much backlist, they won’t push back against a squeaky writer unless they believe that writer’s book (reissued) will make a lot of money. In most cases, the publisher won’t even do enough research to learn that the book would make money.

If you push consistently and politely, you will succeed more times than you’ll fail. But it’ll take a concerted effort on your part.
Well, what are you waiting for? Get those rights back! 

All quotations are from Kris Rusch's article The Business Rusch: Rights Reversion. I highly recommend you read Kris' article from top to bottom, I only covered a fraction of it. Kris is remarkably generous in sharing her prodigious experience in the world of publishing (thank you!!).

Other articles you might like:
- Making A Scene: Using Conflicts And Setbacks To Create Narrative Drive
- NaNoWriMo: How To Reach Your Daily Wordcount
- Dialogue: 7 Ways of Adding Variety

Photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar

Thursday, October 25

Making A Scene: Using Conflicts And Setbacks To Create Narrative Drive

Making A Scene: Using Conflicts And Setbacks To Create Narrative Drive

Yesterday I promised to write an article about the last tool Mary Robinette Kowal introduced in her (terrific!) workshop at SiWC last weekend, The Mysteries of Outlining. Namely: "Yes, BUT ... / No, AND ..." Another name for this might be "How to write a scene: conflicts and setbacks".

Characters need setbacks

If your main character got everything she wanted right away then your story would be as entertaining as watching paint dry. The solution: be mean. Give your main character setbacks, lots of them.

Conflicts & Setbacks

Your main character has goals, he wants things. In Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones goes on a quest to find and bring back the lost Ark of the Covenant. About halfway through the movie he finds the ark but is captured and, along with Marion, sealed inside an ancient burial vault and left to die.

What follows is one of the BEST sequences of conflicts and setbacks I've come across. Let's start after Indie finds the ark.

Conflict: Does Indie find the ark?
Setback: Yes, BUT he is captured, thrown into a pit of snakes, and the antagonist takes the ark.

Remember that it is established early on in the movie that Indiana hates snakes. Spiders and all manner of creepy-crawlies he's fine with, just don't bring him near a snake! (And, yes, I know that there's no logical reason why there would be THAT many snakes in an ancient burial vault, but the scene still works.)

Conflict: Do Indie and Marion survive the pit of snakes?
Setback: Yes, they use torches to keep the snakes at bay BUT the torches are about to burn out.

Conflict: Do Indie and Marion escape the pit of snakes before their torches burn out?
Setback: Yes, Indie crashes a pillar through a wall providing them a way to escape BUT the room they enter is filled with skeletons that--for Marion at least--seem to come alive.

Conflict: Will Indie and Marion escape from the ancient burial vault they've been entombed in?
Setback: Yes, BUT the bad guys have the ark and Indie needs to get it back.

After every goal Indie achieves there is a setback. I just noticed we didn't come across a "No, AND ..." so lets keep going.

Another FABULOUS sequence in the first Indiana Jones movie--especially from the perspective of what we're talking about here--pulling the reader through a scene, creating conflict and using setbacks to create narrative drive--occurs at around 01:16:33 where Indie decides he's going to commandeer a plane. He fails in the end and it blows up but the sequence of goals/conflicts and setbacks is memorable.

Conflict: Will Indie commandeer the plane?
Setback: No, AND Indie is spotted crawling up the plane, toward the pilot.

Conflict: Indie and a bad guy fight. Will Indie win?
Setback: Yes, BUT a much bigger man starts a fight with Indie (AND the pilot sees indie and knows he's trying to commandeer the plane).

Conflict: The pilot starts to take pot shots at Indie. Will Indie escape being hit?
Setback: Yes, Indie dodges the pilot's bullets BUT the pilot keeps shooting.

Conflict: Indie is fighting a huge bad guy. It looks like he has no chance of winning. Will Indie, against all odds, win the fight against the Man-Mountain?
Setback: No, Indie is not going to win a fist-fight with the Man-Mountain AND the pilot is still shooting at him.

Conflict: The pilot takes aim at Indie, from this angle he can't miss. Will Indie survive?
Setback: Yes, indie survives. Marion hits the pilot over the head and knocks him unconscious BUT as the pilot slumps over in the cockpit he hits some levers and starts the plane rolling forward while Indie fights the Man-Mountain on the ground below.

Conflict: Marion climbs into the cockpit to remove the pilot and stop the plane from moving. Does she succeed?
Setback: No, AND she gets locked inside the cockpit.

You get the idea. The entire scene is well worth watching.

One thing I want to point out before I go on to the next section and talk about scenes is that the stakes for our hero gradually escalate throughout the scene. At first Indie just wants the plane and gets into a fist fight, then there's an impossibly huge guy he has to fight, then someone starts shooting at him, then the plane begins to move, then there's a truckload of German soldiers who see him, then Marion explodes gasoline containers, then there's gasoline on the ground running toward the fire.

At the end of the scene an ocean of gasoline is rushing toward the burning remains of the gas canisters while the Man-Mountain continues to beat Indie to a pulp and, of course, the whole camp has noticed the gasoline barrels explode and is rushing to investigate. It's really quite something.

Scenes & Sequals

To flesh out this discussion let's talk about the larger picture. Conflicts and setbacks are parts of scenes and a novel is made up of scenes and sequels.

Scenes are where the action takes place, where your character has conflicts and setbacks until the end of the scene and he or she attains their goal, or not, as the case may be.  

Sequels are where your character reacts emotionally to what's happened, where he or she reviews the facts of their situation and perhaps wonders if their plan is working or whether it needs to be changed. Basically a sequel sets your character(s) up for the next scene and gives your readers a bit of a break from the fast pace.

I'm not going to talk about sequels here, except to point you to Jim Butcher's post on the subject.


Here, according to Jim Butcher, is the basic format of a scene:
Point of view character: _______________________
Goal: ______________________________________
Conflict (scene question): ______________________
Setback (scene answer): _______________________

POV (Point Of View) Character

Both Mary and Jim say the same thing:
Make your POV character the one who has the most at stake. 
Jim Butcher qualifies this by saying it should be the character who has the most at stake emotionally. If one character may lose his cousin who he never liked and doesn't care about and another may lose his cat who is their best friend then make Cat Guy your POV character.

Keep in mind that, like all writing rules, if you know what you're doing you can break them.


The goal needs to be ACTIVE and it needs to be SPECIFIC. Michael Hauge advises writers to think of it in movie terms. How could you show the character's goal on the screen? It should be something concrete such as (these are Jim Butcher's examples) "Get out of the room alive" not "Do something to save the day".

Conflict: Will your character succeed? WHICH character will succeed? Your hero or the antagonist?

Conflict is whatever will make your character fail in reaching his or her goal.

Between characters. Conflict happens between characters, not between a character and the environment. In the second Indiana Jones scene the plane--specifically its propeller--acted as a threat to Indie, he could have been killed by being forced into its blades, but it was used as a prop, the conflict came from the Man-Mountain trying to force him into the blades.

Conflicting goals. Conflict happens between characters trying to achieve different goals. Antagonists have goals too, ones that, if fulfilled, would prevent the hero from reaching his or her goal. Jim Butcher writes:
All this really means is that you need an antagonist with the same specific, attainable goal, the same kinds of emotional stakes, as your protagonist. Once you've got the right kind of set up, the scene almost writes itself. (Scenes)
If only!


For every conflict that comes up, a question can be asked: Will our hero succeed? There are four answers:
1) Yes
2) Yes, BUT
3) No
4) No, AND
We've covered this, above. Briefly, "Yes" won't get us anywhere. The hero needs setbacks because if his goal were just handed to him that would be very dull. The hero doesn't get everything he wants until the end of the book--and sometimes not even then!

"No" can work but it can be frustrating and cast your hero in a bad light. Use sparingly.

The other two, "Yes, BUT" and "No, AND" we've covered, above.

So, what are you waiting for! Go write a killer scene. :-)

Update (April 28, 2014): I go into this topic in more detail in Parts of Story: Try-Fail Cycles.

Other articles in this series:
- Orson Scott Card & The MICE Quotient: How To Structure Your Story
- Mary Robinette Kowal and The Mysteries of Outlining
- The Mysteries of Outlining and Nesting MICE: Creating Killer Stories

Other articles you might like:
- Jim Butcher On Writing
- NaNoWriMo: How To Reach Your Daily Wordcount
- Book Review Blogs That Accept Self-Published Work