Monday, January 19, 2015

Writer's Workout

©  | Dreamstime Stock Photos
With New Year’s not too far gone in the rear-view mirror, we’re talking fitness! Writing fitness, that is. Just like any muscle, we've got to work our writing muscles to keep them in shape. Test them in different ways, strengthen them, make them lean and mean.

Here are some sample “workouts” to try next time you get some quality Butt-in-Chair time!

Speed: Word sprints
Want to write faster? Try this one. Give yourself a set time-frame and a set word count, then get ready to dash. Start with a goal of 500 words in 30 minutes, or whatever matches your baseline writing speed. You can even do mini-sprints, where you aim for 100 words in 5-10 minutes. Teamwork helps too - find a few friends to sprint with you! It forces you to get your ideas on paper and move the story forward with the understanding you’ll edit later.

Tighten: Reducing word counts
I like to use excerpts from familiar published novels for this exercise. Take a paragraph as is, grab its word count so you know your starting point, then try to whittle it down at different levels. 250 words. 100. 75. See how bare bones you can get it, and how the scene changes (sometimes for good, sometimes bad) as more words are cut. You’ll start to see similar cutting opportunities in your own work, and you’ll develop instincts about when to cut, and when you’re in danger of cutting too much.

I did a full example from The Hunger Games here.

Strengthen: Circle the verbs & be precise
Take a page in your current MS and highlight the verbs. Now brainstorm how you could make each one stronger. Is there a more compelling word choice? Punch it up! You might also find places to improve the pace using verbs with fewer syllables, but the same meaning.

Once you've action-packed your verbs, try doing the same thing with your descriptions or nouns. Use specifics and precision to make your world and characters come alive. Here’s a quick example of what to look for:
  • I heard a sound from the abandoned second level.
  • I heard running water from the abandoned second level.

There’s nothing wrong with the first version, but the second paints a stronger picture in readers’ minds because it’s more specific.

Go Deeper: Push your characters
Find places to push your characters to their limits – physically and emotionally. What would they never do? Make them do it, and give them a compelling reason why. What is the opposite of their natural personality? Write a scene that forces them to act that way. What’s the line you’re afraid to cross for them? Cross it.

Donald Maass has excellent exercises related to this in his “Writing the Breakout Novel” workbook. Even if you don’t use these scenes in your final MS, going through them will strengthen your characters AND your understanding of how they’ll react to different situations.

And, we’ve come full circle to Butt-in-Chair. Like all good exercises, practice makes perfect. So, keep at it and write, write, write!

Tips from Last Week's #4Writers

In case you missed last week's #4Writers on Twitter, here's a summary of the insights. Join us again a week from Tuesday. 7:30 p.m. CST.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Why We Love Galavant (And Other Fantasy Comedies)

If you haven’t heard of Galavant yet, it’s a four-week “medieval musical comedy” put on by ABC. The phrase “medieval musical comedy” was enough to intrigue me, and the last two weeks’ episodes have delivered on the hilarity in a big way.

Here’s what makes it so great:

The trailer
I dare you not to hum along!

The songs
The combo of Alan Menken and Glenn Slater is pretty unbeatable. As my cousin likes to say, Alan Menken composed the soundtrack of our childhood (Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast), and Galavant’s tunes deliver in a similar way. They’re catchy, and fun, and definitely get stuck in your head!

The guest stars
John Stamos as a pansy jerk of a knight is hilarious! (See the joust scene below) I’m also excited to see Weird Al, Rutger Hauer, and Ricky Gervais in their guest spots.

The tongue-in-cheek fantasy tropes
Like the old Monty Python classics, Galavant is able to make fun of itself and the larger fantasy/ fairytale genre while never veering far from its love of those same tropes and stereotypes. The noble knight, the fair maiden, the evil king. Galavant turns them delightfully on their head, but still speaks to the heart of what we all love about those tales.

The joust scene
In traditional medieval showdown style, Galavant and his knight nemesis (John Stamos’ character) face each other in the joust…only they’ve both been either drugged or overtrained into a stupor.

Want More Comedic Gold?

I also saw the Harry Potter tribute episode of Psych for the first time last week, and if you’re looking for more comedic fantasy gold, look no further. It had me snorting and crying in laughter after about two minutes.


And since my Packers won, a shout out to Aaron Rodgers' favorite - the ever-quotable Princess Bride!

Have you seen Galavant? Does Monty Python have a classic place in your collection? Are Shawn and Gus your go-to comedy duo?

Monday, January 5, 2015

New Reads & New Year's

Welcome to 2015!

Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday with friends and family. I spent the break writing, editing, reading ... and getting amazing book-nerd gifts like these:

The best Firefly book ever.
It has cast photos, interviews, episode scripts. Shiny! 

Guess what I'll be reading next???

Are you excited for all that 2015 will bring? 

I know I am. I finished edits on my space opera, which means I can finally start my YA steampunk. This'll be an enjoyable one to tackle - it'll push me into new areas for sure - and it's one of two (maybe three) books I have slated for this year. Stay tuned for some fun blog surprises over the next few weeks and months, too!

On the reading side, my full TBR list is perpetually overwhelming (in the best way!), but here's what's up next for me:

  • Finish Jim Butcher's Codex Alera
  • Catch up on all my Rick Riordan
  • Start Brandon Sanderson's Words of Radiance
  • Finally get to Lies of Locke Lamora (I've only been promising a friend I would for about a year)

And, in case that's not enough, here are the titles releasing in early 2015 that have me most excited!

FireFight - Jan. 6
Brandon Sanderson's second "Reckoners" book hits shelves this week. I enjoyed the first one, and felt the series could really build into something outstanding. I'm eager to see where Sanderson takes it.

Woven - Jan. 27
I'm so excited for David and Michael to finally see their book out in the world! And I'm excited for everyone who gets to read it. Can't wait to see what they have in store.
Red Queen - Feb. 10
This one has been hyped beyond belief, but I'm hopeful all the praise is well-earned. The premise of social classes determined by blood sounds intriguing, and I love the power of the cover!

Cinder Spires, Book #1 - May 7
Jim Butcher's new steampunk series. Yes, you read that right. Butcher is now writing steampunk! And the first book is tentatively set to release on my birthday - even better.

Lion Heart - May 19
Words cannot cleanly express how much I am waiting for the next installment of A.C. Gaughen's take on the Robin Hood legend. I would gladly bribe the publishing world if I thought I could get my hands on an early copy.

How about you? What's on your "reading radar" for this year? Got any goals on the writing front?

And don't forget to stop by Fantasy Faction to read my guest post on Fresh Starts in Fantasy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ashley Nixon's FLINTLOCK Cover Reveal

I enjoyed Ashley Nixon's CUTLASS earlier this year, so I was happy to help her with the cover reveal for book 2, FLINTLOCK. And let me tell you, guys, this cover made me flail with delight. I mean, come on, THAT is how you do a cover!

Sexy badass pirates, crossed flintlocks, the ocean!

It's probably better if you just see it for yourself.

Even better news? Behind that gorgeous cover is an equally fantastic story. Check it out:

FLINTLOCK is the second book in the Cutlass Trilogy. It continues Barren and his crew's story.

Barren Reed hopes to protect the Orient from his tyrant uncle, but his plans to make the King’s life a living hell aren’t supported by the Elders of the pirate community. As it stands, Barren has earned the Elders’ disdain for his carelessness, and they threaten him into exile if he makes one more mistake.

Barren’s not the only one feeling the Elders’ wrath—they don’t trust Larkin either. Worse, Barren can’t comprehend Larkin’s wish to have a relationship with her father, and the secrets she’s forced to keep create a tension that may pull them apart forever.

When the Pirates of Silver Crest begin to die, bullets laced with dark magic are to blame. (This concept alone would get me to read this book!) With more and more of these weapons infiltrating the Underground, discovering who’s behind the dissemination is no easy feat. As fear and tension mount among the people of the Orient, Barren and his crew find themselves in a race against time to stop the spread of dark magic before the world of Mariana spirals into collapse.

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Ashley Nixon
Ashley was born and raised in Oklahoma, where the wind really does sweep down the plains, and horses and carriages aren't used as much as she'd like. She has a Bachelor's in English Writing and a Master's in Library Science and Information Technology. When she's not writing she's either working out or pretending she's Sherlock Holmes. Her obsession with writing began after reading the Lord of the Rings in the eighth grade. Since then, she's loved everything Fantasy--resulting in an unhealthy obsession with the 'geek' tab on Pinterest, where all things awesome go.

Links to social media: 

Links to where book is sold:

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Writing Poll: Best Pick-Me-Ups

Monday, December 1, 2014

My Favorite Books of the Year


I’m slowly crawling out of my editing cave, back into the frigid air of the holiday frozen tundra. Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving and that all you NaNo’ers finished strong. (And even if you stumbled into that final stretch, holy cow, you wrote a book! That’s amazing!)

Speaking of books, I’m in holiday book-gifting mode, so in case you are too or you’re looking for new titles for your own TBR list, here are some of my favorites from the past year:

Lady Thief, A.C. Gaughen
If you love Robin Hood tales or YA with plucky kickass ladies, buy this one right now!

Codex Alera, Jim Butcher
I don't know how I missed this over the years, but I'm finally caught up and it is fantastic! It jumped into my top 2 all-time favorite epic series.

Under the Never Sky, Veronica Rossi
I wasn't sure what to expect going into this one...let's just say my average start to finish time for each of the three books was approximately 24 hours. Yes, they're that good.

These Broken Stars, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
This one grew on me in the second half, but boy did it ever! I love these characters together, and I can't wait to see more of them (please!).

Books of Beginning, John Stephens
A must-have for younger readers. I'd read the first book (THE EMERALD ATLAS) a few years ago, and THE FIRE CHRONICLE definitely takes it up a notch or twelve in terms of action and emotional stakes. Love it!

Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson
If I knew a teenage boy, this is the book I'd give him for Christmas. It's angsty, dystopian and action-packed in the best way, with a fun hero and a great twist ending.

Rick Riordan
I am waiting, WAITING, until my nephews are old enough to read Rick Riordan. Doesn't matter if it's PERCY JACKSON or the KANE CHRONICLES. Pick a book...any book...and it'll be a winner. (Oh, wait, I was supposed to only talk about stuff I'd read this year. Well, that's THE HEROES OF OLYMPUS then. Make a note,)

Got any children’s book recs?

My office is collecting children’s books to donate to our local community health center. I already know a few titles I want to give (RAINBOW FISH! WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE!). What else should I check out?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Off to the Editing Cave

How cool would it be if this were actually my editing cave?!
It's also the cave where this happened.
So...maybe not so cool.

I'm ducking into the editing cave for the next several weeks while many of you do NaNo. Here's a list of helpful archive posts to set you on your way!

Setting and Worldbuilding


Good luck with all those shiny new ideas, and see you in December!