Archive for May, 2011



Finding the Time to Write
by Annette McCleave on May 31st, 2011

When you have a busy life, filled with work, family matters, and chores, it can be hard to find the time to write. This is especially true for those just starting their trek through the jungle of the publishing world. Why? Because at that stage no one believes in the dream except you.

Family and friends tend to see writing as a hobby, as easily put aside as their plans to scrapbook the family vacation to Disney World. And in the face of children who ask for snacks while doing their homework, husbands who want you to watch the latest episode of Law & Order, and friends who beg you to join them on a shopping excursion, it’s challenging to see it any differently.

But writers write. Preferably every day. They make sacrifices (like turning off the TV) all the time. If you’re serious about being a writer, then you need to carve out the hours necessary to craft a story.

One of the easiest sacrifices a writer can make is sleep. That’s because the only person who’ll complain when you trade an hour of sleep for an hour of writing is you. Try getting up an hour earlier than normal (if you’re a morning person) or going to bed an hour later (if you’re a night owl).

Another easy sacrifice is lunch hour (or lunch half hour). Brown bag your lunch, take it to a quiet spot where your co-workers won’t be tempted to interrupt, and go for it.

If you’re a work-at-home mom, perhaps the twenty minutes it takes the washing machine to clean a load of laundry would be a good place to start. No guilt if the laundry is getting done, right?

Some writers I know hop down to the local coffee shop to write—because they don’t have family demands there. Others manage to write while attending Little League games, skating lessons, and doctor’s appointments. If you carry a small notepad and a pen everywhere you go, you can ‘bring your office’ with you.

Start with a small goal—even if it’s only a paragraph per day—and work yourself up to longer writing stints.

The good news is there’s no defined amount of writing required to get that story written. The more you write, the faster the story will be finished, but a page a day for 365 days will give you a whole novel. If you only write a ½ page per day, it’ll take you two years to get that novel written, but it will still get written—if you keep going.

Good luck and good writing!

In memory
by Jessa Slade on May 30th, 2011

Currently working on: Unpacking
Mood: Contemplative

Today is Memorial Day here. Originally intended as a day of remembrance for those who died in the nation’s service, the three-day weekend also gets used for general remembrances of all departed loved ones as well as for an excuse to barbecue various departed farmyard animals. This year, I used the weekend to attend a cousin’s wedding which was cause for many memories as well.

Memory is an interesting thing. Memory is how we attach meaning and relevance and value to moments no longer in our immediate timespace, and yet memory is a highly unreliable standard, influenced by attention, emotion, presupposition and more.

Memory is even more problematic in the hands of a storyteller.

Lots of stories were told this weekend around the wedding. People sharing stories about the bride and groom, sharing stories about what they’ve been up to since the last wedding/funeral, sharing stories about how they met their own life partners. Silly stories, sweet stories, sad stories.

I wonder how many of them were true. Or “truthy.” Or not true but True with a capital T.

As a semi-professional storyteller, I respect the judicious molding of memory into story. XY often bemoans this vocational hazard of mine.

He says, “That’s not how it happened.” (Or so he remembers.)

I say, “But it’s funnier that way.”

Funnier or sweeter or sadder, depending.

It seems odd to me that poppies are associated with Memorial Day since opium is made from poppies and one of the side effects of opium use is memory loss. But maybe the other side effect (at least according to the Romanticists of the later 18th century) of opium — insight — is ultimately more important than mere memory.

For the storyteller, memory and truth work in service to the story. I noticed this technique in many of the stories told this weekend. I could see the technique best when I’d been part of the original event and got to hear the “story-ized” version told to others.

1. Tell it simple.

Life is complicated. (Nothing like wedding planning to prove that.) The story version of life is simpler. Look for unnecessary complications, redundancies and tangents, and eliminate them. In your stories, I mean. Although I might also try this in real life.

2. Tell it “more.”

Make if funnier or sadder or crazier or whatever-ier. Find the “truth” that the story is telling and bring out the threads that lead there.

3. Tell it again.

While it’s painfully inevitable that some people tell the same story to death, I also see that the best stories get honed to a thing of beauty by regular retelling. I think this correlates to the craft of writing on a couple different levels, whether it’s choosing a familiar and well-loved thematic trope during the brainstorming stage or revising for best effect in later drafts.

Next time you’re at a family event hearing the same old same old or eavesdropping at a coffee shop to strangers, listen to the stories being told around you. What makes them interesting? What makes your attention wander? How can you apply those to your storytelling?

Good for the gander, maybe not the goose
by Sharon Ashwood on May 25th, 2011

In the writing world, there is a great deal of talk about motivation. Without a doubt, it is key to any good characterization. Without it, books seem too much like real life, full of meaningless sound and fury.

For the record there are two kinds of motivation: internal and external. External is driven by things from outside of us: We are motivated to call the plumber because the tap is dripping. Internal is driven (you guessed it!) from inside: We are motivated to call the plumber because secretly we are working out daddy issues, and daddy was a pipe and porcelain man. If we call, we symbolically confront him one more time.

Audiences—and by that I mean editors, agents, reviewers and blog commenters because those are the folks whose opinions I know about—are particular about what is acceptable internal motivation in protagonists. This is thrown in stark relief when we get to what could be sweepingly termed boy books versus girl books.

In a thriller, Agent Manly Man is given the task of putting away Evil Guy, so he does it. It’s his job. No one questions that. He might do it as a cop, a special agent, or in the courtroom. Gotta earn a pay cheque, and these occupations make good pulp fiction. Often/usually Manly Man is a loner. Audiences ache for his lonely state and hopes someday he’ll find solace in the bosom of, well, a bosom. These books—and they are legion—have a definite following.

However, wheel Agent Jane into the same scenario. The first question you’ll get as an author is, “Why is she a police sergeant? What happened to her that she wants a job with so much violence? Why isn’t she, like, a teacher or something?” You have to put a good reason out there before folks will move on to paragraph two.

Jane can’t wake up one day and think, “Gee, it’s Career Day at school. I like excitement. I think I’ll go check out the booth with the cops” any more than she can announce, “There’s a company over there with good assets and earning potential. I’ll think I’ll take it over and damn the torpedoes.” No way. What she’s allowed is, “My daddy was a cop and I never got his love because Peter was the boy. I’ll go be more of a cop than Peter and finally earn Daddy’s love.” Well, I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to go scuttling into a shoot ‘em up wearing Kevlar and a prayer, I’m doing it because I want to and to heck with what Daddy thinks. But that’s me.

Better yet, Jane is a cop because a child was murdered somewhere in her past, and she’s out there to defend young ‘uns everywhere. (No one ever oversets their lives in a crusade to defend middle-aged couch potatoes.)

But I digress.

I’ve run into the same problem plenty of times with female characters in the boardroom—I’ve never had a storyline pass go if it features a career woman, and I’ve tried many times. I know plenty of females who are ambitious and career-minded in real life. They do it for the same reason as guys: because they’re good at it, and they like the idea of retiring comfortably. However, if you translate that onto the fictional page, it’s necessary to counteract that “cold” ambition with a lot of factors that make her “softer” and “likeable.” Preferably kids. If her kids interfere with her job and she chooses family over personal success, so much the better. Does this mean boy exec = breadwinner; girl exec = not likeable?

I’m completely sure there are exceptions to this. I’m just going by my experience. However, the conclusion I draw is that there is a segment that sees female motivation convincing only in the context of family. A woman has to be motivated by factors outside of her own self-fulfillment before some readers can accept her.

As I say, I’m going by my own limited observations. What do you think? Am I right or wrong?

Plotting Methods
by Annette McCleave on May 24th, 2011

Are you a plotter looking for guidance on how to deliver maximum punch? I’ve got some suggestions for where you might want to look for answers:

1. 3 Act Structure – A plotting method that originated in the theater and is commonly used in movies. It breaks the action into three distinct sections, each with their own turning points, high points and low points. Here’s a link to Alexandra Solokoff’s blog where she discusses the 3 Act structure. Her blog has lots of great tips on plotting.

2. Hero’s Journey – American scholar Joseph Campbell outlined the stages of the Hero’s Journey back in 1949. Chris Vogler later wrote a book based on Campbell’s work called The Writer’s Journey and, with its clear explanations and more modern examples, it has become an iconic writer’s tool.

3. W Plot Method – This method is commonly used in novels and movies. It involves plotting toward a series of high and low points, which occur when the hero meets barriers to his or her goal. The reason it’s called the W plot is because the points go from high to low, low to high, and repeats…creating a W shape.

4. Snowflake MethodThis method is not for the faint of heart. It requires a lot of prep work that may not mesh with your creative brain. On the other hand, some people swear by it. The guy who developed it is a former software engineer, so you can comfortable that it’s a very logical and organized way to create a book.

5. A Mix of Methods — Some writers blend plotting methods to create their own way of working. Some write down a few turning points, then write organically from there. Others blend the W plot with the hero’s journey, or the hero’s journey with the 3 Act structure. Anything is acceptable as long as it gets you to the finish line. Here’s a nice explanation of the W plot blended with the Hero’s Journey.

The good news is you can use any of these methods, or none of them, and still end up with a great novel. We all work differently. But sometimes creativity benefits from a bit of structure, so if you’re tempted, give one of these methods a try.

Classic Schmlassic
by KimLenox on May 22nd, 2011

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, and making a point to read a large variety of books. I’ve always been a big reader, but I truly think its important for writers to read regularly. Reading seems to oil my creaky-brain-creativity parts, and get them functioning smoothly.

I love to read new releases, but I also search out books that are months to years old. Someone might recommend a book to me, or I might search out a specific title in an author’s backlist. Now that I have my Nook, I spend a lot of time just browsing for novels that snag my interest that I may have missed in years past. That’s why the idea of “trends” in books are strange to me. As a reader, I’m just looking for a good book. If I enjoy a zombie story today, I’ll enjoy one just as well five years from now.

Every once in a while (rarely!), I choose a classic to read. I’m not sure who decides a book is a classic, and sometimes I wonder “If someone wrote this book right now, would any publisher even buy it/publish it?” The classic I read most recently was AS I LAY DYING by William Faulkner. I’d read THE SOUND AND THE FURY years ago in college, and found the novel to be a difficult but interesting read. So I jumped into AS I LAY DYING and … after the first few chapters it felt like AS I LAY DYING FROM READING THIS BOOK. I’ll spare you a synopsis, but go check it out on the internet if you are interested. Still, I plowed through and finished that book. Whew! I was SO RELIEVED to be finished, and proud too, because I felt like I’d successfully pushed my brain through a strenuous exercise. The strangest thing is that…for days after finishing the book, I’d find myself thinking about the story and the characters. It really affected me much more deeply than I expected.

BTW – my favorite “classic” I think, might be MADAME BOVARY by Gustave Flaubert. Or maybe THE SUN ALSO RISES by Ernest Hemingway. But then I loved DRACULA, by Bram Stoker … or …

I read an article last week where the author questioned the value of reading classics, and wondered who still read classics outside of an educational requirement.

You might be here visiting our blog site because you love paranormal romance, but do you ever read classics? If so, what was the last one you read, and did you enjoy it?

In the soup
by Sharon Ashwood on May 18th, 2011

For me, the biggest stumbling block to writing is that I am slow and need large blocks of time. For instance, I spent most of Sunday glued to the computer fiddling with edits. As it was pouring outside, distractions were reduced. This was a good thing because—outside of an hour or so for phone call and lunch—I was at my desk from 10:00 am until about 6:00 pm. Such a marathon is great, but not possible during the week when I’m expected to show up at the office. It’s after dinner writing or nothing.

IMO, the secret to getting a chunk o’ time during a weekday evening is to cook as little as possible. What I mean is that, on the weekend, I lay in survival supplies, chop veg in advance, and usually make a large pot of soup or a casserole so that lunches are ready to go (and cheap). It’s not a perfect system, but it helps me get to the computer before I’m starting to think about bed.

Of course, when it comes to lunches, I’m only worrying about myself. It’s harder if you’re dealing with family. I recall my working/student mom introducing me to the task of brown bagging food when I was in junior high school. I think it was a smart idea: if I didn’t like what I packed, I had no one to blame but myself. Alas, she never did successfully train my dad to fend for himself. He definitely needed a keeper.

Anyway, this is my latest soup invention, for anyone else trying to prepare ahead:

• In a large soup pot, fry 1 ½ c chopped onion in olive oil. Add about a ½ teaspoon of salt.
• Chop a bundle of asparagus and add that. Cook until onions are clear (about six minutes).
• Sprinkle with 3 heaping teaspoons of flour to make a roux and cook for about a minute. Then slowly add six cups of stock (or water, but stock is better). At this point, feel free to add, say, leftover chicken, turkey, or ham and herbs to taste. Mushrooms are also an option. I used a tsp of dried dill and a half tsp of pepper. Cook until asparagus bits are tender.
• Put everything through the blender or (much easier) use a hand blender wand until the soup is a smooth texture. Add a large dash of tamari sauce. At the last minute, stir in a cup of milk or cream.
• This recipe reheats extremely well.

One thing I’ve always wanted to do is get a bunch of friends together and start one of those deals where everyone cooks a bunch of food and swaps homemade frozen dinners. Has anyone tried that?

Down the Rabbit Hole
by Annette McCleave on May 17th, 2011

The publishing world is constantly changing. The basic premise remains the same—delivering stories to readers—but the mechanisms shift. Sometimes slowly, sometimes fast.

The advent of the reasonably-priced e-reader device is one of the many influences that have shaped the book market over the last few years. Others have included the narrowing of physical distribution channels and the closing of brick-and-mortar bookstores.

These changes aren’t unique to the publishing business—if you look around, you can see the erosion of physical distribution in other industries, as well. Music is moving away from CDs and towards electronic distribution sites like iTunes. Movies are moving away from DVDs and towards electronic distribution sites like NetFlix. Once the channel matures enough, the content flows faster and faster.

Change makes us uncomfortable, though, so many authors—especially aspiring authors—are worried about how all this will impact them. And to be honest, no one has a crystal ball, so it’s hard to answer that.

But along with the change has come opportunity. Even as authors face greater challenges breaking into the big New York publishing houses, they’ve been given more control over the distribution channel—new ways to get content into the hands of readers have blossomed along with the e-reader market.

Amazon and Barnes&Noble both have self-publishing arms to allow authors to develop content and supply it to the buyers of their reading devices. Sites like Smashwords.com, which takes word processor files, converts them to a variety of e-reader formats, and distributes them to major retailers, have sprung up to meet a new need.

Now, it’s important to remember that publishing houses are not just distribution centers. Traditionally, they’ve been the gatekeepers of quality, reviewing hundreds upon thousands of submissions and selecting only those they believe are ready to be broadcast to the world at large. In days of old, editors at these houses would groom a budding author until his or her potential was realized, and we would all benefit.

Although tough economic times have given these editors monstrous workloads, they still provide feedback and advice that improves the work of their authors each and every day. If you doubt that, look at the acknowledgements page of most novels (including mine!)—you’ll see a heartfelt thank you to the editor.

There is no gatekeeper in the self-publishing world. With the rise of self-publishing, you’ll unfortunately also see a rise in the number of books that have been published but weren’t ready. You’ll also find gems that for whatever reason, were unable to reach the market under the original system.

Authors have more control over their work in this evolving environment, but they also have more responsibility. Cover design and editing now become theirs to manage, in addition to the marketing burden they’ve been increasingly asked to take on.

And the 80/20 rule of the world’s economy will still play out—80 percent of the money in self-publishing will still be made by 20 percent of the authors. Most will not get rich. That’s just the way it works. But the loss of the gatekeeper means more of the return on each book sold will end up in the hands of the author. And that’s a good thing.

How will all this shake out? It’s anybody’s guess. But these are exciting times in the publishing business. And as any stockbroker worth his salt will tell you, where there’s turmoil, there’s opportunity. Good luck to those who venture forth.

***

I myself have dipped my toe in the sea of change: I recently self-published a medieval romance novella entitled Tempting the Knight. If you like knights and castles and reunited lovers, perhaps you’ll check it out.

More than you ever wanted to know about characters
by Jessa Slade on May 16th, 2011

This article first appeared in the Romance Writers of NZ (RWNZ) monthly magazine Heart 2 Heart.  I wrote it after the newsletter editor there asked if I had an article on character creation and I realized that, gasp!, I didn’t. Now I do. I’m also teaching a class on Creating Creepy Characters for Savvy Authors this week and this post adds to that content.

* *                  *

Which comes first, plot or character? Like the chicken-egg question, it’s basically irrelevant. For successful poultry — and story — creation you need both. For me, though, plot comes more readily. “What happens” bubbles up in my brain before “who it happens to.” Since character doesn’t come first for me, I have a process to create the people to live (live through!) my story.

Warning #1: Long post
Warning #2: Pantsers/organic writers, back away slowly. This technique may give you contact dermatitis.

1. What sort of person will suffer the most from this particular storyline?

Okay, that sounds a little mean, but conflict is the heart of commercial genre fiction, so the characters are going to have to suffer to earn their happy ending. Story conflict is amplified by building personalities who will struggle most vigorously against (and ultimately for) the lesson they have to learn. Thoughtful character creation is especially important in romance because not only are the characters fighting their way through the plot, the hero and heroine will fight against and for each other.

For me, thinking about the theme helps me find my characters. In my Marked Souls urban fantasy romances with alpha male warriors possessed by repentant demons, the series theme is the shifting balance between good and evil, but each book in the series explores that question from a slightly different angle. For example, in the latest story, VOWED IN SHADOWS, the book theme is about weaknesses of the flesh. Naturally, the heroine is a stripper with a boa (not the feathered kind; the reptilian). Nim’s body is a sensual weapon she uses against an uncaring world…and it is also her weakness because she still carries the scars of childhood sexual abuse. So who would suffer most from such a conflicted heroine? A married man who hasn’t had sex in eighty years! Unlike the heroine, the widower hero holds femininity sacred. I’m being a bit wry by saying ‘holds’ since a maiming in an earlier story left Jonah with only one hand; his weakness of the flesh is quite literal.

I find that it helps to list the characteristics of the hero and heroine side by side to make sure the conflict between them and the plot is inherent in their personalities. I also make sure the seeds of their need for each other is nestled in that conflict by answering the question “What does he/she learn from her/him because of the story?”

2. What made the character this way?

When I first started writing, I took a character-building class where they handed out a twelve-page dossier to fill out. Eye color, okay, but favorite ice cream? Really? It paralyzed me because it seemed so arbitrary. (People with processes tend to dislike arbitrary.) If dreaming up a character to that level of minutia works for you, of course, carry on. I find that knowing the character’s likes and dislikes NOW is less important to me¾and to the story¾than the roots of their discontent. Working backstory into the actual pages is tricky, but knowing the character’s history can help flesh out the present without seeming so random. Not all of it (please, not all of it!) will show up in your story, but hints of those experiences will tint the character at every level.

The rule of backstory creation is: Go deeper. For example, Jonah is an ex-missionary. Of course he is, since Nim is a stripper! I wanted that source of conflict between them from the beginning. But I also wanted to give a reason for their eventual relationship. So I went deeper. Sure, he’s a missionary, but why? He was a religious man (another level of conflict with his demonic possession) and his wife was a minister’s daughter (the exact opposite of his heroine) but what more? Go deeper. Ah, he was a missionary, in part, for the adventure. But why? Going deeper, I find out that as a child he read a penny dreadful with bare-breasted native girls! That spirit of adventure along with a touch of male ogling gave him the history to bond with his heroine. Eventually ;)

3. How will the character get from the beginning to the happy ending?

Once the basic characteristics and backstory are nailed down, I track the character’s growth through the plot. As a plotter, it’s easy for me to let the battle scenes run amok without making sure the characters get something out of it besides bruises. But since our genre is about conflict AND change, I want to make sure the characters are embedded in the experiences on the page.

Time to make another list. I start with Point A: where the character begins the story, which is usually some version of 1. despairing, 2. lost, 3. oblivious, 4. willfully blind, or 5. happily puttering and about to be catapulted into the gleeful hell that is the plot. I end with Point Last, where the character finally “gets it,” whatever it is for the particular story. Since stories where the characters come to unmotivated insights and unsustainable epiphanies are unsatisfying and unbelievable, I chart the clear steps between Point A and Last.

For example, Nim goes from the kind of girl who metaphorically wields a gallon of gasoline and a match to being a powerful positive light against the darkness. A few of the steps between include: selfishly taking on a demon to improve her chances of winning the stripper all-stars; facing monsters in real life and in herself and learning she finally has the power to fight them; finding tentative friendship with other women in the demon-possessed league; admiring the hero for his dedication to fighting evil; believing his love for her means her scars don’t make her damaged goods; valuing the goodness in the world.

Here is where plot and character and romantic relationship intertwine on the page. The forward progression of the plot drives changes in the character, and the character’s changes drive the plot forward, and the hero and heroine push each other. I find that I usually have to move pieces around a few times — can’t have the hero injured in the battle here because that would force the heroine to acknowledge her feelings and she can’t do that yet, etc. Personally, I think that character rules plot because I find you can more easily massage the plot to echo the character’s growth; fudging the character’s growth to fit the plot can feel forced and unrealistic (always funny when you are talking about fiction).

I have other, smaller tools for refining characters¾motto, behavioral quirk, personal imagery dictionary, etc. — but these three steps give me a sturdy launch for a story. You can also write most of a synopsis with these pieces. Pantsers, if you made it this far, you see there’s still a lot of room for on-the-fly characterization, like favorite ice cream. I also use these character notes during revisions to make sure I told the story I wanted to tell.

Although I consider myself a very analytical writer (shocking, I know) in the end, I do believe a character comes alive through some indescribable jolt of magic. But I think it’s a lot like Frankenstein’s monster; Frankenstein had to do a lot of work first — grave robbing, sewing, decanting mysterious bubbling liquids — before the lightning brought his creature to life.

Happy mad scientisting!

Strategic Swatting
by Sharon Ashwood on May 11th, 2011

Every so often, I realize that I actually learned something useful in my business classes. While this comes as something of a shock, I shouldn’t be so surprised. Writing is a business. Ergo, business theory occasionally applies.

Take, for instance, strategic planning. It’s a lovely buzz-phrase. It sounds clever and important. Basically it is a response to the question, “I want to be/do/have X, how do I get there?” It’s a question writers have, too, especially when one is talking career.

In order to answer “how do I get there?” we have to decide where “there” is. Yes, good old goal-setting is a first step. Let’s say: Writer Jane wants to get an editor seriously interested in buying a book. She can’t MAKE an editor buy her work, but she can do her best to get firmly on the radar. Good. Simple. We’re on track to a strategic plan.

So how does Jane form an action plan for getting herself in the game? One tool is called a SWOT analysis. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with special ops guys with rifles. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The business or person doing the analysis makes a list of each category with reference to their stated goal. That is, what strengths does Writer Jane have that will advance her toward the goal of getting on an editor’s radar? What weaknesses? Not all of her strengths/weaknesses will apply. What could be a strength one time (she’s a great writer of sex scenes) may be a weakness the next time around (the editor in question avoids writers with a reputation for writing hot). It’s important to keep the goal firmly in mind and think carefully about how well each item on the list fits.

So, what goes in each list?

Strengths = internal strengths. What do you bring to the table? A great work ethic? A fabulous proposal? A talent for characterization? A background in marketing and promotion?

Weaknesses = internal drawbacks. Where do you fall down? Can’t finish a project without a gun to your head? You haven’t a clue about promotion? Time challenges?

Opportunities = external strengths. Is the market for your kind of book trending up? Is that publisher opening a new line absolutely suited to you?

Weaknesses = external problems. The publisher you want to pitch to is folding. Nobody likes your sub-genre anymore. The market is glutted.

Of course, the more specific and insightful you make your goal and your lists, the better information you’re going to get. Then, once you’ve done the analysis, you’re ready to do your planning. The object, of course, is to work your plan so that you end up with lots of strengths and few weaknesses.

Step one is figuring out how closely your strengths match the opportunities available. This is where you will find your competitive advantage. For instance, if publisher X is launching a new line of medical mysteries and, hey, you spent twenty years working in Emergency, you have an edge. It’s amazing how confident this process can make you feel, and how well it prepares you for making a pitch to an editor. But don’t stop there: make your competitive advantage everything it can be. How can you enhance your strengths? Or do you need to adjust your goal for a better fit? The closer the alignment between your goal, opportunities and assets/abilities, the greater is your likelihood of success.

Step two applies to the weaknesses and threats. How can you make this list shorter? What weaknesses can you mitigate? Can you convert disadvantages to opportunities? If no one is publishing books about roller-skating zombie FBI agents, can you be the first in the field with this—um—original concept?

The objective of the SWOT is to generate plans and ideas. When it works well, it can take one a long way from fuzzy thought to detailed to-do list. I find it useful for organizing priorities. This makes a good basis for talking to an editor or agent—you’ve done your brainstorming in advance and will have something to say for yourself when you pick up the phone.

A final thought: a quick search on Google will give you a ton of links to SWOT tools and examples which are interesting and possibly fun to play with. However, it doesn’t need to get any more complex than what I’ve listed above. It’s the thinking part that counts, and no software can tell you what your dreams are.

Mythology
by Annette McCleave on May 10th, 2011

After watching the new Marvel movie, Thor, over the weekend—along with thousands of other folks—I expect a surge of interest in Norse mythology. Mythology makes a great basis for storytelling, and it worked for Tolkien and Rowling, so I say embrace it.

There are two ways use mythology in your stories:

- Stay faithful to the legends and be very careful about the details you include, treating your story like a fictionalized historical.

- Play with the mythology—even blend it with other mythologies—to create your own twist on the old stories.

Fantasy authors have been doing both successfully for years. Tolkien and Rowling both played with mythology, creating a unique world that is wonderfully identifiable to their stories. Many have copied them.

Is there a right approach? Not really.

But the reason many authors tweak mythological tales to suit their own needs is that the old tales are restrictive. You can’t stray off the beaten path without a fan of the old tales pointing out your error. If you create your own variation of the old tales, there are no beaten paths. Everything is fresh, new, and malleable.

You don’t need to stick to Norse mythology. Almost every region of the world has its own set of tales, from Hindu to Celtic, from Egyptian to North American Indian. There are plenty of stories from which to draw. I’ve used both Egyptian and Japanese mythology in my Soul Gatherer series so far.

One of best investments a paranormal/urban fantasy author can make is the purchase of a thick tome of mythology. Or several. I haunt the discount shelves at my local bookstore and regularly find texts on Greek myths, the Celtic druids, and Ancient Egypt—to name a few. And I’ve found all of them helpful at one time or another.

Anyone have a favorite mythology reference?