Posted by: Jodi | September 17, 2014

Writerly Quote of the Day – Asimov

Asimov quote“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers” – Isaac Asimov

In Hamlet, Shakespeare said “brevity is the soul of wit.” Today, and quite possibly for the next unforeseen future, I will be brief. It turns out that blogging, especially when you are working hard to create new and unique material on a regular basis, takes hoards of time.  That’s time that I don’t have, and to be honest, haven’t had from the beginning.  I will continue to post here on Wednesdays but the posts are going to be shorter for the most part. (I am a novelist at heart, writing short can be a challenge).

Why the change? It keeps being pointed out to me that I spend more time on the blog than on my fiction. If I put the same effort into my novel it might actually get finished.  Also, cue the happy dance, I received my first official acceptance letter telling me that one of my short fiction pieces won a place in the 2015 Fantasy Anthology by Xchyler Publishing. Receiving this validation has kickstarted me out of the rut that I’ve been stuck in and now it’s time to get out there and get the work done.

Posted by: Jodi | September 10, 2014

The Science of Creepy

Musee_de_la_bible_et_Terre_Sainte_001I saw this terrific Youtube video about creepiness and thought it was perfect to share, especially now that Halloween decorations have hit the shelves and submissions for scary stories are coming due.  If you have a WIP you are trying to make scarier then this is required watching!  Should you be so inclined, you can also check out the random horror story I wrote a while ago for the Deadly Love, Be Mine anthology (You’ll have to scroll down to find it, dang pdf).

Related post:

The Uncanny Valley


Posted by: Jodi | September 3, 2014

What is your Culture?

Culture can be fascinating!  Image from

Culture can be fascinating!
Image from

(This is the post that was eaten by the goblins lurking within the system at WordPress last week.  Hopefully it reads as well as my first try because it was super awesome.)

The first thing that comes to my mind when I think about culture is something that you grow in a petri dish, and I’m pretty sure that those microbes aren’t avid readers.  When it comes to your writing culture, we are talking about your audience. Understanding your audience and their interests and likes is a huge help when it comes time to attract attention among the screaming crowd.

A culture is defined as a group of people with similar beliefs and practices.  In broad terms a culture can include an entire country, such as U.S. culture.  Although the citizens of the United States are all very unique, they all share many things in common because they live in the same country.  In more narrow terms, a culture can be as specific as a fan group.  These are sometimes called subcultures.

People who adore Doctor Who are a subculture, they share many similarities.  They tend to be intellectual, the nature of the program requires reasoning skills beyond your basic sitcom. They also have a penchant for collecting memorabilia such as sonic screwdrivers and clever reincarnations of the TARDIS.  Chances are they also like other speculative fiction as well.

The people who you think would like your book are your culture.  If you are writing fantasy you want to first attract people who like to read fantasy.  This is a no brainer.  But, what does it mean?  It means that if you use a blog, or twitter, or Facebook, or any other social media to promote your work, you should post things that fantasy readers would be attracted to.

And this is where I’ve fallen short.  My poor blog meant to attract readers for my future books has not been tailored to attract readers of epic fantasy.  At most it has attracted readers from this blog and then a random smattering of people interested in various things such as Spongebob. This is not helpful to my goals.

I’ve failed to cater to my culture and this needs to change.  I made my first attempt at catering to my culture last Friday when I stated my intention of becoming a Doctor Who fan. It sounds like fun and there are tons of awesome people out there who love Doctor Who.  That post received more attention its first day than any other post I’ve written, except for when I accidentally attracted the Alfie Boe fan club with a post that compared him to my main character.  Although cool, that didn’t help me win fans either.

Over the next several weeks and months I hope to do more to attract my culture, that is readers of epic fantasy, over at my other blog.  This will include reviews of other epic fantasy books, fantasy movies, and yes, Doctor Who.  I can’t promise anything, but there might also be some fun cosplay in there as well.

What are you doing to attract your culture? Let’s talk about it in the comments!


The August Giveaway is over and a winner has been selected.  Everyone who liked or commented on posts during the month of August were entered in a drawing to receive a free critique of the first 20 pages of a current work in progress, or of their query letter.

The winner is:  OntyrePassages!  Congrats to you!  I sent you a PM on your FaceBook writer page with the details.

Posted by: Jodi | August 27, 2014

Dang it WordPress!

I just finished a really great post about creating culture and finding an audience using the WordPress new post writing page.  I had the picture, I had everything tagged, the only thing left to do was a quick double-check using the proofreader (aka spellcheck).

The new posting page doesn’t have a proofreader.

I clicked the handy link that tells me if I miss the classic post writing page I can switch back to the one that has the spellchecker.

Poof – the post is gone.

Before, the posts were automatically saved whenever any of the post’s sidebar settings were changed so I didn’t think to save before clicking.

My mistake. I tried everything to retrieve it – and trust me I’m pretty good at finding lost things.  It’s gone.

I’m seriously crying right now, it was an awesome post.


On a different note, today’s the last day to enter in the August giveaway for a free critique of the first 20 pages of a work in progress or of a query letter.  To enter all you have to do is “like” this post.  For a second entry, leave a comment.  All likes and comments for any post during the month of August will be counted.

Posted by: Jodi | August 20, 2014

Problems with being a Pantser

cartoon-pants-8There are two camps when it comes to first drafts, the planner camp and the pantser camp.  Planners have all the details of their story figured out before they start and pantsers start with one or two great ideas and then figure the rest out as they go along.  After many trial and error cycles I learned that I’m a pantser at heart and probably always will be.  The problem with this is that longer books need some sort of plan to help guide the story from the beginning to the end.

One of the reasons that this book is taking so long to write is that from the beginning I didn’t understand the story.  The other three reasons are wrestling in the other room over who gets to play with what toy. When I started this whole process of taking an idea from concept to completed story I thought that the only way to do it was to create an outline and then follow it.  At this point I didn’t know about story structure or pacing or scene and sequel and I was hugely frustrated because even as I created the story it didn’t feel like it worked. Frankly, it sucked.

I pushed along anyway following my faulty and utterly incomplete outline.  Those were the days when I was convinced that I would be finished and presenting my work to agents in less than a year.  I even blogged about how I was planning on doing this and now looking back I realize just how naïve I was.

The more I wrote the more I realized just how much the outline was missing and how little I understood my world or my characters.  I didn’t have my magic system worked out, or the setting, or the climax, or anything that I needed to make a great story.

Each time I came up against a problem I would have to stop and figure things out and backtrack to plug-in the changes.  I think I revised the opening ten chapters well over twenty times, all the while thinking that with this change everything would then flow smoothly to the end of the book.  It never did because within a few pages I would realize that I needed to make another change.  I spent almost an entire year trying to fix things this way and assumed that this was just how the process was supposed to work.

When I realized that half of my fixes were counteracting other fixes I was forced to make a hard decision – give up or stop backtracking and just push through to the end.  At this point the story had strayed so far from the outline that I no longer had an ending, not that the original ending made any sense in the first place. While I was working through all these different problems the story had taken several unexpected turns. These turns were so much better than what was planned that they had to stay.

When I finally finished that draft I felt like I had finished a marathon. I was completely spent. It had huge problems, the front half needed an extensive overhaul so that the story flowed into the back half.  Those issues were so daunting that I put off editing and revising the manuscript for over a year.  That, and with the birth of my third child my whole life was thrown into chaos.

Last fall I buckled down and started the long process of rewriting the front half of the story.  With the writing skills that I had acquired over the last few years it seemed easier to find what needed to be added and taken away.  That’s not to say that reinventing scene after scene was easy, there were still some tricky plot problems that needed to be solved.  In solving those problems I uncovered some really cool ideas that make this story even better.

There’s still a lot of work to do to finish this edit.  With the kids in school I’m hoping that I’ll find the time and patience to keep plugging through until it’s done.  For the first time in this process I finally feel like I’m getting close!


Just a reminder – For the month of August I am offering a free critique of a query letter or the first 20 pages of a manuscript.  To enter all you have to do is click the “like” button.  For a second entry, leave a comment!  The winner will be notified at the end of the month.

Posted by: Jodi | August 13, 2014

Odd Writer Terminology: Mawkish and Maudlin

If only it was this easy.  Image courtesy of "Laugh Cry Smile Keys" by Stuart Miles

If only it was this easy. Image courtesy of “Laugh Cry Smile Keys” by Stuart Miles

This installment of Odd Writer Terminology is inspired by a recent David Farland Writing Tip about writing emotions. If you haven’t subscribed to his daily emails, I highly recommend it.  He provides insights not only into the vast writing universe, but also weighs in on current happenings in the publishing world. His post about emotions talks about avoiding both mawkish and maudlin prose and I would like to expound on the meanings of these two words.

Mawkish is defined as being “sickly or puerilely sentimental” or in a more archaic use “having an insipid often unpleasant taste” and stems from the Germanic word mawk meaning maggot.  Even though it sounds like the word mock, being mawkish has nothing to do with making fun of the way people act or talk.

When it comes to writing in a mawkish way it means that the emotion has been so laden with adjectives and modifiers that it becomes extremely exaggerated and even embarrassing.  The author has gone to extremes to try to elicit an emotional response from the reader by creating overly dramatic and unrealistic sequences for the sole purpose of arousing strong emotions.

The crushing weight of realization forced Jessie to her skinny knees and it felt as if there was an immense elephant stepping on her chest. She fought to breathe and could only manage small noisy gasps. The yellow stained linoleum burned with cold against her pale skin. She read the cruel note once more, “Brian never wants to see your ugly face again,” before crumpling the tear-stained paper to her heaving chest.  

This example has had as many modifiers added as possible to make a point.  It is heavy and dense and will get tiring to read after a page or so.  There are times when the prose should slow down and showing extreme emotion is one of them, however an entire work written like this is a quick way to turn readers away.

Maudlin, on the other hand, is more simple and is defined as “showing or expressing too much emotion especially in a foolish or annoying way” and has roots in Latin and old French.  The original image alludes to pictures of Mary Magdalen weeping. Magdalen evolved to maudlin.  When used in real life is it usually referring to someone who is sloppy drunk and weepy.

In writing it refers to when the characters themselves are overly emotional all the time and seem to be crying at every page turn. As with mawkish writing this should be avoided. It is tiring to have a character crying all the time.  More importantly, when a character openly cries all over the page it actually lessens the reader’s emotional response.  This isn’t to say that a character should never cry.  There are situations that it would be unnatural if the character didn’t cry, like if someone close to them dies. When a character cries it has to be over something worth crying for.


There are many ways to inject emotion into a story.  However, using mawkish and maudlin writing aren’t one of them. If anything they lessen the impact of an otherwise powerful moment by making it comical or trite. It all comes back to balance and seeking honest and accurate ways of  describing what is happening in the story.  When this balance and honesty is found the story has the power to lift and transport readers to new places.

Happy Writing!


Other installments in the Odd Writer Terminology series:

Character Foils

Deus ex Machina


For the month of August I am offering a free critique of a query letter or the first 20 pages of a manuscript.  To enter all you have to do is click the “like” button.  For a second entry, leave a comment!  The winner will be notified at the end of the month.

Posted by: Jodi | August 6, 2014

The Dark Night of the Soul


In the hero’s journey there is a point where the hero is fighting his last battle when all will seem lost.  He is pushed to his limits, he is tired, he already feels defeated and he wonders if it is worth it to go on.  The strength he relies on to defeat his foe is gone and he is forced to face the truth that this fight might cost him his life.  At this point one of two things have to happen. He must decide if he will continue the fight and he must remember some hidden power or strength or secret that will bring victory.

Depending on which monomyth text you’re reading, this moment is referred to as the dark night of the soul, the inmost cave, or the resurrection of the hero. It happens in every story.  Sometimes the villain is an internal problem that must be solved. Sometimes our hero is overdramatic and the crisis is something minor, like a lost earring.

Here are a few famous examples:

Lord of the Rings: Frodo and Sam have finally reached Mount Doom and Frodo must decide to part with the precious one ring.

Frozen: Anna must choose between a kiss from Kristoff or saving Elsa from Han’s sword.

Titanic: Jack knows he can’t survive if he stays in the water but sacrifices himself to give Rose a chance at life.

The reason these stories are so compelling is because there is that chance of failure and of extreme loss. The characters have everything at stake and they must weigh themselves against the odds and make the right choice.  Everything in the story has built up to this crucial moment and the audience understands the significance of what might happen should the hero succeed or fail.

The other reason these stories are so compelling is because they are a reflection of real life.  They resonate with us. Who hasn’t had a moment where they feel like everything is lost and yet somehow they pull through?  Ask a teenager, this happens daily.  Reading or watching a story where the character must face hard decisions against all odds and still pull through gives the reader or watcher the inspiration and courage to face their own battles.  When the hero comes through with grace and dignity, we are inspired to do the same.

Happy Writing!


For the month of August I am offering a free critique of a query letter or the first 20 pages of a manuscript.  To enter all you have to do is click the “like” button.  For a second entry, leave a comment!  The winner will be notified at the end of the month.



Posted by: Jodi | July 30, 2014

Odd Writer Terminology: Deus ex Machina

This installment of Odd Writer Terminology comes from a literary device that’s as old as the ancient Greek tragedies, deus ex machina.  This is when a problem in a story is solved by improbable means.  In modern writing it is viewed as a huge don’t and something to be avoided.

Peleus+ThetisThe Latin phrase deus ex machina is defined as “a device, a scaffolding, an artifice” and is borrowed from a Greek expression meaning “god from the machine”. It originated with Greek theater when an actor would be lowered into the scene via a crane (the machine) or raised through a trapdoor.  These characters would have the power to solve whatever problem the characters on stage were experiencing.  Even in ancient times many were critical of the practice saying that the solutions to the plot should come as a result of the plot itself and not from an improbable surprise.

Here are a few made up examples:

Jake and Mindy have been trapped in a pit by the evil overlord Vance. Suddenly, Jake discovers that he has magic powers that will transport them out of the pit and to safety.

Because we hadn’t seen Jake having magic before it makes this solution a deus ex machina.  Had Jake shown that he had these powers earlier then the solution would have been probable.

Alexander’s army is thirsty for the blood of the Prussian army.  As they face each other on the battlefield the goddess of peace appears and pleads with them to lay down their weapons and return to their homes.  They agree and peace is restored.

Anytime a deity shows up to solve a problem it will be considered deus ex machina.  The only way it wouldn’t be is if that deity had been a solid presence throughout the story and her coming was a possibility before hand.

Sir Issac has been sentenced to death for his crimes. As he is walked to the gallows a messenger arrives.  The kind and benevolent king has decided to grant Sir Issac a pardon.

Again we see a higher power intervene and save the character from a dark fate. Had a large part of the story been about Sir Issac seeking pardon for a false conviction then it wouldn’t be deus ex machina.

In these examples each problem was solved by a power greater than the characters possessed entering the scene.  Usually these greater powers come in the form of magic, gods, or kings, but they can be anything that is beyond what the character can do.

To avoid deus ex machina it is important to introduce all the needed elements to solve the plot problems earlier in the story.  This way, when it comes time to save the day nothing will come as an unexpected or improbable surprise.

Happy writing!




Other installments in the Odd Writer Terminology series:

Character Foils

Posted by: Jodi | July 23, 2014

Leave the 180s For Thrill Seekers

PRO180_0In skateboarding and other sports when someone jumps and turns in the air so that the opposite foot is forward, it is called a 180.  It’s a fun stunt and looks cool.  A 180, meaning 180 degrees, comes from the degrees of a compass.  A full circle is 360 degrees.  The term 180 is also used for when someone changes their mind to the complete opposite of what they had believed or thought before.

In books and movies when a character does a complete change, generally from good to bad, this is called a 180 or a heel turn.  When done right it comes as an exciting development in the story, which is always a good thing. When done wrong it blindsides the audience leaving them confused and betrayed.

By now everyone is more than familiar with the movie Frozen. If you aren’t what rock have you been hiding under?  [Warning, spoilers ahead!]  This movie has been a smash hit ever since it was released and is the 6th highest grossing movie of all time. Even as a runaway success it’s not without problems, namely – the complete heel turn of Hans.

Hans spends most of the movie infatuated with Anna and does everything in his power to help her as her older sister Elsa freezes the world with her magic powers.  He’s adorable, brave, and proves that he can take care of the kingdom while Anna sorts out Elsa.  He shocks the audience when Anna returns from the mountain needing an act of true love to save her life and instead of giving her true love’s first kiss, he leaves her to die.


Good Hans

Good Hans

Bad Hans

Bad Hans

This is a great example of a 180 gone wrong.  We had no clue of his dark intentions up until this moment and it doesn’t  fit with his character. There were no hints along the way, no foreshadowing, nothing. It made the story feel disjointed and made everyone hate Hans, and not in a good way. Those who like dissecting Disney films will tell you it’s because there was a last-minute story change during production.

In the original story Hans is truly in love with Anna and there is even a wedding with a whole song and dance number.  In the end he is forced to kill Elsa to save the realm, as a mercy.  This turned Elsa into the enemy and didn’t resonate well with test audiences. The story of the two sisters relationship worked better if Elsa wasn’t the villain, which meant that they needed someone new to play the part.  Poor Hans’ character had to be sacrificed to make this new story line work.

the freemason

Last night I watched The Freemason, an Indie murder mystery film starring Sean Astin.  It had the same problem.  The good guy plays the good guy all through the movie and then minutes before the end we see that he is in fact a homicidal maniac bent on becoming rich and powerful.  As a murder mystery there needs to be suspicion cast over several characters to keep the audience guessing.  We spent the movie trying to put together the clues, which were sparse, only to be blindsided by someone who had no apparent motive.

Had there been a few clues along the way, talk of him being unsatisfied with his financial situation, scenes of him struggling to make ends meet, a marked distaste for those who had power and wealth, a hint that perhaps he knows more than he should, anything, then I might have bought it.  Because it didn’t, I finished the movie feeling a bit cheated.

Should you choose to include a 180 with one of your characters it needs to follow a few rules.

  1. The character should show that he is capable of  being the other character.
  2. The 180 should make sense within the structure of the story.
  3. If the 180 is caused because the story had a problem that needed to be fixed, during editing new elements must be added into earlier scenes that give clues that this character isn’t what they seem.

If you choose to use a 180 with your characters, be sure to do it right.  Surprising your readers with complete character changes is never a good idea, unless you’ve set them up first.  Then they are great.

Happy Writing!


Starting with this post I’m offering something new! Once a month I will give away a free critique of the first 20 pages of a novel in progress or a query letter.  All you have to do is “like” this post for one entry into the raffle.  For a second entry, leave a comment.  It’s that easy. Comments and likes from this post will count toward the raffle to be held the end of August.


Posted by: Jodi | July 16, 2014

Editing is like dentistry

happy tooth


I had my regular dental check-up last week and with it the dreaded cleaning.  Even though I take good care of my smile, the hygenist always finds something to scrape and poke.  It hurts and I hate it.  Every time I go I’m told that had I flossed more regularly it wouldn’t be as bad. I hate flossing only slightly less than having my teeth scraped.  I’ve tried using a water-pik but frankly that’s worse.  It sounds like a mini jack hammer and I end up spraying half the bathroom in the process.

All those years of my reluctance to floss are beginning to catch up and I know that if I don’t change my rebellious ways then the real trouble will start, meaning more pain while in the chair.  Had I been a good flosser from the beginning then cleanings would be easier and I could spare myself yet another lecture.

Suppose I hadn’t been brushing at all and it had been several years since my last visit.  Chances are there would have been cavities and possibly the need for a root canal or two.  Some of the teeth might have been so damaged that they needed to be removed entirely.  Not only would this process have been painful, it would have been very costly as well.

In drafting a novel, just like in caring for teeth, it is essential to clean things up.  Each chapter is like a tooth which needs both brushing and flossing. Brushing is like rough edits where we make sure that all the thoughts on the page are in the right order, are necessary, and are clear to understand.  Flossing is the polishing edits where the language is refined and all the nitty-gritty grammar is fixed.

Sending a first draft to an editor is the equivalent of visiting the dentist after never brushing or flossing for a lifetime.  You can expect to have lots of pain as chapters are ripped into and all the issues are brought out into the open. You might even lose a chapter or two to the process. However, if both brushing and flossing have been done and the draft is squeaky clean then it’s more likely that the editor won’t find any major issues that need to be addressed.

Just as a cleaning is harder if it has been a while since it has been done; editing can be more difficult if all the work is left to the end.  I know many writers who spend the first part of their writing sessions combing through what they’ve written the day before.  After they’ve cleaned up the previous day’s work and brushed away the rough edges they then can continue to writing the next scene. Not only does this make for a better draft it also helps ground the writer into the story so they can continue writing.

When the whole novel has been “pre-cleaned” in this way it leaves less work at the end when it comes time to do polish editing. Don’t get me wrong, there will still be plenty to refine and correct, but it will be far less daunting.

Obviously this isn’t a perfect analogy, a chapter won’t build up problems over time by itself the same way a tooth will.  A dentist will fix a problem mouth at a great charge, an editor will make copious notes marking out the problems that the writer must correct before the story can go to market.  The more a writer can do to perfect his story before sending it in, the less painful the process will be.

Happy writing and don’t forget to floss!

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