Posted by: Jodi | April 15, 2015

Writing Exercise: Try Resetting Your Setting

cemetary-irelandSometimes scenes refuse to come together.  They are missing that element that makes them special and feel downright boring. Sometimes the characters or plot are to blame, if the conflict isn’t driving them toward a goal then you have a problem. Assuming your plot is awesome, try this:

Reset Your Setting

Setting is often the last thing a writer will consider when creating a scene in their story. With so much other awesome stuff going on it’s easy to overlook. For this exercise, take an existing scene, or one that you are preparing to write, and place it somewhere different. Ideally this place should be a place that adds a distinct emotional tone to the scene.

Have a chase scene in a busy metropolis? Take it through a cemetery or a department store. See what happens when your hero trips over a gravestone or gets tangled up in a rack of lingerie.  A spooky graveyard scene adds more moments for your hero to experience horror. Fighting against a pile of underclothes is downright funny. Neither of these emotional beats would have happened if the hero been stuck on Main St.

Lover’s quarrel in an apartment? Take it to a bakery or a roof top observatory. Let the smells of the bakery comfort the hero and bring back memories of the good times, or the sight of the drop off tighten their already frayed nerves to the breaking point.

Have fun with it. The worst that could happen is that you can’t use the scene and have to try again. The best, however, is that you end up with a scene that’s memorable and interesting.

Whatever happens, Happy Writing!

***

Want to see more writing exercises? Here’s a handy link.

Posted by: Jodi | April 8, 2015

April is Poetry Month

I don’t know why we do it, assigning commemorative days and weeks and whole months to different ideas. It’s a strange phenomenon. It is as if those things don’t have enough of a voice, that we must draw extra attention to them. And for the most part, that is precisely why it is done.

April is poetry month. It is also: (list from wikipedia: List of Commemorative Months)

Because I’m no poet, check out these other wonderful writers for their contributions to the cause.  Many have taken the April poetry challenge where they write a poem a day, or a total of 30 poems during the month.

I hope you enjoy this sampling of poetry, and as always,

Happy Writing!

Posted by: Jodi | April 1, 2015

A Friendly Reminder – Back Up Your Work!

blue-screenIt’s April Fool’s day, and for many that means playing pranks and fooling around. My April Fool’s came early, and I wish it was a prank. Yesterday, a member of my family (I won’t name names) downloaded a malicious virus on my personal computer. We’re talking the kind of virus that reaches out and downloads dozens of other programs and in the process sends hundreds upon hundreds of pop-ups and errors flooding the screen. It even breeches barriers between user accounts, and sinks its teeth into the hard drive itself.

The problem with this type of virus is that you can never be sure that you have removed all of its components. Even when it seems the crisis is over, there might be something lurking inside waiting for you to let your guard down. We had two options, wipe the entire drive clean and start over, or buy a new hard drive and very carefully load needed programs and files on it.

We were in need of an upgrade anyway, so we chose the latter. I am now the proud owner of a solid state 260 GB hard drive. It’s fast, it’s quiet, and is now free of any irritating bugs. The kids are no longer allowed to use my personal computer, they have one of their own so it’s not like they’re missing out.

Until we had finished replacing the hard drive and reloading everything back onto it, I had no assurance that the manuscript I had worked on for the past five years was safe. My last back up was months ago, and the thought of having to re-edit all of those chapters once more makes me want to cry. Had I been more proactive in backing up my work, this wouldn’t have been an issue. I wouldn’t have had to worry as much.

I used to keep the files saved on both my hard drive and on a USB key.  It was so easy to back it up this way that I didn’t forget to do it. Then, I changed my writing software. The new filing system made it more complicated to save it to the USB and I didn’t do it. Every few months my darling hubby would ask me to send him a back up copy, just in case, and I would avoid it because most of the time I couldn’t get the program to create and export a usable backup file.

That’s what I get for using free software. I have purchased new software, Scrivner, and I plan to plug my project into it as soon as I finish this draft, which I hope will be soon. With it, one of the first things I’m going to do is figure out the best way to back up my project files and save them off site.

Let this be a lesson to you! Back up your work, do it often, and do it in more than one place.

And as always,

Happy Writing!

Posted by: Jodi | March 25, 2015

Grammarland: Apostrophe

Contrary to most of English, the apostrophe is a fairly easy lesson.  It only has two uses – just two – and they are 99% consistent.  Because it’s so easy you’d think that you would rarely see errors.  WRONG. I see errors all the time, half of the time it’s me that’s making them.

Let us review these two uses, shall we?

Oh, wait … oh dear … I lied.  This is a bit more complicated than I originally thought. I guess there is a reason that apostrophe rhymes with catastrophe. Hang on, because here we go!

keep-calm-it-s-only-an-apostrophe

Possession – We’re not talking demonic possession. That would be far more exciting. We’re talking about legal possession, as in owning or having with you at the time. These are names or sometimes nouns and pronouns.

  • John’s wallet is empty.
  • Here is Melissa’s brush.
  • The book’s teachings are lame.
  • Where is the house’s number?

Possession on words ending in “s” – This is where things can get a little tricky.  In general, if it is a noun add an apostrophe + s, if it’s a proper noun, particularly surnames, stick the apostrophe at the end (so you don’t change the name inadvertently).

  • The class’s teacher wears a toupee.
  • The lass’s pony broke the gate.
  • That is Mr. Edwards’ mailbox. (It would never be written “Edward’s” as that changes the name.)

This has one condition – if a proper name is traditionally said with the double s sound, like the Jones’s (“Jones-ez”) then the apostrophe + s is used. The same goes for first names that end in s, like Atticus. It would be Atticus’s thingy.

Possession with Plural regular nouns – Sometimes several of something possess something together.  This is where the apostrophe with no “s” comes in handy.

  • These are the girls’ drinks.
  • The guys’ shirts need to be washed.
  • The actresses’ award. (Not actresses’s!)

Possession with irregular nouns – Some nouns plural forms do not use the “s” at the end. Children, teeth, women, etc. With these, be sure to not add an extra “s” when making them possessive.

  • The children’s books (not childrens’s!)
  • The women’s purses.
  • The men’s coats.

Possessive plurals with proper names – this is where your brain will start to melt. Be warned. What if there are several Jones families that all own something? What then? In this unlikely event,  you would have to do this super awkward construction:

  • The Joneses’s yacht. (remember, Joneses is usually pronounced so yes, there would be three repetitions of the “s” sound!)
  • The Hastingses’ car.

Possession with compound nouns. A compound noun is a noun with hyphens. The apostrophe always comes at the end.  If it is to be plural, the plural “s” comes behind the first word.

  • My mother-in-law’s famous bundt cake.
  • My fathers-in-law’s law firm. (both fathers-in-law own the firm)

Possession with two separate people – when two people are in possession of an item the apostrophe is always behind the second person. Always.

  • Gandalf and Frodo’s quest.
  • Mother and father’s estate.

FINALLY – the other use for an apostrophe – for contractions!

When a letter is omitted when two words are joined, an apostrophe is placed there instead.

  • Don’t, won’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t, haven’t, you’ve, I’ve

However – it is never used in personal pronouns (this is why it’s and its gets so messed up!)

  • These are: hers, ours, yours, theirs, its, whose, and oneself

***

There are a few other fiddly little bits, but I will not cover them here. If you are stuck and need extra help, here are a few other resources:

***

Like Grammarland posts? Check out the complete series!

Posted by: Jodi | March 18, 2015

Genre Talk: Steampunk

Goggles, gears and gadgets, watch work mechanisms and pneumatics, corsets and fancy hats. All these and more make up the steampunk genre. Traditionally, steampunk is centered around the beginnings of the industrial age.  Steampunk stories evoke feelings of wonder, discovery, and exploration. Often the new burgeoning technology takes center stage as a key element, if they were to be removed, the story couldn’t take place.

Common elements tend to crop up in most stories.  The first and foremost trait is the use of the airship as the most civilized and refined manner of travel. In fact, airships are so ingrained in the genre that convention goers are often organized into airship crews.

airship1Another, slightly more bizarre, trait is the use of mechanics and gizmos in medicine. Replacing organs and limbs with ornate and complicated machines is a natural part of this alternate universe and is as creepy as it is fascinating. This explains the appearance of mechanical limbs in many pieces of steampunk art.

Steampunk-falksenAlso, there is a very distinct manner of dress, and I’m not talking about wearing goggles, although most steampunk costuming ends up having a pair. The beginnings of the industrial era took place in the Victorian era and extended into the Edwardian. This means that gentlemen wore suits and hats, and ladies wore shape altering dresses and lots of lace. The clothing is elaborate and detailed and every piece has a function.

e09565f47888005a1bdb8b24d43a94c6Steampunk_Lady_2_by_Leder_Joe

Did I mention that they also love leather works?

You’ll notice that there is also a grunge/goth feel to a lot of steampunk which I can’t honestly explain.

Steampunk enthusiasts are insanely creative people and are often known to create elaborate costumes and wear them to conventions. There are even conventions specifically geared toward the genre. (Want to attend one? Here’s a handy list) To many, steampunking isn’t just a hobby, it’s a lifestyle. It reflects the desire to return to an age of wonder and be a part of the cutting edge of discovery.

For writers, steampunk usually falls into science fiction because the stories revolve around the science itself. However, it is not unusual for a fantasy element, like magic or mythical creatures, to pop up here and there. It also can lend itself to horror and historical fiction and other speculative arenas making it truly a hybrid genre.

***

To read more about steampunk, check out these links:

***

Related links:

Posted by: Jodi | March 11, 2015

Medieval Village Anatomy 101

If you are writing a historical fiction, or epic fantasy, chances are one of your settings will be in a medieval village.  Not all villages are set up in the same way, but for the most part they will all share many of the same features.  These features include:

Wheat fields – Every town needs to eat, and chances are there isn’t a Walmart nearby. They can only eat what they grow.

Black Smith – To be able to harvest food and build and repair buildings you need tools, and those tools need to be made. He also shoes horses.

Mill – Situated next to a stream or river, the mill grinds the grains that the village grows into flour to make bread and other items.

Village Church – Almost always located in the center of the town near the village green, this is where people would go to worship and also settle minor disputes.  Often the church would also function as a town hall.

Rectory – home of the clergy of the church and also serves as the administrative offices as well.

Fallow Fields – Before industrial fertilizer it was common to leave a field unplanted for a season for the dirt to regain some of the nutrients that had been stripped from it the season before. It makes for healthier, more productive crops.

Village Green – this was a large grassy area where celebrations and tournaments were held.

Lord’s Manor House – You can’t have a village without a Lord.  He is the one who owns the land and it is his responsibility to see that it is developed and defended.  The village comes as an extension of his needs. His manor would be located off to one side, on a hill when possible.

Lord’s Forest – Located near the Lord’s manor and meant for the use of the Lord.  The game animals living with the Lord’s forest are the property of the Lord and it was a crime to hunt them for personal use.

Vegetable fields – Man cannot live by bread alone, so it makes sense that they planted a variety of foods. Most vegetables were grown in kitchen gardens to leave the fields for more important crops like grains that would keep for years in silos and store houses.

The Common – is land owned collectively by a number of people and they use the land for their livestock to graze, to collect firewood, and to cut turf for fuel.  Those who own part of a common were called commoners, which is the origin of the term. The common was originally owned by the manor and was legally part of his estate.  Occasionally the village green was also considered a common as well.

Lord’s Oven or Bake House – To supply bread for the Lord’s tables there was a bakery in town that used the grain from the mill.

Tannery – In more developed towns there would be a tannery to process animal hides into leather.  This leather would then be used for apparel, boots, and saddles.

Tithe Barn – Devote peasants gave one tenth of their increase to the church to be used to support the clergy and feed the poor and sick.

Tavern – A place of business where people could get alchoholic beverages. Historically, a tavern served wine whereas an inn served beer and ale.  These terms became interchangeable over time. The tavern or inn also had lodging for the night.

737bd53388fcb527290b920866ef9955

6461c6d8fe473314a799de2550234685

To learn more, check out these resources:

Related Posts:

Posted by: Jodi | March 4, 2015

An Ode to Grammar Day! (In Verse)

Twitter-grammar-and-usage

Today is National Grammar Day,

if you didn’t know it, that’s okay.

Please don’t moan because this rhymes,

I don’t do this all the time.

Double check your “your” and “you’re”,

Pretend you’re in the days of yore.

Don’t forget “there”, “their”, and “they’re”,

These errors make editors swear.

While we’re here, check “its” and “it’s”,

That apostrophe gives people fits.

“Alot” is not a word at all,

Even if it’s cute and small.

Don’t get me started about the comma,

That’s one mark that causes drama

Almost as much as using “That”

As in, “I want that that is paired with that.”

Alright folks, I think I’m done.

I do hope that this has been fun.

Let’s celebrate Grammar Day,

And let our words out to play!

***

natlgrammarday

In 2008, Martha Brockenbrough, the founder of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, established National Grammar Day. It is hosted by Mignon Fogarty, also known as Grammar Gal.

***

In honor of the day, here are a selection of past grammar posts for your enjoyment:

***

23389467 You can help out! My author friend Alyson Grauer’s father is struggling with cancer and today, blogs around the world are promoting a “book blast” fundraiser, selling her new book ON THE ISLE OF SOUND AND WONDER. All royalities from today’s sales will go towards his treatment. I read and reviewed her book over at my author blog, you can check it out here.

Buy the book on Amazon today!

Posted by: Jodi | February 18, 2015

Superheros and Gender Stereotyping

Last week at the “Life, the Universe, and Everything” science fiction and fantasy symposium, I attended a presentation by Andrew Bahlman titled “Superheros and Gender; What it is and why it matters.”  I enjoyed it so much that I would like to share a condensed version of that lecture here that’s only slightly tainted by my own opinions.

If you would like to see the actual presentation, there is a copy of the slide deck here.

It’s pretty clear that men and women are not equals when it comes to comic books. Heck, we can’t even achieve equality in real life, but that’s a topic for another blog.

We start by talking about what feminism really is.  He defines a feminist as someone who acknowledges that there are differences between men and women. Simple as that.

The problems come when men and women get unfair treatment because of their gender. One example of this is the way female cosplayers are treated at conventions. Yes, they are dressed sexy.  Some are wearing very few clothes to accurately represent their character. However, this does not mean they want people to feel free to touch them in inappropriate ways.

cosplaycomiccon

A memorable example is when a cosplayer dressed as Tigress (pictured on the left) had a gentleman slip his hand into her bikini bottoms.  She was horrified and her friend dressed as Catwoman chased him down and beat him with her whip. Some would say that she asked for it, that her manner of dress somehow gave men permission to abuse her.

Wrong. Unwanted touching is never asked for, it is never deserved, and it is completely inexcusable.

The lovely to look at fellow dressed as Leonidas from 300 (who was also nearly naked) did not receive the same treatment. Neither did his friend dressed as Xerxes.

0305b8730745aa3a7a353cbd02cb0229

Comic books are no better.  In general, men are portrayed as powerful, muscular, and dominating.  The women are drawn as sexy, submissive, and helpless. The movie adaptations are no better.  It’s rare for there to be a strong female lead who is not just a sex symbol. The few exceptions are Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy, and Black Widow from the Avengers Universe. While they are still sex symbols, at least they have active and vital roles in the story.

This mentality, that women are seen as objects and things to be used, has created a culture where we see increased violence against women. The statistics are mind blowing.  1 in 33 men will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes.  For women it is reported as 1 in 6, although evidence suggests that it might be closer to 1 in 3.

Merchandising hasn’t helped.  In Target there are women’s shirts that say things like “Training to be Batman’s wife” and onsies for girl babies that say “I only date superheros.” Whereas for the men there is the “Superman gets the girl” shirt and “Future Man of Steel” onsie.

Why can’t girls be heros as well? Why are we perpetuating the belief that only men can do heroic things?

Even when a franchise has embraced a strong female character, she rarely gets top billing.  Gamora is often excluded in promo posters and merchandise.

What’s the moral here? If you are a writer of heroic fiction make an effort to change up the stereotypes. Give a girl a strong role.  Don’t use the obvious, overused trope of super dominant male lead with a wimpy female clinging to him. Not a writer? Seek out comics and other entertainment that treats women with respect. Support artists and authors who choose to do so.

***

News!

My friend Ginger Mann is doing a series of interviews on her blog called Character Walks where she sits down with characters from different short stories, including mine, and has a conversation with them.  It’s fun to read and a great way to learn more about creating a backstory for your characters. Go check it out!

Character Walks with Ginger Mann

Posted by: Jodi | February 18, 2015

LTUE: The Culture of Immortality

HighlanderDuncan4

One of my favorite immortals, Duncan MacLeod from Highlander: the series.

Here for your reading pleasure is another summary of a panel presented at this year’s “Life, the Universe, and Everything” science fiction and fantasy symposium. Today’s post centers around a panel titled “The Culture of Immortality.”  On the panel were Howard Tayler, Track Hickman, Virginia Ellen Baker, and personal friend Paul Genesse.

This topic caught my attention because my own work in progress has a secret society of immortals. Yay!

Here we go!

Who are the the immortals?

Generally speaking, most immortals are beings who cannot die by normal means, sickness, age, etc.  Popular immortals include vampires and elves, but there are others as well. They can be killed by violent means.

What are some of the worldly effects of immortality?

If everyone were immortal there would be an immediate population boom, which explains why most fictional immortals cannot physically have children, or if they can they do so with reluctance. The population boom would bring violence when the food supplies could no longer support the people. Should everyone be immortal, say if medicine advanced to that point, then children would become the privilege of the elite, or those who could afford them.

Why do people like immortals?

Immortals are especially appealing to teenagers because they are becoming aware of their own mortality and it scares them to death. Vampires solve that problem to an extent. However, some vampires, like those created by Ann Rice, endure a torturous life and are miserable.

What are some of the problems that immortals face?

Change is a huge problem. Living a very long time means that there is a long time to become accustomed to one type of living. Innovations and political changes force change, and that change is especially painful for those who have lived in one particular way for so long.

Also, to be immortal there must be some sort of cost, it should never be free. Sometimes that cost is watching everyone you love die, and fearing that finding love again would mean watching them die. Sometimes it is enduring boredom, nothing is ever new or exciting after you’ve tried it several hundred times.

Do immortals become senile?

Good question. If someone lived for a very long time they would have a long chain of memories. They would have time to master many different fields of study. In essence they would all eventually turn into Doctor Who. Having the potential of losing their mind is very real, too many memories, especially painful ones, might trigger forms of mental illness.

There is also the factor of not creating any new memories day in and day out for weeks on end simply because they have done the same thing so many times their brains no longer feel it necessary to record the experience. The brain simply indexes that experience against existing memory.

Are humans meant to be immortal?

Humans are fragile creatures, being forced to live the centuries being forced with loss makes them lose their humanity.  So, the answer is – not really.  There aren’t that many perks to living forever.  After a few hundred years when everything has been done and they have seen too much then suicide would become a viable option.

What about Tolkien’s elves?

Tolkien’s elves lives are long and monotonous. When cool stuff happened, that’s when they woke up and took action. Other than that not much changed. Their architecture doesn’t evolve over the years because they believe they have reached the pinnacle of beauty. Each group of elves have their signature look, but it is a look that they have not changed for millennia.

The reason for this rests with Tolkien himself.  He hated the industrial revolution and did not what to see things change or evolve. The Lord of the Rings is a post apocalyptic society, read the Silmarillion for proof.

Tolkein’s elves are very sad, they have seen so many sad things and have lost so many. They don’t have the capability for dramatic change. There needs to be a cycle of growth and rebirth and death so that there is always something new to learn and master.

Short lives mean more intensity, because there are limits that need to be reached.  It gives more incentive to work towards something. Not having limits mean it always will take longer to accomplish anything. Tolkien’s wizards and elves remark about this when talking about men and hobbits. They admire the trait.

Serene, majestic, and only slightly boring.

Serene, majestic, and only slightly boring.

What’s Howard Tayler’s take on immortality?

In Howard’s graphic novels, immortality is a matter of advances in technology where stopping the aging process has become possible. The brain material has been edited to retain meaningful memories.  Technology has also made humans more durable, which is not necessarily for the better. It now becomes important to be able to kill a character in a way that they actually stay dead.

What about Tracy Hickman’s  “Immortals”?

Tracy takes a different, more philosophical approach to immortality where it’s not about physically living forever but being remembered after you die. His story is about a dystopian future where there are disease concentration camps to contain the new violent (and currently fictional) VCID, which stands for virus counter-immune disease. The people living in these camps know that when they die they leave no trace of their existance unless they find a way to preserve their memories.  How do I survive my own death, preserve who I am? Immortality doesn’t have to mean living forever – It can mean leaving a legacy behind.

***

What to read more posts like this? Check out:

Posted by: Jodi | February 11, 2015

Writing Exercise: Active Idea Search

We hear it over and over, editors are searching for unique ideas and stories they haven’t read before. That’s the tough part, because it seems that most all stories have been told already. Or have they?

Finding a new idea is our goal today.  Now when I say new, I don’t mean so bizarre that it’s not writable.  Space squids searching for the holy banana of peace is a new idea, at least I’m pretty sure it is, but is it something you’d want to write about? Or more importantly, read about? Or maybe it is, I won’t judge.  Go for it!

As writers we usually keep our eyes and ears open for little gems we can weave into our stories. Today we are actively seeking ideas.

Writing Exercise: 

1. Arm yourself with your trusty notebook, or whatever you use to capture your writing gems.

2. Select your sources – choose between 3-5 of the following founts of information, or choose your own:

  • Youtube videos
  • Magazine articles
  • People in the supermarket
  • The recommend reads shelf at your local library
  • Audio podcast of a topic you are interested in
  • Your photo albums
  • A movie in your collection
  • The radio
  • Wikipedia random article
  • A favorite website of your choice
  • A phone conversation with a friend
  • Your Facebook news feed –
  • Or Instagram –
  • Or other social media outlet
  • Random word generator, then put the word into Google and select, “I’m Feeling Lucky”
  • A box in your home you haven’t opened in years
  • The back of a drawer you don’t open often

3. With each source spend only 5 minutes.  You want to seek out the tidbits that interest you or catch your attention. It can be some words, or an image, a place, or even a feeling. It doesn’t have to feel like a story or an idea, that will come later.  What’s important is to find different elements that speak to you.

4. Now you have between 3-5 different story elements for when you are looking for something new!

220px-The_Favorite_by_Georgios_Iakovidis

“The Favorite” by Georgios Lakovidis

Here are mine –

  • Youtube video about not being lazy – Crazy busy people sometimes feel bad about about periods of rest because they feel like they aren’t working hard enough.
  • Facebook – Magical key wrapped in silver wire with jeweled leaves
  • Wikipedia random article- Somondoco, ancient Colombian village where there are emeralds in the nearby mountains
  • Random word “Grandparent”  – Picture of old man who looks like a cobbler, is wearing a floppy pointed hat and red scarf around his neck.  A baby, perhaps one year old sits on his knee, she has curly red hair.
  • Favorite website (failblog:win) –  Robotic pack mule by Boston Dynamics

Stay tuned, next week we will play with our new ideas and create the bones for a new story!

Click here for other writing exercise posts!

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,732 other followers