Tag Archives: writers

5 Common Myths About Emotions (that we can use as authors)

by Kassandra Lamb

I’m over at Jami Gold’s blog today talking about myths about emotions and how writers can tell better stories by understanding these misconceptions. Please hop over there and check it out!

But first join me in saying a huge Thank You to veterans!!

image by Moeez CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons

Happy Veterans Day!! (image by Moeez CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons)

5 Common Myths about Emotions

Homo sapiens have been sentient beings for thousands of years, and still we do not truly understand our own emotions. Yet we are fascinated by them.

Because, like it or not, emotions rule our lives. We all strive for happiness, and feel an array of emotions–anger, fear, sadness–when life thwarts those efforts.

Why do readers read? Some read solely to escape the emotional roller coaster of real life, but others seek to absorb themselves in the emotional lives of the characters so that they can better understand and live their own lives.

By understanding the misconceptions about emotions that we humans tend to believe out of ignorance or cling to out of denial, we can write better stories. By challenging these misconceptions and digging a little deeper into the human emotional experience, we can write enlightening and inspiring stories!

Read More…

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington mystery series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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Hard-Learned Lessons

by Kassandra Lamb

We don’t usually blog about the writing process here at misterio press, but I was recently tagged in a game of blog tag and it got me to thinking. Maybe I should share some of my hard-learned lessons with newbie writers who are first venturing into this marvelous and scary world of publishing. And perhaps our readers might find it interesting to peek behind the curtain and get a sense of what it’s like to be a writer.

So here’s to Barb Taub who tagged me. Do check out her wonderful blog. Her sense of humor is fabulous! Every one of her posts has me rolling on the floor.

Here are the questions I’m supposed to answer. I’m going to answer them in a rather round-about way, because as you will see in a moment, I’m a bit of a rebel.
1.  What am I working on now?
2.  How does my work differ from others of its genre?
3.  Why do I write what I do?
4.  How does my writing process work?

I’ve always been a writer–ever since I picked up my first crayon and scribbled incoherent markings on a piece of paper. (I knew they were words even if my mother thought it was a picture of a horse. Sheez!) As a kid, when I wasn’t reading, I was acting out the stories I made up in my head. Unbeknownst to my mother, our backyard was really a ranch in the Wild West and my swing set was a corral full of horses.

In college, I realized writers needed day jobs in order to eat. So I studied psychology, my other great passion (that I discovered, ironically, when I took my first sociology class, but that’s another story). I had a wonderful career as a psychologist, and I honed my writing skills authoring and editing journal articles and professional newsletters. One editor paid me the ultimate compliment of printing one of my articles without suggesting a single change!

Thus when I retired from my psychotherapy practice and seriously embarked on my long-postponed creative writing career, I did so with a rather swelled head. But like all owners of swelled heads, I had no idea I had one.

Kass with distorted head

       Me with a swelled head. Not a pretty sight!

I won’t bore you nor embarrass myself with those humiliating moments that brought my head back down to size. Rather I’m telling you all this as background. You see, I came into the world of creative writing with both the advantage and disadvantage of never having had any formal training in it. Because I already knew how to write. Right?

Oh, I could describe a scene, develop a character and plot a story. But I didn’t know the rules. No problem, my inner rebel said. Rules were made to be broken. Plus, I’ve always learned best by doing.

So I plunged in and did. I dug out an old manuscript, the first five chapters of the book I’d started fifteen years prior, and I started writing. Two humbling years later, beta readers, critique partners and an editor had helped me shape that book into something publishable. And my head was much more in proportion to my body.

me with normal-sized head

          Ah, much better!

Five years later, I have six books, a novella and a short story published and I’m still writing. I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. Here are some of the most important ones.

Lesson 1 (Question 4): Plotting vs. Pantsing
I learned somewhere around year two that the way I write is referred to as pantsing. As in one writes by the seat of his/her pants. You have an idea for a story and you sit down and start writing.

I never realized there was any other way to do it. But those who had studied the craft knew that one should outline the plot, develop the characters, do the background research, etc. before one actually starts to write the story.

Glad I didn’t know that up front; I never would have gotten past the first book.

It’s ironic that I’m a pantser, because I’m highly organized in the rest of my life. But then maybe that’s why I love writing so much. It’s the one part of my life where I just let things happen.

Advice to Newbie Authors: Most writers/editors respect both styles, but there are a few plotters who want to make pantsing wrong and vice versa (because they can’t imagine writing the other way). If you’re naturally a pantser, don’t let them force you into the plotting mold. But you do need to realize that once that first draft is done, you will spend months, maybe years, taming it into a publishable work. The plotters, on the other hand, spend months plotting up front, and require far fewer rewrites of their first draft. It all evens out in the end.

Lesson 2 (Questions 2 & 3): Genre Does Matter
I really wanted to write women’s fiction, but in more recent decades I had mostly read mysteries. So that was the genre I knew best. I decided to combine the two genres by writing mysteries with a strong emphasis on the relationships between the main characters.

My first draft of my first book was 169,000 words (twice the average novel and almost three times the average mystery). I gave it a sappy, too-long title and tried to sell it to literary agents as a blend of the two genres.

Yeah, that didn’t work out so well. Now that book is less than 85,000 words and has a two-word title that screams “MYSTERY” loud and clear.

Advice to Newbie Authors: You can write a book with a foot in two different genres but you’d better decide which one you’re going to lead with and abide by the basic rules of that genre. Why? Because no one will read a Gone With The Wind-type saga that’s billed as a mystery. Not agents, not publishers, not readers.

If you don’t believe me, let me quote my editor, Marcy Kennedy, on the subject:
If you’re craving chips and someone tricks you into eating a piece of cake instead, you’re probably not going to feel satisfied. You need to know what readers expect so you can either meet (and exceed) those expectations or so you can help them adjust their expectations.
(from Marcy’s blog post, Does Genre Still Matter in 21st Century Fiction?)

Lesson 3 (leading up to Question 1): Show, Don’t Tell–Most Of The Time
I had heard this rule before, and I kinda got why it was important. But it took lots of practice to get good at showing emotions with a “sharp intake of air” or a “clogged throat,” instead of telling the reader “she was shocked (sad, angry, scared, etc.)”

This is referred to as Deep POV (Point of View) and it’s all the buzz these days in the writing world.

But I’ve also learned, with the help of my wonderful editor, Marcy Kennedy, that one can have too much of a good thing. In the mystery genre, things need to move along at a pretty good clip to keep the reader intrigued. So there are times when it’s better to just tell.

I can hear the sharp intakes of air amongst my writer friends. (Which is why I’m blaming this on crediting this lesson to my editor.)

Advice to Newbie Authors: Check out Marcy’s book on the subject; she explains it far better than I can.

Lesson 4 (Question 1, finally!): Multiple POVs vs. Head-Hopping
Since the characters and their relationships are so important to me, I naturally showed what was going on in most of their heads by using multiple points of view, without even knowing that was what it was called.

I got positive responses to this from readers and reviewers who liked knowing how the different characters were reacting internally to whatever was going on. Then I started getting feedback from other authors that the “head-hopping” made their heads hurt.

About that time, I found Marcy. She was the third editor I had used to help polish my books. The first two were good; they did a fine job of helping me with that task. But Marcy is a fabulous teacher as well. She has helped me grow so much as an author!

And she helped me identify and begin to recover from my head-hopping addiction.

Advice to Newbie Authors: Here are a couple rules (nope, can’t bring myself to use that word) guidelines for using multiple POVs. Stick to one POV per scene, and/or give the reader some indicator that the POV has changed, such as a blank space between paragraphs or a line or symbol of some kind. Secondly, indicate as quickly as possible whose POV that scene is in, so the reader can get themselves grounded in that character’s head.

Finally, I answer Question 1: What am I working on now? The last couple months I’ve put my other works-in-progress on hold a bit as I’ve re-written the first novel in my mystery series.

Now I’m hearing gasps from my loyal readers. Don’t worry, I did not change anything about the plot or the characters’ personalities. I just corrected the POV violations within the scenes by deciding on one character’s POV for each scene and then re-writing accordingly. I also added a bit more deep POV.

Wow, do I love the results. Of course this first-published story was already near and dear to my heart, but now it’s also some of my best writing!

Multiple Motives' new coverOne of the really cool advantages of modern electronic publishing is the ability to upload corrected text so easily. So I am re-releasing Multiple Motives (and it has a spiffy new cover as well; click here to see the blurb and buy links).

I’ve put it on sale for $0.99! So now’s a good time to tell your mystery-loving friends about this great deal.

But before you run off to do that, talk to me a bit. What lessons have you learned the hard way? Are you a rebel like me, or do you usually play by the rules?

Oh, and I’m tagging Kirsten Weiss and Vinnie Hansen to play this little game. If any other writers out there would liked to be tagged, let me know in the comments!

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

Five Reasons to Honor Our Troops

I was going to post about something completely different today and then I looked at the calendar, and saw ‘Memorial Day’ staring back at me (Note to self: get out of writer’s cave more often).

I’m currently doing a Tour of Fives blog tour to celebrate the release of the 5th book in my mystery series (you can win a free e-book at the end of this post). So the natural post for today is Five Reasons to Honor Our Troops. There are a gazillion reasons really, but I’m gonna pick my top five.

1.   They have a strong sense of duty. Granted they may have other reasons for joining the armed forces as well, but the men and women who sign on that dotted line do so partly, or sometimes mostly, out of a sense of duty. That is an honorable trait.

2.   They make sacrifices the rest of us aren’t willing to make.  Not the least of which is being willing to put their lives on the line. But they also deal with a lot of other things, some of which we don’t think about. Oh, we get that they have to cope with being separated from loved ones and the facing danger part. But dirt, fatigue and boredom are frequent companions.

USMC-120112-M-RE261-003 troops playing cards

(public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

3.   They protect our ability to live in a free country by giving up a lot of their freedom.  Their lives are not their own. They can be ordered at any time to drop what they’re doing, say goodbye to their families and report to be shipped out to wherever they’re needed. And some of them will be affected mentally and physically for the rest of their lives.

At the San Diego 20th annual Stand Down for Homeless Veterans  )why do we have homeless veterans?)

At the San Diego 20th annual Stand Down for Homeless Veterans (why do we have homeless veterans?)

4.   They ask their loved ones to make sacrifices. If you’ve ever been apart from someone you love for a long time, you know how big a deal this is. They ask their families and friends to go on without them while they serve their country. They are gone for months, sometimes years, at a time. Not only do their mothers/fathers/wives/husbands/children/siblings/grandparents/friends have to miss them and worry about them daily but they will have many family holidays and milestones that their soldiers/sailors/marines/airmen will not be there for. And some of them will never come home.

5.   They protect us from the evil in the world.  As a retired psychotherapist who specialized in trauma recovery, I have seen all too often the aftereffects of that evil. We in the U.S. certainly have our own home-grown evil, but these men and women in uniform keep the evil elements from the rest of the world at bay.

So now I’m feeling quite guilty that I needed a calendar to remind me to honor our troops. We should be honoring them 365 days a year.

A big salute to all the men and women in uniform and those who have served in the past. God bless everyone of you, and God bless America!

female soldier saluting

(public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Today through Tuesday are the last days to win an ARC (advance review copy) of my new book. Five commenters will be randomly selected to receive one, so tell us your top reason for honoring our troops and veterans!

COLLATERAL CASUALTIES, A Kate Huntington Mystery (#5) will be officially launched on June 6th!

Speaking of the evil in the world…

book cover for COLLATERAL CASUALTIES, A Kate Huntington Mystery

   When a former client reaches out to psychotherapist Kate Huntington and reveals a foreign diplomat’s dark secret, then dies of ‘natural causes’ just days later, Kate isn’t sure what to think. Was the man delusional or is she now privy to dangerous information?
    Soon she discovers her client was totally sane… and he was murdered. Someone is now trying to eliminate her, and anyone and everyone she might have told. Forced into hiding, she and her husband, Skip, along with the operatives of his private investigating agency, struggle to stay one step ahead of a ruthless killer. Skip and his P.I. partner are good investigators, but this time they may be in over their heads… and they all could end up drowning in a sea of international intrigue.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

Please follow us by clicking on the RSS symbol above or by filling in your e-mail address, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not harvest, lend, sell or otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses)

Readers, Rebels and the Rules of Writing

(The third installment on gender differences in relating will be posted soon. Here is a post in our ongoing series on what Readers Really Want.)

I have always been a rebel. When I was a kid, telling me that something was against the rules was a sure-fire way to get me to do it. As an adult, I try to resist the temptation to break a rule at least once, just to see what happens.

 

From a 1915 musical score, public domain in the U.S.

When I retired from being a psychotherapist and turned my writing talents toward fiction, I was so relieved. No more having to follow the ‘introduction, literature review, evidence, conclusions’ format required for professional journal articles. My creativity would finally be free and unfettered.

Imagine my dismay when I discovered that writing fiction had rules! (One of which is to avoid using exclamation points. Teehee!) My editor probably ended up with muscle spasms in her neck from shaking her head so much over my first manuscript.

My editor probably could have used some of this. (Photo by Craiglduncan from Wikimedia Commons)

An internal battle then ensued, between the part of me that wanted to ignore the rules and the part that wanted to get published. The latter won and I beat the rebel into submission. Now, as a somewhat more seasoned novelist, I’ve developed a bit more of a compromise in my view of these rules. But before I get into that, let me present a few things to you, the reader.

Here are three rules that I find somewhat, shall we say, stifling: (1) Use exclamation marks very sparingly (as in, almost never); (2) only use said or asked in dialogue tags; and (3) avoid adverbs like the plague.

So imagine the hero is trying to seduce the heroine. He is nibbling on her earlobe and then starts trailing kisses down the side of her neck. *pauses to fan face, is it getting hot in here?* She is trying to resist but her body has other ideas.

“Please, stop,” she gasped breathlessly.

“Please, stop,” she said, in a breathless voice.

“Please, stop.” Her voice was breathless.

You tell me, which do you like better? Which is more powerful? And which will tend to slow the story down?

Example number 2: The protagonist tells his buddy that his pet gerbil can talk.

“No way,” Jimmy said.

“No way!” Jimmy said.

No way,” Jimmy exclaimed.

“No way.” Jimmy’s voice was incredulous.

I don’t know about you, but the first one sounds to me like Jimmy isn’t all that interested. Either the second or third one works for me, although I like number two best. Technically, according to the rules, the fourth one is correct. But looking at that one, and the third one, through my reader eyes (instead of those of the writer trying to follow the rules), I can’t help wondering why there isn’t an exclamation mark there, if Jimmy is so all fired incredulous.

Now, some editors would respond to this by saying, if you need an exclamation mark or the word exclaimed in order to convey the speaker’s emotions, then you need to rewrite the dialogue to make it stronger, or show (not tell; yet another rule) the emotion through action.

Okay, how about:  Jimmy’s eyes grew wide. “No way.”

Nope, sorry, I’m still feeling like this reaction is too lukewarm without that exclamation mark. For me, first prize would go to:

Jimmy’s eyes grew wide. “No way!”

So here is the middle ground I have found, with three–soon to be four–published novels under my belt. These rules should be guidelines, because they have merit, but they should not be strictly enforced.

Use too many exclamation marks and they lose their punch (not to mention the fact that the speaker starts to sound silly.) Let’s not outlaw them completely, however.

Use said or asked most of the time as dialogue tags, because the reader’s eye glides right over them and they don’t interfere with the flow of the dialogue. But when describing the emotion or tone of voice would interfere with the flow of the dialogue, use a different dialogue tag to convey that emotion.

Likewise with adverbs; use them sparingly, but sometimes they may be the tighter way to convey the mood or tone.

Protagonist and her husband are in the middle of a disagreement that is about to heat up:

“Look, I know I go on and on sometimes, but I feel like you aren’t always listening to me.”

“What, you go on and on? Naw, never!” he teased.

“Like right now. You’re not taking me seriously,” she shot back.

He realized he had gone too far. “I do listen,” he said softly, hoping to appease her.

Oh, yeah, forgot to mention the rule about avoiding italicizing words for emphasis. So here’s the same conversation, following all the rules:

“Look, I know I go on and on sometimes, but I feel like you aren’t always listening to me.”

“What, you go on and on? Naw, never,” he said, a teasing note in his voice.

“Like right now. You’re not taking me seriously.” Her tone was now angry.

He realized he had gone too far. “I do listen,” he said, softening his voice, hoping to appease her.
Now there’s nothing wrong with the second version. But, in my opinion, the emotions aren’t as powerful. And we have ten extra words that slow down the pace of the scene, which makes the interchange sound less heated.

Let me reiterate, however, that I have matured enough through the years to realize that rules usually exist for a reason. These elements should not be used too often. Note the following, which is not far off from several first-page samples I have read on Amazon in recent times:

Jeannette sat down on a bar stool, longingly glancing in Carlos’s direction, then blatantly ignoring him.

Suddenly, she felt hot breath on her neck. Carlos gently picked up her hand and, lovingly and tenderly, kissed the soft palm. “So you can’t resist me, querida!” he breathed lustily into her ear.

Jeannette shivered deliciously but kept her face turned away.

Another man had taken the stool on her other side. “Can… uh, I buy you a drink?” he stammered nervously.

Carlos leaned forward and stared aggressively at the interloper. “She’s taken!” he growled emphatically.

“I am not!” she protested, equally emphatically.

Carlos instantly jumped from his barstool and grabbed her arm firmly. “We’ll see about that!” he growled menacingly as he hauled her off her stool and moved her hurriedly toward the door.
Now this writer has promise (Ha, ha! It’s me, several decades ago), but the mood of the scene is ruined by all the melodramatic adverbs, exclamation marks and overused irregular dialogue tags. It reads more like a farce than a serious scene. My fingers are itching to go back and edit it. (I would keep two of the fourteen adverbs, one of the four exclamation marks, and two out of the five irregular dialogue tags.)

But I won’t bore you further by ridiculously hammering home an already obviously made point about the annoyingly frequent habit of over-using these temptingly easy elements rather than writing truly fabulous and exceedingly tight, emotionally tantalizing dialogue.
Please, wade in, readers! (Yes, I do so love those exclamation marks.) What do you think about these rules? Writers and editors, feel free to join the fray.

(Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.)
We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address at the top of the column to the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!