Monday, April 28, 2014

Less is More

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of hearing Chuck Sambuchino speak at the Missouri Writer's Guild conference. He made the point that 'less is more'. Now this is a concept that is a bit foreign to me. As an engineer I tend to be short winded. A get right to the point kind of girl. This however, can often be to my detriment. People have trouble picturing what I'm talking about in so few words. So how is ‘less is more’ a good thing?

In engineering we also talk about how do you do more with less. How you can make the most of limited resources? But less is more? What did that mean? But as Chuck continued to speak, I realized doing more with less and less is more are really the same thing if done correctly.

Picture this. You're sitting at dinner with your significant other. They start to tell you about their day. Ever so slightly their eyes flick out the window then focus back on you. They continue talking about their bad day. Missed a meeting, got in trouble with the boss, and then their eyes glance out the window again. The conversation continues, and the longer it goes on, the more frequent the glances out the window become. You start to lose track of what they are saying.

Eventually you glance out the window yourself to see what's going on. Nothing appears out of the ordinary. Your significant other keeps talking, but also keeps looking out the window. By this point they could be saying they were abducted by aliens, got diagnosed with a terminal disease, are about to sprout a second head, or are a rogue spy being chased by Godzilla and none of it would matter because you are wondering what the heck is going to happen outside that window.

Now picture the same scene. You’re at dinner with your significant other and they are talking about their day. They glance out the window then say "Sorry I thought I saw my ex-girlfriend."

Which scene is more dramatic? Which scene left you with more questions? Which scene left you with more tension? I'm going to take a wild guess and say the first one. And while the explanation is a lot longer, the less part of that "less is more" is that I didn't tell you what was outside that window. And it made you crazy, because you didn't know. You wanted to know. You were curious what it was. And the longer it went on, the more you started to worry that it was something really big. The tension grew. You wanted to know what was going to happen. This is exactly what you want to do when you write. 

Sometimes leaving out a key piece of information can help increase suspicion and tension. Instead of being so direct, be a little vague and let the reader's mind wander.

So the next time you write a scene, think about what information you can withhold from your characters without causing the reader confusion. Pique the reader’s interest with less is more. You'll reel the reader in. And of course, you'll leave them wondering what was going to appear outside that window. Cause I know you're still thinking about it.

Monday, April 21, 2014

My Child, My Book

I watched my oldest five children on the trampoline the other day, and I kept thinking "Who's going to the ER tonight?"

Thankfully, no one did. But I noticed how I let my younger children do things that I would not have let my older children try when they were young. Mostly, this was due to my growth and learning as a parent, and not a function of the childrens' behaviors.

That got me thinking about how learning to write a novel is much like learning to raise a child. I was working on a new manuscript at the time, and couldn't help drawing some obvious comparisons.

(I'm sure many people have noted this, but since I've never read a post about it before, I'll give it my spin.)

My Child, My Book.

1.  Committing to the idea of my first child is exciting and maybe a little bit scary - but mostly fun.

2.  Pregnancy can be difficult, or not. (Like a first draft, no?)


4.  I discover that the baby poops, burps, spits up and requires frequent feedings and cleanings.

5.  As the baby matures, so I grow and learn about parenting.

6.  I want to show off my kid too soon.

7.  I want other people to give me positive feedback when my child is good.

8.  When my child makes mistakes, I want to know why. I want to help my child improve.

9.  I want my child to be polite, well spoken, intelligent, strong, and kind.

10. I ask other parents for advice and tips, especially when encountering problems with my child.

11. Each of my children will be different, but should share common principles.

12. Each child is part of me, but different.

13. I will do everything I can to prepare each of my children for release into the world.

Although I become a more experienced parent the more children I have, I still must apply what I've learned if I'm going to do them justice.

I owe my children love, discipline, and overall, my best effort as a parent.

As you "raise your children", ask lots of questions, seek all the answers, but let your children be themselves.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Woot! You're on submission! what?

As many of you are familiar with, the querying process is largely a waiting game and it feels like for the most part you are just sitting on your hands. This should be expected! After all, agents are people too, and their schedules are filled to the brim with work involved with their current clients, so filtering through an inbox of query letters takes a lot of effort!

I'm sure you also realize that the same goes for editors at publishing companies! There's a reason why this industry is a slow paced game. There's a limited amount of hands and a bazillion (yes, that number is accurate for this blog entry) manuscripts waiting to be read.

Now that I'm finally part of the submission process, I'm beginning to understand first hand that the publishing process really is a waiting game. And the key is to be as patient as possible. Surprised?

You've edited your manuscript, and you've gotten the all clear from your agent. Your proposal is glistening, and you couldn't be more proud of it. Now it's time to kick back, and let your agent get to work. He / She already has their sights set on a slew of editors that they think will be interested in your epic masterpiece.

So now what do you do? Much like querying, it's time for you to relax a bit, and take on some new projects. And I'm sure your patience will be well rewarded when you get that awesome phone call from your agent. 

Since I'm currently riding on the submission train, I'll let you in on what I've been doing to keep myself busy. Feel free to apply any of these methods to your "waiting game", whether it's during the submission process or the querying process.

So what do you do?


That's a given! Come on people, we're writers! It's what we do! At the moment I'm working on three books...that's right three. Am I crazy? Yes, of course I am. I've got the sequel to COPERNICUS NERDICUS in the works (which will most likely change if / when I get a publishers lol), and I'm also working on a brand new MG series as well as my "famed" Villain Intern book. 

Let me tell you how hard it is to jump from writing MG to an adult black's impossible. A book has never stressed me out as much as NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY. Ah well...

Seriously though, keep your creative juices flowing and get to writing a new book!


There's no better way to improve your craft than to beta read for your writer pals. I've got two beta reads to complete and I apologize again to those waiting on it, but I tell ya, you learn a thing a two from doing it. I notice so much more about my own writing through others. Not to mention, it makes me realize how many awesome writers I'm actually associated with. 

The writing world is huge, so get to know your writers through the best means possible. READING THEIR MANUSCRIPT!


I've taken this opportunity during the submission process to really get back into my artwork (unfortunately now, my PC that I use for art has been on the fritz for over a month and I need to build a new one....). But yeah, I've discovered my passion for drawing again, which is a great thing because I actually want to do a MG book with illustrations in it shortly.

Dawn has brought up that she has been wanting a choose your own adventure styled book (those were the best), and doodling again has help me come up with a few ideas. We'll see where it goes.

But seriously, pick up a new hobby to kill time. Try baking, sewing, a new sport (go go hockey), anything to kill time!

Just don't take up drinking...come on, Indy.


Seriously, you've been working so hard for so long, you've deserved a break. Go on a trip, and forget about it all for awhile. You need to get your mind off things and let your brain reset. Everyone deserves a little R&R, even us crazy writers.

So jump on a plane, and go somewhere. (I suggest Sardinia off the coast of Italy. It's breathtaking!)


This is the most important thing to do. Just relax. There's no point on focusing on the "what if's..." - just let things happen on their own. You're going to end up killing yourself by stressing out so much during the submission process. You need to be patient. PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE!!! (I've learned that from the Ultima video game series lol).

Seriously though, if you let the submission process get to you, you're going to end up like this....

And nobody wants to see you like that..

So what do you do to kill time during the submission process? (or the querying process!)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Four Comedy Tips to boost the LOLocity of your writing!

Don't roll your eyes.

Or groan.

Or do that thing where you let your mouth fall open and look around the room like everyone's sharing the exact same Has this dude's TV been stuck on PBS for the past 30 years? thought that's running through your head.

*takes deep breath*

I've just discovered the show "Community."

screaming animated GIF

Okay, just to clear some things up:

1) I knew the show existed.
2) I never watched it because when someone told me about it I thought they were talking about "Entourage."
3) I hate "Entourage."

If I'd known then what I know now, though, I would've been a die-hard fan from season one. See, I've binge watched every episode of "Community" during the past few days and it was somewhere between the spaghetti western paintball episode and the MeowMeowBeenz one that got me thinking about my next blog post.

How do writers pull off comedy?

And that got me thinking about my favorite comedies and how much I enjoy putting humor into my own writing. I won't ever profess to be the world's funniest human... or man... or Tennessean for that matter. However, I will say I'm the funniest guy in my fifth grade class. Or at least somewhere in the top ten.

But I have learned a few ways to comedicize the words on my page. And being the nicest guy in my fifth grade class (or at least somewhere in the top twenty), I thought I'd share them with you.

Comedy tip # 1:

Don't try to be funny.

Weird, I know. But there's nothing that'll kill a comedy buzz like trying to force a joke. If you set out with the goal to write a funny line, chances are it'll end up flat. Unless you do it right and then it'll end up hilarious. But if you were doing it right then you probably wouldn't be reading this. Would you?

black and white animated GIF

Comedy needs to be organic. The best hilarious line rarely begins with something our characters say or do. It begins with the environment around them and then letting your characters react to it. Allowing the funny to grow from situations the characters get themselves into makes it so much more real. It'll help build the funny so you can get the biggest laugh-out-loud possible. And allowing your humor to manifest out of reaction versus only action will help the funny be much more specific.

Which leads us to...

Comedy tip # 2:

Be specific.

Killer segue. Nailed it.

Being specific doesn't mean tell the joke as specifically as possible. In fact, I'd suggest not doing that. I mean, think about it. Knock knock jokes are short for a reason, right? Nobody wants a twelve minute description of who or what's at the door. We don't have time for that. Comedy doesn't have time for that.

No, being specific means to let your characters' voices help tell the joke. We don't all react to situations the same way, so neither should our characters. The best example I can give is through Troy from "Community." He never thinks. He's never had to. So when he reacts to something, it usually ends up being hilarious. For us. Not so much for him.

community animated GIF

Each character on that show is unique with a very specific voice. And when the writers throw a situation at them, they've got a goldmine of funny to dig into. Of course, coming up with the joke is only half the battle. So what's the other half? 

I'm glad you asked. It's...

Comedy tip # 3:

Use comedic timing.

Okay, so this one's a toughie. Comedic timing relies so heavily on actors and their ability to deliver the punchline. So how do we do that in our own writing? Simple. Act it out.

When you write a scene and you're convinced it's the funniest thing since Mel Brooks, test it out. Read it aloud and see if it works. Are there places where you need to pause? Is the joke sitting in just the right place? Does the scene drag?

community animated GIF

In your head it may be perfect. But your reader isn't in your head so you need to make sure the funny translates onto the page.

Perhaps the punchline springs a little too quickly. If so, add in a little pause. Maybe an awkward silence settles over the group right before the Ha ha! moment. Maybe the line is amazing, but something happens right after it that sort of chokes out the joke before people can really enjoy it. If it takes too long to get to the funny, then do some trimming.

Everyone likes humor. Unless it's fashionably late. Then it's just passé.

Comedy tip # 4:

Try the rule of three.

The rule of three is simple. If something happens once, it's an occurrence. If it happens twice, it's repetitive. If it happens three times, it's a motif. And we all love motifs.

community animated GIF

So don't be scared to revisit a joke. Now that doesn't mean just copy and paste and expect to get the same laughs.

But let's say you've got a character who, at the beginning of a scene, reacts to a Miley Cyrus song. And it's the funniest thing you've ever written. It wouldn't be totally out of the question to have that same character bring it back up somewhere in the middle, making everyone give him or her a collective eye roll. And then if he or she brings it up again right at the end, it'd set up a nice way for the other characters to react before rolling into the next scene.

Well that was easy!

Sort of.

Writing comedy is tough, but the good news is that it gets easier. Just like writing anything, really. The more you practice it, let yourself fail at it, and refuse to give up on it, the better you'll be at it.

Don't stop there, though. Pick up a book that never fails to get you giggling and figure out what makes it so funny. There's no formula for humor, but there are ways to get the biggest bang for your comedic buck. And you have my word that the four comedy tips above are a good place to start. You know you can trust me because I'm the most honest blogger on this site.

Or at least somewhere in the top six.

community animated GIF

Happy writing!