R S Belcher: Building a Haunted House

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Years ago, I recall reading a suspense novel by Harlan Corben, I honestly can’t recall the name of the book – I think it was Gone for Good. It was well-written, enjoyable and kept my interest, it was also one of the reasons so many writers say you need to read to write. Coban’s novel was to the plot twists, what high-fructose corn syrup is to junk food. Pretty much every chapter ended with some kind of shocking revelation that shifted everything you thought you knew about the characters and the plot—this character wasn’t really dead, they were in fact someone’s mother/daughter/long-lost step-son/ St. Bernard… you get the idea. The first few twists blew me away, but by the end of the book it was, well, funny. I’d get to the end of a chapter and laugh at what new M Night Shyamalan-esque twist the author threw at me.

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Robert Jackson Bennett: Character

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Character is possibly the trickiest thing for a writer to make work. It’s one of the most insubstantial and abstract elements in writing, but it’s also one of the most vital: when people love a character, they’ll return to their books again and again, sometimes solely for the “hang-out” appeal.

More so, as writer David Liss puts it, “Character is story,” meaning the best stories have conflicts and plot developments whose origins lie in the characters. So not only is characterization vital in its own right, when properly done, it act as a catalyst for nearly all other parts of the story.

So how to make characters work? How to make them feel “real”?

The thing to remember is that characters have their own agency, their own individualized wants, needs, and assumptions about the world. A writer must imagine that what they would be doing if the story never got [...]

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Carol Berg: Answers, Plain and Tall

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Thanks again to the Magical Words crew for welcoming me this month.

There is a set of standard questions that authors hear all the time. When did you start writing? How did you get published? Do you outline? How many hours a day do you write? Do you have writing rituals? Do you use writing tools? Why are you so mean to your characters? We’ve answered them so many times, we don’t even have to think about them.

- I started writing halfway through my software engineering career, as my kids were needing less of my time. – I read the opening of Transformation for an editor from Roc Books in a Friday afternoon read-and-critique session at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. She ended up buying it and my next seven books. – I do not outline. Nor do I start out with a blank page and type Chapter 1 [...]

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Delilah S Dawson: Sorry, I Blew Up Savannah!

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Bad news, y’all: This November, a freak hurricane will tear through Savannah, Georgia, destroying the amusement park and flooding the cemeteries and generally beating down an historical gem that even General Sherman admired too much to damage.

Even worse news: Hurricane Josephine isn’t just a meteorological phenomenon. She’s a demon. A mean one. Who sometimes takes the form of a monster albino alligator and makes people do horrible things.

At least, that’s the premise of Servants of the Storm, my YA Southern Gothic Horror now available online and in bookstores. What started as an obsession with pictures of Six Flags New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina became a paean to friendship, a love song to my husband’s home town, and a great reason to take a horse-drawn carriage tour with my favorite Savannah pirate, should you want to see Dovey’s neighborhood before Josephine makes a big ol’ mess.

I’m from [...]

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Pop Author Psych

Lucienne DiverLucienne Diver

You know, it’s crazy. If you try to build psychological profiles of authors in your mind based on their works, you might come to the conclusion they’re some of the blood-thirstiest, most creatively-evil people in the world. Law enforcement agencies the world over assuredly have them on watch lists because of the odd little things they’re drawn to research, like making bombs out of household items, Babylonian plague demons and how much over-the-counter analgesic can kill when combined with alcohol… Ahem…

Well, I can’t speak for all authors or all conductors of such searches, but I can say that the writers I know are pretty awesome people, having gotten their aggressions out on imaginary characters.

Writing is not polite. Or anyway, it shouldn’t be. Whether you’re writing humor or horror, prose needs to reveal something very true and basic at its core, something that the reader can identify with, something [...]

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Diamonds, Magic, and Mystery

Diana Pharaoh FrancisDiana Pharaoh Francis

Whenever I get sick–like the flu or something like it–I watch TV. And not just any TV; when I’m sick, I watch fairly specific kinds of shows. I look for documentaries first. Even though I normally like regular hour-long dramas and comedies and movies and HGTV, I always head for documentaries. If I can’t find anything I like there, I will go to the shopping networks. I know. The two together don’t make any sense, and I don’t go to the shopping networks at any other time. Ever.

The last time I was sick enough to do that was several years ago. In that session, I learned a number of things that have found their way into my writing. (I believe I also bought some blankets and sheets and called my husband at work about a vacuum cleaner, which I did not buy). In particular, I watched a documentary on [...]

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Carol Berg: Blowing up the Dam

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I would love to say my stories blossom fully formed, and the words always flow like water from a faucet, ready to fill the empty vessels of scenes and characters, ever easy to turn on and off. But, alas, not so. Sometimes, I just can’t get that word count to budge.

The world-at-large calls this condition Writers’ Block and expects that a writer who suffers this debilitating condition might be sitting around for an indeterminate time waiting for it to ease, like toughing out a bout of spring allergies. But a working writer can’t just say oops and blow off a day, a week or a month. Working writers have deadlines.

Does this occasional incapacity mean I’m a bad writer? No. My books are by no means perfect, but I am very happy with them.

Does it mean I have a bad process? No. My creative process works very well [...]

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