Friday, March 28, 2014

2014 Movies I’m Excited For

I apologize that this isn’t a full post, but this week has been a little crazy. So, I decided to share with you some of the movies I’m most excited for this year. Without further ado:

April 4, 2014: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

  • Captain America is my favorite Avenger, so I’m super excited for this movie.
  • I haven’t decided what I think about Black Widow’s involvement: I’ll just have to wait and see on that one.
  • Other than that, I’m a little concerned that the carnage will be over-the-top.
  • And it’s…it’s… BUCKY!

May 2, 2014: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

  • I enjoyed Andrew Garfield’s first performance in the remake of the Spider-Man franchise, and I’m excited to see where it goes now.
  • I may have a hard time adjusting to someone other than James Franco as Harry Osborne, though. That will quite different. We’ll see.
  • Yikes, that’s a lot of villains!

June 13, 2014: How to Train Your Dragon 2

  • Ah, I’m so excited for this one!
  • Hiccup and Astrid are so cute together!
  • Toothless’ tongue hanging out…

December 17, 2014: The Hobbit: There and Back Again

  • The only reason I’m not more excited than I am is that it’s nowhere near December, but as the date approaches, I will get super hyped, I’m sure.


Other movies that are on my radar, though I may not see them in theaters: Heaven is for Real (April), Maleficent (May), X-Men: Days of Future Past (May), Guardians of the Galaxy (August), and Night at the Museum 3 (December).

What movies are you all looking forward to this year? Let me know what your hopes and concerns regarding them are in the comments below!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Exercise Those Writing Muscles!

I’m almost 2/3 of the way through a Pilates Beginners' Challenge. And it’s crazy! Pilates is not for wimps. But, at the same time, it’s not as cardio and weight heavy as some workouts. Thus, it works well for me.

Anyway, I’ve learned some interesting things during this challenge. And I’ve discovered that I can apply those things to writing. So, I thought I’d share them with all of you.

  1. I’m stronger than I thought I was. Though I’ve had plenty of lie-on-the-floor-gasping moments and I’m-going-to-die times, I’ve done better with some of these workouts than I would have expected. And I wonder if the same is true of my writing. Sure, we tend to have an inflated opinion of our own writing, but we’re also constantly assaulted by self-doubt. Writing is not a profession full of self-confidence. But we’re probably capable of more than we think we are. I just bought a book called The 4 A.M. Breakthrough, which is full of innovative writing prompts, and I’m excited for it to get here so I can dig into styles and topics that are not normal for me. I’ve done ab workouts that hurt like crazy and leg exercises that made it hard to walk, but I’m surviving them. And I can survive new writing experiences. Because I just might be stronger than I think I am.
  2. Exercising is hard. I’m not very flexible, so stretching is difficult for me. Just about every exercise with this Pilates challenge hurts. But it’s necessary. And the more I do it, the better I become. The process can be hard, though. It’s difficult to stay focused through the pain and complete each workout. Writing is similar. It can be difficult to push through the tough spots in your manuscript, to finish that scene on time, and to sacrifice certain things for time to write. Writing is not easy. The question is whether or not it’s worth it.
  3. I can’t do everything. I usually can’t stretch as far as Cassey, my instructor, can. I’m successful if I stretch about half the distance she does. But that’s the thing about Pilates: you only go as far as you can. As long as you’re still feeling the effect of the move, you’re fine. Don’t try to do too much. In writing, we can try to stretch too far. Going a little beyond your comfort zone is good; stretching way beyond it can be harmful. So, in writing, work a little harder than you’re used to or do something you’re not used to. But don’t get so lost that your writing suffers as a result.
  4. Consistent practice results in progress. Now, I’m sure you’ve heard the advice that you should write something every day. You can make your own decision on whether that’s right; I personally am horrible about writing every day. But the principle of consistency is important. With my Pilates, I do a workout Monday through Saturday, and I have a rest day on Sunday. So, I’m exercising every day except one. That consistency has already shown some results, which I’m ecstatic about. The more I practice, the stronger I get. The same is true with my writing. I’m a much better writer now than I used to be. The quality difference between Raiders’ Rise and the first book I wrote, with the One Year Adventure Novel, is monumental; even between my recent blog posts and my first few posts, I can see a difference. I’ve written way more in the last year than I did before, and I’ve learned a great deal about my craft. That practice is producing progress. It’s not enough to invest a little bit of work here and there; in order to succeed, you’ve got to work consistently. You decide how you can best do that. But I promise that it will feel amazing.
  5. Sometimes you just need a break. Though consistency is important, so is pacing yourself. Last week, I did a calf exercise that had me limping for days. I hurt so badly the next day, Friday, that I skipped Pilates. I didn’t do it on Saturday, either, and then my normal rest day was on Sunday. At first, I felt lazy for not working out. But the extra long rest turned out to be a good thing, and I came into this week’s fist workout refreshed. Sometimes we need rest as writers, too. Now, I am not saying you should stop every time it’s hard. Be judicious. But keep in mind that you can only go so far before you burn out. If you’re feeling so overwhelmed that you actually hate writing, maybe you need to take a step back. Do something else for a day or two (or longer, depending on your stress levels). Then you can come back to your writing excited for the possibilities.

So, there you go: writing lessons learned from Pilates. What kind of exercises do you like to do? And have you ever applied lessons from exercise to writing? Let me know in the comments below! I love talking to my readers!

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Hunger Games: A Discussion

So, The Hunger Games, both books and movies, are a huge phenomenon in the United States right now. I seem to be in the minority in that I don't like them. Now, I have read the entire trilogy, so I actually do have a basis for my opinion, but I'd like to hear your thoughts. Let's have a discussion on The Hunger Games

  1.  Have you read the books?
  2. Have you seen the movies?
  3. List one thing you like about the story.
  4. List one thing you dislike about the story.
So, for me: Yes, I've read the books; no, I haven't seen the movies; I like the character of Peeta; I find the story depressing, so I dislike that. 

How about you? What do you think about The Hunger Games? Feel free to include other thoughts than just the answers to those questions. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Action Beats: What’s He Saying?

Dialogue can be one of the trickiest areas of a novel to write. There’s a difficult balance to maintain between realistic conversation and boring your readers. For example, we skip many of the
pleasantries of everyday communication when we write, because who really wants to read:



“What’s up?”

“Nothing much. You?”

“Eh, not much.”

Etc., etc. From there we can move onto the weather and rehashing of things that already happened. But that’s just boring for readers. So why include it? When writing dialogue, we’re seeking to convey information that moves the plot forward and/or develops characters. But in real life, much more than just words flows in a conversation. When I talk to someone, I often judge just as much by their body language as by what they’re saying. And I am usually thinking much more than what comes out of my mouth. Words, body language, and thoughts are all essential parts of dialogue.

Together, they are considered action beats. To understand them, we must first realize that dialogue tags, especially when they include something other than “said,” generally hinder your dialogue. Below is an excerpt from my book, Raiders’ Rise, that I modified by replacing most of the action beats with dialogue tags.

Zana said, “What’s that?”

“My stuff,” he replied. “I was sure it was gone.”

She dropped stiffly to her knees beside him, saying, “That’s wonderful, Gavin! A different current must have taken it.”

Grinning, he murmured in agreement and picked the bag up. “I never expected…”

“It’s important to you, then?” she said.

“It was my father’s,” he replied. “My mother gave it to me the year before I left. She just didn’t tell me what it was.”

“And you haven’t figured it out in nine years?”

He said, “Maybe it really is nothing. I just have trouble believing that. It acts too strangely sometimes.”

“What do you mean?”

He pulled the orb out of the bag. “See?”

She examined the blue-purple sphere and said, “It’s beautiful. I didn’t really look at it when I had it.”

“Yes.” His eyes widened. “But it looks frigid.”

She said, “That’s different than normal?”

“It’s usually brighter and warmer,” he said, then hesitated. “It’s almost like the river changed it.”

She asked, “Why would – how?”

“I don’t know,” he said. Now tense, he put the orb away. When Zana’s stomach growled, he grimaced. “Unless we catch some fish, I don’t know what to eat around here.”

She said, “I don’t even know what there is around here.” She squinted into the fog. “I’m not sure that I prefer this to the rain.”

He said, “Well, at least you’re not instantly soaked. Without shelter, rain would be much worse.”

“I suppose you’re right,” she responded. “But I dislike this blindness.” Then she twitched. “And it’s still wet.”

Written this way, the dialogue tags really jump out of you. And most of them are unnecessary. You don’t need “said,” “replied,” “asked,” or “responded”  in order to show who said something. If you’re pointing out someone’s action, such as hesitating, like Gavin does at one point, then obviously that person is the one speaking. I don’t need to tell you he spoke and then hesitated. A mistake we can make when writing dialogue is to stop all action. But in reality, most people shift and do things while they’re talking. They play with their hands; they avoid eye contact; they don’t just sit statically. Action beats replace the need for dialogue tags by showing what the characters are doing as they speak.

Action beats also convey emotion. Unless someone is telling everything on his or her heart and has a perfect command of their language, words won’t give the whole picture. And even if  a person is being completely forthright, action beats reinforce the emotion we should be feeling. This scene is written from Gavin’s perspective, and he goes through several emotions in the course of it, especially when the full scene is taken in context. Unfortunately, its was too long to include the whole thing here. When the action beats are mostly removed, you lose the sense of both his and Zana’s emotions. The factual info is told through the words, but their respective thoughts aren’t really clear. Here’s the 

scene the way I wrote it:

Zana’s soft voice broke the stillness. “What’s that?”

“My stuff.” He shook his head, chuckling. “I was sure it was gone.”

She dropped stiffly to her knees beside him, a smile blooming on her lips. “That’s wonderful, Gavin!” She fingered the twine fastener. “A different current must have taken it.”

Grinning, he murmured in agreement and picked the bag up. The weight of the orb felt comfortable in his hands. “I never expected…”

She faced him, touching the round shape. “It’s important to you, then?”

He half-smiled. “It was my father’s.” As memories tugged at his mind, his expression drooped and his grip on the bag tightened. “My mother gave it to me the year before I left. She just didn’t tell me what it was.”

She raised an eyebrow. “And you haven’t figured it out in nine years?”

Pursing his lips, he cocked his head. “Maybe it really is nothing. I just have trouble believing that. It acts too strangely sometimes.”

Her gaze narrowed. “What do you mean?”

He pulled the orb out of the bag. “See?”

She examined the blue-purple sphere. “It’s beautiful. I didn’t really look at it when I had it.”

“Yes.” He stared at it. The pink highlights were unusually dim; he could barely see the others. His eyes widened. “But it looks frigid.”

She frowned. “That’s different than normal?”

He pressed harder against the surface. “It’s usually brighter and warmer.” He hesitated. “It’s almost like the river changed it.”

That makes no sense.

Her body stiffened. “Why would – how?”

He blew out forcefully. “I don’t know.” Now tense, he put the orb away. Ignore it. When Zana’s stomach growled, he grimaced. “Unless we catch some fish, I don’t know what to eat around here.”

Her laughter was nervous. “I don’t even know what there is around here.” She squinted into the fog. “I’m not sure that I prefer this to the rain.”

He smirked. “Well, at least you’re not instantly soaked. Without shelter, rain would be much worse.”

She moved her hand to her bandaged forehead. “I suppose you’re right. But I dislike this blindness.” She twitched. “And it’s still wet.”

See? This way, you can tell that Gavin’s got painful memories of his family, that he’s confused by his orb, and that he’s avoiding the possibilities. You can also see that Zana’s concerned. And I didn’t use “said” once, yet it’s easy to follow who’s speaking.

When writing dialogue, it’s important to remember the emotion of the scene and of each participant. In the above example, Gavin had just found his only possessions, which they thought had been lost, when Zana walks up. Thus, he’s initially ecstatic. Then he turns reflective. Zana, meanwhile, has just awakened and is hungry, wet, and cold. But she’s happy for Gavin and curious about his mysterious orb. Their emotions come through much more clearly with the use of action beats. Looking back through the first book I ever wrote, I cringe to see how much telling I did instead of using true action beats. For your readers to truly feel the emotion of the moment, you have to describe what it feels like. How does your character’s face react? Does he cringe when he’s hurt? Does she twitch when she’s agitated? We can’t feel that emotion unless you show it to us. I’ve found The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi to be incredibly helpful in finding unique action beats to go beyond “He smiled; she frowned.”

Another element of showing emotion is thoughts. When you’re writing from a specific character’s POV (point of view), you get to paint a more vivid picture of their emotions because you have access to their thoughts. People hold different views on whether italics should be used to set off thoughts or not. I tend to put some thoughts in italics and leave others without. It usually depends on the pacing and emotion of the scene. In this example, I played on Gavin’s lack of experience with the nobility and servants in his thoughts:

“Well, sir, the master’s brother thought it’d be better if they didn’t stand out like they do with these.” She [the maid] lifted her tunic-laden arm.

Gavin stared at her. No one ever called him “sir.” “Are Marius’ other servants coming?”

“Leiza is, sir. She’ll be here shortly. Jadon is staying near the master in case he’s needed for anything.”

“Who’s Jadon?”

“The master’s adjutant, sir.”

Gavin blinked. What was an adjutant? He chose not to ask.

She smiled slightly. “Is that all, sir? I need to take care of these.”

“Go ahead. Sorry I kept you.”

I like using someone’s thoughts as a counterpoint to their words to reveal their true feelings.

“So, do we fight them?”

What happens to me then? “Of course.”


“Will you go out with me on Friday night?”

Do you think I have no self-respect? “I’d be happy to.

Those two examples were made up on the fly with no context whatsoever, so I don’t have answers for the inevitable questions. But, in some ways, that illustrates the beauty of this technique: someone’s thoughts and words don’t always agree, and the juxtaposition can raise questions that help propel your story forward.

I know that was a lot of prose, so let me sum up my thoughts for you in a list:

  • Dialogue tags are rarely necessary.
  • A conversation is never static. Show the movements of the characters who are interacting.
  • Dialogue is an excellent place to convey emotion. Show, don’t tell, by describing facial expressions, gestures, and thoughts.
  • Your story doesn’t stop just so your characters can talk. Weave their dialogue into the action of the story so that it flows.
My dialogue has improved greatly since I learned about action beats, and I find them to be a fascinating concept. What do you think is important when writing dialogue?