Archive for July, 2009

I couldn’t resist adding another shoutout today even though I did one yesterday. Now keep in mind that I’m technologically challenged, so there may be lots of better sites for music BUT I love playlist.com. I’ve listened to other people’s lists of music occasionally over the last few months, but last night I set up my own account and added the songs I personally love. I’m thrilled with what I have so far and will be adding more soon. You can add up to 200 songs to each playlist, and have as many playlists as you want. All for free.

This isn’t a download site and you can’t upload music either. It simply lets you link to legal, free music elsewhere on the internet and play it on your computer through a playlist screen that you personalize and organize the way you want.  You  can listen to any songs  in their system first to see if you like them. There is no code or tech stuff to figure out. If you want to add something to your own list, just hit the Add button. It’s so easy even I can do it. 🙂 Unfortunately it doesn’t work with WordPress, but it’s simple to put on Blogger.

I always listen to music when I’m writing and I don’t always have the appropriate mood music for what I’m working on. This allows me to listen to a variety of songs I wouldn’t normally be able to access. It’s also a great way to preview cd’s I’m considering buying so I know I won’t be disappointed. Another benefit is that having my favorite music on a playlist on my computer lets me leave my cd case in my car all the time. Nothing worse for my sanity than heading out for a long day of errands and discovering I’ve left my cd’s at home. Those days are over, thanks to playlist.com.

If you want to see what songs I listen to as I sit at my computer, take a look at this: http://www.playlist.com/playlist/17352752907

You can sign up for your own playlist at that site, too. If you do, leave a link in my comments section so I can check it out.


Do you listen to music while you write? What type of music do you like?


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Simply Audiobooks offers lots of choices for book lovers:  http://www.simplyaudiobooks.com/?link_num=1&

They have a huge selection of audio books to buy or rent. Some are available for download, while another program involves receiving audio books through the mail. I haven’t joined the site, and am not endorsing it as I don’t know much about it. It seems like something others might be interested in, though, so I’m giving it a shoutout.

This site also offers a free download each month and July’s is Tarzan of the Apes, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, which was one of my favorite books when I was a child. It took about ten minutes for me to download it to my computer and I didn’t have a problem with it. It works fine in Windows Media Player. They allow the books to be burned to a cd or mp3, and I may try that so I can listen to it while driving or exercising.

The male narrator’s voice is pleasant and his intonation keeps me from being bored. That said, I find myself daydreaming as I try to listen to the story. While that never interferes when I’m reading an actual book, it makes it hard for me to keep up with this guy. I mentally stop to visualize something or contemplate the meaning of an unusual word and he just keeps on going. Next thing I know, I’ve missed something.

I haven’t listened to fiction before, so maybe I’ll enjoy it once I get used to hearing the words instead of seeing them. If the August freebie is a good one, I’ll at least try this one more time.

Do you listen to audio books? What factors determine whether or not a book sounds good to you—the pace, the narrator’s tone of voice, or something else?


Edit 10-9-09: The free audio book for October 2009 is Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Edit 11-3-09: The free audio book for November 2009 is All About Jeeves, by P. G. Wodehouse.

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I’ve seen several posts on forums warning against using prologues. Personally, I don’t mind them as long as they serve a purpose. Since many of the suspense novels I’ve read include them, I decided to analyze what makes a prologue a useful tool rather than a useless appendage.

A good prologue provides information that can’t be included elsewhere as effectively. It shouldn’t turn into an information dump, but it can give essential facts regarding something that occurred in the past. (For more help on back story, click here.) It can even be written in the future, by a character that relates past events in the following chapters.

It can be useful in fantasy or science fiction where the setting is too complex to introduce gradually. Readers might get confused or bored if all the world building occurs within the first few chapters, leaving them wondering what the actual story is about. A short prologue, showing some occurrence that illustrates the setting, society, or other essential element, can clarify what type of world the main story takes place in.

Prologues give the author the chance to start a story at two different points. There may be an event that is separate, but critical to the reader’s understanding of the plot. For example, a murder may have taken place when the main character was a child, but the story itself is about that person as an adult. Or, the prologue may be written from a secondary character’s point of view, with the following chapters told from the protagonist’s viewpoint. Sometimes this is useful to show a villain planning something that will occur later; the characters don’t know about it, but the reader can anticipate what is going to happen and recognize clues throughout the book.

When a prologue is essential to the story, make sure it has a hook of its own and is clearly distinct from the first chapter. Keep it short and interesting. You can leave it open-ended, but it has to have any loose ends tied up somewhere in the novel. If the plot is understandable without a prologue, one should not be used.

Can you think of other times a prologue might be useful? Do you read them, or skip them?

Edit October 22, 2009: I found an interesting post by Agent Nathan Bransford on when to use prologues. Click here for his advice.

Edit February 4, 2010: Agent Kristin Nelson posted about why she doesn’t like prologues today on her blog. Click here to read.

Edit March 23, 2010: Agent Scott Eagan posted today about prologues, especially in romantic suspense (my genre). Definitely not including one in my novel. Click here to read.

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Editor Unleashed Forum and Smashwords sponsored a contest recently, and today published an e-book of the top 40 flash fiction stories.  Laurel Wilczek was the Grand Prize Winner,  but my story, Time for a Change, was chosen as one of the top 40 entries in the contest, out of 280.

The stories are each less than 1,000 words, and cover a broad spectrum of genres. This free anthology is offered in several formats, including PDF, Kindle, HTML, and others, so you can read it online or download it to your computer. For me, the PDF worked best.

Take advantage of this opportunity to read some free flash fiction.



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Whenever a child is born, one of first things the parents do is give him or her a name. It marks the beginning of their relationship and may influence how the child feels about herself, or how others perceive her. Authors are the parents of their characters, and need to understand the effects of the names they choose to use in their stories.

When creating a name you should consider how it will come across to readers. Here are some tips on picking names for your characters:

1. Will it be appropriate for the time period and setting? Names that are popular today may not be right for someone born in an earlier time, and an American name may not fit a child born in Europe or Asia. Choose one that is consistent with the norms of the society and era the person is from, or lives in.

2. Will it be easy to remember yet unique enough to distinguish that character from others? Simple names like John, Mary, Ashley, and Jim may blend in too much for a main character, especially if there are several others with similar names. A distinctive last name may help, but keep in mind that most characters won’t be called by their full name. Giving them a nickname could work but it’s generally best to be consistent with the names so readers don’t get confused.

3. Will it convey the desired image of that character? A name that connotes something evil, like Damien, Beelzebub, or Lucifer, wouldn’t be a good choice for the hero in a romance—unless it is purposely done to achieve a story goal, such as showing how he overcame the negative impression his name gave to people. On the other hand it might be too obvious as a name for a bad guy.

4. Will it be a stumbling block by disrupting the flow of the story, or will it add interest? Fantasy books aren’t the only ones that use unique spellings to make names interesting; the modern trend in baby names includes such devices as hyphens and apostrophes. Even though readers may not say the names outloud, they will mentally struggle to pronounce the character’s names when they see them, so unusual spellings can interrupt the flow of the story. Also, a difficult name won’t be as memorable. As an example, Bilbo Baggins is odd but easy to remember. Mr. Darcy, Tarzan, and Gandalf are other names that seem simple but have become recognizable in real life because of the characters they represent.

5. Will the characters’ names sound too similar, causing confusion? Names that begin with the same letter or sound, or the same pattern at the end—like Clara, Carla, and Sandra-will make it harder to distinguish them from each other. This can be a problem with last names, too, such as Johnson and Robinson. Several short, common names in a story can also be confusing, so vary the sounds and length of your characters’ names.

Just like characters, we didn’t have control over the name our parents gave us, but it still can tell others something about our lives–like what generation or ethnicity we were born in. The name we use can also say a lot about us, especially if it is a nickname or one we choose to go by. Perhaps we use our middle name instead of our first name, or use both; explaining such things in a story can help make the characters more realistic, more lifelike.

In case you need help coming up with interesting names, here’s a site that lists name generators for various types of characters. Whether you need an authentic foreign name, or a name for a fairy or alien, you’ll find lots of choices at:  http://www.todays-woman.net/writing-resources-cat-338.html

Here’s another helpful, fun site for names: http://www.babynames.com/character-names.php


How do you choose names for your characters? Do you get to know their personalities first, or start with the name and develop the character to go with it? Do you have any helpful tips to add on naming characters? What names from fiction are memorable to you?

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A story has many elements. One of them is the plot, which provides the basis for the events and situations that occur, determines how they are structured, and holds everything together. It explains why characters behave the way they do.

A plot’s structure basically consists of the following:

a. Exposition introduces the characters, setting, and other facts needed to understand the story.

b. Conflict, or rising action, builds tension and leads up to the climax.

c. The climax is the turning point of the story. It is the high point for the reader and often results from a crisis.

d. Falling action occurs after the climax, when the events come together to explain what went on.

e. Resolution, or denouement, is the final outcome of the conflict and climax. Loose ends get tied up and the reader should feel satisfied that the story is complete. They may not like the ending, but it must be believable based on the circumstances the characters faced.

The structure of the plot varies with the needs of the story. Some may start with lots of exposition and build to the climax; others may start with the conflict and weave in the exposition. The climax tends to be close to the end of the story since everything after it ties together the events that led up to that point.

Although there are probably an infinite number of stories we could write, there are not an infinite number of plots. No matter how unique we think our writing is, there are other stories that use similar ideas. Here are a few sites that list common types of plots:

http://midwestwg.com/plots20.htm   A list of 20 basic plots

http://www.strangehorizons.com/guidelines/fiction-common.shtml Plots (non-horror) Strange Horizons has seen too often; they have a separate list for horror stories.

http://www.writingforward.com/creative-writing/fiction-writing/character-fiction-writing  General plot categories

 Edit July 21, 2010: Editor Lynn Price gave a good explanation of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denoument on her blog yesterday: http://behlerblog.wordpress.com/2010/07/20/the-basics/


What type of plot do you enjoy most—adventure, quest, rags-to-riches, or something else? Do you like for the plot to drive the story, or prefer those where character development is the main focus?

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I feel like I should post something special in honor of the 4th, but can’t think of anything more patriotic than a picture of some fireworks. This is from a previous year, when we had a great time watching the multicolored display in our front yard and relaxing after a day spent with loved ones.  Things will be quiet today as we’ve given up the annual picnic in favor of visiting with family members in town.

Here’s hoping all of you have a safe and happy celebration this holiday weekend.







How do you celebrate the 4th of July, or your country’s Independence Day?

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