Archive for May, 2010

Sometimes when life becomes too stressful, or a situation threatens to explode with drama, a humorous comment or action can relieve the tension. It may be a momentary distraction from the drama, or it may heighten the emotional impact by acting as a contrast to it. In literary works, this technique is called “comic relief.”

comic relief (Allwords.com)  


  1. Narratology. The inclusion of a humorous character or scene or witty dialogue in an otherwise serious work, often to relieve tension.


  • Dutch: vrolijke noot
  • French: soulagement comique
  • German:  komische Entlastung
  • Italian: rilievo comico
  • Spanish: relevación cómica


Here are a few ways you can incorporate comic relief into your story (or life).

1. The protagonist may have a witty comeback to a villain’s threats. The James Bond 007 character is a good example of this, as is the Sherlock Holmes character in the movie released last year, or Indiana Jones (my favorite).

2. Another character may act as a foil, adding a lighter tone to the scene or acting as a contrast to the more serious protagonist. The old Batman and Robin duo comes to my mind, with Robin sorely lacking the intelligence to be a superhero (in my opinion!) while Batman was a serious crime fighter.

3. A tense scene may be interrupted by an unexpected event. For example, the character may trip and fall as she turns to leave the room after an argument. Or a child may interpret a stern lecture in a way the parents didn’t intend, causing them to laugh.

4. A suspenseful situation might reach a high point of tension, then be relieved by minor, comedic distractions. In horror stories, for example, the characters often fear that a noise at the door is the monster trying to get in, but sometimes it’s just the cat.


Don't you think that's funny?



Can you think of other ways comic relief can be used in a story? What examples from literature or movies can you think of that show comic relief being used? How do you relieve a tense situation in real life?


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A common question from writers is whether or not it’s necessary for them to develop a blog or join a social networking site such as Facebook. The majority of us seem to think it is. However, there are differing opinions as to when, why, and to what degree networking is important.

For those who are published, or soon-to-be published, a website, blog, and social networking may be essential marketing tools. The trend in publishing is for writers to take over much of the responsibility for promoting their own work, and online activities can make a big difference in the success of a book.

For unpublished writers not actively submitting stories or articles for possible publication, though, an online presence may not be helpful. Devoting time to blogging, participating in forums, and updating Facebook may distract us from writing and studying the craft, which we should be doing to make our work marketable. On the other hand, those activities can be fun, and help us find like-minded people who will encourage us and possibly become critique partners.

I have mixed feelings about the value of a blog at this stage in my writing career. The people who read my blog tend to be other writers, but writers also tend to be readers—so somewhere down the line, this may become a valuable asset. Since I enjoy blogging, it makes sense to keep at it. For those who haven’t started submitting work for publication and don’t enjoy blogging, I think it’s more beneficial to spend time working on writing stories and articles than blog posts.

I haven’t joined a social networking site, so can’t say from personal experience whether or not they are worth the investment of a writer’s time. My opinion on blogging may not mean anything to those of you reading this, either. So, I’ve compiled a list of sites where publishing professionals discuss this topic. If you’re trying to make up your mind on how much you need to be doing online at a certain stage of your career, you may find these sites helpful:

http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2010/03/author-platform-what-are-you-waiting-for/  Joel Friedlander on author platforms

http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/2009/03/lets-talk-about-platform.html  Rachelle Gardner talks about platforms

http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/2009/07/social-networking-vs-writing.html Rachelle Gardner on unpublished authors and networking

http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2009/04/building-platform-for-fiction.html  Jessica Faust on fiction platforms

http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2010/03/more-on-platform.html  Janet Reid on nonfiction platforms


What online activities do you participate in? Which ones do you think are useful for promoting your work? How much time do you spend each day blogging and/or networking? What topics do you talk about most often on your blog or networking site? When do you think an aspiring author should start building an online presence?



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I’m happy to report that my computer has recovered, and there’s a new graphics card quietly whirring away inside its tower. My son did a great job putting things back together; there are only 2 extra screws and a small silver bracket left over. He was able to recover my files and, as far as I can tell, all is well.

I’m currently gathering all my important files into one folder so my son can show me how to back them up on a dvd. This time I’m going to pay attention, and I’m going to write down each step in the process so I can do it myself in the future.

This experience has reminded me of several important things:

1. Don’t procrastinate when you know doing so could be disastrous, or someday you’ll probably be sorry.

2. Preventing problems isn’t nearly as hard as fixing them.

3. Obsessive printing can be an effective means of backing up your files, but only if you organize the copies and put them somewhere you can find them.

4. Little things you take for granted can cause big problems when they aren’t there anymore.

5. Sons (and daughters) are wonderful human beings. Ok, that one I didn’t need to be reminded of since I always believe my children are wonderful.

Several people gave me suggestions for backing up my computer, and I will look into each of those methods so I am not dependent on one source. Thanks everyone!  


How many places do you have your important files backed up? If you only had time to rescue one thing before your computer crashed, what would you save—pictures, business files, or your writing files? Do you have any computer horror stories to share?

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My computer is critically ill, currently lying  in pieces on my office floor. I’m struggling to write this post on a borrowed laptop using Windows 7 instead of Vista. I have no word processor, no WordWeb to check my spelling–not even a mouse to direct my clicking. My Favorites, My Photos, My Contacts, My Writing, and all my business files are on that sick little computer and I may never see them again.

My son thinks he’s figured out what’s wrong, but he had to go back several “restore” points to get anything to show up other than purple stripes, so some of my stuff is probably gone forever. Something was “corrupted” and even though that seems to be fixed, the video card couldn’t handle the stress and now refuses to communicate with the monitor. The nearest computer store is 45 miles away, so I have to wait until he can get the new part and install it. If that works I’ll be back on line in a day or two. If it doesn’t, we’ll have to take it to a repair shop.

Though I’ve had my computer a couple of years, and it periodically gives me a popup window saying I should back up my stuff–I never did. I’ve never learned how to burn cds, or do those other techie things most people seem to know how to do. I occasionally tell myself I should learn how, but kept putting it off. Now I’m sorry.

Don’t wait until it’s too late to back up your important files and pictures. If you don’t know how, get someone else to do it for you before you end up like me. 😦

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I happened to glance at the television the other night in time to see a shirtless man on a commercial for Dancing with the Stars. I’ve never watched the show, so perhaps that’s a common sight, but it startled me enough to blurt out—”That man’s not got a shirt on!”

Immediately, my 20-year-old daughter replied, “Mom! You sound like you think he’s hot!” Her shock was obvious. Apparently a middle aged mom isn’t supposed to notice when a man flaunts his good looks.

That got me to thinking about characters in books I’ve read, and I realized that nearly every protagonist is gorgeous, talented, sexy, wealthy and/or powerful, with an exciting life. Am I the only one who finds that kind of person so unbelievable that I can’t relate to them?

Years ago I got tired of reading about the wimpy young woman who needed a strong, rich man to rescue her from her problems. Later it seemed like all the women were strong, ambitious, and adventurous, and involved with equally wonderful men.

Is it because I’m getting old that I now appreciate protagonists that I can relate to, which means they have realistic jobs, an average appearance, and problems that are believable? I love suspense, fantasy, romance, and many other genres, but many times I’m disappointed in the characters. Sure, they need interesting problems and conflicts to keep me reading, but why do the characters have to be so wonderful that they make normal people pale by comparison?

What’s wrong with a middle-aged protagonist with a receding hairline, glasses, and an average job? Can’t those guys be romantic, attractive, or interesting? What about a woman who’s slightly overweight, with hair that won’t hold a curl and nails that aren’t regularly manicured? Where are the books about those people?  

Lots of people meet challenges with strength and integrity, fall in love with someone who is less than perfect, solve complex problems, come up with brilliant ideas, and don’t depend on the shock value of going shirtless in public to gain attention. That’s the kind of person I find “hot.”


What about you? How would you define a “hot” man or woman? Have your tastes changed as you’ve grown older? What characters can you think of that might not fit the stereotype of an attractive male or female, but were appealing anyway? Name someone that you think is attractive, other than your spouse or significant other.

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One genre that has been growing in popularity but isn’t well known is Steampunk. With settings in Victorian times, or an alternate world where steam is still the primary source of power, these stories have a strong science fiction element. Fabulous gadgets run on steam, gears turn mechanical contraptions, and the ornate, decorative style of the Victorian period prevails.

The term steampunk was first used in 1987, but examples of it have been around for years. Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and H.G. Wells’  The Time Machine, contain steampunk elements. A movie that fits this genre is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

For more information about this growing genre, take a look at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_steampunk_works  General Overview of Steampunk

http://scififantasyfiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/an_introduction_to_steampunk   Steampunk in literature, fashion, and movies

http://www.steampunktribune.com/2008/08/rl-steampunk-growing-exposure-to-genre.html   A blog devoted to steampunk, with lots of photos

http://brassgoggles.co.uk/blog/   Blog and Forum devoted to steampunk


EDIT MARCH 24, 2011: Just found another helpful/interesting article about steampunk: Steampunk! What’s So Fascinating About It?


Can you recommend any books that fit the Steampunk genre? Have you written Steampunk? If so, what was the greatest challenge you faced with this type of writing?

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I had a sturdy, hand-held can opener that served me well for over 15 years. Somewhere along the way my husband used it to cut some wire, and thereafter it had to be held at a slight angle to work properly. I had no trouble with that but the lefties in my household couldn’t hold it at the proper angle, and they whined for a new one.

Being human, I refused to let go of my can opener. It was pretty, functional, and completely dependable—for me. For years I continued to hold on to it, preferring the occasional whine to throwing away a perfectly good tool. This Spring, however, I fell prey to fear and uncertainty. I succumbed to self-doubt, stepped out of my comfort zone, bought a new can opener, and after trying out the new one for a few days, I put the old one in the garbage.

Why did I do it? Because my teenage daughter accused me of being a hoarder. If you’ve seen the show on A&E called Hoarders, you know that’s not a good thing to be. Hoarders hang on to everything, even trash. Their homes become hazards instead of havens. I did not want that to happen. So I gave up the “worthless” can opener for the sake of saving my family from ruin.

And now I’m sorry. That new can opener worked great for a few weeks, and then it started misbehaving. Small cans gave me big problems; big cans, too. Yesterday, I had to pry the lid off a can of tomato sauce with a knife and ended up with half the sauce on me instead of in the chili. The beans had to be scraped out of the can with a spoon because I couldn’t get the lid loose enough to pour them out.

So what’s my point?

We all have “tools” that work well for us. Other people can recommend what works best for them, or tell us about the latest trends and newest products to make life easier and our writing better. What they say may be true for them, and possibly could help us. But sometimes what’s best for one person isn’t the best for everyone. Change isn’t always for the better, and learning to discern the difference between what we are doing wrong and what works best for us is crucial.

Never change what you are doing simply because someone else tells you there’s a better way. Don’t cave in to pressure from people who see things differently. Even when there appears to be a logical reason to make the change, trust your feelings. At the very least, hang on to that old can opener until you’re sure the new one is right for you.

See full size image


Whose advice do you listen to regarding your writing? How likely are you to make changes in a manuscript based on someone else’s opinion? Do you worry about being old-fashioned, inflexible, or a “hoarder?” What type of can opener works best for you?

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