Christmas Bliss, or Why the Nook Color is an Awesome E-Reader

Dec 28, 2010

For Christmas, I asked for about twelve different books on my TBR list. On Christmas morning, I got a gift card to Barnes and Noble.

Oh, and this.
I didn't ask for a Nook, let alone a Nook Color. But I've been talking my husband's ear off about e-readers for the last six months, and I guess he figured I'd like it. And boy, do I.

Here's what I love about it:

1. Not only have I narrowed down my TBR list without even leaving my house, but I have loads of free classics on it too from Project Gutenberg.
2. I have a bunch of free children's books on it, too, for my son. I love that the Nook color shows all the pictures.
3. I can upload my own pictures, songs, and videos. Not that I plan on using it for that much, but it'll be nice to keep my son entertained.
4. I can upload my own Word documents and PDF files, so I can read my crit group submissions-- and my own writing-- on it when I'm on the go.
5. I can go anywhere on the internet as long as I'm connected to the WiFi.
6. I can highlight and make notes on any book I read.
7. The touch screen is awesome-- it's so easy to navigate.
8. I love that I can download samples from Barnes and Noble to decide if I want to buy the book-- just how I read the first few pages of a paper book in the store before I buy it.

Here's what I don't like as much:

1. I can't highlight or make notes on Word and PDF files, only on the ePub files.
2. I really like the e-ink format, and the Nook Color screen is LCD (although, this hasn't actually bothered me, and doesn't make it hard to read).
3. The battery life is only about 8 hours (not connected to WiFi), as opposed to an e-ink reader's several days.
4. Um...I can't think of anything else.

I was hesitant to get an e-reader because I love paper books so much. But so far, I'm loving it. Besides, paper books and e-books aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, I'm reading Jennifer Connelly's Revolution and loving it so much, I'm considering buying the paper version too.

So, my friends, how was your Christmas? Filled with books? Filled with fun? Filled with family? I hope it was lovely!

Awards, Fun Facts, and Merry Christmas

Dec 20, 2010

So I've been sitting on these awards for a while, and figured I should finally pass them on! Margo Kelly gave me the From Me to You award, and Alexia Chamberlynn gave me the Honest Scrap award. Thanks so much, ladies!

Here are a few random facts about me to go along with the awards:

1. I once hitchhiked in Africa in a truck full of guys. Not my smartest moment, but I ended up alive and with a few new friends.

2. I have double-jointed ankles-- I can actually flip my feet backwards so my heels are pointing forward.

3. In college, I took a road trip that involved spinning a bottle and traveling the direction it pointed. We had no destination, and just stopped at all the places that had signs like "Historic Rock Formation." There was also an orangutan involved. I never knew Idaho could be so cool.

4. My favorite Disney character is Eeyore, because I just want to give him a hug.

5. I got hit by a car in college as I roller-bladed to work. I was in the crosswalk and the person turning left wasn't watching, and...bam. I'd always thought it would be cool to ride in an ambulance. It's not.

And the awards go to (take your pick of either one!):

And lastly but not leastly, Merry Christmas, all you wonderful folks! I'll be off the blog until after the holiday, and I hope you all have as much joy as I'm anticipating.

How to Write Humor That's Actually Funny

Dec 15, 2010

There's a character in Devolutionaries that's given me trouble from the beginning. I love him-- he's goofy and funny and knows how to lighten dark situations. In some ways, he reminds me of my husband. But that makes him a tough character to write, because that goofy, joking person is not me.

It's not that I don't have a good sense of humor. I just have a different sense of humor than Lucas, my character. In my first draft, sometimes I had to write "[insert funny line here]" in place of Lucas's dialogue. My husband helped me make him funnier in subsequent drafts, and I also thought a lot about some notes I took in a class on being humorous from funny-man Howard Tayler. Here are a few tips from Howard (with a little Shallee-extrapolation) on writing humor that's actually funny.

1. There are five elements to being funny (He said six, but I apparently missed one. Sorry.):

Be recognizable- if the audience doesn't know what you're talking about, it's not funny. Be sure to introduce context early on.
Be clever- This can be a hard one, but it doesn't necessarily mean to come up with something brand new. Find a little twist on something old. Think about your audience's expectations, and bend them.
Be bizarre- Pull something out of your hat that doesn't just bend expectations, it completely takes your reader by surprise.
Be cruel- Just a little. Make your humor wry and just a bit biting.
Be cute- Or sweet, or silly, or goofy. Slapstick is still funny as long as it's not the only type of humor you rely on.

The key is to try to hit as many of those as you can-- even within the same joke. Layered humor has a much stronger effect on your reader.

2. Leverage the audience's imagination. Let them tell themselves the punchline-- the more you explain the joke, the less funny it is. This makes the audience find humor from inside themselves that you might not have even intended.

3. Context is the most important thing to humor. Introduce the context of a joke early on, so the audience knows what to expect. Lucas's very first line makes the reader realize he's a goof, so they know what's coming every time they see him.

4. Point of view can change the type of humor you use. Something can be funnier depending on whose head you’re in. If you have multiple viewpoint characters, you may want to tell a certain scene from one point of view to change the humorous effect it has. In Devs, Lucas isn't a witty character, or a sarcastic one. He's just a goofball. Some of his quips are genuinely funny, and some are silly-- but they're made funny by his goofy personality. In setting up his character and point of view, I can make even stupid things funny through him.

So, my friends, any tips to share on how you write humor? Or any tips on what you find humorous when you read? What are some of your favorite books or movies-- comedy or not-- that have humorous moments you can learn from? Please share!

Conquering the Fear of the First Draft

Dec 10, 2010

I finally got started on the actual writing of BaB yesterday. It took me a while to dredge up the courage, actually.

Yes, courage. Starting in on a new first draft terrified me. Why? Because I'm horribly afraid it's going to suck.

Newsflash to me: Of course it's going to suck. It's a first draft.

But I still don't have a clear idea of what my protag wants, or what my antag wants. My outline and character sketches are crap. I can't start writing until I figure all that out!

Second newsflash to me: Remember how you're a pantser and it took you 20,000 words to figure that out in Devolutionaries?

Oh. Right. Deep breath.

It's funny how I'm somehow expecting myself to write the first draft of BaB to be as good as Devs is after 3 drafts. I just try to keep reminding myself that it's okay if this draft sucks. It's supposed to suck. And when it does and I'm done with it, I get the joy of creating something awesome out of the first 70,000 words of sludge.

So, my friends, what scares the daylights out of you when you write? First drafts? Final drafts? Queries? Characters? Pacing? Please share!

Novel Planning Tools Even Pantsers Will Love

Dec 6, 2010

I've been buried in the planning stages of my new WIP this week, love it. Not the WIP (although I do love that), but the planning. I call myself a pantser, but I'm sort of a hybrid pantser-plotter. I have to have several things in place before I can start a draft (or get very far into it): basic character sketches, a basic plot outline, and a basic setting.

And I'm here to tell you, it can actually be fun! Even you die-hard pantsers out there would have fun with some of these tools:

Polyvore - Create a character's fashion. Honestly, I thought this was silly when I first heard about it. Then I tried it. Do you have any idea how much fashion can tell you about a person? You can design sets that include outfits, jewelry, shoes,'s awesome. Check out my protag Vaea's fashion sense. It's a little telling, no?
MyWebFace - My crit buddy Chersti put me onto this one. I always have a basic idea of what my characters look like, but it's hard finding pictures on Google that match (I even signed up for one of those matchmaking sites so I could browse pictures of people!). On this site, you can design your own character how you want them. It's not exact, and it is a cartoon, but it's pretty fun. Here's Vaea. [PLEASE NOTE: Since writing this, I've learned MyWebFace is infamous for attaching spyware/malware to the required download. I had to remove it and the associated bad content from my own computer, so I regret to say I no longer recommend this!]
And, on the character note, I use the personality color code and the Meyers-Briggs personality types to help me get some of my first basic ideas for who my characters are. They give a very good basis to start a more detailed character sketch.

Freemind - This is the plotting tool for pantsers (and plotters, too!). It's a mind map software that author Simon Haynes uses to plot his books. If you check out his post, you can even see the base mind map he uses over and over. I use this base for every story, because you can be as detailed or as sparse as you want. I've even included such incredible outline points like "more bad stuff happens." I am, after all, somewhat of a pantser. But even so, it helps to get a linear look at my storyline.

I haven't found anything cool for designing a setting out there, so if any of you know of any sweet map creation software or something, feel free to share in the comments! I'm a big fan of Google images to get some ideas for my settings.

And...the new WIP does actually have a title now! For the moment, it's being designated Black and Blue (BaB), and it's a YA sci fi. Woot! I love starting a new book.

So, my friends, any planning tools or tips to share? What's your progress on your own WIPs?

Create a Stronger Story-- Be Intentional About Viewpoint

Dec 2, 2010

One of the things that always gives me pause when I start a new book is viewpoint. I don't have a favorite, so it usually takes me a little bit to decide whether first or third person is the way to go.

Viewpoint is something that doesn't seem like it should be that important, right? It's just first or third, past or present, whatever floats your boat. Um...sorry. No. Viewpoint is the lens through which the reader sees your story. That makes it pretty darn important!

You should always be INTENTIONAL, not accidental with your viewpoint.

Here's a quick look at the differences between different viewpoints, and what the advantages and disadvantages are.

Third person - This viewpoint is good for when you can't tell the story through one narrator. I've used it before in stories where the reader needs to know things the main character just wouldn't know. It's also good for deeper characterization of more than one protagonist (or even antagonist).

Third person limited-- where you are telling the story strictly through one character's head at a time-- generally gives you a stronger story than third person omniscient (where you view everything from "above" the story). It's stronger because the reader is more closely connected to the character. Third person omniscient disconnects the reader from the characters, though if that's what you're going for, it might be a good choice.

First person - In this viewpoint, you have the ability to characterize one person really, really well. It creates a character your reader immediately identifies with. This viewpoint is popular in YA for just that reason. It doesn't lend itself as easily to viewpoint switches, however, and it can be limiting to tell things only from one person's head.

Tense - While past tense is the generally used form in literature, present tense is becoming popular (a la The Hunger Games). Be very careful if you choose present tense; it's difficult to manage. It gives the feeling of immediacy, but that can backfire if you don't keep your narrative flowing with your character's situation. I'm going to go out on a limb and say by and large, past tense should be your default unless you have a really good reason to write in present tense.

Viewpoint is an excellent way to ensure strong characterization. When you color EVERYTHING through your character's eyes-- whether in first, third, past, or present-- your reader gets to know the character. The way they look down the street can tell us mountains about them. Are they looking for a specific person? Are they studying the artsy window displays? Are they calculating the ratio of colored cars to black and white ones? Are they unconsciously judging the people walking past by their clothing?

So be conscious about your viewpoint-- when you pick it, and throughout your story. Polish that lens until the reader sees exactly what you want them to, and in the manner you want them to see it.

So, my friends, do you have a favorite viewpoint? Why? What makes you choose one over the other?

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