Author of the Allies and Enemies series.

Tag: fiction writing

Don’t Blow Your Blurb

blurbYou’ve done all the heavy lifting (as in writing an 80,000 word novel). You’ve polished the prose, checked all your commas, formatted the ebook and even your roommate’s cat loves the cover art. For all intents and purposes, your ebook is ready to go.

But wait! You’ve got to write your book’s description for the Amazon listing. For some hellish reason, you’re expected to summarize your blood, sweat and tears into a concise, compelling paragraph that will convince would-be readers to buy your book. It’s your sales pitch. It’s all come down to this. This is the reader’s introduction to your work of art and it’s all up to this tiny little paragraph (or two). It’s probably the most important thing you’re going to write when it comes to your book. It hardly seems fair, does it?

How do you squeeze your book into a synopsis that sings? (Bear in mind, I’m speaking with writing book blurbs or short synopsis for fiction books.)

Here’s a handy formula to help make that blurb:

  1. Start with the situation. Describe it simply.
  2. Throw in a “but” (or a “however” or an “until”) Basically anything that implies that things are going along swimmingly until something throws a wrench into the works. This something creates a crisis or a crunch point.
  3. Introduce a means that offers hope to overcome the crisis. This should be an enticement to the reader.
  4. Consider the tone of the story. Is it meant to be humor? Horror? Dark dystopia? This is your chance to that flavor.

Here’s an example of a very familiar story:

The tyrannical Galactic Empire, under the command of the bloodthirsty Darth Vader, captures the beautiful and brave Princess Leia, leader of the Rebel Alliance. Thrust into the path of destiny, wide-eyed farm boy, Luke Skywalker joins forces with an enigmatic Jedi Knight to rescue the princess with the help of Han Solo, a dashing starship captain. Can the unlikely trio save the princess, rebellion and the galaxy from the Empire?

The irrepressible and talented Rachel Aaron (Bach) wrote the following post about constructing a worthwhile blurb. You should check it out here. (http://thisblogisaploy.blogspot.com/search?q=blurbs)

So, fellow indie authors, how do you tackle this daunting task? Do you have a method to this?

Readers, how does the book description affect your decision to buy an ebook? I’d love to hear from you.


Writing with ADD: the Pomodoro Technique


Writing with ADD: the Pomodoro Technique

Like many folks, it wasn’t until adulthood that I was diagnosed as an adult with ADD. With this discovery, a great many mysteries about my childhood (especially high school) were suddenly resolved. It explained my ability to “hyperfocus” on certain projects, becoming completely absorbed to the point of obsession while my attention would drift about erratically when it came to day-to-day events.

To this end, I believe it’s why it took me nearly 10 years to finish my first book. It’s why I can recall verbatim all the dialogue from movies or TV shows (that I like) after one viewing, or recite an article I read while in sixth grade about a tribe on Borneo. (They eat a soup made from soaking bird’s nests.) Those things landed in my “hyperfocus” window. (Not always exceptionally useful information, I admit.)

By the time I’d learned about my ADD, I’d already had a lot of “work arounds” for life in general. I used lists and “rituals” for daily living to make constant distraction easier to combat.

This past month while recovering from a workplace-related injury, I had a lot of time on my hands to write. However, I wasn’t getting it done. I’d write a few paragraphs and then disappear down some rabbit hole, only to re-emerge hours later wondering where the day went.

I discovered a method to help me train my focus on writing called the Pomodoro Technique. I first saw it referenced in one of the many, many ebooks I’ve purchased about increasing writing speed. I can write quickly—that’s not the problem. My problem was actual “butt in the chair” time. It’s SO easy for me to leave my desk to get a coffee only to end up wandering around my home as I ping from distraction to distraction.

Honestly, I was not avoiding the act of writing. I’d was dying to sit down and tell a story, but my brain (or rather my attention span) had a vastly different agenda.

The Pomodoro Technique is pretty easy. The name just sounds fancy (and possibly expensive). As it turns out—it’s Italian for “tomato”. This is because the person that thought it up had a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato and was Italian. Go figure.

It works like this: (*disclaimer: this is my version of how it works)

  1. Set your timer for 20 minutes (For me, it’s 23 minutes. That’s about as far as I can park my attention.)
  2. For those 20(ish) minutes, you sit in your chair and write.
  3. The timer goes off and you get a 5 to 7-minute That’s when you go grab a coffee, do sit ups or chase the dogs around the kitchen table.
  4. When the break is up, you do another 20-minute interval of writing.
  5. Rinse. Repeat.
  6. At the end of four of these 20-minute sessions, you can schedule a larger break (like 10 to 20 minutes).

The goal of this method is to train yourself to be productive in a shorter span of time and is meant to promote “mental agility” through frequent breaks.

How did it work for me? Pretty well, for the most part. I had some two and three thousand word days there. The result was the final draft in the third book in my Allies and Enemies series. I felt that I had better focus because I could tell myself that whatever distracting thought that bubbled up in the middle of my writing stent (How many seasons of Supernatural have there been anyway? Is house paint flammable? Did I order more contact lenses?) could wait until break time. It was exhausting because I did it for four days straight, which I might not repeat unless I’m under a tight deadline.

Even if you don’t have an actual diagnosis of ADD, the technique might be helpful if you’re trying to make the most of the writing time that you have. I used a customizable app called “30/30” that I found in the Apple store [here]. It’s pretty nifty. If you’re interested, you can learn more about the Pomodoro Technique [here].

(And, in case you’re wondering, I used the technique to finish this blog entry.)


What’s in a Name? (4 Ways to Create Character Names)

Fihello-645x429ction writers have a unique problem when compared to writers of non-fiction: names. If you’re writing a biography of someone’s life, the name game or what to call your character (i.e. the subject of the biography) is pretty much a done deal. But as a science fiction author, I have often found myself pondering the problem of what to call a character. If you’re in the same boat, your character’s names don’t always jump out at you. You know what they’re all about and what purpose they serve in your story, but you don’t know if they’re a Tom, Dick or Henrietta. Names, although on the surface may seem arbitrary, tend to bring with them emotional meaning and can suggest a history or even the appearance of the person. They’re very powerful things.

For example, George Lucas had at one time settled on the name Luke Starkiller for the protagonist we all came to know as Luke Skywalker. You have to agree, the former name has a definite edginess to it when compared to the fluffier-sounding “Skywalker”.

Or consider the sillier example of the episode of the Simpsons when Homer, inspired by a hairdryer brand, elected to change his name to “Max Power”. The end result: Homer was treated differently by others because of what the name implied.

Names can imply age, economic status, ethnic origin, race, sex, religion—they’re powerful tools to convey a snapshot about your character very quickly.

There are five great sources to search out your next character name if you’re stumped to find a good one:

  1. http://fantasynamegenerators.com/ This site is like quicksand, but in a good way on this random name generator. It’s enormous with tons of content for not just people, aliens or creatures, but locations, weapons. And it’s a great source for gamers.
  2. http://www.behindthename.com/ : goes a little bit further to explain how the name came about. I’m a geek for this kind of stuff.
  3. http://www.babynames.com/ The #1 site for names. Let’s you dig through the alphabet and search by country of origin as well.
  4. Latin Dictionary: (I know, weird, right?) I have an old fashioned hard cover Latin dictionary from my pre-med days. As I tend to write science fiction, I have a lot of leeway in terms of what to name a person or an alien race. I tend to go for the meaning of a name first and build the name “backwards”. For instance, in Allies and Enemies, the protagonist, Jonvenlish Veradin. The surname, Veradin is a name I derived from the latin root “veritas” meaning truth. I named Sergetnt Pollus Valen from the latin root, valeo, meaning “strong”.

And now a cautionary tale. There is such a thing as being so enamored with a name, you forget how it would look to a reader. I once named a character in such a way that when coupled with her surname it made her sound like a suntan product. Not good.

Have fun with your next character naming adventure!

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