What is your Character’s Superpower?

boy child clouds kid

Have you ever noticed how truly memorable characters have a larger than life quality that makes them stand out from everyone around them? I’m talking about their superpowers. A superpower doesn’t have to refer to the ability to fly through the air or bend a steel beam in half (although if your MC can do that, that’s pretty cool!) A superpower can be something much less dramatic, yet still pack the same emotional punch. In all my novels, each one of my protagonists has a distinct personality trait that allows her to overcome the odds and enjoy a satisfying resolution to her story. Notably, the superpower is, often times, the exact same trait that makes her life difficult.

Brynlei, the nature-loving, horse riding protagonist of my Dark Horse series provides a perfect example. We learn early on that she is Highly Sensitive Person, meaning she processes stimuli from the world around her more intensely. She shies away from bright lights, cowers at loud noises, and smells every ingredient baked into her mother’s lemon cookies. At times, she doesn’t fit in with other girls her age. Her sensitivity isn’t all bad, though. It also provides her an advantageous connection to the horses she rides, lets her sense dishonest people, and even interact with the spirits of the dead. In the end, it is Brynlei’s sensitivity to the world around her that enables her to solve the mysteries she encounters each summer while attending Foxwoode Riding Academy.

Another example comes from Mara, the MC of my yet-unpublished suspense novel, Top Producer. Her superpower is her street smarts. Her street smarts got her out of her dead end consulting job and into her dream position as the assistant to one of Chicago’s top real estate agents. But it isn’t long before she realizes her mentor is a criminal and a murderer. Not surprisingly, it is Mara’s street smarts that also allow her to escape the invisible prison her rival has built around her.

One more example comes from Jane, the snarky high school chemistry teacher from my recently completed psychological suspense manuscript. Like many of us, Jane is concerned about the future of planet. Teaching is her superpower. She believes the material she teaches her students might one day spark them to clean up the plastic in the ocean, invent a method to combat global warming, or clone the last-surviving rhino.  Meanwhile, it is also her position as a high school teacher that gets her caught up in the murder of the new teacher in the classroom next door.

Characters in my novels have other superpowers–humor, loyalty, determination. This

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My rescue dog, Milo.

exercise got me thinking…Do I have a superpower? I can tell you it’s definitely NOT cooking, making small talk, or volunteering for elementary school field trips. Mine is probably something closer to storytelling and empathy (especially for animals.) And, yes, those “superpowers” get me into trouble quite often, as evidenced by my hours spent on unpaid writing at the expense of most other things and my need to rescue cute puppy dogs.

What about your characters? What about you? Please share your superpowers!

Are Tiny Houses Creepy?

Tiny House Plaid Zebra

With the final book in my YA mystery series published and my latest psychological suspense manuscript sent off to my agent (hooray!), I’ve begun major revisions on another suspense manuscript I wrote last year. The story is partially set in a tiny house in northern Michigan. My latest round of revisions comes after receiving feedback from a few editors who thought the twists and turns at the end of the story weren’t “big” enough. I’m working on fixing that. They had positive feedback, too, and I was struck by one observation made by more than one editor–the tiny house made for a creepy setting.

While I was happy to hear the setting unnerved them (the novel involves an older widow who begins to believe her new best friend in the tiny house might be a murderer.) Still, I’d never thought of tiny houses as being inherently creepy. Admittedly, my knowledge of tiny houses comes mostly from watching episodes of Tiny House Nation on the FYI network. I originally placed the character in the tiny house to emphasize her free spirit, nomadic lifestyle, and belief in minimalist living.

The more I think about it, however, those editors might have been right about the creepiness factor. It’s something I’m going to play up in the next draft of my manuscript. For example, why would the young woman choose to live in a house on wheels? Maybe to make a quick getaway? Is she running from someone or something? And then there are all those secret compartments–drawers hidden in the sides of staircases, tables that fold out from the wall, storage bins built underneath the bed. What’s she hiding? At one point, her friend even observes, “My, you have plenty of hiding places. Don’t you?” And, in case you’re wondering…Yes. She is hiding something.

Aside from the abundance of hiding places, there’s also the sheer claustrophobia that might come with living inside a 200 square-foot space. I’m all for paring down my material possessions, but I’m not sure I could live in a house smaller than my modest-sized living room. There’s literally nowhere to run or hide.

Finally, the location where the tiny house is parked comes into play. In my story, it’s parked on field next door to a lonely widow’s farmhouse. The farmhouse is located on a ten-acre parcel of land “out in the boonies,” as the widow describes it. Maybe the house would have different vibe if it were parked in town next to a park? Or overlooking the ocean? I placed it in a remote location purposefully, to add a sense of foreboding to the story.

While I plan give an even more mysterious vibe to the tiny house in my story, my underlying view of tiny houses probably won’t change. Tiny houses are cool! Okay, maybe once in a while they can be creepy. What do you think?

Writing through the Snow Days

photography of fir trees covered in snow

It has been just over thirty days since I started my own personal NaNoWriMo. The goal was to write 50,000 in thirty days. I know at least one of you is dying to know….did I do it? Before I share my results, I’d like to give a piece of advice for any writers who live in Michigan and have school-aged children:  Never attempt to write 50,000 words during the month of January! My kids had nine snow days over the last three weeks. NINE! Plus, three additional holiday break days. By the ninth snow day, I was practically begging for someone to shoot me.

Okay, seriously now. I love my kids. They are mostly well-behaved, and it wasn’t that bad. Despite the *minor* interruption in my writing schedule, I did manage to write 38,457 words. I wrote another 2,000 words today (they had school!), so I’m now past the 40,000 mark. My crappy first draft seems within grasp. Then the real fun of revising and expanding on certain themes, plot points and character backstories will begin.

ChemistryIn addition to typing words, I’ve also been doing a lot of research. My new novel-in-progress involves a murdered high school teacher, and one of the main characters is a high school chemistry teacher. I remember next to nothing from high school chemistry, so I’ve been spending more than a little time researching chemistry projects and everyday chemical reactions. Does anyone remember a favorite chemistry experiment from your high school days? Tell me! Who knows? I might incorporate it into my story…

Until next time, here’s to writing, reading, clear roads and unexpected chemical reactions:)

 

 

Revise, Revise, and Revise (Again!)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about my current works-in-progress. Maybe that’s because I was hoping to wait long enough to share some good news. While I’ve spent the last ten months diligently writing my newest manuscript, a psychological thriller entitled, THE SPACE BETWEEN, my agent has been submitting TOP PRODUCER (my completed suspense novel) to the larger publishing houses. We’ve spent weeks patiently waiting and receiving bits and pieces of feedback–some positive, some negative, but so far no “takers.”

After three months, my agent and I had to decide what the next move would be. Keep submitting? Or…revise based on the feedback I’ve received from the editors who’ve read TOP PRODUCER.

A part of me wanted to keep submitting, hoping we just hadn’t found that one person who could connect with the characters and see the brilliance of my writing:) Admittedly, this desire may have been spurred by the harrowing thought of digging back into a manuscript I thought I’d already completed. Something deep inside me knew what I had to do. Revise. Again.

chalkboard_quotes_twainIt might be important to note that I’ve already rewritten Top Producer three times. Three times! But after having a year away from it and armed with feedback from some major editors, I felt a renewed burst of determination and inspiration to make it better.

With the two comments I received from multiple editors–1) I wished the main character was a woman, and 2) the pacing in the first half of the book is too slow, I’ve begun digging back in. Some friends have joked that my revision is as simple as doing a find and replace of “he” to “she.” Oh, how I wish that was the case! As it turns out, changing my leading man to a leading lady alters not only the character, but major plot points of my book. I’d become attached to my main man, so killing him off was a little bit painful. Surprisingly, I’m beginning to love my new main character (her name is Mara) even more. She’s insecure, but determined. She does some dishonest things, but for honorable reasons. She wants to shed a few pounds, but she loves chocolate and beer. You get the picture.

Secondly, going back over my manuscript after a year away from it has been an enlightening experience. There are so many places where I’ve been able to enhance the description, cut out unnecessary back story (thus increasing the pacing), and create more likeable, well-rounded characters. I’ve even been able to add a few scenes to up the stakes and make the reader realize early on that there is something very wrong with Mara’s new “dream” job with this successful Chicago realtor.

As for my more recent manuscript, THE SPACE BETWEEN, I’m almost finished with my first round of revisions and am hoping it will go out on submission soon. I’ll keep on revising TOP PRODUCER while we wait. Oh, the joys of writing and publishing! But as they say, “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” I’m trying to remain hopeful that “luck” will find me soon.

How is your work-in-progress going? I’d love to hear your revision success stories!

#NaNoWriMo is Almost Here!

Shield-Nano-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiResIs it possible to write a novel in a month? That’s 50,000 words in thirty days. It’s an intimidating goal, but also one that makes my heart pound faster, as glimpses of soon-to-be-created characters and plot twists dance in my head. For the last few weeks I’ve been gearing up for the challenge of National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo, for short). It’s a test I’ve participated in three times before–each time leading (eventually) to the completion of a full-length novel.

As a goal-oriented person, NaNoWriMo is exactly what I need to get myself in a chair and spewing out words from my keyboard. Most writers agree that the first draft is the tallest hurdle when writing a novel. NaNoWriMo forces me to produce the words, and not worry about whether they’re perfect the first time–they won’t be! The months following the whirlwind thirty-day challenge will provide plenty of time for revisions, but at least there will be something to work with.

Another reason I’m a big believer in NaNoWriMo is because it’s worked for me in the past. To be completely honest, I’ve fallen short of reaching my 50,000 word goal in 30 days every time. Last time, I ended up with 27,530 words. BUT…of the three novels I began during NaNoWriMo, two are now published with a small press in Minnesota, and the third is sitting with a literary agent in New York, looking for a bigger home. I’m hooked! pearson-creative-writing

So, how does one prep for NaNoWriMo? I’ve learned from past experience that I’m a “planner” not a “panster”–meaning I need a plan before I start writing, in contrast to some writers who write by the seat of their pants. (How do they do that?) This year, I have a rough outline completed, as well as character sketches of the main characters. Additionally, I’ve done some preemptive research into some unfamiliar subject matters featured in my new book. Finally, I’ve logged into my NaNoWriMo account and “created” my new novel so that once November 1st arrives, I can track my daily word count. My goal will be to write at least 1,785 words per day–that’s based on 50,000 words in 28 days. I subtracted a day for Thanksgiving and a couple of weekend days when I know I won’t get any writing accomplished.

Another way I prepare is by finding writing “buddies” on NaNoWriMo.org. That way, we can cheer for each other and even engage in some friendly competition. I’m always looking for new writing buddies, so please friend me if you are doing NaNoWriMo this year (username LWolfeWrites). I’d love to connect! You can use NaNoWriMo to find local writers in your geographic area by selecting your “home region” on the website. I can’t believe all of the events that are happening at my local library.

I probably won’t be writing any blog posts in the month of November–for obvious reasons–but I will check in to share my results after NaNoWriMo is over. Good luck and happy writing!

The Surprise Benefits of Journaling

quotes-writing-virginia-woolf-600x411I organized my thoughts on journaling a few weeks ago for a guest post on another blog. Here is a revised version of that post…

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On my recent birthday, my seven year- old daughter handed me a few tattered horse stickers, a purple pencil, and a blank notebook that she’d salvaged from her bottom desk drawer. I must have given her a confused look because she pointed to the notebook and told me it was for me to practice my writing. How cute! I thought as I hugged her and thanked her for the thoughtful present. It wasn’t until later that I realized what a powerful gift she had actually given me.

I kept that notebook next to my bed where it lay untouched for several days. Before falling asleep one night, I decided to open it and give journaling a try. At first, writing down my thoughts felt awkward and strange. Why did I need to write a note to myself about what I’d already experienced? What if someone read this? Why was my handwriting so horrible? By the third entry my handwriting was still illegible, but the words started flowing easier. Now, two months—and dozens of pages—later, I’m hooked on journaling. I’ve outlined some ways journaling can help writers below:

  1. Journaling sparks creativity – Stream of consciousness writing—or writing without thinking—brings forth thoughts you didn’t know you had. Journaling has no rules! There’s something freeing about filling a blank page with ramblings meant only for yourself. A journal allows you to explore crazy ideas and exercise your expressive muscles without the worry of what others will think.
  2. Journaling eases stress – Had a horrible day? There’s little worse for your health than keeping your emotions bottled up inside. Writing it down on paper can somehow contain the situation and make it seem manageable. You can even take it one step further and write a happy ending to your sad story. Now that’s my kind of plot twist!
  3. Journaling eliminates writer’s block —Journaling documents snapshots of your life which may eventually become segments of your novel. Drawing a blank? Look out the window and describe the weather. Describe the room you’re sitting in. Write a letter to a friend you haven’t spoken to in years. Describe what you ate for lunch yesterday. You get the picture. The topics of journal entries don’t have to be life-changing. Revisit these seemingly mundane journal entries when you’ve reached a tough spot in your novel and see how they inspire you.
  4. Journaling transforms your emotions into words – When drama does occur in your life be sure to record your feelings while they’re fresh. Journaling preserves the sensations you experienced during times of intense emotions. Chances are good that the characters in your novel will experience similar periods of love, hate, despair, elation, anger, contentment, etc. Pull details from your journal to bring truth and authenticity to your writing.
  5. Journaling makes you more likely to achieve your goals – There is something about the written word that holds people accountable. Writing down a goal may prompt you to outline specific mini-steps for achieving that goal. The words may cause you to visualize and feel your own success. Make sure to take time to write down—and occasionally revisit—your goals while journaling.

As it turns out, my seven year-old daughter somehow knew  that a blank notebook sitting at the bottom of her desk drawer was just what I needed to jolt me out of my writing slump. Journaling has benefited me in all of the above ways and I’m happy to have rediscovered this simple writing tool. Do you have a birthday approaching? Perhaps you should ask for a journal!

 

 

The Emotional Stages of Editing

heart-touching-feelingsRecently, I’ve been working with a copy editor to put the finishing touches on my YA mystery, BARN SHADOWS (Dark Horse, Book Two). Our mission:  to identify and correct all typos, grammatical errors, inconsistencies, and overused words/phrases in my novel. Thankfully, we’ve almost reached the end of this back-and-forth editing process which has been successful (yeah!), but also a roller coaster ride of emotions. Because I experienced a similar set of emotions when editing my first novel, I’ve outlined my own Emotional Stages of Editing below in order to help other writers going through this harrowing ordeal–or at least to make them laugh.

Emotional Stages of Editing:

  1. Fear–Your publisher notifies you that the copy editor has your manuscript. She’s probably reading it right now. Will she like it? Will she hate it? Will she understand your jokes? You break out in a cold sweat and lie down in the fetal position while repeating positive phrases in your head.
  2. Anger–A few days later, you click open the Word doc entitled, First Round Edits, expecting to see a few extra commas and comment proclaiming “WELL DONE! BEST BOOK I’VE READ ALL YEAR!” but what you see instead is a blur of red typing and strikethroughs. As your eyes focus on the specifics, the heat rises to your face and your hands shake. Why has the word “that” been added to the third sentence of the opening paragraph? Why have those two short sentences been combined into one long run-on sentence? Where is the joke about the baby llama who works at the cheese factory? This editor is trying to ruin your book! You’re sure of it!
  3. Despair–After exchanging a livid email voicing your displeasure with the suggested changes, the editor sends you a point-by-point outline of why she made each change. You slump into your chair and suck in your breath as you realize she was right–an em dash does work better than a comma in that sentence, and the word “that” is sometimes grammatically necessary. How could you have made so many mistakes? Your book must be horrible. Once again you curl up in the fetal position, only this time no positive thoughts pop their way into your head.
  4. Determination–After several martinis and a good night’s sleep, you open your “motivational phrases” Pinterest Board and realize that no mountain is too tall to climb and everything worthwhile is worth fighting for. You determine to get through these edits, one by one, word by word, sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter. You sit down at your computer and start re-reading your book for the 803rd time.
  5. Hope–The editor looks through your responses and sends you round two edits. Hey! There are only a few comments this time. And she added that joke back in–the one about the baby llama and the cheese factory! She probably realized how funny it was the second time she read it. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
  6. Joy–All edits have been approved by both parties. The work is done! You jump up from your chair and wish you had a co-worker to high-five. Your dog will have to do. Soon your publisher will present you with the most dazzling cover ever created. Oh, the joy of all this hard work coming together! Editing isn’t so bad after all…o-book-wrapped-gift-facebook