Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for Zero

Zero, that is how many letters I have left in the A to Z Challenge. WHOOPEE!!! I've done it, I've done it. YAY!!!

So to the guy who invented the number zero, thanks! Thanks for nothing!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Y is for YOU!

Yes, you. This post is for you, my dear followers.

I wanted to take a minute to thank all of you for following this blog. I love the interactions I've received and the friendships I've made. I treasure every comment that has been given. I appreciate each and every one of you.

Thank YOU!

X is for Professor X

For those who don't know, Professor X (real name: Charles Xavier) is the leader of the comic book gang of heroes called the X-Men. He may not be the most exciting member of the X-Men since he is confined to a wheelchair, unable to perform physical feats, and is the oldest member of the team, he makes up a lot for it with his mental capabilities.

I love Professor X because he goes where the action is, even though he may not be the root of that action. He seeks out people who are willing to do the right thing. He trains them to perform well. And then he sets them loose to save the world from the bad guys.

Professor X is the catalyst that holds everything together. His embodiment of goodness is expressed through his pupils. He can't physically do much, but he still means to leave the world a better place than when he found it. He inspires others to do good. He is like the Martin Luther King of the Marvel universe. And like MLK, I respect anybody who leads the good fight to bring goodness, love, and acceptance into the world.

W is for Write Through Writer's Block

Most writers end up with a case of writer's block at some point in their lives. I've got to admit, I've been hitting it more this month than I thought I would. I thought the A to Z challenge might help it but I think it is actually just making it worst.

One solution? Just write through it. Look, when you are done writing your story you are going to need to go back and make changes. But I find the most difficult process of writing is getting the words on the page in the first place.

So write even if you don't feel you are writing as well as you should. It might make for some extra cleaning up in the long run, but it is better than going weeks or months on end with nothing to show for it.

This is just one solution, and there are many others. Do you have any suggestions for getting over writer's block?

V is for Victory

Do stories need to have a happy ending? Do they need to end in a victory for your hero?

Growing up, I always thought so. Probably because as kids we read stories that always end in an ideal ending. "And they lived happily ever after." That was what we, as kids, wanted to read. It was just as important as reading "The End."

But as we matured readers eventually found out that life doesn't not always end up happily ever after. In fact, no lives are perfect. Everybody has their problems in life and that is where the concept of theme comes in.

Themes deal with these problems. And sometimes these themes do not lead to a happy ending. For instance, George Orwell's vision of his future in 1984 is terrifying. There are powerful themes of censorship, surveillance, and limitless government control that makes this a fascinating story. Does it end in a happy ending? Does Winston emerge victorious? Not at all. But it is still one of the best and powerful writings. Ever.

Don't get me wrong, a good theme does not have to end up without a victory. Look at Harry Potter. That has very strong themes but ultimately it does have a happy ending despite the fact that a lot of sad sacrifices are made in order to get there.

I seem to differ from the common consensus of the Inheritance Cycle (aka Eragon). A lot of people were upset that it did not end with a happy ending. My brother being one of them and we have had much discussion and debate regarding this subject. He hated the ending while I loved it. Could Paolini done anything to make us both happy? To have a happy ending while sticking true to the themes and characters of the book?

Well, that is my opinion. What is yours? How important is it to have a happy ending? Does a good story  need to end with a perfect victory and a "happily ever after"?

U is for Unexpected

The best stories are the ones that are not predictable. The stories I love are the ones that have events or endings that are unexpected. I recently read a series that had me at the edge of my seat with anticipation of what would happen next. I couldn't see a thing coming. If you are interested, it was the Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness.

I wish more books were written like this; it keeps things exciting. It makes it so you don't want to put the book down in fear of missing something. It shocks the mind to attention. It makes the reader want to read in great detail in hopes of catching what happens next.

Keep your stories unpredictable and you will find a more loyal readership and a more fascinating story.

T is for Twitter

Today, for the A to Z Challenge, I'm going to talk about Twitter.

I was talking to somebody about social media when I pointed out that I am more active on Twitter than I am on Facebook. They were quite surprised to hear that.

Now, don't get me wrong, I enjoy Facebook. I like being able to keep up with family and friends on there.  But there are a few things I enjoy about Twitter over Facebook.

I do like the 140 character limit. The brevity makes visiting my friends on Twitter a lot faster. I find I can go through several posts in the time I often spend on one in Facebook. But I find it also makes me a better writer. I have a terrible habit of writing too much. Most of my writings (stories, emails, blogs, tweets, and more) usually need to be whittled down immensely before being sent or shared. In the spirit of "less is more", I find the less I write the better my writing turns out to be.

I also love Twitter because of its timeliness as well. Today visiting Twitter is often like checking the newspaper a few decades ago. But the news is so much more instant. I often get find out about new around the world on Twitter long before it makes the news sites.

As a writer, I think you are really missing out if you are not active on Twitter. Even if you don't read what is happening on Twitter, it is a great way to get news of what you are doing to your readers and potential readers. In fact, when it comes to writing, I rarely share anything on Facebook. I send it all out on Twitter, thus the reason I said I am more active on Twitter.

If you don't follow me on Twitter, I invite you to join me at @jimduckett.

Monday, April 23, 2012

S is for Self-Publishing and Short Stories

This post I wish to talk about self-publishing, or going indie (independent). I honestly don't have much to say on this topic as I'm not an expert since I have not self-published. But in today's market, self-publishing has become a more viable option.

So let me tell you something I've been recently planning. Not long ago I read a blog post on why we should all be writing short fiction by Anne R. Allen. And it actually got me thinking about my old love for writing short stories.  I would like to get back into that. I've got a goal to write a short story of publishable quality by the end of the year. No idea what will happen to it, whether it goes into a short story collection like The Intergalactic Medicine Show, self-publish it on Amazon, submitted to a contest, or possibly nothing at all.

As for novels, I've promised myself that I'm not going to rush out and self-publish the first book I write. I've heard a lot of times that ones writing, with few exceptions, does not get good until you get a few "practice novels" out of the way. I'm okay with that. After all, Brandon Sanderson wrote a dozen books before publishing Elantris. I don't expect my first few novels to get published, though if they do I won't complain. However, if it is not publishable I don't want to put it out there for others to waste their time on it.

So while going indie is viable, I'm going to explore the traditional route for as long as I can before I succumb to the temptation. Well, it's what I think now anyways, the market could change even more by that point.

R is for Research

Sorry it took a little bit to post past the letter Q. I may have (unintentionally) made you think that I had just up and quit anyways, despite me saying that I didn't plan to. Not so. Fridays and Saturdays get really busy for me and I've been using Sundays to catch up, instead of taking it off like I'm supposed to for the A to Z Challenge.


Letter R is for research!

Research is very important when writing. Doing your research can really make a difference in how people accept your work. If you fail to do research, most people will see that you are "faking it" and it can pull them right out of the story. This is bad! You want people into the story, forgetting they are even reading. If you remind them they are reading by making them think, "Woa, the author really messed up here," then you are not going to have as successful a story. You risk not getting those coveted reviews that curse you for keeping them up all night because they could not put the book down.

Some things need to be researched more than others. If you have a character getting excited because he or she got a new computer, it might not be a bad idea to hit some tech sites and see what kind of things excite people about new computers. It doesn't need to take a lot of research if it is just a part of a small scene in your story.

However, if the computer is central to the story and you don't know much about computers, make sure you start to become an expert. If you have a kid who uses his computer to hack into the CIA, you had better become a bit of an expert on hacking, tracing, getting around passwords, encryption, proxy servers, and more.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for Quitting

I've got to be honest, turning out a blog every day has turned out to be more time consuming than I had imagined. If I could go back I would probably have not done the A to Z Challenge. I have appreciated the comments that have come in and the new people I have interfaced with. I really have. You have no idea what each comment I receive means to me.

My post on priorities yesterday got me thinking about the time I have put towards this blog and how it has pulled me away from the writing I want to do. This little blogging adventure is going to teach me to think a little more before I start taking on new things.

I'm not quitting, though I'd be lying if I said it hadn't crossed my mind. I'm going to see this challenge through. I do see the opportunity for growth and I hope to be able to connect with more people. And I've made it this far, I'd only be kicking myself if I threw in the towel this late in the game. And it isn't that it has been an unpleasant experience, only a time-consuming one.

Sorry that this post is a bit of a downer, but I just wanted to blog what I'm feeling today. I'm going to keep this brief as I've promised a friend I would help out with something. Nice thing is that it is writing related, so I think it is for a good cause.

And, really, the letter Q? Somebody needs to call up that letter and tell it to get a real job!!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for Prioritizing

Everybody has a lot on their plate. There is paying the bills, supporting your family, fulfilling civic duties, and everything else that crops up. It's life. It is a problem for almost everybody. Time is a rare and precious commodity.

Last May, when I began this blog, I had wrote about some of the things I decided to sacrifice in order to concentrate on writing. They included online gaming (still resisting), several television programs (still doing well), and even some athletic training (I don't completely neglect this, thank goodness).
Amazingly, this has not freed up a ton of time. In the end, I have found that it isn't about finding time, it is about making time. For instance, I find I am spending a lot of time critiquing, something I wasn't doing a year ago.

If you don't make time, you will find your schedule filling up faster than you can imagine. Other priorities will appear if you don't make the time. Schedule it into your day. Let your family know that a certain time is for your writing, just like it is your job. The nice thing about dropping some of the commitments like I listed above is that it gives you more options to make that time you need. So foregoing some of those items has still been a benefit.

This goes for any goals you may have. Time is often the largest obstacle in most goals. For instance, I have a friend who got into cycling after his knees wouldn't let him run anymore. He puts in a LOT of hours burning rubber all over Southern Utah, and often entering races beyond that. He is in his 50's but he has the fitness of a 30 year old. One of his secrets is that he makes time. When he puts something on his calendar he follows through with it, whether it be a meeting, a dentist appointment, or riding his bike. He, as he says, "gets it done." He rarely -- if ever -- misses a bike ride, and the results speak for themselves.

If you have a goal, prioritize your time. Until you do, your goal will only remain an unfulfilled wish.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for Overcoming Obstacles

We all have them: obstacles!

As for our personal obstacles, I find it inspiring to look at what others had to overcome to reach their goals in life. When we find success in others, it can often motivate us to find success in ourself. Here are a couple of favorite videos in that regard.

Meet Nick Vujicic. He was born with no arms or legs and, while he has struggled to find a place in life, has come to find the happiness that he seeks. Best of all, he shares it with others:

And have you seen the Susan Boyle video? If not, check it out. Here is a similar -- and in my opinion better -- video from Koreas Got Talent. Try not to concentrate too much on the exemplary performance but on his story.

And finally, here are some people who have failed. You might have heard of some of them. ;)

We all have obstacles to our goals in life, just make sure you don't let excuses get in your way. The ones who succeed are those who face their obstacles and never give up. Like Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can or can't, you're right!"

If you are looking for another example, check out one of my favorite movies, Rudy, which is based on the true story of a young man with a dream but no way to get there. He decides he is going to find a way despite all obstacles. And there are a lot of obstacles in the way.

From a writing point of view, there is a quote out there that I wish I could attribute to somebody. But it goes: There is a word for a writer who doesn't give up... published.

Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for Nightingale by David Farland

A book review on Nightingale by David Farland

I can already tell this is the start of something great. Based on what he has written on the last page it appears he has three more books in mind for this series. I can't wait for more!
In this book we get to meet the hero, Bron Smith. David Farland fulfills this beautifully as I think this is one of the best introductions I've read to a character in a long time. Bron Smith is a troubled child due to his unfortunate luck in foster care, which makes him a hard and sometimes unloving character. Yet, we see many scenes of Bron acting unselfishly towards others and caring for those around him; you just can't help but care and root for him.

At the beginning Bron is sent to a new foster home in a new town, St. George, UT. Olivia, his new foster mom, seems to know more about who Bron really is more than he can imagine. Throughout the book is a discovery to find out who exactly Bron is and what he is capable of, as he appears to be far from ordinary and possessed of a rare power of possible good or destruction. Will he be able to control himself? Can he come to grips with who he really is?

The majority of this book takes place in the City I live in (something I didn't know when I picked this book up). This really fascinated me because David Farland nails the geography perfect, such as the driving directions from nearby cities to the Tuacahn High School and Amphitheater and how our Best Buy lies in proportion to the freeway. It was exciting to see everything be spot on. The only thing that drove me nuts was his description of the St. George Police Department primarily because I work there. I'll have to give him a pass for not knowing the layout of the inside or some of the procedures that occur there. I'm sure I'll be one of the few bothered by this.
This book is filled with action, conflict, and tension. If it isn't one thing, it is another. There were several times where I thought, "How on earth is Bron going to get out of this mess?" Yet David Farland does a masterful job of resolving the problems in a believable way. Not only that, but he gives us even more insight on the character of Bron Smith, making us cheer for him even more. The action is well-paced as Farland does allow a little bit of a breather now and then. And just as you start to get comfortable, BAM, he throws in another scene of action.

There are even romantic elements throughout the book and I think he does a convincing job of writing how teenagers interact with each other and members of the opposite sex. Bron is not the only point of view character as you will see him through the eyes of three women, two of them being teenage girls. If you like romance in books, this has it but doesn't take things so far that I'd feel uncomfortable having my teenager read it. Except for the violence, this book keeps things in a solid PG rating.

I've heard this described as "Twilight for boys." I think that is a pretty apt description. If contemporary fantasy is your thing, I would highly suggest giving this a shot. However, this is not just for boys. Girls will also enjoy it and might even like it more than Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Series.

That said, two others popular books came to mind as I read Nightingale: the Lorien Legacies/I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore and the Michael Vey Series by Richard Paul Evans. I've read them both and the plot elements share a lot of similarity. I think this is much better than I Am Number Four and I'd put it right on par with Michael Vey. So if you enjoyed either of these books, I can guarantee you'll enjoy this one just as well, if not more.
So, if you haven't figured it out yet, I really enjoyed this book and I can't wait for the sequel. Again, if you like contemporary fantasy then this should be right up your ally. This isn't the epic fantasy that David Farland is usually known for (see his Runelord Series) but I completely enjoyed this just as much.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

M is for Movies

Movies are one of my joys in life. My theater room is the room I've put the most time, effort, and money into so I can get the most out of it. I have neighbors who come over on a weekly basis to enjoy it as well. I should start charging admission...
I love movies as much as I enjoy reading books. I love the ability to get an entire story in roughly two hours, complete with special effects and loud noises. Notes: books have their advantages as well, I'm not saying movies are better.

Something interesting has happened lately. As I've studied the intricacies of story structure I'm noticing them a lot more in movies. It has given me a new thing to enjoy about movies as I try to find certain story structure elements. I wish I could watch movies with other writers so they'd understand what I mean when I turn to them and say, "Oh, look, the first plot turn."

This also makes it so I can watch nearly anything. The other day I went out of my comfort zone and watched "The Vow." I loved picking up on the plot turns, the midpoint, and other writerly things.
But there is a downside, too. I can also be critical in ways that other people can't. Again to The Vow. No spoilers here (I don't think) but the story starts with the inciting event and then goes into a series of flashbacks. And I'm sitting there thinking, "Ummm... that isn't how you start a story. Why didn't they show us what happened in the flashbacks first and THEN bring on the inciting event. That way we care for the characters more and we don't have to deal with flashbacks, which are usually a bad idea anyways. The author is getting into the story too late if the first fifteen minutes are all flashbacks!"

Overall, I love it! I refer to movies in a way my non-writing friends don't understand: research.

L is for LDS Story Makers and LTUE Writing Conferences

There are only two writing conferences I want to attend this year. Coincidently, both start with the letter L. I was about to pit them against each other cage-match style, but then I decided it was like trying to pick out your favorite child, which I hear you are not supposed to do. (Spoiler alert: I did give an edge to LDS Story Makers)

So, I'm going to focus on what I like about both of them.

1) They both offer excellent classes.

That's right, there seems to be something for everybody no matter which stage of writing you are in. LTUE had a few more classes on drawing, if that is your thing (which mine isn't). For both events, and the LDS Story Makers that is coming up, I've had to spend a lot of time trying to pick out classes.

Each session gives you several choices of classes to take. Not once have I looked at the choices and thought, "Hmmm... nothing here interests me." Instead I've had the opposite problem, which is trying to choose between two or three that would benefit me. With the upcoming Story Makers there is still one class where I can't decide which class to chose.

 Between the two I have over 16,000 words of notes. Of good, quality notes that I still refer to often.

 2) They both offer a great chance to network.

When I went to LDS Story Makers last May (my first writing conference) I only knew one person there, who I didn't get to see because she only showed up for one of the days and I think she even left early. Otherwise, I had to fend for myself.

While there I met a ton of people. A lot of them I now consider friends. I bumped into a group of people from Southern Utah (where I live) and I joined their writing group. Story Makers also have a group of online folks called Authors Incognito, which I joined. I went from having one writing friend to literally dozens.

I also got to rub shoulders with a lot of people I admire. I've been a long-time listener to The Writing Excuses podcast so one highlight was briefly hanging out with Dan Wells and Howard Taylor, who treated me as an equal (WOWZERS!!).

A few months ago, LTUE felt like a family reunion. I got to meet face-to-face all of these people I've got to know through Twitter, Authors Incognito, and Facebook (Story Makers has a Facebook page). Every class I was surrounded by people I know. And, amazingly enough, some of them even knew little ol' ME!!! What an honor it was for published and successful authors like Sarah Eden, Tyler Whitesides, David Farland/Wolverton, Tristi Pinkston and James Owen to know who I am. On top of that, I made even more friends at LTUE.

Side note: I love the writing community, they are such a great bunch of people. LDS Story Makers is only three weeks away where I look forward to another get-together with all my friends and to making even more new friends.

3 ) They both offer excellent Instructors.

These are not people just pulled off the street. These are established writers who know what they are talking about.

Where else can you take classes from people like Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Taylor, Mary Robinette Kowal (all four hosts of Writing Excuses), editor and author extraordinaire Tristi Pinkston, Sarah Eden (who I think is the funniest person alive), David Farland (who I think has one of the greatest pulses on the writing industry), Traci Abramson, Jeff Scott Savage, the inspiring James Owen, action writer Larry Correia, dystopian writer Robison Wells, James Dashner, MG Fantasy writer Brandon Mull, story architect Larry Brooks, and more!?! (Sorry to anybody I missed, or didn't attend)

And these aren't lectures. Most of them are open to questions, stick around after class to answer even more questions, and stick around the conference for, yet, even more questions. If you put yourself out there, you can get a lot of one-on-one instruction with some of these great writers.

4) They both offer great book signings.

Again, another opportunity to hob-nob with your (well, mine anyways) favorite writers. Again, everybody is super-friendly and not afraid to spend time with you and answer your questions while they sign your books. Despite the lines, I did not feel rushed during any of the signings.

5) They both have great keynotes.

Last year I got to listen to Larry Brooks as he talked about writing, the writing industry, and touched on story structure.

This year I was blown away by the LTUE keynote, James Owen. He gave a fantastic and inspiring keynote address. If only all keynotes could be of that caliber.

Now I'm looking forward to Kevin J. Anderson's keynote address. I've read a lot of his writings (all the Dune books and the Saga of Seven Suns) and he has published several books beyond those series. And he just keeps on writing. I met him once when he did a book signing in Las Vegas when Battle of Corrin was released. I'll have to give him a hard time for (inadvertently?) putting a spoiler in there to Hunters and Sandworms of Dune when he signed it.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

K is for Keep Your Writings

For those who have paid attention, yes, this is going to sound familiar. But K is for keeping everything you write.

I’ve been told several times that writers should never just cut large sections of their book out, but should instead save them in a file to possibly use another time. Until recently, I thought this was a mediocre idea, at best! However, it costs me virtually nothing to follow this practice so I did it anyways.

A couple of weeks ago I needed an idea for a story. So I opened up my master file of abandoned writings and started to scroll through. And there it was! An idea that I had a year ago that never panned out. This time it jumped out and spoke to me saying, “What if this setting wasn’t an island, but an alternate universe?”

And that was exactly what I needed at the time. Since then, this story has blossomed in ways it never did before. But it never would have come to fruition if I hadn’t stored what I thought was of little to no worth.

So now I drink from the “keep everything” Kool-Aid bowl! You should too!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J is for J.K. Rowling

No sense hiding it, but I'm a huge fan of J.K. Rowling. I have a lot of respect for her for so many reasons:

1) She got the world reading again. Before J.K. Rowling came along an overwhelming number of people had given up reading and it seemed books where losing to other forms of entertainment like movies, television, and video games. Especially in children, which really worried me.

But when the Harry Potter books came out I heard, more times than I can remember, that people were getting into reading. And not only was it cool to read again, it was cool to carry around books larger than 1,000 pages. This went for adults and children. The Harry Potter series is the ONLY series my son has read it its entirety, which is saying a lot.

And with this new-found love of reading, they went on to read other books and series.

2) This also inspired more writing, in my opinion. Not only did it make reading cool again, but the same with writing. I believe this made writing as a career a more viable option for many.

3) She wrote a terrific series. Was it perfect? No, but name one that is. It has it's flaws but I believe it is one of the most well-written works of fiction. Ever.

In the last year I've attended two writing conferences. Nearly EVERY SINGLE CLASS has brought up Harry Potter as an example on how to do something right. Though she does have some criticism of her work, the praise far outweighs them.

4) She finished the series. I'm probably going to get some hate-mail (hate-comments) for this, but I do wish to be honest. Oh, I was so worried. My biggest fear after Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was that she was going to get hit by a bus or something, and nobody would be able to finish it the way she had intended. This has happened with some of my favorite series (Dune and The Wheel of Time) and I was afraid it would happen with this. I know I'm coming across as petty and selfish. Sorry.

5) She finished it well. What a powerful ending, one of the best endings ever, in my (humble) opinion! I've invested myself into a lot of television shows (Lost) and book series (The Dark Tower, and to a degree The Hunger Games and Eragon) where they ended unsatisfactory. With those examples I'm left dumbfounded thinking, "That was it?" Not so with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It is the most satisfying endings I've ever read in a book.

6) She didn't turn weird. She wrote a (great) story and is happy with that. She isn't on television telling us how to live our lives. She isn't dressing like Lady GaGa. Best I can tell, all of this fame and fortune has not gone to her head like what happens to a lot of other people. She is an actual person first and a writer second. And she isn't resting on her laurels. She just launched Pottermore to help promote more reading and she is writing another book. Good for her!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I is for Inspiration and Ideas

Everybody gets inspired in different ways. I've got a few ways to get the creative juices flowing myself, and they mostly involve getting physical and staying away from the television.

But everybody is different. Everybody must find what motivates and inspires them to write. For me, I love to run long distances. After the first mile my body gets into a rhythm, and this rhythm helps me to concentrate on other things. If I'm not running to music, my brain will often dwindle on writing. Before I know it I've put in a few miles and I've got an idea on what to write next. Plus, running wakes me up like a can of Red Bull, so my writing takes on a fresh, new pair of wings.
I can usually find patterns in other ways too. Biking and swimming are other two ways. For lunch today I went for a walk, and an idea struck me on something to include in my outline to give my ending a little extra punch. Here is an odd one: house and yard work can trigger it if I'm left alone and not interrupted by others. When the family leaves home for a while, I often find myself getting to work just to find that idea-creating rhythm.

Again, everybody is different. What works for you? Think about ideas you've come up with in the past. What were you doing? Is there a pattern you've recognized? Are half the people reading this going to be taking a few more showers? (I only mention that because a lot of ideas HAVE come to me in the shower or while flossing) Find out what works for you, and when you need inspiration, do it!

Monday, April 9, 2012

H is for Hero

Today's A-to-Z Challenge is on heroes. So what makes a hero? Are they the characters that can bend steel? Are impenetrable to bullets? Able to shoot laser beams out of the their eyes all for the sake of truth, justice, and the American way?
Or is there something more than that? For D I posted about the decisions and how decisions are what define who your main character is, not what their abilities are. I compared Harry Potter and Voldemort and how they had similar backgrounds, and despite being very talented wizards, it is Harry Potter that is the hero and not Voldemort.

Is your main character heroic? If he or she isn't coming off the page as so, ask yourself, "What makes a good hero?"

Real-life heroes are in abundance around you. Often they are dressed in an outfit, and that outfit rarely has a large letter written in it like an 'S' written on it. Those outfits are usually those of a policeman, a fireman, a school teacher, or (and I think I saved the best for last) a person in the Armed Forces. What sets them apart from non-heroes is their willingness to sacrifice themselves to make the world better. They sacrifice their time, their energy, and sometimes their very lives.
So make your main character heroic. Make him willing to sacrifice himself for the world, for the girl of his dreams (or visa versa), for their family, or for their country. Those are the heroes worth cheering for, and the thing you want more than anything else is for your readers to be cheering your main characters on.

ps, Ask me sometime about this last picture sometime. :)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

G is for the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Lucky me, the A-to-Z Challenge has us landing on G for Easter Sunday; is there a better topic to discuss today than the Gospel?

Disclaimer: I'm LDS, so my views on Easter will be from that perspective.

God has a plan for us. A plan to allow us to be happy and find peace and joy in this life and the one that follows death. By believing and following Christ, we can find a happiness that no other thing on Earth can provide.
Satan has another plan for us, which is to be just the opposite. Satan would have us be miserable like himself through the vain pleasures of the world by disobedience to our Father in Heaven.

Through God's love, he gave us His son, Jesus Christ, to give us what we need to in order to be happy. Jesus set an example for us on how to live a life of peace. He then gave us the atonement, to help us overcome the pains and miseries of this world. Whether it be obtaining forgiveness of our sins, finding peace and comfort in our life, or finding the strength to endure to the end, the atonement is there for us to enrich our lives.

He also gave His life as a sacrifice to overcome the enemy that no person could escape: death. Christ has risen and provided an avenue for us that we may one day walk beside Jesus Christ and our God again in perfected, immortal, and eternal bodies. Not only that, but that we may live eternally in God's presence with our friends and loved ones.

Today is a great day and I love reflecting on the love that God and Jesus the Christ has shown for us. May peace be with your family today. May you grow closer to Christ. May we all enjoy the blessings that the Gospel (from the Greek word meaning "Good News") of Jesus Christ has given us.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

F is for Fishing

Okay, this post isn't completely about fishing. I'm not a great fisherman nor do I spend a lot of time doing it. But a lot of people have this as a hobby or even a profession. It seems to be a noble, hard-working profession. Many of the original Apostles of Jesus Christ were fishermen by trade before they became the fishers of men.
So why do I bring it up? It is writing related, I promise. I want to talk about one character from The Wheel of Time, one of my favorite series. It is Siuan Sanche. She holds the office of Amyrlin Seat, making her one of the most powerful and influential characters in the series.

And... she is a daughter of a fisherman.

What I find remarkable is that she always makes references to boats and fishing. And she is the only character in this series who does, and this series has A LOT of characters. Fishing allegories and sayings are part of her unique voice. She is one to continually swear, "Fish guts!" throughout the series. She will constantly use fishing quotes to clarify her points:

"When there are fish heads and blood in the water, you don't need to see the silverpike to know they are there."

"like catching trout with cannonballs"

"You catch no fish if they see the net."

"When a boat has one leak, it is sure to have others."

"But when you don't have an oar, child, any plank will do to paddle the boat ashore."

"If you must drown or ride a lionfish, you ride and hope for the best."

"Caution gets the boat home."

"An anchor is not demeaned by being used to hold a boat."

"A bird cannot teach a fish to fly, nor a fish teach a bird to swim."

This uniqueness makes her one of my favorite characters in the series. I believe that this could be a good approach if you are trying to add life to one of your characters. For instance, I don't know much about fishing but I do know a lot about baseball. Maybe I could have a character who is always making baseball analogies and quoting from movies like "The Natural" and "Field of Dreams." Pretty soon that character stands out in readers' minds and also stands out in dialogue. But I think part of that trick is to keep that unique to one character.

E is for Editing

Editing, or the art of revising and perfecting your manuscript, is a large part of the writing process. In every writing class I took I had to write several drafts (I think the magic number was three) before I turned in a finished assignment. While editing may not be the fun part of writing, it is still one of the most crucial parts.

And editing doesn't just come in handy with writing. The world would be a much better place if everybody would give a quick look before sending a text, tweet, email, or status update.
I'm a big believer in it as it gives you the opportunity to remove ambiguities, strengthen your writing, tighten the language, and make your communication clearer. And you don't have to do it alone, though I usually suggest doing an extra draft or two before involving others. Here are other places you can find some:

1) Friends and family. Ask your friends and family who wouldn't mind helping you out. Who knows, you might find one or two who would love to do this. I know a lot of writers who have stated that their spouses are the first to read a draft before being seen by others. Drawbacks: These people are rarely professional and know what to look for. Also, they may not give honest feedback because they have a relationship they need to preserve with you and might be afraid to hurt your feelings. I've personally had little success with this and rarely get anything back beyond, "This looks fine. Yeah...."

2) Writing groups/critique partners. Look for a local writing group. If that isn't available then look for one online. Basically, you are exchanging services. You will send your writings critiqued in exchange for doing the same for those in your group. They aren't just great for editing purposes, they are also a fantastic way to network, make new friends, get writing ideas, and learn new writing techniques. Drawbacks: While you can get more honest feedback than you can with friends and family, they aren't always the best to be taking advise from. It helps if they write in the same, or at least similar, genre as yourself. I find that of the feedback I get back, I only take about a third of it to heart. Of course, that number changes based on the critiquer.

3) Professionals. There are people out there who perform editing for a living. You will get honest feedback and very professional results. Drawbacks: Because they do this for a living they aren't going to do it for you for free, so be prepared to spend a little bit of money for their time. They are also in very high demand, so don't be surprised if they don't get your work returned to you the next day. I've heard stories similar to, "Yeah, I'll look at it, but I'm booked the next three months."

As a side note, if you are looking for a professional editor then I have two I would suggest. One is a friend I made in my critique group who has recently taken editing up as a living. His name is Paul Yoder and I can't wait to throw some business of mine his direction. I haven't used his work yet, but I know him personally and consider him a friend and an honest individual.

The other is Tristi Pinkston, who has already edited some of my work and I've been nothing but impressed with her results. She is busy and was the inspiration behind the comment, "I'm book for the next three months." If you can wait three+ months I can personally vouch that she is WORTH IT. Well, it was three months the last time we chatted, it may have adjusted up or down since then.

4) Your publisher. When you publish your book, traditional publishers usually furnish an editor to clean up your story. A word of warning: don't wait until your book gets to the publisher. A publisher rarely pick up stories that haven't not gone through a few drafts already. A publisher won't take un-edited stories seriously and will only consider stories that are almost ready to be published and some minor fixing.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

D is for Dogs and Decisions

I *was* going to do today's A to Z challenge on decisions, but I'm going to talk about dogs as well for two reasons. 1) I ranted a bit on cats in the last post (clearly, I'm a dog person), and 2) I just read a book with a dog and it just seemed to be a sign.



I've owned both dogs and cats. Cats to me have the same condescending personality and only one of them has held any significant meaning in my life. Dogs, on the other hand, are loaded with personality; I love them all! I know, I know, I'm going to get comments on how cats are better. It's okay for you to have your opinions, even if they are wrong. ;)

Case in point, is there a movie where a cat has died and has left theaters filled with people crying like a a little girl? No? Yeah, I agree.

How about dogs? There are tons of them!! Lady and the Tramp. The Fox and the Hound. Eight Below. White Fang. Iron Will. Where the Red Fern Grows. Marley & Me. And who can forget... Old Yeller!

Quick confession: this morning a book had me in tears when one of the main characters, a dog, dies while saving his master. I won't tell you which book it was because I don't want to blow it for you. Seriously though, it left me an emotional wreck. I haven't had a book do that to me since 2003 (almost made it a decade).

I like books where the main characters have a familiar or similar type of companion. My advise to you: make it a dog! And if it has half the character my dog does you are going to win the hearts of your readers.

And now...


All good books have a theme to them. One of my favorite themes is how a person is defined by their choices, not by their power. For instance, Harry Potter and Volde--- He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named have a lot of similarities between each other:

Both were chosen by the same kind of wands (with the phoenix feather core from the same phoenix)
Both viewed Hogwarts as their real home
Both have bad tempers
Both are parceltongues
Both are only children
Both were orphans
Both were raised in homes where they were despised
Both are powerful wizards
Both are very inventive, inventive, cunning, and creative
Both were very determined
Both had a disregard for rules
And more!

But what made them different was their choices. Harry's choices were noble and selfless while Voldemort's were quite the opposite. This lead to them having very, very different destinies.

I love this theme. It is one of my favorites. It is an excellent theme to work into your book if you are currently looking for one.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

C is for Cats. I mean Computers!

I debated internally on what to choose for C. I originally settled on cats. Truth is, I don't care much for cats, but they make great characters in fantasy books because of how contentionist they can be. Contention = conflict = moving the story forward.
But then my mind said to me, "Self. You're an idiot! You work on computers for a living, why can't you blog on that instead of cats, which you despise in general." And I said, "Brain, you're a genius! Where are you when I'm writing?"

So, C is for Computers.

Nothing irks me more than to read a book or watch a movie where computers are a character and it is handled like the writer knows nothing of computers. Take the new "Doctor Who" for example. In one of the earlier episodes Doctor Who is combating a robot (robot = movable computer) who has a power surge for about five seconds and then stops and says, "Okay, I have downloaded the entire Internet and with this knowledge I will destroy you." (or something like that)

My mind and I both yelled, "WHAT?!?!?"
I hate to say this, but everybody raves about Doctor Who and I couldn't bring myself to watch another episode. I know, I'm sure I'm breaking some sort of law of nerdyism, but there you have it. It just ruined it for me!

Ever see The Net with Sandra Bullock? My brain feels like it just divided by zero every time I think about it. Ugh! And what was that other disaster that came out lately? Oh yeah, Eagle Eye!

There have been notable exceptions. I loved the first two Terminator movies, they seemed to have gotten it mostly right. Except that if machines do decide to take over the world it won't be John Conner who saves the day, it will be somebody on par with Stephen Hawkings and Bill Gates armed with an arsenal of EMPs. Either that, or a fleet of robots coded to defend you (ie, Transformers).
If you pit humans vs computers in a physical confrontation, especially in any story set in the future, the humans are going to lose. Machines are faster, more adaptive to their environment, have faster reflexes, have perfect aim, and are MADE OF METAL for crying out loud.

If you are going to write about computers, please, for the love of all that is digital, DO IT RIGHT!! Learn about Moore's Law. Understand the limitations on data storage, bandwidth, processing power, heat, and data access speeds. Don't be fooled by Watson on Jeopardy. You saw a little box, what you didn't see was the large data room filled to the brim with a ton of servers. If you are going to have a robot in modern days with the brain power of Watson you aren't going to fit it in something the size of your average human. 

I know, this is a rant, something I'm not usually prone to do (too much). But know that I'm not alone here. Do it right, or lose credibility. And if your story loses credibility it isn't going to go far, unless it has a big star like Sandra Bullock or Shia Le Bouf to give it legs.

And now for a little known fact. One of the first things I had learned about when working with computers is if they are programmed wrong then it is called a bug. Want to know why? In 1947 computers used to fill entire rooms and even university floors. Sadly, they had far less computing power than your cheapest cell phone. Anyways, they threw a math problem at one computer and the result came back wrong. So they investigated and they found a moth was causing the error. They removed the "bug" and the computer started working. Since then, computers gone wrong have been known to have bugs in them. One more interesting thing... here is a picture of the world's first official computer bug:

B is for Books

I have a confession to make. As much as I love my Kindle, part of me is sad that books are going away. By the time I start publishing there is a good chance it will be exclusively as an eBook. So the fact I won't have anything tangible to sign, hand out, or keep on my desk at work makes me wish I hadn't stopped writing for the last decade.

As for book Trivia... I'm sure you know this but just in case. The first book produced on the printing press was the Holy Bible. What you might not know: The Gutenberg Bible, as it is known by, was printed in Latin. Only 48 copies have survived the test of time, and of these 48 only 21 are complete. It is known as the most valuable book in the world.

It makes me wonder how it was making the first book. Could Johannes Gutenberg possibly foreseen how prevalent books and printing presses would become or how revolutionary the printing press would be to the world? I'm thinking he had no idea. I also wonder what kind of turnout he had at his book signings. I'm quite sure he could not have fathomed the Kindle that I carry the Bible around on now.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A is for Aliens

Welcome to my first posting for the A to Z Blogging Challenge! Today we are going to discuss the extraterrestrial life version of aliens.

Aliens make great stories in books, short stories, poetry, movies, and most forms of media. Because nobody knows of any extraterrestrial life this has lead to a host of speculative fiction exploring many question.

What if Aliens came to Earth? Would they be friendly? Would they be hostile? Would they just be sight-seeing vacationers? Would they look like us? How would they be different? Would we have any similarities?  Can they listen to Slim Whitman? Are they lizards disguised as humans? Are they unable to make contact with basic elements like, oh say, water?

In celebration of Aliens, here are my 10 favorite movies featuring Aliens visiting planet earth (and it really was tough whittling it down to only 10):

10) Mars Attacks - Put on this list due to its hilarity!! If you are looking for a laugh, you'll find it here.

9) Star Trek: First Contact - This was like zombies in space. A lot of action! You've got to love the ruthless borg. Resistance is futile!

8) Men in Black - Two words: Will Smith. I pretty much love any movie that he is in. Spoiler alert: see #3.

7) Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home - Well, I had a movie from TNG so I had to add one for TOS. I loved The Voyage Home when I was a kid. My favorite line: "He had a little bit too much LDS in the 60's."

6) V - I loved the original back in the 80's when Freddie Krueger is the alien that creates the hybrid baby. The relaunch was magnificent and could have been top-three material if they hadn't gone and got themselves cancelled.

5) Battlestar Galactica - I love this series. It is so epic with a lot of drama and action. My only fear is that putting it in this particular top 10 list might be a bit of a spoiler. One of the best story lines on television!

4) Close Encounters of the Third Kind - A little light on action, but big on story. This is one of the plausible ways I could see us having first contact. A Steven Spielberg masterpiece!

3) Independence Day - I love the beginning. Aliens show up and start blowing up earth. No explanation. No reservation. This is what I find to be most plausible if aliens decide to pay us a visit. Plus, Will Smith is so awesome in this movie.

2) Signs - So many people love this movie. So many people hate this movie. Personally, I love how everything comes together and wraps up well. A lot of action. A few scenes that had me jumping out of my seat. This and The Sixth Sense are the only two movies that justify having M. Night Shyamalan as a creditable director.

1) E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial - Another Spieldberg masterpiece. Probably his ultimate masterpiece. If you can't fall in love with the characters of E.T. then you have no heart. Don't debate it, that is a scientifically proven fact.

I promised a little-known fact with each letter. So how about this. Did you know that E.T. was originally going to be about a family that is terrorized by aliens. When Spielberg changed his mind the original idea was recycled and used in another movie. That movie? Poltergeist!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A to Z Blogging

Fellow Blogcker, Donna K. Weaver, has convinced me to do the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge while also giving a great lesson on comma splices.

In a nutshell, the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge requires a blog post every day in April except for Sundays (we get those off for good behavior). Since the first day of the month IS a Sunday, the challenge starts on the 2nd. I am supposed to go through the alphabet and blog something every non-Sunday.

I'll start tomorrow. This is supposed to help me grow and get to know other bloggers. I'm interested to see how this goes as I could use a little bit of each.

They suggest a theme. I have given this some thought but only a few ideas really attracted me. But I'm going to KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and make it easy on myself and just go with blogging daily on something I like. You know, write what you know. My goal will be to teach you something about that topic that you didn't already know. It probably won't benefit you, but who knows what that final Jeopardy question will be when you make the show. I could make you a winner!!

Tune in tomorrow, I'm looking forward to a fun ride!