Category Archives: editing

The One Writing Skill You Must Have


by Lillian Csernica on December 11, 2017

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Here we are in the holiday season. This time of year will stress out anybody, even those people lucky enough to have a “normal” family life. Writers often come from dysfunctional families. Writers often have mental health issues. Put it all together and the holiday season can be quite a gauntlet to run, between day jobs, holiday preparations, family gatherings, and the desperate struggle for time and space write.

My therapist taught me a skill that I will now pass along to you. This skill is designed to buy you the mental and emotional space you need to survive when you find yourself overwhelmed. Your mileage may vary, but give it a try. Three simple words:

Achieve literary distance.

How does one do this? Here’s my method. I always have my tote bag with me. At the moment it contains four notebooks, two manuscripts, one of those zippered pouches for pens, and a few other odds and ends. I take the tote bag everywhere. When life gets too intense, I pull out a notebook and a pen. If I’m stuck in a line, I spot the most interesting people and jot down quick lists of their notable physical and behavioral traits. If I’m in a waiting room, I might write a scene involving two of the people waiting there also.

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The point here is to derail our anxiety by making our trains of thought switch tracks. Becoming consciously more observant puts us into a more objective state of mind. Sometimes what we really need is to get out of our own heads. By calling on the skills that help us achieve literary distance, we can at least get out of the Anxiety Attic and go hang out in the Creativity Corner.  When we deliberately shift our focus outward, we may very well lower our anxiety levels.

I know this works for me. I get all stressed out about being on time, getting everything done according to my To Do list, or I’m all knotted up mentally because of a conflict with a family member.  When I achieve literary distance, that helps me step back, take that deep breath, connect pen to paper, and re-establish a calmer, more flexible state of mind.

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Make this skill work for you. If you like texting ideas on the Notepad function of your phone, go for it. If you need a blank journal with no lines and a few broken crayons, more power to you. If you just want to sit in a comfy spot and take some mental notes along with a few deep breaths, that’s good too.

Writing is our superpower. We can use it to rescue ourselves.

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To All of You, Many Thanks


by Lillian Csernica on Thursday, November 23, 2017

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Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S.

Today is also my son John’s 19th birthday.

Today my oven is out of commission (and has been for about two weeks). We shall be dining at the Ideal Fish Company down by the Santa Cruz Wharf. It promises to be quite a feast.

Today I have written 1865 words of my new fantasy novel for #NaNoWriMo. I just finished, as a matter of fact. Now I can go eat dinner and party, having made today’s quota.

Today I am marinating in gratitude. It’s been a rough year. No matter what kind of day I’ve had, I can come online and find people on Twitter, on Facebook, at the games I play, and here on my blog. Kind people, funny people, sincere people, people with good hearts and sharp minds and dazzling powers of creativity.

Thank you to all of you who read this blog. Thank you for your supportive comments, for your reblogs, for all the ways you help me feel like I really am part of a community. All the hard work I struggle to accomplish really does mean something.

Thank you. God bless you. I wish you all the best.

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New Release! Killing It Softly, Vol. 2


by Lillian Csernica on October 30, 2017

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Just in time for Halloween, Killing It Softly 2, another collection of short stories to be read with the lights on and the doors locked!
Part 1 – Another Space, Another Time
The Whims of My Enemy – Amanda J. Spedding
A Moveable Feast – Jenny Blackford
Softly into the Morning – L. D. Colter
Whispers in the Wax – Tonia Brown
The Screaming Key – Lillian Csernica
Framed – Diana Catt
Bloody Rain – Rie Sheridan Rose
The Idlewild Letters – H.R. Boldwood
Kristall Tag – Holly Newstein
The Adventure of My Ignoble Ancestress – Nancy Holder

Part II – Monster Party
The Devil’s in the Details – Stacey Longo
Octavia – Chantal Boudreau
The Skeench – Debra Robinson
Sandcastle Sacrifices – Jennifer Brozek
Unfilial Child – Laurie Tom
Milk and Cookies – M.J. Sydney
Figaro, Figueroa – Karen Heuler
Scarecrow – Vonnie Winslow Crist
A Great and Terrible Hunger – Elaine Cunningham

Part III – Cognitive Deception
Belongings – Abra Staffin-Wiebe
Evil Little Girl – Barb Goffman
Blue – Julie Travis
The Devil Inside – Shannon Connor Winward
Shining Brook and the Ice Moon Spirit – Jean Graham
Damaged Goods – Lindsey Goddard
Project Handbasket – Rebecca J. Allred
Behind the Eight Ball – Lena Ng
A Faithful Companion – Deborah Sheldon
Omega – Airika Sneve

Part IV – The Changed and the Undead
Little Fingers – Christine Morgan
Golden Rule – Donna J. W. Munro
Fifth Sense – Tina Rath
Cycle – Rebecca Fraser
The Hand of God – Gerri Leen
Vile Deeds – Suzie Lockhart
The Holy Spear – Barbara A. Barnett
Skin and Bones – Rebecca Snow
Death Warmed Over – Rachel Caine

Many of the contributors here also appear in the first Killing It Softly anthology, also well worth your attention.

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I’m a Featured Author!


by Lillian Csernica on September 25th, 2017

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Thanks to the generosity of Renee Scattergood, I am the featured author in today’s spotlight on her blog. Please do head on over there and take a look. The interview questions were a lot of fun to answer!

Many thanks, Renee!

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Which Story Should You Write First?


by Lillian Csernica on August 28, 2017

44384633-creativity-and-imagination-concept-open-book-with-magical-city-inside-ship-palm-trees-tropical-islaYou’ve got two or more ideas in your head, fighting for your attention, demanding to be written.

It happens.

What do you do? How do you prioritize them? Maybe you really can write more than one story at once, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Everybody’s got a process. It’s good to know and respect your own. If you’re still somewhat new to writing narrative fiction, you might want to concentrate on one story at a time.

But again, which one?

The answer depends on knowing exactly what you want.

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Are you after the money? Go with the idea that’s most marketable.

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Are you out to make a statement or address an issue? Go with the idea that really sets your heart on fire, be it with anger, grief, or joy.

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Do you have what seems like a really cool idea but you’re all caught up in the worldbuilding and you can’t seem to make the characters behave and there’s all this research? Let that one sit. It sounds like it might be a novel. If you don’t have enough experience yet from writing short stories, writing a novel might be biting off more than you can chew. Do I know this from personal experience? Oh yes.

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When you get to the stage where you see ideas everywhere, that’s when you have to adjust your own settings as a writer. By doing so, you’ll be able to concentrate on the ideas that show up most strongly on the radar of your imagination.

How do you adjust those settings? Ask yourself these questions:

Do you have a deadline to meet? If there’s a submission window open and it has a firm deadline, that movies it up the priority list.

Is the idea time-sensitive? Seasonal themes often require submitting the story several months in advance, so keep an eye on guideline updates.

Do you have a particular word limit in mind? It might seem obvious to think flash fiction can be written in a shorter time frame than a novella. Shorter is often harder, because every word has to do that much more work. If you have more than one work-in-progress, the time factor is an important consideration.

Cost/benefit analysis

Will Idea A yield benefits that outweigh the costs of time, effort, marketing, etc.?

Opportunity cost

What else could you be doing instead of developing Idea A into a story? Maybe Idea B would yield more in the way of benefits long term.

If you want your writing to be more than a few random thoughts jotted in a personal journal while sipping a latte in the local coffeehouse, then this kind of analysis is very important. It may seem too cold and clinical to evaluate a creative effort in these terms, but hey, life is short. Make hay while the sun shines or the storms will come and all that hay will rot in the field. All that opportunity will be lost.

Regardless of which priority you choose, once you have settled on a project, there is one ironclad rule:

FINISH IT!

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Available Now on Smashwords!


by Lillian Csernica on August 15, 2017

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Horror can be anything from the most elegant ghost story to the total freak-out of a bloodthirsty serial killer. The Fright Factory can show you how to make the most of your story ideas. Choose the best setting. Build a better monster. Learn the fine art of creating suspense! It’s all here, including an essential list of the worst horror cliches no editor wants to see.

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Want to find out if I really do know what I’m talking about? Fallen Idol appeared in DAW’s The Year’s Best Horror Stories XX. Just 99 cents from Digital Fiction Publishing!

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The #1 Question All Writers Should Ask


by Lillian Csernica on August 11, 2017

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Stories grow out of two questions: What if? and What next?

If you’re like me, your stories tend to start out as a sudden flash of action or dialogue. Maybe you think of a character first, and then the problem. Either way, once you’ve got your basic idea on paper and it’s time to think about story structure, there’s one essential question you must answer:

Why now?

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In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge has to change his ways right now or he won’t live to see another Christmas.

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In The Hunger Games, when Katniss’ little sister is chosen to represent their District, Katniss has to take action right now to save her sister’s life. The only acceptable way is to volunteer and take her place.

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In Andy Weir’s novel The Martian, astronaut Mark Watney has to come up with some kind of life support system right now. Maybe NASA will mount a successful rescue mission.  Maybe Watney’s team will do it. That’s all off in the land of What Then? When you’re stuck on Mars with no hope in sight, right now means right now!

Answering the Why now? question will raise your stakes, heighten your action, and give your readers a story they’ll remember!

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The Writer’s Spellbook


by Lillian Csernica on August 1, 2017

AVAILABLE NOW ON SMASHWORDS!

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One of the most important elements of a fantasy novel or a game world is the magic system. A logical and consistent magic system will do a lot to help improve the quality of the story… A better magic system means a better story, and a better story means more readers!

PLENTY OF FORMATS TO CHOOSE FROM!

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Whether you’re a writer or a gamer, a graphic novelist or an historical reenactor, The Writer’s Spellbook will give you step by step guidance in making the crucial decisions that will bring your fantasy world to life.

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How Bad Movies Help Us Write Good Stories


by Lillian Csernica on July 29, 2017

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The Blair Witch Project and the first Paranormal Activity movies launched a new sub-genre of horror: found footage. Sometimes the people who find the footage know its original purpose. Sometimes the footage is simply discovered and viewing it can provide answers, deepen the mystery, drive you insane, and/or get you killed.

The problem with the success of these two movies is how often and how badly other filmmakers keep trying to imitate them.

This happens in the world of books as well. Charlaine HarrisSookie Stackhouse series began appearing close to the start of the vampire craze. Their popularity and the subsequent HBO series True Blood did a lot to prompt the already growing industry of vampire-based novels. Some of these are quite good. Others are not. (cough cough Twilight cough.)

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Really bad books and movies can serve as practical guides for What Not to Do. This brings me back to those found footage movies. I love a good ghost story. Now and then I go trawling through Netflix and Amazon, hoping to find a movie that doesn’t just shuffle together the same tiresome people, camera equipment, Ouija boards, and insane asylums. I have found a few gems, but it’s appalling how many mediocre wannabes clutter up the genre.

Let’s have a look at how such a movie provides a check list for What Not To Do.

PLOT — Familiar, contrived, predictable, unrealistic, and not all that scary. What is the opposite of all that? Strange, natural, unexpected, realistic, and terrifying. Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak is all that and more.

CHARACTER — Shallow, annoying, not sympathetic, and their motivations are often forced. They do really stupid things that anybody with a shred of survival instinct wouldn’t even consider. We want characters who are complex, endearing, sympathetic, and genuine. Above all, make your characters intelligent with at least some common sense.

SETTING — Not realistic. Never mind the question of whether or not ghosts actually exist. Let’s think about the fact that laws about private property, trespassing, and public health are very real and rigorously enforced. Abandoned medical facilities with a history of death, disease, torture, horrible medical experiments, and abuse of the patients by the staff were often built back when asbestos and other toxins were a regular part of the construction business. Professional paranormal investigators know about contacting property managers, getting the appropriate permits, and avoiding lawsuits.

TONE — They’re going for creepy and atmospheric, but when the filmmakers abide by the trite formula of dead cell phones, flickering lights, poltergeist antics, etc. etc., there’s no suspense. Instead, it all becomes laughable. Remember how Professor Lupin taught Harry Potter and the gang how to get the upper hand with the Boggart, the creature that would take on the appearance of a person’s worst fear? Just find a way to make it funny, and that takes all the fear out of it.

THEME — This depends on the particular variations present in a specific movie. Most of the time, it boils down to “People who refuse to listen to multiple warnings about the Haunted Madhouse deserve whatever happens to them.” That brazen band of party animal college students is so annoying I’ve ended up cheering on the monsters.

PACE — Such movies usually kick off with an info dump about the setting, the main characters, or both. This is the movie version of a Prologue, and it contains every reason why smart people don’t go near the setting even in broad daylight. Too Much Information ruins the movie because now we have a good idea about what horrible fates will befall the characters. Place your bets, because once the Ouija board is out and the candles are lit, the bodies are going to start piling up.

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In the spirit of fairness, I will mention a few of those gems I’ve found:

Grave Encounters

Session 9

Cabin in the Woods

Boo

Find Me

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Three Top Tips to Put New Power in Your Writing


by Lillian Csernica on July 9, 2017

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When we’re in the process of writing, we sometimes reach a point where despite having a complete list of story elements on board, we feel like something is still missing. What we’ve written so far is good, but we want more. More depth. More intensity. More power.

Here are three simple, effective techniques to bring more power to your ideas and the ways you write about them.

 

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CHARACTER ORCHESTRATION

There are two parts to  proper character orchestration.

First, you make the protagonist and antagonist very different from each other. Create strong contrast with opposing traits, whether physical, emotional, spiritual, financial or all of the above!

Author James N. Frey provides an excellent explanation of this technique in How To Write A Damn Good Thriller.

Second, the events of your story leave these two characters tied together in what’s known as the “unity of opposites.” In his blog The Story Element, Paul Nelson explains:

The two opposite characters who are in conflict must be forced together, and neither of them can be allowed to leave the battle. For example, if Gandalf gives up and the ring isn’t destroyed, then Sauron wins and turns Middle Earth into hell. If Sauron gives up and lets the ring be destroyed, then he is also destroyed. Both Gandalf and Sauron are in danger of being destroyed, so they must destroy the other. They cannot both exist at the same time.

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JUXTAPOSITION

From Writing Explained:

What does juxtaposition mean? Juxtaposition is a rhetorical device that places two elements in close relationship for comparative purposes. Juxtaposition is a type of comparison. Typically, the two elements being juxtaposed have differences and the juxtaposition is meant to highlight contrasting effects.

In the long-awaited Wonder Woman movie, the juxtaposition of Diana and Steve Trevor serves to highlight the many layers of meaning in the story. Diana is a strong, independent warrior at a time when Steve Trevor sees a woman as being weak, needing his protection and guidance. Diana sees victims of the war who need help right now, while Steve knows they have to complete the mission to save the greatest number of people. Steve expects Diana to learn how to follow the rules of his world. Diana is committed to her sacred duty and says so in one of the movie’s best lines: “What I do is not up to you.”

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ASYMMETRY

Let’s start with symmetry. From Dictionary.com:

noun, plural symmetries.
1. the correspondence in size, form, and arrangement of parts on opposite sides of a plane, line, or point; regularity of form or arrangement in terms of like, reciprocal, or corresponding parts.
2. the proper or due proportion of the parts of a body or whole to one another with regard to size and form; excellence of proportion.
3. beauty based on or characterized by such excellence of proportion.

Sounds good, right? Symmetry has its value, but in writing a good story, asymmetry can be even more useful. Find out why here:

How to Blow Your Own Mind in Just Five Minutes

These three techniques can help you make the most out of any story idea. Write with power!

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