About Marcha's Two-Cents Worth

I'm a science fiction author of the Star Trails Tetralogy, retired after two decades working at NASA, defected from my physics training to become a professional astrologer, and various other acts of rebellion.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Newsletters are one of the best ways to connect with your readers and fans directly. There’s no panacea in marketing, but this is one way that comes highly recommended. One way to add interest to them is to include games and contests. This helps retain subscribers, if they enjoy what you send out. If it’s a fun and interesting read, they’re more likely to open it and think of you in a positive way.

Sales pitches eventually fall on deaf ears. Even if you write newsletters worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, you’re unlikely to have a 100% open rate, at least if your subscriber list includes more people than your mother and Aunt Bessie. One author newsletter comes to mind that goes directly to my spam folder without even touching my inbox. All it ever includes is a big, glaring, full-color picture of the cover of her one and only book, followed by all the reasons you should read it.

Ho-hum, I don’t think so.

Study the newsletters you like to receive and actually enjoy reading for content ideas. Keep hawking your book to a minimum. Connecting at a personal level with your fans is your best bet.

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Today’s Writing Tip

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Have you ever written a book on a typewriter? I wrote my first novel on a typewriter that looked quite a bit like the one shown above. Yes, a MANUAL typewriter! I later graduated to an electric, then couldn’t get a computer fast enough when they came out. A double 9 1/4″ disk drive, 64K Sanyo. I shudder when I remember Word Star, yet it was SUCH an improvement over a typewriter.

Then there was the matter of going to a store that had a photocopier to send it to potential publishers. Printers helped a lot with that, then even that went away with electronic/online submissions.

We’ve come a long way, baby!

If you started writing when the dinosaurs roamed the earth like I did, you know what I mean. Word processors make writing much easier. Revisions were the worst, especially when you had to retype and then renumber pages. Believe me, many never got done, simply because it was such a huge hassle when your story was on actual paper.

Take a moment today to remember, or, if you’re not that old, imagine what it would be like. Then, the next time you have writer’s block and are frustrated and unhappy, you’ll have something to be thankful for.

 

Today’s Writing Tip

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What time of year is your story taking place? Besides using the weather to create vivid scenes, you can add another dimension using holidays. They add depth to our lives; likewise they can enhance your characters. How does he or she feel about it? Happy? Sad? Nuisance? You don’t have to dwell on it, but it’s another way to build character.

It also lends a sense of time, possibly even place. For example, you could have what would otherwise be a somewhat boring (but necessary) conversation take place at some sort of holiday celebration to add color and interest. This brings to mind an episode of The Big Bang Theory where Raj was going to break-up with his girlfriend right before Valentine’s Day.

Adding them also adds another touch of realism to your story since holidays are a part of life. The reader may not miss them if you don’t include them, but mentioning them adds a touch of real life. Birthdays are another one that can add some color and a sense of reality.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Most authors hate writing book blurbs. I’m definitely one of them. How can you condense hundreds of pages with multiple characters and a complex plot into a few paragraphs? This can be absolutely mind-boggling. And as if that’s not bad enough, there are some promotional sites where you only have 100 characters! Are you kidding me???

One place I’ve found it helpful to start is with your story’s theme. Do you even know what it is? If not, you should. This is what gives it meaning. This is the message you want to deliver to your reader, their “take away”, if you will. If necessary, start with your genre. If you don’t even know that, then you’re really in trouble. And believe me, been there, done that, got the t-shirt!

The most basic ingredients are your main character, what s/he wants, what’s in the way, and will s/he get it? Once you have that, you can fill in a few background and/or setting details and you should be close.

One thing to avoid is spoilers, of course. You want your reader to want to find out how things work out. Sometimes you can plant a teaser by finishing the blurb with a question. Give it a try. Feel free to comment below on any tricks you may have for one of the hardest things author have to tackle.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Have you ever written a scene, then had an idea later that improved it? Some little detail that made it come to life? These are what refine your work from good to great. Thank heaven computers make revisions a breeze.

I do this all the time. I’m one of those people who’s apparently a slow thinker because I always think of the clever thing to say a day or two after the opportunity presents itself. Yeah, I know, Duh! But I’m not quick and witty spontaneously. So it’s not surprising when I’ll get some of my best ideas after I’ve written a scene, whether it is mostly descriptive or dialog. Much of this also relates to really knowing and understanding your characters and what they might say.

This is where you need to keep a writer’s notebook handy, because you never know when one of these clever mini-revisions will come to mind. I’ve lost several when I didn’t have the opportunity to write it down at the time, then it had entirely evaporated by the time I was back at the computer.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Villains can be the most difficult characters to create. Unless they’re entirely psycho, they need motivation and yes, a human side. They need to be believable, just like everyone else in your story, with strengths and weaknesses. About the only exception would be if you’re writing a fantasy or a comic book with superheroes. Then extremes are more acceptable.

I find villains difficult to create because I try to find the good in people. I’m also not emotionally driven, but lean more toward logic. This doesn’t mean I get along with everyone or even like them, but in general I don’t associate with anyone I would categorize as a villain. There are enough of them on TV or the news.

This could easily go off on a tangent on the definition of a villain, but I’ll keep it relatively short. For your story’s purposes, it’s whoever is standing in the way or actively undermining your hero or heroine, keeping him or her from what they want. It doesn’t have to be an ax murderer, just someone with evil or unkind intent.

To be honest, I kind of wonder about authors who can create horrific villains! One author who absolutely excels at it is Mary Higgins Clark. I get the shivers just thinking about some of hers, so if you need some good examples, check out her books.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Strong characters are important. However, if they are too strong to the point of being annoying or offensive, then the reader may not finish the story! Face it, readers usually want to relate in a positive way to the main character.

I have to admit that I’ve had a difficult time getting through a couple stories because the main character was such a piece of work I wanted to slap her upside the head. However, I also recognized what a great job the author was doing creating such a vivid, albeit abrasive, character. Thus, I pressed on, sometimes rather slowly, and finished the stories. And guess what? In both cases I gave the story five stars in my review.

Granted, not all readers will force themselves to finish a book with a character who makes them crazy, so it needs to be done with care. As an author, however, take careful note of the expertise it took to creative such a vivid character and learn from it.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Little habits and speech patterns are important for building believable characters. These can be pensive, humorous, annoying, physical, or simply endearing. Everyone has them, whether or not they are conscious of them.

When I mention pensive I’m referring to the expressions and gestures a character might make when he or she is thinking or considering something. Humorous, think of characters like Inspector Clouseau or Maxwell Smart.  Annoying should be easy. If you don’t know anyone who has any annoying habits, you are either too easy-going or not paying attention. Endearing should be easy, too. Think of your favorite aunt or grandparent.

These are another element that provides depth and a realism to your characters.

 

Today’s Writing Tip

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An obsession is another trait that can make a character more interesting. It can be just about anything, as long as s/he cares about it a lot. It can be a hobby, a career goal, another person, revenge, or just about anything, provided it’s a driving force.

Obsession and passion go hand in hand. If you want your character to move mountains, there needs to be a strong and very personal reason to do so. You will need to establish what the rationale is behind it for it to be credible. That is what will pull in the reader’s interest and empathy to either root for or against what the character wants. Needless to say, this works for both heroes and villains. The latter need motivation, too, the stronger the better. Note I said rationale not rational. It doesn’t need to make sense, only be enough to push the character and plot forward.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Some individuals have a very difficult time forgiving others when they’ve been hurt. This can be a strong motivator in a story and makes for a great “fatal flaw” if your character is otherwise a good person.

Characters who are at peace within themselves are often rather boring. Those who are walking around with a plethora of grudges, unresolved issues, and hurts are far more interesting. These are issues that everyone struggles with from time to time, if they’re a sentient being. Tie it in with the plot and you have the motivation you need.