Tag Archives: writing

10 Things About Me

Since I’ve wound up with a few new followers recently, I decide to do a little introduction.

Here are ten things about me that you might not have known.

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10. I’ve barely been outside the United States. I’m from Texas originally, so going to Mexico wasn’t that far of a trip, but one day I’d like to actually travel outside North America.

9. My music bank is mostly full of what my husband calls “cheesy indie songs” by bands like Oh Wonder, Amber Run, and Bastille… and Ninja Sex Party. I love Ninja Sex Party more than I probably should.

8. I got engaged a week before my 19th birthday and got married when I was 21. My husband occasionally gives input to my blog posts, or I’ll include his opinions on certain subjects. Mostly we travel together in our camper van and talk about what life will be like outside of the military.

7. My best friend, who I refer to as “Alaska” in many blog posts, is one of the main reasons why I write. She’s been someone I can count on through thick and thin, and I don’t know what I’d do without her.

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6. I have two dogs, a mastiff named Zeus and a lab named Hank. Hank is usually my writing buddy and is almost always at my feet whenever I’m working on the computer. Zeus, on the other hand, doesn’t care about my writing time at all.

5. I prefer to write male characters, as I’ve never felt like I’ve connected to my female leads. There are a few exceptions to this, but I generally wind up liking my male characters better.

4. Dragon Age is my favorite video game franchise. I’ve even read books the original creator put out just to get to know the world better.

3. When not writing, I work at a museum to make extra cash in a minor managerial role. It’s a pretty big source of inspiration, especially when it comes to talking to artists, meeting people from all walks of life, and interacting with tourists.

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2. My top five celebrity crushes are Adrien Brody, Mads Mikkelsen, Jason Momoa, Mathias Lauridsen, and Idris Alba. There’s a wide array of faces between those guys, jeez…

1. I started out drawing before I considered writing as a serious profession. My artwork was in a few galleries in Texas, and was up in a 3 night showing as part of a exhibit in Detroit. I still paint and sketch on occasion, but I found writing to be what I’m more passionate about pursuing.

 

Hope you enjoyed this little peek into my life! Tell me a little bit about yourself. Do you have a thing for dragon rp games, or are you just a fan of Mads like I am?

Connect with me on….

Facebook: @aemcauleywriter
Twitter: @aemcauley
Instagram: @aemcauley
Website:  http://aemcauley.wixsite.com/author/

10 Things To Watch for When Self Editing

I’ve been reading quite a lot of self-published work lately. Some great, others not so great, and what I’ve realized is most problems that arise in self-published writing comes down to the editing. Misspelled words, incorrect grammar, page layout, and fixing minor style problems are all things that slow your story down and get in the way of what could be a great novel.

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Now I’m not an editor by any means, but here are some things I’ve learned in my own work and in reading others that will improve your writing.

  1. Watch out for the same word showing up multiple times in back to back sentences. “She went up the stairs, and woke her sister up. “You’re late, it’s time to get up.”” It’s repetitive.
  2. U.S. writers have different spellings and word usages than other English speaking countries, which is fine, but make sure you’re being consistent. No “towards” in one sentence then “toward” in the following paragraph, or no criticizing one minute and then criticising the next. If you’re going to call “pants” “trousers” and “underwear” “pants”, stick with it through the whole book.
  3. When a new character starts speaking, start a new line. It’s very confusing looking at a wall of text and slows down the reader when they have to figure out who’s saying what.
  4. “And then she went up and walked down stairs. Then she smiled at her mother. Then she….” You get it right? “And then” can ruin a good book. Not only because it’s repetitive. It makes the story bland.
  5. Cut out flabby words in general. Better writers than me have written articles on this, check them out here and here. It might not always apply, but there are a lot of excess words that make a great book fall from readers’ graces.
  6. Say your dialogue out loud to see how realistic it sounds. A modern thirteen year old saying things like “Where do you purpose I venture from here?” sounds strange, if it’s not in the context of the story.
  7. When you make point of view changes, give a heads up by either changing the chapter, or separating it somehow from the rest of the work. Jumping into one character’s head and then another can be jarring for the audience.
  8. Keep your characters consistent. If your character doesn’t know something, they can’t suddenly have all the answers just because they read one paragraph of a news article. Or my favorite character inconsistency, “I’m a virgin who doesn’t even know how sex works”, but two pages later, “OMG that cutie has me thinking up dirtier things than Fifty Shades of Grey mixed with German torture porn.” It cracks me up every time.
  9. Keep the tone and style consistent. A book that starts out like Shakespeare, but ends like Stephenie Meyer after the fifth chapter, then turns into Hemmingway by the tenth gets confusing. All authors have their merits, but if you’re trying to copy a style, make sure you keep it steady. Again, this is only if it doesn’t make sense in the narrative. I’m sure there’s someone who’s pulled off changing styles, when it was in the context of the story.
  10. Conveniences are my least favorite thing in ANY book, self published or otherwise. This is the “The door was locked, but luckily he knew how to pick it using nothing but a spoon. But when he opened the door there was someone with a gun. Lucky for him, he knew how to use kung fu! They pushed him out a window, but luckily, he had super powers and whole time and could fly!” No one, not even a leprechaun holding a horseshoe made of rabbit feet, while also wearing a suit of four leaf clovers is this lucky! If you notice your character somehow getting out of every single situation from unexplained help, it might be time to make some edits.

Agree with my list? How do you go about editing your novel? What advice can you give to people who are new to editing their work?

From The Roots of The Family Tree – A writing exercise

It’s always surprising to me when I talk to writers and they know next to nothing about their character’s family history. Not because it’s a bad thing, but because I can’t get through writing my novel if I don’t come up with a few family dynamics for my main characters.

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This sort of thing helps me come up with everything from the character’s name to how they respond in social situations. Here’s a quick checklist I use when creating my character’s family history.

Who were their parental figures?: Not every character has to have a living parent, but everyone, whether they realize it or not, puts someone in that parental role. Who shaped your character’s life as a parent?
Why did their parents name them what they did?: This is by far my favorite way to name characters, because let’s face it, we have no control over what our names are, unless we change them. Which brings me to my next point – Why did they change their birth name if they no longer go by what their parents called them?
What philosophy or religion were they raised under?: While their parents might not have said “We’re raising you to be a stoic!” they very well could’ve kept a “tight upper lip” policy in the house. If you’re uncertain, here’s a huge list of philosophies and religions to research.
What’s their relationship with their siblings?: Or cousins, depending on if they have siblings or not. If they don’t have siblings, why don’t they have siblings, and how do they feel about being an only child?
Is the family a matriachy or a patriarchy?: Who’s more respected and looked up to in the family? A grand/mother or grand/father figure?
Who was the comforter and who was the teacher in the family?: Who did the character go to when they needed support, and who did they go to when they needed to be taught a life lesson?
How important was education, money and politics in the house?: Usually, this will be a basis for how your character acts towards society and the political sciences. While it might have nothing to do with your book, it does help build how they react to the world around them.
Do they still keep in touch with family members today?: Again, if your character doesn’t have any blood relatives, do they keep in touch with people they assigned the “family role”?

How do you build your character? Do you start from the family tree and move on, or do you have a different method?

Let me know if this sheet helps, and feel free to share with others.

Things to Do While Waiting for Agent Responses

I started submitting my first novel, Flightless, to agents this month, and one thing’s been made clear to me. I am NOT a patient person. The people who really know me will be shaking their heads right now, because they know this already, but to everyone who’s learning about me through my blog will quickly find out waiting is not my strong suit.

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To fill the time, I’ve come up with little ways to keep my mind off of the waiting game that is, “Will this agent like my work or not?”. Hopefully this will help anyone else who’s waiting, or at the very least make you feel less alone.
Start my next novel.
With Flightless over with, and three more books planned in the series, I’ve decided to take a little brake from my world of winged people and step into something a little bit darker. Wake the Dead is my next big project, and damn I am doing a lot of research. I’m creating my own magical system that revolves around life and death, and I’m learning all about alchemy, European magical societies, and high magical practices. It’s a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to get the project under way.

Play video games.
I don’t claim to be a “gamer girl” by any means, and really, I could only tell you about a few games I enjoy playing. I pass the time with things like Portal, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and Fable, or when I’m feeling nostalgic, Super Mario World. Diving into someone else’s story, in a different medium other than writing, helps me take my mind off work and lets me focus on the important things in life, like killing darkspawn and smashing koopas.

Read a new book, outside my genre.
I’m a fantasy/sci-fi girl at heart, but what do I really love to read? Crime and suspense! Give me a murder scene over a ride through a magical kingdom, or a daring detective over a knight in shining armor any day. Right now, I’m reading Crimson Lake, by Candice Fox and let me tell you, this author doesn’t disappoint. I’ve already breezed through Hades, ordered Eden, and pre-ordered Fall, when she offered to send me Crimson Lake after a book review. Now, all things are on hold while I finish this intense crime novel and her work helps me keep my mind off the “will they, won’t they” of my agent/author relationship.

Get off social media.
I’ll admit it. I’ve followed every agent I’ve queried, or want to query, just to keep up with them. I look into what conferences they’re going to, what online chats they might be participating in, or just generally what they’re looking for in an author. While I’ve been told this is a good strategy, this also means I’m not exactly taking my mind off all those queries floating around. So I started spending time away from social media to keep my mind off things. This has been the most useful technique thus far.

Watch a movie/tv show you know is bad.
My best friend “Alaska” will tell you, I have the worse taste in movies and TV shows. I don’t know what it is about cheesy, over the top action flicks or predictable television, but I find it hilarious and enjoyable. That’s not to say I don’t like “critically acclaimed” works out there, I’m just more likely to watch “Chronicles of Riddick” over “Annie Hall” when I want to be distracted. These sort of things are brain cotton candy for me, and it’s a great way to stop thinking about something serious and just have a good time.

And lastly, clean the house.
This is when I get really desperate, and we’re not just talking about doing dishes, or other piddily chores. No, I’m talking a top to bottom, dust the corners of the ceiling, take things out of closets, and run all the junk to Goodwill that I’ve been meaning to get rid of for months. Cleaning was always my mother’s way of keeping her world organized, and I think I picked this up from her. It gives you that little bit of control when you feel like you don’t have any. It helps, even if it does leave me exhausted by the end of the day.

Looking for other things to do to get your mind off waiting for an agent yes or no?

  • Visit a place you’ve been meaning to go but have been putting off.
  • Join a writing group to hear how other writers wait for the yes or no.
  • Take up another artistic outlet, or learn a craft you’ve always wanted to try.
  • Invite some friends over for a game night.
  • Work out.
  • Play a mindless phone game.
  • Write a letter to a teacher or adult who inspired you to write. Even if you don’t send it, it’ll help remind you of people who encouraged you in your life.
  • Take yourself out on a date. Go to the movies, see a play, eat at a nice place just to try it.

What helps you keep your mind off the waiting game? Are any of these suggestions one you’ve tried or are wanting to try?

Writing Female Characters: Physical Strength vs. Actual Strength

Say it with me.

“A physically strong female character doesn’t automatically mean a well written character.”

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Too many times, when a writer of any genre or media type wants to create a “strong” character, they make them physically strong.  Unfortunately, this is often done to females. We now live in a world where some writers rebelled so violently against the damsel in distress stereotype, we have many female characters that kick ass but who lack any real story or substance.

And don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we can’t have female characters who can physically hold their own, but if the only thing a female character is good for is coming in, beating up everyone and then leaving, she’s no better than the underdeveloped “sexy lamp”.

So how do you write a strong female character?

1. Get rid of the words “strong”. If that’s the only adverb you can use to describe a character, she’s underdeveloped. What else is there to her besides her ability to kick ass? What is she passionate about? What is she skilled at that makes her more than just an action figure? 

2. And now that I mention it, stop saying your character is skilled, talented or extremely amazing at something and show it. I remember reading a YA book in my most recent brush with a writer’s group where the protagonist was supposed to be a great mountain climber who could hold her own on the roughest terrain. The character talked about it enough, but there was one problem, we never saw it. Even when it was a crucial part of a story, she’d only say she could handle it, and then she was never given a chance to shine.

Sure, a female lead can say all day long she’s fantastic, but tell the reader what she’s good at when you can show them? Let her share her knowledge instead of insisting she has it. Talk is cheap and if your character does nothing but brag, she loses her credibility. 

3. Create characters who can’t physically kick ass and who have real flaws. It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Patricia Brigg’s work, and in her Alpha and Omega series, the protagonist Anna spends less time relying on her ability to beat someone up and more on her gift of creating peace. She starts out as a quiet, scared little thing and grows into an emotional rock for not only her family, but for herself. She’s the only one who can stand up to even the most bad asses of men all because she’s comfortable with who she is as a person. 

We need more characters like this. We need characters that don’t say to the female audience, “You’re only strong if you can punch someone’s teeth in”. If a character is a great mother, we should celebrate that. If a protagonist is an introvert, we shouldn’t try to fix her. She doesn’t have to be physically strong or violent to be well written. Even if you’re writing a thriller, a superhero novel, or something where a female does need to be physically strong, that shouldn’t be the one thing that defines her. 

The world could use less female characters who are only put in place for kicking ass, and more female characters that are developed and hold their own in any situation.

What female characters do you feel like meet this standard? Which one showed you that it doesn’t take physical strength to be a strong person?

Also, if you’ve written a novel with a female character who’s more than just a one trick pony, lay it on me. I’m always looking for a new read to add to my pile.

Authors Who Changed my Life – Neal Shusterman

The original copy of my favorite book of his, purchased when I was 13.

In 2004, I was a big eyed, quiet, never quite fitting in 13 year old. I hid in the library during lunch, wrote stories inspired by whatever book I was reading and had a close friendship with the librarian. Books were an escape from a hectic homelife and Neal Shusterman’s work was my favorite place to run to.

When the school announced they had invited Shusterman for a talk on writing, the librarian knew how much I loved his books, and snuck me in to the advanced class’s private talk with him. Now, I doubt he remembers me. In fact, I’m positive he doesn’t. I was one girl, in one small town Texas middle school, out of hundreds he’s gone to. He met me for maybe five minutes, but those five minutes changed my life more than he’ll ever know.

Sitting in the back of the room, I hung on every word he said. Here was my favorite author, an idol in the eyes a eighth grader, the person who created all the books I loved. A real writer. 

When he finished his talk, I lingered behind a long line to get his autograph. Unlike the other kids who rushed to greet him, however, I didn’t have one of his books in hand. I had five pages of a story I wrote.

I didn’t know why I brought those pages then, and still don’t know why it was so important now, but when I walked up to him, I held them out and said. “Full Tilt’s my favorite book. I want to be a writer, but I’m not very good.”

He could’ve just laughed, or told me to head out because I was one of the last kids of the day. Instead, he smiled and said something to me I’ll never forget. “I bet it’s great! Be proud of your work. If you keep it up, you’ll be a writer one day. You just need to practice and never give up.”

I was shocked. He was the first adult to ever tell me that. No one, not my mother or father, not teachers, no one encouraged me to write.

It was just five minutes of his life, and four sentences he probably told a lot of kids, but that was all it took for him to encourage a shy kid who didn’t have faith in her work. 

I’m 27 now, and last month I started sending my first novel to agents. I have to say, wherever Neal Shusterman is, I thank him. He said the words I didn’t know I needed, but that I still cherish to this day.

If you’re an artist of any medium, don’t underestimate how your words can help a child. You never know how much they might need that little push of encouragement.

Which author changed your writing life? Who do you have to thank for helping you get where you are today?


Learn more about Neal Shusterman here.

Writing Prompt – Two Types of People

In 300 words or less, write a short story inspired by the theme “Two Types of People”. Post your writing and I’ll pick my favorite to feature in my next blog post!

Two Types of People

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There are two types of people who go to a funeral. The first type are the ones who are sad to see the deceased go. They wail and make a right mess of themselves over something that’s going to happen to everyone. This group turns everyone else off to the experience.

The other type are the ones who are happy to see the person in the box go. Sometimes these cheery folks aren’t even allowed to step foot in the church in the first place. On the rare instance that they are, it’s funny to see them try to hide it. They sit there with a grin on their face like they’re at some god damn carnival and give away how happy they are. This group is full of idiots.

I land somewhere between these two groups.

Now this probably makes you wonder if that would make me a third group. My answer to that is shut up and let me work my explanation. There are two groups. I’m in between.

Why am I happy and sad at the same time?

I’m happy cause the woman in that box is someone I hated more than anyone else in the whole god damned world. But it’s a bittersweet kind of happy. I loved to hate her, and I don’t know what I’ll end up doing with myself now that she’s dead.

Then again, I was the one who killed her. That’s always good. Although who else will I get to kill now that the woman who made my life a living hell is gone? I should’a worked up to her, maybe start with a few other annoying people before I took all my anger out on the person who really deserved it. I probably would feel a little more satisfied.

Why Bad Reviews Are Actually Great

It’s every writer’s worst nightmare. Or really any artist’s. You put weeks of work, maybe even months or years, into a creative project. There are long nights, days you forget to eat, and more coffee than any human being should rationally consume, but when that project is finally done, it’s not just a book, or a song, or a painting. It’s YOU.

And then the wake up call comes. Reviews come in and the world absolutely hates it.

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It’s hard hearing a negative review. People telling you something you put all that time and effort into, is bad can hurt. But let me tell you, bad reviews are a good thing.

Before you close the page for thinking I’m crazy, hear me out.

When you get a bad review, or even a hundred bad reviews, there’s only one place you can go from there. Up. Well, you could stop creating art all together, but then the only person you’re hurting is yourself. Instead of looking at negative feedback as an attack, see it as you’re starting at square one, and now all you have to do is create something better than the first piece of art you put out to the world.

Still getting bad reviews after your tenth submission? Maybe it’s time to learn from that feedback. Now, I will say learning from trolls is going to be near impossible, but you can learn from the negative feedback you get from people who are giving constructive criticism. If you keep doing the same thing, over and over again, and expecting people to feel differently about your work, the only person you have to blame is yourself. Take a step back, hear what they’re saying, and learn from your mistakes.

And lastly, negative feedback keeps you humble and teaches you how you handle rejection from your audience. When you talk to authors who are on their third or fourth book, they’ll all tell you the same thing. You can’t please everyone 100% of the time. You can, however, learn how to overcome the insecurities that piggyback on artists from every field. When you see that negative review, acknowledge that it hurts, but instead of giving up, move on. Know that person isn’t in the demographic you’re writing for and find a different audience.

I know it’s easier to say this than to do it, but trust me. The minute you learn how to handle rejection from the audience, the more you’ll be able to tap into a creative part of yourself that isn’t afraid of what others will think.

 

How do you handle rejection when it comes to your artform? What keeps you going when you get a negative review?

If I Were a Character… – A writing exercise

There are little things about characters that make them more real to both the author and the audience. Birthmarks, scars, and little quirks are all things that contribute to who that character is and how they act in a story.

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Victoria Griffin created a list back on April 10th, 2016 to pinpoint the things about herself that made HER a character. Check out what would make her stand out on a page here, but in the meantime, I figured I’d jump on board and play along with my own personal version of the game.

What makes me a character….

  • I have a scar on the left side of my head from not wearing a helmet on a bike ride to work. I had to get twelve staples and it still aches sometimes.
  • I have a bad habit of biting my cuticles till they bleed when I’m very nervous.
  • Half my head is shaved, the other half is almost to the middle of my back, but when I’m working, it’s always thrown up in a bun.
  • My clothes always have at least five strands of dog hair on them.
  • I rely on my stage acting knowledge to come off as more confident than I really feel.
  • I whistle way more than is probably socially acceptable.
  • There’s usually something odd in my pocket (worry stone, tiny Ganesha, a nail or screw from a project, a shell I thought was cool, etc.)
  • I’m almost always wearing jeans and flip flops, if the weather permits.

 

How about you? What makes you a character, and how can you pick out little things to make your MC unique? Not a writer? What little things do some of your favorite characters do, have or say that makes them unique?