Physical Attributes Entry: Faces

In case any of you are wondering if Angela has either a) stepped into a hole and fallen to the center of the Earth and out of the blogosphere, or b) finally gone stark raving mad, shaved her head, and joined a commune in Tibet, I should probably put you out of your misery and say that she's c) vacationing with her family in Vietnam. She'll be back at the end of next week, hopefully with many embarrassing stories and a million pictures to share. Until then, enjoy this post on FACES :)

*****

Physical description of a character can be difficult to convey—too much will slow the pace or feel 'list-like', while too little will not allow readers to form a clear mental image. If a reader cannot imagine what your character looks like, they may have trouble connecting with them on a personal level, or caring about their plight. 

One way to balance the showing and telling of physical description is to showcase a few details that really help 'tell the story' about who your character is and what they've been through up to this point. Think about what makes them different and interesting. Can a unique feature, clothing choice or way they carry themselves help to hint at their personality? Also, consider how they move their body. Using movement will naturally show a character's physical characteristics, keep the pace flowing and help to convey their emotions.


FACES


Descriptors: round, narrow, heart-shaped, long, squished, square, oval, fleshy, fat, drawn, skeletal, baby-faced, wrinkled, freckled, acned, happy, sad, mournful, open/bright, closed-off, worried, downcast, uplifted, tired, tanned, pale, pasty, pallid, expressionless, smooth, bearded, jowly, wide


Things Faces Do (and other words/phrases to describe those actions)
  • Fall: sag, droop, sink, crumple
  • Brighten: shine, gleam, glow, uplift, beam, radiate
  • This is a tough one, because many of the things that happen to the face (tics, twitches, etc.) aren't attributed to the face, but to the specific body part involved (eye, jaw, cheek). Remember that for the face to get credit for an action, multiple parts need to be in play. This is why feelings are usually attributed to the face, because so much of it is involved when emotions are being expressed.

Key Emotions and Related Face Gestures: 
  • Fear: The eyes grow wide; the nostrils may flare; the mouth may open wider to take in more oxygen or squeeze closed in an effort to gain control of oneself.
  • Happiness: the eyes may shine or glisten with tears; a smile will emerge; the entire faces brightens or becomes more animated
  • Sadness: the eyes grow dull and limpid and may take on a blank gaze; tears appear; the mouth downturns and may quiver with the effort to hold back tears; the entire face appears to sag, droop, or crumple
  • Anger: cheeks flush; teeth and jaws clench; lips mash together; eyes often narrow and take on a hard or steely glint; the tendons may stand out, showing tenseness; nostrils may flare
  • Worry and Nervousness: eyes shift, darting here and there and blinking rapidly; tics may start up in various places; the teeth may lick, bite, or chew on the lips;
  • Surprise: The eyes grow wide and may cease blinking for a time; the mouth gasps open; the face may become still or appear frozen
  • For more information on how to express emotions using the face and other body parts, see our sampling of The Emotion Thesaurus, or check out the complete version at Amazon and other retailers.

Simile and Metaphor Help:                         
  • Her face brightened in a suitably gentle way—not a sudden sunburst, but an oil lamp being turned slowly up.
  • At the word "no", the little boy's face turned red and squeezed shut. He looked like a sunburned Pekingese.

Clichés to Avoid: the wrinkled face that is described as a roadmap or atlas of lines; the face as an open book or closed door; the pointy-chinned face being "elfin"


HINT: When describing any part of the body, try to use cues that show the reader more than just a physical description. Make your descriptions do double duty. Example: The woman put her sad moon-face in at the window of the car. "You be good," she said to the little ones. "Mind what Dicey tells you." Then she slung her purse over her shoulder and walked away, her stride made uneven by broken sandal thongs, thin elbows showing through holes in the oversized sweater, her jeans faded and baggy. -- Homecoming, Cynthia Voigt


BONUS TIP: The Colors, Textures & Shapes Thesaurus in our sidebar might help you find a fresh take on some of the descriptors listed above! 

*photo credit: Paul Stevenson via photopin cc

Dontcha Know How Ter Write Dialects, Y'all?

Courtesy of yooperann at PhotoPin
Dialects and accents in fiction are a particular source of contention for me. One of the characters in my historical fiction is a Native American girl who speaks English as a second language. Critique partners and my own ears have told me that her speech needs work, so for literally months I've been thinking about the issue of how to write dialects and accents in a believable way. Then, while I was reading Maggie Stiefvater's THE RAVEN BOYS, I discovered some easy techniques to show the reader how the character sounds. First:

The voice was careful, masculine, and local; the vowels had all the edges sanded off.

The simplicity of this just kills me. Steifvater doesn't go into detail describing the individual sounds of the character's speech, the phonetics, how the sentences are put together. She succinctly tells how the words sound, then writes them the normal way, and the reader's brain fills in the rest. In this particular case, the story takes place in Virginia. If you're familiar with the way Virginians talk, then the  "local" reference will immediately clue you in to how the speaker sounds. And if you're unfamiliar with the accent, you get a good feel for it with the description she gives of the vowels. 

Here's another example of how you can describe someone's speech when you're referencing a known language or accent: 

When he was uncertain about something, his Southern accent always made an appearance, and it was in evidence now.

Not only does this clue the reader in as to how the character speaks, but it also reveals his frame of mind. This is an excellent example of description that does more than just describe.

Here's one more sample, this time describing an elderly English gentleman's speech:

Without further preamble, Malory launched into a one-sided conversation about the weather, the historical society's past four meetings, and how frustrating his neighbor with the collie was. Gansey understood about three quarters of the monologue. After living in the UK for nearly a year, Gansey was good with accents, but Malory's was often difficult, due to a combination of slurring, chewing, extreme age, bad breeding, and a poor phone connection.

Courtesy of Gerry Balding
The conversation that follows doesn't include any hard-to-read pronunciations or truncated verbs (talkin', eatin', drivin', etc.). Malory's rambly style of speaking, combined with the previous description, are enough to give the reader a feel for how he sounds: like an old British man who slurs his words and eats while he talks.

Descriptions like these tell precisely how the character speaks without putting the reader through mental acrobatics and having to work too hard to figure out what's being said. While some stories succeed with this hyper-focus on unique speech patterns (Forrest Gump, Brer Rabbit), a simpler method like Stiefvater's might work for you. I know I'll be trying it with my WIP.

For another great post on this topic, check out Janice Hardy's blog.

Physical Attributes Entry: Fingers


Physical description of a character can be difficult to convey—too much will slow the pace or feel 'list-like', while too little will not allow readers to form a clear mental image. If a reader cannot imagine what your character looks like, they may have trouble connecting with them on a personal level, or caring about their plight. 

One way to balance the showing and telling of physical description is to showcase a few details that really help 'tell the story' about who your character is and what they've been through up to this point. Think about what makes them different and interesting. Can a unique feature, clothing choice or way they carry themselves help to hint at their personality? Also, consider how they move their body. Using movement will naturally show a character's physical characteristics, keep the pace flowing and help to convey their emotions.



FINGERS


Descriptors: long, slender, stubby, wrinkled, thin, fat, knobby, gnarled, arthritic, strong, frail, fragile, clawed, tremulous, deft, dextrous, hairy, graceful, elegant, stiff, broken, bony, broken, swollen, jammed, limp,


Things Fingers Do (and other words/phrases to describe those actions)
  • Quiver: shake, shiver, shudder, tremble, flutter, jitter, quaver, tremor
  • Tingle: smart, sting, tingle, prickle, tickle, throb
  • Fidget: tap, drum, rub, pick, bounce, pat, flick, worry, fuss, squeeze, waggle, stroke, crack knuckles

Key Emotions and Related Finger Gestures: 
  • When a person is nervous or worried, the fingers are great indicators. They worry at each other, pick at loose threads, stroke or rub at a certain spot over and over, drum a tabletop, or tap the lip or chin. The fingers can play a great role in individualizing your character and creating those unique movements to show when your hero is anxious. 
  • A common sign of anger is the fingers curling into fists. And of course, most people in modern culture will recognize the most obvious finger sign given to show frustration or anger ;).
  • The fingers will quiver or tremble at the height of any strong emotion, like excitement, fear, or rage.

Simile and Metaphor Help:                         
  • Her fingers fluttered over the harp strings like birds too elegant to land.
  • I woke feeling bloated and swollen. My delicate fingers had turned to sausages stuffed into too-small casings.
Clichés to Avoid: thin fingers described as skeletal, fingers curling into fists so tightly that the nails break the skin, fingers gnarled like tree roots


HINT: When describing any part of the body, try to use cues that show the reader more than just a physical description. Make your descriptions do double duty. Example: I wasn't sure about this deal, but Derek seemed to have no doubts. I examined his outstretched hand—the fingers were steady, without a flutter of uncertainty or greed. When I finally gave in, his handshake was firm, the fingers wrapping around mine like an arm around the shoulder, assuring me that everything would be all right.

BONUS TIP: The Colors, Textures & Shapes Thesaurus in our sidebar might help you find a fresh take on some of the descriptors listed above! 

**photo credit: Fiona in Eden via photopin cc

Juggling Genres...Brilliance or Pure Folly?

Today we're happy to welcome Anne O'Connell, an author currently juggling fiction and nonfiction writing, which, as you know, is near and dear to our Bookshelf Muse hearts. Authors are often advised not to switch genres—to find something you're good at or passionate about and stick with it. But the truth is that for many of us, passion isn't confined to a certain kind of story. We need to be able to write (and sell) the stories that interest us, whatever genre they happen to be. But how do we do it successfully? Luckily, Anne is here to talk about her tips on doing just that...


I love to write but don’t want to get boxed into one genre. Does that create problems? Absolutely! Does it keep things interesting? You bet!

On this, the occasion of the launch of my first novel, I pondered briefly on whether or not I’ll be giving up the other writing I do… not a chance! Mental Pause is my first novel but my first book was @home in Dubai , a nonfiction book published traditionally by Summertime Publishing, and my second was a self-published e-book about doing your own PR. I enjoyed writing them all equally.

I consider my specialized skill to be simply…. writing. Do some writers have a particular niche they focus on? Most do and many ‘experts’ warn not to switch about, as it makes it difficult to market your services. That’s probably the biggest downside to switching genres. For authors with a following, it can alienate your readers. But sometimes you just need a change, right? If you plan on juggling genres, just promise that you’ll be back. It’ll be part of your messaging. If you’re traditionally published you might have a battle on your hands with your publisher, though. That’s when you might consider turning to self-publishing.

For me, I need the variety. After spending days on end writing web copy for a client, my eyes tend to glaze over and my mind wanders. Sometimes the screen even gets blurry. It’s amazing how invigorating it is to switch gears to a work of fiction. It’s almost as energizing as a brisk walk on the beach.

Switching genres may have its ups and downs but that doesn’t mean it’s not doable. Here are some successful methods for writing across genres:
  • Look for inspiration to spark an idea (for business writing or nonfiction, it usually comes from a client brief or an area of expertise; for my novel it came from a night sweat). 
  • Write a synopsis of the idea. Just get it all down… it’s what I call a mental dump. 
  • Determine the target market for any type of writing before you get too far into it because that will dictate some of your language use and the level of writing. 
  • Write an outline. For business writing it’s usually pretty sewn-up before I write the bulk of the piece; for nonfiction it starts with a fairly complete chapter outline. But my novel evolved as I wrote it, from a loose idea and a bunch of scenes from my initial mad ramblings of a peri-menopausal woman that I had dumped into a document. I know some authors need to start with a more prescribed outline but your personality will guide you here. The important thing is to just write. 
  • Do the background research, which is equally as important for both. For nonfiction, it lends credibility and for fiction, believability.

Tempering the Confusion 
If you decide to write multiple genres, be ready to manage a complex communications strategy. I’m in the midst of fine-tuning mine to make sure that it speaks to both my copy writing clientele as well as readers of my novel (hopefully many more to come). The novelist persona is very new so I’m gently introducing that side of me, while maintaining the ‘bread and butter’ of my copy writing side.

Website
  • I have redesigned my website that I’ve had for more than five years. I’ve made it softer and changed the focus from hard-core business to more of a personal feel. Most of my clients are in the service or consulting industries and are therefore more people centric, so it works well. 
  • I’ve added a books tab and am creating landing pages for my books (for @Home in Dubai it actually links to a whole different website). 
  • I have a website builder package that includes unlimited pages so I can add books as I write them. I create and manage my own websites using Go Daddy, which makes it easier and cheaper. I also use the same service for my email database and distribution as well as my online bookshop. 
Social Media 
  • I have a presence on Facebook, which I’ve been building for five years. I have a personal profile, which I keep for family and friends as well as several pages, one for me as a writer/author and a page for each book. There is some overlap but I try to post fresh content on each so those who are on all of the pages don’t get annoyed. 
  • I have chosen to only have one Twitter account (@annethewriter). I rotate tweets between all my endeavours, including my volunteer work. I gamble that there’s enough commonality among my Tweeps that if I post a Tweet about my book launch, it’s not going to turn off my current or potential copy writing clients, fellow expats or social media buffs who are following. 
  • I have two blogs, one for general writing and one for my novel. I think blog subscribers are less forgiving if you switch gears on them too much. I know I’m walking a fine line with that and probably need to streamline my writing blog a bit more. 
  • Like my website, my LinkedIn profile combines it all with a headline that reads, ‘Freelance Writer, Social Media Consultant and Author’ and sports the same photo that I have on the website. My status updates rotate in a similar way to my Twitter posts but are not duplicated. 
  • I’ve just started playing around with Pinterest so don’t quite have a handle on it yet but do have my book covers pinned (in different categories) as well as images that link to my blogs on writing and social media. 

These are the strategies I’m using where I’ve combined all of my genres, but there are those that are specific to promoting my copy writing services, nonfiction book or launch of my debut novel as well. For example, the blog tour for my novel was totally different from the blog tour I did for @Home in Dubai. Book reviewers do focus on particular genres so once you have a list built, if you’re switching genres, you probably won’t be able to use much of it again.

When it all comes down to it, you’ve got to do what makes you happy, and for the time being, juggling genres is what does it for me.

Thank you, Anne! It seems to me that while writing different genres can be a challenge, it's the selling different genres that can be a bigger headache. I agree with Anne, that you have to vary your marketing techniques and be prepared to do some extra work in the social networking arena if you want to have success in multiple areas. I'd love to hear more thoughts on this topic. Musers, what techniques have you used to write or market for different genres? What successful methods have you seen others use?

*****

Anne has been working as a freelance copywriter, writing coach and consultant since 2007, specializing in social media, marketing, corporate communications and public relations. She is a regular contributor to Global Living Magazine and Expat Focus. In between clients she squeezes in time for her newly found passion - writing fiction. She and her husband have a passion for travel as well and that adventurous spirit has taken them all over the world. Anne grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia and has a bachelor of public relations from Mount St. Vincent University. She is the author of @Home in Dubai… Getting Connected Online and on the Ground, 10 Steps to a Successful PR Campaign – a Do-it-Yourself Guide for Authors and Mental Pause, her first novel.

Physical Attribute: Toenails


photo credit: shannonkringen via photopin cc
Physical description of a character can be difficult to convey—too much will slow the pace or feel 'list-like', while too little will not allow readers to form a clear mental image. If a reader cannot imagine what your character looks like, they may have trouble connecting with them on a personal level, or caring about their plight. 


One way to balance the showing and telling of physical description is to showcase a few details that really help 'tell the story' about who your character is and what they've been through up to this point. Think about what makes them different and interesting. Can a unique feature, clothing choice or way they carry themselves help to hint at their personality? Also, consider how they move their body. Using movement will naturally show a character's physical characteristics, keep the pace flowing and help to convey their emotions.

TOENAILS


Descriptors: shaped, trimmed, painted, glittery, decorated, colorful, glossy, tiny, thick, yellowed, rounded, curved, shiny, short, hangnail, long, broken, peeling, bejeweled, clawed, dirty, thick, brittle, ingrown, pedicured, smooth

Things Toenails Do (and other words/phrases to describe those actions)
  • Toenails, unlike other parts of the body, don't actively "do" much. Their main function is to protect the toes from injury. People may use them to scratch at an itchy part on their leg, and women often showcase them in summer months by painting them fashionably.

Key Emotions Related to Toenails: 

  • Worry: because of the almost universal feeling that feet are not overly attractive, men and women are generally self conscious about their feet and so  take care to keep their toenails clean and healthy when they are visible to others (sandal season, going to the pool, etc.) 
  • Pride: Painted toenails for women are a source of pride, good fashion sense and femininity. Many will keep their nails painted year around to make their feet appear more attractive.
Simile and Metaphor Help:                           

  • Janice's toenails flashed bright against the sand--a scatter of rubies dropped from a pirate's treasure chest.
  • Demi's red and black toenails lined up like a row of lady bugs.

Clichés to Avoid:
  • None that I can think of!
HINT: When describing any part of the body, try to use cues that show the reader more than just a physical description. Make your descriptions do double duty. Example: 

Jenny walked across the ballroom, each step deliberate and slow, drawing all eyes to her. From the diamond hair clips holding back her thick blond hair to the glossy gold metallic toenails peeking out of her three inch Prada sandals, she was every bit the wealthy, well-bred society girl.

BONUS TIP: The Colors, Textures & Shapes Thesaurus in our sidebar might help you find a fresh take on some of the descriptors listed above! 

Clarity In Writing & The Curse of Reader Assumption

I'm happy to welcome back Dr. John Yeoman of Writer's Village, a writing community dedicated to helping writers succeed. Today he's looking at an important facet of the story-audience connection: reader assumptions.

It is very important that we achieve CLARITY when we write. Is the audience picking up on our exact meaning the way we intend? What viewpoint biases do they apply to what they read? This is a great topic, so please read on for a deeper look!


Are Your Stories Killed by the Curse of Assumption?
by John Yeoman


Would you have misunderstood these opening lines as badly as I did?

‘She cursed her killer Jimmy Choos as she entered the room. The man met her eyes and slipped his Mont Blanc quickly into his pocket.’

Having read too much John le Carré, I assumed that Jimmy Choos was the name of an assassin she’d hired to kill her husband. And a Mont Blanc was a gun, presumably of French design.

My wife got it at once. Of course! This was a style-conscious young woman on a blind date. But I missed it. Why? I’m a reclusive old man.

We can’t always choose our readers. If the reader misunderstands us, our story is lost. And every reader brings to our story their own assumptions.

Try these three ways to avert the Curse of Reader Assumption:

 1. Establish the context of your story at once - unless you want to obscure it.

 Don’t just dump that information on us in the authorial voice, of course. Let the narrator convey it in passing. Here’s a scene from an historical novel, located in London 1598:

‘It was a bright chill morning, the air sharp with the tang of burning apple wood. Mercifully, the rain had abated these past few days, having pelted down relentlessly for several months. No doubt, the farmers were praying now for a good harvest as they bided their time, waiting to sow the fields with what little corn they still possessed. I prayed with them. I had been a farmer once.’

We don’t need to tell the reader that England in 1598 was recovering from three years of rain-induced famine. We’ve suggested it obliquely. and slid in a little information about our character too.

Why might you want to obscure the context?

In China Mieville’s disturbing novel The City & The City the context is initially clear. Or so it seems. A body is found. Detectives gather and chew their nails while they wait for the path report. It’s a re-run of James Patterson. Isn’t it?

No. Ghost-like creatures drift about. The landscape keeps shifting, as if in a dream. Characters freeze until things are back to normal then resume as if nothing had happened. This is an alternative world. The story is a sci-fantasy. Mieville deliberately makes its context - and genre - ambiguous, to unsettle the reader.

2. Keep reminding us of the context.

 Thornton Wilder opens his deliciously satiric novel The Cabbala in a train carriage in Italy circa 1920:

 ‘In one compartment a party drawn from that race that travels most and derives least pleasure from it talked tirelessly of bad hotels, the ladies sitting with their skirts whipped about their ankles to discourage the ascent of fleas.’

 Whenever the travellers’ conversation starts to roam, Wilder reminds us they’re still on a train:

‘In another compartment an adventuress in silver sables leaned one cheek against the shuddering window panes ... In the pause that followed, fragments of conversation from the various corners of the compartment flowed in upon our minds ...’

 Each incident is linked by the term ‘compartment’ so that we never forget the context.

 2. Use ‘stage business’ to keep us in the scene.

 If you can’t remind us of the context with the repetition of a linking word (or phrase), as Wilder does, call our attention continually to props that define the setting. It’s stage business. If a theatrical producer wanted to suggest a Wild West saloon, he might hang an elk head over the door, put a spittoon in the corner and make the characters use it every moment. Suppose our character is chatting in a modern bar. A long dialogue ensues. Break it up!

Have the speakers cradle a glass, order a snack, check the clock, visit the restroom... all the things that people do in a bar.

Use those props continually to ground the reader in the context of the bar.

 3. Keep the continuity going. 

When you use a lot of frame shifts - switches of point of view, flashbacks, flashforwards and the like - it’s particularly important to retain continuity in the context. Otherwise, the reader gets lost. For example, a woman rambling in the country might chance upon a derelict church:

‘This had once been a graveyard. Nettles, briars, thistles taller than a man’s head. Grey stones poked out like stubs of broken teeth. She remembered her father’s funeral...’

The narrator’s mind then flashes back to the funeral. Ten pages later the reader may have lost their place in the story entirely. So bring us back to the graveyard.

‘She wiped the grave dust from her hands and ran from that dead place. Thistles tugged at her dress and briars tripped her feet but she didn’t notice. In her face was a new resolve.’

Now that long digressive flashback has been restored to its context and the story can resume.

Don’t give the reader a chance to misinterpret your story!

It’s not enough to spell out the context in chapter one and forget it thereafter. The reader will forget it too. Maybe they’ll put down our story and not return to it for another month. Or they’re lurching around town in a taxi, an IPad in one hand and their heart in the other. Keep reminding us, page by page, of what the story’s all about.

Dr John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, judges the Writers’ Village story competition and is a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. He has been a successful commercial author for 42 years.

A wealth of further ideas for writing fiction that sells can be found in his free 14-part story course at Writers' Village. 

A big thank you to John for tackling this! Clarity is so important, and we have to always remember that the audience's education and life experience will place a filter on what they read.

Have you ever read a story where you read something one way, only to realize later that you misinterpreted the writer's intent? Let me know in the comments, and make sure to stop in at Writer's Village. There's a ton of great resources and advice to be found.

Physical Attribute Entry: Hair

Physical description of a character can be difficult to convey—too much will slow the pace or feel 'list-like', while too little will not allow readers to form a clear mental image. If a reader cannot imagine what your character looks like, they may have trouble connecting with them on a personal level, or caring about their plight. 

One way to balance the showing and telling of physical description is to showcase a few details that really help 'tell the story' about who your character is and what they've been through up to this point. Think about what makes them different and interesting. Can a unique feature, clothing choice or way they carry themselves help to hint at their personality? Also, consider how they move their body. Using movement will naturally show a character's physical characteristics, keep the pace flowing and help to convey their emotions.



HAIR


Descriptors: curly, ringleted, straight, kinky, wavy, wild, lank, blunt, tame, bushy, frizzy, silky, long, short, flowing, buzzed, cropped, chopped, coifed, styled, gelled, loose, flat, shiny, dull, bouncy, thin, thick, wiry, dyed, streaked, layered, flyaway, balding, patchy, pulled back, tied up, smooth, dry, split, rough, spiky, stiff, straightened, sweaty, greasy, stringy, dirty, uncombed, neat, messy, mussed, tousled, bleached, colored, braided, dreadlocks, bedhead, staticky, cornrows, mohawk, mullet, crewcut


Things Hair Does (and other words/phrases to describe those actions)
  • Flip: toss, jerk, flick, shake, 
  • Blow (in the wind): float, flutter, sail, waft, fly, skim, whip, tear, thrash, twirl, buffet, lash, shimmy, sway, slap, flap

Key Emotions and Related Hair Gestures: 
  • Though hair doesn't do much on its own, people often touch their hair to indicate certain emotions. When nervous or feeling insecure, people do pretty much anything with their hair, such as touching, patting, twisting, pulling, compulsively braiding/unbraiding, pulling, jerking, and finger-combing their locks. 
  • At times of high anxiety or stress, people might actually pull their hair out, to the point of thinning their hair or going bald in spots. 
  • A flirtatious person expressing desire for someone else might draw attention to their hair by flipping, shaking, or running their hands through it
  • When frustrated, people may grab their hair, run their hands through it, or pull it.
  • A very angry or enraged person may do something drastic like chopping or shaving off their hair.

Simile and Metaphor Help:                         
  • The shaved hair of her scalp felt prickly and stubborn, like a curled-tight hedgehog saying Screw You to the world.
  • My mother's stylist was a miracle worker. I turned my head this way and that, viewing my coif from every angle. The curls were the perfect mix of styled and carefree, the color spot-on. Somehow, she'd turned me into a Paul Mitchell model.

Clichés to Avoid: Bleached blondes that are dumb or gullible; sexy, sassy redheads; lice as a sign of dirty hair; the prevalence of redheads in literature despite their rarity in the world's population (less than 2%)

HINT: When describing any part of the body, try to use cues that show the reader more than just a physical description. Make your descriptions do double duty. Example: I tried not to stare at the matriarch's hair but didn't quite succeed. It was the color of rich loam without a hint of white—a glossy shade that inspired both envy and debate among the village women. My mother liked to say that no one Bentri's age kept such hair naturally.

BONUS TIP: The Colors, Textures & Shapes Thesaurus in our sidebar might help you find a fresh take on some of the descriptors listed above! 

photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc

Book Signings That WOW

photo: rickbucich via photopin cc
The idea of doing a book reading or author signing sort of terrifies me. I don't know why this is, because I love writers--we share the same passions and interests. It's great to chat with them at conferences, see what they are reading, discover what they are writing themselves. I always leave a conference with new friends, and in today's digital world, some faces to go with the names I recognize online!

So WHY should I be so frightened of a book signing? The people there show up because they are interested in my book, and what I have to say, right?

I don't know how to pin down my fears exactly, but if I had to get to the root of it all, it would be to say I am afraid of screwing up, of doing or saying something stupid that I can't undo. Yet, book events are important to authors and for building relationships with readers, so I need to move past my worries. I bet many of you feel the same!

Lucky for us, my friend Rochelle Melander, author of Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It) has some excellent words of advice on how to handle such an event! Please read on, and prepare to bookmark this gem of a post to reference for your own next book signing. GIVEAWAY ALERT! Rochelle is also kindly giving away a copy of her book. Details below!


Book Signings that Wow
By Rochelle Melander

Last month, I headed out on a cold Friday night to attend an author event at my favorite local bookstore. Truthfully, I dreaded it. Okay, the idea of having pizza and wine with a friend sounded good. But then schlepping through the snow and ice to sit through a long and boring reading—not so much fun. Unless . . . the event wows. And this one did.

Mystery author Ian Rankin told stories (in his lovely Scottish accent) about how his newest books came about. (I won’t spoil it for you, but know it involved a secret military camp, a rock star, and drinking.) By the time he started answering questions, we’d laughed and shed a few tears. When Rankin signed my book, he asked: “So how was the evening for you? Did you enjoy it?”

You’re probably thinking, “But Rankin’s a star AND he has an accent. How can I wow like he does?” Never fear! Here’s my no-fail plan for wowing audiences at book events:

 Get the Right Attitude. When Ian Rankin asked me, “So how was the evening for you?”—I knew he’d approached his talk thinking: how can I make this event work for my audience? Face it—people can spend their night and their cash in a gazillion different ways. If you want to get them to attend your event and buy a book, you need to make it worthwhile for them. Start by asking yourself: how can I best serve my audience?

Promote Your Event. In the days leading up to the book signing for Write-A-Thon, I had a recurring nightmare that no one showed up for my event. It happens. I’ve been the only attendee at more than one author event. When I asked Daniel Goldin, owner of Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, WI, how to get people to events, he offered great advice:

 *Invite people! Ask your family, friends, and acquaintances to come to your event. Goldin says, “The best thing is person-to-person selling, and a personal contact will always be more effective than a bulk mailing. "I'd love for you to be there" is probably more effective than ‘I think you'll like my book’”

*Pursue publicity. Connect with as many local media outlets as possible. Don’t overlook local bloggers—sometimes they can rally a dedicated group of fans better than a spot on a local television show. Goldin says, “Press is light years better than ads. You get the chance to tell what your story is about and why folks would connect.”

*Build good will with other authors. Be the kind of author who supports other writers. Blog about your friends’ books and events. Write reviews of their books and post them online. Goldin added, “Put your money where your mouth is (figuratively) and attend your friend's events too. It's like getting invited to a wedding—they'll support you if you support them.” Plan your event. Don’t be the author who stumbles through a too-long reading while the audience members surf the net on their smart phones. Successful book events appear effortless. The author may sound like he spontaneously sang a few bars of a favorite old drinking song, but I’m sure he practiced. The authors who wow plan and practice their talks.

*Tell stories. I’ve attended more than a hundred events, and I always prefer hearing authors tell stories over listening to them read from their book. According to bookstore owner Daniel Goldin, “You can throw 5 minutes of reading into it, but make sure you're a great reader. One technique that seems to work well is telling the story that leads to how the book got written. If you can expand that to 15 minutes, you've got half your talk.”

*Connect with the audience. When I attend a talk, just like when I have coffee with a new friend, I’m looking for how we connect. Goldin affirms this, “The #1 reason why someone buys the book at an event is emotional. You connected with them somehow and you're promising that the book is more of the same.” You cannot manufacture connection. But you can give an event that creates connection: be open and authentic. Tell stories that show why you are passionate about this topic or these characters.

*Add Value. Think about the unique ways you and your book can add value to the event for the crowd. At my event, I gave everyone a complimentary bookmark (that was printed with a fun saying and info about my book). In addition, I held a drawing for Write-A-Thon goodie bags, filled with delicious treats and tools for a writing marathon. At other book signings I’ve attended, authors have given out temporary tattoos (Jeff Kinney), brought in artifacts from their childhood (Patricia Polacco), and served cake (Debra Brenegan).

 *Keep it short, Sherlock! Give some people a microphone, and they can talk for hours about how great they are. Don’t be that person! According to Goldin, “Leave the crowd wanting a bit more. You will always go longer than you think. Aim for 30 minutes, and never go over 45.” As you plan your talk, don’t forget to include fifteen minutes for questions.

 *Practice. Once you know what you’re going to say and read, stand up in front of your family or pets or even a dozen stuffed animals and do it. Then give the talk twenty more times until you don’t feel stupid or, if you do feel stupid, you don’t care!

 But what if I’m terrified? Get used to it. Everyone is. For most of us, speaking tops list of things we fear, along with heights, snakes, and spiders. According to author and certified professional speaker Mandi Stanley, the best way to manage fear is to remember, “It’s not about you, it’s about the audience.” If you need more practical help, she lists several tools in her book The No-Panic Plan for Presenters: An A-to-Z Checklist for Speaking Confidently and Compellingly Anywhere, Anytime:

*Remember that the audience wants you to do well.
*It’s easier to speak to people you know—so get to the event early and talk to people as they come in.
*If you have extra adrenaline or nervous energy, go in the restroom and jog really fast for a few minutes. If your hands still shake, Stanley recommends that you don’t hold paper. That way, no one will see you shake!

 After the event. Go home and collapse. You did it! The next day, send a hand-written thank you note to the people who hosted your event. If possible, send chocolate! Why? Bookstore owners, booksellers, and other event coordinators work hard to promote your event and sell your book. A note helps you to be remembered as that kind author who gave a great talk and said thank you (as opposed to the cranky one who sneered at them). And who knows, that might help you get another signing when your next book comes out!

Your turn: What are your tips for creating book events that wow?

Rochelle Melander is an author, speaker, and certified professional coach. She is the author of ten books, including Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It.

Rochelle teaches professionals how to write good books fast, use writing to transform their lives, navigate the publishing world, and get published! For more tips and a complementary download of the first two chapters of Write-A-Thon, visit her online at www.writenowcoach.com. (TIP: Rochelle always has great advice, so look her up on TWITTER & FACEBOOK.)

GIVEAWAY DETAILS: Rochelle is generously giving away a print copy (US & Canada only) of her book to a commenter today, so if you'd like to try your luck, just comment! We'd love to hear if you've been to a book signing, and what was successful (or not so successful) about it! That way, we all have more ideas of how to do host a great one ourselves!

Contest now closed--good luck everyone!

Physical Attributes: Shoulders


photo credit: flyzipper via photopin cc
Physical description of a character can be difficult to convey—too much will slow the pace or feel 'list-like', while too little will not allow readers to form a clear mental image. If a reader cannot imagine what your character looks like, they may have trouble connecting with them on a personal level, or caring about their plight. 

One way to balance the showing and telling of physical description is to showcase a few details that really help 'tell the story' about who your character is and what they've been through up to this point. Think about what makes them different and interesting. Can a unique feature, clothing choice or way they carry themselves help to hint at their personality? Also, consider how they move their body. Using movement will naturally show a character's physical characteristics, keep the pace flowing and help to convey their emotions.


SHOULDERS


Descriptors: muscled, broad, narrow, thin, willowy, thick, freckled, tanned, sunburned, veined, bulky, rounded, tattooed, strong, roped with muscle, bony, sloped, iron, pale, pimpled, solid, lean, big boned, raw boned, brawny, muscular, solid, rippled, stocky, well built, ripped, coltish; soft, smooth, compact, slight, wispy, burly, wide set, swimmer's build, chiseled, firm, limber, taut, bulky, shapely, stooped, graceful, bowed, straight, hairy, dimpled, peeling

Things Shoulders Do
  • lift: raise, curl, hoist, heave, boost
  • tense: tighten, harden, strain, bulge, ripple, twinge
  • push: nudge, jam, shove, knock, thrust, prod, poke, jostle
  • drop: sag, lower, cave, plummet, bow

Key Emotions and Related Shoulder Gestures: 
  • Disappointment or Resignation: shoulders tend to drop or cave in a moment of defeat, or pull forward and as body posture loosens, curl over one's chest
  • Indifference or Confusion:  When a person conveys they don't care or they don't know the answer to something, a common response is a one or two shoulder shrug, often paired with broken eye contact.
  • Wariness or Anger: In moments of high stress, the shoulder stiffen and muscles grow taut. This is the physical manifestation of fight or flight, as the body prepares to battle or run.
Simile and Metaphor Help:                           
  • The ropey, firm rises of his shoulders provided a map for my fingers to explore.
  • Anna ducked out of the change room in her borrowed swimsuit, her chalky, sun screened shoulders as pale as twin moons.
Clichés to Avoid:

Shrugging one's shoulders is often overused when a character is being non responsive during a dialogue exchange. It's not a gesture to avoid, but one to take care in not overusing.

HINT: When describing any part of the body, try to use cues that show the reader more than just a physical description. Make your descriptions do double duty. Example: 

Andrew's tight t shirt pulled off like a second skin, revealing broad, sun-browned shoulders that my fingers ached to touch. The hard life of a ranch hand certainly agreed with this cowboy.

BONUS TIP: The Colors, Textures & Shapes Thesaurus in our sidebar might help you find a fresh take on some of the descriptors listed above! 

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...