Tag Archives: Revising

Updating the Character Worksheet: Emotions

Confession time: “Hello, my name is Courtney McIlwain Sloan and my writing Emotional Intelligence Quotient is low.”

“Hello, Courtney.”

There, it’s out there now. What a load off.

What I mean is in “real life” ® I can watch my friends, family, colleagues, etc and read their varied and personal expressions of emotion, interpret them and react accordingly. Non-verbal communication, folks, it’s where all the cool kids are at. Hell, I teach it in my communication classes. People trust non-verbal cues far more than their verbal counterparts. Why? We can’t shut them off and most of us don’t actively control them. If someone tells you something very sincere then rolls their eyes as they walk off, you’re going to believe the eye roll more than the controllable word choice. It’s human nature.

The same applies to our characters in writing. Their non-verbals have to express the underlying truth. As Mark Twain said, “All emotion is involuntary when genuine.” Very often it is the only way to express a character’s emotion and still show instead of tell.

“Jack gripped the wine bottle until his knuckles were white. I was worried the vein in his forehead would explode before he made it out the room.”


“I could see Jack was pissed.”

This hits a new level when writing in first person, as in my latest works.

“My stomach churned at her callused words. I turned away, willing the tears in my eyes not to fall.”


“She upset me.”

Both of these are identifying an emotional state without spelling it out. They also help guide the reader to feel the emotional reactions themselves rather than just stay a casual observer. And words should do that. Choosing the right word does more than paint the correct picture for the reader. It also paints the right emotion behind that word for the reader to experience.

Hence the different picture a someone paints when they describe the young under average weight heroine as “slender” or “bony” or “petite” or “gaunt” or “emaciated”. Each experience is different for the reader. This I get.

BUT this is where my trouble starts. I often go to the same areas of the body for each emotion. One BETA reader a book back actually asked me, “What’s your obsession with backs?” I didn’t know what she meant until I looked back and realized half of all my emotional descriptions were happening with everyone’s back. Boring and inaccurate to human experience. It needed more dimension.

Enter my emotional savior: Vicki Leigh. She saw my conundrum and came to my rescue with the suggestion of one book. That book is Emotional Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman.

"See it, Smell it, Touch it, Kiss it!"

“See it, Smell it, Touch it, Kiss it!”

This book is amazing. 75 major emotions are each broken down in helpful suggestions in the categories of definition, physical signals, internal sensations, metal responses, cues of acute or long-term, and cues of suppressed. So no matter if characters are experiencing emotions personally or observing it in others, this book has great and varied examples of each.

More than giving my books more variety, this is allowing me to personalize each character even deeper than I have before. I am so impressed that I am now also adding a section to my character sheets where I can ID each major characters major tells of different emotions. Thus from the start I can make each characters reaction distinct based on their background, and allow others to learn and respond to emotional cues with a more grown up emotional intelligence.

So, thank you, Vicki, you have helped far more already than you know.


Writing in a Bubble

Teaching college level composition and other writing and communication classes I’ve begun to notice a disturbing trend. It’s been there all along, silently driving down people’s ability and desire to write. This stalking predator of words has driven students, young and old alike, into great terrified frenzies of self-doubt over the concept of putting their ideas to paper to share with the world. It drives classrooms to uncomfortable silences filled with the unmistakable desire of fight or flight.

This destroyer of creativity: writing in a bubble.


As it was just recently put to me by a student, the idea is a student can either sit down and write a good paper by themselves the first time, or they are a bad writer. This student shared with me how the idea of a professional writer having to edit and edit their work was so, well, novel.

See, I had recently shared with my class one of my writing projects, a query letter. I showed them my first attempt; they read it and liked it. Then I showed them all my mark ups. They were amazed; there was more red than white on my paper, and I was okay with that. I showed them my next draft and its mark ups. And the next. And the next. Until I finally showed them my strengthened and concise letter. We then discussed the advantages of the last version to the first one they all liked in the beginning.

This made more of an impression than I had even intended. To see their teacher writing and re-writing, and talking to others, and getting feedback, and using the writing process I was teaching them was new. They thought from their high school days and earlier, that if you had to rewrite your work, obviously you were not a good writer and should be relegated to the dunce chair. Thus they were devastated every time they got marks back.


So, I’ve changed how I talk about this.

Even more than before, I’m stressing how “real writers” don’t need to write in a bubble. They have people look at their work, read their work, give them feedback, and they rewrite not because they aren’t good, but because they know it can be better. And don’t we all just want to show the world our best work as the reflection of the creativity of our soul.

I bring in examples of not only things that can help them and encourage them to work with and talk to one another about their writing (for some reason they thought that was cheating!), but I also show them how the writing world has been set up to do this. Now the classroom is a alive with conversation and sharing.

Perhaps this is one big difference that has been happening lately in the publishing world. With the now big five and even mid to large level publishers, the safety net of not writing in a bubble is built in. There are a slew of people to go over the work, edit it, market it, help with art, give feedback on everything, and protect you on a multitude of legal and creative fronts. But in self-publishing, you have to seek out and create this net, or chance it with writing in a bubble. This is not impossible, but it does take more work. I’ve seen even recent movers and shakers like Curiosity Quills, Spencer Hill and Angry Robot Books taking up arms to protect their authors while making their works even stronger for the commercial world, a feat thought impossible before for those not of the Big 5 ™.

In the end, no matter where we are writing, class, online, publishing, we need to remind ourselves that perfection is not about having to do everything right the first time, or even the seventh, but to end up with the best work we can using the resources around us. We are a writing community, and in the spirit of community, we need to realize, that sometimes it takes a village to raise a book.

Images courtesy of graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Green Lane /CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Edjumacation in Our Craft

Last year I took an outstanding course taught by Merry Bondon revising, editing, and critiquing (I got to name the class too: “Zen and the Art of Manuscript Maintenance). The first two classes were full of wonderful tidbits on how to take your drafts from Zero to Hero. From that, I got scene and character worksheets, editing and garbage words lists, story structure and world building layouts. It was outstanding and made the process of revising the rest of my manuscript that much easier. That part of the class was well worth the money spent on it.

And looky, she's got a book all about the craft of writing

BUT that wasn’t the best part of the class. For the remaining four weeks of class we became a dedicated critique group of the first twenty to twenty-five pages of our manuscripts. This part of the class was PRICELESS!

I cannot express how grateful I was for this active feedback from real live readers. Having others not in my head look at my story let me see what I needed to change and what I needed to keep. Also they saw things I hadn’t even realized I’d put in. It was interesting to hear them actively describe the sexual tension I built so well between two characters, when I hadn’t realized there was any sexual tension there at all. My husband is doing this class also with Merry Bond this semester for his work. If you can take a class like this, or find a critique group, DO IT. Your work will be so much better for it.

This semester I am doing another class with Merry. I am taking her class on publishing. As she is a successfully published author, I want to know the tricks and trades of the industry. She is exceptional as a teacher in this as she spends her off time updating on the ever changing world of publishing. In fact, last week she came in with reports of changes that had happened just that week.

This has been greatly eye opening. The world of publishing is changing so rapidly that it’s making authors’ agents’  and even the publishers’ heads spin. Without a class like this, I don’t think I could understand everything nor keep up.

Taking these classes is making me a better author, just as writing classes can make me a better writer. So, thank you, Merry Bond, for your work in creating these different classes, as well as your writing classes. The local writing community appreciates your time and effort. If you are out there, go out and take these type classes. They are worth your time!

P.S. Check out her books as well. You can find them on her site. Click click!

Special News

I know I usually post on Fridays not Saturdays, but I wanted to wait and share this very special news.

Black Sun is done!


The revisions are completed, and it is together in a master clean copy. I still think I will redo some of the chapter breaks, but all the revisions and editing is done. This week it will get to the waiting hands of beta readers and I can start working on the next project.

Happy Snoopy Dance time!

A Special Thank You to Kim Harrison

I hope everyone enjoyed Monday’s excerpt from Black Sun. Just a small glimpse.

Oh, stolen posts, stolen posts. A while back I introduced my dear talented writer husband to the world of Kim Harrison and her daily blogs about her writing. She is not only a phenomenal writer, but a mistress of marketing and keeping her fans happy and waiting with baited breath. Whether it is sending out her Monday Madness freebees, signed books for the price of postage, or swag from her latest book, she makes sure her work is on people’s minds. In fact, this past week she was both a hot sight at Comic-con and her first graphic novel, Blood Work, just went to #1 on the New York Times. Congratulations to her.

She has been a great inspiration and an entertaining read for me. As my husband and I follow the path to being published authors, I have watched her blog more and more for tidbits and have been passing them on. One of the best tidbits to writers came on June 24th in her blog entry “An Open Letter to ‘I Am Special’ Writers”:

“Write every day, same time, same place, even if it’s only for 20 minutes.  This will train your creativity to turn on at a drop of a hat.  Two weeks of agony, and you will start to notice you will not be staring at a blank page when you sit down, but writing immediately.”

So true for writing, but I have learned that it works for revising and editing too. I teased about my Dates with my vampires. Truth in these dates inspired by this post is evident in the work being put forth. Knowing that this time is put away for this specific purpose truly does turn the brain on for the task at hand. It lets the brain feel there are both a beginning and an end. The “five o’clock” whistle is waiting for you, so the job becomes less overwhelming.

A few changes

Work, work, work...

So, I would like to send a special thank you out to the talented and wise author for taking the time out to train potential authors she’s never met. Through her advice, I am ahead of my schedule for revising and feel good doing it. The accomplishment there is the amount of work I have been able to get through. Oh, and on that note, I am now up to 16 out of 22 chapters. It’s all coming together.

Kill all the vamps!

The transfer of my revisions from the hard copy to the master electronic copy is steady but slow going. I’ve done fifteen out of twenty-two chapters. The good news is at this rate, and with my daily work on it, I’ll be done long before my pre-set deadline. More on that later this week.

But all of you deserve a treat for reading this blog and my updates. I’d like to give you another glimpse into Station 189 and Black Sun. Not only that, but some real action. Without further ado, here’s a section of fighting for her life between Alexandra and the vampires with a less than healthy interest in her.


We may need more fire power.

“Close your eyes against the blast. Once you hear it, count to five then reopen them. No blindness that way.”

She nodded and closed her eyes.

“Three, two, one.” She was prepared for the sound of a huge explosion, like the flash bang earlier, but this was more of a hiss and pop. Though, she felt the familiar heat and light against her face and eyelids.

One, two, three. She heard screeches of pain from the creatures on the other side of the door. Four, five. She opened her eyes and raised her gun as she saw Jax grappling with a dark haired vampire, as the blonde vampire approached from behind. He slashed the belly of the blonde one with his sleek green glass blade while continuing to grapple with the dark combatant. The blonde grasped at its entrails, as Jax turned his attention to the brunette on the floor below him. A third, another blonde, stepped into the room behind his slashed comrade. She shot it, hitting off her mark, into its arm.

Jax continued moving as if he hadn’t heard her gunshot. Bringing his thin blade through the wrists of the brunette holding him, he sliced them nearly all the way through. The creature screamed as it pulled back. The moment it exposed its throat, Jax brought the other blade through it. From the opposite direction, he brought the first blade through the back of its neck. The two green cleavers worked together to remove the head. Jax turned to the gutted blonde vampire, as the dark head bounced at his feet and the body reached out blindly before falling behind him.

The blonde she’d shot in the doorway held its arm and stared open mouthed at the carnage between them. In that brief moment, its arm exploded from the delayed detonation round she plugged it with. It screamed and clutched the lump of flesh that had been its arm. She silently counted down in her head the expensive ammo, not wanting to be caught empty. Using its pain, she switched hands and hit it with the high voltage taser, sending it to its knees.

She turned to check on Jax, as he deftly dodged a series of blows from the wounded vampire on its way down. He circled around as it roared in rage. It returned to him with a blinding series of blows, ignoring its exposed gut. Several blows connected and sent Jax hurled into the light room. Alexandra was sorry they’d dismantled the generator. After some scuffling from withint the room she chouldn’t see, Jax rolled out of the light room, throwing a device behind him as he slammed the door as shut as it would go. Blood was dripping from his left ear and mouth, but he was relatively unharmed given the competition. As he stood up, easing his shoulder back gingerly, a bright light went off in the room behind him. Bits of red splattered the window. Jax smiled at her.

Guttural noises came from the stunned thing behind her. “Nice shooting, hot stuff.” Jax strolled over and brought his blade down, separating its head and neck. He cleaned both blades on the dead thing’s clothes and stood up.

Working Vacations are Golden

And I’m back. Sorry for the sudden disappearance. I went on a wonderful vacation with my family, but health problems caused the German doctors to forbid me to fly (stupid respiratory infections). Thus I was late getting back and then had to deal with the multitude of factors when I got back on this side of the pond.

Talk about inspiration.

I do come back with good news. I took my manuscript with me and worked on it diligently while enjoying the beauty of the southern German Alps.  While I was at the lake in the mountains or sitting outside in the countryside or relaxing with my husband and family with a nice beer or wine, my manuscript was a constant companion. Plus, I got some good inspiration on how to make that Road Home section much more concrete.

With all this working vacation, I can proudly state that my first level revisions are completed, including the section rewrite. I am much happier with it now. It’s more compelling and the characters have more depth as they stare at the sequel to come.

Also I brought along clean copies of the first eight chapters, through the point of no return, and got great reviews from my first Beta Readers, and many of them are even off genre. So I will call this a very productive working vacation.

Now I have to enter the revisions from my hard copy onto the electronic master, redo my chapter breaks and numberings and get the whole thing out to full Beta Readers. At the same time, I will start drafting my pitch, synopsis and query letters to start searching for that Holy Grail, the agent.

A very exciting time to be sure.

The Scenes I’ve Seen

I know when my stories are taking life, because I can see them in their full technicolor glory. They play out in front of my eyes. I can see, smell, taste what is going on. I feel the emotions. They invade all parts of my day. I’ll lose my train of thought on other tasks as my mind gets distracted by the movie screen behind my eyes. This has been happening a lot lately.

A few changes

A few changes

All the revisions I’ve been doing on Black Sun are productive, but more story has been buzzing in my head. Black Moon has been coming out in my daydreams and nightmares. Full scenes are playing out. My fingers are aching to write and continue to turn the galaxy upside down. But I have set the requirement that I need to finish Black Sun’s revisions and have it in the hands of Beta readers before I start full out drafting. So I am relegated to jotting down these scenes, so I don’t lose them. At least my characters seem ready to jump to the next disaster.

To help with the need to write something, I’ve started several drafts of my pitch, query and synopsis for Black Sun to give to agents. This is really fun. What would my backcover read like? What to set up and what to leave in question? Who am I aiming for and how do I hit that target?

When I’ve finished my query, I’ll post them here to wet of your whistles.

Sizing Up

“That’s a…short, um, chapter.”


How big is too big?

“I thought size didn’t matter.”

“She lied.”

Size has been haunting me through the entire process of my current project of Black Sun. I found myself constantly questioning what the ideal length was to entice my audience and get through the action, without losing them. I was perpetually asking others, trying to find the length that would give the reader a sense of movement and accomplishment without chopping up the story. At the end of my search, my quest uncovered the maddening treasure of “there is no answer.” Like Bali Hai or Olympus, it’s not to be understood by us mere mortals.

Looking for models is also complicated. Great heroes of the speedy short chapter, like James Patterson and Dan Brown, have made an art form of breaking their work into chapters that are very often less than 5-6 pages. Great, okay, there’s a template. Then there are classics that have withstood the markets for years, like Tolkien and T.H. White, whose chapters almost never end. Back to square one. Who’s right? Which is the most marketable? Which are readers, agents and editors going to like best?

It does come down to a personal choice. Most of the advice I hear says chapters should be long enough to be:

  • interesting,
  • carry the story,
  • end on a hook of some kind or
  • be a logical break with point-of-view.

I’ve been trying to take this advice to heart. For me, my project begins with short chapters, cultivating a fast-moving rhythm. Understanding the readers are just getting engaged in the story, I want to make them feel the set up is moving quickly. Give them a sense of accomplishment in the story. Later chapters tend to get much longer. The readers have gotten far into the world are already interested and willing to read through much longer sequences.

However, in revising I discovered I’ve gone overboard in letting those midrange action chapters really grow in length. I discovered 10-12 pages (2500-300- words) for my early chapters switching to 35-42 pages (7000-9500 words) for my middle chapters. Needless to say, that difference is a bit extreme. I’ve decided I’ll continue revising my chapters as they are set up now.  On my next pass through, I’ll add chapter length to my to do list. I plan on moving them to a master document then changing up chapter divisions to reflect all the above, but with more manageable breaks.

Step by step, the work is getting there. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

Lessons Learned on my Dates

Revisions are moving along swimmingly. I’ve gone through three chapters in two days. I’m very happy with the progress and momentum I’ve picked up. If I keep this up, I’ll easily make my deadline. The dates with my vampire are paying off. Spending this time with him, I’ve discovered some interesting tidbits.


Sunlight optional dates

1)      Patterns are real. My speed has been picking up because I know what I should be looking for. I also think this will make writing book two go so much smoother.

2)      Following number one, when patterns are found, find/replace is my best friend. It helps make sure I don’t miss anything carelessly.

3)      I much prefer doing markups on paper then transferring the changes to the computer manuscript. Seeing the words there in print, just as my readers will, I feel the story more and catch more items that need to be changed. From continuity to grammar, printing it out and holding it my hand makes it real.

4)      Next time I will do the full formatting from the start. Half my time doing these revisions feels like it’s being spent on spacing, font, type, lines, etc. I want to let the computer handle that for me from the beginning. That way, I can concentrate on the characters and the story they’re telling me.

5)      Music helps!

6)      It’s fun to go back and catch the clues laced into the story I forgot I put in.

There are many more lessons to come, I’m sure. Right now, the main thing is to keep going and stay consistent. I hope he brings me roses tonight.