Thursday, May 28, 2015

TBT : Learning to Log Line by Lurking Around the Internet

For today's TBT I'm continuing with the query prep theme and tackling log lines. This post has been a fan favorite since it was originally posted a few years back. Probably because log lines are hard. I thought query letters were hard enough and then I met the log line. The good news is there are a lot of log line examples out there. Including this post.



Is it just me, or are there tons of great contests going on this time of year? It seems like there are more now than a few months ago.

Luckily, I no longer have to sit still while the excitement passes me by. This year, I have a clean MS ready to submit. Woot woot! *does happy dance with Jake*

Even better than having a ready manuscript is being prepared. I spent time learning what works and what doesn't. Of course, like with everything else, what works and what doesn't is subjective. Still, if something works for others, it might just work for me. And you.

One element of many contests is the Log Line. What's that? Don't feel bad. I didn't know what it was either.

I learned about Log Lines from the wise, and wonderful @AuthoressAnon. She has two excellent blog posts about Log Lines here and here.

Essentially, it's a tight, concise, one sentence summary of your story. It should include your MC, their conflict, and the stakes.

Wait, you thought it was hard reducing your novel to a three paragraph query letter? Yeah, try reducing it to a single sentence - that's the Log Line.

Sound impossible? It's not. Check out the movie descriptions on Netflix or Hulu. (Can you tell I don't have cable? But I digress.) Those quick summaries you see when you hover over a movie are, you guessed it, Log Lines*.

*Most of the time what you see is a log line. Sometimes what you see if just a generic description of the show/movie. Not the same thing.

Here are some Log Line examples from my Netflix Instant Queue:

The Man in the Iron Mask:

In this star-studded swashbuckler, the fabled Musketeers hatch a scheme to replace callous King Louis XIV with his unjustly imprisoned twin brother.

Pretty good. We know the WHO (Musketeers), the CONFLICT (replace callous King Louis XIV) except we don't get a clear sense of what the Musketeers are risking/stakes - we assume their lives. Which is correct.

But assuming is bad. Assuming is boring. Let's see if we can find something better:

Days of Thunder:

A gifted but unproven stock-car racer['s] quick temper and rivalry with another driver threaten[s] to put the breaks on his career.

OOOO, this is a good one. We know WHO (gifted but unproven stock-car racer), we know the CONFLICT (temper (internal conflict) and rivalry (external conflict)) , and we know the STAKES (career is on the line). Excellent Log Line and a great film, I might add.

One for the Money:

A divorced, unemployed woman becomes a bounty hunter to make ends meet, with her first big case revolving around a former high school boyfriend.

This is a good one too, although not as obvious as Days of Thunder. We know WHO (divorced, unemployed woman turned bounty hunter) we know the CONFLICT (first big case) and we know the STAKES (make ends meet). Love this movie.

See, it can be done. But nothing good ever came easy, right?

For more details and examples check out these articles on @AuthoressAnon's blog, Miss Snark's First Victim, for more examples: here and here.

Specifically, check out the Baker's Dozen Auction posts. This is a contest she holds each year (and it's coming up!!), includes Log Lines and the first 250 words. Agents bid on the entries that they dig.

I dug through EVERY. SINGLE. FULL REQUEST from the last 3 contests. I read the log lines. Here are some common trends I observed:

1. The shorter, the better. 100 words or less is best. Try to keep it to just one sentence.

2. Dump names and extra details as they clog up the sentence. Often times, this can be accomplished by dumping qualifiers and clauses. A great example is the Log Line on Netflix for The Hunger Games:

In a dystopian future, teens Katniss and Peeta are drafted for a televised event pitting young competitors against each other in a fight to the death.

It's good. It has all the main elements: WHO, CONFLICT, and STAKES. But it's clunky with unnecessary details. A better Log Line would be:

Teens are drafted for a televised event pitting young competitors against each other in a fight to the death.

Boom. Short. Sweet. Detailed.

3. Don't use character names. You may have great character names or fun, invented words for things (you are, after all, a world-building, novel-writing-genius) but the Log Line is not the place to display that particular talent. Use simple language that any reader can understand.

Try using character roles or titles that most people can understand. Examples: "divorced, unemployed woman becomes bounty hunter", "teens...are drafted", "gifted but unproven stock-car racer".

These are just a few ideas I gleamed from the sidelines. Feel free to try this approach and let me know how it works for you.

Already write killer Log Lines? What works for you? How do you draft a kick arse Log Line?

Want more?
Check out examples of tight Log Lines in Natalie Whipple's recent contest requiring a pitch in 7 words or less.

Check out more examples of Log Lines in Lara Campbell McGehee's post on Contests, Critiques, and the Joys of Loglines.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What Working Across From a Construction Site Taught Me About Craft

First, let me just say, people who build something are amazing. People who build bridges, stadiums, and even backyard sheds – it just blows my hair back. The same way a story, a painting, or a song blows my hair back. The thing you made wasn’t on earth before. Now it is. *whoosh* *Hair blows back* Amazing.

Recently, a major sports team decided to build its new house across the street from my Day Job office. I had mixed feelings about the move and the location. Re: the move – I think it’s cool that the team will be closer to me. Yay sports. Re: the location – I kinda hate the fact that the beautiful green space across from my office building was bulldozed to make room for this stadium.

And when I say this build site is across the street I mean that literally. Across the street.

They are nowhere near being done with this build. It’s scheduled to open in two years (I believe). And in watching the preliminary work I was immediately struck with how this build is like a story build. So here are 5 ways a construction site is like a story:

1. Laying the pipes – one of the first things the crew did (after clearing all the vegetation and grading the land) was lay pipes. Big, huge, pipes for sewage and other unmentionables (did you notice how I mentioned the unmentionables). This is true with world building in a story as well. Every writer has a slightly different process, but when I plan the world in which my story will take place I start with the basics – the rules or laws that impact my plot. These can be as complex and fantastic as ‘a society where the trading of human flesh for transplant is legal,’ to as simple as ‘student loans must be repaid but my MC hates her job.’ These are the pipes in which all plot elements flow.

2. Basements and foundations – after the pipes and utilities were installed the cred began work on the foundation. Now, being that this build is a giant sports stadium the foundation included driving unimaginably large posts into the ground (with some machine that hammered the post into the ground for hours, and hours, and hours) and digging a massive basement. This required cranes, heavy equipment, and lots and lots of people. But most importantly, time. It has taken months for this phase (and it’s still not done). The basement or foundation of your world will likely be the same. You will need to spend time (probably a lot of it) hammering out the specifics of this world (basic fundamental stuff like: do the laws of physics as we know them apply?) and it may require help from other people. Sometimes, during this phase I like to bounce ideas off of my writing friends. Things that make sense to you may not make sense to others. It’s good to get feedback from trusted CP’s at this phase.

3. Security is important – Soon after the basement phase began, gates were erected around the build. Next to the entrance were security booths. Now, trucks and workers are checked as they enter the area. Because, although it takes a team to build something there should be a limit to who participates (for obvious reasons – you don’t want Andy falling into the pit and breaking both legs a la Parks and Rec). Same with a story. You don’t want to let everyone and their mother weigh in on your world building. I find that it’s important to limit who you let in during the initial phases of story building.

4. Problems and issues are unavoidable – during the construction of this stadium there have already been issues and setbacks. Weather, for one. And the estimated budget for the build has already been in dispute. The same is true for your story. Just like you want conflict in your plot (it moves things along). Building the world will likely lead you headfirst into questions without answers. Or answers that unravel everything you’ve already built. This happens. And this is okay. You want these problems in the same way you want feedback – so you can make your story better/stronger/faster….wait no, that’s the million dollar man. Scratch ‘faster’ and the point is still valid. You want your world to be water tight. Poking holes in it early during the development helps you create the plugs that will later be invaluable to your story.

5. You gotta eat – or, in other words, you must take breaks. Most of us know that taking a break during work allows us to come back with a clearer, more refreshed mind. This is absolutely the case with construction workers. And it should be the case with your world building as well. Taking breaks is easy to forget and even easier to bump to the bottom of the priority ‘to-do list’ but it’s essential. Sometimes stepping away from a world building construction zone is exactly what you need in order to tackle that problem you’ve been facing. It’s okay to take breaks, in fact, it’s best for all involved, that you do take breaks.

Happy building!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

TBT: Good Attitude Required

For today's TBT is about attitude and facing challenges (in writing and in life). I originally posted this shortly after I was laid off a few years ago. It was my first time dealing with a lay off. The entire experience was humbling and motivating.

But why share the post again? Well, I'm about to send another project into the query trenches. A good attitude is a necessity when querying.

Also, I absolutely love the Liz Lemon gifs.



Life is a biotch, sometimes. None of this 'life can be a biotch' or 'is occasionally a biotch'. It is a biotch, sometimes. Sometimes there's no cake.

Or worse, sometimes you get stuck with a big, clunky cliche when we want fresh, original words. Pretty much everything in life is outside of our control, with one, little exception: you.

You can control you. In fact, it’s the only thing you can control. So that means the only thing standing between you and the life you want to lead is you.

It’s a hard pill to swallow. And this pill isn’t a one-and-done sort of thing. You have to swallow this giant, horse-pill-of-truth Every. Single. Day. Sometimes twice a day. Sometimes more. Sucks.

Or does it?

I think Liz Lemon would agree that the only thing within our control is our attitude, actions, and reactions. Get a rejection? Get back to work. Get laid off? Make the most of it. Get promoted? Be thankful. Work with jerks and A-holes? Find a new job.

You may remember a recent post where I mentioned the need for elephant-thick skin in life, and especially in writing. I think this goes hand in hand with attitude.

I was recently reminded of this when I was laid off from the Day Job. It’s easy to fall into a self-deprecating shame spiral when bad things happen. Get laid off, shame spiral. Get a rejection, shame spiral. Gain a few pounds, shame spiral. Just a normal week in the life of this girl. I certainly felt pretty crappy for several days after getting paroled form Corporate America (see my post here in which I wear my sad-girl, Goose Sweatshirt).

It's okay to indulge for a little while. Heck, even Liz has her night cheese.

But feeling bad for yourself doesn’t change anything. Wearing my Goose shirt wasn’t going to get me another job. It certainly wasn’t going to help me finish my WIP. Or my edits. And it certainly wasn’t going to clean the house.

The challenge in writing, as in life at large, is to see the opportunity in each difficult situation. Or as this quote eloquently states:

“What is the difference between an obstacle and an opportunity? Our attitude toward it. Every opportunity has a difficulty, and every difficulty has an opportunity.”
― J. Sidlow Baxter

How can I make the best of this? Notice I said ‘How can I make the best of this’. Not, how can they make this better for me. Not, how can he/she make me feel better. Not, they owe me.

What can I do to improve? Because that’s all there is. I. Me. Alone in this quest toward publication. I have teammates supporting me along the way but I have to do the work. And believe me when I tell, this sumbitch takes a lot of work and I’m happy to do it.

I’m excited to hit new milestones. I’m excited to learn and grow – even though growth hurts. In difficulty, there is opportunity. And I’m wearing my big girl panties and matching bra. I’m ready for it. *pulls on shit kicking boots* Bring it on.

Need more on how our Day Jobs can make us better writers?

Check out this post about taking criticism.

Or this post on Stability and Creativity.

Or this post on Discipline - you gotta have it.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

My Attempt at the Curly Girl Method

I have had curly hair for about as long as I can remember. It wasn’t always curly-sue curly (in fact, it’s still not quite that curly) but I’ve had waves/curls my entire life. The waves definitely became more curly after puberty. Before puberty my hair would kink in a body wave. After puberty, my hair actually formed ‘s’ shapes. Being curly wasn’t a big surprise. My mother has the most beautiful curly hair I’ve ever seen. And my little brother was lucky enough to inherit my mother’s curls (although, being a guy, he doesn’t consider that luck. He keeps his hair closely cropped). My hair is only wavy and, for me, that meant unmanageable.

In high school I was so sick of the fullness of my hair (which was nearly straight on top and horribly curly underneath) that I shaved my head – it was called an ‘undercut’ where I lived. I shaved the back and sides of my head and kept the top long. I loved it. It was a fun, fearless style that I rocked for most of my teen years. But then I grew out that style and began to realize – my hair is curly! Not just underneath (back and sides) but on top too.

But, wait, you say. I’m looking at your ‘about you’ pic and you have stick straight hair. What’s up with that?

You’re right. For all of my adult life I’ve straightened my hair with blow dryers, flat irons, hot rollers, and even expensive keratin treatments. Some days I’d wear my hair curly (scrunching some mousse into my mostly damp hair) but for the most part I wore my hair straight. Until recently, that is.

I discovered the Curly Girl Method, as defined in the Curly Girl Handbook by Lorraine Massey. The method involves being kind to your hair and treating curls like something to be proud of – not something to hide. After reading the book and lurking on the r/curlyhair forum on reddit I decided to try it for myself – a hair detox – I called it. Here’s my diary.

Week 1:

Week one was actually kinda gross. Not that my hair was oily (it wasn’t) but my frizz was atrocious. Here you can see the before CG and week 1 CG side by side. It’s difficult for me not to touch my hair and I miss running my fingers through it. By day 3 a coworker commented that my hair was looking better (less frizzy) and asked what products I was using. We bonded over the no-poo routine and which oils/conditioners we used.

Week 2:

It's working! My curls are starting to clump together which is awesome. I’m struggling with horrible knots and tangles which makes detangling in the shower very difficult and time consuming. I decided to add a detangler into the mix.

Week 3:

I’m getting a lot of compliments on my hair. People who’ve known me for a while are asking if I got a perm and when I say no they can’t believe it. The detangler is helping but I still end up with a lot of breakage each shower. I wet my hair each day and apply lots of conditioner. I read on the forum that you can actually leave the conditioner in without rinsing it out. Sounds weird but I try it – results were great in the morning. By afternoon, droopy. Need to try better gel.

Week 4:

My hair is starting to form ringlets. Mostly in the back (where the hair was less chemically treated). I love seeing these little springs. I hope that if I keep up this process my top and sides will form more springy shapes. Picked up Tresseme Naturals Condish to help with detangling. I understand it works great as a leave in too. It’s taking me less time to detangle each night and I’m seeing less hair fall (but those pieces that do break/fall out are curly shaped!)

Week 5:

I had read about all these super cheap condish and gel options (Tresseme naturals and LA Looks (the blue stuff)) and I thought I’d give it a try. The result was a disaster. My curls were super limp (reminiscent of my pre-curly-girl curls) and the LA Looks dried into flakes on my hair. I played around with the amount used – but in the end I couldn’t get the Tresseme naturals and LA Looks to work for me. And I'm noticing a rash developing around my neck and ears. Very strange. I went back to the 9-10$ a bottle condish and the rash cleared right up. The Eco gel is super cheap and I like the way it works. I can scrunch out the crunch well and it doesn’t leave flakes.

Week 6:

The results are more consistent now. Clipping at the roots with mini claw clips seems to help with volume. I'm beginning to feel more confident with my curls. I even wore my hair curly to a business meeting and felt good about it (that never happened before CurlyGirl). I have less tangles now. Well, that's if I wet/detangle my hair each day. If I skip a day or two my hair is an impossible mess. A friend asked if I was going to keep my hair this way and I didn't have to think about it before responding "Yes". I feel like I know how to rock my natural hair.

My new routine:

I stopped using shampoo altogether. I rinse my scalp and roots with water only and/or sometimes a clarifying conditioner. Then, I slather on a real conditioner and begin detangling. First I finger comb through the hunks of hair and then I use a wide tooth comb. Next, I slather on more condish and leave it in (pinning it to the top of my head) while I finish my shower routine. I'm trying the S2C method of rinsing but I have't perfected it yet. Once the condish is rinsed I squish my sopping wet hair with an old tshirt. I smooth on some oil – focusing on the ends. To style, I slather the hair with gel, plop, and sleep. In the morning my hair is usually damp but well clumped. I clip the roots to help with volume and squish on more gel (if needed) and let it air dry.

My hair is still very unpredictable but I’m really liking the results. I struggle with not touching my hair and I’m still fighting frizz (although, significantly less frizz). I’m hoping a cut will help with the frizz.

Do you have a love hate relationship with your hair? Do you have curls? Share your story or routine here:

Want to know more about plopping? Check out his video:

Monday, May 4, 2015

April 2015 Month In Reiew

**Recapping my monthly progress serves two purposes: first, it keeps me honest and accountable to my goals; second, it allows me to truly capture just how much work I’ve done over the last year. So let the recapping begin!**


Ah April, what can I say about it? A lot as it turns out – this is going to be a wee bit longer than most of my monthly updates. Consider yourself warned.

First, I had out of town travel for work. Normally I’d use that time to get a boatload of writing done because I never sleep well in hotels. But this trip was a quick out-and-back (just one night) and I was reading a book I couldn’t put down. So, not a lot of writing got done.

But April was fabulous because my mom came for a weekend visit. Always love spending time with family. We went to one of those painting classes where you pain and drink wine (brilliant idea!). It was a ton of fun. Here’s a pic of our painting.

And I also was lucky enough to attend a fabulous book release party for Delilah S. Dawson's most recent YA, HIT (about a badass teen assassin in bank owned America). Check out my review if HIT here.

Next, I attended my first Biker Con. Err, um, what's that? Bikers don't do 'cons' you say? Right, right. It was a bike rally.

Being a super nerd, open to a lot of fandoms, I was thrilled to go on this trip with my hubby, Handsome Jack. A post dedicated to this trip is coming soon.

April also saw my NA Rom Com return to the hands of CP's for a second round of edits. This book is officially in draft 4 already so I’m excited to get another round of feedback. Woo hoo. It's always exciting to turn a piece of writing over to CP's. The down side is that the hard work will start soon (when the feedback rolls in). *cracks knuckles* I think I’m ready for it. I love this story and the characters. I really want to do justice by them.

With my NA Rom Com finished (for now) I had to keep myself busy with other writing projects. I primarily focused on two:

Outline of new projects and revisions of an old project.

New ideas are always so much fun. It's a bit like a sugar high. When I’m plotting a new idea/world/character the ideas can buzz around in my head all day and into the night. Riding that wave is a magical. But April wasn’t all magic and sweetness.

I also worked on revisions of an older project. A verrrrrry old project. So the revisions were… challenging. I'm happy to say I still love the characters. And I’m happy to see that my writing has come a long way since I originally drafted/revised that project. All in all, working on an old project was a challenge, but a good challenge.

My running was sidelined a bit in April due to my out of town travel for work and out of town guests.

With all this going on it might be hard to imagine I was able to get any goal related work in (I’ve stated before, I don’t track words during revisions because I just lose my mind trying to keep up) – but I did. Here are the details for April 2015:

1 Out of Town trip for the Day Job
1 Weekend visit from mom
1 Book release party (with cake!)
1 Bad a$$ biker rally
15 gym workouts (mostly weight training)
4 books read for fun (reviews coming soon)

And on top of all of that I still had words. *does happy dance* This month’s grand total is 11,878 words. This brings my total ‘tracked’ word count for 2015 to 36,237! Not too shabby. My year is still going strong.

And as for miles, this month’s grand total is 23.4 miles, bringing my total ‘tracked’ mileage to 135.7 miles. I’m itching for some races so I hope to sign up for a 5k and 10k soon.

All in all, April was a good month with progress and that’s something to celebrate. #NeverGiveUp #NeverSurrender

How are your writing goals coming along?
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