Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sensible writing, using your senses

Capturing the five senses

Nymphenburg Palace - Photograph by Gryffindor - Loadscreen by Mistress
Writing is an adventure; sometimes enjoyable, sometimes torturous. In my writing, I've been working hard to add the five senses to everything I do. I believe it will make it a more immersive experience.
The five senses are: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. (we're leaving out spiritual and non-physical senses out of this one)

The difficulty becomes how to add them to the story. (a fantasy novel in my case) How does the writer describe these things while making it all flow smoothly with the rest of the scene.

I found in my early writing that I was completely leaving out smell, sounds and taste. The only thing I was doing well was the sights, but even that left something to be desired. I'm getting better at it, but it's difficult. I've decided to share some of my observations so far.

I call adding the senses "coloring". The story is the black and white outline of the pages. Everything else is coloring the story to make it pretty. Most people don't like bland or plain stories.

I generally add details in two different ways. Sometimes I write a paragraph or two about the surroundings. Sometimes I add the details in the middle of dialogue. 

Photo by Tracy Carroll

Examples of how to add the senses

These are the first two paragraphs of my first book. I set the scene with them. In it I tried to describe all five senses in order to immerse the reader:

Tathan was a tall man of twenty nine years with short, curly black hair framing a face tanned by travel.  His hand was on the hilt of a thin, slightly curved sword sheathed at his waist and his intense grey eyes studied the peaceful valley where he had been raised.  Throughout his journeys, he always remembered the sights and scents of this valley.  Tathan closed his eyes and felt the breeze caress his cheek as it had in his childhood.  It brought the sounds of bees finding the first blossoms of the year.  Other insects buzzed through the valley hoping the birds would be too busy singing their songs to feast upon them.
The sun had risen just an hour ago.  Tathan knew it would take a full day and night’s travel to make it to the eastern side of the valley where he used to live, so he adjusted his travel pack on his shoulders and continued on.  There was no path or road; his parent’s house being the only dwelling in the valley.  Snowcapped mountains surrounded wild grasses which were dotted with groves of trees and crossed by small streams. The sky was deep blue with wisps of clouds that would likely become afternoon thunderstorms.  It was early spring and flowers were beginning to bloom, mingling their scents with that of fresh grass.If you look through those, you can see an instance of each. The first time I wrote it, I left out everything but sights. I had to go back and re-work it five different times. Now as to whether or not it's good, we'll leave that to the reader, but it does include all of the elements.

Here is an excerpt where I've described some of the senses while adding dialogue and advancing the story:

“Hello there travelers!” a tall, heavyset woman said with a great smile.  She stood at the bar, cleaning mugs.  Her hair was strawberry blonde and she had a ruddy complexion.  “I’ve not seen you in town.  Come have a seat and tell me of yourselves.”  Her voice was loud and cheerful as she waved them over to the bar with a thick hand.  “It’s a pleasure to see you.  Dinner’s just about ready if you’re hungry.”
“That would be wonderful,” Liselle responded.  She smiled and sat down on one of the bar stools.  “The food smells delicious.”  Indeed, mouthwatering aromas were emanating from beyond swinging doors at the far right of the bar.
“It is superb.  My sister, Renna is the best cook you’ll find in this town,” she stated confidently.  “I’m Hulda by the way.  The White Tree Inn is my pride and joy, though we don’t get many customers at the moment.”

It's pretty common to describe a person's appearance and voice when introducing. I manage to throw in smell and taste with "mouthwatering aromas" too. I could have added that the adventurers had aching muscles which would have covered the sense of touch. (you don't actually have to touch something to experience that sense. It could also be the sense of "feel")

Here is a sample from my most recent writing, "Dralin", where I'm starting to add a lot of mood into the descriptions as well:

The bench was damp from the snow that melted as soon as it landed on anything, not being quite cold enough for the flakes to stick.  Sheela’s dress was already wet and dirty anyway, so sitting on the bench didn’t bother her.  It felt good to get off of her feet for a short time and she rubbed the cold ache out of them.  Many of the people traveling by wore shoes and Sheela thought perhaps she might own a pair someday.
Sounds of the city surrounded her as she watched the people passing in a mad rush to finish their tasks before nightfall.  Wagon drivers yelled above the clopping of their horse’s hooves, which clattered sharply over the humming drone of thousands of voices talking incessantly about whatever matters might be important to them at the time.
Endless buildings obscured a ruddy sunset that lit the bottoms of patchy clouds on the western horizon.  Rays of light burst through the smog and snow to cast a dirty orange radiance over everything.  Exotic scents came from many of the wagons that had traveled from such places as Mayncal, Brindlyn, and the Iynath Empire.  They mixed in with the odors of livestock, unwashed bodies, cooking food and smells Sheela couldn’t begin to identify.
The assault on her senses was overwhelming, making her dizzy and lightheaded.  Taking a deep breath didn’t help because it brought something new each time.  The odors were so heavy that she could taste them on her tongue, both pleasant and unpleasant. 

In Conclusion

Creating the image for the reader is one of the areas where the craftsmanship of the author truly comes into play.  If it's well done, then the reader feels immersed into the story.  If it's poorly done, the reader begins to think that housework might be a preferable alternative and we don't want that.

It's not always easy to add the senses and doing it well is even more difficult. It's been a learning process for me with each new book written.  I recommend doing it whenever possible though. It will provide a much grander experience for your reader. :)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The hats an Indie Author wears

This is about all the hats an Indie Author has to wear when self-publishing.  I would like to note that it's very important to have the emo bunnies do these positions, because trying to do them by oneself could lead to insanity.


This is your job.  Don't worry about any of the rest.  Let the emo bunnies take care of it.

Emo Bunny in charge

This is the bunny that makes certain all the other emo bunnies are doing their jobs; the CEmO, the Executive Director Bunny, the President Bunny.  However, this emo bunny usually spends all his time on the golf course eating the grass, so he doesn't count.

Emo Bunny Editor

This is the bunny that makes certain the story is good.  She is responsible for the flow of the story and cuts things that don't add to the main plot.

Emo Bunny Copy Editor

This is the bunny that makes certain every word is spelled correctly and is in the right place.  This emo bunny tends to take a lot of naps and loses focus often when working for Indie Authors.

Emo Bunny Publisher

This is the bunny responsible for getting files formatted and uploaded to Smashwords, Amazon, B&N, Apple, Sony, Kobo, Diesel, Scribd, Wattpad . . . and numerous others.  It's very important that everything be done exactly right here, so have Emo Bunny Resources put your least depressed bunny in charge of this.

Emo Bunny Marketer

By far the busiest job.  It's best to have numerous bunnies to work on this.  They won't talk to each other much unless it's about how much they like rainy days.  They post new releases to forums,, Ereader News Today, Breakthrough Bookstore, Goodreads, Book Junkies Library, etc . . . Due to so many bunnies working on this, things usually get missed.


Emo Bunny PR Agent

Very similar to the marketer, but this one handles emails, facebook, twitter and everyday conversations on forums that aren't about the books.  These bunnies should be cute because they're trying to get people to like the writer.  Luckily, emo bunnies are even cuter than normal bunnies.

Emo Bunny Accountant

This is a very boring job for most bunnies working for Indie Authors not named Amanda Hocking, making it the most sought after.  Even though it deals with complicated numbers and even taxes, there's usually not enough revenue to stress over anything.  Of course that never stops an emo bunny from stressing.

Emo Bunny Resources

This is the equivalent of Human Resources.  But since Indie Authors can't afford humans, we have to settle for emo bunnies.  This office is responsible for keeping track of them.  It's usually unstaffed due to lack of interest.


It's a really bad idea for an author to try to take on all of these tasks alone.  Publishing houses have large staffs of humans to do all of it.  If you can't afford humans, get minions.  My minions just happen to be emo bunnies.  I advise against getting ducks because they're noisy, obnoxious and they nip.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Drippy the Peg-Legged Rainbow, A Story for Demented Children

Why do I keep writing stories for Demented Children?

I've decided that I'm going to make a habit of asking readers questions that I intend to answer.  I don't know why, so don't ask.

I write stories for demented children because normal children have plenty of stories and don't need anymore.  I write stories for kids who think the world kinda sucks and nobody gives them enough hugs, at least not the non-creepy sort of hugs.

Also, when I was a kid, I always thought the world kinda sucked.  My parents were really great and my brothers and sisters were okay.  But the rest of it just seemed mean and out to get me.  I wanted to lose myself in fantasy worlds.  These stories tap into a lot of how I felt then.

How in the world did I come up with a story about a peg-legged rainbow?

Last month, I saw the leg of a rainbow.  I though to myself: "Hey, there's a rainbow somewhere that's missing a leg!"  Then I thought it was probably a peg-legged rainbow.  I tweeted these thoughts, much to the dismay of my followers.  Eventually I decided to write a story about it . . . . much to the dismay of my followers . . .

The picture on the cover was taken by my wife, Tracy.  She does a lot of the photography for my covers. :)

What's it about?

It's about a rainbow.  DUH!

It's about a peg-legged rainbow that's mad at having his leg stolen by a leprechaun.  He decides to use a tree to help get around.  Along the way he meets a bunny named Emo, (surprise, surprise) a couple more rainbows and a leprechaun or two.

I won't tell you too much about it.  It is a short story after all.

Where can I get it?

Boy, I ask a lot of questions.  But I have a lot of answers too, so it all balances out

As of the time of this writing, you can get it from smashwords. :)

It will be available on Amazon in the next day or two, but it will cost $.99 there until they price match after a few weeks.  It will also be available at Apple and Barnes & Noble here in the next few weeks and will be free right away. :)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Bookata - Personalized ebooks.

Why am I telling you about this?

I seem to start a lot of these blog posts by asking questions that I'm supposed to answer.  It seems a bit silly, but . . .

Anyway, in March of this year (2011) I received an email from a person who had read "The Emo Bunny that Should" and one of the poems I wrote to my wife.  He liked my work and wanted me to write a story that could be customized.

I wasn't too sure about it at first, but took a look at the website and decided it had amazing potential.  The stories on it are completely customizable to fit anyone's situation.  There are drop down choices for a person to select from for starters.  Once all the choices are made, a person can edit every section to make adjustments to fit their personal situation.  The illustrations that go with it are exceptional work and add extraordinary life to the work.

The story I wrote is called "A New Pet in the Family".  It was a challenge to write all the different options, but it was also a great deal of fun.  The experience has made me a better writer too.  I'll be writing a customizable love poem for them soon too.  I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

I highly recommend checking out these stories to see if there's one that may fit your personal situation.

What is Bookata?

From their website:

Bookata is an online platform addressing children's life events through personalized stories. Families and friends use our engine to adapt beautiful narratives and art into unique stories, for actual people, who have a name, a personality, a unique history.
Started in 2009 by three dads (as an amusement for their 7 kids, combined), Bookata aims to become a much appreciated, friendly and familiar provider for content personalization on all tablets and eReaders. We don't target a massive success - we just want one reader at a time to fall in love with our portable, unique, personalized e-books.

A New Pet in the Family

This is the story I wrote.  Artwork was done by the amazing Claudia Mendoza

Kids are willing to promise anything in order to get a new pet. The parents should open their heart but also be prepared to have a bumpy ride, full of adventures, sometimes funny, sometimes less. It is a serious medium and long term commitment and the decision should be wisely taken, with all the family members. To make the enlarging of the family an exciting moment the parent can take elements from the child life into this charming story of love, transition and humor. Like in all Bookata books, the whole story can be personalized. In this case the new rules and responsibilities surrounding the pet, as well as the usual child and sibling gender, age, race, and name. And, of course, the pet: name, breed, color, etc.

A Soft Place to Fall

Birthdays are important milestones that celebrate who we are, who we were, and who we will be. Personalized birthday wishes are a perfect way to honor a child's birthday. With unforgettable moments that illustrate unconditional love, the birthday child will feel the way everyone should feel on their birthday, cherished, unique, extraordinary.

Patch Pirates

Despite two decades of public health initiatives, stricter government dietary guidelines, record growth of farmers’ markets and the ease of products like salad in a bag, American children still aren’t eating enough vegetables. Pediatricians and nutritionists concede that perhaps simply telling people to eat more vegetables isn’t working. There is nothing a parent can say that will get the kids willingly to eat more veggies. Eating vegetables is a lot less fun than eating flavor-blasted Doritos. Bookata is repositioning vegetables as fun filled adventures with pirates characters included. And, of course, your child in the center of the story.

We Had Such A Great Time!

The loss of a pet is hard on everyone. Children can be especially sensitive at this traumatic time. Because it is often a child's first encounter with death, it is important that the situation is handled with care. With this book, a parent can thoughtfully create a remembrance space where the family honors the pet. By integrating real life elements, and events meaningful specifically to the individual pet and family, the parent is better adept at guiding their child in a positive direction toward closure.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Options to replace the word said

This is a list of words I've compiled to use in the place of "said".  I've catagorized them to a degree, but probably not as much as I could.  The list of most common are the ones I use the most.  They may not match yours.  Hopefully this will help you. :)  If you should have others that aren't on this list, feel free to let me know in the comments and I'll add them.

Most common
added, asked, assured, began, claimed, commented, confessed, confided, continued, explained, finished, guessed, informed, inquired, insisted, mentioned, mumbled, observed, pointed out, promised, reassured, remarked, repeated, replied, responded

admitted, advised, answered, articulated, assumed, called, cautioned, chatted, cited, consulted, conveyed, debated, decided, described, directed, disclosed, divulged, echoed, elaborated, emitted, estimated, exposed, expressed, forced, foretold, gasped, gawped, held, hesitated, hinted, implied, indicated, instructed, maintained, mimicked, mouthed, narrated, noted, notified, obeyed, offered, panted, petitioned, predicted, prescribed, prodded, professed, prompted, proposed, purported, purred, pushed, quivered, quoted, rambled, rationalized, reasoned, reckoned, recounted, reflected, related, relished, remonstrated, reported, restated, resumed, returned, revealed, ruled, shrugged, shuddered, slurred, smiled, speculated, spoke, started, stated, stressed, suggested, swooned, testified, thought, told, touted, trailed, twitted, twittered, understood, urged, uttered, verified, voiced, voted, wondered, yawned, yelped

accepted, acknowledged, admitted, affirmed, agreed, concurred

contended, denied, disputed, argued, corrected, countered, disagreed, retorted

cut in, cut off, interjected

applauded, approved, beamed, complimented, cooed, empathized, emphasized, encouraged, enlightened, illuminated, invited, lilted, praised, sympathized

accused, alleged, bellyached, berated, boasted, bragged, chided, choked, complained, criticized, cursed, disrupted, faltered, feared, fretted, frowned, fumed, fussed, gloated, glowered, gossiped, grated, grieved, griped, groaned, growled, grumbled, grunted, hissed, interrogated, interrupted, jabbed, jibed, judged, lamented, lectured, leered, lied, moaned, mocked, mourned, nagged, nitpicked, objected, preached, protested, scoffed, scolded, scowled, seethed, snapped, snarled, sneered, sniffled, sniped, sniveled, snorted, sobbed, spat, sputtered, stammered, struggled, stumbled, stuttered, swore, taunted, teased, threatened, warned

queried, questioned, requested

Strong positive
announced, asserted, cheered, chorused, commanded, crowed, declared, dictated, exclaimed, howled, persisted, persuaded, proclaimed, pronounced, rejoiced, sang, sang out, vocalized, vowed, whooped, yelled

Strong negative
barked, bellowed, bossed, chastised, demanded, hollered, ordered, raged, ranted, roared, screamed, screeched, shouted, shrieked, stormed, thundered, vented

breathed, comforted, consoled, dreamed, murmured, muttered, whispered, yawned, sighed

chanted, chimed in, chirped, crooned, droned, harmonized, sang, sung

chortled, chuckled, giggled, grinned, guffawed, joked, laughed, smirked, snickered

babbled, blubbered, blurted, clucked, croaked, drawled, exaggerated, gurgled, jabbered, quipped

agonized, appealed, bargained, bawled, beckoned, begged, beseeched, cried, cried out, entreated, implored, pleaded, pouted, prayed, quaked, trembled, wailed, wept, whimpered, whined

Monday, September 5, 2011

Alien Coffee

What is a novella?

This is where I wait for you to answer the question, right?  No?  *sigh*  Fine, I'll answer it.  Sheesh; making me do all the work.  A novella is a girl novel *nods* . . . actually, that's not true.  A novella is a story in between 17,500 - 40,000 words.  It's bigger than a short story and smaller than a novel.  There's another type of story called a novelette that's between 7500 and 17,500 words, but nobody likes them.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way, let's get to the important stuff.

Alien Coffee

I recently published a novella titled "Alien Coffee".  The concept came about because a friend of mine who I talk through yahoo IM (Instant Messaging) to most days always runs out of coffee while talking.  Then she goes downstairs to get more, does dishes, cleans up cat puke, then comes back and realizes she forgot the coffee.

So I started making jokes about how aliens were drinking her coffee.  I'm really big on running jokes. (the emo bunnies are rolling their eyes at me)  One day she told me I should write a story about it, so I did.  She now knows better than to tell me to write about anything. ;)

What about the rest of the story?  How did that come about?

I know, I know.  You're not going to answer that either.  Fine; I will.  Using the concept of my friend's missing coffee was one thing, but after that all similarities stopped.  So I made up the rest of the character.

Jillian is a 30's something married woman living in the community of Priest Lake, Idaho.  A google search turned up the town and it worked perfectly for the beginning scene.  I made Jillian an editor for Indie Authors.  It allowed for a bit of irony and an opportunity to poke fun at myself and others like me.


Next I had to decide about the aliens.  I'll tell you a little bit without giving away spoilers.  Aliens are kind of hard to create and kind of easy all at the same time.  One of the hardest parts is coming up with something that hasn't been done.  I tried to do that with the first one.  With the second two, I went the alternate extreme and made them stereotypes, but had fun with them.

I made Sclurp a bit of a weirdo pothead.  I had to describe him physically in a way that would be interesting, but mostly believable.  Sometimes, the key is not to over-describe.

Its skin was yellow green and mottled, appearing somewhat slimy.  The being was dressed in a tight silver suit with a utility belt and what appeared to be a holstered gun on one of its three legs.  The limbs were set at even intervals, two to the sides and one behind; like a tricycle.  Its face was wide with three horizontal, deep set blue eyes.  It had four ears, two set vertically on each side of its oversized bald head.  Its mouth was a tubular appendage with big puckered lips like those found in a bad comic book.

The hand I used to create the alien hand over the coffee cup.  It belongs to my teenage daughter.  All teenagers are aliens anyway, especially the girls.

The next alien is Nyxulla.  I decided to make her the stereotypical type of alien girl that Captain Kirk would totally hit on.

      “Hello, Jillian.  I’m Nyxulla” a woman’s sensual voice lilted through the air.  Sensual was the only word to describe it; like one of those sultry sirens portrayed in old detective movies.  Only the individual coming into the sitting room was not human.  She had creamy, dark green skin, emerald eyes and violet hair cascading down her back like silk.  She was everything a virile starship captain would want in a five and a half foot tall alien woman.

The next stereotypical alien is Buffy the BEM, which is short for Bug Eyed Monster.  I decided to make him a mostly likeable, sophisticated alien.

“Buffy?” Jillian asked in timid amusement.  “There’s an alien named Buffy?”
He grinned, the protruding lips turning upward.  “Its real name is too hard to say for any race and it spends all its free time watching vampire shows.  It’s super smart though.”
“It?” Jillian asked, not knowing what else to say.
“Yeah, everyone of their race is androgynous, so we can’t say he or she.  It’s a BEM on top of that.”
“BEM?”  One word questions were all she could come up with.  Maybe it would delay her death or transmutation a little longer if she kept asking them.
“Don’t you know anything?” he demanded, throwing his hands in the air.  “BEM is short for bug-eyed-monster.  Buffy has the biggest bug eyes I’ve ever seen and its race is classified as monsters.  I wouldn’t hold that against them though.  They’re really wonderful people.”

Emo Bunnies

Remember the part where I mentioned running jokes?  Yeah, I put emo bunnies into the story.  It was a lot more fun than blood and violence.  It's a lot easier to hide bunnies than it is dead bodies too; so it made complete sense.


One of the coolest things I came up with is snails as spaceships.  I was trying to decide what to make the spaceship look like.  At first it was going to be black and sleek, but that's been done; as have flying saucers.  I finally decided to make them snails.  Then I came up with the idea that snails are really spaceships.  It was a really neat idea, so I ran with it.

“Snails aren’t spaceships exactly; they’re the biological coding for spaceships.  A device is needed to transform them.  The good news is that they reproduce quite well, which helps keep costs almost non-existent.”  Nyxulla turned the main lights back off, leaving only the few that were on before they entered.  “Every planet and moon in the galaxy has snails.”


Then I had to figure out the plot.  I'm not going to tell you anything other than it involves a Columbian drug lord, his army and intergalactic teenagers, and coffee.  All and all, it was a lot of fun to write and a light-hearted read. :)

You can find it for $.99 or the equivalent price in international stores (the price it will be at permanently) at these stores:

Smashwords (My favorite store for Indie Authors)
Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble

Jillian stared at the BEM for a moment.  “That’s just silly.”