Barbara Westbrook's Blog

July 22, 2011

Great action scenes can add a lot to your story, but they can sink it fast if you don't exactly know what you're doing. I've learned that it takes a slightly different writing style to create an effective action scene, and there are some important things to keep in mind while you're doing it.
Remember that your scene should be a little like a roller coaster ride. It starts out slowly, then builds and builds until the pace becomes breathless and rapid and then slows back down again. There should always be some urgency for the hero: a bomb is about to go off, or the girl is about to be killed , or a child is drowning. This sense of urgency is what compels the scene and gives it momentum.
As you begin to write the scene, plan carefully—remember there should be an action and then a reaction. "He slapped her so hard she staggered back into the door." Each action/reaction should have its own paragraph, if possible, unless the sentences are way too short. It's up to you, the writer, to monitor sentence length. At least some of your sentences should be short, because they make the scene flow faster. Remember, reading flow can also become bogged down, though, if there are too many sentences of the same length one after the other: "He punched. She kicked. He fell." Not a good flow.
This is also not the time to break away and describe a character. "He slapped her so hard she staggered back into the door. He was a large, florid man with a big bushy mustache, and he towered over her." Obviously this last sentence doesn't belong in this paragraph. It breaks the rapid pace and distracts the reader. Describe your character somewhere else.
Ernest Hemingway was a master of the short, high impact sentence, and he used this technique to keep a breathless pace. Long, highly descriptive sentences slow the pace. Another action technique to create a breathless pace is something called polysyndeton. This stylistic technique is used to achieve a variety of effects: it can increase the rhythm of prose, speed its pace, or create strong emotion. It should be used very sparingly, but can be really effective for creating a breathless pace. "I said, 'Who killed him?' and he said 'I don't know who killed him, but he's dead all right,' and it was dark and there was water standing in the street and no lights or windows broke and boats all up in the town and trees blown down and everything all blown down." Hemingway, After the Storm.
Remember to keep it credible. Don't have your hero jump off a cliff and manage to land safely because he happened to grab a bunch of balloons that were coincidentally floating by. Really? And don't make it so fast paced that the reader can't keep up with it. Once you've lost her, you may never get her back.
Action scenes can be a lot of fun and they definitely add a lot to your story. Just remember to plan carefully, keep it simple, plot an action, then a reaction, and use a couple of simple techniques to keep it fast paced. Have fun, and your reader will too!
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Published on July 22, 2011 18:20 • 78 views

July 14, 2011

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What do you think? Am I the only one who has a problem keeping up with The Rules? I don't know why it's so hard, but it does seem as if every Yahoo group has its own specific rules and they're all very different.
My problem is that many of them say "No flyby" posting. Stick around to answer questions, chat, etc. Ladies, I feel like I live my life in flyby mode! With a full time and demanding job, a husband, numerous grandkids who are usually at my house (probably fighting or raiding the fridge) a Retirement Home for my mom that calls me almost daily to come and check on her, and oh yeah, there's that writing thing I do on the side--who has time?
And the other rules about who can post when...they're all different for each site, and some of them have rules posted right on the front page, but with others you have to search around the site.
I have some promo I want to do, and turn to my groups for support, yet sometimes I feel like a hunter stalking a lion. I creep around in the bushes, loaded promo in hand, then finally venture out into the open to post. That's usually when I get my throat torn out for posting on a day that was for Something Else.
Isn't there some way to make this easier? Like the same rules for every site? I know I'm not the only one who has this problem, because some of my friends have said they've stopped posting on the loops altogether because they're tired of having their hands slapped when they break a rule. Most of them just post on Facebook.
I really enjoy reading the postings on the groups, and of course, not all of them are guilty of being quite so rigid.
What do you think? Do THE RULES just get in the way?
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Published on July 14, 2011 04:51 • 77 views

May 11, 2011

Do you ever find yourself basing characters on family members? Do you worry that they might recognize themselves and not be happy about how you perceive them? I must admit I'm guilty of this from time to time.
I use family names often. It's a way to honor the family member, I think, and fun for them to see their names. In my soon-to-be-released novel, Standing on Stolen Ground, from Secret Cravings Publishing, (July 18th release date :) my novel is based on family stories. My mother's family is from the Shenandoah Mountains, an absolutely beautiful place that inspires me to try to capture some of its beauty in my writing. The characters in my story are almost all loosely based on real people, from stories my mother told me about her family and from my own research into this really interesting group of people.
How does a writer tell these exciting, fascinating stories without offending anyone or invading their privacy? Of course, in my case, my story is based in 1934, so most of these people are long gone. Their relatives may or may not even know these stories, since they're based on my mother's memories. Of course, I changed the last names (maybe thinly veiled would be more accurate)and some of the stories are mixed up among the generations. For example, something that may have happened to my grandmother is now a part of my great grandmother's life. Does that help or make it worse? Hmmmm...
Anyway it was great fun to put together all these various stories into a fictional framework.
What do you do? Do you ever write about family? Leave me a comment and let me know how you handle it.
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Published on May 11, 2011 05:21 • 40 views

May 8, 2011

Mother's Day is a special day for me, because I am lucky enough to still have my mom, but I feel her slipping away a little more every day. She is 97 years old, and living in a lovely retirement home close to me, so I can see her often. She has some "old age dementia" and her memory is fading away, but she is still my mama in the important ways.
She still smiles when I walk in like it's the best thing that's happened to her all day. She still holds my hand and tells me she loves me. She still gives me a hug and a kiss when I leave her and tells me to come back soon. Those are the good days--the best days.
On the days that are not so good, she clings to me when I start to leave and begs me not to go. I sit beside her and hold her hand and try to explain to her where she is, and why this is her home now. I show her the pictures of my dad around the room. She looks at them with her wide, beautiful blue eyes that are so innocent and childlike now. So empty and scared. She grips my hand like it's a lifeline, following me to the door and watching me all the way down the hall until I disappear from sight. It's hard to leave her on those days. I stay as long as I can, but I have to go to work, and I have responsibilities at home. She wouldn't have left me though, and we both know it.
I know I'm losing her, a little more every day. I know how lucky I am to have had her for so long. I know that. I know that many people were not so fortunate. I know that too, but it doesn't make it any easier.
So to my first true love, my longest relationship, my sweet little mama--Happy Mother's Day, darling. I love you forever.
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Published on May 08, 2011 07:32 • 42 views

March 20, 2011

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Published on March 20, 2011 14:05 • 62 views

March 18, 2011

Barbara's Remarkable Romances: Is Procrastination Holding You Back?: ""If something's hard to do, then it's not worth doing." ~ Homer Simpson By far, the best part about procrastination is that you are never bo..."
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Published on March 18, 2011 06:36 • 38 views
"If something's hard to do, then it's not worth doing." ~ Homer Simpson
By far, the best part about procrastination is that you are never bored, because you have all kinds of things that you should be doing. As a matter of fact, I'm right in the middle of not doing something I should be doing right now, because I should be working on my newest book that I just started. The poor thing has been calling my name for an hour or so now, and I've been working very hard to ignore it.
Sometimes it's not hard for me to get to work—these are the early days usually when I have a great idea and I just can't wait to get it put down on paper. (these days don't come around often enough, sadly) But if I don't have a clear idea in mind, or if the weather outside is just too pretty, or there is something really good on TV…you get the picture. It's all too easy to just put it off for a little while.
Then the guilt sets in. And the self-doubt. There is a silly little commerical on TV for a breakfast product in which a little girl is in a spelling contest and dancing around her is Mean Old Self Doubt chanting "You don't know it!" You can't do it!"
How well I know the feeling, Little Girl! What an annoying little twerp. So is there anything we can we do about procrastination? What would that be? Is there an answer?
Let's start with the standard advice. You've heard all these trite little aphorisms before:
• Just Do It (If I could "Just Do It" I wouldn't be sitting here, arranging all my paper clips into order by size and color)
• Break the unwanted task into smaller tasks (Like what? Write one paragraph? Which I will then I sit and stare at it until it looks like untalented, no good garbage—which the little dancing twerp has been trying to tell me all along)
• Do the hard task first (it's all hard)
• Reward yourself – blah, blah, blah…(by the way, this is definitely NOT my problem—I am very good to myself all the time—these tight jeans I have on are mute testament to that)
You've probably read about the so-called reasons why we procrastinate:
• It's a mechanism to deal with stress. (The stress is caused by my not getting to work!)
• You do not want to do it (well, duh).
• You have no interest in the task (no kidding?)
• Your fears are holding you hostage (Well, that and the Ghost Hunters Marathon on SciFi channel)
• Perfectionism (Have you seen my house today? Hmmm, not so much)
So what is the answer? I'm not sure I have the answer. (if I had that kind of power over time and space, I can assure you I wouldn't be sitting here) For me, it's trying to get rid of the distractions. Turning off the TV, the phone and not even trying to go online "just for a minute to check emails." Then I tell myself, just write for about 30 minutes, and see how it goes. Usually I get caught up in the storyline in that time I keep going. If not, I get up and try again later. I'll always come back to it eventually, because I'm OCD like that.
To misquote Jonathan Winers just a little bit, "I couldn't wait for motivation, so I went ahead without it." What about you? Do you have any tricks up your sleeve? What do you do when your muse has taken a hike?
The witty DorothyParker once said, "Live, drink, be merry, love the reeling midnight through, For tomorrow ye may die, but alas we never do."
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Published on March 18, 2011 06:33 • 24 views

March 17, 2011

Names are hard to choose. When my children were born, I agonized over choosing names for them. With my son, we were literally going in the door to delivery, when my husband said, "Okay, we'll agree on Scott, right?" I shrugged, facillating till the end, and he said, "Right! Scott it is." And so, we named him Scott. It's a nice name, but I'm still not sure that was the name I truly wanted. It's like the grass is always greener--maybe that perfect name is out there somewhere, just waiting to be discovered...

Later when I became a grandmother, there was this big decision to make. What will the baby call me? Now for those of you who are grandmothers, you'll understand that this is a very big deal. This child is very beloved to you--okay, I'm totally ape-crap crazy over mine--so what he or she calls you is momentous.

I saw Paula Dean on TV yesterday--love her--and she said that her son wanted their baby to call her "Big Mama." She looked her son dead in the eye and said, "If you teach that child to call me 'Big Mama' then your big ass is out of the will." He settled for "Granny" which Paula said is fine if you're 80 or 90 years old, (I so agree) but in the end the baby couldn't say it and wound up calling her "Genny." Cute.

I wanted "Mimi" because I had a friend whose Mama called herself that, and I loved it, and because it's as close to "Mommy" as my daughter would allow. I still love it.

But what about a pen name? Do you have one? (aka nom de plume, pseudonym, literary double) According to Wikipedia, these names are taken for a variety of reasons--"A pen name may be used to make the author's name more distinctive, to disguise his or her gender, to distance an author from some or all of his or her works, to protect the author from retribution for his or her writings, or for any of a number of reasons related to the marketing or aesthetic presentation of the work. The author's name may be known only to the publisher, or may come to be common knowledge."

The most interesting reason listed above, to me, is retribution. Really? I guess if I were writing about the Ayatollah Khomeini, or the Taliban, I could at least understand the need for some discretion. I might even have reason to fear retribution, but surely my little sweet romance stories are not cause for such alarm. Or are they?

In today's society, it seems more and more easy to offend someone, somewhere, no matter what you do or say. Don't believe me? Try putting an amusing, but somewhat liberal comment on Facebook--okay, it was amusing to me, and probably more than a little liberal--you will get comments ranging from "I am surprised at your comment" to "How could you possibly say something like this??!!" The answer, of course, is that it seemed obvious to me that this is my space, and I can put whatever I darn well please on it. Unfortunately, not always the case.

So I had to think long and hard about using a pen name, for several reasons. I finally chose not to do it, because I love my own name, and I'm proud that I wrote a novel (not everyone can do it, folks) that actually got published, and not just once, but twice! (another one finished and coming out soon, hopefully) Also, there was probably no way in hell I could ever have decided on a name. Now, however, I have to worry a little bit about the fallout. In this age of Facebook and Twitter, everybody knows your business, after all. But for now, I am blissfully basking in the idea of my name actually being on the cover of a book! My name--my real name!

What do you think? Have you chosen to use a pen name for fear of fallout and retribution? Or just wanting the privacy? Shakespeare said "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
Do you agree?
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Published on March 17, 2011 06:00 • 23 views

March 16, 2011

March 14, 2011

Barbara's Remarkable Romances: How Do I Self Promote?: "With a lot of the new e publishers, including mine, an author is expected to help promote their own books. Of course, the e pubs will help y..."
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Published on March 14, 2011 07:33 • 52 views