Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How Movies Influence Plot and Character Development

Please join me in welcoming Alex J. Cavanaugh! Alex has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design and graphics. He is experienced in technical editing and worked with an adult literacy program for several years. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games, and he covers those topics on his blog. His first book, CassaStar, was released last fall and is available in trade paperback and all eBook formats. The sequel, CassaFire, comes out next February.

Movies and books - they really do tie together! Besides the fact I can discuss movies anytime, I think writers can learn a lot from watching films. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Two hours isn’t a lot of time to develop characters in a movie. Some filmmakers don’t even try. (Why bother with character development? Just add more special effects!) We all know one-dimensional characters make for a crappy movie though.

However, when a filmmaker does it right, we get to see great characterization in action. Think of all the fine details: facial expressions; body language; dress; residence; personal items; the five senses in action; etc. (These things can fly past on the screen, so we have to watch for them.) All of those aspects go into developing a detailed character and once we learn to look for them, we can add them to our writing.

Plots are similar. Some storylines are so lame and poorly executed, you wonder who green-lit this mess? (Maybe the director has a photo of the producer with a donkey or something?)

I think we can learn just as much from the bad ones as from the good ones. Those plot holes big enough to drive a bus through - how would we fix them? Films that move at a snail’s pace - what could we do to speed things up a bit?

When the plot works on every level, there’s a rhythm. It hits all the right notes and maintains a good pace. While a book doesn’t move as quickly as a movie, we can still create rhythm with our words.

So the next time someone gives you grief about your movie watching habits, tell them it’s research.

You are now free to move about the movie theater!

Alex J. Cavanaugh
CassaStar by Alex J. Cavanaugh
Science fiction/adventure/space opera
ISBN Print 9780981621067 eBook 9780982713938

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Part I - Making the Most of Writers Conferences

This week we begin a three-part series on making the most of participating in a Writers' Conference or Book Fair. Part I deals with Things to do BEFORE the Conference, while Part II is DURING the Conference and Part III is AFTER the Conference. This series is directed toward authors and others who are show-cased through signing tables, panel discussions and solo talks. Later, we'll have a series directed at participants attending the Conference.

Things to do BEFORE the Conference

Book 'Em North Carolina is the 10th Book 'Em event held in the country. Others have taken place in Waynesboro, Virginia (where The Book 'Em Foundation was founded), Lebanon, New Hampshire and Charleston, South Carolina. I've had the opportunity to watch authors in action at each of these events. I've seen many who had extremely successful appearances while others just a table away had lackluster sales. What makes the difference between the two very different experiences?

Below are just three tips on what to do BEFORE the Conference, and I'd really like to see everyone's suggestions on things they have tried or seen others do that made the difference.

Publicity. The Book 'Em North Carolina Publicity Committee is releasing periodic press releases about the event, as well as posting regularly on Twitter (@bookemnc) and Facebook (Book 'Em NC Writers Conference), blogging on this site and sending out ezines. Our first ezine is posted here. Authors can also send press releases to their local media announcing their involvement in the event, such as this sample:

Madame Author has announced she will join 75 other authors at Book 'Em North Carolina in Lumberton, NC on February 25, 2012 to show her support of the need to increase literacy rates in communities. She's generously agreed to donate a portion of her book sales at the event for literacy campaigns targeting school-age children as well as adults of all ages. "If you can write well and you can read well," Madame Author says, "your chances of a brighter economic future are greatly increased." For more information, visit

Just substitute those items underlined with your own information - or create your own.

Then tweet, post information on Facebook, and blog about your upcoming appearance. Be sure to friend us and follow us, and retweet or share our messages.

Networking. If you haven't been to our website in awhile, it's worth another visit. We've been steadily adding authors. We originally intended the cut-off date for author registrations to be December 31, 2011, but we've had such tremendous response that we'll be cutting off registrations by September.

Take a look at other author's profiles. If you know others listed, contact them to let them know you'll be participating. Join their Facebook pages, their blogs, or follow them on Twitter. Don't look at other authors as competition; how many times have you seen someone stand in a book store and ponder which of two books to purchase? Readers will generally leave with both books. Instead, begin dialogues with them and see where you can successfully network. It will also help to smooth the way when you arrive at the conference. Whether you're a novice or a seasoned professional, there is always something to be learned from each author you meet.

Find Out How You Can Help. Conferences are always looking for extra hands to help in various areas. For example, L. Diane Wolfe has volunteered to spearhead the Short Story Contests in schools, and she's assembled a team of authors who have agreed to serve as judges: Pamela June Kimmell, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Dr. Edna Ellison, Valerie Connelly, Judy Walter, and Dirk Robertson.

There may be other areas in which you can volunteer, which will also raise your profile even before you get to the conference. One way you can help: volunteer to blog on this website, and we'll publicize it for you. The theme leading up to the start of the school contests is: how has reading or writing impacted your life?

What Not to Do: Don't spam other participants. Don't go through the list and accumulate email addresses, adding them to your mailing list without the authors' permission. It's one thing to send them a polite email, letting them know you will also be participating in the same conference, and adding your website or blogspot. If they want to subscribe, follow you or friend you, they will. But if you're adding other authors' names to your e-list without permission, you have a flaw in your marketing plan.

What Tips Do You Have for Other Authors, Focusing on BEFORE the Conference Begins?

The tips above are from p.m.terrell, the co-founder (along with Waynesboro Police Officer Mark Kearney) of The Book 'Em Foundation. She's the author of Take the Mystery out of Promoting Your Book, as well as an award-winning, internationally acclaimed author of historical and contemporary suspense/thrillers.