Monday, October 22, 2012

Elements of Writing

What are the elements of writing?

This question came to me as I sat in an art class. My teacher, a little woman with yellowing teeth and thinning grey hair, was lecturing on the elements of art. With a passion in her frail voice she told us how texture, material, lines, perspective, and symbolism are all used by the artist to portray something to the viewer, be it just a beautiful painting or some underlying message. 

Now I have always considered art and writing to be very close. They are both lifestyles and art-forms that seek to express or capture something, some ideal, some beautiful thing. Indeed, it can be said that writing uses symbolism and perspective and even material/texture in the format used or the book cover.

So are those the elements of writing? Does writing only possess symbolism, perspective, and material as its elements? I say, "no!"

There is something else, even though these things are indeed necessary and helpful in both writing and art, that is behind writing. This thing is emotion. No matter how precise we get with what we use in writings, writing in itself is dry without emotion. Humanity connects with humanity.

A reader, or in the case of painting, a viewer, can feel what the writer/artist puts into a piece of work. They can touch and be touched by that piece of soul any truly creative person puts into their work. This soul element is the most important, indeed it is the fundamental, element in writing. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Ireland Bound

Writers are scholars.  And I, Joshua A. Spotts, will be heading to Ireland, land of saints and scholars. I have one goal for my writing while over there: Inspiration.

But beside inspiration, I will be studying. And yet, studying and inspiration I would say go hand in hand. Because what is inspiration if not thoughts? And what is studying if not the formulation of thoughts?

Already I have been developing several Irish based book just via the geographical and language research I have conducted.

I will be posting pictures of Ireland and possibly Scotland during my time overseas. I'll also post speculations as they come to mind and I have spent some time pondering them by the Irish Sea.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

3 Reasons for Editing

In the writing process there are two stepping stones to get across the river of success.

The first stone is what many call "writing." It is the act of putting words to page. It is the act of crafting something. Many writers would prefer to step on this stone and then leap across the river. But when they land, they sink into the mud, creating a mess, and going nowhere further.

The second stone is editing. It is the act of refining. The writers who step on this stone are able to make a graceful departure onto the river's opposite bank and just keep going.

Here are three specific reasons why editing helps writers keep going toward success instead of sinking down in the mud.

1.  Editing makes your work shiny for the publishers', reviewers', and editors' eyes. Thoroughly edited writing attracts the eye, helping you get noticed.

2. Editing makes your work flow. Editing shows the shallow points of a character. It shows plot holes. And unless a mistake is shown and recognized, it cannot be fixed.

3. Editing teaches you. I know from experience that I learn from editorial comments. When I correct mistakes that editing has found, I learn not to make those mistakes again. The less mistakes made in the initial writing process, the easier editing is. But, I will warn you, editing never becomes unnecessary.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

5 Reasons I Love Being a Writer

While working in a factory this summer I decided to create a list of 5 reasons I love being a writer. So, here it is!

#1: I create things.
Everything I do while writing is an act of creation. If I am writing a feature on someone, I am creating a profile of them to share with readers. If I am writing a short story, I am creating a memory in the mind of the readers. If I am writing a novel, I am giving the readers an entire world for them to enjoy.

#2: I plant emotion.
When I write I am planting emotion into a story and that emotion seeps back out to the reader, connecting them to the characters and the story.

#3: I serve others.
By writing I give people enjoyment of a good story and I give them relief from the stresses of the world.

#4: I teach others.
With my writing I can impart knowledge and moral lessons to the readers. I can educate the readers about things they otherwise would never have known. I can help the readers understand things that they may have known about but not understood.

#5: I don't have to work meaningless tasks in a factory full of people going nowhere in life!!!

What are some of your reasons that you love being a writer?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review of Touching Smoke

Fallon Braeden has never attended a single school consistently in her life. She has never lived in anything apart from hole-in-the-wall motel rooms. All her belongings fit into one duffel bag. She and her mom had always been drifters, moving from place to place, only stopping long enough to resupply on cash before moving out again.

It all changed one day when Fallon began attending a high-end boarding school. After only one week, a massive earthquake consumed the school. Panic and smoke fought to choke the children fleeing the premises.

Fallon, confused and abandoned, is rescued by a handsome man with superhuman powers. He was the same man who she noticed has been following her mom and her around on a motorcycle. He was the same man whom his mother had run off the road a week before. And there he was, rushing her from the burning, crumbling building, and away from unearthly killers in mad scientist's garb who can throw flames and hover off the ground.

This intense action is only the beginning of Touching Smoke, Airicka Phoenix's debut novel. I can assure you, the rest of the book is just as exciting with several surprises and a few delightfully written action scenes. The entire book is a massive chase with the main characters running from the flame throwing men and several other strange people who work for powerful man called Garrison.

Now, seeing as this is a paranormal romance, I cannot neglect to talk about the relationship between Fallon and her rescuer, Isaiah. Fallon feels a deep attraction to him, and it isn't just because he is frightfully good-looking. He, in turn, feels he must protect her no matter the cost. But, toward the book's end, they both begin to wonder if their love is real. This leaves plenty of room for a sequel.

Vampires and Werewolves are the cliche staple of paranormal romance novels. Touching Smoke defies that cliche. And for that I am very glad. Although the entire book is filled with characters of superhuman abilities, the superhuman aspects do not come from being able to transform into a wolf or sucking blood and living forever. The question is, where do the characters superhuman abilities come from? And how do they impact Fallon and Isaiah's relationship? Well, my friends, you'll have to read the book to find out.

I give this book a 4 out of five stars because there were several plot aspects that I saw coming, but that's just me. And I rarely give five stars to anything. Overall, however, I really did enjoy this book and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for romance with a mixing of action and thrill.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Communication Complications #2

I work with a Mexican (I am in no way dissing Mexicans here) at my summer job. Off work, he's a nice guy, but on work he mumbles and does not understand English hand signals. For example, he once held up his pointing finger, you know, the one that means "one minute." So I waited a minute.

Then he came storming around the  corner he had disappeared behind. He told me I was supposed to come  help him. I could barely hear him. Of course that could be due to the loud machines all around us. Anyway, because of the communication difficulties between us, it is very hard to work with that man.

I was also trying to explain once how we could hang a part horizontally. He had no idea what horizontally meant. I had to hang the part horizontally to show him.

I learned that communication complications come not only from language and hand-signal problems, but that it can come from background noise as well. I would say that the background noise is the largest problem between us. Normally, I could dumb down my language and listen closer to understand him, but with that background noise. It is really hard.

This evening, on the way back from work, I realized that even in writing we deal with background noise. We deal with it in our own writing and in the setting and mind of the reader.

In a book for children you can expect that the child, with the amazing, though distract-able imaginations that children have, will have a lot of background noise outside the words you put on the page.

In a novel for teens and adults you can expect that outside stresses will cause background noise.

So, in order to communicate clearly in your writing, you should write with background noise in mind and make sure you cut out background noise within your writing itself. Background noise in writing can be things like poor grammar, cliches, and phrases that are used in only certain areas.

You can help keep a child's attention off outside background noise by keeping your sentences short and your words simple.

With YA/adult books you can eliminate outside background noise by keeping your story full of unexpected things and trying your hardest to draw the reader in. Teenage and adult readers often read a book to take a break from the world of stress outside your pages. Give them a new world and make them forget the outside background noise.

Keep on writing, my friends!

Joshua A. Spotts

Thursday, July 5, 2012


Hey! I just thought all of you might enjoy reading the prologue of the novel version of Wind of Destruction! Sorry if it's a little rough. This is straight from my mind to you. As if I was telling it around a campfire or something. 
Joshua A. Spotts 

I am no ordinary killer. That is what they told me. That is what they buried deep inside me. Like an old wound healed over but not cleaned, it festers. It destroys me from the inside out. But I have accepted it like a warrior accepts death. It is who I am.
            There are many men who have felt the warmth of blood on their hands. There are few who truly enjoy it. I am one of those few. The deep, rich red color is to my pale hand like jewelry is around the neck of a fair lady.
            The Irontrees stand tall around me, like the shafts of giants’ spears left on an ancient battlefield. Some call this forest beautiful, a holy place of creation. I recognize it for what it truly is…a place of destruction.
            Only one road leads through the Irontree forest. It winds with the Mrazias River partway into the forest, and then a bridge crosses the river at its narrowest width, and the road cuts straight through the rest of the forest, running through Bones Ravine.
I kneel above the road and watch as a few loose rocks tumble down unto the road below. It is cracked and I can make out a few bones stacked behind a small boulder. An entire skeletal foot sticks out within view from the road. Some killers are unprofessional. That skeleton was probably just a victim of revenge.
Something moved in the ravine. It came out from one of the caves. Backing up from the edge, I picked up my crossbow. It was already loaded and drawn back. I sighted down the shaft. A small man, probably an outcast monk, picked a few plants from a patch of tilled ground near the boulder and the skeleton. He scurried back up the cliff-face and stood in his cave’s entrance, back to me.
He was probably harmless, but I couldn’t let him scare my target. This mission would be hard enough without that. I laid my finger to the crossbow’s trigger. I felt the smooth, curved metal press into my skin as I put pressure on it. Then it gave way and the bolt shot forward. The sound of its whistle as it cut through the air was beautiful. A startled scream erupted from the small man’s throat, echoing in the ravine. He fell into his cave, a crossbow bolt through his heart.
I began to crank the crossbow back again when I heard the rattle of coach wheels and the clatter of horse hooves coming up the road from the south. I closed my hand tighter around the crank and wound the crossbow back. With a satisfying click the string found the trigger notch. I laid a bolt in the shaft. Taking out my knife, I cut a rune unto the bolt to give it accuracy. Then I waited.
Three horsemen, fully armored, rode from the protective shade of the trees into the open sunlight of the ravine. Behind them came the coach, pulled by four horses, silver trimming glimmering. One guard drove it. Two guards stood on the back. The windows were round. A tough shot. It was a coach fit for a king and safe enough for a tyrant. Three more horsemen trotted into the canyon following the coach. Behind them marched six pikemen.
I tallied them all in my head. Fifteen guards. The pikemen were standard infantry. But the men on horseback were knights. And the coach guards were likely the best of the group. I had one shot. I closed my eyes. I listened to the sounds all around me. The horses’ shoes on the broken road, the metallic symphony of armor, and sweet hum of my crossbow string, the hiss of the hot sun. 
I aimed the crossbow away from the coach, turning the sharp, glinting point of the crossbow bolt back toward the man in the middle of the three rear horsemen. I pulled the trigger and the bolt threw the man off his horse, nearly taking off his head in the process. The caravan did not panic as they should have. I had just killed their leader.
The caravan just kept riding. Then, once the pikemen had pasted the corpse, the coach and riders tore off down the ravine. The pikemen began to climb the cliffs toward me. How could I have been so stupid? My target had escaped me.
No, he had not escaped. I would get him. I threw my crossbow at a pikeman who had made it to the top of the ravine. It hit him in the forehead and he fell backward, screaming. I rushed along the ravine top. I could hear the pikemen shouting behind me.
I felt the earth shake under my feet as my anger boiled forth like a volcano. My target, the Lord Vincent Decarla, had escaped. I watched as his coat rolled away back into the forest. I knew I would never catch them on foot.
The shouts of the pikemen crept closer. I turned. Five pathetic men, holding short swords, advanced upon me in torn uniforms. I grinned like a skull. The ravine had done most of my work for me.
Two of the pikemen fell as they started to charge, my throwing knives in their throats. I whipped my two curved scimitars from their back-slings and cut through the remaining three men like a reaper through wheat. Indeed, that was what I was, a reaper, harvesting souls. But one soul, one foul seed, remained to be harvested. Its name was Lord Vincent Decaria.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Writing and Working

Writing is work. But so is being employed 40+ hours a week. In this post I am going to talk some about how I find both time and motivation for writing after working ten hour shift most days of the week.

Finding time is difficult. After work I only have five hours of free time before I need to go to bed in order to get up at six the next morning. What I do is I come back to my Brother and Sister-in-Law's and do whatever non-writing related things I have to do. Then, when I know I cannot be interrupted, I just sit down, put on some music, and write. The thing most damaging to a good time of writing is being interrupted.

Methods for finding time:

1. Schedule a specific time to write and stick to it! Make it as important as a meeting on your schedule with a dead uncle who has left you millions!

2. Make sure anything you need to do that will distract you from writing is done.

3. Scatter your writing days throughout the week. You don't have to write every evening or whatever free time you have. You can if you want. But if you choose specific writing days you can get the other things you have to do (apart from work) done on non-writing days.

Finding motivation after a full work day makes finding time look easy. Some days I have come home with sore feet, a terrible headache, and a knot in my back. I sit down, glance at my computer, and then pick up a book instead. Now I love reading books, but should I read someone else's book when I should be writing my own?

I have developed a few methods to gaining motivation:

1. I set my laptop on top of books I want to read. This provides me with a physical reminder that I should write when I pick up the laptop.

2. I open my most recent writing project, shut down my web browsers, turn on some music, and just start writing. I don't worry about the quality of what I am typing. I just type. I lose myself in the story I am telling.

3. I think about my dreams. I think about how practicing writing will help me achieve my dreams. This motivates me because I value my dreams. But dreams don't just come true, they are to be worked for.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Malicious Motivation

This past Tuesday I broke. My legs felt like lead rods. My stomach My head throbbed. Tears welled in my eyes as I blinked to fight them back. Fleeing the cozy living room, I rushed into the kitchen where my tears splashed on the wooden floor. Laying my face into my hands, I wept the stress away.

That entire evening I had berated myself for not accomplishing my goals for that day and the last. In fact, I berated myself even more for the extreme lack of progress I had made on those goals.

Looking back, I realize now that my goals were ridiculous. No, they weren't ridiculous, they were obscene. Ridiculous goals are laughable, but possible to achieve. My goals were obscene. I am looking for a summer job and so I spent the majority of Monday, and Tuesday looking for one, and then I spent more time helping my Dad construct a ramp, so, how could I expect to get a few thousand words written each day?

There is no doubt that I had the motivation to write. And perhaps that is what broke me. I pushed myself into a degree of motivation that is unhealthy. I pushed myself into obsession. I was obsessed with accomplishing ALL my goals, particularly my writing goals and I broke. The stress was too much. My motivation had turned into de-motivation.

Yet on Wednesday, when I relaxed and didn't set drastic goals for myself. I wrote 3000 words in one of my novels! This experience has taught me that, while goals are important, and motivation priceless, too much of both or either can do more harm than good. I encourage you, friends, be careful not to put too much stress on yourselves and become prey to malicious motivation.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Summer Reading

This summer I plan on doing a lot of reading. Of course, every summer I plan on doing a lot of reading. Some summers this happens. Some summers I end up reading very little.

The goal for this summer is to read a majority of the books in my Goodreads to-read shelf. The books on that shelf are not organized according which books interest me more than the others. Many of the books are recommendations, some of them from years ago!

These are the book I REALLY want to read arranged in order personal interest:

1. The Chronicles of Prydain (the entire series) by Lloyd Alexander because I enjoy his quick paced style, his sense of humor, and his memorable characters. Also, to my shame, I read the last book in the series before I read any of the others.

2. The Prestige by Christopher Priest because I LOVE the movie directed by Christopher Nolan. I think I've seen it about 11 times!

3. Labor Gabala Erenn: The Book of the Taking of Ireland because I love all things ancient (particularly Celtic) and I'm going to Ireland in the fall! This book is proving tricky to get my hands on. The library system is giving me some trouble. Apparently the public doesn't have as peculiar interests as I do.

4. Jäger des Spotts. Geschichten aus dieser Zeit. by Siegfried Lenz
Yes, it's a German book. And no, I don't know German. So this probably won't be read this summer. Not unless I have amazing language learning capacities. But I want to read this (or at least find an English translation) because it contains my name and a poem my Grandmother had framed is found within this book.

5. Reckless by Cornelia Funk because a friend keeps badgering me to read it and I trust his opinion on good books to read.

I have already dispatched of a few book that were on my list. These are:  

1. Forbidden  by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee. It was a decent book. The basic idea of it, a world devoid of emotion with a corrupt government ruling over it, is not that original. In fact, the beginning of the book reminded me very much of the movie Equilibrium. But the writing was good and Lee's style really complimented Dekker's. Overall, I would say that they created an enjoyable read and I am looking forward to reading the second book.

2. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander. This is the first book in the Prydain Chronicles. It is fast paced, but not rushed. Despite the pacing, I still connected with the characters. I laughed at them. I mourned with them. I was shocked with them. Alexander is a marvelous story-teller. I wouldn't say the book was brilliant, but I know I definitely enjoyed it as a good, quick fantasy book.

We will see if I can obtain my goal of chipping away the majority of my to-read books by August 12th. Wish me luck!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Communication Complications

Communication is the primary focus of writing. Even in fiction, communication comes before entertainment because you are communicating a story. Even in psychological thriller novels, with their twisting, confusing plots, the writer still has to communicate images and events effectively in order to create the tension over an unknown element.

In writing, you need to know your readers. You need to know how to communicate to them.

One thing you must know about communication, even if you're talking with an English-speaking person, is that it's likely you are speaking in a different style than they are. What I mean by style is that you will speak in a way, using different words and expressions, that will be different from the other English-speaking person.

Everyone has different ways of talking. Everyone presents ideas through different methods. I have sat through a few presentations by students at my school and I have watched and listened (after all, it was expected of me and I'm a writer) and I noticed that no one starts their presentation in the same way. Just that single difference is only one in a host of differences which include voice tone, hand movements, voice volume, eye contact, and jargon.

In one of those presentations there was a student talking about football. Now, I don't watch football much, and I haven't really watched it at all since coming to college, so I didn't understand much of his presentation. In fact, there were several terms that I just didn't understand in the slightest. This is an example of how jargon, a beautiful thing in its diversity, is a large element of miscommunication.

 In order to achieve the clearest communication to the largest group of people, it is important to cut the jargon out of your writing.

There are times, when you know what type of audience you are writing to, where you can use jargon and be appreciated for it. Indeed, it will make your communication all the clearer. But that is only if your audience is familiar with the jargon you use. For example, you couldn't use military jargon when writing for a magazine that focuses on computer technology and people who work in that field.

The removal of jargon is an effective method that you can use to clean up your communication. Remember, jargon (even if not educational jargon) can lead complicated communication. And complicated communication is often times no communication at all. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, to cover what we have talked about, I give you a...nice list!

1. Writing is first and foremost communication

2. The same language does not mean the same understanding of communication.

3. Clearest communication is achieved by the removal of jargon.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Writing Methods Part 2

While there are two extreme sides of writing methods. There are also the middle grounds. It is in those grounds between the two camps that method uniqueness exists. There are many writers who would claim to work from one camp or another. But often times they live on the fringes of the camps, mingling into the middle grounds or backing as far away from them as possible.

These are the two extremes: 

1.I know some writers who stay very far into the outline camp. They plan out every single detail and if something doesn't work, well, they work something else out with a new outline.

2. Then there are the writers, like a dear friend of mine, who spawn a single idea in their mind and then just start writing. They just go with it and let the story tell itself.

I find that many writers would place themselves in the middle ground between the two camps. Or, as one writer friend comically told me, "I think outside the box." Some of them lean more toward the intuitive method and some lean more toward the outline method. But all of them have a mixture of the two in their writing.

Also, I believe that many writers have a journey that leads to their ideal writing method. I do wonder how many writers, you included, are still making little steps in their journeys. Do you still make little changes to your writing method? Are you still trying to find your mix?

My own story started on the fringes of the Intuitive method camp. It worked well enough until I ran into problems. I would create an idea, throw in a main character and a villain and then let them have at it. This did not work so well and it worked terribly for remembering ideas that I wanted to keep. There was one story that I was working on that acted as the kick in my pants to get me on my journey. Looking back, I think it was a bad idea anyway, but I put a lot of work into it and when it failed and I didn't have any plans prepared, I realized I needed to have some security device.

As I started out on my journey I implemented a new element to my method. This new element was my security device. I took a piece of paper and then pondered on my idea for a while. I formed my idea into parts and then detailed what major things I wanted to happen in those parts. This helped because I could concentrate on getting to closer points instead of fighting my way from beginning to end of a whole novel.

The next element I introduced was the spider-web outline. This outline element does not detail major world events or every tiny detail in the story. I designed this element towards my own love for characters. I would place my main character's name into the center of the paper and then draw lines connecting him to all the other characters. I would label these lines with words like enemy, friend, lover, and such.

Recently I added another element of the Outline camp to my writing method. I placed on my spider-web outlines certain key actions character make against characters. This gave me an idea of how certain character became enemies or how certain characters effect others, but I still left it so that I did not know exactly how the characters decided to make those key actions.

My most recent element to my writing method is that I have decided to write the first chapter of every new idea just to see if it writes out well and to supplant it in my mind so that I can think it over.

So, overall, I think my own method consists of my spider-web outline, a synopsis, an elevator pitch, and then the first chapter for every new idea. While I stand farther from the Intuitive method's camp than when I started, I think I still lean heavily toward that method. I enjoy the thrill of the unknown event.

What is your writing method? Which side do you lean toward more?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Writing Methods

Writers are strange. Writers are similar. Writers are diverse.

Writing methods operate in similar ways. Many writers have strange methods. Many writers have similar methods. Many writers have diverse methods.

In my writing class today we talked about two basic types of writing methods.
  1. The Intuitive Method  
  2. The Outline Method (or the Story Board method)
 The Intuitive Method is where a writer gets an idea and then sits down and runs (or more likely "writes") with it. The writers who use this method seem to enjoy the thrill it provides. There are advantages and disadvantages to it.
  • There are more surprises within the story. These surprises are more shocking because even the writer didn't expect them.
  • The development of the story may seem more natural. I think this one is debatable and depends a lot on the skill and abilities of the writer. 
  • The characters are more genuine in their reactions to events because the writer comes across an event that he didn't plan days before. This forces the writer to decide from the character's perspective in the moment. Life is full of moment decisions and characters are supposed to be lifelike, so this one makes sense. 
  •  There is one major problem with this method. It is possible for the writer to write a lot down and then realize that the ending sucks or that certain parts just don't work. 
  • Another issue could be a choppy plot line, but I have observed this doesn't happen that often. 
The Outline Method is where the writer ponders an idea and then writes down in an outline everything he wants to happen and in a certain order. Only after the writer has everything planned does he begin the writing process.

  • The writer can  make sure everything lines up. 
  • The writer can make sure the end fits with the beginning. 
  • The writer has a chance to avoid writer's block. This one is only a speculative advantage. (See The god Writer's Block)
  • It is possible that writing with an outline may make the book predictable sometimes. But this also depends on the writer's skill. 
  • I once experimented with this style and I made a pretty decent outline. But I never picked the book back up to work on it. (I think I'll talk about my personal method I have developed in my next blog post. It addresses this.)
I think that these two methods can be combined. I also think that every writer has his own unique method. These two things basically just cover the major camps as far as a writer leaning more to one side or the other. Which method do you lean more towards? And what do you see as its positives and negatives?

I plan on talking about mixing the methods and my own personal method in my next blog post.

Joshua A. Spotts

P.S. Sorry for taking so long to write a post. I blame...Final projects, papers, and exams.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Three and Three Part 2

In my previous post I talked about three things that are proven helpful for blogs. In this post I want to do some quick speculation. I want to present to you some ideas. These are ideas I've been considering for my own blog and perhaps you shall consider them for yours as well.

#1: Reformat your blog. Change the layout. Give the reader something new to look at (besides a new post!) This idea I have read as a suggestion, but I have not seen many bloggers that do it and I don't know the benefits of it.

I can see the logic behind it, on both sides. We, as humans, like new things. Yet many of us are either slow to accept change or dislike it altogether. In my mind, I am of balanced opinion of this one. I know that I want to make some layout changes to this blog. Any suggestions? I feel that this idea is one the blogger can just judge for themselves if they want to use it.

#2:  I have been considering getting my face into the YouTube world. I am thinking about doing video reviews of books and readings of my short stories. These videos would probably hold there own page here in this blog. Any ideas on this one? Good idea? Bad idea? I probably won't do it until next school year sometime. 

#3: Podcasts! Or audio clips! I think I am more excited about this one because it is easier to do. I can just record my voice into my computer using Audacity, convert it to an audio file, and post it in my blog. Basically, I think this will be me just reading my own blog post.

I'm a little hesitant on this one though. Since this blog is angled toward writers and since writers love to read, I just don't know how practical or useful an audio version would be. I could use some feedback on this idea as well, if you would be so kind as to provide it. What do you all think about audio book reviews? Perhaps a podcast of the blog?

In reality, these ideas (apart from #1) are all rather far off. But I do like to speculate ahead of time.

Joshua A. Spotts

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Three and Three

Today I am going to consider two sets of three things. The first set is three techie/gadget things that are proven as helpful to bloggers. The other three things are some ideas I've been throwing around in my mind.

Here we go with the first set!
#1: In this set are Follower Link Options. (FLO for short. My, that's a fun word!)  By this I mean the things that are naturally ingrained in any blogging service. These are RSS feeds, E-mail Subscription Boxes, Google Friend Connect, Networked Blogs, and such.
  • RSS feeds allow a reader to get e-mail or phone or RSS service notifications whenever you write a new post.
  • E-mail Subscription Boxes are simple and effective. If a reader doesn't want to publicly connect their name with your blog, they can simply enter their e-mail address and whenever you make a new post they receive an e-mail. 
  • Google Friend Connect is a much more public following option. People who sign up for this often sign up with their Google profiles. Google Friend Connect allows for personalized notification options whenever you post, giving your readers a feeling of more control. And, we are all humans, right? We all like to have some control.
  • Networked Blogs is an interesting system that allows for automatic link-posting on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. This system also allows for other bloggers or just readers to subscribe to your blog via its own "follow button.
#2:  Many blog hosting websites have options that insert a drop down archive menu. These menus often list the posts according to the previous and currents months. The reader clicks on the month he wants to look at and it drops a list down of all that month's posts.
Another neat gadget is a keyword wheel. This nifty thing displays all the keywords your blog posts have ever used. The reader then clicks on a keyword that interests him and it takes the reader to a list of posts with that keyword.

#3: Google AdWords has a Keyword Tool that allows you to research a keyword and see how many people search for it daily. You can use this to find which keywords (while ensuring they are relevant to your topic) are popular and use them to promote your blog in the search ratings.

The second set of three will be written up in my next blog post. Until then, goodbye!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Review of Sword of Time

Review of Sword of Time
            In A.M. Sawyer’s fantasy novel Sword of Time four teens’ post-graduation plans are shattered when a secret government special operations team accidently releases an ancient evil. Instead of having a nice vacation in Australia, the four teens encounter much more adventure than they ever intended. In the Australian Outback an old hermit guides them to a portal that allows them to go to a timeless temple which protects them from the ancient evil, a powerful sage named Kakos.
            The portal leads to a timeless temple where the four teens, Luke, Bob, Tim, and James, learn that it is part of their destiny to stop Kakos. They are given magical weapons, including the Sword of Time, which chooses Luke as its user. With magical weapons in hand the four teens pass through a portal again only to find a world completely dominated by Kakos.
            The four friends join the resistance movement of Lady Fora, chief warrior of the ancient magical kingdom of Basileio. With her they combat Kakos. They return to the distant past to try and save the kingdom of Basileio, to save thousands of magical creatures, and to defeat Kakos once and for all. While there the four friends meet up with Krikos, the younger version of the hermit who saved them from Kakos in the Australian outback.
            Inner conflicts threaten to shatter the teens’ friendships as they struggle against Kakos. After numerous quests to acquire and re-acquire magical weapons and objects, the four teens finally come to the ultimate facedown with Kakos. In the midst of a massive battle between the forces of good and evil, will Luke prove strong enough to defeat Kakos?
            Sawyer’s writing style is shockingly unconventional. His entire book is written from a present tense, second person perspective that seems like a mixture between first person and third person. His writing is first person in the sense that most of the time he is telling the story from very close to the main characters, but it is third person in the sense that he pulls far out and will speak as the omniscient storyteller at times.
            The four teens act like one would expect four teens to act after they get sucked through time and are thrust into a full-scale war. The teens argue with one another. Their dialogue stands out against the setting they are in and their behavior does as well, with one exception. That exception is the chief heroic quality that has stood out for all time, perseverance. No matter the troubles the teens go through, they still move forward to their goal. They vary from the course once or twice throughout the book, but they always get back on track.
            The teenage/young adult reader will connect with the main characters a lot more than an older audience will. The few romantic relationships two of the main characters have with other characters are believable within the setting and are not cliché. The dialogue between said characters seemed stiff in a few places, but the majority of the time it was very heartfelt. The romantic relationships do not, however, take high place in the process of the plot.
            Overall, A.M. Sawyer is a decent writer capable of spinning enjoyable stories. I wouldn’t place him up with the experts yet, but his style does bring something fresh to the world of books. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a fantasy novel that successfully weaves time travel into the plot and involves massive battles and high stakes.
Reviewed by Joshua A. Spotts
Joshua A. Spotts is a Professional Writing Major at Taylor University and a book reviewer for Aboite Independent, Church Libraries, and Christian Book Previews.

(I believe that Mr. Sawyer's book is one of the finer examples of self-published, independent, e-books. His style is also very unique and I enjoyed analyzing it.) 
Find this book on Goodreads

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Importance of Online Feedback

Do you have a website or social media page? 

If you do, that's excellent! I laud your accomplishment! I am gladdened when I see my fellow writers
promoting themselves, gathering followings, and getting their name out there for the world to see.

We authors have to work more and more as our own marketers in this modern publishing world. Websites and social media pages/profiles are excellent ways to do that.

Websites function as online resumes. They showcase or advertise your work publicly. They display contact information. And, if they are well-constructed, they add a degree a professionalism to your name.

Social media pages/profiles are a primary method for author/reader interaction. In this online age, people crave interaction as much as they had back in the pioneer days. Humans are social beings, some more than others, but overall they are social beings. This interaction allows the author to build a relatively personal connection with the readers.

So, you have a website or a social media page, but do you know how to use it?

I encourage you, fellow writers, to share your work with your readers. Share snippets of your short stories or novel. Share a book cover you're working on. Share a concept (I would caution not to do this too often. Though many of we writers will respect another person's idea as his own, there are some people who will steal an idea. I leave this thing up to your own judgement)

Your readers are an excellent source of feedback. Your website or social media page/profile is more than just a place to share snippets of your work or what you're working on. Granted, readers enjoy knowing what you are working on. But they enjoy sharing their honest opinions with you more.

There is one key idea I want to emphasize at this point. While sharing the things above is a good idea, it takes another step to draw out your readers' opinions.Your readers look up to you. Readers respect writers they follow. You need to ask them for their opinion. Then they will feel as though you have a great interest in their own opinion and you should, dear writer, you should!

When you ask your readers explicitly for feedback, they are more likely to give it.

(I know that a lot of authors use this technique I have just blogged about.I have three reasons for writing this post: One, I have not seen any blogs about the technique itself. Two, I wished to laud the writers and authors who do use the technique. Three, I wanted to encourage writers and authors who do not use this technique to start using it and, hopefully, to let me know about the results.)

Until next time,
Joshua A. Spotts

Continue to write!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Internet Trading

I just need to sit down and write. Okay, here goes! Sometimes, when you need to start writing it is helpful to write a beginning sentence even if you don't plan on that being your starting point. For instance, this blog post is not about getting down to writing, though it has been something I've put off for too long. This blog post is about the concept of internet trade. And, no, I don't mean Ebay...

A few years ago I was talking with two men who have greatly impacted my lives. We were discussing the internet. One of the men, Mr. Thomas Pryde (a brilliant musician) explained that the entire internet can be considered one large but reclusive community.

Sure, it can be said that the internet is an open community in a sense. There are multitudes of people projecting their ideas into the internet community. That's open, right? Well, yes, but not open with quality. Many of the internet users with solid quality behind their ideas are reclusive. Major bloggers respond to almost every comment, but many times it is just a simple "thank you." When the comments are interesting however, it is as Mr. Pryde emphasized  "the more you put in, the more you get out."

Serious internet users want quality interaction in exchange for their strongest and most interesting thoughts. A challenged concept is soon a refined concept that both parties can benefit from. If both parties exchange in civil, but meaningful conversation or debate then we have witnessed quality internet trading.

It has been said that the Internet is a place for the sharing of ideas. May I propose that we make the internet of place, not of sharing, but trading? To illustrate the slight difference between the two words let us look at a common thing on the internet. Link-dropping.

Granted, I have clicked some link-drops and found great content. But there are some times when I am rewarded with, well, it's not garbage, but it doesn't meet expectations and the title has often been misleading.

In my mind, link-dropping, especially from people who rarely ever interact within a group, can be considered in the sharing category. They share their opinions, but they don't trade it. They don't put it out into the group and then interact with other members or people online, checking others blogs and writings, gleaning from another person's wisdom while they trade out their own.

Fellow writers, what I am encouraging here is simply a heightened amount of interaction. It shouldn't be that hard. Read the works of other people and provide honest, thought-provoking feedback in the comments. I am sure that trading with the users of the internet will cause more quality interaction to come your way. It is a slow process, but through my observation and experience it has proven true. A good concept to remember in the internet, especially the world of blogging, is what Mr. Pryde said, "the more you put in, the more you get out."

Dear friends, I leave you. Please comment and express your thought or concerns or anger, but please remember I am not accusing anyone by name and I will never call any true blogger's work "garbage." In fact, I try to never call any writing garbage, but even garbage can be refined and made pure.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Benefits and Negatives of Social Media

Social media has been developing since around 1960. The internet was invented to share information  from one computer to another in a different city. The concept resembles the purpose of the telegraph and then the telephone after that. And it created a new means of social interaction. It created a fast way to share large amounts of information across long distances. It was time efficient and convenient as well. For example, with the invention of the internet, companies no longer had to hold long telephone discussions with another branch somewhere else or visit that branch to get a report. They could simply look the file up of the internet database.

Social media has come a long way from databases used by companies to share information. We still use social media to share information, I should call it trading information, but I'll reserve that for a different time. We share things about our lives and what we find interesting or helpful on every social media site. This is social media at its core. On twitter we share links or short blurbs about our lives. On Facebook we share longer "statuses" about our lives and we share our opinions or joke around with our "Facebook Friends."

There are benefits and negatives to social media for everyone. But I want to concentrate on writers. Writers have stronger benefits in using social media than the average person using it.Writers also suffer more from the basic negative of social media.

And after an elaborate and useless drum roll, we announce the basic negative! Social media is, as we all admit, a prolific time waster. If used effectively and carefully it is not a waste of time. But when someone is constantly checking Facebook for no good reason (checking to see if a friend's relational status has changed yet again is not a good reason) and tweeting random stuff about his life is addicted to social media. If this person is a writer than he should understand the danger (financially) of spending too much time on social media. For writers, the saying "time is money" is far too literal.

Writing is a delicate craft that requires dedication to the max. Any time spent checking Facebook (and I'll admit I do this occasionally) is a distraction and cuts from your max dedication  to your work.

The benefits of social media for writers are fantastic. With social media we can do one thing that makes are lonely occupation less overbearing. That thing is networking. With social media  (even writing websites) this process is very easy. Facebook makes it easy to carry on light conversations with fellow writers. Twitter makes it easy to share and receive helpful writing tips or articles. Google+, I have found, is the best place to find and connect with other authors. I have also observed better feedback to a question and longer discussions there.

The other benefit to social media for writers is what some people consider link-dropping. I consider it an art. Sharing your own work such as a blog post, a short story, or a link to your e-book, is very important nowadays as an author. These things help get your stuff read and your name out there.

I am not condoning link-dropping. I am adding intrigue for my next post. When link-dropping becomes an art is when there is a balanced trade between the author and reader from a social media site. This concept of online trading (instead of the word sharing) is something I will talk in more detail about in my next post.

Wow! That was a long one! Thanks for sticking with it. I do hope you enjoyed the post. Let me know if you have any other disadvantages or advantages in regards to social media.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Dedication rises from disappointment.

What normally should have hurt like a bullet ripping through my flesh, only caused me to flinch and sigh. I did not even make it past the first round in the novel contest I entered. (see An Adventure with Amazon)

I am thankful for my copy-editor, a fellow Professional Writing major, and for the rest of my mock-publishing squad. Through their tips and edits the errors of my work were revealed to me. The author, no matter how long the manuscript sits aside, will not catch everything. I ripped that manuscript apart over Christmas break and here, about two months later, fresh eyes are pointing out things I would never have seen.

It is the process of my copy-editor's hard work and the many things I've had to do (synopsis writing, back cover text writing, cover designs, pitch writing, and editing) during this mock-publishing process my professor is guiding me through that has enabled me to resist the disappointment that always accompanies rejection.

I am imbued with a fresh sense of dedication. That dedication pushes me to polish this manuscript close to perfection. It does not push me to obtain perfection because I know perfection on earth is impossible. Also, the perfectionist author cannot compete in the fast pace of today's literary market.

The author who looks upon his/her book with a critical eye is able to resurrect dedication from the grave of rejection and disappointment.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

How Much Description is too Much?

I don't honestly know how much description is too much.  But I do know that every author has strengths and weaknesses. I know that the business of writing is filled with distinct individuals. I know that some authors can use massive blocks of description effectively and others cannot. It really depends on the author.

I know what I expect as a reader and reviewer though. I know that what separates the excellent writer from the good one is the drive for improvement. The excellent writers are never content with their writing. They constantly strive to provide the reader with better work and this is what the reader and reviewer want.

In the area of writing description there is always room for improvement. But there is also a basic reality to what the reader expects. Now, granted, the reader is an individual as well and some may be more tolerant than others, but here is the basic reality: The reader expects description to put them into the story, but not distract from it.

Some authors have their strong point in dialogue and action. Others have their strong point in description. Two authors whose strength is in description are T.A. Barron and Stephen Lawhead. They are masters at it. But both of their styles are wildly different.

T.A. Barron tends to have lengthier description sections and more often, but his language is so magnificent and easy to read that the reader hardly notices the absence of dialogue for a few pages.

Stephen Lawhead is a more balanced writer between dialogue and description, but he does have a strength is description. He is able to  describe a scene vividly using unexpected details that successfully cast an image into the mind of his reader.

These two authors represent what I  expect as a reader and reviewer. They use description effectively and are able to keep the reader's mind in the plot and run of the story. Scenes in writing are much like scenes in plays. The set (description) is in the background. It enhances, sets-up, and frames the scene, but it does not distract from the actors (characters.) This is what the reader expects from a writer in regards to description.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Writing of Characters

When I read a book I always consider it an adventure I have chosen to go on. I look to the author and say, "guide me." And guiding me is all I expect the author to do. I expect to be shown the story that is the adventure, but I want to see and understand some things on my own. Authors should not be tedious tour guides. We, the readers, have a lust for the juicy parts of the adventure and it is what we expect to get. We want to experience some things on our own. We have imagination too.

This week I plan to write about what the reader expects from a writer. I have some authority is this subject since I am an avid reader and honest, sometimes brutally, book reviewer. Today's post concerns characters. Particularly what the reader expects in regards to how the author presents characters to the reader through dialogue.

Museums are a useful illustration for how readers should see characters. A typical museum display contains a small plaque that tells about the display. These plaques allow the reader to see more into the aspects of the display than the tour guide point out. Writing characters works the same way.

You can tell your reader a few of the prominent details about a character, but they do not want to be bored by every little detail. Some good details that you can give the reader safely are the eye color and the height. You could even say a character is handsome or beautiful, but you must allow the reader to imagine what they believe the character looks like overall. This aspect makes the character, especially the main protagonist, more personal and encourages the reader to care for them. 

One thing that we rarely obtain from a museum is how the people in the displays lived and acted. We cannot understand the full character of someone just by looking at physical appearance. You see, if you look at a mummy in a coffin…I mean sarcophagus…you would not say, “He’s a funny fella.”

The only way you could possibly know the character/personality of whoever that mummy was would be to don a lab coat, construct a time machine, and travel back in time to ancient Egypt. Then, if you don’t get stuck in a desert or killed by nomads, you have to find out who that mummy was when he lived. In all likelihood it will be some pharaoh and you would never get to him. Even if you did find the man-before-the-mummy, you would have to get close to him and follow him around before you ever truly got to know him.

Reflecting on the past illustration, our job as writers is to spare the reader from having to do anything remotely similar to that. We can grant them immediate access into the most personal recesses of a character’s life. We do this through dialogue. No reader is going to want to be told that Jason argued with his wife and left her. The reader wants to hear the argument, see the pain, and watch as Jason leaves. Now if the main protagonist was Jason’s wife, and the reader had already developed a love for her, imagine how deeply emotional that scene would be.

It is also easier to discover a character’s past through dialogue and it is infinitely less boring. I’m not suggesting that a character details everything about his past to someone he just met, but the author could let a little slip and then allow the reader to fill in some minor details based on what they already know about the character.

These have been speculations with Joshua A. Spotts, tune in next time…

Friday, February 17, 2012

Research in Fantasy Writing

How important do you imagine research to be? I know how important I feel it is. Very. I know some people, who will remain nameless, who believe that research is a waste of time for short story writing or fantasy novels. There is nothing farther from the truth.

 Recently I wrote a short story for a competition. It had to be based on the Titanic. I wanted my work to look professional. I wanted it to be flawless. I spent several hours one night over Christmas break just reading information about the Titanic. By the time I was done with the research I was able to sit down and write my entire story in a single sitting. It actually made the writing easier since I knew more than enough details about the Titanic and its crew. Also, for once in a rare time, I was satisfied with my work.

By common sense research is necessary for things like Magazine article writing, modern or historical based novels, and research papers (duh!) But the one fact that must never be overlooked in research's necessity in fantasy writing.

Research for fantasy writing often takes a different twist than research for the things I've listed above. In fact it even defies the common conception of research.

Fantasy research involves studying people, which is fun, analyzing their conversations, developing characters from their faults, all that fun stuff. Fantasy must have believable characters that the reader can attach to. This is achieved by the research into real people.

Fantasy research also involves studying the world around you. The fantasy writer needs to be able to describe new things straight from his imagination. Thus the fantasy writer needs to study their surrounding and be able to describe them. How else, if the writer cannot do that, can the writer describe something no one has ever seen before?

Finally, fantasy research involves bookstores. Find out what has been written before.  Know what fantasy ideas are original. People always enjoy a fresh, brand new fantasy.  Also find out what trends are selling. I am not advising you to write a Twilight novel, but you can create something original along the same line of a selling book trend. It just takes some work and some research.

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