Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Borrowing Bits of Your Novels

When you're writing, sometimes certain ideas cling to you. It's possible that you even recycle these ideas into a different work of writing. It's not (necessarily) that you're being lazy; it's just that sometimes you have a hankering to explore these things in more detail, revisiting them and seeing what else they can do.

Obviously you do this if you're writing a series, but some writers do it with entirely unrelated novels. I've done it. Hey, even if no one notices, at least I'm amusing myself with this form of self-plagiarism.

After all, it's totally acceptable to borrow ideas from yourself. I'm pretty sure you won't squawk about copyright infringement!

THINGS YOU CAN BORROW
1. Taking a minor character and making him/her the star of an entirely new novel
2. Taking a concept or idea, such as a unique creature or setting, and fleshing it out in more detail in another novel
3. Revisiting an ongoing theme, joke, or thread in other novels
4. Including an ongoing minor character, such as always writing in one named Joe or Lila, or always having a character who loves to play tennis or who collects pig figurines.
5. Recycling a favorite metaphor or simile from a novel that has been shelved…or not shelved

EXAMPLES

Borrowing a concept
SAVVY by Ingrid Law, deals with the main character Mibs reaching her 13th birthday, whereupon she acquires her "savvy"--the special ability that everyone in her family has. The subsequent book, SCUMBLE, is about another character who has to deal with his savvy, which has nothing to do with Mibs and her conflict/story. The savvy is the concept Ingrid Law has transferred to her new novel.

Borrowing a character…or two
In Susan Fletcher's DRAGON'S MILK, Kaeldra must fetch milk from a dragon's den in order to save her ailing sister, Lyf. In Susan's next novel, FLIGHT OF THE DRAGON KYN, the timeframe rewinds into a prequel that explores the back story of Kaeldra's grandmother, Kara. Then, the third novel in this trilogy ends up a sequel to DRAGON'S MILK that carries on Lyf's story; it is called SIGN OF THE DOVE. Great trilogy, by the way, if you haven't read the books.

Borrowing details
In one of my contemporary novels, the boyfriend of my main character liked to play a computer game called Battle Ring Seven. I borrowed that game idea, which became the seed-idea for another novel entitled BATTLE RING SEVEN. I imagined what that game world would include, and used those things to provide details for the second novel. This included winged blue witches and nargoyles, enchantresses and ogres.

I've also invented slang in one novel and carried it over into a second novel, e.g., "shrieking catguts." Laziness? Perhaps. But it seemed to fit both places. In some novels, however, such as my post-apocalyptic WIP, this expression doesn't seem natural. In my WIP cats don't even exist in my main character's home town (I know, pretty sad, huh?).

This is something to keep in mind when borrowing bits and pieces of your own work: the pieces MUST mesh with the time-period, atmosphere, and style of the transferred novel.

How About You?
Have you ever borrowed characters from one novel and developed them in another one?

Can you think of other published novels where an author has recycled ideas, characters, or tidbits of info? (apart from obvious series)

Have you ever used a detail or concept from a past novel to jumpstart an entirely new novel?

HAPPY NEW YEAR--see ya on the first Wednesday in 2011!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

WORDS and the English Language

If you're blogfesting, see the previous post.

Check this out. The English language is amazingly complex--this is what we as writers have to work with? You may have seen this before, but humor me…I need an easy post since it's close to Christmas, and since I blogfested pretty much all day on Monday with breaks only for meals, a brief fit of exercising, and two loads of laundry. But I got through all 110 entries, and boy, was it fun!

No Wonder English is So Hard to Learn:

We polish the Polish furniture.
He could lead if he would get the lead out.
A farm can produce produce.
The dump was so full it had to refuse refuse.
The soldier decided to desert in the desert.
The present is a good time to present the present.
At the Army base, a bass was painted on the head of a bass drum.
The dove dove into the bushes.
I did not object to the object.
The insurance for the invalid was invalid.
The bandage was wound around the wound.
There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
They were too close to the door to close it.
The buck does funny things when the does are present.
They sent a sewer down to stitch the tear in the sewer line.
To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
I shed a tear when I saw the tear in my clothes.
I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
I spent last evening evening out a pile of dirt.

Whew. All I can say is I'm really glad English is my first language. My condolences to anyone who is learning English.

Sometimes when writing a novel, I have to think of different words to replace these kinds of words with. Such as wind (what blows leaves around) and wind (something meandering or flowing through). If the meaning is obvious and clear, great--but if upon first read my critique partners or I think of the alternate meaning or pronunciation, the word has to be ditched.

YOUR TURN: WORDS
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, how do you rate yourself on grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and word usage?

If you don't score high, do you have critique partners who are better at it, to help you polish your manuscript?

Do any of the above-listed mirror words trip you up, and make you have to re-word your sentences for clarity?

My answer: I think I'm about an 8.5. However, that doesn't stop me from slipping up and leaving flubs for my critters to catch. A common grammar mistake I make is doing something like: "everyone walked down the hall, carrying their books," since everyone is singular and thus the pronoun should be his or her.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Be Jolly by Golly Blogfest!

Be Jolly by Golly Blogfest
No, this blogfest post doesn't have anything to do with writing, but it's a fun way to meet friends in the writerly community. And that's what blogging's all about, right? Relationships, not the number of followers or comments we get. So go out and enjoy! You just might pick up some cool new recipes for the holidays while you're at it.

[Yes, I'm posting tonight since I'm west coast USA and don't want to get up at the crack of dawn tomorrow to have my blog ready for you earlier time zoners!]

To view the itinerary for your Blogfest journey, visit UNEDITED.

FAVORITE DECORATIONS























Here are cyberpictures of our tree! Topped with a radiantly glowing angel, decorated with our favorite baubles. Ornaments include cinnamon "cookie" shapes that smell SO good, little wooden dolls, shiny spheres of color, doggies hanging in stockings. Made alive with pinpoint lights in green, gold, and blue.

FAVORITE HOLIDAY
TREAT
When I was growing up, our special breakfast was French toast drizzled with a syrup affectionately called "white syrup." This is an uber-sweet, to-heck-with-calories kind of treat. Kids adore it. Disclaimer: this does have raw eggs in it.

Instructions
--approx. 1/2 to 2/3 cup of granulated white sugar
(regular sugar, not powdered)
--1 large egg

Take one egg, beat it with a beater or mixer until good and frothy. Veeeeerrrrry gradually, add white sugar until it's somewhat thick (able to run off a spoon). It's good to add in some sugar, beat for 30 seconds, then trickle some more in. Once it's the right consistency, keep beating for 2 or more minutes longer, until the sugar melts and is not so gritty (careful--too much sugar can also make it gritty).

It might also be possible to add a touch of red or green food coloring for a more Christmas-like look, but I haven't tried that. Enjoy!

FAVORITE HOLIDAY DRINK
My fave holiday drink is non-alcoholic eggnog. Since I'm sensitive to dairy and eggs, I appreciate that some health foodie stores even carry Silk soynog that HAS NO MILK OR EGGS. Scary, no? Actually, it's quite delish, and lower in fat than the real thing. (Hey. Stop rolling your eyes out there.)

Having said that, here's my recipe for regular, REAL eggnog:
1. Get in car and drive to store
2. Go to milk section of store
3. Nab a carton of eggnog
4. Purchase eggnog and drive home
5. Pour yourself and your loved ones a tall cold glass
6. YUM!

FAVORITE REASON for the SEASON

Of course Christmas isn't just about gifts, treats, and decorations. With extreme gratitude, this December holiday is dedicated to God, who showed His love for us by sending his Son to become born of a human mother, and to live and die for us as Jesus Christ. This is the Greatest Gift Ever Given!

FAVORITE CHRISTMAS MEMORY

And now, click for your holiday listening enjoyment: THE CHRISTMAS CAT SONG.

This used to be part of my Christmas tradition with my daughters, playing an audio tape of these kittens meowing and cat-erwauling a wide variety of Christmas songs. Too funny! I still have the tape, but my husband is not amused. LOL Maybe because he's a dog person rather than a cat person?

Merry Christmas, everyone!

HOW ABOUT YOU…
Do you have any wacky or unusual Christmas traditions?
Do you think cats should be allowed to "sing" Christmas songs?
Do you adore or loathe eggnog--and have you ever tried soynog?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Middle Grade Page Critique: Richfield

First, a squeal--I won Bekah's Worst Logline Ever Contest! Click HERE to visit and view. Way nice, since along with the honor, I won a $25 Amazon gift card. Yay!

Today's post features a sample page sent to me for a critique. (Yes, these can be anonymous! Just let me know when you send it. See sidebar for how to submit.) This piece would be categorized as middle grade fiction, based on the subject matter and the age of the main character.

THE EXCERPT
Richfield
The long dirt road to the main road through the wheat fields seems like an eternity to walk. Although I beat my older sister out the door of our trailer, now she's ahead of me. “Can’t you walk any faster?? Come on, hurry up, were going to miss the bus!”

Finally we reach the main road, and the bus is late. I start to wander, looking at the ground. Sis says, “Don’t go too far, you’ll miss the bus.” “OK, ok! I ain’t going far.” Much to my amazement, I find a frog on the side of the road. Kinda flat, but not too bad of shape. “Hmm, wonder what would happen if I stepped on him?” “DON’T YOU DARE step on that frog, that’s just too gross!” So, being the obedient brother, I step on him. Not enough to squish him, just enough that his tongue came out, un-rolled, and exposed a fly at the end of it. So, I released the pressure off his back and the tongue obliged and rolled back in.

“Sis! You gotta see this!, This is neat!!!” “What’s neat?” she responded. I quickly stepped on his back and the tongue rolled out to show his prize. I let go and the tongue rolled in. “I TOLD YOU NOT TO DO THAT! THAT’S GROSS!! STOP IT!” So, I stepped on him again, but this time, I think the stress got to me and stepped a little too hard. Instead of the tongue rolling out, his guts came out his sides. No more toy.

The bus arrives just as my sister finished vomiting on my frog. Poor guy. We get in and I ride to school.


THE CRITIQUE
Tenses changed to present tense + a few other bits:
"Can’t you walk any faster, [MC's name]?? [she says] "Come on, hurry up, were [we're] going to miss the bus!”

Not enough to squish him, just enough that his tongue came [comes] out, un-rolled [unrolls], and exposed [exposes] a fly at the end of it. So, [could omit this So] I released [release] the pressure off his back and the tongue obliged [obliges] and rolled [rolls] back in.

“What’s neat?” she responded. [responds/says]
I quickly stepped [step] on his back and the tongue rolled [rolls] out to show his prize. I let go and the tongue rolled [rolls] in.

So, I stepped [step] on him again, but this time, I think the stress got [gets] to me and stepped [I step] a little too hard. Instead of the tongue rolling out, his guts came [come] out his sides. No more toy.

The bus arrives just as my sister finished [finishes] vomiting on my frog.

COMMENDABLE STUFF: The voice of this is nicely chatty and conversational, and sounds believable for this age group. It seems to flow well. I find the bit with the frog quite real and amusing, and this is good since humor often plays a big part in middle grade fiction. Especially boy readers enjoy "gross" things like stepping on frogs with party-favor-like tongues, and hearing about someone throwing up.

GENDER and DIALOGUE: It might be good to let the reader know that the main character is male sooner, perhaps slipping in his name when his sister first tells him to hurry. It would also help readability to begin a new paragraph/line every time there is a new speaker; readers 8-12 (middle grade) are fond of "white space," and lengthy paragraphs can be daunting. Adding a dialogue tag [she says] would be helpful at the very first line of dialogue, since it's not ultra-clear it's the sister speaking.

TENSE: The story starts out in present tense, and slips into past tense for most of the latter part of the story. Make sure this is kept consistent, as indicated in red, above.

PUNCTUATION and WORDS: Use only one form of end punctuation: one question mark or exclamation mark instead of two or three. The word "were" should be "we're" (as in a contraction of we are), and inserting "in" into the "but not [in] too bad of shape" sentence would help clarify. The word "so" is repeated three times close together; omitting one or two would be good, probably the second one. A simple "said" might be better than "responded" for the sister's line of dialogue.

I'm not sure of the official policy of using CAPS, but I find them a little distracting. I think I've seen it done in published books, however. Be careful not to overdo it, because all caps tend to wear the reader out. It looks like shouting, which can make the reader feel numb after a while. This also goes for an excess of question marks, exclamation marks, dashes, ellipses, and italicized words. Don't overdo any of them.

Thanks for the submission of this lively excerpt!

YOUR TURN
Can you add or subtract any feedback to this critique?

Do you prefer to write in present or past tense?
When you write in present tense, does past tense often creep in where it shouldn't?

Do you use CAPS IN YOUR STORIES? What do you think about using them?

Do you find yourself overusing question/exclamation marks, dashes, ellipses, or italics?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Be Jolly by Golly Blogfest!


Announcing the Be Jolly by Golly Blogfest!

CLICK HERE to find out more and join the fun. I'm excited. This will be my first ever blogfest, and I plan to meet new friends.

Come take the tour of holiday cheer next Monday, December 20!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

GIVEAWAY WINNER + Your Book: The Movie

Thanks to all who entered my 50 Followers GIVEAWAY, and to all the new people who dropped by afterward. Upon a drawing courtesy of Random.org, the winner of a first chapter critique is:

Lynda Young!

Congratulations! Lynda can send her chapter to me at artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com, and I will be delighted to critique it for her. It looks suspicious that the randomizer picked a cyberbuddy of mine from a blog I regularly haunt, but hey, that's what really happened! More chances to win when I reach 100 followers, everyone.

By the way, Nicole at Where Fantasy and Love Take Flight is offering a Critiques for Christmas giveaway. Your choice of query, synopsis, or one-page critiques if you win. Click to visit and enter; this contest is open until December 17.


YOUR BOOK: THE MOVIE

Surprises Around the Corner
I usually compose at my keyboard; it's something I've taught myself to do, as it's much easier and faster than writing something in longhand. While I'm in this writing mode, I watch the scene unfold as I go, and I'm exploring it as though I'm walking on a path through a garden (or something like that). I do outline and so I know generally where the path is leading me, but often little surprises pop up. The story and characters take on lives of their own. Such as with my WIP, entitled SAFE ZONE, in which I was writing a dialogue scene, and my secondary characters did this:

Peyton gave Leonard a playful shove on the shoulder. "You read too much."
"You drink too much," Leonard said, shoving her back.

Nah, I thought. I don't want to deal with the subject of drinking. Especially since the novel is post-apocalyptic and I'd have to try to figure out how in the world they'd get alcohol--or how they'd make it. I deleted those lines. Tried to write on. The lines came back. I deleted them again. They persisted. I finally gave up and let it flow, and after a while the whole alcohol issue became an integral part of my plot, fitting in nicely with my MC's dilemma. Nice surprise! I had to let the characters do what they wanted. Sometimes characters are just ornery like that.

Voices and Inner Movies
Along with dealing with ornery characters, many writers are afflicted by a strange malady. They hear voices, and see their characters acting out things in their heads.

This occurs to me sometimes. I hear a simple voice in my head saying a certain line, explaining something, having an argument, or being snarky--and at other time I see the scenes happening in my mental moviemaker. Annoyingly, it's usually as I'm driving down the highway or trying to get to sleep at night. This is true particularly for active, crucial, or highly emotional scenes like at the climax of the story, or the point of a Big Reveal. I try to jot down notes about what I've "seen," and when I write that scene, I describe what went on in the "movie" I've watched. Sort of like taking dictation, or transcribing a real movie.

Movies…for Real
Now, what if your novel became popular enough to be made into a movie, like Harry Potter or Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief ? I'm sure it would play out somewhat different from our inner movies and the way we've written it on the page, but that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. I know many writers have even cast their hypothetical movies (everyone has to dream, right?) with actors and actresses, such as Angelina Jolie as a sophisticated but sultry businesswoman, or Zac Efron as a troubled, chick-magnet teenager.

Movie rights are part of an author's contract with a publisher, after all. Not usually utilized, but there just in case. These are one of the many things an agent will negotiate for a writer.


WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Have your characters ever insisted on doing something that surprised you? Did you let them?

When you write, do you see scenes play out as though they are happening in a movie?

Have you ever imagined your novel as a real movie? Have you mentally cast the characters with live movie actors and actresses?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Versatile Blogger Award

Note: Don't forget to celebrate with me on reaching 50 followers, and enter my critique giveaway, HERE, if you haven't already. Deadline is December 7, 2010 at midnight PST.

WOW! Maria over at Reading, Writing, Romance has awarded me a Versatile Blogger Award. Not only that, a few days later, before I could even write up a post, Lindsey at Dangerous With a Pen awarded me the very same award! Thanks so much, both of you. Click to visit their lovely sites.

The writerly community is so fun and supportive. I love it!

As per the (slightly tweaked) rules, I will now list 7 new things about myself and then pass the award on to 7 deserving others.

7 THINGS ABOUT ME: Favorites
1. My favorite ice creams are praline pecan and blackberry cheesecake. My hubby and I tried the latter at a little gift store in Bandon this summer, on the Oregon coast. Marvelous stuff.
2. My favorite colors are blue-green and sea-foam green. They remind me of the huge box of crayons I colored with at my grandma's house when she used to babysit me, my brother, and my sister. Fond childhood memories!
3. My favorite car to drive is a Toyota. Ok, so I haven't driven much else, but I still like 'em. My first car (in 1982) was a 1968 Volkswagon station wagon. No comparison.
4. My favorite magical creatures are dragons and mermaids. When I was little, before I went to sleep, I would make up mermaid stories in my head, starring yours truly as the mermaid. Someday, I'm gonna write a mermaid story; I have the germ-seeds for it already. It's called THE GRASSY SEA. Although they won't exactly be traditional mermaids…stay tuned. I'm busy with my post-apocalyptic WIP right now.
5. My favorite music is rock, bluegrass, opera, Christian, pop, new age, classical (especially Chopin), folk, old country, etc. Get it? I have no favorite and I'm extremely eclectic in my music tastes. Depends on my mood.
6. My favorite perfumes are honeysuckle, lilac, and lily of the valley.
7. My favorite candy is Reese's peanut butter cups.


7 OTHER BLOGGERS:
I've recently discovered these blogs in my cyberwanderings, and pass this award onto:

Jamie at: http://dancingdownserendipitystreet.blogspot.com/

Joann at: http://joannswanson.blogspot.com/

Tracy at: http://thinkingspot-tracy.blogspot.com/

Cynthia at: http://randomthoughts-myblog.blogspot.com/

Rachel at: http://theendingunplanned.blogspot.com/

Debbie at: http://thoughtsinwriting-debbie.blogspot.com/

Nicole at: http://nicolezoltack.blogspot.com/


Go visit, have fun checking out these blogs, and congrat them on their award!

Your turn. What are YOUR favorite ice creams, colors, cars, magical creatures, types of music, perfumes, or candy?? (I reserve the right to change my mind when I see yours, if they're better!)

Monday, November 29, 2010

50 Followers GIVEAWAY!

Many thanks to the many new followers who have stopped by lately and added their shiny little faces to my blogroll. I have now reached FIFTY FOLLOWERS, so it's time to celebrate!

What you'll get from me: a FREE, PRIVATE critique of the first chapter of a middle grade or young adult novel, up to 15 pages (double-spaced, 12 point). I can critique adult fiction if you'd like, but I'm most familiar with MG or YA. Think of it as a freebie alpha or beta read! I do thorough line-by-line critiques, including mentioning the positives of your writing along with constructive suggestions.

To enter, do 3 simple things:
1. Become a follower if you're not one already
2. Leave a comment on THIS POST so I know you want to enter
3. Enter by Tuesday, December 7, 2010 by midnight PST.

One winner will be chosen randomly and announced next Wednesday morning PST, December 8, 2010. When I reach 100 followers, I'll have an even BIGGER giveaway celebration, with choices of prizes and more than one winner!

Thanks again, everyone.

PS: This Saturday, December 4, if any of you are in the neighborhood of Roseburg, Oregon, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm at the Douglas County Library, I will be joining other authors at the Douglas County Book Author Fair (click for info) and selling/signing copies of my young adult novel, Junction 2020: The Portal. Come by and say hi!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Choosing Your Writerly Words II

Words, Part 2
Last week I rambled on about selecting just the right names for characters and places. This week, I'm focusing on other areas where specific words can be important--or invented. As I mentioned, choosing the right word is especially important in genres such as fantasy or science fiction, where you are world building, creating your setting or story from "scratch."

Today! Even more places and ways to use creative words, oh boy.

INVENTING SLANG OR EXPRESSIONS
Using current slang and keeping up on the latest "hip" sayings are not necessarily a great idea. If those words are too faddish, they've gone out of style in the approximately two years it takes for a book to become published. As an author, you don't want your novel to become puzzling or incomprehensible to your readers later on.

If you're careful, you can invent slang or expressions yourself, and never have to worry about them going out of date. I've used or made up words like this myself, such as: sterling, way sly, shrieking catguts, creepazoids, and screaming frothing bonkers. It's too fun!

GENERALLY MAKING UP WORDS
I can't help myself. Every once in a while I slip words into a novel that I've tweaked or totally made up, and I'm not only talking about slang expressions. Word 2007 has a predictable fit, dutifully underlining the offending words in red. These can be verbs, adjectives, etc. For example:

twerky--used as in something odd or twistedly strange (ah, I just did it again--it seems "twistedly" isn't a word either…neither is writerly, used in the title of this post)
whoaz--as in whoa, stop the horses, what's goin' on?
irky--used instead of irksome in the character's inner dialogue (my teen character wouldn't have said something as sophisticated or formal as "irksome," after all)
chestward--as in moving something closer to one's chest
lasered--a verb, as in something scored by a laser into a piece of woodwork
whomper-- as in something of great magnitude, as in a whomper of a headache
blithery--the effect or state of a lot of blithering (senseless chattering), as in "Most girls did seem to go all blithery in the guy's presence."

Back to the subject of science fiction or fantasy, the world described sometimes "begs" to include made-up words. In my science fiction novel, SHAPERS, for instance, I made up laundromachine (a combo washer-dryer unit) and serverbot (a waitress robot). I wrote a fantasy novel in the 1990s where I had stinging rodents called leevils, along with monkey-like animals called ferms (one whom was named Rrarf, for an onomatopoeia-type flavor). As mentioned in my recent post about JK Rowling and Harry Potter; she made up the word for an illness that she called "spattergroit," which is delightfully inventive--and rather onomatopoeia-like itself.

Go ahead, play with words!

NOTE of CAUTION:
You do have to be careful, though. I've gotten carried away, and during critiques agents or editors have slashed out my little coined words, or written a puzzled question mark next to them. LOL No prob, I can let some of my invented pets go (some of 'em). *grin*

Of course, a well-known and beloved example of imaginative writing is the following poem:

JABBERWOCKY by Lewis Carroll
(from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Lewis Carroll's amusing definition of Uffish: "It seemed to suggest a state of mind when the voice is gruffish, the manner roughish, and the temper huffish."

Even though you don't recognize most of the above words, their very syllables, consonants, and SOUNDS give a distinct impression of their use. They are close to other words that lend an implicit or suggested meaning to the invented words. Pure genius--I love it!

WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Do you ever make up words--slang, names of objects, or even whole languages?
What are some of your favorite words you've made up?
Or, do you think making up words like this is waaaay too weird and experimental?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dragon Sighting…Creative Writing

Upon request from a new writer cyberbuddy--Roland over at Writing in the Crosshairs (click for link)--here is a photo of another of my dragons, a fierce lamp-guarding type.


Also over at Roland's site, on his November 19 post, he has a vid where someone is reading the prologue to one of his works. Speaking of imaginative writing, Roland's got it! The following line really grabbed me:

The hours passed like kidney stones.

I mean, is that brilliant or what? It's not only an appropriate simile because kidney stones pass in an excruciating and often slow way, but it's a slight twist on the normal usage of the word "passed." Unexpected, and imaginative. He has some other great lines too, describing an old lady on a bus, among other things.

WRITING BOOK RECOMMENDATION:
I mentioned this book quite a while ago on my blog, but it's worth repeating. If you want great pointers about how to instill imaginative figures of speech into your writing, I heartily recommend Arthur Plotnik's Spunk & Bite: A writer's guide to bold, contemporary style.

And yes, it's a take-off on Strunk & White, detailing just how far you can stray from the tried-and-true "rules" of writing. I got it for fairly cheap on Amazon! Check it out at THIS LINK. It's even cheaper if you buy a used copy. You can read the first few pages with the Look Inside feature to whet your writerly appetite.

How about you?
Do you like to use metaphors, similes, and other figures of speech in your writing?
Do you like my lamp dragon, or is it too masculine or wicked for you?
Do you like to break writing "rules" in your novels or other works?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Blog Award!

Many thanks to Lovely Lynda at W.I.P It for awarding me a blogging award, and for the sweet things she said about me and my blog, HERE. Awww! Go visit Lynda at her "down under" site!

And now, as is my duty and delight, I will mention 7 things about me and pass the award on to other bloggers.

NEW STUFF ABOUT ME
I collect dragons! Here are 7 of them (this counts as 7 new things, right? LOL):











































Shown here: my large blue-green-violet dragon, my dragon in an egg, my skeleton dragon, my dragon with a ball toy, my pretty glittery dragon, my glass dragon, and my book dragon (the latter of which sits on the shelf on my writing desk for inspiration!).





OTHER NIFTY BLOGGERS

Discovered lately while prowling around cyberspace and chancing upon blogsites new to me:

Gabi at: http://iggiandgabi.blogspot.com/
[enter by Saturday to win a 25-page critique, and help her reach 200 followers!]

Bekah at: http://rebekahstories.blogspot.com/
[gotta love her byline: "Books. The other TV."]

Julie at: http://julieeshbaugh.blogspot.com/
[she has a special going on, Grand Opening of her blog, 30% off her editing services!]

Clarissa at: http://clarissadraper.blogspot.com/
[not only does she discuss writer info, she shares food recipes, yummers!]

Lola at: http://sharppendullsword.blogspot.com/
[check out the sweeeeet rat holding a teddy bear photo on her Nov. 17 post!]


Visit these sites if you haven't already, and make some new blogger buddies!

Which of my dragons do you like the best?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Choosing Your Writerly Words

WORDS, Part 1
In last Wednesday's post on Writing Rhythms, I talked about the importance of the sounds of words to contribute to the overall mood or rhythm in a work of writing. For this week and next week, I'm zeroing in on specific kinds of words. Today:

NAMING CHARACTERS AND PLACES

Unusual or familiar?
I choose my character names with care, and I like my main character to have a more unusual name. I'm not as concerned about minor characters; they can have more bland names. To me, it gives the novel a different flavor. I'd be really bored writing about a main character named Jane or Sara, Tom or Bill. My characters have been named Rylee, Karleen, Troy, Marina, and Niesha. Especially for a fantasy novel, I go for the more unique, like Niesha. It could just be me, but a more unique name makes me more fond of my character, and more like I want to spend 200+ pages with him/her. Sometimes, however, a more familiar, comforting name might be in order. It depends on the story.

I think part of my reason for choosing a more unusual name is that I don't want another book to have a character with the same name as mine. It's like seeing another child with the same name as my child running around the neighborhood. Weird, and just…wrong!

Matching personality
I try to fit names to the type of personalities my characters will have, whether the names are unusual or not. Names can alter the overall feel and meaning of a character. For instance, Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind originally was called Pansy, before the editor asked Margaret Mitchell to change it--and a good thing, because there's a completely different connotation between a pansy and something scarlet! Scarlett's character is NOT pansy-like.

People in real life tend to live up to the way their name sounds, or at least to their perception of their name. The characters in your novel can work on the same principle. There's no denying that a name like Edward James Cunningham brings to mind a different kind of personality than Jasper Lee Snickdon, right? Although actually, sometimes for comic or ironic effect, a totally OPPOSITE name is effective--kind of like naming your teacup poodle "Killer" or "Brutus."

Overly unique or unusual?
If you adore using unique or unusual names, be careful not to overdo it. A lot of novels (particularly fantasy ones) tend to have such extremely unusual names, it's difficult to remember them or "say" them mentally as you read them. They're full of apostrophes and so many syllables they can become tangled in the reader's mind. Confusion is not what you're aiming for as a writer.

Varying beginning letters and syllables
It's also important not to name your characters all starting with the same letter. These names can get confuzzled in the reader's mind, making the story difficult to follow. It's also nice to vary the number of syllables, throwing in a simple Rose along with your Stephanie, Jennifer, and Havannah.

'Cuz we wanna
Sometimes, we as writers can purposely--or subconsciously--name our characters in honor of a favorite relative, or an old crush in junior high. To you, the sound of that name equals a certain personality. Perhaps you've even named your villain after a despised schoolmate, teacher, or neighbor. Isn't being a writer wonderful?

Being inventive with PLACE
Place names can be invented, too. I think a lot of writers do this, so they aren't tied to keeping true to the geography of an actual physical place like Chicago, Paris, or Tokyo. In one novel, I invented a fake beach town on the Oregon coast, kind of a cross between invention and reality. (Does this mean I'm lazy, and hate research? Maybe. But I also don't like to be tied down to reality if the plot veers off a different way.) Writers invent places like this all the time, while others prefer more concrete kinds of settings.

As a note, you may want to Google or do a web search on ANY name you create, whether a place name, a band name, a character name, or an acronym--to make sure you're not stepping on toes, copyrights, or personal space. For instance, in a recent novel of mine, I had to alter a protest group from WHO to WHA, since in real life, WHO is the World Health Organization and totally opposite from my novel's obnoxious, violent organization.


WHAT ABOUT YOU?
What have you named your characters?
Do your character names tie in with your characters' personalities?
Do you prefer usual or unusual names for your characters?
Do you make up place names, or name your characters after real people you've known?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Rowling Along with HARRY

Today, ex-Agent Orange, the famous Nathan Bransford, invited his readers to post articles about Harry Potter on their own blogs, in honor of his self-proclaimed HARRY POTTER WEEK. See the bottom of his November 12th post.

Cool, I thought. In fact, that could most excellently tie into my next blog post about being creative with words--which I will post next Wednesday for my usual weekly post.

So, onto the writing of Ms. Rowling (pronounced "rolling," I've heard).

JK Rowling is very imaginative in her writing style. Not only does she construct a mean plotline, memorable/dramatic scenes, and intriguing characters, but her writing contains imagery and figures of speech that can delight a writer's mind.

DELIGHTFUL EXAMPLES:
QUOTES from Book 7, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

1. He was so pale that he seemed to emit a pearly glow. (p. 3)
2. "I'm only yanking your wand, I'm Fred really--" (p. 52)
3. A horrible, half-sucking, half-moaning sound came out of the square hole, along with an unpleasant smell like open drains. (p. 97)
4. Her beaky nose, red-rimmed eyes, and feathery pink hat gave her the look of a bad-tempered flamingo. (p. 141)
5. "And you're supposed to be dying of spattergroit at the Burrow!" (p. 231)
6. The cold was agony: It attacked him like fire. (p. 370)
7. It looked like the bizarre offspring of a workbench and a set of old shelves… (p. 400)
8. The white marble tomb, an unnecessary blot on the familiar landscape. (p. 501)

As shown by these examples, Ms. Rowlings uses different kinds of imagery. She utilizes senses of smell and physical sensations. She crafts phrases of speech that are unique to the novel, as in Example #2. She invents words like "spattergroit," which makes her fantasy world more concrete and more intriguing. She paints specific word-pictures for her readers.

And that, in part, is why her readers adore her work.

Okay! Now get out there, Harry Potterites, and go see the movie when it comes out on November 19!

Be sure to view the exciting trailer at: Harry Potter.com if you haven't already seen it. If that linky doesn't work, youtube and other places in cyberspace have the Deathly Hallows trailer.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Over-Describing Emotions

Emotions in a novel are fundamental, necessary things in a story. If your main character doesn't exhibit emotions, the reader won't be able to relate or connect as well to him/her. It will be as exciting as reading about a paper doll cutout--flat and two-dimensional.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible to overdo it. You don't want so many emotions on the page that it becomes exhausting to read. Sprinkle them judiciously, because if your character is emoting intensely about EVERY event he/she encounters, it will dilute the intensity of your major climactic scenes.

You don't have to record every palpitating heartbeat or hand tremble; sometimes you should pare back, and imply emotion rather than directly describe it (through dialogue, action, or other means). Especially in dialogue, describing emotions during a scene can bog down the conversation flow.

Major Emoting EXAMPLE:
Brendan slid his Geometry book out and closed his locker with a gentle snap. He winced as someone down the row slammed theirs, setting off a domino effect of over-exuberant crashes, rattles, and bangs from the rest of the sophomore lockers. He trudged to class, his dread piling up like a mound of trash shoved into his path by a junkyard bulldozer. As he entered and his eyes shot to the figure in the second seat, fourth row. His mouth went dry, his saliva sucked into oblivion in microseconds.

Mikaela Thompson. Gorgeous, driven to succeed, and deadly.

He slid into his seat behind hers. She didn't even bother to turn around.

"Did you finish?" she said, her voice needling him like pins plunged into a voodoo doll made in his likeness.

"Uh, sorta." He tried to swallow. With no saliva, it was similar to the dry heaves of hurling without anything in his stomach.

She half-turned, showing the sheer beauty of her profile and sending his heart into a different kind of racing tempo. "What does 'sorta' mean, Brendy? Either you finished the homework for me, or you didn't."

He slipped the sheet of paper from his Geometry book and held it out, the page rattling to the tempo of his shaking fingers. "I had trouble with a few of them. Not sure if they're right."

"That's unacceptable," she hissed, the unseen snakes of her voice showing jagged fangs, poised to bite.

"I did my best." The paper continued to rattle in mid-air. His mental self threw himself at her feet, begging, pleading, groveling upon her fifty-dollar shoes. "I'm sure you'll at least get a B+ on it."

"That's not good enough," she said with a snarl, ripping the page from his fingers so fast he flinched from a wicked paper cut. "I'm just going to have to find someone else to help me out."

As she turned her back on him, Brendan's world exploded into worthless shrapnel. His head sank to his desk with a hollow thud, and his brains and emotions dissolved into screaming, spinning nanoparticles. The cut on his finger oozed red in a garish announcement of his failure.

While some of these descriptions may be interesting, there are probably waaaaaay too many of them. Sometimes, less is more.

What do you think?
Keep some of these expressions of emotions, and slash others? Fine as is?

Can you think of other things about this passage that would improve it?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

WRITING RHYTHMS

I truly believe that good writing--writing with voice, as mentioned in the last post--includes good or appropriate rhythms. The sentences and paragraphs take on an almost musical quality, and flow well together as a unit. Good writers often have an innate sense of inner rhythm, but even good writers benefit from knowing WHY something is working, and how to tweak their writing to make it stronger.

What makes a successful rhythm? (macro to micro)

1. A balance of DIALGUE versus NARRATIVE
In general, dialogue is faster reading, narrative slower. It's good to have a nice balance of these two things, especially in a novel. If a novel is predominantly dialogue, it can feel slight or underdeveloped. If a novel is predominantly narrative, it can feel plodding or dry. Mixing these up helps the reader flow back and forth between the faster and the slower elements, providing variety and interest.

2. A balance of tense/action scenes versus quieter, more restful SCENES
The same goes with action versus quieter scenes. If your novel is a thriller, horror, or adventure type with all breakneck-speed scenes, your reader can feel exhausted by the time he/she reaches the end. Even one scene or one page inserted for a much-needed rest can be helpful--and can actually enhance the feeling of tension in the successive action scenes. It's all about contrast, similar to putting black next to white in a painting. The black looks blacker, the white looks whiter. And I probably don't need to mention what might happen if a work is ALL quiet…yaaaaawn.

3. A balance or appropriate use of LONG VERSUS SHORT SENTENCES
If your sentences are pretty much the same length, it begins to read monotonously in the reader's mind. Too many short sentences can become choppy, and while it's true short sentences can be utilized with great effect for more intense scenes, you don't want to overdo it. On the flip side, too many long sentences can become run-on and exhausting. Lengthy descriptions and near-endless phrasings can make a point, but you wouldn't want your entire manuscript populated with them.

4. A balance of SENTENCE STRUCTURE or composition
One thing that can make a paragraph sound choppy even when you have the sentence length varied is how you've constructed your sentences. For instance, if they all have a simple subject-verb-object composition, you'll end up with monotony in your rhythm. If you have the sentence: "The sun always came up above the grove of elms in the summertime" and change it to: "In the summertime, the sun always came up above the grove of elms" in the middle of such a passage, it gives the reader a mental rest from sentences that all sound alike.

You can also fall into monotony if you start too many sentences with the character's name or "she/he" (especially when they're in a row), or even always start with prepositional phrases like "in the summertime." Switch things up a little! Sometimes the wording can be right, but if the sentence pattern is monotonous, it'll still feel/sound wrong.

5. A controlled use of specific WORDS, appropriate to mood or content
In your editing stage (don't worry about it during a rough draft so much), make sure the words you've selected add to the mood and intent of your passage. You wouldn't want to say "trudge" when your main character is in a hurry. Even when choosing between words with the SAME meaning, certain words can have different nuances or sounds to them. For instance:
"The whisper-smooth lapping of the sea on the shore" sounds much more gentle and flowing than "the tranquil breaking of the waves against the rocks"--even though the content is pretty much the same. Part of it is the combination of words together, part of it is because of softer (sibilant) versus harsher consonants. There are S's, P's, and M's here instead of T's, B's, or K's/ck's. Choose your words carefully, because some "fit" a sentence more appropriately than others.

Read your work aloud when you're doing your final manuscript polishing--the offending words or phrases will usually trip up your tongue, feel awkward, and don't sound right. In fact, this is also a good way to catch rhythms that are off in your sentence length and construction. When in doubt or for an incredible eye-opener, have someone else read your work aloud, and make note of where they trip and stumble. Ouch!

How are the writing rhythms in your own work?
Can you think of other things that affect the rhythm of a piece of writing?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

VOICE: the elusive beast

VOICE
It adds vibrant vitality to writing…it makes people stop what they're doing and READ.
Agents and editors are on the lookout for it; they can't always define it, but they "know it when they see it."

Voice is intricately linked with good writing, paired up like peanut butter and jelly--or perhaps more accurately, like pasta and ravioli, where one is actually a part of the other. I've also noticed voice is often accompanied by humor, either blatant or subtle. There is a freshness to the words and the sentences that makes people relate, take note, and be absolutely entranced.

INHERENT TALENT?
In many cases, voice seems almost inherent to some people and their writing. They have it in abundance, and it appears to be their natural way of expressing themselves. In any artistic or creative endeavor--singing, playing a musical instrument, drawing/painting, dancing--there is the indisputable fact that some people have more of a natural talent and predisposition to these things than other people.

Does that mean you should give up because you weren't born with stunning writing talent or an entrancing writing voice? Not at all. I think voice can be fostered and developed just like a singer's voice or an artist's skill at painting. Sure, it's a lot easier if natural talent exists to begin with, but don't despair if you don't seem to be one of those natural-born Voicers. Writers who work hard to improve at what they do often surpass naturally talented individuals--simply by sheer effort. Hard-working writers are extremely motivated, sometimes more so than the innately gifted, who can sometimes take their talent for granted and not learn to develop their skills.

Voice, to me, also seems symbiotic with writers' personalities…their specific thoughts, emotions, phrasings. Their unique perspectives on life. They are able to express these distinctive things by the use of WORDS.

AN EXAMPLE OF STRONG VOICE:
The middle-grade novel, Savvy, by Ingrid Law, has voice aplenty. Consider this first-page excerpt:

When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it. I had liked living down south on the edge of land, next to the pushing-pulling waves. I had liked it with a mighty kind of liking, so moving had been hard--hard like the pavement the first time I fell off my pink two-wheeler and my palms burned like fire from all of the hurt just under the skin. But it was plain that Fish could live nowhere near or nearby or next to or close to or on or around any largish bodies of water. Water had a way of triggering my brother and making ordinary, everyday weather take a frightening turn for the worse.

Part of the reason this passage oozes voice is due to the free, organic, and almost stream-of-consciousness style of writing. (Strong voice does NOT have to include these things, however.) Ingrid Law is not afraid to string together phrases like "near or nearby or next to or close to or on or around," or make up phrases like "pushing-pulling waves." She looks at the world in a unique way, and shares that perspective with her readers.

VOICE and TELLING: breaking the rules
This week on the Adventures to Children's Publishing blogsite, an important point was made about voice and how it relates to Showing Versus Telling (click to visit). Bottom line: if you're really good and have a strong voice, you can break the rules. In my Savvy excerpt above, in fact, it's nearly all Telling, rather than Showing. The point is, the passage is INTERESTING TELLING. Most writers go all boring and stale when they start Telling. Telling also usually introduces an unnecessary distance between the writing and the reader. The reader starts off feeling detached, which is not what you're aiming for as a writer.

A good writer--one with a strong voice--can bridge or eliminate any feeling of distance, make backflashing and explanation intriguingly vibrant, and make the story's spirit shine through and push past the "violation" of traditional writing rules. The same goes for beginning a story with dialogue. Don't do it unless you're really good at writing and have a strong enough voice to overcome the disadvantages of doing it. While you're learning, you may want to stick with the tried-and-true rules.

Whether it's inherent to you or not, go forth and develop your voice!
Good luck!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Showing versus Telling: SUBTLE TELLING part 2

Hi ya'll, this will be brief--just checking in during my intensive week/s of revising my novel, SHAPERS. I've been slashing, adding scenes, and eliminating Telling--oh my!

Today, I'll add another example of Telling from last week's list.

Telling in dialogue…don't do it!

EXAMPLE:

"Do you want me to get those extra batteries for the flashlights at the store?" Tim asked his mother. "I can pick them up on the way home from school."

"Sure," his mother said, smiling. "That would save me some time before we leave on the camping trip for Yosemite in the morning."

First, it sounds here like both Tim and his mother know what the batteries are for, because he says THOSE batteries, as in previously discussed batteries. Therefore, Tim doesn't need to say "for the flashlights." Second, both Tim and his mother know they're going camping in Yosemite, so the mother wouldn't name their destination. They also both probably know they are leaving in the morning.

These cluttery bits of information are only there to inform the reader, and they are not part of either character's natural dialogue. Omit this kind of Telling, and find other (sneakier) ways to let the reader know what you want them to know. Doing it as shown in the example dilutes the authenticity of your dialogue as well as your characters.

Really, the only necessary part of the mother's last sentence is: "That would save me some time." No need to say more.

Off to revise some more. Have a great day!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Showing versus Telling: SUBTLE TELLING

I'm back from the Oregon SCBWI retreat in Silver Falls, energized to write and revise! I met for a one-on-one critique with a very knowledgeable agent, Kelly Sonnack of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She pointed out places in my sample chapter where I (gasp! me???) had been Telling instead of Showing. Come to find out, there are varying levels of Telling, and while I know how to avoid some of it, particularly adverbs, I have been guilty of the more subtle and less obvious kinds.

My roomie at the retreat had taken a class on the subject of Telling, and shared her notes with me:

Categories of Telling/where you'll find Telling:
1. Backstory and flashbacks (related to info dumps; only say what's necessary for the present)
2. Pure explanation (exposition) told by the narrator/narration
3. Explanation of character motives
4. Telling in dialogue
5. Showing AND Telling interspersed
6. Sneaky Telling (short 1 or 2 words inserted in an otherwise strong sentence)
7. Telling in internal monologues

EXAMPLES:

Backstory/Flashbacks
I reached Geometry class and sat with the other guys. Tara was already there, looking hot as usual in tight jeans and a bright pink t-shirt. I thought about the first time I'd seen her. She'd bumped into me by the lockers, and had fluttered her eyelashes in a wondrous way, apologizing. I had laughed and told her it was okay, meeting her eyes with boldness before picking up her books from the floor. But since then, I hadn't been able to capture the magic freshness of that moment. Now, it was all klutzy and awkward conversations, and worshipping her from afar. I sighed, casting her a longing glance across the room.

This example Tells about the main character's experience as a memory or flashback. It also Tells of subsequent awkward conversations in a distant manner, rather than showing the scene with dialogue to let the reader see that klutziness firsthand. Readers want to experience things WITH the main character, not be a faraway spectator. This would be a much stronger passage if written as an awkward dialogue between the protagonist and Tara. Let the reader draw his/her own conclusions! The details of the past could also be worked in more naturally, and with less Telling.

Sneaky Telling
"Cool!" she said, pleased. "I can be ready tomorrow by six."

This is an example of #6, sneaky Telling, with one blatant and unneeded word inserted here. You don't need the word "pleased" in this sentence, because you already know this girl is pleased from her words.

Explanation Telling (from my novel, SHAPERS)
Credits didn't grow on trees, and she'd literally sweated for her pay. Yeah, she'd spend a little of her earnings on fun stuff, but most of it she'd save to attend tech school. She wanted an education beyond the worthless college e-classes the government provided at no cost. If she didn't, she'd be stuck forever on a financial hamster-wheel like Mom and Dad.

I had to omit this paragraph in my rewrite, since Kelly (the agent) marked it as Telling. I wanted to get the main character's motivations in, but this was too expository, dumped here all in one place. The only part I kept to let the reader know the main character's motivations was the following 2 lines, tagged onto another paragraph about the main character wanting to end her current job:

Forget the monumental pay. She could find a different, less brutal, method to save up for tech school tuition.

This got the information in that she wanted to go to tech school, but hopefully in a less explanatory, Telling way. Sometimes less is more, and the particular wording makes the difference. (Note: I might add the line about the hamster wheel later somewhere, since I rather like it.)

Do YOU have Telling in your writing? Good luck, weeding it out! On that note, off I go to slash and revise my own novel some more.

Other sites that have been discussing Showing versus Telling lately:

http://charissaweaks.blogspot.com/2010/09/show-vs-tell.html
http://charissaweaks.blogspot.com/2010/10/show-tell-week-2.html

http://waltzwithwords.blogspot.com/2010/10/great-unsaid-study-of-show-vs-tell.html

http://eastforgreeneyes.blogspot.com/2010/10/let-me-show-you.html

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tag, You're It!

Here I am, digressing from my regularly scheduled Wednesday critique, because I'll be gone later in the week and unable to do this special post.

I've been tagged by the blog fairy (thanks, Shellie!), and awarded me a lovely blog award, entitled, "One Lovely Blog Award."

My task now is to list 7 things about myself before passing on the award to 5 other deserving bloggers.

INFO ABOUT ME, which oddly enough, all contain numbers in them:

1. I lived on the island of Sitka, Alaska, for a little over a year when I was TWELVE.

2. My junior year, I won FOURTH place in a shorthand contest held on the Oregon coast.

3. I went to THREE different high schools (yes, my family moved a lot--which I wasn't happy about as a teen).

4. I'm currently writing my SIXTEENTH young adult novel. Practice makes perfect…?

5. Alas, I've been married THREE times (which is the charm; I'm keeping the hubby I now have, thank you very much).

6. I had thyroid cancer when I was EIGHTEEN. Yes, surgery got it all, no chemo or radiation. I have a lovely Frankenstein scar on my neck for a souvenir.

7. I turned FIFTY (gawk!) this year, in 2010.


FIVE DESERVING BLOGS--Go check these out!

http://emilytwhite.blogspot.com/
(formerly Stepping Into Fantasy--follow her to her new home!)
http://motherwrite.blogspot.com/
http://betweenfactandfiction.blogspot.com/
http://migwriters.blogspot.com/
http://maybegenius.blogspot.com/

As a note, tomorrow I am abandoning my hubby for the Oregon SCBWI retreat, woohoo! Looking forward to rustic cabins up in the mountain of Silver Falls, not having to cook for a total of three days, and talking about WRITING with people who likewise never get tired of talking about the subject.

Now how can you beat that? I hope to bring home lots of writing ideas and put them to use.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wednesday Critique

THE EXCERPT: (middle grade)

The sun streamed into Jen's room through the mini-blinds and woke her up. It was Thursday, the dreaded day of the biology final, and she knew she had to move fast in order to get to school on time. She had to meet Randy in the library to study before first period. Randy had been her best friend since third grade, and he was a great study partner. She just hoped he could help her at least get a D.

Her hazel eyes filled with worried tears as she wriggled out of her blankets. She knew what would happen if she flunked this test. An "F" in biology meant no allowance for the month of November, and she really needed the money. Her bike was shot, the gears ruined, the tires threadbare. It was way past time to get another bike.

Her feet landed on the cold hardwood floor and she shivered. Running for her robe and the shower, she flinched as the hot water hit her skin and washed over her long dark brown hair. As she shampooed, she reflected upon how much money she had. She had counted it two nights ago, and there was about twenty dollars. She'd been saving, but she'd had to buy a few school clothes in August. It sure had been a drag walking everywhere she'd wanted to go all summer. She really needed a new bike.

STORY BEGINNING:
This story begins with the conflict stated fairly soon, which is a good thing. The character's motivations and goals are presented: getting to school in order to study, not flunking biology, saving up for a bike. However, many agents and editors say that having your character wake up in the morning to start the day is a tired, cliché opening. Is this where the action REALLY begins? A suggested method of beginning a scene is to "enter late and end early," which means to enter just prior to the key action of a scene, and duck out before the action totally fizzles. This way, you are not boring your reader with filler, or with more mundane actions such as taking a shower, getting dressed, and eating breakfast. If you feel you must include a morning routine, make sure it is streamlined, contains pertinent dialogue, or is a very unusual waking.
A better place to begin this story would've possibly been showing her on her way to school, or as she's approaching the school--or even as she reaches the library and scans the room for Randy, worried that he might not be there.

CHARACTER DESCRIPTION:
The lines about Jen's hazel eyes and her long dark brown hair border on narrator intrusion. If the reader is with Jen in Jen's head, chances are she would not be describing her eye or hair color. Such details often feel "shoehorned," as the writer's way of making sure the reader knows what the main character looks like. Try to work in these few details more naturally. But please, don't have the main character look in a mirror to describe him/herself, which is another hated cliché!

PACING, GOALS, DETAILS:
In this passage, Jen is in an obvious rush to get to school. Certain things, however, slow down that rush. She describes Randy as being her best friend since third grade and a good study partner. Is this really necessary to say HERE? It would be better to work in details like that at a more appropriate place--and to do it more naturally.

There is a modifier problem with the second sentence of the last paragraph:
Running for her robe and the shower, she flinched as the hot water hit her skin and washed over her long dark brown hair.
Technically, the second part of this sentence has to happen AS she is running for her robe and the shower. She can't be already showering and washing her hair while she's still running to get there! Watch out for sentence constructions like this. Also, if your character is going to be "reflecting," just have her reflect, don't bother to say it (which is Telling) and then proceed to show it. Simply show it.

As far as character motivations, so far what has been presented here is pretty lightweight as far as a compelling story goal. This conflict does matter a lot to the main character, Jen, but really, how exciting to a middle grade reader is studying for a test, or getting a new bike? Will the reader care enough to follow Jen through the rest of her day, and throughout the rest of the novel?

The more crucial, dire, and compelling the conflict, the more engaged your reader will be. It could be that Jen will encounter an even more pressing conflict as the chapter wears on--and that would be a good thing. Otherwise, the story might end up as an excruciatingly boring yawn-fest. (I wrote this excerpt, so I can say this. *grin*)

As a final note, there are a number of weak "to be" verbs (was) in this short 234-word excerpt--five of them to be exact--which could be reworded or replaced with more vibrant verbs. In fact, I know I could easily rewrite this excerpt to omit at least 4 out of the 5 "was" verbs. Can you?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Thanks to Dennis for this writing excerpt, which is targeted for middle-grade kids (ages 8-12).

THE EXCERPT:

Ol' Coon

In the still of the forest, ya can hear some heavy breath'n and some feet sprint'n as fast as they would carry them. Behind the tall skinny figure is a lumber'n bear with her cubs close behind. The old man, with his long grey hair flyin' past his shoulders, looks fer a quick escape. His small brown steely eyes spots a good size tree, but the bear is gett'n on his heels.

He can almost feel her breath on his neck.

Just as mama bear growls and starts her final lurch, the lanky ol' man jumps fer his life and clings to the trunk of the tree. With his long grey beard down to his belly button, he shimmies up that tree like he were a squirrel or somethin'.

Mama bear shakes at that tree fer awhile then finally trails off with her cubs into the nearby bushes.

Between his three yellow crooked teeth on top and two on the bottom, he yells at the bear, "Hey ya momma, ya chicken or somet'n? Come back an' fight like a bear!" Then he laughs his way down the tree.

Yep, it's another beautiful day in the backwoods of the Rockies. The ol' man walks in the midst of bright red and yellow leafed elder trees and through the lush green meadow, back to his rickety old log house .

The man weren't nuttin' but an ol' raccoon trapper named Ed. No one knows his last name, and no one cares to know.

MY COMMENTS:

It's good to start with action, especially for readers of this age. One slight caution to beginning with action such as this, however, is that the reader doesn't yet know who the main character is before all the action starts. It can therefore be a little harder to follow. Still, this beginning is catchy and has a nice folksy and conversational flavor.

While the authentic and phonetic spellings lend to the folksy, backwoods tone, these things can make a story difficult to read--especially for readers of this age group. It is usually recommended that dialect NOT be exactly duplicated, but rather suggested by idioms or turns of phrases. This is especially true for words with apostrophes, such as the dropped g's at the end of words; these things are wearying for the reader after a while. For flavor's sake, the poor grammar could be kept. It would read about the same if you used proper spelling and kept the g's:

In the still of the forest, you can hear some heavy breathing and some feet sprinting as fast as they would carry them. Behind the tall skinny figure is a lumbering bear with her cubs close behind. The old man, with his long grey hair flying past his shoulders, looks for a quick escape. His small brown steely eyes spots a good-size tree, but the bear is getting on his heels.

He can almost feel her breath on his neck.

Just as mama bear growls and starts her final lurch, the lanky old man jumps for his life and clings to the trunk of the tree. With his long grey beard down to his belly button, he shimmies up that tree like he were a squirrel or something.

Mama bear shakes at that tree for awhile, then finally trails off with her cubs into the nearby bushes.

Between his three yellow crooked teeth on top and two on the bottom, he yells at the bear, "Hey ya momma, ya chicken or something? Come back and fight like a bear!" Then he laughs his way down the tree.

Yep, it's another beautiful day in the backwoods of the Rockies. The old man walks in the midst of bright red and yellow-leafed elder trees and through the lush green meadow, back to his rickety old log house .

The man weren't nothing but an old raccoon trapper named Ed. No one knows his last name, and no one cares to know.

As far as small things to tidy up, for clarity a comma would be good after "shakes at that tree for awhile," and good-size and yellow-leafed would be hyphenated, as shown in the rewrite. The word "midst" seems more poetic than folksy in tone; a word such as "middle" might match the general tone better (or just say he walks BY the trees).
The word "then" appears twice, rather close together, which by the way is a common word overused in action scenes. Near the end, "old" is repeated twice close together; the first one could be omitted and you'd still have "rickety log house," which would be descriptive enough. Also, there is a bit of confusion of the "thems" in the first sentence, whether they refer to the feet or the man.

The character of Ed, or "Ol' Coon" is a lively one, and I think kids would have fun reading about him.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Boring Writing

Sometimes, what we write can be boring. We get the facts down, the action of the scene as well as the details, but still…something is lacking. Zip. Zest. Interest!

Consider the writing sample below. While technically correct and containing no passive "to be" verbs like was or were, no excess of adverbs, etc., it lacks interest in style and tone. Rather bland. (I can say this because it's my own writing and not someone else's. LOL)

WRITING SAMPLE:

On his way to the library, Rick walked past the playground. He didn't really want to see all the little kids having fun on the play equipment, because it made him feel worse about his argument with Dad. A few smiling parents sat, chatting to each other on benches. One woman pushed a squealing girl in pigtails on a swing. Other kids ran around, darting and chasing, laughing and giggling. Rick watched one freckled girl wave to her friends with excited enthusiasm and then climb to the top of the slide. A boy threw a ball to another boy and missed. The ball bounced over to Rick. With a sigh, Rick picked it up and tossed it back, wishing he'd gone the long way around the block.

Then, consider this rewrite. Whether the style resonates with you or not, it's probably far more compelling of a read.

REWRITE:

On his way to the library, Rick trudged past the playground. Dad's angry words echoed in his head, clashing with the cheerful riot of motion and sound by the play equipment. You have to grow up, son, Dad had told him. Stop acting like a child. Rick's eyes slid against their will to the relaxed smiles of parents chatting on benches. Unwanted shouts of delight and laughter careened into his ears. One woman pushed a girl on a swing, sending squeals and a pair of pigtails flying high into the air, while a freckled girl waved like a prom queen to her friends before climbing to the top of the slide. A boy threw a ball to another boy and missed. The ball skidded over to Rick. With a sigh, Rick picked it up and tossed it back, wishing he'd gone the long way around the block.

Not only are there more details and information about Rick's argument with Dad, there is more to the scene than a mere newspaper-like reporting of facts. It contains more emotion. The scene is filtered through the main character's eyes, showing how he is interacting with his environment, processing the details, and reacting. Even tiny nuances can be utilized. For instance--keeping Rick's argument with his dad in mind--did you notice how the two cameos of the little girls were positive, and yet the two boys threw and missed catching the ball?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Blog Shout Outs!

FYI, a shout out to two other blogs out there in cyberspace!

The first is Emily White's Stepping Into Fantasy blogsite. She's started up a Goober Writers Anonymous group where she posts blurbs about writers who have made mistakes both large and small, and learned from them--the hard way. Here is her first post, her own story:

http://steppingintofantasy.blogspot.com/

MY big Goober tale will be posted next week! Thursdays are official Goober days. Click on over, and join Emily's Goober group. Scroll down a bit to the September 7 post for details about how to do a guest post on her blog. She'll give a shout out link to your blog, and post your written Goober for the world to see and learn from. If you don't want to join, just read!

The second blogsite is East For Green Eyes, which has now reached 100 followers and is having a big celebration contest with a selection of fun prizes to choose from. Books! Critiques! CHOCOLATE! Become a follower and qualify to enter. Extra points awarded for spreading the word, or you may write a 500-word story about her blog byline. Check it out at:

http://eastforgreeneyes.blogspot.com/

Click the contest link at the top or scroll down a bit to the September 6 post. Have fun out there!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

WINNER OF THE BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Many thanks to everyone who entered the book giveaway, and for your enthusiasm. I wish everyone could have won a free copy! I numbered the entries in the order people signed up, giving two entries' worth to those who posted other links or spread the word. Then, I visited random.org and let it choose a number. And so…(drumroll, please) the winner is:

RosieC!
CONGRATULATIONS!!

I was quite surprised that the random generator chose a number at the end of the numbered range, but it did. Funny random stuff. So yay, Rosie wins a FREE copy of my young adult fantasy novel, Junction 2020: The Portal. She can write to me at artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com to let me know where she would like her free book shipped.

Next Wednesday I will be back to posting my regularly scheduled weekly critiques. If anyone has an excerpt 250 words or less that you'd like critiqued on this blog, feel free to send it along to my gmail. It's okay if it's a few words over 250; go ahead and finish your sentence.

Monday, August 23, 2010

WIN! WIN! WIN! BOOK GIVEAWAY!

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Big Announcement: My new young-adult fantasy novel has officially come out and is available for order. This paperback book is called Junction 2020: The Portal (my experiment with POD). To celebrate, I am having a drawing for a FREE copy! Your chances are quite high since my followership is still new and growing.

Rules:
1. For 1 entry, simply leave a comment below this post saying you want to enter (click on the word "comments")
2. For a 2nd (3rd, 4th…) entry, tell about this giveaway via your blog, website, Facebook, or Twitter tweet, etc., and leave a comment with a link to it. For each link, you get an additional entry
2. Enter by midnight Pacific Standard Time on Tuesday, September 7
3. The randomly chosen WINNER will be announced on Wed., September 8
4. TWO books will be given away if by some strange miracle over 50 people sign up
6. Winner will receive a FREE copy of Junction 2020: The Portal
7. Entrants from the USA only, please

Questions? post a comment or email me at artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com.

SUMMARY:
When 16-year-old Mari Stratton attends a New Year's party with her brother and her hearing-impaired friend, she joins in a collecting game outside in the dark fields. As midnight strikes, she finds herself and four others propelled by a violent green storm into a confusing landscape of beauty, danger, and mystery. In this alternate world, ruthless black-cloaked riders on horseback called Shifters comb the countryside hunting them down. Why is this world patterned after the things Mari adores, and why does it feature the hideous things she fears the most?

More importantly--how will they get back to the real world?

SEE BOOK COVER on right sidebar

EXCERPT:
Junction 2020: The Portal
Chapter 1

New Year's Eve, 2019. Nine o'clock at last. Mari Stratton snapped a checkered cloth over a table, exhaling with impatience as it billowed like a sail over uncharted waters for a suspended moment before settling into place. She threw on a white flash of napkins, added a hasty clanking of silverware, and returned the Parmesan and hot pepper shakers to their rightful places next to the wall.

There. Her shift, completed. Another efficient and industrious evening at Aunt Lacey and Uncle Jim's pizza restaurant. Too bad her father wasn't around to take notice. She really could do more than read adventure and romance novels in the backyard hammock.

She hurried past Uncle Jim in the kitchen, through the thick smells of sizzling pepperoni, pungent jalapeños and steamy detergent. In the cramped employee bathroom, she changed into jeans and a powder-blue top. Her reflection in the mirror frowned like a grumpy evil twin as she checked her make-up. And now, time for that blasted party. She would've much rather spent New Year's Eve with only Lauren and one or two other friends. But Lauren was a junior and wanted to go to Stefanie Anders' big End of the Year Bash.

Honestly. The things a person did in order to keep new friends.

Mari ran fingers through her layered dark hair, threw on her jacket, and dashed out the back door to the car. Her mother stood there in a waitress outfit, handing the Chevy keys to Randall as though relinquishing control of the known world to a chimpanzee. Randall looked scrubbed and shaved, his brown hair spiked to flawless precision. Mari rolled her eyes. All for Stefanie's benefit, she'd bet. He'd been unsuccessfully trying to impress Stefanie since September.

Randall kicked the tire as Mari climbed into the front seat. "And why do I have to drive her there?" he asked their mother with a jerk of his thumb at Mari. "Arriving with my sister and her deaf friend is such a loser thing to do."

Their mother's eyes narrowed. "You could always go back inside and start washing dishes."

"Fine, I'm leaving," Randall growled. He hopped into the car and revved the engine to life. Cranking the wheel, he spun out of the alley with a spray of gravel, leaving the sight of their mother with her arms folded into an incredibly peeved pretzel.

"And for your information," Mari notified Randall as he turned onto the street, "Lauren is hearing impaired, not deaf."

He shrugged. "Same diff. Man, are you that hard up for friends?"

"I don't see you hanging out with a whole herd of new buddies."

A muscle on the side of Randall's face twitched. He grunted and said nothing more.

[end of excerpt]

This book is also available for order HERE