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.

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If you're careful, you can invent slang or expressions yourself, and never have to worry about them going out of date.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!

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!

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!

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.

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.

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!).


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

Gabi at:
[enter by Saturday to win a 25-page critique, and help her reach 200 followers!]

Bekah at:
[gotta love her byline: "Books. The other TV."]

Julie at:
[she has a special going on, Grand Opening of her blog, 30% off her editing services!]

Clarissa at:
[not only does she discuss writer info, she shares food recipes, yummers!]

Lola at:
[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:


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 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.

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 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


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?