Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Similes and Metaphors That WORK

One thing I love about writing is using figures of speech such as similes and metaphors. Doing this well is important--and I'm still learning how to do it.

Simile Definition
A simile compares two things, usually using the words LIKE or AS. This is extremely helpful when world-building and introducing objects unfamiliar to the reader; a link can be made to a more familiar object or concept.

Example of a simple comparison: Her hair was as golden as daffodils in the sun.
Example to clarify or reveal an unknown: Jon looked up to see a robot built like a champion wrestler.

Metaphor Definition
A metaphor is a direct comparison that says something IS something else, an equation. It is thus more powerful than a simile. It can be symbolic, like a heart "breaking."

Example: The long fingers of the setting sun stretched across the valley.
Example: Jeanine enters the room, a brilliant peacock in a crowd of pigeons.

Does the sun really have fingers, and is Jeanine really a peacock? Of course not. But when the comparison is made, the reader immediately gets a proper image.

Here are some guidelines for using these figures of speech:

1. Don't mix and muddle
Compare one thing to another, but make sure the things are actually similar in quality and function. Don't have a character's anger burning as it washes over them like a flood.
2. Fit them to the character
If your character is a city-girl, don't have her look at something and be reminded of a meadow or farm animal. This is especially important for novels written in first person, where all narrative and description are filtered through the viewpoint of the main character/s.
3. Fit them to the story, tone, or genre
If you write science fiction, don't use agricultural similes. If your novel is totally serious, be careful using quirky or humorous comparisons. Stay consistent with your voice.
4. Fit them to your reader
Especially if your readers are pre-teens or teens, try not to compare things that are obtuse, over their heads, or references to the past (songs, movies, actors). Your comparison will be lost and therefore worthless. Keep your audience in mind.
5. Keep them simple
Don't use convoluted comparisons, long-winded sentences, or needlessly complex images. Ask yourself: do I really need all those adjectives (verdant, sparkling) and prepositional phrases (of the sky, in the meadow, by the house)?
6. Keep them low-key
Go for memorable, but not so stunning or unique that it jolts a reader right out of the story. I personally love to pause to savor a lovely simile, but others DO mind.
7. Don't be cliché
If you've heard a comparison before, don't use it! Stretch yourself. Invent unique comparisons--or introduce a fresh element to a known cliché. (Although clichés often work well in parody or spoof writing.)

Common clichés:
My hands felt cold as ice.
The stars in the sky sparkle like diamonds.
Razera's eyes, as black as coal, stared into mine.
He lay sprawled across the garage floor, as dead as a doornail.
Tania's grandfather is a bear in the mornings before he has his coffee.

Example of freshening up a cliché: Lila's thoughts spun like a blender on crack.

Do you like to use similes or metaphors in your writing?
When you read a stunning simile or metaphor, do you pause to enjoy it, or does it jar you out of the story and disturb your overall enjoyment?
Can you rewrite one or more of the cliché sentences above to make them more unique?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Picture Books: An Overview

I don't talk about picture books (PBs) much on this blog because I focus on novels--middle grade or young adult. But when I first started writing in the 1990s, my daughters were young and I thought I'd like to write and illustrate my own PBs. I worked up some dummies, did a few watercolor paintings, etc. I lived near one of the largest libraries in the Portland, Oregon, area; it was wonderful! I have fond memories of doing PB "research" with my daughters, reading books to them every night before bedtime.

After a while I decided novels were my "thing," and moved on to more verbose pastures. However, here are some things I've learned about picture books over the years:

THIRTEEN Picture Book Tips
1. Picture books are for children ages 2-8. PBs are a great intro to art and books for kids!
2. It is NOT necessary--or even advisable--to work up your own illustrations. Only do so if you are a professional artist, and be sure to say the text can be considered separately.
3. Editors keep artists' samples on file; they enjoy creatively matching text to art styles.
4. Often publishers pair a debut PB writer with an established illustrator for better sales.
5. Nowadays editors like their PBs to be 600-700 words long. Some even say 500.
6. Needless to say, if you want a satisfying beginning, middle, and end in less than 700 words, you need to write tight, clean, and concise stories.
7. Be spare with adjectives. In most instances, it's not advisable to describe colors, sizes, styles, etc. This will needlessly restrict the illustrator. Only include if crucial to the plot.
8. A writer's/illustrator's conference is a great place to connect with agents or editors. Check your local SCBWI for event dates; attending can be a worthwhile investment.
9. An agent is helpful to have, though not as many of them handle PBs. (Mine does.)
10. Most editors say not to include art or illustration notes with submissions.
11. Research. Read to see what works and what is being sold. Focus on the more recently published books, as they are more indicative of the current market.
12. Just because PBs are short, doesn't mean they are easy/easier to write!
13. As with novels, VOICE is very important. Don't be dull, even with nonfiction PBs. Be fun and imaginative. Use lively verbs. Feel free to use onomatopoeia words like clank, boom, and boingggg! Engage your young reader.

Have you ever written a picture book?
Can you add anything that would be helpful for aspiring picture books writers?
What's your favorite picture book? I love Kevin Henkes, like his Sheila Rae the Brave.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

WRAPPING UP: Final Lines

Thanks to everyone who played the Continue This Story game last week! It was fun. If you missed it or still want to comment/play, click HERE.

Two weeks ago I posted about the importance of having a hook or intriguing beginning as the first line of a novel. But what about the ENDING of your story? This line (or lines) is also important. It is the last thing a reader reads, and will be what stays in his/her mind--or not--after the book has been put down. And if an ending is satisfying, a reader is more likely to pick up other books by the same author. The best end lines leave people with a sense of satisfaction, and sometimes even smiles on their faces.

So it's crucial to have an ending that satisfies and feels complete.

How do we as writers obtain this satisfying ending? Here are some ideas:

1. A satisfying and complete ending doesn't necessarily mean everything ends happily.
2. An ending needs to tie up loose plot threads--without over-explaining.
3. Even with the first book in a series, the plot should be/feel tidied up and complete.
4. The rhythm and wording of a book's final lines sound different. Readers should not turn the page and be surprised they've already reached the end of the book.
5. Try not to wax too poetical at the end, or give a lot of lush description. It's not a good time for readers to tune out and have their eyes glaze over.
6. Don't moralize or give in to the urge to insert your opinion about the story.
7. Avoid cliché endings: riding off into the sunset, sweeping into a passionate kiss, etc.
8. End on a tone that is consistent with your genre/story; stay dark, lighthearted, etc.
9. Your character should change by the end; they must grow from their journey.
10. Don't be longwinded, and don't go on and on after everything is settled.
11. Be sure your ending sentence is memorable, not trite or blah.
12. Beware of ending on a passive or weak note by using weak verbs, structures, or ideas.
13. Ask your critique buddies if your ending lines are satisfying and sound complete.
14. A lot of times the ending line is set apart by itself, having its own paragraph.
15. Be aware that some genres typically end a certain way: romances almost always end happily, dystopian or sci-fi novels typically end not-quite-so-happily.

1. Chapter ending lines also sound different and more "final" in rhythm and wording.
2. Chapter endings should make people turn pages and stay up late to keep reading.
3. Most of your chapters should end mid-action or mid-scene rather than on a restful note at the end of the character's day, or when things have been wrapped up.
4. Not ALL chapters have to end on a gripping page-turner note; variety is good.
5. A "page-turner" moment doesn't have to be earthshaking, but it should contain enough tension, conflict, and interest for the reader to be curious about what happens next.

What is your favorite ending line from a book?
Which do you think is more important: a strong beginning line or a strong ending line?
Are you a fan of happy endings--do the books you read have to end happily for you to like them totally?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Continue This Story!

When my sister and I were young, we'd play a game where we made up a story, each saying one word to further the action. That was fun and imaginative--though slightly limiting since we only added single words. For my SCBWI-Oregon retreat in October, we went around the room with a microphone to continue a story, each of us contributing an entire sentence. It was a great ice-breaker, and amazing to see how many people could think of cool sentences on the spur of the moment.

So let's have some similar creative fun in the comments!

Think of this as an exercise to practice starting a story, or just being creative with words.

Complete the following story by adding ONE sentence.
YES--you may post additional sentences if there have been 3 people in between!

Your starting sentence:
Late again for practice, Dana Maguire paused at the edge of the shadowy forest, clutching her flute case and wondering if she dared take the short cut to Jared's house.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

HOOK: The First Line

There's no denying the lure of a great first line. Most people pick up a book based on the cover and/or title. After that they read the jacket info and the first line or two to see if the book draws them in. A judge, agent, or editor is likewise drawn to your story--or not!--by the first line.

So it's crucial to have a beginning with a hook.

How do we as writers obtain a hook? Since I'm a fan of lists (they're so tidy and handy), here are ways to be "hooky" with a first line or opening. Try one or all, as suits you.

1. Give a few tidbits to pique interest and mystery--but don't answer all questions.
2. Start with a mood or tone that accurately reflects the genre and style of your story.
3. Starting with dialogue is difficult to do well, as readers are thrown into the conversation without knowing who the characters are. First tell us why we should care.
4. Starting in mid-action can also be disconcerting, before readers know the characters.
5. The starting scene is the day everything changes for your main character. Back up a bit from the "inciting incident" or pivotal moment to ground the reader first.
6. Avoid cliché openings: characters waking up, having a dream, being chased, etc.
7. Don't sweat it! Often you must write the entire novel to write the first line properly.
8. Try not to start off with long lyrical (purple) prose or descriptions. You'll lose readers.
9. Keep the first line relatively short. Read it aloud; you shouldn't run out of breath.
10. The rest of the story should flow naturally and logically from the first line.
11. A first line may intro the main character, but it's not necessary to say the entire first and last name; it often creates a closer/intimate feeling by using only a first name.
12. Don't be gimmicky and throw out a false hook or promise. Readers won't be pleased.
13. Try not to start your first line intriguingly, then fall into dull backstory or musings.
14. Run your opening by your critique partners and see if they are hooked--or confused.
15. Beware of using passive voice or verbs (is/was) unless you're doing it consciously.
16. Only begin your story from a future vantage point looking back if you want the reader to know the main character has survived his/her ordeal.
19. Some agents--like mine--hate stories that start with character stats: "Hi, I'm Brian, and I'm 10 years and 35 days old with brown hair and green eyes."
20. The best first lines are iconic and give an encapsulation of the thrust of the novel.

I always felt the first line of my novel SHAPERS was a bit yawners and didn't encapsulate a sci-fi feel. This is what I had-- which is now the 2nd sentence:
I pull the weight bar down to my chest, sending a fuzzy burn through my biceps.

So Agent Kelly and I came up with this (mostly her idea). It seems more iconic/hooky:
Five more reps, and I should be done with this body for good.

FIRST LINES of books I've recently read.
CHIME by Franny Billingsley: I've confessed to everything and I'd like to be hanged.
ROTTERS by Daniel Kraus: This is the day my mother dies.
DARK EDEN by Patrick Carman: Why are you hiding in this room all alone?
OPEN MINDS by Susan Kaye Quinn: A zero like me shouldn't take public transportation.
THE DOCTOR'S LADY by Jody Hedlund: "Indians!" (dialogue that works fine)

What is your favorite first line from a published novel?
Have you ever started a novel with your character waking up?
What is the first line from YOUR novel or piece of writing?
Do you have any other suggestions about creating hooky first lines?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

To everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving, may you have a very lovely and happy one. And for those of you who don't--well, have a very lovely and happy day anyhow! :)

My daughters are visiting from the Portland, OR, area and my younger daughter (22) wants to drag me off to see "Breaking Dawn." She may be more excited about it than I am, but it's a fun thing to do together. My older daughter was born the evening of November 26, and I spent 1986 in the hospital for Thanksgiving. Totally NOT recommended dining!

One year, years ago, our family ditched the idea of a turkey, and had homemade pizzas for Thanksgiving. Yes, we're rebels. Although I do love the traditional meal, especially homemade stuffing and pumpkin pie. YUM!

What's your favorite Thanksgiving food?
Have you ever eaten something besides the traditional meal on Thanksgiving?
Have you seen "Breaking Dawn" yet--and if not, do you plan to?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

17 Writer Things I've Learned

The Internet and social networking are wonderful things. So are conferences. I've accumulated a lot of writerly information over the years. Here are some things I've learned:

1. Double-space a manuscript with at least 1" margins.
2. Round off word count to the nearest thousand. Don't put 79,462 on your ms/query!
3. Use at least 12 point for your font. Be kind to weary agent and editor eyes.
4. To indicate mid-chapter scene changes, make hash tags # or asterisks * (centered). They are especially important to indicate scenes that end at the bottom of a page.
1. Don't put extra line spaces between your paragraphs. Don't. Do. It.
2. Don't number your first page. Your name, address, email, word count, & title go there.
3. Some editors detest the Courier font! It adds pages, for one thing. Times New Roman is the closest to a finished product page count, but always check submission guidelines.
4. Never underline. Use italics for direct thoughts, emphasis, names of ships/books/etc.
5. Never put two spaces after a period.

1. If you truly want to social network with others, make sure you have an email linked to your profile. TO CHECK: In Blogger, go to Dashboard, then Edit Profile. Add your email under Identity (this can be one you set up just for blogging). Then bloggers who reply to comments via email--like me--can respond to you. Yay!
2. You may have fewer readers, followers, or comments if you do the following: write long posts, have word verification, or have comment moderation. People are busy; these things slow them down.

1. POV: A lot of successful YA manuscripts are in 1st person; it's really popular with teens. (And here I had only written in 3rd limited, before…)
2. Editing: The more polished your manuscript is as far as grammar, punctuation, and spelling, the greater your chance of acceptance. It's like brushing your hair before an interview. Editors these days have less time and budget to polish, so a near-ready novel is a very attractive thing. Agents love it too.
3. On Sub: Once you have an agent and go "on submission" to find an editor, do NOT post about it on your blog, Twitter, or Facebook. Editors don't want to Google you to find out you've been peddling your book for a year and they're last on your agent's list. Ouch. (Nope, I'm not on sub; I'm still revising and polishing.)
4. Advances: It's not always best to get a whopper advance from a publisher. For one thing, taxes take a bigger bite. For another, it's harder to sell well enough to "earn out" that big advance, and you may be met with less enthusiasm for your next book.
5. More on Advances: A writer doesn't get an advance all in one chunk. It's split up into 2 or 3 checks, for instance one at signing and one when the book comes out.
6. Contracts: If you signed a book contract with a traditional publisher today, your book would come out in TWO years; it'd be on a fall 2013 list. Small publishers and presses often work faster, though.

And speaking of not having too long of blog posts, I will quit here!

Did you learn anything, or did you already know all these things?
Do you disagree with any of these points--or have you heard info that conflicts?
Do you have other helpful tidbits to share? What have YOU learned??

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

OPEN MINDS: Read it!

Funny but perfect timing. Here last week I was just talking about reading books with my inner-editor hat on, and how only certain books can sweep me up so completely that I forget I'm wearing that hat.

Well! This weekend I read one of those books. OPEN MINDS by Susan Kaye Quinn.

OPEN MINDS is a YA science fiction novel. Here's the summary:

Sixteen-year-old Kira Moore is a zero, someone who can't read thoughts or be read by others. Zeros are outcasts who can't be trusted, leaving her no chance with Raf, a regular mindreader and the best friend she secretly loves. When she accidentally controls Raf's mind and nearly kills him, Kira tries to hide her frightening new ability from her family and an increasingly suspicious Raf. But lies tangle around her, and she's dragged deep into a hidden underworld of mindjackers, where having to mind control everyone she loves is just the beginning of the deadly choices before her.

I usually grade pretty hard when I write reviews. I would probably give this a 4.6 or 4.7 out of 5. It's not heavy sci-fi, by the way--not full of overbearing sciency stuff.

The science fiction elements and futuristic world-building were done very well, which made the story more real. I enjoyed the writing style of the author and how she phrased things, for instance the description of how laughter would sound in someone's mind (as other people are mentally laughing or being amused). The invented slang such as "mesh" (cool) and "pravers" (degenerate/evil people) were really fun and apt. I'd enthuse more over details, but I don't want to spoil the experience for anyone!

The things that I felt could be improved about this book were minor. Near the end there's a detail that seems a little too coincidental to me, and the word "snuck" is used 3 times, which sets off my overly sensitive grammar-radar. ("Sneaked" is the proper past tense of sneak, not snuck. If you have a "snuck" in your ms, go take it out! Unless it's in dialogue, of course.)

There were 7-8 instances of spaces omitted, typos that may be fixed in later editions since I notified Susan of them. Also, in a couple of places things were repeated by the main character that had already been explained. I didn't mind that too much, because some of the ideas were complex and more time was needed to wrap my head around them.

This is the very first ebook I've ever bought. I read the first pages on Susan's site and had to get it. The ebook on Amazon is only $2.99. What a deal!!

Read the first chapter sample HERE.
Rip on over to Amazon and buy it HERE.

Have you read this book yet? (if so, you're fast, since it just came out!)
Do you like to read YA science fiction, or is it not quite your genre?
What books have you read that have been so good that you've ignored your editor hat?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Reading With Your Editor Hat On

Hi lovely cyberbuddies! Short post today--I'm doing Revisions Round 3: line edits.

While it's all fine and good to read over your own manuscript with a critical eagle-eye, what do you do when it comes down to reading published books?

When I find time to do "pleasure reading," I admit I have trouble taking off my writer or editor's hat. Unless sections of a book really captivate me so that I forget I'm reading, I read books through the lens of plot, character, pacing, strength of descriptions, etc.

I analyze. Constantly.

I read like a WRITER reading a book, rather than like a READER reading a book.

My hubby asks me if I can relax and just enjoy a book without analyzing it. I'm not so sure I can anymore. Reading is pleasurable, yes, but it's also my research. I read YA books in various genres to find out what has been published, what's out there. I want to see how these books work--what makes them zip or sag, how the plot is structured, and how the characters run around on the pages.

What about you--are you able to set aside your editor's hat when you read?
Do you consider reading as pleasure or as research? Something in between?
When you find minor things that bug you in a book, are you less enthusiastic about it?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Writing Clearer, Simpler, Cleaner

First of all, Happy Birthday to my mom, who turned 71 today! Rah! Yes, that's me in the pink satin dress. I'm standing with my brother and sister, who always made fun of me regarding this photo because my big toe is sticking up in the air. Ah, siblings.

If you're like me when you're writing, you find passages that need to be tightened (usually later). You find sentences and phrases that can be made clearer, simpler, and cleaner. Critique partners can help you find these muddy spots. Here are some things to watch out for while you're improving your prose.

Felt or feeling (and seem) can be Telling words--and are also unnecessary and distancing. In the first excerpt below, these words don't add a thing. Compare these examples:

Marie walked out into the field where the horses stood. As she felt the long blades of grass whip her bare legs, a breeze sprang up. She approached a white mare, feeling a surge of excitement shoot through her body.

Marie walked out into the field where the horses stood. As the long blades of grass whipped her bare legs, a breeze sprang up. She approached a white mare, a surge of excitement shooting through her body.

Sometimes we need to check to make sure we're really saying what we mean to say:

His eyes darted around the room. vs His gaze darted around the room.
--The case of the wandering, unattached eyeballs. I do this a lot. Trying to cut down.

Her hands placed the flowers in the vase. vs. She placed the flowers in the vase.

He pulled the keys out of his pocket. vs. He pulled the keys from his pocket.

Grandma's head jerked up to look me in the eye. (Really? Her head looked me in the eye?)

A sticky prickling washed through me like a raging fire.
--Mixed simile and not accurate; a sticky prickling wouldn't "wash" or be like a raging fire.

My father stuffed the hat into the box with a frown.
--Does the box have a frown? Better: With a frown, my father stuffed the hat into the box. Keep the action close to the noun it describes.

She didn't have time to contemplate her thoughts any further.
--Contemplation IS the act of thinking; you don't think about your thoughts. Yep, I really wrote this line in one of my novels. *headsmack*

Gayle left her mother, retreating to her desk. (Whose desk, Gayle's or her mother's?)

I approached the barn as the sun kissed the sky with a lovely red-orange at the horizon.
Simpler: I approached the barn as the sun kissed the horizon with a lovely red-orange.

Do you write unclear sentences like the ones here, especially in your first drafts?
Do you have a doozy of a sentence from your writing you'd like to share?
When you revise, are you able to clean up your writing well?
How much do you rely on eagle-eye critique partners to help you find confusing or unclear sentences?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Revision Update: First Person POV

Some of you may have already heard via Twitter or Facebook. For my latest revision, my agent Kelly Sonnack had me switch my entire SHAPERS novel from third to first person. Why? She wasn't connecting to the main character, feeling quite close enough. I had a rather deep third viewpoint going on, but the narrative was getting bumbled in with my MC's thoughts/inner dialogue. Maybe I'm a first person writer in a third person disguise?

Yes, I balked at first. Big, monstrous groan. I hate first person--or so I thought. At Kelly's request, I experimented with Chapter 1 in first person and sent it to her. Lo and behold, it sounded pretty decent. Like it was MEANT to be that way. Wow. We both agreed.

Not only that, I discovered that the story "wanted" to be in present tense.

Even though I hate present tense. Or at least I thought I did…

A lot of tedious work was involved with the POV (point of view) and verb tense changeover. All the "Morgans" had to be changed to "I" or "me." Some "she" words also had to be changed to "I"--but not all of them, since there were other female characters in the novel. Past tense verbs like "walked" had to be changed to "walk."

But I couldn't just do a simple Find/Replace All for the POV changes. No. That would've been too easy. I had to look at all the instances one by one and click Replace if it applied. Sigh. Still, it was faster than if I'd typed in the changes by hand.

In changing to first person, I realized there were places where Morgan had more to say, or where she needed to say it differently. It wasn't merely a matter of word swapping, since first person comes from a different angle, a closer scrutiny and experience. I also had to make the entire narrative in Morgan's voice and vocabulary. It was a really interesting process.

Kelly mentioned that there are editors out there who won't even look at a manuscript unless it's written in first person. I didn't know that. Did you?

Many popular and well-known books published today are written from a first person point of view. DIVERGENT. HUNGER GAMES. TWILIGHT. SHIVER (the latter with a dual 1st person point of view, even).

So now that I've changed SHAPERS over to first person, I'm eyeing my dystopian WIP…and I think that book "wants" to be in first person too. But past tense seems to be working for that book (whew, less work). It feels a bit odd for me to think like an "I" in some places, though, since that main character is male--i.e. the romantic scenes!

Is your current novel written in first or third POV? Which do you prefer?
Do you ever write in present tense?
Have you ever written a first person POV novel in past tense?
What are other well-known MG/YA books written in first person?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Hi everyone! I went to an Oregon SCBWI retreat over the weekend, and it was a blast! I met agent Karen Grencik, editor Emma Dryden, and--can you believe this?!--Ellen Hopkins, author of CRANK, BURNED, IMPULSE, (etc.) and the newly released PERFECT. All of these ladies were really approachable, and I actually ate dinner with Ellen Hopkins one evening. Woo!

When Ellen Hopkins began speaking, she asked, "How many people before this retreat had already heard of me?" and half the hands went up. She went on to say that if we write YA, we SHOULD have heard of her. All of us as writers should be keeping track of the bigger names in YA--and she's been on the bestseller list eight times for her books! Her novels, interestingly, are all written in verse. Most of them have been on banned lists, too.


Today I'm featuring a critique of the first page of Michael Di Gesu's YA contemporary novel, THE BLINDED GARDENER.


One moment I’m my Dad’s personal punching bag, and the next, well, I’m a pawn in his maniacal master plan. That is, until Danny stepped into the picture and discovered my secret.

Dad forced me to move across the country, and once again, I found myself at a new school, the third in two years. It sucked having a dad in the military.

The warning bell rang for first period. The halls cleared with the slamming of doors. As I wandered about searching for my classroom, I heard someone approach me from behind. I turned and saw a blonde guy walking up the center of the hallway. Long bangs fell over his eyes as he loped past me with a kind of natural ease.

How blind is this guy? Didn’t he see me standing here, fiddling with this useless map.

“Hey, dude. Could you tell me how to get to room 305?”

A slight curl formed on his lips as he faced me. He tossed his head. Platinum fringe shifted to the side and revealed freakish blue eyes that glanced toward me, unfocused.

Holy shit! Is he blind? Stoned is more like it.

“I’m heading that way.” His deep voice held a trace of a southern accent. He turned and continued his long strides.

I envied his height: well over six feet and me just an average dude.

“You better move. Connors loses it when you’re late.”

I rushed to catch up to him. His hand overshot the rickety metal banister. On the second swipe, he made contact and climbed the stairs.


Opening Lines
I certainly don't mind the opening, and I think it works well, but I'm a little torn. The first 2 paragraphs are a macro view introduced from a future vantage point. On one hand, I'd just like to get to know the main character and be shown those background facts as the story progresses rather than being told--that he's his dad's punching bag, that Danny discovers his secret, that the MC has just moved and his dad is in the military. On the other hand, the lines do set a mood, a tone, and a conflict right off the bat. We get a tidy and interesting set-up before we move on to the scene.

Picky Little Things
1. In the first line, it says "my Dad." Dad needs to be UNcapitalized, since it's used with the pronoun "my." Like my mother, my computer, my box of pencils. Since it's a relationship label, it's just a regular noun and thus isn't capped. If it's used as a proper noun--used like someone's name--then the word is capitalized. It's used correctly in the second paragraph.

2. Blonde vs. blond. Blonde with an "e" on the end is traditionally the spelling for a girl, and blond is the spelling for a guy. It's becoming more common to refer to a girl's hair color as blond, but I'm not sure of the reverse. The website states that blonde is just for females and blond is for males. I've seen it both ways in books.

This is a picky thing. Just be sure you are CONSISTENT within your manuscript. On another note, sometimes "blonde" is used when you're referring to a person (the blonde got out of the car) and blond is more often used when used as an adjective (he had blond hair).

3. I'm not sure about the phrase "loped past me with a kind of natural ease." I like the way it sounds, but really, "lope" in and of itself already means to take long easy strides, in a relaxed manner. Thus the second part of the phrase may be a bit redundant.

4. This phrase is a question and needs a question mark: Didn't he see me standing here, fiddling with this useless map.

5. I wasn't sure of the dialogue line about being stoned. It almost made me doubt that Danny was truly blind, and I thought that the MC was saying Danny actually was stoned instead, and that's why his eyes looked freakish. Later I verified that he was indeed blind, but then I wondered if perhaps he was stoned on top of that. (?)

6. Is there a reason the metal banister is rickety? Does this rickety banister play into the plot? Does it show that the school is run-down and short of funds? Is it foreshadowing something that will happen later involving this banister? If none of these things, if there isn't a purpose, it might be best to keep this as a simple banister without the added adjective, since school banisters aren't usually rickety; they're pretty sturdy.

Summary: Kudos
I like the voice and wording here in this excerpt, and I didn't find much to comment on except picky fiddley things. We get a good feel of the two characters' personalities, and the passage flows well. I like the line about the MC being "just an average dude." The excerpt is a nice casual type of inner dialogue, and sounds authentically teen boy. I also like the startling description of Danny's "freakish" blue eyes the first time we see them. It's almost seems like a kind of foreshadowing--on one hand this guy is loping, natural, and helpful…and on the other, perhaps there's something else going on with him? Maybe I just like to read foreshadowy details into things, but if it's there on purpose, it's a great subtle hint.

Have you heard of Ellen Hopkins--especially if you write YA?
Can you add any other helpful comments to the above critique?
Did you know brunet refers to males and brunette refers to females? (I didn't either.)
Do you think the first 2 paragraphs provide a necessary set-up, or would you rather be shown the details mentioned there?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

INTERVIEW with Jane Shapiro

Today I'm delighted to interview my friend Jane Shapiro, whom I initially met at an Oregon SCBWI conference. Visit Jane's bright website HERE.

Her new book MAGIC TRASH will be released this month. It is a picture book biography about the urban environmentalist artist Tyree Guyton, who transformed his decaying, crime-ridden neighborhood in Detroit into the world-famous Heidelberg Project, an interactive sculpture park. It is a story about the healing power of art. Read more on the Charlesbridge page HERE.

Thanks, Carol! So nice to be a guest on the blog of my buddy and web master!

How did you come to write MAGIC TRASH? What started it all?
Seven years ago when I was a docent at the art museum on the campus of Michigan State University, I noticed an American-flag-painted workman’s lunchbox locked in a birdcage. It seemed to capture the attention of adults who wrote poems about it and kids who reached out to touch it. After I learned about the amazing work of the artist, ideas for a children’s book began swirling in my head. Tyree Guyton’s true story formed an arc complete with antagonists, crashes, and a happy ending. I just needed to find a way to tell the story.

My editor at Charlesbridge “loved” the story, but not my rhyme that limited development of the setting and characters. So after many rewrites, the book finally rolled out in prose with rhyming refrains. And these “trippy triplets,” as one reviewer called them, sum up sections as the story progresses. An example: “Old houses talk. Some neighbors squawk. Crash, bash, and smash magic trash.”

Do you have writing advice that you'd like to share?
I think a lot about using the five senses. “When trouble still sizzled in one discarded home, Tyree coated it in dots and squares of pink, blue, yellow, and purple, then perched a magenta watchdog on the porch…” When I read this now, I still smell sizzling from a previous fire and the fresh paint. And I hear “barking trash.”

A recent post by Martha Brockenbrough about a Bruce Coville talk suggests that we engage three of the five senses in all major scenes. I may go overboard tasting, touching, hearing, seeing, and smelling.

What has your writing journey been like--long or short? Instant success or long perseverance?
Short in the beginning since I naively said to myself “I can do that,” then miraculously did with the aid of grants, the expertise of publishing professionals at a large university, and a tenor in my singing group who painted gorgeous green dinosaurs. I worked at the time as a social worker for the Department of Medicine at Michigan State University, and the first book was distributed internationally free of charge to families. But the moment I saw one my patients climb off the camp bus clutching his dino book, I was hooked on writing for kids.

Magic Trash was a seven-year ride, though, perhaps in part due to the recession that hit during its production.

What is your favorite part about writing? Least favorite?
Creating is fabulous! I gulp two glasses of iced tea and go to my quiet desk at a window with a view of Mount Hood in the distance. Then I dive into the heads of my characters.

Selling not so much. I’m a social worker by training; I’d rather give books away. Well, I’ll think of something to give away at my reading, signing, and art-making event at 2PM on October 29th at A Children’s Place Bookstore in Portland. Please stop by if near.

And I’ll have something to give away for sure in Detroit at Barnes & Noble from 1 to 3 PM on October 14th. Tyree Guyton will be signing with me from 2 to 3 that day.

What hobbies or other interests do you enjoy when you're not writing?
As a child I believed that my one talent was music because I could play the piano by ear and a few people liked to hear me sing. Perhaps if I’d practiced other activities as much, I might have been okay at them also. But music has been a fun avocation.

Now I sing to my first grandchild who likes my singing, especially "The Itsy, Bitsy Spider" with hand motions. I did write her a song that my son sings to soothe her when she gets vaccination pokes. She remains calm, but may be expecting a shot with her song now.

I also lead school tours around the Portland Art Museum. This is fun, challenging, and keeps me interacting with kids the ages of those in my works-in-progress. Currently I’m writing a novel with a ten-year-old protagonist, so I try to sign up for 5th grade tours.

And finally--do you prefer sweet or salty snacks?
I love Cool Moon ice cream, Trader Joe’s peanut butter pretzels, and all foods. But I usually snack on fresh fruit and unsalted, raw nuts as a test to see how long I can keep my circulation going. I did have one grandfather who stayed healthy until he reached one hundred, so I may have a few good genes to help in my quest.

Thank you, Jane, for your fun and inspiring answers. It's been great to interview you!


Have you ever written nonfiction for children or adults?
Have you ever heard of the Heidelberg Project or Tyree Guyton?
Do you prefer sweet or salty snacks, and what are YOUR favorites?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Word Play!

I was cyberstrolling around Facebook last week and saw that my buddy from Oz, Lynda Young, had posted a word she'd run across--spaghettify (supposedly a real word). She said:

"Spaghettify: such a cool word, but try and put it in a sentence."

And so people did try.

Dan Henby: If you interrupt my cooking ONE MORE TIME I WILL SPAGHETTIFY YOU!

Becky Levine: Some days, it looks like I spaghettified my hair.

Me: Mother placed the heaping bowl on Junior's highchair tray, leaving him to spaghettify himself with blissful abandon.

(Photo courtesy of SuperStock royalty-free images.)

Yes, my example was longwinded. What can I say? But the point is--it was fun. So let's have some similar fun.

1. In the comments, feel free to use one or more of the words below in a sentence(s).
2. These are actual words from a compiled list courtesy of THIS SITE.
3. It doesn't matter what the REAL meaning of the words are. What do they sound like, seem like? Be imaginative and Lewis Carroll/Jabberwocky-like if you wish.

Choosing Writerly Words
Sometimes in your writing you are faced with a word choice in a sentence. Don't forget to factor in the sound of the word when you're deciding which one to use. Match it to the tone and flow of your passage--its rhythm, mood, connotations, number of syllables, and consonant sounds (hard, soft, etc.)

(Insert "Mission Impossible" music here.) Your words, should you decide to accept them:


Extra cyberpats on the back for anyone who can use all three in ONE sentence.

ALSO! Yesterday I found a great article about being creative with words HERE--like making your nouns into verbs, etc. Check out the neat imaginative comments after the article, too. Try your hand at the word challenge if you'd like.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Avoiding Stop-Action Description

Winner of GIMME A CALL, which is the consolation prize for those who missed my first book/critique giveaway, is--CherylAnne Ham!

How's that for a convoluted sentence? Tip for the day: never write sentences like that.

CherylAnne, send your address to artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com, and I'll mail the book to you.


DESCRIPTION: Meeting a New Character
I see this often in novels, published or otherwise: describing things in exhausting detail. And I'm sure I've done it myself. But doing so wreaks havoc on the pacing of your scene. The forward movement comes to a screeching halt while you detail someone's hair color, eye color, clothing style, exact degree of their head tilt, and other specifics of your new character. Same with describing a setting or a place. A better strategy is to describe only what is necessary to the flavor and plot, to take a cameo snapshot. It's NOT a grocery list of everything about the appearance of a character or a setting.

1. Stop-Action Description--Dump Version
I meander down the sidewalk with my ice cream cone, licking the strawberry sweetness of it up one side and down the other. It hits the perfect spot. My ponytail swings behind me, and I'm one happy camper.

As I get to the pawn shop on the corner, right in mid-slurp, I see this guy barrel out the door. The guy has a wild look on his face. He's holding a ratty, emerald-green guitar, the acoustic kind, and fumbling it like he's gonna drop it. Three of the guitar strings are dangerously unattached, and dangle in mid-air. I stare at the guy, noting the perfect powder blue of his eyes, the random carelessness of his tawny hair. A few freckles parade their way across his nubby nose. His legs are long and his blue jeans are patched. I'm scoping out the tan on his muscular arms below his short-sleeved navy t-shirt, when one of his renegade guitar strings twangs out and pokes me in the stomach. I yelp, and jump back.

2. More Integrated Description--Spare Version
I meander down the sidewalk with my ice cream cone, licking the strawberry sweetness of it up one side and down the other. It hits the perfect spot. My ponytail swings behind me, and I'm one happy camper.

As I get to the pawn shop on the corner, right in mid-slurp, I see this guy barrel out the door. He's holding a ratty guitar, fumbling it like he's gonna drop it. Three of the guitar strings are all sproingy and loose. A wild look glints in his baby blues, and his hair looks like someone shoved the front of it up when it was wet and let it dry there. One of his renegade guitar strings twangs out and pokes me in the stomach. I yelp, and jump back.

While the emerald-green, acoustic, tawny hair, freckles, nubby nose, long legs, patched blue jeans, tanned & muscular arms, and short-sleeved navy t-shirt of the first version may be important (hahaha, right), all those items don't have to be dumped into the paragraph. They can or should be woven into the scene later, while the characters are talking and she's continuing to look at him. Some details could even be postponed for another scene.

The number of adjectives in the first version are almost exhausting (as much as I adore adjectives). The first version is a total of 171 words due in part to this plethora of adjectives, while I slashed my second version to 129. That's 42 extra words--words that readers might skim or skip if you keep them away from the action of the scene too long. And will the reader remember all these details of color, shape, length, and style? Probably not. That's another reason to spread the information out.

Some writers make it a habit of limiting themselves to roughly three sentences of description about a new character or place. It's kind of the limit before your reader starts tuning out or skimming. That's how many the second version has in the second paragraph, in between the sentences of action. And no, it doesn't count if you try to cheat by making those 3 sentences extremely long!

Do you love to pepper your introductory descriptions with a lot of adjectives?
If you overwrite in your rough draft, are you able to slash the extra description later?
Do you try to describe EVERYTHING about your characters the first time your reader encounters them? What about when writing a new setting (house, landscape, city)?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

WINNERS! Book & Critique Giveaway

Well, I posted on a Friday supposedly to give all you lovely bloggy buddies EXTRA time to enter my giveaway, but then I wrote down the deadline date as Sept 13 instead of Sept. 20. Rawr! I need a new brain.

But I'm not going to extend the deadline; I'll go with what I so dumbly posted. Sorry, I hope that didn't cut anyone out. See below for a consolation prize if you missed my premature deadline.

So without further self-flagellation, here are the winners courtesy of

1. Hardcopy of DIVERGENT: Rosie Connolly!
2. Hardcopy of ENTWINED: HeatherK Photos!
3. First chapter critique: Sarah!
4. First chapter critique: Jennifer Groepl!

Congrats, ladies, and thanks to everyone for entering. Winners, please email me at artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com to set up your critique or to let me know your address for mailing your book.

CONSOLATION PRIZE--if you missed this giveaway!
If anyone didn't get to enter this contest and wants to be entered for a second giveaway for the YA novel GIMME A CALL by Sarah Mlynowski, just say so in the comments by Tues. Sept 20. I will draw a name and award an additional prize winner. Okay? Do you feel better? I feel better. Whew.

GIMME A CALL is about a girl who accidentally drops her cell phone in a wishing fountain and is stunned to discover that she can call her Freshman self! So she sets about to change some things in her life, with the aid of that younger self.

Have you read GIMME A CALL by Sarah Mlynowski?
Is your list of TBR (to-be-read) books growing into unmanageable proportions?
Is anyone else besides me having a problem showing color in your posts lately?

Friday, September 9, 2011

YA Book & Critique Giveaway

I feel like celebrating and giving away stuff--and I'm posting earlier than Wednesday to give you more time to win! What am I celebrating? Well, I'm sure I can think of something. How about:

1. I passed my 100th blog post. This is the 103rd post.
2. I have 350 blog followers. Okay, 349, but that's close enough, right? I didn't celebrate 300, so consider this part of that.
3. I'm making good progress on more revisions for my agented novel, SHAPERS. And I never properly celebrated with you all when Kelly Sonnack became my agent in April.
4. I have 1000 followers on Twitter. Woo!

What am I giving away? How about:
1. TWO thorough but kind chapter critiques from me. 20-page limit.
2. TWO YA books. Hardcopy editions of ENTWINED and DIVERGENT.

HOW TO ENTER: Easy to do
1. Be a follower of this blog.
2. Leave a comment below or email me at artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com. If you just want to comment and NOT enter, please say so.
3. Enter by next Tuesday, September 13, at midnight PST.
4. FOUR random winners will be chosen and announced Wednesday, September 14.
5. Extra entries (leave links) for spreading the word on Twitter, Facebook, your blog, etc.

[Sorry, the winning/shipping of the books are only offered to US and Canadian blogger buddies, BUT the critiques are open internationally.]

Have you read DIVERGENT yet? How about ENTWINED?
Do you have a chapter of a manuscript ready to be critiqued, to enter for this?
(No worries if not--if you win, I'll take a rain check for whenever you DO finish.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Got Romance?

Last week I mentioned using humor in writing, and this week I'm focusing on ROMANCE. You know, the hand-holding, smooch-swapping, swoon-inducing parts of a story or novel.

It's true that in general, females read more than males; statistics prove it. There's also no denying the popularity of straight-out romance novels, whether mainstream, erotic (bodice-rippers), or Christian-themed. I admit that in college I read Harlequin romances, although then they were probably more tame than nowadays. You may know the formulaic plot: girl meets guy, girl hates guy for varying (and often superficial) reasons, girl falls for guy against her will, girl adores guy until it's finally mutual, and then they live happily ever after.

Despite that formula, I had a friend who actually read the END of romance novels to make sure they ended happily, before she'd read the books!

There are also books or stories where the romance is not the whole plot, but a subplot. The percentage of romance subplot varies from book to book. Paranormal romance novels take romance a step further by combining two genres, weaving a tale of romance between a character and a paranormal being. A girl falls in love with a fairy king or a fallen angel or a ghost or a werewolf or a vampire or a merman or a goblin king…etc. TWILIGHT by Stephenie Meyer is of course a famous example, as is SHIVER by Maggie Stiefvater. Not to mention FALLEN and HUSH, HUSH.

In my own writing, I tend to include at least some romance, because I'm writing YA. When I was a teen, that was one of my favorite parts of a novel (was it yours?). The fun part of writing and developing characters is their interactions with each other, and quite often that works naturally into a romance.

Writing romantic scenes can be challenging. There is a risk of sounding melodramatic, cheesy, sappy, or even ridiculous. That first moment the hands touch, the first time a couple kisses--it can all be overdone as the electric tingles run down the arms, the lips press firmly together, and the arms clasp around each other's backs.

Ah, exquisitely true love! Um…yeah.

Especially be aware (and beware) of adverbs while writing romantic scenes. They not only Tell instead of show, they often give the prose a distant or melodramatic flair. Don't wax too poetic in these spots--especially if your prose or voice isn't that way during the rest of the novel. And don't strain too hard to be original, so much that you perform outrageous literary feats with your metaphors and similes. Often, simpler is better. It's a tough balance between too much attention or description, and not enough. Sometimes I write my rough drafts and cringe when I return to them!

Have you ever written a straight-out, pure romance book?
Do you feel confident writing romantic scenes into your novel or story?
On a scale of 1 to 10 (1=lowest), how important do you feel romance is in a novel?
Do you think it's more important to include romance in a YA/teen novel, compared to an adult novel?

Come back next Wednesday: BOOK AND CRITIQUE GIVEAWAYS!!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Writing with Humor: Tickle that Funny Bone!

Laura Barnes has interviewed me for a post about my experiences with social networking. The post appeared on Saturday, and can be found HERE. I've been given a nifty Savvy Sensation Award, along with it. Thanks, Laura!

Humor is a great thing to have in a novel. It can lighten an otherwise overly dreary book, brighten a dark one (like, morbid humor, anyone?) or add slapstick to a zany plotline.

But writing it is often harder than it seems it should be. Humor is SO subjective. What tickles one person's funny bones leaves another one scratching his or her head. My funny bone is rather easy to stimulate when I'm reading. I'm easily amused, even by something as subtle as phrasing or wording.

As far as writing goes, I remember one contemporary novel I finished, thinking I had included humorous situations in there. My hubbs read it and said, "Hey, I know what you could do to improve this story--add some humor into it." *headsmack* Other readers had found parts of it amusing; it was a more subtle kind of humor I guess. Just goes to show--subjective, subjective, subjective! LOL

1. Slapstick-like humor in the MG novel SAVVY by Ingrid Law:

Lill chose that moment to try to turn on the television, wanting to check the weather. We all turned to her with a sudden shout of "DON'T!" that nearly made that poor woman sprout wings and fly. Fish stood up so fast he knocked his plate of waffles facedown onto the floor. (page 235, paperback edition)

2. Weasley-type humor in HARRY POTTER & THE DEATHLY HALLOWS:

"When I get married," said Fred, tugging at the collar of his own robes, "I won't be bothering with any of this nonsense. You can all wear what you like, and I'll put a full Body-Bind Curse on Mum until it's over." (page 138, hardback edition)

3. Down-home humor in the MG series HANK THE COWDOG by John Erickson:

[Hank's talking about another dog who's sleeping in his spot]
He didn't want to move so I went to sterner measures, put some fangs on him. That moved him out, and he didn't show no signs of lameness either. I have an idea that where Drover is lamest is between his ears. (page 4, book #1 in the series)

Humor Contest: an experiment
At the beginning of this month ex-agent extraordinaire Nathan Bransford held a 350-word humor contest. Seriously, if you have time, read through some of these entries. Some I thought not funny at all, others hilarious. Probably the ones YOU will think are funny will be completely different from the ones I did! Very interesting.

The contest entries--all 242--HERE.
People voted for their faves of the 3 Finalists HERE
The Winner HERE.

Do you have a short humorous excerpt to share from a novel or your own work?
Do you use humor in your own writings--or do you avoid it since it's so subjective?
When reading, do you find that the more you know about a novel's situation or characters, the funnier you find certain scenes?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

TAG--I'm It

Yes, it's true. I've been Tagged, this time by Misha. Visit her cute li'l blog HERE.
I will answer the new Tag questions now.

1. Are you a rutabaga?
LOL. Seriously, this is a question? Of course I'm a rutabaga.

2. Who is your current crush?
Not really a "crush" but I'm really enamored by this song by Adele called "Rolling in the Deep." She has a great voice and the song is way catchy. Cool video, too--in one part there's a whole room filled with water glasses, and when the drum beats, the water ripples and shakes. The linky is HERE.

3. Upload a heartwarming picture that makes you smile.
Ain't this just adorable? So tiny! I want one.

[NOTE: photo removed after Roni Loren's summer of 2012 blogpost about using copyrighted photos on blogs!]

4. When was the last time you ate a vine-ripened tomato?
Yesterday! My mom has a small garden, and she shares her overflow of gardeny abundance. Yummers! I get cute little cukes and sweet little zucchs too.

5. Name one habit that causes other people to plot your demise?
Spontaneously erupting into R2D2-like noises when the mood strikes. It makes some people with a low tolerance for goofy (ahem, my mom) to feel inspired to tell me to stop.

6. What is the weirdest, most-disgusting job you've ever had to do?
Um, probably rinsing cloth diapers in the toilet when my daughters were babies. Followed in a close tie by cleaning up after my girls when they were sick/hurling and didn't get out of bed in time. Ah, fond motherly memories. Let's go back and do it again…

The most disgusting job my grandmother had to do was clean up after my sister and me one time after we'd filled the sink with dirty dishes and left it there for a week. This happened in a little house on her property that we used for a play house (it doubled as a place to butcher chickens). Poor Grandma had to reach into that sink of disgusting water and pull the plug--talk about slimy hurking GROSSITY. There was even a slug or 2 oozing around in the sink. One of the few (perhaps only) times I remember my grandmother being peeved at us. Oops, heh-heh.

7. Where da muffin top at?
I like Misha's answer and will plagiarize/share it: If I told you, I'd have to kill you.

8. What author introduced you to your genre?
After I read SKINNED by Robin Wasserman I was interested in giving science fiction a whirl. I remembered an old story idea of mine from the 1990s, which became SHAPERS, my agented novel. My novel is light sci-fi, not full-blown sci-fi. I like that kind better; it's more along the lines of what SKINNED is (light sci-fi). SKINNED is the story of a girl whose body dies in a car crash. Her brain waves get put into a very lifelike "mech" body, a robot of sorts, where issues of humanness and identity arise.

9. Describe yourself using obscure Latin words.
EGO diligo scribo, quod EGO sum an artifex. EGO quoque utor lectio.

Translated, this means: I love to write, and I am an artist. I also enjoy reading.
No, I don't know Latin--I morphed those words into Latin via a translation site!

Have you heard Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" song?
Have you read SKINNED by Robin Wasserman?
Are you a rutabaga, and where did you hide da muffin top?
What author or book inspired you to delve into YOUR genre, or writing in general?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


[ah-nuh-maw-tuh-pee-uh. Say that fast, ten times. I dare ya.]

Even if you don't know the term, you've probably seen it in action. (Yes, I had to use Spell Check to spell it, though I did have only one letter incorrect.) Onomatopoeia is a word that evokes a SOUND, and is spelled like it sounds. These words are incredibly fun to use.

Whoosh, crash, tinkle, boom, swish, thump, clink, cuckoo, sizzle, woof.

1. Found in nursery rhymes and picture books. "Baa-baa Black Sheep," anyone?
2. Used for great effect in poems. Like the line in Sir Alfred Tennyson's poem "Come Down, O Maid": …the murmuring of innumerable bees.
3. Evokes certain moods for the reader, whether comical, tense, or easygoing.
4. Adds "audible" interest to otherwise ordinary passages in novels.

1. Your own brain: make it up. Be creative!
2. Visit the site Examples of Onomatopoeia for sound ideas if you're stuck. You can click on a letter of the alphabet and get lists of common onomatopoeic words.
3. Another good resource is Angela Ackerman's The Bookshelf Muse blogsite. She has lists of sounds under her Setting Thesaurus, for a wide variety of settings. Check out those and other great lists on her right sidebar.

Making Up Your Own
In the title of this post, I invented an onomatopoeic word: bloosh. It's spelled like it sounds. I am delighted when authors go beyond stock sound words and make up their own. It makes me smile to find them, such as in the novel I read this last week, ENTWINED by Heather Dixon. I ran across the following inventive sound words or combinations:

1. oosh eesh oosh eesh: sound of the MC's boots after falling into a river, while walking
2. thumpfwhap: someone throwing someone else against a wall in anger
3. stomp-click-stomps: sounds of the twelve princesses dancing in boots
4. psss psss psss: whispered conversation of the princesses at the dinner table
5. FFFFputputputput! --the multiple shooting of tiny cupid arrows

CAUTION: Tone and Mood
Onomatopoeic words don't always have to be silly-sounding words; Sir Alfred Tennyson's poem is a case in point. But they DO often add a playful, comical tone to a passage of writing. So beware--you wouldn't want to use a word like "bloosh" in a serious or dramatic scene unless you are trying to diffuse some tension or lighten the mood. Always consider the overall intent of a scene.

What's your favorite onomatopoeic/sound word?
Do you consciously use onomatopoeia in your writings?
Have you ever made up onomatopoeic words in your writing?
Have you visited The Bookshelf Muse and made use of Angela's helpful lists?
Have you read Heather Dixon's ENTWINED yet?


PS: I have 16 Likes on my Facebook author page and apparently need 25 total to be an Official Page. If you haven't clicked to Like me yet, please do so. Thanks a bunch! Click HERE.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dialogue: Showing Character

Thanks to Alexia Chamberlynn who gave me the Liebster Blog award on Sunday.
What a cute award! Click her name to visit her site and see what's going on with her.

Have you ever thought about the many varied ways people can say things? You can use these different responses to show your character's personality in your dialogue scenes. They are a great way to Show rather than Tell about your character.

For instance, think about the many ways a character could word his or her reaction to something negative, as well as to something positive:

Opposing or Negative Reactions
1. No way!
2. I can't believe you just said that.
3. Uh…I don't think so.
4. Yeah, right.
5. Gimme a break.
6. Are you kidding?
7. You've gotta be kidding.
8. You're pulling my leg.
9. Like, I'm sure.
10. That's crazy.
11. Forget it.
12. Nah.
13. Nope.
14. Ditch that.
15. That's the stupidest thing I ever heard.
16. [expletive] that!
17. No [expletive]!
18. Put a lid on it.
19. What've you been smokin'?
20. Oh yeah?

Affirmative or Positive Reactions
1. All right!
2. Right on!
3. Cool.
4. Awesome.
5. That's great!
6. That's freaking fantastic!
7. Shiny. (as in the TV series Firefly--or make up your own slang)
8. That's the best news I've had all day!
9. I'm sooo excited!
10. Omigosh/Oh my god/OMG/Oh my gosh.
11. No way! (notice how this can be positive or negative; context is key)
12. Woohoo!
13. Yep.
14. Yeah!
15. Yay!
16. YES!!
17. Hip-hip-hooray!
18. That's so wonderful.
19. Whee!
20. Far out.

All these reactions have slightly different nuances of meaning. They show different types of characters--consistent with their upbringing, social/economic status, self-confidence, vocabulary, energy levels, culture, etc. Such variety! Don't get stuck with one type of response. Choose the responses that fit your characters, and keep the usage consistent.

Can you add to this list of positive or negative reactions?
How would the character in YOUR novel react to either good or bad news, or both?
Have you ever thought about how these subtle differences relate to your characters and your dialogue scenes? Have you made adjustments for consistency?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Page Critique: SHADOWS & LIGHT

Today's post is a first-page critique of a YA fantasy entitled SHADOWS AND LIGHT by CherylAnne Ham. Please add your feedback to help!

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Shadows and Light

I neared the wooden chair set at the opposite end of the room. The council watched in silence. Their judgement burned hotter than the fires blazing in the twin hearths. Black shadows whirled and danced up the gray stone walls, and orange-yellow firelight battled the darkness invading through long narrow windows.

Sweat beaded on my brow.

I turned and sat, forcing myself to meet their stares. As I waited for something, anything, to happen, I became hyperaware of every movement. I blinked too often. My hand twitched once in my lap. Could they hear me breathing? No. They couldn't possibly.

The wet sound of chairman Beane clearing his throat broke the silence. "Please state your name and age."

His white council robe hung from thin shoulders, and his watery eyes bulged as if he'd been slapped hard on the back. Mother had described him as direct and rational. Stories of the punishments he'd dealt alluded to a deficiency in compassion.

I gathered my strength. I had broken no laws. There was nothing to fear.

"My name." My voice cracked and I took a deep breath. "My name is Jazzlyn, daughter of Fayette and many great-granddaughter of Alexandrina. I was born on this day seventeen years ago."

Another deep breath. No need to be afraid.

"Very good." The chairman nodded. "And do you know why we've called on you today?"

I had a pretty good idea, but was it appropriate to tell him so?


Character Names
It could just be me, but the name Beane reminds me of the comedian Mr. Bean in the UK. (Whereas my daughter said it reminded her of Sean Bean from LOTR, ha.) Also, even without that connotation, since a bean is food, to me it sounds informal or comical--rather than the idea of the compassionless, severe council leader I think you're going for. It sorta depends on how his character plays out, and how much he's a force to be reckoned with.

Number of Adjectives
There are a fair number of adjectives in this piece. I love to sprinkle them around liberally myself, and always have to pare them down (if I notice they're there LOL). Only keep adjectives that truly add to the descriptions. For instance, shadows are usually black, and aren't stone walls usually gray? Ditto for the flames being orange-red--however, that sentence as a whole does have a rhythm that seems to compare the various colors, which might make the adjectives more acceptable. In the first sentence of the fifth paragraph, however, almost every noun is described. A white council robe, thin shoulders, watery eyes. Are all these needed?

Wording and Little Things
1. I thought "judgement" was misspelled. It's usually spelled without an "e." But apparently I guess it can be either way--although with an "e" is the British spelling.
2. Why "turned and sat" instead of just sat? The MC was facing and walking toward the chair and the council, so she shouldn't have to turn. Or…at least I assumed she was walking toward the council at the same time she approached the chair.
3. I'm not sure of the "wet" sound of clearing Beane's throat. Clearing a throat seems more a raspy, dry, or rough sound to me. Also, clearing his throat in general makes Beane sound like he's nervous for some reason. Is he?
4. Kind of an echo with "good." Beane says "very good" and then Jazzlyn thinks "pretty good." May want to change one of these.

Summary: Kudos
I found mostly little picky things. There is a nice lyrical voice here, which lends itself well to the fantasy genre. I especially like the phrasing the "deficiency in compassion." Jazzlyn seems a character the reader would come to relate to, and there is a good sense of conflict in these first 250 words. We want to know WHY Jazzlyn has been summoned by the council on her birthday. Even though Jazzlyn tells herself she has nothing to fear, the reader suspects something more negative or sinister is going on, which creates good tension and interest.

Can you add any other helpful comments to the above critique?
Do you think clearing someone's throat could be a "wet" sound?
How do you feel about the number of adjectives in this piece?
What do you think of having an antagonist with the name Beane? Does it seem to fit for the chairman of the council?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer "Progress"

Hi everyone, I hope you're trucking right along with your summer--now that it's already 2/3 over. It's going fast!

What I've done so far this summer:

1. The end of June I finished the first round of revisions for my agent.
2. I joined Facebook and Goodreads.
3. I redesigned my author website, HERE. New stuff on the last 2 tabs and will add more later once I get a publisher and a book cover. I used Blogger as an easy and free template; my techie hubby removed the blogging elements--the ones I couldn't delete myself, like that dumb Post Atom thingy and the nav bar. It only cost the $12 annual domain-name-fee from GoDaddy. Can't beat that!
4. Today I'm featured as a WOW guest writer on Adventures to Children's Publishing! Click for more on my journey of writing and obtaining an agent.
5. I wrote 3 pages of a new WIP plus some plot notes. Um…better than nothing.
6. I've critiqued some stuff for my critter buddies.

1. I saw Harry Potter 7 pt 2 with my daughter, her boyfriend, my hubby, and some Kleenex. Love that Gringots' dragon!! Great special effects throughout.
2. Had a BBQ with the neighbors with mozzarella sausages, grapes, garlic salsa and chips, and chocolate chunk cookies. Yummers!
3. I read DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth. Quite a fast-paced read. Reminded me of HUNGER GAMES, with its elimination theme and the violent/bloody parts. If you haven't read it, hang tight. I plan to use it as a blog giveaway prize in the future!!
4. The hubbs and I vacationed on the Oregon coast, tent camping. Here's a lovely deserted beach we found north of Florence:

How are your writing goals and projects going this summer?
Are you enjoying family, friends, and sun--or doing any traveling?
Have you seen the final Harry Potter movie yet? Didja need Kleenex?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


The past couple of weeks, I've had the pleasure to review a copy of WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES by Deborah Halverson at Not only is Deborah the former editor of Harcourt Children's Books, she is also the author of the novels BIG MOUTH and HONK IF YOU HATE ME. She is the mother of triplets, so she is living proof that writing can still be accomplished with a busy schedule (no more excuses out there, people! LOL).

A Dozen Thoughts:
1. Not only is this book for writers of YA, it's for writers of MG fiction. Deborah uses the term "young adult" in the title to mean writing for teens as well as preteens. So it really is more comprehensive than at first glance, covering novels with protagonists ages 9-18.
2. The book is comprehensive, starting out from setting up a writing workspace all the way to the how-to's of publication.
3. Deborah covers what NOT to do as well as what to do. Nitty-gritty do's and don'ts. Learn them in this book and avoid awkward mistakes!
4. She covers self-publishing along with traditional publishing.
5. She includes really cool checklists for novels, as well as writing exercises that make you think about what's going on with your themes, characters, and plots. I am SO going to use the "Using Your Hook to Shape Your Story" section with its handy checklist, for my next WIP.
6. Sidebars include tips from well-known YA authors and agents. Fun to read! Want to see what Cynthia Leitich Smith (ETERNAL, TANTALIZE and BLESSED) has written about paranormal fiction on her page entitled "More Than Monsters"? Read this book.
7. The book is organized into self-contained logical sections so you can browse it like a smorgasbord, choosing what you want, when you need it.
8. I love this intro sentence, as Deborah's goal for what writers can take away from the book: "…how to think like a kid but strategize your novel and your career like an adult."
9. There are great details for the beginning writer, but also wonderful reminders and juicy new tidbits and food-for-thought for more seasoned writers. I learned new things reading it, even though I've been writing and absorbing info for 10 years!
10. Deborah includes great tips for writer's block.
11. There is a section on keeping track of your bibliography for historical or factual research. For instance, she suggests printing or saving online articles, not merely bookmarking them, because websites have a tendency to disappear. Yikes! Good tip, there.
12. And there's a reminder that Wikipedia is NOT always an accurate or reliable source of info. Always double-check facts from these kinds of unofficial sites.

Bottom line: This book is not just for "dummies"!

Check it out on Amazon HERE and at the Dummies Store HERE.

Does this sound like a book you could use in your quest to become a better writer?
What other how-to books are your favorites, that have been useful to you?
Do you have a busy schedule--with children or a "real" job--to squeeze your writing time into?


ALSO: I now belong to Facebook! Join me while I bumble around figuring it out.
My personal page to Friend me: HERE.
My author page for updates or to Like me: HERE --or click Like on my sidebar
(I hope that sidebar linky works…somebody please let me know if it doesn't). You may have to click my name rather than the little Like icon; not sure.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Writer's Block: Photo Prompts

In last week's post I mentioned WRITER'S BLOCK as a writerly term. It's where you finally get a chance to sit and write, and--rats! No words can be coaxed from your brain onto the page or screen. I can't say as I've ever experienced it, since I start out a typical writing day going over what I've previously written, and that seems to be enough to get me in the swing of things. I also do some of the following:

Some Ways to Deal With Writer's Block
1. Spend your "off-hours" pondering what will happen next. In the shower. While washing dishes. Then by the time you're actually sitting in front of your journal/computer, you'll be chomping at the bit and prepared to write.
2. Outline your plot--at least roughly--so you know where you're going with your story.
3. At the end of a writing session, halt in the MIDDLE of a scene rather than at the end, so you have an easy start the next time.
4. Have a file or folder with Shiny New Ideas for the future, for when you finish a project and are ready to start a new one.
5. Do a writing exercise, such as writing a short scene in your character's point of view about something unrelated to your novel. Something in his/her past, perhaps.
6. Interview your characters and see what makes them tick. Knowing your characters better may help gain clues as to their motivations and future actions.
7. Do an image search online. Type in something like "cottage in a forest" or "sad girl" or "sci-fi city." Use a photo to inspire you.

How about this photo to get your writerly gears turning? [photo removed in 2012 due to potential copyright issues].

If you've ever experienced writer's block, how did you work yourself out of it?
Have you ever used a photo prompt to give you ideas for a story?
What kind of setting, character, or words come to your mind with the above photo?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Writerly Lingo

Like any other field of interest or vocation, writing has its own unique lingo. Acronyms and abbreviations abound. Newbies are often confused, but using abbreviations can speed communication between writers.

Here are some commonly used writerly abbreviations and words:

ARC: Advanced Reading/Review Copy; books handed out for promotional purposes before a book is released for general sale
BEA: BookExpo America; a North American event that showcases what's new in book publishing
BIC: Butt-In-Chair. Sitting down and actually writing, staying until progress is made
CP: critique partner (also can be called a beta reader or critter)
dialogue tag: labels of dialogue like "he said" and "she asked"
full request: request from an agent/editor asking to see a complete finished ms
go on sub: when a writer's agent submits a manuscript to editors/publishers
MC: main character
MG: middle grade fiction; books for readers 8-12, with pre-teen protagonists
ms or mss: manuscript, manuscripts. Also written as MS or MSS.
muse: provides inspiration to writers; can be a person or object--real or imaginary--but it can be a more abstract thing such as music.
NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. Where writers attempt a first draft of an entire novel in 1 month, writing freely w/o editing. This really helps writers if they have a hard time finishing a novel.
New Adult: novels with a protagonist who is post-high school, ages 18-25
partial request: request from an agent/editor asking to see sample chapters of a ms
PB: picture book; for readers ages 5-8
POV: Point of View; whoever is telling the story, filtered through their eyes
RWA: Romance Writers of America, for writers of romantic fiction (YA or adult)
SASE/SAE: self-addressed stamped envelope/self-addressed envelope. Sent with a ms submission to a publisher or editor in order to get the ms sent back.
SCBWI: the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators; a helpful organization for writers used for networking, attending conferences, and other support. PBs up to YA.
Shiny New Idea (SNI/sni): a distracting and compelling idea for a new story idea, often while you're trying to work on another one
slush pile: unsolicited manuscripts at a publishing house or agency
sf&f: science fiction and fantasy
TAT: Turn-Around Time after submission, waiting for acceptance or rejection
The Call: when an agent calls a writer to offer representation (squee!)
WIP: work in progress; a current project a writer is focusing on
writer's block: where a writer sits to write and is unable to
YA: young adult fiction; books for readers 12-18, with teen protagonists

How many of these terms did you already know?
Can you add any other abbreviations or writerly lingo to this list?
Have any of the above tripped you up before, when you didn't know what they meant?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tagged--Again (Warp Version)

Many thanks to Pat Newcombe, who awarded me the Stylish Blogger Award!

Also, Alison Miller has tagged me, as well as Lynda Young (who RE-tagged me after I tagged her, the silly goofy). Since I've already played the tag game and just had a blog award post, I'm going to warp the "rules."

1. What were you thinking while doing this?
REVISION UPDATE: After 9.5 weeks (2 months) of nose-to-the-grindstone work on my first round of edits/revisions for my agent, I have submitted it to her. Whee! I hope she likes the changes. It now stands at 81K words, up from 64K, so I added quite a lot of story. I do like the changes. But I'm confident if it still needs work, Kelly will point me in the right direction. The next step will be a line-edit and scene tightening/expanding kind of revision unless she thinks I've missed the mark on more major stuff.

2. When was the last time you ate PIZZA?
Last week. If more than a week goes by without pizza, I start thinking, "Wow, I haven't had a pizza for a while…" I like Papa Murphy's U-Bake pizzas. They're cheaper than store-bought, and delish. The hubbs and I go for the Papa's Favorite, which has almost everything on it: mushrooms, pepperoni, Italian sausage, olives, green pepper, and onions. Slurp!

3. Upload a pic or wallpaper you're using.
Okay, it could just be me, but I find this fuzzy kitty zombie waaay amusing: [photo removed in 2012 due to potential copyright issues; better safe than sorry!]

4. What song/songs have you listened to recently?
My older daughter, 24, is a songwriter and singer--so I have a song that she sang backup vocals for swirling through my head. The songs are soon to be on a CD, produced by a friend of hers. It's "alternative" music. Wish I had a sound clip for you to check out!

5. Tag five blogger buddies (or pass the blog award onto someone)
Nah. I'll spare ya. Enjoy your summer!! Get away from your computer and soak up some vitamin D before it's winter again, people. (This applies to everyone except for Aussies like Lynda, or others in a different hemisphere where it's already winter). Me? I'm going camping soon--getting ready for some roasted marshmallows and hot dogs! A bit of vacation before Round 2 revision begins.

How often do you eat pizza? What kind do you like?
How goes your writing projects: playing with Shiny New Ideas, editing, or querying?
Are you morphing into a shriveled anemic white thing sitting at your computer--or are you soaking up some RAYS these days?


Don't forget: LAUNCH PARTY starts today! and goes through July 5.
Big virtual book launch party for Deborah Halverson's book, WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES.

Stampede on over for the manuscript critique giveaways!!!
Join the party here: