Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Meet Michelle Dennis Evans!


Congratulations to my Aussie blogger friend, Michelle Dennis Evans, who released her e-book in October! Visit her blog HERE and her website HERE. Her e-book, a contemporary young adult novel, is called SPIRALLING OUT OF CONTROL and is only 99 cents and can be downloaded HERE. 

 

What’s Spiralling Out of Control about?  
Temptation, depression, seduction, betrayal ... Not what 15-year-old Stephanie was expecting. Uprooted from her happy, all-girl high school life with a dream-filled future and thrown into an unfriendly co-ed school, Stephanie spirals into depression. 

When a charismatic high school senior, Jason, notices her, Stephanie jumps in feet first and willingly puts all her faith and trust in him, a boy she barely knows. 

Every choice she makes and turn she takes leads her towards a dangerous path. Her best friend is never far away and ready to catch her … but will she push Tabbie too far away when she needs her most?

This novel contains adult themes: underage drinking, rape, drugs.
Recommended for reading audience 15+

INTERVIEW WITH MICHELLE
What's your earliest memory related to writing, and who inspired you to write? 
When I was around 7 years of age I wrote some dialogue when I was practising my spelling words and I remember loving creating those sentences. When I was 8 or 9 I read James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl and I was captivated—from that moment, I wanted to be an author.

Which scenes are hardest for you to write? 
The opening scenes—I suck at beginnings.

What was the inspiration for this book? 
I read a book of true stories about girls who ended up in halfway homes or jail—many of them from seemingly okay families. It made me wonder what might cause the worst to happen.

Would you like to be one of your characters (in this book or another one)? 
Stephanie's best friend Tabbie is lovely ... I dream of being as nice as her.

What's your favorite thing about the book—character, scene, setting, plot, etc.? 
My favourite thing is the tiny thread of hope that weaves its way through when everything seems hopeless.

How has your indie/self-publishing journey been so far?
It's such a roller-coaster. I had no intention of going indie when I began to write and I still submit work and hope to work with a large publishing house one day. I love the relatively new term of 'Hybrid Author' that is my ultimate goal.

What to you is the hardest part about writing?
As an indie author without a whole tribe of professionals editing my work, the hardest part is knowing when it's ready.

Who is your favorite author, and/or what are your favorite books? 
God... the Bible. (giggle—but truth) I find it hard to isolate authors or books into favouritism because there are so many that I love—just check out my Goodreads bookshelf.

What things do you like to do, besides writing? 
Reading... coffee with friends ... hanging out with my husband and family.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
Ah haaaa, to make people buy more books with a simple smile :D !

Favorite writing munchies? Cheese, red wine ... through the day, tea.

Do you have another writing project in the works right now? 
Oh gosh yes! I'm nearly through the edits on the 2nd novel in the Spiralling Trilogy, I've started revising the 3rd novel in the Spiralling Trilogy and I just drafted the 4th novel in the Spiralling trilogy ... which would effectively make it no longer a trilogy but I already called it a trilogy so we're sticking with it LOL—plus I still have another drafted novel called that needs to be revised and I have written a verse novel that I absolutely love. If only I had more time!

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Thank you, Michelle! It's great to feature you here on my blog. (Yes, I left in all her Aussie spelling and punctuation: single quote marks, favourite, practising, Spiralling).

NOTE! I'm taking a slight blog vacation in that I won't be posting the third week of December. Happy holidays, everyone! 

YOUR TURN
Do you know Michelle and follow her blog?
If you had a superpower, what would it be? (I think flying would be cool.)
What are your favorite writing munchies?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Characters Who THINK (too much)

I recently read an article online that gave advice not to have your character go off by him/herself, just THINKING. This came at a serendipitous time, because in my current WIP, I was struggling with an annoying pattern. I would have an event, and I'd follow it by having my main character retreating to ponder everything she'd learned, trying to make sense of everything. By herself. With no other actions going on besides pacing, wringing hands, and slamming things around. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The trouble with that set-up is that it's static and stops the forward action of the plot. It's dwelling in your character's head for an entire page…or even a few pages. It might be a place where readers will skim and be bored. Often it's a place to Tell, information-dump or background-dump, wallow in gratuitous backflash memories, or exude melodramatic emotions.

photo: The Thinker by Auguste Rodin

THOUGHTS ABOUT THINKING
1. It's easier to get away with characters thinking in length if the Voice is ultra-strong.
2. If your characters must stop to think, try not to repeat information or go on too long. Tighten your revelations and ponderings.
3. Try to break up the thinking by having some of the pondering/reactions happen WHILE the initial situation is going on. But be careful not to slow the pace, especially in tense action scenes.
4. You can also break up the thinking by turning part or all of the thoughts into a dialogue scene with another character. Bounce your main character's ideas off someone else. I did this recently with my current WIP, and it worked really well! It furthered some inter-character relationships at the same time.
5. If your main character has no one else to confide in, have the character perform meaningful action that furthers the plot simultaneously.
6. A note: often it's GOOD to have a more restful or thoughtful scene in between hectic action scenes. These let the reader take a much-needed breath, and actually heightens the tension and excitement of the more active moments. Just be sure not to confuse restful with boring or static. There still needs to be conflict and some plot-furthering going on.

YOUR TURN
Have you noticed your own characters sitting around thinking too much?
What else can we do to be sure our characters don't spend too much time thinking?
When you read a book, what do you think about characters who think (a lot)?

If you plan to celebrate Thanksgiving next week, 
HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO YOU!!!



Wednesday, November 6, 2013

WRITING DESCRIPTIONS + Award

I've received the Super Sweet Blogging Award from both Victoria Lindstrom and Elizabeth Varaden! Thank you, ladies. Visit Victoria's blog HERE and Elizabeth's HERE.

As mentioned in another post for the award questions, I like chocolate chip cookies, banana bars with cream cheese frosting, chocolate mousse pie, and chocolate éclairs. You drooling yet?
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WRITING DESCRIPTIONS
When your story comes to a point where you need to describe something, do you have trouble? How do you describe that BFF or parent or haunted house? How do you evoke a clear image of a setting or place for your reader?

Tips for Writing Descriptions
1. Don't write stop-action information dumps where everyone freezes mid-sneeze while you wax poetic on what someone looks like the first time he/she is introduced. 
2. Similarly, don't put on the brakes while describing setting…don't ponder the intricate patterns of frost on the windowpane for six paragraphs. We get it. Really. These are the parts most readers SKIP or SKIM. Condense, slash, tighten.
3. Keep description to 3 sentences or less in one place is my own rule of thumb.
4. Spread out description if you need to add more besides that handful. Work them into the narrative or between lines of dialogue, as action beats.
5. Be original, and describe people in other ways than hair and eye color. Ideas: dreadlocks, acne, big ears, a hooked nose—or better yet, a shuffling gait, a frail or cowering stance, a comparison to concrete items such a German Shepherd or a plump red beet. These will stick in a reader's mind more than whether someone's hair is brown or black. Don't be cliché. 
6. Describe personality of a character through the eyes of your main character; show how the person is affecting your MC. This is preferred over a stark (boring) grocery list of physical attributes.  
7. Don't TELL your readers what a character is like. Let them see the character's actions and words in order to come to their own conclusions. SHOW stinginess, kindness, etc.
8. Use a strong, intriguing voice if you must describe a character in length. Doing so can cover a multitude of sins, and help break the "rules" more palatably.  
9. Organize setting details to evoke a mood. Think about whether your scene is somber, lively, comical, frightening, or calm. Write accordingly. Choose words to reflect that mood, e.g., don't use comical words like snot and buffoon in a serious paragraph.
10. Be aware of the number of syllables as well as sentence length. Generally, numerous syllables or long sentences slow a passage, short syllables or sentences speed it up. 
11. Be aware of consonants. Use soft consonants like P and M and SH for a serene or flowing mood, harder consonants like G and K and D for more punch and kick. 
12. Study the writing of other writers. How do they describe people or things? Are you bored or fascinated? Why? At what point does your interest lag? Analyze, analyze. 
13. Try to avoid passive voice, and verbs like WAS, IS, and WERE (and those other "to be" verbs). Involve an action rather than passively having been acted upon: "the doilies stretched across the back of the couch" rather than "the doilies had been placed across the back of the couch."
14. Realize certain genres may require more description. Fantasy, steampunk, and science fiction (etc.) often need more details to ground readers and immerse them into a unique world. But don't use this as an excuse to description-dump. Show the character interacting WITH the world, using items and encountering people as part of the plot or action.

DESCRIPTION EXAMPLES
Yawner: He was muscular man who looked like he constantly worked out at the gym. 
Better: He was a hefty steak of a man, tight of muscle and minimal of fat.

Yawner: Her golden tresses cascaded down her back like a river, curly and luxurious.
Better: She reminded him of a golden, exquisite Rapunzel, and he imagined sinking into the luxurious depths of her tresses.

Yawner: The house stood old and decrepit, falling apart, with holes in the steps and roof. 
Better: I decided then and there that I'd better not sneeze, as the house possessed so many holes and leaning timbers that I might topple it in one inadvertent, mighty kerchoo!

YOUR TURN
Do you enjoy writing passages of description?
Which do you prefer or find easier—describing a person or a setting?
Do you have any other tips for describing people, places, or things in your writing? 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Do You Read YA? + Cover Reveal

(I had déjà vu after I wrote this, so I might have already posted on this topic.)

In 2011, I attended an Oregon SCBWI retreat, and one of the guest speakers was Ellen Hopkins. (Click to visit her website.) She's the author of over a half-dozen YA bestsellers. These are gritty, thought-provoking contemporary novels written in verse, such as:

CRANK. Loosely based on Ellen's older daughter’s story of addiction to crystal meth.
GLASS. A sequel to CRANK, to continue the character Kristina's story.
IMPULSE. 3 young people's lives intersect in a psych hospital after attempted suicides.
PERFECT. A sequel to IMPULSE. Four high- school seniors' goals toward perfection, and the different paths they take to get there.
BURNED. A young woman struggles in the face of abuse by the person she most adores: her father. She questions her family, her faith, and her ability to love and be loved.

What do these and her other books have in common? They are all New York Times bestsellers. Ellen's initial question at our retreat was: "How many of you have heard of me?" After a show of hands, she said it wasn't to sound conceited or egotistical, but that we SHOULD have heard of her. And that's true.

This is simply because if we as writers are focusing on writing Young Adult fiction, we should be familiar with the bestsellers in YA. We must know what else is out there, the books being published and selling well. Reading in our age category—and also in our genre—keeps us current about the market. As writers, we can also dissect these books, and analyze why they're popular.

So! Have you read Ellen's books, and/or read these YA bestsellers?
1. DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth
2. THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak
3. MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN by Ransom Riggs
4. THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES by Cassandra Clare
5. THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins
6. THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner
7. HUSH, HUSH by Becca Fitzpatrick
8. THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman
9. LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green
10. MATCHED by Ally Condie
11. THE LOST HERO by Rick Riordan  NOTE: I later discovered this one is actually MG!
12. SHIVER by Maggie Stiefvater

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Today is the celebration of a cover reveal for PK Hrezo's new and fascinating New Adult novel, BUTTERMAN (TIME) TRAVEL, INC. Isn't this a great cover? Congrats to PK on the imminent launch of her book!

Coming soon on November 12, 2013. If you enjoy a good time travel tale shot through with romance, this is the book for you! Visit PK's blogsite HERE, and her website HERE.


YOUR TURN
How many books on this bestseller list have you read?
What other NY Times bestsellers have you read, that aren't on this list?
If you could walk into a time travel agency and book a time trip, where and when would YOU go?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Paragraph Makeover: FEAR

So. Let's say you have scene in your novel or short fiction where there are a couple of paragraphs of FEAR. Your main character realizes she's being followed…by a wolf-like creature. (And just in time for Halloween, too.)

How do you write these paragraphs? How do you maximize the emotion of fear?

FIRST TRY. You could write it like this:
Sherise threw a glance over her shoulder, and saw only gloomy evening shadows in the field behind her. She could've sworn she'd heard a noise, a noise that didn't belong. Her feet picked up speed. The noise came again, howling like a wolf, sounding way too close for comfort. Shivers rippled down her spine.

The howling came a third time, and a dark shaggy shadow darted in her peripheral. It looked like a big dog, or maybe a wolf, but she'd never known a wolf to come this close to the city limits. Her heart pounded up into her throat as the shaggy creature emerged from behind a bush right in front of her and stared at her with glowing yellow eyes. She halted in fear, not knowing which way to run.

COMMENTS
While the example above works, it could be made stronger:
Don't use "renegade body parts." When things like "her feet picked up speed" are used, it sounds disjointed, like the feet are acting on their own, separated from a body.
Don't use cliché phrases for fear. Shivers rippling down one's spine and hearts pounding into one's throat have been used so often they don't deliver as much impact. Try for a dash of originality, or use inner thoughts rather than describing only physical reactions.
Saying phrases like "in fear" TELLS your reader the emotion your character is feeling rather than showing that fear. Try not to label emotions unless it's unclear or opposite from the normal reaction (like giggling when she's afraid or panicked).
Use shorter sentences. Fragments, even. They help convey a breathless urgency.
Consider using first person to give more of a sense of immediacy. Especially with young adult novels, readers love the close experiences that first person can give. Using present tense can add even more of a "you-are-there" feeling.
Be specific. What kind of noise did the character hear—what did it sound like? Utilize the five senses to make the scene come alive.
Add tension by formatting. Don't be afraid to start sentences on new lines to draw out the tension. Use well-placed dashes or italics for emphasis (but don't overdo them).

MAKEOVER
I threw a glance over my shoulder. Fingers of evening shadows blurred out across the field behind me. I could've sworn I'd heard a noise, a disjointed whine. Too creepy. I shivered and picked up speed, grasses whipping the legs of my jeans.

Some shortcut. I wish I'd stuck to the streets, now.

The cry came again to my left, rising to an unearthly howl. Eerie, unhinged. A dark shaggy shadow darted in my peripheral. A big dog? A wolf, here in the city limits? It didn't sound like any dog or wolf I'd ever heard. I broke into a run. Air hissed in and out of my mouth. The shadow kept up.

I tried to swallow, but my throat just convulsed.

The creature flashed by with impossible speed and emerged from a bush in front of me. I staggered to a halt, pinned by a set of glowing yellow eyes. Running wouldn't help me now.  

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YOUR TURN
Is it easy or difficult for you to write scenes of fear?
Do you have any other helpful tips for writing scenes with high emotions?
How would you intensify the fear and tension in these examples—adding a smell, maybe?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

GOING INDIE? Read Indiestructible

Today on the ol' blog my guest is Jessica Bell, who has compiled and edited a helpful book with insights on indie publishing. Visit her industrious and creative blog HERE.

Do you need motivation and inspiration to self-publish?

Do you need information to sign a contract with an interested small press?

Have you done all the indie research you can, but still feel ambivalent about the idea?

Here's Jessica:
ONLY 99c TO HELP SUPPORT THE INDIE AUTHOR & AN AMAZING CHARITY!
by Jessica Bell

The day I realized I’d been obsessing over my sales figures way too much was the day I closed my eyes and tried to think about the real reason I am an indie author.

Is my primary goal to make money? No. So why do I keep obsessing over my sales stats? I realized it’s because more sales means more people reading my work. What I really really want is to be read. I want to share the one thing in this world I would cut my fingers off for. I know. If I didn’t have any fingers, I wouldn’t be able to physically write, but you know what I mean.

My passion for writing comes with a perpetual replacement button, attached to my side seam, just in case it becomes unraveled, and falls off, after a day gallivanting through the publishing jungle. It can be tough in there, but in the end, being an indie author is OH SO WORTH IT.

This made me wonder …  what’s everybody else’s story?
Then Indiestructible was born.

Indiestructible: Inspiring Stories from the Publishing Jungle brings you the experiences of 29 indie authors—their passions, their insights, their successes—to help you make the leap into indie publishing.

This is not a how-to guide. This is the best of the indie tradition of experienced authors paying forward what they’ve learned, giving you information to help you on your journey. The personal essays in this book will leave you itching to get your work into the hands of readers and experience, first-hand, all the rewards indie publishing has to offer.

Not only is this anthology packed full of interesting, unique, and genuinely helpful information, and totally worth the 99c (only 99c!!!), 100% of proceeds will be donated to BuildOn.org, a movement which breaks the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations through service and education.

Pretty amazing, huh?
What are you waiting for?
Buy Indiestructible—support the indie author and an amazing charity—TODAY!

About Jessica:
The Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet, and singer/songwriter/guitarist, Jessica Bell, also makes a living as an editor and writer for global ELT publishers (English Language Teaching), such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, Macmillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning. She is the co-publishing editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and the director of the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca.

Contributing authors to INDIESTRUCTIBLE:
Alex J. Cavanaugh -- Angela Brown -- Anne R. Allen -- Briane Pagel -- C.S. Lakin -- Ciara Knight -- Cindy M. Hogan -- D. Robert Pease -- Dawn Ius -- Emily White -- Greg Metcalf -- Jadie Jones -- Jessica Bell -- Karen Bass -- Karen Walker -- Kristie Cook -- Laura Diamond -- Laura Pauling -- Laurel Garver -- Leigh Talbert Moore -- Lori Robinson -- Melissa Foster -- Michael Offutt -- Michelle Davidson Argyle -- Rick Daley -- Roz Morris -- S.R. Johannes -- Stephen Tremp -- Susan Kaye Quinn

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Thank you, Jessica! I'm sure going indie has crossed all our writerly minds more than once these days, especially as the traditional marketplace is shrinking and becoming more and more competitive.

How can you lose at this price? Check it out for only 99c!

Click HERE to purchase INDIESTRUCTIBLE. At the very least, your near-dollar will go toward a worthwhile cause.

YOUR TURN
Have you ever considered self-publishing or small press, or have you done so already?
If you haven't gone indie/self-published, what are your reasons NOT to?
Are you going to purchase and investigate the info in Jessica's book?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

In Between Novels + Award

NOT WRITING, SNIFF…
Yeah...I have it. That restless and slightly grumpy feeling. Because I've finished my WIP and have gone through it once already with a revision. That's cool, but I have to figure out what to do while it's sitting and I spend some much-needed time away from it. I know I could start another book. And I just might. I can only read published books--my "research"--and catch up on normal (boring) everyday stuff for 2 or 3 weeks, and then I go nutso. I have to start writing something.

Thoughts and snippets of new dialogue and plot ARE wisping through my brain, so that's a good sign. I've been writing those thoughts down in a document. When I finish critiquing one more manuscript for someone else this week, I'll probably start developing my Shiny New Idea. Now that will be fun!  

BLOG AWARD
Also…I've been awarded the Super Sweet Blogger Award from Crystal Collier! Thanks very much, Crystal. Visit her fun blog HERE.


I'm supposed to answer some super sweet questions.
1. What is your favorite dessert? I really can't choose between chocolate chip cookies, banana bars with cream cheese frosting, chocolate mousse pie, or chocolate eclairs.
2. When do you like desserts most? I don't eat them that often, due to my egg/gluten/dairy allergies. But I prefer them for lunch so I have time to burn off the calories before bedtime.
3. Do you prefer cookies or cake? Depends on my mood--and the kind of cookies or cake. Some are simply more tempting than others!

YOUR TURN
Do you get grumpy or restless after you finish a novel or a writing project?
What do you DO during your interims, when you're in between projects?
What is your favorite dessert? How do you exercise to counteract the calories?

 


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Writing a Synopsis

The Dreaded Synopsis
If you write novels, you may have to write one of these beasts for your manuscript one day, so it might be handy to know what one is. I was insanely glad I had one for my YA novel, SHAPERS, because it helped me sign with my awesome agent, Kelly Sonnack; I met her at an SCBWI retreat where she read my first chapter and synopsis.

What a Synopsis is NOT
1. A synopsis is not the same as a query. A query is used to entice agents or editors to read your manuscript. A query is a teaser, a summary that is similar to the text you read on a book jacket flap. The main conflicts are described, but not the final outcome. A query also includes word count, contact information, writing or professional credits, your age category (Young Adult/YA, Middle Grade/MG, Adult, etc.) and your genre (paranormal, memoir, dystopian, fantasy, etc.).
2. A synopsis is not the same as a blurb. And a blurb is not merely a book summary, either, contrary to popular belief. A true "blurb" is something written up by someone--usually a published author or other esteemed/well-known person--to help sell your book. It's a recommendation, those little quotes you see on the covers of debut (or other) novels saying cool things like: "I couldn't put this book down! Well-drawn characters, fascinating plot twists, and heart-pounding thrills on every single page. I read way past my bedtime." 
3. A synopsis doesn't tell every little detail of the book: it's not an outline. A synopsis is different from an outline where every scene or event is listed. Don't list that nameless random character who shows up only once on page 198.

What a Synopsis IS
1. A synopsis is a description of your book, a summary that describes all major plots, major subplots, and character arcs. It includes plot twists and reveals.
2. It includes the ENDING of your book. No surprises or teasers here: say it all! This will show how your character changes throughout, as well as the developing plot arcs.
3. It's a description of the major events that happen in each scene or chapter.
4. It's written in the same voice as your book, whether chatty, stark, comical, lyrical, serious, etc.
5. A synopsis describes the conflict and what is at stake for your characters.

General Synopsis Rules
1. A typical synopsis is usually between 1-3 pages in length.
2. Some agents or editors desire longer and more detailed synopses; check guidelines. I've written up longer synopses to use, then pared them down to a page "just in case" I need a shorter version. Then you're not scrambling to write one in a panic.
3. A synopsis is usually SINGLE SPACED rather than double. However, if it's longer than a couple of pages, it's acceptable to use double spacing for readability.
4. Write it in PRESENT TENSE, no matter what tense the novel itself is written in.
5. Write it in THIRD PERSON, no matter what point of view the novel itself is written in. Be omniscient and tell motivations and goals of everyone.
6. In the upper LEFT corner, include your title, name, genre, and word count. Include your contact information in the upper RIGHT corner.
7. INDENT the first line of each paragraph, but don't add extra spacing between paragraphs. (Note: I've read other articles that suggest an extra space; use your best judgment.)
8. In the first paragraph, introduce the main character, the world, and the conflict.
9. Set your main characters' names in bold type or all in CAPS the first time that character is introduced. They're easier to spot that way.
10. Write it with zest. Don't write dull, dry descriptions that bore even you. You may find it helpful to get all the main points written down first, then work on enlivening it.
11. Make your paragraphs and listed events flow naturally and logically throughout.
12. Don't use fancy fonts or headings; aim for readability and a professional look.

YOUR TURN
Have you written one of these "dreaded" synopses before? How'd you do?
Do you find it easy to write your synopsis in an engaging voice that matches your novel--or does it tend to sound awfully dull and plodding?
Which do you find more difficult to write: a query or a synopsis?



Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Are We There Yet?

Yep, I'm posting on Tuesday and not Wednesday, because I'll be busy the rest of the week.

In these days of tight and demanding publishing, it's very important to be sure to send out your VERY BEST work. Even if you are self-publishing, you owe it to yourself to make your manuscript the very best it can be before public eyes land on it. But when you're writing and revising away on a story--be it short or novel-length--how do you know when you're finished? How do you know when your baby is polished enough to send out into the cold, cruel world?

When You Are NOT Done
You are never done as soon as you type the words "The End." Never. No one creates a perfect enough rough draft that he or she can bundle it up hot off the press.

The Process
1. You need at least one revision pass, and I don't mean minor tweaks for wording or a lookover for typos! I mean tightening to notch up pacing, invigorating dull dialogue, and strengthening character arc (how your character changes from page 1 to the end).
2. You need someone else to read it, preferably more than one person and  not a spouse or other relative. Find beta readers and critique partners. They are a necessity because they will see things you would never, ever see. Their brains are different from yours.
3. If your readers find mostly positive things to say, be very suspicious. While it's an ego boost, you may need search out more demanding and knowledgeable critiquers.
4. Do your first revision. This could be pretty major. Make sure you have the big picture things in place here, because you don't want to get farther down the road and be asked by an agent or editor to fix these things! (If they even bother to take on your project--often they will just reject your manuscript and aim for one that's more market-ready.)
5. Get another round of critiquing, even after your betas have read your initial draft and you've revised to their notes. This second round could be with the same writer friends, but it's helpful if one or more are from totally different people.
6. After you work on bigger picture stuff: polish and polish and POLISH. If you're not good at grammar and sentence structure and spelling, find someone who is. Pay for it, even.
7. Consider revising again if you get requests for partials/fulls and there aren't any bites.
8. Trust your gut. You know that passage that BUGS you every time you read it but you haven't fixed it yet? Or the scene you're not sure really "works"? Chances are, it doesn't. Attack and fix that spot. Otherwise it'll come back to haunt you and you'll have to fix it later.

My Revision Procedure
I personally do a minimum of 3 revisions on my manuscripts, and then my agent adds at least 2--one for major changes and then a line-edit for polishing. For my agented novel SHAPERS, I've gone through about 8 rounds of revision. And I have at least one more (line-edit) to go! Whew.

Awesome Opportunity for Writers: WriteOnCon
I heartily encourage every writer to participate in this FREE annual online writer's conference that is being offered from August 13-14, 2013. There are forums to post queries and initial pages, and you get practice critiquing others' works. It's a great place to find critique partners, as well as get exposure to agents and editors who visit the forums. There are lectures and events just like a regular conference, but you can participate from the comfort of your own home. If you miss a live session, they are recorded and you can catch them onsite later. And there are daily contests and giveaways!! Any writer can take part in the informative lectures, but the critique forums are specifically for writers who have stories with main characters who are 18 and under.

Check it out HERE. Get your manuscripts and queries ready!

YOUR TURN
Have you ever been tempted to query or send off a manuscript as soon as it's finished?
Roughly how many revision passes do you usually make on a manuscript?
Do you have a good staple of betas and/or critique partners to help hone your work?
Do you plan to attend WriteOnCon?



Wednesday, July 17, 2013

20 Reasons to Quit Writing…or Not


We all have those days. We're hacking away on a manuscript, wondering if we're wasting our time. There are a zillion reasons we may want to quit. Below are 20 of those reasons, those negative thoughts that buzz through our heads. These are followed by 20 reasons that motivate us to keep plugging away and following our dreams.


20 REASONS TO QUIT WRITING
1. You're tired of receiving rejections from agents or publishers.
2. It's beginning to feel pointless to write about made-up people in made-up situations.
3. Your muse is a stubborn, stingy creatures who tosses out good ideas once a decade.
4. The only people who've read your work are your relatives and critique partners.
5. It's just too difficult to do everything "right"--rounded characters, exciting plot, fluid pacing, solid worldbuilding, meaningful dialogue, etc.
6. You don't seem to have any talent for this anyway. Others are MUCH better.
7. There are already millions of books out there…who cares if you write one more?
8. It costs a lot of money for books, conferences, writing courses, and paid critiques.
9. Your family would like to spend time with you sometime this century.
10. Because publishers often publish "garbage" and don't seem to want quality work.
11. Everything's already been written storywise anyway. There's nothing new.
12. You're tired of waking up in the middle of the night losing sleep over your plot.
13. You could be going to the Bahamas or Disneyland instead of writer conferences.
14. Sitting at your computer all day is bad for your posture, diet, and exercise plan.
15. Less than 10% of writers earn enough to support themselves--let alone a family.
16. You're tired of sitting around with unbrushed hair, wearing your jammies or sweats.
17. Writing a rough draft is fun, but revision really sucks! (and revision is crucial)
18. Because nothing you write seems to turn out the way you'd envisioned.
19. Face it: you'll never be the next JK Rowling/Stephen King/Maggie Stiefvater.
20. There are other things you could be doing: painting, scuba diving, cycling, knitting.

20 REASONS TO KEEP WRITING
1. What else would you do with your spare time--play vid games or watch TV?
2. To prove to Mom/Hubby/Aunt Renilda/Yourself that you really are a writer.
3. So you can say you never gave up. Because you are Not A Quitter!
4. If you persevere, you will encourage other writers on their writing journey.
5. To communicate with the world, to share yourself and your ideas.
6. One day you will inspire, challenge, intrigue, and entertain people with your stories.
7. Because if you don't try to attain your dreams, you'll definitely never reach them.
8. To express the creativity inside you, regardless if the world ever sees it.
9. Because to hold a book in your hand with your name on it would be such a thrill!
10. No one else in the world can write a story the way you do, because you're unique.
11. If you quit, what would you write about on your blog, Twitter, and Facebook?
12. When you connect with other writers, you encourage, inspire, and validate them.
13. Even if you can't write like well-known authors, people still enjoy your stories.
14. Writing gives you a legit reason to read books--all in the name of "research."
15. It only takes ONE agent or editor to fall in love with your story.
16. Through the writing community, you've met people you now call friends.
17. You don't have to publish traditionally if rejected; you can go indie/self-publish.
18. It's awesome to work sitting around with unbrushed hair, in jammies or sweats.
19. Most writers' paths to publication are heaped with scores of rejection letters.
20. It fulfills a part of you in ways that you can't even express.

YOUR TURN
Have you ever thought of quitting writing? What made you keep going?
Can you think of anything else to add to either of these lists?
Which of these reasons to quit or perservere resonates with you the most?

Photo: taken by me in April 2013 on a trip to the Arches National Park, Utah.
 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Toxic Personalities You Can Really Use

In 2009 I read a yahoo article entitled, 8 Toxic Personalities to Avoid (click for link). Naturally, the first thing I thought of was "Hey!--this info could be useful for my writing," and so I saved it in my Writing Documents folder. And then I proceeded to forget about it for 4 years. So today I'm going to trot out the basic ideas of this article to share how you can use these personalities in your writing.

As the article describes, these kinds of people are good to avoid. They are toxic to our happiness, self-esteem, and the overall quality of our lives. In a nutshell, here are the types:

1. Manipulative Marys. These types get you to do things you don't really want to.
2. Narcissistic Nancys. Folks who focus on their own needs at your expense.
3. Debbie Downers. People who have a pessimistic, glass-half-empty view of life.
4. Judgmental Jims. Those who find unique perspectives "wrong" and "disturbing."
5. Dream-Killing Keiths. Ones who remind you that your dreams are unachievable.
6. Insincere Illissas. People who you never can tell their true feelings; hard-to-read.
7. Disrespectful Dannys. These are subtle bullies who demean and show no respect.
8. Never-Enough Nellies. Individuals who take you for granted and are hard to please.

If you wish more detailed descriptions, please visit the original article.

You can probably think of a few people in your own life that fit the attributes of one or more of these toxic personalities. Avoid these people if you can, for the sake of your mental health! But as writers, we can utilize these kinds of characters in our stories. This list provides a gold mine of negative personalities that we can throw across our main character's paths to make him/her more miserable, his/her goals less likely to be achieved. The name of the game is conflict, right?

Well, with this list of personality types--hello, Conflict!

Using These Personalities
In our writing, we can develop these people types as our villains or antagonists. A parent. A best friend who unwittingly stands in your main character's way. A well-meaning but interfering teacher or uncle or grandparent. I can totally see a parent being manipulative, hard to please, dream-crushing, hard-to-read, or judgmental of a teen's interests and views.

You could even use a dash of some of these traits in your main character. Your MC needs flaws so they're not too perfect, right? Well, maybe for instance your character has a "downer" view of life, which gets in the way of his or her dreams. (Your antagonist can be "self against self," rather than someone external to herself.) Also, in a lot of teen novels, there's a prevailing habit of using "snarky" main characters, and I think snarkiness is often tied to being judgmental--the character has little tolerance for people who are different from him/herself, even though this snarkiness is often used for an outrageous, fascinating, or humorous effect.


YOUR TURN
Have you used one or more of these toxic personalities in your own writing?
Can you think of any other ways you could use these personality types?
Have you ever written a story where the main character was his/her own worst enemy--the antagonist? Did your MC have to overcome these toxic traits to be victorious?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Superfluous Words

How much of your novel or other writing is concise and pertinent to your plot, and how much of it is extra or superfluous? Do we really need to say everything our characters are thinking and doing? Sometimes less is more. Consider the following.

GREETINGS
Most of the time, our characters are happy to see each other. When they see each other or call each other up, they say a few lines of greeting. Do we really need to show all that dialogue? Um, no. In most cases, readers don't care, and it slows down the pacing of your scene. Cut to the chase!

Wordy Example
I pick up my phone and call Shenice, eager to plan our hike to the lodge.
"Hello?" she says, her voice sounding groggy in my ear.
"Hi, how's it going?" I ask.
"Fine. Just a little sleepy. How are you doing?"
"Good. Listen, we need to plan our hike to the lodge this afternoon. What should we bring?"

Concise Example
I call Shenice, who answers with a groggy mumble.
"We finally get to hike to the lodge this afternoon!" I say. "What should we bring?"

There's really no pertinent info missing in the second example, and it's less than HALF as long--25 vs 58 words. The second example also eliminates the double statements of "eager to plan our hike to the lodge" and "I'd like to plan our hike to the lodge." There's no need to state your character's intention and then repeat it in a dialogue line.

The second examples also Shows in the dialogue that the main character is eager (finally, get to, and an exclamation mark), rather than Telling the reader she is. And yet "who answers with a groggy mumble" is a subtle--and dare I say acceptable?--kind of Telling that summarizes the boring stuff.

FAREWELLS
I've always thought it rude or abrupt to have two characters walk away from a conversation without saying goodbye. I mean, polite people say farewell to each other, right? But this situation may actually be another place where a bit of Telling is better ("they said goodbye, and he trotted into the kitchen to nab some lunch"). Or just have your characters say nothing at all. There are ways to make it sound less abrupt, and sometimes it's just a matter of getting used to how it sounds.

Wordy Example
He smiled. "Okay, I'm heading off to the gym. I'll see you tomorrow, right?"
"Sure," she said, mirroring his smile. "I'll see you then."
"Okay. Goodbye." He waved.
"Goodbye." She waved in return and walked away, wishing it were already tomorrow.

Concise Example
He smiled. "I'm heading off to the gym. Will I see you tomorrow?"
"Sure." She mirrored his smile and walked away, wishing it were already tomorrow.

Did you even miss all the goodbyes and the waving? Probably not. The gist of their farewell is still there, without all the superfluous details of a lengthy parting. If you really wanted it to be drawn out to show they're reluctant to say goodbye, you could add a few other (more interesting) details to Show they're reluctant.

FILLER WORDS
Yeah. Well. Okay. All right. You know. Sure, your characters can show hesitation when your character is truly hesitant or nervous, but don't overdo it. A little bit can go a long way. It could be that one particular character has a habit of saying these words, but make sure it's only that one character, not everyone. Did you notice in the Wordy Example above that the male character says "Okay" twice? It's not needed either time. As writers, we're not duplicating real-life conversation--we're approximating it, tightening it, filtering it, and finding its essence.

On my last novel revision, I eliminated 230 words just taking out hellos, goodbyes, yeahs, wells, and okays. That's nearly a PAGE of writing! Eeep.

YOUR TURN
Do you need to run off now and check your writing for extra greetings or farewells?
Are you constantly using filler words like "yeah" and "well" and "okay"?
Do you think it sounds abrupt or cut off when two characters don't say goodbye?
Can you think of any other words that slow pacing and are better to delete?




Wednesday, June 5, 2013

GIVEAWAY WINNERS!

It's time to announce the winners of the YA book giveaway! (drumroll please)

WINNERS as chosen by random.org:
1. TOUCH by Jus Accardo: Crystal Collier!
2. UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi: Emily R. King!
3. SHIFTER by Janice Hardy: Marcy Hatch! (mshatch)
4. ORIGIN by Jessica Khoury: Tammy216!

Congratulations! Please email me at artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com if I haven't already contacted you, so I can get your address and send your prize!! (Especially Tammy, since there's no email address attached to her profile.) Happy reading, everyone.

Personal Update
I just finished an 11-week (yep, serious stuff!) revision on my agented YA novel, SHAPERS. This revision involved fleshing out the main character's best friends, boosting the worldbuilding, giving the MC an attitude overhaul to make her more sympathetic and less snarky, toning down one conflict and amping up another one, sharpening the theme, etc. I also decided to rewrite part of the ending. Now that I've taken a few days' break, I'm ready to jump back into my new "magical realism" WIP, which is 2/3 done. Time to change gears!

Writing Tidbit for the Day
Something my agent nabs me on is what she calls "renegade body parts." This is where things like eyeballs do crazy and improbable things, or body parts sound detached from the characters. Such as:

1. Her eyes bounced around the room, trying to find her brother. Should be her GAZE.
2. His eyes slid away from her. Ditto--more accurate would be his GAZE.
3. My hand closed around the doorknob. As opposed to something better: I closed my hand around the doorknob. Or more simply: I grabbed the doorknob.
4. Her legs ran, trembling with fatigue. Sounds like her legs are running off by themselves. Better: She ran, her legs trembling with fatigue.

YOUR TURN
What have YOU been doing lately, and what are your writing goals for the summer?
What's your favorite genre to read? What's your favorite genre to write?
Do you have trouble with bouncing, sliding, and skittering eyes in your manuscript?
Do body parts in your writing sound like they're acting on their own?

 


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sunshine Award + BOOK GIVEAWAY!!




Thanks so much to Linda McMann, my bloggy friend who passed on The Sunshine Award to me. This award is a "lovely sunny flower that bloggers give to other bloggers who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere."


Check out Linda's blog HERE. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

BOOK GIVEAWAY
It's time once again for me to do a book giveaway. I've been reading quite a bit lately, and would like to pass a few of my YA books on to YOU!

Easy To Enter:
1. Be a Follower of this blog.
2. Comment below, and it's very helpful if you say which book you'd like to win!
3. Enter the random drawing by midnight PST by Tuesday, June 4, 2013.
4. Winners will be announced Wednesday, June 5, 2013.
4. Sorry, no international entries. I'll offer a chapter critique for anyone not in the US.

THE BOOKS

1. TOUCH by Jus Accardo, paperback

When a strange boy tumbles down a river embankment and lands at her feet, 17-year-old adrenaline junkie Deznee Cross snatches the opportunity to piss off her father by bringing the mysterious hottie with ice blue eyes home.

Except there’s something off with Kale. He wears her shoes in the shower, is overly fascinated with things like DVDs, and acts like she’ll turn to dust if he touches her. It’s not until Dez’s father shows up, wielding a gun and knowing more about Kale than he should, that Dez realizes there’s more to this boy--and her father’s “law firm”--than she realized.

Kale has been a prisoner of Denazen Corporation--an organization devoted to collecting “special” kids known as Sixes and using them as weapons--his entire life. And his touch? It kills. The two team up with a group of rogue Sixes bent on taking down Denazen before they’re caught and her father discovers the biggest secret of all. A secret Dez has spent her life keeping safe. A secret Kale will kill to protect.



2. UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi, hardback

This book follows the character of Aria, a 17-year-old girl that has been exiled from Reverie, the city of her home, due to a fire that takes the lives of her best friend and two other boys. This punishment is almost certain death, outside of her enclosed city is a wasteland known as the Death Shop. It's a place filled with cannibals and terrible storms. Even the air can kill her, so when she meets Outsider Perry, she knows that he's her own chance for survival.

Despite his reluctance to take in a sheltered girl from Reverie, Perry knows that Aria has the potential to help him redeem himself. The two must learn how to work together if they are to survive, and find out things they never thought possible.





3. SHIFTER by Janice Hardy, hardback

A dangerous secret. A deadly skill.

Nya is an orphan struggling for survival in a city crippled by war. She is also a Taker--with her touch, she can heal injuries, pulling pain from another person into her own body. But unlike her sister, Tali, and the other Takers who become Healers, Nya's skill is flawed: she can't push that pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal used to store it. All she can do is shift it into another person, a dangerous skill that she must keep hidden. If discovered, she could be used as a human weapon.

But one day Nya pushes her luck too far and exposes her secret to a pain merchant eager to use her shifting ability for his own sinister purposes. She refuses--until Tali and other League Healers start mysteriously disappearing. Now Nya must decide: How far will she go to get Tali back alive?



4. ORIGIN by Jessica Khoury, hardback

The jungle hides a girl who cannot die.

An electrifying action-romance that's as thoughtful as it is tragic.

Pia has grown up in a secret laboratory hidden deep in the Amazon rain forest. She was raised by a team of scientists who have created her to be the start of a new immortal race. But on the night of her seventeenth birthday, Pia discovers a hole in the electric fence that surrounds her sterile home--and sneaks outside the compound for the first time in her life.

Free in the jungle, Pia meets Eio, a boy from a nearby village. Together, they embark on a race against time to discover the truth about Pia's origin--a truth with deadly consequences that will change their lives forever.



YOUR TURN
Have you been finding time to read books lately?
If you're entering and have a preference, which book would you like to win?
Which one of these awesome covers do you like best? Have you read these books?


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Questions for Your Manuscript


NOTE! Don't forget, as listed on my sidebar, I offer 250-word critiques on this blog. Can be posted anonymously or with your name. Send your sample pasted in an email to artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com. It can be a little over 250 words in order to finish a sentence. Discover what I (and others) suggest about how to make your opening page stronger!
*******************

Your Writing Journey
Wherever you are in your writing journey, there are questions to ponder before it reaches public eyes. Here's a short (?) list of things to watch out for. Seriously ask yourself these questions, or pose them to your critique partners to apply to your manuscript.

ASK YOURSELF:
Characters
1. Is your main character someone a reader wants to spend the entire novel with? Is he/she interesting…relatable…likeable?   
2. Are the supporting characters, especially best friends, fleshed out? Do they have likes, dislikes, motivations, lives beyond the page? Why does your main character hang out with his/her friends--what do they have in common?
3. If the villain or antagonist is a person (rather than circumstances or self), does he or she have motivations for evil behavior? Are they rounded rather than mustache-twirling stereotypes?
4. What is your main character's goal? What does he or she want? (This can shift and morph) Will it change MC's life if the goal is not met--are there consequences?
5. Does your character change throughout? Can you look at him/her at the end, and truly say he/she is a different person from the beginning? What has he/she learned?
6. Is there emotional resonance? Do your characters feel deeply and cause the reader to feel deeply?

Setting, Theme, Hook
1. Does the location of your story complement your genre/novel style? Does it make it nicely more complex and layered?
2. Does the time of year you've set the story matter? Does the weather affect your characters' lives and decisions? (it doesn't have to, but it can provide an added dimension)
3. Is there a universal theme--true love conquers all, sacrificing for others, navigating romance while staying true to one's self, showing courage despite fear, etc.? What nugget of truth can readers take away?
4. Is your storyline unique? It needs a hook, a draw. What makes your story different from everything else out there, and why should a reader spend HOURS reading your book?
5. Have you begun the novel intriguingly, rather than with backstory, explanations, and preparatory set-ups?

Pacing
1. Is your forward momentum strong--is there a compelling urge for the reader to stay up past bedtime and finish?
2. Are there surprising twists, things that are logical but unexpected?
3. Have you avoided the "middle doldrums," the saggy mid-point in which nothing develops or changes? Are your conflicts and tensions taut throughout? 
4. Do your chapters always end on low notes or at the end of the scene--or have you spiced things up by ending in mid-scene and mid-action at the end of some chapters?
5. Have you varied your highs and lows, causing the quieter scenes to make the action ones feel more intense? (even thrillers often have "down times" to refresh the reader)
6. Does the main character's problems escalate and get worse as the story progresses?

The End
1. Have you wrapped up all the questions and loose ends? Does it feel finished, satisfying? (even with a series, it's important to tie up main or crucial plot points)
2. Is the ending logical, with no contrived twist that solves everything? Has the main character solved the problems, or has someone or something else solved them? (the villain's death, a cataclysmic event, a parent or boyfriend)
3. Is your last paragraph/sentence strong, since that's the thing the reader will see and remember?

YOUR TURN
Do you run your novels or stories through questions like this?
When do you ask these kinds of questions--at the beginning, the end, or throughout?
When you critique others' manuscripts, do you use a list like this?


 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

TEST Your Writing Skills


How strong are your writing skills? These days more than ever, it's important to polish your manuscript--which includes an absence of spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors. Agents and editors have less time to spend on editing. Even if you're self-publishing, you don't want to present an error-riddled book to the world.

Consider your strength or weakness in this area. Try to learn WHY things are correct or incorrect; that will help you remember the rules and apply them to your writing. If grammar isn't your strength, it may be helpful to have a sharp-eyed critique partner on hand--or hire a professional editor. In the long run, it's worth it.

TEST YOUR SKILLS
Can you spot the errors in these sentences? I've offered this kind of test before, but I can't stress how important it is to sharpen your writing. Don't feel bad if you get some wrong--look at it as a learning experience. To make it trickier, THREE of these are CORRECT. (heehee)

1. Tiger Bell's soft, warm fur under my fingertips soothes me.
2. Three pair of pants hung on the line, swinging in the summer breeze.
3. "Your in big trouble," said Merle. "I told you not to kick that door."
4. Absorbed in the loud, catchy beat of my song, it was hard to tell when grandpa started talking to me.
5. Sean laughs, and the tension in my shoulders eases a bit.
6. She snapped her fingers. "Are you going to stand there all day, boy?!"
7. Its a great day to go to the park, and no one can stop me.
8. To make a recipe properly, you must measure the ingredients with care.
9. What if Mom or Dad catch me sneaking a cookie from the kitchen?
10. David wants the person who's interested in his car to leave their phone number.
11. The cost of apples have doubled since last winter's drought.
12. Yesterday I just laid around reading a book and drinking tea.  
13. I could care less about whether she invited me to her stupid party.
14. If everyone would just stop talking, they could hear what I'm saying!
15. "Be quiet," she snapped. "There trying really hard to get a good score."




ANSWERS
1. This is a correct sentence. Fur soothes. The phrase "under my fingertips" merely describes fur and is not part of the noun-verb agreement.
2. Three pairs. More than one pair are hanging on the line.
3. Your should be you're. You are in trouble. The apostrophe means a letter has been left out; in this case it's the "a" in are.
4. Dangling modifier. The intro phrase (up to the second comma) must immediately be followed by the person doing the action. You'd have to say: Absorbed in the loud, catchy beat of my song, I couldn't tell when grandpa started talking to me.
5. This is a correct sentence. Tension eases. Ignore prepositional phrases like "in my shoulders" when you're figuring out noun-verb agreements.
6. Delete the exclamation mark and use the question mark (since it's a question). Never use more than one form of punctuation at the end of a sentence.
7. Its should be it's: It is a great day. The apostrophe means the "i" has been left out.
8. This is a correct sentence. You would NOT say "to properly make a recipe," because that would split the verb/infinitive phrase "to make." Although it seems splitting infinitives is becoming way less grammatically important these days.
9. Should be catches, because Mom or Dad is singular. Mom and Dad would be plural: What if Mom and Dad catch me sneaking a cookie from the kitchen?
10. Person is singular. So it should be: to leave his phone number. Or her number.
11. The cost has. It's the cost that has doubled, not the apples. Ignore prepositional phrases like "of apples."
12. Should be yesterday I lay around, as the past tense of lie (to recline). Laid means "to place"--people can't "to place" themselves. They RECLINE.
13. I couldn't care less. Could care less would mean the person does, in fact, care.
14. Everyone is singular. So it would match with he or she rather than they. Yeah--which sounds really weird! That's why we always get this wrong.
15. They're trying, not there. See that apostrophe in they're? It means something is missing; in this case it's the "a" from they are--they are trying really hard.

YOUR TURN
How did you do on this test? Did you learn anything new?
Do you have critique partners who are sharp and catch the things you don't?
Have you ever used a professional editorial service to sharpen your manuscript before sending it off to an agent or editor, or before self-publishing?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Wonderful Tech: READERS


Note: This month my next post will be on the 4th Wednesday rather than the 3rd.

Reading Your Manuscript
It's always helpful when finishing up a manuscript to read it aloud. Not silently--aloud. It's amazing how many mistakes you can catch. Typos, odd flow, strange rhythms, repeated words. I try to read aloud through a manuscript when revising, before querying, or handing off a final manuscript to my critique partner or agent. It takes a good part of a day or two to read through a novel, but it's worth it. The trouble is, my throat gets quite sore and raspy by the time I'm done.

NaturalReader
On Facebook, Terri Tiffany (thanks, Terri!!!) posted this weekend about using a voice reader application called NaturalReader for checking/editing a manuscript. I'd thought about using a voice reader before, but since I'm a diehard technophobe, I hadn't ever tried anything. But I followed Terri's link and scouted around the site. It looked pretty easy. They even had a FREE version with only one (female) voice, so I downloaded it to my desktop and installed it. It's easy to use! Just paste in a paragraph or chapter, and click Play. Even I can handle that.

The free version stops every so often and asks if you want to upgrade, but you can just click Later and continue on your merry (and FREE) way. The lowest paid version is $49, and has a choice of voices as well as other options like converting to MP3. Even with the free version, you can set the speed of the voice. I bumped mine slower than the default, to -2 or -3. The general flow isn't perfect, and it sounds quite electronic in places, but on the whole it works great and I'm happy to save my voice! I can even get up from my desk and stretch while I listen, or close my eyes to rest them. (Oddly, it actually sounds better and more natural when I close my eyes.)

I have to laugh when the app reads words like wind and object. Usually the voice says the wrong pronunciation for the meaning I want. It's amusing.

Voice Readers and Links
Some of these readers can even be put on your mobile, iPad, or other devices.
1. NaturalReader: HERE. Bottom of the page lists diffs between free & paid versions.
[Also available free for Mac; click on Free Version for Mac words on left margin: HERE]
2. Voice Dream: HERE  I haven't tried this one, but others use it.
3. Dragon: HERE (Highly accurate dictation; has a moderate learning curve.)
4. Microsoft Office--has a text to voice program available. If you're techy and adventurous, you can find directions how to access it by visiting youtube or the Microsoft Office site for the version you have. I tried to follow some youtube directions, but the speech program wasn't listed on my options menu and I gave up. *shrug*

I've also heard Kindle Fires read things aloud to you. Aren't we writers lucky to live in today's advanced tech world?

YOUR TURN
Do you usually read your manuscript aloud to yourself to check for flow and errors?
Have you ever tried a voice reader? What's been your experience?
If you have a Kindle Fire, does it read to you, and do you use that feature?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Revision and Remodeling


I've decided writing and revising a novel is a lot like buying and remodeling a house. Here's a comparison from my own life lately, based on my novel SHAPERS and the house my hubby and I just bought here in sunny ol' California.

Initial Stuff
SHAPERS: Wrote rough draft, mid-Feb to mid-May of 2010. Yep, 2.5 months.
HOUSE: Searched from mid-July 2012 to mid-October 2012. Yep, 3 months.

False Start
SHAPERS: Met interested editor at SCBWI conference; tweaked and sent off. Crickets.
HOUSE: Put in offer on a house on 1/4 acre built in 1972, 2000 sq. ft.; offer accepted and then house was taken off market due to odd legalities.

Trying Again
SHAPERS: Tweaked more, sent to agents: 2 requested fulls but ended up rejecting. Met the lovely Kelly Sonnack at SCBWI retreat in Oct. 2010, who requested full.
HOUSE: Found another house and made offer that fell through 'cuz they didn't accept VA loans. Found a lovely purple tri-level built in 1990 with 1668 sq. ft. on 1/4 acre.

The ONE!
SHAPERS: Call with Kelly in April 2011; she offered representation! Signed contract.
HOUSE: Put in offer on the tri-level mid-Oct. 2012; it was accepted! Started escrow.

Revision and Remodeling 
SHAPERS: Kelly's editorial notes: Boost romance, get closer to 80K words from 63K, fix "empty" villain, change the ENTIRE ENDING (gak!), slash a coupla scenes, etc.
HOUSE: Projects: Remove red/green chair railing, take down hugeous red/green shelves in living room, paint over the light GREEN living room walls (gak!), take down flat PLAID valances, remove door molding chewed on by a dog, etc.

Living room BEFORE, with old owner's belongings. Cluttered! Ugleee carpet.
Not…Quite…There
SHAPERS: Sept. 2011. MC still "felt distant." Kelly suggested switching from 3rd to 1st person POV. Gulp. Extra surprise: I decided didn't sound right in past tense anymore, and changed the novel to present tense. Did 2 line-edits + minor changes in 2012.
HOUSE: After we moved in: That ugleee stained and worn carpet just had to go. Went with oak hardwood laminate. Extra surprise: With the carpet up, we discovered the sliding glass door had been leaking…had to replace the door, too.

2013 Final (?) Touches
SHAPERS: Made MC less snarky/insensitive, with less selfish goals. Boosted sci-fi worldbuilding elements. Fleshed out 2 minor characters, toned down another one.
HOUSE: Bought area rug and curtains for living room. Found awesome impressionistic-looking valance for kitchen at a thrift store for $7. Painted my office. Hung pictures.

Living room, AFTER. Less cluttered, hardwood laminate flooring.
Living room AFTER. I've since lowered the highwater curtains! :)
Whew. Are we there yet? Perhaps not, but I'm getting WAY closer on both, and really liking the changes. Special thanks to my CP Lynda Young for continuing to gruel along with me while I shape up SHAPERS, and Michael Di Gesu for sharing interior decorating tips for my new house!!

BEFORE AND AFTER:
SHAPERS: Guess you'll have to wait to see. I hope you get to read it someday!
HOUSE: Photos in this post…my new writing office is below. I love it!

My writing spot, where Words Happen. Includes assorted dragons and sewing machine.
Guest bed side. Includes ballerina I drew eons ago, my bear Woofie, and the quilt I  made.
YOUR TURN:
Have you had to revise and revise, like I have? Is your manuscript getting stronger?
Have you remodeled a house and shaped it up the way you wanted it--or do you have ongoing or future projects you'd still like to tackle?


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Writing THE Scene


THE Scene
In every book, there is a scene that is THE scene. You know, that big moment where something momentous happens. You write along, you anticipate this scene for pages and pages--and you know you'd like to write it extremely well when you get there. It has to sound and be perfect. Right? This big scene is often found near the end of the story, at the climax, but not always.

Examples include:
1. When some major secret is revealed
2. When the danger escalates or reaches an all-time high
3. When two characters realize they're in love, or a tender romance scene
4. When the story takes a surprising twist--a whoa!! turn of events
5. When a new character is introduced (especially if he/she is the romantic interest)
6. When the villain finally gets the protagonist in his/her clutches, mwuah-haha
7. When there's a joyful reunion between two characters who've been apart
8. When one of your characters is severely injured or dies
9. When there's a crucial fight or battle scene
10. When the main character's world dissolves (literally or figuratively, depending on your genre) or becomes much more problematic

Multiple THE Scenes
Books can have more than one THE scene. These are the big moments where any of the above things (or similar things) happen. I personally like to have many scenes like this throughout the novel, to some degree or another, not just near the ending or climax. These are those "ta-DAH!" moments that I often place at the end of a chapter ending for a cliffhanger effect. I think they add spice as well a compelling tension to the story.

How Do You React?
Since we want that THE scene to be so incredibly awesome, to match the intensity and emotion that we want to impart into those words, it's often a very troubling scene to write. We approach this scene with excitement…yet sweaty palms. Fear, and trembling. We can suddenly be seized by an unexplainable urge to catch up on our social networking or color coordinate our linen closets. Or most likely, a mixed-up combination of all of these things. When we finally reach that point in your manuscript, it can feel very surreal!

Tips for Writing THE Scene
1. Know you can always change the scene later and improve it. Rah for revision!
2. I turn OFF my inner editor (more than usual) and write on more of an emotional level. I throw the sentences out there willy nilly, in almost a stream of consciousness way. Usually that makes the rhythm of the passage sound much more natural than if I try to ponder reactions at length, or plot out short vs. long sentences, etc.
3. Similarly, let your adverbs and adjectives flow. Throw a lot of them out there. Really. Then you can go back and pick the strongest adjectives later, and eliminate adverbs by replacing them with more unique (and less Telling) ways to say something.
4. Use music or photos to help get into the mood of the scene.
5. Watch movies or read books with similar dramatic scenes to get ideas about reactions, focus, settings, mood, clothing, visual placements, fight moves, sounds, smells, etc.
6. Choose a time and day where you have a decent block of time and aren't rushed (yeah, I know--easier said than done).
7. Jot down snippets of phrasings, descriptions, and dialogue ahead of time to make the scene less daunting. Put these in a separate file or document for when you need it.
8. Understate rather than overstate the emotions. Often it's more impactful to read of a character who has a few tears or is holding back tears, rather than torrents. An excess of grief, shouting, anxiety, fear, etc. in a scene can backfire and actually induce the opposite--creating a sense of detachment in the reader.
9. Write out a brief outline of the scene first. Nothing complex, just a list of things you want to be sure to accomplish as you write.

YOUR TURN 
How do you feel when you get to THE scene in your book--excited or nervous?
Do you find it difficult to get across the emotion/impact you want in a major scene?
What is THE scene that you're anticipating writing in your own work? Is it one of the examples listed above, or something completely different?


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Writing About Weather

When Art and Weather Coincide
The other day I was writing on my WIP/work in progress, and even though it was summer in the novel, I had a scene where it was raining. (Yes, since my novel is set in Oregon, that's perfectly normal for summer weather.) And coincidentally as I was writing, it was raining outside. Perfect mood setter! I could directly check out sounds, feelings, smells, and other perceptions.

…And When They Collide
On the other hand, one summer I remember it being meltingly hot in my office, and I had to write a scene where my character was scurrying along a road feeling really cold. I've also experienced when it's been winter and I've had to write a scene where summer sweat is dripping off my main character. Those things really stretched my imagination! It's almost like your body has to be in a different place than your mind. Aren't writers wonderfully versatile?

If you're writing an opposite (or regular) scene, here are some suggestions for doing so:

Ideas/Aids for Writing Weather
1. Dredge your memories for when you really were in similar weather as your scene: pouring rain, freezing cold, blistering heat. How did you feel? What did it smell like? Taste like, look like? Sound like?
2. Do a websearch for "free nature sounds" and connect with your scene's weather sounds. It will often put you in a mood or frame of mind that is conducive to your scene--and may give you exact sounds to describe. Check out the site called Calmsound, for instance, HERE. There are free snippets plus entire nature CDs to purchase (such as Nature Sounds) that include a country garden, the seaside, a desert at night, etc.  
3. Connect with mood-related music to give you ideas and set your atmosphere. For instance, are you writing a storm scene? Try dramatic music with cymbals and drums, like classical music or a movie soundtrack. Are you writing a beautiful sunset? Try slow, melodic flute music or violin music.
4. Read other novels or writings to see how other authors have handled a similar weather setting. The idea isn't to copy them, of course, but to see how they've described the subject. Can you see/feel/sense the scene in a very real way? Study their methods and apply.

YOUR TURN
Have you ever tried to write a scene where the weather was OPPOSITE?
Have you ever written a scene where it was stormy weather--just like in real life?
Do you ever listen to nature sounds (or music) to heighten the writing of a setting or scene?

Photo taken by myself at Yaquina Bay, Oregon coast, 2009.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Writing Unreasonableness


A few weeks ago when my husband and I moved into our new house, the furnace wasn't working so we built fires in the wood stove. I found myself singing the song written by Shel Silverstein, called "Put Another Log on the Fire."

So naturally I thought about this man, this clueless character who's singing the song. And I pondered what other characters might think of him, and how they'd react. Check out these lyrics:

PUT ANOTHER LOG ON THE FIRE
by Shel Silverstein
sung by Waylon Jennings & Tompall Glaser

Put another log on the fire
Cook me up some bacon and some beans
Go out to the car and change the tire
Wash my socks and sew my old blue jeans.

Come on baby, you can fill my pipe and then go fetch my slippers
And boil me up another pot of tea
Then put another log on the fire, babe
And come and tell me why you're leaving me.

Now don't I let you wash the car on Sunday
Don't I warn you when you're gettin' fat
Ain't I a gonna take you fishin' with me someday
Well, a man can't love a woman more than that.

Ain't I always nice to your kid sister
Don't I take her driving every night
So sit here at my feet 'cause I like you when you're sweet
And you know it ain't feminine to fight.

So put another log on the fire…

The link to this song if you want to hear it--is HERE.
 
Showing and Not Telling
If such a character were found in a novel, this song (probably as dialogue) would be a perfect example of showing and not telling about his personality. His chauvinistic, unreasonable, clueless words say it all. There's no need for another character or the narration (i.e., the author) to label him that way. The lines end up conveying exactly the opposite of what is being said, even though the man in question seems to believe it wholeheartedly.

Character Viewpoints
What's nice about this example is that we can get a glimpse of this man's inner reasoning and viewpoints. It gives reasons--even if seen as obnoxious to others--why he thinks the way he does. For instance, fishing is a wonderful thing in his eyes, and he's offering to take his woman with him on a fishing trip (or at least he claims that intent). What sacrifice and devotion! And his idea of femininity is a docile woman, one who works hard to make his life comfortable, one who doesn't complain. He sees a man as being the "king of his castle."

Conflict
Obviously, this man and his woman have opposing personalities, goals, and intentions. He's expecting her to continue to wait upon him hand and foot, and she's finally fed up with it. This is an excellent opportunity for conflict at the point of change. They have opposing viewpoints and goals. The clash makes for good writing and reading material.

YOUR TURN
Have you heard this song before, or read Shel Silverstein's Where The Sidewalk Ends?
Do you think this is a caricature or are some people really this earnestly chauvinistic?
Have you written an unreasonable character, and were you able to Show rather than Tell that quality?



Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Does Your Writing Give You Chills?


As writers, we want our words and stories to have an effect on our readers. But what about the effect they have on ourselves?

Chills and Pounding Pulses
Okay, so there's this one paragraph in my WIP that always sends chills down my spine when I read it. It's not frightening per se, just dramatic (at least to me). Whether or not this transfers to a reader or not is beside the point. The point is that it means I'm emotionally "into" my writing. I personally think that's a good thing. It's like a painting or other artwork without emotion invested--while it can be perfectly rendered, it can lack a kind of "soul," or personal connection.

Weeping, Weeping
A friend on Facebook the other day commented that one part in her novel made her cry. She'd gotten to the heart-wrenching part of her story. I believe weeping along with your characters is a good thing! If you, the writer, aren't dredging up the depths of your own feelings, it's less likely to impart that feeling onto the pages.

That being said, I tend not to be a weeper while writing OR reading. I can tear up and feel sad or aching, but I rarely let loose the floodgates and grab for the tissues. I'm still affected, just not in a full-blown way.

Amusing Ourselves
In contrast, I personally have a very light funnybone, and when I read published works, I can be amused by the simplest things. Funky coined words. Unique juxtapositions. Subtly sly dialogue. A surprising thought or expression from a character. I chuckle throughout the entirety of some books.

When I write, I always have these sections that *I* think are amusing or even hilarious. But humor is an atrociously subjective thing. Sometimes these passages are marked by my critique partners as funny (with "hahaHA" inserted in the margins), while at other times they are marked by comments of puzzlement, apathy, or even rejection. And while my agent admits my writing has humor, she still has no problem taking the axe to certain bits and telling me they don't work.

Also, sometimes our humor just doesn't work in a particular passage, even though it may truly be funny. Things like FLOW and PACING and MOOD come into play. Maybe the humor is too slapstick to fit into a somber tone. Maybe it's too flippant to fit into a serious romance scene. Even so, it may be that just the wording itself needs to be tweaked to make it work better; there's no denying that certain words--depending on their connotations, syllables, etc.--can lend a totally different atmosphere. I myself tend to undermine serious subjects with humor at times, for instance using comical verbs when a more sober one would be more appropriate (admitting it is the first step toward correction)!

In Sum
Does your writing give you chills, surges of excitement, chuckles, or leave you reaching for your tissues? It should. It's not a requirement, but an emotionally invested writer is more likely to get that emotion onto the page, and therefore elicit an emotional response from his or her readers. But even if not 100% of your readers react the same way (or react, period), at least you've put yourself into your writing, as an act of personal and emotional creation.

YOUR TURN
Is there a scene or passage in YOUR writing that makes you laugh, cry, or get chills?
Do your critique partners "get" your humor, or are they sometimes puzzled?
When you read, are you an outright weeper or do you react more mildly, like me?
How important do you think it is for a writer to be emotionally invested in his/her own writing--is it mandatory in order to obtain reader connection, or just an added bonus?