Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Halloween Experience

There are two ways to look at Halloween.

You can make it fun with great costumes at a party with monster music.





Or you can make it scary. This tribute trailer to The Shining should put you in the mood.





------------------------

Patricia Stoltey is a mystery author, blogger, and critique group facilitator. Active in promoting authors in several genres, she also helps local unpublished writers learn the critical skills of manuscript revision and self-editing. For information about Patricia’s Sylvia and Willie mystery series, visit her website and her blog. You can also find her on Facebook (Patricia Stoltey) and Twitter (@PStoltey).


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Friday, October 29, 2010

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I admit I can't write very well without some sort of a plan. But I don't use an outline. I use a mind map. I first learned the technique from a Tony Buzan handout in a corporate training course decades ago. I've used the technique ever since, for taking notes, making a shopping list, planning a story.

There is a ton of information online about mind maps and mind mapping programs for computers. Me? I prefer drawing them by hand because I'm a doodler, and in my finer moments, I even use assorted colors. I find it gives me the bones, but still allows me plenty of seat-of-the-pants opportunities. (Example below not mine. Isn't it beautiful?)


How about you? Have you tried plotting this way? How are you preparing for NaNoWriMo? Are you a plotter or a pantser? Leave us a comment!
~~~~

Dani Greer is plotting a number of different projects this week and has a mind map for each one.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

November Is National Novel Writing Month

Yep, it's NaNoWriMo time again, and this is the fifth year I'll participate. I think I've only finished and hit my goal once, but that doesn't keep me from signing up every year. It's an opportunity to renew my resolve to write daily, and to work on projects other than articles and blogging. I don't even necessarily try my hand at fiction, though that's the scariest and the most fun. For me, just getting into the writing groove with a (now) huge group of fellow writers, has a persuasive power that I don't get from smaller groups and certainly not on my own. (To give you an idea of how large this group has grown, just over 3% of the group has donated and has already raised over a quarter million dollars to fund their Young Writers Program.)

I've written hundreds more pages during NaNoWriMo than I would have written otherwise, and every word has honed my writing skills. Some of them are even downright good, and someday I'll do something with them. I don't feel one second of energy and effort was wasted.

What about you? Are you signing up for a month of intense writing? It's really only 6.67 pages a day, and sounds manageable when stated that way. If you haven't take the plunge, do it! Tomorrow, I'll talk about how to proceed - as a pantser or a plotter.

~~~~~
Dani Greer is a founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil, runs the Blog Book Tours classroom, and a related social site and blog, and now has joined the team at Little Pickle Press, a wonderful kidlit publisher with a strong environmental and philanthropic focus.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Writing in 140: Making Friends with Your Internal Editor

I used to advocate killing the internal editor, but I now see the importance of making friends with her. The IE often whispers things like, "Scene needs development," "Show more," or "That’s flat dialogue." Instead of halting your writing flow, make friends with your IE and take notes of what she says. I'm currently working on a novel that’s filled with IE notes I will handle in REVISIONS, not in the writing stage. I like having a book DONE, not perfecting a chapter for weeks. We need to learn how to listen to our IE, see how she just might be right, make note of what she says, and MOVE on in the story. Doing so will enable us to get a book DONE and have great notes for revision.



How do you "make friends" with YOUR internal editor?
-----
Writing in 140 is my attempt to say something somewhat relevant about writing in 140 words or less.

-----------------------------
Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically, and her debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell is now available for purchase. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, promoting her debut project, writing screenplays, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.


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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pushing Through Promotion



Less than a year ago, I appeared on this site and audaciously banged the drum for my debut novel, 600 Hours of Edward. It was the first stop of a hastily thrown-together blog book tour, and as I look back on it, I realize that “hastily thrown-together” is an apt descriptor for much of my promotional efforts in those early days of the novel’s emergence.

So here I am, back in this cozy seat as I approach the January 2011 release of my second novel, The Summer Son. I’ve learned a lot about promotional work in the past several months – enough to know that I still have much more to learn. Here’s a short list of what I’m doing better this time around:

1. I have a much more robust, focused blog book tour planned: 10 stops instead of seven, at sites with established readerships that are good bets to be interested in my book.

2. I’m taking advantage of a slower rollout: Lining up blurbs, putting together mailing lists for ARCs, seeing if some buzz can be ignited. The current publishing landscape, which is increasingly putting more power into the hands of authors (a good thing), often lends itself to instant gratification, but there’s something to be said for the old-school simmer.

3. Taking care of my readers: I was fortunate that Edward was so well received; a year ago, I had prospective readers. Today, I have actual fans of my work. Their enthusiasm for it and willingness to tell their friends will do more for my books than I can on my own. I do my part to honor them by doing the best work I can and remaining in touch.

4. I’m blogging regularly: This one is still the toughest for me; with a full-time job and a Facebook habit that’s like heroin, I have to force myself to make time for it. But I can see the payoff in my better metrics, and I expect to enjoy even better results after I take Dani’s class in September.

5. In an effort to highlight father-son stories (my new novel hinges on one) and to give other writers a promotional outlet, I launched a new site called Messages To Our Fathers. As pleased as I am with the basic idea, I think I may have miscalculated by not putting it under the auspices of my own blog, so there may soon be some rectifying. At any rate, I remain committed to highlighting other authors, so please consider me for your blog tour or guest post.

Promotion is hard work, harder than I ever imagined it would be. For every initiative that works well, a half-dozen fail miserably. Despite my over-reliance on the pronoun in this piece, I grow weary of the word “I.” I try not to lose momentum when a bookstore signing goes poorly or a radio interview is a mess because the host didn’t acquaint himself with the book. I find that I hungrily co-opt the best ideas from other writers. Romance writer B.J. Daniels told me that she has a snail-mail list several hundred addresses strong and sends each one a postcard to herald the arrival of a new book – and that the sell-through rate is fabulous. That one particularly appeals to me as it’s a throwback. It’s easy to lose oneself in a world driven by Facebook and Twitter, but sometimes, nothing beats a personal touch. With all credit to B.J., I’ll be stealing that idea.

So tell me, Blood-Red Pencil pushers: What are your best promotional practices? How do you keep going in the face of setbacks? I promise I won’t steal all of your ideas. Just the best ones.

Craig Lancaster's first novel, 600 Hours of Edward, was a 2009 Montana Honor Book and won the 2010 High Plains Book Award for best first book. His second, The Summer Son, will be released in January 2011 by AmazonEncore. He's also the owner and editor of Missouri Breaks Press, a boutique literary press in Billings, Mont., and offers editing, typesetting and design assistance. Learn more about him and his services at CraigLancaster.net.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A New Respect For Romance by a Romance-Hater

A few weeks ago, I attended the Emerald City Romance Writers Conference, put on by the Greater Seattle branch of the Romance Writers of America, in Bellevue, Wash. About 300 women were registered. That is, 300 women and ... me. Other than a few guest speakers and a few spouses floating about, I was the only man there.

Let me assure you that while this sounds wonderful in theory, the reality was terrifying. At first, that is. Until I relaxed, and allowed my natural off-to-the-side objective observer's stance — strengthened through 23 years as a newspaper journalist — to step up. I completely let go of the fact that romance writing has no appeal to me, and let go of my vague notions of the genre as formulaic, simplistic and even condescending to its audience.

What I came away with is this: These women know their stuff like nobody else does.

There isn't a single aspect of writing and publishing craft they haven't considered from every conceivable angle — and reassembled and refined to the highest possible shine.

Want to know specific instances in storytelling when dialogue should be used, and when paraphrasing should take its place? There's a detailed handout and a workshop for it.

Want to know how to take your pitches and queries to agents, and slim them down to the sleekest possible essentials? There's a boot camp for it.

Want to know what the trends are in the genre market? There's a Q&A session for it. You'll learn more about what sells and what won't sell in more detail than you will at any other event for any other literary genre that I know of.

That very linear, pragmatic approach to romance writing practically guarantees aspiring authors what no other genre can: That if they learn your craft, develop relationships, work hard and behave professionally, they will fulfill the dream that most authors have — of landing a literary agent and being offered a book contract by a traditional publisher.

I walked away thinking that the tight-knit, somewhat insular, ultra-professional romance-writing community is a bit like the military, or what the military tells you when you consider joining: You get out of it exactly what you put into it ... and you get more of that by going along with the program.

In a publishing world in which there are almost no more sure things these days, romance comes as close as it gets. That's because it's got a system, and the system works. And there are thousands of authors — and tens of millions of readers — who prove it every day. The mystery/thriller/suspense folks — my crowd — aren't quite there yet. In those genres, there's still too much of a contradiction between doing all the right things, craftwise, and actually bagging a book deal.

I'm glad I went to the conference. I have no interest in writing romance, and even less in reading it. But that doesn't mean that I — and probably you as well — wouldn't stand to learn a lot of useful things from it.

As a result, you're reading a blog post by one of the newest paid, card-carrying members of the Romance Writers Of America.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Jim Thomsen is a news editor at the Kitsap Sun in Bremerton, Wash. He also is a partner in Proof Positive, a manuscript-editing and media-services business, and maintains
Reading Kitsap, a blog about the local literary scene. In addition, he is an aspiring mystery author and member of the Mystery Writers Of America. He can be reached at desolationisland@gmail.com ... or found, almost 24/7, on Facebook.


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Friday, October 22, 2010

Sex Scenes vs. Intimate Scenes

Becca stepped out of the bathroom. Wrapped in an oversized towel, she sauntered toward him. A seductive smile brightened her beautiful face.

He exited his e-mail and hit the off button rather than wait for the computer to shut down. Pushing himself out of his chair, he hurried toward her. She dropped the towel and wrapped her arms around him.

“What’s the matter, sexy man? You’re not ready for bed.”

“I . . . thought you’d be in the shower longer. I was checking my e-mail.”

“And I rushed through because I couldn’t wait to get out here to you. This is serious. I’m coming in a poor second to cyberspace.”

He pulled her tight against him. Her warmth invited him to places he longed to go. Resting his head atop her damp hair, he struggled to lose himself in her presence. Her heart beat strong and steady against him. He loved her more than life itself. Without a second thought, he would die to save her or Haley or Mali. But a threat he couldn’t see coming from a source he couldn’t track—over this he had no control.

A few minutes before, wanting his wife dominated his thoughts. But now, making love was the last thing on his mind.
(from Treacherous Tango by E. Ryan Hale)

Is this a sex scene? Or is it an intimate scene? Without question, it isn’t graphic. Yet the intention of the characters is clear and would likely have been carried through had circumstances cooperated. But does the reader need to see the lovemaking to know that it happens?

Humans were designed to enjoy intimacy. But does it belong in all its sensual details on the silver screen . . . or in the pages of a book? Intimate scenes can add tension and spice to a story, but let’s omit the graphic sex and leave something to the imagination. Have we deteriorated morally to such a degree that we get our “kicks” out of being Peeping Toms? Many readers are women. Are we so insensitive to the lives of our sisters who live alone that we want to titillate their senses with graphic scenes and leave them longing for what they do not have?

Think about the classics—the books that have survived 100, 200 years. Their stories are still wonderful and still read. Yet vivid sex scenes do not grace their pages.

Great writing does not rely on graphic sex any more than it does on profanity or gratuitous violence. Strong story lines, complex characters, realistic dialogue, seamless flow, appropriate use of POV, and ongoing action hook readers and keep them turning pages. When we captivate our readers with our powerful, compelling stories, we don’t need lurid scenes to pull them into our books.

Just as “a rose by any other name” is still a rose, porn by any other name is still porn. I choose not to watch it, read it, write it, edit it, or publish it. And I get great feedback from my readers—men and women alike—as do the writers I publish.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Linda Lane has spent several years working with writers to help them develop powerful, compelling stories and strong writing skills without the use of foul language, extreme violence, or explicit sex. www.penandswordpublishers.com




Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sex is Revealing

The first sex scene I wrote was for my second novel, and I almost didn’t write it. I plan my novels quite extensively, and, in this one, I’d planned for two characters to fall for each other and have a romantic tryst, but I hadn’t really planned for them to take it much further than a kiss. In the first draft I used the typical PG-13 Hollywood tactic of “fade to black, cut to next scene”. When I read it through, however, I faced a mental neon sign flashing “Cheat, cheat, cheat”. I couldn’t get passed this: I had to write that sex scene.

So I did. I’d read books where euphemisms are used to describe what is going on between the couple and I was determined to avoid this. I used correct anatomical terminology and no cutaways, but I did stick to what my protagonist was feeling (emotionally and physically).

And suddenly my characters revealed a lot of information that I would never have guessed otherwise. The nudity revealed a scar on my protagonist’s body that not only explained her motive for a crime she committed, but also how she got away with it. The sex scene itself was brief, awkward, embarrassing, and disappointing. But only for the couple: for me it was electrifying in its revelation of character, and I even got a message in there about the side effects of illicit drug use.

I would never have discovered how much one’s characters can develop themselves had I not taken the leap of writing something that made me uncomfortable and embarrassed. My advice: even if you cut it later, write it. You never know what a sex scene will reveal.

How about you? Have you written a sex scene? Do you use euphemisms, fade to black, or do you go the full monty?

---------------------------------------------Elsa Neal
Elsa Neal is based in Melbourne, Australia. Read more of her writing insights at her Fictional Life Blog. Visit her website for more articles to improve your writing craft

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sexual Tension Is Sexier Than Sex

One of the sexiest scenes I've ever read in a novel can be found in Free Fire, a mystery by C.J. Box. In it, Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett teams with Judy Demming, a National Park Service ranger, to investigate a killing in Yellowstone National Park.

Pickett, as usual, is away from home, which has been causing problems between him and his wife. Demming is bored with her job and her husband. The spouses are both good people, and their partners love them, but they are largely offstage while Pickett and Demming bond during their travels through the park. Their shared career frustrations, and clear respect for each other's investigative acumen, lead to a subtly crackling chemistry that neither wants to acknowledge and yet cannot deny.

In a painful, halting moment, they express unwilling vulnerability toward one another — and then mutually decide, with no small regret, that no physical lines will be crossed.

So nothing happens.

And yet, everything happens.

I remember reading the pages of that scene, and almost physically aching for these two people who do not exist. I wanted their chemistry to lead to consummation, and yet I didn't, and I found my pulse racing as Box skillfully sketched a portrait of two people who clearly hungered for one another, clearly needed one another ... and just as clearly needed to back away from one another.

Whether or not they actually had sex, I came to see, was beside the point. No sweaty grapplings or frantic poundings on the page could have compared, in person or on the page, with the exquisite emotional minuet that would have led up to it. It brought to mind something a friend once told me, something I've taken to heart and often repeated myself: What's sexy is what's implied, not what's shown.

The effectiveness of sex in literature, I've also come to see, is directly tied to the context in which it takes place. And there are an infinite number of variations on that. The best, to my mind, feature chemistry generated by character, not by looks. Getting hot for somebody good-looking in the absence of commonalities and conversational chemistry — let alone the necessary conflicts — is like mistaking an eighth-grade crush with mature love. It leads to payoffs that haven't been earned by the standards of publishable stories.

Taken another way: Think about what attracts you to someone in real life. Think about the qualities that person possesses that would lead you to want to have sex with them. Then think about the mechanics of sex in the absence of those qualities. Such as, two people who find each other physically appealing but have little in common, little reason to cross over into each other's orbits, collide over nothing more substantive than their own one-dimensional desires and can't conduct a conversation with any subtlety or subtext.

Wouldn't reading a scene like that bore you silly?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Jim Thomsen is a news editor at the Kitsap Sun in Bremerton, Wash. He also is a partner in Proof Positive, a manuscript-editing and media-services business, and maintains
Reading Kitsap, a blog about the local literary scene. He can be reached at desolationisland@gmail.com ... or found, almost 24/7, on Facebook.



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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Don't Make Me Do It

 First of all, let me say I have nothing against a well-written love scene, and I do mean love scene, not sex scene. However, I draw the line at gratuitous sex and don't care for erotica. I just don't see what titillation has to do with story.

Like every other element of writing a story, sex, violence, or colorful language should serve a purpose. For example, in Play It Again, Sam, I have a love scene that is a very important part of the story and the growth of the character. Sam is single after 25 years of marriage and the whole dating scene has changed. She is not sure about recreational sex. So when the love scene happens it is because she has worked though many issues. It's not just there because romance readers expect it.

When One Small Victory was first published by Five Star, my editor there kept wanting me to let the central character, Jenny, do more than kiss the man she was attracted to. Problem was, Steve was the detective she was working for as a confidential informant, so there was a professional boundary that couldn't be crossed. Plus, she was an emotional mess, grieving for her son who had just been killed, and she didn't see sex as some sort of balm for her pain.

I firmly believed that going in the direction the editor wanted, even by adding a kiss here and there like she suggested, was not going to be true to the story or the characters, so I did not follow her suggestion in that area.

BTW, she really is a very good editor, and her edits improved the book in many ways. What I didn't know as we were going through the editing process is that Five Star planned to release the book as a romantic suspense. The title on the cover simply said, One Small Victory, a novel by Maryann Miller, so I had no idea it was going to be released in a category.

I was a bit dismayed when I found out. Not that I have anything against category fiction. However, I knew that fans of romantic suspense were going to be disappointed.  In most romantic suspense, the romance is as important as the suspense, and that just wasn't happening in this story. To change it, just to satisfy that expectation would have been a huge mistake. There were just too many reasons for these two characters not to act on their attraction at the time. Some readers have asked if there is going to be a sequel, where maybe they do more than kiss, but I don't know. Right now it seems better to me to let each reader imagine what is down the road for Jenny and Steve.

Have you ever added sexual elements to a story to meet the expectations of readers? Have you been pressured by an editor to add sex or violence to a story because that is what sells?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


 Posted by Maryann Miller, who has been on both sides of the editing table and appreciates a good editor. Her next book, Open Season, will be released in December and can be pre-ordered HERE  Visit Maryann's Web site for information about her editing services and her books. 

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Talking Sexual Overtones with Author Rachelle Chase

Two years ago, I talked to author Rachelle Chase about writing sex scenes as part of a series on my blog All the Blog's a Page. For the talk, I asked two questions: Is sex an important component to develop in your writing, and how are you able to weave it into a work and also have a strong plot development? Her detailed response is still relevant because as Chase points out, it's not just about having sex in your story; it's about layering the sexual undertones into a fully developed story. As Chase is quick to point out below, sex is not the story; it is an integral, organic component to the story.


Below is Chase's take and a "lesson" on sexual development within a story...


I write erotic romance, so sex is VERY important. The way I weave it into the story and have strong plot development is by making sex a part of the story.

When my characters are doing nonsexual things or are talking about nonsexual things, there are sexual undertones. When my characters are having sex, the sex is moving the story forward – meaning, the hero and heroine are bringing their baggage, fears, dreams, etc. into the bedroom – and after sex, both are changed in some way. This change sends them down a new path, until their new beliefs about themselves are challenged up to and during the next sex scene, which then starts another change-and-down-a-new page chain of events, and so on. Until all the necessary change has occurred and my characters have become “new” people at the end.

So, while sexuality/sensuality is present in some way in every scene, it supports and emphasizes what is happening in the story. Sex is NOT the story.

Let’s take an example – this is something I teach in my Making the Mundane Erotic course. Because, a big part of making sexuality or sensuality part of the story is by making everyday, nonsexual instances, erotic.

It’s a technique I call “Layering” – where you add layers of sensuality to something mundane.

So, let’s say I’m starting Too Sexy for My Clothes, an erotic romance that reunites ex-jock, Zack Thomas, and ex-cheerleader, Samantha Hines in Sweetwater, Texas thirteen years after high school. They parted hating each other, with Zack leaving town. But Samantha’s called him back, because she needs his help. Zack insists she meet him at his motel room.

I’ve decided to open the scene in Samantha’s POV, because she’s the one with the most to lose. She’s angry, confused, scared, and filled with dread about meeting Zack. I know what I want them to say, so I jot down the dialogue:

-----

“Thank you for coming.”

He remained silent.

“Are you going to help Kevin?”

“What? No small talk? Fond reminisces of the past?”

“I didn’t come here to make small talk.”

”Then tell me what you want.”

-----

Okay. I’ve got conflict in the scene, which definitely sets up the tension. So now I go back and layer in thought, action, reaction, and senses, trying to make as many of them sexual in nature.

-----

“Thank you for coming.” Samantha’s words were forced.

Zack ignored her gratitude. Instead, his gaze raked over her, sweeping her face, resting on her lips, before moving down. Her breasts, stomach, hips, legs and back up.

“Are you going to help Kevin?”

His eyes returned to her face, expressionless. “What? No small talk? Fond reminisces of the past?”

“I didn’t come here to make talk.”

”Then tell me what you want.”

-----

Alright. A bit better, but it still needs more…

------

“Thank you for coming.” Samantha’s words were forced.

Zack ignored her gratitude. Instead, his gaze raked over her, sweeping her face, resting on her lips, before moving down. Her breasts, stomach, hips, legs and back up.

His look was meant to insult.

Her breathing became ragged.

“A-Are you finished?”

“No.”

His eyes took another tour, slower this time, covering every inch of her body. Probing, and invading. Insolent.

“Are you going to help Kevin?” Her voice pleaded. Her body thrummed.

His eyes returned to her face, expressionless. “What? No small talk? Fond reminisces of the past?”

“I didn’t come here to make small talk.”

“Then tell me what you want, Sammy.” The same tone. The same words. Only thirteen years ago, she’d stood on tiptoe and traced his lips with her forefinger, dipping inside. His tongue had circled her finger. He’d suckled. She’d gasped, the hot wetness causing a flood of moisture elsewhere. Lower. Where she’d wanted him to touch and kiss and lick. And her gasp had made his eyes narrow, darkening to jet black.

I want you, Zacky.

-----

© 2008 by Rachelle Chase. All rights reserved.

Do you see how the scene has a sexual undertone, even though it’s not about sex?




Rachelle Chase is an award-winning romance author, business consultant, speaker, and model. Her latest work, "The Firefighter Wears Prada," can be read in the anthology, Men on Fire, which can be purchased at Amazon.


-----------------------------
Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically, and her debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell is now available for purchase. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, promoting her debut project, writing screenplays, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.


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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Listen to Yourself

Naturally, ghostwriters need to be good writers, but there is another skill that is equally important. We need to be good interviewers. Interviews are not only for gathering information; they also allow me to capture the unique voice of my client. I wrote an article titled “My 12 Interview Rules” sharing some things I’ve learned about this facet of my job. But it’s intended for ghostwriters, which most of the readers of The Blood Red Pencil are not. However, here’s a tip that I think all writers, ghostly or not, can use: interview yourself.

Talk your thoughts instead of writing them. Tell a story, or muse and ponder, out loud – and record yourself doing so. Then play it back.

What metaphors and idioms do you use? Do you have an accent, or use words and phrases that betray your origins? What are you not saying, and why aren’t you saying it? Pay attention to the cadence of your speech, the rhythm of your words. Do you write true to your own voice?

Transcribe the recording verbatim, and then edit the transcription, removing the ums and ers and sidetracks, but preserving the rhythm and your voice. Who knows, maybe you will learn something new about yourself.

By the way, this also works for building fictional characters. Talk aloud as if you are your character. What are they trying to tell you? Are you listening?
~~~~~~~~
Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit http://www.primary-sources.com/.
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Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Parallel Universe

At the top of my blog, A Mind Adrift in the West, there is a quote from Ernest Hemingway:

"Prose is architecture, not interior decoration."

Papa was a smart man, and this quote is one of my guiding lights when I sit down to write. If I build well, my story will stand up. The time to worry about the color of the walls (just to stretch this metaphor to the breaking point) comes later.

I would posit that one of the essential elements of rock-solid writing is balance -- properly weighted words, meanings, cadences. A well-designed sentence has structural integrity that promotes simple elegance and ease of reading.

One of the ways this balance is achieved lies in parallel construction.

Consider this sentence:

She wore taffeta, diamonds and had a gold ribbon in her hair.

That sentence is out of balance, and it thumps along the page like a warped wheel. The solution? Make the construction parallel:

She wore taffeta and diamonds and had a gold ribbon in her hair.

The objects are aligned with their proper verbs, and all is right with the sentence (assuming the gold ribbon and the taffeta don't clash, of course).

Here's a different parallelism problem. See if you can spot the trouble:

Her accused her of not only betraying his trust; he said she abused her relationship with his family.

This is an instance where the writer ought to be thinking about cadence in addition to structure. But also is a deft parallel for not only; the identical number of syllables in those phrases gives the sentence a pleasing lilt.

Check out the difference when the above sentence is amended:

He accused her of not only betraying his trust but also abusing her relationship with his family.

You also have to be careful about placement of the words. Let's make a slight alteration to the first sentence and see how that changes things:

Her accused her not only of betraying his trust but abusing her relationship with his family.

While that's a grammatically defensible sentence, its rhythm is way off. Try this:

He accused her not only of betraying his trust but also of abusing her relationship with his family.

The parallel elements are weighted in the same way: not only (preposition) (gerund phrase) ... but also (preposition) (gerund phrase).

It's good architecture. Papa would be proud.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Craig Lancaster's first novel, 600 Hours of Edward, was a 2009 Montana Honor Book and won the 2010 High Plains Book Award for best first book. His second, The Summer Son, will be released in January 2011 by AmazonEncore. He's also the owner and editor of Missouri Breaks Press, a boutique literary press in Billings, Mont., and offers editing, typesetting and design assistance. Learn more about him and his services at CraigLancaster.net.



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Friday, October 15, 2010

Writing to Sell: POV

L. J. Sellers’ excellent post entitled “Publisher Evaluations” provided invaluable information on the various aspects of our manuscripts that publishers review when deciding whether to take on our book (story). One of those areas in particular—point of view—often challenges writers, including some of us with considerable experience.

Point of view has been addressed before, but let’s play with it another time to see how different POVs change the same scene. The paragraphs below depict three points of view in this abbreviated lesson from my writing manual. The first one—omniscient—is the most cumbersome and least effective. See if you can figure out why?

#1
Spot glanced over his shoulder. The dogcatcher’s vehicle turned the corner and began following him. Sprinting across the street, he headed down the block toward the park.
“There he is!” the driver shouted to his partner.
“Let me out!” his partner yelled. The man hit the sidewalk at a full run. “I’ll get that mutt if it’s the last thing I do!”
Spot heard the sound of footsteps and picked up his pace. If they catch me, I never will find my Troy. He needs me.
The truck passed him and screeched to a halt a short distance ahead. He slowed down to look at the dogcatcher, who jumped out, grabbed the animal snatcher from behind the seat, and ran into the almost deserted street to block him from the front and the side. “Gotcha this time!” he muttered under his breath. “You’re not gonna get away from me again.”
His partner took a deep breath and sped up from behind. “You’re goin’ to the pound, Buster,” he hissed to himself.

Now let’s consider the dogcatcher’s POV:

#2
The dogcatcher spied the greyhound as soon as the truck rounded the corner. “Let’s get him!” he hollered at his partner. “You approach from the rear, and I’ll come at him from the front.” He slowed the truck down just long enough for his partner to hit the pavement running and then stomped on the gas.
Ten yards ahead of the animal he screeched to a stop, reached behind the seat for the animal snatcher, and ran into the street.
“He’s heading for the park where the kids are playing. Don’t let him get away!” he yelled at the man running up from behind. A grin inched across his face. You’re cornered, Buster. You’re not going to outfox me this time.

And the dog’s POV:

#3
Spot glanced over his shoulder. The dogcatcher’s vehicle rounded the corner and headed toward him. His heart thumped in his chest. The sound of the engine slowed. Feet hit the pavement and pounded in his direction. He broke into a fast trot.
The truck passed him and screeched to a halt. A man jumped out and charged in his direction, waving a long stick with something hanging from the end of it. Closer and closer the man came.
One thought bounced through his mind: If they catch me, I never will find my Troy. He needs me. Tapping into the power of his racing ancestors, he propelled himself ahead of the long stick that grazed his back as he passed.

Which scene exerts the greatest impact on the reader? Why? Do you think POV is an important factor in hooking your readers? How would you write this scene?
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Linda Lane heads up a team of three editors to form denvereditor.com, the editing arm of Pen & Sword Publishers Ltd. She specializes in fiction, and one of her team is an award-winning nonfiction editor. The third member specializes in content editing. The three together can polish almost any manuscript to excellence. http://www.denvereditor.com/ and http://www.penandswordpublishers.com/


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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Do Your Research

First-hand research is always best. Sometimes it’s not an option and a writer has to depend on books, Internet searches and second-hand accounts. You’ve got a character zipping off to Mexico City, but you’ve never been there and can’t go do research. So you turn to secondary sources. Luckily, writers can find out lots of information from other places and they can go to chat rooms and ask questions of people who live in Mexico City or other places they need to know about.

Some places never seem to change, making it easy to get by without a lot of searching for info. Like Central Texas. Hot. Little rain. The trees are always green. We only have two seasons: flip flops and shorts … or flip flops and a long-sleeve t-shirt. January or July – it’s all the same.

Wrong. That’s a myth perpetuated by Texans like me.

Today is beautiful. Granted, most days in Central Texas are, but we do have rain. We do occasionally have to wear coats. Some people even wear close-toed shoes – I’m not often one of them. This morning as the sun came up it was cool, not cold. The sky is now a soft blue with white puffy clouds splattered here and there. It’s mid-October. Trees are beginning to lose leaves. Granted, not all the trees, but there are a few trees even here that turn brilliant colors and lose their leaves. Out my kitchen window I can see the roof of a house in the valley, the only house in sight. By winter, I’ll be able to see more of the house, the front of it, the porch, the smoke curling from its chimney. We may not be able to often legitimately use our fireplaces, but we do have a few opportunities without having to turn down the a/c.

Don’t rely on what you think you know about a place. If you can’t find out first-hand, then try to talk to people who live in that setting. And not just one person. Talk to several. One time while working on a book I needed to know if a bus could drive into Central Park and load passengers. I tried to find out through research and couldn’t get an answer. I turned to the Internet and put the question out in a chat room of other authors. Got my answer. Got several answers. Different answers. Sometimes you have to go with the majority or the answer that comes from the most reliable or knowledgeable source. Unless you hire an editor who specializes in getting the details right, your editor may not be fact-checking. So, if you’re not willing to pay someone to do the research, do it yourself. You can’t just shrug your shoulders and flip a coin. If you’re wrong, your readers will catch it.

It’s much better if you catch it before it goes to print. How do you do research? Have you ever read something in a book and felt frustrated because you knew the author got it wrong? What are your favorite resources?
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Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, freelance editor and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its eleventh year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn.


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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Where Story Ideas Come From

One of the questions most frequently asked of writers is: “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s not a popular question among published authors. Maybe they consider the question too silly to answer, or maybe they don’t want to share.

I don’t think the question is silly, but I can’t always explain where my inspiration originated. It's amazing how new ideas weasel their way into my conscious mind. The process works in many different ways. Here’s one example.

I belong to a local face-to-face critique group that meets every other week. One of the things we do is exchange thoughts on writing in general. Last week our conversation went like this (with lots of paraphrasing):

M: Did you know Willa Cather is going to be here? I thought she was dead.

Me: Blank look.

M: My Antonia is one of my favorite novels.

B: Willa Cather? She’s dead.

Everyone laughs.

Me: I’ll bet it’s one of the historical presentations where someone acts the part of Cather. (I checked the next day, and that’s exactly what the event will be).

Our discussion focused on My Antonia for a few minutes and then wandered onto other books until someone mentioned Lord of the Flies.

Me: Lord of the Flies is one of my favorites. I thought the movie was excellent as well. I always wondered why no writer has taken the idea and substituted girls for the boys.

B looked at me for a moment. I could almost see the little wheels turning in his head.

Me: I think it would need a horror writer to do it justice.

B: Definitely a horror writer.

This might seem an amazing coincidence, but B writes horror. The idea was taking hold. We spent the next few minutes discussing how young the girls should be to make the story work. Will B take off in a frenzy of writing? We'll see.

There was another idea embedded in that critique group discussion. What would happen if the real Willa Cather's ghost showed up during the the actress Willa Cather’s performance?

If anyone who writes paranormal romance or mystery wants that one, it’s all yours.

There are many other examples of writers changing up a well-known story with a unique twist. Colorado author Paula Reed teaches high school English, and one of her favorite novels is The Scarlet Letter. Her book, released in February, 2010, is called Hester: The Missing Years of The Scarlet Letter. It's a fine story, especially since she abandoned Hawthorne's unknown omniscient narrator.

Ideas are everywhere. For a different approach, read Shon Bacon’s excellent February post on Ideas for Writing.

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Patricia Stoltey is a mystery author, blogger, and critique group facilitator. Active in promoting authors in several genres, she also helps local unpublished writers learn the critical skills of manuscript revision and self-editing. For information about Patricia’s Sylvia and Willie mystery series, visit her website and her blog. You can also find her on Facebook (Patricia Stoltey) and Twitter (@PStoltey).


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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Word Play Tuesday Today by Morgan Mandel

It's the second Tuesday of the month, which means it's time for Word Play!

I'll pick words that sound the same, but look different. Then it's your turn. You fashion as many of them as you can into phrases, sentences, or more. Of course, you'll want to make some sort of sense when you do it - either funny, strange or serious. This is your time to play with words instead of struggling over where or when to use them. Hopefully, by doing so your brain will nimbly skip over the words in your manuscript.
Here's the first batch:

Wear - Verb - My closet is full, but I haven't a thing to wear.

Ware - Noun -  The only ware I see in this entire store is a toothbrush.
Where - Adverb - Where am I?

And the other batch:

Wore - Verb - Past tense of wear

War - Noun - Opposite of peace - War, what is it good for?

Okay, the comment section is your playground. Go Play!
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Morgan Mandel
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com
http://facebook.com/morgan.mandel




Monday, October 11, 2010

Writing in 140: Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words (or More)

I spend a great deal of time going around the town, taking pictures of things that fascinate me. I also like using pictures to jump-start my writing, especially when a lull finds me. When a lull finds you, you can go take your own pictures, or you can scour the Internet, newspapers, magazines, etc. and find pictures that strike you—whether for their setting, for the people in the picture, for the colors, etc. Ask yourself, "How can this picture spark a story?" Think about character, setting, detail, description, conflict, etc., and how these storytelling components can resonate from one single image. It can help jog your mind back to writing as an exercise, or it can help you flow right into a new story.



Have you used photographs to help you generate story ideas?


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Writing in 140 is my attempt to say something somewhat relevant about writing in 140 words or less.

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Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically, and her debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell is now available for purchase. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, promoting her debut project, writing screenplays, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Saturday, October 9, 2010

Publisher Evalutions

I evaluate fiction manuscripts for a publisher, using a standard form crafted by the publishing house. The form contains a list questions, grouped by subject: opening, premise, plot, POV, character, dialogue, and setting. I’m sharing some of the questions here, so you can see specifically how a publisher might evaluate your manuscript.

Opening:
Does the first page grab the reader’s attention?
Does the first chapter set up the basis for the rest of the story?

Premise and Tone:

Is the basic premise or theme interesting? Believable? Unique?
Is the focus of the work revealed early in the novel?
Is the basic premise of the novel well executed?

Point of View:

Is the point of view consistent throughout?
Are shifts in point of view, if any, necessary and simple to follow?
Is the point of view used appropriately to convey the thoughts or emotions of various characters?

Structure, Plot, and Pace:
Is there a planned series of carefully selected interrelated incidents?
Are there situations that heighten the conflict?
Does the story have a clear conclusion or satisfactory ending appropriate to the genre?
Do the plot and structure sufficiently hold the reader’s interest throughout?

Setting:
Is the setting described appropriately without slowing the pace of the work?
Does the novel provide an appropriate sense of place?

Characterization:
Does the author provide a clear visual image of the characters?
Does the behavior of all characters seem realistic?
Are the characters presented with realistic challenges and life situations?
Do you feel an emotional connection to any of the characters?
Are characters introduced effectively and for a specific purpose?

Dialogue:

Does the dialogue reveal the character’s background or identifying traits?
Is there a good balance of dialogue and action?
Does the dialogue sound authentic, and is it used effectively throughout?

As you can see, publishers have high standards and specific expectations that apply across all fiction genres.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~

L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist, editor, and the author of the Detective Jackson mysteries, The Sex Club , Secrets to Die For, and Thrilled to Death, and two standalone thrillers, The Baby Thief and The Suicide Effect. All are available on Kindle for $2.99. She also loves to edit fiction and works with authors to keep her rates affordable. Contact her at:
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Friday, October 8, 2010

Self-Publishing: Baby Steps

By Scott Nicholson

If I can’t talk you out of self-publishing, the least I can do is get you thinking like a pro. Because once you decide to become a publisher, you have no more excuses and no one to blame but yourself. You have just promoted yourself to executive editor, CEO, sales rep, publicist, accountant, and copy clerk.

The first step is finding quality editing, either through the fine professionals here at Blood Red Pencil or highly skilled friends. If you’re going to use peer editors, I’d recommend at least three different readers, but one experienced person should give it a thorough final edit. Usually, you come up with not only a better book but better writing skills for a lifetime.

While the book’s out for edits, you’ll want to round up cover art. I have been using Neil Jackson at Ghostwriter Publications, and we have a trade arrangement where I format his e-books for design work. He does some covers for hire so you can check with him, and there are a number of other high-quality cover artists out there, usually charging in the range of $50 to $300, depending on what you want.

If you’re going indie, you’ll definitely want an electronic copy, and you can learn simple formatting yourself. However, once you see what a professional can do, you’ll find it’s well worth the money. Don’t forget, once you’ve made these investments, the file should be yours for a lifetime of income. And the two biggest e-book markets–Amazon and Barnes & Noble–allow the author to directly upload and manage his own accounts with ease and get paid directly instead of waiting for a bi-annual royalty check that may or may not come.

Ted Risk at Dellaster Design is an artist when it comes to formatting. I know the basics but he takes it up a notch, putting in the cover, table of contents, links, and other digital tools that enhance the digital reading experience. Here’s what Ted says:

“When introducing the Kindle e-book reader Jeff Bezos said that the physical book's most important feature, and that which is the foremost goal of Amazon's device, is that it disappears. The ink and paper - or pixels and plastic - are forgotten and what remains is the author's world.

“Likewise, the most important aspect of good e-book formatting is that it goes unnoticed. Bafflement should come from the mystery presented by the writer, not by inconsistent paragraph and scene breaks or by non-standard typographical conventions.

“Aside from the amount of text that can be presented at once on the screen, the page of an e-book should look just like a page in a printed book. Such conventional formatting is time-tested and what most readers are used to. It's guaranteed, as with a paper book, to get out of the way, to disappear, and allow reader immersion in the author's world.”

Depending on your level of computer skills, you should be able to create an e-book account at Amazon’s digital text platform and B&N’s PubIt in short order, uploading your book files and plugging in descriptions and keywords. It might seem daunting at first, but it’s really no harder than running a blog or attaching files to an email.

And for all your hard work, you get 100 percent of the net proceeds for the life of copyright. Not even a New York publishing CEO gets that kind of deal.

In the next installment, we’ll look at formatting your book for paper, since you may as well take advantage of print-on-demand technology and meet those readers yet to to make the digital transition.

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Scott Nicholson is author of 12 novels and five story collections, publishing in mass market, small press, and solo. He's created four comics series and written six screenplays, and also works as a freelance editor and journalist. He's currently on a 90-day Kindle Giveaway Blog Tour. Visit www.hauntedcomputer.com for free e-books to sample Ted Dellaster's work.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Deleting Hard Returns with Find and Replace

Many former typists find it difficult to break certain habits, such as pressing Enter at the end of each line (hard return) instead of allowing Word to automatically wrap the lines of the document, and typing a double space after a period or semi-colon. Word’s Find and Replace feature can be used to fix this habit retrospectively so that you can get on with writing (typing) the way you are used to.

Find and Replace can be accessed with the shortcut Ctrl-f.

Double Space After Punctuation

Replacing a double space after punctuation is easy: simply type two spaces into the Find What box and one space into the Replace With box, and click Replace All.

Hard Return

To get rid of a hard return or Paragraph Mark, click “More” in the bottom left of the Find and Replace dialog box. The dialog box will expand to include further options.

Click Special▼ and select “Paragraph Mark”. The code “^p” should appear in the Find What box. In the Replace With box, type a space. This will fill in the space between words that is needed when the paragraph mark is deleted and the lines come together. You will probably want to use the Find Next and Replace commands rather than Replace All if there are areas where you do need forced paragraphs, such as at the end of chapters.

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Elsa NealIs Word driving you crazy? Then Word 4 Writers is for you. Learn to tame the monster and save your time in front of the screen for writing not fighting. Elsa Neal has been strong-arming Word for 14 years and teaching others to do the same. She is based in Melbourne, Australia.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Time Out For a Little Humor

Thanks to my friend Tracy Farr, we have another installment of his very important advice for writers....

The final step to becoming a writer is to let someone read what you've written. Sounds simple, doesn't it? But it's not!

After you've spent weeks, months or even years on your story (I limit myself to an hour, and I'm sure it's quite noticeable), the hardest thing you, the writer, can do is hand over what you think is a masterpiece to someone who may or may not like it, may or may not give you honest constructive criticism, and may or may not still be your friend depending upon what they have to say about your story.

"Well, I think your opening really caught my attention, especially the part where the bad guy is chasing the good guy on a John Deere tractor through a hay meadow, looking to turn the good guy into goat feed, but I really think the second page was, how should I say it...it really sucked, and it kept sucking from that page to the end!"

Yes, indeed, we hope for good reviews, but way back in the back of our minds (and for most of us, way up front in the front of our minds) we fear that nobody will like our story, which means they don't like us, which means we are total failures, which means we ain't going to be buying a Rolls anytime soon...

...but we keep writing anyways because writing is not about money, fancy cars, dining with fancy stars, rubbing elbows with the most georgous women in the world because now we have access, which leads to Letterman, Leno, and Oprah, and before you know it we're under a lot of pressure to come up with a blockbuster second novel, but we can't figure out what it's going to be about, and now we have no more paychecks coming in, we've bought so much crap that we need a storage shed to store everything, especially since we defaulted on our home loan, and now we're living from day to day under some overpass, hoping that "lighting" will strike again before we get run over by a semi!

Nosirree! Writing is about writing, and if you don't have the balls to let someone read what you've written without getting all teary-eyed and suicidal, then you might as well stick to watching television and reading trashy novels from authors who DIDN'T give up!

So, it's up to you. Write, let someone read it, write some more, and continue until you're done. And how will you know when you're done?

Try poking with a fork. If the juices run clear, you're done!

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Posted by Maryann Miller with Tracy's permission. He likes to share his humor here with a few more people than read his blog, which by the way is pretty darn funny. Trust me. He isn't paying me a penny to say that.

Maryann's Web site - where you can find information about her books and editing services

Tracy's Blog

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ask The Editor Free-For-All Tuesday Today by Morgan Mandel

The weather's cool, the leaves are turning, plus it's football season. What more reminders do you need it's time to buckle down and tackle your work in progress, the one you put off finishing in the off season summer months?

Perhaps an unanswered question is still weaving in and out of your head, blocking your way to the end zone. Where can you find the answer?

Look no further. Our formidable editors are standing by, ready and willing to huddle with you. That's what Ask the Editor Free-For-All is about.

Here's how it works:

Today, and Every First Tuesday of the Month, The Blood-Red Pencil holds our Ask the Editor Free-For-All. We call out for e-group, Facebook, social network friends, and blog followers to rush over onto our field. Our Editors love clearing the way, no matter what your call - submitting a manuscript to an editor or agent, publishing on Kindle, e-books, or self-publishing in other formats.

We're in your corner. The Blood-Red Pencil's pro editors are here to help.

To Submit A Question, Follow These Easy Steps:

Leave a comment below in the comment section. When you do, include your name and blog url or website not only for promo, but so we know you’re legit. (One link only per person, please!)

One or more of our editors will drop by today and answer your question in the comment section. If an editor feels your question needs a more lengthy explanation, you'll get a comment saying more details will follow in a special blog post devoted to the subject at a later date. If that's the case, you'll be fortunate enough to get extra promotion, and perhaps a chance to send in your profile and book cover jpegs and buy link.

It's not a requirement, but it wouldn't hurt to leave your e-mail address with your comment. Because your question may need a follow-up, it's also a good idea to mention somewhere in your comment where you'd heard about our Ask the Editor Free-For-All.

Others will be asking questions, so be sure to stop by later for more answers. Since some of you are on e-group Digests, questions and answers might carry over through Wednesday or Thursday.

Okay, players, come out onto the field, get into position, and comment below.
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Morgan Mandel
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com
http://facebook.com/morgan.mandel





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Monday, October 4, 2010

Got Rhythm?

What does writing have to do with music?

When you are in the revision and self-editing mode with your Work In Progress (WIP), it is helpful to read it aloud, whether to yourself or to someone else. This not only helps you catch errors you might not have seen on the computer screen or printed page, but it also helps you create a musicality with your prose.

“What?” you may protest. “I’m not a musician.”

You don’t have to be, to create a beat or a rhythm with your sentences. You don’t want to have them all sound the same. Here’s a very simple example:

He went to the cupboard. He looked at the bare shelves. He took out a can of soup. He heated it. He sat down to eat.

For one thing, all the sentences begin with “He.” The second is that they all have the same rhythm or beat. To vary them, you might write something like this:

Joe stared at the dusty shelves in the cupboard. Nothing but soup. He selected a can of tomato, opened it and heated it. With a deep sigh, he sat at his lonely table to eat.

There are other ways to make your writing more poetic or musical. Use the senses to create mood or emotion and paint pictures, build on imagery, metaphor, simile.

Example:
Rain falls over the Atlantic Ocean from River Shannon to Limerick and will probably go on for a long time. The cold wetness has made people so sick they cough until they are breathless. Cures are sought to ease the sickness, such as boiled onions in milk, blackened with pepper.

Not terribly exiting or evocative language. A lot of “telling” the reader the “facts.”

Here’s a passage from Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt:
Out in the Atlantic Ocean, great sheets of rain gathered to drift slowly up the River Shannon and settle forever in Limerick. The rain dampened the city from the Feast of the Circumcision to New Year’s Eve. It created a cacophony of hacking coughs, bronchial rattles, asthmatic wheezes, consumptive croaks. It turned noses into fountains, lungs into bacterial sponges. It provoked cures galore; to ease the catarrh you boiled onions in milk blackened with pepper, for the congested passages you made a paste of boiled flour and nettles, wrapped it in a rag, and slapped it sizzling, on the chest.

By using poetic language, McCourt transforms lifeless description into a symphony. See what you can do to create rhythm in your writing.

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Check out these other BRP blogs about rhythm and writing:
Got Rhythm?   
Dance to the Beat
More About the Rhythm of Words

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A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her novels, Cowgirl Dreams, and the just-released sequel, Follow the Dream, are based on her grandmother. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Tips For Writing Effective Dialogue

Dialogue is one of the first things agents and editors look at when they receive a manuscript for consideration. If the dialogue is wooden, stilted, and artificial, agents will assume that the rest of the writing is amateurish, and the manuscript will be quickly rejected. Here are some concrete ways to make your dialogue more compelling.  

A . Dialogue needs tension, conflict and emotion.

This one is huge. As Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy say in Writing Fiction for Dummies, “Dialogue is war! Every dialogue should be a controlled conflict between at least two characters with opposing agendas. The main purpose of dialogue is to advance the conflict of the story.”

1 . Leave out the “Hi, how are you?” “I’m fine, and you?” stuff, and cut to the chase. Skip past introductions and all that empty blah-blah small talk.
2 . Avoid  long monologues or dialogues that just impart  information, with no tension or emotion.
3 . Don’t use dialogue as filler – if it doesn’t advance the plot, heighten the conflict, or deepen the characterization, take it out.
4 . Include lots of emotional or sexual tension and subtext in your dialogue. Silence, interrupting, or abruptly changing the subject can be effective, too.

B . Loosen up the dialogue.

The most common problem with dialogue for new writers is that it often sounds too stiff and formal. Here are some easy, quick tips for loosening up the dialogue: 

1 . Read your dialogue out loud. Does it sound natural? Can you cut some words? Can you use more common, everyday conversational words, rather than some “correct” words? In conversation, use “bought” rather than “purchased,” “use” rather than “utilize,” etc.
2 . Use contractions. Change “I am” to “I’m”, “we will” to “we’ll” etc.
3 . Break up   long, grammatically correct complete sentences. Nobody talks in complete sentences in informal conversations, especially in stressful situations. Use some short sentence fragments, and one-word answers.
4 . Don’t have one person go on and on about a subject. Fiction is not the place for a lecture or having somebody speaking at length about himself. It’s not natural, and your readers aren’t interested in long monologues! Have the other person interrupt to ask a question, give their opinion, seek clarification, change the subject, etc.

C . Keep it real!

Avoid having the characters say things they would never say, just to impart some information to the readers. An extreme example of this would be a character saying to his sister: “As you know, our parents died in a car crash five years ago.” Using dialogue to get information across to the reader is artificial and a sure sign of an amateur writer. Work the information in subtly, without having one character say something the other would obviously already know.

D . Give each character his or her own voice or speaking style. Make sure all your characters don’t sound the same (like the author). Pay attention to differences in gender, age, social status, education, geographical location, historical era, etc. Some characters, especially professionals, will use more correct English and longer sentences, while others will use rougher language, with a lot of one or two-word questions or answers. Men tend to be more direct and to the point in conversation, often using very brief   answers, while women tend to use more complete sentences and often want to discuss their feelings.

Think about individual personality differences within that social group and the situation. Is your character: Shy or outgoing? Talkative or quiet? Formal or casual? Modern or old-fashioned? Confident or nervous? Tactful or blunt? Serious or lighthearted? Relaxed or stressed? Also give each character their own little quirks and slang expressions, but exercise caution when using slang or expletives.

© Jodie Renner, September 2010

Resources: On Writing Romance by Leigh Michaels, A Writer’s Guide to Fiction by Elizabeth Lyon, Writing Dialogue, by Tom Chiarella, Novel Shortcuts by Laura Whitcomb, Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy

Check out these other Blood-Red Pencil posts on tips for writing good dialogue:

Apr 21, 2010 
Mar 29, 2010
Dec 28, 2009

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Jodie Renner is a former teacher and librarian with a master’s degree and a lifelong passion for reading, especially fiction. Jodie runs her own freelance manuscript editing business at http://www.JodieRennerEditing.com. She also runs a weekly BLOG with tips for writers. Jodie has traveled extensively, and loves traveling so much that she’s thinking of changing her tagline from “Let’s work together to enhance and empower your writing” to “Have laptop, will travel.”


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