Monday, December 28, 2009

Timelines and Mapping: Timesavers in Writing

If there is one thing I'm reminded of when writing, it's how I must learn to keep notes along the way. My recent WIP, which I've finally finished, gave me reason to think about this organization thing a little more carefully. When including the ages of my older characters and the mention of past events in which they were included, I realized there was a discrepancy. I had to go back and search for each point in the story where information had to be changed so that all would make sense. A timeline would have helped to prevent that mistake and spending valuable time undoing the errors.

I feel there is definitely the need for a timeline. If you are going to include a story setting that expands several days, several weeks, or several years, it doesn't matter. Create a timeline to fill out along the way as you write. Dates, ages, duration of time, all can be thrown out of kilter if you don't keep track. If you are a computer guru who enjoys software with all its colors and gizmo devices to create your timeline, check out
TIMEGLIDER . The software is free and it will give you choices for how you would like your timeline to look and then store it for you.

Another point in story writing which can be a challenge and thus cause for error involves character interactions --- who said what to whom and where they were, where they've been, how to get there from here---well, you get the picture. Or maybe you don't. One of the teaching strategies I've learned is mind mapping. It truly works. I've seen this used with various mediums, including one lady's suggestion to create a map or miniature model of the town in which your story takes place. Mapping can be a great tool and will visualize any information you like. Another free site/software that uses mapping tools is
MINDMEISTER . Once you've signed up, you can create a map webbing for your characters, locations of places in which they live or visit, events, etc.

Of course, if you are more of the paper and pencil type, you can always jot your timeline down on paper. However, I can't emphasize enough how important it is to add to it as you write. Perhaps at the end of each writing session, or after each chapter you've written would work. I know how difficult this may be when you're in the writing zone, that mad frenzy of passion where your fingers are burning up the keyboard as the words pour out. And you're supposed to stop and take a moment to jot down notes? Not easy, but find a point where you can do so. As for mapping without computer software, you might try note cards. Plaster them on the wall of your writing space or spread out on the floor, or wherever you can.

I think these tools work. Try out different methods and find the one that fits you. Then use it. That way when you get to that point in the story where you think, "Did I say Martha was five when that happened?" or "Did Martha tell Tim she was in love with him before or after she dumped Tom?", you can look at your timeline or map for the answers within seconds, rather than spending extra time going back through your novel to find out.

Writing should be fun, but the organization helps in the editing process. And at the very least it will save you time for, well, for all the other important things in your life that you've neglected while--what else?--WRITING!


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Check It Out ... Weekly Websites

If you are all about reading and perhaps belong to a discussion group, here is a site that gives you reading guides for thousands of novels. It even gives authors an opportunity (at a fee of course) to have your own book's reading guide published on this site. Other goodies include contest book giveaways. In any case, check out:


Here is one that many new or immerging authors may be interested in. This site gives writers the opportunity to have their work displayed on the site, giving it exposure to both readers and literary agents.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

An Honor to Receive

Thanks to 2b4unate for the beautiful award! I am so behind in my blogging, I just now got around to this. And I want to say that it's very difficult to pick only seven sites to pass this on to since the sites I visit are all so great!

A few simple rules apply to the recipients of this award.

1.Thank the person who gave you the award.
2.Copy the Award.
3.Post it in your blog.
4. Tell Us 7 things that your readers don't know.
5. Link 7 new bloggers as recipients.
6. Notify winners of award with comment on their blog.
7. Keep being Awesome.

7 things you might not know about me:

1. I have "stage fright" even in front of small groups, and yet I'm a teacher... go figure.
2. I play the guitar and have written songs (okay... I didn't say they were GREAT songs!)
3. When I was very young, I wanted to be an actress and always talked and performed in front of my bedroom mirror. And I still do that sometimes :-)
4. My first major in college was French. Parles-tu francais aussi?
5. My left big toe is noticeably longer than my right one.
6. Back in the day I played a mean tennis game. I really "aced" them! .....yeah, I know it's corny.
7. I'm great with words, but I swear I'm dyslexic with numbers!

And the winners are.... drum roll, please .....

This one is just a lot of fun to try.

For a great, entertaining story, this is the one to visit!

For the photos, this one is awe-inspiring

Wonderful site with wonderful stories. (Plus I like the blogname.)

For women, a very supportive soulful blog

creative site, I like this one and it's creator!

this one is a new launching for Michael with great stories. check it out

Thanks to all of you and many others. This is such a supportive and creative group of bloggers!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Check It Out ... Weekly Websites

Here are your weekly goodies, starting with a useful site for those who want to find writers' conferences and workshops going on in their area or across the country:


And for those who are wanting yet another site to help with editing and networking, as well as a shoulder to cry on or ear to bend with numerous message boards at hand, NaNoWriMo does a great follow up to their November contest by giving writers tons of information:


Name That Novel #14

Here's an internationally well-known classic. See if you can guess the TITLE and AUTHOR:

So saying, he gave the spur to his steed Rocinante, heedless of the cries his squire Sancho sent after him, warning him that most certainly they were windmills and not giants he was going to attack. He, however, was so positive they were giants that he neither heard the cries of Sancho, nor perceived, near as he was, what they were, but made at them shouting, "Fly not, cowards and vile beings, for a single knight attacks you."

Good luck to all!

Congratulations to Sarah: Don Quixote by Cervantes is the answer.

Friday, December 4, 2009

NaNo Notes, or So What's the Big Deal Anyway?

The NaNoWriMo is an experience from which everyone should gain something, something to share, something to make one a better writer, or maybe even a wiser person. Okay, that last one might be telling me I'm getting just a bit too Zen about this. So, I'll just stick with the "making one a better writer" aspect.

Here are a few thoughts I have come away with and I'd like to share. Take 'em or leave 'em. I'll admit the whole affair at some point changes you ... lots ... and often ... and it can scare you ... because you may not recognize yourself ... but then you come back to you in the end. And hopefully you can say ... (here you reread paragraph one). Now, on to the thoughts:

1. Writing that flows from hour to hour, day to day, week to week is euphoric and painful at the same time. I have to say there is nothing like it. You become consumed with this other world, i.e. your story, and it haunts you, even when you're not writing, you're writing in your head.

2. Don't sweat the small stuff. (Okay, I know, I'm a pirate, a thief of words, but it fits so well here, I had to do it!) It's understandable that when you write this way, under these conditions, you will find word usage rather, shall I say, looking as if Webster's Dictionary was just culled down to a mere 100 words! Not to worry, the story shall flow and you know that words can be changed ... LATER!

3. A rose is a rose, but a story is not just a story, it's YOUR story! What I mean is when you think half way through, or however many times through, that your story sounds like all the others, remember it's in your words, with your tone and voice ... your unique style going to work putting those words down from pen to paper, from fingers and keyboard to computer. THE STORY IS YOURS!

4. Hey! I think I get this and I do know what I'm doing! This is your life: several hours x 1700 words x 30 days = one great story! Okay, maybe not great, but it will be :-) The beauty of writing this way, everyday, is that your story feels like you're at the movie theatre, watching it up on the big screen. It really becomes easy to progress from one scene to the next, to know what event should happen after the last, to recall details of what you've already written down. At least for me it was this way. I never left the story for long before returning to it. There is something to be said for discipline and writing everyday, for writing continuously when creating that first draft. I say, getting bogged down with finding that right word or rewriting that one little scene twenty times over messes with the flow of the story. And like so many have said, there's time for picking it apart later. JUST WRITE THE DARN STORY! GET IT DOWN! SPIT IT OUT! NOW!

5. It's my party and I'll write if I want to! (I'm just full of it today, aren't I?) Sinclair Lewis once said "It is impossible to discourage the real writers. They don't give a damn what you say, they're going to write." So, to all the naysayers, to all the negative Nancie's, to all the poo-pooers who think you can't write, you tell 'em, "It's my party!". Writing is a very intimidating experience. Like golf, one minute you're thinking, hey, I've got this game now, and you just know there's an eagle or hole-in-one coming. Then in the next moment, there's a shamefully embarrassing, discouraging shot, not just any old bogey, but maybe a nine shot deal where you want to crawl into the golf bag and just disappear. Well, writing can be like that, where you think you can't do it. You stink. It's all a bunch of drivel. And then you have this moment. It's a gloriously perfect moment of clarity where it all flows. Think of that moment whenever the bogey is trying to ruin your party. Remember the shiny things that make writing so great. DON'T BE DISCOURAGED! And maybe you'll finish a NaNoWriMo next year, and maybe you'll polish that story and sell it to a publisher, and maybe you will really feel it and mean it when you say, "I'm one of those real writers." Besides, what else have you got to do for several hours a day, every day of of the week for an entire month?!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Whew! What a Month ... sigh, relief, zzzzzzz

Okay, 30 days and 50,000 words. (And counting because it's going to take another 5,000 or so to finish the story.) I'm well-done. Stick a fork in me and I'm sizzlin'. Now, I'm going to rest up a bit. Then I'll be ready for more blogging. Promise.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Check It Out....Weekly Websites

Sorry for the long absence. And it will continue until the end of the month. I've gotten myself into the deep quagmire called Nanowrimo. 35,000 words and counting. But enough about that... I came up with a couple of nuggets you might find useful (not going to mess with the fancy linking labels this time):

This one lists and describes lots of writing workshops ... tips on anything from blogging to writing the big novel.

Here we have a fellow blogger who shows you how to self-edit.

Looking for a new source to create your website? Want it affordable and not all those advertisements to clutter it up? This one gives you customizable options and costs $20/year. It might be worth a look.

Okay, that's it for this round. I will try and post something later in the week. Until then.... Happy Turkey Day!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Name That Poet....#4

It's been awhile, and I apologize. Here is another poem from a classic poet. See if you know the name of both the title and the creator.

"Hope" is the thing with feathers--
That perches in the soul--
And sings the tune without the words--
And never stops--at all--

And sweetest--in the Gale--is heard--
And sore must be the storm--
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm--

I've heard it in the chillest land--
And on the strangest Sea--
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb--of Me.

Okay, good luck to all. :-)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Creating Suspense: Keep the Plot Moving

Creating suspense seems like a reasonable task when writing a story. After all, you just keep stuff happening to the characters, right? Well, yes, incidents that put your characters in some sort of challenging predicament is what keeps the story interesting. But is there a certain technique that a writer can consciously focus on to make it all happen in an effective way? Margaret Lucke in her book, Writing Great Short Stories, sums it up into four techniques: 1) raise the stakes; 2)eliminate the options; 3)isolate your characters; and 4)ignite a ticking bomb.

Raise the Stakes: This goes along with the idea that what happens to your main character, all that conflict, should keep the interest of your readers. In order to do this, you must raise the stakes, i.e. keep the challenges and obstacles coming with each one a bit more risky than the one before. It's as if she or he must bring more to the table to overcome the obstacles and has that much more to lose or gain, depending on whether he or she fails or succeeds.

Eliminate the Options: This reminds me of playing chess. The further you are into the game, the more pieces you may lose, leaving you with fewer options to overcome your opponent and win. Keep reducing the options your character has to get out of the fixes you put him/her in. Tease your readers. Let them think a solution is about to work, and then snap! The solution has disappeared and your character must scramble to find another way out of the problem.

Isolate Your Character: Everybody wants friends in a time of need. Like I mentioned in a previous posting, if your character has some allies to help out, that makes the situation workable. But what about at one of those climatic moments? A suspenseful juncture when you want to put your readers on the edge of their seats? In those points of your story when you think it needs a little oomph, why not isolate your character? Cut him/her off from the rest of the world? I mean physically put the character in a place where there is no outside help. The character must figure it out all by him or herself. Or maybe it's a place where the character is emotionally isolated. An abusive home that he or she can't escape, perhaps. There are lots of choices.

Ignite a Ticking Bomb: Several movies pop into my head right now: Speed, Die Hard, Air Force One, John Q just to name a few. You know, those movies where the clock is ticking and each minute that passes raises the stress and tension level. And to add just an extra element of suspense, you might create a situation where the character doesn't know how much time he/she has left. It could be five hours from then or five days. No one knows. How's that for excitement?

Those are just a few ideas on how to create suspense. Hopefully, some of them work for you. If you have techniques of your own, stop and drop a line! Happy Writing, all :-)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Check It Out ... Weekly Websites

Need pics? Need them for free? Then you should check out this site, which has thousands of photos of just about anything. It's free and easy to use.


Funds for Writers is a weekly newsletter that keeps you posted on paid writing opportunities: there are more than 15 in each issue. There are grants, contests, market offers, etc.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Name That Novel #13

Contemporary, bestseller, an American saga and a very poignant take on human nature -- our flaws, our strengths, all of it set in the vast wilderness of Wisconsin. That said (a generous serving of clues, I must say) see if you can guess the title and author:

**I am giving some other hints, which I hope will bring in a winner. This story is about a mute boy who communicates well with dogs, and he goes on a long journey into the wilderness. The book came out in 2008, I believe.

"This will be his earliest memory.

Red light, morning light. High ceiling canted overhead. Lazy click of toenails on wood. Between the honey-colored slats of the crib a whiskery muzzle slides forward until its cheeks pull back and a row dainty front teeth bare themselves in a ridiculous grin.

The nose quivers. The velvet snout dimples.

All the house is quiet. Be still. Stay still.

Fine, dark muzzle fur. Black nose, leather of lacework creases, comma of nostrils flexing with each breath. A breeze shushes up the field and pillows the curtains inward. The apple tree near the kitchen window caresses the house with a tick-tickety-tick-tick. As slowly as he can, he exhales, feigning sleep, but despite himself his breath hitches. At once, the muzzle knows he is awake. It snorts. Angles right and left. Withdraws...."

There you are. Now, let's see what you can do with it. :-)

Okay, I don't think anyone is going to guess this one. So, drum roll please! .........

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Friday, October 30, 2009

Check It Out .... Weekly Websites

It's all about the writing, people -- at least on this blog it is :-). So, here are a couple of sites full of great and varied information.

The first one I'm directing you to is about all aspects of fiction -- writing better, getting published, promoting and marketing. There are also links to lead you places more specifically geared to your writing genre. So check out ....


And here's one that tells a lot about freelancing -- writing tips, career resources, articles on the latest news in publishing, etc.


And one more site.... the name of it is Cool Stuff for Writers, and the title pretty much explains the content. Enjoy!


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Name That Poet #3

Here is a short contemporary poem. See if you recognize it. Then give us the poet and title if you can. And please check out the link below. Cara Power does a wonderful blog segment on poetry. This week's feature? Why "The Raven" narrated by Vincent Price, of course!

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Congrats to Tina for guessing Carl Sandburg. And the title is "Fog"


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Are You Taking Notes?

Take notes. Jot it down. Then study it, absorb it, mull it around awhile. Okay, so what exactly is she talking about, you wonder. I'm speaking of style. When you hear the adage "read a lot, write a lot" you think that's great. You like to read and you like to write. So, that should solve everything. You will become the next Hemingway or be a bestselling author like Dan Brown. Right? Well, maybe you will. More than likely, instead of just reading you are studying. In that respect you really do get a lot out of the author's words, the style, the ability to make you feel what he or she has to say.

Some books on writing will advise you to copy down passage after passage of some work by an author you admire. That's a arduous and daunting task, but there are those who believe the ritual will help you absorb the way the author writes and make it yours. I tend to find a middle ground on this. I suggest whenever you see a word or a turn of a phrase that's clever, jot it down in a notebook so you can study it later. Or maybe it's a particular way a character acts, the words he or she says that catches your eye. Write it or describe it in your notebook.

I always think I'm going to remember what I've read or an idea I've had. I won't write it down and sure enough, it becomes buried, part of the tangled mass of thoughts crowding my mind. Write it down, please.

Then, when you have time to look over your notes, play with the words a bit. First, think and analyze the author's choice of words, the way he or she has put words together. We all want to avoid those overused, trite expressions like "clenching his teeth" or "squinting her eyes". When you see a unique phrasing, something that pops up from the page and you think, how great is that?, it's good to study it.

Next, try using some of those phrases, etc. in your own writing. See if it "fits" you. More than likely this exercise will help you to discover your own variation, a bit of an adjustment here, a little tweak there, and it's yours. Eventually--if you haven't already--you will find your own style. It will be drawn from all your experiences with reading and studying other authors' works. Then, someday, when you have your work published, aspiring authors will be studying you. And how awesome is that?!

Good luck in all you write :-)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Check It Out.....Weekly Websites

For those of you who love to read (and most everyone visiting here does) there's a site that gives excerpts from thousands of books. So, if you are inclined to take a peek inside your favorite author's work, check it out. There are all kinds of fun features to the site. And it's a great tool for teachers, too.


Then, for the writer who looks for the quirky, off-the-wall kind of plot ideas, check out this one.


Name That Novel #12

Contemporary Fiction; well-known author and novel. Title and author, if you will.

Who am I? And how, I wonder, will this story end?

The sun has come up and I am sitting by a window that is foggy with the breath of a life gone by. I'm a sight this morning: two shirts, heavy pants, a scarf wrapped twice around my neck and tucked into a thick sweater knitted by my daughter thirty birthdays ago. The thermostat in my room is set as high as it will go, and a smaller space heater sits directly behind me. It clicks and groans and spews hot air like a fairytale dragon, and still my body shivers with a cold that will never go away, a cold that has been eighty years in the making. Eighty years, I think sometimes, and despite my own acceptance of my age, it still amazes me that I haven't been warm since George Bush was president. I wonder if this is how it is for everyone my age.

My life? It isn't easy to explain. It has not been the rip-roaring spectacular I fancied it would be, but neither have I burrowed around with the gophers. I suppose it has most resembled a blue-chip stock: fairly stable, more ups than downs, and gradually trending upward over time. A good buy, a lucky buy, and I've learned that not everyone can say this about his life. But do not be misled. I am nothing special; of this I am sure. I am a common man with common thoughts, and I've led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten, but I've loved another with all my heart and soul, and to me, this has always been enough.

And may the best reader win! :-)

Congrats to JW for answering: The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

Monday, October 19, 2009

Name That Poet -- #2

I thought the timing would be perfect, with this season of ghosts and goblins and such .... So, let's see what you can do with this poem. Poet's name and title if you know it.

In the greenest of our valleys
By good angels tenanted
Once a fair and stately palace--
Radient palace--reared it's head.
In the monarch Thought's dominion,
It stood there;
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair.

Banner yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow
(This--all this--was in the olden
Time long ago),
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A winged odor went away.

Wanderers in that happy valley
Through two luminous windows saw
Spirits moving musically,
To a lute's well-tuned law.
Round about a throne where, sitting,
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing,
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch's high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn, for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed,
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.

And travelers now within that valley
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh--but smile no more.

Good luck to all!

Congrats to Bendigo! The poet is Edgar Allen Poe with his poem "The Haunted Palace"

Friday, October 16, 2009

Who's An Amateur?!

Amateur versus professional sleuth. It seems the pro has all the advantages -- the tools, the skills, the money for solving the crime. So, why fight it? If you are writing a mystery, is it worth making your hero or heroine tool-less and unskilled? How will he or she overcome all the obstacles to get the bad guy? In my opinion, it's not really all that impossible. After all, there are many amateur or semi-amateur mystery greats floating around out there in fictionland. Some of them are more entertaining because of this status. Of course, most of your hard-boiled crime novels are accompanied by the pros -- detectives, cops, etc. If I wanted to write that kind of book, I would stick with the pro. In any case, here is a list of items to keep in mind, if you plan on using the tool-less and unskilled to solve the crime.

1). Disbelief: why is this guy/gal solving the murder or crime? Shouldn't law enforcement be doing it? Create a situation where he/she has to get involved. Maybe the police have given up on the case. Or perhaps this is a close relative -- spouse, child, etc. -- who is missing. Personal involvement is key. If your amateur sleuth has something invested, something so great he/she can't turn away from it, then it's justified.

2). Weapons: no guns. At least you wouldn't expect the average person to be a sharp shooter, killing off the enemy. So, he/she better rely on wits, and at the moment it's needed, a clever substitute, such as knitting needles or a frying pan or whatever is handy to disarm or disable the opponent.

3). Day Job: Like I said, it's the pro who gets paid. The amateur has to do something for a living ... car salesman, real estate agent, the lady who works in lingerie, whatever pays the bills, but leaves enough time off to snoop around and catch the bad guys.

4). Sub Genre: This really isn't such a bad thing. At least from my point of view, it isn't. That's because I enjoy cozies and any mystery with a heavy dose of humor. Let's face it. Seventy-year-old Aunt Maude, swatting at the thief with her umbrella, is comical. Joe detective popping off the killer with his automatic is not. But using an amateur as your lead does limit you. If it limits you where you want to be, then it's okay. Right?

5). Fiction Fakes: I really don't buy into this. If I did, then I wouldn't enjoy Lord of the Rings with Biblo, Frodo, and the Wizard. Or Superman and Batman. Okay, so those aren't quite aligned with mystery novels, but they all come under the category of fiction. That's right. FICTION. Make believe that's sometimes smattered with factual stuff, stuff that may happen. But when you shake it, turn it upside down and right side up while deciding how unreal the amateur sleuth really is, it still ends up FICTION. And those characters have feelings, they bleed just like the pros do, and they can think, too.

6). Helpful Friends: I thought it would be important to add something about back-up, support, i.e. who's the amateur going to turn to for help? After all, there will be those moments of crisis or need of expert opinion when it's convenient for your sleuth to have friends in the right places. For instance, Stephanie Plum has Morelli (a bonifide law enforcer) and that works just right. In fact, the help doesn't necessarily need to be human. Perhaps help comes from the spirit world or maybe your sleuth has special powers, being psychic for instance. Whatever the case, it makes sense to give your character some kind of back-up.

Okay, there you have it. Hope you enjoyed. If you want to read more, check out Writing Mysteries edited by Sue Grafton. It's full of wonderful information for those who enjoy the mystery genre. If you have any additional comments, drop a line. We'd love to hear.

Check It Out ... Weekly Websites

Since I seem to spend SO much time cruising the internet, I decided to share some of the goodies in case any of you might find it useful. :-) Here is an article from Writing World about marketing tips. If you decide to take a peek, let us know what you think. Or maybe you have some ideas of your own you wouldn't mind sharing.


And here is one that is just plain fun. I discovered it recently when checking out my fellow blogspot members. It offers colorful backgrounds to add to your blog page.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tips on the Short of It

I mentioned in an earlier post (9/27) that I would follow up with tips on short story writing. And here we go ...

When writing a short you want to keep one major thought in mind -- be concise. You have just so many words to tell your tale. You have characters, plot and setting competing with one another. Every word must count, must be relevant. So, be concise. To be honest, with character, plot and setting competing, one of them is going to suffer, and it's usually character. So ...

Characters are easier to develop when they are part of a series, and maybe you are now writing story number 2 or 3 or whatever number. Perhaps you've already established who he or she is, what that person does. etc. However, when this is not a series, you've got a challenge ahead of you. Best advice I can give is to:

1) Leave some mystery to the character(s), but drop in a few bits for incite. Just enough though, whatever is relevant to the story. It could be a childhood memory or traumatic event that gives him or her the reason to react in a certain way in the present. You can do this by flashback, such as in dialog. (See previous post, 8/22)

2) Limit the number of characters in your story. The logic of this should be evident: more characters means more words to describe them, to give them something to do in the story, etc.

Also, if you want to keep your story focused and concise, have the plot flow from the main character as it relates to who the character is. There is just a natural progression to a detective needing a mystery to solve; a teacher who has a problem with a student; a doctor with a dying patient or drug abuse problem. See where I'm going with this? The story's plot "fits" the character and who he/she is. The problem naturally generates from him/her.

Another thing to keep in mind is narrowing your setting and time. Your story should be in a very short time frame -- hours, maybe a day or two at most. (Not counting relevant flashbacks) Place it in one room or a house or apartment, maybe a neighborhood or school. Think of your story as looking through a small hole in the wall. Narrow your scope to focus on the theme, the point of your story, and stay there. Don't venture outside the boundaries of your yard!

The bottom line is that you want to write a story in a certain amount of words, but with enough detail to be complete. Not an easy task. One last piece of advice: if you feel like you don't want the story to end when you've finished, i.e. it feels like there should be more to happen, then maybe it's novel material and not a short. You'll have to decide. You should know your characters and your story better than anybody, but if you're really stuck, it doesn't hurt to get another person's opinion -- from a writers' group or online at such websites as or someone you think can read with constructive criticism.

Good luck to all of you. Now, go and write a great short story!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Name That Poet --- #1

I thought I'd mix it up a bit. So, here is a poem for you to ponder. If you can, name the poet, and as a plus.... the title of the poem.

my sweet old etcetera
aunt lucy during the recent

war could and what
is more did tell you just
what everybody was fighting

my sister

isabel created hundreds
hundreds) of socks not to
mention shirts fleaproof earwarmers

etcetera wristers etcetera, my
mother hoped that

i would die etcetera
bravely of course my father used
to become hoarse talking about how it was
a privilege and if only he
could meanwhile my

self etcetera lay quietly
in the deep mud et

cetera, of
Your smile
eyes knees and of your Etcetera)

good luck to all of you!

And the winners are ...... Cara and JW with the answer: e. e. Cummings and "My Sweet Old Etcetera"
Congrats to you both. And if you want, take a winner button with you to place on your site.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Name That Novel #11

Let's say adventure. This novel is very, very, very popular. The kind you want to read more than once....and probably have. So, here goes... Title and author, please.

"He walked briskly back to his hole, and stood for a moment listening with a smile to the din in the pavilion and to the sound of merrymaking in other parts of the field. Then he went in. He took off his party clothes, folded up and wrapped in tissue-paper his embroidered silk waistcoat, and put it away. Then he put on quickly some old untidy garments, and fastened round his waist a worn leather belt. On it he hung a short sword in a battered black-leather scabbard. From a locked drawer, smelling of moth-balls, he took out an old cloak and hood. They had been locked up as if they were very precious, but they were so patched and weatherstained that their original colour could hardly be guessed: it might have been dark green. They were rather too large for him. He then went into his study, and from a large strong-box took out a bundle wrapped in old clothes, and a leather-bound manuscript; and also a large bulky envelope...."

Good luck to all!

Congrats to so many of you! Fellowship of the Ring by Tolkien. Give yourselves a Novel Winner Button :-) -- See posting on 9/19 for directions....

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Long and the Short of It

Short or long? As a writer you may often ask yourself if you want to tackle a big fish -- a novel-length project, or stay in shallower waters and write short stories. Some of you might decide to shuffle it around... work on a novel, maybe even complete that novel, and then write short stories or articles here and there. In any case, there are advantages to each side. This time around I will address the positives of short-story writing.

Time: By nature we are impatient beings. The idea of spending months, maybe years, on one endeavor is mind-blowing, isn't it? Of course, the rewards may pay off, IF you sell it to a publisher. However, the sweet success of accomplishment in short-story writing is so satisfying, even if the monetary rewards are small. Say you spend a couple of weeks writing and polishing your story, and when you submit, if you're lucky, another couple weeks with a magazine editor who buys it, well, you've just left one more mark on the world of published writing with your name on it.

Juggling: Of course while you have one story floating out there with a publisher, you've been working on another. Right? If not, you should. Don't let the dust settle. Keep it stirring! There are lots of magazines and ezines with a variety of interests just waiting for the next submission to fill their slots. Thus, a lot more opportunity to be published in the world of magazines compared to book publishing. Don't let these opportunities pass you by; submit, submit, submit!

Credits: Many published authors of novels, some even famous, got their start by selling short stories. As they say, "it looks good on a resume". Well, it helps, too, when you can include such publishing credits in a query letter. Especially it you are a newbie who is peddling your first novel.

Skills: If you are serious about writing, you know it's a constant in your life. You keep writing to improve your craft. Writing short stories and articles gives you an opportunity to hone your skills. In the beginning the writer is raw, making lots of first-time writer mistakes. Much better to practice and improve during those shorter projects. Then when you tackle that monster novel, you'll be equipped and ready. Or at least make fewer mistakes.

Window Shopping: One of the advantages to magazine submissions is the variety -- in fiction the many genres, in non-fiction an infinite number of topics. If you haven't decided where your niche is, this may be the venue in finding out. So, you write a mystery short, or maybe an article on travel, or whatever.... you're window shopping for what fits just right on you. And if you do know what your passion is, your forte, then just keep writing in that area and submitting.

I hope this has given you some food for thought. And the next time I will post tips on short-story writing. If you have any of your own suggestions or comments, drop a line!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Name That Novel #10

From the past to the present, some stories are worth repeating. That is my hint for the following excerpt. Title and author, please.

I will give another hint... it is based on a very well-known children's novel and movie.

"Look, you can see the snow, white as the grace of the Unnamed God," said the novice, remembering her pastoral requirements. "Think on that, and rest, and sleep. Here's a pillow. Here's a stool for your feet. Upstairs we'll be singing and praising the Unnamed God. I'll pray for you."
"Don't--" said the green ghostly guest, then slumped her head against the pillow.
"It's my pleasure to," said the novice, a bit aggressively, and fled, just in time to catch the processional hymn.
For a while the winter salon was still. It was like a fishbowl into which a new acquisition has been dropped. The snow moved as if done by a machine, gently and mesmerizingly, with a soft churr. The blossoms of the marginium plants closed a bit in the strengthening cold of the room. Oil lamps issued their funereal crepe ribbons into the air. On the other side of the garden--hardly visible through the snow and the two windows--a decrepit maunt, with a more precise grasp of the calendar than her sisters, began to hum a saucy old pagan hymn to Lurline.

Once again, good luck to all. And don't forget....the winner can choose to place a novel winner button on his/her blogsite! (See right sidebar for link to button post)

Congrats to Vanessa! You answered correctly with Wicked by Gregory Maguire. Don't forget to grab a winner button to place on your site if you like :-)

For Name That Novel Winners: Here's a Button For You!

I thought I would add a little fun to the Name that Novel game. So, for all you novel winners.... Here is a winner button to post on your blog! Just copy and paste html from box (below the picture) to your site. Go to customize > layout > add a gadget > html and then paste into content box.

I Am a Winner!

winner button

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Character in Your Character

Hero as a label for the main character of a story is somewhat misnomered, or at least overrated in my opinion. The word hero implies someone with outstanding abilities, almost perfect in every way, even someone who doesn't include "mistake" in their vocabulary. "Nonsense!" I say. Who wants a main character with no possibility of error? With no chance of conflict? Or problems? There wouldn't be much of a plot with no conflict, no problems to solve, and no resolution. Besides, I need to relate to the main characters I'm reading about. Human flaws are essential as a part of that. And we as readers develop empathy for these flawed human beings. We cheer them on and hope they overcome their challenges.

So, what does all this mean to you as a writer? Well, during that constructive stage of your story, when you begin to mold your characters --who they are and what they will attempt to do, you should also think about what makes him or her human. It might be a weakness that's physical or emotional. Or perhaps it is something that has happened in his or her life that leaves the character frightened or conflicted. As the character moves through events in the story, trying to achieve his or her goal and confronting the conflict presented by the antagonist, the one with human flaws will have a greater challenge. Without flaws, the "perfect hero" would find the road ahead simple to travel. But we don't want the journey to be simple. That would be like watching our favorite team play their biggest rival, and the game ends up being a total blowout. No excitement in that, is there?

Remember: fiction portrays life and life is made up of humans. So, characters, in order to be human, should be flawed. It makes sense to me. I hope it makes sense to you.

This posting is brief, but it seemed worth stating. And if anyone has anything to add, I welcome your comments and words of wisdom :-)

P.S. A bit of advice I just picked up over on Coffee Shop discussion board from John....use your own flaws as a starting point. They are the ones you are most familiar with and might help create some pretty fantastic characters!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Name That Novel #9

Let's try this one on for's current, it's hot, it's popular in more ways than one. (That's as much of a hint as I can give.) Title and author, please

"The library is cool and smells like carpet cleaner, although all I can see is marble. I sign the Visitors' Log: Clare Abshire, 11:15 10-26-91 Special Collections. I have never been in the Newberry Library before, and now that I've gotten past the dark, foreboding entrance I am excited....
I am speechless. Here is Henry, calm, clothed, younger than I have ever seen him. Henry is working at the Newberry Library, standing in front of me, in the present. Here and now. I am jubilant. Henry is looking at me patiently, uncertain but polite."

I think I'd have to say the clues are in the content of the quote. Not the style.

Okay, have at it and good luck :-)

We have a winner :-) Liz called it --- Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Where'd You Get That Idea?

As a writer you are probably always thinking of great ideas for your next story. Right? No? Well, then here is a list that may help. There are many resources and places you can tap into for that next story. Just remember: There are no original ideas. However, once you find your style, your voice, your unique way of writing, then it is possible to take any idea and make it your own. So, let's take a look at the places you can go to get those ideas:

1. Newspaper articles
2. The television news
3. Personal events
4. Observations -- such as in public places: the mall, a park, a restaurant, etc.
5. Television shows/ Movies
6. The Internet -- google a topic or subject and see what comes up
7. People! -- find them, talk to them, get them to tell stories about their jobs
8. Visuals -- photographs, paintings, billboards, magazine ads, greeting cards
9. Music -- lyrics
10. Personal items -- go through your memorabilia, those keepsake items
11. Bookstores or libraries -- cruise the titles, look at the book covers
12. Read!
13. Websites on writing, of course :-)
14. Dictionaries -- pick a few words at random, use them in a freewrite; then revise into a story

Those are just few. I'm sure you can come up with more. If you would be willing to share, please post a comment.

And of course, as you come up with your ideas add them to an idea journal. Always keep paper and pen with you to jot down your ideas (can't always trust your busy mind to recall them later!)

There are so many ideas around you just waiting to be discovered. So, happy idea hunting to all of you!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Tip or Two...

Monica Wood in her book, Description, has some final thoughts at the end. She advises writers with a tip or two. I thought it would be nice to share some with you. And perhaps throw in a couple of my own.

Tip One: Colors. Think outside the crayon box. There's more to life than basic red, blue, green, and so on. What about russet when describing the leaves? Or even giving other descriptive words to naming your colors, like storm-colored or mustard-colored? Be creative and unique.

Tip Two: Adverbs. Many are guilty of tipping the scales when it comes to adverb usage. The author suggests circling them, or perhaps you can highlight them (use the highlighting feature in Microsoft Word if you are doing this on computer). Such an approach will make them obvious to you. Then you can begin the process of tossing them out where needed! One of the situations where writers tend to use adverbs too much is tacking them onto "he said" "she said". Example: "he said loudly" or "she said angrily". Stop it. Stop being so lazy and try harder to be creative.

Tip Three: Adjectives. Do it, highlight. You want description, of course. But let's not overdo. The broad, green, leafy tree shadowed the skinny, brown-haired, freckle-faced, tired boy. Oh, boy. Stop it. Again, it's too much, too overpowering. Sometimes less really is more. And while you're at it, quit grabbing for the thesaurus or clicking on that shift +F7 every chance you get. Sometimes plain words work just fine. They seem more realistic, for instance, in dialog. After all, do you have a thesaurus in your hand while you talk? I hope not. :-)

Tip Four: Dialog with a smattering of description. When your characters speak, they can be doing other things, too. Nothing wrong with a little multi-tasking. Plus it will break the monotony of lengthy, back-and-forth conversation. Example: "Have you heard from your mom?" Jane glanced up from the table to see Mary's reaction. "You haven't mentioned anything about her recently." Or something like that. Readers can then "see" what's going on with the characters as well as hear what they have to say.

Tip Five: Read aloud. This is one of mine. I've written this before, but it doesn't hurt repeating. When you write, especially dialog, read it back to yourself, but out loud. This will help you decide if it makes sense, sounds realistic, or if you need to polish it up.

Tip Six: Names. Okay, this one may seem trivial, but I'm going to throw it out there anyway. I think it wise to give considerable thought to the choice of names for your characters. I think some names just sound too over the top. Or they don't seem to fit the character. Try getting to know your characters, and then give them names. Again, this may not seem very important, but as a reader as well as writer, I've often wondered about name choices.

Okay, I think that's enough for this time. I hope they help. Give me feedback. If there are others you would like to share? Drop a comment or two :-)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Name That Novel #8 -- Back to the Classics

Returning to the past and another great, widely read classic: Title and Author, please.

"We didn't touch an oar, and we didn't speak nor whisper, nor hardly even breathe. We went gliding swift along, dead silent, past the tip of the paddle-box, and past the stern; then in a second or two more we was a hundred yards below the wreck, and the darkness soaked her up, every last sign of her, and we was safe, and knowed it."

Good luck to all!

Congrats to Cara for the correct answer: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Flashback: Another Way to Make Your Writing Pop and Sizzle!

"Jane was a shy girl. She never talked to anyone unless they spoke to her first. Maybe this was because she wasn't very pretty, wore thick glasses, and stood taller than most boys."

Seems like an okay description of Jane, right? Maybe if you were describing her to a friend in conversation or mentioning her in a letter. But for your novel or story? No. It's boring. At least if you wrote your character descriptions this way all of the time, it would be. So, what can you do about it? You definitely don't want your writing to be boring. What publisher would want to buy that? Come to think of it, what reader would want to read it?

Let's try this again with using flashback as a tool.

"Jane walked into the reunion, her palms sweating. She could see one of her classmates waving to her. Oh, God. Why did I come? She thought of turning around. This always seemed to happen. It never changed.

Her mother had taken her by the hand right up to the front door the first day of school. After some persuasion and a gentle push, Jane walked into the room and sat in the back row. All the kids were laughing and chattering. Jane kept fidgeting with her glasses. They felt heavy and awkward on her nose. One boy sitting next to her turned to stare.

'Your eyes look funny with those on. All big and goofy.'

Jane opened her notebook, brought it close to her face and studied the inside.

'What's a matter? You deaf?'

Jane popped out of the chair and scrambled over to another desk.

'Wow! You must be ten feet tall!'

Now, everyone was staring. Tears welled up in her eyes. Jane ran out of the room and out of the building.

'Jane Goodman! It's so good to see you after all these years. And you look great.'

Jane turned to see a face she would know anywhere. Even if there were a few creases around the eyes and grey in the hair. She smiled and nodded. Maybe this won't be so awful after all, she thought."

Now, if you will notice, the flashback to Jane's first day at school helps the character to come alive. This way, the reader begins to "know" Jane, become familiar with her. And in the long run, the reader will become "invested" in her character, care about what happens to her. When readers have this kind of empathy for the character(s) of a book, they want to keep on reading, they have to know what will happen.

Flashback is a wonderful tool, but there are a couple of warnings that go along with using it.

1) Don't announce the flashback with phrases like "it brought me back to" or "I remember the time" or even using ellipses ... Changing the scene with a certain look, (for example in mine the setting is the first day of school) and introducing it with the past perfect verb tense (in mine I used, "Her mother had taken her") is one example of how this works.

2) Don't announce the return from flashback with phrases like "that was in the past" or "I was brought out of my daydreaming". Just changing the setting with a few words or even a bit of dialog will work. (In mine I used: "Jane Goodman! It's so good to see you...")

3) While you are new to using flashback, be careful of the length. The longer the flashback, the harder it may be to transition in and out. Many use a separate line of asterisks **** or white space.

Overall, giving your writing a bit of variety with flashbacks to describe characters or to explain needed information without literally "explaining", i.e. telling instead of showing, will make your writing pop and sizzle off the pages, make your readers cry for more. And that's what we all want, don't we?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Flash Forward to the Present and Name That Novel #7

Okay, so this one is contemporary. In fact it's on the bestseller list. And it's a mystery. So... title and author, please:

Sherlock fell to her knees beside him. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm okay."

"What's this?"

Savich knelt beside the girl, turned her over, and jerked off the ski mask. He looked at her young face, deathly white, mouth bloodied from biting against the pain, dark hair matted to her head. "This is one of them, Sherlock. She's only a kid." The girl moaned, her eyelashes fluttering. When her eyes opened, he stared down into her pain-glazed dark eyes. He leaned close. "What's your name?"

She spit at him.

"What's your name?" he repeated.

The kid snarled, "I'm going to kill you, shoot you in the head, watch it explode."

"Charming," Sherlock said.

"I kicked her pretty hard in the stomach. She needs an ambulance."

She was whimpering now, tears clogging in her throat, choking her, and she was saying over and over, "Mama, Mama. I want my mama."

There you have it. And good luck :-)

Congratulations to Michael (Innocent Owner of Mad Cats) for getting it right! Catherine Coulter and Knock Out. The clue would be in the character names -- Savich and Sherlock.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Do's and Don'ts of a Query Letter

Okay, this is in response to Cara's suggested topic: The Query Letter. First of all, in brief, a query is an introduction of you and what you have to sell. Rather like a resume, this is your first connection with a potential "employer", i.e. a publisher/editor or agent, so you want to make it good. No, you want to make it GREAT! (Otherwise, he/she may reject your idea and never, ever invite you back :-(

So, what does this mean? What should you do to make sure it is GREAT and you nail that first impression? Well, first of all, your query should have five components: 1)the hook; 2)the pitch; 3)the body; 4)your credentials; and 5)the closing.

Start by making sure you address your letter to the name of a specific editor, if possible. Then you include ....

Hook: This is a tricky component to write well and effectively. For example, DO come up with something that intrigues the one you're trying to impress, and has him/her curious to ask for more (your story) or at least to read the rest of your letter! My personal favorite is the "question" Example: "Do you ever wonder if there are space aliens watching us?" and your work, of course, has something to do with a space alien invasion. DON'T start with "Hi, my name is" or suck up with "I am such a fan of your magazine", etc. The person reading this may gag and toss your query in the trash :-(

Pitch: This is when you want to let them know what you have to sell. Example: " I would like to submit my completed manuscript, Gone with the Wind, a 500,000 word historical saga, for your consideration".... and so on.

Body: Here you want to give a brief summary of your story. Rather like what you read on a dust jacket flap or back cover of a book. A couple paragraphs should do it. But be consise, pack everything essential into those paragraphs. Remember, you want to peak their curiosity, to make your work stand out as a unique, fresh proposition. Read some examples from books you have to get a better idea.

Credentials: Toot your horn a little, if you have already published work, taught a writing class, etc. If you have websites or blogsites, mention them. If you belong to a writers' organization, let them know. Networking is a big deal to publishers who want to feel that you'll be active in marketing your work. DON'T mention things that have no relevance to writing, such as "I've worked as a babysitter for ten years." It doesn't mean anything to a publisher. Nor do they care about such events in your life. Of course, unless you've written an article on tips for babysitters.

Closing: Wrapping it up should include thanking them for taking the time to read your query and that you would be glad to send them the completed manuscript for review. Give them your contact information (email, address, phone numbers).

Bottom line, if you are submitting work to a specific publisher who happens to have a website, and on this website they have a page with info on writing an effective query letter.... please check it out and give them what they ask for.

There are many, many websites with advice and examples of query letters. Here are a few to check out ----

The wisest approach to writing an effective query is to practice writing them! And reading examples. Again, there are plenty found online or in books on writing.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Buffet Style.....You Pick!

I have an idea. The idea may fizzle out like a wet firecracker, but I like to try new things (and I can always find new firecrackers!) Anyway, I'd like to try some writing tips on topics you may want to read about... buffet style, so to speak. It could be about character or plot development, or even tips on the publishing end of the business, like where do you go to find magazine or book publishers or agents, how to write a query letter, etc. (even though there are PLENTY of blog sites and others who post about that one... I don't want to run that one into the ground). Anyway.... let me know your suggestion. If I can get a few responses, I'll pick one to write about. Then I'll work my way through the list. AND if I don't think I'm qualified to write about a particular topic, I will try to find you a site that does. Sound good?

Okay then, let's give it a try and see if this works. :-)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Hunting We Will Go .... Take another guess: Name That Literature! #6

Okay, so I've fine-tuned the particulars, replacing the word name with literature since I would like to occasionally stick some poetry here, or essays, or whatever ;-) In any case, this excerpt truly is from a novel. Soooooooo, here we go!

"When the breakfast was cleared away, the merry old gentleman and the two boys played at a very curious and uncommon game, which was performed in this way. The merry old gentleman, placing a snuff-box in one pocket of his trousers, a note-case in the other, and a watch in his waistcoat pocket, with a guard-chain round his neck, and sticking a mock diamond pin in his shirt: buttoned his coat tight round him, and putting his spectacle-case and handkerchief in his pockets, trotted up and down the room with a stick, in imitation of the manner in which old gentlemen walk about the streets any hour of the day. Sometimes he stopped at the fireplace, and sometimes at the door, making believe that he was staring with all his might into shop-windows. At such times, he would look constantly round him, for fear of thieves, and would keep slapping all his pockets in turn, to see that he hadn't lost anything ...."

All right then, title and author, what do we have here? It is a popular classic, and I don't think too difficult to guess. Then again, I'm on the other side and with unfair advantage!

Yeah! Cara got it! Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Congrats.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Another Week and Another Quote...Name That Novel #5

Another quote from the classics, and it's close to home. See if you can guess the title and author:

"Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road."

Gook luck to all!

Congrats to Cara! (and to Adam for the Author) It is Walden's Pond by Whitman. And I do apologize as it shouldn't be referred to as a novel :-( I guess from now on I will just have to broaden the title post, like "Name That Literature" or something like that. And by "close to home" I was only thinking of U.S.A. versus Europe or elsewhere.

In any case, great job, Cara. And so soon! I guess I'll have another one up before the day's out....

Friday, August 7, 2009

Opening Lines .... Let Me Introduce My Story.

Can you guess the number one flaw of the opening chapter to a novel? Explanations. Yep. Too much info, too big of a set-up, just too, too much stuff! I'm sure you've heard about the hook. Every book on writing, every instructor of writing, every successful author will advise you to include that great opening line or opening scene, something exciting, tintilating, something with that "WOW" factor to hook your readers, to guarantee they will want to read more.

Yet, at the same time, you don't want to confuse your readers about the story. You need setting. You need background. Details to give readers an accurate picture. Right? So, you decide to include some explanation, to answer the who, what, where, when , why of the situation. And you explain. You may start by including a little more about the main character's background--where he came from, why he's here, etc. Then you figure while you're at it, you should add more about the setting, and before you know it you're flooding the chapter with all sorts of details to describe the story. And you haven't even had a chance to begin the story! It's drowning and sinking so fast that you'll never be able to bring it up to see daylight and your readers again :-(

Start with a situation, exciting, eye-popping, throat-catching, heart-pulpitating action to leave your readers begging for more. And all that explanation? That detail? Bring it in gradually. No hurry. As you write you will find places where those bits and pieces of detail fit perfectly. Don't underestimate your reader's intelligence. They will put it together and figure it out. And they will stay interested while they're at it.

Think about it. The fact that Aunt Gertrude was a flapper back in the day and used to drink bath tub gin may be an interesting tidbit, but not a relevant detail on page one. However, if you fastforward to a later chapter when Mattie is reading a diary she finds in the attic, she could read about Aunt Gertrude and her flapper days. In the first chapter it just slows things down.

James Bell (and yes, I know, I'm on a James Bell kick) suggests if you think your first chapter is a boring slug, then start your novel with chapter two. He calls it "Chapter Two Switcheroo". Cute, heh? Then, you can add in all those details from chapter one later on.

Now, what should you include in an opening chapter? Well, let's start small. An opening line. Ones that work best have two elements in them. The character's name and an action, something that happens or is about to happen. If you manage that, you are off to a great start.

So, what do you think? Is your chapter one a yawner? Or is it poppin'? Remember, there are sooooo many books out there that readers may choose from, and you want them to choose YOURS. Right? :-)

Happy writing to all of you. Enjoy!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Name That Novel #4

Okay, we are back with "Name that Novel Title and Author". This excerpt is from the classics. See what you can do with it:

Apparently Armstid has never once looked full at her. Yet he has already seen that she wears no wedding ring.... "How far you come from?" he says.

She expels her breath. It is not a sigh so much as a peaceful expiration, as though of peaceful astonishment. "A right good piece, it seems now. I come from Alabama."

"Alabama? In your shape? Where's you folks?"

She does not look at him, either. "I'm looking to meet him up this way. You might know him. His name is Lucas Burch. They told me back yonder a ways that he is in Jefferson, working for the planing mill."

.....Well, there you have it. And good luck to all!

(And, people, PLEASE try not to be tempted to google the character names first. That is sooooo like cheating!)

Okay, time's up! Yes, the author is William Faulkner....and the title? Light in August :-) I will be back with another one, soon.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Be Sure to LOCK It!

Okay, anyone who has gone through Language Arts 101 or written their fair share of stories, both long and short, knows what a plot is. First of all, you need a main character. This person has a problem to solve, you see. (That's where the objective or goal comes in.) Then, of course, he/she meets with some resistance that makes it hard to get to that goal. (Enter: the antagonist -- person, place, or thing.) So, they do battle of some sort. (Yep, you got it. That's the conflict.) Finally, in the end the problem is solved, or not. (We call that one resolution.) Simple, right?

Well, maybe. The problem is when we write we might forget to resolve some of the issues, especially when it's a novel-length work. It's all those loose ends we talk about. Or we might write ourselves into a corner and can't figure out how to get out of there. I always hate that one because then I have to go back and revise what's happened before, i.e., backtrack the character's steps to a point where things were fine with the story. It's kind of like the recovery/restore feature on your computer. You know, the one where it asks you if you would like to restore by going back to the point when your computer wasn't so screwed up? That kind of situation. And then again, the problem might be because you've forgotten some tiny details about what your character has done, and as a result the resolution is confusing or it just plain doesn't work! (Here is where I say TAKE NOTES. Always keep a notebook and jot down details of what you've written that day, hour, or whatever chunk of time it is. Don't trust yourself to remember it later. WRITE IT DOWN!) I like to write a short summary of each chapter. And if I have a summary of events, which I often make out ahead of a writing project, I will go back and jot down any changes I've made as I get into the writing. (And there will always be changes. Trust me.)

All the above is called the LOCK system, according to James Bell, author of Plot and Structure. L is for Lead character. O is for objective. C is for Confrontation. And K is for Knockout. This is a novel (no pun intended) approach to naming the elements of a plot. Bell suggests that you always keep the LOCK system in mind as you progress through your story. You might keep a chart of sorts to describe and detail what your character has experienced and accomplished. After all, there may be mini-LOCKs within a novel or more than one character who is accomplishing things. Of course, as Bell mentions, solid plots have one main objective that the main character deals with throughout the story. This should be made obvious to the reader. In other words, what is the character trying to accomplish here? If the reader is aware of that, and of course, how the character does accomplish it, and if it's done well, then you've done your job.

So, bottom line: Use LOCK, take notes, and of course, revise, revise, revise! Until it's perfect :-)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How Close Are You? Degrees in Writing

When you write, do you think about how each phrase, line, or choice of words will affect your readers? Do you achieve a balance of emotion, action, and those quiet moments of reflection? It's finding the right mix, knowing when to pull your readers in with intensity of emotion, and when you need to back away and give them a breather that will achieve great writing.

For instance, if you write a paragraph about how a character reacts to a situation: (1)Anna opened the door to find the room dark and silent. (2) She crossed to the other side and stopped by the bed. (3)Something deep inside caused her to shiver and she puzzled over what it might be.(4)Anna reached out hesitantly with her hand, her fingers barely touching the covers. (5)Please don't lose your courage now, she told herself.

Okay, so you can probably see that sentences 1 and 2 are purely describing her actions and therefore have little intensity. Then, with sentence 3 you find some emotional insite thrown in to pull the reader closer. Sentence 4 backing away a bit; sentence 5 pulling in, up close, with her internal thought.

Of course, just as this balanced mix works within a paragraph, it is important to use the proper degree of intensity according to where you are in your story. Think of your major scenes as fence posts. These are intense. Then in between there are your smaller, transition scenes. These should be less intense. And, as you near the climax, you should be turning up the intensity level big time, lots of emotion and action.

Take a look at any novel and see if you recognize the varying degrees of intensity. And then check out James Scott Bell's book, Plot and Structure for more advice on this topic and more. Your use of degrees in writing can make the difference.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Trite Expressions and Redundancy...On the Way to Concise Writing

When writing, one of the most challenging tasks is to avoid trite expressions and useless words. From telling a story to composing a letter, or writing that master's thesis, your writing must be concise.

Let's start with those pesky, trite expressions, also referred to as cliches, such as "blind as a bat" and "face the music". No matter our dedication to avoid them, they seem to sink their way back into our subconscious and pop up in our writing like the sneaky little critters they are. Face it, they are nothing more than the result of lazy writing.

The idea would be to find a unique and creative substitute that makes your writing your writing. And it's obviously not easy. Who said writing was easy? No wise person I know would. At least to achieve quality writing. For example, instead of "he raised his eyebrows" why not "his eyebrows formed a question mark when he couldn't figure out what the clue meant". Just play with your words a bit, try to describe the action or thought as concisely as you can. Here is a site to read and study about cliches and redundancy:

Of course, I don't expect you can avoid all cliches, but if your writing is crowded with them, you've lost the opportunity to show your individual style. You owe that much to yourself, if you are going to call yourself a writer.

A Recommendation

Being that it's summer break for me, I find myself devouring books while I try very hard, and I must say with much distraction, to work on my next writing project. Ahh.... the joy of summer! Anyway, I wanted to pass along my recommendation for your summer reading list. The title is The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman. Anyone who has read works by Hoffman will understand when I say this story will tear you apart, send your emotions into a turmoil that will leave you spent, but fulfilled at the same time. And you will come away perhaps a bit scarred with the wear and tear, but definitely as a wiser person. At least that is how I feel my experience has been. Obviously, not every book can do this, but when it does I feel so lucky to have found it and want to share it with others.

This is about fate and if you have ever had one of those moments in your life, an event that changed your future and that of everyone around you, for better or worse, then you will appreciate the story this novel tells. I won't say more than that. (I tend to give too much away once I get started.) But if you decide to read it, I'm pretty certain you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Joining A Writers' Forum -- Pros and Cons In My Opinion

I know, I know... it's been a while, a long, long while. My time away from here has been well spent... more or less. I wanted to try out a website --a writers' forum for showcasing and critiquing work--to see how beneficial it might be. After a couple of months, I've come to some interesting observations and conclusions.

The website is and is open to anyone who is serious about writing, sharing their work and/or critiquing others. After spending what I felt was an adequate amount of time being actively involved both in submitting writing pieces and reviewing others' works, I found both pros and cons to the site.

I'll start with the negatives. First of all, while other writers' sites are free to join, fanstory has a price, if you want to partake in all features such as submitting your writing or entering contests. It's $6.95 a month or $48 for a year's membership. For limited use, there is a "free" membership. Once you join, you may post as many writings as you like, though you may be limited to how many you post in a twenty-four hour period, depending on the category. You may enter contests, but many of them cost member dollars. Member dollars can be accumulated by reviewing others' works. When you search for pieces to review, you will find that each offers anywhere from 2 cents to over a dollar in exchange for your comments. Each time you review you add the "money" to your "account". Then after you accumulate a significant amount you can use your member dollars to help promote your posted work. Also, member dollars can be purchased with a charge card, if you don't review that much and need the bucks. I think you can see where I am going with this. Members who post work that offers a sizable amount of member dollars and cents will get the most reviews because members want to accumulate dollars, as much as and as quickly as they can, so they in turn can offer big bucks to promote their work to get lots of reviews. Whew! Are you as dizzy as I am? Do you feel like the mouse on the treadmill? As for contests, many of them, which can be created by members as well as the fanstory staff, may be free or may charge member dollars to enter. Yet, another way for you to make money as well as spend it.

However, there are several benefits to this forum. First, there are many stellar reviewers on board. They offer some great insight and are painfully honest at times. But then again, isn't that what you want? Not a pat on the back from Aunt Maude, telling you what a wonderful writer you are, when in fact your work may be crap. So, in this respect you may have the opportunity to improve some aspects of your writing. Another perk involves reading others' works. You get the opportunity to see what's out there, both good and bad. And in reviewing you may learn things as well. With the contests, though you may find some that cost to enter, if you win, you take away the "pot" and with the staff generated contests the winner may take away a gift card for as much as $100. Overall, this forum encourages you to write, to keep practicing your craft. Rather like taking an exercise class to keep you disciplined and in shape. In my experience, I came away with a splendid reviewer who now critiques my work through an email exchange. I feel fortunate in that respect.

So, would I recommend fanstory? I think it is worth trying out, if you have a lot of time to devote to it. The site has a significant following and many neat features to participate in. It is well-organized, very user friendly, and monitored for any inappropriate activity (at least that is what they claim). The main drawback -- and this is what makes it less than fair -- is the use of member dollars. Too often, though not always, the work that gets the most reviews and wins many of the contests is the one that offers the most member dollars as a payoff. Still, it is worth a look. It doesn't cost anything to peruse the site, or even to partake in some of the features. But for the "full course meal" you're going to have to pay. There are other writers' forums out there. You should check them out before spending money on any. Happy writing!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Name That Novel #3

Name the novel and the author.

"'Our Lady is not some magical being out there somewhere, like a fairy godmother. She's not the statue in the parlor. She's something inside of you. Do you understand what I'm telling you?' 'Our Lady is inside me,' I repeated, not sure I did."

Okay, I'm going to add another passage that might be more telling, give it a few days, and if there are no takers, I'll give up the answer :-) So, here goes...

"At night I would lie in bed and watch the show, how bees squeezed through the cracks of my bedroom wall and flew circles around the room, making that propeller sound, a high pitched zzzzzz that hummed along my skin....The way those bees flew, not even looking for a flower, just flying for the feel of the wind, split my heart down its seam."

I guess I will have to reveal the answer: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd -- which of course was made into a movie, currently out on dvd.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Name that Novel #2

Sorry, I am a day late with this, but here goes. Name the novel and the author:

"When I pursued this resolution about ten days longer, as I have said, I began to see that the land was inhabited; and in two or three places, as we sailed by, we saw people stand upon the shore to look at us; we could also perceive they were quite black and naked."

Good luck.

Congratulations to Liz who guessed correctly: Robinson Crusoe by Defoe.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Contests and Such

Well, I guess I'm going to self-indulge for a moment and write a few words (or a lot more, as I seldom write just a few!) about my latest project - a mystery novel, Whips, Cuffs, and Little Brown Boxes. Quite by accident I stumbled upon a contest given by Amazon and Penguin Books. They first started this project a few years ago. In any case, I felt it wouldn't hurt to give my work a bit of exposure. So, I entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2009 Contest. Besides, it was free. And I'm all about saving a dollar. The number of entrants could be no more than 10,000. I don't know if that's what they came up with, but authors had only a small window of time to get their work entered -- one week -- and then the doors closed so to speak. The first cut would be dwindled down to 2,000. This was based on the pitch. I made it over that hurdle. Then, those 2,000 had their excerpts read by reviewers who would write comments and rate the excerpts. These scores would then reduce the numbers down to 500. Well, I didn't make it to that next level, but I did get a couple of encouraging reviews. At least encouraging enough to make me trudge onward in the pursuit of getting it published :-) So, for those who are interested in reading what they had to say, and to comment if you wish, here they are:

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Reviews

ABNA Expert Reviewer #1:

Wonderful title and suspenseful opening. Nice transition between childhood hide-and-seek games into the present action. Original twist: a mystery writer who does her own research, literally, even when telling herself that she won't get involved. Excellent way to show mom's priorities: her sister's missing and she's concentrating on Lilly's single status. I like that the protagonist isn't a flawless super-hero type but someone who has real emotions.

Hilarious in places, the humor keeps the action moving right along and makes the reader want to know what will happen next.

ABNA Expert Reviewer #2:

The excerpt certainly starts with a bang and catches the reader's attention. The beginning paragraphs of the flashback though are a little drawn out and might be tempting to skim over.

However, the novel seems to gather steam again and, by the time dialogue between the protagonist and her mother is introduced, the dialogue is, for the most part, smooth and informative without being too obvious.

The Paranormal ability does make one curious and the humorous tone promises to be entertaining. However, none of this promises great literature or a deep examination of the human condition.

I'm guessing that this is a romance novel with an erotic hint to it and the scene is set by the time the excerpt ends - The heroine is a feisty, paranormally gifted, single female with a love interest and a mystery to solve. It seems to predict a novel which will provide an entertaining afternoon of reading even if it won't reveal any earth shattering truths.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Name that Novel #1

I'm going to try something new and what I hope will be fun. Each week, I will post a quote from some classic or contemporary work and then hopefully you will guess where it belongs -- title and author. And good luck! So here's the first week's quote, and I'll start with one that's rather easy, I think:

"Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next."

Congrats to Ares for coming up with Alice in Wonderland. But I also asked for the author....anyone care to respond? And thank you, Ares. As well as to Laughing Idiot who was right on Ares' coat tails with the title answer :-)

Congratulations once again... Ares answered Lewis Carroll. :-) Come back and visit next week for another quote to name that novel!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Revisions -- Make it Shorter or Longer?

Revising is a painful process. It's like performing major surgery (removing what may seem to be vital organs) to hopefully come up with a better product. So, prepare for the pain, if you want to improve your work. Remember, anything great comes from hard work. And great writing is indeed hard work.

There are many advice books on writing, and many of them quite useful, too! Some authors will give you guidelines, such as Stephen King (yeah, I know...I keep referencing him, but he really does have a lot of great things to share!) who advises the author to cut 10 percent from the original manuscript. Why ten, I'm not sure. But who knows? Maybe he's studied the numerous books he's written and the average amount he slashed and dashed is ten percent. Whatever the amount, it makes a point. This tactic encourages you to use more effective vocabulary, thus tightening your writing, keeping a steady pace throughout the story.

Now, just when you think you've got it, that you totally understand what's needed to revise and create the perfect novel or story -- well, I'm about to confuse you. In Manuscript Makeover Elizabeth Lyon advises you to expand on characters or scenes when you see they are lacking clarity. (See my previous post -- Revising and Fuzzy Details) So, now you need to add more to your revisions!

Bottom line, when you are revising: 1) get rid of the empty words and passages that don't add to the plot and 2) clarify the scenes that just don't make sense or lack impact. It's not easy. Nobody ever said it would be. But if you truly have a passion for writing, you will stick with it, and keep on revising until you've got it right! To be noted, this is only one aspect of revising. There are obviously many other points and features to address. Check out the many books available with advice on revising. And good luck. Let us know your experiences with revising. Maybe you have a few great advice books you'd like to recommend. So, let's hear what you have to say.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Mix and Match -- P.O.V. and Verb Tense

Creating your story: when you first bring your ideas to the table -- plot, plot line, characters, character problems... it may not occur to you that P.O.V. and verb tense should be given just as much consideration as those other elements. Now, some of you may decide that point of view, for instance, doesn't need to be discussed when choosing your options. After all, if you've always written in the third person, then why change? Or, maybe you believe that it is the best and most comfortable match for you. I'm not going to try and change your mind. Instead, why not consider the following information like a buffet -- lots of dishes to choose from? Even if you always go for the chicken, maybe today you will decide to spice things up a bit and pick out seafood. Who knows?

3rd person/past tense: If you choose third person and place the story in the past tense, you will achieve a certain distance from the character's actions and thoughts while creating a definitive account of events as they happened. It's very natural in its effect, rather like you observing someone you know or learn about and watching what happens to them. The disadvantage may be lack of character development where the character is rather flat and lifeless. Caution in this situation would be to make sure and have that balance of inner thought and outer action I previously posted about. The use of past tense, while the most common and natural, can be flat. The advice would be to make sure your dialog is lively and your narrative scenes should use vocab to address those sensory details such as seeing, hearing, etc. Have others read your work and then ask them what emotions they felt, if they felt close to the character, have emotional investment in that character.

1st person/present tense: First person is difficult to pull off successfully. At least that's what I keep reading and hearing. I personally enjoy reading and writing in the first person. First person point of view lets you know the character's most intimate thoughts, like you are inside them. Add to that the present tense, and you have a very upclose, intensely powerful story. It's a very immediate account of events. Just how immediate and intense you make it is what will determine how successful you are. Too much internal thought, too many "I this" and "I that" can result in major irritation for the reader. Sometimes the writing may even sound fake, unrealistic. In fact, the use of the present tense can have such a loud and powerful kick that it may tire your readers and they will quit reading out of shear exhaustion! Still, I think this combination, or even 3rd person/present, is well suited for short stories. I have written shorts with 1st/present and kept the story in a very brief time frame. It works when done well. Although I think the 1st person/past tense brings a better balance to it.

There are more combinations, but I will keep it to the ones I have stated above. So lets sum it up:

1st person: intimate, very close and personal view; careful of too much intimacy

3rd person: more removed, less personal, more natural; careful of flat, lifeless characterization; use internal thoughts along with outer action

Present Tense: immediate, intense, but can be too powerful or intense - reader becomes worn out; may want to change some passages to past tense

Past Tense: somewhat distant, natural, authentic; can be mediocre, needs imagery, great dialog and action scenes to liven it up

I hope this helps. I won't tell you one combination is the overall key to success. If only it were that easy! It's an individual decision. based on your taste and thought. Whatever works best for you and depending on what type of story you are writing -- you decide! Let me know your thoughts and comments. What kind of story do you enjoy writing and is your p.o.v. and verb tense choice a perfect match? Hope to hear from you :-)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Character's Need for Problems Part II: Outer Action/Inner Reaction

Do you enjoy writing action scenes? I know I do. It's exciting to get one's characters moving and conquering their obstacles, defeating their demons, whatever it takes to achieve their goals. However, as they struggle or battle their way along, don't forget to bring their thoughts along with them. After all, they are human and you need to let your readers see this. If you don't include those inner thoughts and reactions of your characters, they will seem mechanical and robotic. These emotions can be external, visible reactions to a situation or internal thoughts, unseen emotions.
The ability to successfully balance the mixture of outer action and inner reaction takes practice. Study your favorite authors' works and see if you can pick out the use of action and reaction of the characters, how well they blend the two components. Now, mentally remove all the inner thoughts/reaction of one of those characters and see how much of a difference it makes. More than likely, you will be left with a mechanical, robotic shell of that character. And finally, take note of your own writing. See if you can identify where you used reaction along with your action. Then, let me know what you discover. Hopefully, it will be great news!