Thursday, May 27, 2010

Check It Out .... Weekly Websites

Poetry potpourri ... you love poetry -- to read it, to write it. Here are a couple of sites that might interest you. Both offer a selection of features that I find quite useful.

The first is a resource from the Academy of American Poets with thousands of poems, essays, biographies, weekly features, and poems for love and every occasion.


This one comes from the Poetry Foundation, the publisher of Poetry magazine. It has tools for the poet, information about events, awards, and a magazine so you can submit work. Nice site.



Sunday, May 23, 2010

Believable Characters

Characters -- not just a compilation of physical and personal traits. The difficulty a writer faces when developing the characters for his/her project is complex. I've heard comments from those who say it took pages and pages into writing the story before really feeling like "knowing" the people in it. Can you imagine if the reader felt that way? If I had that much difficulty figuring out what the character in a book is about, why she is doing the things she's doing, I don't think I'd have the patience or the concern to keep on reading. I just wouldn't care.

So, with that said, it should seem to you very important to find out everything you can about your characters before you cut them loose on their journey through the plot of your story. The question is how? What should you do, what steps should you take to get to that point? First of all, you need to remember that story characters are people like you and me. Only they are in your book. To make them human means there are several points to consider. The character's motive, habits, interests, talents, past history, reputation are all important to development. Identifying these will turn your story people into real people who readers can identify with and sympathize with. They will become so invested in the characters that reading on until the very end becomes a must.

The tiny details are important. You can keep molding and adding those aspects to your characters, fleshing them out until the decisions and actions they perform in the story seem logical and believable. For instance, let's consider habits. Perhaps you could give a character the habit of chewing his nails to show a nervous personality, or someone who always doodles on her napkin after a meal, and then later a napkin is found at a crime scene. It has scribbles all over it, thus providing a clue. The character's interest in judo and the fact that the murder victim taught a judo class at a gym your napkin scribbler frequented makes the reader point a finger in her direction. These are just a few examples of how intricate the process of developing believable characters can be.

Where you get your ideas may vary. Strangers you observe, yourself. And sometimes characters are inspired by people you know. This works if you use them only as a starting point. From there, you should develop them according to what you'll need for your story. Flesh them out with those tiny details of habits, talent, motive, interests, etc. Then ask questions based on your story events. For instance, you want to write an opening scene where the character is home alone. There's a pounding on the door, someone shouting, demanding to be let in. Now, start the causal question process: what does the character do? Remember this depends on all those aspects you've created about the character. If it's the nail biter, maybe he'll hide in the closet, pretend he's not home. Next question: The guy breaks down the door and finds the nail biter. What does he do? He has a brave moment and uses the baseball bat stored in the closet and hits the intruder. You could insert a plot twist here: turns out it's nail biter's brother who has come to tell him his wife has been in a serious car accident. And the question process takes a turn and goes on from there. The point is, the better you know your characters, the easier it is to decide what to make them do, how to act. And the more believable they become to the reader.

For more about character development, a great source is Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Card.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Name That Novel #20

Let's try figuring out the work of this master of the genre. Author and title, please.

"Ten little Indian boys went out to dine; One choked his little self, and then there were nine. Nine Little Indian boys sat up very late; One overslept himself and then there were eight. Eight little Indian boys traveling in Devon; One said he'd stay there and then there were seven. Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks; One chopped himself in halves then there were six. Six Indian boys playing with a hive; A bumble-bee stung one then there were five. Five Indian boys going in for law; One got in Chancery then there were four. Four Indian boys going out to sea; A red herring swallowed one then there were three. Three Indian boys walking in the zoo; A big bear hugged one then there were two. Two Indian boys sitting in the sun; One got all frizzled up then there was one. One Indian boy left all alone; He went and hanged himself and then there were none."

Good luck!
Well, it's been a week... so I'm letting this one out: Agatha Christy and And Then There Were None.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Name That Poet #9

In a much lighter, childlike view, let's try this contemporary author. Poet, and the title if you know it.

There's a Polar Bear
In our Frigidaire--
He likes it 'cause it's cold in there.
With his seat in the meat
And his face in the fish
And his big hairy paws
In the buttery dish,
He's nibbling the noodles,
He's munching the rice,
He's slurping the soda,
He's licking the ice.
And he lets out a roar
If you open the door.
And it gives me a scare
To know he's in there--
That Polary Bear
In our Fridgitydaire.

Good luck as always!
Congratulations to Hunter for the answer -- Shel Silverstein.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Overused and Underdone

What makes a cliche? Is there a point in time, a certain mile marker when a word or phrase can wear the label "cliche"? And who decides? Obviously, those who write have learned that they must avoid them, that editors cringe at the sight of them, and it's a quick trip to the trash can or reject pile if you don't toss them out of your final draft.

It's difficult though. They are like a particular song that gets stuck in your head. You want to clear your mind of it, but it just keeps playing and playing and playing. You think of nothing else. Cliches are there in our minds, concrete walls that block our creative construction. And it probably doesn't matter when we write our first draft. That, after all, is when we keep the story moving; it's our main purpose. But then when it's time to get rid of them, replacing them with some original lines of our own ... not so easy. Do it anyway! It's worth the hard work and effort.

A couple of tips:

Deciding if a cliche is really a cliche - try checking out websites like,
Cliche Site or West Egg . They might help you make a decision. Another way is to have someone else hear you say the first half of the phrase, and then see if he can finish it. Cliches usually pop up in a person's mind immediately.

To anti-cliche - take a cliche and try replacing words to work it into something original. For instance, "when all's said and done" could become "when nothing is left to do or say", or something like that. The point is to leave them out, even if the language you replace them with isn't clever and witty. Cliches are just that much worse.

Not everyone will agree on what is cliche. And some will be unavoidable - by choice or not. However, original writing is what to strive for. Who knows? One day your unique weave of words may even become a cliche!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Rose By Any Other Name ....

What's color? When we think or imagine color, we often recall red, blue, yellow, green, etc. Yet, when we write, how boring it becomes to use only those names. The shades in between are too numerous to mention them all. Or to even use them when we compose our descriptive passages. I posted about this in an earlier post, the idea of using our senses to vividly describe scenes in our writing. One of those items I listed was color. It seemed to generate comments all by itself.

It's always nice to have word banks to choose from, much like we do when using the thesaurus. So, I decided to search and find anything online that would give a list of colors. Well, I hit the mother lode in an unlikely place: wikapedia. I know, I know, this is usually NOT a source I rely on, or at least I tell my students to beware of the acuracy and to check other more reliable sources. But this is about colors, right? No harm in reading it. I must admit it's good, even great, complete with color graphs on which to feast your eyes.

Here is a comprised list of the more, shall we say, uncommon shades. For a more detailed description, check out the link posted below.

Red: carnelian, coquelicot, rose madder, sinopia, vermilion

Orange: carrot orange, gamboge, persimmon, tangelo, tenne (tawny)

Brown: burnt sienna, desert sand, ecru, raw umber, russet, sepia, taupe

Yellow: aureolin, citrine, jonquil, mikado yellow, saffron, sunglow, Vegas gold

Gray: cinereous, seal brown, Xanadu

Green: chartreuse, gray-asparagus, myrtle, olive drab, spring bud, viridian

Blue: bondi blue, cerulean, glaucous, iceberg, Maya blue, Tiffany blue, ultramarine

Violet: cerise, fandango, periwinkle, wisteria

Here's the link, if you want to know more: LIST OF COLORS

And of course you could always check your 64 count box of Crayola crayons! They make a great resource :-) Happy coloring with your words!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Check It Out ... Weekly Websites

Writers and readers ... they go hand in hand. So, here is an all purpose website that offers book reviews as well as profiles and interviews of the authors who write those books. A nice extra tidbit let's you take a peek with excerpts. You are kept up-to-date with listings of new releases, and well entertained by literary games and contests:


Of course once you've found something worth reading, it's nice to know where you can get the book. If you aren't sure whether you want to dish out the money to buy it, as we all know, libraries are a great alternative. This next site provides a database of libraries across the world:


And finally, if you still want to know more about the author of the book you've found, say for instance, his/her websites, etc., this author data base is a worthwhile stop:


Happy book shopping!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Name That Novel #19

Here's a short one ... passage, that is. Not too difficult, I'd think. Let's see who knows. Title and author, please.

“Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules.”

“Yes, sir. I know it is. I know it.” Game, my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it’s a game, all right—I’ll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren’t any hot-shots, then what’s a game about it? Nothing. No game.

Congratulations to Tina -- Catcher in the Rye by Salinger

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pointing in the Right Direction.....

Speaking of conferences and pitching, which I spoke of in an earlier post, Rachelle Gardner has an excellent advice posting on what you should do when you go face to face with that agent or editor. Check it out:

Rachelle Gardner on Pitching

Monday, May 10, 2010

Name That Poet #8

This one is once again by a classic American Poet. Let's see who can remember this sonnet and its author:

The sun is set; and in his latest beams
Yon little cloud of ashen gray and gold,
Slowly upon the amber air unrolled,
The falling mantle of the Prophet seems.
From the dim headlands many a lighthouse gleams,
The street-lamps of the ocean; and behold,
O'erhead the banners of the night unfold;
The day hath passed into the land of dreams.
O summer day beside the joyous sea!
O summer day so wonderful and white,
So full of gladness and so full of pain!
Forever and forever shalt thou be
To some the gravestone of a dead delight,
To some the landmark of a new domain.
Congrats to Daniel! He answered correctly with Longfellow. And the poem title is "A Summer Day by the Sea". Thank you, Daniel.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Calling All Bloggers....

There are many thoughts about the best approach to canvassing your work. Going to writing conferences where pitching is done in person to agents and editors is one. So, check in and offer your opinions and experience.

Do you think pitching at conferences is the best way?
Have you ever been to one and done this? If yes, where did you attend?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Article to Note: What Authors Should Know

Visiting the Hunnington Post website, I read an article by Penny Sansevieri who writes about the reasons why some authors may fail to sell their work. It struck a chord with me. I had to admit, some of those are part of my story, my past mistakes. And I truly hope I've learned from them, or as Sanservieri puts it, that I have managed to "fail up".

Her points of advice cover: 1)not learning enough about the industry; 2)not accepting feedback; 3)not surrounding yourself with enough professionals; 4)not doing your research; 5)not clearly understanding how to measure success in booksales; 6)not understanding how New York publishing works; 7)playing the blame game; and 8)believing in the unbelievable.

As a teacher, I'm very familiar with the philosophy of being well-prepared and well-informed before you go forth and do, well, whatever it is you attempt to do. And as the author says, the mistakes you make in publishing may be costly in both time and money. And with the Internet at our fingertips, we have an unending resource of advice to read. Unfortunately, not all of it is well-intended. As one might figure, there are some unscrupulous people out there. Taking the time to learn about the industry before you try to sell your masterpiece is essential.

In any case, take a look at what this article has to offer:
Why Some Authors Fail

Friday, May 7, 2010

Name That Novel #18

Let's try this one.... slightly more contemporary, but still a classic and well-read.

"Winston had disliked her from the very first moment of seeing her. He knew the reason. It was because of the atmosphere of hockey-fields and cold baths and community hikes and general clean-mindedness which she managed to carry about her. He disliked nearly all woman, and especially the young and pretty ones, who were the most bigoted adherents of the party, the swallowers of slogans, the amateur spies and nosers-out of unorthodoxy."

Good luck!
Congrats to Tina! 1984 by George Orwell.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Great Fallback -- Outlining

Organizing your thoughts when planning a book project is often a daunting and confusing task. An outline can help solve that problem. So, you say, I'll make an do I get started? It's not really that unfamiliar. Think about school. Your teacher may have assigned you a chapter in the history text to outline. Outlining your book is like that, only in reverse. You don't have a book, yet.

What that involves is really rather simple. Start with a broad, skeleton. It could be just three major sections -- beginning, middle, and end. Then add several subsections to each for your scenes. Typing this in a word document works well because you will be able to expand each section as you add information. For supplementals to go along with your outline, I would suggest creating a plot line. Label it with the essential elements: exposition; conflict; rising action; climax; falling action; and resolution. Leave room for the details you will add to these elements. It's a great visual for you to continually refer back to. Even a timeline is a helpful tool. I've often created one the way I've done in the classroom: a big piece of poster paper taped on the wall to add events as I develop them. One more idea is using index cards with events. The advantage to these is that if you need to rearrange or shift your order of events, you can just switch the cards around.

Of course there are various approaches to this process. Some prefer to start with developing characters, at least the main ones. Creating a "resume" for each, complete with all the background info -- job, birth date, family, etc., and strengths, weaknesses, traits, i.e. just about anything you can think of to give them life, is essential. When the story hits a rut, these well-developed characters can help move it along. They will know what to do even if you don't!

All of these tools can implement the writing process. How and when you use them is the key. Overall, it's wise to use some organizational tool. To just dig in and start writing your story without knowing where you're going may lead you into the wilderness with no way out! Seriously, the "no-plan" method works for some, but I'd venture to say that it's rare.

Do you have a preference? Do you organize your ideas? Let's hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Ponder to Write... Here's a Question.

To thesaurus or not: is it always a valuable tool? I've often wondered how well it works when I'm looking for more descriptive words, something more creative, something to tintilate the get the picture ;-). The point at which I begin to worry is when maybe the word I find is too much. After all, there has to be a natural sound to your writing style. Not contrived, not over the top.

Perhaps it's a matter of choice. You do it very carefully, wisely, and judiciously. Chew on it awhile to see if it sounds right. Then, if it doesn't work, pitch it out and start over. Boy, writing is hard, isn't it? At least it is if you want it done well.

So, what do you think? Is the thesaurus your friend? Do you use it often? And how would you advise people to use or not use it?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Are You Connected?

Everyone -- unless you live under that proverbial rock -- knows about Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. These all provide a platform for social or business networking. Each has its own unique draw, depending on your reasons for signing up, and they are pretty easy to use.

One not so familiar though, but is ranked in the top five among users in the U.S., is LinkedIn . For business networking it's the best. Here, you can find discussions to help answer your questions or share your know how. Even better, it's a place where employers post jobs. And they will search the site for people who fit their needs. So, polish up your profile and show off what you know! Your contributions to discussions and articles give you that opportunity. It's also a way to gain referrals.

Of course, as with anything, it's a mixed bag -- there's the good, bad, and the ugly. We all want the good aspects of networking to come our way. Some useful guidelines help to achieve just that.

  • If you don't want info to be publicly known, don't share it.

  • Find a network that fits your needs and provide info that caters to those needs; if you're a writer, write about writing tips :-)

  • Project and network -- OFTEN; people won't know you exist if you don't put yourself out there.

  • Consider placing a photo of yourself on your profile -- it makes you real and approachable.

  • Be consistent on your sites with what you advertise; helps people remember you.

  • Find a tutorial to help you learn how to use these sites.

  • Bottom line -- as the Nike commercial says, "Just do it!" or at least, just try it.

For a more detailed account of this topic, read Social Media on Writing-World.

So, how many of you partake in social networking? And how important is it to you?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Knowing -- Setting the Limits to What You Write

An article in the April 1 issue of the online mag, , set off a quiet rumble of protest inside me -- that idea of writing only what you know. The author professes the idea that there are ways of stretching the rule a bit, but then goes on to really pretty much stick to it. She advises writers should tap into whatever they are "expert" or familiar with, such as a lawyer using his knowledge to write a legal thriller (hmm... what bestselling author do we know who does that???) Okay, I will buy that. But then the author says settings should reflect where one has lived for a significant amount of time, and only then can it sound authentic.

If this is what the author really believes, I disagree. The idea of writing what you know should include what you research. And let's face it, in this day and age you can research anything! That includes locations, time frames, professions, scientific know-how, and the list goes on. We have the resources, and we need to use them. Sure, living in a place can lend itself to making the setting "authentic", but there's nothing to stop a writer from networking and researching to get a handle on what's needed to describe a place, or to find any other info that validates the story.

So, in one respect, I agree with the author: take advantage and use what you DO know. However, I'd say, don't stop there. After all, the writing world and all its stories are our fantasies growing in our imaginations. If we want to write about the Shire, home to Bilbo Baggins or Dorothy's OZ and her trek through munchkin land, what's to stop us? After all, maybe we've never been there, but the places are familiar inside our heads. Right?

What are your views? Do you think it's too much of a gamble to venture out into realms we've never personally experienced? Or is the sky truly the limit?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Tips According to Hemingway

I was reading an article about Hemingway's advice on writing,
Top Five Tips for Writing Well , and thought I'd take the time to pass the advice along, in brief, and make a comment or two. Of course, lots of people have lots of tips and advice on writing, but it seems rather special coming from such a renowned and respected author as Hemingway. So, let's take a look.

Tip 1: Use short sentences. Seems reasonable, especially considering Hemingway's style of writing. And this seems to support the ideas given in my post on New-age reading habits. So many readers like that fast-paced novel--I certainly do--and short sentences help do the trick!

Tip 2: Use short first paragraphs. Considering tip number 1, this seems self-explanatory, doesn't it? Now, those of us who've read all the popular books on writing advice can attest to one very frequent tip: make sure you open with a great hook. Well, I'd imagine a long, flowery introduction with too much back story might dilute the impact of that hook, whereas a shorter one would enhance it.

Tip 3: Use vigorous English. I believe nowadays we would refer to it as using powerful action words, ones that move the story and its characters along. Again, this seems to go hand in hand with what all readers want: a story that grabs them and keeps their attention.

Tip 4: Be positive, not negative. He wasn't talking about the downbeat, depressing, or negative thoughts or events your story might have. However, it does refer to your choice of words. Instead of saying what something isn't, say what it is. Otherwise, your reader will still be thinking of the negative part of the word. Example: even if you say something is painless, the reader might be thinking pain. Instead, when you say it is comfortable, no one is thinking about pain. This one seemed to be a bit over the top to me, but Hemingway must have thought it important enough to comment. Maybe I'm just not conscious of this when I read. I'll have to study on it awhile.

Tip 5: This one actually is taken from a comment Hemingway gave to Fitzgerald, more like a confession than a tip, though. To paraphrase, he claimed that for every page of masterpiece, he would write ninety-one pages of sh*t. And hopefully manage to put the sh*t in the wastebasket. There's a tip in there somewhere, I'm sure. Maybe it's to say that any writing we do is a process, much like a sculpture who starts with a lump of clay and works it into a fine piece of art. We write, we revise, and then revise some more. It's work, after all.