Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Grammarly Deets #6

It's class time. Writing 101: Obviously, these are tips established and emerging writers know. However, newbies take heed! Classic mistakes that will give you away as green and in need of guidance or a great editor, which cost big bucks, but a wise investment if you are the type to comment how grammar was never your thing in school.

Of course, there are many, but to keep this short? I'll list only a few:

  • POV - don't switch the point of view within a paragraph or even a scene if you can avoid it. Head hopping is what some call it. Not good. Very confusing to the reader. So, unless your character is schizophrenic, don't do it.
  • Avoid flooding your writing with ellipses (...) or dashes (--) Don't judge. I used to do this. See me frowning? Yep.
  • Avoid lengthy paragraphs. I mean, extremely long paragraphs tax a reader's patience.
  • Avoid the exclamation mark, or at least use it sparingly. Instead, try including words that imply the excitement of the dialogue.
  • Dialogue tags -- less is more. The "he said" or "she said" tags, sometimes called invisible tags, are really better to use. This doesn't mean you can't include descriptors throughout a conversation to let readers know what the characters are doing. In fact, you should include them.
  • Cliches -- these aren't original, won't show your unique style, are totally boring and imply you are a lazy writer. I'm guilty of doing this. Still do when I'm writing the first draft. I get rid of most in later edits. They are nasty little things creeping into your mind, so watch out!
  • Lack of specific knowledge and jargon -- If you plan on writing a novel set in China, you better know about the people, the geography, the culture, etc. Readers hate when they catch an author making errors this way. They cry foul and trash talk your book. Well, maybe not trash talk, but I doubt they buy anything else you write. Enough said.
  • Use a clear font like Times Roman. No flowery, fancy type to distract the eye.
All righty then. I'm out of here. Don't let moss grow under your feet (cliche); write ... (ellipse), edit, improve. Follow the rules, but stay creative! (exclamation mark, though I think this one fits).

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Weekly Deets -- 9.27.15

I was sitting here in my spot, my writerly spot, thinking about other people's writerly spots. Where do you find the best place to be inspired and productive? It's been asked many times, and I've answered many times ... it really doesn't matter. Inspiration comes from inside, where ever you may be. And in my case, so does my productivity. I'd read how Stephen King (Yes, I know. I reference him too much, but hey, he's the man!) will go to his private, quiet place and write for hours. Then, when he's satisfied, he comes up for air and rejoins society. 

I don't need a special place, even though I have a special place ... mostly to keep all my notes, files of stories, ideas for stories, etc. I will write there, or sometimes in the family room in front of the TV, sometimes outside on the deck or sometimes in bed. It depends on my mood. My special place, aka Writer's Cave, can get claustrophobic, hence the reason I navigate to other spots. One I've never used, though, is out in public, like a coffee house or library or the closest B&N or BAM store. Don't know, I might like it, maybe I will try it ... someday. I do like to people watch (NO. I am not a voyeur or some weird person that way) and that might tend to interrupt the creative flow. Or maybe it would help. *Cue eccentric old lady with her arms gathered round a stack of books on voodoo and witchcraft. She'd make a great character. I love quirky traits in my book people. Don't you? 

To sum it up, inspiration is where ever and whenever it hits you. Favorite places to write? That's up to each individual, of course. Hey, I remember as a kid I used to climb the apple tree in our backyard with a notebook and pen in hand. I'd sit on a comfortable branch, lean my back against the trunk, and write poetry. I loved that, and still enjoy the memory. 

News for the week: My agent updated certain parts of the agency website. All the author clients and their work, plus a short "elevator" pitch, sort of, to describe what they enjoy writing. It's all a work in progress, and will get better and better! Check it out: Golden Wheat Literary  You'll find me about halfway through the entries. 

Until next week ... cheers! And happy writing!  P.S. HAPPY 31st BIRTHDAY TO MY BABY GIRL!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Weekly Deets - 9.14.15

Scary is ... well ... scary. This time of year we think about scary. The scary movies are starting to flood our media, of course because of the Halloween season. So are scary stories. Stephen King and Dean Koontz have been my favorite authors of the horror genre. Or at least when I used to read horror genre. I think I had my fill somewhere back in the nineties. After years of feeding on the fright, the gore, and the eye-popping, heart-pounding moments I decided my health couldn't take it any longer. Seriously though, I just wanted to move along to reading my new fave genre, mysteries. Of course, some of those have gore and fright, too. I do love an evil-minded psychotic killer and the gruesome forensic evidence he leaves behind. Think Criminal Minds.

So, what is it about scary? According to an article I found: "Department head Magne Arve Flaten says that fear comes from the part of our brain that is specialized to express terror.

'Our fear centre sits in an area in the front of the brain near the temple and is called the amygdala. Studies that have been done on people who lack an amygdala demonstrate that they do not exhibit fear,' he says." ( Fear Reaction )

The article also states that our fear is immediate. Like in one eye blink, folks, we react in about a tenth of a second. No wonder we nearly jump out of our seats when someone sneaks up on us, or when we read about or watch that goon hiding behind the door who pops out to surprise the unsuspecting victim in the movie or novel. I'm shivering just picturing the shower scene in Psycho (Hitchcock's original). Surprising or not, it's something lots of people thrive on. Give 'em an adrenaline rush prompted by fear and it satisfies them. Well, it does for most, present company excluded. 

In another light and much smaller scale of scary, I'm thinking of an upcoming event where I'll be reading to listeners, big group or small, it doesn't matter. That adrenaline rush is already boosting my heart rate as the date draws closer. Not from fear, but more from anxiety and nerves. Heck, maybe it's triggered from the same place, that amygdala in the front brain. Whatever or wherever, I feel it. And will always feel it, every time I go before a group of people to talk, read, sing (that's not going to happen) or stand on my head (never going to happen). They do say, though, that a bit of nerves are good when performing at any level. Keeps you on your toes and brain alert, so you do a better job. At least that's their excuse! 

Fear. It's what makes the world go round and Halloween lovers thrive! 

Favorite Scary Movie: The Haunting (1963 version only ... and because there's no blood and gore. If I count those elements then it's The Exorcist.)

Favorite Scary Novel: The Dark Half by Stephen King (one of my many favorites, actually. I think this one fits because it's about an author who has a darker half, which comes alive to commit all kinds of horrific acts. bruhaha!)

Favorite Scary Song: Tubular Bells -- theme song to The Exorcist (okay, only if you've seen the movie, then you know exactly what I'm talking about, otherwise it's really a pretty song, haunting but pretty. And I have to give my honorable mention to that heart-pumping beat in the movie Jaws.)

Anyone willing to chime in and add their scary favorites, please do in the comment section below!

Well, that's my take on scary. And here's to a week of fun and fear! Watch your back, folks! 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Grammarly Deets #5

Do you write poetry? Song lyrics? Play drums or other percussion instruments? Of course, if you do any of these you know how important beat and rhythm are. What I'd bet you weren't aware of is how significant it is in writing. Yep. Beat and rhythm. Some will call it pacing. That's a loose translation at best, but it will do to explain this post on writing. It doesn't concern grammar, no. (If you were wondering.) However, it is very essential you master this skill. 

You might read books on writing that will describe the peril of monotonous dialogue, line after line of he said, she said, where no descriptive tags are interspersed. You add a "he took a sip of his coffee" here, or "she hesitated, worried he may not admit the truth" there, and suddenly the reader feels he's been transported into the story, experiencing everything. Much more interesting, right? Of course you don't want to tag every line of dialogue. That's slowing things down too much, and quite frankly it gets annoying to the reader. 

Another piece of advice will address pacing. Nothing worse than a plot bogging down with slow, arduous and painful detail. There must be variety. And it starts with sentence length. That's where I'm taking this post. The beat, rhythm and pacing of your sentence structure. 

Take a look at this paragraph: 

Mary stepped to the door. She opened it to find Jack. She froze and couldn't speak. Her eyes spoke to him instead. She waved him inside. They sat in the living room. Neither one started the conversation.

The pacing is quick, but the monotony of repeated word length and structure doesn't lend itself to originality or prose that sparks a reader's interest. So, let's mix it up a bit. Again, think beat, think rhythm.

Mary stepped to the door. When she opened it to find Jack, she gasped. There weren't any words, nothing would fall from her lips. However, the anger inside screamed a tirade of questions. Where had he been? How could he desert her like this? She stared for another minute. Finally, stepping aside she waved him in. They sat in the living room. For several awkward minutes, neither of them spoke. 

Okay, maybe not the greatest example, but I'd bet you noticed the varied sentence structure and length. Also, I included some inner thought to deepen the character's voice. The first paragraph is rather boring. Think of a drum beat thumping out tap, tap, tap, tap, all in an even rhythm. The second paragraph mixes up the beat. Now your drum is sounding great. Tap, tap, tatata, tap, tatap. Or something like that. (I apologize. I'm not a drummer!) 

Taking it further, note that pacing dictates the action of the story, whether it should be fast or slow. When a scene needs to be fast-paced, for example in a fight between two characters or during an escape from the bad guys, repeated short sentences do the trick. When the action slows down, like in a romantic scene, you can lengthen the description, draw it out with those long, complex sentences. It works. Keeps your readers engaged and wide awake, not knowing what's around the corner ... that is, the next page! 

Beat, rhythm, pacing. They are essential ingredients to great writing!

Enjoy your weekend, and as always, happy writing!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Weekly Deets -- 9.4.15

Okay, I should warn you this post is going to read more like deep reflection and advice than my usual what's-been-happening rant. I should also add a "sentimental" advisory that the following information may cause tears. Get the tissue box ready!

What prompted me to write about this topic started when I tuned into a movie channel on TV the other night. Stand by Me, one of my all time favorites, was playing. Those familiar with the plot will know that one of the main characters, a boy named Gordie, had lost an older brother in a horrible accident the year before. Dealing with his own grief and his father's, a broken man who seems to resent Gordie being the one son left alive, is central to the young boy's actions. 

Yeah, this is morbid, I know, but it started me thinking about death, that is, the death of fictional characters. How readers deal with such a sad event is sometimes not an easy thing to do, especially for younger readers. In fact, for them it's like real death. Think back to the first time you read Bambi. Poor little fella lost his mother and he was all alone in the world. What made it worse was how Mom was shot by a hunter. (I'm sure that has caused a lot of grief for hunters.) And who can forget Littlefoot's mom killed by Sharptooth in Land Before Time? Or how about Mufasa in The Lion King? Murdered by his own brother, no less? But that's only about children's stories. Grown ups have plenty to deal with, too. I cried buckets of tears when Marly died in Marly and Me. (I'm a real puddle of goo when it comes to animals dying. I can't watch I am Legend without skipping over that scene. You know the one.) And I was absolutely in shock when Dumbledore fell to his death. I mean, I reread that passage over and over, thinking I must have got it wrong. Then, reading further, even into the next book, I wouldn't give up hope that it was all a hoax, that he never died. Shame on you, J.K Rowlings! I was heartbroken for months!

I'm sure you have your own list of favorite characters who've gone on to visit the pearly gates. As you watched or read about their demise you probably grieved, screamed and maybe spewed expletives on the unfairness of such cruelty. I feel your angst. BUT there's hope for us all. Well, maybe it's not a solution to end the pain and suffering. Still, like with therapy, maybe the following advice will help in some way.  

All right, then. Let's get to it ...

First, is acceptance. There's no reason to keep on denying the character died. If the author did his job right, the character's death had a purpose, and in that death you found a deeper meaning of that character, how he/she/it affected other characters, how the death may have helped those others to grow.

Second, (and I know this may sound silly ... after all, these are fictional characters we're talking about) it's okay to cry and be angry over the loss. Trust me, it helps. As an author I'm constantly reminded that my job is to write a story that will evoke a reader's emotions. Cry, laugh, shiver with fear, love until your heart breaks. So, let go and vent! It's what readers should do.

Third, (and here is where it gets a bit weird) remember the happy times. Just like with the loved ones you've lost (in REAL life, folks) you try to recall all those cheerful moments, when they smiled, laughed, made you laugh. Maybe this will help you get over your grief. 

And last, in a more creative effort, rewrite the scene, have the character live! Yes, it can be done. It's called fan fiction where you decide to rewrite a popular story, and if you so choose, make everyone live happily ever after! Joy. 

Whether you choose to use any of these or not, I hope reading about the demise of any favored character doesn't make you quit reading. Or worse? You may find yourself in danger of turning into an angry, crazed fan who goes ballistic on her favorite author and destroys his leg while he's chained to the bed! Remember the Stephen King novel, Misery? *maliciously grinning* Please, don't. We need avid readers and great authors to live!

That's it for this week, folks. Enjoy the weekend and ... happy reading!

Kathryn Long, author of

A Deadly Deed Grows and other mysteries

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Grammarly Deets #4

I found a quote last week that suits this week's topic. It pretty much covers all points of writing, and how you should divide, share, and conquer! It goes something like this: "Most of your novel should be Action and Dialogue. Description is the dessert. Interior Emotion provides the spice. Interior Monologue is the salt. A little salt goes a long way."

This post is specifically about the details you include in your action, dialogue, description and so on. I'd like to focus on that. Stephen King advises writers to provide enough of those details to make a great story, but always leave the reader something to imagine, to figure out for himself. Reading is an active exercise, not passive, as you should know. You must keep readers guessing, predicting, imagining, and drawing conclusions. That's your objective. You settle for nothing less. (Oh, boy ... those English teacher habits seep out of me on occasion, like now!)

Besides maintaining balance and proper proportion, your story details should be relevant. Otherwise, the story becomes boring, overwhelming, even confusing. And worst of all? The plot slows to a crawl. So slow, a turtle could pass it up in a race! Oh, yeah. That reminds me of yet another piece of advice, a la Stephen King, of course. At all times, and I do mean all, you should be thinking of the plot. The actions, dialogue, inner thoughts, etc. in every way should drive the story toward the plot's resolution and the ending. Your words need to have purpose. It's as simple as that. Okay, maybe not simple to do, but who said writing was easy? 

That's it for this week, folks. Keep on writing, and above all else, enjoy!