Friday, April 30, 2010

Fabulously Fun Friday

I know all my characters sound alike,

but they're so cute!

(You're free to present your own caption. I just couldn't resist the picture! ~~~ Linda)
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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fantastic Descriptions

This week, AC is pleased to share with you a guest post by fantasy author Janalyn Voigt. Janalyn identified her call to write at the age of 12 and grew up teaching herself classic story structures, basic conflicts and the craft of writing long before she received formal training as an alumni of Christian Writers Guild. Janalyn is the author of DawnSinger, book one of Tales of Faeraven, which will release with Port Yonder Press. Janalyn’s publication credits include Brio (Focus on the Family), Powerline Papers (Scripture Press) and Pentecostal Evangel. She is affiliated with ACFW and NCWA. You can visit her blogs Author Haven and Book Readers Central and the Facebook page for Tales of Faeraven.

Fantastic Descriptions

In a certain sense, all writing is fantasy, although we like to break it into genres. Whatever your writing process—whether you make intricate notes, carry your plot in your head, or catch winds of inspiration—you face, in common with others of your ilk, the task of creating something from nothing. You must scratch from the dry clay a skeleton, clothe it with flesh, and ressucitate it with the breath of life.

This act of creation is harder for some than others by dint of personality but also by choice of genre. At least those who write contemporary fiction have something tangible to go on. Even if they don’t visit a location in person, they can do so online or consult maps of an area. Although the past has passed, historical records may exist, and writers of historical fiction can often visit or view pictures of ruins and relics.

Those of us who write within the fantasy genre have no such resources. It is our peculiar challenge and joy to draw our own maps and create our own relics. Toward that end, fantasy writers employ specific tools—the picks and shovels, if you will, of lyricism.

  • Simile: a figure of speech which compares two unlike things and is often introduced by like or as. Here’s an example from DawnSinger, book one of my Tales of Faeraven trilogy: “Thunder boomed like a timpani, too near.” I could have simply described thunder as booming, but such a description is clich├ęd to the point we become defeaned, as it were, by its overuse. Likening thunder to the sound of a drum helps us “hear” it. Use of a timpani, a medieval drum with a deep-bodied sound, communicates both the timbre of the instrument and the medieval flavor of my world.

  • Metaphor: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy. Here’s an example from DawnSinger: “The stars burned into his eyes, so near it seemed he could pluck one as a jewel from the velvet bodice of the sky.” This sentence contains both simile and metaphor. Stars are likened in simile to jewels which can be plucked “from the velvet bodice of the sky.” This metaphor suggests a soft, dark backdrop for bright, hard-edged stars, thus providing contrast. Jewelers often display gemstones against velvet, so I can connect to something a reader already knows to evoke a feeling. In this scene my hero, Spreil, explores his feelings about his relationship with his mother. A bodice, of course, covers breasts, which in this case, represent a child’s attachment to his mother as a source of nurture.

  • Allegory: the use of symbolism to present a truth. We can take my example of a metaphor, above, further to see that the act of plucking a star (representing a child) from the bodice (representing nurture) of its mother tells in allegory what has already happened in Spreil’s life and that he has come to take away my heroine, Nalyn, another of her children.

  • Musicality: a sense of tempo (pace), rhythm (timing), melody (sentence structure), and phrasing (flow) are essential to the creation of lyrical descriptions. Here’s an example from DawnSinger: “Lightning flared. A crosswind caught winged horse and rider. The wingabeast shrilled and tilted, flight feathers singing.” Try speaking these sentences and exaggerating their rhythms and you’ll notice the beginning of each sentence has the same pattern. Repeating this pattern helps maintain a quick tempo until the rhythm shifts to land on “flight feathers singing.” This serves to emphasize the sound of those flight feathers. The first sentence is simple, the second a little more involved, and the third complex. We move from a staccato (choppy) rhythm in the first two sentences to a legato (smooth) phrasing in the third, which helps us slow down and appreciate its complexity.

  • Personification: giving human attributes to an inanimate object. Personification can be couched in simile or metaphor. In the following sentences, taken from DawnSinger, I use simile. “A pall hung over this place, as if the mists shrouded a corpse and not a village. Sorrow lay heavy over all, and Nalyn would not have been surprised if the walls ran with tears and the stones themselves wept.”

  • Animalification: ascribing animal characteristics to an inanimate object. I use metaphor for this effect in this example from DawnSinger: “The stronghold of Rivenn perched below them on an arm of rock that thrust into the swirling waters of Weild Aenar, its bulk rising from the mist like some noble bird of prey. Sand-pink wings fanned backward to water’s edge, and white plumage fluttered from atop its many towers.” Because this castle is in the mountains, I liken it to a bird to lend a feeling of freedom, beauty and grace. Those qualities are important with reference to the stronghold of Rivenn, which as High Hold of Faeraven is a center of learning and culture. The reference to the arm of rock gives an image of a bird perched on a human arm, poised for flight.

Whether you write fantasy in its broader sense or within the fantasy genre itself, these tools will help you unearth lyrical descriptions to create beautiful landscapes of your own.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Resource Roundup for April: Free Apps for Writers

This month, we’re featuring a handful of handy free software apps that can benefit writers of any stripe—plus, some of them are just plain fun.

q10: Eliminate distractions with this full-screen word processor. Features all kinds of neat gizmos (including a target word count tracker, timer alarm, and even typewriter sound effects), but remains very streamlined.

Freemind: This mind-mapping software makes taking notes and fleshing out ideas easier than ever.

Zotero: This easy-to-use Firefox extension helps you collect, manage, cite, and share your research sources. It nests within your web browser, but exports info to Word and OpenOffice.

Foxit Reader: This is Adobe Reader’s competition. Super speedy pdf reader.

CutePDF: Use this program to export pdf documents from just about any document creator including Microsoft Word and Adobe InDesign.

Enso Words: This universal spellchecker works across the gamut of Windows programs, including word processors and web browsers.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Fabulously Fun Friday ~ The Shining (Recut)

The feel-good family-friendly romantic comedy called... The Shining. (Or, how a good recut can completely change how you see something familiar.)

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dumbing Down the English Language, Guest Post by Lynn Mosher

Don’t ever suggest a post idea to a group of writers that blog about writing. You get volunteered for the job!

Noticing a disturbing trend coming across my screen and in a number of other places of writing, I thought it might be a good subject for the ladies here at AuthorCulture. But they are so generous that they decided to share the task with me.

The topic? The dumbing down of the English language.

This trend has oozed its way into books, articles, blog posts–everywhere. More and more, publications accept work that is less than, um, well, what it should be.

I have always loved grammar and usually received good grades in school. I even belong to that small but amusing group of weirdoes who loved to diagram sentences. I care about words, so seeing a deterioration of our language is distressing to me.

Granted, any language will change over time. How many of us still speak in Elizabethan English? But those of us who have been born with English as our native tongue should have an appreciation for it.

Seeing this destruction, I wondered where the guilt should lie (lay? I am forever working on this one)…

  • Teachers? Probably in certain cases. More than likely, the school systems.
  • Parents? Yes. If the parents do not speak English properly, the children will follow the parents’ example.
  • Kids? Yes. Even college graduates have no mastery of the language.

But there is another. Not a “who” but a “what.”

So, what is the culprit? Technology. Social networking and phone texting.

Because of social networking sites like Twitter and, to a lesser degree, Facebook, the correct usage of grammar and punctuation is getting lost in translation. Many times, the formulation of a correct sentence is intelligently vacuous.

With the advent of Twitter and phone texting, a dumbing down, or should I say, the twittering down or texting down, of our mother tongue has occurred.

Like millions of others, I socialize on Twitter. It is a great place to make friends and contacts and is a great source of information. If you are not familiar with the process, in order to communicate with others on Twitter, one must do so in 140 characters, which includes spaces, punctuation and, sometimes, the person’s @name.

Those acclimated to writing in Twitterese, or 140 characters, use shortcuts to get their message into Twitter’s sardine-can post, and those texting use abbreviations to fit in the constraints of a miniature screen.

Misspellings and abbreviations abound, like thru, &, LOL, btw, @, urk for irk, u for you, and the usuals…your for you’re, me instead of I, here for hear and vice versa, their for they’re, it’s for its, and mixing to, too, two, and 2. And too many more to list.

Punctuation has taken a hit also. Comma placement is either non-existent or incorrect. I care about commas, having been dubbed Comma Momma by one of my favorites on the writer’s forum

When I pick up a book or a magazine, pick up an article or even a devotional online and find glaring grammar and punctuation errors, it is difficult to keep my mind focused on what I am reading.

I am not an English major and make no claims to having a solid command of the language, not by a long shot. But I am still learning. This ol’ brain is still trying to comprehend gerunds, clauses and phrases in parallel form, dangling modifiers, and all that other fun stuff.

We, as writers, need to care about the words of our language and their proper placement within a sentence. If we do not use proper grammar and punctuation in our work, how then will others read the appropriate use of it and have it reinforced in their minds? This is one area that I hope I never stop learning.

Here’s 2 bttr wrtng 4 all!

Lynn Mosher is a multi-published e-zine author and the author of the popular devotional blog, Heading Home.
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Monday, April 19, 2010

Please Welcome Debut Author Gina Holmes

Sometimes love demands the impossible.

Nothing deepens a stream like a good rain . . . or makes it harder to cross. Jenny Lucas swore she’d never go home again. But life has a way of upending even the best-laid plans. Now, years after she left, she and her five-year-old daughter must return to her sleepy North Carolina town to face the ghosts she left behind. They welcome her in the form of her oxygen tank-toting grandmother, her stoic and distant father, and David, Isabella’s dad . . . who doesn’t yet know he has a daughter.
As Jenny navigates the rough and unknown waters of her new reality, the unforgettable story that unfolds is a testament to the power of love to change everything—to heal old hurts, to bring new beginnings . . . even to overcome the impossible.
That is a glimpse into Gina Holmes’ new novel, Crossing Oceans, which releases in May from Tyndale Publishing. AuthorCulture is pleased to have Gina here today. Many of you have probably visited her blog NovelJourney, where she has interviewed such authors as Nicholas Sparks, Jerry Jenkins and many other writers including yours truly.
Today Gina gets to sit on the other side of the questions. And I’m sure you will all be encouraged by her journey.
1.      Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? And when did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
I grew up in Hamilton Twp New Jersey. It's a suburb outside of the state's capital. Other than the Jersey accent and loud laughter, it was pretty much like anywhere else I guess.
As far as knowing I wanted to be a writer, it wasn't something one day that came to me like a sudden revelation. It sort of happened over time. I always found creative writing to be fun and not particularly challenging compared to my other subjects in school. While my classmates sweated out each writing assignment, I whipped out an essay in the few minutes before the bell rang and would get As. But, I had this flawed thinking back then that if I were good at something, it wasn't worth much. So I concentrated on the tough subjects that I had to work hard at. I got my degrees in science and nursing.
When I had children, I wanted to stay home with them while they were little and thought that writing might be an easy way to work at home and make money. Boy was I wrong. If you broke down all the hours I've put into writing and divided it by the money I've made, well, we're not even coming close to minimum wage.
2.      I’ve read that originally you started out writing suspense/thrillers. Then one day you realized your true voice came through while writing women’s fiction. Tell us how that came about?
I grew up reading Stephen King, so I thought that suspense was what I should be writing. My first four novels were in this genre. Then I started picking up the classics that no teacher or professor had required for class and some other authors like Arthur Golden, Charles Martin, Leif Enger, etc. and my taste in reading material changed. Suddenly it was this kind of book I wanted to write. Not necessarily women's fiction but not suspense either. I wanted to write books that would change the readers forever as some of the books I'd read had changed me. So, I tried something new and presented it to my agent along with a mystery I was also working on and asked him which one I should pursue. He was quite confident that Crossing Oceans was what I should be writing and I knew he was right.
3.      You are a mom, nurse, and wife. Any one of those positions would be full time. Yet, as writers, we all have to fit our writing in around our other commitments. I would imagine that finding time to write is a challenge. How do you fit writing into your schedule?
At the moment, this is my biggest challenge. It's tough. Very tough. I'm under deadline to write my sophomore novel and the finish line is getting dangerously close but I'm not a particularly fast writer. At the moment, I'm laying on the couch next to my children as they watch TV and writing these answers. An hour ago you would have found me outside under my oak tree with my laptop working on my next chapter of Dry As Rain, my next novel. Tomorrow, I'll work 13 hours as a nurse, come home and serve dinner to five children while my husband is at work and then I'll do a little editing before bed. The day after that, I'll spend the entire day trying to get one more chapter drafted.
So, the short answer is every waking moment that I'm not doing domestics, picking or dropping off the kids, or working is spent writing, editing, doing PR or reading.  It's tough right now but I know this is just a season in my life and I only get one chance to debut and only one chance to write a sophomore novel. Everything I'm doing for my career right now is critical. I don't want to look back with regrets. So, I'm working my butt off but I also want to be a good mom and wife and so it's difficult doing it all.
4.      What's your favorite thing about being a writer?

My favorite thing about being a writer is presenting a new way of looking at an old problem. I've always had a mediator personality. It can be maddening talking to me because I like to present everyone's point of view as something valid that needs considering. That sort of thing translates nicely to novel writing. I can get people to consider another's perspective by whispering instead of shouting. I like that.
5.      What's your most memorable moment in your writing journey?
There were of course many, but the one that stands out the most was when I was working as a nurse in the newborn nursery and my agent, Chip called to tell me we got an offer. I thought that day would never come. I'll never forget that.
6.      Tell us about Crossing Oceans. Where did you get the idea?
I'm not really sure where the idea came from. I was just lying on the couch and a germ of an idea came to me about a dying mother who hadn't told the father of her child about her. I was going through a difficult period in my life and I think looking back that I was working through some of that through the story.
7.      How can fans purchase your book?
All the usual channels,, Amazon, Books A Million, B&N, Walmart, Sams Club, you name it.
8.      Recently you blogged about getting to visit Tyndale Publishers. After so many years of trying to break in to publishing, that must have been a little surreal. What were your feelings as you walked in the doors? And then again on the way home?
It was definitely surreal. There have been many surreal moments in the last few years. I mean for years and years and years I was chasing the publishers, trying to catch their attention and getting shot down over and over. Then suddenly everything changed and I was being treated like royalty. Walking through the doors of Tyndale, I felt like a kid who'd won the golden ticket to Wally Wonka's Chocolate Factory. I was in heaven!

On the way home, I was sitting in a limousine of all things, thinking: 'how crazy is this?' The next day I was back to being a nurse and telling my kids to stop slurping their milk.
9.      Any more books on the horizon?
I'm hard at work on my sophomore novel, Dry As Rain. It's another emotional story, this time dealing with love, infidelity and forgiveness.
10.  Any advice for fellow writers working their way toward publication?
A ton, but I'll not overwhelm you. Read and apply Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. Join a critique group and then another and another, until you have the perfect small group of writers who push you constantly, tear you up, build you up and grow you. Go to writer's conferences. There are gatekeepers in this industry and that's where you'll find them. Try to remember on this journey to get to know people, build friendships without having an agenda. One of the most important things in life is to have a group of people who understand you.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Fabulously Fun Friday: The Pitfalls of Technology

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Review of Beginnings, Middles & Ends by Nancy Kress

In tackling the three puzzle pieces which comprise every novel, acclaimed science-fiction writer Nancy Kress has essentially volunteered herself to explain the workings of the entire novel. One can’t help but wonder how so much necessary information can be packed into a book of such diminutive size, but Kress pulls it off and then some.

She begins, in very apropos fashion, with three chapters on beginnings. I bought the book specifically for these three chapters, hoping they might help me overcome what was a consistent stumbling block. Kress doesn’t offer slam-bang opening lines or never-fail hooks. What she does offer is the hard facts of how a beginning must function in a novel. Likewise, the chapters on middles and ends don’t make any pretense of helping one write the next best seller. But with the aid of Kress’s straightforward, succinct suggestions, one can certainly find a solid base for at least taking a shot at bestseller status.

Citing solid examples from literature and some of her own writings, she presents the foundational blocks of the writing craft in simple, easily grasped terms that cut to the heart of the problems many writers struggle with. Kress does more than teach writers how to write solid beginnings, middles, and ends; she helps us understand why the underlying techniques succeed or fail. One of the few books in my writing library that I would label indispensable, Beginnings, Middles & Ends is an incisive and intelligent look at the core of the craft.

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Friday, April 9, 2010

Fabulously Fun Friday ~ Writing Center WOW!

I'm seriously considering ordering just to get the towel. I think that might take care of my critique partner's comments on my chapters! :D

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