Friday, April 29, 2011

Something Different

I'm late, I'm late!!!

Actually, I didn't realize it was my turn to provide the FFF post today. So I scrambled through Stumble, and found this. Okay, it doesn't really relate to writing, but, hey, we can be different occasionally:

Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Review of Steering the Craft, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin wrote the word lover's writing book. This book is for those who want to go beyond telling the story. It's advanced writing intended for those who want to craft, not just the story, but each word and line that goes into it. This is advanced writing. Diving deeper into the tool box.

I love this book because it gives me permission to explore.

As a beginning novelist, I've been told not to use the same word twice in close proximity. Often finding a suitable synonym or alternative way of wording something is difficult, but I can do it. Usually, when I repeat a word or phrase, it's for effect--and guess what? According to Le Guin, that's okay: ". . . to state flatly that repetition is to be avoided, is to throw away one of the most valuable tools of narrative prose." She illustrates verbal and syntactic repetition, and gives me permission to use them, if I use them properly.

She discusses the "sound" of your writing, something I've always loved. The rhythm and musicality of words brought together to illustrate a mood or enhance an emotion. She illustrates the different forms of POV, from what she calls "limited third person" (I always called it "deep third") to "detached author" (what I call "distant third"), gives examples of their use, and permission to use them. She also illustrates shifting POVs within a single scene. I'm not sure I buy that, because the examples she gave aren't from contemporary works, but I can see how handy the technique would be for anyone choosing to write in distant third.

I disagree entirely with her opinion of writing in present tense, because she's basing her argument on the idea that the only reason one would write in present is for "its supposed immediacy, its 'presentness.' " In my current work in progress, I use present tense to separate a character from the rest of the cast. I have a solid reason for wanting to do so, and it has nothing to do with "presentness." But she does have a terrific and valid point:

Present-tense narrative uses the same temporal vocabulary as past tense. We don't write, "She slaps the Velcro fasteners on her Adidas, now gets up and stretches." We write, "She slaps the Velcro fasteners on then Adidas, then gets up and stretches." Only if we were concurrently reporting a real event like a TV sports commentator, would we use now. We use then because this isn't the present, isn't actual. Fact or fiction, it's a story. Whether we're conscious of it or not, we know the difference between actuality and story, and we use the appropriate vocabulary.
The exercises in this book are challenging and are geared for both individual study and writers groups. In the addenda, Le Guin provides a glossary and an appendix of verb forms. I recommend this book for those who already know the "rules" of writing and who are ready to break a few.
Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Monday, April 25, 2011

Resource Roundup: Search Engines for Authors

In this era of Internet omnipresence, writers have a digital world at their fingertips. So long as we know the right words to type into the search engine, we can access information on almost every subject available. This month, we’ve rounded up a collection of search engines that are particularly useful for writers.

  • Google: Let’s start off with the obvious. Make sure you’re taking full advantage of Google by using their Cheat Sheet.

  • This site offers a wealth of word tools for authors, including accessible definitions, synonyms, and flashcards.

  • Wolfram Alpha: This “computational knowledge engine” is an amazingly versatile and powerful search engine that allows an author to discover all kinds of esoteric and hard-to-find tidbits. Here’s where you stop when you need to find out the average rainfall in Hawaii, the day of the week a certain date falls on, or the mileage between two points—and that’s not even tapping the surface of this site’s capabilities.

  • Qwiki: Need information fast and want a visual and auditory feast? Qwiki “knows millions of things” and offers a fun and interactive platform through which to access them.

  • Many Books: Even libraries are available on the Internet these days. Search through this huge database of titles to find the information (or pleasure reading) you require.

  • Yahoo! Answers: If you need a quick answer on a specific subject, Yahoo! Answers is a fun, easy, and often reliable place to start.
Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Friday, April 22, 2011

Demotivation Posters For Writers: Determination

As a writer, you've heard to never, ever, ever, ever give up writing. This is the counter-argument.

Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Learn to Manipulate

Want to challenge opinions? Introduce issues in a different light? Try a political spin, novelist style? Work on your reader manipulation.

Our sympathies and emotions are manipulated on a regular basis by special interest groups, politicians, and any company with funds enough to buy ad agents on Madison Avenue–and gifted, experienced writers. Reader manipulation is a tool for mature writers, those who have mastered what novelist Ane Mulligan dubs RUE: Resist the Urge to Explain. If you don’t trust your reader to understand what’s going on, if you feel the need to explain what you’re doing, your manipulation attempts will fail.

The reasons for manipulation range from shock value to challenging social mores. In 2010, TNT aired an episode of The Closer in which the script writers, the “pros” in today’s Lessons from the Pros post, did both.

The story line goes something like this: The star, Brenda, and her squad of detectives probe a string of sadistic slayings, presumably members of a Mexican drug cartel offing members of a rival cartel. When the pathologist comes on the scene, he eventually provides the twist–the victims’ organs are missing. Hearts, kidneys, livers–gone.

From the start, the script writers make certain that viewers quickly understand the murder victims were evil, so at the first of the show, we simply have a case of bad guys killing bad guys. Banking on a “let them kill each other off” viewer mentality, the writers keep the sympathy level low. Of course, interest is high because this is, after all, The Closer, which has a huge fan base.

Once it’s established that the decedents are scum, the authors twist our perception: Some professional, with knowledge of organ harvesting, is killing these people.

Interest spikes. Sympathy rises a little. It’s one thing for bad guys to kill each other, but it’s another for an disinterested party to step in and start profiting at these poor victims’ expense. So, just who is the bad guy here? The one killing for profit, or the heartless cartel members? (Sorry, bad joke.)

Next, we’re introduced to one of the beneficiaries of this heinous crime: a child who needed and received a transplant that saved his life. Again the viewer must re-evaluate: Who is the bad guy? The cartel members who do horrid things to people, or the wonderful professional who rids society of this threat in order to save children? And, again, sympathies shift.

Then, the righteousness of our own heroine-of-justice, Brenda, is called into doubt. To her, the organ harvester is the bad guy, and she’s hot on his trail. She discovers a pending heart transplant recipient and questions the child’s father while posing as a journalist (or something other than the cop she is). The truth of her identity comes out. Dad panics–“don’t do anything to endanger my daughter!”–and Bang! Sympathies shatter, confusion reigns. She’s on a mission for justice. Dad wants to save his daughter’s life by any means. Who’s the bad guy?

Finally, we discover the organ harvester is a doctor who runs a free clinic. He tells a horror story of what his latest “donor” did to a child, as the donor lies on an operating table with his chest open and heart exposed and ready for removal and quick transit to the child in the previous scene.

Brenda shouts, “Stop what you’re doing, you’re under arrest! You killed that boy!”

Doc says, “Prove it.”

Brenda tries to break into the room and halt the procedure.

Brenda’s team says, “He’s dead. Why let the heart go to waste?”

Who’s the bad guy?

Brenda asks, “Who gave you the right to play God?”

Doc says, “The position was vacant. I took it.”

He’s arrogant, yes–but is he the bad guy? Where do your sympathies lie?

Brenda threatens to arrest him the minute he opens the door to leave with the heart.

Doc says, “Who’s playing God now?”

And again, where do your sympathies lie? What values do you hold that are being challenged in this episode?

Modern society is aware that morality is enveloped in shades of gray, and the authors of this episode want the viewer to explore an even darker hue. They ask, “Who’s good? Who’s bad?” and present the age-old philosophical enigma, “Do the ends justify the means?”

But the impact hits at an almost subconscious level. The viewer isn’t actively thinking of these things. She sees an action-packed murder mystery with twists and turns, surprises and shockers. Channel surfing is verboten. The show is too gripping to leave in favor of the World Poker Tour.

The master script writers saw to that by continuous viewer manipulation--changing where the sympathies lie, putting the viewer in the position of having to choose between the hero of the series and the bad guy, presenting murky gray areas, and challenging, always challenging, the viewer's perception of right and wrong, good and evil.

Present the premise and twist it. Illustrate and make sympathetic both sides of a controversial issue. Challenge, question, re-evaluate.

Reader manipulation is a powerful tool.
Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Monday, April 18, 2011

Catherine West on Her New Release, Yesterday's Tomorrow

Cathy, first congratulations on your new release, Yesterday’s Tomorrow! I know how rewarding it is to hold your first book in your hands. How long have you been writing? When did you first know you wanted to be a published author?

Thanks, Lynnette! I’ve been writing seriously for the last ten years. I think I knew I wanted to be published long before that, but I just didn’t know how to go about it.

You live on the island of Bermuda. That has to come with its own set of challenges for meeting agents and editors. (And, now that your book has released, marketing it.)  Yet, you are represented by Rachelle Gardner of Wordserve Literary. How did you become her client?

Yes, living on a small island does have one or two disadvantages!! Fortunately we have the Internet. J I actually came across Rachelle through blogging, before she was an agent. I had talked with her about Yesterday’s Tomorrow and asked for her thoughts on it, so she knew I was working on it when she entered the agency field, and asked me to send her the full when I was finished. I was probably one of her first clients. I don’t think she had any idea setting out just how much of an impact she would make on the publishing world! It’s wonderful to see what a natural fit being an agent is for her.

I love to hear author’s stories of what is was like to get the call that your book had sold. Can you tell us how that happened for you?

This particular book for me was an extremely tough sell. It’s also the book of my heart, which made it even more frustrating when we couldn’t find a publisher interested enough to even read the full. They felt the Vietnam backdrop was too depressing and wouldn’t even give it a chance! We actually set the book aside for two years whilst I worked on other things, and then finally submitted it again to some smaller publishers, and it ended up on Ramona Tucker’s desk at OakTara. She loved it, and here we are!

Your book is called Yesterday’s Tomorrow and is set during the Vietnam era. Tell us a little about it.


Vietnam, 1967.

Independent, career-driven journalist Kristin Taylor wants two things: to honor her father's memory by becoming an award-winning overseas correspondent and to keep tabs on her only brother, Teddy, who signed up for the war against their mother's wishes. Brilliant photographer Luke Maddox, silent and brooding, exudes mystery. Kristin is convinced he's hiding something. 

Willing to risk it all for what they believe in, Kristin and Luke engage in their own tumultuous battle until, in an unexpected twist, they’re forced to work together. Ambushed by love, they must decide whether or not to set aside their own private agendas for the hope of tomorrow that has captured their hearts.

What led you to write in that setting and time period?

I’ve always been fascinated by that era. I suppose I may have watched a couple of movies that sparked the idea of a female journalist going to Vietnam to cover the war – I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to write that story. Once I started my research however, I knew I had to.

If you had to pick one character as a favorite, which one would it be, and why?

Ooo, just one?? Well, I don’t think its any secret that I’m partial to Luke. Not just because he’s gorgeous, lol! I think he’s such a flawed character at the beginning, so rough around the edges that we wonder if he’ll ever change. When we find out why he is the way he is, we begin to understand. It was fun to watch him grow through the struggles he goes through in the story.

Everyone who’s ever tried their hand at writing knows this business comes with a lot of ups and downs. What has brought you the most joy in your writing? What has been the most difficult aspect of writing?

What’s brought me the most joy? Honestly, I have to say it’s the readers’ reaction to Yesterday’s Tomorrow! It has been totally amazing and every day I hear something else from somebody that tells me why I wrote this book. It’s definitely speaking to people, which is amazing.
I think the most difficult thing to handle is the rejection, especially when I was just starting out.  Fortunately I think I’ve managed to develop a healthy outlook on it and have accepted that it’s all just part of being a writer.

Tell us about your writing schedule. Are you able to write full time? Or do you have to work it in around another job?

I find it difficult to maintain a schedule. I tend to write in large chunks or a bit at a time, whichever way my week happens to be going. And especially now with doing so much marketing for the book, it’s more difficult to carve out time to continue working on my wips, so that’s hard.

Are there any words of wisdom you’d give new writers?

Yes, I think it’s really important to know what you’re getting into. Join a writers group and a critique group. There is SO much to learn and you want to be sure that you’re getting the right information from the right people. Go to conferences if you can, they’re really vital in helping you network with agents and editors and of course connecting with other authors. Realize that it may take a long time to see your dream become a reality, but if you really want it, don’t give up!

Educated in Bermuda, England and Canada, Catherine holds a degree in English from the University of Toronto. When she’s not at the computer working on her next story, you can find her taking her Border Collie for long walks or tending to her roses and orchids. Catherine and her husband live on the beautiful island of Bermuda, with their two college-aged children. Catherine is a member of Romance Writers of America, and American Christian Fiction Writers, and is a founding member of International Christian Fiction Writers. Catherine’s debut novel Yesterday’s Tomorrow, released March 15th, through
OakTara Publishers.

OakTara Website:

Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Friday, April 15, 2011

Fabulously Fun Friday: Parking Garage - Library Style!

The Kansas City Library Parking Garage knows a thing or two about reading (and parking) in style:

Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Review of Story Engineering by Larry Brooks

 Larry Brooks has long been one of the most respected writing instructors on the Web. Those familiar with his site Storyfix are already aware of the quality information he churns out week after week and won’t be surprised to learn that his recently released book on “mastering the six core competencies of successful writing” presents more of the same.

I read many how-to writing books every year, and I glean something from almost every one of them. But not many offer truly revolutionary ideas about the craft and how to move forward to the next level as a writer. Story Engineering does just that. Larry frames the book on the idea that every successful story is made up of six necessary “competencies” (four elements and two skills): Concept, Character, Theme, Story Structure, Scene Execution, and Writing Voice. He brings worthy and inspiring ideas and suggestions to all these subjects, but the heart and soul of this book is undeniably the twenty-three chapters on story structure.

Story structure is so often neglected in the teaching of fiction writing. We learn how to create three-dimensional characters, high-concept plots, and powerful themes—but without the ability to frame them in a strong structure, they’re weak-sauce stuff at best. And yet, so many writers are crafting story structure on sheer instinct, instead of a foundational understanding of what makes a solid structure—and what doesn’t. This book takes away the guess work. Larry teaches what constitutes a correct structure, how to recognize and study it in the stories of others, and how to implement it in your own work. If you’re only going to have two books on writing on your bookshelf, make it John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story - and this one.

As a special bonus: If you purchase Larry’s book from Amazon
and send him an email (storyfixer [at] gmail [dot] com) letting him know Katie sent you, he’ll send you a free copy of his e-book 101 Slightly Unpredictable Tips for Novelists and Screenwriters.
Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Monday, April 11, 2011

Three steps to finding alternate endings that work

Many of our posts here relate best to novels and novel writing. This post is for our friends who write short fiction.

Science Fiction author Nancy Kress shared an interesting sequence of blog posts earlier this year revealing the fascinating process a short story can take from the inception of the original idea through to final publication. A seat-of-the-pants author, Nancy started with a dry spell, forged through with passion, but found herself 2/3s of the way through the story and in need of an alternate ending. These are three steps she used to work around a wall in her writing to successfully complete and sell the story.

1) Go back to the last place you're excited about the story (in this case, 2/3 of the way through) and toss out everything after that.

2) Think of a different, but still logical, way for a secondary character to act. Secondary characters are, by definition, not as completely delineated as the point-of-view character and so the author has some wiggle room as to how they might behave. Change something major here.

3) Return to your protagonist -- how does he react to this change of behavior in someone important to him? If nothing sparks for you, try different behavior from the secondary character, or perhaps a different character.

How have you pushed through and finished a story that was giving you fits?
Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Friday, April 8, 2011

School House Rock on Verbs

Do you all remember watching these on TV when you were a kid?

Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How to Offer a Beneficial Critique

As writers, critique is part of what we will face on a continual basis - both the giving and the receiving of critiques. Obviously getting critiqued is not the happiest experience in the world, but it is a necessary pain that brings out the true nuggets of genius in our writing.

I've belonged to a critique group for over two years now. Not only have I made fast friends with the group, but today I can honestly say they've all helped me become a much better writer than I was when I first joined. I hope in two more years, looking back at this time, I will be able to say the same.

I've said it before on this blog and I'm sure I'll say it again... If you are a writer and you don't have people who regularly critique your work, you are missing out on the opportunity to grow into a better word-smith.

When you do join a group it will be your job to honestly assess the writing of other members of your group and help them grow, just as they will be doing for you.

So here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

1. Always remember to accentuate the positive in the piece. I don't care who the writer is, there will be something you can say that will be encouraging. You might have to look harder for some than for others, but it will be there.

2. The first major area I look at is the overall sentence and paragraph structure. Does the piece make sense? If there are any areas that are a little unclear point those out and state the reason why the section is unclear to you.

3. Look at grammar, punctuation, tense, and other syntax and make sure all is cohesive and flows smoothly.

4. Look for repetitive phrases or words. Every author has a few words that are their "pets." Point these out gently. Also, sometimes when writing along quickly, one word gets used several times within a few paragraphs, so look for those and suggest alternatives.

5. Especially if it is a fiction piece, look at the dialog tags. Is it clear who is speaking without being repetitive with the tags? Make sure they didn't overuse "he said" & "she said." If so, suggest the use of action beats to show who is talking.

6. Look at the metaphors and similes. Do they add to the piece? Or detract? If they jump out at you and make you stop to figure out exactly what the author is trying to show, then they probably need to go.

7. Finally, end with another positive comment. And when you've critiqued for someone for quite some time and you begin to see improvements, don't be afraid to point those out.

Click Image for an Article on How to Start a Critique Group
Additional things to remember:

1. Not all members of your group may write in a genre you enjoy reading. In that case, try to look at the piece objectively. If you enjoyed this style of writing would you enjoy this piece? Sometimes this is hard to do, but with a little forethought and planning it is possible.

2. Each author has their own distinct voice. So unless the sentences are not making sense or the emphasis would be more clear with a little rearranging, try not to insert your own voice (read: reword every sentence the author has written) and make it sound like it would if you had written it.

Are you in a critique group? What are some beneficial practices you've developed?
Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Monday, April 4, 2011

Bring Attention to Your Books With Promotional Items

We may be in the business of selling books, but we can diversify into other products—both for sale and promotion—to make sure we always have something interesting to offer our readers. Following are some ideas for items you can personalize to advertise your book.

Bookmarks are one of the most versatile, inexpensive, and dispersible products you can utilize, since not only are they something readers can unquestionably use, they’re also easy to distribute by sticking them in returned library books, leaving them at book signings, and handing them out in place of or along with your business card.

Bumper Stickers have the potential to spread your advertising all over town. Create something simple, clever, and eye-catching, and be sure to include your web URL. Drivers may not be able to read the small print, but people in the parking lot will.

Keychains are relatively inexpensive and, since people carry their keys with them everywhere, your keychain has the potential to be seen by untold numbers of people.

T-Shirts are walking billboards. Include your book cover and URL, or maybe exert a little extra brain power to come up with a catchy phrase or slogan.

Tote Bags also have the potential to be carried all around town. Chances are good your tote bag will end up being used to haul books to and from the library, and who is more interesting in buying good books than friendly neighborhood librarians?

Mousepads aren’t likely to receive as many unique views as some of the other items, but they’re still a fun way to keep your book within view of customers—and to remind them that the purchase of your book is only a mouse click away.

Mugs are a great way to combine everyone’s favorite habits: reading and coffee drinking. Mugs tend to be more expensive to produce than some of the other items mentioned, but they make great contest prizes.

Pens are cheap and easy to distribute (and great for using and giving away at book signings). Just make sure you’re able to fit your important information into the relatively small printable surface.

Posters work wonderfully for display at book signings and other events. When you’re finished you can sign them and present them to fans.

Wallpaper for the computer costs nothing to create. This is a fun way to advertise your book and build interest as you’re counting down to its release.

All of the items listed above can be created with a little photo editing know-how and purchased at relatively inexpensive prices from the following sites: NextDayFlyers, Cafe Press, Vistaprint, and Walmart Photo.
Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Friday, April 1, 2011

HOWTO Write A Manifesto

You, too, can write your own manifesto. Yeah, Karl Marx wrote one, but so did the Unabomber, so consider the company you're keeping. But if you have something burning a hole in your heart that you just have to get off your chest, go all Jerry Maguire and write that sucker up!

But how does one actually craft such a life-changing document?

You came to the right place.
Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share