Monday, December 31, 2012

Left Brain Quirks

If you consider artists as quirky, writers are sure to be included. Don't get me wrong. I love my writer friends. Almost every writer I've met at conferences and through social media has been delightful and several acquaintances have developed into lasting friendships. We share common goals but do we share common quirks? Let's see. Own up to your own idiosyncrasy first, keep it in mind, and compare with mine. Ready?

I think my quirk has something to do with the dominant Left Brain side of me. Yeah, that's the scientific/analytic side, not the artistic/creative side. In that case, maybe it has nothing to do with quirky artists--just my dominant brain coming through in a quirky way. See what you think. My Quirk: I play with letters when I'm revising/highlighting. Words that change before my eyes fascinate me. It's a visual stimulationFor a brief instant, it gets in the way of my Right Brained flow during revisions.

Here's what I mean:  I'm changing 'have' to 'leave' and I start highlighting the word to replace it when I notice that several letters are the same.       have → leave = __ave   
These don't even rhyme but my eye tells me I don't have to replace the whole word, just some of the letters. If the letters to change are within one swipe of my cursor, I'll leave the ones that already exist. Maybe it's a fairness issue. Wouldn't want those letters that can stay on the page to get unnecessarily wiped out when they were there first, now do we?

What oddity peculiarity do you confess to have? Remember that quirks make you YOU and you don't have to change them for anyone. Start the new year by embracing the neither good nor bad quirks that make you unique. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Joy To You!

I hope all of you are enjoying the magical Spirit of the Christmas season with friends and family surrounding you. It fills me with gratitude, excitement, and hope (among other things like treats shared with cute little boys and girls).

At this time of year I plan to take some quiet time to look at the positives, recognize acts of service and my accomplishments of the past year. Am I in a better place mentally, physically, spiritually? What needs tweaking? What have I found successful? Evaluation is a good exercise that leads to making realistic goals.

Have a great week and enjoy that new book that could be wrapped under your tree!


Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Review - The Dark Eagles: First Flight

A tale of adventure and freedom. That sums up this debut book from David R. Smith, The Dark Eagles: First Flight. 
 
Kief loves exploring the rugged mountains on his horse, Natch, with his best friend Tarc. But when he receives a mysterious map on his birthday, left behind for him by his dead grandfather, Kief is thrown into an adventure beyond even his imagination. 
Leaving home to pursue his childhood dream of attending the merchant academy on the coast, extraordinary events unfold propelling Kief, along with his friends and his map, toward the same perilous destiny.

At first I thought Kief would simply be a character who made us like him through his adventurous spirit and heroism. He didn't appear to have any flaws. As the story unfolds, we discover Kief's flaws as he is tested. I liked discovering more about the main character this way. As far as plot, the book seemed to be filled with adventures where Kief always won. Where was the motivation beyond wanting to be the best at everything, the high stakes? My concern was resolved, though it took a hundred pages to do it. Finally there was a cause to fight about and it banded Kief's friends together. I found myself really enjoying the rest of the book. I liked the beginning but it led to everything an adventure story should be. The writing was good and well-edited. The only editing preference I found odd was two spaces between sentences. There was the tiniest hint at romance but it’s geared toward boys. I would recommend this book to boys and girls of all ages from about twelve on up through adult readers. I look forward to the next adventure of the Dark Eagle group. Smith gives reader's a bonus with enchanting sketches, maps, and info. Check this one out!
Visit the website: http://www.thedarkeagles.com/ 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Giveaway and The Write Way of Life

Hey, folks, there's still a couple more days to enter the hardcover book giveaway with one quick entry just for following my blog. Simply scroll down to the previous post below for details.

Have you ever considered the importance of good writing skills for those of us beyond school years? You might be surprised at the ways (and amounts of time) you use them. My husband, an engineer, swears that his most useful college class was Technical Writing with all the reports and memos he frequently writes. As for me, I just wrote a letter to persuade a homeowner to choose my offer on a house out of multiple offers. The relator informed me that sometimes a personal mention of what buyers liked about the home can sway the seller in their favor. Who new? There is a write way of life.

How have you used writing lately besides your work in progress?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Book Giveaway

Enter the linked giveaway at the bottom of this post for chances to win a hardcover copy of Toby Gold and the Secret Fortune and more! 
A big welcome and thank you to all my new followers. I'll have more book reviews and writing posts this month. Later in January, come back for the second annual Alliteration Contest.     Now for more about Toby Gold.
Read my review of Toby Gold here.
"Unique children’s lit that cleverly tackles interest rates, endowments, fluctuating commodities, bullying and identity." - Kirkus Reviews
 An infant is discovered one night on a commuter train from New York City during a stop in the sleepy town of Wallingford, Connecticut.  The local police are summoned, but are unable to locate the boy’s parents, despite painstakingly questioning each person on the train.  For some strange reason, none of the passengers can remember seeing his mother falling from the train – after falling victim to an assassin’s bullet.
Assigned the name “Toby Gold” by social services, the mysterious child grows up in Wallingford, moving from foster home to foster home, not knowing who his real parents are - or why he was born with such freakish skills with math and money.
Now a teenager, Toby’s money skills are noticed by the wrong people, and thus he is unwittingly sucked into a high-stakes financial conspiracy that puts his life, and the lives of his two closest friends, in great peril.  Ultimately, Toby solves the crime, saves his friends, and even saves his school—all in one harrowing afternoon.



Monday, December 3, 2012

Getting into the Christmas Spirit - A Christmas Memory

Happy December and Merry Christmas everyone!
Today I find myself wedged between déjà vu and looking forward to the future as I contemplate getting into the Christmas Spirit. You see, I don’t plan to hang decorations—they’re all packed away in a far away place. It reminds me of years ago when we moved the week before Christmas. Similar circumstances again. I struggled that year to feel the Christmas Spirit. Shopping or playing Christmas CDs didn't do it for me. It wasn't until I attended a live program of Christmas music with performers decked in red and green that my heart absorbed my surroundings. The music came from singers whose faces showed they loved performing. We connected, like a gift from them to me. They were serving me and they loved doing it. My heart was touched and I dare guess that theirs were too.

What is it that makes it feel like Christmas? It may be something different to each of us. I love music, but it wasn't just the music. Music was combined with love and service through messages about Christ's birth, attended by friends and family. Add them together and you get the same answers I found on mormon.org/Christmas focusing on Service, Love, Jesus Christ, Family. Visit the site for Christmas messages and a nativity video, download some Christmas music, or join the conversation about what the season means to you. I recommend it as part of getting into the Christmas Spirit. What gets you in the seasonal mood?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Indie Publishing Proofreading Errors?


I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, or a great weekend if you don’t follow the American celebrations. Either way, I’m big on gratitude. It gives me a greater sense of happiness. I feel blessed to be able to do what I love.

I’m thankful for computers that simplify a writer’s life. I don’t know if I could pursue writing the old-fashioned way. The old ink quill would scratch out more than what is left in its wake. I much prefer highlighting and deleting and the ever valuable insert capability for a clean, organized look. Spell check is another terrific tool. Drafts and revisions are a writer’s life to which the computer aids tremendously.

Lately I've noticed proofreading errors—some that a computer should catch, some not—in Indie books that give me cause to wonder if a few self-published authors are not getting enough critical eyes on their works before publishing. It’s usually something simple such as omitting small words like ‘to’. Content for the most part has been great and I want to put in the disclaimer that this post is not aimed at anyone in particular or someone whose book I have reviewed.

I tend to read slowly and catch more of these mistakes because of that. New to e-reading, I couldn't say if the trend has changed. Early Indies fought to prove their quality without traditional publishing. I’m grateful for the strides made and for more books to choose from. I’m proud to have several Indies within my circle of writer friends. I may even become one of them someday.

Still, I’m wondering if you've noticed or is it just me. What’s your experience? Have self-publishers slacked off editing steps in order to write that next book? Or have you noticed a decline in quality from well-known traditionally published authors who are cranking books out?

Monday, November 19, 2012

New Books Shout

Two exciting new books are out this month. First, Michelle Jefferies' Emergence about a hit man with a conscience is here. Technical suspense, secret agents and bad boys gone good. I didn't receive my copy yet so I have yet to read this one. When I get it, I'll share my review. This is Jefferies' first novel in the series.
Here's the back cover blurb:
Hit man Antony Danic has never killed an innocent man. At least, the corporation he works for has never given him a reason to think otherwise--until now. Reeling from a series of demanding assignments, the assassin is desperate for some downtime. As he sits on a beach in Tahiti watching his wife play in the ocean, a messenger from his employer delivers a death threat. In a matter of seconds, the hunter has become the hunted. While Antony scrambles to find a way out of his "till death do us part" contract, he's faced with the decision of a lifetime: kill another innocent man, or do what's right--even if it puts his family in jeopardy.


Next, Cheri Chesley's second historical romance  is just out. The Tyrant King is the second in this series of three. I enjoyed The Peasant Queen and look forward to getting my copy of this one too. Cheri has a 'spread the word' contest going on her blog through today. You'll also find a tab to read the first chapter. This is a great way to see if you like it first. But watch out--you just might become hooked. 
About this book:
Krystal’s peaceful life as queen of Fayterra is shattered when a stranger arrives with a connection to Jareth that threatens to change everything. Soon her loved ones are threatened, her people are under attack, and Krystal must face a devastating loss. As the future becomes bleaker and the mystery continues to unravel, Krystal’s enemies will learn just how far she will go to defend the people she loves.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Book Review - Created


Teenage spies? Sounds great already! I'm coming in on the third and final book of Author Cindy M. Hogan's Watched series with Created. I didn't read the first two, so I missed a few things but read the first chapter of Watched on Cindy's blog. That helped, but not a requirement to enjoy this one. Hogan does a good job filling in what reminders or backstory a reader needs without spoiling the other books. 
It's a plus when an author can get a series out so close together for her fans. And did Hogan convert me into a fan? Yes! Not only was it a fun read with suspense, romance, and twists, I found myself (my name, actually) featured in the book. I don't recall entering the contest but my first name was given to one character and last name to another. Ha! That was a delightful surprise!

Hogan gives enough details about the spy lessons and equipment for plausibility but left me hoping for more details in a couple places. That's just the adult in me. YA will love it. There's a good mix of sorting through relationships and coming into the development of ones self as seen through the teen voice. The pace was great throughout and kept me wanting to read. 

You can find out more about the author and her books here. Read her first chapter and you'll find yourself wanting more.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop


I’m excited to share with you The Next Big Thing. It comes from little ol’ me! This is a blog hop that celebrates what various writers are working on and their hopes to become a great success. Lisa at www.lisaswinton.blogspot.com/ tagged me and I’ll tag someone below. Feel free to jump into the game if you wish by posting your next big thing and a tag or two.

What is the working title of your book?
I chose my recently finished MS, The Seventh City. Just about ready to submit.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
A favorite story in the Book of Mormon, but from the Lamanite perspective of a fictional character.

What genre does your book fall under?
If there isn’t a genre called Book of Mormon Fiction, there should be. It’s growing. Others might call it historical (Meso-America) and there is definitely sweet romance in my story. There’s some coming of age and suspense as well. But we’ll call this a YA Historical Romance.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Hmm. Does Catherine-Zeta-Jones have a daughter? Karlinah, the protagonist,  is a spunky and beautiful sixteen-year-old widow. The villain reminds me of Jafar in “Aladdin” but I suppose we’d have to get someone real.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
King Lamoni’s daughter hides a secret that prevents her chance for happiness.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
More than a year because I kept it at the pace of my critique group.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
I’ve enjoyed books by Heather Moore and others in this genre, and wanted to write something uplifting. Making B of M stories come alive is harder than I figured because you have to weave together fiction with nonfiction.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Karlinah’s secret involves a murder.
Like the Grandfather from The Princess Bride says, “There’s saving the princess, sword fighting, killing with sling shots, a murdered prince, robbers, false love, abuse, kidnapping, escape, torture, and true love.” Sorry, no pirates.

I’m tagging Liesel Hill at www.musingsonfantasia.blogspot.com
Have a great week! You won't want to miss next week's book review.  

Monday, October 29, 2012

Descriptive Emotion From Deep in the Brain

Writers paint words across the page not only to describe a physical setting but to elicit emotion. A reader might visualize people gathered around a coffin but what words will get him or her to feel emotions such as grief or love toward the deceased? 'Tears' are a concrete detail that sinks into the middle layer of the brain. Intellectually the reader knows the character is showing grief but a writer wants the reader to experience that grief as well. Rich, sensory detail goes deeper to achieve that desirable emotional connection in a fully engaged reader.

In her book  Word Paining, Rebecca McClanahan talks about the three-layered brain. Readers need to go beyond the neocortex that categorizes information and into the mesocortex which allows them to feel it or they will not care about the characters or what is happening. Grief or love is too big a topic. Break it down, shrink it with small details that authentically describe--not label or explain--through the use of active verbs with concrete and sensory detail. This takes practice. Great description is worth all the revision it takes.

Don't get bogged down in the mists of abstract emotions. Use the senses and be clear with concrete images.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Review - Toby Gold

Toby Gold and the Secret Fortune will delight middle grade readers and teach them something of financial literacy at the same time. It's a win-win situation from Fiscal Press.
What I thought: The first chapter could have been a prologue but I'm glad it wasn't. It started out with exciting action that left me suspecting a few things would come up again. The main character is a likeable seventh grade boy that many MG readers can relate to. Toby is smart at math but average at most other things, wants to do what is right, but not afraid to have fun with a well-deserved prank. He can tough out his problems and rely on himself or his two close friends as needed. His unusual gifts make him interesting and slightly enviable. Toby's hard life as a foster child is mentioned in the right amount and gives him the proper detachment from his home-life to fit the story. I liked the use of FD10 (foster dad number 10) to portray this.
  Events lead Toby to investigate a mystery in which financial terms are employed in easy to swallow doses. Great stuff with a touch of magic. Readers love it when there's a code for deciphering, but I couldn't crack it. A couple things could have been improved upon, but mostly for older readers.  Once or twice the omniscient voice took me out of the story to consider what felt like a change in point of view but maybe was just my take on it.  Haven't read that POV in a while. There were a few silly things that the reader just has to go with, such as a kid being given keys to an employer's house or office. These can be overlooked. I found touches of humor for adult readers too, like a reference to one foster parent liking Hall & Oats. The book resolves nicely with Toby attempting to get himself out of a pickle but is aided by the two friends in a familiar way. He sticks to his goals, even when it could jeopardize the relationships that mean most. The friend we care about most will benefit from Toby's decision. All ends are wrapped up but not perfectly neat and tidy. Realistically satisfying. I hope there are more adventures ahead for Toby Gold.

 View craig headshot.jpg in slide show About the Author:

  In 2009, while volunteering in public school classrooms in West Lafayette Indiana, author Craig Everett recognized that traditional methods of teaching personal finance to kids were not having the desired results nationally. Despite significant efforts to add finance topics to school curricula, financial literacy test scores have not markedly improved in many areas of the country. There had to be a better way. Thus was born the idea of incorporating financial literacy concepts into a fantasy novel that both middle-grade and high school youth would enjoy reading. TOBY GOLD AND THE SECRET FORTUNE is a fun and entertaining  reading experience as well as one more useful tool in the struggle to improve youth financial literacy.

  Craig R. Everett was born and raised in Maine, spending his childhood summers digging along the shores of Bar Harbor for buried pirate treasure.  Fortunately, he was able to remain blissfully unaware that pirates seldom, if ever, ventured that far north.  He received his B.A. in Economics from Tufts University, an MBA from George Mason University, and a Ph.D. in Finance from Purdue University.
  Dr. Everett is currently a finance professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, where he teaches corporate and entrepreneurial finance. Dr. Everett also volunteers in public schools teaching financial literacy principles. 
  Visit Craig at: www.craigeverett.com. He has an Amazon link there for purchases. ISBN: 978-1-936-21495-2

Monday, October 15, 2012

Windows of Nano Inspiration

Planning to participate in Nano? October is the time to get inspired to write a novel in a month by planning your plot before November. Do you have a story that inspires you? Tell it. I've never done this before and alas, the timing is not right again this year. Whether or not it's for you  just now, you owe it to yourself as a writer to learn what I just learned. Check out the national site here. Learn what you never knew, find your regional group, and more.

I learned that there is all kinds of support during nano and that if you need to participate during another time, you can do so through camp nano. You don't have to wait until November rolls around. If your window of opportunity for inspiration is coming a month or two from now, you don't have to wait a year. I think I'm going to take advantage of that the next time I'm ready to start a new novel.

How about you--are you participating in Nano or have you done so before? Leave us your enthusiasm or best tip. And good luck!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Publish or Die Trying?

Hi Friends. I'm pondering a question and I hope you'll give me your thoughts on it. You know how some school classes are graded on a bell curve or some other system that makes certain a percentage of students will get 'A's, 'B's, etc.? The bottom students will fail, the top rise. Those in the middle are stuck.
Does this apply to getting published?

I've heard published authors say to keep at it and eventually your efforts will be rewarded. It's not a matter of if, but when. You will become published. It kind of makes sense. The more you practice and learn, the better you get. Too bad it's not like an absolute scale where if you meet the standards--do such and such--you get an 'A'. You win. The problem is that getting an agent or publishing relies on winning over the opinions of skilled others and nailing market needs at the right time. Too many factors without absoluteness.
Should all of this concern writers? Will all our efforts be in vain?

No. Not for me anyway. Not when I'm doing what I love. And I'm seeing progress. Hope is what we have to hold on to. There are milestones along the way and success could be just around the corner. Besides, there are indie and other publishing options if we need a plan B.
What do you think?

On a similar note, a friend of mine from my former critique group just saw his first book published. I recall one point in his earlier frustration where we told him that time would pass whether or not he completed his project so he may as well do what the editors wanted. Now he can celebrate. I want to give a shout out to Brock Cheney and his playful nonfiction about Mormon pioneer food-ways in Plain but Wholesome.
Photo: Woot WOOT! Just got a call from Radio West on KUER 90.1 FM. Listen in Monday at 11a.m. for a feature on PLAIN BUT WHOLESOME!!!


Monday, October 1, 2012

Tension Levels for Two (or One)


Ever read a book where the main character is really two main characters? Something like a split personality. This creates interesting opportunities for tension throughout the story rather than smaller instances where one character vacillates between choices or comes into conflict with other characters. I’m listening to an audio book of Stephenie Meyer, the host. Here a ‘soul’ has taken over a ‘body’, so one character becomes two. I’m a quarter way through it and find the tension between the two interesting and a good study in employing different levels of tension within the same character.

A friend of mine recently posted about the tension between two characters and I’m going to use Canda Mortensen’s list.
  • Tension created by conflicting character goals.
  • Inward thoughts are opposite of the outward actions and words toward another character.
  • The outcome is unknown because the characters are equally passionate about their position.
  • The interactions changes one of their lives.
  • Leave the scene with the definite feeling that it’s not over when it’s over.

In the host, the‘soul’ and the ‘body’ definitely possess conflicting goals, one’s inward thoughts are opposite of the other’s outward actions, they are equally passionate most of the time, and there is cause to wonder if one will change her life because of the other. The scene endings are also great. That covers the above ways of creating tension and we’re only talking about one/two characters. Anyway, I’m recognizing ways to add tension, to utilize in my own writing, and multiple levels at once have captured my attention. Good books help good writing.

Keep it tense with small spaces of rest or a breather between and you’ll keep readers turning those pages!

Monday, September 17, 2012

When Is My Manuscript Ready? Part 2


"My advice to writers would be to aggressively seek the truth--forget about your ego--and do one more draft than your agent tells you to."
          --Jonathan Karp, EVP and Publisher for Simon & Shuster 
If you don't believe writing a book is both hard work and hard to do right, see if this post doesn't enlighten you. Why? Because there is more to getting a manuscript ready than meets the eye and so much to think about. In this continuation of getting a MS ready to submit or query, the focus is on content.
Agent Lara Perkins shared at writeoncon what she looks for in new manuscripts:
A good, interesting Hook includes: 1) Unique and Compelling World-building, or complexity, originality, a sense of fun and wonder. 2) Great Voice, or confident, clean writing,with personality and a unique perspective. 3) A Page-turning Pace, or an engaging plot and tight pacing--high stakes, believable obstacles, unexpected but earned twists and turns. 4) A New Twist, or how the book fits in the market and is different enough from what is out there, freshness.
High-level Work. "An agent-ready manuscript does not have to be perfect, but the story, the voice, and the characters need to be very strong and compelling. So what I mean by 'working on a high level' is that all of the important, big-picture elements are there and are developed, unique, and gripping.  . . . it does need to be a manuscript that an agent-reader will not be able to put down (because of the characters, story, and pacing)."
Finally, Perkins asked good questions that can be used in both plotting and revising. She says, "Have I asked myself the following Big-Picture Questions about my manuscript--and revised if the answer is no?" Here's a content checklist:
                      Does my story have a clear beginning, middle, and end?
                       Do my characters have interesting and relatable goals in which a reader can invest?
·                                 Are the stakes high?
·                                 Are my characters unique and differentiated from one another—in the way they speak, in the way they act, in the choices they make, in their goals/hopes/dreams?
·                                 Do my characters change throughout the story? Do they have character arcs, with definite beginnings, middles, and endings?
·                                 Are the obstacles that keep my characters from achieving their goals believable and interesting?
·                                 Are all the scenes and characters necessary to the story?
·                                 Is the action moving at a page-turning pace?
·                                 Do my chapter endings and beginnings fit together in a way that propels the reader into the next part of the story?
·                                 Am I the only person who can tell this story and is that reflected in the voice?
·                                 Is the voice consistent and well-matched for this story?
·                                 Is my story different from what’s out there? (Hopefully, this is the easiest question to answer because you’ve been reading constantly in your genre and age group…right?)
Lara Perkins is an Assistant Agent and Digital Manager at Andrea Brown Literary. Lara jointly represents select clients together with Senior Agent Laura Rennert, with a focus on picture book, middle grade, and young adult children’s fiction. Lara has a B.A. in English and Fine Arts from Amherst College and an M.A. in English Literature from Columbia University. She has been on faculty at various California writers’ conferences, including Book Passage and the Big Sur Writers’ Conference.

Monday, September 10, 2012

When Is My Manuscript Ready? Part 1


I’m getting ready to submit mt YA LDS historical fiction, The Seventh City. So close I can taste it. Like playing Hide and Seek and announcing “Ready or not, here I come!” Am I as ready as I think I am? Nobody wants to be obsessive, yet we don't want to submit too early. I've already made that mistake.

Revisions are a must and can be overdone, but I’m not talking about revision lists today. I’ve done those, blogged about those. We’re talking content here. Perhaps the most important readiness test comes from letting others read it, someone besides your mother. This takes courage for some, but I've always enjoyed letting others find and point out what may be hard for me to see. It makes my work easier. Through experience we learn to find trouble spots on our own.

Agent Lara Perkins wrote on this subject for the 2012 WriteOn Con. She says, “Have I shown my manuscript to at least 3 people and seriously considered their feedback?” She goes on to highly recommend joining a critique group. Check. My group helped me scene by scene, and I am indebted to them. Since that doesn’t allow for one’s memory to connect all the dots and tie the lose ends, it was important for me to seek beta readers who could read through a fairly polished MS in a short time. Again, I would suggest at least another 3 people. 

I have found a variety of depth in the feedback and am grateful for those who questioned everything they noticed. A writer has more in her head about what is going on than the reader and one reader will notice something different than another. Cherish and consider all feedback. Don't feel locked into it but make sure you have sound reasoning not to follow it. Occasionally you might get negative feedback that is not constructive. Not everyone states it in diplomatic, helpful ways. If one person has made you feel badly, consider the source and compare it against other feedback. We improve with practice and education. For those writers finding multiple layers of problems in their MS, hiring a content editor might be the way to go. 

Ms. Perkins also wants to see a hook, if the story works on a high level, and have her big-picture questions answered. We’ll take a look at what this means next week. For now, I’ll be waiting for what those final readers have to say. 

So how do you know when your MS is ready to submit to an agent or publisher?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Jennifer Voices A Riddle

I loved this article from Jennifer A. Nielsen at writeoncon.com on a tricky subject I'll let unfold. I especially loved her description of said subject. Enjoy!
Here’s a WriteOn Con riddle for you: Publishers want it, readers love it, authors seek it. Nobody can define it, but everyone can recognize it.
Okay, I admit it. That was a terrible riddle, completely unsolvable unless you read the title, in which case you know this is a discussion on voice.
Voice is the sound of your writing; your unique use of dialogue, description, characterization, and syntax. If it were a song, voice is the music, the rhythm, the beats upon which each sentence rises and falls.
A common mistake for beginners is writing the way they think will sell their story. Some browse the thesaurus for fancy words, others bloat their sentences with filler words, and occasionally a writer lifts scenes from her favorite authors but changes out minor details. Ultimately, these strategies betray the writer as an amateur, because none of them lead to the authentic voice all editors crave.
Okay, you say, I sorta get it. Sorta. Here are six tips to help you identify your voice.
1.                  Study other voices. As you read, try to distinguish the unique sound of the author’s words. Why does Kristen Cashore sound different from Scott Westerfield who sounds different from Dan Wells? The better you are at spotting voice for others, the more clearly you’ll see your own.
2.                  Learn all the writing rules. And then forget them. All writers should know the rules of grammar, punctuation, syntax, and rhythm. Learn the rules of your genre, the conventions of characterization and exposition, and the common pitfalls in a story. You must know these rules, so that you know how to break them. If everything you write conforms to a standard English textbook, you’re probably doing something wrong.
3.                  Know your characters. Just as each writer has a unique voice, every character in your story should have their voice too. The better you define your characters, the stronger your writing of them will be.
4.                  Try a different genre. I once had a critique partner who wrote adult crime novels. They were okay, but not publishable. Then one day he heard an old frontier story and decided to fictionalize it. His YA historical had a brilliant voice, and might’ve been the story that broke him into the market, but in the end, he gave up because he insisted he was a crime novelist. Maybe you are exactly the writer that you think you are, but there is no shortage of examples where someone finds their voice in a very different place than where they thought they would be.
5.                  Know your stuff. Personally, I’m not much for the “write what you know” philosophy. I prefer, “write what you love” because when you love a topic, you want to know all about it. Voice often suffers in a manuscript when the author doesn’t have a firm grasp on the details. For example, if the character is riding a horse, the author should understand enough about horses to bring authenticity to the scene.
6.                  Write for yourself. In the wake of any big novel, editors are flooded with copycat manuscripts. Many of them are brilliant books in their own right, but many are quickly rejected because it’s obvious the writer is only offering a cheap imitation of the original. Write the story that is in you, the way only you can tell it.        (Skipped book examples of voice next.)
Exercises to Help Find Your Voice:
1.                  Write a brief description of someone you know as if you were a psychiatrist, a criminal, and an artist. Then write their description as yourself.
2.                  Write the scene you’ve always secretly wanted to write. Not to be published, edited, or even seen by anyone else. Just let the self-indulgent words flow and see what comes.
3.                  Read your work aloud, and try to feel when your words are not authentic. If you’re forcing out the words, then you are not staying true to your natural voice.
And finally…
Remember that “voice” doesn’t develop in your first month, and in most cases, not your first manuscript. The more you write, the closer you come to finding it. So get writing!

 Jennifer A. Nielsen was born and raised in northern Utah, where she still lives today with her husband, three children, and a dog that won’t play fetch. She is the author of The Ascendance trilogy, beginning with THE FALSE PRINCE; of The Underworld Chronicles, beginning with ELLIOT AND THE GOBLIN WAR; and will write the sixth book of the Infinity Ring series. She loves chocolate, old books, and lazy days in the mountains.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Introducing Memorable Characters

At one point or another in your story, you have to let a few characters out of the bag. They don't all arrive at the starting line together, but are introduced one or a few at a time. It can especially be hard on the reader to keep track of things when he/she meets a roomful at a party or classroom. Let's keep some commonsense tips in mind:

1. Keep immediate introductions down to three or fewer. We typically don't need to know the whole boatload. If it becomes important to learn more about others in the area, do so after the reader has lingered on the first characters enough to get a picture of something about their personality or physical description. Let the first characters soak into the mind before moving on.
2. Give the characters different enough names/nicknames from one another. Don't have them all rhyme or start with the same letter. I'd rather not meet Amanda and Mandy at the same time.
3. Give something memorable about each character in a quick way so we can connect it to that person. The senses are good for this. Visual--The crooked way he wears his hat, walks with a cane or other prop. Sound--Maybe they speak with an accent or are unusually silent. Smell--Her delicate perfume reminded him of Aunt Martha. Touch--I wanted to reach out and smooth the boy's wiry hair that wouldn't stay in place.
4. Repeat a word from a previous used list of descriptions to later trigger more from the list. For example, I'm introducing Jimmy to you and say, "He's such a good kid. A real boy scout. I'll bet he never told a lie in his entire life." The next time you meet Jimmy in the story I might say, "You remember Jimmy--the boy scout?" It all comes to recall.
5. Do make it memorable, but don't info dump on each character as we meet them. Let us discover more about the important ones as the story evolves.
6. Minor characters like the waitress or bus driver can be given their 15 seconds of fame. One memorable thing about simple character roles can enrich the setting.

You're invited to leave a comment introducing yourself or to share a tip.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Boundaries


Boundaries. They need to become visible, definable at times. A librarian, stocker, or customer needs to know where to shelve or find what book they want. Publishers label in genres to fit our expectations. Marketers use genre to advertise to their target audience. Boundaries make good reference points but can become muddy or inconsistent in the book world. Writers need to guard awareness of their intended genre as they write. Perhaps that is why there were so many genre questions at the writeoncon workshop. Agents and editors answered many questions to define the differences between Middle Grade (MG) and Young Adult (YA). A few mentioned New Adult (NA), a bridge between YA and Adult books. You can read all the great articles, but, since you’re here, enjoy my summary on the topic.

1. The agents were especially asking to see more manuscripts in MG.
2. Basic Differences between MG and YA are seen in both the voice and sentence structure. The voice of the MG story shows kids discovering, learning how they fit in their own world, being part of a group, growing up is the main experience. The YA voice shows youths who are learning to stand out in their world, learning to fit in a world that it bigger than themselves, they can look back on growing up experiences because they’ve already lived them.
Author Claire Legrand gave us a list of things to consider in MG vs YA:
  Age: Tweens or Teens? Avoid that between age of 13. Another boundaries problem.
  Romance: Kissy-Kissy or Kissy-Kissy? Innocent discovery of romantic feelings, no lust vs undertones of     sexual awakening.
  Swearing: Darn or Damn? Swearing doesn’t fit the MG voice, even if real life might. Don’t insert just to be edgy, needs a purpose like fitting the tone, setting, or emotion. Remember, schools and libraries buy books too.
  Violence: PG or PG-13?
  Experience: Internal or External? How they experience or perceive the world.
  Journey: Only just begun or Finally getting somewhere?
  Awareness: Observing or Analyzing?
  Language: Simple or Complex? Both in dialogue and sentence structure.
  Voice: 3rd Person or 1st Person (Or Does it really matter)? Do what works best for the story.
3. New Adult generally contains college-age or post-high school characters for high school and beyond readers. NA isn’t big enough yet for its own category, causing the headache of where to place it—YA or Adult? Yeah, that’s a Catch 22 situation.
4. When querying or pitching, an author needs to give her book’s genre. Pick the biggest one that fills the bucket. Don’t name it a YA futuristic paranormal romance with a western flare. Which one dominates? Who is the core audience? Let the other elements come out in the story without mention.
5. Don’t write specifically for the new trend you see. Chances are agents have searched through hundreds of manuscripts in that genre’s theme to find one or two they love enough to take on. By the time a book is sold and published, the trend will be worn out. Just write a great book! Strong voice, strong characters, emotion, high stakes—all that good stuff. Yeah, no one said it would be easy.




Making Your First Page Sing

Ah, that elusive special something. Do I have it? Can I get it? In hopes that it would instantly magnetize to my fingers over the keyboard (or at least in hopes of becoming a better writer), I participated in writeoncon—an online writers conference that spurred me on once again. You can still head there to check out what you missed. Today I’ll share some things discussed about those first few lines, including through the first page.

I loved this analogy: Sarah Davies (Greenhouse Literary Agency) on writer potential and quality:
“I often know very soon – like a few lines in – whether a new writer has that ‘something’ or not. Obviously I have to see how the story/characters will develop, but that sense of voice and the moment is often there from the start. It’s like listening to a young musician. You can hear the musicality even if they just play a simple scale of C.”

Voice. The character’s voice, not the author’s. That’s a tricky one to define and a hefty topic I’ll cop out on and save for another post. “A good first page has an engaging voice, an introduction to the character, with hints of what type of story is to come.” – Sarah LaPolla (Curtis Brown)

Honing the writing craft to the ‘musicality’ level typically starts with a first draft that sucks. Some parts are salvageable. Then comes multiple revisions. It takes practice and hard work. With perseverance we can achieve what agents, publishers, and readers are looking for. Go for it!

Let’s look at what is NOT wanted in those first few lines: Don’t start with a dream. Agents repeatedly put this as one of their pet peeves. Readers want to know the real world as it exists for the main character and dreams don’t give that. Same thing for flashbacks. Don’t start with a car crash either. They get that one a lot, too. Think fresh, unique. Oh, and don’t start off with dialogue in the first line. It assumes we understand a character and voice that we haven’t yet met.

Take a look at some Dos: Do give readers something unexpected. Like the orphan getting shipped off to live with her great aunt whom the girl hopes is mean and ugly. We would want to know why the orphan didn’t wish her future caretaker was kindly. We would want to read more to find out why. Surprises don’t need to be action-packed. Action impacts readers stronger when they know something about the people who are about to be blown up, for example. Start setting up a simple conflict where questions tug at a reader’s mind, willing him/her to read further to find the answers. Do use something specific rather than generic to the main character or the story. Do make a quick connection with the reader through something familiar but stated in a new, interesting way. Do make it the best that you can. Write that first page until it sings!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Think Fresh Cliché Quiz


I’m going to visit something I’m not supposed to. Clichés. I'm going to throw in some stereotypes too. Instead of avoiding them (in our writing), let’s welcome them into our heads for a moment just so we know what not to use (or at least for a little fun). The easiest place to use these offenders is when giving physical description. Picture a tech geek character. Do you see . . . a male . . . with glasses? If you visualize/anticipate the word or phrase that comes next, it's time to trash it and think fresh. Let them flow in your first draft but try to catch and replace them later.
See how many of these you can get:
1. Birds of a feather . . .
2. He's as big as . . .
3. Eyes as deep as . . .
4. His muscles . . .
5. Time . . .
6. Clumsy as . . .
7. Her skin/eyes/hair was as black/dark as . . .
8. His/her touch was as cold as . . .
9. The best is . . .
10. I'm trying to get you to think outside . . .

Answers:
1. flock together. (Hence the photo, taken at Santa Cruz, CA)
2. a refrigerator. Or an ox/elephant.
3. pools.
4. rippled.
5. waits for no man, stood still, froze.
6. an ox.
7. night.
8. ice.
9. yet to come.
10. the box.

Seen any common or crazy ones in a book recently?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Just Do It

I allowed a day to feel sorry for myself last week after withdrawing from my critique group because our long distance relationship wasn't working. It was ironic, actually, after my previous post below on support in which that group had played a major part. After all I had done to keep our live critique group going, it surprised me that some where not more willing to put up with the inconveniences of my temporary separation from them. Sigh.

It got me thinking about those who lose theirs or have no support group at all. Some deal with anti-support. I know of a dedicated writer whose family members tell her she wasting her time. How do we cope with that? How do we stay strong? Has the Olympic athlete who comes in short of a medal wasted all that time? Of course not!

Believing in one's self is reinforced as we meet milestones and receive small validations along the way. It's harder when you are the only or main one giving that validation. There has to be stuff inside us that gives us the guts and drive to do our best at what we love, living without regrets, in spite of someone else's measure of success.

Here are two quotes worth posting near your computer that could spur you on:
"That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the task itself has become easier, but that our ability to perform it has improved." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The whole idea of motivation is a trap. Forget motivation. Just do it. Exercise, . . . (writing a book), . . . or whatever. Do it without motivation. And then, guess what? After you start doing the thing, that's when the motivation comes and makes it easy for you to keep doing it." -- John C. Maxwell

Please share your inspiration. (Then get back to work!):) And thanks for visiting!


Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympic-sized Support

Ever feel like you're trying to display your best work but something keeps fencing you in? Can't get needed support?Feel like giving up? It's all too common. We'll never know the amount of would-be-writers who give up. But we often hear from those who make it that it's a lonely profession or that they couldn't have done it without a few cheerleaders on their side. I'd rather you and I sit on the latter side of that fence.

Support. It's huge. It's easy to think of Olympians just now. They have to practice, practice, practice. So do writers. They have trainers and coaches. Writers have how-to-books, conferences, and critique groups. Hopefully. But who is there to cheer them from the stands before anything gets in print?

Most writers I know have a day job or are busy mothers. Making the time to write takes initiative and passion. Somewhat like Olympians. We need our own milestones to spur us on like an athlete who wins a heat. It could be a contest we enter, positive feedback from a critique group or judge, or a husband who gets the kids to bed for you so you can write an extra hour. Set your own doable goals for some self-motivated support. Sometimes you're all you've got. Don't forget the rest of us in your same shoes who want your success almost as much as their own. I'm rooting for you!

Don't forget the biggest truth of all -- giving up never got an athlete or writer to the finish line. We all need support, but it often comes in spurts. How do you get Olympic-sized mileage out of small spurts to keep you going? It takes more than luck and dreams. Let's make it; we can do it!