Thursday, September 29, 2011

Looking For Suggestions: Part 1

1. I'm always on the prowl for new things to read. So tell me, what is your all-time favorite book or books, who wrote them, what are they about, and why do you love them. There are no wrong answers.

2. If you were to walk into a library or bookstore this afternoon, what section would you head to? What kind of new story are you in the mood for today?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Reading Confessions

I love a good story. I don't care whether it's through a book, a movie, TV, or even straight from someone else's mouth, I appreciate good storytelling. I'll bet all of you do too.

I read more than the average person, I daresay (again, like most of you) but with one caveat: I don't buy books before I've read them and I only buy books I know I'll read again. Here, I'm not average. At times I feel twinges of guilt that I don't blow all my change on books to support other writers. Then I remember that not only am I a writer, I'm also a consumer.

I do utilize the library. Wouldn't know where to be without one! I also love that my library lets you make order requests for books and movies. So inadvertently, I have supported other writers by getting my library to order their books. Honestly though, I'd say that 85% of the books the library orders in for me to read turn out to be a disappointment or not what I thought they would be. From a consumer point-of-view, I've saved loads of money. Other library patrons, however, may pick up those books and love them.

Why don't I blindly buy books? While covers and summaries are enticing or I've enjoyed a writer's other stories before, it doesn't mean I'm going to love their next work or that the actual story between the cover will meet the expectations I get from the summary. Money's always been a precious and rare resource for me so I can't indulge. I don't want to indulge. I'm like a book detective, taste-tester, or a consumer literary agent, I want to spend my money only on the stories I love.

This is another reason why I get into beta reading. I get to try out new stories for free and discover new stories and writers (and root for their story to reach publication so I can buy it!) I think there are quite a few unpublished stories that have stuck in my mind longer than some published ones.

So what does any of this have to do with you? First off, I'm an oddball. There are still tons of people out there who blindly buy books based on word-of-mouth, a great cover, or summary. But, if you get an oddball like me to buy your book because I truly love it, you've got a die-hard fan for life. I don't just browse the best-seller lists, although I sometimes will read a book based on the recommendations of others. I'm hunting for a good story with unforgettable characters. I do sometimes buy a light, frothy book because it makes me laugh or the setting was unique but mostly I'm looking for those great reads that I can glean something new from each time I pull it off my shelf to read. (No, I'm not a literary genre snob by any means, though I do enjoy a lot of classic literature.)

I support you as a writer if you write from the heart and with the truth you know inside. If you can spin a world I want to visit over and over or introduce me to a character or two I can't get enough of. If you can thwart my ability to second-guess plot or surprise me by making me laugh out loud, I support you. If you can have something noble and worthwhile about a character or underlying theme, and can make me cheer because good conquered bad, I support you. I love characters with willpower and self-restraint, even if they have a plethora of weaknesses and challenges to overcome. I like to learn new things and see what it's like from other perspectives and cultures. I’m a sucker for a good adventure story or a battle of wits and wiles. I want to feel good or even thoughtful after putting a book down.

You've got the gist of my general subjective preferences. Feel like chiming in? Put up a similar post on what sort of book buyer you are and what makes you open your wallet and heart to a story on your blog. Be sure to send me the link because I'd love to read what you have to say. Or post in the comments.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Request For Guest Posts

I'm looking for anyone (whether you blog or not) who might be interested in guest posting on my blog. Ideally I'd love to have five volunteers but if more people want to join in I probably won't say no. The theme details will be divulged to those who volunteer.

So if you love doing guest blogs, or love to read blogs, and are a writer, don't be shy. You can volunteer in the comments or send me an e-mail at: if you're interested.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Ever notice how in stories people/places/events/dialogue/situations etc. get cycled? It's part of storytelling--to make everything count, or to use symbolism, irony, or even turn something small into the last straw on the camel's back.

For an example--I saw an action movie the awhile back (for the first time, I might add, so I was paying sharp attention to everything). The way things were cycled in that movie really stood out to me. How the little conversation at the beginning about scrunching your toes barefoot in the carpet to get over jet lag ended up leaving the protag without his shoes throughout most of the movie (which became painful when he had to run through broken glass). Early on the movie shows that the protag's wife was awarded with a fancy Rolex watch--at the end of the movie she's dangling half-way out a window with the antagonist pulling on her and the only way to free her is to get rid of the same watch. How a conversation between the protag and a cop about why the cop doesn't like to actually fire his gun at anybody has more meaning when the cop gets one of the bad guys at the end. There were lots of these kinds of examples, just in this one movie.

It makes you think. How do even the little things matter in your story? How necessary are things? Are you using your story elements to their utmost potential? Not that everything has to become important, or repeated. There are ways of overdoing cycling--even cheesy ways (think C3PO's one-liners from movies 4-6 being brought back in movies 1-3).

So to get this discussion going--what are your thoughts on cycling? Can you think of a story (either book or movie) where this works? What are some examples of things that don't work?

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Once upon a time when I used to breath the air of the theater and took drama, one of my favorite exercises was to improvise a scene. Since then I've always appreciated people who improv. Here is a witty bit of improv in a scene from the movie: The Court Jester.

In this scene the new jester has arrived at the castle the only problem is the real jester was waylaid on the road and the man standing in for him, while a natural comic, is really a spy and impromptu agent for a group of rebels in the forest. The whole film is a classic medieval comedy like they don't make anymore.

And for a bit of tongue-twister fun here's a later scene. The jester now must fight in a joust to the death for the hand of the princess but his armor's been magnetized by a lightning bolt and the princess's witch-maid has been ordered to make sure the jester succeeds. Too bad he doesn't know how to fight! I found a clip that includes the jousting scene too.

Enjoy! And have a great weekend.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fun Ideas & Tips #7: Mix and Match

Consider this one an instant writing prompt source that can be used over and over and over and over…

  1. Write down the first setting that comes to mind.
  2. Write down the names of three things.
  3. Pick a conflict that has nothing to do with anything in either 1 or 2. This can be emotional, physical, a war, a natural disaster. Big or small, it doesn’t matter.
  4. Write down the name of an idea. This can be any concept or emotion.
  5. Pick either an animal or a plant.
  6. Pick an occupation. It can be a hobby or a profession from any time period or dimension.

Now write a scene using all of these things together. See what crazy or inspired ideas get flowing in your head. Have fun with it.

Do you have a writing warm-up or writing block breaker you use a lot? Share your method in the comments.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Trimming the Manuscript

The subject’s come up recently in conversations I’ve had with other writers. For a first novel, how do you get it polished down to the acceptable word count bracket for your genre? All genres are different. And say you’ve already polished up the plot and the story’s good without making anymore huge changes. What are some of the subtle, little ways to knock down your word count?

First off, know what your word count is. There is no one supreme source on this one, unfortunately. Different agents and editors have different expectations, but on whole, all of these preferences tend to run closely to each other. Where can you find out your genre’s word count? Agent and editor websites/blogs, in online writing forums, in publisher guidelines, and even in workshops or conferences. There’s no excuse for not tracking your word count down if you really want to know.

So let’s say, hypothetically, you have written a fantasy novel that clocks in at about 130,000 words. The usual brackets for fantasy run between 100,000-120,000 words (you’ll find variations depending on the age group you write for and the type of fantasy novel.) First novels are encouraged to be down toward the lower end of that bracket since the authors are unproven as a money maker for publishers. That and, well, the bigger the book, the costlier it is to print. Anyhow…so you decide you need to trim about 10,000-20,000 words out of your manuscript.

  1. Look for unnecessary words. Switching out a bunch of adverbs and adjectives for a few really descriptive nouns and verbs is one way. Watch out for gerunds and passive verbs (forms of to be, was, would, could, should, etc.) You can usually swap these for stronger verbs too and take up less word real estate.
  2. Repetition. Anyplace where you might share information more than is necessary is up for the delete button.
  3. Watch for places where you use too many words. For example:
      And so the handsome crossing guard lifted his hand, his stop sign gleaming in the soft, golden hues of the afternoon sun, and stepped out onto the even lines of the crosswalk with all the elementary children clustered around him for protection.

      The crossing guard stopped traffic and escorted the children to the other side.

  1. Info dumps are another great place to hone your trimming skills. Keep to the facts that contribute to the story. If you need to put in an explanation about how some mystical branch of magic works among sorcerers, don’t go on tangents as to the history, the backstory of your character, or all the ins and ends and rules of your magic system in one place. Keep only the bits that are necessary for that place and time in the story. If we need to learn more later on, add only what is needed.
  2. Backstory. Yes, it is needed at some point in most books. Like info dumps we have a tendency to give out too much all at once. And not all backstory details are vital to the plot or your character’s growth. Keep the details that are vital and trim the rest.
  3. Dialogue. Comb through your characters’ conversations. Most of the time, you won’t need pleasantries or even lengthy farewells, or even the entire conversation. Stick to what moves the story along or affects your characters.
These are the ones that I thought of this week. Do you know of others I can pass on to my writer friends? Please share in the comments.

A lot of times you will find that going through your manuscript and deleting a word or two here and there, maybe a phrase, a sentence, or a paragraph adds up. You don’t have to necessarily sacrifice huge swaths of your story to meet your word count goals.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Blog Spotlight #17: Miss Snark’s First Victim

Not to be confused with the notorious Miss Snark herself, this writer was the first person up for analysis on Miss Snark’s blog. Going by the nom de plum Authoress, if you aren’t aware of this blog and are on the prowl for an agent, you need to add this one to your regularly read blog list.

Authoress opens the door between aspiring authors and agents with contests and critiquing opportunities. She also blogs about writing and has a fun blog voice. There are even success stories to be found by writers who found their agents directly or indirectly through Authoress’s blog. She also won the Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers award.

Secret Agent contests are almost every month with different genres represented. Details can be found here. The list of agents who have participated in the past is quite impressive. She’s gearing up for another Baker’s Dozen critique-a-thon. But really, you should just pop on over to her blog to explore and find out all the delicious details from the source.

Highly recommended blog.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Goals Are Important

I’m not one who believes you have to have a certain word count or number of hours clocked in every day when it comes to writing. I know there are times when a person can’t write at all due to other circumstances often beyond their control. And quite frankly, sometimes we get burned out and need to step away from the computer, shove the notebook in the drawer, and leave our to-be-read pile to collect a little dust.

However, I am a strong advocate of setting goals. Pushing yourself to work by a deadline is a great discipline to learn for when you get representation or a book deal. Depending on your circumstances, set realistic goals and deadlines for yourself. If a job or school is a big priority don’t stress out about not writing 3,000-5,000 words a day. Know your limitations but don’t pander to the lazy voice that likes to tempt you to put off writing for another day without a just cause.

I’ve recently committed myself to try to finish a story in two months time. I have several chapters to get through (revisions) and a full plate when it comes to responsibility in my daily life. So I counted up the number of chapters I had left and divided it by the number of weeks in my goal to figure out how much I needed to strive for each week. Then I had to sit back and think realistically about this goal. Do I have the capability of meeting it? I think so. I’m certainly going to try.

When setting goals it’s also important to have a reward for meeting that goal. We all need to see the finish line and have the hope of a prize. In my case, I get to present that finished story to someone who’s waited years to read it. And then I’m going to indulge in a fun round of National Novel Writing Month where I can switch off the internal editor.

Maybe you’re not a long-term goal kind of person. That’s okay. Set achievable short-term goals. Perhaps this week you want to finish writing a difficult chapter or you need to get some important research out of the way. Set a goal and do your best to meet it.

For additional strategy, use those same time sucks/wasters that we often procrastinate with as your reward for reaching short-term goals. Say you have to get through the edits of two chapters before jumping on Twitter/playing that game on Facebook/watching the latest episode of your favorite TV show.

Long-term rewards could be buying a new book to read, treating yourself to a movie or dinner out, or maybe a coveted evening of doing absolutely nothing—guilt free. Let the reward fit the goal.

When making a goal, write it down and stick it somewhere you’ll see it often. Writing down a goal makes it more real. Or do like I did, in this case, and make the same type of goal with other writer friends and then motivate each other to success. Show a sense of commitment to your goal(s).

Do you have a writing goal right now? What is it? What reward do you have in store for accomplishing it?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Blog Spotlights #16: Patricia C. Wrede

Patricia C. Wrede is the author of many fantasy and historical fantasy novels among which are:
The Chronicles of the Enchanted Forest Series
The Lyra Series
The Kate and Cecy books
The Mairelon books
several short stories and standalone novels in both the fantasy and science-fiction genres

In short, she's a pro and she knows what she is talking about. And she blogs about writing!! How great is that? I seldom find an established author blogging about more than their book tours or latest release. Ms. Wrede's blogposts are insightful and so good. She blogs on Sundays and Wednesdays usually. Her blog also has pages referencing her bibliography, about her, favorite links, and a FAQ page. Hope on over and take a look and definitely spend some time combing through her blog archive. Here is the link.