Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Unplugged

When we moved to Texas one of the first things we did was suspend our cable service.  Our family income was getting cut in half and sacrifices needed to be made.  At first we figured we could try it out, maybe look into a Hulu-type service.  We could always turn the cable back on.

So now that we are a full two months sans TV I have to confess...I don't miss it at all.  I thought I would be sad missing out on watching some of my favorite shows.  I do love me some Fringe and Warehouse 13.  But honestly, I'm not sad.  I know if I really wanted I could watch episodes online, but I haven't even done that.  I'm fairly confident we will not be hooking back up our cable service.

What I realized is that the time I was dedicating to TV is much better spent writing, reading and enjoying my family. 

Now we aren't ready to get rid of all our modern niceties.  I will never relinquish the internet and my smart phone has become very useful.  But it does make me wonder what other things I have in my life that are distracting me from the goals I really want to achieve.

So what is distracting you?  Have you gotten rid of a modern-day must-have?  Do you miss it?

Monday, February 27, 2012

How do you know you're done?

It should be pretty easy to know when you are done writing a story.  If you write chronologically, you're done when you get to the end.  If you write scenes and then plug them in, you're done when all the scenes are written.  Maybe you're a total seat-of-your-pants kind of writer.  If that's the case, you know you're done when there just isn't anymore story to write.

When I finished my first draft, I knew it without a doubt when I was done.  No questions about it.  I typed the final words and stopped.  What I had was rough, unedited and probably not very good (yet), but it was done.

Now that I'm editing, I'm suddenly struck with the realization that I don't know how I'll know that I'm done.  I've been slowly going through each chapter.  Removing weak spots, rewriting sloppy writing, filling in holes and all the things I know need to be done.  But how will I know when I've done enough.

For example, this blessed first chapter just might kill me.  I've edited this thing so many times I've lost track.  Even as I move through the rest of my chapters, the first one keeps pulling me back in.  And each time I read it, I find more things to change.  A word here, a sentence there.  I know it's better each time, but will it ever be good enough?

I've read enough cautionary tales to know that I'm not going to query until I think this piece is polished to perfection.  But will I ever get to that point?

As is my practice when I am stumped by a writing question, I turned to the internet and found Diane Gaston.  God bless her! Diane gave a couple of ways to create a stopping point for editing. She suggested limiting the number of revisions to three, or making a check-list.  My favorite was to set a time deadline.  Deadlines I can work with.  They create a definite point of closure.  Plus, I deal with them all the time in my day job.

So, I've created a deadline.  I am currently considering attending  DFWCON.  The conference starts May 19th and, like most, offers the chance to pitch your work.  So that's my new deadline.  Even if I can't go (there's a potential scheduling conflict) I am committing to stop editing and start querying by that date.  Of course, that gives me all kinds of butterflies and the likes.  But that is why I am so grateful for Diane.  This is what she wrote at the end of her blog:

Yeah, you say, that is all well and good, but how does this guarantee my manuscript is the best it can be?
It doesn’t guarantee anything, but, then, you will never know if your manuscript is the best it can be, even if you go through it ten times. No one ever knows, because expecting that kind of perfection is unrealistic. The question you should ask yourself is not if your manuscript is the best it can be, but if it is good enough for submission, if you’ve covered all the important elements, the ones on your checklist. If your answer is yes, stop editing and SEND IT IN.
Give the editor her turn to go through the manuscript. Even if she loves it, even if she buys it, she’ll suggest changes.
And you will have a chance to edit your manuscript all over again.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Writing 101: When to Start Your Story

If you're a reader of this blog then you know I am currently working on editing an MS.  I'm not really enjoying the process, but mainly because I wrote this story with very little planning and as a result I've got lots of stuff to fix. But that isn't the point of today's post.  Today I want to discuss an ongoing debate in my head of when my story really starts.

Unfortunately, like so many other technical aspects of writing, the pros are divided on the issue.  Some think your book needs to start off with your best stuff to create a big bang effect.  Others think this can only cause disappointment in your readers since no one can maintain that level of excitement through out an entire book. With everything else, the choice is really ours to make as the writers.

For me, part of the decision was easy.  When I started writing this MS I gave my main character weeks of back story before anything interesting happened.  I wrote about her friends, her old room, the drive up north, towel shopping for her new bathroom, and my personal favorite a driving tour of her new town.

At the time, I thought all this information was crucial.  And I was right.  But it was only crucial for me, as the writer.  All that information helped create what I hope is a fascinating character.  But the readers don't really need to know that my character chose a chocolate/blue theme for her bathroom.

So when I sat down to start editing I recognized immediately that the first 6,000 or so words had to go.  Without the slightest bit of remorse I took them out.  Of course I saved them in my cuts document so I could re-use some of the tastier morsels later.

With weeks of minutia gone I was feeling pretty good about the beginning of my novel.  I polished up the first chapter and posted the first five pages to YALITCHAT (an unbelievably helpful resource if you write MG/YA books).  The reviews gave me some wonderful feedback and after cutting a few more paragraphs I was settled on my opening.

As I posted my final revision I expected the results to come back with heaps of praise for my shiny pages.  I was wrong.  Instead I got one final review who felt I was still starting my story too early.  Crushing defeat!

I went back to the story and took another look at what I had.  But this time, I was really torn about cutting out more story.  What I had contained all kinds of good stuff.  It set up setting and basic plot.  It introduced fun characters and created the mood.  In my heart, this is where I want to start my story.

My first reaction was to dismiss this review.  After all, it was only one person's opinion. This was my story and I would write it however I wanted to.  But then I smacked myself until I remembered that critiques should help us grow as writers.  So even if I didn't agree completely with this critiques opinion, was there something I could learn?

Yes!  I still liked WHEN my story started, but I could improve HOW it started.  After yet another look I realized I was wasting valuable space and limited reader attention grabbing time with useless details.  In fact, there was an entire conversation in there that didn't need to be.  Sure, it gave the reader info, but that same info could be provided somewhere else in a place that doesn't slow down the tempo.  For everything the first few pages accomplished, it didn't have much tension or drama.  Considering this book is YA, leaving out drama in the first few pages is a major oversight.  Teens are all about the drama.

So here I am writing the intro to my novel . . . again.  I've lost count how many versions I've been through.  But this time I am going to focus less on when the novel starts and more on how to capture my readers.  And not just in the beginning, but through the whole darn thing. 

Do you struggle with when and how to open your books?  What tips and tricks do you have? 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Writing 101: Accents, Y'all!

“I have traveled more than any one else, and I have noticed that even the angels speak English with an accent.”
~ Mark Twain


And Twain would know. He is often considered a master of writing dialect. Take this example from Huckleberry Finn:
Jim: "We's safe, Huck, we's safe! Jump up and crack yo' heels. Dat's de good ole Cairo at las', I jis knows it."
Huck: "I'll take the canoe and go see, Jim. It mightn't be, you know."
But Twain wrote in a different day and age. Today, most authors stay clear of writing Eye Accents, or creating an accent with phonetic spelling. For one thing, it can be derogatory to the group you are trying to portray. And for another, it can be hard on the reader. If your reader has to stop the story so they can sound out the dialogue in order to know what your characters are saying, you've probably just lost the reader.
The exception to this is the phonetic spelling of words that have become a part of our language. Using “gonna” instead of “going to” or “gotta” instead of “got to” are considered common fare.
So how do you get across an accent without offending and confusing your reader? The first step is knowing the difference between an accent and a dialect.
An accent is the way a word is said. For example, my mother always adds an 'r' to the word wash so it sounds like warsh. Same word, but said differently. A dialect is the choice of words a person uses.
Accent is hard, for the reasons listed above, so it's my opinion you leave it alone. If you want readers to know that your character has a southern accent, then just describe the way your character speaks. For example: “Her voice dripped southern charm the way dew drips off a magnolia tree in May.” Or a New Yorker might speak with “quick, clipped words, reflecting the frantic big city pace”.
If you use the right descriptions an slide them into your story periodically to remind your reader, you should be fine.
Personally, I prefer the use of dialect to give someone a bit of regional flare. Did you know you can tell where someone grew up by how they ask for a carbonated beverage? Growing up in the north, we always asked for a pop. When I moved to the south I discovered that no one knew what pop was so I better start asking for a soda. My friends from the deep south (think gulf coast Mississippi) will ask if you want a coke. The follow up question will then be “I got Sprite, Root Beer, and Dr. Pepper. Which do you want?”
If you live in the south you'll yell out “Hey, y'all” to get a groups attention. But if you've ever watched "Goonies" you know in the north we shout “Hey, you guys” even if we are talking to a group of girls. And don't forget your Boston friends who yell “Hey, yous guys”.
So next time your tempted to write an “Ahw, Gawd” or “Foget abowt et” consider your other options. After all, it's a big language out there.
Here are today's helpful links:


As always, please feel free to leave suggestions on future topic and any other advice you have on this week's topic. Happy writing!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Writerly Kind of Love

Last month I experienced a writer's high when I finished my most recent MS.  After working on this novel for over a year it was liberating to finally see the whole thing down on paper.  After months of pounding out words whenever I had five free minutes I would be able to lie down at night without obsessing about the next scene to write.

I wanted to get started on edits right away, but I heeded the advice of countless authors and decided to let it sit.  Besides, I needed the break and my next story was begging to be mapped out.

Last week I finally opened back up the document to start the editing process, but instead of the bubbling excitement I expected to feel at seeing my characters again, I was filled with dread.  As I read each chapter, I was overwhelmed with the realization of how much editing I needed. 

I have plot holes, bad name choices, passive voice, ludicrous dialogue tags and cheesy cliches all over the place.  I got to work, but the truth be told, I wasn't into it.  For the first time in a long time, I was no longer enjoying the writing process.

Still, I trudged on, until this weekend when something amazing happened.  After slicing the first 6,000 words, removing three minor characters and polishing my dialogue until is shined, I am in love with my first chapter.  All 3,000 words of it are spectacular.  At least, I think they are.  And right now that's all I need.

Sure, I loved my novel before, but it was more like a high school kind of love.  All shiny and new with tons of 'firsts' to keep me hooked. But even though I sang its praises to the moon, I knew my love for this first draft couldn't last...they never do.

But this love is different.  I can see myself settling down with this first chapter, sending it out with my queries, posting it to critique groups.  I imagine a future with this chapter and it makes my heart sing!

And...it makes me realize that all those other chapters waiting in the wings aren't good enough for me.  They are going to need some serious work to be worthy of following this new first chapter.  But instead of dreading it, I'm excited again. and back to enjoying the process.

What is the hardest part for you in the writing process?  What keeps you going when the writing gets tough?

It's Getting Hot in Here: That's YAmore Blogfest

     I'm a sucker for a good love story.  So what could be better than a Blogfest full of steamy, YA love scenes?  You got me!
     Over at OasisforYA, everyone is posting 250 swoon-worthy words just in time for Valentine's Day.  So check out my snippet below from my current WIP The Watchers.  Then head over to Oasis to peruse all the other submissions.  Hope you like it!

 * * * * *
    I closed my eyes and tried not to breath while my skin soaked in his warmth. Could this really be happening? If I opened my eyes would I find myself in another daydream.
      I felt the resonance in his chest as he laughed lightly to himself.
      “Do I get to hear the joke?” I asked, eyes still closed.
    “Just me,” he said. “I was so worried about dancing, but you make it so easy. I'm actually looking forward to homecoming now.”
     Despite my silent prayers the music stopped. I grudgingly opened my eyes and lifted my chin to look up at Charles. He was smiling down at me. Slowly, so slowly his movements were almost undetectable, he lowered his head until his mouth was right beside my ear. Tenderly he whispered, “Thank you for teaching me to dance.”
     He pulled his head back in slow motion, his perfect lips passing mere millimeters from my cheek as his chin brushed the side of my face. I couldn't respond as the depths of his eyes held mine. All the air was sucked out of the room and the temperature cranked to 200 degrees.
    We were already so close, but an eternity passed as he moved his lips closer and closer to mine. Without thinking I moved up on my toes, closed my eyes and tilted my chin. My whole body tingled in anticipation of the contact that was less than seconds away.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Writing 101: Dialogue Part II

Better late than never, here is what I'm sure is the much anticipated part two of Writing 101: Dialogue.

Last week I talked about giving your dialogue context and purpose. This week, I want to discuss a few other finer tips on dialogue.

Did you know there is a king of dialogue rules? Yeah, me either. But the internet doesn't lie. Apparently the king of dialogue has decreed that Dialogue in a novel must be in conflict.

According to James N. Frey "When characters have different goals and are intent on achieving them, conflict results. If the stakes are high and both sides are unyielding, you have the makings of high drama."

This makes good sense. After all, no one wants to read a book where everyone always agrees and gets along. Conflict is the difference between a good idea and a good story. But like all rules, even the King's rules, this one should be broken...sometimes.

Every once in a while, your characters may want to just have an honest conversation. Maybe your character wants to explain something to another character. No drama, just an 'I need you to understand me' kind of talk.

This is fine, but if most of your conversations don't have conflict, or at least an underlying tension, your readers will stop being interested.

Here are some additional things you can do to give your characters some character through dialogue. Most of these come from a great book by Renni Browne and Dave King, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. I highly suggest this book for some simple to use tips to take your writing to a better place.

Vary your sentence length. This one is easy to spot on the page.

Hey, Bob, How was your weekend?”
Pretty,good. How was yours?”
OK, Did you catch the game?”
Yep, I never miss one.”
What did you think?”
The referees were awful.”
I couldn't agree more.”

Wow, even in real life that conversation is dull. I can almost here “Bueller, has anyone seen Bueller?” in the background.

Look what happens we vary the length.

Hey, Bob, how was your weekend?”
Pretty good, you know. Same old, same old. How about you?”
OK, Did you catch that game on Sunday?”
Oh yeah. I never miss an opportunity to watch the boys in blue in action. During football season, Sundays are holier than ever.”
Well, than, what did you think?”
Oh, man, the refs were creaming us out there. Did you see that call right before the half? Since when did a little bump in the shoulder constitute un-sportsman-like conduct?”
I hear ya, man, I hear ya.”

But even if you vary the sentence length, that will still be a boring conversation. Why? Character A asks a question and then Character B answers. Character B asks a question and then... you get the idea. What if when Character A asks “What did you think?”, Character B responds, “What did I think? What did you think when Coach Nimrod called a trick play in the fourth quarter with 3 seconds to go?” Character B doesn't answer the question directly, but we certainly get the point.

Also, don't forget that rarely do we actually speak in complete sentences. Most of the time we use fragments or abbreviated sentences. Contrary to everything your sophomore English teacher told you, you can use a sentence fragment. And even better, you can string two of them together with a comma.

Take this for example, your character can say,

It's good. It's really good.”

Or, they can say,

It's good, really good.”

See the difference. Same words, but the second example sounds much closer to what someone would actually say.

So there you have it, the nitty-gritty on what I learned about dialogue. I had intended to discuss accents this week, but Lordy, that's a big subject. So next week I will tackle the subject of accents and dialect. As always, let me know if you have suggestions for topics you'd like to see covered.

Here are links to this week's resources: