Friday, December 30, 2011

Trying Again

I'm going to see if I can manage to post more often on here. The problem with a writing blog is that if I am in a writing mood, I want to write books rather than blog posts.

I DID publish my second book this year! You can visit it by clicking the link to my website on the side bar. Let me know what you think!

Other than that, this year has been a quiet one where writing is concerned. I have had several other projects (non-writing-related) on my plate. But, the past month, the itch to write has come back, and writing a dramatic reading for our church's Christmas service only served to whet my appetite. The project I've had on the back burner for two years - a biblical-setting novel, is officially moving!

The outline is always the hardest part of a book, for me, and my outline for this book is just about finished. It stands at a whopping 7,200-some words, and will only grow, I'm sure. I try to practice strict control over my word-count in actual manuscript writing (I'm very long-winded), but I let myself ramble in my outline. It's part of the creative process.

I meant to discuss different types of outlines, and how I've gone from not using them to loving them....but I'm getting ideas for my first chapter, so if you'll excuse me.....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I know I haven't written in awhile, but I have the best of reasons:

I'm getting a second book published!

The process is drawing to a close; I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The last step before printing is a final read-through to change a few typos. I am on page 100 of 190, as I speak.

As soon as these changes are made, I will be sending the PDF to the printer. They have already approved the book, and - bless them! - are excited about printing it. The cover is done. I have an ISBN. Potential distributors are in my mind.

So close.

Fixing typos and designing covers isn't quite like "real" writing. But not to worry; I've been doing lots of the real stuff on other projects, in addition to getting my book print-ready. I have some tips on editing that I want to share as soon as I get some free moments to blog.

Just thought I'd pop in and say hello! :) I'll share the news when my book is finally in print. :) ...And I'll tell you more about the book itself, too. :)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snow Day

Our city is crazy, when it comes to winter weather. At the slightest chance of snow, schools shut down, grocery stores are ransacked, and traffic dies away.

But today the predictions came true; we do have some ice out there. True, it's less than an inch, but ice is ice. My plans for the day - which included spending most of the day out - were rearranged at about 8:00 this morning.

I wasn't very upset. To have a day freed suddenly like that is like having someone hand you a lovely gift; roughly 12 unexpected free hours.

I chose to spend at huge chunk of that writing.

I haven't work on my story in ages. I purposely set it aside, to marinate. You story writers know what I mean, don't you? Sometimes a story just isn't ready. This one has been cooking for over a year, and I was starting to think it would never turn golden brown around the edges, but that familiar tingle in my fingers is beginning; that itch for a pencil and keyboard - that day-dream feeling of being in another world is just beyond the outer edges of my mind. It has begun.

I got a lot done this morning, but a certain point keeps stumping me. How to begin?

That's it; how to begin. The first three chapters of a book have always been my weak point. My weak, weak, weak point. Just show me the characters in trouble, then I'll get them out! Getting them into trouble has always been hard.

I know all the popular solutions; begin with action. Try dialogue. Try a narrative bit.

You don't understand. I don't just need to know how to start the scene. I need the scene!

My outline is written...sorta. I've gone with the looser "Beginning, Middle, Ending" framework, instead of a detailed point-by-point guideline this time. My Middle and Ending are filled with lovely scenes, but my Beginning remains sketchy.

What do you do when you need a plot to form? What strikes your creative spark into full flame? Or are you one of those blessed creatures who always has a storyline for any character or situation, and can make up an ending for every story you've ever read? (I always disliked those assignments, "finish this story..." I guess I should be glad they never were, "begin this story..."!)

As a side note, which do you prefer; A-B-C outlines, or the looser three-part story form of an outline? I've always preferred the more detailed one myself, but this story is creating a lot of firsts!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Where a comment turns into a post

Today I read a post on the very helpful writing blog "Word Play," and tried to leave a comment.

My computer believes, however, that - though I can sign into Google to write on my blog - my password is incorrect when trying to leave a comment on another blog. This fallacy has caused me many a moment of frustration the past few weeks, but tonight I'm determined that good shall prevail; I'll just post my comment in post form. (Be sure to read the post on "Word Play" first, to make sense of my comment. As a brief summary, I'll just say that the topic was about realizing that good stories usually need time to "brew" before you sit down and write them, and you shouldn't rush the process.)

Here's what I said in response:

"This is very encouraging to me! The story that I am working on right now has a few chapters typed out on my computer...but I stepped back from it a couple of weeks ago, feeling that I needed to "chew on it" a while longer. I've felt worried, wondering if I should just force myself to "do something," but my gut feelings say to wait. I'm glad to hear that's not a crime. :)

On the other side of the coin, however, I'm worried that my brain is just lazy, and I'm making excuses to not work on the story in earnest. I guess I'm the only one who can know if that's true or not, huh? Or are there clues to look for, to tell me if this story is one that's gonna stick around for the long haul?"

What do you think? How would you answer my question? Are there prompts that you use to get your mind truly working on a story? How do you know when you're being lazy, or the story just isn't ready?

Come on, now - I know I have more than one reader out there, and you can't all have the same issues with Google that I have. :) Even if you're not a writer, you've experienced creativity of some sort. How do you get it flowing? Do you ever "force" yourself to be creative? Does that work, or is it counter-productive? I'd like some feedback on this topic. Should I be worried that my story isn't "flowing"? Even though I stepped back in order to "chew" on the idea, the "chewing" isn't really happening. Ideas don't seem to be coming.

I'm thinking that what I need is just some down time, where I don't have other things on my mind. But that can be hard to come by. Should I do my thinking with a keyboard under my fingertips? Should I make myself write? What do you think?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Bit of Rant

I'm gonna rant a bit today. Consider yourself warned.

"What is she 'gonna' rant about?" he wondered to himself.

Don't you hate that "wondered to himself"? Come on! How else do you wonder? Have you ever "wondered to" somebody else? Adding "to himself" just means you threw two unnecessary words on the page.

"Never thought about that," he chuckled.

May I ask how you chuckle words? What happens if your tongue slips while chuckling big words like "contrariwise" or "enunciation" - do you choke?

"I see what you mean," he smiled.

You just did it again! How does one smile words? It must be very hard to get thick words through your thinly-spread lips and closed teeth.

"You are ruining my fun," he said. "....Are you happy now? I used 'said'!"

Actually, no. Without proper context, how am I to know how you said it? That sentence doesn't define itself. Did you growl it? Whine it? State it? I don't know much about you - how do I know how those words came out?

Now, if you had said "Come over here, Amber," and there was nothing in the previous text to indicate that you were upset with me, I could assume you just "said" it. But if you added an exclamation point, you must - again - define if you shouted, screamed, or cried the words. Context is everything.

Dialogue is big, important stuff. Absolutely essential. But so are the words that come after it! Please, please, please, don't give yourself away as an amateur writer by putting the wrong words there. Characters do not:

chuckle words,
smile words,
laugh words,

They can, however:

...and a multitude of other things, along with the ever-important "said."

Of course, our characters do chuckle, smile, and laugh. They just don't speak it. (If you disagree, try it yourself.)

So be sure to separate the two. Put the words; "I think I get this" then a period; "." (NOT a comma!) then "he laughed."


Now you have no excuse if you write something impossible, like, "It's no big deal," he laughed.

But wait a minute! If I write "'It's no big deal,' Harold said," how do I convey that laughing tone of voice that he's using?

Talent, my friends! Talent!

Without those crutches, you'll have to show Harold's emotions with the words he says, not you say. You'll have to convey it with his actions, not your descriptions. Use laughing words, and punctuation that shows how he's catching his breath and doubling over. For that matter, mention that he's doubling over, and his eyes are crinkled up, and his missing teeth are showing. If all else fails, just say "Harold laughed loudly."

There is some gray area, though. For example, two words I'm not sure on are "groaned" and "sighed." Can you groan words? Or sigh them? What do you think?

Oh yeah - there's another thing that bugs me.

"Laughing loudly," is fine.

"Screaming loudly," is not.

How else do you scream?

Whispered quietly?
Flew quickly?

The only time you need modifiers like this is when the context demands it. For example, "laughed joyfully" is usually redundant and unnecessary. However, if up until now the character has been laughing wryly and sarcastically, a bit of explaining is due.

Leave your "ing" and "ed" words alone unless context demands you explain that they aren't laughing joyfully, flying quickly, running quickly, standing erectly, etc.

....And my pizza dough is finished rising, so I must abruptly end my ranting, and bid you farewell.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Stuff to watch for

I watched a new movie recently.

To be kind, I won't say the title, but I don't think it was very well done. However, while watching, I was reminded of a few things that can apply to writing stories:

1 - Strong plots can carry poor actors. Even though the actors were...well...pretty amateur, I still wanted to see what happened next.

2 - Characters shouldn't sound like they are reading their lines. At first thought, this applies only to actors, but I think it translates to book characters too. They shouldn't sound so...bookish. Would a person in really life say that? Would they say it like that? Think before they talk.

3 - Action and plot isn't enough. You still have to connect with the characters. Ideally, you should bond with the character before they are placed in action, or in danger. Otherwise, you simply don't care. Don't plunge right into things before your reader gets his footing and identifies in some way with the character. Do something to make him/her catch the interest of the reader - even if it's only a sentence or two before you plunge into that opening action scene. (This was a good reminder for me.)

Have you ever learned things about writing from watching a movie? Or reading a poorly-written book? Have you trained yourself to watch for mistakes, and see them as a way to learn, not just annoy you? What have you been taught through this habit?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Things I learned from my recent reading material

Today I read a book that focuses on concrete, heavy adjectives. There are a lot of action scenes in the book, but somehow you get the feeling that the outward action is a blur, and the only thing in sharp focus is the thought-life of the characters, ...and their thoughts are full of adjectives.

In a way, it was a engaging book, pulling you in to the character's mind and emotions. But in another way, it left me feeling like saying "enough with the introspect - let's turn your eyes outward and see what's happening in the world!"

Don't get me wrong - it was well done. The authors (the book was co-written) worked all those descriptions in there pretty smoothly. They don't use many italicized thoughts, so rarely are you quite sure whether the descriptions you are reading are the narrator's voice, or the voice of the character's thoughts. This keeps the characters from sounding "like a book." And, if you read it slowly, (like I rarely do), the similes are great word pictures. Definitely a good source for adjective, metaphor, and simile ideas.

One thing that did get confusing, though, was the fact that the book had two main characters, and the viewpoint was constantly changing mid-scene, or even mid-paragraph. I've come to the conclusion that I don't want to use this writing style, although I have tried it in the past. Even if you are very clear - and these authors were fairly good at that - it's too much work for the reader's brain. (Ahem.) Switching viewpoint between scenes is often enough for me.

I realize this is a rather rambling collection of thoughts, but I just finished a hour-or-so spurt of writing, and my brain is tumbling all over the place without an outline to follow. I just thought I'd put out these pros and cons, and ask what your thoughts on the matter are. How much "introspect" is enough? How do you know when you need to focus more on the action of the plot, rather than the emotions? And how do you know when you need to back off the action and throw a meditating character in there?

What about viewpoint switching? How often do you think it should be done? What's your rule of thumb?

What habits of authors do you find tiring as a reader? Do you see any of them showing up in your own work? What can you do to discourage yourself from forming habits and styles that are fun for the writer but extra work for the reader?

Waiting to hear from you!