Tag Archives: novel writing

Zen and The Art of Manuscript Maintenance

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 5.49.44 PMWriting is more than just sitting down at the keyboard and typing. Writing is diving into the depths of your soul and embracing the good, the bad, and the ugly. Writing means peeling the onion layers of beliefs and emotions to expose its raw core—and then conveying those sentiments in a way that will evoke a reader’s emotions.

The act of writing requires emotional energy, which is easily depleted. As any new ager or old ager will testify, aligning one’s energies or chakras are important for physical and mental health.

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The Artistic Writer

One picture says a 1000 words. A luxury writers do not have. However writers have been known to get an idea to two from gazing at works of art. So in a silly effort to merge the two here are eleven famous paintings that describe the writing life.

First day last day



writing a query

writers conf


First drafts be like

rewriting a sentence.


slaying adverbs

Wrestling with 3rd draft



author platform

agent rejections

 On a more serious note, I flip though my art books or browse the web for:
  • a character’s facial features
  • a character’s body type
  • body postures, especially as it conveys mood
  • clothing styles, patterns, fabrics, especially historical garments
  • food from a particular historical period
  • architecture, houses, and furnishings from a particular historical period
  • historical detail or information ( if painting is accurate or painted in the same century)
  • colors that evoke a particular mood
  • landscape and the colors used to evoke mood

Related links: Rock your Writing; Readin’ & Writin’

Where Art Thou?

settingSetting is more than just location!

Usually when folks think of setting in the literary sense they think physical location. But setting is much more than that. Authors construct setting like they do characters and plot.

Setting is a powerful element for establishing themes and often  reflect the author’s own background, biases, and perspectives.

Setting can influence, shape, and emphasize a character’s actions and ideas. Setting can drive plot, create mood, or assume the role of antagonist..

Setting can reflect the following milieus:
  • political
  • time ( minutes, hours, days, years )
  • historical
  • financial
  • socio-economic
  • cultural
  • religious
  • dystopian/utopian
  • magical
  • mythical
  • surreal
  • constructed/ alternate /parallel/imaginary
  • dream ( think Inception )
  • virtual ( think Tron )
  • psychological
  • attitudinal
  • industrial
  • seasonal
Setting can also refer to:

How are you using setting?

 Related links: Rock Your Writing

ABC’s of Writing

blocksAim high. Ambition + Ability = Accomplishment

Block out time for writing. Make it a habit.

Characterization. Names, dialog, physical descriptions, and actions all contribute to revealing character. For an in-depth look click CHARACTERIZATION.

Despair not! No matter the path you choose ( self-publishing or traditional ) there’s lots of roadblocks, detours, potholes, and flat tires along the way.

Edit-edit-edit! Then edit again! See Manuscript Clean-up and Most Commonly Confused Words.

Foreshadowing is achieved many different ways. Weather changes, location, illness, names, description of a seemingly innocuous person/event/object, a character’s word choice, change in syntax, and a character’s subtle reactions are just a few.

Grammar rules must be understood before breaking them.

Handle criticisms, suggestions, and rejections with grace.

Ignore the haters, naysayers, cynics, and anyone not on Team You.

Just get rid of just, that, really, very, who ( Sally, who sits under the tree vs Sally, sitting under the tree), am/was/were, being, seem, suddenly, then, finally, even, was, & it. Here’s a few abstract nouns to replace that pesky IT .

Kvetching. Keep your complaining under control—at least on social media. Rant all you like in private.

Learn the craft of writing. There’s lots of seminars, classes, and books on the subject.

Make the most of your writing time. Here’s how I make time to write while working a day job.

Never give up!

Organize your files, folders, research, drafts, queries, ideas, etc. See Idea Vault.

Plot. Have one. Plots need:
  • Protagonists with a weakness & a need that triggers a crisis.
  • Opponents/Antagonists ( more powerful in some way ) preventing a protagonist from the desired goal. Antagonists thwart the protagonist in a profound moral/intellectual way.
  • Plan/Quest/strategy to beat opponent. This is the rising action and contains a reversal/failure, surprise, and/or critical choice.
  • Battle/Climax is the final conflict with opponent.
  • Self-revelation/epiphany is the fundamental change. The protag, seeing his true self, moves to either a higher or lower level or morality.
  • Resolution/New Equilibrium is the new normal for the protag.

Quit bitchin’ about writers’ block. See Rx for Writers Block.

Read works in your genre and in other genres.

Syntax can develop ideas, simplify, obscure, imply relationships, connect abstract ideas, manipulate tone or mood, suggest irony, reveal character, create suspense/surprise, break flow, provide rhythm, add variety, and organize ideas. It’s powerful. Learn from the masters.

Thesaurus misuse. Synonyms may be close, but not close enough. Words have a denotation ( the dictionary definition ) and a connotation ( the emotion the word evokes ). Select with care!

Utilize the web for research. PDF’s of old texts, virtual tours, Google satellite, YouTube clips, Harvard lectures–the web is a powerful research and/or fact-checking tool. Pay attention to the URL: .org’s, .edu’s, and .gov’s contain more scholarly information.

Verb it up! Active verbs energize a manuscript.

Word order. Every sentence should not have the same part-of-speech pattern. The last read-my-first-page link I clicked began either with a gerund (verb +ing) or noun ( I ). I stopped reading after the second paragraph.

X-rated language can turn readers on, turn readers off, become repetitive, convey mood, reveal character, or be merely a writer’s word crutch. Use judiciously.

Yakking on Facebook & Twitter is great—but don’t let it be an excuse for not working on your manuscript.

Zealous dedication is required for success. In Malcolm Gladwell’s The Outliers, he says mastering a skill takes 10,000 hours.

Manuscript Cleanup

editWriters are creative. Plots and characters appear, evolve, and invade our minds, haunting us until we unleash them on paper or computer screen. That’s fun!

But there’s another aspect of writing that isn’t quite as fun. The grammar-punctuation part. It’s a chef’s version of cleaning the kitchen after making a 5-course gourmet meal. Or cleaning the house after hosting a New Year’s bash.

And yet the writing cleanup must be done!

Cleaning, like editing, becomes easier—more efficient—over time and with increased experience. And one day, tidying your manuscript may become a task you enjoy.  Instead of regarding editing as drudgery, imagine you are polishing your manuscript until it is free of the germs, particles, grime, and residue of initial drafts.

A down and dirty method for cleaning your manuscript.

Wipe out those indiscriminate, willy-nilly, neither-rhyme-nor-reason changes in tense. Remember to hose down those ( usually unnecessary ) perfect tenses.

Rinse away overused words: just, very, literally, really, maybe, quite, amazing, things, stuff, it, then. Replace with a better word.

Brush up on your grammar. Recognizing the simple from the compound complex sentence or the independent from the dependent clause helps a writer manipulate and master sentence construction and variety. Know the grammar rules before breaking them. (And yes, as a literature major I had to diagram many sentences.)

Vacuum loose punctuation: Manuscripts speckled with semicolons  and em dashes as though they were  sprinkles on a cupcake need to be reassessed. My fave punctuation book is Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Funny and educational.

Wash those vague words down the banal drain. Select the perfect word. It makes all the difference. Unless, of course, your intention is to be vague.

Polish your word choice. A word’s connotation ( the feeling the word invokes ) is more important than its denotation ( the dictionary definition).

Sweep for the correct prepositions. Choose the one that does the job. Here’s a Preposition List.

Scour for commas-gone-wild usage. ( It’s my personal editing demon.) Check out Purdue Online Writing Lab for answers to all your comma questions.

Swab the manuscript deck for misplaced modifiers. Oddly worded sentences result in unintended—and funny—meanings. Ex: I saw a painting walking down the hall. Daily Writing tips offers some nice examples and explanations.

Shine your syntax until it gleams. Syntax is powerful. It can: emphasize, shift mood, focus, imply relationships/connections, create more or less abstraction, reveal character, establish flow/rhythm, break flow/rhythm, foster suspense, establish tone, and add variety.Here’s syntax cheat cheat.

Have fun polishing your manuscript.

Note: I really, really, really hope I don’t have any typos in this post. Please, let me know if I do!

Related Posts: Readin’ & Writin’



Writing Shoes

writing like shoesReady to begin writing the first draft of your novel? Better put on your writing shoes for completing that 1st Draft Mile.

Writing a novel is like walking: Having a destination, avoiding obstacles, enjoying the scenery, and hitting your stride makes the journey more interesting. Now, which footwear will you wear?

flip flops: For the minimalist whose plots, sub plots, action, character development, & dialog are lean and mean. They add detail, mood, and style in subsequent drafts, unpacking a 55,000-word 1st draft into a 89,000-word  final.

high heels: Concerned with first draft appearances, these writers balance character development, sentence crafting, nuances, and careful plotting until satisfied–even if it’s a bit wobbly. They prefer the arched support of a developed novel. Fancy embellishments and subtractions are done after strutting their stuff.

loafer: Write a bit, complain a little, brew coffee, take a break, enjoy social media, write a bit more. Maybe skip to the end—yeah, the end, or the love scene—they really want to write that steamy love scene. These writers enjoy dawdling before writing a difficult scene. They don’t fret too much though because they are confident it will get done eventually.

lug-soled boots: This writer doesn’t wait for inspiration—they lasso it with their Rope of Determination ( like Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth but for writers ) and trudge through the first draft with unwavering determination. They don’t shy away from fording a quagmire of plot problems and character issues because their boots were made for walkin.’  (can you hear Nancy Sinatra singing, “These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do?”)

running shoes:  Sprinting to the end—their fingers flying over the keyboard, these writers value the speed with which the words explode from their brain. The faster the better. Complete sentences? Mispelled words? Forget about ’em, this first-drafter runs past them—time for fixes later.

What pair of writing shoes do you put on?

Related Posts: Rock Your Writing

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Stormy Weather

Rock Your WritingWeather is more than just the change of atmospheric conditions! It’s fraught with symbolism—especially bad weather.

Need to portend a change? Use weather!

 A few quick examples:

  • The crack of thunder after a character’s ominous OR foreboding OR creepy statement
  • Gathering rain clouds signal the brewing emotional storm of  characters
  • Rain and thunder and lightning means a homicidal maniac or demon from hell is unleashed upon the earth
  • Rain, thunder & lightning suggests a bit of divine wrath or judgement is coming your character’s way
  • Bad weather in every Shakespearean play signifies “something wicked this way comes”

Rain is never just rain! Snow is more than snow…and fog—oh, it’s misty with meaning…

Rain might be:
  • a plot device
  • the emotional or spiritual emotional cleansing or healing
  • a character’s drowning with despair—the rain acting as a metaphor for tearful emotions
  • a new life/new beginning/new outlook ( think: spring rain)
Other factors to keep in mind:
  • Is the rain gently sprinkling or pouring buckets?
  • Spring rain or summer deluge?
  • Is it raining WATER? Because in Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, it rains fish.
  • A freezing cold rain might mean the character’s spiritual rebirth is one of heartlessness OR they become numb to their emotional pain
  • A fresh spring rain symbolizes a fresh start or rebirth of life—life renewed
  • Does the character have an umbrella? is their face lifted to the sky, or do they protect themselves with a heavy raincoat?
  • Are they “singing in the rain?”
  • Does they become splattered with mud? Another symbolic smack in the face—the mud symbolizing their life/situation spotting/soiling/ruining their new spiritual/emotional cleansing.
Snow is also rife with meaning:
  • Light, fluffy flakes are symbolic of happiness and romance and good will toward men ( are you having flashbacks of every sappy Christmas movie you ever saw?)
  • A snow storm, on the other hand, can be romantic if the couple is trapped in a supply-filled cabin OR damn terrorizing if something or someone is stalking the character.
Fog always indicates confusion.
  • The character is “in a fog” about their life, a relationship, or a problem.
  •  In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein tracks the monster in thick fog– a so-obvious-it’s-a-slap-in-the-face metaphor for the mental confusion he feels about his responsibilities. The crazier the Dr. becomes, the more fog. Once in the fog, Dr. Frankenstein loses his way  both psychologically and morally, the fog acting as an atmospheric indicator of both psyche and soul.

So before writing “it was a dark and stormy night” you might want to consider the implications of the weather.

And don’t forget, a bit of well-placed IRONY throws ANY of this into a tailspin!

Have fun getting your character’s wet!

 Related Links: Rock Your Writing;