Tag Archives: writers blog

9 Circles of Writing Hell

9 circles of writing hellToday I don my Debbie Downer hat to discuss the circles of Writing Hell. Not surprising, the circle is an apt descriptor of the writing process because our thoughts go ’round and ’round…and ’round some more. The bad news: There is no escape for writers. The good news: There is no escape for writers. ( hehe )

So…drumroll… from bottom to top…

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Conquering the Conference

Conquering the conferenceWriters conferences are a wonderful chance to learn about the craft of writing and publishing industry. And if  you have the time and the funds I recommend attending a few. However, sometimes writers enter with closed minds. As a lifelong  student of life if someone with credibility gives me advice I pay attention. Continue reading

Breakfast Beta Readers

beta readersWriters NEED beta readers! It’s near impossible for most of us to determine if our work in progress is horrid or brilliant—or somewhere in between. That’s why it’s soooo sweet when we find effective beta readers.

Beta readers come in all shapes and sizes—kind of like breakfast cereals—each have their own style and unique charm!

Luck Charms’ Leprechaun: You deem this person your “lucky” beta reader. Not only are you lucky they agreed to beta read for you, their comments and suggestions are always sugar sweet. Using their analytic spade, they spoon through through your creamy plot  to make suggestions that are magically delicious.

Frosted Flakes’ Tony the Tiger: This beta reader thinks everything you wrote is  “Gr-r-reat!” Which is great for your ego but maybe not so great for your manuscript. Although this beta readers can be a bit flaky at times—promising to finish reading by next week only to extend it until who-knows-when—they are often your most loyal and enthusiastic cheerleaders.

Rice Krispies’ Snap, Crackle, & Pop: Whether this refers to your beta reading team or a single beta reader with multiple talents, they excel at multiple levels. They find typos and awkward syntax in a snap!  Poor characterization or a plot flaws pop out at them! Although their stellar and knowledgeable literary/editing skills cause them ( and rightly so) to act a bit puffed up, they crackle with glee over a great story!

Fruit Loops’ Toucan: They follow their nose—it always knows—the flavor of a fruitful manuscript. These beta readers sniff out plot, characterization, setting, and theme from far away—perhaps the first chapter. And because they have a nose for the art of fiction they provide genre-specific comments.

Cap’n Crunch’s Cap’n Crunch: This beta reader looks at everything through their telescope and gladly rescues writers from soggy manuscripts by suggesting more crunch to their writing. Although they might not be a real captain of writing their comments are delivered in a Sea of Milky approval.

Yet, as you know, not all beta readers are sweet, so I’ll save a spoof on harmful beta readers for another post.

Related posts: Rock Your Writing; Readin’ & Writin’

Collateral Damage

collateral damageOne of the many perils of writing is dealing with the fallout from months of obsessive…um…enthusiastic writing, rewriting, and tweaking. There’s lots of fabulous information about what writers should do, yet not too much about what we don’t!

Here’s a What-Doesn’t-Get-Done list. Does it look like yours?

  • Any project at all—be it as easy as sewing on a button to shopping for more bookshelves.
  • Clean the fridge… or any time-consuming cleaning and organizing task!
  • Hang with friends. (True friends already know you’re a bit obsessive…um enthusiastic, that, and they really want to read your next book! )
  • Organize/file bills and receipts ( Thank goodness for auto pay.)
  • Shop for shoes. ( Comfort can’t be assessed on a website. )
  • Bake…except if it’s one of my children’s birthdays and they asked for a cake.
  • Cook any meal requiring more than an hour of prep and cook time—if there’s food in the house hubby should consider himself lucky.
  • Regular work outs decrease as the light-at-the-end-of-the-WIP-tunnel increases—   my fingers, however, are in excellent shape!
  • Impromptu visits to fun places. ( Usually a daughter drags me by the hair to the beach. “An afternoon away from the keyboard won’t hurt mom, I promise.”)
  • Stare lovingly into hubby’s eyes—oh, wait I don’t do that, and anyway it would probably mess up his golf stroke.
  • Teach the pooch new tricks. She’ll have to be content with mooching treats with the old ones.
  • Attempt any website overhaul—I’ve been itching to update my layout for months.

So what does one do in that brief bit of time between old project and new project? All of the above of course! And they will all be done with gleeful-happy-exuberant joy because, by golly, another novel is complete.

Maybe one day I’ll learn to manage my time better…nah…where’s the fun in that??

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

NFL Draft for Novels

NFL character draftsDo you choose characters like an NFL draft? Let’s break it down!

1st Round Draft Picks: These are the BIG stars. In the football world, they have talent and that ‘it’ factor to get the team to the promised land (Super Bowl). The 1st round picks in your novel are the protagonist and antagonist. You—as coach—must hone their natural talent and skill to get the most out of them—full character development  achieved through countless hours spent with dialog, action, and description. Readers expect great—or horrible—things from them! A 1st round draft pick who doesn’t deliver sends your team—your project—into the dumpster.

2nd Round: These are very good players who will—or should—complement the star players. These characters also complement your main characters by acting as a foil ( a character who highlights or contrasts the main character’s qualities. An example is Mercutio to Romeo ), and/or acting as the trusted confidant, and/or involved in a subplot. These characters are not usually as fleshed out as the stars but  readers feel they ‘know’ them just the same.

3rd-5th Round: These are supporting players building the team. They may not be the stars or 2nd picks but they are an integral part of making a team championship caliber. These characters can make or break your story by being ineffective, unbelievable, or cliche. A strong cast of characters—no matter how much ‘play’ time they get makes a stronger story.

6-7th Round: These players have potential and may even make the team but they are long shots. Sometimes these characters blossom while writing the story, even if it’s a bit part in your plot but chances are you didn’t even give them a name.

Mister Irrelevant: Celebrated one moment, gone the next! The last pick of the draft. These characters are expendable, a quick DELETE scene/paragraph and the writer forgets about them. They don’t usually make your story’s final cuts.

Undrafted Free Agents: These players need to try-out on a team, and although they rarely make the cut they may have latent talent. Likewise, these characters may be hidden gems or have potential for your next project. Don’t discount them.

Now that you’ve assembled your cast of excellent characters on Team Novel you’ve got a shot at the big time—finding an agent or scoring a publishing contract!!

Go, team, go!!

Related links: Readin’ &Writing’; Rock Your Writing

 

The Real Comma Rules

Comma rulesGrammarians have been known to do battle over the vagaries of comma placement. Syntax skirmishes, semi-colon controversy, and other punctuation persnicketiness can get downright nasty! Good thing this post is about other kinds of commas!

Writing, rewriting, editing, and creating all require comma skills.

1. First and foremost, writers must learn how to accommadate their physical needs. Be it a room with a view, a quiet nook, a desk, favorite coffee shop, or a designated chair, writing is best accomplished with a routine.

2. Often you must act like a commando when it comes to revising and editing. Blast all typos, vague language, and trite sayings.

3. Learn to summon your inner commadian during trying times. Hissy fits, meltdowns, and tantrums don’t solve problems. Finding the funny doesn’t either—but at least you can write a humorous blog about it!

4. Avoid a commakazi approach when pitching, querying, responding to an agent rejection, or replying to a troller. Thoughtful, professional, polite discourse and emails are a must. As for trollers, non-engagement is the only  way to go.

5. Take time to engage in some commaraderie with folks on twitter and Facebook. Don’t neglect your friends either. Meet them for coffee and dinner…and try not to talk about your latest writing project.

6. Keep your dream to be comma millionaire novelist.playwright/screenwriter/poet/blogger to yourself.

7. Creating believable characters require the writer to be a commaeleon, portraying their emotions, intelligence, fears, joys, and ambitions with effective dialog and action.

8. Find someone to commaiserate with. We all need a venting buddy. Just make certain to end the bitchfest with uplifting thoughts for the future. If your ‘someone’ tells you to quit or give up find another.

9. Indulge in the art of comma sutra. Discover fresh ways to tell the story, find pleasure in finding the perfect word, and seek enjoyment in crafting the nuanced phrase.

10. Remember that the best word wizards practice  alcommay. Transmuting strings of  words into a riveting story demands patience and practice.

Now these are comma rules I think we can all agree on!

FYI: For a thorough look at actual comma rules, go to OWL at Purdue.

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

Construction Zone

I have a 53 mile round trip commute. Freeway construction really slows me down—often taking me more than an hour to get home. So what’s a writer to do while waiting in stopped traffic? Why imagine how construction signs mirror the writing process, of course!

Road work ahead

The perfect signage for the first page, the first blog, the first website, the first tweet. There are months and months ( and years ) of plotting and drafting  and rewriting and editing  to come. Sounds daunting but the work is part of the process.

one lane road

Unless you’re part of writing duo or team, this sign applies to most writers. It’s all you you you. Your effort. Your time. Your imagination. Your grit. Your tenacity.

hard hat area

Writers need to prepare for falling debris. Their world is fraught with danger. Our own fears and anxieties, dismissive friends, lack of time management, errands, careers, family, and a myriad of setbacks will consume our days. Writers must take a hard look at their dream and prepare. Wearing your hard hat should help see you safety through the construction process.

please excuse our appearanceYoga pants, t-shirt, hair gathered in a pony tail, face free of make-up ( for the gals ), scruffy face ( for the guys ); the writer’s uniform stays on unless they must emerge from their writing cave. And even then….

Bump

Ack! There’s a glitch in the plot. That character isn’t convincing! This dialog is blah! Constructing a novel is a bumpy ride and part of the fun!

flagman

Pay heed to those in the know. Listen to their advice. Running over the flagman might land you in a novel ditch.

slow

Ideal signage for editing. Zipping through a draft doesn’t allow for a thoughtful and critical examination of diction, syntax, and grammar.

detour

You know what causes detours! Tweeting, facebooking, web browsing, computer issues, lost data….or ack! plotting snafus! Detours are frustrating and take time to correct. Take a deep breath.

exit closed

Noooo…not that! I need to go that way! What exits are closed to you? See a closed exit as an opportunity for redirection, for a scenic route, for a different way to achieve your goal.

end road work

Whoot whoot! Your drafts are done! It’s time to send it to a beta reader, agent, or editor! Happy dance. Until another idea for a book sends you back to the beginning!

Related posts: Readin’ & Writin’, Rock Your Writing

Writing Fortress

castleThe historical fiction I’m currently writing required extensive research on castles. And it struck me—somewhere between the first and second drafts—that the act of writing a novel shares many similarities with  the parts of a castle.

The MOAT is a writer’s protection from outside forces like talkative significant others, crying children, and errands. The wider and deeper your mental and physical moat the more likely you’ll be able to carve out extended writing time.

Only lower the DRAWBRIDGE for allies, those with encouraging words who would never stab you in the back. Allow honest beta readers to cross as well.

Your CASTLE WALLS must be thick thick thick! Enough to withstand a siege of naysayers battering your dream with a canon of criticism and thick enough to withstand rejections and setbacks.

Make your writing location your own private SOLAR. Only allow a few entrance into your writing sanctuary. Station a guard at the door—even if it’s only a Do Not Disturb sign hanging from the back of your chair.

Go to the GARDEROBE often—the privy or bathroom. Excrete all those nasty adverbs, trite words, hackneyed expressions, banal characters, ho hum pacing, and insipid plots. Yuck! They stink up a manuscript!

Visit the WARDROBE frequently. Store ideas, research, and deleted word gems for future use.

The KITCHEN is good for burning first drafts, cooking up a query letter, or staring into the fire while contemplating the publishing world.

Don’t forget to stop by the BUTTERY for whatever is “ale-ing” you or the BOTTLERY for the celebratory  Finished-Another-Chapter goblet of wine.

Keep your deepest, darkest fears in the DUNGEON. Chain them to the wall. Don’t let them see the light of day. Torturing yourself is pointless and a waste of precious writing time.

Your ARMORY is best stocked with knowledge about the weapons of plotting, a chain mail of literary craft, and sword-sharp syntax and grammar.

Use the CHAPEL  to pray or beg the writing gods and muses for strength, endurance, and grace. Some gods require sacrifices—like reduced TV watching or Facebook time.

Make sure to say hello to all your friends, tweeps, and followers hanging out in the social media GREAT HALL.

Keep your KEEP—the highest and most secure place of a castle—strong. Keep the faith. Keep  sending queries. Keep blogging. Keep editing. Keep learning. Keep writing.

Related posts: Readin’ & Writin’

Direction Connection

directionWhich way did he go?

North. East. South. West. Directions are often used symbolically. In which direction a character heads often foreshadows his moral growth or decline.

There is, however, one important caveat to note. The literary symbolism associated with direction is used by northern hemisphere European/North American authors. You’ll figure out why in a moment.

NORTH is traditionally associated with colder weather, and so is linked to austerity, starkness, industriousness, isolation, cold-heartedness, hostility, and bitterness. Like the thick layers necessary to protect one from the cold ( be it psychological, spiritual, or emotional ) a character wears these layers as emotional protection.

SOUTH is warm temperatures and sunny climes. It’s where the wealthy went for rest and relaxation.  It’s associated with plenty, hedonism, clothing removal, and the hot sweaty acts one engages in when naked. A character’s lusts, passions, and raw subconscious are exposed.

Not convinced? Think of the geography of Game of Thrones. It’s a fictional world—George R.R. Martin could have set the saga in the southern hemisphere but didn’t.  Even the name Stark is descriptive of a cold northern landscape.

WEST: The symbolism of this direction might be an American thing. Freedom from rules, freedom from laws, adventure, fresh starts, morality, and possibilities are associated with this direction. In Mark Twain’s Huck Finn, Huck and Jim decide to ( spoiler alert ) go west where they will be free from the racism and prejudice they encountered in the story. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is another example. John Galt and his groupies hide out in a valley in the west.

EAST: Exotic and mysterious, it’s linked to renewal, rebirth, early civilizations, and the location of the Garden of Eden ( kind of vague directions if you ask me ) and yet it’s also associated with wealth and corruption.

So before having your character head off somewhere, you might want to consider if direction is important.

Related links: Symbols & More Symbols: Rock Your Writing

Conflict Collection

Princess BrideCONFLICT: It makes us turn the page, swoosh the e-reader screen, or keep watching. Superficial or profound, it drives the story forward, creates tension, and forces the protagonist to grow. Great novels have both external and internal conflicts.

Man vs Man: Including but not limited to:
  • demons/angels/gods
  • other supernatural creatures like vampires & werewolves
  • aliens
  • any manner of undead
  • any sentient being
  • family dynamics/expectations
Man vs Society: Including a host of its corresponding biases and prejudices pertaining to:
  • culture
  • ethnicity
  • race
  • age
  • gender
  • religion
  • business
  • government
  • politics ( local-state-national-world)
  • education
  • socio-economic status
  • group affiliation
  • sexual orientation
  • technology
Man vs Nature
  • climate
  • weather
  • topography
  • plant life
  • animals, vermin, insects, fish etc
  • cosmic phenomenon
Man vs Self
  • emotional health
  • physical health
  • spiritual health
  • psychological health
  • intellectual health

 Conflict escalates as the story unfolds. The Climax IS The Final Battle. Choose your weapon. Be it with a scimitar, light saber, words, or actions make sure The Final Battle causes the protagonist pain ( emotional, spiritual, psychological, and/or intellectual ) enough to see his authentic self—the ah-ha moment.

So next time you read a book or watch TV or a movie try identifing all the types and layers of conflict. Then take a look at your work in progress. Got conflict?

Related Posts: Rock Your Writing; Readin’ and Writin’

Word Spangled Banner

Word spangled banner

O say can you read
by the computer’s LCD
what so proudly we wrote
during our last creative gleaming,
whose broad themes and trite tropes
shows the protag’s deep need,
o’ver the keyboard we typed,
with much symbolic meaning.
And the misspellings red glare,
the adverbs everywhere,
gave proof to the plot
that our rising action was still there.
O say should that word-spangled chapter be saved
o’er our novel we crave
and the hope of the writing brave.

 

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

Perspectives in Reading

 Perspectives in readingEach reader brings his or her  unique perspective to a novel!
Professors even discuss the impact and implications of these viewpoints in literature classes.
Different cultures, education levels, interests, and experiences all influence the ways a reader understands a novel. Many of those viewpoints contribute to our loving or hating a story.

So before duking it out with your book club members, slapping your coworker silly, or responding to a scathing review remember they might be viewing that book wearing a different set of glasses than you.

Readers can wear many different lenses or wear a favorite. Below are the Literati approved favorites!

Which lens do you tend to favor?

  1. By far the most common is the Reader’s Response Kaleidoscope . The novel is seen through the reader’s own-personal-unique culture, attitudes, experiences, and assumptions. For example my friend the rocket engineer loves bashing movies and novels where the science is all wrong-wrong-wrong! And a history buff might laugh at a novel or movie with historical inaccuracies. Some folks deem literature classics like Moby Dick boring, while others find pulp fiction to be uninteresting.
  1. Gazing through Feminist Binoculars focuses on the cultural and social attitudes towards women, male hegemony ( power ) and the issues arising from them. Problems resulting from a male or female point of view are also observed.
  1. A Race/Ethnic Lens observes the inherent injustices and effects of prejudice and racism. This often applies to Western ideologies, identity, and paradigms either implicitly or explicitly expressed by authors or their characters. High school teachers strive to have students wear this lens when teaching To Kill A Mockingbird and Their Eyes Were Watching God.
  1. Many literati wear Genre Goggles when discussing a novel. Their book club buddies get the benefit ( cough, cough ) of their pontificating on the conventions and nuances of a particular genre. From non-fiction to fiction, a text is examined by the genre’s limitations and framework. So there better be a dead body on the first page if it’s a murder mystery! And forget about a SciFi-RomCom-UrbanFantasy-Action-Western Thriller. Their bound to blow a genre gasket!
  1. Cultural/Historical Spectacles view stories in terms of a particular period’s ideologies, traditions, and orthodoxies. Texts are read and interpreted as products of their time and place. Those unfamiliar with history are often appalled and shocked by laws and practices once consider normal—being drawn and quartered for example.
  1. The Structuralist Microscope concentrates on ways the author constructs the novel to showcase ideas and themes. They study motif, diction, paradox, form, pattern, and symbols to reveal the author’s intent. Any literature teacher well-versed in this art is sure to torture her students with analytical essays. *waves hello to my students*
  1. Donning Political Shades helps one explore social class, power, and political concerns. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged requires an eye toward the political.
  1. Peering through the Psychoanalytic Telescope allows a glimpse at human behavior, human psychology, and the internal and external conflicts of the characters. Often students in Psychology 101 classes read She’s Come Undone for just this reason.

Is there a right way to read a novel? Of course not! ( Unless you’re in my class where I expect you to explore a novel’s meaning using several lenses.)

So next time your book club is stuck in a rut try assigning perspectives to your members.

Happy reading!

 Related posts: Readin’ & Writin’ 

The Shape of Crazy

crazyWriting, by its very nature, requires a bit—OK, a whole universe of Crazy! And, yes, Crazy is capitalized because it’s an entity—without form or substance—yet decidedly a force. In fact, all creative tasks are imbued with Crazy.

Crazy takes many forms, many shapes.

What shape is your CRAZY?

Line

line

Akin to 2 sides of Star Wars’ The Force, crossing the line is an indication you’ve entered the Crazy Side. You probably know exactly where the line is too, don’t you?

 

Circle

circular reasoning

Are you really Crazy? Or is Crazy your normal? If it’s your normal how can it be Crazy?
Crazy Circular logic is sooooo fun!

 

Pyramid

pyramid

The ancients claimed it was a mystical shape, the apex being Crazy Heaven. Although you are usually firmly planted at its earthly base, you know creative paradise is only achieved with pointed Crazy.

 

Gyre

gyre

It’s a swirling mass pulling you in. Like William Blake’s poem “The Second Coming” when “mere anarchy is loosed upon“ your work you behave like a “rough beast” as “things fall apart” around you. It’s all good though. Right?

 

Star

star

It is your guide in the darkness and your cosmic twinkling light of imagination. As long as your creative star doesn’t burn out you’re in artistic heaven.

 

Cross

cross

Both your salvation and crucifixion,
it’s a thorny agony resulting in your greatest creative triumph.

 

Hourglass

hourglass

You control your Crazy, allowing a finite time to pour genius into your work.

 

Mandala

mandala1

Patterns imbued with shapes, the mandala is a tool for entering a Zen-like meditative state. Your Crazy is a planned and purposeful pathway, one in which you are in complete control. Namaste.

 

Merkabah

merkabah

An age-old sacred geometry imbued with mystical powers, this Crazy mixes religion, mindfulness, intent, and wisdom to release your divine Crazy within.

 

Double Helix

DNA_Double_Helix

The shape of life, your Crazy begets more Crazy and is an intrinsic part of your DNA, the strands linking your complex thought processes.

 

So, what shape is your Crazy?

 

Related posts: Readin’ & Writing; Life & Laughter