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Archive for November, 2009

Writers block definition: (according to Encarta dictionary)

situation when writer cannot write: an inability on the part of a writer to start a new piece of writing or continue an existing one

 

I had several topics in mind to write about this week, but developed an unexpected case of writer’s block. Many people say writer’s block is really just an excuse not to write, and maybe that’s true—or maybe not.

Today’s block has nothing to do with my mental state as I’m full of ideas, but my kids came home from college yesterday and life has become hectic. Today I had to go grocery shopping to pick up the last minute necessities for our Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, returned some books to the library so I wouldn’t get charged a late fee, and spent hours talking to my daughter.  I would have preferred writing over shopping, but nothing is more wonderful than spending time with my children.

I’d be happy to hear your views on writer’s block, and may even do a post later on ways to overcome it when the writing stalls for lack of ideas. But right now I’ve got cats walking on my keyboard, stereo music blaring in the room next to me, and the television is so loud that I can’t concentrate. I’m going to go make a pie and some brownies, boil eggs, and get things ready for tomorrow’s celebration of Thanksgiving.

I appreciate each of you who visits my blog. It makes the time and effort to keep this blog going worthwhile.

Thank you.

Carol

 

 

Here’s a picture of some turkeys walking through my yard. They didn’t stay for the traditional turkey dinner…

 

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

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When we get ready to send out a query, one of the things an agent or editor will want to know is what genre the manuscript fits into. According to the Encarta dictionary, genre means:

1. category of artistic works: one of the categories, based on form, style, or subject matter, into which artistic works of all kinds can be divided. For example, the detective novel is a genre of fiction.

Knowing the genre helps determine your target market, and gives agents and editors an idea of what comparable books have been written. If the market is saturated with that genre, or it is in a genre that has been selling especially well, that might affect the agent’s or editor’s interest in your manuscript.

Agents and editors each have their own area of interest, so you don’t want to waste your time, or theirs, sending queries to places that don’t handle the type of work you’ve written. But sometimes a novel or nonfiction book will contain elements of more than one genre, making it hard to classify. One way to narrow it down is to visualize where you’d expect to find your book if you went looking for it in a bookstore. For example, where would your young-adult-historical-romantic-suspense novel (or whatever you’ve written) fit best on the bookshelf at Barnes and Noble?

Choosing the appropriate genre can be confusing, so I’m going to write a series of blog posts about some of the genres in fiction and in nonfiction. I’ll do one or two a week, so if there’s one you’d like me to discuss right away, leave a request in the comments. In the meantime, here are some sites that list some of the different genres in fiction:

http://www.agentquery.com/genre_descriptions.aspx  A list and brief explanation of some basic genres in fiction

http://www.cuebon.com/ewriters/genres.html A long list of genres, with lots of subgenres

 http://www.writersdigest.com/article/genredefinitions/  Writer’s Digest list of subgenres, with brief descriptions

 

What genre you do prefer reading? If you’re a writer, what genre does your work usually fit into?

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Rachel Zurakowski, an Assistant Literary Agent at Books & Such, invited bloggers who focus on writing-related or publishing topics to share their site links in a blog Carnival. She’s posted the links today, and suggests that people visit these blogs as a way of getting to know others who share our interest in writing.

I’ve visited a couple of the blogs already, and plan to take a look at all of them within the next day or so. This is a great opportunity for writers to network with each other, so those of you who have writing blogs may want to check out the Carnival at: http://www.booksandsuch.biz/blog/welcome-to-the-blog-carnival/#more-5101

According to their website, Books & Such works with a wide range of publishers (many of them Christian), and are interested in “women’s fiction, general fiction, nonfiction, gift books, children’s picture books, easy readers, and chapter books.” Rachel Zurakowski is particularly interested in books by and for the twenty to thirty-something age group.

My blog is one of those listed, so if you’re a Carnival visitor, or not, thanks for stopping by.

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An outline is a summary of the story you are going to write. It can be brief, with just the main plot points and important characters listed, or very detailed. Some people use outlines and some do not, and I think the important thing is to do what works best for you. That said, some of us don’t know what works best until we try several methods for ourselves.

In this post, I want to use the analogy I mentioned last week, comparing walking in my yard to writing a novel, in order to help explain the pros and cons of outlining.

The first picture shows my novel idea hiding in the undergrowth at the edge of my yard. It’s a beautiful but undeveloped story, surrounded by a tangle of raspberry buses, sassafras trees, scrub oaks, and plain old weeds.

 

My Story Idea

 

To see it clearly I need to get closer, but every time I make a move, the story scuttles away. I’d like for it to head down the road, giving me an easy route to follow, but my story has its own ideas.

 

The Trail or the Woods?

 

I have a choice of racing blindly through the woods in the general direction I last saw it moving, or creeping up on the story a few steps at a time. The first method (no outline) is more exciting, and will lead me down paths I don’t anticipate. I may end up with a great first draft, but I’ll probably need to do some major revisions to get the scenes to tie together smoothly. There’ll be some dead ends to clear up or get rid of, unforeseen obstacles to overcome, and some characters may get lost along the way since I haven’t taken time to think out their purpose in the story. The final result may be worth it, but I won’t know until I reach the end, wherever that may be.

 

The Rough Draft

 

By taking my time and thinking ahead (outlining), I feel sure I can guide the story towards an open spot I know is further inside the woods. I can get to know the characters better, and add in scenes that clarify what’s going on as I journey towards the climax I anticipate. I can leave clues (foreshadowing) to guide others along the route I’m following, leading to a satisfying resolution of the plot.

By loosely following my plan, I can keep the story from straying too far from where I think it should go. If I stumble onto a different, more interesting path along the way, I can always change my mind about where the story should end up and how I want to get there. But at least I always have a general idea of where I’m headed.

An outline should simply be a guide to help us reach our ultimate destination.

The End of The Story :)

 

 

Do you prepare an outline before you start writing your stories, or simply follow wherever they lead? What type of outline do you think is most useful–basic, detailed, a timeline, storyboard, notecards, or what?

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Walking in my backyard is like writing a novel without an outline. My yard is a jungle.

My backyard

The first sentence of this post is a simile. The second sentence is a metaphor. Though both compare two things, a simile uses the word “like” or “as” to show similarity. Metaphors speak of two things as if they are the same, without the use of like or as to clarify the meaning. These are two examples of figurative speech. They’re used to show an idea, person, or object in a new way, and are not to be viewed as literal comparisons.

Unfortunately, the statement in the first sentence is also very close to the truth. Next week I’ll go over the pros and cons of outlining, and show you more pictures of my yard.

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There’s lots of advice out there on how to have a successful blog, but most of it seems aimed at bloggers who sell a product. Here are a few things that I’ve done that might be useful for other writers, as well as people with different types of blogs:

Use some kind of statistics to analyze your traffic. WordPress has a basic statistics page built in, and you can see which posts people click on most often as well as the search terms that brought them to your blog. Knowing what people are interested can help you write related posts.

Have a theme of some sort for your blog. You don’t have to stick to it all the time, but if the majority of the posts relate to a certain topic you’ll be more likely to attract a regular audience of people interested in that subject.

Customize your blog header. Add a log line indicating what your blog’s theme is, and if possible include a picture that sets your blog apart from others using the same template. You don’t want it to be mixed up with anyone else’s blog. Make yours memorable.

Keep most of your posts short. In your longer posts, keep the paragraphs short as the empty space in between them makes the posts easier to read. Visitors seem more attracted to posts that are quickly and easily read.

Use lists. For your key points, use numbered lists or bullets for emphasis, especially if you’re discussing something technical. This makes the content easier to read and remember.

Respond to everyone who takes time to comment on your posts. It’s courteous and also seems to encourage people to return.

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get many comments. I’ve been getting over 100 visitors a day, and only a few of them leave comments. If I didn’t have a visitor counter on this blog, I’d think I was talking to myself most of the time.

Leave comments on other blogs. If you include your blog link when you fill out the comment form, other bloggers may click on it to see what type of blog you have. (However, if you’re signed in on WordPress and visit another WordPress blog, you aren’t asked for identifying information. The blog link will only be generated with your name if you’ve put the URL to your blog in the “website” line in your account profile. That’s something I learned today, after 8 months of not having my link listed.)

Use key words. Repeat important words several times in the body of your post, and also put words related to the content in the title. Search engines look for those words and are more likely to refer people to those posts.

Include links to earlier posts. If you add the link to an earlier post when you’re writing about a related topic, people often click on it. This lets you cover subjects in greater depth with several short posts rather than one huge one.

Edit Februay 17, 2010: I ran across a helpful post  by Suzannah at Write it Sideways, dealing with reasons a post might flop. Check it out.

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February 24, 2012:  Agent Amanda Luedeke has some great suggestions for bloggers in her series, 5 Rules of Blogging Well, 7 Ways to Grow Your Blog Readership, and Blogging as a Fiction Author.

Jane Friedman also has some good tips, 5 Keys to Writing for an Online Audience.

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What are some ways you make your blog stand out from others? Do you have any suggestions for people wanting to attract more readers to their blog?

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In fiction, characters experience struggles, or conflicts, that they must deal with and attempt to overcome. Some conflict is internal, between the character and his or her own conscience. Some is external, occurring between the character and someone else, or with an outside force such as nature, society, technology, or the supernatural.

The plot depends on conflict to hold the readers’ interest and to move the story forward. As the conflict builds, the story escalates in tension and eventually reaches the climax. The events after the climax decrease in tension, and resolve the story’s main conflict.

Without conflict of some kind, the plot will be flat and uninteresting. No matter the genre, there won’t be a climax without the rising tension that conflict creates. Whether it’s a romance, a thriller, a literary work, or science fiction, readers want to experience the thrill of the struggle, either internal or external, and see how the characters overcome it.

(Encarta dictionary): Conflict

LITERATURE  plot tension: opposition between or among characters or forces in a literary work that shapes or motivates the action of the plot

 

Edit November 17, 2009: Agent Nathan Bransford has a helpful blog post about conflict: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/03/on-conflict.html

 

Do you prefer stories that focus on internal conflicts or do you prefer those that deal mainly with external conflicts?   

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Just between you and me, I was about to call it a day, but at the last minute I decided there’s no time like the present to write a post about clichés. I thought this would be a piece of cake, a slam dunk, a no brainer. However, the more I bat the idea around, the more I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place. Now I’m grasping at straws, but hope springs eternal so keep your fingers crossed that I can get all the bits and pieces of this topic in order and not have to go back to the drawing board.

I could go on forever, but I’m sure you’ve heard all this before—after all, that’s what it means to be a cliché.  

Cliché: overused expressiona phrase or word that has lost its original effectiveness or power from overuse  (Encarta dictionary)

As writers, our job is to choose words that will effectively convey the image we have in our mind to our readers’ minds. There may be occasions when a cliché is the best way to say what we mean, and sometimes using one can help make the dialog more realistic. If we use them too often, though, our writing will be boring and ineffective. We need to avoid clichés and develop our own writing voice.

We also need to be aware of plot clichés. For example, there’s the mystery where “the butler did it;” the villain who delays killing the hero so he can brag about how much smarter he is, why he did whatever it was, etc., giving the hero time to escape; and the ugly duckling that turns into the beautiful swan story. When people have seen a plot device so often that they can anticipate what will happen next, they may not care enough about the story to keep reading. We’ll increase our chance of success as writers if our stories include a unique twist, memorable characters, and a distinctive voice.

To help you identify them in your writing, here are some links to sites listing clichés:

http://clichesite.com/categories.asp   lists of clichés

http://www.westegg.com/cliche/    lists of clichés

http://www.writing-world.com/romance/cliches.shtml   clichés in romance novels

http://www.amethyst-angel.com/cliche.html   Clichés in fantasy stories

Edit March 2, 2012:  Today on his blog, Agent Nathan Bransford wrote a helpful post on plot clichés vs archetypes. http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/03/archetype-vs-cliche.html

 

What clichés drive you stark raving mad? What’s your favorite cliché?

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Deus ex machina, according to the Encarta dictionary, is a noun that means:

1. unconvincing character who resolves plot: an improbable character or unconvincing event used to resolve a plot
2. god who resolves plot: in ancient Greek and Roman theater, a god introduced to resolve a complicated plot

As writers, we must try to come up with believable endings for our stories. That doesn’t mean we can’t have something extraordinary happen. What we must avoid doing is bringing in someone or something that wasn’t previously involved with the story simply to fix whatever problem the characters face.

During the climax, if our characters are not able to solve their own problems it’s tempting to resort to a supernatural event or outside interference to save them. That’s fine if it fits with other events, has been foreshadowed, or can be explained within the context of the story. If it’s a clumsy, contrived intervention, the readers may feel like we’ve cheated—and that makes it a “deus ex machina.”

The falling action after the climax leads to the resolution (denouement) of the conflict, and if the reasons for what happened seem believable, readers will accept the ending even if they don’t like it.

Do you feel cheated when the ending of a story uses a deus ex machina? Can you think of stories or situations where using one might work effectively?

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Most stories have 5 stages: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution (denouement). Although most exposition occurs in the first stage, it is also used to introduce new scenes and new characters throughout the story. It’s the explanation of what happened before the current story begins (backstory), the details about the time period and location that comprise the setting, and the description of the characters. It puts the current story in context so the reader understands what is going on, why things happen the way they do, and what motivates the characters. It can reveal the theme of the story, set the mood, and explain the plot.

 

Much of the exposition is done through narration, but long sections of it tend to slow the pace of the story and may be viewed as an information dump. Keep exposition to a minimum, providing just the essential information. Avoid mentioning anything that doesn’t advance the plot, help the reader visualize the characters or setting, or set the tone. Instead of giving long explanations at the beginning of a scene, try to incorporate the important details into the action, or have them expressed through the characters’ dialog or interior monologues. Even though exposition is necessary to explain the story, it is not a part of the story itself and should not overshadow the plot.

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