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Archive for June, 2010

I was going to write a post on revising manuscripts today, but instead I spent most of the morning ordering food from the menu of a local sports-themed restaurant. My daughter got a job as a waitress there and she can’t start getting paid tips until she has memorized the menu and finished the training program. The entire family has been recruited as practice customers. Thankfully, the food is pretend and so is the bill, or we’d be stuffed and broke.

There are several things she repeated so many times that I’ve memorized them, too. Some of them reminded me of writing:

1. I will never forget that my daughter’s/waitress’ name is Lisa. She greeted me with that opener for every practice meal I ordered.

Repeating the same thing can be very annoying, and most people only need to hear something once or twice to catch your meaning.

2. This restaurant is famous for its wings, and I can name all nine sauces they serve with them.

Stories should have a theme people can recognize, with scenes and events that support it.

3. When served in a glass, beer comes in short and tall sizes. I learned 8 of them, and know the price for each one. As I’ve never been a beer drinker, I doubt this will ever matter to me.

Including bits of information a reader might not know can add interest to a story or article, but too many useless facts can feel like homework.

4. Lemonade isn’t listed on the menu, but is available in several flavors for $2.29. This was important for me to know as I always ask for lemonade with a meal, except for breakfast.

Don’t assume readers know what you’re thinking. They may be able to infer things from the backstory you provide, but some elements need to be clear for the reader to fully enjoy your story.

5. Burgers don’t come with fries. You have to pay extra.

Some readers will feel cheated if a story doesn’t deliver what they expect or doesn’t tie up loose ends. They shouldn’t have to buy the second book in the sequel to feel satisfied with the first one.

I’ll share a few more tips on waitressing and writing when I finish the post on revisions. ;) That’s taking more time than I expected due to family matters and extra reading I’ve been doing. I’m working on 2 book reviews, and trying to get in 2,000 words each day on the new novel I’m writing. That’s going very well, much to my surprise. My goal is to finish it before October, and so far I’m staying on track. Yeah, me!

 hamburger

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What keeps you from sticking to your writing goals? What job would you want to have if you weren’t planning on being a writer? What’s the worst job you ever had, or the best? About how many words do you write on an average writing day?

 

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Everyone thinks and writes in a unique way, and there isn’t one method of writing that will perfectly fit each person’s needs. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, though, there are a few things you can do to help organize your ideas and get your first draft completed.

1. Read widely in the genre or niche in which you plan to write. Take notes on what works for you and what doesn’t. For example, how much dialog is there compared to narrative? How does the author speed up or slow down the pace to build tension? When does the first conflict appear, and is it believable? In nonfiction, how is the material organized?

2. Keep a notebook or computer file of things you see, hear, or read that are unusual, amazing, thought-provoking, or inspirational. These tidbits of life may spark ideas to use in your work, adding a unique touch to a scene or giving you an interesting angle to approach an old topic.

3. Consider making a flexible outline or storyboard before you start. Jot down key points you think should be developed, and a basic timeline. When you aren’t sure what happens at a particular spot on the timeline, simply phrase a question to show your uncertainty and list a couple of possible answers to generate ideas to work on later. Keep that information handy in case your writing feels like it’s moving off track, but if it’s moving in a better direction don’t hesitate to change your outline. It’s supposed to be a guide, not a law.

4. Set a goal of being as productive as possible whenever you sit down to write. Don’t worry about the quality when you’re working on a first draft, focus on quantity. You’ll never finish if you keep going back to revise what you’ve already written. Editing is step 2, not step 1.

An interesting idea I read about but haven’t tried is to turn off the computer monitor while you’re writing. That prevents those with no self-discipline from editing as they write. The thing that would worry me about that, though, is the possibility my fingers were not positioned correctly on the keyboard and everything I wrote might be unreadable. (That happened to me a lot in typing class my freshman year in high school.)

5. Write regularly and keep the flow going forward. Don’t skip back to change things when a better idea for a scene, character, or setting comes to mind. Just annotate the change so you can find the spot when you start revising, and write everything from that point on as if the change had taken place earlier.

6. Don’t let others read your first draft until after you reach the end. No one else will be able to steer you in the right direction until they know where you want to go. Ask for suggestions on a particular problem if necessary, but until your manuscript is complete you won’t know exactly what problems and strengths it contains. (If you’re co-authoring a book or article, this advice wouldn’t apply. Communication with the other person would be essential in that situation.)

7. Don’t give up following your dream. Most people never finish writing the first draft of a novel or nonfiction book, but some do. Be one of those who succeed.

Rather than writing a book on this topic, let me just refer you to several articles that offer advice I think is helpful:

http://hollylisle.com/fm/Articles/wc2-1.html  How to start a novel

http://www.karenmiller.net/index.cfm?page=20  Author Karen Miller on writing the first draft of a novel

http://www.storyinsight.com/techniques/creative/writing.html  Developing a rough draft

http://jerz.setonhill.edu/writing/creative/shortstory/#tension  Tips for developing short stories

http://www.spacejock.com.au/WriteANovel.html  How to write a novel, by Simon Haynes, the developer of ywriter5 (which I use for my novels)

 

Getting ideas from head to paper.

    

 

What preparations do you make, if any, before writing a story, article, or book? Do you follow a certain formula for writing—like the Snowflake method, detailed outline, etc? How many rough drafts have you completed? How many have you started but still not finished?

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My kids have given me many gifts to treasure. One I’m appreciating this morning is a nail buffer my son got me for Christmas last year.

On the rough, dark green side, in big print that I can read without my glasses, it says ATTITUDE. Underneath that it says: ULTRA NATURAL SHINE BUFFER. Farther down it lists the instructions for each side of this handy little tool:

1. Aqua—remove ridges

2. Light green—buff

3. White—miracle shining

I have a tendency to neglect my nails, not noticing the condition they’re in until I snag something or rip the end off one. A quick trim with the clippers can improve them but it takes the 3-step buffing process to make them look their best.

 

Does Your Attitude Need Polishing?

 

The same is true with writing. We start out with the basics of an idea, but if we want to share it with others we need to remove the rough ridges by putting our thoughts down on paper and refining them into something recognizable. Then we buff that rough draft, shaping it into a coherent, interesting manuscript. The last step turns our manuscript into something special—a polished, unique expression of the original idea. Leaving out any of those 3 steps keeps that great idea from reaching its full potential.

Our attitudes toward writing will determine how much polishing we’re willing to do, and will affect whether or not we attain our goals. If we write simply to satisfy our own desire to put our thoughts on paper, we can stop at step 1. If we want to share our thoughts with others, we need to proceed at least to step 2. For us to stand out from the crowd of writers hoping to attract readers, we have to complete step 3.

Tomorrow (or the next day, depending on how long it takes to polish my idea) I’ll post some tips on how to turn an idea into a rough draft. Steps 2 and 3 will be covered in subsequent posts.

 

What do you do when you get a great idea—jot it down in a notebook, put it in a file on your computer to work on later, or start working on it immediately? What’s one of the most helpful gifts you’ve received? How’s your attitude today—rough, buffed, or brightly shining?

 

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In real life, sometimes people get away with evil or immoral deeds, and sometimes innocent people suffer through no fault of their own. In literary works, good generally wins over evil, and people get what they deserve in the end—often in an ironic way. This concept is called poetic justice.

The original meaning contained a strong moral element, where justice might be doled out by God rather than through human actions. In modern times, the morality aspect is not the main focus in literature, but there is a balance that must be restored at the end of the story.

Poetic Justice:

noun  (allwords.com)

  1. The rewarding of virtue, and the punishment of vice, especially in an ironic manner

 

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What books can you think of where poetic justice prevailed in the end? Are there instances from real life you can think of where poetic justice occurred?

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The builders in the next county had a Parade of Homes last week, showcasing some of the new houses they’ve built this year. My husband and I went to 15 of them hoping to find the perfect place for our family. After seeing them all, we agreed to keep the home we have now. However, I did discover ways to make our house look more modern.

Every house had beige walls and dark wood floors. The hardware on the cabinets and doors, as well as the bathroom fixtures, was brushed chrome or antique bronze. The stairs were all carpeted, and the railings were dark brown wood with metal spindles. Most rooms had mahogany ceiling fans and wood trim that was painted white.

I must have a great sense of style because the ceiling fans and light fixtures I bought earlier this year are identical to the ones in some of the new houses, and I already switched from bright brass to brushed chrome fixtures in my kitchen. I just need to get some beige paint and you won’t be able to tell that my house was built in 1984 instead of 2010.

Personal taste doesn’t have to be sacrificed to fit the current trends, but adjusting to the changes in what’s fashionable can make our homes, and our writing, appear fresh and interesting rather than old and boring. We can update without completely changing what we have or like.

In order to recognize current trends in writing, however, we have to be familiar with what’s selling now and understand how it compares to earlier books. With that knowledge, we can apply a fresh twist to an old story, or write about a topic that’s been neglected. We’ll recognize story lines that have already been overdone, and subjects that are so common that readers are probably tired of reading about them.

Reading is a writer’s research, and the more we know about the books others have written, the easier it will be to see where there is a niche that our writing can fill.

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EDIT 6/15/10: Bookends, LLC blog has a guest post by author Christie Craig on writing advice that  really made sense to me. Her first tip dealt with trends, and it fits with what I’m trying to say in today’s post. Her other comments are also very helpful, so take a look .  :)

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About how much time do you spend reading each day? What type of material do you read most? Do you think it’s important to read the classics, or just contemporary authors? What’s the last book you read, or the next one you plan to read?

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In my previous post I enthusiastically promised an absolutely awesome video experience, which apparently was an effective hook as several people mentioned they’d be looking forward to watching it. It’s finally ready for viewing:

 

 

While turkeys obviously enjoy their rituals, there usually isn’t much going on that would interest a casual observer. Just like a novel that has a plot with poor pacing, little conflict, or a weak story line, watching the toms court their hens can be pretty boring.

In fact, some people would not consider my turkey video worth posting, much less “awesome.” You may have found it disappointing, too, after the buildup in my earlier post. And, many of you probably expected the video to relate to writing since that’s the focus of this blog. Surprise! However, there are at least 39 other turkey courtship videos on YouTube today, so I must not be the only person in the world who loves turkeys. Just goes to show that there’s probably an audience for whatever writing genre that you love, too.

When we talk about our projects to others, whether it’s in the form of a query, jacket blurb, or oral pitch, we’re trying to entice them to take a look at more of our work. When the finished product fails to live up to the hype, though, we may be rewarded with a rejection or a disappointed customer. (On the other hand, if we don’t present our work in an enthusiastic, positive way, no one else is likely to get excited about it either.)

Once someone decides to take a look at our work, we need to hook their interest and then hold on to it. We can start with a great opening, but to keep readers turning the pages we have to make sure the rest of what we’ve written lives up to their expectations. If we’ve promised suspense, there better be something suspenseful happening and it should be building up to a major climax. If people are expecting a romance, there needs to be some serious emotional involvement between the main characters. In nonfiction, whatever we’ve promised to show the readers needs to be evident.

If we fail to deliver what we’ve promised, we’ll disappoint our readers and lose our credibility.

 

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Just wanted to stop in and assure my regular blog readers that I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth. I’m learning technology in order to make my blog better, and it’s taking more time than I anticipated.

Yesterday I chatted at length with the tech support team at Kodak, trying to figure out why the video camera I got for Christmas wouldn’t load pictures onto my computer. The young man patiently explained how to do all those techie things some people seem to understand intuitively, like take out the SD card, remove the battery cover, and plug in the USB. He eventually figured out that I was using the charging cord rather than the built-in USB thing to upload the software on my camera—and, duh, it don’t work that way. (Yes, that’s grammatically incorrect, but used for effect. Isn’t it odd that someone so OCD about perfect grammar can know nothing whatsoever about technology, and not care at all?)

I’m doing this to give you an absolutely awesome video experience in my next post, which I’ve written and desperately want to share. However, I’m too cheap to pay WordPress $50 per year to upload my video directly, so I have to learn how to upload to YouTube before I can put the video on my blog. And of course the Kodak moment I want to share was stuck on my camera as I couldn’t figure out how to upload to my computer. Step 1 is now resolved, but today I tackle YouTube.

Learning how to do the basics is key to success in many ventures. As writers, we need to have at least a basic understanding of grammar, story structure, characterization, and setting. Building on those basics will allow us to create stories that captivate readers, and mastering them will set our stories apart from the ordinary ones.

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Have you ever posted to YouTube? Do you have tips for taking interesting home videos? How do you learn to use new technology? Is your writing hindered in any way by the inability to master some aspect of technology?

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