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Archive for July, 2010

Laura Best, author of Bitter, Sweet, which was recently nominated for the prestigious Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People, has generously awarded me the Versatile Blogger award. Thank you, Laura.

 

The rules involved with this award require me to share 7 things about myself and pass on the award to recently discovered blogs I enjoy. After much thought, I’ve come up with a list of things that even my closest friends might not know, but also won’t embarrass me to admit. Here you go:

1. I hide the candy I don’t want to share in the top drawer of the file cabinet on the right side of my desk.

2. I totally dislike wearing shoes, but love owning lots of them.

3. My favorite ride at Disney World is Splash Mountain.

4. I cry every time I watch the movie Ghost, but it’s still one of my favorites.

5. I am a compulsive list-writer, but I seldom follow the list.

6. Of all the things I would like to do before I die, taking a cruise to Alaska is number 1 on my list.

7. My favorite way to relax is to sit on my deck early in the morning with a cup of coffee, a book, my dog, and a camera.

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I’ve repeatedly referred you to my Blogs I Like page, and still think all of the ones listed there are awesome. This time, however, I’m going to list some that aren’t already mentioned there in order to give other good blogs some exposure. I haven’t spent a lot of time on these, but they each offer a variety of posts I think you will enjoy.

My nominations for 5 recently discovered blogs I like (I’ll add more as I run across them):

http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com/  great for those interested in writing for children

http://caseylmccormick.blogspot.com/ spotlights agents and gives tips for writers

http://wordsharpeners.wordpress.com/  lots of good stuff here for writers and nonwriters

http://jodyhedlund.blogspot.com/  useful tips for writers and bloggers

http://writeitsideways.com/  has good tips for writers

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Anyone have secrets you’d like to share today? What’s your favorite amusement park ride? What’s the number 1 thing you’d like to do before you die? What movie makes you cry no matter how many times you watch it?

 

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My daughter is vacationing in New York this week. Yesterday she called to tell me what a wonderful time she’s having. When I asked what she liked best so far, she replied: “We can walk everywhere! It’s only a few blocks to anywhere you want to go, and the buildings are so close together that we already walked to 7 different stores. We can even walk to the beach.”

Today she called to tell me they were waiting for a glimpse of the President, who was supposed to land in a helicopter close to where they were standing. They’d walked to Chinatown, Wall Street, and Times Square already this morning, and planned to walk to several more sites before heading back to her friend’s house. She said she was tired of walking, and everything was too crowded. There were buildings everywhere!

Funny how the things she found exciting yesterday were the same things she was tired of today. Too much of a good thing, I guess.

In writing, we can have too much of a good thing too. A fast-paced thriller with no time for the reader to pause and absorb what’s going on can become monotonous. Too much narrative can slow down the pace so much that readers become bored. Too many pointless scenes can leave a reader wondering what the story is about.

Finding the right balance for all the story elements can be difficult, and that balance will vary with different genres. However, when we eliminate everything that doesn’t move the story forward, or doesn’t give a better understanding of the characters, theme, and setting, we’ll have the best chance of keeping readers turning the pages with the same enthusiasm they had when they started.

 

too much vacation

What type of things cause you to lose interest in a book even though you enjoyed the first few chapters? What have you seen too much of in the books you’ve read lately? Are there certain genres or subjects that you’ve grown tired of reading about? What books can you think of that held your interest from start to finish, and what made them so good?

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Despite the clothes, the props, and the setting I fashioned for my deck chair earlier today, he failed to live up to my expectations for a character worthy of his own story. He was flat rather than well-rounded, and content watching life pass him by rather than taking an active role in it. That type of character might help move a story forward in the same way a movie extra does, but main characters need to be fully developed.

Here are a few things you can do to keep your characters from being lifeless and flat:

1. Give each of them a distinctive voice. Readers should be able to recognize the speech patterns and thoughts of each of the main characters.

2. Make the dialog believable, but leave out the boring conversational crutches that real people depend upon—like discussing the weather (unless it’s crucial to the plot).  

3. Let the character’s personal taste in clothes and possessions hint at her values and goals.

4. Have the choices they make reveal their personality strengths and weaknesses.

5. Show characters acting and reacting in ways the reader will understand and empathize with.

6. Pay attention to the little details that distinguish real people from one another, like the way they respond to children, the type of goodies they keep in a bowl on the kitchen counter, or the personal tics they display when they’re nervous.

Here are some sites that offer good suggestions to help create believable characters:

http://niemanstoryboard.us/1998/01/01/building-character-what-the-fiction-writers-say/

Rounded characters vs flat ones

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http://hollylisle.com/fm/Articles/wc2-2.html

Creating empathetic characters

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http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/2009/11/giving-your-characters-life.html

Giving your characters life

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http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2008/06/character-and-plot-inseparable.html

Characters and plots

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Can an exciting plot keep you reading even if the characters are poorly developed? Do you relate better to characters that have values or beliefs similar to your own, or does that matter when you’re reading? How can writers make characters believable if they haven’t experienced the things they are writing about—like murder, romance, super powers, etc?

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I’ve come up with a great idea for a story about Mr. Chair. Here’s a picture of him.

Mr. Chair

Right now my idea is sort of vague, so you may have trouble telling him apart from his brothers. After I give him a few unique characteristics, I’m sure he will be a guy you’ll enjoy as much as I do.

I think he needs to be a little older to fit the story I have in mind, and perhaps a new wardrobe will make him stand out from the crowd. A few accessories that help readers infer something about his personality, a distinctive setting, and a plot that wouldn’t be as interesting without him will all help Mr. Chair serve a useful purpose in my story—as well as on my deck.

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Here he is, full of life and ready for the spotlight. He has a supporting cast, a setting that fits his personality, and a sexy, off-the-shoulder shirt that will entice passers-by to give him a second look. A combination of rugged strength and a hint of softness add to his appeal. Maybe I’ll even change his name to Reed Decker. Wouldn’t he look great on the cover of a book?

Reed Decker

Do your characters blend in with the crowd, or are they easily recognized by their unique qualities? How do you come up with distinctive character traits? What characteristics make a protagonist likeable or unlikeable? Can villains have some of the same traits as heroes; and if so, which ones?

(Yes, I realize this is a silly post. Blame Barbara Ann.)

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My dear friend Elizabeth has awarded me the Blog with Substance Award on the basis that she thinks my blog has substance. In order to accept it I must share five words that sum up my blogging philosophy, motivation, and experience. Though I may not always provide posts that live up to my ideals, here are 5 words that describe my intentions for this blog:

1. Informative: I try to provide information that I think is helpful for anyone interested in improving their writing or in learning about the writing craft.

2. Concise: I try not to be too wordy.

3. Relevant: I try not to get too far off track from my goal of keeping my topics related to writing.

4. Encouraging: I try to respond to comments in a positive way, and to be supportive of the people who read my blog.

5. Responsive: I try to reply to all comments, and to provide posts that correspond to the search terms that appear most frequently in my blog statistics.

I’m also supposed to nominate blogs that I feel qualify as blogs with substance. This is hard as all the blogs listed on my Blogs I Like page qualify for the award on that basis. Instead, I’ve decided to list the blogs I check most often. (A few of my favorite bloggers post only once a week or less, so I’m not mentioning them here even though I check for new posts weekly. I’m also not nominating Elizabeth’s blog since she’s the one who gave me the award, and therefore automatically qualifies. ;) )

In random order, I regularly read posts by the following bloggers:

Lua Fowles  http://likeabowloforanges.wordpress.com/

Barbara Ann Wright  http://barbaraannwright.wordpress.com/

Jon Strother  http://jmstrother.com/MadUtopia/

Laura Best   http://lauraabest.wordpress.com/

Carol Garvin  http://careann.wordpress.com/

Carla Gade  http://writingtodistraction.blogspot.com/

What are the blogs you read most often? With so many blogs out there, what makes you choose certain ones to read regularly? What causes you to skip a blog, or a blog post, when you are browsing blogs?

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Women’s fiction is a term that refers to stories where the female protagonist deals with situations and relationships that challenge her and affect her emotional growth.

The subjects and themes of these books can cover a wide range of issues that women face. Relationships with other people are important, and are an integral part of the story. Though there is often a love interest, it isn’t the central focus.

What’s most important is the woman’s emotional development as she pursues her dreams, fights her fears, or overcomes obstacles life throws her way. These stories touch the emotions, and don’t necessarily have a happy ending. Like any book, though, women’s fiction does need an ending that satisfies readers.

Women’s fiction tends to be more commercial than literary, but doesn’t fit the narrower restrictions of genre fiction. It appeals to a wide, mainstream audience and generally will be shelved with general fiction in a bookstore.

Examples of books considered women’s fiction (per Barnes & Noble) are:

Picture Perfect, by Jodi Picoult

Fly Away Home, by Jennifer Weiner (this one is also listed under Literary on Amazon, and Commercial Fiction on Free Book Friday)

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

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What other books can you think of that would be considered women’s fiction?  What, if anything, appeals to you about this type of book?

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After completing your rough draft and revising it until you’re satisfied with the basic structure and content, it’s time to start polishing it for submission.

At this stage you may want to get someone else’s input on your work. Some people have critique partners look over their manuscripts, but even readers who aren’t writers can offer useful insights into problems with clarity, pacing, characterization, or awkward sentences.

This is also the time to review your manuscript for:

1. Errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Don’t rely on the spell check function of your word processor as it isn’t always right. Words that sound the same but are spelled differently (homophones) are easy to overlook when editing.

Make sure you’re following the appropriate style guide for the publisher you’re targeting. Agent Rachelle Gardner suggests making an Editorial Style Sheet to help keep track of pertinent details that an editor will want to know about your manuscript.

http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/2010/07/keeping-track-of-details.html

2. Smooth transitions between paragraphs and scenes.

Make sure your point of view changes are clearly indicated.

Try to have a cliffhanger or unanswered question at the end of each chapter to entice people to keep reading.

3. Correct format and headers.

Using the proper manuscript format is essential to make your writing look professional. In the absence of specific guidelines, use a standard format: double spacing for hard copies, 1 inch margins, black Courier or Times New Roman 12 point font, headers with last name, title, and page number. Don’t forget a cover page. (See my post on manuscript formatting.)

Each manuscript will have special needs. There are many resources available on line and in books to help you figure out what’s best for yours. Many people also pay free-lance editors, or book doctors, to help them get their work ready to submit. If you decide to hire an editor, be sure to check their background and references before entering into a contract with them.

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What are the final steps you take to prepare your manuscript for submission to an agent or editor? Do you have any tips to share about revising or polishing a manuscript? What type of feedback do you ask for from friends, family, or critique partners?

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