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Archive for the ‘Writing Tips’ Category

By now I expected to have several posts up, be well on my way to completing my contest submissions, and have the basement cleaned out. None of those things has happened yet and January is almost over. On the positive side, though, I’ve read several books, come up with some blog post topics, and worked on my novel.

For today I have a useful tidbit of information to share with those of you who like tools to keep track of your writing progress. Svenja Liv has 4 free awesome spreadsheet themes for keeping track of your word count goals. Although I’m not experienced with Excel, I was able to download the steampunk spreadsheet template and correctly enter my data with no problem. I also use her site to update my progress bar, which is located in my blog’s sidebar. I fill in my data on her site, then copy and paste it into the widget area of my blog. These tools don’t get the writing done, but they are a visual reminder to me of how far I’ve come, and how far I need to go.

 

EDIT FEB. 15, 2013  The link to Svenja Liv’s site is broken. Not sure when/if it will be available. If I find another source for tracking tools, I will post it here. :(

 

 

Are you making progress toward the goals you set for yourself? Do you use word count templates or tracking tools that you would recommend?

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My latest addiction is TheJigsawPuzzles.com. As a child I enjoyed working jigsaw puzzles with my mom and grandmother, but with an active family and 5 cats I’ve never had a safe spot to lay out the pieces of a traditional puzzle in my own home. Problem solved! With virtual puzzles, I don’t have to worry about losing pieces or keeping tiny feet from destroying hours of work. And puzzles can be a lot of work.

Putting together jigsaw puzzles may seem a wasteful use of time to some people but it has helped me get a clearer focus on my writing goals. Here are 4 analogies I’ve noted regarding jigsaw puzzles and effective writing techniques.

 

1. Working on a project I truly enjoy makes it easier to get through the difficult parts.

Whether it’s a puzzle or a story/article, if I’m not interested in the subject matter and hit a rough patch, it’s tempting to quit. External motivations such as money or praise from others may help, but the internal satisfaction I get from doing something I enjoy is often the primary factor in achieving my goals

 

2. Having a clear idea of the big picture helps tremendously.

I choose puzzles that fit my mood, and sometimes they involve lots of colors and unfamiliar subject matter. Having a picture of the completed puzzle to refer to as I work helps me organize the pieces and determine their approximate placement when I get stuck. The same holds true with my writing. I’m not a strict outliner, but knowing the basic story and key plot points or talking points helps me stay focused on the end result.

 

3. Breaking the project down into smaller components keeps it from being overwhelming and provides structure for areas that may be ill-defined.

The larger the puzzle the harder it feels, but there are ways to make things more manageable. Putting together the outside pieces first is very helpful, providing a framework and a place to start building connections as well as reducing the number of loose pieces I have to deal with. It hints at what goes in each area, so when I’m sorting through the remaining pieces I have a general idea of where they may belong.

When an idea or scene doesn’t seem to fit what I’m currently working on, setting it aside until the writing project is further along may help clarify where it should go. In the same way, formulating the beginning and end of a chapter, scene, or paragraph helps determine what is needed in the middle.

 

4. Knowing the basics of how things work and customizing the process to fit my needs increases the likelihood of achieving my goals.

Each puzzle site I’ve visited operates in a slightly different way, and it took a while to learn how to navigate them comfortably. The online site I like best lets me see a picture of the complete puzzle as I work, has a button that lets me automatically separate the edge pieces from the others, has a timer I can use to pace myself, and lets me choose how many pieces I want the puzzle to contain and the style of the cuts. By customizing a puzzle to fit my interests and abilities I don’t get overwhelmed with something I’m not capable of handling. With practice, my skills improve and I’m able to take on more complex puzzles. I’ve also learned how to upload my own pictures and turn them into custom puzzles to share with friends.

The process of becoming a successful writer requires an understanding of how the writing and publishing process works, and also requires some customization to meet our individual needs.  Each of us has different experiences and skills, so our roadmaps to success may follow different routes.  Being aware of our strengths and weaknesses can help us figure out where we need additional help to achieve our goals, and we can work on those areas first in order to maximize our chance of success. When writing, knowing where to look for help with grammar issues, being aware of the proper format for the type of writing we are doing, and understanding how to use the basic features of our word processing program will make writing projects less stressful and more professional in appearance. Understanding how agents and editors expect us to submit our work to them, and following their guidelines, will give our submissions an advantage over our less-knowledgeable competitors.

 

 

Do you enjoy working jigsaw puzzles? What is your favorite way to “waste” time? What writing resources do you recommend for people who might be struggling down the road to success?

 

 

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Whether writing or speaking, the words we use convey images to our audience.  The literal, dictionary definition of a particular word is its denotation; the implied meaning or perception associated with it is its connotation.  Selecting the right words for the thoughts we want to communicate requires knowing both their literal meaning and the emotional context surrounding them.

Many words have positive, negative, or neutral connotations that add color to their literal meanings. For example, calling someone a chef will generally imply more skill and prestige than saying they are a cook, even though both words denote a person whose job is preparing food to eat. Saying a woman’s hair looks nice can have a neutral, or perhaps negative, connotation even though the word “nice” is generally considered complimentary. Seeing the name of an inner-city gang scrawled across the wall of a building might make a gang member feel pride, but the same sight might incite anger or fear in other people in the community. Factors such as age, culture, education, and life experiences will affect how a person perceives certain words. 

Using words that connote more than their literal meaning can affect the tone and mood of what we write, and adds depth to both fiction and nonfiction by stimulating the reader’s imagination and invoking an emotional response.

 

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What are some words you react to based on their connotation more than their denotation?  What type of words do you view as “neutral?”  Do you think about the meaning of the words you are using more when you are writing than when you are speaking?

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In general, mysteries follow the typical story structure of an enticing beginning, a middle building tension to the climax, and a satisfying ending. Sometimes these stories feel more like a circle, though, as they may open with a crime (often a murder) or other event that needs investigating and end with that mystery being solved. Many of them are part of a series of books that have the same protagonist. Those books may end with an event that leaves open the possibility of a new mystery.

Mysteries tend to be somewhat formulaic, with subgenres that have characteristics readers can rely on. The protagonists range from hard-boiled detectives to amateur sleuths and can be any age. Though characterization and setting are important elements, the plot is always the central focus of the story.

Clues are interspersed throughout the story so readers feel involved in solving the mystery along with the protagonist. An occasional red herring to throw the detective—and readers—off track is fine, but the twists and turns of the plot must make sense when the outcome is revealed. Mysteries must be solved using logic rather than supernatural means or deus ex machina.

This is a genre that’s popular with readers of all ages. Some mysteries involve elements of romance, fantasy, or suspense, and the degree of danger to the protagonist varies. Factual accuracy is important, and certain types of mysteries require extensive research to create a believable story.

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Some common types of mysteries are:

The Cozy: usually involves an amateur sleuth in a small-town setting, with little violence involved

—For more on cozies, check out http://www.cozy-mystery.com/Definition-of-a-Cozy-Mystery.html

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Private Eyes: a hired investigator follows clues to solve the mystery       

—A good site for more info is http://www.writing-world.com/mystery/PI.shtml

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Hard-boiled Detectives: police investigate crimes involving violence, with a gritty feel to the story

—If you’re interested in crime fiction, you might enjoy http://www.crimeculture.com/

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For a more complete description of subgenres, check out http://www.writing-world.com/mystery/genres.shtml  or  http://ticket2write.tripod.com/id29.html

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For more tips on writing mysteries, here are a few helpful sites:

http://fictionwriting.about.com/od/genrefiction/tp/mysteryrules.htm  General mystery writing tips

http://www.right-writing.com/child-mysteries.html  Writing mysteries for kids

http://www.writing-world.com/mystery/floyd.shtml  Writing short stories

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What type of mystery stories do you enjoy? Who are some of your favorite mystery authors? Who is your favorite fictional detective?

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Sometimes I get so caught up in the details of a particular scene, or involved with developing one character, that I lose sight of the big picture.

Losing My Perspective

This is especially frustrating when writing the first draft since events later on may change portions of what I’ve already written. It’s tempting to go back and revise earlier chapters or scenes to take into account things that happen later, but in most cases this isn’t the best approach for a first draft. You can lose momentum, or you may come up with an idea you like better later down the line–meaning you have to revise the beginning yet again. One way to minimize this problem is to put off the editing process until the entire story is down on paper.

Get the bare bones of the story down before you start editing, then set it aside for a while. When you go back to it, you’ll be able to read it more objectively and clearly see errors or plot holes in what you’ve written. Knowing how everything fits together will help you layer in details, foreshadow events, leave clues, develop subplots, and clarify what’s going on.

 

 

The Big Picture

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Do you wait until the first draft is complete to make major revisions, or revise as you go? How do you keep track of things that you change later in the story, such as details about the backstory, or name changes? At what point do you start checking the grammar and punctuation?

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If you’re planning to give a pitch to an agent or editor at a conference, you may want to take a one sheet, or pitch sheet, with you. Some resources use these terms interchangeably, but some say a one sheet covers all of your work while a pitch sheet is designed to help you present just one book or series. Regardless of the term, a one page summary comes in handy when you get a chance to present your work.

In addition to your full contact information, this page should include a professional-quality photo of yourself, and an author bio. Also write a short blurb about the book or series you’re pitching. Make it enticing, like the short summaries you see on the back cover of books in a store.

These sheets should showcase you and your work. Although you should use white paper and black text, it’s acceptable to use photos and some simple graphic design elements, including colored ink, but don’t let those features overpower the story. A template for a flyer or newsletter may help you get the look you want.

If you’re more comfortable with a simple document, go with that rather than trying to create something fancy. Their purpose is to give you one more tool to use in your effort to entice an agent or editor to ask to see more of your work, and an amateurish one sheet will probably not do that.

Author Kaye Dacus goes into more detail than I have, and also give examples:

http://kayedacus.com/2007/08/28/beyond-the-first-draft%E2%80%94the-pitch-sheet-and-one-sheet/

Another helpful reference is by Tracy Ruckman:

http://www.tracyruckman.com/downloads/One%20Sheets.pdf

Amy Wallace has an example that includes different books:

http://www.amywallace.com/pdfs/One_Sheet_Sample.pdf

Although I’ve seen one sheets recommended on several agents’ blogs, they seem to be optional. 

EDIT AUGUST 9, 2011: Agent Rachelle Gardner discusses one sheets on her blog today, and has links to several excellent examples her clients submitted. 

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Have you ever prepared a one sheet/pitch sheet? What’s the first thing you’d say to an agent if you were going to pitch something to them? What would you talk about with a conference faculty member who wasn’t an agent or editor if you were given the opportunity of a one-on-one meeting?

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On my way to do errands yesterday, I stopped at Dairy Queen for a chocolate-covered-strawberry Blizzard. I sat in my car and enjoyed the breeze blowing through the windows as I savored the ice cream and admired the waving fields of corn across the street. My thoughts drifted from one topic to another as I relaxed for the first time in days, alone and loving it.

Out of nowhere, a big ole SUV pulled into the parking spot next to me. The wind blew snippets of conversation, laughter, and exhaust fumes into my car, and the peace I’d felt moments before flew out the window. Though I’m usually a sociable person, it annoyed me that the other driver had parked right beside me when there were plenty of empty spots in the lot. It felt like an intrusion on my personal space.

Author intrusion in a story feels the same way. It pulls a reader out of the fictional setting and makes her notice something else. There are several ways this can happen:

The narrator makes a comment or observation that isn’t consistent with what the reader has been led to expect from the viewpoint character.

Dialog seems directed toward the reader as a way of explaining backstory, or as a means of inserting the author’s personal views, rather than being a natural part of the story.

Details regarding the setting or characters aren’t consistent, causing the reader to pause and question what the author has written.

Holes in the plot, outdated information, or factual errors can confuse or annoy readers, pulling them out of the make-believe world the author created.

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What other ways does an author intrude on a story? What things annoy you when reading a story?

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