October 31, 2009

Odds and Ends

Extra Saturday post:

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, make sure to sign up with your region so you can participate in Write-Ins. Tallahassee has a Write-In nearly every weekend in November. Basically, NaNoers in Tallahassee meet together with our laptops and/or paper at the library or a bookstore or coffee and try to get our word count in for the day in the company of fellow writers. Different locales are chosen for different environments. (For example, one branch of the library allows us to bring snacks! We have other places that are more for quiet writing.)

Also, this is semi-writing related: I just got Windows 7 and so far so good. It has some nice features, though it took a while for us to figure out how to get our wireless connection to work. There are parental controls that allow me to limit my online time. I don’t know about you, but the internet is a HUGE distraction from writing, so I think I may test out those parental controls.

Now if only I could get my email set up…

Switching Gears for NaNoWriMo

Happy Halloween! Dress up, get sugared-up, and have fun!

Now, back to writing.

I know many of you are participating in NaNoWriMo this year. Me too. :) So, in theory, no one's going to have time for this blog any more, right? Haha... right...

So for the month of November, Musings will be switching gears. This will be a place to procrastinote and waste time three times a week :D Don't you love me?

My plan is to post fun stuff instead of linking to (sometimes lengthy) articles and going on and on about my own personal writing experiences. (You'll probably still get some of that, but in smaller quantities. And it should be NaNo related, too.) I'll keep my posts short so you don't have to feel guilty for checking things out.

NaNo's supposed to fun, after all, isn't it? :)

October 29, 2009

A Little History Lesson/Keeping Rejection in Perspective

First of all, I'm starting to think that a MWF posting schedule isn't going to work out. Let's try Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, shall we?

I know you're not supposed to post about rejections, but I'd like to share some perspective.

First, some history: The first manuscript I ever wrote was ... how shall I put this?... it was lacking. I sent it out to as many agents as I could find using my limited experience. (Looking back I realize how little I understood about writing and publishing back then.) I got all rejections. All of them form letters.

Shadow Bound is out in the world now. It has a chance, but I realize there's a possibility that it won't be the work that gets me published. And that's okay. I can wait. I can get better in he meantime.

I'm going to focus on how much better it is than my first manuscript. (And it's WAY better.) Some day, (if I don't get an agent for it this time) I'd like to come back to Shadow Bound and tear it apart editing. (Once I'm a better writer and tearing it apart will do it some good.) This novel has a great premise with great plot twists. (Every personalized rejection I've gotten so far has said something to this effect.)

Until then, I'd like to focus on the good. Shadow Bound has received 4 partial requests and 1 full. That's exciting for a new writer! It means that my second novel is that much better than my first. It means I'm a fast learner and it means my third novel should be considerably better still.

Have your rejections made you stronger?

October 27, 2009

Good Story Ideas and Great Characters

Here are a couple of articles about getting started--getting ideas and getting good characters. I know it's a little late to post this (for those of you doing NaNoWriMo), but the articles are good and I think they're worth a look. If you are writing a novel in November, consider this a checklist.

First, You Need a Good Idea. gives a great checklist for what a good story idea is. One thing writers need to realize is this: even if you have the BEST idea for a book, if it's not a story that gets you pumped, if it's not a story that gives you chills or makes you giddy, it's not a good book for you to write.
I could never have written Dan Brown's books, even if I had had the ideas first. I just wouldn't have done as good a job.
I think this is why we as writers probably shouldn't worry too much about people stealing our story ideas. There are exceptions, of course. Don't be careless ;)

Second: Show Some Character! This article focuses more on characters of YA fantasy, but I think the advice can be applied across the board. Make sure that your characters work hard for their happy endings. It's important that your readers connect with your main character. This is a great article that analyzes a common problem that doesn't get addressed very often.

October 23, 2009

To Quote a Famous Blogger: "You Tell Me"

I've read a little here and there about what blogs need. THEY say I need a more consistent posting schedule. Does MWF work? :)

My #1 goal is to provide something useful and/or entertaining to my readers. Otherwise, what's the point?

I'd like to hear from you. What are you struggling with in your writing? What would you like to research and read articles about, but just don't have the time or means to seek out? What would you like to read?

October 20, 2009

Best Post Ever (Not Mine)

Wow. Just wow.

10 Things I've Learned by Toni McGee Causey is probably the best single article I've read this year. I could just give you the bullet points, the 10 "things" she's learned, but that would take away from the journey.

If you're serious about writing and craft, read this article. It's long and it's worth it.

October 19, 2009

How to Get Great Ideas and What to Do With Them

Each of us has a creative side. You wouldn't be reading this if you didn't. It's that little voice in the back of your head that throws out ideas. I call mine my Muse and I've talked about her before. (Yes, my Muse is a she.)

I was thinking about what makes my Muse "sing". Typically, if your creative voice is on, your cognitive, logical voice has to be turned off. If you're familiar with right-brain, left-brain research, this is exactly what I'm talking about. Your left brain has to take a back seat if your right brain is going to have any say. (Sometimes transition is pretty quick. There are exercises you can do to help with this.)

So how do you hand the microphone to your Muse? How do you turn off the left brain?
By doing something mundane, everyday, or mind-numbing. Sounds fun, right?

My Muse hates to be bored, so when the left-brain turns off, she steps forward and tries to make things interesting. (This is why TV usually isn't a great way for me to brainstorm. My Muse is already entertained.)

So if I need some good ideas, I have to do something like fold laundry, go for a walk, rake leaves, stare at a blank computer screen, or try to fall asleep. (Unsuccessfully. Usually. I do get some awesome dreams on occasion.)
It's darn inconvenient, but I get my best ideas as I'm drifting off to sleep. (A great reason to keep a notebook handy on my nightstand.) For example, last night I was trying to sleep while my husband was reading with the light on. And a voice came into my head. Not a literal voice, just words that had personality. And the personality wasn't mine. I had struck gold!

Unfortunately, my daughter had run off with my notebook. I didn't go and look for it and of course, I don't remember the whole thing. But I'd like to share my train of thought and the words that I do remember.

I was thinking about how to begin my story. I have a premise in mind and several scenes planned out, so I wasn't starting from nothing. My mind drifted to books that I love. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine is my favorite and it's young adult fantasy, just like Phantom. Ella Enchanted started just outside the story with the first-person narrator talking about something that happened before the story actually begins.

The other book I thought of was The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. I loved this series. It was the series I wish I had written. Anyway, the book starts with Percy (the main character, also in first person) talking directly to the reader. He tells us something about the main theme of the book and beautifully melds his world with ours.

So then I moved back to my book. I'm pretty sure I want to do first person. I write better characters and cleverer detail that way. I wanted to begin my books like Riordan and Levine did.

That's when my Muse sang. (Not literally. I'm not crazy.)

The words for the beginning of my story popped into my head. My memory only recalls bits and pieces, but here's what I have:

My school is haunted. They should have seen it coming, building a boarding school where a prison used to be.
That's all I remember. Sad, huh?

So let that be a lesson to you. It's always worth getting out of your nice warm bed to go get a pen and pad when an idea hits you. Make yourself do it. You won't be sorry.

October 18, 2009

Dialogue Part 3

Some people go overboard with dialogue. Kate from Author2Author lists a few things to be aware of when writing dialogue including the big one: Dialogue slows pacing!

I recently posted on the Functions of Dialogue. While this post from The Blood-Red Pencil is similar, I love the delivery of this information and the fresh perspective. I think it's worth a read, even if you know the functions of dialogue.

And a few last minute tips:
To use dialogue to create conflict, you can list what each character in the scene wants and try to find two things that don't match up. For example, Penny wants to wear red, but her husband wants her to wear black. This can also help you throw in some interesting situational conflict. For example, maybe Penny's red and black dresses are dirty or stolen or not warm enough for the weather. Suddenly, the two of them are scrambling to make their preferred color dress wearable. (Penny throws her red dress in the wash, while her husband looks for a black shawl to put over the sleeveless dress.)
...Or something. This is just an example off the top of my head. :)

If you find your dialogue is stiff or unnatural sounding, put yourself or your best friend in the character's shoes. What would you say if someone told you XYZ?
If that doesn't work, try listening in on other people's conversation. As politely and discretely as possible. (Note: ONLY do this if your dialogue is too formal. It's not ideal if your dialogue lacks conflict.)

Any other tips? What do you do when your dialogue is stuck?

More on Dialogue

October 17, 2009

The Basics of Dialogue (and Non-Dialogue)

Writers know about basic dialogue punctuation. Right?

I was shocked to find that in my advanced fiction workshop, several students consistently failed to use proper punctuation and capitalization. I almost cried. I know everyone has to start somewhere, but I had higher expectations for an advanced writing class at a university with such a great writing program.

So, I feel obligated to include this link from Fiction Factor. Aside from punctuation, definitions, tags, and simple dos and don'ts, it includes a few simple tips for avoiding repetitive tags and a few other things.

If you think you have these basics down, I'd recommend you skip straight to Fiction Factor's post, which has several reminders that I thought were helpful. One tip they mention (that I tend to forget) is:

Unspoken dialogue can, at times, be the most powerful dialogue of all. When a character says the opposite of what she means, or says nothing at all, just looks away. This too is effective dialogue.

There's also an invaluable list of body language cues, divided by emotion, that I have to include. It's too good not to.

  • Angry? Fisted hands. Narrowed eyes. Stiff posture. Clenched jaw. Slashed mouth. Jerky movements. Rough handling of objects.
  • Happy? Smile. Wink. Twinkle in eyes.
  • Relaxed? Sprawl. Loose-limbed.
  • Crowded? Back up. Create distance.
  • Interested? Lean forward, draw closer.
  • Questioning? Cock head. Widen eye. Elevate voice. Hands lifted, palm up. Hiked shoulders.
  • Nurturing? Clip a loose thread. Pat.
  • Tender? Stroke, touch, lips parted.
  • Nervous? Pace, scratch, rub your arms.
  • Stunned? Wide-eyed. Stone still. Hand to chest, fingers spread. Gaping jaw.
  • Sad? Tears. Listless. Hand curled to chest. Shoulders slumped. Fetal position.
  • Trusting? Palm open.
  • Lying? Avoid eye contact. Dipped chin.

More on Dialogue

October 16, 2009

Dialogue: Make it Matter

Dialogue is difficult for a number of reasons. Some people struggle with making dialogue sound realistic. Others struggle with voice. Still others (myself included) have trouble making dialogue mean something.

I recently had some of my work critiqued. I mean nit-picked. And the biggest problem with my opening scene? Sure, the dialogue was realistic, but it had nothing to do with the conflict that was happening. My two characters were talking about pretty much nothing while something important was going on. Basically, one character was unaware of anything unusual and the other was trying to keep it that way.

I really struggled with that one. To fix it, I put the two characters against each other, one on either side of an imaginary line. (That line: knowing what was going on.) Character A knew there was a ghost nearby, Character B didn't. So, how does that affect dialogue? Character B wanted to know what Character A was staring at, what made her facial expression change, why she was acting different all of a sudden. She wanted to know why Character A kept looking at an "empty" bench.

With these changes, and a few others, I was able to make the dialogue relevant to the scene. The dialogue was tied to the conflict, and was actually useful, because it built tension. That's the key to fiction, isn't it? Tension and conflict.

So, my advice? Figure out what your scene is about. What are you trying to accomplish? What is the main conflict for that particular scene? Make sure your dialogue supports your scene's purpose.

More on Dialogue

October 10, 2009

Link: 6 Functions of Dialogue

I found a new website (new for me anyway) belonging to author Ellen Jackson. The particular article I found was so straight-forward and refreshing, I had to share. You can read the entire article here.

This article discusses the SIX FUNCTIONS OF DIALOGUE (she gives more detail and examples in the article, if you're interested.)
Dialogue reveals character.
Dialogue gives necessary information.
Dialogue moves the plot along.
Dialogue can show what one character thinks of another character.
Dialogue can reveal conflict and build tension
Dialogue can show how someone feels

I had no idea, but it makes total sense. Dialogue serves these purposes. Knowing this will help add variety to my conversation, while maintaining conflict. I'm excited!

October 9, 2009

How to Motivate Yourself by Changing Your Thinking

I found this great video on how to change your way of thinking in order to achieve your goals. Interesting stuff.

October 6, 2009

Making Time to Write

This month, I've had to give myself a good swift kick in the pants about sitting down and writing. Apparently, I'm not the only one. Usually, I would get on the computer, thinking I would write, but of course I had to check my email. And Facebook. And my writing blogs of course. And my critique group forums. And...

Yeah. Before I knew it, the baby was awake again and I hadn't done any writing. (Shameful, I know.)

So my new policiy is: I check email and all that in between getting breakfast for Rebecca, prepping for dinner, and if she watches a movie quietly I'll do it then. I also get chores done during this time. (I do the dishes while she eats breakfast. It works out nicely.) Also, if she sleeps in, I can get a lot done in that first hour of my day.

But when she takes a nap, that's it. Put everything else aside, it's writing time. I got a lot done today. I worked on my book for an hour and a half, which I thought was pretty good, then I ate some lunch. Cause I was hungry. :)

October 5, 2009

Idea for a Contest Prize

I've been brainstorming some ideas. The holidays are right around the corner and I was thinking -- and this is just a thought -- that maybe I could offer the first two months of Think Sideways as a prize for a contest. I know some people that read this blog are already members, but for the rest of you, would that interest you?

I don't know what the contest would be yet, and I'd have to work out the logistics of how to get the course to the winner, but it could be fun.
What do you think?

Just so you all know, How to Think Sideways is going through some changes. If you want to take the course this year, you'll need to sign up before October 9. Otherwise, you'll need to wait until some time in 2010. Holly's only going to offer the course once every six months.

Prepping for NaNoWriMo

This past week, I've been working through Think Sideways from the beginning. I'm currently working through the (numerous) modules that come with lesson 7. I already have some good stuff brewing: characters with needs, I'm beginning to see some depth in my characters, I have a handful of scenes in mind, there's already a lot of conflict, and a ton of cause and effect.

One module has you take the main conflict and find "organic conflict" that sprout from the planned stuff. You match up characters' wants and actions and find the effects of those wants as they clash to create new conflict and new scenes. It's really fun to see what pops up from my Muse.

If I work hard, I think I can get through all the planning stages of Think Sideways before NaNoWriMo starts.

Are you going to do NaNoWriMo? Look me up! My username is jollygreen23.

October 1, 2009

Dealing with Rejection, Part 2

Just a couple of links today, but they're goodies.

The Blood-Red Pencil comes through again, giving some great advice on dealing with rejection. Lauri covers the reasons for rejection, too.

When in doubt, Nathan Bransford is a great go-to guy. He has posts on everything, including this guest blog on rejection and It's Not You, It's the Odds (and the Resonance Factor)

Dealing with Rejection, Part 1

Dealing with Rejection - This article is the best I've found on rejection. He covers how to look at rejections, how to keep moving forward, and how to push through the odds in order to get to publication. The second half of the article is written with short fiction in mind, but the principle is still the same: the more you submit, the better your chances.

You can't submit your work to three or four agents, get rejected by all of them, and then think that's the end. Submit to anybody who could be interested. (Don't submit if the agent doesn't want to see your genre. I think this goes without saying, but... it happens.)

Fiction Factor has an article that covers the basics. It has some answers to some simple questions, and it puts rejection into perspective.

Coping with Rejection as a Writer

The rejections are coming in. Some are more helpful than others. Each rejection tells me one of two things: either the story isn't a good fit for the agent, or my writing needs some improvement.

And I'm okay with that. No agent has told me, "Please never send me any more of your material. You'll never get good enough." I will get better. It may be that Shadow Bound is the book that will get me published. It may be the next book. Or maybe not. As long as each book is better than the last, I'm happy. For now. ;)

Whether I get an agent for Shadow Bound or not, I'm starting the early planning stages of my next project: Phantom. I'm so excited about this book. I've already worked through lesson 6 of How to Think Sideways, using whatever I can apply to this new project. I'm really pumped about this one. I'm really going to focus on voice and character with this one. There's always room for improvement with voice and character.

Anyway, I know some of you are dealing with rejection, so over the next couple of days I thought I'd share some posts that I've found helpful.
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