January 30, 2010

Left Brain and Right Brain: How it Relates to Writing

How to Think Sideways is all about using both "sides" of your brain. But did you know that tasks are not completely divided between the hemispheres?

Here's an excellent article about getting in the "right-brain zone" that we all love so much. You know, where you stop writing and realize the afternoon is gone. It also shows you how to get into that zone if you're having trouble :)

January 28, 2010

Tips for Submitting to Agents

In a hurried, last minute effort to get a post out on time (I know, I know. Sorry.) I'm simply going to post my favorite article from this week: The First Novels Club: We Got Sharked! Where literary agent Janet Reid gives some tips to queryers.

January 26, 2010

Still Editing? Here ya go.

So, I'm still editing the first draft of Song of the Muse. I've barely put a dent in it. Embarrassing, I know.

But I did find a couple of great links to help you, if you're in the same stages of your journey. (If not, just bookmark it. )

Author Natalie Whipple was kind of enough to compile a list of her common first-draft mistakes.

and here are 6 Ways to Ensure All Your All Your Scenes "Play". Basically, a short checklist to make sure each scene in your novel doesn't put the reader to sleep. Always a good thing ;)

January 23, 2010

Writing with Music

I was wondering about music and writing. Some writers need total silence, others need constant background noise. And of course some of us are in between. I like working in quiet or with very soft music in the background that's relevant to what I'm writing--whether it's the mood of the piece or if it happens to be the kind of music my main character would listen to.

I find that music can help me with voice. If I listen to music my character would listen to, it makes it a lot easier to understand that character's reaction to the scene. It's kind of fun.

What about you?

January 20, 2010

Why Reading is Important for Writers

Thursday's post is a little early this week.

Hundreds of successful authors have told us that reading is the most important thing a writer can do. Stephen King has some pretty great quotes. This is video one of my favorites.

I read on and off, in spurts and right now I'm on a hot streak. I'm on my fourth book this year, which is pretty amazing for a slow reader like me. But I came across something in this latest book that really struck me.

I won't mention which book it is, but basically, the character goes through a change in her life. Simple right? But the delivery of it, or her specific circumstances pricked at something in my brain. Something that would make my book richer.

I don't plan on ripping off the book, it's a pretty simple concept. It just made me realize that my main character isn't really struggling with anything new at the beginning of my book. I saw something similar when I read Twilight. Bella moves to a new place, so it only seems natural that she should notice details about her surroundings. It's natural to describe things. But if you start in the middle of a character's normal life, why should the character describe something that she sees every day?

Yes, it's miniscule (and I'm having a hard time describing exactly why this made such a difference for me), but trust me, reading just made my book better.

Speaking of reading, I found a contest that is giving away the entire Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, which has been on my wishlist for some time. Just thought I'd mention it... ;)

January 19, 2010

Structured, but Original

Since we covered Character Arcs last week, I thought I'd follow up with some more links on structure.

Janice Hardy uses a very straight-forward approach, using the three act structure, but keeping in mind that her character needs to be in constant conflict. It's not super structured, but in provides a road map.

And once again, Jim Adam hits the nail on the hoad as he analyzes the Harry Potter series. Here's how to make archetypes seem original.

January 16, 2010

So you want to be the next J.K. Rowling?

There Are No Rules is putting out a series of articles by Jim Adam on what makes the Harry Potter series so great. I just finished the first one on Storytelling. He provides a nice little checklist for writers looking to write a best seller. Good stuff. :)

January 14, 2010

Character Arcs

I've had several people ask: What exactly is a character arc? or How do I create a character arc?

Well, there are two types of character arcs: narrative (what happens to the character or around the character) and emotional arc (inner changes, within the character). They're equally important, but a lot of writers (especially fantasy writers) tend to neglect the emotional arc.

With every action, every scene, something needs to change to move the plot forward. Change is vital to a novel, especially when it's loaded with conflict. But your character has to change, too. One example from Connecting Emotional and Narrative Arcs is: If Jamie watches his Dad beat Red in a bowling tournament, how does Jamie feel about Red? Is he sympathetic, picturing himself in the situation of a painful loss? Or is he scornful of Red for choking at an important moment? (By the way, I highly recommend you read this article. It's super short but has great tips.)

If the charcter doesn't change, then what's the point? Your main character needs to feel some sort of emotion, have some sort of reaction, or change his or her way of thinking with everything that happens in your story. Otherwise, your character will wind up passive, boring, and/or unrelatable.

If you want a breakdown of narrative arc, try this article. It analyzes a picture book and shows page-by-page how the story progresses. A great blueprint.

January 12, 2010

Writing While Pregnant (and chasing a toddler)

Yay! We're pregnant with our second child. I'm due August 17th and am so thrilled!

So I've been battling morning sickness (and evening sickness), exhaustion (I crash at 2pm), and my little girl who is growing up so fast. She's so busy and deserves every attention I can spare. Plus we got a dog last month--a five month old German Shepherd--so we're still training him. (By the way, we're not moving to the Philippines. I will not give birth in a third world country away from my family.)

So it's no wonder I haven't found times to write much this last month! I think I have my priorities where I want them. A healthy pregnancy comes first. That includes setting time aside to exercise and go to bed early when I need to. It's really going to cut into writing time, especially since my little girl's naps are getting shorter. I just have to deal with it because this is what I want.

I did manage to make some progress with Song of the Muse. I think I posted in a comment earlier that I need to take a few steps back from both my books and edit on the scene level. Forget about syntax and even voice right now. I need to make sure each scene has everything it needs. I need to raise the stakes, up the conflict, use cause and effect to put my heroine in impossible dilemmas.

You get the idea.

I think I got about a dozen scenes mapped out, including two or three new ones. Progress is progress. And as my friend Olivia pointed out: If I finish this by April/May, it will be my second in a year! Not bad...

January 9, 2010

How to Stay Focused on Your Writing

Yes, something I need a little help with. (I'm thoroughly ashamed, though I know that doesn't make it any better.) Today's links will focus on how to get your butt in gear if your mind likes to wander away from your writing.

We'll start with Writers' First Aid where Kristi Holl writes about Inner Critics and Time Wasters. Honestly, I think it's the inner critic that's giving me the most trouble right now. It keeps telling me my books will never be good enough, so why waste time revising. But nearly every manuscript is salvageable, if you know how to do it.

(Wait. Do I know how to do it?)

J.D. Rhoades posted on Murderati about what happens when you lose your rhythm in Rust Never Sleeps.

Boy, I can relate.

January 7, 2010

Getting Ideas for Your Novel

I'm not sure how many of you are looking to start a new book. (If you're like me, you have more revising to do than you care to admit.) But I found two articles on getting started.

First, you need an idea. Thank you Murderati. Once again, you've hit the nail on the head.

Second, I know I've posted this before, but I've seen the advice in this article violated and I was disappointed as a reader. I think it warrants a second go-around. Show Some Character's Jason Black writes on How to Make Ordinary Characters Inspiring (and how to make extraordinary characters relatable.)

January 5, 2010


I have to admit, I haven't been on top of my game the last few weeks. My unedited manuscript from NaNoWriMo keeps staring back at me. I told myself I would edit Shadow Bound again, but I'm way too close to it still.

With Shadow Bound, I feel like the story is set in stone. Like I can edit the scenes, but not change them completely. I think that's my problem. Scene X is boring not because the dialogue isn't quite right, but because nothing happens! It needs to be done away with completely, but it's so hard to see things like that after editing so many times.

And then there's Song of the Muse. I'm scared to even look at it. It's shameful, really. I think that because it's a NaNo novel, I tell myself it's awful and needs a complete overhaul. But it's not that bad. It really isn't.

I know a lot of writers deal with this kind of slump and I've always felt guilty because writing on a daily basis came so naturally to me. But now it's catching up to me. I got maybe four or five chapters into Shadow Bound and then pthtt! And my Muse is being fed (and not driving me to write) because I've been reading such wonderful books during the Christmas break.


I've also been preoccupied with some major family/life changes including our new puppy, who needs constant attention and training. Then there's the holidays, being sick, and focusing on my health. It's really just a lot of excuses, I know. These are things I just need to push through. Every writer has setbacks. And every successful writer overcomes them.

January 2, 2010

The Big Ten Books

I'm on a mission. I want to find 10 books that are magical. Ten books that I can't put down, that make me a self-proclaimed bookworm. You know the type. We all have them, I think. Some of us don't read as much as we used to, so our "magical books" are from our childhood. (As a side note, I think a lot of kids today don't read. I don't know that they have magical books and that breaks my heart.)

There are a few that were magical for me in my childhood. The one that stands out the most in my mind is Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. That book made me stay up all night, laugh out loud, and sob like a baby. Ms. Levine is the person who encouraged me the most to start writing. So yeah, Ella Enchanted is on my 10 Magical Books List.

What is this list for? Well, as writers, we can learn by reading. But we can learn a TON by reading like writers. I want to find ten books that are amazing, for one reason or another (or several) so I can pick them apart and find out what makes them tick. What about this scene brought out an emotion? Why do I love/hate this character? Why do I root for that character? Why do I feel as if this world is a real place? Why do I care so much about what happens next?

I want books that I wish I had written, books that can help my writing. Right now, I write Young Adult Fantasy. I want some books on my list that are classics, some that are brand-spanking new, and some that are just my personal favorites or hopefuls. I want a wide variety of books with a wide variety of strengths.

So far, here are the books on my list (and the biggest reason why):

1) Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (emotional impact, relatable characters, romance)
2) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling (world building, sympathetic protagonist)
3) The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (voice, humor, worldbuilding)
4) The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale (creating constant conflict and raising the stakes, romance)

Books I have in my To-Read Pile that I hope will be magical:

1) Graceling by Kristin Cashore
2) Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
3) Gossamer by Lois Lowry
4) Immortal by Gillian Shields

Books on my tentative/maybe list:

1) Twilight (character building/showing but not necessarily the characters themselves)
2) Fairest by Gail Carson Levine
3) Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix (action sequence, emotional development)
4) The Ruby Key by Holly Lisle (fantastic plot and world building, how to create doubt and emotion by showing, best ending ever, but not the most fantastic example of YA fiction, in my opinion. Also, I've learned a lot of Holly's techniques from her course, which may save me some trouble)
5) Something by Madeleine L'Engle
6) Something by Bruce Coville (another childhood favorite)

I have a lot more maybe books, but I want to get through the four to-reads I listed above before I delve into those.

What magical books make your list?
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