February 27, 2010

Desk Essentials

Maybe it's because of the earthquakes, maybe it's because I'm waiting to hear about a ms, I don't know, but this post is a little on the lighter side of things. As I sit at my desk in my laundry room (you heard me), listening to the dryer and editing a work the 4th time through, occasionally I lean back in my spinny desk chair with no lumbar support (and YES I am totally grateful for my own space to write) and reach for...
What? What do I reach for?

A tall cold one (or luke warm if I'm on a roll).

These hot little numbers.

If I don't have these handy...

Then these will do.

Loved this since I was a kid. I know, you love it or hate it. I love it.

And this. I have to order it, though. I can't find it in Cody. I love the lion. It's the Leo in me.

What are the essentials at YOUR writing desk?

February 23, 2010

Tuesday Edit Crunch: Scene It

Welcome to Tuesday Edit Crunch, an informative, fresh, concise, and important part of this nutritious... blog...

Today's Crunch will be a little of this and a little of that. Like trail mix. Or the top of my daughter's dresser (thank you for teaching recycling, 1st grade educators, her garbage can is now obsolete).
In studying the edit, I came across some words of wisdom, that I will now just toss out at you concerning scene structure. Ruminate on them.

Think visually- Write cinematically.
You know your scene. Can you direct it as if it were a movie? Bring in the atmosphere, tension, sound, scent, timing, dialogue. Move it.

Start mid-scene and drop in description later or intermittently.
Write a scene, or find one in need of help, and cut the beginning. You'll know where if you're looking for it. It usually jumps out at me... the point of take-off. Anything necessary for the plot is found another place. Usually a better one.

Heat up the CORE of a scene.
Just like the climax of your plot, a scene should have a point of focus. Find it and make it pop, explode, sizzle, resonate.

Use one POV per scene.
Head-hopping can be dizzying. So far, I use 2+ POVs in my novels, but seldom is there more than one in the same scene. If I do it, there is a specific purpose. Decide on a POV for the scene and stick with it. Challenge yourself to show the other characters' thoughts in their actions and dialogue. 

Don't over-explain. Readers are intelligent.
My first novel explained everything. EVERYTHING. I wrapped up every loose end, SEVERAL TIMES, just to make sure the reader would get it. I mentioned every bit of background to explain the character's decision. Then, I embraced this simple guideline. READERS ARE INTELLIGENT. The cutting began. Whack whack whack. Hold your readers up; don't write down to them. They'll get the nuances.

Strong scene endings: 
  • a major decision is to be made
  • end just as terrible things happen
  • something bad/amazing is about to happen
  • a strong display of emotion
  • raising a question with no immediate answer
How to identify weak scenes:
  • Is there a lot of dialogue without conflict?
  • Is the scene just a set-up for another scene?
  • Is your character's motivation undeveloped?
  • Is there too much introspection?
  • Is there not enough introspection for the action?
  • Is there not enough tension or conflict inside the character? Between the characters?
Find your weakest scene(s) and ask 3 questions:

  1. OBJECTIVE. Does the POV go after something? Make him, or cut the scene.
  2. OBSTACLE. Give the POV opposition, inner battle, physical circumstance that makes it hard or impossible to gain his objective.
  3. OUTCOME. See the above list of scene endings. Keep your reader IN THE STORY. Make them turn the page.
I hope this attempt helps with your scene development. After all, scenes are the mini-stories that move our novel along. Make them count, make them work, make them clean up the top of their dresser. Nobody like a messy scene.

Now, for a little fun. Like the toy surprise in the box! My friend, Kate Palmer from Running On Dirt Roads gave me this beautiful award:

Thank you, Kate! Along with the award, I am challenged to list 5 FASCINATING things about myself, then list 5 FASCINATING blogs I think you should check out. Here goes!

1. I once aspired to ballroom dancing. LATIN ballroom, to be exact. Si.
2. I long to speak Spanish fluently, and once came close enough that I was dreaming in the language. Then we came home and I said "Gracias" to the flight attendent in SF and she looked at me funny.
3. I would rather speak in front of hundreds of people than one person I don't know.
4. My first vinyl records were: Donny Osmond, Shawn Cassidy, and the soundtrack to Walt Disney's Cinderella. I would secretly kiss Donny Osmond on the album cover. I was four.
5. I am a Star Wars geek. Episodes 4-6. Also, Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. And J.R.R. Tolkien. Thanks, Dad.

Here are 5 blogs I find FASCINATING:

Pioneer Woman- Really, have you not visited this woman's world? Escape to hilarity.

Daron D. Fraley- Not only is he a Cody boy, his book, The Thorn, is about to be released! Visit his insightful blog!

Abel Keogh- His story and insight on his blog for widows and widowers is honest, eye-opening, and was assuring to me after tackling a character in my book, The Inn. His books are on my reading list. I look forward to learning how to pronounce his last name.

Writing On The Wall-I visit this blog repeatedly. Even if I've already read the recent post, I can usually find an answer to my writing questions using the topic search on the sidebar. These ladies tackle all kinds of subjects. They have also been great at answering questions through email. Yay!

Bookmom Musings- This is a new discovery and I love it. Jaime Theler is an author, mom, and tackler of anything interesting, informative, and humorous.

And that wraps up this week's Tuesday Edit Crunch. Hope you enjoyed it! Watch out for the the K's, they're especially crunchy.

February 20, 2010

Vote For Your Favorite Short!

Short stories are posted at LDS Publisher for the Young Adult Book of Mormon Story contest. If you have some time, follow the link and read the submissions, leave a comment if you like, and make a note of your favorites. Voting begins on Monday, February 22, and the rules will be posted then. Mine is in there somewhere, and so are stories by some author friends of mine. The winners will have their stories published in an anthology book, which would be very exciting! Make sure to read them all!

Book of Mormon Story Contest

Enjoy the many different ideas and voices, and vote!

February 19, 2010

The Struggle

"Drama, instead of telling us the whole of a man's life, must place him in such a situation, tie such a knot, that when it is untied, the whole man is visible." 
~Leo Tolstoy
I love reading books that succeed in revealing the main character's divine nature... but only gradually, or at the end. After battles, fierce gales, humiliations, pummeling of all kinds, the soul is found. At least I hope and cheer for it. It gives me hope. We all have our battles. Doesn't it help to believe they will make us more, somehow?
A few Battlers from my Goodreads Bookshelf:

What can you throw at your main characters to make them more complete? To reveal the strengths they are meant to wield? Who are your favorite battlers?

February 16, 2010

Tuesday Edit Crunch

Welcome to Tuesday Edit Crunch, an informative, fresh, concise, and important part of this nutritious... blog...

Today's crunch is all about SENTENCE STRUCTURE.
I'm not going to give a lesson on nouns and verbs and dangling participles.

Instead, this will be a study of flow and consistency. A high fiber crunch, if you will.

There were feathers all over the wood floor.

Compelling, but remember our lesson on unnecessary words?

Feathers littered the wood floor.

What makes this better? The subject of the sentence is active. The feathers are doing something, instead of just being used to describe a floor. Feathers are taking part in your story. Cool.

Instead of:
The alcove was lined with candles.

Candles lined the alcove wall.

Next, align verb tenses within a sentence.
The dog bared its teeth as I was raising my head and I let out a cry.
A little scattered.

The dog bared its teeth as I raised my head. A cry escaped me.
The verbs are consistent, and did you see my use of our lesson above? Pretty sneaky, huh?

Action reversals. What are these? I did not know. But now I do. Most readers visualize the action taking place on the pages, taking the information given them and creating a world in which the characters act. So, it makes sense that we as writers direct the action in the order it is made. Otherwise, it may be confusing to the reader.

He handed her the dripping cloth after running it under the water.
This sentence pulls our reader out of the story, because halfway through it they are asking themselves, "Wait, what? I thought the cloth was dry." Then they finish reading. "Oh, it was dripping because he ran it under water. Duh." Yes, duh, but still we pulled our reader out of the story. And you all know how I feel about that.

He ran the cloth under the faucet and handed it to her, dripping water all over the floor and down her fingers.
The order of action is clear.
And I used another previous lesson, avoiding repetition by using fingers at the end, instead of hands, because I already used handed earlier in the sentence. You probably didn't even notice, huh? But I bet you would have if I hadn't changed it. Very handy.

And so wraps another segment of Tuesday Edit Crunch. Hope your flow and consistency becomes very... regular. Watch out for the the K's, they're especially crunchy.

February 11, 2010

Riding Currents

"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." 
~Vladimir Nabakov

As I read excerpts from upcoming novels here and there, as I anticipate the release of new friends' books for 2010, and smile as announcements are made for sequels I am reading, or hear the Whitney nominations, and for the first time ever, the titles are familiar or even well known, as I read how author's are grappling with their plots and letting their characters lead, cursing or finding their muse, I can't help but shiver at the current of imagination, intelligence, and creation in the air. It almost shimmers.
If I stood in a field, and raised my hands and face to the sky, reaching with my spirit, could I collect the current?

Or would I just get honked at?

Can you feel it?

February 8, 2010

Tuesday Edit Crunch 2... or II... or Deux

Welcome to Tuesday Edit Crunch, an informative, fresh, concise, and important part of this nutritious... blog... (shhh, I know I am posting this on Monday evening, but I have the flu, and I will not be getting up in the morning, if I can help it).
Today's Crunch is all about repetition. Repitan, clase, por favor... REPETICION. We will address three forms.

Simple redundancies. They can sneak up on us, as we write, slip right in, hard to detect, nigh invisible. Difficult to spot.
Not only can redundancies add to word count, they scream, "Hey! This is just a story being told with a lot of words!"
Let's start with the stealthier ones, shall we?

climbed up the stairs
crept slowly
dropped down
exact same
fell down
nodded his head
rose up
sat down
shrugged her shoulders
stood up
tip-toed quietly

Seemingly innocent? Hmmm. Let's look again.

He climbed the stairs. Obviously going up. Doesn't need to be said.
She crept. Is there a fast way to do it?
Dropped. Gravity plays a big part in this one.
Same. If it's not exactly the same, it is similar.
Fell. Again, see Mr. Newton.
Nodded. Most of us use our heads.
Rose. To rise, the opposite of fall.
Sat. She sat. This one is debatable, I know. If you use it when your character is standing, though, it's obvious. If she is already sitting, she can sit up. She sat up.
Shrugged. We know the move, one shoulder, two shoulders, we can see it.
Stood. Again, up is implied.
Tip-toed. Tippy tippy-toed. Even when Fred Flintstone was bowling, this was quiet.

Get the point? Because this was huge to me. HUGE. I'm repeating myself.

Pronoun repetition is the second part of redundancy I would like to crunch. I am a visual writer. I see what is happening and my fingers fly to keep up. When I (or my readers) go back and read my story, I (or they) often find this:

He scanned again and sluggishly moved forward, stepping over bodies and weapons and waste.  He gathered arrows as he went, keeping his eyes up and his nostrils closed.  He was not queasy.  He was not a coward. 
He hated this.
He suppressed the urge to examine, to listen for breathing.  He knew by now there would be time to help those that would make it, and it would be a waste of time to help those that would not.
He made his way towards a narrow neck out of the clearing.  He could hear the battle continuing there, and instinctively crouched lower to the ground, his muscles straining, his back already stiff.  He moved to the brush on the right.  To enter in the open would be to announce his late arrival.

Yikes! All but one of those sentences began with He. Change it up!

The third type of redundancy is pretty cut and dry. If you've used the same adjective, verb, phrase, or the hated adverb in the same paragraph, or even within 4 or more paragraphs, find yourself another word. Unless there is a point for the repetition (and I know there can be), avoid it. It's like, when someone, like, uses the same phrase like, over and over again. It can be like, so annoying. Or a bit distracting anyway, as in,"Oh, wait, didn't I just read that same word?" Reader stops reading, scans back, "Oh, yep, mendacious. Hm, the author must like that word. Now, where was I?"
And how do we feel about pulling our readers out of the story?
That's right. Keep your reader in the story.

Do you have any redundancy stories you'd like to share?

The next few Crunches will cover sentence structure, scene set up, and duh-duh-duh... flashbacks.

Hope you enjoyed Tuesday Edit Crunch! Watch out for the the K's, they're especially crunchy.

February 5, 2010

The Best Books Club: 1st Quarter 2010

We had a really nice turnout for our first meeting of the year. It was decided we would meet quarterly, assigning three books to each quarter. This way we can take turns reading the books so difficult to find here in our little town, and in case you did not get to one, you still have something to discuss when you come to the next quarterly meeting.
We discussed the books we read over the holidays and then turned our attention to the dozen books spread out in front of us on the table. I appreciated the guidance I had in choosing our selection from the many readers and reviewers at Goodreads.com.
For our first quarter, we will be reading:

THE GOOSE GIRL, by Shannon Hale.
She can whisper to horses and communicate with birds, but the crown princess Ani has a difficult time finding her place in the royal family and measuring up to her imperial mother. When she is shipped off to a neighboring kingdom as a bride, her scheming entourage mounts a bloody mutiny to replace her with a jealous lady-in-waiting, Selia, and to allow an inner circle of guards more power in the new land. Barely escaping with her life, Ani disguises herself as a goose girl and wanders on the royal estate. Does she have the pluck to reclaim her rightful place? Get ready for a fine adventure tale full of danger, suspense, surprising twists, and a satisfying conclusion. The engaging plot can certainly carry the tale, but Hale's likable, introspective heroine makes this also a book about courage and justice in the face of overwhelming odds. The richly rendered, medieval folkloric setting adds to the charm. Anne O'Malley
Copyright © American Library Association.

THE ROAD, by Cormac McCarthy.
Cormac McCarthy sets his new novel, The Road, in a post-apocalyptic blight of gray skies that drizzle ash, a world in which all matter of wildlife is extinct, starvation is not only prevalent but nearly all-encompassing, and marauding bands of cannibals roam the environment with pieces of human flesh stuck between their teeth. If this sounds oppressive and dispiriting, it is. McCarthy may have just set to paper the definitive vision of the world after nuclear war, and in this recent age of relentless saber-rattling by the global powers, it's not much of a leap to feel his vision could be not far off the mark nor, sadly, right around the corner. Stealing across this horrific (and that's the only word for it) landscape are an unnamed man and his emaciated son, a boy probably around the age of ten. It is the love the father feels for his son, a love as deep and acute as his grief, that could surprise readers of McCarthy's previous work. McCarthy's Gnostic impressions of mankind have left very little place for love. In fact that greatest love affair in any of his novels, I would argue, occurs between the Billy Parham and the wolf in The Crossing. But here the love of a desperate father for his sickly son transcends all else. McCarthy has always written about the battle between light and darkness; the darkness usually comprises 99.9% of the world, while any illumination is the weak shaft thrown by a penlight running low on batteries. In The Road, those batteries are almost out--the entire world is, quite literally, dying--so the final affirmation of hope in the novel's closing pages is all the more shocking and maybe all the more enduring as the boy takes all of his father's (and McCarthy's) rage at the hopeless folly of man and lays it down, lifting up, in its place, the oddest of all things: faith. --Dennis Lehane 

And our non-fiction selection, any food book by Michael Pollan.
Michael Pollan's last book , The Omnivore's Dilemma, launched a national conversation about the American way of eating; now In Defense of Food shows us how to change it, one meal at a time. Pollan proposes a new answer to the question of what we should eat that comes down to seven simple but liberating words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Pollan's bracing and eloquent manifesto shows us how we can start making thoughtful food choices that will enrich our lives, enlarge our sense of what it means to be healthy, and bring pleasure back to eating.

Speaking of food, we enjoyed some treats of the non-written kind, as well. Click on the links to find the recipes for Bacon Maui and Roasted Red Pepper & Cheddar Dip.

As always, you can check here for comments on the books we are reading, and are welcome to leave your own!
Thank you for participating!

February 2, 2010

Tuesday Edit Crunch

So many of the blogs I follow have their own titled weekly schedule. Writing on the Wall has Monday Mania, Sarah M. Eden has Walkabout Wednesday, Ali Cross has Ask Ali Fridays, and so on.
I feel like I need, yes, NEED, a titled weekday of my own.
Introducing Tuesday Edit Crunch.
If that doesn't get your creative juices flowing I don't know what will. Hm.
Sounds like a breakfast cereal made of old typewriter keys.

Nonetheless, Tuesday Edit Crunch will be informative, fresh, concise, and an important part of this nutritious... blog...

Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert. As a matter of fact, I am learning as I go. I am a student of the edit, if you will. But I will share my findings with you and we will traverse the vast landscape of editing and revision together. If you want to. It's your choice. I'll make you virtual cookies.

Experience: I do have some. As I have mentioned probably too many times, the revision requests for my upcoming novel, The Orchard (title still under consideration), were sizable. Instead of chucking it, or diving in, cutting and pasting to please, making a mess of it all, I read. I studied, took notes, marked pages and sites and thought and thought and thought. My friend, Carla, brought me books and a thick file of magazine articles. I took more notes. Educating Krista. I've always been a stickler for spelling and grammar, but everything I was learning refined a 388 pg. rambling manuscript I was in love with to a 328 pg. accepted manuscript I knew was what it should be. And I know we're not done with it.

Perk: I was able to take the things I learned and apply them to The Inn, the sequel I just submitted. Was the manuscript perfect? Nope (though I made my best effort). Do I expect revision requests? Yup. Am I dreading them? Maybe. Maybe not. Actually, I'm curious. And there is that little voice that thinks of this quote: "I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top."  ~English Professor (Name Unknown), Ohio University. (Go away! Go away little voice!) I'll let you know how it turns out. But my point is, when I write now, there isn't quite so much clean-up, and I have direction when I recognize something isn't quite right.

So, on to our first Crunch.
I am borrowing from a previous post (so much for fresh) today. I am going to direct you here, for a list of "expendable" words. Okay, I'll list them here as well.

a little        almost        anyway       at the present time      began to       by means of         certainly       considering the fact that         definitely       even        exactly       fairly       in order to       in spite of the fact      in the event        is     was    were       just       perhaps       probably    proceeded to       owing to the fact       quite       rather      real       really      seem       slightly       so      some       somewhat      sort of       started to       such       that      the      usually      very      which

These are words we all use, but we don't need to. These words tend to be "narrative", and pull the reader away from the story, reminding them there is an author out there somewhere making this stuff up. We want our stories to be real, and we want our readers engrossed in the worlds we create. Most of the time there will be another way to express what you are saying.* Out of this list, the words I see most overused are that, which, was, and there. Basic words we use all the time, but let me show you an example. This is from a synopsis of The Inn and I chose it because it is narrative, but I don't want it to feel that way.

Elizabeth Embry has traveled the world, living a life of glamour and fortune, and fear. When an old colleague offers her a new career opportunity, which is in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, of all places, she feels an excitement that she barely understands. The two-week trial period is anything but the private getaway she was hoping for, owing to the fact that she finds herself booked in the honeymoon suite of a woodland bed and breakfast, where her hosts greet her like family and her private life is as read as the complimentary morning newspaper.
But her friend is scheming and the handsome owner is aloof, which draws Elizabeth into a place that she never thought she wanted to be. A place that she knows she doesn’t deserve.

Now, the fixed version:

Elizabeth Embry has traveled the world, living a life of glamour and fortune, and fear. When an old colleague offers her a new career opportunity, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, of all places, she feels an excitement she barely understands. The two-week trial period is anything but the private getaway she hopes for. She finds herself booked in the honeymoon suite of a woodland bed and breakfast, where her hosts greet her like family and her private life is as read as the complimentary morning newspaper.
But her friend is scheming and the handsome owner is aloof, drawing Elizabeth into a place she never thought she wanted to be. A place she knows she doesn’t deserve.

Do you hear the difference?
*Of course, in blogging and casual emails, our voices are our own.
I promise not to borrow from older posts again, but this is something I see everywhere, and it's such a quick fix. Keep your reader in the story.

Hope you enjoyed Tuesday Edit Crunch! Watch out for the the K's, they're especially crunchy.

February 1, 2010

One Word Answers

Little questionnaire that got passed onto me by David J. West.
Rules: Answer the following questions with Single Word answers then pass this along to 5 other bloggers. Make sure you let them know about it though.

Your Cell Phone? Quiet
Your Hair? Plentiful
Your Mother? Grammaspice
Your Father? Trekky
Your Favorite Food? Chilesrellenos
Your Dream Last Night? Forgettable
Your Favorite Drink? O.J.
Your Dream/Goal? Appreciation
What Room Are You In? Laundry
Your Hobby? Gardener
Your Fear? Falling
Where Do You See Yourself In Six Years? GrammaJ
Where Were You Last Night? dog.com
Something That You Aren't? Forty
Muffins? Maplebars
Wish List Item? Lakehouse
Where Did You Grow Up? Kennewick-WA
Last Thing You Did? sack-lunches
What Are You Wearing? Slippers
Your TV? Off
Your Pets? Brodie
Friends? Gaining
Your Life? Laptop
Your Mood? Curious
Missing Someone? GrammaG
Vehicle? Legacy
Something You Aren't Wearing? Out
Your Favorite Store? ROSS
Your Favorite Color? Red
When Was The Last Time You Laughed? Minutes
Last Time You Cried? Jan2
Your Best Friend? Brandon
One Place You Go To Over And Over Again? Twitter
Facebook? Yup
Favorite Place To Eat? TrapperCreek

I pass this award to:
Karen G, Ali, Elana Johnson (which is a freebie because she already did it, but go see her blog anyway), Sarah M. Eden, Kate, and DL Hammons because they have all commented on my blog recently. Thanks!

There is an Over the Top award that went with this. Grab it if you like! You deserve it!
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