Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Teamwork

I've often heard it said that writing is a lonely business, but when I really think about it, I know that it's actually a team effort. If you give it some thought, you'll likely agree. Consider all the members of your writing team:


  • Online groups like Book-in-a-Week
  • First readers
  • Critique groups online and live
  • Conferences
  • Listservs
  • Your family
  • Group blogs
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Your readers
Have I missed some? Leave us a comment if you think of others. The second half of this month, our theme here will be "teamwork", and we'll feature groups and ideas to help you in your writing life. Just in case you're lonely, you know?
~~~~~~~~~
No man is an island entire of itself...~John Donne


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Monday, May 30, 2011

Monday Holiday

America is celebrating Memorial Day. We wish you a day of fond memories and pleasant gatherings with family and friends.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Research – Is It Really Necessary in Fiction?


Without question, a non-fiction writer needs to research his topic or be an expert in the field. Even then, double checking the "facts" mustn’t be ignored. Nobody knows it all.

Fiction writing is different, right? It’s make-believe. Science fiction and fantasy, in particular, give a free hand to the writer’s imagination, do they not? Yes, they do . . . and no, they don’t.

Readers come from all walks of life and are a sharp group of folks. Never shortchange or underestimate their knowledge or their penchant for checking the “facts” when faced with an unlikely or seemingly impossible scenario. The writer’s imagination can captivate the reader and keep her turning pages, but disbelief loses that reader and potential fan of your future books. Yes, even science fiction needs to be based on current scientific understanding, at least by extension. A physics student, for instance, may be an avid sci-fi reader; but if confronted with a scene that includes what he knows to be an absolute impossibility, that reader will no doubt opt to choose the works of another author in the future.

Fantasy allows more latitude; the name of the genre itself implies an absence of reality. Also, the rules are different—but there are rules. Nothing has to be possible as we know it. However, our characterizations need to be strong and consistent; and the rules we set for the times, places, and events need to be followed without exception. (Readers will be on the lookout for inconsistencies.) Also, incorporating a few “facts” that ground the reader in potential possibilities and creating characters that the reader can relate to on some level go a long way toward bringing that reader back for your next book. (More on fantasy writing in another article.)

A few years ago, I worked with a beginning novelist who told a great story but didn’t want to check the “facts.” I urged the need for research to be certain the situations in her book could occur in real life. She told me it didn’t matter; those situations were “generic.” No, they weren’t.

Because we had already engaged in a number of similar discussions, I suggested the author find someone else to work with. This met with an offended response about my rudeness. (I wasn’t at all rude, but I was firm.) In less than a month, however, I received a post from the writer, who had spoken with someone else about my bad attitude. That “someone else” reiterated everything I had said regarding the need for research in fiction writing, which this time the writer believed. Humble and contrite, she asked me to please reconsider my position and finish the edit. Since then, I have worked with her on other projects, and everything has gone smoothly. She respects what I say, and I listen to what she wants. When the two don’t quite meet, we discuss alternatives that satisfy her creative style, and we seek a “factual” solution that works for both of us.

Moral of this article: In order for the reader to suspend disbelief and “walk” into any story, it needs to be possible or be clearly fantasy. Our readers may be doctors, lawyers, scientists, software developers, single parents, formerly (or currently) homeless people, etc. If our characters come from the same occupations or professions or walks of life as our readers, our “facts” had better be right on. If they’re not, we lose not only a reader and fan, but the backlash of word-of-mouth or written reviews that highlight our shortcomings may well impact our sales.

A little research goes a long way toward enhancing our writing and building our reader base. Remember to include this vital element when creating your stories. You will never regret the extra hours spent to suspend the reader’s disbelief and keep him glued to your realistic story to the very last page.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Linda Lane works primarily as a fiction editor. Her denvereditor.com team, however, includes an award-winning nonfiction editor, as well as experienced content and developmental editors. You can visit her at http://www.denvereditor.com/


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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Interview Tip: Pick up the Phone

My earliest professional experience was as a journalist. I wrote two weekly columns and did human interest feature stories for regional publications and other feature stories for national publications. This was back before the Internet and easy access to information, so I did a lot of research at libraries - kudos to all the reference librarians who helped and to those who continue to help people.

In addition to that kind of research, I also did a lot of interviews, and I learned early in my career that most experts in one field or another are usually quite open to answering a writer's questions. Since I really enjoyed the interview process, it was easy for me to use interviews for research when I started writing fiction.

For Open Season, the first book in my mystery series, I interviewed several police officers to find out what it was like to work in a department that was shrouded in charges of racial discrimination. One officer in particular became the basis for the character of Angel. Having that real person to build from, made it easier to bring Angel to life. But the interview process worked for bit-players in the story, too.

At one point in the plotting I had to find out if piano wire could be dated or if it could be determined to have come from a particular piano. I had no idea how to find this information but decided to call a piano tuner. I found one listed in the yellow pages and made the call, connecting to a most interesting man. First thing he did was correct me. It's piano string, not wire.

When the conversation ended, I had the information I needed, as well as a lead to students at a nearby college who could tell me the elements of piano string. I also had a new character for the story and our conversation became a conversation between him and the detective Sarah:
She picked up the phone book and looked in the yellow pages for piano tuners, her finger stopping on an ad that boasted thirty years experience in the business. Propping the phone receiver between her ear and her shoulder, she dialed the number.
Experience counts.
“Good day.” A British accent clipped the words. “Precision Tuning.”
Sarah identified herself, then paused, not sure where to begin.
“How may I be of assistance to you, Detective?” The voice prompted.
“What can you tell me about piano wire?”
“Strings.”
“Pardon?”
“They’re called strings.” The man chuckled. “But not to worry. Most people make that mistake.”
“Oh.” Sarah leaned back in her chair and put one foot on her desk. “Are they distinctive?”
“How do you mean?”
“From one piano to the next. Between a Grand and a Kimball, for instance.”
“No.”
The man followed his one-word answer with the beginning of what Sarah suspected could be a lengthy explanation of how wood and craftsmanship creates the unique sound of each instrument. She used her next question to cut him off.
“How about age? Can you determine how old a string is?”
“That would be almost impossible. Strings have been made the same way for over a hundred years.”
“So a string from a piano made last year wouldn’t be any different from those in a fifty-year-old piano?”
“The old bass strings might be a little dull after so many years. But otherwise, no. The basic elements would be the same.”
Well, that was an abrupt dead end, Sarah thought, hanging up after thanking the man for his help. The only good thing to come out of it was that she could correct Roberts the next time he talked about the piano wire.
So the next time you need some facts for your story, don't hesitate to pick up the phone. Who knows, you might come up with more than just the facts, Ma'am.

~~~~~~~~~~~~
Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest book is Open Season, which has gotten nice reviews from Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly. One Small Victory, is a top seller in the mystery bestseller list at the Amazon Kindle store. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. She will stop playing with her horse and work, honest.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Writing in 140: Organic Description

Sometimes, I come across stories so heavy with thick description that the stories move at a dirge pace…if they move at all. A writer might, for instance, introduce a new character and then suddenly halt the story to provide a paragraph or more of character description—from race, hair color, height, and weight to personality and attire. When I see this, I talk to clients about weaving description organically into the story. Everything hinges on the story. As you are describing people, locations, buildings, etc., it’s important to ask yourself, “What descriptions are integral to the story I’m telling?” Once you get answers to that question, then ask yourself, “What is the best way to weave these descriptions into the story so that they develop people, locations, buildings, etc. and, most importantly, keep the story moving?”

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Writing in 140 is my attempt to say something somewhat relevant about writing in 140 words or less.

~~~~~~~~~~
Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically; her debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell is available for purchase. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, promoting her debut project, writing screenplays, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Research for Sense of Place

Writers don’t always have to be from the place they write about or even visit there. But whenever possible, it is of great value to immerse yourself in the setting for those small details that book or on-line research can’t give you.

Montana is my inspiration—for my books and many other things in my life. The “Big Sky” stretches from horizon to horizon like a great blue dome. Its sunsets are unequaled, with streaks of orange and gold painting the edges. In spring, green-tinged hills roll through the landscape, buttered with bright yellow wildflowers. White-faced reddish-brown calves frolic through the meadow pastures, happy to be alive.

Spring in Montana often comes late, after a long, snow-filled winter that seems to last forever. After four or five months of isolation, cabin-fever, and bone-numbing cold, spring is the new awakening, a new beginning, a season of hope.

As the saying goes, “You can take the girl out of Montana, but you can’t take the Montana out of the girl.” There is always something palpable that washes over me when I crest the summit of Lookout Pass from the Idaho side and see the sign "Welcome to Montana." It is a warm sense of peace, a comfortable state of being.

Driving the road through Washington and Idaho that stretches like a long black ribbon, I have time to appreciate the beauty of our world—from the snow-capped ever-green mountains to wheat fields as golden as fresh-baked apple pie, from Washington's Columbia River Gorge and its cerulean blue against a mocha cliff backdrop, but the silvery sage of eastern Montana still whispers, "home."

Montana is the setting for my novels, Cowgirl Dreams and Follow the Dream, based on my grandmother who rode in rodeos during the 1920s and ’30s. In 1999, with a sense of adventure, I made a trip to Cut Bank and Sunburst, Montana to do research for my book.

I wanted to locate the first ranch where my grandparents had lived when they were married in 1923. The only thing I knew was that it was the "old Davis Place under the rims" near Sunburst. I really didn't think I would be able to find it with that vague bit of information. I started at the courthouse in Cut Bank, the county seat. Everyone knew where "the rims" were, but the younger clerks didn't know this particular ranch, of course. Someone remembered an "old timer" who had worked in records years ago. I called and the gentleman said he remembered it was a few miles west of Sunburst.

Finally, I located a cousin of my dad’s, who gave me directions. The owners were gracious enough to let me drive through their ranch to the location. "Just drive about a mile and a half and look for a grove of cottonwood trees."

Imagine my surprise and awe to find the house still standing, although in bad repair, and being used as a cattle shelter. I spent about an hour there, taking pictures and imagining what the newlyweds must have felt like, living in this beautiful place "under the rims." This is the backdrop for Cowgirl Dreams, where the dreams began.

What special or exotic settings have you researched for your writing?

-------------------------


A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

How I Got My Break as a Book Reviewer

Writer, editor, and book reviewer Wendy Noble is our guest today at Blood-Red Pencil.
Years ago a speaker at a writers’ workshop I attended encouraged us to build up our writing portfolio with short stories, articles and reviews. I had the short stories and articles under control but I had no idea how to get a review published. As far as I knew, newspapers and magazines had their own staff. I couldn’t see a way to break in. Neither could I figure out how to get a book early enough that it hadn’t been already reviewed by someone else.

In 2004 a friend of mine, Rosanne Hawke, invited me to the launch of her first picture book, Yardil. I realised there was a strong possibility it hadn’t yet been reviewed. Time to bite the bullet! I searched Google for the terms, “magazines + book reviews” (I’ve since discovered Writers’ Marketplace). I found Good Reading and thought, “Why not?” I sent them a query by email and to my amazement they asked me to send them a draft. I wrote an 800 word review, but then cut it back to 350 words and sent it off hoping it wasn’t too short. The editor wrote back, “That’s very nice, now cut it down to about 120 words and we’ll take it.”

I then sent Good Reading, unsolicited, a review of Rosanne’s next book, Soraya. (Thank goodness she was having a good year!) This, too, was accepted. When I queried them about a third book by Rosanne, they said, “How about we send you the books?” I’ve been in every issue since then.

I was blessed to have a friend with books to review, and a kind-hearted editor who was willing to give me a go. There have also been plenty of times when I’ve had my submission rejected, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying again. Sometimes sheer perseverance will win the day.

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Wendy Noble (Adv Dip T; Grad Dip CS; MA Creative Writing) reviews Young Adult and Children’s books for Good Reading Magazine in Australia. She is also a writer, editor, and public speaker. Visit her blog at WendyNoble.com

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

How to earn your info dump

You’ve researched the setting of your novel. The occupation of your protagonist. The historical time period. The science and philosophy upon which you’re building the world of your story.

How much of that actually belongs in your book?

The simple answer: as much as you can make inextricably relevant to this character and her specific story.

Here are a few benchmarks you can use to assess the inclusion of your research.

1. Does your research complicate the journey of your protagonist toward her story goal, as set out in the beginning of the book?

This speaks to reader expectation. Let’s say your character is a woman trying to gain acceptance as a physician in 19th century Chicago. Research tells you that the Great Chicago Fire started in 1871, and there’s room for doubt as to whether it was started by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. So you create a morning-after scene in which your protagonist discusses her alternative theories about the fire with her neighbors, who report in about the extensive damage the fire caused. Good enough?

No. This has absolutely nothing to do with your character gaining acceptance as a physician. Because you haven’t raised expectations about the ramifications of this fire from the outset, your reader just won’t care. She’ll start to skim, looking for that point when this story gets back on track. She wants to know if the heroine will be respected as a physician or not!

Now if your character must use a Bunsen burner (research: invented in 1854!) to mix up her own medications because the male-dominated pharmacy industry won’t have anything to do with her, and she is so tired she gets the ingredients wrong, creating an explosion that some reporter later blames on Mrs. O’Leary’s cow…perfect.

2. Is your protagonist immersed in this conflict deeply enough to motivate her behavior?

It’s not enough for your character to arrive in town, hear about the fire, and vow to be a physician because too many lives were lost.

Your character should be unpacking her bags when the first alarms are heard and immediately move into the fray. She will roll up her sleeves and pull people from the wreckage, triage, and set up a field hospital all while the men are still strategizing in the town hall. The historic event itself will help propel her toward her story goal.

3. Have you fully explored all the ways this research can interweave your characters and raise the story stakes?

What if Mrs. O’Leary became a character? When your protagonist learns the a reporter blames the fire on the cow, she keeps mum—she would never become a respected physician if her culpability got out. But her guilt draws her to the cow’s owner, and they become friends, even as the woman secludes herself from the public eye because of shame—and a medical condition caused from smoke inhalation. If your protagonist can cure her, her reputation will benefit, even as her secret erodes her soul.

4. Have you used the setting to reflect the emotional arc of your protagonist?

If your budding physician is touring through Chicago to witness the devastation the fire wreaked on its wood-based architecture, you’ve written a travelogue, not a novel. But if your protagonist was changed by that fire in a way that motivates or complicates her story goals, you’ll find metaphoric potential in setting details that will make them relevant to her—the charred fa├žade of the bank that represented her security, the inhaled ash that became part of her physical being, the first hopeful buds that emerged the year after the fire.

Earn the inclusion of your research by using these suggestions to interweave the facts you unearthed into the fabric of your story. That’s what fiction’s all about, and your reader will thank you for it.

How much info dump have you (or your editor) removed from your work? Did you ever use your deleted research to write an associated nonfiction piece, whose timing was conveniently related to the release of your book?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Formerly a dance critic and arts journalist, she now writes women's fiction and memoir. The first chapter of her memoir, Standoff at Ronnie's Place, modified as a stand-alone essay, has been published online by Mason's Road, the online journal of Fairfield University's MFA program. She blogs about Healing through Writing.


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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Freelance Affliction

If you’re a freelance writer or freelance editor (actually a freelance anything), you probably suffer from the same affliction we all do – the feast or famine disease. Either you are scrambling for bits of business and the specter of the bag lady starts hanging out in your bedroom at night, invading your dreams – or you have so much writing to do that you’re having nightmares about not being able to meet your deadlines and ruining your reputation for all time. Either way, bad for your health.

Why can’t your clients come in at a nice steady linear pace? Because clients aren’t like that. They don’t confer with each other, saying polite things like, “After you,” or “I’m happy to wait.” Instead they care absolutely nothing about your other clients (why should they?) and they say things like, “I’m almost ready to begin – maybe in the next two weeks” usually followed two or three months later by, “I’m ready! Can you have it done by next week?”

My tip for the first challenge – not enough business – is to not give up. Keep marketing your services and know that marketing isn’t linear either – in fact it’s downright spooky. You will be marketing to a group of people you think would be good prospects, and nothing will happen. But what will happen is that a person from a totally unrelated group, who you have never contacted and did not know existed – will suddenly appear and hire you. This does not mean you can forego the marketing efforts, because if you do, no one will appear from anywhere. All of us are part of an invisible web, you see, and when you tweak the web by marketing to one group, the web vibrates elsewhere, awakening others. At least that’s my theory. But it really doesn’t matter how it works – just do it.

For the second challenge – too much business – my tip is to develop a Referral List of others in your industry (yes, your competitors) who you know do excellent work and conduct themselves with integrity, and to whom you can refer your “overflow.” Overflow is such a beautiful word. In this way you will have served your clients, making them happy and appreciative that you went an extra mile to get them what they need. They will say nice things about you, and probably refer you to others. This is called Good Will and it is invaluable. This also gains you good will from the competitors you’ve referred – and if they’re as good as you think they are, they too will have overflow at times, and probably refer back to you – perhaps at the same time the bag lady comes to visit you again.

I have two such Referral lists – one for editors, and another for ghostwriters. Developing the Ghostwriter Referral list is quite challenging, because I simply refuse to refer other writers whose work I don’t know, admire, and trust. Ghostwriting excellence takes many more skills than just being a good writer, which is why I now offer a program called Learn to Ghost. People who complete this program satisfactorily immediately go right on my Ghostwriter Referral list.

And now I don’t lose as much sleep.

~~~~~~~~
Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit http://www.primary-sources.com/.
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Monday, May 16, 2011

Writing a Syllabus and Course Outline: Planning for Success

This spring, after a hiatus of fifteen years, I found myself agreeing to teach a couple writing courses. Though I taught for several years, in the course of moving three times and bearing a child I had, of course, discarded all of my notes, my past syllabuses and outlines, and my old marked-up textbooks. In short, I found myself facing a whole term with no real teaching plan. Luckily, I knew how to go about writing my syllabus. Here’s what I did:

1. I asked my new supervisor for sample syllabuses and copies of the approved textbooks. Though there are state and national standards for course requirements, each school sets about meeting those standards in its own way. Beginning your relationship with a new school by basing your materials on theirs is not only good manners—it’s a good way be sure that you are in compliance with the school’s internal systems. As you become an established, known quantity you can suggest possible textbooks, or explore innovative teaching methods, but in the beginning it’s both good and necessary to work with the systems already in place.

2. I scheduled out the term, factoring in all holidays and test schedules.
Knowing how many class periods you have will determine how to best schedule presentations, assignments, presentation periods, and due dates. Because this time I’m teaching a marathon session once a week I planned my assignments to begin on the day when we discuss them, to include one full class for revision and commenting, and to be due at the beginning of the following class period. My students begin writing during class immediately after they have reviewed samples. At the end of class I check to be sure each has a subject and a beginning for his or her paper. Because my classes are small, I have time to sit down with each student, read what has been written, and discuss possible ways of proceeding. Using the second class period for in-class revision gives students the opportunity to exchange papers with each other, and it gives me the opportunity to review each student’s paper again. This serves two functions. First, it gives new writers immediate, personal feedback. Second, it makes buying or borrowing a paper difficult to impossible. Scheduling the paper’s due date for the beginning of the following class period gives students time to incorporate revisions and suggestions and hand in a clean draft—accompanied by all of the prewriting exercises and preliminary drafts. Again, this serves two functions. First, it gives me a way to determine how or if a writer has incorporated others’ input. Second, it offers yet another barrier to plagiarism. I figure if a student is clever enough to have done all of the in-class writing and revisions I require stapled to the final paper, and to do it without raising any red flags for me, they’re smarter than I am.

3. I made my outline—and I follow it. Students do best when they feel confident that you have some sort of plan. Use your outline to plan your class presentations, writing assignments, and reading assignments.

4. I plan for multiple paths to learning. Students learn in different ways. By offering information in a variety of formats you help to ensure that each of your student’s will absorb most of what he or she must to pass the course. Plan each assignment to include: a) a written assignment; b) an oral classroom presentation; c) relevant examples; d) exercises supporting the skills necessary to complete the assignment; and e) discussion periods. This term, I've also been creating PowerPoint slides, which I used to keep myself on track in class--and post for student reference afterward. A good rule of thumb is to plan on repeating key information at least three times in various ways.

5. I ran my syllabus and outline past my contact person at the college or university before I presented it to my class—and before the final date for filing it with school administration. Again, it's good manners, and it's a good way to head off any embarrassing gaffes later.

Parts to a syllabus and course outline:

A. Course Title and Number, term and year, days and times the class meets, office hours when students can see you privately, and the instructor’s name and contact information. Check with the school about the availability of empty classrooms for your office hours, arrange to be available before or after class, or suggest that students meet you in the school cafeteria (if any). It’s best to avoid suggesting meetings in off-campus locations, and it’s vital that you protect your privacy and safety by not meeting with students in your home. Though I love teaching, I have gotten the occasional scary student—the kind who prompted me to arrange for campus security to accompany across campus and to my car after class. Don’t take chances.

B. Course Description, textbook name/s and bibliographic information, and course objectives and goals. You’ll use the course catalog and the sample syllabus you get as the source for this information.

C. Course Components and Requirements: This is a basic description of how business will be conducted in your class—if the date a reading assignment is listed is the day on which it is assigned, or the date by which it must be read; if papers must be typed, or if they can be handwritten; your rules about late work, etc. It also includes any special materials you may require, such as a flash drive for transporting files, a journal, and so forth. It’s good to base this on the sample syllabus, since some of these pieces relate to facilities and technology available.

D. A written list of the major course requirements—papers, quizzes, daily work, reading, and tests—and how each will be weighted in determining student grades

E. Evaluation: A breakdown of the percentages necessary to achieve an A, B, C, D, or F. Though there is some flexibility in this, general standards often set and A at 91 – 100%, a B at 81 – 90%, a C at 71-80%, a D at 61-70%, and an F at anything below 60%. These are not absolutes; you will want to consult your department office manager or your supervisor for the percentages the college uses most often.

F. Special Needs contact statement, including numbers and addresses where students requiring extra help can go to find it.

G. Plagiarism statement: By law, it’s necessary to lay out the definition of plagiarism and its consequences at the school for which you will be teaching. While the definition remains standard, consequences can range from a “do-over” on the assignment to an automatic “F” for the paper to an “F” for the term to expulsion from college. You’ll want to verify the school’s policy, and then draft your statement in compliance with it.

H. School-wide cancellations alert information, and where students can go to learn about cancellations.

I. Course Outline : This is a day-by-day operating schedule listing reading assignments, in-class presentation topics, writing assignments, and due dates. Your students will refer to this constantly. You should, too.

Once you’ve drafted your syllabus and course outline, you’ll want to fine tune it from term to term, but you’ll discover that much of the syllabus material will remain the same from year to year, unless course requirements and grading standards change. Your course outline, on the other hand, will shift a bit more, as you discover what works best for you in terms of assignment order, pacing, handling late papers, and so forth.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Though Sherry Wachter has been designing and illustrating all sorts of things for nearly fifteen years, she started out teaching college writing, basic writing, and remedial writing courses, and tutoring struggling writers on the side. She still loves teaching, and is delighted to be doing it again. She has written, designed, illustrated, and self-published two novels--one of which won the 2009 Best of the Best E-books Award--and several picture books. To learn more about book design or to see her work visit her online at Magic Dog Press.Bookmark and Share

Friday, May 13, 2011

Cues from the Coach: Listening

Listening? We writers listen all the time. We listen and watch. In fact, we’re avid observers of human behavior. Our realistic characters result from our studying fellow humans with all their imperfections and foibles. Great listeners that we are, however, we should ask ourselves whether we have selective hearing.

Turning a focused ear to others from our fly-on-the-wall perspective highlights our capability to pay close attention and discern details that others may miss. But do we give the same careful attention to our editors, our manuscript readers, or our critique group as they point out shortcomings in our stories? Do we put ego aside, cut the umbilical cord that attaches us to our words, and listen to what they’re saying?

It’s difficult to listen to others who may not share our enthusiasm for our manuscripts exactly as they are written. They may even dare to suggest changes, sometimes big ones. And we may think they are way off base, out in left field, totally oblivious to our clear and concise message.

When it comes to lay readers and critique groups, we may be able to justify—at least in our own minds—the belief that our chosen words work better than any they suggest. But our editor, a professional who has devoted considerable time to acquiring the skills to make a book shine, is a different matter. We may have to choose between sacrificing our beloved words and creating a marketable manuscript. We may even be forced to listen if we really want the end result to be a great book. And that listening may even need to be backed up by action, aka, “fixes.”

This doesn’t mean that every last change needs to be accepted without question. Talk to your editor. Understand why a change is suggested. Take a little time to mull it over before rejecting it. The goal of every competent editor is to help the writer create a fantastic book, and that fantastic book begins with listening.

One last note: listening must be two-sided. Before the work begins, the editor must listen to the writer’s needs, goals, and dreams, as well as the voice, style, and uniqueness. The writer/editor relationship that results in a powerful, well-written book is based on many things, and one of the most important is listening. How do you feel about listening to your editor? Do you believe your editor listens to you?
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Linda Lane has spent years teaching writers to write well through the editing process. Now she offers a refresher course to freelance editors who are striving to meet the growing needs of writers who independently or self-publish, as well as those who submit their works to agents. You can find her at http://www.denvereditor.com.


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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Interviewing

Most non-fiction books require a lot of research. That research can involve many different areas, including books, online sites, and phone, in-person, and email interviews. It also includes double-checking sources and verifying information. Then, once you have hours of transcribed interviews and folders of information, you have to choose what to use and how to organize the book. This is true whether you’re writing a memoir, a tell-all, or a technical book (the kind I write).

I can tell you that perhaps the most important attribute of a non-fiction writer is organization. You need to be detail-oriented and organized. You will gather probably ten times more information than you’ll use in the book. You will want to know your subject before you begin interviews, but you will realize that isn’t always possible. Some may be phone interviews; some may be via email; others will be in person. If you record each interview, you may spend hours transcribing.

Some writers don’t transcribe. I always do. Once I have it printed, I can go through it and choose what to use as quotes in the book and what to use in the profile of that person. After the profile is written, I decide where it fits within the book. You might be surprised to find that a quote from someone isn’t always an exact word-for-word quote. When people talk, they often hem and haw or go off on unrelated tangents or backtrack or a myriad of other things. As the author, you sometimes have to rearrange what they said so it’s clear. But you have to be very careful not to alter the meaning or tone.

Once I have the profile written and the individual quotes written, I send them to the subject for their approval or changes. Some authors don’t do that. I always do. Most often they approve. Sometimes they want changes. If they do, I make those changes.

All of this takes time, as does flying here and there to do the interviews or setting up times to do phone interviews, especially if the subject is, for example, in another country, such as France or Mexico, as some of mine were.

In-between all of this, unless your book is nothing but interviews and profiles, you must continue to do the other research and gather information. No matter how you do your research, make sure you have contact and mailing information on each of your subjects. If your publisher is like mine, he will be happy to send a copy of the published book to each person profiled in the book. And if he won’t, I recommend, if possible, you send each a copy.

Writing nonfiction often requires good people skills, but it also requires organization. For each of the three books I’ve done for TSTC Publishing, from getting the assignment to turning in the manuscript was three months.

Leave you comments, questions or experiences. I’ll be checking the comments, as will other Blood Red Pencil editors.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, freelance editor and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its twelfth year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. In TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Helen has written:
Automotive Technicians
Avionics
Computer Gaming

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

10 Signs of a Typical Writing Day

I wrote this post on my blog back in February and it seemed to strike a familiar note with many people. Enjoy!


10. The mug of coffee by your side seems to have cooled incredibly fast. You know you couldn't have spent that much time reading emails and checking in on Facebook.

9. That idea that kept you up last night (and you were so sure you'd remember that you didn't take notes) has vanished without a trace.

8. At the same moment that your fingers touch the keyboard, your previously peacefully snoozing pets leap up and begin a vigorous reenactment of the D Day landings at Normandy.

7. The dialogue which sounded so bright, witty and (let's just say it) literary in your head has revealed itself to be trite, cliche-filled and (let's just say it) stupid on paper.

6. You've spent the last 15 minutes imagining how you'll feel when you finish this manuscript. You're presently on page 10.

5. You love your plot. You love your characters. It's your actual writing of which you're not so enamoured.

4. Your coffee has cooled again. You know you couldn't have spent that much time reading and commenting on your favourite blogs.

3. You decide to get up and get active. Whilst moving around you can't help but notice your feet are sticking to the floor and you wonder idly how long it's been since you washed it. You immediately decide this line of thought could be dangerous to your writing, but grudgingly admit this sticky a floor might be dangerous to your health.

2. Moving to a bookshelf, you pick out one of your favourite novels for inspiration. After only a few sentences you know in your heart that you will never write as well as this author. Practice self-restraint and reach for the cold coffee instead of the wine.

1. You sit back down and face your blank screen. Summoning the inner strength of St. Joan of Arc, you pound out a sentence. It isn't completely awful. Resist the urge to belt out "Tomorrow" from "Annie". Your pets will judge you. Harshly.

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Elspeth Antonelli is an author and playwright. Her twelve murder mystery games and two plays are available through host-party.com. She has also contributed articles to the European writers' magazine "Elias". Her blog, "It's A Mystery," explores the writing process with a touch of humor. She is on Twitter as @elspethwrites.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Leave a Tip On The Blood-Red Pencil and Share

On every second Tuesday of the month, The Blood-Red Pencil offers you a chance to share and shine. We encourage you to offer a tip for fellow writers to help them along the way.

We've had much success with this feature in the past, because for one thing, writers belong to a giving community. It's not at all unusual for writers to help one another over rough patches in writing or ways to achieve publication.

Do you have a tip that's proven valuable to you? Something you keep in mind when you write or edit a manuscript? Or, maybe how to get your manuscript published?

Here's one of mine -

SET A REALISTIC GOAL.
You may know writers who can whip out tons of words each day, but that's not you. Perhaps you have a day job or a family to care for, or other commitments. You can barely find time to sit down before the computer and type anything. Don't berate yourself for not doing what for you is impossible. Pick something you can do and do your best to stick to it. Maybe it's writing a page a day, or one every few days, or even a week. The main thing is you're writing, and moving in the right direction. You'll get there at your own pace, but at least you'll get there.

That's my tip. What's yours? Please share by letting us know in the comment section below. Also, include your name, and one blogspot or website url, since readers may be impressed by your tip and want to learn more about you. As always, we do appreciate your input about where you've heard from us, but it's not mandatory to do so.

Morgan Mandel


http://morganmandel.blogspot.com
http://facebook.com/morgan.mandel

Killer Career is 99 cents
on Kindle and Smashwords


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Monday, May 9, 2011

Writing in 140: The Beginning and the End

We spend a lot of time talking about the importance of writing a great first page, chapter, but we don’t spend enough time on how important the last chapter can be…for the book you’re writing and for your writing success in general. Finding the perfect way to begin your story and developing that beginning strongly can grip readers and keep them on the page. Weak beginnings often mean the end to reading a book altogether. A well-developed ending offers a satisfying conclusion to a story, and it can also build a need for the reader to want to see what you’ll write next. If the book starts well, a reader will keep reading to see how that book ends. If the book finishes well, then a reader will want to keep reading you to see how your next book begins.


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Writing in 140 is my attempt to say something somewhat relevant about writing in 140 words or less.



~~~~~~~~~~
Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically; her debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell is available for purchase. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, promoting her debut project, writing screenplays, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Friday, May 6, 2011

Busted!—National Park caught flaunting excellent writing

We were making only one sightseeing detour on our cross- country trek, in a U-Haul van packed with my sister’s worldly possessions, and what I wanted was the map. So imagine how thrilled this writer and editor was, upon entering Arches National Park in Utah last summer, to have that map wrapped in one of the best essays I’ve ever read: “Rethinking Wall Arch.”

I remembered the piece when writing my recent post, “Writing that Matters.” Many of the fiction writers who lap up the advice here at BRP write other things as well, including personal essays that show up on our blogs and in other publications. How can we make them matter more?

When I read this essay last summer I immediately sensed its importance. How can you accomplish that same feat with your own writing?

1. Tie an important event to your own life experience.
This essay discussed the crumbling of Wall Arch, pictured above, which at 71-feet long and 33 feet high was a favorite attraction at Arches National Park. The author immediately establishes his unique perspective:
Sometimes I’m considered bad luck. Things tend to fall wherever I work.
After a brief laundry list of unfortunate events, we learn that Wall Arch collapsed the morning this writer took a new job at the park, which sets up a specific—and humorous—perspective. No one else could have written this piece quite this way.

2. The specific event is placed within a larger context, then tied back in to this author’s experience.
We learn that Wall Arch has stood since “time immemorial”:
It was already curving gracefully when the Egyptian pyramids were still under construction. It stood defiantly while the mighty Roman Empire was collapsing an ocean away. It was still holding strong when the Declaration of Independence was being signed in 1776. And, most notably, it was still there on August 4 when everybody went to bed.
3. Explore scientific perspective: How could this happen?
When faced with a calamity of epic proportions, the first thing we do is gather what facts we can.
One answer is fairly straightforward. Erosion and gravity reign supreme over sandstone. For countless eons, rain, ice, and groundwater slowly but relentlessly ate away at the natural calcium “cement” holding the arch’s sand grains together. Eventually there wasn’t enough of this cement left to withstand the pull of gravity, and so the whole structure finally came crashing down.

4. Explore philosophical perspective: Why?
Facts alone, however, rarely tell a compelling tale. People are drawn to writings that address life’s mysteries (doubt it?—check sales records for Deepak Chopra and Mary Higgins Clark). This author steps away from what is known and risks infusing the piece with perspective drawn from his personal belief system.
Beyond the sadness or sense of loss that the collapse might evoke, there is a realization that something will eventually fill the void were the arch once stood. Simply put, another answer to the question “Why?” is, “So nature can make room for something else.”
5. Conclusion: A reflection once intimate has now taken on greater proportions.
Reporting for a new job on the day the arch fell becomes a small part of the greater circle of life:
Though shrouded in memory and mystery, the arch’s fate stands as an invitation to reflect upon the eternal cycle of birth and death that characterizes not only our planet, but our entire universe.
Reading this essay while taking in the spectacular natural sculptures in this park, my sister and I learned more about how they were made. But this was by no means dry material. Couched as it was in this author’s specific experience (considering the essay is written in the first person, it's odd that no byline was given) and addressing life’s greater questions, we got so much more.

Through its movement from specific to universal, this essay seems relevant to someone recovering from Japan’s tsunami, or the tornadoes that decimated our country last week. Revisiting it helped me, as I stumbled back to work after the sudden loss of my father last week. We feel braver for having read it.

The hidden gift for those willing to dig into your material until your writing matters: you will feel braver for having written it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Kathryn Craft specializes in developmental editing at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and editing service. What she believes: 1. Editing forever changed the way she reads. 2. Well-crafted moments of brilliance help her forgive many other problems in a manuscript. 3. All writers have strengths and weaknesses—but why settle for weaknesses? 4. We can learn as much from what other authors do right as we can from what we do wrong. This is her series, "Busted!—An author caught doing something right."



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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Check Your Adjectives at the Door

Weak modifiers are usually the first words to be tackled in the editing phase, but you can improve your writing skills by choosing these more wisely in your early drafts too. Each time you select a noun or verb, and then use another word (or a string of words) to modify it, you weaken the quality of your writing.

Here are some points to consider when you plan your characters and settings and write those first descriptions:

Overused Modifiers Don’t Register
The beautiful girl
The tall, dark, handsome man
The lovely day
The quaint town
If you think your character is “beautiful”, show your readers what that means to you. Do you mean “inner beauty” that shines through and gives her a deeper radiance, or do you mean “superficial, airbrushed looks”?

Describe what it is about her that readers need to judge her on. Here you, as a writer, give up control in exchange for drawing your reader in more deeply. Allowing readers to make up their own minds gives them ownership in the story, which in turn makes them care more about the outcome.

Not every reader will decide your character is beautiful, but ask yourself whether it matters that the reader feels exactly the same way you do. If one reader decides she’s smart and tough, another thinks she’s kind, and another picks up that she tries hard to understand concepts that she finds difficult – at least your readers have an opinion about her.

The Rhythm of Modifiers Can Be Jarring

You can unintentionally create a cadence with too many modifiers in a paragraph. This is especially true for two adjectives before a noun – it always reminds me of the opening beat for Queen’s We Will Rock You.
The tall, blond man opened the big, wooden box, revealing a strange, red shape on a smooth, satin cushion.

Try to train yourself to notice adjectives when you write them so that you can demand stronger writing from yourself. Asking yourself how you want your reader to react to a character could lead to the development of new and important subplots. And all because you removed an adjective.

Do you notice adjectives more when you write, or when you read a book by someone else?


---------------------------------------------
Elsa Neal Elsa Neal is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. Visit her website to download her free mini report on the Ten Most Frustrating Grammar Rules and How to Remember Them. Read up more on Grammar and Punctuation or browse through her Resources for Writers.


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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Time out for a little fun

As an editor, I consider it my duty to keep up with the latest guides to proper, grammar, word usage and styles, so I couldn't wait to read this new release from Three Rivers Press, Write More Good written by The Bureau Chiefs also known as @fakeapstylebook on Twitter and Facebook.

Part of the book blurb is worth sharing here just for laughs. "Still clinging to your dog-eared dictionary? So attached to The Elements of Style that you named your rabbits Strunk and White? Maybe you’re a beleaguered reporter, or a type-A newspaper reader who unwinds by e-mailing the editor about whether “tweet” is a verb? It’s time to face up to reality: Writing clearly, checking facts, and correcting typos are dying arts. Whether you’re a jaded producer of media or a nitpicking consumer of it, this book will help you to embrace, not resist, the lowering of standards for the written word!"

I suppose I could end right there, but this is supposed to be my post, so it should have more words written by me than by The Bureau Chiefs or their PR person.

I loved this book. It made me laugh so hard in places that I woke up my cat who was napping by my computer. The cat is used to all kinds of noises, the clack of the keyboard, the announcement, "You've got mail" and the ring of the telephone. What he isn't used to is a loud snort accompanied by coffee splattering all over his resting place. 

One of the first things to be cleared up in this phony style book is the use of sexist language. Where once the pronoun "he" was acceptable in sentences where gender wasn't specified in the antecedent, alas, that is no more. Now we have to use inclusive language when we write and that can get tricky as the Bureau Chiefs point out. "None of the options people have come up with like "shim", "zie", or Hershey" (and "he/she", which has only a narrowly applicable use within the world of transgender porn), have satisfactorily caught on. So it is up to you to find some solution that will make your writing nonsexist in order to appease all the PC whiners while avoiding pronoun-antecedent agreement errors."

Good luck with that.

I sure could have used this book when I was working as a reporter. The authors offer some helpful guides for interviewing a politician about a scandal in which he or she is involved. (Note the proper use of inclusive language there. Good boys.)

The correct interpretation of a politician's response to certain questions is as follows:
    "I didn't do it" really means "I totally did it.
    My wife is standing by me in this time of crisis" really means "I'm gay."
    "I will not resign" really means "Please forward my mail to this township in Mexico, beginning immediately."
    "Yes I did it. I take full responsibility" really means "I 'm really not cut out for politics."

Other helpful sections included a list of words to stay away from to avoid being sued for libel. Those included goober, Glenn Beck, bad, unethical, and Democrat. Not necessarily in that order.

On punctuation and grammar the authors have this to say, "Truly we live in a frightening time, when the ancient skill of diagramming a sentence may fade into obscurity as the human race evolves teeny tiny fingers attached to the main fingers in order to better mash cell-phone buttons. Will grammar and punctuation remain constant in this strange new world?"

My fellow writers and editors, the answer is up to you.
 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest book is Open Season, which has gotten nice reviews from Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly. One Small Victory, is a top seller in the mystery bestseller list at the Amazon Kindle store. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. She will stop playing with her horse and work, honest.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ask the Editor Free-For-All is Today!

Once again, it's the first Tuesday of the month, meaning It's Ask the Editor Free-For-All Time!

The buzz is growing louder as Kindle and other electronic reader sales grow. Many authors are considering whether or not to take the plunge and self-publish. Whatever your decision, be it to tackle the job yourself, or submit your manuscript to an editor or agent at a publishing house, your book will need great editing to get where you want it to go - to your readers.

Today, our editors sit behind their computers, at your disposal, ready to answer your questions, great or small. That's right, even the smallest ones count, so don't be afraid you might seem dumb. If we don't come up with an answer, we'll do our best to refer you to someone who just might solve your dilemma. Let's get that book published right, no matter which avenue you decide to pursue.

How Ask the Editor Free-For-All Works:

Today, and every first Tuesday of the month, The Blood-Red Pencil sponsors our Ask the Editor Free-For-All. I send e-mails to e-groups, Facebook, plus other social networks, blogs, and everywhere else I happen to think of, inviting members to come and ask questions.The feature's goal is to offer valuable tips about writing basics, manuscript submission to publishers or agents, and self-publishing.

To Submit A Question, Follow These Easy Steps:

Leave a comment in the comment section here. Include your name and blog url or website, not only for promo, but also so we all know you're real. (One link only, please!)  Make sure your comment does get added before you leave, since sometimes Blogger does tests on people to make sure they're not robots. You may be required to repeat steps to make it stick.

Our Editors will drop by today and answer questions in the comment section. If your question could use a detailed explanation, one of our Editors might decide to do an entire blog post on that topic. If that happens, you'll get extra promotion, along with the possibility of forwarding jpegs of your profile photo and cover, along with a buy link.

It's not required, but always welcome if you leave an e-mail address along with your comment. Also, if you wish, please let us know where you've heard about our Ask the Editor Free-For-All.

Others will also be asking questions, so you may wish to check back later to read what else might happen to show up. Some of our participants use e-group Digests, which delays their email notifications, so their questions and the answers might carry over through Wednesday or Thursday.

The comment section is open now for your questions. Come on over!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~




http://morganmandel.blogspot.com
Killer Career now 99 cents on Kindle and Smashwords

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Monday, May 2, 2011

Grammar ABCs: A is for Appositive

I have forgotten the terms for many of the things I do instinctively in my writing or editing. So, defining grammar terms will be a good review for me as well.

An appositive is a noun or a noun phrase that identifies or renames another noun in a sentence.

Here is an example: The team chose two new members, Jake and Brad. (Jake and Brad are the same as “new members.”)

An appositive phrase can modify as well: Sorrel, a coppery red, is one the most common equine colors. (“coppery red” identifies sorrel. And “color” is also an appositive, describing sorrel.)

More examples: The Otis Elevator Company, the world’s oldest and biggest elevator manufacturer, claims that its products carry the equivalent of the world’s population every five days.

Appositives can be essential information or extra information. Only appositives that are extra information are set aside by commas. Example: The teacher, Mrs. Smith, handed out the tests. (Mrs. Smith is set aside by commas because we don’t need to know her name to get the gist of the sentence. “Teacher Smith handed out the tests” can also be considered an appositive, not needing commas.

So now we know what to call  those descriptive phrases we put in our stories so often without a second thought.

What are some other terms for things we do instinctively without thinking about what they are called? How about metaphor, simile, dependent and independent clauses? Let's have some fun with defining those and others you can think of.

-------------------------

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

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