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Showing posts from December, 2008

Why Attend Book Fairs?

When I was on the airplane to the Capetown Book Fair, the man next to me asked why I was going to Capetown. I told him and he said, “A fair for books? Hmmm. Well, it takes all kinds” . He obviously didn’t see the use of book fairs and, unfortunately, there are still many writers who feel the same; I am not one of them. Book fairs have so many positive attributes, if I had my way I’d attend every one I could. Let’s take a closer look at how attending book fairs can help you. 1. Rub elbows with the Big Guys. Most book fairs have one or two big names on their list. They will often be scheduled for talks and book signings. This is an opportunity to ask them the questions you’ve been dying to get answers to. They have gone through it already; why not tap into their resources? 2. Get free stuff Definitely you will come home with a ton of cool bookmarks. Often you can get free books, magazines, bags, pens, post cards, calendars, writing pads, and pencils. I love free stuff and take ever

Let Me Tell You Something – Dialogue, Part Trois

Here are a couple other things to consider when writing dialogue: 1. Oy, Chica, Pa. Though you do want your characters to sound as real as possible, you do not want to rely on stereotypes to get your point across. Your character should be authentic and real-to-life. A person from the rural South would obviously sound different than a Yankee from Boston, and you would want to reflect that; however, you would want to avoid the hackneyed, clichéd terms of a type of person; don't pigeonhole your characters. Now, does this mean your Southern character can't say "fixin'"? That you can't have your Italian character get angry and go off on her mate in her own language? Obviously, the answer to that is no. It really is a fine line. I think a good question to ask yourself is MUST my character say these exact words. If you feel in your gut that there is no other way to state something, then go for what you know. 2. F*ck you, motherf*cker. Now, this comment might get a

Let Me Tell You Something – Dialogue, Part Deux

To become a great dialogue writer, there are several things for you to keep in mind; here are a few: 1. Walking and Talking. Avoid having pages upon pages of dialogue with your characters being mere talking heads. Just like in real life, when people talk, they are often moving or looking a certain way. Take the time to think visually about the scene that your characters are in. What do the "silent" characters do as another is talking? Is the talker gesturing with her hands, pacing the room, rolling her shoulders to release the tension that's building inside her? 2. He said/She said. Many writers will attempt to go beyond "said" and use words like articulated, screamed, yelled, sighed, interjected. No one is going to think you have no talent if you only use "said". Here are a few other " tagline " tidbits: change up where you put your tagline (you don't have to place the tagline JUST at the end of a piece of dialogue). If a character h

Let Me Tell You Something – Dialogue, Part Un

One of the most important tools you need in your arsenal as a writer is DIALOGUE. With great dialogue, a story can have depth; with weak dialogue, a story can fall flat. Dialogue should do more than present TALKING HEADS. Dialogue that is rich and integral to a story does several things… --It can reveal character and motivation. We don't learn about characters simply by what they do, or the exposition that is written; we can learn about them through what they say, too. --It can establish the tone or mood. If you're writing a comedic piece, at least one of your characters is probably a wise-ass, joke-cracking person, always with the witty comeback. --It can foreshadow. Have you ever read a book and after reading a conversation think, "Oh no, something's about to happen?" That's the writer's ability to integrate foreshadowing into dialogue. --It can provide exposition and backstory ...and you want to use this judiciously. Nothing will bore a reader fas

Sell a Book, Plant a Tree

Did you know that in the United States alone 30 million trees are cut down annually to produce virgin paper used in making books? Trees are very important to the health of our planet; they provide much needed oxygen, eat up the carbon dioxide we dump into the atmosphere daily, prevent soil erosion, and play a vital role in the water cycle. As an author, how do you feel about the fact that with each book you sell you may be contributing to the deforestation of our fragile planet? Well, you needn’t worry anymore because Eco-Libris has the answer. Eco-Libris is an environmental organisation setting out to balance the effect of book publishing on our environment. They have a special programme where they work with authors and publishers so that when a book is sold a tree is planted mitigating the effect on the environment. If your book is signed up for this programme (there is a reduced rate for authors and publishers, by the way) you can put the Eco-Libris logo on the cover (“One tree was

More About the Rhythm of Words

Last time I wrote about how important rhythm is in establishing voice and style. Rhythm is equally important in dialogue. To make your characters distinct, they have to speak with their own cadence. A street-wise kid is going to talk differently than one who goes to a preppy boarding school. Cops talk differently than lawyers. Farmers talk differently than store clerks. Adults talk differently than children, and women talk differently than men. In creating those differences, however, be careful about using dialect, Ebonics, and/or pigeon English to extreme. If you want a character to come across as uneducated, that can be accomplished without totally fracturing the written language. At one point an editor from Southern Living Magazine rejected a short story of mine, with a handwritten notation that he might consider it if I rewrote it. He included editorial guidelines that said he would not even consider a story that attempted southern dialect by dropping ‘g’s. At first I thought,

Inner Dialogue

A few days ago I was in the kitchen preparing dinner and I caught myself saying to myself, "If I were you." Then I thought, "Wait a minute, I am me." That was one of the many silly moments in my life. Also, it's an example of inner dialogue. I don't have actual proof, but I suspect we all carry on conversations in our heads, sometimes about trivialities, other times to come to terms with or figure out serious matters. When writing a novel, don't leave out inner dialogue. It's a great way to explain a character's actions or beliefs, also a way to heighten suspense. There are all sorts of reasons to include inner dialogue. A reader might know what's in one character's mind, but the other character doesn't know. How and when will that knowledge be revealed? Small bits of inner dialogue can be smattered in a novel like breadcrumbs for birds so the reader will follow the trail to the conclusion. Or, maybe the reader doesn'

Editors as Mentors

The editor-writer relationship can be many things: transactional, perfunctory, frustrating, beneficial, and inspiring are just a few descriptions used. One of my favorite yet-to-be-published novelists loves to entertain me with stories about her editor chasing her around a cabin as they argued over a short story. And she loves him for it. Something magical can occur between an editor and a writer: mentorship. When I left an in-house editing job, I was honored by the number of writers who described my approach to editing as mentorship. It is pure joy to work with people who love words, whether they are seasoned pros or beginners with sentences as wobbly as a toddler learning to walk. What can take a relationship into the mentorship-sphere? Here’s how a few authors described it to me. Developing trust. Sometimes creating trust is as easy an as editor providing a few “whys” behind the edits – without being asked. It helps to show that an editor is red-penning with the story’s best inter

Dance to The Beat

When working with clients, I encourage them to read their work aloud and get a feel for the rhythm, which is an important element of style. If a sentence reads awkwardly, the writer has lost the rhythm. EXAMPLE: From Night of The Blackbird by Heather Graham : “Kelly’s Pub was already in full swing when Dan O’Hara emerged from the back room of the tavern, the guest quarters, where he’d been staying.” Done right, the rhythm of a story will ebb and flow along with the build up of the most dramatic moments - mountains and valleys. When you are going up the mountain the pace will be quicker and more concise. In the valleys you can relax and take the time to admire the scenery. In Mystic River , Dennis Lehane has a wonderful sense of that ebb and flow. In the scene I’m going to quote from, three boys have been messing around on the street, and the cops show up. When they leave, they take one boy with them: “Jimmy and Sean stepped back, and the cop hopped in his car and drove off. They w

Checking Your Proposed Book Title

Have you found the perfect title for your book? Don't get too attached to it. Before you send your manuscript to an agent, do a Google and Amazon search for your title, and also ask your local librarian to search for possible matches to your title. Titles aren’t copyrighted, but if there is another recent book in a similar genre with the same title, you may want to change yours, or discuss the implications with your agent. While you might get lucky with readers buying your book thinking it is the other author’s, it could just as easily work against you with a good review of your book sending a reader to mistakenly grab the other author’s book. Or a reader might simply assume he’s already read your book. However you feel about your title, remember that there’s always a possibility that your publisher might want you to change it. As the author you might get the final sign-off, but if you can live with the title your publisher proposes, you might want to give in and save your veto

Brainstorming Titles for Your Book

In Part 1 of this series on Book Titles , I discussed using a working title for your book if you couldn't immediately think of a suitable title. But what happens if you’ve completed a draft of your book and still can’t come up with a title? Firstly, try brainstorming on the key themes of your book. Write down what your story is about and pull out the keywords from that blurb. What stands out for you? Can you rearrange the words to make a title? Draw a spider diagram of word associations based on your keywords, and keep rearranging until you find a combination you like. What titles do you like of other books? Do you prefer short or long titles? Punchy or elegant? If you aim for the same number of syllables, you will probably enjoy the sound of the title more – perhaps you only need to add or remove one word from your keyword combination to get a perfect fit. Continue reading: Part 3: Checking Your Proposed Title Elle Carter Neal is the author of the picture book I Own

Books on the Craft of Writing

On a recent post at Char’s Book Reviews and Writing News, I asked writers a series of questions about writing and editing books and was a bit surprised and pleased by the number of responses. I wanted to share some of those results here. First, I asked, “What makes a good writing instruction book?” I had a reason for asking this question. I plan to write a series of reviews on writing books for The Blood-Red Pencil and wanted to know how other writers evaluated such books. Here are some of the responses: “I judge a good instruction book on clarity, specifics, and inspiration. It doesn't do the reader much good if the only information given is a generalized 'Write the best you can.' or 'Make sure your story works on the Macro level.'” - Diana L. Driver , Ninth Lord of the Night “It needs to spark a "aha" moment for whatever problem I'm having at the moment. Hopefully it will spark more than one.” - Pauline B. Jones , The Key, The Men in Jeans series

Tips to Editing a Screenplay

Last year, I took to writing screenplays…again. As a teen, I wrote them and then moved to writing short stories and novels. Something last year called me back to scripts, and it’s been a wonderful learning journey so far. In the last year, I’ve braved the contest world and submitted one feature-length script and one short script to competitions. Didn’t win, but both placed, giving me enough gumption to continue the journey. A friend of mine mentioned the idea of writing more short scripts because they could be used as calling cards – if produced – for larger works. Short scripts can be as short as one page or as large as 60 pages though most tend to fall within 3 to 25 pages. It’s important to note that in the script world one formatted page runs about one minute of airtime. The advice my friend gave me happened to coincide with The Muse Online Writers Conference , put together by the awesome everywoman Lea Schizas. If you don’t know about the conference, you should. One class I too

Get A Job

For some reason today I started thinking about the different jobs I've had. The first I remember, I had to be in eighth grade or so, I worked at Carmen Manor Convalescent Home in Chicago. My duties were taking trays to the patients' rooms. One patient, who had Parkinson's Disease, I spoon fed. I had no idea that many years later I'd be doing the same for my own mother when she fell ill to the same disease. During high school, I worked at House of Chan in Wilmette, Illinois, with my good friend, Barbara Chinn. We made egg rolls, won ton, even pizza. We packed rice into containers. We took phone orders and brought the food to the customers and counted change the old-fashioned way. During the evening hours, I always got great meals as part of the job. Much later, Bob Chinn, her Dad, started Bob Chinn's Crab House , an extremely popular restaurant in Wheeling, Illinois. As part of my tuition at Immaculata High School, I remember dusting the music room with all its me

Cut The Fat

Much like the Fish Cleaning approach to editing, liposuction also works well. Cut all the excess fat. Concise writing moves the story along as much as a good story line. Take out unnecessary phrases and words. EXAMPLE: It was cold outside. So cold Tracy pulled her coat tight against the wind and shifted from one foot to the other to stay warm. That’s okay writing. We’ve all read it, and since that example is out of my work in progress, I will admit to writing it. But in my second or third time through the manuscript, I recognized it as weak writing. It’s wordy and ordinary. So I rewrote it: The cold crawled up her legs like spiders, leaving a trail of goosebumps. I thought that was better and perhaps I was done with it. It uses a fresh image and has reduced 25 words to thirteen. But after letting it rest for a few days I thought it could be improved, so I tried this: The cold crawled up her legs like spiders. Cutting that last phrase lets the reader linger on the image and imagi

New Rules for Writers

Most of these are actually old rules, but these offenses have popped up repeatedly in documents I’ve edited, so they’re worth dusting off and revisiting. Avoid using buzzwords, especially in a way in which they were not originally intended. Examples include: impact, utilize, incentivise . Impact used to be a noun that referred to the effect of a collision; utilize means “to find a profitable or practical use for,” and incentivise just makes me shudder. Affect, use, and motivate are more reader friendly and easier to spell. Do not fill your novel (or report) with clichés. Hanging by a thread, cold as ice, dead as a doornail (whatever the hell that means) are old hat and old school. You can be more creative. Why use ing verbs when present tense verbs work harder? Sloggy: She was jogging down the sidewalk when a car suddenly started veering off the road… Crisp: She jogged down the sidewalk. Suddenly, a car veered off the road Keep verbs phases together whenever possible. Accepta

Character Conflict

A client once said to me that he was having trouble with conflict in his story. The problem wasn't that the characters weren't getting along. The problem came from the other end of the scale -- things were going too smoothly. The author had a protagonist and a sidekick and a problem. Both characters knew what they had to do, so they worked together and did it. Problem solved. But too quickly, too neatly. And the writer didn’t see how he could insert any conflict since the characters were working together and knew certain things had to be done to bring the plot to a conclusion. And yet … the writer didn’t want things to go so smoothly. What kind of a story is it if everything runs along the tracks with no derailments? A boring story. Of course you can always insert problems that arise from outside influences or from the antagonist. But you can also have problems between the two characters, despite their common goal. Look at your own life. I'm sure you have had occasion

Does your story have legs?

I have writing friends who meet a roadblock in a short story they’re writing and sit for days struggling with how to get through to the end and I always wonder - why? Why waste all of that time looking at a blank page? This doesn’t happen to me because I believe either a story has legs or it doesn’t. Why would you force a legless story to walk? It doesn’t make sense. I might start a story with a perfect sentence that developed in my head over night, or the most fantastic paragraph ever put down on paper, and then nothing. Nothing. There is nothing else I can write. Many writers might stop there, clean the page with the press of ‘delete’, and start over. Again I ask - why? Why waste those bits of good writing? When it comes to my words - I’m a saver. If I get to a point in a story where I can go no further, I immediately stop and save what I’ve done. I give it a name and place it in a folder called ‘story stems’. Then I go on to another idea. If I get to the end of that one, the story