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Showing posts from August, 2010

Step Off the Gas

Anyone who writes has been there: All your work in building three-dimensional characters, compelling settings and a taut story arc has led to a moment where your story will undergo a seismic emotional shift. You're about to build in the reward for the readers who pick this book up. It's going to be great. You have one job here, and it's one of the toughest chores writers face: You need to get out of the way. Step off the gas and cool down that prose. Wait, what? Let's think about this in cinematic terms. One of my favorite movies is Heat , the 1995 cops-and-thieves flick starring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. The crucial scene in that movie occurs when DeNiro's high-end crime team tries to take down a bank as Pacino and the LAPD bear down on them. The background music falls away. Faces get bigger in the frame. You can hear breathing amid a hail of bullets and see palpable fear. And every time I watch that scene, my pulse quickens and my nerves are set on edge.

Whom is the Person Which I Know?

Recently Craig Lancaster wrote about pet peeves and whether we really should be holding onto them so tightly. I’m guilty of dozens of peeves and have bitten my tongue blue trying to be polite to my family who are equally guilty of misusing my peeves; sometimes deliberately. Craig’s post reminded me that we had some Ask the Editor questions about the proper use of who, whom, which, and that . These are some of my favourites, so, even though these were answered in the comments of that post, I thought I’d add my little memory tricks for determining the proper use of these words in context. Who and Whom Quick fix:  Switch "who" and "whom" with "he" and "him" - if you can use “ him ” then you can use “ whom ”, in most cases. "He is the author. I like him." "He is the author whom I like." It seems "whom" is falling away from general use. What do you think? Should we stop using it altogether, or should we try to pr

Riding the Wave of a Changing Industry

This is a participation post. Please read it and comment because a number of us need some input. We writers know that our solitary work often requires months, or even years, to complete. But that’s not the end. Instead, it’s another beginning, for we must then deal with editors, designers, agents, publishers or printers, marketing…and the Internet. Sometimes we may wonder whether the end result is worth all the hassle. In decades past, the publishing model pretty much followed procedures and trends of the big houses. Editing and marketing were handled by publishers, and writers were nurtured along the road to success. Of course, some vanity houses did exist, but their wares were viewed as inferior and unworthy of note. Today, we have a very different scene. Technology has opened doors to previously unavailable options, and Kindle (et al.) has turned the reading world upside down. This is good, right? Yes! It’s great for those who surf the Web and grasp with ease the intricacies o

The Plot That Swam Away

The goal of a fiction writer is to engage the reader in the emotional life of a character who will face the thing we humans fear most: change. Even if your character wants this change—even if she is excited by it—readers expect part of her will also fear it. To take us on the full ride you need to constantly apply new pressures that create a catalyst for change, and then let us in on that change in glorious detail. Take, for example, evolution—that's some serious change. When the fish first flopped onto land he didn't grow feet and hop around to commune with others of his kind that very day. The reader wouldn't buy that anyway; she knows how things work. Growing appendages was a process and the reader wants in on it. What did the fish notice first? How did it feel—did it hurt? The reader will empathize with the fish as he faces his perceived disfigurement, relate with his abandonment by his fellow fishes, feel dizzy with him as he gets used to breathing all that fresh a

The Nose Knows

A friend recently called to share a special moment with me. She had just gotten a whiff of a sweet smell that immediately made her think of her grandmother who had talcum powder that smelled like a sweet gardenia. My friend recalled childhood visits to her grandmother during which she would sneak away to sniff grandma's talc. "And of course the powder on my nose gave me away." My friend, who says she is not a writer, but has written some of the most powerful poetry I have read, thought I would be interested in her little moment as an illustration of how to ground a character in a scene. We are urged to use all the senses to accomplish this, and we often mention smells. We have a character react to the odors of food cooking as they enter a restaurant. Or we have a character notice the tangy odor of salt by the sea. But how often do we go deeper to the memory the smell evokes? Or how often do we make an association to a pleasant, or not so pleasant, occurrence in the cha

Release Your Peeves

I pay the bills as a newspaper copy editor. This is an altogether different creature from a book editor. Those of us who punch daily deadlines are the short-order cooks of the publishing world; we read and edit reams of copy in a compressed window of time. In many ways, the pressure-cooker aspects of the job lend themselves to the cultivation of pet peeves -- little word burrs under our saddle that we automatically change to something more palatable (to us, if to no one else). But copy editors aren't alone in this tendency. Anyone who spends time pushing words -- writers and editors -- ends up adopting some of these needy pets. It's all well and good until a few pets become an unmanageable zoo that detracts from the more important aspects of job. Here, then, are some common peeves that often require too much care and feeding to be worthwhile: Split infinitives: In the 1994 film Quiz Show , Charles Van Doren (played by Ralph Fiennes) rather pedantically points out that a TV

Words to Think About From A to V

Here is a list of some important and interesting words for writers to think about, know and use. Have fun! ACTION: Action and plot grow out of compelling, interesting characters. Suspense, action, and conflict are what keep the reader interested. Action is presenting the real life evidence through characters, by showing, not telling the story. BEATS: Beats can be the little bits of action interspersed through a scene, especially in dialogue. For example: “I don’t even want to go there,” I said. He laid a hand on my arm. “You want me to drive?” CONSONANCE: Is the close repetition of the same consonants of stressed syllables, especially at the end of words, with differing vowel sounds. Example: Boat and Night. DISSONANCE: Is a mingling or union of harsh, inharmonious sounds that are grating to the ear. Often used to create a disturbing or tumultuous atmosphere or confusion or bewilderment in poetry. EUPHONY: Is the harmony or beauty of a sound that provides a pleasing effect

Finding the Right Writers Conference -- Fall Events

In my March 26th post , I listed a sampling of upcoming conferences through August 2010. This month I’m taking a look at conferences scheduled for September through December. The list is representative of events across the country available to help you improve your writing skills and get feedback from editors and agents. You can find more information at Shaw Guides . For a series of informative articles about conferences from Writer's Digest editor Chuck Sambuchino, check out the Writers Conference category of his blog archives. The focus of these conferences is writing. Pitch sessions are available at several. All of the information for each conference or workshop can be found at its official website. Click on the conference name and follow the link. September Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference Denver, Colorado September 10-12, 2010 Alaska Writers Guild Workshop Anchorage, Alaska September 11-12, 2010 Wrangling with Writing 2010 Tucson, Ariz

Writing in 140: Writing Is...

“Writing is turning one’s worst moments into money.” ~ J. P. Donleavy Perhaps, but writing is also turning one’s worst moments into great reads for readers and personal understanding for the writer. I’ve written many stories that began from a “worst moment” in my life. Because writing has always been so cathartic to me, it seemed natural that I would weave my real-life angst into creative fodder. In writing stories, I can explore the whys and hows of my situation through characters, allowing me to take a step back from the situation and see things from another perspective. Every good story starts with a conflict, and if I can develop a story that satisfies readers while working through my “worst moments,” then to me that’s a win-win situation. What is writing to you? ----- 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 cre

Insta-Poll: Is The Bedeviling In The Details?

What are the most common errors you see when line-editing manuscripts? I've been a copy editor for the last 10 of my 23 years in newspapering, and recently I've been keeping loose track of the kinds of errors I spot in the news copy I read five nights a week. Tell us how often these kind of mistakes pop up in your own red-pen adventures. In no particular order (and leaving out typos because spellcheck usually identifies those, and often they're mistakes of speed-typing rather than deliberate ignorance): Sentence-Smoosh Syndrome. Example: "The sergeant, who found the car to be stolen, attempted to pull it over, but the man refused to stop, and a pursuit began, going down Auto Center Way, onto Kitsap Way, and eventually to Chico Way." I realize that in fiction, long sentences can convey a certain intense dramatic flow or sense of unrelenting action. But it takes a high degree of skill to keep from losing a reader by cramming too many thoughts into one cerebr

Pushing Through Promotion

Less than a year ago, I appeared on this site and audaciously banged the drum for my debut novel, 600 Hours of Edward . It was the first stop of a hastily thrown-together blog book tour, and as I look back on it, I realize that “hastily thrown-together” is an apt descriptor for much of my promotional efforts in those early days of the novel’s emergence. So here I am, back in this cozy seat as I approach the January 2011 release of my second novel, The Summer Son . I’ve learned a lot about promotional work in the past several months – enough to know that I still have much more to learn. Here’s a short list of what I’m doing better this time around: 1. I have a much more robust, focused blog book tour planned: 10 stops instead of seven, at sites with established readerships that are good bets to be interested in my book. 2. I’m taking advantage of a slower rollout: Lining up blurbs, putting together mailing lists for ARCs, seeing if some buzz can be ignited. The current

Pros and Cons of Self-Pubbing

Even a few years ago, most professional writing advice doled out at conventions and forums said, “Never self-publish,” because it was seen as the mark of an amateur, a lunatic, or simply an impatient writer yet to put in the requisite years of craft. Aside from that perception of “vanity publishing,” the commercial barriers were considerable. Even if you managed to print up hundreds of copies of your book, you had an uphill battle getting them into stores. Technology has eliminated most of the barriers to entry. You can now upload a digital file and be “published” in minutes. There is no overhead and you actually have the chance to reach whatever audience you deserve, assuming you can find it. For those who have used up the A-list of agents and the few publishers who will look at unagented manuscripts, it’s hard to argue against it. For those with out-of-print mass-market novels, it’s a no-brainer to seek a new audience and earn easy money for work already completed. Print-on-dem

Designing The Real Alice: Art Meets Technology

Building a book like The Real Alice in Wonderland involves not only creativity and design skills, but an impressive array of technical knowledge in an evolving industry. It sounds simplistic to say that a designer designing a book needs to remember that she is, ahem, designing a book, but it’s true—and it’s vital that the designer know not just that a book is being designed, but what kind of a book. Books demand design considerations that more typical designer projects—brochures, flyers, billboards, folders, even annual reports—don’t typically pose. Moreover, they’re not the sorts of things that any one is born knowing. Take, for example, the question of the gutter. Every book has one. It’s the crevice in the center of the book where all the pages are bound together. In books like The Real Alice in Wonderland the binding method means that type and critical images must be positioned so that they end before the page disappears down into the gutter. The thicker the book, the deeper the

The Real Alice: A Real Challenge

I was so intrigued by Maryann's review of The Real Alice in Wonderland, by C.M. Rubin, with Gabriella Rubin, and designed by C.M. Rubin and Deborah Frano, I had to see it for myself. Since I live in a town that’s long on grain elevators and short on bookstores I hied myself to Amazon, clicked once, and Alice was mine. The book’s absolutely astounding collection of Victorian elements and memorabilia—and Alice artwork and memorabilia in particular, is a bit like a really well-stocked buffet—it’s hard to know what to dip into first. The opportunity to work with such a wealth of visually materials doesn’t come around often for most of book designers. And The Real Alice is absolutely cover to cover with the kind of images that make designers drool (but not on the art, please!). Projects like this pose an interesting dilemma, because their creative richness demands a level of discipline that can sometimes make the designer feel like the lowest level of bean-counter. The very m

Reference Book Essentials

If you are reading this blog, you are probably comfortable with the internet. You may even consider yourself to be a techie. I love technology. I love blogs. I love FaceBook. I love GoodReads. I absolutely adore Wikipedia. Research has been made unimaginably faster and easier with the availability of online databases and websites. However, there are times when reaching for a good, old-fashioned, printed reference book, can be the fastest, most efficient way to get information. I’ve listed some of my favorites. These are not much further than an arm’s length from my computer when I’m writing. As you look at these, think about the books you have at your workstation. Share with us some of your favorite reference titles and how you use them. Remember the wise words of Groucho Marx, “Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.” THE NEW YORK TIMES GUIDE TO ESSENTIAL KNOWLEDGE: A DESK REFERENCE FOR THE CURIOUS MIND. You may be

Writing as an Art—Two Part Harmony

I just completed a substantive edit/copyedit/proofread for a first-time writer. The story, aimed at young adults, included an impressive roster of characters and a significant amount of action, suspense, and intrigue aimed at keeping readers glued to its pages. This author could no doubt spin a yarn around a campfire that would keep listeners on the edges of their camp stools. Unfortunately, this doesn’t equate to creating a powerful, compelling, tight story on paper (or the hard drive). To her credit, our inexperienced young writer wanted to learn her craft. She walked hand-in-hand with us as we reworked, rewrote, and recreated her book. During the first half of the story, we went over all our changes chapter by chapter. Unfortunately, the tight press date didn’t allow us to help her work through those processes herself, but despite that drawback, she presented us with an impressive rewrite of the ending that worked well and demonstrated writing skills we had not seen in the origina

Writers are Hookers

I used this title for my post because I wanted to get your attention. Writers have to grab the attention of readers. Your opening words must reach out and grab readers fast or you'll lose them for sure. Sometimes a reader will stick with you for pages, maybe even chapters. But you can't count on it. How do you choose a book in a bookstore? Read the back cover? Maybe scan the cover flap? Flip through the pages, checking the "white" to see if it contains mostly long, narrative writing or fast-paced dialogue? Read the opening paragraph? Picture this: someone runs into the bookstore to grab a novel to read out on the beach or on a cruise. She hurries down the aisle, scanning book after book, reading the opening pages to see if it sounds interesting. Would your words reach out from the shelves and grab her? Okay, let's back up a step. An agent (or editor), bone-tired and ready to call it quits after a long, depressing week, picks up a stack of manuscripts to ta

Tight Writing for Good Tweets

If anything can teach you the fine art of tight writing—saying the most with the least number of words—Twitter’s 140 character limit for tweets can. Think in terms of a writing prompt, a little box to type in, a counter to keep you to the 140-character limit, and an audience as large as the number of followers you’ve accumulated. Here’s an example: Writing prompt: promote a new book release and take your tweeps (the Twitterers who follow you) to an online bookseller’s buy page. Using the Little Pickle Press book, What Does It Mean to be Present? by Rana diOrio as an example, here’s the url for the page to purchase the book: The link has 110 characters. The title contains 33 characters. The author name is 11 characters long. We already have 154 characters to deal with even without additional text, spaces between words, punctuation, retweets,

Word Play Time by Morgan Mandel

Word Play Time Again - Writing doesn't always have to be serious. There are ways to make it fun and learn something in the process. That's where Word Play comes in. Today, like every 2nd Tuesday of the month, we at The Blood-Red Pencil do the Word Play thing. I pick out some words and you figure out how to use them in sentences, or parts of a story. Some words  may look alike, but mean something different. Others sound alike, but are spelled differently and also have different meanings. My first choice is DATE. Date - Verb - Going out with someone you do or might care about - She's going out on a date with him? Date - Noun - A time element - What date was that again? Date - Noun - A fruit - That date is kind of sticky. My second choice is ROLL, ROLE Roll - Verb - She knows how to roll with the punches. Roll - Noun - Are you really putting butter on that roll? Roll - Adjective - He did not answer the roll call. Role - Noun - You don't have to play t

Writing in 140: Advice for Writers from Writers

Since 1999, I've interviewed nearly 300 authors, from Carly Phillips to Daniel Black, from Bernice McFadden to M.J. Rose, and I always ask, "What advice would you give to writers looking to be published?" In all the interviews, six pieces of advice seem to resonate: 1- Write from the heart 2- Support and inspire new authors 3- Don't follow trends 4- Don't write for riches 5- Promote. Promote. Promote. 6- Never give up In other words, writers should be connected to their writing (1, 3, 4), pay it forward (2), know their work and find avenues to sell that work (1, 5), and remember the road is hard but there is light at the end of the writing journey (6). What quickie advice would you offer to writers looking to be published? ----- 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 a

Act First, Explain Later

Gone are the days when fiction readers were willing to read pages of description and lead-up before being introduced to the characters and the plot. Readers, agents, and publishers today don’t have the time or patience to wade through pages of backstory and description, so you need to grab their interest right from the first sentence and first paragraph of your story. As James Scott Bell says in Revision and Self-Editing , about the opening paragraphs, “Give us a character in motion. Something happening to a person from line one. Make that a disturbing thing, or have it presage something disturbing.” Here are twelve dos and don’ts for making the first page of your novel more compelling: 1. Don't begin with a long description of the setting or with background information on your main character. Do begin with dialogue and action; then add any necessary backstory or description in small doses, on a need-to-know basis as you progress through the story. 2. Don't start with a