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Showing posts from May, 2011


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

Monday Holiday

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

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 a

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 characte

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?” ----- 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 ed

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.” Ther

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 r

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 ex

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

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 t

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


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 al

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 yo

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 i

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. ----- 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 s

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 i

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,

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

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

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 n