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Showing posts from September, 2012

Books, Glorious Writing Books

I confess. I’m one of those people who reads books about writing. A lot of them. I suppose it’s the teacher in me – we tend to be perpetual students, always looking for something new to learn, to reinforce, to pass on. Since buying Kindle and Nook e-readers, I’ve also downloaded a number of new books, many of them free and available only in e-book format (one of the boons of e-writing programs like Kindle and Smashwords, available to us all). One new book stands out in caliber and focus — The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make UsHuman by Jonathan Gottschall. Presented in entertaining categories that read like a thriller, the premises are firmly based in brain science. The author dishes out facts in palatable bites about why humans not only have a taste for story, but why almost everyone cooks up fantasies as real as their very lives. In fact, we spend more of our mental functions involved with imagination than with any actual physical tasks at hand. Here are a few morse

Conflict and Suspense Belong in Every Kind of Novel

Please welcome bestselling author and popular writing seminar leader James Scott Bell to The Blood-Red Pencil! His guest post addresses our back-to school theme about new writing books by introducing his newest from Writer's Digest Books— Conflict & Suspense .  Its advice will help any author keep the reader turning pages. What is the goal of the novel? Is it to entertain? Teach? Preach? Stir up anger? Change the world? Make the author a lot of money? It can be any of these things, but in the end, none of these objectives will work to their full potential unless they forge, in some way, a satisfying emotional experience for the reader. And what gets the reader hooked emotionally? Trouble. Readers are gripped by the terrible trials a character goes through. (There are psychological reasons for this that are beyond the scope of this post.) That's where conflict comes in. While there are writers who say plot comes from character, let me say that's too simplist

Our Century-Old Grammar Watchdog: The Chicago Manual of Style

Since its first edition came out in 1906, The Chicago Manual of Style has set the standard for formal, grammatical, American English writing. Published by the University of Chicago Press, the sixteenth edition—which is 104 years younger than the original—will soon yield place to the seventeenth, currently in the works. We all know grammar rules have undergone major changes since 1906. What keeps such an old style guide relevant in today’s very different and rapidly evolving media world? A book that covers the gamut of editorial practice from grammar and usage to document preparation and from novel writing to preparing a doctoral thesis must by its very nature be massive, as well as intimidating. Add to that the fact that it also includes full explanations of proper references, footnote/endnote citations, bibliography, and extensive information on formatting and you have a serious writing tool. Can you even imagine researching, preparing, editing, and proofing such a book as a

Meet the Plot Whisperer

Today I'm pleased to turn the Blood Red Pencil over to Martha Alderson , a writing coach who has a series of books and workbooks to help writers at all stages of their writing careers. I'm intrigued by your title, Plot Whisperer. How did you come up with the idea to call yourself that? The short version is that, years ago, when I first started teaching plot, writers called me the Plot Queen. I never really liked that title, so, when it came time to start a blog, I surveyed friends and family and writers for ideas on what to name the blog. Because the blog is based on plot consultations with writers, someone came up with Plot Whisperer. The name stuck. I'm familiar with a horse whisperer or a dog whisperer. I'm trying to see how their techniques apply to your program. Do you encourage writers to "stare down their plot?" (Smile) Great idea! I’ll have to try that. During a plot consultation, writers recount the scenes and events, ideas and vis

Kindle Grammar Books

My grammar school days are long gone. Much of what I learned is but a dim memory. Thank God for editors! Still, I do have some pride. I know better than to submit a manuscript to my editor without carefully vetting it first. So, when in doubt, I've been known to check online resources and grammar checking tools such as Grammarly (BRP affiliate link). I've also discovered another way to get answers. Amazon offers quite an array of Kindle grammar books. Below you'll find a short list, but there are plenty more grammar books to choose from. I'm not including their prices, since they could change by the time you read this, but at last look SOME WERE FREE! 1. The Grammar of English Grammars  by Goold Brown 2. The Only Grammar Book You'll Ever Need: A One Stop Source for Every Writing Assignment by Susan   Thurman 3.  English Grammar, Punctuation and Capitalization by Girard Sagmiller

Saturday Brags: Kathryn's Book Deal!

It's Saturday, and I know all your brains are resting, so I'm going to use fewer words and more pictures. I got a book deal!!! Yes, this is my actual reaction. I have a picture of it because the call came in while I was hosting a writing retreat for women at my summer home in northern New York State. There we were, some writing on our own, others conferring. When an e-mail rang through from my agent, Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Subject: News Body text: "Call me!" Those words sparked an emotional charge that had to work its way through my system. Once I calmed down, I called Katie. The offer was from Sourcebooks, a large independent publisher. Here Katie is telling me the initial offer, and her negotiation strategy. I am sitting in front of my computer screen, which has fallen asleep. I see the retreater who took this picture reflected in it—she's around the corner, where I can't see her directly—but I see her signi

Selling a Book By Its Cover

Ask any published writer to talk about cover art, and you’re almost certain to touch off a diatribe on the subject. I myself have had my share of bad book covers, the worst of them arguably being the cover for the second volume of the Adept series which I co-wrote with Katherine Kurtz. Anybody who hadn’t previously read the first book would never have pegged The Lodge of the Lynx for an edgy occult mystery.   On the contrary, the cover painting would have been better suited to a teen adventure romp titled, The Fat Famous Five Go Caving . This raises the question:   To what extent does cover art influence sales figures?   I.e., can a good cover successfully boost sales of a bad book?   Conversely, can a bad cover scuttle the chances of a good one?   Regrettably, the answer to both questions is “yes”. In the first instance, an eye-catching cover can occasionally seduce even a canny reader into buying a lemon represented as passion-fruit.   (We’ve all been had, now and

Learning the Craft of Writing

I’m not a big proponent of books on writing. I know, I know, lots of folks swear by them.   From the old Strunk & White to Julie Cameron’s inspirational works and everything in between, writers plow through countless tomes to help them pen that next bestseller. And I’m not saying some study therein isn’t helpful. It surely can be, and there are a couple I recommend, but only in very specific instances.   More to the point, however, is that you can’t learn to write well just by studying the process. Writing is a doing endeavor. Countless writers query me, wanting to employ my services, who haven’t written much. Perhaps a few chapters, with an idea of where the rest of the book is going. Perhaps even a first draft. Often this is their initial stab at fiction, and, before they’ve even contacted me, they have already signed with an Indy house, have the cover and pub date. Possibly even a publicist. Oy!   That somewhat boggles my mind. In fact, I won’t work with the la

Three Ways to Make a Good Story Great

Why does a powerful story grip us? A tale that gives our feelings a roller-coaster ride will certainly keep us turning the page but will we remember it a year later? Perhaps not. Yet another tale might linger in our memory for a lifetime. Why? Because it has a strong theme . A theme is a re-enactment of some primal human drive. It’s the essential meaning of a story. If a police officer is promoted to a top job for his success in arresting drug dealers, that’s a news report. But if he turns down the job because he wants to carry on arresting drug dealers - maybe drugs destroyed his family - that’s a story. Why? It has a meaning. Its theme might be ‘there’s no ambition sweeter than revenge’. How do you deepen a story with a powerful theme? One way is to detect the pattern of primal emotions already present in a story - and bring that pattern out. Arguably, ‘meaning’ is the detection of pattern. Find pattern in a well-written story and the story acquires ‘meaning’. A t

Getting On An Editor's Good Side

September is "Be Kind to Editors and Writers Month." I'm not sure Hallmark has a card for that one, so what can you do?   I don't think I've ever been un kind to my editors or fellow writers, but I have been working diligently on my current WIP in order to turn it in to my editor on time. I know she's got a schedule to keep, and if I'm late, the domino effect can make her life miserable. I also owe it to her to turn in the cleanest possible manuscript, and that means not simply hitting send immediately after writing The End. What I do after I type The End is save the document in a different font. I type in Times New Roman, which is more or less industry standard. TNR is a serif font (has the little squiggles on the edges of the letters). My eyes have been staring at that font for months as I work on the manuscript, so I'll choose a sans serif font for my final printout. Two good examples are Arial and Calibri. Next, I change  the format

Writing Purple

A very long time ago, around 40 BCE or so, the Roman poet Horace wrote this in his Ars Poetica: “Your opening shows great promise, and yet flashy purple patches.” It has been said that from this sentence by Horace comes the phrase “purple prose.” I used this phrase in a speech I gave a few months ago, and was surprised when many in my audience did not know what I meant. This may be because they were would-be authors, not editors. Editors are on the lookout for purple prose – so they can kill it. Purple prose means a word, phrase, sentence, or any written passage that is too ornate, too flowery, too over-the-top – in fact, too anything. Purple prose draws attention to itself and away from the story. The most obvious kind of purple prose is romantic or erotic prose. It’s the easiest place to go over the top. Perhaps because the words we give to sexuality are usually either too clinical or too crude. If you say “He patted her mammary glands” it’s not very exciting, but “He grab

Cues from the Coach: Q and A

This month’s question comes from a man whose first book was published in the early 2000s after a decade of futile efforts to place his manuscript with an agent. Despite some good feedback from his submissions, he received no offers of representation. His disappointment and frustration spurred a multitude of questions that we will consider, among others, over the next months. Here is one that applies to many aspiring writers—one that doesn’t always receive the consideration it deserves. Does a writer need to identify “market” before starting a book? Consider this scenario: You have a terrific idea for a story. Do you sit down at the computer and begin writing? Do you decide first who will likely be your reading audience? Does it make any difference who reads your book? I’ve heard writers say, “My book is for everyone.” Really? Think about it. Does this even make sense? Let’s suppose your story involves an African safari. How would you write it for your five-year-old son, gr

The Summer of ePublishing

It's September, which signals the final phase of summer. Summer used to be the time of entertaining kids and finding ways to keep them busy. Instead of focusing on kids, this summer I've been focusing on writing and publishing. I have three non-fiction books out with a publisher. Earlier this summer I decided to do an e-book. To do that, I set up my own company, High Canyon Books. At this point, the company has only one client, me.  Angel Sometimes is now available as an e-book on Amazon. My plan is to next get it ready for printing. Then I'll work on putting it up on other sites via Smashwords. You may take a different path. I have a good friend who went print first, then Amazon. She has been a wonderful mentor and learning partner. You can check out her book on Amazon. I've hired a publicist to help once it's out in print. I keep using the word "I", but I've had a lot of help from friends, both online and in the real world.  If you'r

Elspeth's Writing Sheep

Silence. Darkness. WRITER: ( timidly ) Hello? Silence. WRITER: ( louder ) Hello? Silence WRITER: ( even loude r) Is anyone here? There is the flash of a match being struck and a lantern lit in the distance. A white shape becomes visible. SHEEP #1: Yes? WRITER: Are you one of the writing sheep? SHEEP #1: Yes. WRITER: I thought you lived somewhere else. SHEEP #2: ( moving into the lantern's glow ) We’re everywhere. SHEEP #3:  If you need us, we will come. SHEEP #1: That’s dangerously close to plagiarism. SHEEP #2: It’s a phrase which has become part of the vernacular. It's  a huge compliment to the author of said phrase. WRITER: Can they not handle the truth? SHEEP #3: ( pointing a hoof ) Don’t start. SHEEP #2: Ignore them. ( takes a step forward ) How can we help? WRITER: I just wondered… SHEEP #1: Don’t use that word. WRITER: What word? Wondered? SHEEP #1: No; just.  S