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Showing posts from May, 2017

Memorial Day

We here at the Blood-Red Pencil want to take a moment to remember all who died to give us   the freedom to even write this blog. There are so many countries that restrict, or limit, any kind of exchange of ideas, and sometimes we forget. This freedom did not come without a high price-tag. I come from a long line of military men on my father's side. In a little cemetery in Fairmont, West Virginia there are headstones for a number of Van Gilder men who served in the U.S. military, going back to the Revolutionary War. I had the opportunity to go that cemetery a few years ago for a family reunion and it was awe-inspiring to walk the lines of gravestones and think about what it must have been like for them. Before taking that trip, I had not known that there was a member of our family serving in every war and conflict throughout the history of our country. It was also interesting to note that not one of those men died in combat. They all served their time in the military and we

Elspeth's Writing Sheep

The Writing Sheep posts, by British playwright Elspeth Futcher   The first instalment of  Elspeth's Writing Sheep , in which the sheep point out to the writer that time spent on Facebook might not be time well spent. October's Visit to the Writing Sheep , featuring the first appearance of Nigel, the British sheep. The Lighter Side of Editing , in which the sheep express their desire to drive a red car.  Shear Your Darlings , because how can wool get made into stylish garments or accessories if it stays attached? Pay Attention!  Give your writing the respect it deserves. Shakespearean Writing Encouragement , because it's time to get to work. Your Writing Style: Are You a Lion or a Lamb?  Do you 'roar' through your first drafts, or are you a little fearful of the blank page? Writers Write , in which the sheep explain that going around in circles will make you dizzy. Dialogue Tips from the Writing Sheep : Good dialogue is indistinguishable from normal conversation. Exc

#FridayReads Story Building Blocks

After several years away from writing anything but blog posts, I am thrilled to announce my fifteen new book babies and the completion of my Story Building Blocks series as envisioned ten years (yes a decade!) ago. Where has the time gone? They are proof that neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor a mortal battle for one's life can keep a determined writer down forever. In 2007 I wrote Story Building Blocks I: The Four Layers of Conflict , introducing a method I developed for crafting sound story architecture. A revised and updated version is now available in print and e-book . It can take you from story seed to a bare bones draft . Then I added SBB II: Crafting Believable Conflict which twists, warps, and tortures sixteen character mannequins based on personality types. The SBB Build A Cast Workbook helps you cast your novel with all sixteen characters. I also wrote SBB III: The Revision Layers to help writers present a revised draft for submission or to help

The Importance of Mystery in Dialogue

During finals week, I came across the following note on a white board: The white board was outside of a professor's office. I was intrigued and stopped to reread the note. Lord knows that as a professor, I have wanted to write these very words on my office door. But I knew I never would, and I was pretty sure this professor was not the writer either. I tilted my head, side to side, rereading the note. Why this did short note from a student make me pause? Because of the mystery hidden within these four words. Several thoughts ran through my mind. Perhaps the student was just being overly dramatic. It wouldn't be the first time a student espoused these words during finals. Perhaps the student knew the professor would know who wrote it and would find humor in it. I have students who purposely revel in student-driven angst for cheap laughs from me. Perhaps the student was truly feeling low, and these words were an act of reaching out. My office always had ti

Dialogue Tips from the Writing Sheep

EXT. A fenced meadow. Three sheep are grazing. More are in deep background. The WRITER approaches. The sheep raise their heads . SHEEP #1: Stay there. WRITER: Here? Outside the fence? SHEEP #3: Yes. WRITER: Why? SHEEP #2: Respect our boundaries. WRITER: Sure. SHEEP #1: We need to talk. SHEEP #2: To be clear, she means we need to talk to you; not that we need to talk. SHEEP #3: We can talk anytime we wish. SHEEP #1: Which we do. SHEEP #2: Often. SHEEP #3: Sometimes about you. SHEEP #1: Concerned? WRITER: Not particularly. Why do you need to talk to me? SHEEP #2: Why? SHEEP #3: Because it’s in our nature, I suppose. SHEEP #1: We are very helpful. SHEEP #2: We are, aren’t we? SHEEP #3: Very. SHEEP #1: There should be statues of us across the country. SHEEP #2: The world.  WRITER: I suppose I meant ‘what’. What do you want to talk to me about? SHEEP #3: Do we want to talk to her? SHEEP #1: Not really. It’s more an obligation than a n

#Fridayreads: The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies by Connie Spittler

I was not sure what to expect when I opened this book. The title, The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies , was intriguing, and from reading the back and blurbs I knew it contained two of my favorite things: herbs and mystery! Whether or not it would live up to its promise was a big unknown. Thankfully, it did. One of the things I enjoyed most was Spittler's main characters - the three founding members of The Erotica Book Club for Nice Ladies. They were vibrant, fresh, and engaging, and I liked seeing how each one's personal story interconnected with the others and how they developed individually as well as as friends. The mystery surrounding the book was entertaining and well-developed. Spittler's method of bringing in small glimpses of what was going on with other characters at the end of each chapter, and her tying it all in with Chaos Theory was well done and interesting. An additional boon is that I have added some new to me books that were mentioned in this one

Your Mother’s Dreams

Image by Taymaz Valley , via Flickr When ghostwriting a memoir, I ask my clients a lot of questions. One of my favorite questions is about their mothers. I ask them: Do you know what your mom as a little girl wanted to be when she grew up? Do you know if she achieved her dreams? Mothers are so basic, so necessary to life, that we often take them for granted and see them only in relation to ourselves. But they too have individual lives with their own dreams and aspirations. The replies I get sometimes sadden me, sometimes gladden me. And them. To get them talking, I share details about my own mother’s aspirations to illustrate. My mom wanted to be a fashion designer. She grew up during the Depression, in a small mountain town, population around 300. All the ladies in town made their own clothes, and those clothes were made for utility and hard wear, not style. Little girls literally wore flour sacks to school, and one of those little girls was my mom. When she got to be a teenager

Creating Real Characters through Dialogue, Mannerisms, and Actions

One of the difficulties in writing fiction is how to individualize your characters to make them real. This can be achieved through dialogue or specific character tics or mannerisms. Doing this in a series is more difficult because you have to keep the characters consistent in book after book. One of my favorite series—and I qualify this because I’m not a big series reader—is Michael Robotham’s Joe O’Loughlin series. Joe is a clinical psychologist with Parkinson’s Disease. Robotham doesn’t hit the reader over the head with the disintegrating effects of the illness on Joe’s body. Instead, throughout the series, the symptoms become more subtly noticeable: a disobedient leg that freezes in mid-gait or a hand tremor, but never does he make the character about the disease or the disease about the character. To coin one of my least favorite phrases, it is what it is. Joe goes about his business solving crimes without ever becoming a victim. I can think of two series where the character

#Friday Reads : Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me Ta-Nehisi Coates Published by Spiegel & Grau July 14, 2015 ABOUT THE BOOK “This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.” In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden? Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these

Say It with Gusto

Writing dialogue seems easy enough. It's just characters talking, right? Not exactly. Conversation between characters offers great opportunity to discreetly convey information to the reader as well as imparts bits of insight into the people who populate your story. A mediocre story can be elevated by great dialogue, and a great story can sent into the abyss of mediocrity by poor dialogue. Much more than an exchange of words, dialogue can include body language, locale, emotion, the weather, and a host of other relevant factors that invite the reader into the scene and paint a vivid picture of the interaction. However, all such information must be delivered as an integral part of the scene and in a succinct manner. In other words, it can't be an information dump. In real life, we often digress when we talk. When writing dialogue, we need to stick to the subject at hand. We also need to be concise, remembering that dialogue is not the same as monologue. We also need to ma

Lessons Learned From Writing Scripts and Acting

Over the years of writing stage plays and film scripts, as well as playing on stage, I have learned quite a bit about writing dialogue, and "these are a few of my favorite things": Don't include all the "polite speak" - Thank you, You're welcome   Don't tell an actor how to speak - politely, angrily, sarcastically  Pay attention to the rhythm of the words  - make sure the line can be easily delivered Use dialogue to propel the story - each line needs to have a purpose When I start editing for a client, I can usually tell if this is a first book by the sometimes clunky dialogue, including all the "polite speak" as well as repeating names: "Hi, Tom, this is Scott." "Hello, Scott. How are you?" "I'm fine, Tom, how about you." Those are extreme examples, but I have actually seen dialogue close to that, and that does nothing to move the story along or reveal character, or do more than simply take up

Yacking, Conversation, or Dialogue

Our theme for May at the Blood-Red Pencil blog is dialogue and all the ways we use it - correctly and incorrectly - in fiction. We'll talk about how to properly punctuate, when to use dialog tags, how to develop character voice, and even how to move your plot with effective dialogue. Here's an example of how to create real action and a sense of urgency through dialogue: Wiki Lt. Eve Dallas is the heroine in J.D. Robb's longstanding In Death series.  At the end of Thankless In Death , she directs her police team for the big sting. The reader knows her methods, her people, and how this scenario will go down, and the dialogue is all about setting the stage and building tension. "That's how it's going to work," she finished. "McNab, eyes and ears, Roarke security, and between you you'll shut down all electronics and power to that unit on my go. Team A - me, Peabody, Officers Carmichael and Prince, main-level door. Team B - Detectives Carmi