Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Signs of a Bad Writing Day

This post was first published here on January 12, 2011.

You know you're having a bad writing day when...

•You're convinced that blanking, blinking cursor is mocking you. You can almost hear it saying "Not...writing...not...writing..."

•Your pet has crawled up into your lap, looked at your work, and yawned.

•You've pulled out a calculator and (for fun) figured out how many hours you've spent on this particular manuscript. WARNING: This knowledge will have you (no matter the hour) reaching for a bottle.

• You decide to take a short break from writing. Days pass.

• You realize your decision to write on the computer was an error as you have no physical paper to rip from the typewriter, crumble up into a ball and hurl across the room.

• You have worn a pathway across the carpet with your pacing.

• Cleaning the oven with a toothbrush seems like a more efficient use of your time.

• You decide to close your eyes and just type - who knows something marvelous may appear. You type. You open your eyes to discover your unconscious mind types in a language you don't understand.

• You make the decision you should have more words with 'x' in your manuscript.

• You consider a subtitle for your book: The Book That Will Never Be Finished.

Sometimes you just have to laugh. It helps.

Elspeth Futcher is a bestselling author of murder mystery games and playwright. She has been the top selling author at host-party.com since 2011. Her British games are published by Red Herring Games in the UK. Her latest game is "Which Guide Lied?" Elspeth's 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Author Blog: Easy Blogging for Busy Authors - #FridayReads #GiftsForWriters

Anne R. Allen is the author of the Camilla Randall Mysteries and a number of humorous novels. She blogs with New York Times Bestselling Author Ruth Harris. Their blog is listed as one of the top 100 websites for writers by both Writer’s Digest and The Write Life, and is visited by tens of thousands of readers each week.

Anne has learned how to blog the hard way by trial and error (she even had to deal with a hacker locking her out of her own blog!) and now she is sharing all this knowledge so other authors can take a short cut. I found myself nodding wryly several times, and I wish I’d had a book like Anne’s to help me along when I started out on the wild Web. It might be satisfying and character-building to work something technical out for yourself, but writers really should be doing more fictional character-building and less fiddling with WordPress plug-ins.

Anne makes the important distinction between authors who blog to raise their profile and promote their books, and capital-B Bloggers who are in the game to make money from their blog. There is a lot of information about how to do the latter, and if you follow this advice you could find yourself lost down a rabbit hole chasing clicks for affiliate pennies. And it is tempting for writers to seek an alternative source of income – after all, many of us have worked as freelancers or even staff journalists. Blogging is so similar to the old weekly opinion column that the idea of not getting paid per word can be hard to swallow. Anne reminds us to stay focused on producing the next book, a far more important use of our valuable time.

Authors don’t need fancy websites; your readers judge you on your latest book, not whether your home page greets them with Java animation. What you do need is a professional online presence (and a decent author bio – and Anne includes a handy guide on how to write this) so that the search engines pick up your name and list useful sites when someone googles you: your blog; your Amazon profile; Goodreads; Facebook; Twitter. It’s worth remembering that social media platforms can collapse or unexpectedly terminate your profile, but your own website is yours; if you use your blog as your home base you can easily redirect readers to new sites or accounts if you need to, and they always know where to find you.

The Author Blog is aimed at beginner bloggers, new/pre-published authors, and technophobes, but even this jaded veteran blogger picked up some good tips, and gained fresh perspective and motivation. I’m already looking forward to simplifying my routine next year. The Author Blog ebook is a perfect virtual stocking filler for an author friend.

Reviewed by Elle Carter Neal
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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Little Fixes

This post was first published here on October 17, 2012.

I am a firm believer in the benefits of going back through a manuscript several times. The first rewrite is to deal with story issues, but a second or third draft should focus on ways to improve our use of language. Sometimes we write in such a hurry that we overlook the fact that the word placement and usage may not be quite right.

"Sirens screamed, bouncing off the buildings and deafening me. "

Wait a minute. Were the sirens bouncing off the building or the sound?  "Sirens screamed, the noise bouncing off the buildings and deafening me."

"As I pulled into the warehouse parking lot, the smell of smoke lingered in the air."

For some reason that just didn't read smoothly to me. Perhaps it is better this way? "Stepping out of my car in the warehouse parking lot, I caught the lingering odor of smoke."

"She tapped my forehead with the revolver then slipped it into the pocket of her blazer."

Oops, she didn't slip the forehead into the pocket. "She tapped my forehead with the revolver, then slipped the weapon into the pocket of her blazer."

There are times we may tack a phrase on the end of a sentence that is not needed.

 "I heard that Royce is having some problems with his health."

That way is correct, but could it be better this way? "I heard that Royce is having some health problems."

The use of pronouns can be tricky if we don't pay close attention, and we have to be careful not to write ourselves into a pronoun maze. "Leslie was a bit surprised that Mandy had not told her, but then she had been a bit distracted the past couple of weeks." Maybe you can fix the pronoun problem?

Something that I always have to be mindful of is not sticking with the first thing I wrote.

"She filled the sink with water and washed the dishes."

That is so bland. Sentences like that are so much better when specific details are added. "She filled the sink with water and slipped the egg-crusted plates into the suds."

In a book I recently read for review, I was a bit put off by the frequent use of adverbs, but there are times when a well-placed adverb works. The following example came from Kristen Lamb's blog. She commented that generally one should avoid using adverbs to show how someone is speaking. For example,  "She whispered quietly."

Lamb wrote, "Okay, as opposed to whispering loudly? Quietly is implied in the verb choice. Ah, but what if you want her to whisper conspiratorially? Or whisper sensually? The adverbs conspiratorially or sensually tells us of a very specific types of whispers, and are not qualities automatically denoted in the verb. Therefore, the adverb use works in those instances."   

I have been known to rail against having people bark, especially when barked is used as a dialogue attributive, but there are some rare instances when bark works. "Olivier gave a bark of a laugh." From Still Life by Louise Penny.

Now it's your turn. What are some of the improvements you have made by carefully crafting your words? Have anything to share from a book you are reading?

Maryann Miller is a novelist, editor, and sometimes an actress. She has written a number of mysteries, including the critically-acclaimed Season Mystery Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not writing, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Once upon a Revision

This post was first published here on July 30th, 2014.

This isn’t a typical manuscript revision—that was done some five years ago. This is a book revision, a published book revision. Why revise it now? Why not just move on? I asked myself these questions when pondering this task that didn’t appear in my original writing schedule for the next two years. I had planned to correct a few typos I discovered after publication and submit a new file, but feedback from readers had been good. Overall, it had garnered very positive reviews.

Originally, the story was intended to end with one book. As it drew to a close, however, the probability of a sequel emerged. Tying up loose ends would have evolved into a longer novel than I wanted, so the sequel idea took shape in a shadowy sort of way.

A few months ago, I pulled Book 1 out of print and began to write that second story. Yes, it was too long to wait after publishing its predecessor, but I had never made any effort to market the first book and therefore hadn’t sold many copies. Besides, my editing work always took precedence over my own writing. By the end of the sequel’s second chapter, I discovered the first book didn’t go far enough in setting up Book 2. Required details didn’t exist—important details that needed to be added. Still, I thought those additions would be few and far between; that hasn’t proven to be the case. While the changes are not long—often just a sentence or two—they have already multiplied well beyond what I originally imagined—and I’m not finished yet. Page layouts are changing due to the increased word count, and reformatting will be necessary. What started out as a minor fix is now a major redo.

At first, the task seemed daunting, and I procrastinated. Then the creative juices began to flow. Small details with big impact fell into place. I spoke to my brother about the work, and the conversation sparked ideas that blew my mind. Reluctance segued into excitement. Book 1 is maturing into a better, more complete, more compelling story. As a “gentle” thriller (mystery, frightening situations, no sex, no gore), it needs to grip those who enjoy the adrenalin rush and guessing games of that genre. The light at the end of the revision tunnel brightened.

Then I looked at the new cover designed for the revision. It didn’t fit. Oh, the colors were still great, but the primary image had to go. I spoke to my designer, and we came up with a new plan. Colors remain. However, a minor element of the old cover will come front and center on the new one, and the tie to the unfolding tale has increased tenfold. The first cover related only to the short (one page) first chapter that sets up the story. It isn’t mentioned again until the last chapter. That minor element, however, plays a significant role in the updated version. I didn’t see this one coming.

Paying careful attention to details in others’ books is a mark of my editing work, but in this case it didn't extend to my own. As Book 2 marches toward completion, it will be “a better, more complete, more compelling story” than it might have been had I not revised Book 1 and seen its shortcomings. The phenomenal results of all this still have me reeling. For the first time in many years, I am thrilled to be writing!

Have you ever revised a book after publication? If someone else owned the rights to it and ultimately released them to you, did you (or would you) do a revision before reissuing it? Or have you put a finished manuscript aside and revisited it sometime later, only to find gaps or missing details in the story? If so, what did you do?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. She also helps new and not-so-new writers improve their skills through posts on Blood Red Pencil and offers private mentoring as well. You can contact her through her writing website, LSLaneBooks.com. Also, you can visit her at DenverEditor.com.

Friday, December 15, 2017

A Book Birth Day (with the longest gestation period ever): Wishing Caswell Dead

Thanks so much to the Blood Red Pencil team for letting me announce my new book release here. I’m happily rejoining the Blood Red Pencil blog in 2018 as a monthly contributor after a long break to work on other projects. It’s great to be back working with this excellent team of writers and editors.

About the book: It took ten years, five rewrites, the refusal to give up on the novel of my heart, and the miracle of the right publisher creating the right fiction line at the right time. That’s the story in a nutshell of the conception and finally the birth of Wishing Caswell Dead, a historical novel from Five Star/Cengage Frontier Fiction (December 20, 2017).

In 2007, I had a short story about Jo Mae Proud trying to escape her horrid life in the fictitious Village of Sangamon in the early 1800s. As I read and reread that tale, I kept thinking how much more I could write if I developed each one of the flawed or evil characters in the story and told how they all came together on the day Caswell Proud was murdered . . . and revealed who the killer was.

I wrote, rewrote, edited, moved chapters around, submitted to my group for critique, rewrote some more, and collected lots of agent and editor rejections.

And then one day, Five Star/Cengage expanded their Western line to include Frontier Fiction novels, stories of almost any genre set in the U.S. up to about 1920.

This is the main reason I keep telling writers never to give up on a novel they believe in. The publishing world changes faster and faster, as do reader preferences and genre trends. What won’t find a publisher today might be in high demand next year.

The short synopsis:

In the early 1800s in a village on the Illinois frontier, young Jo Mae Proud wishes her cruel brother dead. Forced into prostitution by Caswell, Jo Mae discovers she is pregnant and vows to escape her unpleasant life. When Caswell is injured by a near lightning hit, he becomes more dangerous and more hated. The flawed residents of the Village of Sangamon harbor many secrets. Caswell knows them all. Will he tell? Jo Mae runs away and eventually finds shelter with Fish, the old Kickapoo Indian who camps by the river. Wishing Caswell Dead is a historical mystery about the evil that hides within a village, one girl who is determined to save herself and her child, and a violent murder no one wants to solve.

Publishers Weekly says this book is a “worthy historical” and describes the characters as “surprisingly complicated and wonderfully individual.”

Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017).

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers podcast that you can find at the RMFW website.

Friday, December 1, 2017

When Outlines Make Revisions Easier

This post first published on September 20, 2016. We hope it helps you with your #NaNoWriMo2017 novel revisions! ~ Dani G.

Photo by Ron Bieber © 2006 (Flickr)

I used to find it difficult to move on to writing the next chapter of a book until I had the previous chapter down solid. I used to write a draft, read it, then revise. Then I’d read the revision, feel something was still missing, and revise again. Thus began an endless loop of revisions, pursuing the illusion of a perfect chapter but making little progress on the book.

What’s an obsessive writer to do?

I’ve always refused to start with an outline because it makes me feel inhibited. My characters are unruly, and after just a few pages we’re wildly off-track. So I started my current novel based on a synopsis and a list of “things that might happen,” which I believed was a smaller time investment. But when I began revising each chapter ad-nauseum, I knew I was not saving time at all.

Then I learned a simple notion: there’s more than one way to outline. On the advice of Lighthouse Writers Workshop instructor and author Doug Kurtz, I now outline each chapter after I write it. This method, which I feared might inhibit creativity has instead more than doubled my productivity while increasing my creative freedom. The best part: I no longer ride the revision merry-go-round.

Here’s the basic outline I briefly fill out after drafting each chapter:

Chapter Number/Name
Scene One: Simple phrase that captures the scene
Main Character: Name
Secondary Characters: Names
Want: What does the main character want at the start of the scene?
Obstacle: What is the obstacle that gets in the way?
Conflict: What is the resulting conflict?
Change: What changes as a result of the conflict?
New Want: What’s the new thing the main character wants now that things have changed?

As I describe the five above scene elements—1) Want, 2) Obstacle, 3) Conflict, 4) Change, 5) New Want—I inevitably have trouble answering one or more questions. That’s how I discover which elements need development. Then I note the missing elements in red—that meanie editor’s color, but, hey, it stands out.

For example, I might write something like this:

Chapter One: The Gold Coins
Scene One: The Safe Combination
Main Character: Jo
Secondary Character: Ky
Want:  Jo wants the gold coins that will secure the release of her kidnapped child.
Obstacle: Her friend, Ky, won’t give her the combination to the safe. (Wouldn’t it be a more dramatic obstacle if Ky insists Jo admit the kidnapping was her fault before she’ll reveal the combination?)
Conflict:  Jo and Ky argue about whether or not to give the coins to the kidnappers and they both blame each other for the kidnapping (The blame is not yet on the page. Should it be spoken or unspoken? If unspoken show interior monologue.)
Change: Ky agrees to open the safe, but only if Jo calls police. Jo is outraged. (Punch up Jo’s outrage.)
New Want: Jo wants to crack the safe without Ky’s help.

I write an outline for every scene. Once I’ve noted the needed revisions in red, I put off revising and draft the next chapter.

I’ve found many benefits to this sort of outline:

1) It gets me unstuck from repeatedly revising one chapter, because I’ve identified all the missing elements in one fell swoop.
2) It clarifies the purpose of the needed revisions in terms of plot development, so I know what to do.
3) It keeps me moving forward because, instead of feeling I have to fix everything now while it’s on my mind, I let the outline remember for me what to do later.
4) It prevents wasting time on revisions that might later be dropped if the book changes course.
5) When it’s revision-time, my course is laid out so I can finish most of it in one pass.

Sure, revisions can still take me months, but my old way would have taken me years, because I was feeling my way around for what my gut said rather than identifying clear plot requirements like: hey, you forgot the conflict!  

These days I’m editing my novel, which is different from revision. Only after I’ve included the want, obstacle, conflict, change, and new want in each scene am I ready for a content edit. That’s when I make another pass to condense, expand, punch-up, clarify, and polish.

From drafting to revising to editing is a long journey. But I’ve found that outlining decreases the distance between those points.

Cara Lopez Lee is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands. Her stories have appeared in such publications as The Los Angeles TimesDenver PostConnotation PressRivet Journal, and Pangyrus. She’s a book editor and writing coach. She was a faculty member at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, a journalist in Alaska and North Carolina, and a writer for HGTV and Food Network. An avid traveler, she has explored twenty countries and most of the fifty United States. She and her husband live in Ventura, California.