Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Refresh, Remind, Revisit...

Yep, the blog post is late.

Again.

Life happens.

But that doesn't mean I'm going to completely blow it off. The post I planned will come out next week. In the meantime, something is better than nothing. This may seem like "Yeah, I know all this already" but just read through and double check your writing--or maybe this checklist applies to other areas of your life, like a memo for work, a presentation at a school board meeting...

Think about it.

15 Things Not to Learn the Hard Way…

1   No cutesy pictures, embellished envelopes, gifts, or gimmicks.
These are the signs of an amateur, someone who is desperate and hasn’t done his homework. If you’re a writer, it gives the impression that your work can’t stand on its merits. Unless they’re interested in the artwork, you probably won’t get a response. And packages coming from people the editors don’t know?  After 9/11 policies changed and rare is the editor or agent that will accept packages.



.        How did you get from Point A to Point B?
Don’t leave gaps in action or movement so that readers are confused. If there is a complicated action or fight sequence, act it out to be sure you’ve covered all the moves. Don’t leave your character sitting on the floor when a sentence previous she was lying on the bed. Be sure your character is using the correct hand, foot, etc. too! When using flashbacks or other ‘time-changing’ devices, make sure they didn’t have a transporter malfunction and ended up somewhere they couldn’t be.



     Have you got the time?
Do we know what time of day or year it is? Keep track of characters moving through years, days, and hours. If you have to, make a timeline. Use senses rather than clocks; bells ringing at noon, rush hour, dinner time, falling leaves, half moons, etc. to give readers a sense of time. If you have a big time gap, there has to be an explanation, like Meyer’s empty pages with just the month on them for Bella’s almost comatose state.



       I’ve heard that before!
Do a global word search in your ms to make sure you don’t have word ‘favorites;’ like just, simply, oh, really, yeah, well, etc. Use them sparingly, eliminating all but a few, and those should be well spaced. If you find you need a word, check your thesaurus for a substitution. And be careful of clich├ęs!



     He said, she said, I said, we said.
You don’t always need a dialogue tag. Identify speaker by actions; I picked my nose. “Look, it’s green!” identifies the speaker; I glared at my sister. “What are you staring at?” Also, substitute other words in place of said; yell, cried, whispered, and the like because they are more descriptive. Yell is different from said. Careful about adverbs though, they are currently out of favor, but sometimes one is necessary; cried softly or cried loudly? Caution- don’t go crazy that every tag has to be different. Sometimes said is just fine.



     Did not you see?
Know your (not you’re!) contractions! Know the difference between accept and except, affect and effect, know that irregardless is not word! Relearn how to make a possessive! It’s means it is, its means possessive, but it’s not always that simple! Poor grammar leaves a poor impression and getting published is hard enough. You should have both Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style and either the AP or Chicago Stylebook. Ignore the squiggly lines in your document at your peril (but realize that word processing programs aren't always right!).



     See things from my point of view.
Stick to one point of view if you have one main character. With more than one character, First Person narrative can be alternated, but generally (as in kids' books) not in the same chapter. First person means “I,” so the character speaking can’t know what another person is thinking unless they are told, can deduce it from actions, or can make an educated guess. Third person omniscient means “They,” and the narrator can be ‘all seeing’ and know what everyone’s thinking. Mixing the two usually doesn’t work, and just confuses the reader.



 To be, or not to have been
See how awkward this version of Hamlet sounds? Don’t mix tenses, especially in the same sentence. Picture books are generally all one tense. There are ways to mix, but make sure you know how to do it, and if it fits with your voice and style. And keep in mind parallel construction- a list or series of words that all must be consistent; I like running, shopping, skydiving and sleeping, not I like running, to shop, doing skydiving and sleeping.



    Get thee to a critique group.
Hey, it’s a free critique! And more than one! Many successful writers have writer friends or a critique group that look over their work and point out inconsistencies, errors, lapses in timing, pace, dialogue, etc. If they can make time, so can you. One night a week either out of the house or online. The NJ-SCBWI or other writing organization can help match you up, you can Google for online groups, or start your own. Remember that it’s best if you have members in a similar genre because between all of you, you know what to look for.




Sticks and Stones will break your bones.
Whether it’s people in your critique group or a paid critique from an editor or agent, there’s going to be criticisms that hurt. It’s NOT personal. It’s just one person’s opinion. You are free to ignore it. Don’t make the mistake, like a recent author, to lash out, because you’ll be known more for being unprofessional and petty than you will be for your work. Suck it up. Put it aside for a few days, maybe even a few weeks. Then look at it with fresh eyes. Choose the suggestions that you think are best for your vision of the book, but don’t be afraid to try the more radical ones. If you won’t even consider the advice, don’t waste everyone’s time and energy. Successful authors make revisions-why shouldn’t you?



 One more time; let’s review this.
You know you’re going to have to review, revise, and review again. And each time you do, there are mistakes you’ve somehow missed, or even added in. The best praise you can get as an author is from an editor or agent telling you “I love this ms, it’s so polished.” Always send a sterling copy. Even if you have to revise it a hundred times. Read your ms out loud, have friends read it aloud to see if the dialogue is smooth and understandable. If they stumble or seem unsure, you need to revise.



 It’s the same old, same old.
Break the patterns; whether it’s dialogue-tag-dialogue, or starting every sentence with a subject, or ending every chapter with a question, when you consistently repeat a pattern, your ms stagnates. It’s so predictable that your readers will lose interest. Review to see that you’ve varied sentence structure; start out with a verb rather than a noun. Or even an adjective or adverb. Stretch your writing skills and style.



The zzzzzzzzzzzzzz factor.
The passive voice can be the kiss of death by boredom for your novel. Helping verbs are rarely needed, so eliminate them when you can. Action is what people want, not a recitation of past events, so ‘have, had, had been’ can be cut. With just a little reworking, an action verb will add zest to the pace. And avoid the info dump; it’s passive. When you can, introduce bits and pieces of information and backstory in an active way through action verbs and dialogue.



 How old is that?
Don’t let your passions for music, people, fashions, and even words date your ms. Unless you’re writing in the time period when this favored thing was popular, editors, agents and readers can guess your age. And ‘comebacks’ rarely last long, so if you have a person in your novel who is a famous singer, make up a fictitious persona. Some things, called classics, are timeless, like well known hymns, musical pieces by the greats like Bach, Take Me Out to the Ballgame, etc. Historical people like Cleopatra and Ben Franklin everyone knows, but in five years, which may be how long it takes you to get published, will most people remember Lindsay Lohan? TV programs and movies are even harder to use in YA and MG, so avoid if possible. Slang and technology evolves even faster, so keep that in mind when writing.



 Just give it up.

Unless you’re a super hero, writing takes time. It’s not just about writing, either; it’s about reading what’s out there, revising, attending critique groups, critiquing others, going to conferences and classes, submitting your ms, and buying more paper from Staples. There is not enough time to do it all, so choose your priorities. Give up the daily coffee with the neighbor and visit only once a week, learn to live with a little more dust, give the family lessons in microwaving leftovers. If you truly want to be a successful writer, you need time to work and some things are just not worth your time.



Get the pic? 

Char

Monday, August 17, 2015

Renovation or Revision?

Whether you say renovation or revision, it's the same thing- ripping something apart, rebuilding it, and finessing it.

In previous weeks, we had our family room completely gutted- down to the studs (gee, this happened with several novels I wrote...). The structure was good, but was poorly insulated, making the room always feel cold. (The novels were lacking in substance too...). We had new insulation put in, then sheetrock. (Kind of like adding new scenes or characters, building my down-to-the-bare-bones novels back up again.)

Then came the spackling. Filling in holes, sanding out rough spots, so that the story, er, walls and ceiling, were smooth.

Paint, or adding color, interest, and ambiance came next. Ceiling was painted white to reflect light, walls were done in a soft beige with a hint of blush. Welcoming and warm, cozy- the way I like my books. The stark white crown molding and window trims added a little drama. (My novels needed more drama, or less drama, depending on who was critiquing or buying).

Finally, the carpet was shampooed- getting rid of any lingering dust or dirt (akin to cleaning up any last mistakes or problems when I read the manuscript yet. again.)

Now, all that was left to do was showcase the room- decorate, new curtains, new pics (those aren't ready yet), and ditch any junk or clutter. (Equal to a synopsis and query letter to 'showcase' the novel for my agent or any editor she would present it to.)

After three weeks, the family room was again livable space (the pool bar roof, kitchen steps and banister replaced too). My novels, after their 'renovation' (revision if you prefer), were now presentable and I'm proud of all of it.

But damn, what a lot of work. Worth it, yes, but nothing good ever comes easy.









There are other projects- pool deck to finish painting, touch-ups on scuffed walls, revising mg historical novel, etc. Always have something to do, it seems.

Char

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sometimes, you go with the flow...

I had no idea what to write for this blog post. There are enough authors out there putting up links and advice for writers. I don't have any cute cat pics (I'm currently very annoyed with them.)  I don't own a dog. No one wants to hear me defend my fave team, the New England Patriots (can someone say NFL corruption and show me real proof?). I'm revising some  projects I've already told you about. So....



What is it about the males in my house and dishwashers?

They don't put all the forks together, or the spoons, or the knives. That means I have to spend time and sort them.

They put 2, 3 things on top of each other. That means most of them don't come clean and they have to be put back into the dishwasher or I have to wash them by hand.

They don't turn on the machine even when it's clearly full. That means I have to put them on and in the meantime, they pile up the dishes in the sink.

They don't empty it because they don't. That means that dishes pile up in the sink because heaven forbid someone wash a dish by hand.

They cram glasses next to heavier cups and plates so that sometimes they break. That means I have to pick the glass out of the bottom and buy new ones.

I'm seriously thinking of going to paper plates.

But I know I'll be taking out 3x more garbage.

What should I do? Let me know. In the meantime, I'm going out for ice cream.

Char

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What's in a word....?

On, out, up, in- they're all pretty much the same.

Hubs: I let the cats out.

DON'T LET THE CATS OUT, THEY EAT ALL THE CAT FOOD AT THE NEIGHBOR'S HOUSE!

Hubs: I let the cats UP. (they stay in basement playroom at night because they run like crazy at 2 am and wake everyone up.)

See the difference? Even the littlest words have power...  Choose your words carefully....



Char

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Where There's A Will...

...you can find a way.

Yes, that sounds like contrite, cliched advice. True, nonetheless. Want to write a novel or learn to play an instrument or paint a mural on your dining room wall (or name your project)? Oh, but you can't, because (cue excuses) you don't have time or space or whatever...

B.S.

Want to see determination? Want to see a successful "I'm not going to be stopped, I WILL achieve my goal!"

Check out my garden. Those big leafy plants on the right are cucumbers and zucchini. You can't see it, but next to them is a fence. They kind of got squished in.


But behind every hardship is a story of courage, valor, or just plain "I'm doing this and nothing is going to stop me." Here's how one cucumber overcame the limited space the rose bush and his other cucumber buddies imposed on him, forcing him to grow against the fence:



He grew where he was. See the big bully cucumber at bottom right? He took all the space. That didn't stop this guy. When it got cramped and the fence tried to stop him from growing, he found a new direction:



He grew outside the fence. (Ruining the fence in the process, but hey, job accomplished.) He didn't let boundaries, imposed on him by others, stop him. He grew where he could, then took the space he needed.

That's YOU. Grow where you can, but when that doesn't work, you have to be stronger, overcome your fences. No matter what the goal- higher education, writing a book, learning a skill, improving your health- remember this:

NO BOUNDARIES WILL STOP ME.  

So get going. And may your fight and journey be successful.

Char

Monday, July 6, 2015

Why I'm Not Doing NaNoWriMo This Year...

The great people who run the National Novel Writing Month campaign send me reminders about Camp NaNoWriMo, which occurs in July for getting a novel started, or a middle grade or picture book written. It's intended to be a smaller scale than November's 50,000 words in 1 month challenge.



I'm not doing any of it.

The wonderful NaNoWriMo people and I haven't had a war of words, I'm not giving up writing to raise alpacas, and I'm not crossing a sea in a dingy with my cat. I still believe in NaNoWriMo, as most of my completed novels were products of that insanity. The NaNo challenge works for me- work like a hellish crazy person and write the novel in 30 days (yes, even Thanksgiving Day) and have the rest of the year to polish and perfect it.

So what's up?

I have several novels that I wrote, revised, and then put aside to work on other projects with my agent and editors. Needing my attention are a time travel novel spanning human civilization, a re-imagining of a Gothic classic, a paranormal-medical mystery, and a middle grade World War II historical. Plus I'm doing another revision on my sci fi NaNo project of two years ago which my agent has gotten interest in if  I make some changes. Plus a middle grade animal-science story is going out to a publisher and my agent thinks it would garner more interest as a series so I have to outline several more books to show where the first book will lead.

I have enough on my plate, don't you think?

I won't mention that we're having work done on the house, there are summer camps to drive the son to, and book signings for me, I want at least a 5 day vacation, and relatives may be coming for a visit. You know how busy summer gets, and then before you know it, it's September and the whole school routine starts again.

So for the first time in several years, I'm skipping NaNoWriMo, but I'm taking the skills and the get-it-done determination I've learned and applying it to those other projects. (I'm even skipping yoga this morning to finish my read through before the contractor gets here to start work.)

Maybe you have a manuscript or two that need a lot of attention. Or you don't feel up to writing a new novel during the frantic holidays. Skip writing a new one and use the companionship and camaraderie of this community to help you freshen and fix up that old manuscript sitting in the drawer- the one you still love, but which needs a ton of loving attention. Instead of posting words written, you could post words revised.

Whatever your writing goals, use NaNoWriMo to help you achieve it. Stay plugged in and energized.

Good luck!

Char


Monday, June 29, 2015

Between Breaks...

I've finished roughing out the (almost) total re-write of my sci fi (I got to keep the first 50 out of 380 pages).

This is what I want to do:



This is what I should do:



This is what I'll probably do:


I need more chai, more mulch, ice cream for lunch, book for the kid's summer reading, and I'm sure something else...

But it's good to get away from the desk, writing,

Oh yeah, and I need to trim the cat's butt fur. *Runs to car...

Char