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Happy Mother’s Day from Alabama… Oh, and an Update

WRITING PROGRESS REPORT:  For my May 9 Minimum GOAL: 3 hours.

YES! I DID IT! I spent my first hour sorting out things I no longer needed in my story and getting things lined up correctly. Then I spent most of the final two hours fussing with character names . . . FINALLY got my 30+ characters with appropriate names both from the standpoint of the national origin, AND with meanings appropriate in SOME way to each of the characters. All of that also helps me to give an added level of meaning to the characters and therefore to the story itself. I had a little time on my hands this afternoon, and spent it reading another story from the book Grim, mentioned here previously. This was probably my favorite so far in the volume. It had the real feel and value of the old-timey fairy tales I read as a kid and drew memes and ideas for multiple old tales. Besides, it was just flat – out a fun read!

TITLE ~ AUTHOR REACTION/IDEAS

The Raven Princess ~ Jon Skovron

A queen with a crying baby girl is unprepared to care for the child, and wishes she could fly away with the nearby ravens. The wish comes true and the princess can only assume human shape for an hour at midnight. At age 18, she comes across a hunter in the forest who cannot bring himself to kill. She makes a bargain with him that could free her if he can wait until midnight, sans any food or drink. He promises to do so, but is tricked by an old hag (her sorry mother) into eating or drinking anyway. How he finds the Princess again, and whether she’ll have him or not after three betrayals . . . well, you’ll have to read it yourself. Memes from many old tales, with a feel of the real and old tales I read as a child. Cleverly done, even squeezing in a hint of the Princess on the Glass Hill.

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Update from BB in Alabama: May 8

Note from Herb: We’re visiting family in Birmingham, AL. The Internet connection at the motel is flaky at best. Bear with us as we try to get these updates out in a timely manner. Thank for your patience.

WRITING PROGRESS REPORT:

For my May 7 Minimum GOAL: 3 hours.

YES! I DID IT! Organized some notes (and took down some new ones) to help with my WIP, re-vamped some of the goals. Did some new writing for the WIP.

Every writer needs to be a reader as well. I’ve always known this, always believed this. I’ve also noted that some of my BEST ideas for writing have come while reading. As I am currently writing a fairy-tale type story, I’m also reading old fairy tales I’ve loved forever, new ones that are mock-ups of old tales in modern garb, and some which are just written as a “new” fairy tale. All of that is to explain why PART of my daily “writing” (3 hours) is actually reading: currently a book named GRIM (edited by Christine Johnson) containing short stories from “some of the best voices in young adult literature today.”

Stories Read:

TITLE ~ AUTHOR REACTION/IDEAS

The Key ~ Rachel Hawkins

1st person: Lana, teen & runner whose Momma acts as fortune teller out of their trailer home with some heads-up help from Lana who actually has some real psychic ability. Lana’s crush on Skye comes to a dangerous point when she “sees” him as a . . . Oops! don’t want to give too much away. Definitely a fun and somewhat twisted story, but too little “fantasy” element for me.

Figment ~ Jeri Smith-Ready

1st person from a non-sentient creature’s POV, whose “thoughts” can be heard by the “right” person, left to Eli by his now-deceased father, a former one-hit wonder musician. Interesting novelty to the POV! How could I make that work in my WIP? The “creature” can bring Eli fame AND fortune, if only he’ll respect the “creature’s” abilities. He names the 0creature “Fig” for Figment (of his imagination). Eli’s band becomes a success, but Fig knows Eli should go solo. The band breaks up at . . . There I go again, almost spoiling the story. . . but it’s a good one!

For my May 8 Minimum GOAL: 3 hours

YES! I DID IT! Double-checked that my COMBO file for Twisted Oaks Hollow had everything in it that it needed. Spent some time reading while visiting HA’s sister, Vickie. Wrote some notes on the reading and ideas that came up; will go back to reading to complete the last of my third hour, and hope to stay the full 3 hours in the motel tomorrow morning, working on Twisted Oaks Hollow, while HA visits family again. Will go with him in the afternoon for family time. Today’s reading covered:

TITLE ~ AUTHOR REACTION/IDEAS

The Twelfth Girl ~ Malinda Lo

Creepy, modern interpretation of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” one of my all-time favorite fairy tales. LOVED the forests of silver and gold trees in the original. In this case, the girls are in college together with an elite group living in The Castle. Only 12 at a time, though three,including the sister of the girls’ leader, Haley, have “disappeared.” Liv, a new girl, is invited to take the sister’s place. They go down through Haley’s closet and/or hole in the floor beneath her bed, enter what seems to be a night club at midnight, dance until 3 am., then return to the Castle “dorms.” A dark, unspecified, probably male, character lurks in the shadows. Eventually Liv looks for help to break the “curse” on the girls and . . . that’s enough! WOW! The best match to the original was the night club’s rooms of crystal, silver and gold leaf décor of three rooms. The old story is turned on its head. Would love to write my own version which would be as non-threatening (at the end) and magical as the original was for me.

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Thinkin’ on Thursday: Picture This!

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

At times in the past, I have modeled characters’ looks, fashion sense, even personality on unknown models in magazines. I’ve even cut them out and then built characteristics for that person on the same page or on a 4×6 card. Or I’ve envisioned an old time actor (or a current one, for that matter) as my “hero,” “villain,” “sidekick,” or whomever.

I’m going to suggest another way to utilize pictures of unknowns from magazines or books to help your writing (and the above paragraph has some good ideas too: if you’ve never tried it, give it a go and see what you think). Look through a magazine or illustrated book, preferably one you haven’t read already, or an old one you’ve forgotten all about. Find a picture with at least two main “characters” on it. THINK of these two as major characters in a story you haven’t yet thought through.

Just allow them to begin interacting with each other. Don’t “plan” ahead (this will be a good one for all of us ‘pantsers’), because this is designed to give us practice in a more “organic” method of plot construction. Just start “recording” the story’s events and let them spin out in front of you. Pay attention to other props or objects that appear in the ad or picture. If there are other people in the picture, ignore them for the moment. See how or why the two might interact with the props, objects, bits of scenery, in the picture with them. Record items and events as faithfully as possible without thinking about the “rules” of story plot structure.

Once you’ve recorded the scene, note whether your characters interacted with or used any of the props, etc., given them by the picture. What did they do with items there? Twiddle nervously with papers on a desk? Pick up a coffee cup and look for a refill? Grab a hammer or bucket of paint, intending to use it as a weapon?

How did your characters interact with each other? Were they friends or strangers at the start? What relationship was forged during the scene: adversarial? Conciliatory? Pleading? Helpful? and so on.

Go ahead. This is just a writer’s PLAY ground. Have FUN in it ! ! !

(And, at the end, is there anything salvageable there? Can it be incorporated in your current WIP? Is it the beginning of a short story? An article? An editorial? A children’s book? Even a brand‑new novel?)

See you next for Saturday’s Spellbinder!

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Thinkin’ on Thursday: Thinkin’ Lean and Mean

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

I suppose plenty of writers have first drafts so lean I might call them “skimpy”. They go back and pad — in college my friends and I called this “pad it and fake it.” I am not one of those writers. What I need to do is stop over-writing: saying everything two or three times to be sure I’ve been understood.

Even the best of writers can get caught up in that trap. Years ago, Irving Stone had a stop-over in SLC, and was kind enough to speak to the League of Utah Writers just after his book, The Greek Treasure, came out. He told us the story of publishing The Agony and the Ecstasy. He’d offered it around many times, but it was always a “no” from editors. He took it to a secretary he knew, asking her to take a look and tell him what was wrong. She said she knew nothing about writing, but he insisted her fresh eyes might be a help.

After reading the manuscript (can you imagine how long it was? It’s a huge book still!), she said to him, “You’ve said everything three times.” She went through it, trying to see which time he’d said it best. He (they?) slashed it mercilessly and sent it out again. It sold right away. He took the advance and used it to marry her, and she edited all his books after that! Gotta love a love story!

But how to go about it on your own?

I know I love every golden word I put down. But maybe if I look at small bits at a time…? I’m talking sentences, phrases, words … maybe even syllables.

Cut redundancy.

Redundancy is irritating because it contains no new information. It might also make the reader lose trust in your story. Trust your reader. And trust yourself to be able to write with clarity. Don’t lose the readers’ trust in your authority.

Deliberate repetition, for an effect, can be good. Just be sure it adds impact to the plot on an important point. Repetition just for the sake of repetition is . . . redundancy.

Get rid of over-explanation.

If you feel you have to explain or excuse something, it’s probably not on the page. In what ways do you “defend” your choices in the midst of a critique group? Instead, assume that the reader is at least as smart as you are and can figure things out. It can be tough figuring out what most people know or don’t know, but consider your target audience: if you’re writing historical romance, is the word “farthingale” going to throw them off without explanation? Probably not. In any case, they’ll probably figure it out through the context in which it was used.

Pick up the pace.

“Pace” can be thought of as how much new information a reader can absorb per page, or per 100 words. Fat-free paragraphs should be clean, crisp, quick. Getting them slimmed down may even cut your verbiage by half, or more.

Think of that as taking a novel from almost 170,000 words to 90,000. Look carefully at your mss. and cut every word you can — it will teach you what makes “good” writing.

Get over yourself, when it comes to “literary effect”.

Finally, cut for literary effect (I often think I’m writing for literary effect, when I’m probably over-writing and obliterating the “effect” part!). Instead of cutting the fat, this means omitting connections where you’ve pointed the way, so the reader can puzzle those connections out for himself. Get readers involved, and they’ll likely keep reading. This takes careful analysis on the writer’s part: focus on the most climactic incident, or the moment of realization. How can you cut the actions down which lead to that result in order to force the reader’s deduction of what those actions were? Is that a stronger, more enhanced version of your story?

A Caveat or Two

These guidelines for cutting don’t apply in the same way to dialogue. Your dialogue characterizes, not only by content, but by form. Your character may be a repetitious person, someone who over-explains. S/he may be pompous, insecure, lonely — and such dialogue will help to show his/her real nature.

Remember, too, that some very successful books are heavily padded. If they were/are truly successful, they obviously have something else to offer: exciting action, thrilling characters, intriguing ideas, etc. Yet it never hurts to offer the reader clean, crisp prose, which can make the difference between sales and rejections — especially important for as-yet unpublished authors.

See you next for Spellbinding Saturday!

[Note: last Tuesday I offered some Tom Clancy ideas from an old issue of Writers Digest. Many of the ideas here came from an article in the same issue by Nancy Kress called “Wielding the Scalpel”.

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Tips on Tuesday: Old Dogs Teach New Tricks

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

So the husband’s out of town. I was wandering around the place and realized how much of my old “junk” is still in his closet. (We’ve only been married about two‑and‑a‑half years). On the floor was a large, heavy box wrapped in layers and layers of plastic wrap… my daughter’s doing the last time I moved some five or so years ago — Thank You! Wanting to know what was there, I cut a little slit in one end of the box, revealing a very full box of old magazines. I pulled the end one out, and left the rest. Ahh! My good old, trusty Writer’s Digest magazine — not even dusty.

The picture on the front sported a close up of Tom Clancy, “His Best Advice for Writers,” backed by a large piece of military equipment, sprouting guns: the January 2001 issue. And the really scary part is I have boxes out in the garage that could have some dating as far back as the mid – ‘70’s! Should I lighten the load, and dump all of them? I decided to check up on the magazine as a whole, and certainly the Clancy interview C after all, I’d loved his books!

The Table of Contests listed a number of topics:

50 Spots to Get Published —many, maybe even all, could be dead and gone.

Must‑Know Info on Fair Use and Copyright —I can only imagine how things have changed in 14 years.

Writing to a T: Crafting a Templated Article —I wonder how much of THAT translates to now? There could be something, but probably not much.

Find Freelance Work in Want Ads —many newspapers which carried “Want Ads” are dead now too.

Hot Book Marketing Tips —most didn’t have a clue about how marketing would morph back in ‘01!

I won’t go on. Most of this could easily be tossed —there are only a couple of pieces I’d glance through first.

Then “A Conversation with Tom Clancy” by Katie Struckel: I turned to p. 20, just to see. Clancy was standing in front of a full book case, with a quote beside him: “The one talent that is indispensable to a writer is persistence. You must write the book, else there is no book. It will not finish itself.”

Well, that much is still accurate. And someone (oh, yeah: that would have been moi!) had highlighted a few pearls in an aqua shade:

“Writing a book is an endurance contest and a war fought against yourself …”

“Try to keep it simple. Tell the d@#%*$ story.”

“… it’s necessary to describe the tools my characters use to lend verisimilitude to my work . . . [it] provides texture that adds to the richness and plausibility…”

After having seen a PBS presentation about Hitchcock and his films, Clancy opined: “Suspense is achieved by information control. What you know. What the reader knows. What the character knows . . . balance that properly, and you can really get the reader wound up.”

His advice to aspiring writers? “Keep at it! . . . Do not try to commit art. Just tell the d@#%*$ story… fundamentally writing a novel is telling a story.”

I still find Clancy’s advice to be completely viable. The technologies have changed, as has the publishing world itself. Now Clancy’s dead and gone. But his books are still around. The words in this interview still ring true. He sure made waves while he was “here” — and he can still show us something about how it’s done.

I’ll clip and keep articles that are interviews, or in some other way are still timeless. I mean, who wouldn’t want know what was on Charles Dickens mind about writing, or in Edgar Allen Poe’s brain, or, somewhat more recently, the prolific Isaac Asimov’s? Now there’s a man who left volumes and volumes of material C and it=s still relevant.

As I find more “gems,” I’ll pass them along. I can’t just toss out all that “old” stuff.

See you next for Thinkin’ on Thursday!

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Thinkin’ on Thursday: Privacy and Protection

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

Do you often include family and/or friends as characters in your fiction? Or do you write about them in non‑fiction essays, memoirs or what have you? If so, how young are the children you may include in such writings?

I saw some great advice in author Anna Quindlen’s interview (Still Life with Bread Crumbs) in Parade Magazine on April 20, 2014. After pointing out that she’d written a lot about family in her columns, she was asked how they feel about that. (I’ve often wondered that about the hilarious columnist Robert Kirby in the Salt Lake Tribune.)

Quindlen’s reply was that all of her children turned out to be writers of various kinds, so “it can’t have been too terrible having a writer mother.” She claimed to have mostly written about her kids before they learned to read. Smooth move, Mom!

As they got older she let them “vet” anything she was writing about them. She went on to say that they never shut her down. But she also clarified that was possibly because she edited her writing carefully, being sure to keep her eye on protecting them from “unnecessary exposure.” Wise move there, too.

Do you look out for the people in your life whom you choose to characterize in a story or article? Get their permission? Or disguise them so carefully that they’d never guess they were in your writing? It’s a great thing to think about, decide about, before you have hurt feelings, or even possible legal action against your work.

I loved Quindlen’s conclusion on the topic: “Columns come and go. Your kids are forever.” And so will your friends be, if you’re careful and judicious in how you “invade” their privacy!

See you next for Spellbinder Saturday!

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Tips on Tuesday: Who are Your “Experts”?

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

A GREAT short article, “Out of the Mouths of Babes” in the new (May/June 2014) edition of Writer’s Digest, by Kathleen M. Jacobs really caught my eye. Jacobs had watched over the years as her nieces and nephews “journeyed” from picture books to storybooks, to chapter books. When Jacobs decided to write her first novel (and had already published short fiction, poetry, personal essays), she hit upon the idea of asking her niece to read her book and give her a few suggestions.

We should all wish for such a critique: the young girl gave her a thumbs up, but also told her where to give more clear description, why she shouldn’t give so much detail in another chapter, where the information load was too light, how much she loved the dialogue and interactions between characters, and “oh, by the way, you misspelled voracious on p. 68.”

She also recommended passing the book around to some of her young friends who did not know the author and get their opinions. All the young people marked in different colored pencils where the magic was evident and where there were places of confusion.

Jacobs said, after getting feedback from teachers and publishers in various conferences and classes for years, it “wasn’t until I sought out the appropriate readership . . . how important it is for writers to go straight to the source.”

Who, in your life, is part of that “appropriate readership”? If you don’t have nieces and nephews of the right age — and their friends — how about a “project” for a local school? Or a gathering at a library nearby? Try to get readers who don’t already know YOU, but are good readers. Find and USE your own “appropriate readership.”

See you next for Thinkin’ on Thursday!

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