Friday, January 29, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

  • Carrie at CKHB has a great post on titles. Carrie is now friends/engaged to the Rejectionist and that's worth noting. Perhaps Carrie would consider getting engaged to me as well, if Rejectionist doesn't mind sharing. Then I could say "My fiancee is fiancees with the Rejectionist. Which naturally means I'm famous."
  • A really interesting interview with publisher Amy Einhorn on what she's trying to do with her new imprint and who she's aiming for. Amy Einhorn published The Help, which I'm reading right now so this post caught my eye. The Help is well written and entertaining all the while suffering under a cloud of conflict--a perfect novel and good example of what Ms. Einhorn calls "the sweet spot between literary and commercial." Highly worth a read. (Both The Help and the article with Amy Einhorn.)
  • Rachelle Gardener has an informative post --especially the comments--about becoming an agent or editor. I always find it interesting to hear how the people working these jobs get there. You might too.
  • Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, wrote a hilarious article on the effects of having a lot of money. He writes in a way that makes it obvious as to why he has all that money. He's one of those funny writers that just gets it. I might have to add him to the Fantasy BFF list. In fact, consider it done.
  • Finally, the only non-writing and publishing blog in my Google Reader is Cake Wrecks. This week I was catching up on the Wrecks and found this lovely thing: Super Mario wedding cakes--they're not wrecks. Sometimes they put up beautiful creations. Highly worth a peek.
That's it, hope you enjoy these. Next week the theme is "Blogging for the Writer." Thanks for all your support this week, guys. It means a lot to me.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Five Ways to Perk Yourself Up

It's time for the Thursday 5 again, and this week it's a list of ways to perk yourself up in the face of rejection. But before I give you the five, I must clarify two things. One, I'm going to concentrate on ways to perk yourself up in the face of the idea that you may never get published. Two, holy KRAKOW, Hibs played Celtic today and smacked the lesser greens (that's celtic; they're lesser) DOWN 2-1! This is huge because it has been very difficult to win against the slimy Glasgow unwashed (that's celtic; they're slimy soap-dodgers) and it really was huge for us in this very crucial winter transfer time. It was such a fantastic game today that BBC even put it on its homepage, yes they did. Not the Sport homepage, no, but the MAIN BBC homepage. (That's Danny Galbraith who scored the winning goal in the 92nd minute, holy KRAKOW!)

Now then.

1. Take solace in the fact that you're not that weird guy spams all the agents with different addresses and insists he won't stop until he publishes his weird book.
You may have heard of this guy on agent blogs. They all think he's vile. If you're not him, you've already got a good shot.

2. Be glad that you're a writer who blogs and is technically proficient enough to understand the value in blogging and online networking for writers. Lots of writers don't, or won't, and you've got a leg up just by knowing that you can read agent blogs. Goodness knows how people learned about the publishing industry before the tinterweb. Oh and hey, next week my theme is blogging for writers. Just saying.

3. You've got support.
This is sort of like #2, but it's true. I know most of my blog readers are other writers; I direct my posts to you as a result. But this online community of writers is really something special and when I get an agent someday you'll all be here to cheer me on, and how cool is that? And you know I will do the same for you.

4. You have all your fingers and you can work a computer.
There's lots of people who can't. Thank goodness you have the tools to support your writing passion.

5. It isn't you; it's just that you weren't right for them at the right time.
I left a comment on Lt. Ccccyyyxxxx's blog about this--that I recently posted a job ad for a position for my company on Craigslist and got a ton of response. There were a lot of good candidates. Some were really good, but just not right for the position. This will be the same with your query. Your book may be good, but might not be right for the agent or agency. It's not personal, it really isn't.

Do you have any other pearls of wisdom to add to this list of ways to perk yourself up in the face of rejection?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Flesh

This week's word is one that I dislike the sound of, can be racist in its use, and can be sensual, colorful, or disgusting all at once. It's flesh.

The word flesh can be found in cliches like "a pound of flesh" or "her flesh crawled at the thought," or the problematic "flesh-colored." Problematic because what color of flesh, exactly, does it refer to? Unfortunately, I think when writers and marketers use it they often mean "beige-colored." This is proven time and time again on products like Band-Aids and even Crayola who used to have a beige colored crayon called flesh. But in a story, how would you really know what the word refers to unless you knew the skin color of the character? Be careful with it in this context.

The sound of flesh is a heavy, gushy sound that just smacks of red blood cells and tissue. This could be bad if the story contains "chunks of flesh flew in every direction after the bomb detonated." (Relax, it was whale flesh.) It sounds ugly. It sound base. And yet, you know that when we say flesh, we mean bare skin to which something good or bad could happen...and that's why it's a great word. It's got built-in conflict!

What are you feelings towards this mammalian, ubiquitous word?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Getting Discouraged

Travener left a comment on my Google Reader Roundup a few weeks ago about the depressing post by the Del Rey editor who listed all her reasons for rejection (in sum, everything). Roni posted a few weeks ago about feeling like a hack. Meghan Ward posted about the financial investment she's made in her writing career--without yet being published.

It's a sad, dark world out there. So why do we sacrifice all the blood and sweat and tears, alienate our families, and eschew Gray's Anatomy (ok fine, I record it and watch it later, because I'd rather be writing at 9 PM on Thursday nights) in order to write something that may never be published, and if it's published, may never please people? And from which we want to retire after many years?

Well, we love it. Although tell that to Sue Grafton.

To succeed, says the blogger who writes A Newbie's Publishing Industry Guide, the number one thing to have is luck. The blogger says that he/she has never determined what luck is. I will tell you what it is. Luck = preparation + opportunity.

So you keep at it. Learn. Never think you know all there is to know. Prepare and then look for opportunities. This is what many agents who blog indicate how their attention is swayed when they're reading a query. Prepare yourself appropriately by writing well, having a plot, working hard, knowing the business, knowing how to query, knowing what to expect, and knowing how to behave yourself. Then, the right agent at the right time (opportunity) will see you. This is why you query widely. You have to.

It's easy to despair because writing is emotional. We work so dang hard for something that could be tossed aside so easily. Writers are not well paid (unless mega bestsellers). Writers have to sacrifice so much. But it's like any other art form that consumes us. Words are just our medium.
Imagine life without writing.

Do you get discouraged? How often? Why do you keep at it?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Too Old to Write and Publish?

This week I'm talking about one of the unpublished writer's greatest obstacles: getting discouraged.

Today, let's concentrate on an aspect of discouragement that I know I've struggled with: age. I'm in my early thirties and wish I'd started writing seriously years ago, because I'd be in a difference place today than I am. Now, I understand that I needed to do things on my own time and mature according to my schedule. But dang, when I was twenty and RARING to take on the world, with no husband, toddler, career, or house payment, it would have been nice to get some experience. I had a heck of a lot more energy then. I know I may not have had the stability or drive to see through what I'm doing, but shoot. The energy.

If you're an older writer, you may have felt this way. If you're an honest writer, you realize that the older we get, the wiser we are, but also the less time we have to develop all the ideas and novels we want. Sue Grafton gave an interview in this month's issue of Writer's Digest and said she, at age 69, is tired and losing it and getting to the end of her alphabet series seems more daunting with each book. I loved her honesty but man that was scary to hear.

As it turns out, INTERN had thoughts about age recently as well. She posted about the young people who write good novels and get agents and publish them. I haven't seen any debut author statistics, but I'm betting that teenage or early twenties authors are the exception.

The eternal optimist says age is just a number. But I wonder--does age matter in the published author game? Chances are, if you're in your thirties, you're probably in an established career or raising young children while you write, or all of the above. What are you willing, and not, to do at your age?

For my few younger readers, how do you feel about your age in relation to where you are with your writing career? Do you feel like you're at the right spot for what you're doing, or that you want more years to grow?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

  • Rachelle Gardener, again, has a nice list of e-mail protocol. The list is actually the way all business email correspondence should be. Even in the business world I am amazed at how sloppy and illiterate some people are, or how little importance is placed on making your e-mail look professional. All I can say about that is, I'm a stickler when it comes to looking professional, and if you don't take the time to project that image, then you're an idiot.
  • ....this post from freelancer Katheen Rusch on professional jealousy-- I highly recommend reading this while listening to Pet Shop Boys' Jealousy, but I understand if you don't want to. It's good, though. Give it a go. I did. It's really nice. Just click it. Please.
  • And Meghan Ward has a good post on why she reads, all of which I agree with, not surprisingly (and did you enter her contest this week? She'll be having more. Check her blog often).
Happy weekend peeps and next week the theme is "Getting Discouraged." Full of excellent.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Five Ways to Create Character Conflict

Today I'm instituting what will be a new Thursday regular-- a short list of Thursday Five. This week it's five things you can do to create conflict for your character, because we all know characters need conflict.

But first, yesterday evening I saw this story on San Francisco Chronicle's web site,, about SF mayor Gavin Newsom's future (or not) in politics. He was interviewed by none other than Maureen Dowd, who has a lot to answer for if you're asking me (and I don't see why you wouldn't). Why Newsom let Maureen Dowd into his office is beyond me, and I was astounded and saddened. Stop, people! Maureen Dowd should answer for her transgressions before interviewing high profile mayors!

Ahem. Now here are your 5 things:

1. Don't let them get what they want.
Your character wants to win a contest? No way! Not even in the semi-finalists!

2. Kill someone off they love.
Nothing creates conflict like grief. Even better is unexpected grief. Your character doesn't care for the evil, smelly old lady down the street who shouts at passersby to get off her lawn? Kill her off and make your character hurt over it--because actually the old lady was your characters birth mother! Oooh!

3. Make your character face his or her fear.
Be as specific or abstract as needed--a monster in the closet (a clown monster!) or a fear of spiders.

4. Make your character do something he or she wouldn't normally do.
Oh yes, Character A. You ARE going to walk straight up to the CEO of your company, whom you have long suspected is an alien monster in a human suit, and who eats human limbs for dinner and then has a car battery for dessert, and tell him that you know he is, in fact, an alien impostor and that you hate him only slightly less than you did before he ate your CEO and put on his suit and assumed his life.

5. Have your character write "chick lit" and then get reviewed by Maureen Dowd. Just kidding! But that would suck, wouldn't it? Actually, #5 is Let your character achieve something nice and then whip it away from him or her. Oooh, the burn, the burn!

There you have it. Do you have any to add?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Substantive

You'd never know it by how poorly I copy edit (or so I've been told over the years without any explanation, ever, but I digress), but I once took a whole series of copyediting courses. The courses relied on your basic grasp of grammar, but I learned a whole heck of a lot of little particulars. One thing I learned was the word substantive. And that's your Word Up for this week. Substantive is a word commonly used in the editing and copyediting industries.

Substantive doesn't quite mean substantial, although a whirl around the tinterweb will have you believing otherwise. I found sites where people said it means the same thing, but noo-ooo-hooo, my friends, it does not. Substantive refers to something that is actual or real, as in, "Hibernian FC needs to experience a substantive increase in ticket sales if it wants to build the new east stand." Substantial means considerable or sizeable, as in, "That Ranger fan's head is substantially bigger than that Celtic fan's head. And not in a good way." Oooh, it's a slight wee difference, isn't it?

Now check this out. I found this little gem in an article about Congressional ethics:

We regret that the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (SOOC) mischaracterized the Office of Congressional Ethics’ (OCE) August 6th referral of the matter involving Representative Sam Graves. The OCE Board did find substantial reason to believe that a substantive violation may have occurred. While the SOOC released a portion of the OCE referral, the complete disclosure as provided for in H. Res 895 will clearly demonstrate as much.
Holy Krakow! Did you see that! Both uses, correctly, in one sentence! The OCE nearly have me based on that alone!

What do you think about the word substantive? Did you know about it?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Character Depth

I'm writing this post because I constantly see book reviews or complaints about books saying that the characters were "one-dimensional" or "caricatures" or "cardboard." But what on earth does that MEAN? I have a hard time figuring that out, so I turned to the tinterweb for answers (as one does). Here's what I found. Thank goodness I was already doing most of these things.

Give your character a goal
If you want your characters to succeed, they need a goal, but think of goals more in terms of character traits and less as part of the plot for this purpose. It sort of follows on what we talked about yesterday--what your character wants. Does your character want to win the love of the high school football captain? Emigrate to Ireland and experience the life of his or her grandparents? Win a prestigious award and prove everyone wrong who laughed at him or her? (And why? But the answer to why is separate.)

Make your character sympathetic
Make him or her human. Give him a failing, but also give him a chance to redeem himself. If your character starts off as a stuck up arsehead, use other characters to reflect the opportunity for reaching out and showing a softer side.

Create character contradictions
Your character speaks one way, but acts another. Does your character spout conservative views to family members at holiday parties, only to bend over backwards when no one is looking and act liberally?

Give them the opportunity to change
And show them doing it, too. If your character was a real hard ass but had a soft core of pudding in his heart, have him change so that more pudding shows through.

These things are what I could find on character depth--and they made sense to me. Do you have any further ideas of what makes characters deeper? I look forward to learning from you.

Monday, January 18, 2010

What Your Character Wants

This week I'll be thinking (and therefore posting) about characters. Today, I want to know: what does your character want?

If you can honestly answer that clearly and succinctly, then congratulations. You have overcome a huge hurdle in plotting. Once you know what your character(s) want, then you can prevent them from getting it and let mayhem ensue, which is what makes an interesting story. Many other bloggers have discussed what characters want and the importance of figuring that out (links at bottom). Here, I humbly present my method for figuring out what a character wants.

Digging deep into our characters to find out what they want is really tough work. Many of us don't do it. I generally struggle with my characters and continually ask what they want until I get a straight answer. Unfortunately, the answer starts off vaguely. In my novel set in Santorini, I asked what my character wanted and she said "To live in Santorini." Which was pretty damn vague. So I asked her why. And she said "because it is different." I asked why again.

"Because it is an escape from XYZ."

Ahhhh, now we're getting somewhere! Why do you want to escape, I asked?

"Because I messed something up very badly."

Ah ha. And she wants to fix that, doesn't she. Why did she mess it up?

On this, she was silent--she was embarrassed about the answer. I was forced to infer from her refusal to answer that she'd done something as a result of a past trait or behavior, and was ashamed of it now. And therein lies my plot: she has to solve that bad behavior before she'll feel better.

So I figure out what my characters want by incessantly asking why until I get a satisfactory answer, one that is painful to reach, and one that reflects the innermost conflict of my character. That takes deep digging. And that's the crux of the importance of what your character wants--what he or she really wants is the inner story problem--it's what makes a good story a great one. Let's look at popular examples. (You will forgive my use of the same popular ones as my same examples every time, but it's a sure bet that you'll know the plot details enough to relate.)

Wizard of Oz
Dorothy wants to return to Kansas--which represents love, home, and safety. So yes she wants to return home, but she really wants the love and safety of those who love her.

When Harry Met Sally
Both Harry and Sally want someone to love truly and wholly. Except they don't think it is each other. (But it is. It is!!)

Silence of the Lambs
Clarice Starling wants to find the killer...ah, but she really wants to silence the screaming of the lambs, doesn't she? Which is what will happen when she finds the killer.

What does your character want?

Nathan Bransford

Friday, January 15, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

I hope you enjoy this week's collection as much as I did. You'll see multiple posts by people because it appears the blogging community was ON FIRE this week.

  • Rachelle Gardener isn't buying the line about ereaders delivering so much more than just words. I liked her bold statements about the topic, because deep down, I'm not buying it either, especially after having been on this side of the production of fiction. But that's a blog post for another time.
  • Meghan Ward pushes the boundaries of blogging and achieving dreams with two amazing ideas in one: v-logging for a blog, and also creating a dream visualization poster. I'm a firm believer in writing down your goals--and the act of writing it helps make it real (along the lines of The Secret), and creating the poster takes one intelligent step further. LOVE IT.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

More Plot Structure

On Tuesday I talked about the Hero's Journey plot structure. There are a ton of other common structures, but at its simplest is my favorite-- saying that plot is "a problem and two doorways." This is talked about in Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. I like this a lot. It corresponds to the three act plot, which is something Janice Hardy covers really well this week in two posts that you need to read right now.

So let's look at the "problem and two doorways" method:

Problem: Professional soccer football player has broken ankle and cannot play in Scottish cup.
Doorway 1: Desperate, he decides to undergo radical foot replacement surgery.
(Mayhem ensues, where new foot kicks old ladies and puppies of its own accord.)
Doorway 2: Guy gets the evil foot amputated and lives with the results, which are that he can no longer play football, but he's seen as such a hero for his actions that he easily gets a football manager job (and he doesn't even mind that it's for some greeble club like Darlington.)

Do you see how he had a problem, made a choice (doorway 1) and then had to make another choice as a result (doorway 2)?

It's simple and I have never had a problem thinking of plot in these terms once I heard them.
What do you think? Is plot as simple as a problem and two doorways?

* The picture is of a doorway of a hotel in Santorini called the Kavalari, which is a hotel I knew well when I was there. You go through that door way and walk down steps cut into the cliff down to the actual hotel.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Trope

Because this week we're talking about plots and structure, I thought an appropriate (and $10) word would be trope. No doubt you've seen this word on agent blogs (which is where I learned it), or perhaps you know it from your MFA program. If you didn't know it, that's fine too-- that's one of the reasons it's this week's Word Up.

Apart from having a slightly gnarly sound to it, a literary trope (as opposed to a speech or mathematical trope-- Wikipedia has a ton of different ones) is a theme, or device, convention that is used to convey a certain understanding in the reader. I know that's vague, and the elephant pattern picture doesn't help things much, so bear with me. As with several other past Word Ups, trope comes from the Greek τρόπος (tropos) "turn, direction, way, related to the root of the verb τρέπειν, "to turn, to direct, to alter, to change." what it is? It's not a general subject or genre, like vampire fiction. You use it in your writing to convey certain signals to the reader so they understand what's going on and what to expect., a site I spent HOURS on the other day, says (very well):
Human beings are naturally pattern seekers and story tellers. We use stories to convey truths, examine ideas, speculate on the future and discuss consequences. To do this, we must have a basis for our discussion, a new language to show us what we are looking at today. So our story tellers use tropes to let us know what things about reality we should put aside and what parts of fiction we should take up.

Tropes in stories are:

A hero or villain
So that readers can anchor their understanding to one person and adhere to the whole mythical good vs. bad (trope alert!) style. We expect that. Every story has it.

A genre
Your readers expect a certain formula with this trope; if your story doesn't follow it then readers will feel jarred. Example: A romance story with a long sojourn of a team of scientists who comb through the city of Pripyet (close to Chernobyl) and come face to face with a ravaging beast who rips them limb to limb, while back home a girl falls in love with a nice farm hand. The farm hand is obviously a cousin of one of the scientists.)

A short story or full-length novel
If you're writing a historical epic, the trope is that it will be of an expected length--not a 4500 word short story.

The trick, they say, is to take old tropes and use them in a new way.

An example of a very, very bad trope is the deux ex machina, which is a whole other Word Up, but essentially means an act of God appears to suddenly solve your story--a sudden, silly event that has no relation to anything else. Don't use that trope. See here for a whole list of tropes NOT to use.

Instead of using the word in a sentence this week, I'm going to pick out a trope I use in my stories: that of a woman who has something to overcome. What tropes do you use?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Basic Plot Structure

Plot is one of those story elements that in theory is really simple, but in practice is where most good-intentioned novels fail, and also why query letters are so hard to write. We all know that there are like seven original plots in the world. We speak of plot elements using various terms like conflict, resolution, black moment, premise. Distilled, we know that premise + conflict = plot.

One of the common plot constructs is called The Hero's Journey, which is a mythical construct made famous by Joseph Campbell. I studied Campbell and the myth stuff back in college. I also dismissed the hero's journey plot construct as not the one I was using for my novel (the one set in Greece).

So imagine my surprise and annoyance when I found this:

Oh yes. This is almost exactly the plot of my novel. Down to a T. (What does T mean anyway?) I would say that for most character-driven plots and most women's fiction plots where the character undergoes a personality transplant, this is the one. Now, there's a ton of other stuff that goes into a typical Hero's Journey plot, things like "Goddesses" and "mentors" and other malarkey, but this diagram really pins down the big-picture structure of it. See the hiker guy at the top? He starts out on an adventure, does something to cross a point of no return, and does some changing and stuff, and his overriding problem catches up to him and throws him into an abyss of realization. This leads to a crucial change, after which he tries hard to make up for being an arse (if he was an arse), and then he makes some sort of return to home. Does this sound familiar? I bet it does. Think of your own story and favorite novels.

(Here's another look at the Hero's Journey structure, with a lot more malarkey thrown in.)

So, how well does this fit in with your overall plot? Can you plug your story into the diagram above (excepting Goddess stuff--or not)? I'm very interested in your responses.

Monday, January 11, 2010


No, I'm not talking vampire-killing tools here. Stakes are what give your story a sense of urgency or purpose for whatever it is your character has to do. Stakes are what makes your reader keep reading. Stakes are what happen if your character DOESN'T overcome the obstacles in his or her way, or get what he or she wants.

Stakes usually inhabit each scene and chapter as well as tie into the overall story. To get a sense of what I mean by stakes, let's look at some popular stories.

The Godfather
If Michael Corleone fails to take control of the family's position relative to the other families, his death will be certain and gruesome. In order to preserve his power and his life, he must win. The stakes are his family's power and lives.

The Wizard of Oz
If Dorothy doesn't kill the witch as directed by the wizard, then he won't help her get home and she'll remain in Oz forever. The stake is her returning home.

Star Wars (original)
If Luke doesn't blow up the Death Star, then the Empire will take over and crush everyone and the force. The stakes are millions of lives.

If the space marines don't blow up the aliens on the planet, then um....well it wont be good. No. For the space marines, the stakes are their lives, although they don't know that going in. For Sigourney Weaver's character, Ripley, the stakes are more complicated. They're putting to rest the bad memory of the aliens that killed her crew (back in the original movie, Alien).

Bella is bent on loving Edward, but Edward might kill her at any moment. The stake is her life. (And might I add, this stake is why the book is so popular. Anytime you're in love with your killer, it makes for a good story.)

Sometimes you don't want to give away the stakes because it will reveal a piece of the story that might want to be a twist. However, there should always be a sense of tension, a sense that the stakes won't be met.

Stakes are often, as evidenced by Twilight, also appropriately thought of as hooks (but not premises). If your stakes are good and high enough, then everyone will be leaping at the story.

Can you cite some good high stake stories in movies or books?
Can you cite what the stakes are for your characters in your own novel?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

We're back with our very first Google Reader Roundup of 2010, and with it, a new banner. (I never liked the Giddyup font.) Also, I've been on vacation all week (let's hear it for post scheduling!) and so have had to quickly, QUICKLY read up on Reader items to create this list. As always, this is a list of the best posts I read this week (or, er, Thursday night) for the blogs I subscribe to in my Reader. Now then:

  • Five things to do before querying. One interesting thing she said that stuck out at me was that she sees writers move from word count and book to book without increasing skills. I don't know how that happens. Do you?
  • Things are changing for me in 2010 (more about that in weeks to come) and so this post by Meghan Ward on balance in life particularly struck a chord.
  • And last but never least is Roni at Fiction Groupie on standing out.
All righty then, that does it for this Friday. Next week I've got an exciting bunch of posts on plot and structure, my favorite topic. Yes! Viva!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Hitting the Right Notes

I got the game DJ Hero for Christmas (on Xbox 360), and I love it. I've always secretly wanted to be a DJ, but alas I never had exposure to such things. I've never seen a DJing turntable up close; I've never had a mixer (although I nearly bought one years ago). I love mashups. So DJ Hero was a real treat.

Despite what I assume is the freeform style of mixing, DJ Hero (like its predecessors Guitar Hero and Band Hero) makes you hit notes or scratches in a smorgasbord of hand-eye coordination. Hitting those notes isn't easy, but when you do, you make music.

While I was reading a story this weekend, I came across a note that was JUST RIGHT in the story. It was a certain phrase that wrapped up the little details of the whole story and just brought everything together in a very pleasing point. And because I'd spent a fair amount of time on my DJ Hero turntable (I love the way that sounds!), I was more aware than usual of how sweet it is to strike those right notes--in any art form. All at once, I understood some of the comments I've gotten in my writing group on certain story elements that just worked. Sometimes it's a plot element, sometimes it's a word, sometimes just a detail. When something works in a story, it brings the reader satisfaction and the sense that the story is GOOD.

How do you make sure you hit these notes? I don't know. Maybe you concentrate on character details and see if they tie in with the overall theme of the story. I know this sounds vague, but I honestly don't know how to come up with these notes because they're magic.

Have you come across a really great note in a story? Do you know how to manufacture them?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Feisty

This week's word is feisty. I love this word because it sounds exciting and passionate, a bit like how spicy sounds, well, spicy. It's that st combination I love. And I love the meaning, too. It can mean full of animation, energy, spirited, also spunky and plucky (plucky itself is a pleasing word to pronounce). But it can also mean ill-tempered, although I don't normally associate cranky and mean with feist. I tend to think of someone who is feisty as someone who is perhaps meeker in stature or strength, and yet quite sure of his or her convictions and will defend them with bared teeth if attacked. My grandmother is very feisty and I think that older people are cute when feisty. It shows an indomitable spirit.

My sentence is:
Go ahead and try to steal my porkchop; you'll soon see how feisty I can be.

What's yours?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Organization Tips for Writers

There's lots of information on the tinterwebs about organizing (or "organising," for my UK/Irish/Australian readers) office space and your story, so here's five general tips for overall organization. I hope these are general and easy enough to actually follow. (And yes, that is a bacon-covered briefcase at right, why do you ask?)

1. Have a good work space.
This is a simple one. I actually do most of my writing on the couch in the living room, but I'm able to do it without a lot of distraction because I write after my whippersnapper goes to bed. Wherever you do it, you should make sure you have space, you're comfortable (as in, don't be all carpel tunnely), and you won't be disturbed.

2. Keep your files in order.
For the people who write longhand or on typewriters...well, you have a whole separate set of challenges, but you should keep your papers marked, clipped, and in neat stacks. For the rest of us modern folk who use computers, create a dedicated folder on your hard drive, and set up folders within that to contain all the little bits of information that you collect in the process of writing your story. I have one master folder called Writing, then within that folder names for my different books. Within a book folder, I have the following folders:
  • Research obviously contains my bits of research--mostly in Word documents.
  • Snipped contains all those bits of my story that I cut, but didn't quite want to delete. I almost never go back into this folder, but it helps to keep it.
  • Pieces are the chopped up bits of my story that I submit for critique.
  • Plan contains the character files, the outline for the book, the chapter summary, and other plot-related documents.
3. Track your submissions.
This might seem like a no-brainer to some, but it's a lot of work to track your agent/editor submissions. I keep an Excel file with columns for the agent name, agency, agency address, e-mail, and any tidbit I should know about the agent. A column lists the date I submitted, and one after that lists the date the response came in and what it was. This really helps keep track of who you submitted to--no, not to look back on, but for future submissions. I have only queried one project once ever, so my list is now outdated, and I'll have to go through and update and I'm not sure how easy that will be. Stay tuned for a post someday about that.

4. Invest in a good, core collection of writing books.
I'm not talking Eats, Shoots, and Leaves (although you should probably have that, too), I'm talking about a few books on plot and story structure that you can run to when you're in the pits and stuck on something. Don't buy every book ever, just the ones that make sense to you.

5. Save your critiques.
Both hard and soft copy critiques should be labeled and stored in a place where they don't look like clutter, but where you can get at again when you need to. And you will need to. You should look at old critiques for a story during final editing so that you can consider everything with perspective.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

Welcome to the FIRST Google Reader Roundup of 2010!!! Happy New Year everyone! This one is a bit long because I actually combined about two weeks of sparse blog postings in this one.

  • Agent Colleen Lindsay has some good perspective about the work-life balance, and her adjustments. She also says she will smack anyone who whines about how publishing is dying, and says life is too short not to be out there having fun. I agree 100%. You can add Colleen to my list of desired BFFs (Marian Keyes, GordHUN Ramsay, and INTERN are currently on it.) The bad news is she's taking on fewer clients in 2010, the good news is that maybe she'll be less cranky. But wait, we like that, don't we?
  • As usual, Roni at Fiction Groupie has a fab post to learn from--this time about the formula for making a good scene. Read it! Now! Free shipping if you act fast! (That's a little jokey joke in reference to her post.)