Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for Zenith

My fellow A-to-Z-ers, we have reached the Zenith! And doesn't it feel great? :)

There were certainly days along the way where I wanted to throw in the towel, but that makes reaching the goal that much sweeter. And now that it's over, I am reminded of a wonderful feeling, one that I haven't felt in so long: the feeling of accomplishment which comes upon actual completion of something. Of course, I feel accomplishment when I finish a draft, an edit, or send out a flurry of queries, but that accomplishment is different because I know it's not really the end. It's only the end of a particular step, and there's no telling how many steps actually lay before me on the road to publication.

There's something to be said for completing something that comes no nicely packaged with a clearly defined end every now and then. Thank you A-Z challenge for reminding me of that!

So what about you? Does being a writer ever make you crave completing something with a definite end? Do you have any hobbies which allow you to do this? Or do you not need a definite end to attain that satisfaction and accomplishment of being DONE?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y is for Young Adult

There are so many writers trying their hand at young adult right now (just check the Absolute Write YA Forum) and since I'm one of them, it's not hard for me to see why. There's something special about YA, something magical. Whether I'm reading it or writing it, it's like I'm finally able to legitimately explore all of those intense feelings I had as a teenager without some adult dismissing me and telling me I'll get over it when I grow up. Because as a teenager, nothing seemed as important as everything. Nearly every decision was life-or-death, and it wasn't an exaggeration. It was simply the way it was. And sometimes, I kind of miss that. Don't get me wrong though, I certainly don't mind being able to jump into that mindset and then step away again when it's exhausted me and I've had enough (that's something I definitely couldn't do as a teenager).

Ilima Todd had a wonderful post today for Y (yearning) which sums up that feeling in YA that I love to remember and love to recreate.

Jenny Kaczorowski had an interesting post last week, asking writers to take a minute to consider who they write for and it really got me thinking about why I choose to write YA. To be honest, I didn't really choose - it chose me. If you primarily read or write YA, why did you make that choice?

Once the decision has been made to write YA, it's not enough to just sit down and write that teenage story that's been bouncing around your head for the past x number of years. YA has it's very own guidelines, some amazingly concrete, and they need to be followed. So which are the rules which can't be ignored? As far as I can tell:

1) age of the MC (14 - 17)
2) POV (first person or a super close third)
3) voice or perspective (it has to be the way a teen views/understands the world)
4) word count (50,000 to 90,000 - but of course, there are always exceptions. Just don't expect your MS to be one of them)

Other sources might argue that language and theme also come into play here, but I don't necessarily agree. To me, there's no topic that can't be covered in YA, it's just the approach (which comes down to voice and perspective) which needs to be adapted accordingly. Here are some additional viewpoints on what makes a manuscript/story YA:

Young Adult Novel Guidelines
Six Tips for Writing YA Novels
Top Ten Tips for Writing YA
Writing YA fiction for Dummies

And here are the opinions of some YA authors on YA and why they write it:

Writing YA versus Adult fiction - What's the Difference? by Susan Dennard (SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY)
10 Reasons Why I Write YA by Emlyn Chand (FARSIGHTED)
Challenges of Writing YA by Kait Nolan (RED)

So what do you think? Is there a pillar of YA, a golden rule, that I missed? What are the ultimate guidelines which can not be broken for you? And why do you write/read YA?

Friday, April 27, 2012

X is for Xenoglossia

Xenoglossia refers to a person's knowledge of a language they have never studied. Pretty random, right? I confess, X is a pretty difficult letter, but this does relate! (Ok, the random Xenoglossia Anime doesn't really relate, but how could I pass it up?)

In my latest MS, Daughter of the Moon, the main character discovers she can speak the language of the Underworld. This comes as quite a shock since she has never before heard the language until she fluently speaks the words herself. And when those spoken words result in magic, she can't pretend the language isn't real. There's a good explanation for all of this, but I don't want to give it away :)

Have you read any novels where a character suddenly speaks a language they have no known prior knowledge of? I'm looking for examples, but having a hard time finding any (and I don't mean speaking in tongues).

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for Was

Something I aim to avoid in my writing (at all costs) is usage of the passive voice. It can sneak into writing and can create unnecessary distance between the reader and the MS. Not that it's wrong to use a passive versus an active voice (there are certainly situations where the passive voice is preferred - like scientific writing), but in general, text written in the passive voice can sound awkward and be more difficult to read than text written in the active voice (Storymill Publishing).

Usually, the passive voice is easy to spot - just do a search for every instance of "was" in your manuscript. Of course, "was" doesn't always indicate the passive voice. Sometimes "was" is just the simple past. Then again, any time I write something along the lines of, "She was walking", I like to take a second look to see if I can't change it to "She walked". So the "was" search helps me to revise on two levels.

Here are some helpful links with detailed explanations and examples of the passive voice:
The Writing Center
The Writer's Handbook
Passive Voice

Do you ever find that you've written a sentence or two in the passive voice by mistake? Do you have any tips or tricks for catching these instances during revisions?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for Validation

As an (as of yet) unagented, unpublished writer, I've given a lot of thought to the idea of validation. Sometimes, I don't feel I have the right to call myself a writer, and I rarely feel justified in prioritizing writing over, well, over anything really. So, a bit of validation can really make or break my confidence.

In Does Traditional Publishing Validate an Author?, Mike Duran argues that writer's shouldn't require professional validation to keep writing. I agree, but I also don't think it always makes sense to continue trying to find a path to publication in every case. Maybe a particular MS just isn't very good. In that case, I don't think the writer should stop writing for their own enjoyment, but it could be time to stop pursuing publication, right? There's always a time to trunk a novel. And writers need some level of external validation if they're going to pick themselves up again and try to get the next MS published. Jenny Hansen agrees.

It could be something as small as a glowing piece of feedback from a CP or Beta, a contest win or even a personalized rejection letter from an agent. But whatever it is, I need that form of external validation every now and then to be able to brush off the rejection and critique that pile up. And The Insecure Writers Support Group leads me to believe I'm not alone in my need.

What about you? Do you need external validation? Or are you a never-ending well of confidence (if you are, I'm totally jealous)?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for Unexpected

There is a whole lot of advice out there on how to plot. One of the simplest guidelines is to never make anything easy on your characters. If things are going well, then the chances that the reader might be bored are pretty high. This advice has been extremely helpful for me because I have a tendency to want to protect my darling characters, let them bask in their success for a bit too long, and also to have them quickly/easily go through necessary steps to get to the next plot point. Nothing should be quick and easy though - it's either a missed opportunity to make the character's life just a bit more difficult (and thereby raise the stakes, show character growth, etc.) or it's something that needs to be cut.

At first, I took this advice for face-value and had my characters always take the rockier road or make the more difficult choice. But then, I realized that everything they did was totally predictable. The reader basically knew from the get-go that these characters were always going to run into the worst possible situation. And when a story is predictable, it can be boring. So there I was, back at potentially bored readers.

That was when I realized that putting my characters into tough situations wasn't enough. I needed to make sure that the tough situations were the result of something unexpected. And even better if I could make the reader think they knew where the story was headed, think they could anticipate the next plot twist, and then rip the rug right out from under their feet! That might not sound that difficult, but in reality, I can be far less clever than I think I am. With one of my CPs, we critiqued one chapter at a time and wrote down our predictions for the next chapters. And I couldn't believe she knew (or didn't know, in some cases) where my story was headed.

What about you? How do you make sure your MS doesn't become too predictable? Do you have an tips or tricks for creating unexpected plot twists?

Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for Traffic (Blog Traffic)

We've all read about or heard about the importance of building a platform, long before a writer gets published. And the most effective way to reach an audience seems to be through blogging. But what are agents looking for in a writer's blog?

From what I can tell, most agents just want reassurance that the writer is able to speak to an audience and generate interest since this will be important for marketing once a manuscript does sell to a publisher. And more importantly, a writer's blog is like a test-run and a way to get practice before everything gets too serious. That way, the blog will be a well-oiled machine and the writer will be an effective blogger by the time it's important.

Of course, an established blog with a lot of followers and high traffic is going to be more appealing to an agent than a new blog with a handful of followers, irregular posts, and low traffic, right? So, how important is blog traffic? And can having a poorly-maintained blog or a blog with a low follower/traffic count negatively affect a writer's chances of getting picked up by an agent? Probably. I mean, if I were an agent, a neglected blog would set off warning alarms and I'd likely take that into consideration before signing a new writer.

What is considered "high traffic"? According to Restless Writers, agents won't be particularly impressed by a blog unless it's getting 60,000+ hits per month. That being said, I don't think anyone expects the average writer's blog to hit those kind of numbers. The way I understand it, having a blog with a reasonable following and traffic rate is expected and basically puts the writer onto the playing field. It would take extraordinary blog success (ex. 60,000+ hits a month) for the blog to positively influence the agent's decision regarding whether or not to offer representation, or extraordinary failure (maybe one or two followers and irregular, irrelevant posts with 10 hits or less a month*) to negatively influence the agent's decision.

*I have no idea what the lower limits of blog traffic/followers are actually considered to be.

For more information on the different ways agents measure social media (and how you can check out your social media influence before you start querying), check out this article: 7 Ways Agents Measure Social Media

And if you are a writer who still hasn't started a blog, check out these links on the importance of starting one:
6 Compelling Reasons Why Authors Need to Blog
Why Twitter and Facebook aren't Enough
Why Authors Need a Blog
Why Writers Need Social Media

Are you aware of your social media score? And have you done (or do you plan to do) anything specific to intentionally increase traffic to your blog prior to querying?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for Scrivener

Last year for my birthday, I received Scrivener and it has made a world of difference in my writing process. At first, I imported an older WiP into the program and mostly used the program for revisions. Since then, I started my newest WiP from scratch using the program and really fell in love with everything Scrivener had to offer. Here are the highlights, imo:

1) Outlining: For every scene or chapter (depending on how you like to organize your WiP), an index card is created. On the index card goes a short summary of the scene/chapter. In addition, you can include other information (meta-data) like status (To-do, first draft, revised, etc.), color-coded label (ex. scene, chapter, plot thread), or word-count goal with progress. Plus, you can add custom information (I always add POV). Once you have this information on your index cards, you can view them on a corkboard and best of all, rearrange them however you want. Moving around a notecard also moves the associated chapter/scene within the MS. Most of the time though, I use the outline mode where I can get a quick overview of all my scenes/chapters and associated meta-data.

*Outlining in Scrivener also came in extremely handy for the finished first draft before I jumped into revisions.

2) Writing: There are so many little things in Scrivener which have made my writing sessions so much easier. The full screen option for example. You can choose the background (and the level of transparency) and then enter full-screen where there's absolutely nothing to distract you from finishing that scene. Sounds relatively simple, but it sure has made a difference for me. And then there are the writing targets. If I set a target word goal for the whole MS and tell Scrivener which days I plan to write on, I'll get a target word-count for each writing session. As I write, I can choose to have Scrivener display my progress toward both the overall target word count and the session target. As I get closer to the target, the progress bar changes from red to green. That sounds ridiculously simple, but it really does motivate me! And finally, Scrivener has blank character and setting worksheets built right in. I can even add photos and music which I can then look at/listen to while writing about a particular character/setting.

3) Revising: With Scrivener, I can break up my screen for easy comparison between drafts of my MS. Or, I can split the screen between my MS and feedback from my CPs or Betas. Just being able to have the feedback and the MS side-by-side like that in a single window has really streamlined my revision process. Also, I can choose assign different text colors to different revisions so I can see exactly how my MS has evolved as it's gone through each revision. Pretty cool, right?

4) Formatting: Once I'm done with my MS, I can compile all of the scenes/chapters into a single MS in pretty much whatever format I choose (Word, RTF, PDF, HTML, Kindle, ePub). That's got to be one of the best parts!

There is so much more that Scrivener can do (I only use the features which best fit my writing style), so if you're thinking about trying it out, check out these tutorial videos, but beware, after I watched the first one I just knew I had to get the program!

There are other writing programs out there of course and I've read blog posts and forum posts from writers who swear by something else and maybe can't stand Scrivener. So, before you buy anything, check out this List of 25 Writing Programs writer's should know about.

What about you? Do you use a particular software to writer (other than Word)? What do you think of it and would you recommend it to other writers? Or are you maybe in the market for a writing software?

Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for Revisions

I'm no expert on revisions, so I turn to respected authors/bloggers for guidance. In particular, Janice Hardy's blog posts on revision and her weekly Real Life Diagnostics series have been extremely educational. Here are some helpful links:

Janice Hardy's posts on Revisions
How to Revise a Novel

Before I send out anything to my CPs, I do at least one revision on my own. Then, after getting critique, I'll do another one or two before sending anything out to Beta readers. Generally, after I receive feedback from Betas, I make smaller changes which I wouldn't really consider revisions (more like tweaks).

I haven't gotten to the next phase of revisions yet - I dream of receiving a revise and resubmit request from an agent and can't even begin to imagine the amazing feeling of receiving an editorial letter or copy edits - but there is so much information available on author blogs (like Rachelle Gardner's breakdown of the Editorial Letter) that I'm sure I will have a pretty good idea of how to handle things should I ever reach that point.

What about you? Do any of you have experience with agent-requested revisions or editorial letters? Do you have any recommendations for great resources for writers diving into revisions?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for Quintessential Quirks

[kwurk]  Show IPA

a peculiarity of action, behavior, or personality; mannerism:He is full of strange quirks.

People are quirky, so it makes sense that characters in novels should have their own set of quirks too. Quirks can make characters easier to relate to and are essential to setting characters apart from each other so the reader never gets confused about who is saying/doing what when the character's name isn't used. 

That doesn't mean a character with a habit of winking should do so several times a scene though. Even if quirks are described sparingly, readers will pick up on them and those mannerisms will find their way into the reader's imagination of the scenes without the writer having to constantly specify them. And quirks shouldn't be shared between characters. If three characters have a habit of winking, they will start to blur and the reader may confuse them. In my own writing, I try to give each character a maximum of two to three unique quirks which I keep track of using character worksheets in Scrivener (just to make sure none overlap).

Writers can get carried away with quirks too. If giving a character a couple of quirks increases relatability, too many quirks quickly decreases it. Not many people can relate to a character who has enough quirks to make them sound more crazy than quirky. Then again, some stories are completely based on a particular character's quirks - ones which may be so strong that the character has a difficult time functioning in society. If that's the case, then any quirks in the other characters should be limited and should not be emphasized.

Here are some helpful blog posts on making effective use of quirks in writing:

What do you think? Have you read any novels/watched any TV shows or movies where overdone character quirks stole the show? How many quirks do your characters have and do you keep track of them?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for Perfection

There were a lot of topics I considered for today's post: plotting, pacing, procrastination. Perfection is the most relevant topic for me at the moment, so I'm going to go with that.

First off, this post isn't about being perfect, or reaching perfection. I don't think that's possible - especially since one person's perfect is another's nightmare. What it is about, is how we writers struggle for perfection anyways. No matter how "done" I think I might be with a WiP, I'll inevitably think of ways to improve it long after the final revision. Some of those "improvements" might actually end up weakening the MS, other adjustments might be equivalent to the original, and a few might actually be worth something. But this tinkering could go on for years if I don't put a time limit on it. So that's what I do. Of course, I know there will be more edits later should an agent and then an editor decide to take my story under their wing, so the story isn't really done. But for me, for the time, it should be.

So here's the thing. I was done with Daughter of the Moon. I even entered contests and queried a small number of agents. But, the feedback I've received from those contests and queries is that I should consider a chapter 1 re-write. The dream sequence I have at the beginning of the story is apparently killing my MS's chances. So, I'm now about to rewrite chapter 1 (for what must be the millionth time). I don't really know for sure whether or not that's the right thing to do. The decision is based on a relatively small pool of feedback. But I just need for this MS to be as perfect as it can be, so I can really know it had the best shot of getting picked up that I could give it.

What are your experiences with perfection? Do you ever feel like an MS is as perfect as it can be? Or are you constantly thinking of things you'd like to change/add/remove after you've already sent it out to CPs/Betas/Agents/Editors - or even after it's already been published?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for Oh. Em. Gee.

When I was younger, the only abbreviation I remember using was PHAT. But that was before cell phones, and texting. Now, there is a whole new language out there full of LOLs, OMGs, IDKs, and a plethora of others. And they aren't just restricted to text messages, emails, Facebook and instant messaging. People use them in everyday speech too.

As writers, we can't know which speech pattern trends are fleeting and which are here to stay. And since a manuscript can take years to write, edit, and publish, anything we write using trendy dialogue might be completely obsolete by the time the story goes to print. I sure can't imagine taking a contemporary YA novel seriously where guys were referred to as "scrubs" and people asked each other if they were ready to "dip" when they wanted to leave. Will teenagers in ten years feel the same way about OMG?

Personally, I avoid slang altogether. Just like I avoid referencing specific band names or song titles which could just as easily date my story. But, does that make the dialogue less realistic? Or does it matter, as long as it's neutral? I figure, dated dialogue would be much worse than dialogue which doesn't seem to be related to a particular era (unless I'm going for a particular era of course ;) ).

What do you think? Do you use slang in your writing? Do you have a way of deciding how much slang/which words make the cut and which don't?

Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for Narrative Mode

Choice of narrative mode, or point-of-view determines the whole feel of a story. And stories which may work in one mode may not work in another, so it's important for us writers to pick the right one!

In first person narrative, the story is told by a character within the story from that character's perspective. This is the "I did this and it made me feel this way" narrative. (Note: first person plural can also be used but would be "We did this...")

My thoughts on first person: I didn't used to mind it, but I got a bit overloaded on first person over the past two years and now it's a bit of a turn-off. I'm sure that will wear off soon though. What I do have a serious problem with though, is writing in first person. I've started a couple of stories off in first person, but at some point the story seems to end up being about ME rather than about my MC. I think it's a side effect of typing all those "I"s. For now I'm happy writing third person limited, but if I ever do decide a story just has to be told from first person, I'll have to practice. 

What about you? Do you prefer to write in first person? Do you have any tips for making sure your own personality doesn't end up dominating the MC's?

In second person narrative, the story is told as if the reader were a part of it. "You walk into a dark room..."

My thoughts on second person: I hate it. Second person brings out the snark in me..."Oh, really? I walked into a dark room full of spiders? Doubt it." The only novel I've read recently which used sections of second person was The Night Circus. I loved that book, so I was able to tolerate it, but it was still tough not to skip those sections. And I really just wouldn't be able to do a whole novel written in second person. 

What about you? Have you read any novels where second person was used well?

Third person narrative is the most common narrative mode. The narrative is not a specific entity, or a character in the story. This is the "He did this, she did that" narrative. Third person narrative may be omniscient (where the narrator has complete knowledge of people, places, events and time) or limited (the narrator's knowledge is limited to what a single character knows - the story is told from one perspective).

My thoughts on third person: This is my favorite narrative mode, both to read and to write. In particular, I enjoy a limited third person (or multiple limited third person) where I can really get to know a particular character or couple of characters and get their unique perspective on the world. It's like first person, but when a character does something I'd never do, I don't have to remind myself that the story isn't about me. 

The only place where it can get tricky is with omniscient third person. Too often, omniscient third person WiPs that I critique or Beta end up reading like limited third person with a serious case of head-hopping, or POV slippage. In my opinion, it's a really difficult narrative mode - getting too close to any characters creates confusion about the intended narrative mode, but keeping too great of a narrative distance makes it difficult for the reader to connect to the characters and create an emotional investment in the story.

Do you agree? What book have you read where omniscient third person was done well? What narrative mode do you most often use in your own writing?

Here are some helpful links on narrative mode:
Pro Writing Tips - Narrative Mode
Examples of different Narrative Modes
POV in Literature

Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for Momentum

1) Momentum in writing: A good book builds momentum with every scene and every chapter. It's the kind of momentum which keeps the reader turning pages when they should be sleeping, cleaning the house, or doing the taxes. It's what makes the reader miss their train stop on the way to work.

But, momentum can't just build and build at a break-neck pace (well, technically it can, I just don't like it). I've read books like this (many are best-sellers - Dan Brown comes to mind), and I don't mind putting them down because I know it's just going to be one crazy plot point after another and that there's pretty much no chance the climax and the resolutions I'm looking for are just around the corner. So where's the line? To be honest, I'm not exactly sure. I know it when I read it, and I think it has to do with the right mixture of emotional tension, external conflict, and foreshadowing.

What do you think? Do you agree that purely action-driven books which try to eliminate natural pauses where the reader could put the book down can sometimes go too far?

2) Writing momentum: This can be so hard to build and can so easily fall apart. When conditions are right, I can really build some serious writing momentum. But one weekend off can lead to a week can lead to a month.... And once the momentum is gone it can be hard to get back into an old MS, to find the voice which came so easily while I was in the groove. Sometimes there's nothing I can do about breaking the momentum. A family emergency, a really bad case of the flu, or a tight deadline at work could keep me from writing. Other times though, I'll set aside the writing to enjoy a weekend outside, or I might decide to leave the laptop at home while I go on vacation. Whatever the reason for breaking my momentum is, I have to figure out a way to get it back once I'm ready to start writing again. Usually, this means reading the abandoned partial draft, doing some editing, and maybe even a writing exercise (writing out the background story for one of my characters for example).

How do you re-find lost writing momentum? Do you have any tricks to speed up the process?

Friday, April 13, 2012

L is for Learning

To me, being a writer is also being committed to life-long learning. I'm someone who never has been able to "turn myself off" and am constantly wondering, inspired to research a particular topic I might have heard or read something about, or itching to try something new. That's probably why I love writing so much - there's always something entirely new to learn while doing it.

I am always learning from my fellow writers. Just about everyday I read a blog post which makes me think about an aspect of my writing in a new way. And CPs and Betas reveal specifics about my writing so I can pin-point my weaknesses and research methods to work on them. I learn all sorts of new things before my work is ever seen by anyone else. Researching ideas, places, people, time periods, etc. for my manuscripts leads to new information in topics in nearly every field of study. 

But, there are the less obvious ways in which writers learn too. All I have to do is keep my eyes and ears open while riding public transportation and I'll learn something new which might translate to a character or scene in my current work in progress. And then there's the life experiences. When I first moved to Germany, I decided to say yes to anything anyone asked me to do. Sure, I ended up spending significant amounts of time outside of my comfort zone, drinking copious amounts of coffee to get through the day-after at work, and generally spending more money on things I wasn't even sure I wanted to do than made sense. But, I learned so much - I learned things about myself, learned what it felt like to experience things I might not otherwise have experienced, and I learned that doing things that might not sound very "me" can be awesome, especially if I'm surrounded by amazing friends (which are so much easier to find when you give everyone a "test-run" by accepting any and all invitations to hang out).
I don't have a degree in literature, or English, or even anything remotely related to writing, but I don't really feel like I'm missing out on anything. Reading (awesome novels within and outside of what I write as well as craft novels) and writing and learning from other writers (published or not) has provided me with an amazing foundation and I'm excited to apply everything I learn to each new WiP. The only thing I would love to do which I haven't yet done is attend a writer's conference/workshop - preferably this one in Big Sur. :)

So what about you? How do you learn the things you need to learn in order to be the best writer you can be? And do you think it's important to have a writing-related degree?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

K is for Kir Royale

Here's an interesting fact:

There is not one single K word on the list of the top 100 most commonly used words in the English language! This list makes up approximately 1/3 of all of the material printed in English. 

Is that why it was so hard to find a topic for today's post?

So you might be wondering what creme de cassis and champagne have to do with anything. Well, it's about rewards!

I'm a huge fan of setting goals and then rewarding myself when I reach them. Whether I set a goal of finishing a first draft, completing the A-Z blogging challenge, or querying a certain number of agents, having an immediate incentive to work toward (ex. going to the movies, checking out that new restaurant I keep hearing about, or buying a new book) keeps me chugging along.

And the Kir Royale? That's what I'll be rewarding myself with when I accept an agent's offer of representation - and the champagne won't be cheap.

So what about you? Do you have a particular reward lined up for meeting a writing milestone?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J is for Just (& Co.)

Ever notice how every writer has a set of words which seem to plague their first drafts? I definitely have my own list and "just" has earned its spot near the top. It's right there next to "that" and "really". I don't stress about these words while writing the first draft of a MS, but I have learned which words I tend to overuse (thank you CPs!!!) and I check every instance of these particular words during first round revisions (before anything gets sent to the CPs).

I don't delete every instance of the words on my list though. Instead, I read each sentence with the word and without it to see if the word adds to the meaning, flow, rhythm of the sentence. If it doesn't, it's gone. If it does, but still feels over-used, then I revise the sentence to say the same thing in another way or look for a replacement word. Often, I find that the words on my list are a form of laziness - or maybe not laziness, but a way of getting the whole story down on paper quickly, and saving the finesse for later. So, as boring as going through every instance of "just" or "really" in a first draft might sound, it's actually an extremely helpful way of highlighting the places in my narrative where I need to expand on something or invest some time in developing a beautiful sentence.

Do you have a list of words you know you over-use? How do you make sure your final draft isn't plagued by words like these?:


Do you use websites like autocrit to find over-used words or do you rely on your CPs? Do you have any words to add to the list of words to watch out for?

And if you are looking for a serious solution to breaking an over-used word habit, check out this post on using Word's autocorrect tool in a whole new way. :)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I is for Internal Conflict

For me, writing the external conflict is easy. It's the big picture idea that suddenly comes to me and gets me all excited about a new WiP. But, as a reader, it's the internal conflict that keeps me glued to my favorite books and emotionally invested in the story. One of my favorite series (Terry Goodkind's The Sword of Truth) is packed full of external action, but also manages to create compelling internal conflict for almost all characters in the story (even the bad guys).

So, what is internal conflict? It's the internal battle(s) going on inside each character and the way the writer reveals the character arc/growth. The internal conflict should play off of the external conflict, but doesn't always need to correlate one-to-one. And plot points can be used to give a character what he thinks he wants, although it does nothing to move the character closer to the external goal. Sometimes, the whole point might be to allow your character to discover that he didn't actually want what he thought he wanted.

The best advice I've found on how to effectively use internal conflict comes from Fiction Factor:

Find the main character's Achilles' heel (the root source of his/her internal conflict) and stomp it (external conflict).

In my opinion, the internal conflict the writer chooses to include is really what makes a reader fall in love with a story (or hate it). The internal conflict is the part the reader can personally relate to and so, if we writer's don't make it believable enough, or interesting enough (pages of "should I wear the red dress or the blue skirt today?" narrative isn't going to do it) then the reader won't feel emotionally invested in our stories no matter how amazing the external conflict is. And, we have to be careful to resolve all internal conflict by the end of the story or else the reader will feel let-down.

What do you think? Do you put a large focus on the internal conflict for the characters in your stories? Do you think about the internal conflict and character arc for characters other than the MC/POV characters to make sure their actions/speech reveal their inner turmoil as well?

Monday, April 9, 2012

H is for the Hero's Journey

The Hero's Journey is another name for the Monomyth which, according to Joseph Campbell, is the basic pattern or template for plot in narratives around the world. Some of the most successful narratives (ex. Lord of the Rings, Ender's Game, and Star Wars) fit this template.

There are 17 steps to the Hero's Journey, although very few narratives contain all 17 steps. The basic steps, along with the corresponding character arc are broken down by Darcy Pattinson as:

  • Ordinary World – Limited awareness of problem
  • Call to Adventure – increased awareness
  • Refusal of Call – reluctance to change
  • Meeting the Mentor – overcoming reluctance
  • Crossing the First Threshold – committing to change
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies – experimenting with 1st change
  • Approach to the Inmost Cave- preparing for big change
  • Supreme Ordeal – attempting big change
  • Reward – consequences of the attempt
  • The Road Back – rededication to change
  • Resurrection – final attempt at big change
  • Return with Elixir – final mastery of the problem

  • If these steps are taken generally and "Refusal of Call" is taken out, then my most recent MS does actually fit this template, though I didn't use a plot template while writing. I guess this is a relatively good sign :)

    While researching the topic of plot templates, I read a lot of back and forth between writers about the benefit/detriment of using plot templates. The critics are afraid of a loss of creativity and an onslaught of stories which are all the same. Those for templates argue that it is important to meet reader expectations, but to understand the templates well enough to be able to make the changes which will make the story unique.

    What do you think? Can every story be squeezed into a template (29 Plot Templates)? Can yours? Would you ever use a plot template as a starting point for a new idea? Or as a tool during revisions?

    Saturday, April 7, 2012

    G is for Genre

    literary genre (Wikipedia) is a category of literary composition. Genres may be determined by literary techniquetonecontent, or even (as in the case of fiction) length. Genre should not be confused with age category, by which literature may be classified as either adult, young-adult, or children's. They also must not be confused with format, such as graphic novel or picture book. The distinctions between genres and categories are flexible and loosely defined, often with subgroups.

    I write young adult, but I don't write with a specific sub-genre in mind. Defining the sub-genre of my last manuscript got a little tricky, probably because it could fit into more than one sub-genre depending on the way its presented. The toughest choice was between Paranormal and Urban Fantasy. Sure, there's a distinct difference between the two - paranormal is a romance sub-genre with fantastical elements and urban fantasy is a fantasy sub-genre primarily set in a city. BUT, my novel is also young adult, which means there is a healthy bit of romance thrown in there too (I know, not all YA novels have romance, but I'm pretty sure the majority do).

    Romance with fantasy or fantasy with romance. It would be easy to decide if the romance element was the strongest aspect of the MS, or if the romance took a backseat to the fantastical. Unfortunately (for my sub-genre assignment task), romance and fantasy are given equal weight. So, I checked the genre for YA novels which I felt might be in the same category as my MS. The first books I looked up were Evermore by Alison Noel and Fallen by Lauren Kate and guess what? They are both categorized under paranormal AND urban fantasy. Is that allowed?

    In the end, I'm not sure how important it is to get the sub-genre exactly right, especially if the MS doesn't fit perfectly into a single sub-genre box, but I wanted to emphasize the fantasy elements while querying so I went with Urban Fantasy.

    What about you? Have you had trouble defining the genre or sub-genre for any of your works? How did you decide?

    Friday, April 6, 2012

    F is for FTW

    Not that FTW, but full-time writer! Letting go of the day-job to write full-time is a dream many of us writers share, but I wonder if we've considered the dream realistically.

    In my fantasy, FTW me rolls out of bed everyday without the assistance of an alarm, boils a pot of tea, and settles down in her pajamas to joyously write without another care in the world. Or maybe heads to the local cafe where she can people-watch between writing scenes. FTW me is always inspired and doesn't even remember what it was like to feel burned out.

    This isn't really how it would work. Sure, I'd get to hang out in my pajamas all day if I wanted to. But I would need to adhere to some sort of actual schedule if I planned on being productive. And I would have to set boundaries with my family and friends - I don't think it would be easy making people understand that yes, I am home all day, but no, I do not have time to run to the grocery store, watch the kids for a couple of hours, or walk someone's dog. And in order to make everyone else respect my working time at home just as they would regular working hours, I'd have to structure my hours and probably set aside a designated work area.

    That doesn't sound so hard, but there would be other things to get used to as well. What about the social aspect of my day-job? Writing can be a solitary experience, which is actually one of the things I love about it. But would that change when most of my day was spent alone? And what if I wasn't inspired? With a day-job, I can more or less wait for inspiration to strike, but a FTW has to write daily, inspired or not. Could a lack of inspiration lead to writer's block?

    Transition usually isn't the easiest thing in the world and a dream can be built up to the point where it makes transitioning into that dream even more difficult. I know I'm guilty of sometimes thinking all my problems would be solved if I could just write full time. But nothing is ever that easy. Not to say that it isn't still my dream, but I've realized I need to look at it more realistically now to make sure that I can fully enjoy it without being disappointed should it one day become my reality.

    What about you? Do you dream of writing full time? Why or why not? And do you think it would be difficult to transition into the life of a FTW?

    Thursday, April 5, 2012

    E is for E-Reader

    These days, a whole lot (if not most) of the agents accepting electronic submissions seem to be using e-readers.  This poses a challenge for writers who may not have formatted their manuscript for an e-reader. The good news is, there isn't much of a difference between formatting for an e-reader and the normal formatting guidelines.

    In general, using the enter key multiple times rather than a page-break at the end of a chapter or using extra spaces might look fine on the Word Doc version of the MS but will make a mess of the formatting when viewed on an e-reader. And chapter titles with fancy scripts might be impossible to decipher. So, there are some special guidelines to take into consideration when submitting an MS so that both agents using an e-reader or not will be able to view your submission without being distracted by formatting issues.

    Here are the resources I refer back to when formatting my manuscript for submission (Of course, these are generalized guidelines and the Agency Website and Agent's blog should always be checked for specific information):

    Cassandra Marshall
    Agent Vickie Motter

    Quick Guidelines:
    Font: Times New Roman, 12 pt
    Spacing: Double
    Margins: 1 inch all around
    Indent Paragraphs: .5 inch first line only
    Scene Breaks: # without an empty line before or after

    Also, I do have a Kindle, so I use it to do a last check on my MS to make sure there isn't anything crazy going on with the format.

    Is there anything I missed? If you have other formatting resources/information, please share!

    Wednesday, April 4, 2012

    D is for Dialogue

    Public critiquing sites have opened my eyes to a whole mess of common dialogue issues we writers have. I thought I'd share the most common mistakes (ones I'm also guilty of making) and how to fix them:

    Example 1:
    "That's so funny," she laughed.
    A person can not "laugh" a sentence (or sigh it) - they say it.

    "That's so funny," she said, laughing.

    Example 2:
    "Hello there Sally." He said.

    There are three things wrong with this (other than the actual content itself).

    1) Whenever another character is being addressed, a comman needs to be placed before their name.
    2) If the dialogue has a tag, it shouldn't end in a period. It should end in a comma (or possibly an exclamation mark - although this sort of punctuation should be used sparingly).
    3) "He said" should not be capitalized.

    "Hello there, Sally," he said.

    Example 3:
    Jane folded her arms across her chest.
    "What's your problem?" she asked.
    "You know what my problem is."

    So, who said what? Describing character action is a great way to avoid using dialogue tags (sometimes they get overwhelming), but the action needs to be in the same line as the dialogue so that the reader knows who is talking.

    Jane folded her arms across her chest. "What's your problem?" she asked.
    "You know what my problem is."

    Example 4:
    "That dress was made for you," the salesman cajoled.

    This isn't technically "wrong", but as a reader, it is a pet peeve of mine. When done correctly, dialogue tags should be invisible. This doesn't mean that a writer can't deviate from the standard "said", but tags which draw attention to themselves should generally be avoided. And anyways, isn't it always better to show whatever it is you wanted to convey through the tag anyways?

    "That dress was made for you," the salesman said.

    Want to know more about writing dialogue? Check out Janice Hardy's blog for lots of great posts on the topic.

    What dialogue issues have you struggled with or come across while critiquing?

    Tuesday, April 3, 2012

    C is for Critique-er

    There are so many posts on receiving critique, but what about giving it? Being able to write well doesn't one is automatically able to critique well. So, how do we improve our critiquing skills?

    There are many threads on writing forums like Absolute Write and Scribophile where the topic of whether or not it is acceptable to critique the critiquer are discussed. There are many who are strongly against it. They might be afraid that the critique will shift focus from the author's work to other critiques, that things might get personal, or that critiquers will shy away from sharing their honest impressions and opinions. Then, there are some critiquers who do not want to receive feedback - they see it as a waste of time (or maybe they are afraid of having their pride hurt).

    But what about those of us who would like to improve our critiquing skills? Personally, I don't see improvement as a waste of time at all. Not only do I hate the idea of wasting my time to provide a critique which isn't useful, I also realize that I am the first line of critique for my own work. The way I see it,  improving my critiquing skills can only be beneficial (to me and to my CPs).

    There are so many things to think about when giving critique - What kind of critique does the writer want? How do I critique a first draft versus a final draft? Should I be providing feedback on big-picture issues or line-edits? Luckily, there are resources out there for those who want to improve.

    So far, the best breakdown of how to give an appropriate critique that I've found is on Janice Hardy's blog.

    Otherwise, here are some additional resources I've found helpful:

    How to critique a manuscript and stay friends
    Checklist for critiquing a novel
    The Critter's Library

    So what about you? Have you ever received feedback on a critique you've given? Would you want to? And if you agree that it's important to work on critiquing skills, what do you do to improve?

    Monday, April 2, 2012

    B is for Backstory

    Backstory is a tricky thing - without it, the reader is lost and can't make sense of current events. Too much of it and the pacing stalls. The reader might even put the book down. So, where's the balance? I'm still figuring that out myself, but one thing I'm sure of (at least for Young Adult) is that backstory does not belong in the first chapter.

    I'm the type of writer who thinks a lot about a new story, but doesn't start writing anything down (other than a general story arc) until chapter 1. And what I've learned about my technique, is that chapter 1 should pretty much be deleted from the manuscript. But that's okay. Writing that chapter wasn't a waste - I wrote it for myself, to get my bearings in a new world and to solidify the characters and the voice.

    Once I've deleted chapter 1, I go through chapter 2 and highlight any backstory. I analyze each line to determine whether or not the reader would still understand what's going on if the backstory was removed and if so, it gets cut. Then, I create a new document to put that cut backstory in for possible future reintegration. In the end, there might be one or two lines of backstory in chapter 2 (which now becomes chapter 1), but there won't be any flashbacks, or summaries of past events.

    Also, if I get feedback from CPs or Betas about a slow chapter, I use the same method of highlighting the backstory to see if that might be the problem - if I haven't made the reader care about the backstory, then it will slow everything down and it really doesn't belong in the MS.

    Here is a super helpful blog post on How to Write Backstory without Putting the Reader to Sleep

    How do you deal with backstory in your writing?

    Sunday, April 1, 2012

    Weekend Progress Report

    The past week/weekend was all about preparing for the Blogging from A to Z challenge so I didn't make any significant progress in terms of writing. But, my blog did receive its first award!

    Last week, Carissa Taylor passed on the Liebster Blog award to me :)

    In the spirit of the award, I'd like to pass it on to the following blogs:

    4) Tyson

    To accept the award, please follow these rules:

    1. Show thanks to the blogger who awarded you by linking back to their blog.
    2. Pick 5 blogs with less than 200 followers and let them know about your nomination by leaving a comment on their blog
    3. Post the award on your blog!

    A is for Arc

    Not the Advanced Reading Copy kind of ARC, but story and character arcs!

    The story arc is the plot of your story. There are many different types of plots (The 8 Point Arc, The 3 Act StructureThe Snowflake Method) but basically, they all boil down to a combination of the diagram below and the seven basic plot types.
    Taken from
    Here are some worksheets which can help you get started, or can help you discover possible plot holes. I know I've been guilty of writing a string of events rather than an actual story and filling out these worksheets (even after the MS is done) can really show you where you went wrong and how the MS can be salvaged.

    1) Story Arc Worksheet
    2) Plot Tree Worksheet
    3) Novel Diagram Worksheet

    Character Arc is just another name for the character's growth process between the beginning and end of the story. Writers throw all kinds of tough decisions at characters to show how they respond/decide at the beginning of the story versus at the end. Even if the character has "grown" into a worse person than they were at the start, they should have learned something from past decisions which makes them choose they way they do at the end.

    I've compiled various character arc and character worksheets which I thought you might find useful:

    1) Generalized Character Arc
    2) Detailed Character Worksheet
    3) Basic Character Worksheet
    4) Hero's Journey
    5) Character Arc and Character Worksheet all-in-one
    6) Character Chart

    Do you use Character and Story Arc worksheets for your novels? If not, how do you keep track of everything - I'd love to hear about new methods :)

    Today is day 1 of the blogging from A-Z blogfest! And since this is a blogfest, don't forget to check out some of the other participating blogs to see what they've come up with.