Thursday, December 30, 2010

...Lessons From The King



In yesterday's post, I promised to list the titles Mr. King recommends that apparently are free of bull%&^$.  But after a flipping fest, it appears he only referenced one on the craft, sorry for that.  And here it is:
  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White-The King says, and I quote, "There is little or no detectable bull#*$# in that book. It's short...at 85 pages. I'll tell you right now that every aspiring writer should read The Elements of Style."


The lesson I gleaned during last night's bout of furious absorption is one he learned from John Gould, editor of Lisbon's weekly newspaper. A sophomore in high school, Mr. King states writing as a sports reporter was the first time someone offered him wages for writing; half a cent a word.

Stephen's first piece was edited by Gould, leaving Stephen standing in a puddle of pure revelation. As Stephen gawked, Gould explained.
     "When you write a story, you're telling yourself the story," he said. "When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not in the story."

I can identify with this because it goes back to the backfill or storydump. As writers, we must know our characters inside and out. We must know how they react to certain situations, certain elements, certain chemistries. How can we know this if we haven't written about them? Writing about our characters and the mundane things they do away from the story is great, even recommended. But remember to cut if it doesn't pertain to the story. Just because you need to know every single tiny detail, doesn't mean your reader needs to.

Although On Writing isn't an autobiography, it is a story of how he came to be a writer, therefore is littered with hilarious tales of his youth. I should have included my favorite in yesterday's post, so I'll do both now. Most memorable, although not quite categorized as "favorite" is the fat babysitter Eula-Beulah who sat on little Stevie while she passed gas on him. Yeah, doubt I'll ever wipe my storyboard clear of that one. You either? You're welcome. Last night's was this line:

     "...became editor of our school newspaper, The Drum.  My second-in-command, Danny Edmond, had even less interest in teh paper than I did. Danny just liked the idea that Room 4, where we did our work, was near teh girls' bathroom. 'Someday I'll just go crazy and hack my way in there, Steve,' he told me on more than one occasion. 'Hack, hack, hack.' Once he added, perhaps in an effort to justify himself: 'The prettiest girls in school pull up their skirts in there.' This struck me as so fundamentally stupid it might actually be wise."

Doesn't this sound like every sophomore boy in the world? Hilarious!
Okay your turn. What did you take away from today's lesson? Inquiring minds want to know. Don't forget to stop back by tomorrow for a new tidbit!
  


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Lessons from the King...No, not Elvis


The King knows best...

A new writer friend lent me Stephen King's ON WRITING, A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT and I'm so impressed with it I decided I'm going to start taking notes. As I grabbed a notebook and paper, I wondered how I would keep up with hand-written notes, organize a system so I could reference them again AND keep up with this dizzying crazy-glazed thing I call my life. Then it hit me! I'll blog the lessons. Works great for me, and might benefit those who haven't read it yet! So for the next few weeks, I'll try to keep you posted on what I'm learning from this fabulous book.

The first thing I've learned so far is Stephen King is hilarious! I'm not into the horror scene so the only book I ever read by him was Pet Cemetery when I was just a kid. Needless to say, it scared/scarred me. Sadly, in my adult life, I never picked up another of his books. I'll have to remedy that soon. So...let's get started.

He's referenced several  How-To books he's referred to as non-bull#*^! books.  This is great news for me because even though I'm a writer of fluff, I don't want to read it! I want the bare basics, only the stuff that matters and I'm sure you do too. I'll list those here later, but here's the first real thing I've learned from this book:

Cut all of the fabulously descriptive, emotion-filled words that you would normally think the reader wants to know, but you really don't need.

My forehead wrinkles with worry, my mouth droops with dread. This is going to be my downfall! I'll lose half my MS! I've begun to edit HALLO keeping this in mind and the results are already frightening. Clear and concise, but frightening nonetheless. Nothing comforts me about this little lesson in regard to HALLO. It reminds me I have an awful lot of work ahead of me. But it does warm my heart to know that the next words I write will utilize the lesson above and editing from here might get progressively easier on any new projects.

Please check back here daily for another lesson from this wonderfully insightful book and leave a comment if you find it helpful. We might all learn something new. HUGE thanks to my friend Mike for lending me this treasure.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Flipping Factor

Let me preface this by saying breakfast consisted of caramel macchiato flavored coffee and Andes mints (yummed glazed awesomeness) so if this post is a tad upbeat, you'll know why.

If you haven't checked out my 'Reading Now' list to the left, you should do that because I'm pushing my comfort zone with these latest reads and I'm really surprising myself. This might hopefully inspire you to push your envelope as well.

Although I've not braved the classics like Bronte or Dickens (I will, I will!), I have discovered some gems. Vigilante's Bride is one I picked because I thought it might help me with my old fashioned courting couple in the romance novel I'm working on between HALLO edits. This in itself is new for me b/c I lean more toward the thriller genre. In fact, I literally kicked myself out of the thriller section of the library, which resulted in the eyebrow raising of one very suspicious librarian and a long convo with him where he explained some of the procedures on requesting new books and where to find the release dates of the books in the new section. Yes, folks it's been a really long time since the library and I were besties. I plan to remedy that this coming year, I think she's missed me.  ;)

I have noticed one constant in every book I've dearly loved and that is the flipping factor. Now, I'm not skilled enough to tell you what this is in accurate literary terms. I only know it as the flipping factor because it's what I find myself doing when I come across an important fact the author has casually noted. Then it hits me! She's alluded to this before, what page was it on? Flip, flip, flip. AHA! There it is! It's the same name! The heroin is going to marry the bad guy!! When she mentions it again, the skimmer is surprised, but the analyzer only smiles a knowing smile. It's the challenge I love. Does this make me a mystery buff at heart?

For me, this goes beyond just reading the story. I stumbled upon a live chat with Ally Condie the other night where she was asked, "Can you give us anything at all about the second book in the series?" She responded, "Only this...There was a poem in Matched that contained the word 'crossed'." And that's all I need. I'm up, making a beeline for my copy and flip, flip, flipping until I find it. Yep, there it is. Even went as far as including a note on my take of what the word in the poem could mean in terms of a second book. It will only be a year before I know if I was right!

The Flipping Factor can be expanded to as many levels as one has the intelligence to keep up with. Those political lawyer stories that feature 900 separate plots that gator-roll together to result in a gripping climax are usually way above my head. If I try to write something like that, it usually ends in a soggy, incomplete mess because I lose hold of the strands that I should be drawing together in a tight knot of control. I am intrigued by the stories where the beginning of the story is actually the end, minus a few really pertinent details. If only I could do that!

For now, I'm content with just reading in awe. But the perpetual analyzer in me is absorbing, taking notes, and maybe, just maybe one day when I discover the word for the Flipping Factor, I might try my hand at it!

Monday, December 27, 2010

The joys of aiming low...



In a recent yearly evaluation with my boss, I think he was a little disappointed by how un-disappointed I was with the raise I received. Here's why I think that and also a little justification for my un-disappointment.

Everyone's been talking economy downturn for the last 2 or 3 years and everyone's also talked of the upturn they expect the new year to bring. Well, all of that is just fine and dandy as I'm not a very politically outspoken person. (Yes, I vote. Don't go all Uncle Sam on me.) So the whole "I feel fortunate to have a job" sort of fell flat on him. But truly, I feel extremely blessed. In my life. In my church. In my job. In my re-discovered passion of writing! I am complete, which equates to content in my book.

More than that, I've reinvented myself over the years as a result of life experiences. Aim low and you're not disappointed. Don't misunderstand, this isn't the pessimistic side of me speaking. Not at all. The optimistic side is cartwheeling over the fact that

I. Am. Happy. 

Aiming "low" doesn't keep me from dreaming. I have big dreams! Writing was one of them. But I dreamed I could write a novel and I did that! Then I dreamed of writing another. And you know what? I've started a second. Next I'll dream of becoming published. Who knows where that will lead? I've found that if I stick to realistic dreams, I'm not let down by the hard work and persistence I put in. I'm not dreaming of earning enough money off HALLO to buy a platinum-plated mansion, so guess who won't plummet to the bottom of a dark, dreary pit of depression when that doesn't happen? Righto. It's easy to detour disappointment when self preservation is involved.

This brings me to my most recent dream of being in the same room as The Shark, gleaning knowledge from her. That dream came true as well. I'm going to Murder Goes South, I'll have her undivided attention (except when her mind wanders to the other unsuspecting Scotch and chocolate-laden victims...) for 10 minutes while she points out several major areas that need revamping, recommends several major alterations to my methodology, and provides a few tips. Hey, it's only 10 minutes. She can't make me cry in 10 minutes, right? Right?

So, I'm being realistic. I've aimed to collect as much knowledge and information as possible while at conference and I know I'll do that because I take really good notes. I don't expect her to request pages. I didn't say I wasn't going to prepare for that (although I'd rather eat crunchy beetles than edit...), just that I'm not setting myself up for disappointment. 

Really. Low is a relative term. You're surprised that I'm not throwing a fit in your office because you didn't give me a $50 raise? Why, exactly would I set myself up for that? If it happens, AWESOME FOR ME!!! If it doesn't, I'm still content and happy. It's a win-win!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Analyzer or Skimmer?

                                                                   

I have Lauren Hughes to thank for today's post. If you haven't checked out her blog, please do so now! Warning: You WILL contract a serious case of wanderlust the minute you lay eyes on her wonderful travel stories! (She's globetrotting right this minute!!) Follow her! (on Twitter only, please!) @Lo_Hughes

Lauren commented on my review of the Hunger Games series saying she wished she could just read a book for pure enjoyment rather than analyzing it. Wow. I haven't been able to do that since I began this crazy-glazed rollercoaster called writing. Everything I come in contact with is analyzed. Movies are no longer a wistful 2-hour stroll into dreamland. Contemporary scripts are analyzed. Twists in the plot are scrutinized, genius dialogue is noted. I even view Nickelodeon skits differently now.

Books are even worse. What tense and person is this written? How would it change the book if it had been in third person, past tense? Or first person, present tense? Where was that one sentence that changed the course of the novel? (Which sends me into a fit of flipping back through pages, coursing through flag after flag in my head.) I devour each word, tasting its meaning and searching for the less obvious meaning, putting it into action and standing back in awe as the story changes yet again.

Yes, I'm a slow reader by choice. I can't skim. Skimming isn't in my makeup. I'm an analyzer by nature, which to be honest might have started in nature. My Dad, being a radio field specialist in the army spent A LOT of time outdoors. So when he had us (three girls and one boy...finally!), we spent a lot of time outdoors. I remember on camping trips down the Amite River, he would stop the pirogue and pick up rocks, leaves, roots. "What do you see?" he would ask. When we pointed out the obvious, he would say again, "Look closer. Always look for what seems to be hidden."

This taught me to analyze what's underneath, "hidden". So reading a book and watching a movie for sheer leisure is out of the question for me too, Lauren. But we can say with certainty that we analyzers glean quite a bit more from what we consume with our minds than the skimmers out there. We admire and envy the Skimmers, but remain confident in our Analyzer status.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Padding, Anyone?


'Tis the season for embellishments! On our packages, hors d'oeuvre platters, even in our glamorous holiday updos. This helps get us in the Christmas spirit! More ribbons on that present! More jam on that cracker! More bling on the little black dress!

Unfortunately, my mailbox isn't chock full of holiday party invites, nor do I own a little black dress, which means no reason for a formal updo either. (Although the results of my 5yo brushing my hair always seem to me like a fashion show runway updo...and take DAYS to comb through, much like the real thing I imagine.)

However, I have done some packing of my own lately in the form of pounds! With that last vicious round of editing came a rebound of weight gain, which I expected, since I was holding down my computer chair rather than burning up my treadmill. Expected, yes. Welcome, no.

I have serious plans to rekindle my friendship with the treadmill this week, but what concerns me most is the padding I've added to my brain. Along with physical inactivity, I seem to have invited mental inactivity as well. I fear those moments when I look to the sky, snap my fingers and try to think of the word that sits on the tip of my tongue, mocking me.  This seems to be happening more and more frequently!

So...Here's hoping that the slimming down of my thighs also leads to leaner brain matter because I could use a creative streak right now! Hopefully, I'll shed those pesky five pounds that make me so miserable AND come up with an awesome kick-butt scene. In the meantime, I'm going to have a cookie with my coffee and settle back into reading Matched. Happy Snacking!

Friday, December 17, 2010

THE HUNGER GAMES SERIES

           
I'm going to do something different for today's post, something I've never done before. A book review. This is a shoot-from-the-hip, copy-all-you-real-writers sort of thing, just so you know.

It’s almost Christmas! It’s the last weekend to shop before the Big Guy comes to visit the kiddos! It’s EXCITING! But all I can think of is Katniss, Gale, Peeta, and Prim. Late jumping on the banwagon as always, I'm going to discuss the Hunger Games series here because it continues to plague my thoughts. Without further adieu, let's get to the girl on fire.

Katniss Everdeen—stoic, practical, provider. And the key player in a revolutionary war between the Districts and the Capitol.

First person, present tense—always an interesting combo for me—challenges the reader to fill in the blanks.  Ms. Collins definitely does NOT insult her readers by offering too much information, nor does she tell. This only intensifies our reading enjoyment, making this story and these characters even more endearing, extensions of our own character families.

Katniss retains her normal-kid-from-the-Seam attitude throughout the entire series and is continually shocked to find herself chosen for the Games, lifted up as the Mockingjay, torn between two loves. That plot alone is enough to pull us in, keep us wanting more and plays in our minds long after we close the book. But it’s only the beginning.

Katniss and Peeta work their way through impossible situations that we would never even dream of while Gale suffers very different battles; neither able to help the other. The sheer impact of the scenarios themselves are enough to send cold chills through us, but wondering how they’ll make it through…IF they’ll make it through is another pressing concern! It seems there are no restrictions on what characters Ms. Collins offs and we remain in constant turmoil wondering, dreading…who’s next?

The crescendo is tense and tight and the climax is unexpected, but does not disappoint. I’ll admit, I shed tears at the very end. And I rarely EVER shed tears. Heartwrenching, exhilarating, pain-filled in every sense of the word, touching. The Hunger Games series is a true work of art. Although you’ll not find sunshine and lollipops here, you’re sure to get your fill of weather and brightly colored eye candy.

My opinion? FIVE STARS. I wouldn’t allow my 11-year old to read these books as they are constructed of a chain of graphic scenes. But for me, the explosive writing combined with a great storyline (that pulled me through so many twists and turns and kept me up late at night guessing to the very end) clinched it. I’m sold and these characters will live on in my head for a long time to come. They truly made my Christmas Merrier!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Dreary Valleys of Writing


I have my writer bestie, Julie Lindsey, to thank for today's post. Today, she blogged about losing some of the joy of writing. Well, I have a confession to make: I too doubt myself and the decision to dedicate so much time to my passion. The guilt, doubt, and stress that accompany that decision is a lot to bear. Too much sometimes for a working mother.

As with anything, I'm finding out there are mountains and valleys in writing. The mountains make for awesome cartwheeling and squeals of delight. The valleys are at the very least, unfavorable.  But even the lowest of the low are a necessity. Here are a few reasons why:

I get a break. I don't blog when in a valley. First, I lack initiative. Second, shrouded in a gray cloud of doubt, I don't wish to broadcast those negative vibes to you through cyberspace via Blogger, Twitter, or Facebook (you're welcome). And let's face it, blogging and social networking take time! A lot of time. I'm not even an organized blogger like some who plan blogs weeks in advance and set them on posting timers. *Ahem...Not naming names* I'm not saying I'm against organization, only that I'm unable to master it.

I get to read. If I'm not writing, there's only one other thing I want to do: Catch up on my reading! I can immerse myself in the latest and greatest without feeling guilty about not writing. Anything I wrote while under the spell of blahdust sprinkled on me by the evil fairy of All Things Dispassionate, would be crap anyway.

I get a renewed perspective. Creativity, motiviation and inspiration return, sometimes in greater waves and rushes than before. This results in...say it with me...rockin' WIPs.

While it's no fun being in a valley, you should take a deep breath, grab a good book, and take advantage before your characters start screaming at you again. Because the beauty of residing temporarily in a valley is the temporary part. It will recede. So relax and patiently await that new (and improved) wave of awesomeness that will wash over you and make you that much better. Can't wait to see what your valleys produce!! Please share!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I DID IT!


I did it. SEND has been HIT on my 20-page critique to the famous Janet Reid. It was actually 25 pages, but who's counting?

Now I will wait 44 days for her feedback, which will be unfavorable, brutally honest, seriously educational. She will not be interested in HALLO because it's not her style of writing (from what I can tell from the writing contests, etc. on her blog) but...I DID IT! Send has been Hit and my pages will be read by a very well respected New York City uber-agent! She will offer criticism (in the form of a sharkbite), and although I don't own chainmail, I do have big shoulders and happen to thrive on constructive criticism.

I'm so proud of myself for finding myself, reaching my goals, stretching my comfort zone, raising the bar. I can do this! I can write a novel, albeit error-filled, but a novel nonetheless! I'm learning and loving every minute of it!!

Speaking of loving things, it's back to MATCHED I go. I can't wait to give a review of this long-awaited phenomenon! Stay tuned!

Monday, December 13, 2010

I'm BACK....In the third grade!



Today, I feel like it's the first day of third grade. This signifies two things:
  1. I'm THAT excited to be returning to my beloved blog!! (Third grade was hands down, my favorite year of school. First crush on a boy, 2 recesses, teachers still allowed crafts! Isn't the first day of school a great excuse to cartwheel?)
  2. My knowledge of writing is still on the third grade level.
These realizations are both superexciting and disappointing. Being ecstatic to be blogging again, I thought I'd discuss #2: my ignorance on several important literary points. Coming into this writing biz a little late in life (hey...I said a LITTLE, people!), I am learning the craft very s l o w l y. Which brings me to my first lesson I received while enveloped in my editing cloud.

ADVERBS: I know, I know. You all were very aware of this taboo. But what's the big deal? Why can't I write HOW miserable I was while editing my 20 pages? (Horrifyingly, disturbingly, indescribably miserable, thank you very much.)

All research I've done on this says it's not against the rules of the English language to use adverbs in speech and writing. So what's with agents seeing red over this? My guess is sloppy writing. It's telling, not showing. If you can't find a more creative way to let your reader know how soft his touch is than using "softly", you're not being creative. And we all know to grab an agent's attention, you've got to exude creativity. You've got to take what's been done before and put a new spin on it. Adverbs are tired and an easy way out. (Which must be why my ms was littered with them!)

PERIODS: I'm almost too embarrassed to admit this one-but what the hay? I was informed by one of my crit readers (Thank you Rachel!) the easier-to-read computer formatting does away with the use of two spaces after periods. Wha??? I've used two spaces since I learned to type....on a typewriter. In 1991. Wow. Not only am I showing my age, I was also broadcasting my ignorance. Nice.

WORD BOMBS: What would we do without Find and Replace? I'm sure everyone has their own fav word bombs. Mine are "that", "just" and of course adverbs. *rolls eyes* In a 500-word exercise, I had 20. Tres creative, right? Yeah. Although easily fixable, I was surprised at how many times I used these bombs and began to take note of them in my speech. Shocking! If only I had a nickel every time I said them! I wouldn't need to be pubbed! HA!

So, to all of you out there editing, I hope my blunders help you newbies (you'd have to be a newbie like...started writing yesterday to not know any of this, but please comment either way!) and provide you seasoned writers with entertainment at my expense!