Category Archives: writing

The Synopsis #amwriting

If your publishing path is the traditional route, you must attempt to get an agent. It’s a rare thing for an author to get a book published traditionally without an agent. Agents want to sell your book, and they love to read. So you must first sell the book to an agent, and to do that, you must know how to write a synopsis.

The synopsis is not a blurb.

It is a short description of your book, hitting the high points and it does give away the ending.

The synopsis should only be one page long, written in third person, present tense. Many agents say three to five paragraphs will do it. So how do you fit a novel onto one page?

You give the agent the bare bones of the book.

Things they want to see detailed in those paragraphs:

  • Genre
  • Setting
  • Protagonist and major characters
  • What the conflict/major goals are
  • Character arc (how the characters grow/devolve throughout the book)
  • Resolution

Things you should leave out at this point? Don’t wax poetic on specific descriptions of

  • setting,
  • side characters,
  • sub plots, and
  • specific, highly detailed descriptions of plot points and the resolution.

You start with a statement that describes the books premise: A young man abandoned by his wife and left with a terminally ill child must find the one healer who can cure his son.

Introduce the protagonist and his/her problem:

Janse, a young water-mage, has been tapped to be his clan’s shaman. His wife who is not of the clan doesn’t understand the demands that responsibility places on him, and deserts him, leaving him to care for an infant with a terminal heart condition. His clan’s healer is young and untrained, but Janse’s grandfather tells him of a healer in a citadel far to the south, a journey of many months.

The next paragraphs should detail the bulk of the story. What does the protagonist do in reaction to the inciting incident? What obstacles does he/she face, and who helps or hinders them along the way?

Janse and his cousins, one of whom, Landry, is the clan’s healer, set out, taking the baby on the perilous journey. Many times on the journey, Janse must use his magic or his wiles to extricate them from trouble. They must pass through dark forests and travel through high mountain passes. Along the way, they are robbed. When they seek shelter at the first village on their route, they are turned away. No one will sell them supplies. Desperate to make it to a friendly village, they keep going but make a wrong turn and enter the lair of the Griphon. Using guile and magic, they escape from the beast. Just when it seems they will make it, the baby has a crisis. Landry is able to get the baby through the crisis, but now they know time is short. When they arrive at the citadel, they are at first turned away. Then they are directed down dangerous streets to an obscure address in the worst part of town.

Give the resolution in a nutshell. Detail isn’t important.

The elderly woman who opens the door welcomes them. She immediately takes the baby to her daughter, Ethella, who is the healer they have been seeking. Using her magic, Ethella is able to heal the baby, teaching Landry the skills he needs.

Janse and his cousins make ready to return to the clan, feeling confident. Janse has grown as both a mage and a shaman and now feels able to take his grandfather’s place and lead his clan with wisdom. Landry has grown in his abilities and is able to be the healer his clan needs.

The synopsis is only difficult because we have the urge to put all the details into it.

Being able to put your book into four paragraphs is a trick all authors need to know, whether we go the traditional route or not. People always ask you what the book is about, and wouldn’t it be nice to be able to tell them?

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Honesty in Writing #amwriting

As writers, we are entertainers. We write books for people who want a diversion from the daily grind. No matter what the subject or genre is, we write escapes, windows into other lives, other places, other realities. When we offer the book to the public, we hope the reader will stay with us to the end, hope they find the same life in the narrative that we thought we were imparting when we wrote it.

This can only happen if we are honest. When I first started out, I wrote poetry, lyrics for a heavy metal band. I was young, sincere, and convinced I had to impart a message with every word. I didn’t know until twenty years later when I came across my old notebook—my poems weren’t honest. I wasn’t honest with myself, and when I looked back at my work, I could see the falseness clearly. My words were contrived, formed too artfully. They shouted, “Look at me! I’m young and full of angst, but I’m talented and artsy!”

When I began writing stories for my children, I still wrote crap, but it was honest crap. I no longer had anyone to impress—children are never impressed by parents who write. They are also quite honest about where a story fails to impress them, and why. I began to write fairy tales that were honest, but not written by an educated author.

With that as my training ground, learning how to make my writing enjoyable became a goal. It was there that I discovered that, besides writing honestly, an author needs to be consistent with punctuation. I had no idea I was uneducated—after all, I had done well in school.  Even so, I had to re-learn the fundamentals of American English grammar because my first real editor pointed out that I hadn’t retained much of what I was taught in elementary school.

As Ursula K. LeGuin said in her wonderful book, Steering the Craft, A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, “If you aren’t interested in punctuation, or are afraid of it, you’re missing out on some of the most beautiful, elegant tools a writer has to work with.”

My rule is to embrace what I fear, so I embraced grammar. I’m not perfect, but I make an effort.

I have always been a reader, enjoying books in every genre and style.  While the books I love are scattered all across the spectrum, they have one thing in common—they are all written by authors with an understanding of the basic rules of punctuation. Sure, they break other rules of grammar with style and abandon, but they do pay attention to punctuation.

This is because punctuation is the traffic signal telling the reader to go, slow, pause, yield, go again, or stop. Punctuation at most of the right places allows the reader to forget they are reading and encourages them to suspend their disbelief.

Writers begin as readers. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King gives us permission to read for six hours a day, should we so desire. Reading is how we come to understand writing and the art of story. (He also admonishes us to learn the fundamentals of punctuation and grammar.)

In my quest to understand the art of story I have come across some pretty awful books. I don’t consider “hard to read because it is written in an old-fashioned style” awful. However, I do consider “hard to read because the author wasted my time” awful.

Contrived prose is not poetic. Hokey and forced situations are not exciting. Perfectly beautiful people bore me. Long passages about clothing and furnishings bore me.

Write me an honest story about “real” people with real problems, one that comes from your deepest soul. Set it in outer space, or the Amazon Jungle—I don’t care. I read all genres and all settings. I will forgive imperfect grammar and punctuation for a great story that rings of truth and touches my heart.

Let me sink into your story. Let me forget the world—let me become so into the book I forget to cook dinner.


Credits and Attributions:

Quote: Ursula K. LeGuin, Steering the Craft, A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, ©1999 Ursula K. LeGuin, First Mariner Books Edition 2015, page 11.

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Naming Characters #amwriting

I have mentioned (several times) one of my mistakes in naming characters. In the Tower of Bones Series, I have a main character named Marya. She is central to the series. Also, in the first book, a side character was important enough to have a name. My mind was in a rut when I thought that one up because I named her Marta.

You can see why this is bad—the two names are nearly identical.

To really confuse things, halfway through the first draft of the second book in the series, Marta suddenly was a protagonist with a major storyline. She actually becomes Marya’s mother-in-law in the third book. Fortunately, I was in the final stage of editing book one, Tower of Bones, for publication, and immediately realized I had to make a major correction: Marta was renamed Halee.

In my family, “Robert” is a name with a great deal of repetition. My father was named Robert, my two brothers are both named Robert (with different middle names), and my mother’s younger brother is named Robert. My younger brother’s son is named Robert, as is his son. We have a Bob, a Little Bob, a Rob, a Bobby, a Robby, and a Quatro.

I took this absurdity to an extreme in Billy Ninefingers. In Waldeyn, every third boy is named William, which is why Billy MacNess embraces the name his mercenaries give him after the injury. In that novel, “Williams” generally go by their last names.

Other than Billy Ninefingers where it was intentional and integral to the story, my personal rule is to NEVER name two characters in such a way that the first and last letters of their names are the same. To avoid that circumstance, I try to never have two that even begin with the same letter.

But who should go and who should stay? What is the optimal number of characters for a book? Some say only four, others fifteen.

I feel an author should introduce however many characters it takes to tell the story but should also use common sense.

A name implies a character is an important part of the story. Ask yourself if the character is an example of “Chekhov’s Gun.” Does the person return later in the story or does he or she act as part of the setting, showing the scenery of, say, a coffee shop, or a store? Is it someone the reader should remember? Even if this character offers information the protagonist and reader must know, it doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be named.

Some throw-away characters will give us clues to help our protagonist complete his/her quest or show us something about the protagonist. Their comments could offer us a clue into the protagonist’s personality or past. Other random people are in the scene purely for the ambiance, part of the world-building. A woman smoking in an alley outside the back door to an office needs no name, but she serves as a visible clue about the world the main character is walking in.

Even if they do speak a few lines, if they are just part of the scenery, they don’t need a name.

In an excellent article on screenwriting, Christina Hamlett of the Writer’s Store writes:

In a screenplay, the rhythm you’re attempting to establish–along with the emotional investment you’re asking a reader to make–is disrupted whenever you devote more than two lines of introduction to a character who is simply there to take up space. In order to justify their existence, each player in your script should perform a unique function or deliver a specific line that:

  1. Advances the plot,
  2. Thwarts the hero’s objectives,
  3. Provides crucial background, and/or
  4. Contributes to the mood of the scene.

If you’ve included characters who don’t fulfill one or more of these jobs, they’re probably not critical to the storyline and can be deleted.

While she is speaking of screenplays, this is true of a novel or short story.

We want the reader to stay focused on the protagonist(s) and their story. The desire to make every character a memorable person must be ignored. When we begin revising second draft of our manuscript, we must find and resolve the distractions we inadvertently introduced in our first draft.

My current work in progress has a passage that takes place in an inn and involves a conversation overheard from a table adjacent to my two protagonists and their sidekicks. Despite the fact the merchant and his sons give my protagonists information they needed, they are in that scene for only one purpose. They are to be overheard and don’t appear again. For this reason, only my main characters are named in the full transcript of this scene.

Finding that we have too many named characters is an easy one to fix, once we decide how important that character is to the story. If they don’t appear again, the reader will move on and forget about them. The information they imparted will remain.

I have found that a great use for my extra walk-on characters is the short story. The world is already built, and they have a story, albeit a short one. Use them to your advantage.

I now keep in mind simplicity of spelling and ease of pronunciation when I name my characters. How will that name be pronounced when it is read out loud? You may not want to get too fancy with the spelling, so that the narrator can easily read that name aloud. You may not think this is important, but it is.

My advice is to keep it simple. Don’t confuse your readers by giving unimportant walk-on characters names. Be vigilant when choosing names—don’t give two characters names that are nearly identical.

Do make your spellings of names and places easily pronounceable. You may decide to have your book made into an audio book, and the process will go more smoothly if you’ve considered this in advance. I only have one book that is an Audio book and the experience of making that book taught me to spell names simply.


Credits and Attributions:

Minor Characters Don’t Need Major Introductions, Christina Hamlett, Copyright © 1982 – 2017 The Writers Store ® Incorporated, accessed Mar. 11, 2017.

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#FineArtFriday: A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat circa 1884

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat (1884–1886) is a landmark painting. Art historians agree that with this image, Seurat changed the direction of modern art and began the era of Neo-impressionism. It is one of the most recognizable of late 19th-century paintings.

About this painting from Wikipedia: In summer 1884, Seurat began work on A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

The painting shows members of each of the social classes participating in various park activities. The tiny juxtaposed dots of multi-colored paint allow the viewer’s eye to blend colors optically, rather than having the colors physically blended on the canvas. It took Seurat two years to complete this 10-foot-wide (3.0 m) painting, much of which he spent in the park sketching in preparation for the work (there are about 60 studies). It is now in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

What I love about this painting is the preciseness of each component. This painting proudly declares it is not “real”—it is instead an impression of a moment in time, a summer day spent on the River Seine. It is both sharply delineated and dreamlike. That is a neat trick.

Seurat used individual dots of only primary colors (Red, green, yellow, blue) but the way he places them, they seem muted and blended into shades of rose and purple, and even pale pink. I’m captivated by a technicality – obsessed by the way the primary colors of each dot are juxtaposed with other primary colors, tricking the eye into believing it sees light and dark, and all shades between.

About the Artist, via Wikipedia: (Seurat) is noted for his innovative use of drawing media and for devising the painting techniques known as chromoluminarism and pointillism. Seurat’s artistic personality was compounded of qualities which are usually supposed to be opposed and incompatible: on the one hand, his extreme and delicate sensibility; on the other, a passion for logical abstraction and an almost mathematical precision of mind.

This technique is one I hadn’t given much thought to until I ran across a postcard with this image on it. Other notable artists who explored this method were Paul Signac and Vincent van Gogh.

For me, studying these images of masterpieces for the Friday posts on art teaches me how to be creative with my words. Artists both push the limits of their color palettes and yet force external constraints on themselves to create images that fool the eye.

Authors must do the same with how we shape our words.

About the Pointillist technique of painting, from Wikipedia: If red, blue, and green light (the additive primaries) are mixed, the result is something close to white light. Painting is inherently subtractive, but Pointillist colors often seem brighter than typical mixed subtractive colors. This may be partly because subtractive mixing of the pigments is avoided, and partly because some of the white canvas may be showing between the applied dots.

The painting technique used for Pointillist color mixing is at the expense of the traditional brushwork used to delineate texture.

The majority of Pointillism is done in oil paint. Anything may be used in its place, but oils are preferred for their thickness and tendency not to run or bleed.


Sources and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Georges Seurat – A Sunday on La Grande Jatte — 1884 – Google Art Project.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Georges_Seurat_-_A_Sunday_on_La_Grande_Jatte_–_1884_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg&oldid=90112845 (accessed January 10, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=A_Sunday_Afternoon_on_the_Island_of_La_Grande_Jatte&oldid=875941354 (accessed January 10, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Georges Seurat,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Georges_Seurat&oldid=877532379 (accessed January 10, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Pointillism,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pointillism&oldid=874469961(accessed January 10, 2019).

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The sound of the narrative #amwriting

Reading aloud is a great way to quickly discover the places I want to revise. I have always read portions of my work aloud, a page or two at a time. The places where I stumble are usually always the places that need ironing, so to speak.

In the past, I have only gone to this trouble with sections that I felt had some indefinable thing wrong with them. But lately, I’ve been printing out each chapter in its entirety a day or two after I finish writing it, trying to hear where the prose doesn’t work. I use a yellow highlighter on the places that feel rough.

I’m a slow writer, but I have several looming deadlines for contests and anthologies. This seemed like a good way to speed up development, getting short stories from rough draft to finished in a timely fashion.

As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, I rarely have a piece that is perfectly clean. I am the only eye that sees it before posting. Despite my best efforts, I catch many things the day after something was posted. I always check through my work on the computer screen, and I catch a lot there, but the eye sees what I intended to write.

This bleeds over into my other work. But if I wait a day or two and then read the paper printout with fresher eyes, I find repeated words, dropped words, and all sorts of typos. Even better, reading the printout aloud exposes the rough areas, the places where the words “fight with each other.”

When you are trying to pronounce the words, run-on sentences really stand out, and clunky prose won’t flow well. The narrative reads well for a long stretch, and then it hits a stumbling point.

That yellow highlighter of mine really gets a work out—maybe I’ll have to buy a case of them.

Another thing I have discovered by reading the entire chapter rather than just a page here and there—I can see where I am repeating entire ideas. This is a common problem for me in the first draft.

Having Natural Reader or another reading program do the reading for you helps, and I have made use of that many times. But this experience has shown me that while these wonderful programs are incredibly useful, they don’t do the job quite as well as a human voice does. They often mispronounce words that are heteronyms—words that are spelled the same as another word, but which are pronounced differently and have different meanings.

  • Read (pronounced reed) as in the act of reading
  • Read (pronounced red) as in having already finished reading the book.

Natural Reader rarely guesses those sorts of words correctly. The cadence and rhythm of the narrative is not as clearly heard when the mechanical voice does the reading, even if you are reading along silently. It tends to be rather flat, a monotone.

I’m not talking poetry here, but good prose has movement when it is read out loud. Sometimes it’s fast, sometimes slow, but it should have no rough spots for the reader to stumble over.

What I love about listening to audio books is the way prose sounds when it’s read aloud by an experienced narrator. Some narratives are beautiful when read aloud, and some are not.

If you intend to have your work made into an audio book, you want to make your work easy for the narrator to read without faltering.

So, now I will add ‘printing out and reading entire chapters aloud and marking places that need correction with a yellow highlighter’ as a regular tool in my writer’s toolbox. As long as the old printer keeps limping along, doing its job, this should speed things up.

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The Proofreader #amwriting

I see the process of getting a manuscript ready for publication as a four-part process.

  1. Writing the first draft.
  2. Beta Reading and revising the manuscript to your satisfaction.
  3. Sending it to the editor and making suggested revisions.
  4. Having the edited manuscript proofread.

Proofreading is done after the final revisions have been made. Even though an editor has combed your manuscript and you have made thousands of corrections, both large and small, there will be places where the reader’s eye will stop.

It is best if this task is done by someone who has not seen the manuscript before. That way, they will see it through new eyes, and the small things hiding in your otherwise-perfect manuscript will stand out.

Some things your proofreader must understand:

  • The proofreader should not try to hijack the process and derail an author’s launch date by nitpicking his/her genrestyle, and phrasing.
  • The proofreader must understand that the author has been through the process with a professional line editor. At this point, they are satisfied that the story arc is what they envisioned, and the characters are believable with unique personalities. The author worked with an editor to ensure the overall tone, voice, and mood of the piece is what the author envisioned.

You will note that I have used the word envisioned twice in the above list. If a proofreader can’t restrain their unasked-for editorial comments, you should find a different reader.

The edited manuscript is the author’s creation, a product of his/her vision, and by the time we arrive at the proofing stage, it is intentional in the form it is in.

This is why a professional proofreader is a good investment. The proofreader must realize that the author and his/her editor have considered the age level of the intended audience. A proofreader does not go through a manuscript with a red pen and mark it up with editorial comments. They do not critique the author’s voice or content because that is not their job.

A proofreader does highlight places where typos and other proofing errors exist and ruin the narrative.

A proofreader understands that every typo and error is different. These little landmines are insidious and may not leap out at first glance, which is why they aren’t always caught during the editorial process. Any number of small, hard-to-detect things can occur during the process of making even minor revisions.

In case you didn’t see it when I mentioned it above, I will say it again: proofreading is not editingEditing is a process that I have discussed at length elsewhere.

At the outset, the proofreader must understand that no matter how tempting it may be, they have not been invited to edit the manuscript for content. If they cannot refrain from asking for large revisions regarding your style and content, find another proofreader.

The proofreader should look for misspelled words, and homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently). Spell-checker may or may not catch these words, so a human eye is critical for this.

  • Wrong:  Cissy wint out the door, slamming the screen.
  • Right:  Cissy went out the door, slamming the screen.
  • Wrong: There dog escaped, and he had to chase it
  • Right: Their dog escaped, and he had to chase it.

The proofreader must also look for repeated words and cut-and-paste errors. These are the kind of error frequently introduced into a manuscript when a tired author is making revisions. When we are pushing ourselves, even the most meticulous of authors unknowingly introduce errors when cutting and moving entire sections, rearranging portions of the narrative for a more logical flow.

You must rememberthe editor won’t see any errors you introduce when you implement their editorial suggestions. Once an editor has made their recommendations and returned your manuscript to you, they are done and won’t see the book again until it is published. You will have to make those revisions, and that is where many typos and errors occur.

Cut and paste errors are insidious and difficult to spot, and spell-checker won’t always find them. But a proofreader will notice them because the prose will contain unusually garbled sentences, and sometimes, two periods (full stops) at the end of a sentence.

  • Wrong: It is is accepted practice to italicize thoughts.
  • Wrong: Itis accepted practice to thoughts.
  • Wrong: First of all, it is accepted to ot thoughts..
  • Right: It is accepted practice to italicize thoughts.

Dialogue that is missing quotes can be a problem for many authors. When they are in a hurry, they sometimes don’t hit the quote key at the end of a sentence. Also, for US authors, they must be closed (double) quotes rather than single quotes.

  • Wrong: “Doctor Mendel, you’re new to the area,’ said Officer Shultz. “What do you know about the dead man?
  • Right: “Doctor Mendel, you’re new to the area,” said Officer Shultz. “What do you know about the dead man?”

Numbers that are digits are acceptable to use when writing notes and emails. They can also be used if you are writing a blogpost, but ask any bookkeeper – digits are as easy to accidentally mess up as words.

  • Wrong: There will be 3000 guests at the reception.
  • Wrong: There will be 003 guests at the reception.
  • Right: There will be 300 guests at the reception.
  • Right: There will be three hundred guests at the reception. (In literature, we write it out.)

Dropped and missing words will make the prose seem garbled and hard to follow.

  • Wrong: Officer Shultz sat at my table, me gently.
  • Right: Officer Shultz sat at my table, grilling me gently.

Something you must be aware of if you have paid for someone to proofread for you—each time you tweak the phrasing or create a new passage in your edited manuscript, you run the risk of creating another undetected error. Never make revisions when you are tired or not fully on your toes.

If you are happy with the way your manuscript was edited, I suggest you do not ask a different editor to proofread your manuscript, as they may be unable to resist suggesting larger changes. Each editor sees things differently and editing is their nature and their job.

The problem is that this can go on forever, and you run the risk of ironing the life out of your manuscript and losing the feeling of spontaneity, making it feel contrived. You also risk publishing a manuscript that looks unedited because of the flaws that were introduced in the proofing process.

Before you publish your book, do yourself a favor and have it proofread by an intelligent reader. Find someone who understands what you are asking them to do and who is willing to do only that. If you are a member of a writing group, you have a good resource of readers there.

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What we can learn from midlist books #amwriting

As part of my ongoing quest to improve my writing skills, I have been reading a series of novels written by a midlist author (whom I am not going to name), trying to decipher what it that I like about her work and what I don’t like.

Midlist is a term used by the traditional publishing industry referring to books that aren’t bestsellers, but which sell enough to justify their publication. If these authors can build a consistent sales record, the big publishers will probably want future books from that author.

Most books published today are midlist titles. Bestsellers earn the largest portion of overall royalties, but midlist novels are steady earners over a long period, and many of these authors have devoted fans.

So, I have been binge-reading this series of mystery novels, trying to decide why she sells enough to keep her publisher buying her books, and in the process,  I have figured out why she’s not a bestseller. I have come up with a list of strengths and shortcomings, things I can look for in my own work.

The positives:

  • Her plots tend to be intriguing. She is creative with her murders and doesn’t rely on cliché situations.
  • She knows how to sink a hook. The details of how and why each of the murders are discovered is interesting, and at the beginning, logical, so you keep reading.
  • She has good skills in world building. The ethnicity of the immigrant Armenian neighborhood feels solid, as if you know it well.
  • The main characters reveal themselves slowly. They have an air of mystery around them. You never feel like you know all there is to know about them.

The negatives:

  • Her books tend to follow a formula that is recognizably hers, which is why she can put out four novels a year. In that regard, they are like romance novels. Once you’ve read the first three in the series, you know the basic story line.
  • They’re not memorable in any way. The one thing that keeps you reading is curiosity to discover who out of the many possibilities actually did it.
  • Toward the middle and the second half, the story arc becomes jerky, at times almost flatlining. The eye wants to skip pages.
  • Then suddenly, it’s so chaotic it’s impossible to follow what just happened, and no matter how many times you go back and re-read it, you can’t understand what is going on.
  • References to habits, such as obsessive chain smoking, start out doing the intended job, conveying a personality. But these references soon become repetitive, over-used, inadvertent crutches.
  • Her political and technological references place these books firmly in a certain period – a double-edged sword. The political references are the biggest Achilles heel. She began writing the series in in the early nineties. Publishing schedules being as slow as they are, these references immediately made the books feel slightly out of date, rather than set in an era.
  • By book three, the Main Character hasn’t grown or evolved. They’re still locked firmly in their own time-warp.
  • Her publisher misses a lot of proofing errors. This is every indie’s nightmare, so it’s annoying to find so many flaws in a book by a reputable publisher.

In retrospect, I like this author’s work, but certain of her writing habits annoy me as a reader. So, why have I subjected myself to reading so many of her books if I’m so ambivalent about them?

Education.

We all know what we love when we see it. But unless we out-and-out hate something, being able to identify what we don’t love is sometimes difficult.

And this concept is especially true about our own work. Those of us whose vocation is writing fiction must work to ensure our voice and writing style is current and fresh. It is a quest that can take a lifetime and involves more than just reading “How to Write This or That Aspect of a Novel” manuals. Books on craft are important, but they only offer up a part of the picture.

You must read widely, and outside your favorite genre. This is why I study how books in all genres, both good and bad, are constructed.

When you come across authors whose work shocks, rocks, and shakes you, study them. What did you love? What did they do right and how can you incorporate those techniques into your work?

When you don’t like a novel, ask yourself why it failed to move you. What did the author do wrong and how could you write it better?

Read widely, dissect what you read, and then apply what you’ve learned to your own work.

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Update and Resolutions for 2019 #amwriting

Here in the Pacific Northwest, the year of 2018 is enjoying its last hurrah. People are getting ready for parties and counting both their successes and failures. It has been an eventful year for both my family and my writing life, so I am looking forward to what 2019 will bring.

My quest to complete the three-book literary fantasy series, Billy’s Revenge, will finally come to an end. Julian Lackland is on the home stretch and will go to the editor on February 1st. Depending on how quickly that goes, he will be published in June. Julian began life as my first NaNoWriMo Novel in 2010 and was picked up by a small press. Unfortunately, that didn’t go well.

It has taken me eight years to undo the damage they did and get this manuscript into proper shape. Julian Lackland is why I have been on this quest to educate myself about the craft of writing. I wanted to give Julian the kind of book he deserves, and judging by my beta readers’ comments, the effort has been worth it.

I am also closing in on finishing the first draft of a new duology set in Neveyah, the Tower of Bones world. One of the things I learned when I was trying to finish Valley of Sorrows, is that readers who begin a series want the next book in a timely fashion. They might wait a year, but after that, they will forget about it. It takes me four years to get a book from concept to publication, which can be a problem.

What I am doing differently with Alf’s story is this: I’m writing the first draft of the entire story arc before I begin revisions on the first book. So, this means I am writing a 250,000 word manuscript. Only when the entire first draft is finished will I begin the editing process. The manuscript will be broken in half and published as a duology, hopefully six months apart, assuming that editing goes smoothly when we get to that stage.

I am also finishing the stand-alone book that was begun as a serial in 2015, Bleakbourne on Heath. I have approximately 20,000 words left to write before it goes to the editor. Leryn’s story was so much fun to write. I had never done a serial, and unfortunately, I soon discovered I couldn’t keep up the daunting schedule I had set for getting my installments published. It was like “live television.” Whenever I sat down to write a chapter, I had no idea what was going to happen next.

One day I realized I had reached a creative plateau and had no idea how to finish the damned thing. Some people consider that writer’s block, but not me. When I can’t think of a way to advance a particular story, it’s time to rein it in and put it aside for a while to work on something else. So, I wrote a wedding scene, and ended the serial on a happy note, winding up most of the threads, but with the main quest still unfinished.

Last year was a good year for short stories, some of which found good homes in forthcoming anthologies. Also, two of my poems were selected for publication in the I Hear Olympia Singing poetry anthology and were chosen as the opening verses. I survived my first live poetry reading and met some amazing people in the process. Yay for that!

Despite cutting back on my professional editing schedule, I was privileged to edit several wonderful books for my clients—what a joy that aspect of my life is. I can’t completely drop out of that part of this business, as I love working with my clients, helping them to realize the vision they originally had for their book.

My resolutions for 2019 are to publish at least one novel, have a second one either published by the end of the year or ready to go in 2020, finish the first draft of my duology, and continue to write short stories and poetry, and continue to edit for my private clients.

I will keep writing new words every day, and I will remain involved in the local writing community. That connection with other writers feeds my creativity, offers me a sounding board, and keeps me working with good people who will read for me and show me what needs to be rewritten.

Thank you for being a part of my writing life. May the new year bring you good fortune, good food, and good friends. May the new year bring us all inspiration and determination—the two most important gifts a writer could have.


Credits and Attributions

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Dirck Hals – Musicians – WGA11043.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Dirck_Hals_-_Musicians_-_WGA11043.jpg&oldid=253948561 (accessed December 31, 2018).

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#FineArtFriday: A Christmas Carol, revisited

Today’s images are two illustrations by John Leech from the first edition of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens,  published in book form in 1843.  The body of this post first appeared here on Dec, 23, 2015. This is the first time I have included the original art of John Leech, which Dickens himself chose to include in the book.

From Wikipedia: John Leech (29 August 1817 – 29 October 1864 in London) was a British caricaturist and illustrator.[1] He is best known for his work for Punch, a humorous magazine for a broad middle-class audience, combining verbal and graphic political satire with light social comedy. Leech catered to contemporary prejudices, such as anti-Americanism and antisemitism and supported acceptable social reforms. Leech’s critical yet humorous cartoons on the Crimean War help shape public attitudes toward heroism, warfare, and Britons’ role in the world.[2][3]

Four of John Leech’s etchings were included in the first edition of A Christmas Carol.


Another Christmas is about to join the Ghosts of Christmas Past–although, until December 26th, it is still the Ghost of Christmas Present. And as always, I want to talk about my favorite Christmas story of all time, A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens was a master when it came to creating marvelous hooks and using heavy foreshadowing. Let’s have a look at the first lines of this tale:

“Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.”

In that first paragraph, Dickens  tosses out the bait, sinking the hook, and landing the fish (the reader) by foreshadowing the first plot point of the story–the visitation by Marley’s ghost. We want to know why Marley’s definite state of decay was so important that the conversation between you the reader, and Dickens the author, was launched with that topic.

He picks it up and does it again several pages later, with the little scene involving the door-knocker, where Scrooge sees the face of his late business partner superimposed over the knocker.

At this point we’ve followed Scrooge through several scenes introducing the subplots. We have met the man who, as yet, is named only as ‘the clerk’ in the original manuscript, but whom we will later know to be Bob Cratchit, and we’ve met Scrooge’s nephew, Fred.

These subplots are critical, as our man Scrooge’s redemption revolves around the ultimate resolution of these two separate mini-stories–he must witness the joy and love in Cratchit’s family, who are suffering but happy in the midst of grinding poverty for which Scrooge bears a responsibility. We see that his nephew, Fred, though orphaned is well off in his own right, but craves a relationship with his uncle with no thought or care of what he might gain from it financially.

All the characters are in place. We’ve seen the city, cold and dark, with danger lurking in the shadows. We’ve observed the way Scrooge interacts with everyone around him, strangers and acquaintances alike. Now we come to the first plot point in Dickens’ story arc–Marley’s visitation. This is where the set-up ends and the story begins to take off.

I love tales of redemption–and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens remains one of the most beloved tales of redemption in the Western canon. Written in  1843 as a serialized novella, A Christmas Carol continues to inspire adaptations, in both movies and books.

This is a short tale, but it is a deeply moving allegory of the Christian concept of redemption that remains pertinent in modern society.

In this tale, Dickens asks you to recognize the plight of those whom the Industrial Revolution has displaced and driven into poverty, and the obligation of society to provide for them humanely. This is a concept our society continues to struggle with, and perhaps will for a long time to come.

It is that deep, underlying call for compassion that resonates down through the centuries, a call that is, unfortunately, timeless.


Credits and Attributions:

The Art of Foreshadowing: Charles Dickens, first appeared here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy, on Dec. 23, 2015.

Wikipedia contributors, “John Leech (caricaturist),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=John_Leech_(caricaturist)&oldid=871947694 (accessed December 21, 2018).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Christmascarol1843 — 040.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Christmascarol1843_–_040.jpg&oldid=329166198 (accessed December 21, 2018)

A colourised edit of an engraving of Charles Dickens’ “Ghost of Christmas Present” character, by John Leech in 1843. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Ghost of Christmas Present John Leech 1843.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Ghost_of_Christmas_Present_John_Leech_1843.jpg&oldid=329172654 (accessed December 21, 2018).

 

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Stormy Weather #amwriting

Today is one of the darkest days so far this winter. As I write this, it’s noon, but the sun struggles to penetrate the gloom. Wind-driven rain bullets pound at the windows and all I want to do is hibernate. The wind howls around my house, seeming like a living thing.

I am warm and snug and wrapped in a cozy, fleece-lined blanket, with a cup of hot tea in my hands. I sit with my eyes closed, imagining warmer places, lands where the sun shines every day, and a gentle rain only falls in the small hours before dawn.

Yep. I write fantasy.

This post was supposed to be about world building. I could probably look out my window and tell you what my world looks and feels like. I’d intended to show you how the rain and murkiness make the world seem two-dimensional, a study in shades of gray. I wanted you to feel the cold and damp working its way inside your hood, making walking to the store a misery. I should  warn you, though. Today is a bad day to walk anywhere. Flying branches and airborne trashcans might make your walk…an adventure.

Had we gone through the exercise that was planned, I would have asked you to talk to the friendly golden Labrador who lives inside the fenced yard on the corner and reassure him that his owner will indeed come home after work. The poor dog is doubtful, awash with separation anxiety despite the fact his owner has never failed to return.

But no.

I don’t think I will write a blog post today. Instead, I’m going to sit in my favorite chair and read. And when I put the book down for a moment, I will remember how warm the breezes of Oahu were, how different from my cold, dark, inland home. I’m going to think of Waikiki and mojitos at Duke’s Canoe Club. Sitting on the beach afterward and feeling the softness of golden sand against my bare feet. How gentle the surf seemed during our stay there, as compared to the chill of the wild North Pacific as it crashes into the Washington coast.

I’m going to remember the exhilaration of snorkeling in Hanauma Bay. The pictures didn’t do it justice, but it shines in my memory. And the next day? How do I show you the incredulous joy of sitting on a North Shore beach and being visited by giant tortoises?

Instead of being visited by thunder and lighting.

The storms may swirl and rage outside my house, but I am warm and cozy. I have orange spice tea to keep me warm and the memories of warmer places and gentler breezes to keep me company.


Credits and Attributions:

The Plaza After Rain, Paul Cornoyer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Waikiki Beach by Helen Whitney Kelley, c. 1900 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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