Archive for November, 2010

I’m taking a break….

I hate to do this, but I’m going to take a hiatus.

I have a manuscript that I’m pretty excited about and the holidays are coming, too.  Things are just going to be too hectic for me to write quality posts.  I don’t want to just throw anything up on the blog so that I keep up with my schedule.  So, here’s my plan:

I’m going to take a break until after the first of the new year.  Hopefully, by then, I’ll have more of my manuscript written and several young adult books under my belt.  Then, I hope to resume the blog in the way I originally intended: as book deconstructions in three parts.

I want to thank everyone who’s been reading my posts and I want to wish everyone a happy holidays!  I’ll see you after the first of the year with more reading and writing adventures to share!

Happy writing!





Words: My Fair-weather Friends


The high tech word cloud is by Lance Shield. click the picture for more of his interesting art.


I used to part of an on-line writing community.  In some ways it was great.  There were published authors available to give writing advice and a place to post snippets of your manuscript.  All kinds of people lingered on this message board: spiritualists, atheists, lawyers, scientists, musicians, and even one sailor if I remember correctly.  There was a place to post your query letter for critique and places for publishing advice.  Most of us were trying to turn out one brilliant piece of writing.  Since I hadn’t found my writing group yet, this was a perfect alternative.

One of the best things about this community was that it gave me a huge amount of exposure to amateur writing.  Plenty of people would find this site, post the first page (or sometimes chapter) of their work in progress and ask for a critique.  For a while, my goal was to write three critiques a day.  Reading other people’s critiques and doing analysis of my own really helped me to sharpen my writing skills.

The first amateur mistake that really started to stick out was wordiness.

Amateur writers often want to strong-arm their readers into seeing their exact vision.  They use too many words to describe a scene and then repeat themselves just to make sure the message was driven home.  Really masterful writers give details that launch the writer’s imagination.  Consider this paragraph from one of my early manuscripts:

Megan threw a hurried look over her shoulder and continued swiftly on.  Not running.  Everyone knew that the worst thing to do when you were being chased was to run.  Speed walking.  She glanced over her shoulder again.  Those eyes, she thought.  Red eyes.  Adrenaline surged through her body like electricity, leaving her fingers stinging, and she looked for refuge.  She hadn’t exactly seen her pursuers, save the eyes, but she heard their menacing calls.  A high-pitched, terrifying, inhuman scream that seemed to summon more of them.  There had been at least six sets of the glowing red eyes when last she had spied them over her shoulder and, judging from the sound of it, at least double that was behind her now.

Can you feel how forced it is? Megan is in a hurry.  If you didn’t get that from the two clues in the first sentence, you might have figured it out in the clues in sentence three, four, and five.  That’s me, trying too hard to set a scene.  In doing so, I take a paragraph that should be fast-paced and manage to slow the progress to a crawl.

The things chasing Megan are forced, too.  As a writer, I’m being mysterious and if done delicately, this can work.  Just eyes and howling.  But, what I do here isn’t delicate.  I mention the eyes three times and their color twice.  I belabor the howl in the same way.  I want for the reader to hear the horrible sound I’ve conjured in my own mind so I pile the adjectives: high-pitched, terrifying, inhuman followed by the noun scream.  Screams are high-pitched; I don’t need both words.  “Terrifying” should be the impression the reader gets without being prompted.  What I have left is “inhuman scream” which, if you think about it, does the job just fine,

These days, I’m better at reading my own writing with an eye for extra words.  Even when I’m reading published books, I find myself wanting to yank a work here and there because I feel like a sentence would be stronger without it.

So what about you? Is there some early lesson that really struck a chord with you?  Do you like to write wordy or are you a sparse writer?  Do you think writing should launch the imagination or fill in all of the details?

I hope everyone has a quick Friday and a great weekend!

Let’s get Physical!

This great image is by graur codrin. I found it on click the picture for more fantastic work by this artist.

I break my writing education into two pieces: before the beta read and after the beta read.  I’ve been writing forever.  Usually my stories were what I fondly call “soap opera style”.  Characters do shocking things with shocking results, and then they do more shocking things with even more shocking results.  This goes on until I can’t dream up anything new or I’m sick of the story.  A manuscript like this isn’t designed to end…thus the soap opera analogy.

Then, one day I picked up one of these rambling stories, saw a potential ending and wrote with that in mind.  Inside of two months, I had a finished manuscript.

At this point, I felt like I had a fairly good vocabulary.  My grammar was usually good.  I had some interesting ideas and images.  I didn’t really know what else a writer needed.  So I went to the internet and found that I was supposed to get a reader.  Or a whole bunch of them.  Preferably, someone who had a writing background.  I had one writer friend who offered to read my manuscript and I took him up on it.

The whole experience was one light bulb moment after another.

One of the first lessons that I learned was that the physical movement of the character has to make logical sense.  I, like so many other writers, wrote awkward fight scenes because I wasn’t sure how a body would move in this situation.  I would lose track of my setting during a chase.  Would the antagonist be able to see the protagonist from where he was standing?  Does the protagonist need to jump over the box that fell earlier in the scene?  I didn’t even ask these questions before my beta read.  My scenes lost authenticity because of the lack of detail.

So, how did I rectify this problem?

  • I drew pictures.  I drew a floor plan of the building where the character was located.  And then I drew a diagram of the room.  Let me stress this point.  I AM NO ARTIST!  J.K. Rowling may be able to sketch out a great image of a character but I can’t. Still, laying out the space my characters move through really helped to add authenticity to the scenes.
  • Act it out.  I’ve already mentioned my sad acting of a scene where my very confused dog stood in for a monster and my best friend played a ten year old boy.  Since then, I’ve walked through dozens of scenes making sure that the character is moving in a natural way.  That’s double-true for fight scenes.
  • I got an artist’s dummy.  They have authentic movable joints and you can see if a position you have in your head is feasible for the human body.
  • Get some realistic props.  Does your character shoot a gun?  Try to find a way to shoot a gun.  How heavy is it really?  What does “kick” really feel like?  If you have a chance to drive a car like one your character drive, do it.  So much of writing is in the details.

So, what do you do to make sure a scene plays out authentically?  Is physicality a weakness in your writing or do you have some other are where you have to go to lengths to achieve realism?

Happy Belated Halloween!

We carved pumpkins but this one is by boxercab. Click the photo for more art by this artist.

I was enjoying Halloween last night rather than writing my blog.  I know.  Bad Kate.  But honestly, we got an adorable little angel and a bunch of other cuties.  Also, since we did up our yard like a graveyard and dressed like ghosts, many little kids had to be coaxed up to get their treats!  One little ninja brandished his plastic sword when he approached me.  Brave little soul!

Anyway, I’ll be back on Wednesday, hopefully sans my sugar hangover.  I hope your Halloween was as fun as mine!