Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Getting the right Critique Partner

Not everyone has Margaret Atwood, or Nora Roberts, willing to go over their work so what do you do with the best novel in the world you have just written. Seriously, before you send it away, it needs to be looked at by eyes other than your own, ones that have no blinkers (will be honest) nor should they have rose colored glasses(Mom doesn't cut it- unless she is an editor).

So, how do I go about choosing who will give me the honesty that my work needs to get to the next step of the publishing ladder. The cost of critiquing is huge can be over $2000 for a full ms critique.

If you are like me you have to rely on fellow writers. This has a positive side benefit. For if you critique other writers work you also help develop your own critical eyes toward your own work. Here are some questions that I was given to ask before selecting a critique partner.

1. Is their work similar to your own in genre, ie. comparing apples to apples? Do you want them to write in the same genre?
2. Does the writer get published consistently/or do you feel they are a competent writer? Is having a published writer read you work important to you?
3. Are you using similar themes? Do you want them to use similar themes?
4. Do you develop characters and plot similarly? Is this important to you?
5. Can I sense a clear voice in their writing?
6. Do I like this writer's work?
7. Will I get a fair reading from this person?
8. Will this writer be willing to work with me as I slog through the next draft?
9. Does the writer balance my weaknesses? eg you suck at grammar they love it.

Remember all critiquing is subjective and are suggestions or ideas of how they view your work. It is still up to you, the writer, to accept or reject the proffered criticism/suggestions.

Hope these help you decided who you want to critique as opposed to read your work. Or, maybe you have other suggestions, please feel free to add them.

Day two of Diet #1 for 2007 - My birthday today so diet will stagnate for 24 hours. So much for will power. At least I can walk up the stairs today without groaning from pulling muscles.
Be sure to look in tomorrow for my thirteen things you didn't know about coffee.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Post problems

Not blog posts, but our beloved ??? Canadian mail system. I sent a full ms to New York expedited mail before Christmas... my tracking number still has it held in a local Canadian sorting office...... ring Canada Post and am told that until 6 weeks have passed they will not follow it up.....????? So much for expedited mail. I'm just pleased it didn't have to be there in a hurry.
Started First New Diet for 2007.... so far.... 2 pounds lost and body fat up 1%.... what sort of a diet is that. I can hardly move as my muscles are protesting about the exercise they are being subjected to.
Since I'm of the age where 'heat index' is not passion related and according to medical stats I'm virginal territory.... yeah I know I have 3 kids - the stork brought them. It really means that I've not had HRT /antidepressants or other chemcial aids to help treat my 'personal summers', so I have been asked to enter a trial for a new drug... Risks are out lined and appear minimal so decided to go for it. It last 17 weeks and I have a 14% chance of receiving the placebo...I also could put on weight... yeah well we know what side affect I'll get IF I get the drug.

Now the answer to my little photo comp.... the author is Charles Dickens, the building is the Old Curiosity Shop, and it is in the Temple District of London and taken last year when my husband and I did "Charles Dicken's London Walk". This walk took in all the sites of his life in that city and places he got inspiration for some of his characters and stories along with commentary and anecdotes of his life. Our guide was straight out of one of his books and a real delight and so enthusiastic. It was fabulous and I recommend it to anyone. The walking is not arduous but you need comfy shoes, it leaves from Temple and takes about 3 hours and are not that expensive - for London.

Have a successful writing day.... Cheers

Sunday, January 28, 2007

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Where have I taken you today?

I'm very fortunate to have traveled widely with the LOML and over the years we have taken some super pictures. (Okay so this one is not so wonderful but it is related to writing). So instead of them sitting unvisited until the whim takes me, I have decided that each Sunday I will post a picture and see if you can guess where it is, and if you feel like it, share what you know about it, or when you visited it. The answer will be posted the next day.
Today's clues - The author was a social commentator of his time through his writing
He lived (1812-1870)
His childhood was spent in poverty.
He created a character called 'Wackford Squeers'

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Erksome Editing!

According to Kate Grenville (Writing from Start to Finish - a six step guide) "editing means making your piece reader friendly...flows easily... you use an acceptable standard/form of English... such as appropriate punctuation, spelling, grammar and paragraphing".
She suggests you read it through from start to finish. Make notes in the margins where you hesitate, question or spy something, but don't stop to correct it, go back later when you have finished the whole and take your time over your corrections/alterations. It also helps to read it aloud.
I find that I need to do it in hard copy, so this applied to me. However, if you are happy with the computer, use 'track changes' on your tool bar it is easy to go back and see what your thoughts were when you hit a glitch reading it through. I can't resist altering it then and there if I use my computer and it interrupts the flow of the story for me.

Kate Grenville divides editing into three categories - style, grammar, and presentation.
Is 'How' something is written. Ask yourself - Is it consistent through out? Is it in keeping with the tone (comic/serious) of the story? Is it right for your targeted reader? Does the way it is written flow smoothly? Do particular words jar you out of the story?
Well, this is a doozie and 100's of books are out there to help you.... in brief watch out for, Fragmented sentences, run-on sentences, tense, pov, commas, apostrophes, quotation marks, appropriate paragraph breaks, dangling modifiers, etc...
Like a meal, presentation makes the experience enjoyable or a struggle to get through. Look for
spelling mistakes; consistent use of language eg. US English or UK English not a mix of both; layout inconsistencies - such as indents, margins, spacings after periods and between paragraphs,etc.. Font style easy to read eg 10 -12pt and in New Courier , Times New Roman... ; then Title... what do you want it to do, tell the reader about the story, draw the reader in.... etc.

Then reread the whole piece again..... put it aside for a week or so, then reread again.

I'm currently revising Twisted Vines... I haven't read it since December. I hope to have it ready to send off soon.
It is snowing here at present and very cold, - 11.5C this morning.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Hi! Thought I'd put in an appearance today.

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Thirteen Things about Tea and the English.

For my Thirteen Thursday, I thought I'd share some history about the "English cuppa'
  1. English drink on average six cups of tea per person/day
  2. English rival the Chinese as the world's heaviest consumers of tea
  3. British Poet William Cowper (1731-1800) wrote: ' the cup that cheers but does not inebriate."
  4. "Today I had 'Tee' a China drinke I have not tried before' Diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) wrote in 1660, but not how he liked it.
  5. Lexicographer,Dr. Samuel Johnson(1709-1784) reputed to be the biggest consumer of tea, had a 2 litre tea pot. Attending an afternoon tea party he is reputed to have drunk 32 cups of tea. On being told he drank too much tea he said to his hostess "Madam, you are insolent."
  6. The English custom of 'afternoon tea' began in the C19 by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford.
  7. Tea is not only a beverage but a meal taken between 3 -4 p.m. Incorporating, tea, sandwiches and cake. In the north it includes lamb chops and fried potatoes, in Yorkshire the speciality for afternoon tea is smoked fish and soft boiled eggs.
  8. There are only 3 main types of tea - Black (eg Assam), Red (eg Oolong) and Green (eg Gunpowder). Others are infusions/tisanes ( eg Ginseng, Camomile) and flavored varieties and blends (eg Earl Grey).
  9. First tea in Britain came from China as leaf tea imported by Thomas Carraway. Mincing Lane is the tea market in London City.
  10. There were no 'tea houses' in C18 London, only coffee houses. Thomas Twining opened a coffee house in 1706 that also served tea.
  11. There are few things about making the perfect a pot of tea that the english agree on apart from the fact that the tea pot should be warmed before but dry on the inside, and the water must be boiling as you pour it over the tea leaves.
  12. Tea drinking was divided by class and became obvious in WWII - Commissioned Officers took their tea in china cups poured from a small tea pot. NCO had a mug of tea that had been brewed in a bucket, or urn.
  13. There is an old British superstition that 'to drink strong tea with grilled steak, or slices of Sunday roast, the tea will tan the meat and turn it to leather.'

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Hookers - at work!

Thought that might get your attention, and I achieved my aim of this post. So now get your mind off the streets, or out of bed because I'm talking about that elusive, most fretted over first sentence to hook the reader and for us unpub's - the editor.
It's significance is the first thing a writer understands, and the reader and editor look for. It doesn't matter what you write, or what genre you write - the first sentence must hook the reader in. And that is only for starters - the rest of the scenes in the story must do also.
Here are some things that I have been told may help.
  1. Variety - needed if the story isn't to become repetitive and boring.
  2. Avoid the dreaded cliche - plane, a funeral or a birth, awakening from sleep most common openings used according to Bell and Bentley in 'Write On.'
  3. Be Imaginative - that's a no brainer every writer wants to have an original twist.
  4. Originality, imaginative, intriguing - like a headline which says read on.
  5. Contrasts - mood, atmosphere, weather and setting.
  6. Versatility - a bit like variety but with drama, conflict and suspense
  7. Dialogue - but be weary of leaving the reader disoriented and not knowing where they are. It can foreshadow what is to come, build suspense and reader expectation. It also establish immediacy of action/conflict.
  8. Raise reader curiosity with a question..
  9. Place the reader in the scene quickly. Use of settings to establish something about the characters, who they are and the time and place quickly.
  10. If using descriptive passage, it should be concise, vivid and dramatic and pitch the reader into the scene.
  11. Emotion - such as anger, involve the reader early. Don't be repetitive as it leads to melodrama. Conflict - draws the reader in. Avoid bickering, try conflict of wills, or conscience vs ego, good vs bad.
  12. Use a proverb, or a quote to provide the theme, atmosphere, conflict of the scene or story.
  13. Use mystery to introduce a new character.
  14. Bridging a time gap can be acheived by condensed, concise history of events; the simple use of a date; new chapter; or line drop.
  15. Pace - short sentences build tension and increase pace, longer ones slow it down and can be more romantic (unless of course it is the ' Wham! Bang! Thank you Ma'am'.).
SO, if you're out there looking for a hooker - maybe these will help. Thanks to Richard Bell and Paula Bentley - A Desk Drawer Digest of Style and Grammar in Action Write On! (1997) pub. Writers News Ltd.

I have just finished Kim Edwards, The Memory Keeper's Daughter - a super read if you happen to come across it.
Be sure to look in on Thursday for my Thirteen Things you might or might not know about the English and their famous "Cup of Tea".

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Sting of - 'ing'

I received a criticism of using too many -ing words. When I read the section again, there were a few 'ing words but the meaning was clear... to me , but apparently not to the reader/judge. So this post deals with the often troublesome -ing words. Feel free to comment...this is, after all, a learning curve.
  1. Puzzling Participles - occurs when you put an idea into a phrase with -ing in it. You start a sentence with an -ing word (present participle) and forget to add yourself to the main sentence eg Walking along the beach, the water sparkled in the sun. (the water isn't walking.. you are.) Walking along the beach, I watched the water sparkle in the sun( Flesch and Lass)
  2. Dangerous Prepositions- You must make sure the -ing person is in the -ing phrase. eg. Before going to work, the dog must be fed. (learned canine?) Before going to work, I must feed the dog. NB: this can happen in any prepositional phrase with or without an -ing. eg Last night I went to see Doug in a new dress. Should read... Last night I wore a new dress when I went to see Doug. (Flesch and Lass)
  3. Rhythm - When writing using -ing the reader will begin to sing. (I think that's a good example) Not a good idea as it establishes a rhythm and once the rhythm is broken it distracts the reader from the story.
  4. Some books on writing say you should rarely use and -ing word... Stephen King comes to mind. (He also has a 'thing' about adverbs.)
  5. However (don't you just love exceptions to 'rules') - When writing in the first person, as you are the one performing the action, more -ing words will creep in.
Here's hoping today you're creating wonderful writing!!!!!!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Comma coma 101!

That little tail on the line causes so much angst to so many (me included).
According to Lynne Truss ("Eats, Shoots & Leaves" 2006), the earliest drill you should master when it comes to commas is:
  1. in a list
  2. before dialogue
  3. to mark out additional information
This is backed up by Flesch and Lass (The Classic Guide to Better Writing -1996), who tell us:
  1. Put commas between items in a series. eg I go to the movies by myself or with a friend or in a group.... I go to the movies by myself, or with a friend, or in a group.
  2. Put commas where you want the reader to slow down. e.g. I had to sign for that special delivery letter with my feet bare and water running in the bathroom. (here the reader has a tendency to read I had to sign with my feet.) I had to sign for that special delivery letter, with my feet bare and water running in the bathroom.
  3. Put commas after introductory phrases and clauses where you don't want the reader to run words together . e.g In short pants are practical garments.... In short, pants are practical garments. and.... When you were hammering grandma woke up. When you were hammering, grandma woke up.
  4. Parenthetical expression - something wedged into the sentence that without it, the sentence would still make sense. eg... The landlord, paid promptly every month, was smiling.
  5. Also Parenthetical expression - a direct address. eg. Dont' eat Henry until everyone is at the table... Don't eat, Henry, until everyone is at the table.
  6. Then the trick one.... direct address or apposition depends on comma placement. eg Mike, the author of Hamlet, has been dead for over three hundred years. (we all know Mike didn't write Hamlet.) Mike, the author of Hamlet has been dead for over three hundred years.
  7. Restrictive and non-restrictive clauses - placing the comma in the right spot makes a difference to the meaning. eg All the people in the auditorium who had had enough of classical music started to leave..... (some people will stay - restrictive) now read it All the people in the auditorium, who had had enough of classical music, started to leave. (Everyone leaves - nonrestrictive) In theory you can take out the words between the commas and it still makes sense.
  8. Never use a comma instead of a period (stop). Use the stop when you want the reader to stop, drop their voice, and pause.
  9. In the 'run-on sentence there is a comma where in fact it should be a stop. Save your reader the extra work... e.g. I was thinking about what Dad had told me, before I knew it the bus had passed our corner. Should be - I was thinking about what Dad told me. Before I knew it, the bus had passed the corner.
  10. Conversely, in sentence fragments the writer puts stops where a comma should go. eg. 'Stopping to look at you. or Hoping to hear from you. ' Both need something more to make proper sense. "Stopping to look at you, I recognized you immediately. and Hoping to hear from you, Regards, Kathleen."
Hope this helps.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

On Choosing the Right 'Distance' Word

Intentionally, or unintentionally, as a writer you use distance words without probably knowing it. I'm not talking about the actual reference to distance but the way you get the reader to view what you as the author are writing about.
Words, I am told, (Flesch and Lass, 1996), not only tell us about something, but also give the reader an idea of distance.
At first the bright light in the sky could appear as a star, until you realize it is moving then it could be a meteor, comet, or sputnik, until it gets closer and becomes the landing lights of a plane....
Location/surroundings, brightness/color, and shape, help your brain process what you see in the distance, as a writer you do this for the reader.
eg: A large brown shape at the edge of the lake looks like a moose, when on closer inspection it turns out be a wagon piled with bales of hay...until you get close enough you have no idea what it is.
If you use the incorrect 'distance word' it is like getting the reader to look at your story from 'down the wrong end of the telescope'.
eg... Walking home I noticed the street was unusually noisy for this time of night.
Okay...- the reader is with you on the street and you are telling them it is noisy... (the old show don't and tell)
So why not write, ...
I turned into my street. The sound of racing feet on the cobbles heading to the shouting and cheering coming from the usually quiet pub, told me that Cardif was winning.

You are still at distance but the scene is more accessible to the reader... will the writer join the fun at the pub or pass by. You have kept distance added color and information. Vague versus more exact... the 'right word' is one that will give the reader the idea of the information he needs to know.
As a writer, by choosing the right words you have the opportunity to get your reader as close, or, keep them as distant as you think your story warrants . 'If you want the reader to get close up you have to use close up words.'
So I leave you with the following...
"He had a wart on the side of his nose." vs "I could see five hairs growing out of the wart on the side of his nose."
Gross, but ... such is writing 'warts n' all'.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What is a Scene?

Everyone knows what they are, right? No, I don't mean the 2y.o throwing a tantrum at the checkout because you chose the one with the sweets stacked up and by mistake and won't buy them one, or them pulling the bottom can from the artful stack at the end of the aisle in the supermarket and sending them flying... or maybe I do, after all they are scenes.

A scene I am told happens in immediate time... i.e. it shows rather than tells, unfolding an event to the reader as it occurs rather than described after the fact...
They have settings, specific locations that the reader can picture.
They also have action, something happens.... as it moves the story forward.
They must also have a consistent point of view.

So, you may say, my examples above contain all of those... there is only one thing... they are narrative summary of a scene. With its omnipotent POV it can bring a picture to the readers mind but it is only specific to that readers memory of when they saw, or how they imagine that action, i.e. no specific supermarket, no specific character other than a 2 yo, no dialogue.... A scene must engage the reader actively, and is much harder for a writer to achieve, and usually takes more space.
Let's take the supermarket scene again....

It was the end of a long day, the last thing Sally-Ann needed as she placed a protesting Cassie in the front of the trolley was a trip to the The Village Supermarket, and decide what to give the picky two year-old for dinner. She was sick of noodles, steamed broccoli and carrots.
"Help Mommy here honey, what do you want for dinner," she said tiredly, in the vague hope that Cassie, who had woken up cranky from her nap at daycare, would answer.
"Noodles," came around the thumb and grubby blankie shoved in her mouth.
"How about fish...?"
"Noodles," came out at a slightly higher pitch.
She knew it crazy to try to reason with a two-year old but out it came. "We had noodles last night."
"Noodles, Noodles...." the bottom lip quivered then stilled as her eyes alighted on the bright red labels within arms reach.
Huh-Oh, the hand went out and before she could reach over the trolley to stop her, Cassie's two year old fingers had become, octopus tentacles about the can of tomatoes near the bottom of the stack arranged at the end of the aisle.
"Honey, you don't like tomatoes," she attempts persuasively trying to pry the fingers loose before the stack tumbles down around their ears.
Too late. In slow motion an implosive domino effect takes place. Horrified, she throws herself over Cassie to protect her. Nothing will stop this mini metallic avalanche rolling to the four corners of the checkout area.
Cassie's delighted chuckle follows the last can rolling down the nearest aisle to hit the freezer.
Sally-Ann looked with red-faced apology at those staring at them as shop assistants raced toward them.
"Tomatoes...." Cassie demanded.
She bent down, scooped up a dented can and headed for the nearest checkout miraculously vacated for her. Tomorrow, she vowed, she'd shop before she picked Cassie up and at another supermarket.

So here you have a specific scene, from Sally-Ann's POV, action, dialogue, a beginning a middle and end...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Thoughts on Purple Prose

When I was fifteen an ardent admirer posted me a letter and signed himself off with "Puddles of Purple Passion." Never having had such colorful passion aimed at me before, I was embarrassed but secretly flattered that someone saw past my mouthful of metal braces and rubber bands. I made the mistake of reading it to my best friend who nearly wet her pants laughing...
I never realized it at the time, despite the mention of the color purple, that it was my first acquaintance with the 'deadly purple prose' syndrome.
As Jack M. Bickham tells us in his book 'The 30 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid them)' - At best it is a pretty but cumbersome and distracting effort to get at the finest detail... not necessary to the readers understanding of the story."
While I understand that the exact hue of a sunset might not be necessary all the time and could be boring if done throughout the story, but a few 'puddles of purple passion' did brighten up the day of a young teenager many years ago, and is still thought of fondly many years later even if the name of it's author has vanished into the mists of time.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Back to Basics and Reality

Hi Everyone,
Happy New Year!
I'm back after three lovely weeks in Australia and New Zealand. When I can get my brain around it I will post a couple of photos of my time away.Having had a break away I feel refreshed and ready to go.
Now it is back to work... yep my writing is work. I feel that if I don't consider it a job/work and to be taken seriously, why should other people... my goals for the year are to:-
  1. Polish and post off Twisted Vines
  2. Continue with a sequel to Witch Hunter's Moon - The Moons Swallowers.
  3. Have a signed publishing contract by the end of 2007
Hope you enjoyed your Christmas/New Year...