Monthly Archives: January 2012

Sucking out all your creativity with one word: Cancer

Sorry, I know you are all expecting my normal Monday night Manuscript Red-line post, but I really felt like I needed to stray away from writing… just this once.

A year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with Basal Cell Carcinoma.  It is a malignant form of skin cancer.  I was not surprised.  I had a cut on my ear that bled for a year straight while I was in denial.  My cell could not be treated with creams or freezing.  I needed to go through Mohs surgery.

In a Mohs procedure, the surgeon removes a layer of skin from the malignant area and tests it.  If it comes out cancerous, they take another layer and test it.  This could go on for hours, and you don’t know how many “cuts” you will need until it is all over.

Luckily enough, thanks to a very talented surgeon, I only went through one round of surgery, and was cured. And there was virtually no scar.

I prayed that this would be the end of it.  Until today.

Another “thing” popped up on my arm a month ago, and two weeks ago my doctor took a biopsy.  Today they confirmed it was malignant, and I will need surgery again.

I had a good cry.  Not because I was afraid of the surgery, but because I realized that I would be battling this for the rest of my life.

When I was growing up, no one even heard anything about skin cancer.  We never wore sunscreen.  I would lie out in the sun with the INTENTION of getting a sunburn.  One day of pain was worth it for the pretty glow I got for a week after.  If I only knew.

I am not telling you this to make you feel bad, or to share my pain.

The truth is, I am wired to teach people.  That is how this blog got started.  I thought it over, and if I can stop one person from going through what I will be battling for the rest of my life, then at least I am even.  If I can help two people, it would be great.  If I can help three… then it will all be worth while.

Please Please Please wear sunscreen when you go outside.  If you can sit in the shade, please do so.  I’ve been doing it for a year.  It can be done.

If you have children, please slather them with sunscreen, and give them hats.  Remember the backs of their ears.  That is where my first carcinoma appeared.

Please take skin cancer seriously.  It always happens to the other guy, until a doctor calls to give you the bad news.

Feeling better now.

Lesson Twenty-Seven from a Manuscript Red Line: Fluidity in Action – How to write a good action scene

An example of a poorly written action scene:

Jason punched Eric in the face.  Eric fell to the floor.  Eric groaned and rolled over.   Jason wiped his chin and laughed.  Eric popped up, and Eric swung at Jason, but missed.  Jason ducked and swung at the same time.  Eric crumpled to the floor.

(Yes, I totally made this paragraph up.)

The publisher’s comment on a similar (but not as poorly written) sceneThis is a very stilted fight scene. It reads action, next action, next action, next action without the fluidity that’s needed for a fight scene.

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?

You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

I have to admit, when I read the action passages in the Gold Mine Manuscript, I had the same comment.  The author was satisfied with the speed of the scenes though, and only made moderate changes.  Not being an expert, I backed off and figured it was just a “style choice”.  Guess not.

This fits in very well with my recent post on “Art of the Conflict”.  This scene is not about dialog, but this is definitely a conflict.  This one needs something inserted to break up the action, rather than action inserted to break up the dialog.

Now, I am not going to put a lot of time into this, since the scene is totally fake.  But let me add a little “art” to make it “flow”.  Fluidity is what they asked for.  Okay, here it goes…

Jason grunted as his fist swung toward Eric’s face.  Eric tried to dodge, but instead felt the sting of the older boy’s ring cutting into his jaw.  He fell to the floor with a muffled thump, and groaned as he rolled over.

Jason wiped his chin and laughed.  “I told you to stay down.”

Eric pushed up onto his knees.  “Why, so you can just pummel me?”  He popped up and swung at Jason, but missed.

Jason ducked and swung at the same time.  There was no time for Eric to react.  His head creaked back, and his jaw rattled as he crumpled to the floor.

Better, huh?  Not perfect by a long shot, but not bad for three minute flash fiction.  Can you feel the difference?  The staccato choppy “This happened-That happened” feel is gone, and the scene “flows”.

Of course, this is a first draft.  In editing, I would have to remove the “ing” word and the telly “felt”.  I would also insert a little emotion when Eric realized he missed, but this is definitely better by far than the first.  The art draws you into the scene.  You experience it, rather than just watching it.

The art of the conflict… If you don’t have it, go get it.

If you want to see a great published example, pick up a copy of  THRONE by Phillip Tucker and open up anywhere in the last hundred pages or so.

I hope this helps to make it more clear!

The Art of the Conflict – Keeping your Pacing while keeping your reader engaged.

Recently I was speaking to some writers, and the topic of “art in writing” came up.  We were talking about art in conflict, and I think some people didn’t quite “get it”.

Writing sometimes can get “stale”.  I know, I’ve caught myself doing it.  It’s really easy to get caught up in your dialog, especially during a conflict.  The dialog will start shooting out of your fingers.  This character says this, that character yells that.  You have a clear vision of the scene, but you just type out the dialog part.  Problem is, since you have the “clear vision” you “see” what is happening when you read it back to yourself, and you might not realize that the “art” is missing.

One of my beta partners called me on this about 8 months ago.  He told me that it sounded like my characters were sitting there on each side of a table reading lines of a script to each other.  There was nothing else happening but dialog.

I was a little surprised by the comment.  After all, they were raising their hands, slamming their fists, throwing things… weren’t they?  Well, honestly… only in my head.  That’s the way I envisioned it, but I forgot to add that to the “art” of the conflict.  When I read it back… he was right.

My challenge was then, to go back and CREATE the art.  In doing so however, I needed to make sure I didn’t SLOW DOWN the conflict.  I needed to keep it flowing.  I needed to keep the pacing.  I needed to keep the intensity of the scene.

Much easier said than done.

That is why it is an “art”.  It takes trial and error, and practice.  If your “art” pulls your reader out of the story, and reminds them that they are reading, or even worse… makes them start skimming to get to the good stuff… you have spoiled your story for the sake of art.

The author who can create art, and keep the reader engaged, is a true storyteller.

.

Lesson Twenty-Five from a Manuscript Red Line: Bullying for Bully’s sake

“Having a bully for the sake of having a bully is a contrived way of injecting conflict.”

Well, I don’t think I can say it any better than the publisher’s quote above.

There was a bully in the Gold Mine Manuscript that really had no concrete tie to the main plotline.  His only reason for being in the story was to have a bully in the Main Character’s “normal” life.

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

Knowing a little about the plotline after “book one” I do know that the “bully” would have a little more of a role, but overall, he was never really integral to the plot.  The author has even mentioned that although she was sad about it, the removal of this character was actually fairly easy.

Why?  Because nothing he did was deeply tied into the main plot.  When he was gone, the main plot was still solid, and he wasn’t even missed.  In fact, after reading a partial re-write a month or so ago… I have to admit that the story is even tighter without him.

Take a look at each character in your novel and ask yourself.  “How does this character drive the plot forward?”

If you have to make excuses for why the character is there, it is time to re-think them.

Yes, I know this is hard.  I have three in my own story, but I need them for later novels, and I don’t want them to just magically appear.

1. Tome, is the main character’s roommate, but a stand-by and watch character.

2. Kilet is integral to a few scenes but is replaceable.

3. Brandon  is only in one scene that does nothing to draw the main story forward (although it does draw a side-plot forward.  He will make another one-scene appearance in book two, and then he is a very important character in books three and four.)

I did cut down Kilet to a very brief background role by replacing his “lines” with a more major character, but the other two characters are still there.

I know, I know.  Yes, I know what you are thinking…  I am just admitting the mistakes that I KNOW I am making.  The Brandon scene is tied into Matt cutting his hair, and if you’ve been reading for a while, you know how I feel about that scene.  That is why Brandon is still there.

Yeah, I struggle with this stuff, too.

If you have a bad day, don’t take it out on your beta-read

First of all, I am sorry for posting three days in a row.  I try to stick to my Monday-Thursday schedule to make sure my content is meaningful, and I certainly don’t want to get annoying.

At the moment though, I really feel the need to VENT!

Never, ever EVER is it excusable to take out your frustrations on a beta read you are doing for someone.  Did you get that ?  N-E-V-E-R.

Rather than re-typing how I feel about this, I am pasting below what I just wrote back in response to a blog post made by Jenny Keller Ford.  Read below, and then click on the link to jump over to Jenny’s blog and give her a big hug.

Ugh.  That review broke my heart.  I am a big believer in “say something nice, then the bad, but end it on a good note.  Being outright mean is something completely different, and that sounds like what happened.  There is something nice you can say about anyone. 

Ummm… you spelled everything right, and that was great!  Yay!  Love your spelling!

I have to admit, that I am brutally honest, but I do try to wrap it up with a kiss as much as possible, and I have NEVER told someone anything was Cr*p.  I am a firm believer that everyone is in a different place in their journey, and you can learn and evolve every day of your life.  Every story has potential… even if you don’t particularly like it.  If you don’t like something, at least say why.  Don’t just write it off as junk.

The problem with the internet, and email, is that you can totally trash the person, and not see the look on their face.  I am sure he would have been somewhat more tactful if he was looking right at you.

In all honesty, a beta who trashes, and does not give any suggestions is not a beta at all.  I would not even consider going back to them.  Now, that is not because they were harsh.  I have a few harsh critiquers that I always go back to… because they are honest, and they are helpful, and they point out things I need to work on.  Without them, I would not be the writer I am today.  It sounds like this critique gave no value other than to make you feel bad.  That is not constructive at all. 

Dust off your heels.  Think over what they said, and edit where you see fit… but don’t take this as a do-all “suddenly I stink and will for the rest of my life” review.

Just think.  In a few years when you hit Amazon’s top 100 list, you will just look back on this and giggle.

Remember to jump over to Jenny’s blog and give her a cyber hug.  She has a great story, and needs a little uplifting right now.

More Blog Awards!

JMMcdowel just graced me with the “One Lovely Blog” award.  This is a nice one, because I will not have to spend all weekend researching who I should give it to.  Thanks so much!  Everyone please go and give JM a visit to bask in the lovelyness.

This one is an easy one for me, because I just visited 140 of my wonderful followers’ blogs searching for ones that were “creative”.  The one who stood out in my mind as “Lovely” belongs to the lovely and talented Natalie Hartford… and the pink will look “Lovely” on her Website.

Natalie’s blog is not only striking, but has a very professional appeal while keeping her whimsical tone (Warning:  Her post tonight is not whimsical, but that just shows her diversity.)

Please jump over to Natalie’s Sight, and wave some pink Pom Poms and sprinkle hot-pink fairy dust all over her in congratulations.

I was also re-blessed with the Kreativ Blogger award, and the Versatile Blogger award from the talented Whitney Carter  tonight (Who I could not find on Twitter.  Are you out there?)  Thanks, Whitney.  Jump on over to Whitney’s sight as well and give her a big hello from me.

Amend 1-22-12 :  I was awarded the Versatile Blogger award once more from Story Multiverse.  Quite a week for me.  Please hop over there and check out that blog as well.  Thanks so much!

Now, after several hours of watching my children in a wrestling match, I am off to bed.  Everyone is asleep but me.  Even my pampered poodle is asleep on the floor beside me.  My pillow is definitely calling me.

Sorting Out Your Feedback Comments: Dealing with Conflicting Criticism

If you have had several people reading your work, conflicting opinions are common.  But what do you do with them?  Your mother says you are brilliant, but then you find this person you’ve never met who thinks your novel needs all these changes!  Huh?

***Smile*** I wish my Mom was still around to tell me how brilliant I am.

First of all, ditch your mother’s opinion.  Her job in life is to support you no matter what.  She thought your mud pies were works of art, remember?  Mommy, Daddy, Sister, Brother… all those great people.  Let them read, but be careful of their praise, no matter how critical you think they normally are.

Anyway… This is where I am going with this post…

I had one beta left from my previous beta run that recently finished a second read of HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT.  He told me that the words I chose were too childlike, and even if I was writing for a teen audience, I should not insult their intelligence, so I should insert some more adult words in the narrative.

In this new and final round of beta readers– reading pretty much the same manuscript– another beta (I don’t know either of them personally, by the way) told me that some of my words are too mature in my narrative for a YA audience.

Talk about contradictions!  One says too mature, one says too childlike.  Exactly the same manuscript.

Mulling it over, I am sticking to my guns and not “smartening it up”.  I appreciate an easy read.  I am sure I’m not the only one.  Even with the Kindle (easier to look words up in the dictionary)  unknown words are annoying, and I either totally ignore them, or if I do look them up, I have spoiled the pacing.  That is not what I want to do to my reader.  I did replace one word he complained about, but I replaced it with a “common speech” word.

Now… dumb it down further?  Hmmmm.

Reader #2’s comments are valid.  The older-sounding words are in the narration, but in a ten-year-old’s POV.  Would he really have the word “furrowed” in his narrative self-conscious?  (It is not inner thought by the way.  That would be a no-brainer.)

In this case, he “furrowed his brow.”  I changed this to “Twisted his brow” and I have to admit she was right.  It flows much better and sounds natural.  She also suggested that no ten-year old even knows they have hair follicles.  (He is getting his hair pulled, and the follicles spring back to his scalp when they let go.)

The follicles I am leaving.  I didn’t find that one as obtrusive.

There is another point when someone furrows their brow, but it is in an adult POV.  That one I will probably leave as well, since the perspective is more “mature”.

So— Sorting out contradicting feedback…

One person says apples, the other person says bananas.  I reviewed their suggestions and gave them strawberries.   Everything I’ve read said don’t try to make one person happy, write to the masses.  I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t like strawberries.

Have you ever had such completely contradictory assessments?  What did you do?

Lesson Twenty-Four from a Manuscript Red Line: Remembering where your characters are

Do you pay attention to where your characters are in a scene?  Are you sure?  I thought I was sure too.  Guess what?

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

The publisher who red-lined the Gold Mine Manuscript pointed out a scene where the two main characters were running side by side away from some danger.  All of the sudden, one of them shouted from behind the other one.  The comment from the publisher was:  “They were together, but you didn’t say he jumped ahead. How then did she get behind?”

I read over this the first time I looked at the red-line, because it seemed like another “duh” comment.  However,  just a few weeks ago one of my betas pointed out that both my characters were standing right next to each other, and then all of the sudden Jerric walked up to Magellan from the other side of the room.  Why would he walk up if he was already at his side?

Similarly, I recently re-wrote a scene where someone was seated the entire time.  In the end, he falls off the chair.  I changed it so he stands up early in the scene, but after leaving it for a month, and then looking at the scene again, I noticed that my “standing” character still fell off the chair.  Was he standing on the chair?  Of course not!

The point of all this is to pay attention to where your character is, and make sure it is consistent throughout the scene.  If not, show us the movement.  If you don’t, you can unintentionally make your scene comical.

“Can you hit a perfect pitch?” Writer’s Contest

Yay!  I love contests, especially when they mean MAJOR EXPOSURE.  Here’s a great one, sponsored by Brenda Drake.

Here’s the scoop (Copied from Brenda Drake’s website.)

Here’s how the contest is going down …

On January 15th post a two sentence pitch (no more than 35 words) along with the first 150 words (if it falls in the middle of a sentence, go to the end of that sentence) of your finished Young Adult or Middle Grade manuscript to your blogs. From January 15th-16th hop around each others’ blogs and critique or praise them. Revise your entries, if you want, and post them by 8:00am (EST) January 17th to the official entry post. DO NOT POST THEM TO THIS POST. If you want, you may skip the blogfest/critique portion of this contest and just enter the contest. I will have the official post up, along with details on how to format your entries, on January 15th so that you can start posting when you’re ready. To participate, sign up on the linky below. (Go to Brenda’s site to jump on the linky)

You want to know the prizes? The prize (or prizes) is a request to read more from agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette. I’m crossing my fingers for all of you. Have I told you how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE this agent? Okay, well, I can’t say it enough! I totally <3 her!

What are you waiting for? Sign up now!

Here is my entry.  Please help me decide on Pitch #1 (My original pitch) or #2 (One I came up with tonight)

Please feel free to comment and/or make suggestions.

Title: HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT
Genre: YA Science Fantasy
Word Count: 110,000

Pitch #1:

A common boy unknowingly imprinted with the dangerous powers of the Goddess, must find a way to change his fate and the fate of the galaxy, before a jealous prince manipulated by Darkness murders him.

Pitch#2

A young boy, cursed with a power he cannot control, must save the Goddess before she is smothered by Darkness.  It would be easy, if he could only remember who he really is.

First 150 words:

“I’m not going to sit here locked in a closet all day.” Magellan pulled away from his mother, leaving his whimpering brothers and sisters clinging to her skirts.

“Magellan, come back here.”

“No. I wanna hear Dad’s speech.” He pressed his cheek against a large crack in the door and closed one eye.  Sconces lit the long stone hallway that lead to the auditorium. “I wish I could see something.”

“Get back mine scum!” A guard threw something against the door, slamming the wood against his face.

“Ouch,” Magellan rubbed his cheek. “Jerk.”

Footsteps clomped away, and his mother exhaled. “Magellan, your father said…”

“I know what he said.” Magellan furled his eyebrows.  “Right before they locked us in here.”  He flicked a bug from the damp stone wall beside him. “I’m not a baby anymore. I want to help.”

He ran his fingers across the locking plate, and jumped as flames flashed across the metal, spinning and swirling around it

Thanks for looking!

Annoying Words, and a Lesson about “Trendy Words” in your novel

Every year, Lake Superior State University releases a tongue in cheek list of words that are misused and overused and have become generally useless in the English language.  Here is the list for 2011:

LSSU’s 2012 List Of Banished Words

1.                               Amazing

2.                               Baby Bump

3.                               Shared Sacrifice

4.                               Occupy

5.                               Blowback

6.                               Man Cave

7.                               The New Normal

8.                               Pet Parent

9.                               Win The Future

10.                            Trickeration

11.                            Ginormous

12.                            Thank You In Advance

To see lists from previous years, visit lssu.edu/banished.

I have to admit that I must have been living in a box, because I haven’t even heard most of these.  I’ve heard baby bump, but that’s been around for years.   Amazing has been around, too…  but I don’t see either one as a problem.  Pet parent?  Is that a dog lover or something?

I guess everything in the news is about “Occupy Wall Street” and “Occupy Philadelphia”.  There were notes about people now using “occupy” in slang, but I haven’t heard it (Although I spend all my time in a boring office building)

“Thank you in advance.”  What?  Are people thanking people they meet in the street before a conversation?  I’ve only seen this in the closing of a query letter.

There are a few words that have crept into my house this year that I am completely fed up with.

  Stop!  PLEEEEESE.

There is nothing epic about your origami project not folding correctly!

  Please stop saying seriously.  This is one my husband picked up from somewhere.  Every time he sees something he doesn’t like (which is often with three children) he says “Seriously?”   Frequently it is combined with “Come on…  Seriously?” It was okay the first ten times.  All of the sudden it has become a bad habit.  It makes my skin crawl.  And my kids are starting to say it.  I realized this was a larger social phenomenon over Christmas when I heard my older brother say it.  Ugh.

What makes you hear a stupid word, even if it’s misused, and start adding it to your own vocabulary?  Does it make you feel cool?  Is this about an acceptance factor?  I guess it’s like cursing.  If you are around it all the time, it inches in to your normal speech just because it is familiar.

The neat thing about language is that it is constantly evolving.  The items on this list, like “Occupy” are relative to the social and political issues of the year.  That is what makes words so cool.   Next year, (hopefully) no one will even remember the words on this list.  I just pray that Seriously and Epic disappear with them.

As a writer, you should take care to note things like this.  For instance, I read a beta recently where a teenage character said “Epic Fail”  (I nearly puked).  Anyway… what happens is this seriously :-) dates your novel.  Be very careful using speech that is “trendy”.  It may be good for your “voice”… but think about this…

You finish your novel.  You query it for a year.  Even if you are lucky and get a contract right away, it could be 1-2 additional years before your novel hits the bookstores.  The “trendy voice” is now dated, and your target audience won’t be able to relate.

Similarly, if you self-publish— yes… you are getting your novel “out there” while it is still trendy.  But what happens in a year?  Do you still want to be trending upwards?  Of course!  Do you want people thinking “Oh, this is so last year!”   Hmmmmm.  Makes you think, doesn’t it?

My suggestion is to be very careful of dating your dialog by being too trendy.  Trust me.  In three years, no one will have any idea of the significance of “occupy”… or worse.  It could mean something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

If you are writing for magazines, though… GO FOR IT.  Magazines are immediate, and a one-time read.  After that month (or whatever the publication period), no one will be able to purchase it anymore.  When writing for magazines, feel free to be as trendy as your genre can stand.

What words annoyed you last year?