All Hallows’ Eve…of NaNoWriMo

Today, people will dress up in all kinds of costumes and go to parties and/or get free candy.  But writers…

Well, writers embarking on the adventure known as NaNoWriMo will eye the clock, fingers will be poised over keyboards or over a well-loved notebook, waiting –

Waiting for that month that embodies both a writer’s sprint and marathon – National Novel Writing Month, where writers will try to pen, type, or scrawl out 50,000 words in one month.

Crazy, you say?  Well, maybe.

Ill-advised?  Probably, considering it’s also the start of the holiday season.

Impossible?  Well, that’s where you’d be wrong.  Because every November, countless writers finish first drafts of novels this month.  So if you’re a writer, or a reader, this month can be pretty magical too.

And even though it’s very ill-advised, well considering I work full-time and am in graduate school, I’m going to through my pen into the ring as well.  Fun fact, while I’ve never actually won NaNoWriMo, I have used to to start, finish, and revise my novels.  But this year, I’m going to try to do the whole thing.  Because, hey, all those other years wee just practice. 😉

Happy Halloween, all and happy eve of NaNoWriMo, writers. 🙂

 

 

Sweet treats for writers

Since NaNoWriMo is around the corner, I’ve decided to compile a list of goodies for writers.  Feel free to add any ideas in the comments, as I’m always looking for gift ideas for my writer friends (and, if I’m completely honest, for myself). 🙂

1. Tools – I know that most people do a majority of their writing electronically, but many of us love the old fashioned tools.  I love fancy pens and I have a whole relationship with my moleskine notebooks.  If your writer is a big nerd like me, a vintage type writer or vintage typewriter accessories! Yes, please! 

2. Editorial services – Any writer who has a finished product needs an editor.  The longer and more complex the product, the more we need an editor.  I recently paid for a developmental edit from Writer’s Digest critique and editing services, and it was worth it.  You don’t have to use them, but be sure to use a reputable editor as these services tend to be pricey.

3. Food & libations – Starving artists, it’s a thing.  I swear, I’m always hungry.  Over the years I’ve gotten some pretty sweet treats from friends (and from myself) including:

Book Cookies – a friend made these for me and I loved these so much that I took pictures to remember them!

 And of course coffee and tea related swag from Etsy. Here are some of my favorites

4. Literary themed cookbooks – these are so much fun. My favorites are Maya Angelou’s cookbook and Literary cocktail recipes

5. Random cute stuff on Etsy like Writing signsWriting jewelry, or a Writer tshirt. There are so many cute ideas out there

6. Beware the “how to” books – this really depends on the author. Some writers are not fans of how to books, and instead get tips from magazine, blogs, writer communities, and other online resources. But there are some really good books out there, like my absolute favorite – Stephen King’s On Writing. But again, be careful in giving advice books when not specifically asked for.  

And finally:  Moral support. This is the most important. Love your writer, pet your writer, tell them to keep at it, and if they ask you to read something, please do it.  But whatever you do, don’t stress the word still  in the following sentence: “you’re still writing that same story?”  Actually, now that I think about it, you probably shouldn’t put an emphasis on any of the words in that sentence. It may make your writer cranky and in need of the aforementioned treats.

Are developmental edits worth it?

Source: prolixme and the Enlight app

One of the most common questions we ask as writers is – how much editing should I do?

We know first drafts are hardly ever (I don’t want to say never, but really, pretty much never) fit for publication.  But how do you know when your work is ready (or even simply good enough)?

I’ve heard other authors say that your work is ready when you put back in a “the” that you previously took out (in other words obsessing over the little things).  But that’s not necessarily true.  I’ve asked an agent at a writer’s conference and was told that you should get a piece “as polished as possible” before you submit it…but what does that really mean?

Pay editing services – should you or shouldn’t you?  The struggle is real…

For a long time, I struggled with if I should pay for editing services.  My editing method of choice?  Annoying friends and family to read my work and essentially proofread my novel and give me general feedback.  And btw – thank you to all of the friends and family who did read my novel (some several times), you are wonderful. 🙂

 

But after sending my novel out to two agents and getting rejected, I decided to take a second look at paid editing services.  First, let me say that in the book business, you are going to get more than one or two rejections.  But, because I’m an over-thinker (and because I know that you shouldn’t query the same agent/house twice with the same novel), I decided to get some professional help before the rejection letters really started stacking up.

How to find editors?

Ah, this part is oh-so tricky.  As writers, we’re protective of our work and we don’t want it stolen or butchered by shysters.  As a result, we’re a little tentative about who we give our darlings to for tending.  I can’t say with absolute authority who you should pick for an editor.  There are a lot of good ones out there. But I’d say (and this is only my opinion), for developmental edits:

  1. Use a well-known, legitimate source to find them or use a well-known giant in the industry, at least for the first time so you know where to set the bar in the future.  I went with Writer’s Digest 2nd Draft Service and was pleased.
  2. Find someone through word-of-mouth, from someone you trust, who knows what they’re doing.

Either way, you need someone who knows what they’re doing and has experience with developmental editing for novels (or whatever you’re trying to get published).  If you can find one specifically for your genre, excellent.  If not, try to find someone who at least has some industry experience.  Why?  I’m getting to that…

How much should you pay?

Oh, we starving artists.  I’m sad to say that developmental edits are pricy and for a long time, that was a sticking point for me.  But, after having one done, I can say that it was worth it for me.

Does that mean I’ll do a second developmental edit for fun, after I make some of the suggested changes to my novel?  Prob not, this girl has to eat too (and clad my feet in pretty shoes).  BUT, I will do it after I write my next novel, without a doubt.

What is a developmental edit anyway?

Fear not, friends.  Until recently I didn’t know what a developmental edit was either.  But I’ve recently gotten one done and as a result can speak with some knowledge on the situation.  Here’s what you’ll get with a developmental edit:

  • Logline (single sentence that summarizes your work, think mini-elevator pitch)
  • Synopsis of your novel (handy because it proves that someone took the time to read it).
  • Overall analysis (and kind of a grading) on your novel elements (plot, writing, etc.)
  • Detailed level of analysis:  Takes your novel elements (plot, writing, characters, etc.) and delves into a greater detail of analysis.  Here is where the editor will give you comments on what you’ve done well, where you need improvements, and sometimes even ideas on what you can do to make things better.  Also, sometimes developmental editors will point out some basic grammatical/proofreading areas for you to look at as well (which is super handy).

Do I really need a developmental edit?

My answer is – it depends.  If you’ve been submitting to agents and haven’t been accepted as a client, if publishers have rejected your work, or if your self published work isn’t doing as well as you’ve hoped – you might want to take a look at it.  Granted, a lot of the book industry is based on preferences and there is a chance that you haven’t found the right agent or audience for your book yet.  So, really take a look at why your book isn’t doing as well as you hoped (or think about why you don’t have an agent yet, like me) and do some soul searching.

For me – the answer is yes. I found the developmental edit extremely helpful and plan on implementing a majority of the suggested changes.  Why not all of them?  Because it’s my art and I can do with it what I want.  After all, some amount of editing comes down to preference and as the author, you hold the final say over your work.

That being said, prepare yourself when you get the developmental edit back.  Chances are, there will be a lot of good things that the editor has to say, but there will most likely be areas of improvement as well (and as a writer, I know how hard that is to take).  But think of it this way: if there were no items to fix, you wouldn’t be able to utilize the service to make things better.

Know that this isn’t your last edit.

lol.  I wish…and you probably do too.  But the fact of the matter is that after the developmental edit, there is at least one more round of editing/proofreading.  And, if you go the traditional publishing route, you may end up working with another editor to polish your work even more.  Don’t fear though…it’s just another step on the road to getting published and maybe one glorious day, seeing your book on a lovely shelf at Barnes & Noble or online at Amazon.

So chin up, it can happen…you might just need a little extra help getting there.

Verbal Diarrhea – on dialogue

Adobe stock photo

Adobe stock photo

On writing dialogue

I hear it in my writers’ group often – there is a fear among many writers of failing at dialogue.

And it’s a valid fear.

The worst thing, as a reader, is to come across something on the page that pulls you out of the moment (or worse, the story).  And dialogue, that tricky minx, can pull your readers out of a story if you aren’t careful.

(Side note: I love this stock photo, it’s how I imagine my verbal diarrhea looks like.)

But how do you learn to write dialogue?

#1. LISTEN – Yep, I really did just yell that at you.  Listen to yourself talk.  Listen to your friends, family, people at work, people on the metro, people with drunken honesty at bars, people yelling at each other in a grocery store…

But it’s not enough to just listen, you have to pay attention too.

How do people talk? What kind of words do they use?

It depends on the person, of course.  But there are some words that people don’t use in every day conversations.  Flag those and take them out of your writing.

#2. Talk out your dialogue – So, you probably don’t want to do this in public or too loud. :p  But it really helps.

I’ve come up with some of my best scenes by talking it out to myself (while running, strangely enough).  It helps you listen to your own work and compare it with what your writer’s ear has heard in the past (see #1).

Does it sound clunky?  Do you stumble over it?  Well then, unless you want your character to stumble through it, you should probably refine it.

There, only two rules to help you hone your dialogue – totally manageable.  🙂  So, go forth and infuse your characters and story with believable dialogue. May your pens be mighty and dialogue be strong! 🙂

Agent Queries…

I did it.  I participated in the pitch slam this summer and got good feedback – including requests for the first 50 pages of my novel and a request for the whole thing.

<Gasp!>

I, of course, freaked out and spent the last month re-ediitng…but hey, that’s how we writers work, isn’t it?

But tonight….tonight, after several weeks of craziness at my job, starting grad school classes, and second guessing every sentence, I submitted my work to agents.  I don’t know what will happen, but I can’t help thinking….

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lol.  Okay, I am seriously nervous.  Right now, I’m just hoping my email doesn’t go into their spam folders. :p

Wish me luck!  🙂  And good luck to every one else out there, who is trying to make their dreams come true.

Packs, support groups, beta readers, and drinking buddies

(The importance of finding your own “writer’s pack.”)

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I began my writing journey when I was in the fourth grade and teachers would assign writing exercises  – you remember, don’t you? The ones where they give you a topic, like going to the moon, and you got to fill in all of the blanks?   Oh, after just a few of those create writing prompts, I was hooked for good on writing.  🙂

In middle school, I focused on poetry (a lot of sad poetry because those years were rough but also the regular teenage stuff of lamenting that my crush didn’t know I existed).  But it was also the beginning of me attempting to write novels.  And I say “attempting” because I was never able to finish.  It wasn’t until many, many years later that I finished a novel (I was around 30).

So why couldn’t I finish a novel?

First, I lacked discipline when I was a young writer.  My attention span – especially when I was in middle and high school wasn’t where it needed to be to be able to finish a novel.

Second, time – this one has me nervous now, as this week starts grad school classes for me.  But a major hinderance to finishing a novel in high school, college, and the first few years of my adult life was my lack of time.  Or maybe more accurately, my lack of time management.  If you’re sneaky enough with schedules, I’d imagine that you can make anything happen (that’s my hope, at least).

Third, and most important was support of fellow writers.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always had the support of my family and friends for my writing (they are my oldest and most loyal fans).  However, for quite a long time, I did not have a writing pack – a group of like-minded people to help you along this strange journey of writing.  And we need them more than most, since writing can be a very lonely process.

Believe it or not, once I found my pack and we committed to meeting once a week, my first two issues of discipline and time management were crossed off.  Why?  Because I was dedicating a place and time for writing.  And even more than that, there were people I was committed to seeing, who would know if I didn’t show up.

My group served as a writer’s support group and gave help that only other writers could provide.  Do you second guess your story and yourself too?  Is your writing progress as slow as mine is?  Should I outline?  Should I bounce around from scene to scene or try to write chronologically?  How often should I edit (while still writing my novel)?  Should I blog?  My writer’s group helped me with all of these questions and hopefully, I’ve helped them as well.

As the group grew, we also became supportive in other ways as well – reading small snippets of novels to make sure things were on the right path, going to poetry sessions to support artists reading their works out-loud, and volunteering to beta read and help edit completed works.  (Though honestly, it’s my opinion that you need to work your way up to this point and not merely show up at an event and demand that people edit/critique your work when they don’t even know you yet).

Also, as my writing pack grew and as I grew as a writer, I found myself able to share my own experiences with other writers.  Giving advice on tricks and tips that have worked for me as a writer and cheering others along in their own endeavors, which has been my favorite part of the writing group. 🙂

Moral of the story – if you want to really succeed, join a writer’s group.  Not only will it help you to grow as a writer and let you meet some really great people, it will allow you to help others as well.  🙂

Adding Flavor

On adding flavor to your short stories and novels

wordswag/pixabay

I love to cook, pulling the spices together to season things just right and adding some wine…and a little more wine, hmmm maybe a little more wine…until everything tastes delicious.

There are a few strange cases of people who don’t care about flavor and for whom eating is just another task in their day, but for a vast majority of us – flavor makes all the difference.

But how do you spice up a story?

Oh my… Well yes, adding key scenes can add some <ahem> spice, but trust me, even that isn’t quite enough to sate a reader’s appetite

1. Descriptions and what they always say to us – “more show, less tell!”

Duh, right?  Of course descriptions and the “showing” add to the reader experience.  But how do you add in character descriptions, without side-tracking or pausing the story?

Should you describe them right away?

John walked in the room, his dark brown hair nearly touching the ceiling. <Leesha’s thoughts: Hmm…either this is a tall dude or he has truly amazing hair.>

Is the description from an omnipotent narrator’s view of the character or through the eyes of a character?

Linda laughed at John’s joke and Jen couldn’t help thinking how much she looked like a horse neighing.  <Leesha’s thoughts:  That’s not very nice, Jen.>

My personal style for descriptions:

I tend to not list out all of my character descriptions right away.  I’ll do it here and there, but mostly I tie it into the action.

For example from the novel I’m working on:

 Natalie’s natural c cups were aided with a boost from a push-up bra and a low-cut pink top that threatened to spill tanned skin from its confines.  She handed a mojito to Lydia, breasts jiggling under John’s nose, and made her best attempt to purr, “hello John.”

Ha.  At least I amuse myself, but I am trying to show you a fair bit of information while giving a tiny description <a dash of seasoning> of a character.

It’s not necessarily the right way to do it – I very much doubt that one can argue the “proper” way to describe characters anyway (as rules in writing/art are meant to be broken), but it’s my preference.  Take from that what you will. 🙂

2. Local flavor also known as – prove that you know what you’re talking about

If you’re writing about a known location, it adds some credibility to the scene and story if you can add tidbits that make it more real.

How do you do it?

Well, if you live in the general area, it’s pretty easy to add in detail to give your story a little extra credibility, otherwise – TRAVEL!  🙂  Well, or what most of us do – armchair travel from the comfort of your very own home and laptop.  Yay for research!  Research is a super effective way of adding detail into your story.  Especially if you’re working on historical fiction and can’t travel back in time because, well…science.

You can also draw from every day experiences or memories from your past.  Do you have a local bookstore or diner that you love and can describe?  Well then, why not add it in?  It adds some flavor and authenticity to your descriptions.

What I do:

I generally go the route of places I’ve actually been/lived or have researched (I don’t write a lot of futuristic/world building pieces, so my knowledge base there is nil).

The novel that I’m working on now takes places in the greater Washington DC area (where I live).  Because I’ve lived here for a few years, I know some things about the area – like different areas in DC, how traffic stinks, the different roads/highways, and what happens here during the summer – two words:  tourists + sweat. 🙂  But more than that, I know amusing stories about the area, like the adventure of Rusty, and I put it in my novel (whether it makes the final draft is another story completely).

Photo from ARKive of the Red panda (Ailurus fulgens) - http://www.arkive.org/red-panda/ailurus-fulgens/image-G111667.html

Photo from ARKive of the Red panda (Ailurus fulgens) – http://www.arkive.org/red-panda/ailurus-fulgens/image-G111667.html

How do you add flavor to your stories?

The Good Girl – Review

“The Good Girl,” by Mary Kubica
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It happens all of the time, there’s a mega-hit novel and then a ton of novels after are compared to it.  It’s a tale as old as time, and inevitably it’s what makes you pick up a book and, for the writers out there, possibly/hopefully/please – sells books.

“The Good Girl,” like many thrillers out there now (especially ones that feature a twist) was compared to “Gone Girl.”  (Side note:  if you haven’t seen “Gone Girl” yet, then you totally should.  It was very well done.)

In The Good Girl, Mia is the daughter of a well-known judge and is kidnapped because of it.  But the kidnapper middle man, Colin, decides not to turn her over to the truly bad guy and instead brings her to a remote cabin.  Meanwhile her mom, Eve, and the lead detective, Gabe, work against the clock to find her.

Okay…I’m a writer so I don’t usually like to give “bad” reviews but I do give honest reviews.    So, I’ll point out the good and the bad.

THE GOOD

Perspective and bouncing around:  I really liked the bouncing around in this story.  It’s told from three perspectives (until the very last chapter).  We hear the story through Eve’s, Gabe’s, and Colin’s words.  However, as an added and interesting bonus, the story is told both before Mia is found and after (not sequentially).  I really enjoyed this.  It kept the action fast enough and the reader off balance enough (but not too much) for it to be enjoyable.

Pacing:  Because of the action, change in perspectives, and bouncing around – this story was a very quick read.  It was also told (mostly) in very streamlined accounts – not a lot of superfluous detail, which makes the story go faster and is appropriate for the type of story.

THE BAD

The man’s perspective/quasi-romance:  Okay, I’m not a dude (obviously, I hope), but Colin’s perspective was good until…let’s just say until “complex feelings” arrive.  Yeah.  You know what I’m talking about and believe me, I was rolling my eyes too.  Anyway, Colin comes off as a little…7th grade girl in his descriptions and depictions of a supposed love (that right, I’m calling it out, this was not real love).  I was thinking the story could still be salvageable (maybe she would use his feelings/obsession against him to escape?) and was disappointed.

The mastermind:  <Sigh> Now, I have to tell you, I had a pretty good feeling who the mastermind was in the beginning of the story but was hoping I’d be surprised.  Then halfway through, I was certain.  With only a quarter of the book left, I knew it was coming but was hoping there was a way to deliver it that wouldn’t disappoint me too much.  And then…<sigh>…then, just a scant few pages from the end, I knew that wouldn’t be the case.  I think she was going for a kind of “Usual Suspects” surprise end, but it ended up being rather campy (I imagined the mastermind literally steepling their fingers during their confession).

RATING

At the end of the day, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars, not terrible but not really great either.  The first half was better than the second…with me full-out growling (GRRR) for the last quarter of the book.

Characters and the writers who torment them

As writers, we do terrible things to our characters over the course of short stories and novels – we throw obstacles in their paths, send them after serial killers, break their hearts, introduce them to their arch-nemesis, strand them in foreign lands, and make them flirt with disaster.

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Often when I’m in the middle of a story and have to take a break from writing (to eat, sleep, work, or socialize with my dog, friends, and family), I feel guilty about where I leave my characters.  Did I leave my heroine during a lunch date with her friends (acceptable), did I leave her after she lost her job (not cool of me), or did I leave her just before the beginning of a love scene (oh that poor dear)?  Sometimes the thought of where I’ve left my characters in the story makes me giggle, but sometimes it makes me feel bad.

Then again, I write mostly light and silly things.  What if you write darker stories?

I’ve tried to write mystery/thriller type stories and as I’ve complained on this blog before, I often have a hard time keeping the dark going.  Also, I seem to have no trouble getting my hero or heroine into trouble…it’s the getting them out of trouble that is the tricky part.  So I have dozens of characters over the years that I’ve left stranded in precarious positions because I couldn’t figure out how to write them out of it.

But sometimes in addition to feeling guilty when I leave any of my characters in the middle of the action, I also imagine their dialogue to me, often in snarky texts (especially if I’ve abandoned the story completely) –

“wtf? You let me snoop around the killer’s house and then bailed when we heard the front door open?  wtf?”

or

“I hate you for ditching me when I’m inches away from Logan’s lips…granted I’m not sure how I feel about him yet, but still girl, wtf?”

or worse yet…

“Girl, you made me discover a body on my way to work and now my clothes are a mess, I’m having a major panic attack, and oh yeah, you were kind enough to let the body fall ON me!  Know what?  Know what?  Don’t come back!  I don’t care if I  was supposed to hook up with wolverine-inspired Logan later. You’re evil!  EVIL! WTF?!!”

lol.  Sorry and for the record, most of my characters do swear…often. :p

Believe it or not, sometimes it helps me go back and finish the story…other times, it just gives me guilt for hitting a road block.

How about you?  Do you ever feel guilty about where you leave your characters (especially if it’s a long time before you pick up the pen again)?

He said/She said

He said/She said  – On Dialogue  

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“You really need to work on your dialogue,” she said.

“Oh really?” He answered smart-assedly.

Yes, really.  Dialogue is a tricky thing – first to be able to write the way people actually talk and then, well, to label it correctly.

Do you have to tell the reader how a phrase was said?

Sweetly, softly, smartly, bravely…said.

Sometimes, you can and should use those tricky -ly words.  I like to add adverbs in too, but only sporadically.  But most of the time, context and showing is much better than telling with an adverb.

Letting us read: “Yes, she said sweetly,” is a bit of a cheat.  Why not show us how she did it – is she toying with her teaspoon as she answers?  Is it a kind of false sweetness?  Is she naive or just sweet?  I really don’t know by just a “said sweetly.”

Do you have to label all of the dialogue?  

“Sometimes,” she said.

“It depends,” he said.

Do you have to identify who says what all the time? Nah, of course not.  If there are two people speaking, most readers will understand that a different line is a different person speaking.  If it goes on for pages, it can’t hurt to throw in a character identifier here or there.  If more than two people are talking, you should probably keep character labels to keep readers from getting confused.

Can you use more than just “said?”  

“I like giving my thesaurus a workout” he mused, stroking his beard.  “There are lots of options, but don’t overdo it.” She responded, sticking her tongue out.

Of course you can use more than just he said/she said, it helps liven things up a bit.  And as artistic beings, we writers love to spice things up and be creative.  But, as with all things, cracking that thesaurus open too often can prove to be distracting to your readers.  I say, write what feels right during the rough draft and then later, during the revision process, take a look at how you identify your dialogue scenes.  Tighten up where it needs it and flesh out where it’s a little too lean.

As with any of our writerly skills – the more you write and the more you read, the better you become. 🙂