Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wrap it Up Wednesday: Jan. 26, Taxes and Birthday Edition

Today is my birthday. That's right. I'm old. Or at least older. It's hard to say which. We'll be celebrating this weekend with a nice trip without the two boys. (Little girl gets to come with us since she is only two months old.)

I'm ignoring all my other goals to finish the taxes that have to be done this week. Especially since I won't be able to go on my birthday trip until after the taxes are done. And the law says that have to be in the mail. So, yeah. This week has kind of gone to pot for all things writerly.

Tune in next week when our regularly scheduled fun begins again.

Monday, January 24, 2011

We interrupt this program...

For a few days. Got to get these taxes done before Monday and that means a lot of work this week. I promise I'm not dying or dropping off the face of the planet again. I'll post again Wednesday and check in on the progress of my goals, etc.

See you then and happy tax season, friends.

If you need something fun to do, check out Bethany's contest at Shooting Stars. You could win a cool prize... a 100 year old copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales. Does it get any better?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wrap it Up Wednesday: Jan. 19

Well, I've decided that life is really chaotic. And I'm looking forward to the end of January. For the last several years, I have put together the taxes for a property management company. Not their taxes, but the tax reports for the properties they manage. It's time consuming and stressful. I only have two weeks this year to do everything for hundreds of accounts. That's why yesterday's post actually went up this morning, instead of yesterday. I'm a bite off more than you can chew kind of person, I guess.

How's the progress on my goals going? Well, as far as my schedule goes, I might just have to give up. At least for a few more weeks. Baby makes it interesting. She's been awake at 6:00 am two days in a row. Yay for mommy! She also wants to be help most of the time. Makes everything else hard. It's a good thing the two boys are so good. There's just too many things to do in the day.

I've got a better idea of the story outline, but still don't feel like I'm ready to start writing on it. I can't seem to find the MC's voice. He's eluding me. I've even toyed with the idea of making him a girl. I can do teenage girl. (After all, I was one, once upon a time.) I think there's more potential for the story with my boy MC, but if he doesn't fit into this story, I'm sure he'll find his way into a different one. So, still working on that.

So, goals for the coming week: keep working on story building. Finish taxes. There you have it.

How are things going in your neck of the woods, friends?

Try it out Tuesday: Characterizations

Here's the infodump example:

She had hair the color of flax. It hung in heavy wave around her heart-shaped face. Her blue-green eyes sparkled as she giggled. She was the kind of person who loved life and found a secret delight in everything around her. Her family had always been supportive of her and she knew that no matter what she decided, they would be happy for her. Today was her first day at a new job and she was excited and nervous all at the same time.

Here's the better example:

She pulled a strand of hair through her fingers, tucking it firmly behind her ear, and smoothed the fabric of the new suit. The polyester felt slick under her palms. She glanced across the desk in front of her, then rubbed her hands on the suit again. The ringing of the phone startled her and she fumbled the receiver for a moment before she could answer the call. "McAllister and Sons, how may I direct your call?"

"I'm trying to reach Mr. McAllister. It's very important." The voice on the other end of the line sounded upset.

Sarah flipped through the directory that sat by the phone and groaned in dismay. "Which McAllister would you like to speak to?"

"Mr. McAllistair. I want to speak to Mr. McAllister."

"There are five different McAllisters in our firm. Do you know which one you are looking for?" 

"I just need Mr. McAllister. I'm in a bit of a rush, so if you could please just connect me?" The volume and urgency increased with each word.

"Maybe if you could tell me what you need Mr. McAllister to help you with, I could better get you to the right one?"  She pulled out a notebook and scrambled through the desk drawer for a pen.

"Look, miss, stop playing with me and connect me to Mr. McAllister."

"Certainly, sir. Have a nice day." She punched the button on the phone to transfer the call to the junior partner's desk and hung up the receiver again.

She ran a hand through her hair and tucked the same runaway strand behind her ear again.She set the pen and notebook at a right angle to the phone and looked critically at the desk. After a moment, she put them back in the drawer. The phone rang again, and with a sigh, she picked up the receiver. "McAllister and Sons. How may I help you?"


What did you learn about the character in the second piece? Which one do you think was more effective? How is your own practice going?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Make It Better Monday: Characterization

Posted a little late, due to the holiday. Enjoy!

Last week, we discussed show versus tell or using scenes instead of narrative summary. Today, we're going to build on that a little bit.

When it comes to characters, you want the best thing that you can deliver. We want people to relate to them, to see them like we do. And because of this, it is really hard to hold back on the details. We want to tell our readers about everything, all at once, so that they can appreciate the character in the same way that we have learned to. Our characters live for us and they should live for other people too.

The way to do this is to build upon the concept of showing. Sure, we can go in and describe the character in one paragraph, tell their history in the next, and continue in this pattern. The infodump. A reader will know a lot about your character, but they won't know your character. There won't be any attachment, any concern, any interest in what happens to that character.

Instead, scatter details through the narrative. As a reader, I want to get to know the characters in the same way that I would get to know any one I meet for the first time. In that first meeting, I might notice what they look like and maybe some of their characteristics, their tics. I won't know how they feel about their mother, why they like the color green, what they're going to do tomorrow. I discover those things as I get to know someone over time. And that is how we connect to a character in a book.

To help us know what a character is like, we use showing on a small scale. Motivations and emotions are shown through the use of scenes. We let the reader infer information about the character, as much by what we say and how we say it as by what we withhold.

Tomorrow, we'll have an example of the infodump and one of the natural unfolding. Stay tuned!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Finally... Friday

I could say that I'm glad to see the weekend. It's been a long week full of sleepless nights, busy kids, and a trip to the dentist. (Three cavities for me. Yikes!)

There are still so many things that I am trying to catch up on. There's this post that has been sitting for about six months where some really nice people gave me some blog awards and then I never did anything with them.

There's another post in my head that I really want to write. It's a serious and highly personal one, so I can't figure out how to approach it.

 So, instead of all the things that I could be writing in this blog post, I'll just say, happy weekend. It's a three-day weekend, apparently. And that means it should be great! We'll see you all back on Monday, where we will discuss more fabulous writing topics and whatever else comes to mind.

Here's how I'll be spending my weekend, most likely. What about you?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Two thoughts

There are two things that have been going through my mind today. They are both kind of related.

A bend in the road is not the end of the road… unless you fail to make the turn. - Author Unknown

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you will land among the stars. - Les Brown

These two things seem really relevant as I continue to recover from a long absence from my writing. I think they could be applicable in pretty much any situation where big decisions are waiting. Why take the safe, easy, predictable route when you can try the new, exciting, and ambitious one and possibly have it all?

It's hard to pick things up again and not wonder if it's the right thing to do at this point in time. There are so many other things I could be doing with the time I spend on this. Mostly though, I think it's a good thing. I need to do something for me and this is what I want to do. One of my favorite fictional characters, Anne of Green Gables, always talked about what was waiting after the "bend in the road." I don't want to miss out on whatever is just out of my sight.

I hope that the rest of you are equally excited about what's coming, just down the road, for you.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wrap-Up Wednesday

Time to be accountable.

Last week's goal: find a regular schedule.

Progress: Not so good. I have a month old baby and she rules the roost. Unfortunately, she has had a cold and some kind of stomach upset thing, so she's been upset for more hours than I care to count. Bedtime didn't happen until after midnight most nights and that means sleeping in a little in the mornings. (Ok. It was nearly 10 some of the days during the last week.) I think we'll keep working on this one.

New goals: continue to work on a regular schedule.

2. Have a rough outline for the current wip. (I tried to write this story during National Novel Writing Month in November, but only got 2000 words in before I quit. Just wasn't going any where good.) Hopefully, having a more solid outline will help with my writing.

Well, my friends, how are you doing on your goals? Are things going well? Do you need to do a little more?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Try It Out Tuesday: Show Vs Tell

Yesterday, I posted about Showing versus Telling, or writing with Narrative Summary versus Scenes. See the post here. Today, we'll try a practical application of what we talked about yesterday. You are welcome to post your own attempts here in the comments or to link to them on your blog. You can also critique what I have posted and let me know if I have done a good job of putting our current topic into practice.

*Disclaimer: All writing prompts, summaries, and practices are my own creation. Some of the practices may become part of larger stories at a later time, but currently are nothing more than exercises.

Without further ado:


The smell of burning rubber followed him as his feet crunched through the red, cindery gravel on the side of the road. He looked up at each car that pass ed him, only to bow his head again as they whizzed indifferently by. I'll have to run a marathon to make it to work on time, at this rate.  He wiped his brow on the sleeve of his suit and plodded on.

The rumble of another engine crept up on him and he  looked up one last time. He caught the eye of the woman behind the wheel and pleaded silently for her to stop. She shook her head, loose brown curls bobbing around her head, but pulled over any way. The passenger window whispered as it receded into the door.

"Can I help you?" she asked. The words fell like popped bubbles.

The hope that had risen in him dissipated at her tone. "Thanks for stopping. My car broke down a few miles back." He scuffed the toe of his shoe in the dirt and stuck his hands in his pockets. "I'm going to be late for work and nobody was stopping."

She tapped her thumb against the steering wheel and stared at the dashboard clock. "I guess I could give you a ride to the next exit. You aren't a murderer or rapist, are you?" A smile crept into the corners of her mouth.

"Last time I checked, no. I really appreciate it." He waited for the slight click that indicated the door had been unlocked and slid into the empty seat.


There's obviously room for editing in this piece, but I think I did ok. I actually found myself having to pull back a little. It's easy to go too far with trying to show. A reminder to myself: not every sentence needs to be a detailed showfest.

So, friends, did any of you try it? How did you do? What have you learned about showing vs. telling from this exercise?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Something new

My mom gave me a book for Christmas. It's "Self-Editing For Fiction Writers." The authors are a couple of editors, trying to give some insight into the editing process and what a writer needs to do to improve their work. They took the approach of 'things you should do to revise your first draft' but it struck me that a lot of their advice could apply to writing at any level, including on the first draft.

Last week, I mentioned some things that would be changing around the blog and this is one of them. Mondays and Tuesdays will now have a regular feature that incorporates the things I am learning and practicing from this book.Monday will be a description of the concept. Tuesday, I'll post my attempts to incorporate that idea in my writing. Every one is welcome to join my in practicing and you can post your own in the comments or on your own blogs. I hope it helps my writing in general.

Today's topic is Narrative Summary versus Scenes. You might have heard this described a different way: showing versus telling. For most of us, especially when we start out, the easiest way to write is the narrative summary. It's the travelogue version of your story. You take the action, characters, dialogue, whatever, and condense it into a few short sentences or paragraphs. This is great every once in a while, especially when you want to vary the pacing of your story or cover a lot of ground quickly. If this is the only thing you write, however, your story will stay pretty one-dimensional. It doesn't ever take on a life of its own, drawing the reader in and letting your pages breathe.

On the other hand, showing is harder to do. There's two different layers to showing. The first, and most often talked about, is in the details. Instead of saying the lady was crazy, you give us some little detail that shows us she is crazy. She taps her spoon repeatedly against her plate, following the swirling pattern of the flowers around the edges. Instead of telling us that the man walks down the road after his car breaks down, you might say, "The burned rubber smell followed him as the red gravel at the side of the road crunched under his shoes." It's not describing everything in minute detail. It's giving just enough that the reader can picture what is going on and feel grounded in the scene.

The other layer of showing happens on the grander scale. You take those paragraphs of narrative summary, that just cover the events, and broaden them to let us have a glimpse of what is happening. This is where the word Scene comes in. A scene is a snippet of small pieces of "showing" woven together to make a bigger chunk of story come to life. Scenes pull the reader in, give them understanding of the situation, help them to imagine the action better.

As with most things, you don't want to use one tool exclusively over another. It would be like trying to hammer a nail with a screw driver. You can do it; it's just not terribly effective. Narrative summary can be used to link significant scenes. Changing from one method to the other can emphasize what is happening in the story.

So, there you have it, friends. Tomorrow, I'll post my attempt to use a scene instead of narrative summary. Here's a prompt for you: Expand on the idea of the crazy old lady eating her breakfast or the man broken down on the side of the road. (You can also use your own ideas.) Let's see what we can do.

Friday, January 7, 2011


It's strange to wander through the blogophere and see how it's changed since I last spent time here. Some of the people I followed have stopped writing. Some have gotten agents. Some have gotten book deals and others have had their books published. People who started out blogging at the same time that I did have gone far beyond me in the writing journey and I have to admit that it leaves me feeling a little sad. I'm sad to have missed the happy things for them and the lost possibilities for myself. It's almost like I'm starting from scratch, in the same place I was a year ago, but everyone else has moved on with their lives. I know. Too somber and discouraged.

The truth is that I've done some changing too. Not in the same writerly direction, but personally. I'm different. I've been through a lot of things in 6 months and my perspective has undergone dramatic revisions, even if my novels haven't. I find that I'm in a better place to start down this road again. And I have new ideas, hopes, and goals--things that I would never have considered otherwise. It's nice.

All week long, I have been thinking about what I want to accomplish with my writing. Do I want to go back to the projects I was working on before my break? How much time should I spend on writing? Those kinds of things. I've decided to start with a clean slate. I don't know if I'll go back to the old stuff. Certainly not for a while. It's great to have new directions and new ideas to work on. So, that's going to be my focus.

I'm also thinking about changing a few things around the blog. More on that next week, I think.

What changes have you made in the last year? what do you see in your future?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What kind of person are you, any way?

So, back in the day, before my writing hiatus, I was in the middle of some major edits to my 'beauty' story. I had a couple of crit partners who would read through the chapters I'd rewrite. They would then tell me why I still had a long way to go on them. I  would take their notes, sit for a while and try to incorporate that into another round of rewrites.

This is a lot different from the first... many times I got critiques back on my novels. You must remember that I had the perfect first draft, twice. Every criticism felt like a personal blow. How could someone not see that I had written perfection? There wasn't any need to change what I had already completed. It was their fault they couldn't see my genius. I would have one of two reactions. I would either completely disregard everything they had to say and try to find someone else who agreed with me, or I would slide into a hopeless bout of discouragement because someone didn't like my writing (and by extension, me.) Not the most rational or productive way to respond.

I look at where I was at the very beginning and where I was when I took a break and realize that this is what makes a writer. It's not about putting words on paper (or computer screen, as the case may be.) Any body can do that. And lots of people probably do. The world is full of people who think they can just put down a bunch of stuff on the fly and sell it for a million bucks. "Obviously, my story is comparable to Stephanie Meyer, Stephen King, Dan Brown, Tom Clancy, pick your favorite author/genre." When no one else agrees with them, they throw a fit or quit or both.

A real writer will look at what they have written, grow some detachment, and take criticism in stride. They don't quit just because nobody likes what they have done, or they have to scrap something and start over, or they don't sell their current project. A writer will keep writing (and frequently rewriting) in spite of, and because of, the response they get. A real writer will write because they love it, and want it to be the very best, with as much help and work as it takes to get there. And that, my friends, is what I want to be. A real writer.

What makes some one a writer in your books? (Ha ha. That's a funny, writerly sort of pun...)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

And they're off

Well, I've taken a few days and figured out what I want out of the coming year. I managed to do it in the first week, which is pretty good, considering that I had no idea what I wanted to accomplish when New's Years rolled around. I've finished evaluating my hopes for last year and my current situation and feel pretty good about where I'm going this year.

Instead of having super huge goals that I forget about before the end of the year, I'm going to have small, specific goals on a weekly and monthly basis. I hope that this will make it easier to keep track of my goals and also, easier to achieve them.

I know it isn't exactly writing related, but the big goals for this week are to set up a more regular schedule in my house. It's an important thing, though. I won't be able to get back to writing regularly if I can't manage my time. I need to make sure that my kids and house are taken care of, as well as getting enough sleep and taking care of myself. Part of that will be setting aside half an hour for writing and half an hour for blogging.

I'll let you know how it goes next week on Wednesday.

What are your goals this year and how are you going to accomplish them?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Catching the Fever Again

Last year, I had some very specific goals. I was going to edit my two completed first drafts, submit them both for publishing, and write a new first draft. Of course, I wrote the perfect first draft (twice, I might add), so editing wasn't going to be a big deal. And I am a brilliant writer, so of course, both manuscripts would be picked up immediately for a publishing deal and I would be famous! (And also, well paid.) And the cycle would continue. That was in my naive state.

Now, I've had six or seven months off from the writing routine. I haven't really posted to my blog. I haven't opened my drafts, except to send a copy to a friend who wanted to see what I had been up to. I started a new wip in November for National Novel Writing Month and got about 2000 words into the story before I stopped writing again. (It was a weekend endeavor and I was 8 months pregnant, but still.)

It's been so long since I really did anything serious with this whole writing thing that I'm kind of worried about getting back into it. Not that I don't love it still. I do. I just have gotten out of the routine. And finding a new routine is kind of rough. So, I'm still thinking about goals to set and how to find the excitement again.

The good news is that I have two drafts that I haven't looked at in months and months. "They" (whoever they are) always say that you should put some distance between you and your drafts so that you can edit with some detachment. I will be able to do that, I think.

So, here's the question, friends. How do you get the passion back when you feel like it's missing? How and where do you start after taking a break?

Monday, January 3, 2011

A year later....

Well, here we are. It's been a year since I started this blog. And I find myself wondering where the time went. I just read over the first couple of entries and realized that when it comes to the writing world, I was pretty naive. I had this strange idea that all I needed to do is was write a book length manuscript and submit it to be published. I didn't really understand the process or how much work it really would be.

I also didn't know how hard it would be to make time for writing in my already hectic every day life. I wasn't planning on having distractions with my kids and being pregnant and buying a house and a hundred other things that came around during the last year.

I didn't know I was capable of writing, and writing well. I didn't know I would make some great friends in the writing community. I didn't know that there was such great information and resources available to the beginning writer.

I had some pretty unrealistic goals about what I should expect of myself. I had that "super" complex. The one where I'm supposed to be "super"-mom, "super"-wife, "super"-housekeeper, "super"-author. Lots of expectations that didn't get fulfilled. Some things I did do really well, though. I I spent a lot of time with my family and taking care of myself while I was pregnant. And we had a beautiful baby girl on last month.

I'm still trying to figure out my life and schedule now that so many things have changed since I first started this journey. The next few days will be filled with figuring out what I'm doing and when I'm doing it. It's going to be hard to pick up things after a long absence. I don't know which of the three projects I've got in the wings should be priority number one. We'll probably play it by ear. What I do know is that I'm happy to be getting back to something that I genuinely love and letting my creative side flourish again.

You'll be hearing from me again soon, so look out world, I'm back!