Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Options Open

A popular post from February 2011

by Annette Lyon

Back when I first imagined being a published writer, I assumed my books would be young adult fantasies. That's what I first wrote and submitted.

My first publications were something slightly different: a local newspaper piece celebrating the anniversary of a local event and an article in a scrapbooking newsletter.

I went on to do more freelance article work (to date, I've made over 100 sales), but fiction is and has always been my first love. So I kept writing young adult fantasy.

Until I didn't.

I went to writing conferences and started rubbing shoulders with people in the business. I got new ideas, saw new possibilities, new markets. And I ended up with brand new ideas for a totally different kind of book.

Years (and many manuscripts and rejections) later, I ended up publishing two contemporary romances, four historicals, and a women's novel.

To say that wasn't what I expected would be an understatement. And then another detour: I had the chance to write a chocolate cookbook.

Not something I ever in a million years would have expected to do, yet there was that door opening. I wasn't about to say no.

Since my first publications well over a decade ago, I've done editing work for individuals as well as companies. I've been paid for script writing, proofing, and press kits.

I wrote a grammar guide and self-published it (again, something I would have seen as way off in left field when I first started).

The rights on my first two books reverted to me. The first is now on Kindle, and the second will be within days. I have plans to get more books onto the Kindle without a publisher. And I still plan to publish traditionally as well.

At times, I feel like my head is spinning with all the different directions my career has taken me. I literally need about half a dozen sheets in an Excel workbook to keep it all straight.

And I love it.

I love how many opportunities come my way. I've learned that while the work clothes they arrive in may not match my original expectation, when they knock, I should go for 'em.

Some benefits:

So much in the process of writing a variety of fields has taught me lessons that improve my work in every area. (Even technical script writing can help my fiction. Shocking, but true.)

I have multiple streams of income. This is particularly nice between the two-times-a-year royalty checks.

I'm motivated to improve and work hard, because much of my work comes through referrals. If I do a good job for one client, there's a good chance they'll pass along my name when a friend needs help.

My skills as a public speaker have improved. The more I write and work, the more I've been asked to speak. Writing is a solitary endeavor. Public speaking used to terrify me. Now I know I can get in front of a crowd and have something worthwhile to offer them.

More doors open all the time. I'm amazed at how many new things keep coming up the pike for me. I'm to the point where I have to sit back and decide what is most worth my time, because there really isn't time for it all. (What a great problem to have!)

So no, my writing career doesn't resemble my original idea of it, not hardly. The one exception is that I can go to a bookstore and see my books on the shelf with my name on them. (Which, I will say, is totally awesome.)

Beyond that, I do a lot of work that most of my novel readers will likely never see. I don't mind; I love that I have so many opportunities to make money and publish and WRITE. I enjoy every bit of it.

So when a writing opportunity opens up, don't slam the door shut because it's not part of the image you've created in your head. Look a little closer; by letting it in, you may adding a future opportunity that could lead to bigger and better things.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Artistic Process of Writing

A popular post from August 2011 

by Heather Moore

Disney/Hyperion editor, Lisa Yoskowitz, says that writing is an artistic process—there is no right or wrong way to write (Writers & Illustrators for Young Readers Conference, June 2011).
In fact, when I started drafting this blog, I changed the font style and font size to what I like to write in. In her June presentation, Lisa continued to discuss various ways of plotting/drafting, which all ultimately end up with the same end result: a book.
Because every writer approaches writing differently, I find it interesting to hear about various methods. Lisa discussed several methods:
1. Character Bible
2. Outlining
3. Storyboard/diagram
4. Dive right in (or most often called “discovery”)
I fit into category #4 when I first start writing a book. As I continue to write, I find myself creating a mini Character Bible, and also jotting down plot ideas at the end of my manuscript. This seems to be the most effective way for me. Bottom line is that we all have our own methods and idiosyncrasies, just like any other artist.
If you’re a hard-core outliner, Lisa cautions writers to make sure the characters are strong, and your voice and pacing excellent. Don’t give your writing so much over to plot, but keep that balance. According to Lisa, as well as many other agents/editors I’ve heard from, she can tell by the first page if she wants to keep reading a manuscript.
Most of the time, all we get is that one page. The best exercise I’ve come up with in order to analyze whether my first pages pop out is to read a series of “first pages” from authors I love or in the genre I’m writing in. This is also a great way to study voice—that ever elusive intangible.
What are your writing methods?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Self-Publishing: Are You Ready?

A popular post from May 2012.

by Annette Lyon

Often I find blog post topics thanks to questions people direct at me. This week is no different; I've had several people, from aspiring writers to professional editors, ask me about the self-publishing boom, and specifically, about whether it's worth hiring an editor before uploading a book.

The short answer is YES, absolutely! I don't care if you're a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. You must be edited. Everyone needs to be edited. (Go back to THIS POST for a refresher as to why!)

But for the longer, more detailed answer:

The biggest mistake I see with writers eager to self-publish is that they publish too soon, without taking years to develop the writing chops to create a great book. Some authors also jump in feet first without learning about the market and the industry, not knowing that self-publishing isn't for everyone, and that traditional publishing is still alive and well, and may be the better option for them.

The truth is, waiting is hard. I get that. I really do. But it's worth it. Even the biggest successes with self-publishing (like the crazy successful Amanda Hocking) spent years writing multiple books to learn the craft before hitting that publish button.

So here's my advice for any writer starting out, geared particularly for those considering the self-publishing route:

1) Write your story. Then: revise, revise, revise. A lot.

2) After you've gotten it as good as you can make it, get critiques.
This means having people read it who will be honest. Note I said people. That's plural. You need several people to weigh in so you get a well rounded view of your work for both its strengths and weaknesses. And that doesn't mean Mom.

3) Revise, revise, revise, again. 

You may end up doing this for several complete manuscripts before you're really ready for the public to read your work. There's the famous 10,000 hours you must put into a craft before you master it. There's the million words you must write that a lot of people quote as saying you must put in before you write anything good. While those numbers are daunting, and possibly not true for everyone, they're a pretty decent benchmark.

Even if you have talent, there's a good chance you need to learn, and that means writing tons, getting lots of feedback, reading books on writing, attending conferences. You know, all the things we've been talking about on this blog for, oh, forever.

Feel you're ready for a professional edit? Whether you go through PEG or someone else, here are some things to keep in mind:

1) Consider getting a content edit first. 
This means that you won't be getting the nitty-gritty stuff with fixing comma splices and dangling modifiers. This is like a professional critique on big-picture issues: The plot sags here. This character's motivation isn't believable there. That description doesn't work. The conflict is weak. And so on.

After a content edit (and you may be lucky enough to have skilled friends who can do that for you), revise again.

2) Get a line edit.
This is the nitty-gritty, where the editor smooths out your sentences, gets rid of passive voice, fixes grammar and punctuation, and so forth. Basically, where the editor makes you look even better, polished.

Here's something you may not want to hear: It's not a bad idea to get more than one line edit. Publishers often do two or more on one book. If you hope to have a successful self-published book, you need to put in the same resources and effort into polishing it as the pros do. (Because you want to be a pro, right? Right.)

3) PROOF the book.
I've known people who get a professional edit, accept all the tracked changes, and immediately upload the book for sale.

Bad, bad, bad idea. 

For one thing, you may not agree with every change the editor made. For another, mistakes will creep in, no matter how talented the editor (who is human and therefore fallible). You must proof the book. Preferably, you'll have at least three skilled people go through it. If you're doing an e-book, do another proof on an e-reader to make sure it looks right on the device.

In an editing class during my university studies, my professor said that a good proofer will catch about 80% of errors. This is why she required three students to go over any manuscript destined for the university press. The hope was that the 20% any one proofer missed would be caught by the 80% from the other two.

A great example: I recently proofed Abel Keogh's self-published book, Marrying a Widower. I consider myself to be a good proofer, but he wisely had more than one person proof it. (Was I offended? Heck, no. When I heard he had another proofer, I thought that YES! Abel gets it! He's a total pro!) In both of his non-fiction self-published books, readers have found a couple of minor typos, even with all the (professional!) work put into them. And that's a good error rate.

His books are doing very well, and they've been received with respect. That's partly because he's written a couple of great books with wonderful content, but it's also because he took the time (and money) to create a professional presentation for them.

I shudder to imagine what what the result would have been had he cut corners. But he didn't, and as a result, he's a self-publishing success story.

Doing it all yourself takes time, not only with editing and proofing, but with layout and cover design. (Another place to absolutely not skimp!)

So is the investment worth it? 
Unequivocally, yes, that is, if you hope to be taken seriously and have any kind of sales or success.

On the flip side, if you think that hiring professionals for these services is too much, you simply won't sell many books, and your reviews will be awful, which feeds the low-sales problem. In short, skimp on editing, proofing, layout, and cover design, you'll end up with a sub-par product.

For that matter, self-publishing in the digital age has gotten a bad rap because of people doing everything I said not to: they rush the process, too eager to upload work that simply isn't ready.

While you're unlikely to have the success of JA Konrath or Amanding Hocking, you can still sell books and get royalties . . . but only if you put in the necessary work to make sure your book shines.

This is one more reason why a large number of successful self-published e-book authors are the ones who were traditionally published first, who then put up their back list as e-book titles. Those books had already been through professional editing and  had already gone through the vetting, revision, and proofing process.

Need more convincing? Read this post by Elizabeth Craig and her teenage son's experience with a poorly edited e-book.

Don't be tempted to cut corners. It's not worth it!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Getting Past the First Chapter

A popular post from April 2015

I had a conversation with someone the other day who said he wanted to write a book about his life (he's had some amazing experiences), but of course he has the challenge of finding the time to write. Sound familiar, anyone? It's hard to carve out that time. It takes sacrifice, and it reminded me of Julie's post from March 2013.

Hope you'll find some inspiration :-)

(originally posted March 2013)
By Julie Wright
We all know that the first line of the book has to be awesome. It has to earn you the right to the second line which has to earn you the right to the first page, which has to earn you the right to the first chapter. The first chapter is the thing that paves the way for the rest of the book. Sometimes it's all anyone will ever see of your book.

But writing a first chapter is HARD. It takes time--which is the number one reason people never get past the first chapter. I tweeted this the other day: My best writing advice to new writers? Time is made not found. If you love it, you will do it. We always *make* time for what we love.

Don't tell me you're too busy. If you loved writing like I love writing, then you will MAKE the time. Heck, even if you only sorta liked writing a tenth of the way I love it, then you'd make the time.

But it's still HARD. After all what if you write it all down and it's lame, lame, lame? Fear is another reason people don't write. In Steven Pressfield's The War of Art, he talks of Hitler's talent as an artist, then made the claim that it was easier for Hitler to start WWII than it was for him to face a blank canvas. That line stayed with me. Am I driving my own artistic life off course in order to avoid the blank page? I'm not saying fear of failure isn't real. I'm not saying that the blank page isn't terrifying. Of course it is. But it's also exciting, filled with possibility and adventure. The blank page can be anything you want. Embrace the page and write. So what if it's lame? I maintain my firm belief that a lame page is easier to fix than a blank page.

So where do you start?
I start with the character.
Then I put the character in a  situation that feels interesting to me. I have them act on that situation and speak to those people populating that situation.
You might be a setting starter.
You might be a plot starter.
You might be a late starter and need to turn the engine over and over and over until it finally engages (which means you'll have to delete the first few pages, but so what? They helped you get the engine going).

There is no right or wrong place to start. The point is to start at a place that is interesting to YOU. In my latest novel, Capes and Curls, the story opens with Red killing a rabbit in front of her sister who hates the killing even though they're starving. I opened showing the differences between the sisters, the sacrifices each were willing to take for the other. I wanted to show that even with all their differences, they stood together  in all things. Did I know I wanted to show all that with my beginning? Absolutely not. I started there because it was interesting to me. Admittedly, I had a couple of other false starts before I got to the scene with the girls and the rabbit, but those were the cranking-the-engine pages and were all deleted.

The first chapter is do vital because it sets the tone and mood of the whole book. Should the reader be afraid? Should they be cautious? Should they want to laugh?  All of that is revealed in the beginning of every book, so you should know ahead of time whet kind of book you're writing. Is it romance? And if it is romance, is it funny, tragic, steamy? You need to know going in so that your tone stays consistent. You don't want to start out with a deep, soulful, navel-gazing talk about the weather when you want the book to be an action-packed, hard core science fiction novel.

So have an idea of what you want to write, forget fear, make the time, and sit your butt in a chair. You might have to rewrite but that's okay. Why? Because it's easier to fix lame than blank

Monday, March 21, 2016

Conjunction, Junction: Real Functions

A popular post from Nov. 2011

by Annette Lyon

First, an important item of business:
For those doing NaNoWriMo (and for anyone else needing a writing boost), Precision Editing Group is again doing a write-a-thon to kick off the month.

It'll be held THIS Friday, November 4th. Win books, or write the most words and be the grand prize winner, receiving either a FREE $50 edit or a $50 Amazon gift card.

Details HERE.

And now for today's post!

Sometimes it's the small things that make all the difference, and it's one of those things we'll discuss today.

A common issue I see in my editing work is awkward use of conjunctions. You know, those little words that, to go all School House Rock on you, hook up "words, and phrases and clauses."

Let's refresh our memories:

Okay, so to review a list of common conjunctions. You know them: AND, OR, FOR, NOR, YET, BUT, SO.

For our purposes, we'll focus on three: AND, BUT, SO

We'll also mention a couple of other connector words that aren't technically conjunctions but are often used in similar awkward ways:


This conjunction adds two things together. Any time you use it, the text should be saying this PLUS that.
For example: Jane at an apple and a banana.
Here, Jane ate, and she ate two things. AND works.
This also works: At school, Jane took a test and worked in the science lab.
Again, we have a single action: Jane went to school. While there, she did two things. This AND that.

The problem I see often is when writers combine two things that don't go together in a natural addition:
Jane wanted to try and talk to her teacher.
I've mentioned this one before. TRY should jump out at you and demand a TO after it. AND implies two things, but here, Jane's doing ONE thing. She is attempting to speak to her teacher. That's it. But the phrasing says she's doing two things: TRYING and TALKING. That's not what we mean. It reads clunky.

While the reader may understand, there's always the chance of confusion, or at least getting yanked out of the story.

Another example:
Jane went to the police station to report the crime and ate lunch.
Here, it sounds like Jane ate lunch at the police station. Unless she's eating in the detectives' break room, I suggest adding THEN or adding a new sentence altogether.

This word implies a reversal. We start out with A and then B gets thrown at us instead.
This works: Jane hoped she did well in her audition, BUT she didn't get the part.
We get the set-up in the first half (she hoped she did well) and then the reversal (she didn't get the part).

I often see writers using BUT almost like AND, where there really isn't a reversal.

Another, even more common, mistake is where a writer uses AND (which, remember, implies an ADDITIONAL item) where we really have reversal and BUT should be used:
Jane hoped she did well in her audition, and she didn't get the part.
Can you see how AND in this case doesn't flow like the example with BUT? We aren't adding something to Jane's actions or desires; we're describing an action with an expectation, and then a reversal. We need BUT, not AND.

This one implies causality. THIS causes THAT. In many cases, AND could be used, but very often, SO is more effective and conveys the meaning so much better.

Consider the difference between the examples below.

This could work, but it's not as strong as it could be:
Jane didn't get the part, AND that night she ate a bunch of ice cream.
But this one connects the two thoughts clearly with cause and effect:
Jane didn't get the part, SO that night she ate a bunch of ice cream.
These words elaborate on a thought or clarify a subject:
Jane tried out for the play, WHICH would run during December.
Here, WHICH gets attached to thoughts with an explanation that isn't necessary to understand the sentence. In the example above, it's nice to know when the play would run, but it's not critical to understanding the point.
Jane auditioned for the part THAT she felt she had the best shot at.
In this sentence, THAT restricts the meaning to something specific, here, to a specific role: the one Jane tried out for. Maybe the play is Into the Woods, and she tried out for Cinderella, not the Baker's Wife or Little Red. In this case, THAT makes the sentence specific, and it's needed.

It's easy to throw in lots of useless THATs. But there are also cases when the word is needed, and restrictive clauses are one of them.

For the grammar nerds: remember that these two words aren't conjunctions, so you use them in situations where one clause can't stand on its own as a sentence rather than between two independent clauses.

I've said it many times, but it's a truism that remains: Getting the small things right will set your work apart from the rest of the pack. Something as simple as clunky conjunction use can signal to an agent or editor that you don't have a solid grasp on writing mechanics, relegating your submission to the circular file.

The great news is that this particular issue is easy to fix. Look at your conjunctions to see if they mean what you intend. Change them out as needed. You'll be glad you did.

Tip: Watch the School House Rock clip again. Pay close attention to how the conjunctions are used, especially AND, BUT, and SO.

Friday, March 18, 2016

How to GIVE a Critique

A popular post from Feb. 2012

by Annette Lyon

Some time ago, I did a two-part series on how to take and use a critique. Find part I here and part II here.

I got a lot of great feedback from those posts, after which Precision Editing reader (and personal friend) DeNae suggested I address the opposite side of the fence, which is today's topic:

How do you GIVE a critique?

I admit that I've meant to write about this topic for months, but I had a hard time grabbing hold of how to approach it. I finally realized why, and the reason is simple:

Not all critiques are created equal.

I've known the writers in my critique group for over a decade. I trust them with my work. They trust me with theirs. They can totally rip my chapter to shreds, and I'll walk away liking them just as much as before (or maybe more, because they're helping me grow). I can do the same to them.

But what if a brand new writer comes to me asking for feedback, and I give the same type of brutal honesty to them?

I'm guessing emotional implosion, or something close to it.

One reason is that a brand new writer likely hasn't developed a thick skin yet.

Another reason is that I'm a perfect stranger. Even for me, it's far easier for me to take a harsh critique from a member of our group than a mild edit from an anonymous editor.

Before you give someone a critique, you'll need to address the following issues:

How experienced is this writer?
If they're just starting out, you could squelch their enthusiasm pretty easily, even if their work is relatively good. Be gentle.

I've often heard that a good critique will have at least 2 positive comments for each negative one. Trust me; my group doesn't work that way. Not even almost. But we don't need to, either. We have history together, trust and respect as colleagues.

But the 2/1 method probably does work well when someone is starting out. Don't stress over getting the perfect ratio of positive and negative, but do make sure to point out what the new writer is doing well.

If, on the other hand, the writer is seasoned, you probably don't need to include everything you liked, and you can likely be more direct about what you think needs fixing.

Find out what Kind of Feedback Is Wanted
Sometimes a writer may want big picture feedback, things like whether the conflict is engaging, the pacing tight, the characters and motivations believable, if you spot any plot holes, and the like.

Other times, they want a closer read, more like a line edit, where you catch repeated words, typos, and awkward writing on line-by-line level.

Knowing what kind of feedback you're giving will influence how you read the work (On the computer? On your e-reader?), what you'll focus on, and even how much time you'll spend on it.

Say What, Where and Why
And be specific doing so.

If you can, target specific issues and then explain, in detail, how to improve in those areas. Few things frustrate a writer more than generic feedback. "Loved it" and "Hated it" are both useless, because we don't know where or (more importantly) why. Be specific.

Examples of targeted positive feedback:
"Great use of point of view here."
"Love how well you showed the emotion this paragraph."
"Great description. I could totally see and smell the forest."
"This conversation has excellent dialog—each character has a unique voice."
"This part is so creepy . . . excellent tension!"

Examples of targeted critical feedback:
"I'm unsure whose point of view we're in here. I think we've hopped heads since the last page."
"Could you show her crying instead of telling us she's sad?"
"This scene could use a few more details about the setting. I can't see where they are."
"This conversation feels like nothing but voices. I can't follow who's saying what."
"The pace lags a bit on this page. Tighten it a bit."

Be Open to Questions
If something you mentioned in your critique is unclear, the writer should be able to approach you for clarification without any worry.

Know When to Say No
Writers who are serious are teachable. Pretend you've helped Writer A with a critique. They've supposedly revised, and they want you to read more of their work. You open the new file, only to see the exact same issues you pointed out before.

Maybe the writer didn't understand your suggestions.

Maybe they aren't ready for a real critique and would rather be ego-stroked.

Maybe they want to hurry up and put their work up as an e-book without putting in the apprenticeship work required to become a true wordsmith and storyteller.

In those cases, it's best to politely walk away. Any critique you'll give at that point is a waste of everyone's time.

You'll know you did a great job when the writer comes back to you and says that you helped them make their work so much better, and thank you!

That's a huge reward all by itself.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Poisoned Apples

A popular post from December 2011

By Julie Wright

I've recently discovered the TV series Once Upon a Time. For someone like me, who is an avid junkie of all things fairytale, this is a delightful series. I only wish I'd discovered it when it had moved into its second or third season so I could buy the DVDs and watch at my own leisure.

While I was at ABC's website streaming the first few episodes (available for a short time only), I found the comments list. It was during the second episode. I was waiting for the show to buffer so scrolled down to see what else there was to do, because I am a chronic multi-tasker and really hate even a few seconds of idle time. One of the comments was,

"Inconsistency with the apples...she says honeycrisp tree then hands Emma a red delicious. I know, I know, it's small, but details like that are important to me."

There were several comments about the honeycrisp. Apparently a lot of people know their apples. I didn't actually catch the error, because I don't know apples, but I found the comments interesting--comments like, "I know it's small, but details like that are important to me."

There is power in getting the details right.

Don't get me wrong. I totally understand the frustration that research brings. I know what it's like to get to a place where I simply don't know how it really works. That's one of the reasons I set aside a book I'd felt very strongly about. I was lost in the research and realized that until I could commit to the research, I had no business writing the book. It's easy to let little details go while thinking, "How many people really know what a honeycrisp apple looks like anyway?"

The answer is: A lot of people.

And them knowing the right answer when the writer got it wrong yanks them out of the story. Some readers will roll their eyes and dive back into the story. Others will roll their eyes and TRY to dive back in, but they'll keep surfacing so they can do another eye roll, and the book loses some of its original excitement. And others will roll their eyes and walk away because they can't get past the fact that the writer got it wrong.

For them, a wrong apple turned into something toxic--poisonous to their ability to suspend disbelief.

It takes time to get the details right, but it takes even more time to try to win back readers who feel like you've failed them. Don't set a volcano in Sweden if you aren't sure about whether or not such a thing could exist. Don't trust to just Google or Wiki for your sources (though they are great resources). Take a moment and call the hospital to talk to their night shift nurse to find out a detail about how his/her shift works or what protocol is for seeing a patient. Call the post office to find out how much it would cost to mail a pot of gold back to Ireland. Call an STD hotline to find out actual statistics (though they might ask you what your symptoms are and think the "writing a book" is just a cover story). Go ride a horse, go rockclimbing, go  . . . DO whatever it is you have your character doing (within reason--if your character is jumping off the Empire State Building, you definitely should not do that).

I had a teenager who wanted to be a writer ask me for the most important bit of advice I felt I could give. I told him to: Go. Live. Life.

See, taste, smell, hear, touch life. Your own experiences are your best research.

Bite into a honeycrisp.
But make sure not to pick one from the tree where the queen used to live. Better to not take chances.

Monday, March 14, 2016

When Are We?

A popular post from March 2012

By Josi S. Kilpack

I am revising a portion of my current WIP right now and got to a part where my character knocked on a door for several seconds. Try knocking on your desk for for several seconds. If someone knocked on my door like that, I might not answer--okay, I probably would in order to tell them to stop it:

 In the same scene from my book, my character's standing on the curb looking at the door of an apartment and "a few seconds later, she knocked on the door." A few seconds. Did she fly to that door?
Finding these faux pas reminded me of some other doozies I've read in the past, for example:

She gazed across the table and held his eyes for several minutes, thinking of how much she loved him and how complete her life had become since he had entered it.

Now imagine you were sitting at another table in that restaurant watching a man and woman gazing across the table for several minutes. Can you say creepy and uncomfortable?

Or how about:

The moments ticked by on the clock, bringing them closer to the inevitable separation.

I don't know about you, but I have yet to be able to find a clock with a "moment" hand on it.

Time is a funny thing in fiction. To pay it too much attention is to interrupt the story, which is why you don't often write things like:

She left the house at eight on Thursday morning and stopped at the post office before heading to the office. She arrived at 8:23, two minutes later than usual, but that was to be expected. By 8:30 she had opened her email and a few seconds later, Cheryl walked by and they chatted about what they'd done the evening before--Wednesday. A few minutes before nine, the phone rang and she stared at it with trepidation. A second later it rang again. Should she answer it? Was it him? A second after the second ring, it rang yet again. She put her and on the phone, took a deep breath, held it for a few seconds, let it out slowly and picked the phone up on the fourth ring, hoping her voice wouldn't crack when she introduced herself.

Too many time tags doesn't work and, specifically in this paragraph, they aren't necessary. How long it takes her to get to the office or how much time passes between the events taking place aren't important to the story--most of these instances are implied time, meaning we subconsciously know how long something takes.

Other scenes, however, require our reader to know what kind of time is passing. This can be cued by actual time; "It was almost 8:30, where was he?" or in the time stretched between two events "She waited for over half an hour before accepting that he wasn't coming and heading back to her car."

Your reader needs to know what day it is, how much time has passed between scenes, and "When" they are in the story, but it needs to be done is a subtle way--like smoke--rather than a forest fire that distracts from the overall story. AND it needs to be correct. Don't say they kissed for several minutes unless they really did, which might make sense if they're on the couch, but won't work if they're at the airport. Don't say she held her breath for a moment, because that's not really holding her breath (try it, hold your breath for a moment, which is a portion of a second), it's more like catching your breath.
Did he really run for hours? Is he capable of that (most people aren't unless they are in fear for their life or training for a marathon)? Are you reminding us of the time that's passed between chapters? It's obnoxious when you get two pages into a new chapter and realized months have passed, not hours like you assumed.

Ask yourself if you're using the right amounts of time. A moment is a partial second; quick, fast--unless its in regard to a "Moment of silence" which is usually closer to thirty seconds. A second is a count of one-hippopotamus. Sixty hippopotamuses makes a minute. If you have the phone ring for a minute--count that out. Do phones really ring that long before they go to voice mail? If you have people experiencing an awkward silence, determine what makes it awkward. Five seconds? Fifteen? Fifty? How about a staring contest, or holding your breath--how long does that physically possible?

As you do your final revision be sure to question your time cues and ensure they make sense--count them out if necessary, use a timer to figure out how long something really takes, but make sure that you don't put in cues that might pull your reader out of the story; great fiction feels real.

Here's some basic trivia that might come in handy when determining time:

The average cigarette takes seven minutes to smoke.
A red light is between five and sixty seconds, depending on the busy-ness of the intersection.
The average commute to work is 25 minutes in the US.
The average yawn is six seconds
It takes 3-5 minutes to toast a piece of bread, depending on the level of carbon you prefer.
The average goodnight kiss (not making out) lasts 10-15 seconds.
A person of average fitness levels can run a mile in 10-12 minutes.
The average woman spends 45 minutes getting ready in the morning.

And last but not least, most bloggers spend between 45 minutes and 2 hours to write one blog post (I'm at forty-seven, even though I thought it would take me ten), which means I need to get back to writing.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Best and Worst Advice

A popular post from July 2010

By Julie Wright

We used to play a game at my house called Best Part of the Day (I know. We're brilliant with titles, aren't we?). It was where everyone went around the table and shared the best part of their day. Sometimes, the kids would share the worst part of their days too. It was a way we learned a little about each other. We also learned a lot about the world around us because it usually inspired conversations that required explanation.

At a recent conference I spoke at, I was also on a panel with several other authors and one of the attendees asked, "What is the best advice you've ever received as an author?"

It was surprising what the responses were from each of the authors on the panel. Much like my children, the best meant something entirely different for each unique person.

For me, the best writing advice ever given in my life came from a small meeting after class with my seventh grade English teacher. The advice actually came from myself, but Mrs. Brown had fished around for it until it came out. I was entering a contest and showing her my entry. She asked me,

"What will you do if you don't win?"

It had never occurred to me that I wouldn't win. OF COURSE I would win because I was brilliant. But I stood there shifting from foot to foot and searching myself for the answer to that question. Finally I said, "I guess I'll keep writing."

She exhaled in relief and said, "Good girl. I was hoping you'd say that."

To keep writing no matter what was my best advice. To keep writing even when I took second place. To keep writing when I didn't place at all. To keep writing when I had nothing worthy to write about. To just keep writing.

The other authors had things like: Don't wait until you find time, because you never will. Don't get arrogant when you finally get published, because someone else will always be there, outselling you and outwriting you. Stop talking about it; just sit your butt in the chair and just get it done.

The question naturally led to another question, "What is the worst advice you've ever been given?"

The answers were again all different. For me, the worst advice came from a speaker at a conference. The speaker had started out arrogant and obnoxious and I partly wonder if everything he said grated on me because his attitude was so prickly, but he said something that felt untrue for me--though it might have been someone else's best advice . . . who knows.

He said, "Forget the audience. You're writing for yourself, and yourself alone. The audience means nothing to you"

Um, okay, unless you're trying to SELL to an audience. For me, his advice didn't work. I wrote to an audience--myself being part of that audience. All the humor, all the sentimental stuff, the age range . . . I target it to the audience I'm writing for. For me that works. It might not for someone else. Like I said, my worst advice might be someone else's best.

Other authors' bad advice consisted of: The NEVER and ALWAYS rules. They said to avoid people with absolutes in their advice.

Another was that beginning writers should start out writing poetry and short stories before they dare attempt a novel length work. Any advice that makes you feel bad about yourself or less worthy is bad advice.

Whenever we do anything in our lives, there are voices out in the crowd throwing in their opinions on how we should manage ourselves. Some are well meaning; others are resentful. Some are excited for our futures; others could not care less but like to have something to say anyway.

The point is to be careful who we listen to. Take the advice that works for you and let the rest go.

What's the best and worst advice you guys have received?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Show, Not Tell, Second-Grade Style

A popular post from 2011.

by Annette Lyon

Recently my daughter wrote a story on the private blog she and her sister have. She included two photos with some toys in it, posed.

Both photos included a large, stuffed animal (a white, striped tiger), Snowflake.

Photo one: On top of the tiger, right on its head, is a small doll (roughly Barbie-sized), and in the voice of the doll, the post proclaims she's pretty good at climbing Snowflake, but a friend, Mia, well, she's still getting used to the climb. Oh, and it looks like Snowflake has a new hairdo.

The second photo: Mia, the American Girl doll, collapsed on top of the tiger, with only her hair visible, spread across the tiger's head like a wig.

Giggling, my daughter showed me the short story and her pictures, declaring with pride, "Look! I didn't say Mia fell over when she tried climbing Snowflake. I said she was still getting used to climbing Snowflake and then joked about Snowflake's new hair. See? I showed it!"

Cool part: She was absolutely right. Of course, it worked in part because she had photos to accompany the story. But the point remains: she never came out and stated what happened. The reader/viewer had to infer it. (And then laugh, because it was pretty clever of her.)

Figuring out when and how to show instead of tell can seem like a heavy burden and a big job. For me, it seems a bit easier to do when I look at it in terms of Mia and Snowflake.

Heck, if a second grader can get it, I should be able to figure it out, even for something as complex as a novel . . . just take it one showing moment at a time.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Loving What You Do

 A popular post from January 2011.

by Julie Wright

I'm currently working on book two of a science fiction series for the middle grade market. Book one of the Hazzardous Universe Series releases March 01, 2011. I want to make sure book two is ready to go so I'm cranking it out now (which is why I've been pretty silent on blogs lately). Yesterday, I researched comets, the conversion of water, oxygen, and nitrogen from rocks, and the various forms of ballet-styled dancing throughout the various peoples of Earth. I also figured out the wickedest-awesomest-coolest way ever to make dragons feasible.

Dragons are a sore point with me. Their eating habits alone make them unlikely for natural selection on any planet. And yet they are so many shades of cool that it's hard to write for the children's market and not want to put a dragon in the story somewhere.

I've never used a dragon in a story. I just couldn't make myself buy into the fantasy of their existence enough to pen one into a novel. I love dragons--love the idea of them, but there are too many rational reasons as to why dragons *can't* exist for me to ever give myself over to them--until yesterday. In my new novel, there be dragons!

I am danged excited about my dragons. I'm danged excited about comets and space dust and solar winds and the magnetic structure of planets. I am excited to learn how to make life on a comet at least semi-plausible.

I am excited that my characters are going places that are awesome.

In short--I'm excited to be writing--which is exactly how it's supposed to be. A long time ago, I wrote a post about keeping it fun. I'd lost my way when it came to fun and writing. I was working too hard to please publishers and critics. I'd forgotten the joy there is creating something that is awesome to ME. A friend of mine, Jeff Savage, told me the biggest reason for all the frustration I'd felt in writing was due to the fact that I wasn't having fun anymore. He was right. I re-evaluated my goals, and wrote something I wanted to write.

And rediscovered myself in the process.

There are a lot of people out there in the literary world to please. There are people who won't like what you like, people who hate your genre, your character, your method.

And while I think it's important to please YOUR audience of readers. I don't think it's important to please EVERY audience of readers. It's been years since Jeff reminded me to have fun, and I haven't ever forgotten to keep that fun in my heart.

Love what you do. Love what you write. If you are loving it, then you've succeeded--no matter what else happens.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Quotes & Italics Revisited

A popular post from March 2011

by Annette Lyon

My original post about when to use italics and quotation marks was nearly four years ago, but it still gets hits and comments. Those comments are often new questions that the post didn't cover. A reader e-mail with another question pushed the topic over the edge.

It's time for another edition to answer additional questions about quotation marks and italics! (Cue the celebration music . . .)

1. Series
First off, since that post, I've learned a rule that somehow never made it onto my radar before:

Series don't get italics or quote marks.

A series is considered to be a name, not a title (so the Harry Potter series is plain Roman text, but The Half-blood Prince gets italics). When I first learned the rule, I thought it meant just books, but it looks like some editors prefer to leave television series as names alone (so Star Trek instead of Star Trek, which is the form I used in the old post).

I don't know that there's a lot of consensus on television series yet, but book series for sure are simply capped.

2. Places Get Roman Text
I mentioned this briefly in the last post, and #1 above hints at it, but it bears repeating: names don't get italics or quotation marks, just capped Roman text.

Names include houses (Tara or Green Gables) as well as stores (Sears) and museums (the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

A special exhibit at a museum, however, may have a title that you'd use italics with, but only in a situation when you're referring to the exhibit, such as in a school report, not on fliers or signs at the exhibit. In those situations, the title would be acting as a title. Just like you wouldn't italicize a novel's title on the cover of the book, you wouldn't italicize the title of an exhibit on a sign.

3. Short Magazines Are still Magazines
Magazine titles get italics, and the articles inside get quotation marks. This is true even if the magazine (or newsletter) isn't a big one. You could have a small periodical, and it would still get italics, regardless of length.

4. In the US, Use Double Quotation Marks
When quoting something or setting off a word, always use double quote marks. Single quote marks are used in the UK, not in the US. The only time you'd use single quote marks is if you had a quote within a quote, such as:
Julie asked, "Did you hear Pete? He just asked, 'Who still needs a ticket?'"
Note the single + double quote marks at the end, which close both Pete's quotation and Julie's. It looks weird with what looks like three marks there, but it's correct.

When in doubt, use double quotes.

5. Prayer Names Are Names, Not Titles
So you'd write: Hail Mary, The Lord's Prayer, etc.

6. Large Quotations Can Get Italics
If you're writing a non-fiction piece and using long (more than a sentence) quotes, you can set the quotation off by indenting it in a block and italicizing the whole thing. That's a visual cue to the reader that they're reading someone else's words.

Since you already have that cue, don't add quotation marks to the block quote. They're redundant.

7. Foreign Words
It's common for foreign words in both fiction and non-fiction to be set apart for clarity, sort of a sign post to the reader that says, "Hey, this is a foreign word, in case you weren't sure."

It's usually done with italics. Some style guides may choose quotation marks instead, but italics are more common because of the potential for ambiguity with the use of ironic quotation marks. (See #9, below.)

If you're using foreign words in a novel, I'd suggest italicizing them throughout. Some writers choose to italicize foreign words just the first time they're used and then use Roman text after that.

Which direction you go will likely depend ultimately on your publisher's style guide. For sure, the one thing you don't want to do is switch back and forth between Roman and italics. Be consistent.

8. Quoting a Definition
If I want to write a word and then define it, putting quotation marks around first the word and then the definition would look odd:
"Myriad," "a great number."
Usually the word being defined gets italics (like with #7. Foreign Words). Then I'd add a colon and write out the definition. To clarify that the definition came from a specific dictionary, I could add quotation marks around the whole thing, or indent the section like this (see #6):

Quotation marks, not indented:

"Myriad: a great number" (Merriam-Webster online)

Indented, without quotation marks:
myriad: a great number (Merriam-Webster online)
9. Don't Pull a Joey
Quotation marks often mean you're being ironic, that you don't really mean what's in them.

The correct use of ironic quotation marks would be to say I'm eating a "beef" patty, when it's really soy protein. The quotation marks make it clear that the patty really isn't beef.

On the other hand, a burger from Carl's Jr. would never have quote marks around it. It's really a beef patty.

A YouTube clip of Joey incorrectly using air quotes (a physical form of ironic quotes) has the embedding disabled, so I can't post it.

So be sure to check it out HERE. I crack up whenever I see it. It's worth 44 seconds of your time.

For more on incorrect quotation marks, check out the "blog" of "unnecessary" quotation marks (misuse in the name absolutely intentional). SO funny!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The 2 Sides of a Good Writer

A popular post from March 2011

by Annette Lyon

In college, my creative writing professor sat me down for a one-on-one critique with a short story I'd written. He raved about my beautiful prose and sentence structure, how the writing was so clean.

And then he ripped into my unbelievable character motivations and rather lame plot arc.

This was my first taste of the two sides of a great writer:

The Storyteller
This side of the writer comes up with the great story ideas and finds ways to tell the stories in unique and interesting ways.

The Word Smith
This side of the writer has a way with language. The word smith can write smooth and seamless sentences and paragraphs, often beautiful ones.

Many writers have one as their primary writing strength (like I did), and while they can always improve in that area, they have to actively learn the other side. The good news is that, in general, you can strengthen the side you're weaker on.

Back in college, I was pretty solidly a word smith. I've since studied books and magazines, gone to conferences, been critiqued by solid writers, and more to learn how to tell a great story. It's taken years of studying the craft to figure out how to create a great plot and tell a ripping good yarn, but I think it's paid off.

On the flip side, I know writers who have an innate ability to spin those yarns. They have huge imaginations that take flight and hold other people captive . . . but they can't string two sentences together without sounding clunky and awkward.

The good news for natural storytellers is that often a great idea and a wild story can get a writer's toe in the publishing door, while no matter how smooth a manuscript is as far as writing goes, if it's boring or cliche, it's not going to get picked up.

In that sense, storytellers have an advantage over word smiths. But storytellers still need to learn the ropes of word smithing if they hope to truly be successful.

I've probably mentioned this story before, but it bears repeating: a managing editor at a publisher told me how they'd had to turn down manuscripts because, even though they loved the stories, the books as is were too messy to take on and spend the money to clean up editorially.

Storytellers + sloppy writing = rejection.

You can't expect an editor to fix all your problems. No matter how polished you make your book, you'll still need an editor, and an editor can take a book up only one level at a time, not from level two to ten in one fell swoop.

If you're just a storyteller, you may get passed over because someone else, also a great story teller, happens to be a better word smith.

Or, if you're like me, you can write books smooth as silk but be passed up for years by others who are better storytellers, submitting more imaginative and exciting tales.

Of course, the best scenario is for you to be both a great storyteller and a great word smith, too. Once you learn at least the fundamentals of both sides, you're really on the right track for getting published and being successful.

Which is your forte, storyteller or word smith?

How can you strengthen (or how have you strengthened) the other half of your writer self?