Monday, August 23, 2010


Maybe I should call this INTERNET CONNECTIONS instead. But everyone is always saying "social networking," aren't they?

The basics, for me, are the conversation loops I belong to, almost all of them as Yahoo groups, and my webpage, Those can't be called social networks, but they certainly figure in and are ways for me to network.

Of the ones I use, I've been on Facebook the longest, since my son informed me all the grandkids' pictures would henceforth be there. He thought better of that after posting one batch, but by then I had been found by a co-worker from 12 years ago and my massage therapist who is remarried and moved out of town. I'd also discovered my cousin's wife, whom I have only met twice, is a hoot.

Soon, I decided I wanted a Facebook account for my family and another one for my writing life. This was easy for me, since I don't write under my real name. Now I use the writing account a lot and have met some interesting people there, too.

I made a New Year's resolution to start a blog in 2010 and, instead joined one and started two. So I'm firmly both feet into that world. I now follow a bunch of blogs and have made new friends that way.

Twitter? I resisted Twitter as long as I could. I use it less than the others, so far. Maybe I'm just too wordy to fit easily into Twitter. It's not for the verbose! Although, again, I made a valuable connection with some people interested in archeology and Neanderthals (I've written a Neanderthal mystery, still unsold).

I signed up for Goodreads and I thought I was on Shelfari, but I don't seem to have a presence there. I barely have one on Goodreads. LinkedIn is another one I recently joined and have no idea what to do with.

Why do any of these? As a writer, the idea is to get yourself known, and to sell books. For this, the connections should be with readers. Most writers I know are interacting mostly with other writers.

But making the connections with fellow writers is a good enough reason for an internet presence, IMNSHO, as they say. Writing is a lonely process and the friends and family of a writer aren't the ones who understand what goes on inside our heads. I'd hate to be without all my writer pals!

I'd love to hear what sites you use and how. Which are your favorites and why?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Create Your Book Cover Writing Exercise

Lari Bishop, the Managing Editor at Greenleaf Book Group, shared an exercise at Austin Publishing University that is designed to help you think about your book as a complete product, even before you start writing it. The exercise was originally developed by author and consultant Kevin Daum. Here is the exercise:

  1. Fold a piece of paper so that it looks like a book jacket (legal size paper works best, but anything will do).
  2. On the front, write the title and subtitle.
  3. On the inside flap write your elevator speech for the book. Keep it to 3 sentences max. 
  4. On the back, write 2 endorsements/blurbs for the book--what you would want people to say about it.
  5. On the inside back flap, describe why you are the person to write the book. 
  6. On the inside of the jacket, describe how you are going to structure the book to make it compelling to readers.
Try this exercise and see if it helps you think about the book in a way that lets you address not only how well its written, but who would be interested in reading it and why they would believe you are the best person to deliver it. 

Happy Writing!

Monday, August 16, 2010

One more post on short story structure

This one is the topper!

James Lincoln Warren has an audio link of his talk for Sisters in Crime, Orange County, plus some gorgeous charts. If you're a visual person, click over and take a look at his take on short story structure.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Show and Tell for Grown-Ups

As a writer, you are always looking out for a new weapon to add to your literary arsenal. The well armed writer possesses the basic array of grammar and style techniques, the precision instruments of the craft, as well as grenades comprised of unique voice, character development, plot twists, setting, and dialogue. However, to become a true writing warrior, you must master the nuclear bomb of all writing techniques—the art of “showing.”

The writer’s job is to reveal a world to the reader. The setting should unfold before them, laced with larger than life characters, gut wrenching plots, and spitfire dialogue. Unfortunately too many of the submissions I review don’t show the world, plot, or character of the story. Instead they tell the reader what is happening.

Showing instead of telling means that the writer is describing behaviors, settings, or elements in a way that allows the reader to see what is happening and infer certain things like character conflicts, flaws, and emotions. Telling is simply dictating, and though at times it is unavoidable to tell the reader something, the less it is used the better.

For example, telling is something like:

Sarah was obsessed with Tom.

A more evocative method is to show the reader that Sarah is obsessed with Tom:

Sarah watched Tom from her perch across the cafeteria. He laughed, revealing a captivating smile. She imagined herself, sitting at the table with him and his friends, wearing his letterman jacket and a promise ring on her hand. She scribbled his name for the seventy-eighth time on her notebook. She traced over the letters, engraving Tom Peterson into the paper with her green pen. His laughter cut through the crowded lunchroom once more. Sarah smiled as she surrounded his name with a green heart. Beneath it she wrote Mrs.Sarah Peterson.

The reader understands that Sarah is obsessed with Tom because the passage reveals her obsessive behaviors. Her behavior carries more meaning then the statement “she is obsessed” and creates a more visceral response in the reader.

Dialogue is another great way to show elements of a story, especially back story and character conflict. For example, instead of saying Jennifer and Brian used to be lovers, you could do the following:

Brian closed the apartment door behind him. Jennifer emerged from the bedroom with a cardboard box in her hands.

“What are you doing here?”

“I live here. What are you doing here?”

“I came to get the last of my stuff.” Jennifer walked over to the book shelf and picked up a copy of Catch-22. She threw the paperback into the box.

“What are you doing with that?”

“Like I said, I’m getting my stuff.”

“That’s not yours, that’s mine.”

“No it’s not.”

“Yes it is. I bought that at the bookstore while I waited for you at the coffee shop. You know, the day you were twenty minutes late.”

Crimson burned her cheeks. “Fine, keep it.” She grabbed the book and threw it at him. “Do you want any of this other stuff?” She grabbed a picture frame and tossed it across the room. “Because you can have it all. I don’t care.”

Brian dodged a well aimed bottle of shampoo. “Will you calm down? You can take the damn book if it means that much to you.” A pink gorilla from a travelling circus ricocheted off his chest.

“None of it means anything. It’s all a lie.” Jennifer slammed down the box. She yanked her purse down from the counter. Like a level five hurricane, she blew through the apartment, knocking off several picture frames as the door rammed shut behind her.

Much of the relationship between the two characters is revealed in the dialogue. The reader can sense the break up is recent and that it was not under good terms. It also makes the reader wonder what exactly happened between the characters and is it truly over, since Jennifer made a point of coming back unannounced. Such questions keep the reader interested, which after all is the writer’s big goal.

If you are still unsure of the difference between showing and telling, you may want to look into Jessica Morrell’s Thanks, But This Isn’t for Us. It’s a simple and easy to read guide that helps writers quickly identify missing elements and areas for improvement. It’s also a good practice to study the works of published writers. Read multiple passages and see how the author creates a balance between showing and telling. Ask yourself what makes that passage work, how did the writer convey certain ideas and emotions, and how can you incorporate those techniques into your writing. Studying (not stealing) published works is one of the best ways to improve your writing.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Way to Go Kaye!

If you haven't already found out by reading her wonderful and insightful blog, Travels with Kaye, let it be known that one of our esteemed contributors, Kaye George, will have her first published novel coming out as a trade paperback in May of 2011 through Mainly Murder Press! I'm sure she'll be sharing more with us about the publishing process as the year continues, but I encourage all our readers to check out her blog and see how she succeeded in getting her novel, Choke, in front of the right people. Like many of us, Kaye has worked hard, kept her nose to the grindstone, and never stopped believing in her dream. Her success turns me pea green with envy and encourages me to keep trying! Congratulations, Kaye! Can't wait for your novel to come out!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Links from Kaye, third edition

Here are a few more links I found intriguing. If you've got time to go clicking around, something here might catch your interest.

For writers:

You have to see Marian's digital processor. Really cool piece of equipment, and versatile.

As a former computer programmer/systems engineer (note the "engineer" part), the steps listed in this next link are all things I do already, left over from my telecommuting jobs, for which I had to account for my time and report how much time was spent on each project. This is essential if you're ever audited for taxes, to show you are seriously pursuing a career in writing, since so many of us have so little published work to show for all our hard labor.

If you're self-publishing, it's easy and inexpensive to copyright your online work, and should be done within 90 days of publication. There's even a link to do this online, complete with a tutorial.

Not a link, but a quote by way of Hank Phillippi Ryan:
"Noting in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence, determination and hard work make the difference."
Calvin Coolidge.

Read 'em and weep--the facts and figures laid bare at the Cozy Chicks.

For readers:

Sadly, the last issue of ThugLit, maybe.

For readers and writers, a couple pieces of news, signs of our times.

This image has been released explicitly into the public domain by its author, using the Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Become a Better Writer Through Critique Groups

Today I want to talk about a subject that for some reason has become too complicated for writers to handle--the critique group. Everyone wants feedback on their work, but the idea of participating in a critique group has become too overwhelming. Among the excuses I hear are:
  • I don't have the time
  • I don't know anyone
  • I don't know how to critique
  • I wasn't happy with my last experience
I understand these issues, having participated in many failed critique circles before.Still, nothing beats having another set of eyes go over your work and its much cheaper than hiring an editor. So, if you don't have thousands of dollars to spend on a professional, critique groups are a great alternative and they can help you become a better writer if you find the right group and honestly assess their feedback.

There are several groups available on the Internet, but I suggest finding writers that you find writers that you connect with on a personal level first. Here are some general tips for starting or finding a critique group:
  1. Be realistic about what kind of time you are willing to commit: Do you only want to swap shorts, or are you willing to share and read a full length novel.
  2. Stick to your genre: I used to think that it wasn't a big deal working with others outside my genre until I realized how many conventions and standards are ignored or misunderstood because of a mis-communication between writers of different genres. It's just easier to work with someone who knows what works and doesn't work and who is aware of the trends and writers you are competing against.
  3. Keep to groups of 3-5 people: Just swapping with one other person is enough to get the ball rolling, but 3-5 gives you many perspectives without a heavy time commitment. I find three to be the best for time reasons.
  4. Use Review Tracker: Review tracker in Word is so easy to use and saves paper so you don't have to print and send full manuscripts. Plus, this way you can work with anyone anywhere in the world. 
  5. Like begets like: Find critique groups that cater to writers of your same caliber. If you are a newbie, stick to a newbie group. If you have been published and studying the art, you may be frustrated working with a young or aspiring group of writers. Keep  that in mind when reviewing groups. 
  6. Loosey goosey with a purpose: If you are starting a critique group or joining an existing one, you want to make sure there are some systems in place but you don't want something so rigid that its uncomfortable or difficult to work with.
  Now I want to talk about etiquette and methods when it comes to critiquing. This is so important. A critique groups should be a supportive environment for writers to learn and grow, not a bashing session. When you are critiquing someone else's work yo should:
  1. Remember its THEIR work, not yours: You should not rewrite their work in your voice or style, or completely overhaul it to the way you would produce it. Each writer has a unique voice, perspective, and style that should be respected at all times. Do point out what works for you as a reader though. Knowing what works is just as important as knowing what one is doing wrong.
  2. Use the "sandwich" approach: Present your comments as "compliment-constructive criticism-compliment." This softens the blow of the critique, because lets face it, we all hope we are perfect and its hard to hear when we are not.
  3. Focus on the big picture: Unless you make a living as a copy-editor, its best to focus on big picture issues when assessing another's work. This means looking at such questions as character development, plot, setting, style, etc instead of nitpicking word choice or grammar.
  4. Critique the work, not the person: It's about the document, not the person writing it so stay focused on the task at hand.
  5. Practice tolerance for differing viewpoints: Not everyone shares the same views on religion, relationships, politics, philosophy, etc. Respect the other person's beliefs and the beliefs of their characters. You don't have to agree with their point of view, just be able to see it unfold visually. If it bothers you that much, find a different critique partner.
Receiving critiques can sometimes be hard, especially for a work yo have put a great deal of time into. To make the process as beneficial and pleasant as it can be, when receiving critiques:
  1. Distance yourself: It's not a critique of you, its an honest opinion about the work in front of you.
  2. Maintain veto power: You don't have to accept every suggestion or change made. It is ultimately your work and should reflect you and be something you are proud of. If you truly want to keep something, then keep it, but do consider their reasons for suggesting changes.
  3. Recognize patterns: If more than one person says the same thing, take notice. If on every critique you hear that your characters are flat, you may have to accept that your characters are flat and strive to correct it. The point here is to improve as a writer.
  4. Respect their opinion: Show the one who critiqued you the same respect you expect by acknowledging and thanking them for their time and feedback. 
  5. Even Steven: This actually goes both ways. If someone takes the time to honestly and thoroughly look at your work, you'd better be willing and able to do the same in return. It's just as frustrating to receive little to no feedback as it is to receive too much, so don't send back one or two comments on fifty pages and think you've done your job when you're receiving more than that in return.
These are just some base guidelines. Becky Levine goes into greater detail on how to give and get critiques in her book The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide. It really isn't that complicated, and even if you just create an arrangement with one writer, the rewards are so worth the time.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Short Story Structure

This is also posted on Travels With Kaye.

Members of the Short Mystery Fiction list started a discussion recently about the structure of the short story. So much has been said and written about the structure of a novel, even whole books devoted to mystery, thriller, and suspense structure, but I hadn't ever paused to consider the structure of the short story before that.

But I'm sure all short story writers should!

The first posting gave the opinion that short stories have two forms: vignette and mini-novel. The vignette, Graham Powell contended, has its action in the same place and it all happens at the same time. The mini-novel would give room for more character and plot development.

Mark Troy gave his opinion that a vignette is an expanded scene/sequel combination with the sequel being the most important part. He considers them incomplete and not as effective as the other form. Although he says he wouldn't use the term mini-novel, saying any effective story of whatever length should have protagonist/antagonist, setting, theme, 3-act plot, conflict. He said he does something that I think I will start doing: he marks the places where the acts begin and end, and marks the crisis, where the antagonist appears, where the theme is stated. I would imagine I would have to give a story at least two readings to do all that!

Graham answered that he thought his definition of a vignette story might be a 1-act tale and the other a 3-act story.

Fleur Bradley chimed in with the opinion that the vignette are stories that are like a fly-on-the-wall experience for the reader. Almost like an overheard conversation.

Then Jack Hardway/Dan said there IS a conventional short story form that has five parts, although many mystery stories don't contain all five. They are found most often in literary stories. When asked, he gave these two references:
If you click on them, you'll see they both reference a Freytag Pyramid. The first states the five parts as exposition; complication and development; crisis or turning point; falling action; catastrophe. It goes on to talk about other structure points, too.

The second reference says the five parts are exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement.

Wikipedia uses these latter terms for its illustration (I hope it's not illegal to copy wiki illustrations).

Then Chris Rhatigan posted this statement: A creative writing teacher explained another good five-part structuring technique for short stories similar to the one Jack discussed: 1) Action 2) Background 3) Development 4) Climax 5) Ending. One thing I like about it more--especially as a crime fiction writer--is that the reader gets dropped right in the middle of the story, then you get into the history of the characters, setting, etc. So in this case the piece would have two sets of rising and falling action.

I think I like this one best of all, at least for a mystery story. I'd love to hear from other short story writers and readers on this subject! Do you writers think you use any of the above structure devices? Do you readers see them?

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Few More Links from Kaye

Here are a few more good links since my last post.

An amusing grammar lesson. Don't click if language offends you.

Mostly of interest for mystery writers, an article for New Orleans LEOs on interviewing techniques from BJ Bourg, a writer I admire.

This was added to my last post in the comments, but I'll put it here in case you didn't click on those.

A simpler website that just counts repetitious words is here.

And a place to buy fancy software that might be even more helpful, but you have to watch your language here. Page down for an amusing pledge that prevents me from buying this.

Here's a somewhat pessimistic look at promotion with some interesting comments. This, BTW, is a blog worth following.

Get your flash fiction news (contains contest and market listings) here! And visit the companion blog for more flash fiction info.

That's what I gathered. Hope some of it interests or helps you!