Sunday, December 26, 2010

The box is not always bad

So I've been typing pretty much stream-of-consciousness style as I try to discover what plot changes need to happen.  I'm nowhere near done with the process, but I'm going more in-depth with plotting than I ever have, because now I'm not just writing for myself.  I used to think that writing out scenes would move the plot along without having to plan stuff out ahead of time, and that may still work for me when I'm not writing for anybody else's eyes.

I'm not used to having to change major parts of my stories; I tend to think, 'But that's the way it's always been, and that's the way things happened.'  Keep in mind, I've had the major characters in my head since somewhere in the late 70s.  That's a lot of time for ideas to become cemented, whether they work or not.

However, my recent writing course, my helpful critters on CC, and reading Cohen's book have brought home to me that I must break open the box of my own making.  I wrote a couple exercises for the course in first person; I always write in some variation of third, and I want to stretch myself.  Art pointed out specific things in my first-person exercises that he felt worked well, and I was so surprised!  While writing the first one especially, things felt forced and unnatural at times.

I've learned that the proverbial box is all right to help one get a grip on the basics, and then you have to bust it wide open to let air and rain in so new ideas will grow.

The plot issues have chips and cracks in them now.  I feel the answers are there, hidden beneath years of assumptions and mistakes and a not-helpful fondness for the way things used to be.  I'm taking individual plot points and looking at them from other angles.  How does this point move the plot forward?  What am I trying to say with this idea?  If I want to keep it, what's the most effective way to get my intention across?

Exploring different possibilities for scenes also lets me peer into my characters' souls more.  Trist is the girlfriend of gang leader Coyote; Neal has feelings for her though I've wondered how to realistically portray that.  In cutting windows into my box, I've glimpsed her human side.  She will eventually turn against Neal, but in the beginning, she has moments of thoughtfulness.

Out of seemingly nowhere, it recently came to me that Sophie, a singer who becomes important later in the story, lives in a house decorated in a Moroccan theme.  That part may make it into the WIP.  Sitting looking at the Christmas tree in my house, I sank into a seconds-long scene between Sophie and Sandy.  He admires her Christmas tree, dripping with obviously old ornaments.  She says that on every tour, her people search for antique ornaments in every country she stops in. 

I like that scene a lot, because it gets to the heart of who Sophie is: she loves being adored by her fans, she has no trouble throwing her weight around to get what she wants, she doesn't apologize for being rich, but she believes deeply in family ties and traditions.  Those expensive ornaments are reminders of tours and the places she's visited and the traditions of the people there.  They remind her of Christmases growing up, when her family moved around a lot and sometimes all they had on Christmas was each other and the tree.  Other people might look at them and say, "Wow, she's a show-off."

Without the foundation of the first draft of the WIP, I wouldn't have known that Sophie is sometimes very contradictory.  She'd be a one-dimensional character.  Now, I can have fun finding out what motivates these people, and their humanity will come through in my writing.

This is what Art meant by "what do your characters want?"  What makes them who they are?  Who they are dictates what they do and say.  My inner editor will tweak this information to make it workable for fiction.  And gradually, I'll have a compelling plot with convincing and persuasive characters.

I'm so excited!  It's like discovering the characters all over again!  I get to explore new scenes with them, finding hidden gems.  Our relationship has the depth of years, with the shine of newness.  Damn!  I love writing!  It never gets old!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thus begins the winter

Hey folks, sorry I've been off the grid.  Working retail in 4th quarter has had me feeling homicidal occasionally!  Plus I've got a sick pet, and my online writing course wrapped up recently, so it's been one thing after another.

My instructor, Art Edwards, mentioned a book on writing during the course and it sounded helpful, so I bought a copy.  It's "Writer's Mind" by Richard Cohen.  I've read a bit, and so far, I like how Cohen thinks.  The first sentence of his preface is: "A writer is someone who is always learning to write."  I find that a relief.  He doesn't seem to expect that, once I finish reading his book and writing my manuscript, that the work will get accepted for publication and I won't need to work on my craft anymore.  If he'd implied that, I'd have returned the book.

I even like the cover.  The edition I have shows an ocean wave curling over into a tube.  It reminds me of being in "the zone", when ideas and sentences flow from my fingers and whole paragraphs are typed before I pause for breath.  That's being in the calm middle of the creative wave, until doubts and decisions crash in on me.

Later in his preface, Cohen says: "There are no 'don'ts' in this book--no 'Don't write dream scenes' ... or 'Don't begin a sentence with and or but.'  A writer is someone whose first reflex, on being confronted with a taboo, is to break it."

You gotta love somebody who will say that!

Art also suggested that I find novels written in a style similar to my own and see how those authors handled various writing issues.  Wellll, that's easier said than done!  I could adapt lessons from a fantasy novel to my own WIP, probably, but how to find authors that write in a similar style?  I write in a linear way, with clear details meant to help readers visualize scenes easily.  In fact, I think I write too clearly sometimes!

If anybody has suggestions for authors they think may help me, I'm all for checking them out.   Now that snow has fallen and we're well into the last month of the year, it's finally time to curl into myself and read.  I've been promising myself that once winter hit, I'd focus on improving my plot and working on some of the writing details that have plagued me.  Plotting, plotting, plotting.  I don't yet know how I'm going to come up with compelling plot twists, but that's up to my muse and her Magickal Crockpot :D

Saturday, November 13, 2010


When you write reality-based fiction, you walk more than one tightrope. One of the things always in the back of my mind as I work on my WIP is the idea of perception of reality. I base my story in reality, and adjust it for fiction. Thing is, everybody has their own perception of reality. Some readers are bound to see my adjusting for fiction as error. It’s easy to think you have a full understanding of some part of society or life. That’s how clichés and stereotypes are perpetuated. People hear about them and start to assume that’s how things really are.

Gangs are easy to make assumptions about. There are certain things, as I understand it, that a lot of gangbangers do and say. But it’s also true that news stories about them don’t generally talk about what really goes on their heads. Some of them do regret the violence.

My story is still at an early stage, of course. I’m going to revamp the early chapters to increase tension and draw readers in. But I have to think about how I do it. Once this thing gets published, how many readers might just think “That’s not how it really is. How can I believe the rest of the story if this part is wrong?”

I read something about writing that I stupidly cannot find who wrote it or where. It said something like, reality-based fiction is supposed to represent reality, not be reality. When you think about it, that makes perfect sense. You can’t drop reality wholesale into written fiction and expect it to be clear. There’s too many differences and limitations in written fiction for that to work. Anyway, who wants to read something they could get from a newspaper or online or from friends?

Reality-based fiction gives readers familiar things to hold on to and feel comfortable with. Then when it presents the fiction part, readers ought to be ready to believe it, if it’s done well. They’ll start to think, “Oh I can totally see that really happening” or maybe “That could only happen in fiction. But it’s great to speculate about it.”

What I’m trying to accomplish is shining a light on some things a lot of people prefer not to think about, but should, wrapped in an interesting tale. There’s enough fact--and human nature--in it for readers to recognize the issues I talk about.

It’s a privilege to be part of a group of people who have long been not just the keepers of collective memory, but a group that urges us to look hard at how we live: the storytellers. Those of you who are also storytellers, smile. Not everybody can do this. We need to do it as well as we can.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Shout out to Melisa!  Thanks for joining me on this odd but always interesting journey that is writing. :D

Thursday, November 4, 2010

spare scene

So I wrote this little scene but I don't think it'll wind up in the manuscript, because it doesn't advance the plot.  Worse, it repeats a point I've already made, but it seemed to make sense for the characters to talk about it.  It's long for a blog post, but I like the scene, so I'm using it here.

It takes place in the band's house.  Timo {short for Timoteo} was one of Neal's kids, all of whom were murdered by his former gang.  The throne is the padded seat drummers use.
All that drum and cymbal noise! Who could be banging around on Sandy’s kit? --or was it his own kit? Neal strode to the music room but stopped in the doorway. Sandy sat behind his kit, next to Allison on another throne, wavy blonde hair just touching her shoulders. He talked about musical scales as he clicked the hi-hats.

She’d been running around with her brother earlier. Now she wore the biggest smile Neal had ever seen on a kid. Holding a pair of sticks that were too big for her hands, she kept reaching for one of the cymbals. Sandy put a hand on her arm and kept talking. She glanced at him, then reached for a cymbal.

Leave it to Sandy to get all practical with a kid who just wanted to have fun.

Neal went a few steps closer. “Let the kid smash away. Don’t hold back another potential drummer.”

Her brown eyes widened at him then she leaned toward Sandy. Damn, was she afraid?

“Allison,” Sandy said, “have you said hi to Neal?”

She clutched the sticks in one hand and grabbed his shirt with the other, then leaned her face into him.

Sandy looked up at Neal. “She’s like this with everybody new. Once she warms up to you, though, she’s like Velcro.”

Timo used to be like that . . . he’d be, what, three or four now? Would have been, anyway. Neal pushed his hands into his pockets.

Allison peered at him though she still clung to Sandy. “Hi. I’m eight. And a half.”

“Wow. I’m almost twenty. What do you think of that?”

“Oh, that’s nothing. Uncle Sandy is thirty!”

Sandy glanced at the ceiling.

Neal laughed. “Yeah, he’s got me beat. Do you know how to play drums?”

She smiled and sat up. “Uncle’s going to teach me. He said he’d teach me when I turned eight, but I’m almost nine now.”

“Hey,” he said to Sandy, “never break a promise to a kid. Especially one you’re related to--her parents know where you live. Where’s your nephew? I expected him to be the one wanting to play.”

“He’s bonding with Brian over baseball. I guess Allison’s been talking about this a lot, but something always got in the way.”

“Well that’s a pretty shi -- flimsy excuse. If you don’t turn her into a drummer, she might latch onto keyboards, and how would that look?”

Sandy grinned. “Yeah, well, you’ve got a point.” He looked at Neal for a few seconds, then stood. “Hey, I’ve got to do something, why don’t you sit with her for a bit?”

“Me? Why? No no, she’s your niece.” Neal backed toward the door.

Allison frowned at them. “Somebody has to teach me.”

“Go on.” Sandy tossed his sticks at Neal and turned to Allison. “Hon, Neal will show you a little. I won’t be gone long.” He dashed out.

She settled herself on the throne, erased the frown, and pointed to the hi-hats. “How do those work? I couldn’t see what Uncle did to move them.”

Fixating on cymbals already; yeah, she was Sandy’s relative. Neal rubbed the back of his neck. He hadn’t even spent that much time with his own kids, how was he supposed to know what to do? He shuffled over and eased onto the other throne. “Well, there’s a pedal here, and you press it to move the cymbals.”

He demonstrated. Her eyes lit up. “Ooo! I want to do that.”

Neal let her take his seat. She clicked away then started tapping on them with the sticks.

After a couple of minutes, she didn’t show any sign of quitting. Maybe you had to be eight to get that big a kick out of just hi-hats. Or maybe being related to Sandy was enough. “Okay, you got the hang of that. Did you know that drummers move their arms and legs separately from each other?”

She beamed a smile at him. “Yeah, I watched Uncle before, and some of his friends. It looks hard.”

“It can be, when you first try it. But there’s a secret that helps. Sandy must be waiting for the right time to tell you.”  She probably hadn’t seen a metronome.

Her eyes grew round. “What secret?”

“Oh, if Sandy didn’t tell you, I don’t think I should.” He sat and tapped on a floor tom gently.

She reached toward him and touched his necklace. “Pretty. Why do you wear that?”

Ah, shit. Tell the truth or take the easy way out? He put the sticks down. “It reminds me of my daughter. She’s not around anymore and sometimes I miss her. Don’t ask where she went. I won’t see her anymore, is the important part.” That was mostly true. It reminded him of all his kids, really.

Allison studied the little letter on its chain as if thinking hard about what he’d said. “I can’t tell what it is. How does it remind you of her?”

“It’s a letter I, the same letter her name started with. Isabel. But I called her Chabela most of the time.” He slipped it under his shirt. “That’s enough about that, all right?”

“I’m sorry it makes you sad.” Her face was so open and honest. Did she get that from Sandy too, or were little kids like that anyway? Probably most kids were sincere before the world fucked them up.

“Well, never mind. If you really want to learn drumming, you should ask Sandy to get you your own kit. Then you could practice anytime at home.”

Her eyes got huge again. “Ooo! But Mommy and Daddy might not like that. They say drums are loud. But I like loud.”

“I do too. That’s kind of the point of drums. I bet if you asked, they’d agree to let you have a kit.”

She scooted her throne over until it bumped up against his. She shouldered closer and grinned at him.

Damn, I think I just reached the Velcro stage.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Could we focus, please?

I'm thinking about the suggestion to read over each chapter with a severely critical eye, and why that's hard.  I think it comes down to the inner writer child.

We all have one.  Like regular children, they think their worldview is the important one.  Everything they do is worthy of attention.  That's not always bad, though.  I believe our inner writer children {IWC for brevity's sake} provide the sense of wonder about our projects, that feeling of wooooo, this is cool and I really wanna keep going!  That's vital to help us reach toward the sky.

Taking the leash off does enable us to explore new twists on tired phrases, take plot chances that even sometimes work!, and generally learn to think outside whatever box is relevant at the moment.  But that IWC runs off, refusing to come when called. 

No you don't, you can't catch me!  Look at these pretty rocks, we can use these.  I know, I have 500 over there, but these are different.

....Ah, no, dear child, they're really not.  Remember the one we saw made into a necklace?  There was just one rock, and we couldn't stop looking at it.  Not the chain it hung on, or the wire wrapped around it, no, we kept looking at the rock itself.

The person who made that necklace believed in her ability to create something simple yet compelling. 

I won't tell this part to my IWC, but taking this advice means I'll have to inflict some bruises and cuts on the little darling.  But she's tough.  She falls off tightropes and gets back up.  I think having a few scars will do her a world of good.

I'm stealing the "quote of the day" from's home page:
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.      - Stephen Covey

Saturday, October 23, 2010

First submission in writing class reviewed!

I’m enrolled in the “Rock and Roll Writing” course at, with Art Edwards as instructor. Art is the former bassist for The Refreshments and has published three novels. He’s reviewed my first submission, and my biggest flaw so far seems to be repetition. I have to laugh at myself for that, because I’m quick enough to point out repeating ideas when I crit!

Writing is amazing. People who do it can be so clear-sighted half the time, and the other half, they’re rather blind.

“But saying 'fill-in-the-blank' in my story is different,” my inner child whines. “And besides, it’s not repeating, if you’d just think about the nuances of the words you’d realize that.”

Well, dear child, it’s still not necessary.

Art used this passage as an example:
- - -
Lennie dropped his pencil on the papers and raised an eyebrow at Neal. “You’re interested in that? Have you done much physical work?”

Neal waited just inside the doorway. What was he getting at? “Why? You think I can’t handle it?”

“Some of the road cases weigh a hundred pounds,” Lennie said. “They’ve got wheels but it’s not easy moving them around. You’d be hauling amps, speakers, and whatever else needs to be moved. It’s back-breaking and you can’t cut corners. Everybody’s on a tight schedule on tours so there’s no screwing around when it’s time to unload trucks. Can you manage that?”
- - -
When I wrote that, it all seemed necessary. It’s astonishing to listen to what goes on in your own head. Justifications for various bits of dialog run by, are processed and accepted, almost before I even know they happened. For me, the big justification is character voice. I leave in Neal’s thoughts because I want to get across how he thinks, as much as what. Sometimes that’s valid, but the operative word is sometimes.

In the above example, Art suggested dropping certain phrases. When I read over the new version of the passage, my instant reaction was, “But that leaves out some of the points I was trying to make!”

Well -- yeah. Because those points were made elsewhere, or they really didn’t add anything important. Oh sure, Inner Child, you’re taking the high road and claiming that Lennie was making a point about how difficult the work could be, to somebody who’s never done anything like it. But the story is primarily for the readers, and -- wait, I was going to repeat myself ;) See what you think of this version:
- - -
Lennie dropped his pencil on the papers. “You’re interested?”

Neal waited just inside the doorway. “Why? You think I can’t handle it?”

“You’d be hauling amps,” Lenny said, “speakers, whatever else needs to be moved. Some of those road cases weigh a hundred pounds. Everybody’s on a tight schedule and there’s no screwing around.”

“Show me what to do and I do it.”
- - -
This is cleaner and, I think, does in fact flow better. Art offered some other tweaks of the submission, but what I’m most excited about is that he didn’t feel the need to tell me that the piece should be completely reworked.

The other side of this coin is that I feel more confident about my decision that the early part of the story needs more conflict and/or tension. The latest versions of those chapters, as posted on Critique {also known as CC}, have too much talking and thinking. That’s a different animal, though no less important.

My only concern is how to trim phrases without losing too much character voice. Using that same passage again, it does seem to me that cutting those phrases drops some of Lennie’s personality. A character may say something in a less than ideal way because people do sometimes use too many words, but also because that may be how the character talks.

Baaahhh, none of that applies in that example, be honest! Len said all that in the first version because I thought it was important to show what he’d say if these people were real, {did I say if?}, but you can’t do that in writing. I need to take my own advice: writing should represent reality, not try to be reality.

Point made. So, shutting up :D

Thursday, October 14, 2010

My curtains are closed, but somebody can still see me

A star’s just a star / Funny thing, when looking up / It seems to follow you wherever you are
“Miss Hollywood”, Carbon Leaf

The latest in the wacko series of “maybe coincidences, maybe not”:

I work in retail. My store is part of a program that encourages conservation of natural resources. What level is my store at? Silver! The store has a poster ad for Tim McGraw’s new men’s cologne. What’s it called? Silver! In spring, I went shopping for plants. I came home with a few and my eye was caught by the info tag on one of them. The variety name was “Silverstar”. What’s my band’s name? Sylvyr Star! The Chinese restaurant closest to my house: what’s the name? New Star!

Okay, that last one doesn’t seem like much, but why isn’t the place called Peking Panda or Ricehouse or something like that?

I’m willing to admit that I’m being paranoid. But maybe I’m paranoid because people are after me, so to speak. I listed other coincidences in an earlier blog post.

At first, this was funny, then it felt creepy, like some cosmic Peeping Tom watched not only what I did and where I went, but knew my thoughts. It could be the Universe encouraging me to pursue this writerly venture. That makes it easier to sleep nights.

It’s also interesting to me that on TV shows, in the newspaper, and other places I notice the name Neal, usually spelled that way like my character, not “Neil”.

Sure, I could be noticing these things because of my WIP. I think about my characters a lot, like many writers, so it’s probably natural that I notice their names out in the real world. Still, I gotta wonder why those people aren’t named something else. Don’t tell me my eyes conveniently skip over instances of “Neil”. Am I losing my mind? Heck, I think that happened years ago. I can live with it as long as I can pursue this story. I’d be interested to know how many other writers feel followed around. ;)

Note: I’ve started a 10-week online course at Basement Writing Workshop, called “Rock and Roll Writing”. The instructor is Art Edwards, who knows something about rock and writing. As we get down and dirty in the course, I’ll talk about some of the issues that come up. My first submission for the course is due Oct. 18, so wish me good luck!


Shout out to Rachel: glad you're coming along.  Best of luck with your WIP.  There aren't enough people writing fiction about music.  Let me know if you have something else you'd like critted. :)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I'm coming out!

Waaayy back when I started reading fantasy and sci fi, I’d often wonder “But what are these other characters thinking?” I don’t care that in real life, we can’t read other people’s minds. A novel is fiction, a creation, an artifice. We can present the story in a number of different ways.

To an extent, I think writing strictly in one point of view is unnatural. For a writer who knows her or his characters inside and out, you “head hop” without realizing it because that’s how you understand all the relationships.

Since nobody else thinks “head hopping” is okay, and I hope to be published someday, I’ve retrained myself to write each scene from one POV. When critting, I can spot when somebody else “head hops”.

Secretly, I don’t find it as confusing as other writers and readers seem to. Sure, if there are five or twelve characters in a scene, it could get confusing. I can’t help thinking that experienced writers may be able to pull that off too. But if it’s infrequent, why is that inherently confusing? If I say “Fred thought”, when my POV character is Alice, isn’t it that clear? If I use a beat with Fred’s name then follow it with his thought, isn’t that POV shift clear? For example:

Alice eased her long frame onto the sofa. On her bare arms, the velvet was softer than a baby’s bottom. Fred seemed to be eyeing her suspiciously. He’d hit the roof when he heard her idea, but eventually, he’d agree. Some extra cleavage and you’ll forget all about any silly objections.

“You know, Fred, my offshore account has slipped down to half a million. I happen to know the museum is shipping a Cezanne in three weeks for a temporary exhibit in Australia, and that’s plenty of opportunities for it to get lost. Get my drift?”

Fred jumped to his feet. Alice is looney tunes if she thinks I’ll agree to that. “I told you I’m out of that game.”

Okay, that was short, but I can hear the howling over the “head hopping”.

Let me be clear: I do not write that way. My WIP is in close third POV. I do switch between Neal’s and Sandy’s POVs, but in every instance, I use a scene break or a new chapter. I get that nobody else likes “head hopping”.

Maybe, though, it’s just that we’re trained to think that. Maybe our own POV is so set in one angle that anything else seems wrong. Maybe a few brave souls will start an underground movement of “multiple POV” that gets a cult following, and after a decade or two, finds its place alongside the “accepted” methods.

Or, maybe, it’ll stay a quirky underground movement with fewer fans than the mainstream but with equal passion. I’d be okay with that too. I can see us all sitting around in clandestine writer’s groups and shuttered book clubs. When company comes, we feel compelled to hide the books that might betray our secret. Maybe we’ll develop a whole separate society, with special phrases.

“Say, Ethel, I wonder if you ever thought about doing multi. Once in a while.”

“Oh my God, you do that too? I knew there was a reason we got along so good. I haven’t done it much, and I’m not sure I’m doing it right.”

“Don’t fret. Multi is forgiving. We could maybe share some, if you’re okay with that. I’ve got a series in development. I’d be happy to give you some tips.”

“Well, I’d be embarrassed to let anybody see mine just yet. Man, you’re doing a series? That takes guts.”

“I get a lot of support. There’s more of us than you might realize.” Wink-wink.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Define "normal"

“The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art” by Joyce Carol Oates

According to Oates, Stanislaus Joyce (the brother of Henry) noted in his diary in 1907: “Jim says that . . . when he writes, his mind is as nearly normal as possible.”

How can one argue with that? For me, writing has turned into tunnel vision. All that extraneous stuff: having a job (a part-time, miserable job to boot), having to eat and sleep, even having conversations with my sisters, interrupts the interactions in my head. I’ve lived with these characters for over 30 years, folks. I remember coming home from an Elton John concert in the mid to late 70s, on a cool, rainy night, watching the rain blow in sheets, thinking that this was just the sort of night Lennie’s girlfriend left him. I was in my mid-teens at that point. I already knew the band members, the name of the band, where Sandy and Lennie grew up, had already written scenes involving Sandy’s girlfriend leaving him and Lennie getting mixed up with her, briefly. I am most comfortable, most at home, inside other people’s heads.

Some say being a writer is a lonely life, because in general, you have to be alone when you’re writing. I find that I’m able to focus best when there’s nobody else around in the same physical setting as me, but most of the time, I am far from alone. I don’t just mean the cats Raz and Maggie. My two main characters, Neal and Sandy, talk a lot; peripheral characters add their two cents; characters who play important parts but still only appear in my WIP for a short time have things to say; plus, since many of my characters are musicians, sometimes I hear music too -- stuff that hasn’t been recorded in this universe ;-)

Recently, when a song (complete with words and music) popped into my head in Sandy’s voice, for just a moment it was a bit weird. A disembodied voice, that I recognize? Like snowflakes I could feel but not see? Then I realized it was the same voice who sang something else back in the late 70s, and as the current song replayed over and over, I fell into it like a favorite cashmere blanket.

You writers know what I mean. I think this is why most new writers “head hop” so frequently. They’re so in tune with the characters that it’s natural to follow what other people (er, I mean characters) are thinking, all at the same time. Mixed up in that is the underlying hot desire to have other people fall just as in love with the characters as the writer is. Of course, for that to happen, readers have to know everything the characters are thinking, just like the writer.

Tune in next week when I take this further and say something guaranteed to make writers, editors, and agents spit nails at me. :D

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I've written myself into a spiral!

Fictional conversations can go in so many directions, like in real life. Characters’ moods sometimes determine their reactions. Now I’m revising the scene where Sandy first tells Neal he wants to start a non-profit charitable foundation, and I’ve got four or five versions of the damn scene. I do think Neal’s final decision on whether or not to help Sandy with it should not happen right away; there should be *some* tension involved. So, okay: in that case, how involved does the initial conversation need to be? I shortened and revised it -- two or three times -- and I’m still not happy. Just today, I found version four or five, and one paragraph that I think should maybe be included.

What I’d really like, is for somebody else to write this damn scene for me!! My second draft -- the first was crap, really, you know what first drafts are like -- had some good stuff, but I can’t find it. Actually there’s like two months’ worth of stuff I can’t find, but that’s another rant. Somehow in trying to make this scene have a lot of impact, but keep it short, I’ve fractured it and confused the crap out of myself.


I don’t normally do that. Plus, while looking through disks for those missing months of work, I’ve read through various chapters in various orders, and that doesn’t help. What happened when? Who knew what, when? Who did how, when was their motivation, would buttercups filibuster salmon steak? See what I mean?!

Actually, that might a good idea to catapult myself out of this miasma.  Imagine turning your characters over to somebody who's completely unfamiliar with them, and letting them write an entire scene.  You get it back.  Oh, you say, Fred would never swear at Ethel, he'd probably say something like . . .

Wait, you say, Ethel couldn't drive Fred to the cliff because she never learned to drive.  She might want to, but she'd just . . .

Huh.  Anybody want to take a crack at my scene? ;-)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Author voice vs character voice: I seem to like to start certain dialog with “So, blah blah…” It becomes a problem when I let my tendency to type that run a little wild, showing up in more than one character. It can be a speech pattern in one guy, maybe two if the writing’s good enough, but readers will quickly start seeing the author’s voice if that same pattern keeps popping up.

This post may not be as organized as others; I've got a headache this morning.  A general thing I've noticed as my writing has improved: continuing to improve is getting harder.  I'm more concerned about a whole lot of things that I either didn't know about before, or didn't realize were really so important.  Author voice is an example.  And I'm still wrangling with Neal's language; exactly which words might he use when?  I have to jog my own memory to keep up with stuff happening behind the scenes.  "Off camera", and mentioned briefly in the story from time to time, Neal reads a lot.  I haven't specified what, though earlier chapters mentioned the L.A. Times and unnamed Spanish-language newspapers.  I referred once to him getting fiction from Sam, the drum tech who gave him his first look at what roadie-ing is about. 

Maybe I need to mention that more in the story, because if I forget that he's continually reading a lot of stuff that would affect his language, readers might too!  There's so much to remember and check for and beware of while writing!  Not only do you have to keep your characters' voices separate and unique, you have to stay grammatically correct, unless you want to draw attention to a phrase.  You try to avoid stereotypes and cliches, unless you have a good reason for using that.  You try to come up with unique ways of saying things, that will still make sense to most readers. 

Writing seems to be something you have to balance: picture a scale like that often used to depict the zodiac sign Libra.  You load "stay grammatically correct" in left-side pan, but then the right-side pan is too light.  You load exceptions in the right-side, but it overbalances, so you have to take some out.  On and on.  I was born under Libra so maybe this should be easier than it is ;-)

With all that going on, it's easy to get overwhelmed with the details.  Sometimes my brain locks up because so many options present themselves and I don't have a knowledgable person sitting right next to me who can offer advice.  Then it's time to physically walk away from the laptop.  Even 15 or 20 minutes helps.  I like to get some cookies, or tea with honey; sometimes just go walk around outside the house.  I let the words and questions finish bouncing around in my mind, let the echoes die down, and look at the paragraph again.  If it's still not sorting out, then I know I have to put it away till tomorrow. 

Having said that, I still love to write.  That geis I mentioned before is as strong as ever.  I'm so focused on my characters' world that when I hear half-sentences in conversation, it sounds like Spanish (even when it's not), and I automatically think of musical contexts for words even when people are talking about something else.  I'm sure this is what some writers mean when they say they inhabit another world while working on a novel.

I love feeling so close to my characters that I can touch them sometimes.  Hearing their unique voices -- clearly enough to glance sideways to see if, maybe, they popped into my universe -- is one thing.  Seeing the stage, and the audience spread out in a hazy, smokey sea, from Sandy's viewpoint during a live show is something else.  The closest I've come to being on a stage has been seeing filmed events where a few brief shots let me glimpse what performers see.  I can get myself in the right frame of mind to close my eyes and flick into a moment or two of a Sylvyr Star show, right there with the drum kit spread out in front of me, the lights in my eyes, and the first few rows down in the crowd jumping, waving, and screaming like their lives depend on it ... because for that short time, it does.  That's how I come alive :)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Connecting espionage, electricity, Macy's store windows, and the Beach Boys

"Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage" by Albert Glinsky

This book is 342 pages, in hardcover.  If you think you're going to go from Russia in 1896 to the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" without a lot of stuff in between, you're gonna be disappointed. 

I'll be honest: I tried reading every page of this book, but about a third of the way through, I gave up.  Firstly, Leon Theremin was heavily involved in industrial spying for the Soviet government during his years in America, and the details of that keep popping up between exhaustive discussions of Theremin's musical work.  I didn't need an exact list of music played at every concert appearance by Theremin.  Knowing how insanely complicated the man's story is without such minutiae, I would have expected Glinsky to make more of an effort to present it in a more understandable way.  But maybe the editor insisted on adding stuff.

I'll go back to the book in the near future, though.  I found out all kinds of really cool trivia: a few people were actively working on the concept of television in the 1880s.  By 1924, Theremin's electric burglar alarms were protecting the Soviet State Bank and some American businesses.  He had a metal detector in Alcatraz. 

By 1927, he mused over how to combine music, touch, movement, and fragrance, anticipating virtual reality by a few generations.  He'd already successfully combined his electromagnetic musical instrument (known as the theremin) with a color-wheel that projected changing hues which corresponded to pitch changes. He wowed audiences with a music and light show many decades before disco and lasers.

He used an early sort of hologram in Macy's windows, showing a mirror that people always stopped to look into. This interrupted a relay, which made an ad appear in the center while the mirror's border remained.  In the '30s, this was nothing short of an actual miracle.

I didn't get to how the theremin led to the development of the Moog synthesizer, which led to electronic music as we know it.  There were glimpses of how and why that happened.  Leon Theremin's life seems to have been directed, in matters small and large, by the hand either of God or the devil: maybe both.  At one point, he married a (mostly) African-American woman 20 years his junior.  He flaunted their relationship despite how it hurt his friendships.  In 1938, this was one of the biggest scandals around.

Theremin's life is worth reading about for the sheer adventure of it, but I also had to think about where American society has been over the decades.  The USSR became Russia again but a lot of other things haven't changed.  This well-dressed, unassuming Bolshevik, entranced by the possibilities of electricity, wound up changing our lives in real ways.  I absolutely think his life would make a perfect PBS miniseries.  If I had the writing chops, and the proper research contacts, I'd make one hell of a trilogy of it.  I leave that to those better connected.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Twitter Spelling Test

The Twitter Spelling Test

Created by Oatmeal
. . .  when I correct your spelling in a crit, I know what I'm talking about.  In high school, when I had some time between classes, I read through the dictionary - no kidding.  But spelling well is a learnable skill, I believe, so if you have trouble with it, take heart. 

If I can learn that the correct answer to 1 + 1 is two and not eleven, you can learn proper spelling! :D

Friday, August 6, 2010

My Top Ten Demons

It occurred to me, while beginning the first editing pass for one of my chapters, that I have ten words I regularly scan for because I tend to overuse them.  Any group of ten words is a potential Top Ten List.   When they're connected to writing, blogging about it may help somebody else, so here I go.  These are mostly in order of which ones are overused most often; of course that changes somewhat from chapter to chapter.
  • was
  • were
  • went
  • look
  • come
  • came
  • move
  • would
  • could
  • should
You could legitimately ask why I include 'come' and 'came' separately.  For me, those words crop up differently and I've found it's better to scan for each one.  For 'look' and 'move', the past tenses are picked up by my word processor's Find feature during the same pass. 

I make one Find pass for each word.  For every instance of those words, I change the color.  'Was' is a dark blue, 'were' is teal, and so on.  After doing a Find for each word, I can then scan the document to see how often each color shows up. 

I have been quite shocked to see how much dark blue there is.  My Was Demon is one I have an uneasy relationship with.  You need 'was' sometimes; there's no getting around that.  It's a verb, a lot of sentences need verbs, sometimes it's the one that does the job best.  But wow, it is so easy to 'was' everything! 

My WIP puts me in an interesting place with overused words.  My character Neal started the story with minimal formal education; his English has largely been picked up from his street gang pals and others who live on the fringes of that turf.  He's strong with Spanish, but it's mostly slangy and often vulgar.  In order to show how his language - spoken and in thought - changes during the story, I have to use simple constructions, wrong grammar, cliches and overused words.  Frankly, it's like the proverbial nails on a chalkboard, but it's also an interesting challenge.

I always smile mentally when I switch to Sandy's Point Of View, because he's well enough educated - and well enough connected - to use better English.  At the point in my WIP I'm currently fighting with - er, editing, Neal's language has been changing, improving.  Rather than simply making things easier for me because of that, it's harder.  I have to think more than I used to about his sentences.  Exactly which words should go?  Would that phrase be something he'd be likely to keep using for a while?  How many 'was'es and 'were'es is it logical for him to still be using?

When talking about these tribulations with my critters, I often say I walk a tightrope with Neal's language, and it's true.  I fall off sometimes.  I don't always land in the net and I've got some healed breaks to show for it.  But I consider those trophies for having done a lot of work with words.  I've got a long way to go and I'll fall off again.  I'll just climb back up on my pile of overused words :)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

It's now or never

Sooooooo, I've been using my sister's laptop for about a year and a half.  Well, using it when she's at work, anyway.  Writing in the mornings while it's still quiet in the house has been when I get the most (and usually the best) work done.  But I can hear the kitchen TV while I'm typing, even sometimes with headphones and the Rolling Stones in my ears.

So I took the plunge and bought my own laptop.  I'm not online yet with it so I'll be using my sister's setup for that still, temporarily.

I work part-time and that laptop took a chunk out of the bank account, I'll tell you.  Thought about a netbook, decided it wasn't right.  I had a gradual realization of "If not now, when?"

I want to be published.  I can taste it, I can see my WIP as a physical book as I write, I can even picture myself going through revisions based on an editor's suggestions.  When I think about not writing anymore, my insides freeze up.  My head explodes.  Writing is what I do; I can't set it aside.  For over a decade, one of my sisters and I shared an alien universe and wrote - in longhand - dozens of notebooks about the same group of characters.  We hardly stopped to eat, sleep, feed the cats, notice if it was day or night, summer or winter.  We defined being consumed.

Life intervened and I didn't write much for a number of years.  Once I got back to it and hit my stride, I felt a sense of loss over the time I can't get back that was not spent writing.  I also felt that I had found myself again.  You writers out there, you get it.  Anybody who once put down the thing that keeps them breathing and came back to it, you get it. 

My Muse is fully awake.  She stalks my subconscious like Zeus, ready to fling lightning bolts.  I offer myself, without reservation, to be used however she chooses.  It's more than a renewed commitment.  It's a deep and relentless obligation.

To those who know the pain and radiance of being a writer: rock on!

Saturday, July 17, 2010


I'm working on my WIP this morning and had a fascinating moment of writing insight.  I was struggling over how to have a character get something across, then I wondered if it needed to be said at all.  I had this sensation of being pulled down a narrow whirlpool that cut me off from everything else.  I could feel myself get sucked right into the conversation.

I realized the thought I wanted the character to explain might only be important to him and me, but that readers might not give a darn.  Maybe I'd gotten so wrapped up in the conversation that I lost sight of the scene's purpose.

Thanks to my inner editor for being so clear.  I wouldn't mind if she continued to be obvious with me, just maybe with another visual.  I can't swim!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Life is just a classroom, always in session

Writing is cool for sooo many reasons.  One reason is I'm always learning stuff, whether I'm aware of it at the time or not.  I've realized that I, probably like a lot of avid readers, absorb tangent info while doing research.  These things pop out unexpectedly in my WIP, or a new understanding shines out while watching the evening news.  I can honestly say that I'm aware of so much more about life than I was a year and a half ago.

For example, I've realized some "heavy" things.
a)  People who serve you in restaurants, keep department store shelves stocked, check you out at the grocery store, empty your trash bin at the office, drive city busses: these people have names, families, lives. They’d like to be recognized as human beings.  They are not our slaves, they are the same as you and me.

b)  One of the frustrations of writing is hearing your characters’ voices in your head, and being limited to the page to convey them. In a movie, everybody would hear Neal’s slight accent, how he slurs some of his syllables together, and how fast he usually talks. Instead, I have to write out those missing syllables so readers can understand. Readers therefore are missing something. Grr.

c)  So much is filtered through Neal’s eyes. I feel, at times, like there’s a telepathic connection that’s permanently switched on. News stories in particular piss him off because the media so often talks about bad stuff people do to each other. That immigration controversy in Arizona? oooo, I won’t get started on that. I have to sometimes actively remind myself that his opinions are not always mine. It can feel like I have two personalities!

And some fun stuff:
a)  There are layers and layers of instruments and vocals in recorded music. Until I did serious reading about how music is recorded, I didn’t think a whole lot about why I liked some songs. Now I hear bass like never before, tambourines and triangles, tiny cymbal shimmers, rhythm guitars running under the melody, soft piano notes tinkling like falling icicles. I find myself pressing the headphones closer. It’s a far richer world than I realized.  Adding an effect because the listener feels it more than hears it?  Didn't make sense to me before, but now I get it.  Music is glorious.  Those who make it are gods.

b)  Some stuff I used to enjoy just for the activity itself now has a strong layer of learning. Watching TV dramas: that plot twist didn’t make sense, but why not, exactly? If I wrote this episode as a novel, would I have to change this part and why? How do I get across visual cues in writing? …etc. Thing is, I love learning and I can relate so much to writing and/or music that I don’t mind losing some of the “purely for fun” aspect.

c)  Having begun to re-familiarize myself with Spanish, I had a moment of amusement in the grocery store. I noticed that the Mexican beer Corona has a 6-pack of smaller bottles, which they labeled Coronita: “little Corona” is one translation. I “felt” that translation without having to think about it, the way you just understand a different word form in your native language. Granted, that’s hardly anything to brag about, but I got a kick out of the seamless understanding. [and never mind about the beer part ;-)]

It's true that you learn more if you're having fun.  Liking what you're "studying" goes a long way toward true understanding of it.  If only I had liked math, who knows, maybe I could've been great at it!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Character interviews available

Check out my revamped character information, on the "my Work In Progress" page.

I now have excerpts from interviews with Neal and all four band members.  Because Neal changes drastically over the course of the novel, I've included an update with him right after the initial interview.

The characters are always available to answer questions; just add them in a comment and I'll be sure your questions get answered.  In Neal's case, be sure to specify if you're addressing him in 1989 or 1992, because you'll probably get very different answers from each year.  :)

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Shout out to Ryan!  I'm glad to have you along.  And, I'm interested to see on your blog that under "your best friend is" you list The Lord of the Rings.  I've read some LOTR bashes in recent months and it's awesome to know you're a fan :)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Out, out, damn sentence!

Writing. Some of us do it because we have to (I’m not the only writer to be marched to the computer by a character holding a gun to my head); some do it because it’s a fun, creative diversion; some do it because it pays the bills. We all get stuck on sentences and paragraphs. I’ve learned a few things from fighting with ideas and words.

a) Pay attention to your inner editor. I believe most, if not all, writers have one. It often starts out as a quiet voice but mine got louder the more I critiqued (or “critted”) other people’s chapters while continuing to work on my own story.

If something sounds awkward to your inner editor -- it just won’t behave by pouring itself nicely into a coherent sentence or two, or it hits some bumps as the words roll along -- there’s probably something wrong with it. Go back to it and think about it. Twist things around, look for something that flows with the rest of the paragraph. For myself, sometimes I decide that the reason I can’t seem to fix it is because it doesn’t have to be there anyway. A day or two later, I go back and read the same chapter, and I realize the rhythm is better without the troublesome phrase and I haven’t lost any important information.

Very often, the same phrases I have doubts about but leave in are the ones that my crit buddies on Critique Circle say need tweaking. They’re nice about it, but what they mean is, “Nooo, that’s like fingernails on a blackboard.” That reinforces my editing instincts. I had no idea when I started posting chapters to be critted that the process would become so central to my writing.

b) If you have a thought (sentence, phrase) that sounds great but doesn’t seem to click with the rest of the paragraph, maybe it doesn’t belong either. The parts of my WIP that other people say worked great are the ones I didn’t have to struggle to put together. I know how you feel.  The words fit together like puzzle pieces and say something in a clever way, but: they don’t belong. In this instance, writing is not like gardening where you can uproot something and find another corner where it works better. I look at it this way. Every time I have to make a writing decision that I know is good for the story but is painful, it toughens my skin. I’m gonna need that the more I ask people to comment on my writing.

It’s an interesting dynamic going on in my head. I have a Movie Director who controls what I see as I write. I’ve had to admit that the Director doesn’t always know what he’s doing. It was the painful admission of a writer beginning to show her work to others. My Inner Editor, I think, argues with the Script Writer. Combine that with characters changing the plot midstream and you have an answer to why writers often seem confused and some are going bald.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Miscellany

I've added a new poem/song, "Season of Fire", to the poems/songs page.  Neal wrote it and tells me he's not 100% satisfied with it, but said it's okay for me to use it here  ;-)  My Muse wants to work it into the novel but unless there's a really good reason to include it, it may just stay here on the blog.  Neal also tells me he wants to go back to writing more often in Spanish, poems included.  My Muse, however, doesn't know Spanish so I can feel mistranslations coming!

I'm a bit late with this, but I have to shout out Congrats to the Buffalo Sabres for winning hardware at the recent NHL awards in Las Vegas.  Goalie god Ryan Miller won the Vezina for the league's top goaltender, and was tapped for the NHL Foundation Award for his work in the community.  (Remember, he was also instrumental in the U.S. Olympic hockey team's win of the silver medal.)  He's raised more than $500,000 for his charity the Steadfast Foundation, which emphasizes helping cancer patients, especially childhood forms.  Thanks to the NHL for donating $25,000 to the Steadfast Foundation.

Defenseman Tyler Myers took home the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year.  He won in a landslide, with 400 more points than the runner-up.  Tyler led all rookies with 37 goal assists.  He's got a solid, excitable fan group in the Buffalo area.

Other trophies and awards were given out of course, but these are the most meaningful to me.  As Ryan noted, Buffalo hockey fans are rabid, and when we're happy, we scream!  Best wishes for the coming season to Ryan and Tyler, standouts on a pretty cool team.  :-D

By the way, Buffalo did feel Ontario's earthquake last week.  It was first estimated at a 5.5 but later downgraded to a 5.0.  I, alas, did not feel a thing.  My sister and I were grocery shopping at the time and may have been driving when the waves actually passed through.  I feel so cheated!  ;-)  I have felt a couple tiny quakes before, but sheesh.  I live on the edge of one of the Great Lakes and I've never seen a waterspout either.  The stuff I miss . . . well Murphy may be listening so I'll shut up about that.

A last note of sympathy and love to the thousands affected by the oil spill.  I have a small sense of how you're hurting and my heart bleeds for you.  I'm so sorry that money became more important than your livelihoods.  And to the people of Haiti, still in pieces after the monster quake and living in terror of the current hurricane season, how I wish I could scoop you all up and put you gently into real homes in a good community.  May the Universe soon ease the suffering of all these people, and animals who have no way to speak for themselves.

Monday, June 21, 2010

New pages

I've added a new page for poems, or as I sometimes think of them, failed songs.  ;)  I like to keep my Muse fresh by daring her to do poetry in and around working on my novel-in-progress (Street Glass).  Poems and songs usually need to get ideas across with a minimum number of words, and learning how to compress my meaning is useful for fiction writing.  And, it's just fun.  My poetry would probably make English lit majors cringe, as much for format as anything else.  I've never "studied poetry" so don't expect anything formal.

The first entry, "Three Words", doesn't have an especially positive mood but I like certain aspects of it.  I'll include new entries intermittently.  Some of them may wind up in Street Glass, probably in altered forms, but mainly the entries are just exercises.  I'm debating the wisdom of posting a poem here that I intend to include in my novel.  We'll see.

And because I've finally realized that people may visit my blog who are not members of Critique Circle, I'm going to include a page explaining Street Glass: what the basic premise is, who the major characters are, stuff like that.  If I could draw, I'd include drawings of the players too.  Like many writers I suspect, I can see some of my characters crystal-clear in my head.  I wish I knew a police artist, I bet they could help me with pictures of these people.

My part-time Census job is finally over!  Woo-hoo!  More time to write!!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The mystery of creating

So I’ve written that scene where Neal gets the bad news about the kids and women. It needs tinkering but of course it’s only a first draft. Writing is funny, has anybody noticed that?

As I wrote, Neal made an offhand comment -- that maybe Sandy would write a song about the tragedy and thereby keep alive the memory of the murdered people -- that my Muse threw into her Magickal Crockpot. It simmered for two or three weeks, then boiled over one night as I was trying to stay asleep. Funny how the Crockpot tends to boil over nights when I have an early shift at work the next day. These two lines floated to the top and would not go away. I saw that dawn was seeping across the sky. Two more lines floated up. They seemed to click right together with the first two, rhyming and fitting with a rhythm. As most writers know, once that happens, you are doomed. You can’t ignore the Muse’s clicking, even if you want to. (Although, really, what writer wants to?)

Worse, I began to hear the lines sung. I heard a chorus; it was just a couple short lines with the first one repeated at the end. The weird thing is that it was Sandy’s voice. There is no way I could confuse it with anybody else’s voice, no real performer. As I wrote the words, the voice got stronger. I didn’t get a whole song, just a couple verses and that chorus, but it sounded like somebody was singing in my ear. It was the most obvious thing in the world to hear that tune with those words. Of course it flowed this way, that was its natural pattern.

This happened once before, in grade school. And, now that I think about it, that was also one of Sandy’s songs. That one I got in one piece, verses, chorus, complete melody, voice in my head. I wrote the lyrics down but time was cruel and saw to it that I lost the paper. I still remember the chorus though. Because I never learned anything about songwriting (like how to write music) I can’t write the melody for either of these songs. That’s my greatest frustration. I suppose I could make a simple vocal recording of the more recent song, “Flood of Tears”, but I’ve never had voice training either and I’m sure that not even my car likes to hear me sing.

Oh and the singing is accompanied by solo piano too. The tune wanders a bit between verses but not too far, like somebody improvising and not straying much from the basic melody. It’s all in my head. I can only get the words out on paper but of course the melody is perhaps more than half of what makes a song. Ah, to be a full-fledged songwriter, capable of getting all the details out there.

I tell myself that despite my shortcoming with songwriting, I still am blessed by my Muse. Not everybody has a Muse or is able to translate what that Muse is trying to say. It’s a wonderful thing to see people who don’t exist, hear conversations that never happened, see how made-up events fit together like a picture made of falling dominoes, get a sense of what makes people tick as you explore the interactions of people you can never physically touch. I used to write sci fi/fantasy and even aliens will help you understand humans. I wonder if a lot of psychologists write fiction.

Here’s to my Muse, whose name, by the way, is Sarah. Don’t let her commonplace name fool you. After all no one can write off a Muse.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Blinking into that other world

I forget where I was this morning, but I was waiting for something and looked idly out the window. I saw a freight truck with “Panther” emblazoned across the side. Oh, thought I, that might make a great name for a music label, or maybe a tour promoter group, or maybe an album/CD. I’ve always been intrigued by words, as I suppose many writers are. Since I’ve thrown myself heedlessly into my novel, though, I seem to have gotten swallowed by words.

It’s the whole story immersion thing. I’m always -- and I mean always -- thinking about my characters and the story, often unconsciously. Bits of otherwise nonexistent scenes pop into my head while I’m at work or tooling down the road, sometimes with such startling clarity that I catch my breath. Recently something got me thinking about where it would be best to end the story; I had one end point in mind but have begun to think I might need to extend it to wrap up properly.

Abruptly I dropped into the middle of a conversation Neal was having with a woman, whose daughter may or may not be his. I can see Neal as clearly as I see this laptop. I’ve known about the woman (Maria) and the girl for some months now but this scene was unexpected. She said something about her boyfriend possibly abusing the little girl. Her boyfriend came into the room and Neal rounded on him, stalking right up to the guy’s face.

“You touched that little girl? You put a hand on her? What did you do to her?”

Understand that this scene happens some four years after the novel starts. Neal’s been through a lot of ups and downs in those years and has put the loss of his four kids mostly behind him. This has brought everything back. His friends mean the world to him but blood family has always been the most special. Watching his friends with their own families makes the loss of his own that much harder. In one short span of time, he meets a man who says he’s Neal’s biological father (who is obviously a miserable excuse for a human being) and a teenager who says he’s Neal’s half-brother. Now he might have a daughter. To say he feels protective and possessive is the understatement of the decade.

“You again?” Jorge stood at least two inches taller and stared evenly at Neal.

“I said, what did you do to her?”

Jorge’s dark eyes dared him to do something. “What’s it to you?”

That sounded like an admission. His fist connected with Jorge’s jaw and sent him sprawling to the floor.

“Stop it,” Maria shouted.

In case she was planning on pulling Neal away, he threw himself at Jorge.

-- It fades here. This is what keeps me writing, it’s my drug rush; those half-scenes where “people” are really alive can make everything else completely disappear.

Several years ago, I indulged in some fan fiction online. The woman who gave me the most encouragement said, “If you see it, write it.” That’s got to be some of the best writing advice ever given. I haven’t finished the scene where Neal finds out his older kids have been murdered, but it’s never good to keep a muse waiting.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Live and let die

So I have to write a scene that wasn’t in previous versions of my Work In Progress. By leaving his life in the streets, Neal made a conscious decision to break contact with the women he sometimes slept with and who gave birth to his kids. He didn’t feel a strong enough attachment to them to override his need to change his life.

Now, please don’t write him off as an insensitive bastard. He happens to be a bastard but that’s a different issue ;-) I’m talking about life with a street gang. Shoot or be shot kind of thing. I’ve done reading on the subject, and it seems to be true that these guys think of women as property more than life partners. If I’m substantially wrong, I hope somebody will correct me and provide proof.

Anyway. His ex-gang tries to off him, the attempt fails. He finds out that, against his expectations, they’ve gone after his kids and their mothers. This is one of the many lessons Neal’s taught me: just because you live in the streets, does not automatically mean you are a waste of humanity. Realizing that *his family* got blown away because of him, and that those kids will never grow up, hits him the way it would hit anybody. In basic terms, he took the women and the kids for granted and now realizes what he’s lost.

But this will be the first time I write the scene where he gets the news. In order for it to be realistic, I have to feel his pain as much as he does. I did write another scene, set a couple years past this point, where Neal’s girlfriend dies in a house fire.  He knows she's upstairs and his friends stop him from looking for her because the top floor is on fire.  I listen to rock music while I write and Fleetwood Mac’s “Sara” was on as I wrote that. I had to stop several times and let the velvety music soothe me. It got worse: the computer ate my first draft. Since I use my sister’s computer and she takes control of “Stanley” in the evenings, I got out my notebook and my pen and geared up to write the whole scene a second time.

The song stayed in my head and helped me recreate the mood, but wow, that was not fun. And it’s still in first draft form. Now I get to describe what it’s like to find out your little kids and their mothers have been blown away because you crossed a line. Neal’s not a normal sort of guy, otherwise I’d have a boring story. His mother ran off when he was ten and his father (his mother’s husband, anyway) died before that. He has vague memories of other kids who might have been siblings, but he suspects other relatives removed them. He’s used to not having blood family. The gang took over where relatives left off. While that gave him a sense of loyalty, it also taught him to take what he wanted and keep other people at arm’s length. Plus, at this point in the story, he’s only 18.

So, he realizes the kids are gone forever and he’s lost the only blood relatives he had. He has a new life now but no roots. He left the gang, turned his back on them, so he knew he could never go back. Wiping out the kids, though, is a viciousness he didn’t expect. It’s personal now.

If future blogs are written in a weepy voice, have some sympathy for both of us. Every time I edit, the poor characters experience it all over again, just like me. Putting him through the loss of his kids once may make both of us cry, but of course I’ve got to tweak it and twist it and go over it until it’s right.

How do you deal with writing painful scenes? Is this how the stereotype of the drunken writer got started? Talk to me about writing sorrow and what it does to you.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

RUE (it's not about regret)

You guys watch any of the CSI shows?  Is it me or do they seem not quite as riveting as they used to be?  Is anybody else driven up the wall by the way CSI: Miami films scenes with bits of the set floating across the camera?  It's like that fly that won't stop buzzing around in front of my face. 

Well that's not what I'm focusing on today.  Irritating visuals are one thing but do annoying dialogue or narrative things and I'm gonna seriously complain.  In a recent episode of CSI: NY, Hawkes was caught in a prison riot.  He and a prisoner who's trying to help him found themselves locked together in a cell.  Hawkes realized he had a device that used a battery containing acid.  If they can get the acid out, there might be enough of it to loosen one of the bars on the door.

Okay, got that?  I did too.  But Hawkes went on to explain in detail how and why the acid would work, and I mentally tuned out.  The guy doesn't care, I wanted to say.  All he wants to know is, do you have a plan that might get us out of this cell?  Yeah?  Then let's do it.  I know, I know, they did that to explain to the viewers.  Thing is, I don't care either.  Not about that kind of detail.  You got an idea that could get you guys out of the cell?  Oh, it involves acid eating metal - cool.  Next action please.

This is a classic example of the need for RUE, resisting the urge to explain.  Maybe in writing for TV you can get away with things that novel readers wouldn't fall for, but really.  There is a time and place for explanation and to me, that was glaringly not it.  I already knew that acid eats through things, I didn't need a primer on it.  I bet most people know that.  That moment threw me right out of the story.

That's an obvious example.  In writing our novels, it's easy to get caught up in what we know about the characters and the plot.  We have all kinds of backstory and maybe sidestory too.  We plant bits of foreshadowing and bits of character exposition.  We plant bits of subplots.  We try to create tension and sympathy.  That's a lot for readers to keep a handle on.  With all the bits floating around, they might not catch on that a certain bit is the crux of the scene.

Well, then cut out the stuff that hides that fact.  Crit groups are excellent for help with this.  I read time and time again that nowadays, writers and their work do not get the kind of personal attention they used to.  Sure, once a work is accepted, an editor is assigned.  But getting it accepted is hard, and I may be understating that.  Your chances of standing out in a good way from the slush pile are improved if your writing is as tight and gripping as you can make it.

I don't want my readers distracted by a buzzing fly.  I do have a couple characters caught in the 1992 Rodney King riot in Los Angeles and one of them is thrown into a holding cell.  Unfortunately for him, there's no clever escape, but that's good for the story.  By that time, I expect readers to understand why the situation is especially brutal for him and why it twists his mind.  When I get to editing the scenes prior to posting on my online crit site, I'm not going to waste sentences by spelling out things I went into earlier in the story.

And TV in 3-D can wait till CSI: Miami stops putting "flies" in front of stuff ;-)

An aside: I've added "spun" to my list of overused words.  As I crit, I get downright dizzy from so many characters spinning to look at or talk to somebody.  Sometimes, "he turned" works just fine.  What the character says or sees is the important part, keep the focus on that.  If you find yourself using "turned" often, maybe the character is moving too much.

Sound wave

Shout out to my new follower - hi Mary!  It's awesome to have you.  I'm up to seven people now, woo hoo! 

. . . well we all have to start somewhere.

I'll have to come up with a virtual prize for the tenth person. ;-)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

RUR (no that's not the cat purring)

Sometimes you hear the writing advice, Resist the urge to explain (abbreviated to RUE).  It's a good guideline.  Don't try to justify dialogue or exposition by explaining why you said it or delving into the backstory behind the statement.  Backstory can have its place, but you don't necessarily need to stick it in the first time or every time you remember it.  Plopping in explanations of something you've just said usually comes across as the writer nudging the reader in the ribs and saying, "Hey, didja catch that?  Can you tell this part is important?" (That description comes from Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King.)

I have a corollary bit of advice: Resist the urge to repeat, or RUR.  Say a thing once and let its single appearance create drama and/or tension.  Of course there are exceptions to both guidelines but I'm not concerning myself with those today.  Writing guidelines often have exceptions, however, my current post doesn't get into them.

*nudge nudge*  Didja catch it?  When you write fiction, you make a pact with readers.  They agree to set aside disbelief in exchange for a good story.  It's not good when they feel that you don't trust them to be smart enough to pick up on the importance of something that's only mentioned once.  There are a variety of reasons why writers repeat themselves but right now it's enough to know that readers usually don't appreciate feeling as if they have to have things explained from A to Z, as my dad used to say.  In general, readers assume that if it's in your story, it must be important.

If I've done my job as a writer and properly set up everything that leads to the important info, readers will naturally realize that a fact or moment stands out.  They may not realize why right away, and that's all right.  Sometimes you just want readers to notice something so that later, when you drop another bit of vital info, the pieces coming together have more impact.  This keeps the story moving forward rather than slowing down in the wrong place.

RUR is one of the many ways to tighten our writing.  I'm still learning to control the impulse to repeat but I believe I've gotten it down to a minor demon.  If you think you explain too much in your own writing, don't be too hard on yourself.  It's a normal reaction when we want readers to have no doubts about the importance of a fact or scene.  You have to train yourself to recognize repetition.  You'll need to experiment to find the best way to get your intent across in one swoop, fell or otherwise.

Coming up: TMI in CSI :)

Monday, April 12, 2010

A swig of the bubbly

Well, you never know where research for your novel will take you.  With rock musicians, even fictional ones, you can't just say "booze" over and over.  You go to England and you can't keep saying "pint" over and over.  This turned out to be a lot of fun so I want to get the list on a publicly accessible site.  I've added a stand-alone page for it.

If you have additions or corrections, do leave a comment here.  If you can, please let me know what region of what country (or least what country) the word or phrase is used in.

My story takes place from 1988 to 1992, but I'm not limiting additions to the list to those years.  Hoist a tall one and peruse.  Dang, that's not on the list! 8-0

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Spring, the Water and the Muse

Today is not the first sunny day of 2010 in otherwise pretty plain-looking Western New York.  In fact, we've already hit 80 degrees this season, though a bit early.  The ice has been completely gone from Lake Erie and the dreaded ice boom is out of the lake too.  We haven't had a totally snow-free March for decades: no kidding.  I tip my hat to El Nino.

Somehow I just got to thinking about how much I'm enjoying Spring.  Yeah, I love the crocus, hyacinths and tulips; not having to wear three layers of clothing just to take the garbage out; putting one or two of the bunnies in the Bunny Buggy and going for a stroll; all that good stuff.  Not so much, the neighbors' stereo thumping with their windows all open.  To be fair, I can hear their stereo even when their windows are closed *shrug*

In Spring, it's less like living in the back of a cave and more like taking a deep breath of bloom-heavy air, heaving a sigh, and standing right out there in the middle of Life.  It eases me into the faster pace and potential sunburns of Summer.

Who am I kidding?  I spend way too much time at the keyboard to get sunburned ;-) I do plant some flowerpots and when I've got research to read, I do it on the porch, maybe with a pet or two.  That geis I mentioned two or three posts ago won't let me stray too far.

For somebody terrified of swimming, I do also like to bop downtown to the marina.  Like John Fogery said, I sit by the lake and watch the world go by.  I have a lot of water in my soul.  Eight years in North Dakota was suffocating in a way.  When I moved back to NYS, on the first warm day I ran down to the lakeshore.  The sun did its diamond dance on the waves, the sky gleamed cerulean, the waves slid up and down on the golden sand, splish-swish-splish.  I stuck my hand in the water.  Yow, it was seriously cold!  But it caressed me, awaking my Muse fully.  She lives Somewhere Up There right on a beach where it never gets cold.

I guess I need that water to break mental dams.  There is only one thing that gives me as intense a rush as being at the water: writing a few paragraphs in a blaze of inspiration.

But about you?  What do you think about when the sun smiles on you? Writing aside, if one can ever truly put writing to the side.  Take the poll on the right and let me know.  If you'd care to elaborate on your answer, do post a comment. :)

Hand waves

Hollering a hiya to Bijan.  I must've been so besotted with the Sabres that I missed you joining up three days ago.  Sorry!  Is that your first or last name?  Anyway I'm tickled that you visited.  See ya again soon :)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

We are number One!!!

I am not a big sports fan.  I live in Buffalo, NY and I am emphatically not a football fan.  In fact I can't stand football. *shrug*

I'm into hockey!!!!  I've been following the Buffalo Sabres since their early days in the 70s.  This season, we totally rock!  Ryan Miller is a god!  We are Northeast Division Champions, and I have to blow our horn!

Okay, the team slips up sometimes ... they had an extended losing streak this season which included both games I was able to scrape up enough cash to get into.  I've seen them skate in circles, looking for all the world like they have no clue why they're on the ice.  Slumps happen.  They're better than the Bills, in my book :)

They pulled it together though.  Miller continued his domination between the posts and stonewalled a blast from a New York Ranger that would have cowed a lesser goalie.  He speared the puck clean out of the air and into the net above the boards.  This is why Miller played for the U.S. Olympic Hockey team, and helped them win the silver medal.  The man has a deserved rep as The Best.

The Sabres will screw up in the future, like all teams.  I howl when they play like dopes.  But I'm a fan: I support my team.  They'll come back from the mistakes, like they always do.  One of these days, they'll bring Lord Stanley's Cup to my hometown, and then I'll really let loose.  :)

Until then, say it with me: We are number one!  We are number one!
  : D

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Writing how-to: There is no "try", do or do not.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King
Published by The Editorial Department, 1993

It’s almost enough to scare a non-published writer away from the whole business: “Self-editing is probably the only editing your manuscript will ever get.”

But maybe that’s a good thing. Sink or swim, as they say. If you’re not willing to do the serious work to make your manuscript the best you can, you’re probably not offering something to the readers that’s worth their time. From what I’ve been seeing on the bookshelves, too many authors are getting published way before their manuscripts are good enough.

They also say that the best way to learn editing is from editors, and these two have enough cred for me.

I decided to take my writing as far as I can. I’ve spent my own money (earned from a part-time job) on books for research, spent untold hours on the internet for research, spent years writing various parts of my current Work in Progress: to chuck all that because I’m not sure how good I can edit my own stuff would be a colossal waste. Besides, Neal won’t let me.  He's laid a geis on me.

He guilts me into continuing by telling me that he depends on me to tell the story, and keeps ranting that it must be told. He can’t write it in his dimension and transport the manuscript to mine, so I have to do the writing work.

*sigh* I had no idea, many years ago, that people I can’t touch and can only see sometimes would completely take over my life. “Nobody told me there’d be days like these.”

I do have questions about the relevancy of a how-to book published 17 years ago. I don’t agree with everything Browne and King say, though I don’t know if conventions have changed or I just don’t grasp the point. Either is possible. ;)

But this is still a great book! Browne and King don’t talk down to writers, they say there’s more than one way to do things, and something I really like is that they give exercises using real manuscripts. At the end of the book they offer their answers, adding that somebody reading out there might come up with a better way to do it. It’s fun to rewrite John le Carré or Lewis Carroll. There are examples from workshops Browne and King have given and examples of early drafts of well-known novels.

To illustrate how different people see the same writing, they include reviews of well-known authors or books. I get a perverse kick out of reading a less-than-glowing review of Anne Rice. But chances are that because she’s established a fan base, she’s going to keep selling even if some people think her writing is slipping.

“Self-Editing” also offer checklists, synopses of each chapter in the form of bulleted lists. This is great for reminding yourself of the high points, but I’d recommend rereading the whole book periodically anyway. Like a gripping novel, this book doesn’t waste time or words. It tells you exactly what you need to know and why, because in writing, you have to know why you’re doing or not doing something.

Browne and King helped convince me to keep writing and to get better at editing myself. They also confirmed - unintentionally on their part, I’m sure - that while a writer can aim to please as many readers as possible, she or he will never please everybody. Even among his immense fan base, Isaac Asimov sometimes disappointed. Even he had manuscripts turned down.

I really don’t think there is one perfect way to tell a story, because every reader puts their own spin on it. If I spend ten years on a project, and have it published believing I’ve gotten across every point and every scene exactly “as the story demanded”, there will still be people who don’t like the whole thing, people who will say I used too many adverbs, people who say I used too much internal monologue and people who say I didn’t use enough. I can’t put my vision of the story into peoples’ heads. Moviemakers can’t do that either. I’ll get as close as I can, I will wrestle and fret and rewrite, but I’ll still expect that some people just won’t get on board. That’s fine, I’m not happy with everything I read either. There will always be a bunch of authors to choose from.

But I digress. I also like Browne and King because they realized the contributions of the company pets to the book project were at least as valuable as what the humans offered. As somebody who deals with unauthorized lap landings from one of the cats while I’m trying to write, this is important!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Shout out to one of my crit pals

The link to my crit pal's blog (I've included it in my list of blogs, too):

This girl knows how to use the English language.  She's great at giving examples to make things clearer.  She's writing tight fiction, too.  Be on the lookout for something with her name on the cover!

You oughta be an editor, honey  ;)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sound wave: Edie's first wag

If you like animals at all, you won't have dry eyes by the end of this.

Please: consider a donation to your local animal shelter or the ASPCA.  They can get by with a little help from their friends, you and me.  From the animals to you: "Thanks, bud."

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sound waves: Life, please stop imitating me!

You ever have this happen? You're writing along, minding your own business. You get plot ideas that you work into the story, they fit great, maybe you tweak and then you set the thing aside for a day or two. You pick up the newspaper, you tune in to the tube, you read headlines on the internet. And there's your plot idea. No, several of them. How rude is that?

In my Work in Progress, I have a story about a guy in Los Angeles, California (by the name of Neal) getting out of a gang and becoming involved with musicians. This story has been in my head since at least the early 1980s. In January 2010, I hear about a former gangbanger in L.A. who is organizing bus tours of some of the roughest neighborhoods in order to show people that those areas are actually vibrant with life. Several months ago, I wrote a scene where Neal hauls the fictional mayor of L.A. into the barrios to show him pretty much the same thing. At that point in the story, Neal is already working with a charitable foundation aimed toward helping street people. In order to raise money for their various efforts, he has to bring sponsors into the streets to show them the potential the neighborhoods have.

Okay, Universe, I thought of it first. Get your own ideas.

Keep in mind, Neal is friends with a rock band. Their drummer, Sandy, co-founded the charity with Neal. In February 2010 I read that Jon Bon Jovi is visiting homeless shelters during his current tour because that's his social issue. Okay, now, hold it. I thought of that first too, back in the '80s when Jon was still struggling to keep the band together and didn't have time for a social conscience.

My band's keyboardist is Lennie Barrett, who drives a Maserati. Last week I stumbled across the name of a Maserati dealer in Texas: Barrett Motors.

One of these things at a time would be a little annoying, but really, I think I'm being abused.  How can you fight the Universe?

Coming soon: observations triggered by reading "Self-editing for Fiction Writers" by Renni Browne and Dave King.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Research that doubles as hope

Wild Thing, by Ian Copeland
Simon & Schuster, 1995

Ever wonder what it would be like to have a spy in the family? Somebody who really travels around the world, cutting back-room deals with power brokers in Third World countries, helping topple regimes and setting up others, helping set up something like the CIA? Wouldn’t it be awesome to live like Bond?

Ian would tell you there are good and bad points to a life like that. His dad really was a spy. His dad really did help organize the CIA. Ian eventually became a top booking agent for bands like The Police (founded by his brother Stewart), but getting up there was hard, hard work. The book started out as just a research read for me, but I realized that it’s also very inspirational.

The book is described on the cover as “the backstage, on the road, in the studio, off the charts memoirs of Ian Copeland”. You wonder when you see a title like “Wild Thing” how much of an exaggeration it is, just to get your attention. This is no exaggeration. In the first couple of chapters, I completely forgot to pay attention to how he wrote.

There is so much crammed into this book I don’t even know how to hit the highlights, in a blog. Crossing country after country on a half-dead motorcycle with no money and one good friend! When Communism was still alive and well, this was taking your life in your hands.

I had a hard time taking Ian seriously at first. He says that his mother, before she married Ian’s dad, worked for British intelligence during World War II specializing in blowing up bridges so the Germans would be disrupted. She eventually became a highly respected archaeologist. She got so caught up in it that she maybe paid less attention to Ian and his siblings than was good for them. With his dad often away from home - which could be in Damascus, Cairo, Beirut or London - for months at a time, Ian, Miles and Stewart found creative, sometimes destructive, ways to occupy their time. Their sister seems to have stayed out of the family histrionics.

What started to make me like Ian was his admitting that sometimes, he just hated being told what to do by his father. Not having the slightest idea what to do with his life, at eighteen Ian joined the U.S. army, got sent to Vietnam and made sergeant by nineteen. That only impressed his father temporarily, because after his discharge, he couldn’t find work in London or America. Ian spent enough time in both places to be considered a Yank in Britain and a Brit in America. As you might expect, that seemed to have helped in some ways and hurt in others.

Ian talks about being tossed out of tube stations in the London area for vagrancy, not finding anything to eat, not having one cent in his pockets, and sometimes really being in a deep funk. His roller coaster of a life occasionally sat for a while at the top of a hill then caromed straight down and crashed, but somehow, sooner or later, he'd crawl back up.

I’ve never had to sleep on benches and I haven’t wondered how the hell I was going to find food. Sometimes opportunity found Ian, rather than the other way round, but a lot of his success was made or kept by sheer determination. For somebody with only a part-time job, no publishing credits and no "ins" in publishing, I have a long, hard road ahead if I want to make it there. But as Ian says, perseverance is everything. :) I see now what it means to "make your own luck."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sound waves: a ramble on writing and music

Reading about how music is made and how writing is done got me thinking. That can be trouble, I know.

The whole process of writing a novel is so much like making a record. Some of it’s done spontaneously, some of it’s labored over. Some parts fall out of your fingers almost perfectly and you can feel that it shouldn’t be messed with. Other parts ooze out a tiny bit at a time and never feel right so you spend hours, days or weeks tinkering with it.

How something sounds influences what you do with it. You write something and run through it either in your head or out loud. If something sounds off, you try to isolate what and why. If something makes your point especially well, you may decide to emphasize it with an addition.

In order to continue with a piece of work you've set aside for a while, you have to re-familiarize yourself with it. But the more often you do that, the more objectivity you lose and the more you increase the odds that you'll just get sick of it before it's finished.

I suppose this is true for other forms of art. It's been brought home to me how alike people can be. Like in an event as vast as the Olympic games, when we produce art, we share so much while retaining what makes each of us unique. I am so glad I learned to write and read. I love seeing the ways people are connected yet separate.

Although, it would have been nice to win that gold medal in hockey, in Canada. . .

Monday, March 1, 2010

To crit or not to crit: the last bit

What can the critter learn from critting? If you read my previous posts, some things become clear:

You learn patience. In the process of trying to give constructive criticism, you learn to choose your words carefully, thinking through what you say and how you say it before you hit ‘send’.

I always read through my crit before sending. Did my intent come through clearly? If something seems vague, I do my best to clarify. I look for typos. What good is a crit if it doesn’t make sense and has avoidable mistakes? It doesn’t take long to double check.

Light bulbs go on. You realize some of the mistakes other writers make are things you do yourself. The advice you offer others may work for you. As you work on applying those suggestions to your own writing, you cut down on making goofups in the first place. And that’s the ultimate goal of joining a writing workshop anyway.

Other light bulbs go on. You see how other writers do things really well. You have access to the writer, for a change, and you can message the person to ask how they came up with a phrase. But please! Do not plagiarize anybody! Use the same technique but don’t open dozens of worm cans by plagiarizing.

You can message the writer to ask what sort of writing tools they use - online and hard copy.

A more selfish idea is that if you establish a good rapport with somebody through critting, and they sell something, they may be able to put in a good word for you. Please don’t let that become your primary motive, though. Speaking personally, as a writer I notice details, and I’m likely to notice if you’re only interested in what I might do for you. ‘Nuff said on that.

Why am I not an owl critter? Because owls eat unpleasant things. :)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

To crit or not to crit: chapter 3 of 4

Here we are, almost done. There are a few thoughts I have to include.

As you crit someone else's work, you may have to mention facts: pointing out where the writer breaks grammar rules, for example. Even here, it’s not necessary to leap off an ivory tower onto the poor writer. Say something like ‘I think you meant…’ or ‘In this context, the accepted standard is…’ When I can cite a source, such as my trusty Webster’s New World Dictionary and Thesaurus, Second Edition 2002, I list that. The writer knows I’m not pulling stuff out of the air and she/he can go check it out if they want. I’ve had critters cite examples from published fiction and that’s great. That gives me someplace specific to go if I want to get further into it.

If you crit in a newbie queue, please be extra careful. Those writers may not be new to writing or getting crits, but they’re new to the site. Don’t sour people on something you yourself find helpful by biting off their heads. Put in a few extra smileys, or ‘good job here’ comments. People who are in fact new to writing will probably have more weak things and just plain errors in their writing, so think about whether or not you want to tackle that before you start critting.

That said, try to crit an occasional newbie story. You were a newbie once too. You might gain a crit buddy.

It may be easier to just leap out of the water, mouth gaping, and bite off limbs. People who saw "Jaws" when it came out remember those teeth. But bunny rabbits get the positive attention.

The final chapter: So what's in it for me?

Hand waves

Hi to AJ, who came on board a couple days ago. I'm tickled that you decided to follow me. :)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

To crit or not to crit: chapter 2 of 4

As I get into a crit, when I see things that could use improvement, I use phrases like ‘I think’, ‘in my opinion’ or ‘IMHO’, ‘maybe’. I use smiley faces too. This reiterates that I’m giving my opinions and cushions the hard news. Even people who say they have thick skin don’t deserve to be whacked upside the head. Writing is often personal and it can feel risky to put yourself out there for strangers to dissect.

How would you feel if somebody said "you shouldn’t be writing, you obviously don’t know how to do it." That’s what tends to come through when you turn into a shark.

I try to describe why I think a word or phrase could be improved. I include a suggestion when I can think of one. Most writers seem to appreciate a concrete example of something better.

Please don’t pad a crit with praise just to increase your word count and get full credit. The writer will probably see through that and may get pissed off enough to report you to the site administrator. If the story only calls for a short, good quality crit, be gracious enough to accept half-credit. The writer may ask you for a crit later because you were honest, and you could pick up credits then. Don’t let getting credits become your primary reason to crit. And that’s a whole ‘nother post ;)

When I feel something works exceptionally well, I usually say ‘Yay for you!’ or ‘great job here’. I include the exact phrase I liked and try to describe why I think it’s great. That way, the writer is better able to do it again, and that’s half the reason to crit: to help the other person. I try to keep my crits balanced. There is almost always something good to say in addition to pointing out what’s not so good.

Some people say to give the kind of crit that you’d like to receive. That’s fine as long as you’re not genuinely hoping for a pile of praise without any criticism at all.

I want to stress that: there is almost always something good to say.

If you can’t bring yourself to say that you liked the dialog for example, or even just the writer’s enthusiasm for the subject, maybe you shouldn’t send a crit. Or come back to it tomorrow after a rest. If you shape shift into a shark, the writer may report you to the moderator/administrator, you may get a warning or be kicked off the site, and writers may tell each other that you are really nasty.

If people talk about me, I’d rather they say ‘Owlie’s not bad, she gave me some options for the weak parts and let me know what I did right.’

The next chapter will be shorter!