Monday, January 31, 2011

Anna Karolina

Eighteen years ago today, I was just getting settled in here for my semester abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia.

We took our classes in the lower blue buildings surrounding the cathedral. Our housing was a block away.

I'm transferring old handwritten journal entries into a Word document, which is a cringeworthy experience.  Talk about an unreliable narrator!

Have you ever read old journals or letters from an experience you thought you remembered clearly, only to find that time has given you a clearer perspective, and you were no more than an [expletive]?

No?

Just me?

Because my semester in Russia plays out like a really pathetic version of Anna Karenina without the dramatic train incident.
I call this one Lady with a Swamp Rat on Her Head.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dog Pile on the Slush Pile

I did it.

Earlier this week, I mentioned Nathan Bransford's 4th Sort-of-Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge. I wasn't sure I should enter. But then Mr. Bransford posted something along the lines of Eh, Why not? Time's running out. So I said what the heck. There's safety in numbers. I joined the throngs in the soon-to-be slush pile. My entry is on this page, tenth from the bottom, I think (#1391). It starts, "Elizabeth fit her feet..."

My paragraph may never be read that deep in the pile, but the challenge is still proving useful. NB suggested his readers go through the entries to learn what works,what doesn't work, and how the good ones start to stand out after a while. [Article here] Mr. Untitlement and I did just that last night, and doggonnit if NB wasn't right. I printed the first 200 paragraphs (of more than 1500), and we went through, crossing out the ones that didn't grab us. In our first sweep, we wound up with only 45 survivors. It was disturbingly fun and educational. You really do start to see patterns after a while.  I'm going to go through those 45 today and see how many I still like.

Meanwhile, I'm sure others are wrinkling their noses at my first paragraph and making big red Xs across it. So be it.

Even if you didn't enter, I highly recommend taking Mr. Bransford's advice to read the entries. It's a true crash course on how to start a book.

Thanks a zillion to everyone who read and commented on my 99th page yesterday. It means a lot to me. If you haven't read it and commented, then I'm taking my toys and going home consider giving it a look. Thanks again!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Read My Page! (The 99th Page Blogfest)

Today's fun comes courtesy of Holly Dodson at Super Mom Writes. You can read more about it HERE. Basically, I'm posting the ninety-ninth page of my novel manuscript, as is. (So far. It will change with revisions.) The theory is that a reader can get a better idea of a book's quality by flipping to the middle instead of reading the heavily doctored first few pages. Scary, especially since this is not my final draft. The only "cheat" here is that I finished the last sentence, which otherwise wrapped to the next page.

There are three questions for the reader to answer.
  1. Would you turn to page 100?
  2. Why or why not?
  3. Based on what you read, would you consider buying the book?

I look forward to your comments. (Yes, you.) (Please and thank you)

____________________________________________

"All perches are my perch." He pulled himself to a higher branch, feet swinging loose for a moment, just like he'd taught her not to do. "This is my tree."

She said, "Then you are a Norse god. You admit it."

"Lost your fire so soon, Dragon? Is that why you cower below?" He pelted her with leaves, twigs. "Don't insult me. I only appear a god because you appear a sleepy baby."

"Pig!" She was on her feet, hurling leaves, bark, and debris up at him.

"Can't keep up? Ready to surrender the thimble?" He laughed, ducking behind a limb, although he was out of range.

Elizabeth took one last look at the rune-carved nest then studied the upper branches. She didn't need to remember Rob's path; the tree remembered for her -- more than a decade of passage polished darkly into its limbs.

The air was damp in the nest, but it lightened as she climbed, dappled sunshine adding a citrusy note, ribbons of warmth.

It was intoxicating, the success of scaling such a majestic tree, the secret world of Robin Oliver Bastle. She was just beginning to feel like an immortal, invincible, when her foot slipped, and her body clenched. An eternity of pounding hot-scented confusion, and she realized his training worked. Her hands were tight on their separate branches, and her other foot had slipped but not lost its hold. In her relief, she wanted to cry, go limp and unconscious right there, forget, but, clearly, that was impossible. What seemed liberating a moment earlier now felt like a trap.

She looked down -- a maze of branches funneling into darkness. She looked up and found Rob's face, astonishingly close, pale, his posture that of a jungle cat about to spring. Had he thought he could leap down and catch her?
______________________________________________

From Bête Noire / Unicorns & Other Exotic Goats
Chapter: "The Tree of Life"
Setting: Spring 1969, Catskills, NY

It’s the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, but not for seventeen-year-old outsider, Elizabeth Cory. Closing her eyes to the modern world, she buries herself in fantasy novels and the music of another era to escape her pain. When she’s taken in by an eccentric family whose turreted home sits on the edge of an ancient forest, she thinks she’s finally found refuge. But in her search for love and a doorway to a peaceful, magical world, she’ll find that not every Prince Charming leads to happily ever after, not every wolf is big or bad, and when you try to live in a fairy tale, the only magical doorways lead to real life.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Life Is Good (My 1st Blog Award)

I received my first blog award this week. Thank you to Tony Benson, luthier, musician, and writer. (Check out his blog at Fireside Park.)

The requirements of this award are:
  1. First, thank and link back to the person that gave the award.
  2. Answer the 10 survey questions.
  3. Pass the award along to other bloggers whom you think are fantastic.
  4. Contact the bloggers you have chosen to let them know about the award.

The ten questions are:

1. If you blog anonymously, are you happy doing this? If you are not anonymous, do you wish that you had started out anonymously, so that you could be anonymous now?

I've gone back and forth. I have a family blog that detailed my son's pediatric melanoma and its treatment. That was public and under my real name.

When I started writing fiction, however, I was shy and wanted to stay anonymous. Plus, how cool is a pseudonym? Made me feel like a real writer. I chose Bridget Carle because it's like my real name turned upside down and backward. After a while, though, I relaxed. Why not use my real name? I can still use Bridget Carle on a novel, should I ever get published. (Especially if my antagonists turn out too much like my ex. Heh!) Right now, I'm happy being me. Guess it's time to update the About section...

2. Describe an incident that shows your inner stubborn side.

Right now, the attempt to answer this question. My mind is stubbornly refusing to come up with an example although I know my stubbornness to be inner, outer, and all over the place.

3. What do you see when you really look at yourself in the mirror?

Someone who's really grumpy about having to be up so early, getting dressed, and taking the kids to school. Not a morning person. No sir-ee.

4. What is your favorite summer cold drink?

Diet cola. Any season. Love the stuff. I can't drink it anymore, though. The sweeteners give me headaches. Also, once I start drinking it, I drink tons. Gets expensive.

5. When you take time for yourself, what do you do?

I nap, I write, I stare into space -- anything quiet and private. I'm a hardcore introvert and need that time alone to recharge. I also like to take long baths and sing along with my iPod. LOUDLY.

6. Is there something that you still want to accomplish in your life? What is it?

I want to be a happy, satisfied (and hopefully good) writer, whatever that might mean. Maybe it will mean getting published. Maybe it will mean never publishing but always having the words and ideas pour forth so I can maintain that writer's high. I'd like it to include eager readers. It will have to mean a good family life.

7. When you attended school, were you the class clown, the class overachiever, the shy person, or always ditching?

I was SHY. I tried my best to be invisible so other kids wouldn't crush me. But I had a close-knit group of friends that stuck together from fourth grade through the end of high school. Among ourselves, we were loud, giggly, and boy/girl crazy.

8. If you close your eyes and want to visualize a very poignant moment in your life, what would you see?

Being told that my father didn't survive a  heart attack, having to say goodbye to his body when I'd just waved a cheerful goodbye to him a few hours earlier when he left my house for home. I couldn't wrap my mind around what it meant that he was gone. I still don’t think I get it.

9. Is it easy for you to share your true self in your blog or are you more comfortable writing posts about other people or events?

It's easy for me to share myself in a blog -- so easy that I have to edit myself. It's much more difficult to talk about others or try to teach a concept. I see too many shades of gray, know there's so much more to another person's story that what I see. I don't say that to sound wise or virtuous. I'm just afraid of being wrong or getting beat up. ;) I'm working on blogging about writing methods and/or tips, but I need to find the confidence. I don't feel I have the least bit of authority to be telling others what to do when I'm just flailing in the muck, learning on the fly.

10. If you had the choice to sit down and read a book or talk on the phone, which would you do and why?

Read. I have a severe phone phobia. Really bad. It's all on my end, though. I love to get calls, just can't make them.

I'd like to pass the award on to writer/blogger M. Howalt, who has been a frequent commenter on my blog. It makes my day every time someone steps forth from the fog of anonymous statistics to wave or say hi or talk about my entries. More importantly, the mysterious M has a great blog full of thoughtful, useful posts. Do check it out.

(The questions were surprisingly tough to answer. Sorry to take so long, Tony.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

I Require an Aslan Doorknocker

Dear Certain Moms at My Sons' School,

I look like Attila the Hun in sweats or basic crewneck t-shirts and jeans. That's why I don't wear them like everyone else. You're younger, thinner, and richer. I'm older. I get to dress weird. So don't give me those looks.

Also, the reason you have to honk at me to move forward in line while dropping off my son is not because I'm stupid and using the phone or texting. It's because I've been idling for twenty minutes and started reading my Nook and got pulled in by the pretty writing and forgot where I was. So I'm stupid and using a device -- but literarily. You see the difference now. And don't give me that look.

Thank you for your time

***


narnia.web
Add caption
My first grader is reading The Chronicles of Narnia right now, and I'm just giddy. Mr. Untitlement read the first few books to them at bedtime, and my son read Prince Caspian on his own. Now he's on to one of my favorites: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I took him to see the movie the other day.

Which leads me to wonder...

Why is there no Voyage of the Dawn Treader play set? Where is the toy ship with the plastic people and talking mouse? Where is the plastic Eustace As Dragon figurine?

Thimbles and thunderstorms!

All the toys are from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or Prince Caspian. They have a plastic version of every critter in the battle from PC, but no Dawn Treader? Come on!

I fell in love with a set of Aslan/White Witch bookends during my shopping quest, however. Must save up. Gollum and the Watchers of Rauros are getting lonely. (I'm entering my forties. It's mandated by law that I collect figurines as I age. I'm going to make mine as strange as possible, though, and imagine them lurking in dark corners of an imagined future home library where all the books have gilded spines. If The Stand had figurines, I'd... Well, I'd probably avoid those. M-O-O-N -- that spells nevermind.)

Weeklong migraines are not good for me.

Shorter, more useful posts soon.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bridget Carle & the Mystery of the 99th Page

Some more blogfest fun coming up next week...

The 99th Page Blogfest is hosted by writer Holly Dodson and four of her fellow bloggers. Writers are invited to submit page ninety-nine of their novels, and then participants (and kindly blog readers) will comment, stating if they'd read further, based on that page.

Explanation of the blogfest's origins can be found in this article from Guardian.co.uk:
Ford Madox Ford recommended instead that readers "open the book to page ninety-nine and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you". A new website, page99test.com, launches next month to test that premise. It will offer (courageous) authors and aspiring authors the chance to upload the 99th pages of their works and invite readers to comment on whether they would buy, or like to read, the rest.

Should be fun! You will find my entry here on January 28th (next Friday). [Edit: Here's the link to my 99th page]

Ears Spiting Faces All over the Place!

Imitrex is a cruel mistress. Perhaps that's why it shares so many letters with dominatrix. (Oh boy, the hits I'll be getting now.)

It's a gamble. It's a deal with the devil. (Again. Devil. Dominatrix. If I get a zillion hits a day for Tigger when I've never even typed that word until just now, merely posted Eeyore's picture... Hello, future misled search engine victims!)

ANYway.

Here's the thing with Imitrex. It takes your migraine and sucks it right out of your head. No more migraine. Yay! Miracle!

HOWEVER, the makers of the drug are clearly fans of stories like "The Monkey's Paw". Its help comes at a cost.

Imitrex takes your migraine from your head -- miracle -- and crams it into every other cell of your body -- the horror! At least, that's what it does to me. No headache, but my skin hurts, my muscles hurt, I get puffy, my throat aches, I can't eat or drink, my jaw feels tense and achy, my heart beats strangely, I feel heavy as granite. Oh, the fun we have! It's still better than a migraine, but it's crushingly awful for the first hour or two.

Oh, and tee hee hee -- you must, simply must, take it at the very first sign of a migraine. Since I don't get auras or any of those signs, it means I have to take it at the first sign of a headache. But what if it's a normal headache and will go away with Tylenol? Then I won't have to suffer psychedelic assault and battery for no good reason. But if I take Tylenol and it doesn't help, by the time I know that, it will be too late, and I'll have my brain replaced by a black vortex of howling pain.

In short, it's a gamble, and one I've had to make for the past four days. I'm resisting a fourth Iminatrix right now, and my brain is messing with me. Here's a trammeling of pressure and pain and -- whoops -- it's gone. It will be back as soon as I start to relax. Snarl.

In other gambles this week, I ordered a pair of  shoes that were on clearance but still cost just enough that I got mad when they felt like walking on rocks. People swear they feel like heaven once they mold to your foot and get broken in...most of the time. If not, you're still out the price of the shoes since they've been worn and are no longer returnable. I got lucky. One or two wearings (yeah, I took the chance), and they do feel nice.

Writing? Not sure. I was draping myself morosely across the furniture last weekend, bemoaning my lack of productivity, and then I remembered I'd just scrawled out 2500 words. It felt like nothing. Not effortless, just insubstantial. I'd already forgotten it. Two nights ago, I wrote 1500 words that I thought were quite useful, but when my husband read them to me aloud, I realized the scope of just how vastly wrong they were.  So am I writing? Yes. Am I happy about it? Hmm.

The good news is that my revised sections are great! The bad news is number four on this list over at the Office of Letters & Light.

Wishing you all a great week.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Anniversary of DOOM

I've noticed something recently.

Nearly every blog I read is roughly one year old.

Now, why is that?

Is it near the one year mark that one hits one's stride and gains a widespread following?

Or...should I be...afraid?

What precisely happens to a blog that's, say, one and a HALF?

[Insert Twilight Zone theme]

(Don't give me that "because they all started as a New Year's resolution" song and dance. I detect something more sinister. Because it's more entertaining that way.)

P.S. -- Hi, entire writing blogosphere! I'm reading Save the Cat, too! Great book. And I love how he saves the cat on page xv of the Introduction. A perfect, engaging example to prove he knows what he's talking about.

Monday, January 10, 2011

What Were They Reading When You Were Born?

A fun dealie-bobber, courtesy of the fine folks at the Office of Letters and Light today. We've all seen the site where you can find out what the number one song was on the day you were born. Now there's a literary version!***

If you go to Biblioz and enter the pertinent data, you'll find out the fiction and non-fiction bestsellers from the week you were born. (Be sure to use the correct date format of DATE-MONTH-YEAR, not MONTH-DATE-YEAR.) Then your job is to come back here and report your findings in the comment section below.

I did it. I was imagining happy little families out in the happy little maternity ward waiting room, reading happy little stories, awaiting my birth.

Which books were they, I wondered.

Well. Lemme tell ya.

THIS:

AND THIS:

Is it any wonder I turned out the way I did?

What were your books? I look forward to the answers.

*** Brilliant reader M. Howalt pointed out that BibliOZ can be used as a tool for writers who are researching a particular time period for their stories!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Treasure

Vivian Maier self portrait
See the video below...

A late nanny's possessions reveal hundreds of thousands of negatives, tremendous unknown talent, and a vivid portrait of mid-century Chicago.

I want to go to Chicago. I want to help scan the photos. I want to see them all.

This is the kind of story that makes me greedy -- unearthing history, art, and the mind of the mysterious photographer. One hundred thousand moments of Ms. Maier's life & Chicago history, many never before  seen.

And that's what makes it most exciting of all -- that there is still uncharted territory, new treasure to be found.

Naturally, I've been waxing philosophical about the story. I won't bore you with the details, but, basically, I'm thinking about how we can see exactly what the photographer saw and get a feel for her opinion on each subject, but we will never know the exact story or what she was thinking. And maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe the raw image and the viewer's reaction is the story.

With a writer, you can read the story and what the author was thinking, but you can only catch a glimpse of the actual images in the author's mind. Unless the author is a talented artist, no one will ever see what they see, no matter how evocative their descriptions. And maybe that doesn't matter. Maybe the images created in the readers' minds are more important.

But back to Vivian Maier...



I have a box of glass stereoscopic slides from the 1920s-30s, showing random scenes of Chicago. One thing I love about them is they're not professional -- just amateur photos from a family who lived in the Beverly Woods neighborhood. They aren't as clear or artistic as these, but they're pretty nice, and they are in 3D, which adds an element of magic to unguarded moments of the past:  horse-drawn buggies mingling with automobiles downtown, landmark buildings surrounded by others which have since been torn down, old cemeteries, an airship over skyscrapers, their rather Edwardian living room, etc. And you feel like you can reach right through the age spots, peeling corners, and scratches into that black and white world. Grab it. I hope that someday I can scan them before they decay too far.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Gloomy Place

Feeling rather b(l)oggy and sad.

Just one of those days. The I'm Nothing but a Delusional Sham Who's Run out of Ideas and Any Pretense of Talent kind of days. We've all been there. Nuff said.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

"Show Me Yours" Blogfest

Today, I'm celebrating the Show MeYours blogfest by posting an excerpt from the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2010.

___________________________________________________________________

Novel Title: The View from Upper High Hog
Summary: An outrageous former Vaudevillian finds herself strong-armed into raising a Russian orphan in Cold War Era Arizona.
Scene: Set in 1962, this is the novel's opening, narrated by Elizabeth, the now-thirteen-year-old orphan raised by Bebe Rosenthal (a.k.a. The Fabulous Bette Noire). After this scene, we go back in time to hear the real story of how Bebe wound up with Elizabeth.

_________________________________________________________________

Bebe was gone. Bette Noire was in her eyes.

And Bette Noire wanted me to shut up.

It was party time, so I grew dim in the part of the living room I called Downstage. Bebe called it my box seat — a small bay window where I hid with books and dreams of Prince Charming, curtains drawn. But not right then. Right then I was a prop in Bebe– Bette’s routine.

“C’maaaan! Who’s the brat? You ain’t no mama. Ain’t never been!” Bebe’s friend kicked his feet onto our chipped coffee table, popping a cigar back in his mouth like a pacifier. She favored him with a smile, but I didn’t like his winks — not at me, not at Bebe, not even at her fearless stage persona, The Fabulous Bette Noire. He looked like a cartoon on a cocktail napkin. He smelled like wood polish and poison. I hoped he’d choke on a pistachio so he’d shut up.

But he didn’t, and others ogled my thirteen-year-old gawkiness until I itched like I was covered with flies. I hated when downstage became upstage. At least I could always count on rescue, whether smiling and merciful from Bebe or otherwise from Bette.

No smile that time. Just Bette’s narrowing eye. Here it came.

With a flourish, the Fabulous Bette Noire put her fingers in her mouth and whistled until she shattered every eardrum from here to Kingman, grinning at her guests’ shock.

Spotlight regained.

When I pulled my hands from my ears — I knew the danger signals — she was laughing into the imaginary heights of our low-ceilinged bungalow and positioning herself between olive velveteen curtains. Our front window was her favorite stage, our floorlamp her spotlight. That night, she was accompanied by reflected stardust glitter from our aluminum Christmas tree.

When all eyes returned to her, Bette launched into a well-worn monologue: the story of our origins. She had this whole routine she performed at parties.

A wave of her cigarette, the rasp of her voice, and she reached my favorite part. “So they lead me in. They sit me down. They ask if I wanted a drink. Well…” A knowing look, and the room laughed on cue. She held out her hands, a string of smoke curling upward from the cigarette between her fingers. “But then, instead of a drink or some happy hour grub, there she was! Wrapped in a blanket like a little shnookum sausage in a casing, all pink and round-cheeked. I looked that Miz Scott right in the eye and told her flat out, 'No thank you, ma’am. I always keep kosher!'"

She always paused here for laughter. The woman knew her timing.

“But apparently they knew I was bluffing because, next thing I knew, I was sitting in a train, watching the prairie go by, holding that little sausage, and wondering what to do next. A sausage! I figured I’d donate her to the diner car. Then she opened her eyes for the first time, stee-retched out that neck… And I realized. She wasn’t a sausage at all. By those giant pea-green eyes, I knew I had myself a turtle. I said hi how are ya, and the turtle belched — the raunchiest noise I’d ever heard.” A shrug. “What are you gonna do? I fell in love. We’ve been together ever since.”

Love. She said loved me. Made all the staring men worthwhile.

Problem was, I knew the story was total baloney.

Bebe didn’t meet me until I was four, more beanpole than sausage, eyes wide open all the time. Maybe I burped, but more likely I just wore her ears out, babbling in Russian until she could teach me enough English to understand I needed to shut up.

[Click for next chapter]

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Brilliant Writing Advice

Possibly the best list of writing advice I've found in my quest for writing excellence. I'd like to turn it into a poster and hang it on my office wall. It was only after studying these rules that I was able to read my own writing without grimacing (or sighing and smiling sadly).

Written by Allan Guthrie.

Hunting Down the Pleonasms


I can’t stress strongly enough that writing is subjective. We all strive for different goals. Consequently, we all need our own set of rules—and some of us don’t need rules at all! Personally, I like rules. If nothing else, it’s fun breaking them.

  1. Avoid pleonasms. A pleonasm is a word or phrase which can be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning. For example, in “Hunting Down The Pleonasm”, ‘down’ is pleonastic. Cut it and the meaning of the sentence does not alter. Many words are used pleonastically: ‘just’, ‘that’ and ‘actually’ are three frequently-seen culprits (I actually just know that he’s the killer can be trimmed to I know he’s the killer), and phrases like ‘more or less’ and ‘in any shape or form’ are redundant.

  2. Use oblique dialogue. Try to generate conflict at all times in your writing. Attempt the following experiment at home or work: spend the day refusing to answer your family and colleagues’ questions directly. Did you generate conflict? I bet you did. Apply that principle to your writing and your characters will respond likewise.

  3. Use strong verbs in preference to adverbs. I won’t say avoid adverbs, period, because about once every fifty pages they’re okay! What’s not okay is to use an adverb as an excuse for failing to find the correct verb. To ‘walk slowly’ is much less effective than to ‘plod’ or ‘trudge’. To ‘connect strongly’ is much less effective than to ‘forge a connection’.

  4. Cut adjectives where possible. See rule 3 (for ‘verb’ read ‘noun’).

  5. Pairs of adjectives are exponentially worse than single adjectives. The ‘big, old’ man walked slowly towards the ‘tall, beautiful’ girl. When I read a sentence like that, I’m hoping he dies before he arrives at his destination. Mind you, that’s probably a cue for a ‘noisy, white’ ambulance to arrive. Wailingly, perhaps!

  6. Keep speeches short. Any speech of more than three sentences should be broken up. Force your character to do something. Make him take note of his surroundings. Ground the reader. Create a sense of place.

  7. If you find you’ve said the same thing more than once, choose the best and cut the rest. Frequently, I see the same idea presented several ways. It’s as if the writer is saying, “The first couple of images might not work, but the third one should do it. If not, maybe all three together will swing it.” The writer is repeating himself. Like this. This is a subtle form of pleonasm.

  8. Show, don’t tell. Much vaunted advice, yet rarely heeded. An example: expressing emotion indirectly. Is your preferred reader intelligent? Yes? Then treat them accordingly. Tears were streaming down Lila’s face. She was very sad. Can the second sentence be inferred from the first? In context, let’s hope so. So cut it. If you want to engage your readers, don’t explain everything to them. Show them what’s happening and allow their intelligence to do the rest. And there’s a bonus to this approach. Because movies, of necessity, show rather than tell, this approach to your writing will help when it’s time to begin work on the screenplay adaptation of your novel!

  9. Describe the environment in ways that are pertinent to the story. And try to make such descriptions active. Instead of describing a book lying on a table, have your psycho-killer protagonist pick it up, glance at it and move it to the arm of the sofa. He needs something to do to break up those long speeches, right?

  10. Don’t be cute. In the above example, your protagonist should not be named Si Coe.

  11. Avoid sounding ‘writerly’. Better to dirty up your prose. When you sound like a writer, your voice has crept in and authorial intrusion is always unwelcome. In the best writing, the author is invisible.

  12. Fix your Point Of View (POV). Make it clear whose head you’re in as early as possible. And stay there for the duration of the scene. Unless you’re already a highly successful published novelist, in which case you can do what you like. The reality is that although most readers aren’t necessarily clued up on the finer points of POV, they know what’s confusing and what isn’t.

  13. Don’t confuse the reader. If you write something you think might be unclear, it is. Big time. Change it or cut it.

  14. Use ‘said’ to carry dialogue. Sid Fleischman calls ‘said’, “the invisible word.”

  15. Whilst it’s good to assume your reader is intelligent, never assume they’re psychic.

  16. Start scenes late and leave them early.

  17. When writing a novel, start with your characters in action. Fill in any necessary backstory as you go along.

  18. Give your characters clear goals. Always. Every scene. And provide obstacles to those goals. Always. Every scene. If the POV character in a scene does not have a goal, provide one or cut the scene. If there is no obstacle, add one or cut the scene.

  19. Don’t allow characters who are sexually attracted to one another the opportunity to get into bed unless at least one of them has a jealous partner.

  20. Torture your protagonist. It’s not enough for him to be stuck up a tree. You must throw rocks at him while he figures out how to get down.

  21. Use all five senses in your descriptions. Smell and touch are too often neglected.

  22. Vary your sentence lengths. I tend to write short, and it’s amazing what a difference combing a couple of sentences can make.

  23. Don’t allow your fictional characters to speak in sentences. Unless you want them to sound fictional.

  24. Cut out filtering devices, wherever possible. ‘He felt’, ‘he thought’, ‘he observed’ are all filters. They distance the reader from the character.

  25. Avoid unnecessary repetition of tense. For example: I’d gone to the hospital. They’d kept me waiting for hours. Eventually, I’d seen a doctor. Usually, the first sentence is sufficient to establish tense. I’d gone to the hospital. They kept me waiting for hours. Eventually, I saw a doctor.

  26. When you finish your book, pinpoint the weakest scene and cut it. If necessary, replace it with a sentence or paragraph.

  27. Don’t plant information. How is Donald, your son? I’m quite sure Donald’s father doesn’t need reminding who Donald is. Their relationship is mentioned purely to provide the reader with information.

  28. If an opinion expressed through dialogue makes your POV character look like a jerk, allow him to think it rather than say it. He’ll express the same opinion, but seem like a lot less of a jerk.

  29. Characters who smile and grin a lot come across as deranged fools. Sighing and shrugging are also actions to avoid. Eliminating smiles, sighs and shrugs is almost always an improvement. Smiling sadly is a capital offence.

  30. Pronouns are big trouble for such little words. The most useful piece of information I ever encountered on the little blighters was this: pronouns refer to the nearest matching noun backwards. For example: John took the knife out of its sheath and stabbed Paul with it. Well, that’s good news for Paul. If you travel backwards from ‘it’, you’ll see that John has stabbed Paul with the sheath! Observing this rule leads to much clearer writing.

  31. Spot the moment of maximum tension and hold it for as long as possible. Or as John D. MacDonald put it: “Freeze the action and shoot him later.”

  32. If something works, forget about the rule that says it shouldn’t.


Found at Absolute Write Water Cooler.

You Cannot Fight the Elfman

Okay, Brain. You've wallowed in the darkness of our novel's ending for a few days now. You've added an extra layer of misery to every character. You've brought the depths of despair into our real life.

To you, I say, "Enough!"

I'm whipping out the Edward Scissorhands soundtrack!

Yep. Yep. Try to fight that.

The beginning of the novel has a lot of misery, too. Remember? But it also has magic. We need that magic.

Listen... Listen to Danny Elfman's twinkly, sparkly, billowing score and take us back to the beginning. Take us to that rutted dirt road leading to the Mortimer Woods. And let the rewrite begin.

(With luck, my preoccupation with the ending is an omen that I might actually reach said ending by this time next year. Or it may be because of the date. Terrible things happen on New Years Eve 1969/70. Or maybe George Harrison is still acting uptight and telling me, "My songs are at the end of the book, man.")