Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The use of ellipses...

I post on Thursday, and this post will say I published it on Wednesday, but it was close enough to midnight! I won't be online much tomorrow and I didn't want to miss my day again!

What is an ellipsis? To be honest, I was going to come up with something quirky, but I am angry with my sister right now. So angry, in fact, that I....

See what I did there? Ha! And that was unintentional. I was really going to tell you that I am so angry with her that I actually had a dream last night in which I was yelling at her. But instead of finishing my sentence, I trailed off with an ellipsis. You will noticed I used four periods. An ellipsis is a series of three dots, but because I ended the sentence with it, I still have to add the period to signify the close of the sentence.

The most common usage of an ellipsis, is during dialog. In fiction writing, (in non fiction, an ellipsis indicates the omission of a word or words) we all know how important it is that our characters are individuals. A big part of characterization, especially in writing YA, is dialog. I've seen some writers using an ellipsis to signify an interruption, or to separate a clause, and this is incorrect. In such cases, you should use and em dash.

Em dash from
em·dash or em dash (ěm'dāsh') n. A symbol ( — ) used in writing and printing to indicate a break in thought or sentence structure, to introduce a phrase added for emphasis, definition, or explanation, or to separate two clauses.

Just so we're clear, I'm going to give an example of each.

Em Dash:
"James, I dunno what to tell you. I think--"
"Don't think. Just don't."

James interrupted the first speaker. He cut off her sentence so we used an em dash.

"James, I think...I dunno what I think."

The speaker did not complete her thought, so I used an ellipsis to signify that.
I realize these are both poor examples, but you get the idea.

Ellipsis can be wonderful tools in writing dialog, but over use can make your writing hard to read, choppy and just down right poor. If your sentence ends in a full thought, one dot will do.

When it seems to almost appear as if...

Recently I read a really good book. Really good! It was full of action, adventure, drama, suspense, and emotion, and it was also full of one of my pet peeves. The dreaded uncertainty that is seemed like, appeared as if, almost.

You know what I'm talking about. One character says to the MC, "I hate you!" and the MC's inner monologue says "He punched the wall, as if he was angry." Really? It was like he was angry, but you're not sure if that was it? Maybe he just likes punching walls? Maybe wall-punching means happiness?

This occasionally drives me insane.

I notice this happens most often in books written in close third person. I think it's because when writing in first person it's easier to slip into the character's distinct point of view and feel what they're feeling.

Think about it. In your own life, if someone shouts at you "I hate you!" and then punches a wall, you have a strong instant reaction. You don't think to yourself, "I wonder if he's angry?" You think, "Whoa, this dude is pissed!" Even if you're wrong, and he does just like to punch walls for no reason, you have interpreted his words and actions and made a decision on what they mean.

Characters are like this too. They jump to conclusions. They reason out why things are happening. I know that, especially in third person, there's a fine line between staying in one character's close POV and crossing into another's. This is where the trouble starts. Writers worry that if they say too much about what is happening, or how someone is feeling that they are switching POVs or crossing over into omniscience. I say, HOGWASH!

While it's true that unless your main character is a mind reader, he can't know what others are thinking. He can definitely take an educated guess or decide for himself how to interpret what he sees. When I see a lot of this in a manuscript I'm critiquing, I always write "Be authoritative!" and "Either it happened or it didn't. Which is it?"

Don't tell me "It seemed like the door opened all by itself." When I see this type of sentence structure, I expect a "but". As in "It seemed like the door opened all by itself, but it was just the cat leaning against it." When you leave the sentence as "It seemed like the door opened all by itself." and the character doesn't do any exploring to find out how it actually did open, I'm left wondering, did the door open by itself or not? You know whether it did or not, why not share? Your character, having witnessed this event, should have come to a decision about whether or not the door opened on it's own - even if it's the wrong answer. And if your character really can't tell if it opened by itself or not, then he needs to try and find out why (or run away in terror, whichever he's more prone to do).

I may be in the minority here, but I think it's best for your character to see things through his own world view and save the uncertainty for when he really doesn't know what's going on. If you stay focused and true to your character's personality and voice, it should be clear, even in third person, that what he sees happening is what he thinks is happening, and not absolute fact. To me this is one of the best things about telling a story through one person's eyes. Each character has a unique way of seeing things. What one character thinks is evil spirits haunting his house, another thinks is just the wind. Find out what it really is is what storytelling is all about!

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Post that Wasn't There

Like most of you, I'm still on vacation this week and my 5-year-old son has discovered the joy that is the Wii. Okay, I'll admit that I'm right there with him in the joy department which is why this would be the week that I would typically re-post a brilliant tidbit from Decembers past. The problem is that since we only started this consistent blogging thing a few weeks ago - I got nothing. So, I'll tell you what I've read so far this holiday break and I'd love to hear what you're reading as well. In the last week and a half, I've read:

The Book Thief (well, I finished most of it before the break but I'm still
counting it - also, it was beyond amazing)

Hush, Hush (loved it and it was the perfect fun read I needed after the
former one)

2 metaphysical books which would probably bore most people so I won't
mention them but they were fabulous

The Heretic's Daughter (I'm currently reading this for my book club and
find it fascinating so far. However, it's hard for me to dislike
historical fiction and I do love me some witches)

Wake (Next on my list for this week and I'm hoping to get to it before
vacation ends)

I know one of my blogging colleagues who shall remain nameless (cough*Lacey*cough) has probably read about 20 books in the same time that it's taken me to read these, but she has super freaky reading powers. What about you? Have you read any good books over the holiday break?

I'll be back to regular posts next week but if you'll excuse me, I have to go redeem myself as I just got my a#$ kicked by a 5-year-old in Wii bowling!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Micro-Managing Your Story - (don't do it!)

Recently I've come across more than one book that does something like this:

"I was totally freaked out and I didn't know what to do. I realized I was thirsty so I went downstairs and over to the refrigerator and opened it up. I searched through the food and drinks on the crowded shelves until I found the chocolate milk in the door, where we never keep it, which irritated me. I put the chocolate milk on the counter and then went to the cabinet and pulled out a cup. I poured the chocolate milk in the cup, making sure to put it back where we usually keep it in the refrigerator before sitting down. I drank the milk but it didn't ease my mind so I went back up to my room to think, leaving the cup behind."

Whew! Exhausting isn't it? So much unnecessary and useless info. I call this Micro-Managing your story. Now Stephanie has already written a fabulous post on self-editing that addresses many of the things that are wrong about this and how to fix it. What I want to talk about is the why.

Aside from inexperience, I think there a couple reasons why this type of over explaining happens. The main one being control issues, which of course come from fear.

It's can be scary to think that someone might interpret your character's actions or behaviors in a way that is different from your intentions and therefore, not like your book because they don't understand what you're trying to say. I get that. I do. Unfortunately, in the art world (and writing is art) you don't get to decide how other people interpret your work. Now you might think that makes it all the more important that you put down everything exactly the way you see it but you would be wrong, and I'll get to the why in a minute.

Reason #2 why this type of verbal diarrhea might spew from your fingers. (Pretty image, huh?) You're a visual thinker. Maybe (like me) you come from the world of film, or you see your scenes play out in your mind like a movie and then write them down. This is something I struggle with daily. Having gone to film school and learned to distill any story into a sequence of images, when writing, I always think in terms of film editing. Like: If I say she was at the refrigerator and then next thing I mention, she's at the table, when did she sit down?? How will anyone know she walked over there? Or: If I say she has a cup in her hand and then she leaves, people will think she still has the cup and they'll wonder what she's doing with it!! And if this was a movie, I would be right. But it's not. And just like I have to accept the idea that people will see what they want in my work, I also have to trust that they will fill in the details when necessary.

So now let me tell you why this type of detail-oriented writing can become a real problem. (Aside from the fact that it's tedious and readers will get bored and frustrated waiting for something to happen.) It's because we are trained to read a certain way. This is easiest to explain using film, so indulge me.

When writing a screenplay, the biggest issue is time. You have 90 minutes to 2 hours to tell your story. On average, one page of a script = one minute of screen time. This makes every single minute gold. Think about that for a moment. You have to choose the best 40-60 scenes to tell your entire story. Even if that story is epic. Which means there's not a lot of time for excess information that does not tie directly to the plot. As filmgoers we've learned to take note of any seemingly innocuous detail and catalog it with the assumption that it's being shown to us for a reason. For example, one of the first "rules" in screenwriting is never show a gun unless someone's going to use it later on.

Now let's look at the example above. The last line ends with "leaving the cup behind". Sounds ominous doesn't it? Like, leaving that cup behind was the straw that broke his neat freak sister's back and after discovering it, she went on a shooting spree, determined to get rid of all the messy people in the world. That would make reading everything that preceded that line worth reading, right? (Well okay, not really, but still.)

But what if nothing happens with that cup? What if the character goes back upstairs and starts playing video games and that cup is never mentioned again? Now your reader is left wondering why they were told about that cup at all. And if you keep doing it, then your reader starts to wonder how they're supposed to read your book, because they can't tell the important stuff from the unimportant. Eventually, if they bother to finish, they will begin dismissing all your details as useless, even the important ones.

Think about every piece of information in your book as having weight. Now, is the fact that your character left his cup on the counter equal to the fact that there's a portal to hell in his bedroom closet? Do they weigh the same? Do they both deserve the same amount of space in your chapter? Remember, space is gold. Readers want to know what happens next in the plot, not in the day. Use your valuable space to tell your story, not the stuff that happens in between plot points.

Lastly, if you're using this type of over-writing to pad your manuscript, stop right there. If you don't have enough plot to fill out 60,000 words, you don't have enough to write a book. It's time to think about subplots and character development, not excessive attention to useless detail. Either that, or you have a movie!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Seasons Greeting

The Sisters in Scribe would like to wish all of our followers a very
Happy Holiday!
We wish you peace and joy throughout the new year.

Our posts will be skimpy and erratic from now until January 2nd. We hope the above well-wishing will help you find it in your sweet lil ol' hearts to forgive us.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Agents: Making your list and checking it twice

Okay, I'm worn out from wrapping presents and am taking a break to discuss one of my favorite topics. Agents. Lacey discussed the components of a good query letter last week and I'm going to talk more about "the list." You know the one I'm talking about and it doesn't involve Santa. It's your list of dream agents -- the ones that will receive your pitch perfect query letter and beg for sample pages before trampling each other in order to offer representation. Hey, I did use the word dream.

How do you craft your list of dream agents? If your answer is "I'll hire a service and they can research the agents and send my query out for me. Hey, maybe they'll even write it for me," then go away. Seriously, now. Okay, for those of you who are left, the correct answer is RESEARCH.

Since I'm a huge research geek anyway and my favorite form of procrastination involves researching those mythical agent creatures, I thought I'd share some of the fun sites I have bookmarked.

1) Querytracker - Many of you know that Querytracker has an awesome blog but their agent search function on the main site rocks. You can search for agents by genre, word count, submission response time, and even by agents with similar tastes. It also lists each agent's clients so you can see the books they rep. Oh, the hours of fun I've had there. There are many more features besides what I've listed here so definitely check them out.

2) Agentquery - This site also lets you research agents by genre and it often gives tidbits about a specific agent's likes and dislikes. Some have links to interviews as well as recent book sales.

3) Literary Rambles - Casey's Agent Spotlights are amazing, in-depth articles that showcase a different agent each week. Catch them on Thursdays but she also has them archived. NOTE: This is geared towards writers of juvenile fiction but some of the agents also rep adult work. As I write YA, I LOVE her blog. Take the time to read her interview links as they provide a ton of additional info about the agent.

Those are my top 3 but there are a ton out there. I've heard Verla Kay's board is a good resource and you should also check out the Preditors and Editors site to make sure the agent is on the up and up. Publishers Marketplace gives you info on recent deals made by agents so you can see how active an agent is and if they are selling books similar to yours.

So I have my dream list and continue to revise it along with my manuscript. I haven't done anything with it -- yet, but it is almost a new year. I'm not one for resolutions but maybe I'll venture out into the scary world of queries in 2010.

What are your favorite sites for researching agents? Does anyone else find it as fun as I do? Have you started your query process? Oh yeah, and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Queries--because you just have to.

Nobody likes to write a query, but alas, it is inevitable in the writing world. Many agents and publishers require a query letter before they'll even consider looking at your writing, so it is imperative that you can make that thing rock!

So how do you do it? What makes a query stand out?

The first step is knowing who you're sending it to. Do your research. Be sure that the agent or editor you're submitting to would be remotely interested in your work. In other words, do not send erotica to an editor who publishes science fiction. The more you do your research and narrow down your choices, the better your chances of getting a partial or full request on your manuscript.

Second step, is to be sure you've understood the submission guidelines. They're all different. If that agent/editor requests the first ten pages along with that query, make sure you send it! If they don't request anything, do not send anything. Do not send bribes, head shots of yourself in your best literary pose, or gimmicks of any kind. If they do not specify format for your query letter, 12pt times new roman font is the norm, single spaced. One page. No more.

Now we get to the goods. What's in a query?
  • The hook
  • The mini synopsis
  • The credentials
  • The close
Those are the key elements that will make up your query. It isn't a resume or your life story, and telling the recipient that you've wanted to write since the 4th grade, is not relevant. It's one page, introducing your book and yourself (briefly).

You should be able to incorporate those elements in as little as three paragraphs. Learn more about the person you will be sending your letter to. Some agents like you to start out by telling them your name and why you chose them specifically(but try not to suck up too much). Others want you to get right to the point.

The hook, is a single line that does just that--hooks your reader. A hook can start with when something happened (When Harry met Sally), give the era or setting in which the story takes place (In Jacksonville North Carolina, at the start of the Civil War), or set up your main character(James can't seem to get his mind off that night when).
The synopsis is where you summarize your entire book in one paragraph. Woohoo! The best way I've found to do this, is expand on your main character, her goal and what's holding her back. One suggestion I've heard is to read the jacket flaps of some of your favorite novels and see how it's been done.
The credentials are all about you. What makes you the right person to write this book? Previous publications? Affiliations?
The close is where you politely thank the reader for his/her time and wrap it up.

And that pretty much sums it up! Agent Nathan Bransford offers up some sample winning queries on his blog from time to time. Be sure to check him out! I find his query mad-lib to be helpful.

**NOTE** If you are writing fiction (and if you're reading this, I assume you are), DO NOT refer to your novel as fiction. "Novel" is fiction by default.

If you've got anything to add, feel free to let us know in the comments section.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Awesome Book Giveaway

Okay, some great books are being given away in a contest by Beth Revis over at Writing it Out. If you stop by, make sure to also congratulate her because Beth just signed with her dream agent!!!

Monday, December 14, 2009

My Favorite Writing Advice

Writing advice is sort of the equivalent of your in-law's suggestions about your career choices/parenting style/etc - you use what works and toss the rest, without the guilt. Everyone is different and what works for one person won't work for another - it's not a one-size-fits-all profession. For instance, in more than one place I've seen writers recommend rising at 4am to get in a solid few hours of writing before day breaks. God bless 'em but no one would want to read the junk I'd crank out at 4am - plus, I'd just fall back asleep and get drool all over my keyboard. I'm much better at the late-at-night-when-the-household-is-sleeping kind of writing. So, you have to test out what works best with your own schedule and personality.

I will share my two favorite bits of writing advice that have helped me and they are both from a book called On Writing by Stephen King. I'm a huge fan of his novels but was surprised by how inspirational I found this book. NOTE: I read this quite a while ago so if I remember anything incorrectly, I sincerely apologize to Mr. King for any errors (and adverbs).

1) Write 2,000 words per day. This doesn't seem like a lot of words until you sit down after a full day of working either inside or outside your home/have fed and bathed the kids/have folded laundry and washed dishes/etc. However, when I wrote my YA novel a few months back, I set that as a goal and it worked. I'm not gonna say I didn't cheat - some nights I'd type 5,000 words if I was going out the next night and knew I wouldn't write but I did AVERAGE 2,000 words a night, 5 nights a week. Of the 2 nights off per week, one night I'd type a blog post and review my critique groups' work and Sat. nights are sacred date nights w/ the hubby. Now that I'm revising, I'm on a different schedule but I'm 20K into the next novel and will start this schedule again in a month or two. NOTE: I'm pretty sure Mr. King advises a minimum of 6 nights per week of writing but I did finish my book so I was pretty satisfied with my results.

2) Read as much as you write. Okay, I admit I was doing this anyway but it was nice having Mr. King validate it for me. I think it's important to read extensively in the genre you write but also to read outside the scope of your work. Recent reads for me have included The Book Thief, The Help, and Catching Fire and next up are The Heretic's Daughter and Hush, Hush. Reading as a writer has been a different experience for me than just reading for fun and has made me a better writer - I hope.

Enough about me - what about you? What's your favorite piece of writing advice? Favorite book on writing? Favorite recent read?

Drop the Needle: Submissions Open!


Miss Snark is hosting yet another fabulous opportunity for writers over at her blog:

Submit 250 words from your WIP for in house critiques! To participate, you must critique at least 5 others! Visit the above link for more details. Only open to the first 50 or so submissions so get to it!

Shannon Delany's 13 TO LIFE

Author Shannon Delany just might stop by my personal blog today to answer any questions or comments about her debut novel, 13 TO LIFE: A WEREWOLF'S TALE. Stop by and comment for her!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Why Critique Groups Rock

So, you're an aspiring writer and have accomplished the amazing task of actually finishing a novel. Chances are you either patted yourself on the back or went shrieking through the streets proclaiming that you're a novelist (depending on your personality). However, then the moment comes that you sit back and think "Now what?" Well, here's what I think a fabulous next step should be - before spamming the entire publishing community with the genius that is your manuscript. Join a critique group. "Why?" you might ask as defensive thoughts flood your mind. "My book is brilliant, I don't want outside influences muting my 'voice', I don't want anyone stealing my never-been-thought of-in-the-history-of-time idea about space monkeys and their quest for the perfect banana..."

Here's why. If you find a GOOD critique group, be it online or in person (and there are pros and cons of each), they can do the following:

1) They are objective about your work. Well, at least more so than you. It can be extremely difficult to be objective about your own work. For instance, those of you with kids, how many of you think your child is not the cutest/most brilliant/talented example of small humanity out there. When you're attached to something - and after working on a novel for 6 months or 6 years, who isn't - it's difficult to step back and see where you might need help. Your critique group has that distance and can often point out problem areas much more easily.

2) They make you a better writer. Yes, really. No matter how great you think you are - and you might be great - you can get even better with the help of a good group. Writing in different POV's, characterization, story arc and use of dialogue are just a few examples of how the group can push you to do your best. They also can help point out your individual writing quirks - be it overuse of a certain word or the dreaded telling rather than showing. Also, critiquing the work of others in your group also makes you a better writer.

3) They encourage and support you. And not in a Paula Abdul, smoke up your ass kind of way. We share our ups and downs and have a "we're all in this together" mentality. Writing can be a tough and solitary experience, so it's nice having a built-in support group. When someone gets good news, it's so much fun to celebrate as a group and gives hope and motivation to the others. Plus, it's fun going to conferences where I actually know people there.

4) They serve as a collective barometer for your work. After getting a bunch of feedback from different personalities, part of your job is to decide which changes to incorporate and which don't serve your story. One of the best things about group feedback is you know there's a legitimate problem when more than one person points out the same issue with something in your story. For instance, I had multiple people tell me a line in my first chapter was funny but that the reference would be outdated by the time the book was published - so I changed it. On the flip side, when you have multiple people give you compliments on the same thing, you know it's well-earned and not the smoke up the ass thing.

5) They are a wealth of resources. I feel fortunate to be part of two wonderful critique groups and everyone has information that is shared with the group. Some of the published authors in my one group share information about publishing houses and editors that they like. Just this week, one woman in my group sent me a list of agents she thought would be a good fit for my book after reading my query. I've learned so much about the business end of things from my critique groups and it's been invaluable information.

As you can guess, I LOVE my critique groups. They consist of amazing, talented, persistent women who love writing as much as I do. So there you have my top 5 reasons to be in such a group. If you're in a group that doesn't have these 5 elements and feels more negative in nature, then maybe it's time to look for another group. NOTE: I found both of mine through SCBWI.

So, what have I missed? What are your favorite things about being in a critique group?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

YA Contest for signed copy of The Body Finder

This book looks awesome and I'm not just saying that because I have a strange fascination with serial killers. Check out The Road to Publication for details but I can tell you to hurry because the contest ends on 12/25.

Friday, December 4, 2009

New Look

I changed the look around here. Didn't want to throw anybody off. It was I! What do you think?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Win an ARC of The Dark Divine

Head on over to the Bookworming site to enter this YA contest for an ARC of The Dark Divine.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Win Signed Copy of Twilight

For all you Twilight lovers - and I know you're out there - Shannon Messenger is giving away a signed copy of Twilight in a contest over at her blog Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe. Get details here and best of luck!
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