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Friday, August 5, 2011

My Gratitude Journal: Readers

PLEASE NOTE: I am running my first-ever contest. To learn more, click on the little blue "Contest" tag at right. Welcome!

It should go without saying, but since I'm not certain, let me say it: Writing is communication. There is no communication without both a sender and a receiver. (This is basic Mass Communications 101; bear with me, please.) That presupposes that a writer must have a reader.

Today I'm issuing my heartfelt gratitude to all of you who read. If you're like me, you read whatever you can get your eyes on: novels, non-fiction tomes, magazine articles, newspapers, poems, short stories, cereal boxes, graffitti splashed on public buses... Everything!

I'm especially grateful for all who read my work, and especially for those who comment on it.

Okay, honesty compels me to mention that I'm not always grateful at the time. There was the one woman who critiqued a recent book of mine, beginning with the warning that her review would include numerous spoilers "so you won't have to read this awful book." Ouch. I wondered what I'd done to her!

There was also the one who undertook to critique a chapter I had posted in an online critique group. She carefully marked every use of the verb "to be" in the first two pages and then wrote that she was "to board" to read further. Uh-huh.

So you caught me. I'm not excited about every review, but even those I wish I hadn't read (the ones that remain with me so I can practically quote them back word for word) are still instructive.

Did I really use a cheesy, contrived ending for that one particular book? I hadn't thought so. Numerous readers who gave it high marks didn't think so, but one reader did. Maybe she wasn't just in a mood. Maybe there's something there I should consider before sending away my next manuscript.

Did I overuse "to be" verbs in my new book? Maybe. Was the write boring? To at least one reader, yes, it was.

Of course I prefer the people who gave my book five stars, who said they LOVED it and couldn't wait to read more of my work. I'm especially fond of the reader who went on Goodreads and proclaimed me her favorite author. Who doesn't want to be loved?

Still every one who took the time and trouble to write something gave me something of value. Today I am grateful for readers, one and all.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Breaking the Weather Rule

PLEASE NOTE: I am running my first-ever contest. To learn more, click on the little blue "Contest" tag at right. Welcome!

One of the unwritten rules many would-be critics have warned me against is "Don't start with the weather." According to one reader, the weather is what one discusses when one has nothing to say.

So what do you do when the weather matters -- when it's so important to the setting of your story that it's practically a character in itself? Here is how I am starting one work-in-progress, a novel tentatively titled RIGHT FACE:

Winter had come early to Utah Valley. It was only the first week of October, but already the mercury had registered several consecutive days of sub-freezing weather. Outside in the quad, a relentless wind howled like a tortured soul, lashing the heavy snowfall into drifts and swales or driving it into the eyes of the students who dared to brave the cold. Even here, in the central hall of the Harris Fine Arts Center, the cold still penetrated. Other buildings on the BYU campus were kept toasty warm, but the H-FAC stayed at even, cooler temperatures year-around, a concession to the pianos and paintings.

Is that too much weather talk? Would you give up on me after the first paragraph just because I included the weather?

I'm hoping not, but I'll listen to anything you have to say.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

10 Rules for Writing Fiction

PLEASE NOTE: I am running my first-ever contest. To learn more, click on the little blue "Contest" tag at right. Welcome! Now, tell your friends.

Since this is "Rules" week, let me refer you to a great blog I recently found.

What do P.D. James, Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen and Leonard Elmore all have in common? They, along with many other novelists, have created their own "rules for writing fiction" and have left these lists all in one place, the web site belonging to UK's Guardian.

Although I personally cannot advocate all of these rules, I believe you will find them entertaining and perhaps, even helpful. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Breaking the Rules

PLEASE NOTE: I am running my first-ever contest. To learn more, click on the little blue "Contest" tag at right. Welcome!

Yesterday’s entry looked at my own ten rules for fiction writing and tomorrow’s ‘best of the web” edition takes you to a site from The Guardian that shows many well-known authors’ lists of rules. Today I want to look at times when I have broken the rules – successfully!

One early rule warned me never to start a fiction piece with dialogue. I’ve enjoyed breaking that one. RIDE THE RAINBOW HOME, the first in my Rainbow Rock series from Avalon, begins with an exclamation and RIGHT CLICK (2009 from Covenant Communications) starts in the middle of a conversation.

I’m especially pleased with the way I’m breaking that rule now. My work-in-progress MAGGIE RISING begins, “So, are you really a psychic?” Ah, the amazing swinging door that opening creates!

Although I taught grammar for many years, I occasionally use a fragment for emphasis. In the book I’m revising for print, A SECRET FAMILY RECIPE, my troubled character Stephanie remarks, “Time to play the role of the sane-and-happy daughter once again.” Aha.

Sometimes I start sentences with And or But, and occasionally I punctuate short phrases as sentences. Go figure.

Mostly I’m a rule follower, but rule-breaking has its place. As I often said to my students, knowing the rules gives you permission to break them – on rare and appropriate occasions. I like to believe I’m right.

What is your attitude toward rule-breaking in modern fiction? Share with us?

Monday, August 1, 2011

My Rules for Fiction Writing

HOORAY! I am running my first-ever contest. To learn more, click on the little blue "Contest" tag at right. Welcome!

Since people began writing fiction (and writing about writing fiction), commentators have been creating rules about writing.

Ms. Grundy back in high school probably taught you some of those rules, such as "Never start a sentence with And or But" or "Don't use apostrophes." (Gotta love that one!) The more you read, the more you discovered that professional writers seldom listen to Ms. Grundy.

So, with apologies to Ms. Grundy and all the writers who have gone before, here is my current, up-to-the-minute list of rules for writing fiction, presented late-night-talk-show-style in reverse order:

10. If it reads like a writer’s exercise, trash it and start over.

9. “All good writing is rewriting.” – E.M. Forster

8. Do NOT read your reviews – at least not ever on a day when you plan to write.

7. Do not write in public. Writing, like certain other very personal activities, should only be done in private.

6. If you have reached the half-way point in your novel, and you aren’t yet dreaming about your characters, something is wrong. Fix it.

5. If you can’t reread your work because it’s boring, you were never meant to be a writer in the first place.

4. Share your work in progress with friends and family. Then share it with people who love good writing enough to be honest about where your work goes wrong.

3. Find a reader, not related to you, who loves everything you write. Save this person’s comments for the days when you foolishly read your reviews.

2. Examine the deep, unanswerable questions of life in your writing. Then set your work aside for your personal enjoyment and write something others will read.

1. Forget the rules. If it feels right, write it.

Do you have any rules to share? Please do.