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Friday, August 19, 2011

My Gratitude Journal: Critics

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

I'm grateful for critics? Really? Well, yes, but for a variety of very good reasons.

Over time critics have given us the tools for analyzing and discussing writing. We've learned to categorize in terms of different stylistic devices, organizational structures and points of view.

Critics gave us terms like "stream of consciousness." They observed and gave names to structures ("sonnet" or "quatrain"; "novel" and "novella") and they parsed those structures into understandable bits (an iambic foot, for example) and helped us understand how to talk about them.

Critics have helped us see that what works for some writers and some audiences will not work for others, which is why no one tries to write "Hamlet" in all its complexity for middle-grade students. They've helped us understand the needs of different readers.

People who write analytical reviews help us to know whether we are the correct audience for certain writers or pieces of writing, and they help those of us who write to improve future work.

Today I am grateful for critics. May they always be kind to me.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Experiments in Style

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 fun things about writing is experimenting in different styles. Not voices. My voice is my voice, and those of you who have followed me for a while now are beginning to know my writing voice.

No, my experiments are in different general approaches to writing.

A SECRET FAMILY RECIPE, my new book for Covenant, is an experiment in a variety of ways. For one thing, every chapter begins with a recipe, one a friend called "interactive" since the characters work with the food in the recipe.

Another difference is the point of view. My first seven books were all written in third person with one (or occasionally two) viewpoint(s). RECIPE has four narrators and multiple viewpoints.

Also different is the time period. Most of my books cover weeks or months while most of the action in RECIPE happens in a single week. Different? Um, yeah, I think so.

It's also been fun. I'm enjoying experimenting a little, and I think my readers may want to enjoy it, too.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Style Tips for Beginners

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

It's Style Week here at the blog and today's tip from the web discusses how to avoid the errors in style that may mark you as a beginner. In "Mistakes Often Made by Beginning Writers," author Debbie Lee Wesselmann shares a list of six tips for avoiding those humble errors.

Can you avoid every mistake? No way. Not even the best and finest writers are at the top of their game in every sentence of every book, but when you're about to send your fictional babies off to an agent or editor who is going to decide whether or not to give them wings, depending on how your manuscript reads, you do not wish to mark yourself as an Unlearned Outsider.

Wesselmann's hints hit at six of the most common ways to alert a professional that you aren't one yet. I can recommend this list most highly, and I found these good reminders for my own work as well.

Read. Enjoy. If one of the ideas she lists seems like a personal assault, take it personally, apply her insight to your manuscript, and write in a more polished, professional style ever after.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Setting Sail into the Future

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

In some manner of speaking, each of us, each moment of each day, is "setting sail into the future." Yet there are times and occasions where the change is obvious.

A wedding is one of those marked changes, and as I write, I'm on my way to see a nephew married.

Sean has grown up with my children. We think of him as a close part of our extended family and we thrill to see him marrying a darling girl who seems his perfect match. Someone asked me the other day if I had any advice for the new couple.

Where would I start? What have I learned in decades of marriage and more decades of observing other marriages that I could convey in a bumper sticker to a couple of kids who have seen little of the world?

"Be good to each other. Be patient. Remember that if you are having to put up with him (her), he/she is also having to put up with you." Oh yeah, I can think of some things, but what does any of that really mean to kids in their 20s?

It meant little to me when I was making my choice of a life partner, nor is it likely to mean much to them.

Perhaps the best advice anyone can give them is to make a mental snapshot of how they feel about one another as they take their vows, hold that emotional image in mind and call it up again in bad moments that come in the future, because they will have moments. We all do.

Congratulations, Sean and Ashley. May you always love each other as much as you do today and daily love each other more.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Writing with Style

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

Just as each person's voice is unique, each writer has a voice of her own. She (or he) uses words in a certain way, prefers specific sorts of sentence structures, organizes in given patterns and, generally speaking, has an unique writing voice.

This is how teachers of writing spot plagiarism, even before they've run a batch of papers through a style checker. When a writer's voice suddenly changes, the teacher becomes suspicious and begins looking for the true source of the words on the page.

So how do you attain your own unique writer's voice? Write. The voice happens.

That sounds like a simplification, but it's exactly the way it works. Prolific novelist Nora Roberts once told a group of us at a writer's conference that she didn't discover her own authorial voice until she was working on her eighth novel. Really. She knows her voice now, but it's been there all along, even from Book One.

Style is different, although subtly so, and you can exercise more conscious control of your styling.

Are you overly fond of adverbs? Learn to control them, saving them only for moments when they will make your image crisper, your character more appealing, your story more direct.

Do you seek for all kinds of ways to vary words? Don't do it. Mars may also be known as "the red planet," but if I don't know that, might I not think you're writing about TWO planets when you put Mars in one sentence and "the red planet" in the next?

A conscious study of your own style is one good way to make the serious leap from "I'm thinking about it" to "I'm a writer." I commend it to you.