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Friday, December 16, 2011

My Gratitude Journal: Holidays

This week I'm thankful for holidays. Actually, I'm thankful for them whenever they happen, but this week I decided to blog about it.

I'm thankful for this past Thanksgiving which saw 51 loved faces, all but one of them close relatives, all sharing our Thanksgiving dinner. I'm grateful for the week around the actual day, which turned into one of the best family reunions (we call them AylaPaloozas) we have ever had.

I'm grateful for all the people who made big sacrifices to join us, who contributed to the meals and the cooking, the costs and the fun, and who made the experience what it was for all of us. I'm grateful to my son, Adam, who somehow figured out how to host all 50+ of us and even prepared venison stew for the whole crowd.

I deeply appreciate my daughter's in-laws, the Wrights, who vacated their home so we could use it and then turned the keys over to our family. My daughter and her family stayed there, of course, but so did the dh and I and my aging parents had their own room and bathroom, a fact that enabled their trip to join us at AylaPalooza IV.

I'm grateful for the coming holiday as well, and for everything that Christmas means. This year the dh and I made a little pilgrimage of our own. The first shopping trip of the season was looking for an outdoor nativity scene that we can put on our front lawn to honor this holiday. We finally found one and we're looking forward to setting it up soon. I'm grateful for stores that still carry nativity scenes.

I'm thankful for the great year this has been with a new grandson born and the family all together, and as I look forward to another great one with another grandbaby due, I'm especially grateful for the people who go through this life with me and make it an enjoyable journey.

I'm grateful for holidays, and I'm grateful for all of you. May you enjoy the coming season and find the New Year blessed.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

No Name-Calling!

In Monday's post I mentioned the common error of name-calling -- no, not dirty names, but having the characters repeat one another's names whenever they speak in dialogue. It doesn't happen often in real life, although I have a friend who makes a point of putting my name into almost every sentence he speaks. In fiction, it sounds weak and amateurish. I have to admit, though, that it's something I often do in first draft writing and have to catch in revision.

This week's excerpt comes from EASTWARD TO ZION, my first historical. In this conversation James Martin and Eliza Wells are just getting to know one another. He is English, she Irish, and they've met in Australia. James has made a comment about his mother and Eliza responds with a gasp. The first draft of this was full of name-calling; this draft seems a little better. See what you think:

James patted her hand. “Tell me about it?”

Eliza nodded, still trying to regain her composure. “We’d all agreed that it was best for me to leave home to find work,” she began, “and after I’d looked around the nearby town of Castlebar a bit, we knew I’d probably have to go as far as England and possibly farther in order to make a future for myself. I s’pose I knew that, going that far away, I’d likely never see my home again, but I thought my ma would still be there, y’know? That I’d get letters and be able to write back to her, telling her about my life?”

James nodded reassurance, still holding her hand.

“She took ill the day I was to leave. I wanted to delay, but she said no, it was just a minor illness and I should go ahead as planned. I left, but I wasn’t pleased with it. Da sent a letter that caught up to me in Southampton just days after I got there. He told me she’d died suddenly the day after I left her, and she was askin’ for me at the end.”

“He shouldn’t have told ye that,” James said, solemnly shaking his head. “Ye couldn’t do a thing about it then, and knowing it didn’t help you any.”

“I believe Da thought it would be a comfort that Ma was thinkin’ of me.” Eliza wiped tears.

“I didn’t mean to speak ill of your father. It’s just … well, you don’t seem to be very comforted.”

“No, I don’t s’pose it was a comfort, after all.” They sat together while Eliza sniffed and wiped more tears and James held her hand. “I miss her so,” she said after a moment.

“I know,” he answered. “I miss my mother, too.”

I may still revise it further to include even less name-calling, but it seems to be coming along now. Let me know if you'd like to see changes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Best Fiction Writing Tips

On Wednesdays I try to bring you the best of the web for writing purposes. This week I found a doozy.

It's 101 Best Fiction Writing Tips from the "Write it Sideways" web source. The link I'm giving you here takes you to Part I, but the links for three additional parts are at the bottom.

Some of the ideas will sound familiar; they're repeated on every good writing web site and I've also included a few of them here. Others may give you cause for pause, or even a new perspective on how you are proceeding with your own work.

I commend them all to you and hope you find them useful.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I LOVE Christmas!

Of all the holidays I truly love, Christmas is my favorite, but if I'm being honest, I have to admit it's something of a love-hate relationship. So for the benefit of any of you who may feel the same way, here's my list:

  • I LOVE the spirit of the season.
    I hate (or at least, greatly dislike) the rush-rush, hurry-hurry, spend-spend part of it all.

  • I love the Greatest Story Ever Told, the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.
  • I dislike the fact that so much of what we see and hear at Christmas time completely misses "the reason for the season."
  • I love Christmas music, especially sweet older carols, hymns and triumphant songs. "O Come All Ye Faithful" and the "Halleujia Chorus" are up there with my favorite music of all time. I also love that wherever you go during this season, the canned music is Christmas favorites.
  • I dislike that the canned music we hear everywhere seldom includes a carol, hymn or song of triumph. Instead of "Away in a Manger," we tend to get "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."
  • I love the spirit of giving that seems even to reach the Scrooges and Grinches among us.
  • I dislike that that spirit of giving gets turned into giving diamonds, luxury cars, and even small electronics that cost more than I put down on my first home.
  • I love that we all seem to show greater care for the less fortunate around us.
  • I dislike that it takes a holiday to get many of us to care.
  • I love gaudy Christmas decorations and beautifully appointed trees and Christmas paper and ribbons.
  • I dislike that we have so much mess left to clean up and dispose of as the holiday comes to a close.
  • I love favorite holiday foods.
  • I dislike extra holiday pounds.

So you see, for me it's all about the love-hate that goes along with this time of year. Whether you agree with me or not, I hope your holiday is memorable and lovely. May you have a merry, merry Christmas this year.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Amateur Mistake We All Make

So you want to be a novelist and you are writing the greatest story anyone ever wrote, or at least a good story you'd like to read. Great!

The good news is, if you are smart, savvy and determined, you may in fact become a published novelist whose work will be read by many others and not just your mom. The bad news is, unless you are exceptionally talented, well studied and alert, you are probably making many of the newbie mistakes that all the rest of us made (and sometimes still make) when we're just getting started. Here are a few I've made and a few that always mark a manuscript -- to me, anyway -- as amateur work.


1. Telling, Not Showing

One of my ultimate favorite rules for writers is the exact opposite of this: Show, don't tell. So your main character (MC) is nervous? Don't TELL me, "Joan was nervous." Say something like, "Joan felt her breath coming faster, less evenly. Her hands shook so hard, she had to put them in her pockets so no one else would notice. She kept breathing in short, shaky little gasps." You won't have to tell us; we'll know.

2. Using the Passive Voice

What exactly does that mean? There are complex descriptions, but the basis is this: You're in passive voice when you show the object receiving the action ("The ball was hit") rather than showing the actor doing the action ("Larry hit the ball"). It's another way of removing the reader from what's going on, something you never want to do.

3. Doing Too Much Name-Calling in Dialogue

I've been guilty of this one myself, but usually in the first draft stage. I try to be good at catching it in revision. Here's a quick example of what I mean:

"Hi, Ed."
"Hello there, James."
"So, is it warm enough for you, Ed?"
"Ha-ha, James. You know I hate the heat.
And yeah, it sounds just that bad when you overdo it in your own book. Ugh. Thank goodness for revision!

Overdoing the Modifiers

All of us who learned to type (or keyboard) remember that "the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy yellow dog," but when every noun is preceded by two or three adjectives and the adverbs start being tossed around liberally, it not only becomes tiring for readers, it can even confuse the point we're trying to get across. An excellent way to cut down on modification is to use specific nouns and carefully chosen verbs: Not "The very fit athlete walked really, really fast toward the lake," but "The Olympic medalist speed-walked toward the lake." One writing teacher told me to "use the exact right words, sparingly." I got the point.

Overdoing the Drama

A friend once cajoled me into reading her first manuscript. I got maybe half-way when I had to ask her, "Doesn't anything good EVER happen to your characters?" She didn't realize that making her character a victim who suffered at everyone's hands, who made nothing but bad choices and had nothing but evil occur in her life did NOT make the MC sympathetic; it made her seem like a wimpy, tragic doormat who couldn't make a good choice, even (literally) to save her life. It was NOT a fun reading experience.

The good news is this friend was willing to learn, believed me, and made some powerful changes that greatly increased the quality of her work.

The point here is, if you're a newbie and you're making newbie mistakes, forgive yourself, learn from the experience, and move on. You just may become the novelist you hope to be.