Monthly Archives: April 2010

Go With the Flow

Recently, I’ve found myself listening to late evening radio shows that feature announcers who speak in foreign languages. I used to change the channel when these came on, but have discovered that I enjoy listening to the cadence and rhythm of a foreign tongue. There is a lyrical quality to the ebb and flow of pitch intertwined with the fluency of the spoken word. With meaning removed from the equation, I am free to appreciate the music of language.

I have always felt that it is important to incorporate this quality into one’s writing, and there are a few web resources that say it better than I probably would. Here are the links:

Common “pitfalls” of sentence structure and how to avoid them:

http://www.mycollegesuccessstory.com/academic-success-tools/superb-sentences.html

Helpful suggestions for avoiding choppy sentence structure:

http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/573/03/

This one is aimed at younger writers, but the content is excellent:

http://www.ttms.org/writing_quality/sentence_fluency.htm

On the qualities of good prose:

http://www.fictionfactor.com/articles/style.html

Sentence variation and the rhythm of writing:

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/159621/how_you_can_write_strong_and_lively.html

Enjoy!

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To Critique or Not to Critique

It is common these days for writers to find other writers to swap manuscripts with, for the purpose of critique. I have two critique partners (or “critters,” as they are fondly referred to).  Like me, both have written YA manuscripts, but neither writes historical, and neither writes third person. Both are younger than I am. Nevertheless, I have found their comments to be valuable and thought provoking, and I’ve made several positive alterations to my manuscript as a result of their good insights.

Ty Roth, whom I interviewed for the blog two weeks ago, didn’t have any critique partners at all. Or even beta readers. His agent and editor (and people who work with them) are the only ones besides Ty to have ever read his manuscript.  He admitted that the work he submitted was rough, but emphasized that the story was the important thing.

I found this enlightening.

The downside of critique partners is that everyone has his/her own likes and dislikes, perspective and preferences. Each time someone recommends changing your manuscript, a little more of the essence is chopped away, and by the time an author is “done,” the end result might be an over-thought and pasteurized shadow of its former self. If it was terrible, that’s not a bad thing, but if it wasn’t, it might not be a good one.

This reminds me of an old story, that goes something like this:

There was once an old man who decided that the day had come to take his donkey to the market and sell it. He and the donkey had been together for a long time, but their traveling days were over, and the donkey was a hungry one. He harnessed the animal one last time, took hold of the rope and led the donkey down the road.

After a mile or so, someone going in the other direction jeered, “Why are you leading that donkey, when you could be riding him?” The old man hadn’t wanted to burden his four-legged friend before saying goodbye, but realized that the stranger had a point, so he climbed on top of the donkey and continued on his way.

After another mile or so, a different traveler came upon them and exclaimed, “Why are you riding that poor old donkey? He’s so pathetic that you should be carrying him!” The old man realized that this stranger also made sense, and so he dismounted. With an awkward heave, he hauled the donkey onto his shoulders and determinedly walked on.

A third person came upon them and stood in the road laughing. “You crazy old man, why are you carrying that donkey? He should be pulling a cart or something.” The old man stood with the donkey on his back until the stranger had passed, then slowly lowered his loyal friend to the ground. The donkey gazed at him, and the man felt badly that he had allowed other people’s opinions to sway what he really wanted to do. Reaching over, he grasped the animal’s halter and they walked side by side once again.

Having your manuscript read by critique partners can be a very positive experience, but everyone’s got their own opinion. You’ve got to go with your gut, and only make the changes that feel right. An agent might just love it the way it is.

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The Perils of Underestimating

The moral of the story is, don’t ever assume when your new Boy Scout has his first camping weekend in three days, that all you have to do is go to the store to buy a few things.

I am officially not blogging for the rest of the week. See you on Monday! 🙂

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Another Busy Day…

Will post tomorrow.

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Hooking a Good Query

When I first started to send out queries, I was ignorant of what constituted a good one. I wrote what I felt was an interesting summary of my manuscript, but there was no hook, and in the bio section I rambled on about having styled it after classic boy books of the 1950s and 1960s. I burned through about 25 agents before getting smart and posting my query on AQConnect for some feedback. After taking the advice of people who obviously knew more than I did, my new query has been averaging slightly better than one request per 10 queries.

The hardest thing about writing the new query was to think of a good hook. After several lackluster attempts, I was finally inspired. “When fourteen-year-old Brian Edwards finds a box in the attic filled with old newspaper clippings and a ring just like his grandfather’s, he realizes he’s stumbled across the family secret: Jack.” (This had been preceded by: “Brian Edwards moves with his dad to the family farm and discovers an 80-year-old secret,” and before that, “Jim and Jack is a contemporary boy book with a historical twist, realistic literary fiction.” Catchy!)

Since then, I have found myself thinking of hooks for fun. Whether it’s a new idea for a short story or just a pithy twist on a real-life situation, I am honing my hook skills so that the next time I need to write a query letter, I’ll be ready. For example, on my birthday, it occurred to me that it would be funny to write a short story called Happy Birthday to Me, with the hook, “Crazed mother/wife decides that she is going to get exactly what she wants for her birthday, or else!” For my recent contribution to Anne Riley’s murder scene blog-fest, it was, “An heiress suspects that her life is in danger, but no one listens until she is silenced for good.”

These may not be great, but the point is that it takes a certain mindset to hone a summary into a short but catchy phrase, and practice makes perfect.

What in your life can be summed into a hook?

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When the Time is Write

I am one of those people who is frequently late for things. Not terribly late, but not exactly on time, either. Sometimes, when it’s really important, I manage to get where I’m going when I should, but those occasions are rare, and don’t often happen without a struggle.

I have wondered where exactly I go wrong, that this happens so regularly. Is it because I don’t get up early enough? Do I not manage my time well? 

Several years ago, a similarly time challenged co-worker shared her theory that the inside of a shower is actually a time warp. Once one is enshrouded in its steamy confines, time passes unnoticed, and what seems like a five minute shower can be thirty minutes or longer.

While it might be an exaggeration to think of the shower as another dimension, I have realized that there is a grain of truth to it. When I am showering, my mind is not on soap and water, it is busy outlining stories, ironing out plot points, thinking up good names for my characters, and filling in backstory. Like a preoccupied driver, I end up at my destination (clean) but can’t remember how I got there.

I have spoken with other writers about this phenomenon, and they agree that it exists. Shower thoughts, running thoughts, car thoughts, those are the times that the really good writing takes place, the most creative, most machiavellian plot twists. When our bodies are busy but our minds are free.

When I do finally exit the shower, it usually takes me a few more minutes to write down my ideas before they evaporate.

Are those mini tape recorders waterproof?

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Taking the Evening Off

I was going to post something this evening, even though I belatedly posted yesterday’s this morning, but I decided to take the day off because it’s my birthday.

See you on Monday!

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