Thursday, September 30, 2010

What annoys you the most?

What annoys you the most about writing? Is it a struggle or confusion? What element confounds you the most?

For me it is the comma. I have always detested the comma and feel that comma splice is among the most offensive forms of writing. I would rather see no commas at all than one thrown in for the heck of it. So, yeah, my crit group loves to decorate my MS with commas. I have always felt that commas (at least in some uses) are subjective. BUT they are necessary, and so, I will list the most common reasons to use a comma as a way of clearing my conscience.

1. Series of 3 or more with a single conjunction
EXAMPLE: Amy bought toothpaste, lotion, and lip gloss at the store.

2. Parenthetic expressions or nonessential clause/phrase
EXAMPLE: Cassey, on the other hand, wanted to go to the mall.
EXAMPLE: My rose garden, when in full bloom, is beautiful.

UMMM...let's see

3. Introductory phrases/clauses before main clause
EXAMPLE: While I was sleeping, Mom cleaned my room.

4. Separating two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction
EXAMPLE: The town shut down at noon, but I continued to window-shop.

UGH this is painful!

5. Two or more coordinating adjectives (Though, why have so many adjectives in the first place?)
EXAMPLE: The sweet, gentle child fell fast asleep.

There are loads more, but as I hate them I will stop at 5. Now what about you? What element of writing confounds you? What drives you crazy?

Monday, September 27, 2010

CONTEST MONDAY!

There are lots of great contests going on in the blogosphere, but two caught my attention today that deserve mentioning.

1. Angela at The Bookshelf Muse is offering a 3 month mentorship. This contest is open through Wednesday, September 29th so hurry over. I have not entered the contest, yet, but definitely plan to!

http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.com/2010/09/1000-followers-contest-mentorship.html

2. Roni at Fiction Groupie has a great contest running through Sunday. It's her birthday so pop over and say Happy Birthday, then enter your email address as a comment and presto! You are entered into the contest to receive a 5 page crit from her. She will select two winners. One will get the option of either the crit or a new copy of Wicked Becomes You by Meredith Duran. The second winner will receive whichever is left.

http://fictiongroupie.blogspot.com/2010/09/birthday-contest.html

Good luck to everyone!!!

M.B. :)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Absence makes the heart grow fonder...

I have had a bad week. Scratch that -- two weeks. I am a fairly private person, but as the last few weeks have been so horrible I hope you will find it okay that I share it with you.

Two weeks ago my husband lost his job. We are fortunate, in many ways, as while I am part-time my salary covers most of our bills. But bills were not my concern. Our insurance was with my husband and Cobra was more than my mortgage so it wasn't an option. We decided to wait to see if he found a job quickly and if not would search out private insurance options. Thankfully God took care of us and my DH begins his new job on Monday...but it wasn't quick enough.

Last Saturday my daughter, Rylie, began to run a high 103 fever. We gave her Motrin and she fell asleep in my arms. By 5 am on Sunday the fever was over 104 and climbing. We rushed her to the ER. After well over an hour we were taken back and the first words out of the doctors mouth were "Oh, you're paying for this." He assured us this wasn't a charity case but he felt the fever was viral and that any additional testing would only be a waste of our money. We were sent away after paying a couple of hundred out of pocket, knowing nothing more than what we knew going in.

That day her fever held tight at 104 dropping to 102.5 with Motrin, but again going back up after 2 hours. We were instructed to give her Tylenol and Motrin alternating every 3 hours until the virus ran its course. The meds didn't take well to her system so by Monday on top of the fever, exhaustion, etc, she now had a severe upset tummy. We take her to her Pediatrician and I suggest dehydration. They shake it off, but request a urine sample. Seven hours later we were able to supply them with a urine sample. SEVEN HOURS TO GET ONE SAMPLE! They agreed it must be a virus and sent us home with the same Tylenol/Motrin spill, not even touching on the fact that it took so long for her to provide the sample.

Finally, Wednesday night the fever breaks. We take her off the meds and she stays at around 100 through the night and by Thursday morning she has no fever at all. But by noon she's pale, more lethargic, etc -- absolutely pitiful. I ask my husband to go get her some Pedialite, my instinct is too strong now. I know she is dehydrated. Within an hour she has downed two cups. A few hours pass, more liquid, and she is a totally different child. The color has returned to her cheeks. She's playing -- not a lot, but more active.

Today, she is 100% better, but this experience taught me a very valuable lesson.
There is no amount of training, degree, specialization, etc that can trump a mother's instinct towards her child.

My gut told me that Rylie was dehydrated. I mentioned it countless times, but was assured that it wasn't the case. I should have bought Pedialite the moment I noticed her upset stomach. I should have argued with the doctors and bitched beyond measure when the doctor mentioned our lack of insurance. I replay over and over, even now, what I should have done. The guilt is overwhelming to be honest, but I am convinced that God ingrained all mothers with a special chemical known as Mommy Guilt. It runs rich through us and threatens to pollute our minds at any given turn. There is no cure.

So that's my story. This is why I haven't blogged or tweeted or written this week. Monday I'll resume regularly scheduled programming, but I hope that if nothing else this post has let you know that you are not alone in whatever trials you are struggling with. The more I learn about people and the world, the more I learn that problems are universal and smiles are contagious. Cut those around you some slack; cut yourself some slack, and smile -- often.

M.B.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hooks?

Hooks are maybe one of the most frustrating elements of writing. We need to hook on the first page, first paragraph, etc. We have to hook in our query. There seems to be endless requests for strong hooks. Which brings me to my post/question for today -- what hooks you?

I've read through the first few pages of my favorite books lately just analyzing the hooks. Want to know what they all have in common? They present a question. Not a true question with a question mark, but a question in the reader's mind and that question has to be answered. So, as a reader, I read on in hopes of getting my answer. I also think one similarity is that the initial question presented is always answered by the end of that first chapter. And many times the first chapter presents one or more questions that push the story forward.

Let's take Hunger Games as an example. The last line of the first paragraph reads: This is the day of the reaping.
Immediately we want to know what's a reaping? Why does it scare Prim? By the end of Chapter 1 we know and find that Prim has been chosen. What does that mean? What will happen to her? There are lots of questions presented by the end of Ch. 1.

More examples:

Savvy -- When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it.
This is the first sentence!! The very first line of that book presents a question. How in the word could her brother cause a hurricane? By the end of Ch. 1 we know and now want to know what Mibs' savvy will be.

A Great and Terrible Beauty -- I am staring into the hissing face of a cobra.
This is the second line of the book. What? Why is she staring into a cobra's face? By the end of Ch. 1 we know and also know that Gemma hates it in India.

Grab your favorite books. What questions are presented in the opening paragraph/pages. Is that what pulled you into the story?

I just cut the first 2 pages of my first chapter after learning this lesson about hooks.

Previous first line:

I stepped up to bat as the sky burst open, blinding me to the incoming pitch.

No questions presented at all.

New first line:

"You don’t have to go in,” Mom said for tenth time since I arrived.

Now, this is rough and I may reword Mom's tag a bit, but with this one line I've presented two questions. Go in where? Arrived where? My hope is that this hooks the reader to want to know where they are and why my MC doesn't want to go inside, especially considering the next line involves my MC thinking to himself that he doesn't want to go in.

Check your first paragraph/page. Are you presenting questions? Are you hooking the reader?

M.B.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Let's talk about sex -- Writing Topics Wednesday!

Today is Writing Topic Wednesday and while most of the time I will focus on issues that surround most writers -- hooks, passive voice, etc. -- today I want to talk about sex, specifically in YA.

There seem to be two groups of thought on this topic. Some claim it is irresponsible to delve into sex scenes, especially gratuitous sex scenes, in YAs. Others feel sex is part of the teenage world so why not? There are many examples of YA books with sexual content, from discreet scenes in Shiver to more detailed encounters reported in The Duff (of which I have only read the first few chapters on B&N so I cannot claim to have an opinion on that one). And let's not forget Twilight and while the book contained no hint of actual sex, the implication of heated desire was more than there. A hot guy wants to suck a girls blood because she smells so damn good he can't stand it. Uh, yeah.

Now as writers we often suggest that the story "tells itself" and therefore whatever is fine as long as it is true to the story. I have one thing to say to this: HOLY COP OUT. Claiming that thinking too much of the audience will hinder your craft to me is absolute BS. Write your story, write it well, but you better dang remember that a 12 year old will be reading it. People claim that there is a such thing as "upper YA." Again, I say BS. You want to know why? Because middle school girls long for nothing more than to act/feel older. Consequently, these same girls are reading YA, and the juicier the better.

My niece is a fantastic girl. Smart, beta club, honor student, all that jazz. Well she is also tall with blond hair and the most beautiful skin on the planet. She gets attention at school, so much so that the other week she asked me why guys only care about "nice butts and big boobs." So please, do not even suggest that "upper YA" exists. I'm the "cool aunt" which means my niece and her friends have no issue talking to me about everything that I do not want to hear. You wanna know what I have learned? My 2 year old is going to be on house arrest when she hits 10. Just kidding...sort of.

The point is that as writers for YA we have an obligation to consider the full range of readers, which let's face it, is likely 12-30. In my opinion, gratuitous sex in YA is irresponsible, so much so that it pisses me off. Why go there? Is it really necessary? 90% of the time the answer is no. You are fooling yourself if you don't realize now that young girls romanticize sex. Even the slutty girls, you know the ones, are probably only seeking attention and finding it any way they can.

Now, if you choose to hint at these details, delve into the heated hormonal world of teenage lust, then go right ahead. I personally feel that is fine, and even expected. But if you are writing about the dirty elements of sex, look at your children, or nieces/nephews. Do you want them reading that crap? If the answer is no you better get to revising. And if the answer is yes, well then, that's another topic all together.

M.B.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Contest Monday!

As per my new schedule today is CONTEST MONDAY!

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September Secret Agent contest on Miss Snark's First Victim
Basic Info:
Priliminary info only, actual contest begins September 20th but note that the contest WILL be full within minutes of opening which is why I am posting about it today. Get yourself ready! I participated in the July contest and the feedback was amazing!
Details:
Submit first 250 words for critique. If the Secret Agent loves it he/she will request pages.
Genres:
SF/F
Historical and paranormal romance
MG and YA (including all subgenres)
********************************************************

Friday, September 10, 2010

Putting others down...

I missed my Wednesday writing post so I'll do a double post next week to catch up...well, I'll try. ;)

A strange thing happened to me last week. I'm not going to get into the crazy/petty details but I am learning there is a particular breed of person (can be male or female) that enjoys making statements that bring others down. I have had this happen to me twice in the last week. Now, don't get too sad for me, I'm a pretty tough cookie and take this sort of thing in stride, but others do not. I found myself listening and wondering why people choose to behave this way? Is it a self-esteem thing? That's what all the psych majors would say, but I think it runs deeper than that. And the reason I chose to blog about it today is that there seems to be an overload of this type of person in the writing world.

Have you met one? Either in person or online? It's the kind of writer that likes to tell you what you are doing wrong and what you can do to make it to THEIR level. Hmmm...okay, so you are not published, is that correct? Yes, says the person. And you have no training, right? Yes, the person repeats. So, why am I to listen to you? Uhhhhh...

Yeah, that's what I thought.

See, I am a tough critter. My crit partners can probably attest to this fact, but I am also extremely supportive. I think critiquing should be tough. It is useless if it doesn't force the writer to stop and think. If you are simply critiquing niceties, stop. You are wasting the person's time. But on the same front, if you read something and think it is absolute crap take a step back. Is it in the same genre as what you write? Same style? It is one thing to point out issues, it is another one entirely to call something "bad." Don't do that, please for the love of strawberries stop yourself! We are all learning here. We are all striving for the same or similar goals. Why not support one another? And this goes for all elements of life, not just writing.

I am from the South, that is of the U.S, and all Southern women are given the same gift at birth. We can insult you, like slap you in the face insult, with a wide smile on our faces and so much sugar in our voices you're liable to get a tooth ache. It is an unfortunate gift. I have a family member that has practiced her sugar slap to the point that you have to do a double take to be sure you heard her right. She'll compliment your makeup, smile wide, and then say something like "Don't you just hate it when ladies with full lips wear lipgloss." And you start to nod and realize, wait -- I have full lips and I'm wearing lip gloss!

Congratulations, you just received the sugar slap.

Moral of this super long post? Please, please, please follow Lincoln's wise words - "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."

Trust me, if you are prepared to smack someone down to size realize now in actuality you are only making yourself look like a fool...I'm actually thinking of another word, but I'll keep my blog relatively clean. ;)

:) M.B.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Blog Awards!

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Well I am thrilled to death to have received the below blog awards from two fantastic bloggers - Amanda at Madameduck and Catherine at The Writing Room.







Thanks so much to both of you! Blogging is a newer thing for me and I am glad you've enjoyed my posts so far. :)

The rules:

1. Thank and link back to the blogger who gave the award.
2. Share seven things about yourself.
3. Pass the award on to fifteen bloggers, newly discovered or those you've been following
4. Contact the bloggers that you selected for awards.

My favorites:

1. Anna Staniszewski

2. Jennifer Bertman

3. Rose Cooper

4. Karen Strong

5. Liz Straw

... More to come. :)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Contests, opportunities, etc.

New post schedule. I will be aiming to post every M, W, F.

Mondays - Contest information
Wednesday - Writing problems and suggestions (including links) of ways to overcome them
Friday - Confetti (Anything goes, but I will try to concentrate on book reviews)

Now on to the fun!

CONTEST INFORMATION
__________________________________________________________________________
C.A. Marshall - freelance editor, agent intern, super woman

Okay, this is crazy stuff, just crazy! Ms. Marshall is offering a chance to win a full MS edit on her blog! All you have to do is enter, but if you follow her blog, tweet about it, and blog about it, you'll increase your chances to win. Then enter all that jazz into the form on her blog and presto! You've just entered a contest with a chance to win a full critique. Now go, hurry up!

http://www.camarshall.com/

__________________________________________________________________________
This contest inspired me to start a continuous post. So, every Monday be on the look out for contests. I will do my best to include as many as possible and little tid-bit about the person(s) hosting the contest. If you hear of any between now and next Monday definitely let me know! I'll post them.

Now back to writing... :)

M.B.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Writing that evokes emotion

So as I mentioned in a previous post I just finished reading Stein's On Writing. Great book, if you have not read it yet you need to. It is so fantastic!

Well in the book he touches on our role as writers. Most writers say they write to express themselves or to tell a story. He says that's wrong. You should be writing to evoke emotion in your reader. What does that mean exactly? The long and short of it is that we, as people, experience everyday life. Don't write about everyday life. Write with feeling. Develop characters with feeling. Show drama and intensity and tension throughout your book so your story, even if it's a quiet story, leaves that reader feeling something.

I thought for a bit about how to do this exactly when suddenly it occurred to me that anything BIG that has ever happened in our lives inflicted emotion in us. Death does not only make us sad. It causes our bodies to ache. Our brains to feel like mush. Death changes our bodies and minds in ways the word "sad" could never convey. So why would a writer ever use the word sad? The answer is simple - we shouldn't. It does our story a disservice to describe emotions. And what about a happy time? Let's say you're on the track team and to be honest, you're not that good. You get by. You never embarrass yourself, but you never make your team shine. Then one day, one meet, you do it. Something inside you comes to life and you race around the track with more drive than your dad's old Chevy. Now all the sudden you feel some self-worth. Your mind is all over the place, excitement and exhaustion move through you in equal measure, but you can't give up, won't give up. You cross the finish line and set a new record for your team. Does happy describe how you feel? Heck no! Happy doesn't even come close! So why ever use that word or any other word similar to happy?

What's the point of this post? When big things happen in your story go big. Your character's body should feel different, things should smell different, taste different, even look different? Why? Because we are talking about fiction and if in our real life the words sad and happy do not work then in our writing the words don’t even come close.

Monet painted beautiful landscapes, but none of them ever looked like a true landscape. He dramatized art. You should too. I would love to see/read samples of how you have showed an emotion in your writing. We're all learning write? If you're willing and brave post a reply with a sample of "showing" emotion.

M.B.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Writing Books...

I've read many writing books and can say that the vast majority of them would produce nothing more than a cookie-cutter book with little to no life. I have found only 3 that I feel are at all inspiring - Bird by Bird, On writing - both King's and Stein's. I loved all three of these books. I do like Self-editing for Fiction Writers as well, but for different reasons. I realized today that while many writing books are by agents or editors or publishing pro's. These three are actually by writers. Of all the experts to seek out in writing wouldn't you think we would turn to writers first? Oddly enough, I think we often turn to agents or editors and while their information is gold. It doesn't often speak to me in the manner that a writer can. I have read countless mentions of "show don't tell" but only after reading Sol Stein's description did the light bulb turn on. I've read editors speak about the value of tight writing. Okay, what in the heck does that really even mean? And then you open Stephen King's On Writing and suddenly it is all so clear. I'm sure I will read other books on writing and take bits and pieces from each, but for now I'm just going to write, revise, and write again until I feel I've learned as much as possible about the crazy craft known as writing.

M.B.