Category Archives: Writing Tips
A Cleverly Disguised Lesson
My normal movie review consists of one or two sentences. Something like “Good film.” Seriously, because I’ve never been a big fan of critics of books or film, thinking that they represent a sort of a “those who can’t do, criticize” situation. But this review is actually a cleverly disguised lesson in story and structure. It’s short, but not as short as my norm. For the record, my official review is, “If you liked the first two movies, you’ll like this one.” Now, on to the cleverly disguised lesson. Be warned, I’m going to completely spoil the ending.
The first part of the third part of the Hunger Games trilogy follows the book closely. That makes sense, since the original author also wrote the adaptation. If you’ve read the book, you know what happens, so I won’t go into that. It’s a well done movie, except for the ending. Right near the end of the film, the team from District 13 rescues the Victors from the capitol, including Peeta, the love of our protagonist’s life. For those who don’t know, Peeta and Katniss (the protagonist of the whole story) go way back, and of course they are in love. So it is a shock to Katniss when Peeta tries to choke her to death. The last moment of the scene where he does that has the head of security for District 13 knocking Peeta unconscious as Katniss pssses out, then it fades to black. Now that’s a great ending! What the Hell is going on here? Devoted viewers want to know! Unfortunately, this film actually shows the answer.
Ending the chapter there (and that’s what this film is, a chapter in a larger story) would have been a wonderful thing to do. People who had not read the books would be on tenterhooks for a year until part two came out. It would have been a great way to keep up interest in the story, and especially in the last segment of it. But, “hey, we’re filmmakers! We don’t need no steenkin’ story structure!” (I guess that’s what they thought.) The explanation is that Peeta was cruelly brainwashed. Katniss wakes up, and as President Coin gives a rousing speech, Katniss sneaks off to see Peeta through an observation window, strapped to a bed and writing in agony. Okay, still not a good thing, but, in terms of building suspense, a large let down! Now instead of “What the Hell is going on?” viewers are left with “Gee, hope Peeta’s going to be okay.” The ending could be worse, but consider that Peeta is not the protagonist! If he were killed the story would have continued. It’s nice that he’s alive, and it’s a bit of mystery as to how it will all come out, but really, this is Katniss’s story, so focusing on Peeta at the end is, pffffft!
Katniss is the protagonist, heroine if you prefer. She’s the one that we’ve been following all along, and she’s the one we worry about. Shortly before Peeta tries to kill her, President Coin tells her that she’s one of the people who somehow find the strength to carry on in spite of everything. So, Peeta’s death, while tragic, would not stop the story. Katniss’s death would. This isn’t a filmmaking storytelling error on the level of the Lord of the Rings fiasco, but it’s a bad mistake. You need to end a chapter on a note of rising tension and uncertainty for the main character, not a problem with a supporting actor. When you’re writing a chapter, keep in mind that the ending has to make the reader want to turn the page and start the next chapter RIGHT NOW! For a secondary character to heal or not, we can wait.
by Fred Rayworth
Sunday morning, early. Easter Sunday. No big deal to me since I’m not of that persuasion, not since I was a little kid (and not even then, because my belief system wasn’t formed and I was lucky enough to have parents that let me make up my own mind). To me it’s just another Sunday morning with the usual self-imposed deadline for my Tuesday web site article posting. Or, as some of you might call it, my blog posting. I don’t really like to call it a blog because that implies a quick three-times-a-week smidgen of thought. At least that’s the impression I retained when I first dove into this game over a year ago. On the other hand, a lot of my fellow bloggers can be quite prolific several times a week. I just don’t have the time like I used to.
My once-a-week, Tuesday posting usually comes out of my head every Sunday morning as I’m sitting here by myself, with a quiet house. Everyone else is asleep, even the dawgs. Woof… or, lack of woof, to be more precise.
There’s no real reason for my self-imposed deadline except I like to post on Tuesday because that’s the day I picked when I started my web site. Monday is the Henderson Writer’s Group meeting. Tuesday is the first evening of the new week where I get to spend time on the computer, after nightly news, and before NCIS comes on. I have a span where I can check my e-mails, maybe do a bit of work on updating the Observer’s Challenge and even add to the forums on Cloudy Nights or watch some heavy metal vomit band on YouTube. Or, at least watch part of a video. For some reason, I don’t often watch them all the way through as of late.
THE OBSERVER’S CHALLENGE
My second deadline, which is a bit looser, is the Observer’s Challenge. My friend, Roger Ivester and I compile observations from other amateur astronomers around the country. I put it all together in Microsoft Word and then .pdf documents, then send it to our web master at the Las Vegas Astronomical Society (LVAS), Rob Lambert. He posts it on the club web site. Besides that, Roger and I both post the .pdf files on our own web sites, mine here on my Observer’s Challenge page. This process takes about a month and a half. A much looser deadline than my weekly blog. However, it is still a very important process that does take time and effort, but time and effort I enjoy immensely, just like these articles I write every week.
These deadlines, while self-imposed, provide enjoyment, though no profit. The Observer’s Challenge involves other people so I’d be letting down someone besides myself if I didn’t come through. If I slipped and didn’t post my weekly article, a few of you might wonder what happened after a week or so. Most would probably forget about it for a while then all of a sudden wonder what happened to good old Fred. Then you might shrug and go on about your lives, if that.
THE BIG KAHUNA
When and if my books (Meleena’s Adventures – Treasure of the Umbrunna & Lusitania Gold) ever reach the publishing stage, I’ll most certainly have deadlines. The publisher will go through them and red-line the daylights out of them. Send them back to me with a date of expected return for a second run-through. I’ll be given a deadline to fix those edits. If not, my book will be delayed in publication or they might even drop me from the list. That could be real pressure except I’d be on it like… well, I don’t want to say the unprintable cliché. I know all about deadlines. When I worked as a technical writer, I used to deal with deadlines all the time. With my books, we won’t be talking about work-related deadlines. This has to do with my writing, what I do for a calling, what I do for fun and profit. My self-imposed deadlines because I want others to see my work.
Do you have any kind of deadlines? Do you not only set them, but do you meet them? Or, do you let them slip, over and over again and just go on, never quite finishing what you started? On the other hand, do you set a deadline, or get one for something you wrote and freak out then lose all your writing skill and turn into a blubbering mass of insecurity?
Remember, we’re not talking about the making a living type deadlines, but what you do for fun and profit. This is supposed to be a calling, what you do because you love it, because it’s what you have to do, not something you must to do because someone has a gun to your head.
WHEN IT’S NOT SELF-IMPOSED
If you’ve turned in a manuscript and an editor sends it back all redlined and says “Fix it. I need it back in three weeks.” What do you do? That’s a deadline. Are you going to get right on it and fix it and run to the post office and get it back to them, or are you going to freak out, sit on it until the last minute and make a few quick changes then throw what’s left in the mail and hope for the best? Or are you going to blow the deadline and take your sweet time and hope they didn’t notice?
There’s a deadline for submission to a periodical and you want to submit a short story. You have a great idea but keep procrastinating. Either do it, or move on (See? I avoided the obvious censored cliché here).
Deadlines can work in our favor if you are one that can write under pressure. If you can’t, never let one get that close. Start early so you can finish early.
From Lust to Love: Creating Believable Resolutions
by Tami Cowden
In the real world, a lasting romance rarely happens in the few days or weeks over which a romance takes place. Yet over and over again we read about the accelerated development of a loving bond between two people. Why do some books make us happily sigh as we read the last page, while other make us shrug and murmur, “I give it a few months?”
More than simple sexual attraction is needed to make me believe that Jane Heroine and John Hero are going to live happily ever after. Not that I have anything against good old-fashioned lust, but people can’t live their lives on bearskin rugs in front of fireplaces. I need to understand why Jane and John were meant for each other, and pheromones alone won’t convince me. And won’t convince my readers, either.
So how does a writer show the progress of the relationship from lust to love in a believable way? Well, as in real life, once you start with that nice chemical attraction, there are three more steps to a lasting loving relationship.
The first step is respect. Something should occur in the story so the hero and heroine develop mutual respect. For example, the hero notices her compassion; the heroine notices his bravery. The basis of the respect can vary depending upon the needs of your story.
For example, think about the movie Romancing the Stone, a great romantic story where the hero, Jack, and the heroine, Joan, fall in love over the course of just a couple of days. Remember the scene where they are in the plane? Joan is berating Jack for his lack of finesse, and general ungentlemanly conduct. She realizes he’s not listening, and starts to scold him for that too – just as he pulls out his machete and kills the snake that threatens her. She begins to respect him at that moment – she realizes that while he doesn’t fit her idea of a “gentleman,” by golly, he’s one helluva a man. And Jack looks at the whining writer with new eyes a few scenes later, when the drug dealers shower praise on her for her books.
This movie has a several other scenes in which their mutual respect continues to grow. The novelist can add as many scenes as appropriate to her story.
Next comes trust. Here, the hero and heroine each not only learn the other is worthy of his/her trust, but also display the trust they feel..
In Romancing the Stone, Joan shows their relationship has advanced to trust when she agrees to hunt for the treasure itself, rather than simply focusing on getting the map to the people holding her sister. Jack shows that same trust when he – already having possession of the map – puts it back under the mattress when she agrees to go with him. Her confession that he is the best time she ever had is also an exposure of herself – a demonstration of trust, which touches him. Joan also demonstrates her trust by agreeing to meet Jack in Cartegena with the treasure, once the river separates them.
Finally, comes love. All defenses removed, the hero and heroine realize and demonstrate their love for each other. In Romancing the Stone, Jack realizes/shows his love when he 1) gives up the stone to the bad guys so Joan would not be hurt, and 2) lets the alligator (crocodile?) that swallowed the stone go so that he can save her. Of course, she’d already saved herself, but he didn’t know that.
Joan’s demonstration of love is subtler. On the one hand, she probably wasn’t the sort to sleep with him at all if she didn’t already love him. But also her entire changed demeanor after this ordeal demonstrates her love. She is now a “hopeful” romantic – and shows no surprise when he and his boat arrive outside her building. Just as though she knew he would come – and I think she did know it.
Even though Jack and Joan fell in love over only a couple of days, it is entirely believable that they would be happy together, because we understand why they grew to love each other.
Keeping the progression of a lasting relationship in mind is a great tool for plotting. At minimum, three scenes are necessary to show the development of the relationship. But, because you may have separate scenes to show the progression for each character, you might have six or more scenes with which to keep that middle from sagging.
So, to get your hero and heroine to the point where the reader will heave that satisfied sigh, make sure you’ve included the steps to a lasting relationship in your love story.
Want more of Tami’s stuff? Check out Tamicowden.com!
Combining Talents: Writers Making Their Own Videos
by Diane Taylor
As a retired writer now enjoying freelance, I’m having a great time. I can do the stories I want to do, and I’ve found that I love the whole process of writing, photographing and making videos….yes, making videos.
I grew up in a family of photographers and I typically can hold a camera without shaking. A couple years ago, I found that in telling some stories in Las Vegas, I was desperate to show my subject (a convention, a new destination, etc.) in all its moving glory. I experimented with the video option on my point-and-shoot Sony camera, and because I’m somewhat of a ham, I talked while I shot. By golly, the pictures were good and the sound was much better than I imagined. One small camera: I could take pictures AND video.
However, playing back my video, I found that not everything I filmed was wonderful, so I then had to learn video editing. I had a MAC computer and it came with iMovie. I gradually leaned how to use iMovie to stitch scenes together, to eliminate throat-clearing sounds and dumb remarks by yours truly, to brighten scenes and to use a scene of just background noise to re-record segments where those not-so-bright remarks could be corrected. Yep, I spent hours editing….not as a professional, but as an interested amateur.
Because I post a story every week for Living-Las-Vegas.com, I typically spend two to three hours filming and then many more hours editing and writing. (I do it for love and the money I save by NOT gambling.) Before each filming episode, I research the project so that I can include a few facts in the narration. If I go to a convention, for example, before filming, I find out the convention sponsor, expected attendance, the convention’s history in Last Vegas, the kinds of folks who will attend, etc.
The videos accompanying my stories are first uploaded to You Tube and then an “embed” link is included in the Living-Las-Vegas stories. People also find the videos directly on You Tube, and they may even subscribe to my channel. (My channel is “DTBenefits”. In my working life, I was a benefits manager.)
You Tube keeps track of statistics and as I write this, my channel has 619 subscribers and 602,973 views – not Justin Bieber stats, but not bad for an aging amateur. Comments on You Tube are typically quite kind, and when I check my email, I will get a notice that someone has subscribed to my channel or sent me a comment, and that news makes my day.
You Tube will typically cull out spam, and I can delete any messages that are racist, nasty, etc. and I have had a few of those. I leave negative comments that are reasonable – and because I have the time, I answer most of the comments. For me, hearing that someone from Holland or Australia has watched one of my videos is quite an honor.
Making videos is “free” once you have the camera and the computer, and if you have a writer’s sense of organizing a story, you can organize your commentary as well: tell the viewer what you’re going to show them, show it (with narration), and then clearly end it. Make the scenes short and leave out extraneous words. If you film a scene and know it isn’t interesting, re-do it – maybe two or three times. Yes, you have to think on your feet, and you must be your own vicious editor.
I typically film an ending to a video before I get to the end of the visit I’m filming. I believe in endings so the viewer isn’t confused. And oh yes, bring along an extra battery and have a generous memory card. The videos I make these days are between 15 and 20 minutes long, and I typically edit out a third to half of what I film.
Always have business cards with you so you can tell filmed subjects where they can see the video.
I have much more to learn, typically about cameras, sound and lighting, so I’ll keep at the video-making. I do believe journalism’s future will increasingly depend on writers who can talk, photograph and make interesting videos.
by Fred Rayworth
How long have you been at this game, this passion, this ahem… business of writing? It’s of course, all of these things, yet when you break it down, looking back at where you likely stand right now, it’s basically either a bunch of effort for a: nothing or b: a great deal of fun with tentative results.
Here we are at the beginning of a new year. What will you resolve to do in 2014 with regard to your writing? Perhaps 2013 brought the hoped-for success but if you didn’t get the contract for your latest effort or can’t seem to finish a project, your outlook will make all the difference as to which choice you make.
Things to consider
Do you have goals? This one’s a bit more difficult. Is it to get published? Or, is it to write? More than likely it’s both, but if you’re a true writer, it probably leans more toward the writing part. It should, because that’s where all the passion is, where your prime motivation should be or there would be nothing to take to a publisher. However, if you want anyone else to ever see what you’ve written, the next logical step is, of course, to get published.
It can be said that a true writer can just write for writing’s sake, and be happy. Yet there’s nothing wrong with wanting others to be able to enjoy the stories real, or unreal that you’ve created. You have the passion and creativity and are constantly developing your skills as a writer. However, the most difficult thing is getting it out there so someone else can read it.
All the passion for writing makes no difference to the outside world unless you can break into the world of publishing. There are hundreds if not thousands of others with the same idea, trying their best to do the exact same thing. We, as writers are flooded with advice on how to break in. I’ve heard it all. It never ceases to amaze me how many variations on the same thing come from different experts on how to break into the game.
The basics are simple
It takes writing talent, a great story, face time, perseverance and just plain luck.
Talent and a great story go without saying. Unfortunately, there are literally thousands of talented writers with great stories.
Sure, there’s dumb luck, but the only way to make your own luck is with plenty of face time. To do that, you need to go to conferences and meet agents and publishers face-to-face. If you think query letters work, I’ve got a drawer full of them, mostly ignored. If you think sending the full manuscript works any better, I’ve got a bin full of returned, mostly unblemished and unread manuscripts.
Numbers make a difference
The only thing left in making your own luck is the numbers. Like they say, if you don’t play the Lotto, you have zero chance of winning. I started querying agents in 1995. My first attempt was The Greenhouse. I’ve pitched many different manuscripts since then and have accumulated 669 rejections as of last count. Perseverance.
You’ll get nowhere if you don’t try.
In eighteen years, I’ve actually nailed two book contracts. Publication is tentative right now, but it’s a start. Many people would’ve given up long before that.
Do you have perseverance?
I’m not exactly sitting around waiting for a publisher to find my great novels, either. I’ve had multiple short stories published, a newspaper article as well as several astronomy articles in a national magazine. I also publish a monthly astronomy observing project that’s been ongoing since 2009. I’ve written 787 reviews on Amazon, so far, and am a continual contributor to the Cloudy Nights astronomy forum. On top of that, I’m always working on the next novel, which right now is number twelve (is it?). I’m also editing constantly as well as occasionally editing for friends. My world, when not working is mostly about writing. I keep busy.
Right now, even though I have two books tentatively under contract, I’m still gearing up for the next Las Vegas Writer’s Conference. More face time with agents and publishers and everyone else involved in the industry. You can’t win the Lotto if you don’t play. Perseverance!
Writing and trying to get published is all about keeping at it. You have to make your own luck. You won’t get anywhere if you don’t try. Perseverance.
NOTE: Thanks to Morgan St. James for the special formatting of this page and the 2nd paragraph. You rock!
Stirring the Pot
By Richard Warren
Some time ago a member of the Las Vegas Writers Group expressed concern that a book she was working on might be too controversial. It was a work of fiction where the male protagonist was a pedophile. It certainly was a sensitive topic but my response to her that no book is too controversial. The role of an artist is to provoke the mind, invite debate, and challenge the status quo and the norms of society. That is how we progress. That’s not to suggest that all writers are required to do so; for many the goal is simply to provide the reader with entertainment. However, the books that are memorable or stand the test of time tend to be those with a more powerful message.
Throughout history there are many writers who have made political or social statements in order to raise awareness of an issue or support a cause. Thomas Paine’s pamphlet “Common Sense” illuminated the reasons for the American colonies to break away from Great Britain. A short time later a number of English authors engaged in a spirited literary debate in the form of essays about the French Revolution. Richard Price, a Unitarian minister, wrote an essay in support of the revolt. This elicited a reply from English author Edmund Burke in support of the French Monarchy. The debate didn’t end there. Another author, Mary Wollstonecraft, published her rebuttal to Burke called “A Vindication of the Rights of Men” and Thomas Paine penned “Rights of Man” as his own response to Burke. These writers were the internet bloggers of their day.
Eight decades later Charles Dickens used the French Revolution as the backdrop for his novel A Tale of Two Cities. In other works he stirred controversy by creating characters that were oppressed by titans of industry. His novels were critiques of the social and economic conditions of the industrial age. These books are considered classics of the Victorian era and helped curb the abuses that were rampant in that period.
Many books have been deemed so controversial that they were banned for a time. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, and James Joyce’s Ulysses all shocked people in some way yet these books are now considered literary classics. Two decades ago Salmon Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses was considered such blasphemy by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini that he issued a fatwa that called for the author to be killed. In many countries authors risk death simply for writing what they feel they must.
Contemporary author Alissa Nutting, who received her Ph.D. from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, wrote a book that has been called “the most controversial book of summer” by numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. Her novel Tampa explores the sexual relationship between a female teacher and her fourteen-year-old male student. Pedophilia is a sensitive topic to be sure, but discussing it in literature raises awareness of the issue. Since the book’s release in 2013 there have been numerous reports of female teachers molesting male students. Coincidence? Perhaps, but maybe the book’s controversial press brought the subject into the open and made people more sensitive to such situations.
Authors should never fear pushing the envelope and stirring the pot, they should embrace it.
COMEDY ISN’T PRETTY
Preliminary Explanation: This is the first article the author ever published on a blog, and it was before the word had been coined. It’s here as a lesson in writing humor, for inspiration, and because what the heck, we all need a break from serious study once in a while.
By Steve Fey
I went out this morning –
My Lexus was flat –
I been retainin’ water
And I’m feelin’ pretty fat!
Oh, Lord, I tell ya,
I don’t know what I’m gonna do:
I got the Suburban Cul-de-sac,
Big kitchen in the back blues!
I wrote this song about the world I’m living in. It’s a philosophical song. So, that makes this a column about music and philosophy. It’s a sad song, really. Most comedy is. You think Mark Twain wasn’t consumed by guilt over that cat and medicine incident? Yeah. That’s the was it is in the humor game. You feel pain. You ache. You belabor a point but it doesn’t help. It’s ugly. Comedy.
I went out last Wednesday –
Took a look at my lawn –
Crabgrass just took over:
All my bluegrass was gone!
All that poison fertilizer!
Who knew what it was gonna do?
I got those Suburban Cul-de-sac,
Badminton ‘round the back blues!
I feel guilty all the time. I’m guilty that I’m who I am. I confess. I’m me. I had an ancestor who landed in Virginia with Captain Smith. True story. And he was an idiot, looking for gold in a swamp. Think my ancestors ever supported the slave trade? Of course not. That’d make me feel guilty. Or maybe they were nasty to the natives? Never! Too much guilt. I can’t stand it. His name was Powell. Ever hear of an African American named Powell? Who got that name how? Life’s hard. Comedy is harder.
You think comedians have it easy? You think Chris Rock is kidding about growing up on the floor? Or Bill Cosby was kidding when he used to talk about his crazy father? No, they aren’t. If only you knew. Oh, we laugh and enjoy their pain because we don’t know. We don’t know. The blues may be the ultimate in comedic composition.
‘Bout a month ‘go last Tuesday –
I was feelin’ pretty good –
‘Til I saw who was movin’
Into my neighborhood!
They’re gonna lower
All the standardized scores down at my school!
I got those Suburban Cul-de-sac,
Covenants front and back blues!
But, it’s OK. I don’t need your sympathy, even if I am funny. Heck, funny people are tough! You try putting up with years of ridicule from schoolmates without laughing about it. Try being told by your teacher that you are “too much talk, not enough action.” See where that leaves you. Who’s talking now, fifth grade teacher George Kingsmore? Not you anymore, I’ll bet! So there! Life has its compensations. Scott Adams, who draws Dilbert, is nowhere near as rich as, say, Bill Gates. But he says what he means and wants to say, and he’s probably a lot richer than you or me. That’s compensation. That’s revenge. Yeah. We get what’s ours. Because it’s comedy. Because comedy is tough and dirty.
You may laugh at my story –
You may smile at my song –
But if you’re payin’ attention,
You won’t be smilin’ long!
There’s just no tellin’
Where this old world is goin’ to.
I got those Suburban Cul-de-sac,
Bad times are comin’ back blues!
The song quoted herein is Suburban Cul-de-Sac Blues, by Steve Fey, copyright 1998. Don’t even think of reprinting it without permission of the author! I’m a humor writer. I can be nasty. We all can be. See what I mean? I live in the suburbs. I’ve got a lawnmower, and I know how to use it. Life is tough. Guilt is everywhere. Comedy. It isn’t pretty.
Want more of Steve? You can check his blog at stevefey.com, or look for him on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
Breaking the Rules: In Defense of Flying Body Parts
By Tami Cowden
I once attended a workshop that focused on sharper, clearer writing. The speaker discussed many common grammatical and word misuses, and offered lots of strong advice to improve writing. But there was one bit of advice to which I took exception, even though this advice has practically become a mantra among romance writers.
It had to do with the dreaded flying body parts.
I can’t count the number of times I have heard speakers tell a roomful of nodding writers “Eyes don’t drop, they don’t meet, they don’t fly across the room. Gazes drop, meet, fly, etc.” Everyone gets a good (embarrassed) chuckle at the exaggerated images painted by the speakers, and rushes home to removed the offending phrases from their own work.
Now, literally, these speakers, and their agreeable audiences, are correct. These things don’t really happen. Or, if they do, we certainly don’t want to be there to see it.
But why do we care about literal meanings? We write in the English language – why shouldn’t we use it in its entirety? In the English idiom, eyes DO meet. They do drop. They fly, dart and shoot across rooms, and sometimes even bug out of heads. What’s more, other body parts fly, rove, wander, and so forth, metaphorically, if not literally.
According to Merriam-Webster, an idiom is “an expression that cannot be understood from the means of its separate words.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with using one. Or even, in moderation, more than one. In fact, writers who write in English ought to have command of the language in all its richness.
We use many idioms in our speech and in our writing, with nary an objection from our zealous critique partners. For example, I have never literally “taken” a walk down the street – that would require me to somehow pick up a walk and transport it. But no one objects if my heroine takes a walk or ride across town. If my hero takes a plane to New York, I am not chastised for having my hero steal things that don’t belong to him. But just let me mention that his eyes traveling up the heroine’s legs, and boy, oh boy, will I get pounded by some well-meaning critiquer.
Sorry, folks, but the flying body part rule is one of those rules that really isn’t a rule – because frankly, it doesn’t make any sense. These expressions would make it past any grammar teacher, and, more importantly, past any reader who hasn’t been tainted by having someone sneeringly point out the literal meaning of the words.
Don’t believe me? Okay, I can understand your not wanting to take my word on this. But how about taking Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s words? Here’s a line from one of my favorites of her books, Nobody’s Baby But Mine: “He saw that Jane’s eyes were glued to his mother’s face, and he took in her stunned, happy expression.” (p. 322) When I read this story, I was caught up in the emotion of the moment. A horrific vision of the heroine’s eyes being removed her head and pasted to the face of the hero’s mother just did not enter my mind. And that’s true even though I read that book after my mind had been polluted by the dreadful flying body part rule.
Still unconvinced? Maybe Nora Roberts will be more persuasive. Here’s a line of hers from Homeport: “His eyes held hers, and were a dark, rich brown that took little drifts of gold from the sunlight.” (p. 70). You don’t really think anyone is going to read that and imagine one pair of eyeballs clutching another pair, do you?
If bestselling authors can having flying body parts, so can the rest of us. In fact, I am sure one reason (out of many!) that Susan and Nora are bestsellers is because they employ our language in all its rich forms.
When self-editing for clarity, the question to ask yourself is this – “will my reader misunderstand my words?” If the answer is yes, then change what you’ve written. But if there won’t be a misunderstanding, don’t change your words just because you worry that other writers will laugh at the literal image. After all, you are writing for readers, not writers.
So, in future, if you discover the line “their eyes met across the crowded room” in your work, go ahead and flinch at the cliché, but don’t worry that readers will imagine two pairs of eyeballs hovering just under the ceiling. That only happens when you’ve had the idea pointed out to you at a writing workshop. Most readers haven’t had that experience.
Like this stuff? Read more of Tami’s articles on her blog!
Online Writing Communities Want You!
by Eric James Miller
Writing can be a solitary, even isolating endeavor. Carving out a set amount of time per day (or week) to write isn’t always easy and feeling “inspired” to write during that precious time is a gamble any casino odds-maker would bet against.
Plus, let’s face it, writers can be a prickly bunch.
Most of the time we just want to be left alone.
But a writer waiting around for inspiration to strike is idle folly. I know that I’ve been guilty of using the slightest excuse for not keeping my butt in the chair and hitting my daily word count goal. We all have our rituals and pet-peeves that we wrestle with as we struggle with our doubts and insecurities to get those pretty words on a page. Letting anyone into our sanctified, creative little worlds is a big deal.
Sometimes, to make progress we need to force ourselves out of our shells and find comfort in community.
It’s a hurdle every new writer must face. It’s a hurdle that can prove daunting even for seasoned pros.
One of the changes this fragmented, modern age has brought about is that if you’re a writer looking for a little compassion, a little support, advice, or yes, honest, constructive criticism, you may not find it at your local library, coffee shop or in your local Meetup group. However, there’s a real good chance that with a little digging, you’ll be able to find a robust and active online community of writers that not only has similar interests and goals as yours, but one that also synchronizes well with your particular (sometimes prickly?) personality.
If you’ve been to a writers conference or event that you connected with, even if it’s out of state and not near where you live, look to see who sponsored it. Many times they are sponsored, or at least co-sponsored by one or more writers groups. Shoot the organizer or contact person an email. Ask to join. If there’s a membership fee, ask if they offer a trial membership. Check it out. Give it a try. If you don’t like it, stick with it but start looking for a different group. Try not to quit one group until you’ve found another.
Writers of Southern Nevada has been a effective, though behind the scenes organization here in Las Vegas for the past three years. We have sponsored a writing conferences each year since 2011, one on memoir writing, one on the business of non-fiction and last year’s very robust two-day fiction writing conference at the Plaza. This year the WSN is changing it’s corporate bylaws and becoming a membership based organization (more on that coming soon!). Aside from sponsoring local author meet and greets, thematic readings, and co-sponsoring writer-friendly events with other organizations in Clark County, we’re inviting guest bloggers onto this blog to share their advice, thoughts on writing or the writer’s life. By expanding its presence and reach on the internet, the WSN is seeking to enhance, enrich and work collectively to bring attention to the local writing community.
As a big fan and supporter of the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, I also personally recommend a small contingent core of writers from that conference that I had the pleasure of meeting two years ago. Aaron Brown and Chris Mandeville formed Delve Writing [http://www.delvewriting.com/] to help writers set realistic goals for themselves. They have established a versatile, interactive framework for not feeling alone and you don’t even have to live in Colorado to benefit from joining their group. Delve Writing, like many other online groups of writers helping other writers, is worth looking at whether you’re searching for inspiration, accountability, or how-to advice.
Another great resource is the Goodreads author program. [http://www.goodreads.com/author/program] There are over 100,000 authors that contribute to this forum in varying degrees. Fish around on the blog, the monthly newsletter archives and the Featured Author Groups, or be proactive and create your own author group if you can’t find what you’re looking for. You’ll be amazed at what you find and in a group that large you might even tip your hat to serendipity, because you may find something you didn’t even know you were looking for.
Another good group is the Google Group APE: Authors, Publishers, Entrepreneurs which centers around the eponymous principles outlined by Guy Kawasaki, Shawn Welch, Barry Eisler and others. You’ll need a GMail account to get started, but it’s worth setting one up even if it’s just to check it out. (note: please don’t ask me about Chrome!)
There are literally thousands of virtual writing groups online, and by virtue of Skype, You Tube, instant messaging and other handy electronic social media touch points, it’s easy to find one (or two!) groups that will probably work for you.
Gone are the days of writing in isolation, sending your unedited manuscript to a stranger in New York and having them turn you into a literary superstar. Newsflash: those “old days” only exist in myth and legend anyway. (Sorry J.D. Salinger and Jack Kerouac — I love your books, but role models for success you ain’t!
The beauty of this electronic interweb we’re all connected to is that if you’re willing to look for something, you can probably find it.
But, choosing to participate is the first step and it’s purely up to you.
If you want to engage with other writers, interact with readers and reading communities, share your voice, learn and grow with other people that share the same interests as you, online writing communities want you!
They just leave it up to you to find them. As Lao Tzu said, “Every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Louis L’Amour, the prolific writer of westerns, said it even better “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning. ”
As a writer, who do you turn to when a new question, one you didn’t anticipate or think of before, pops up? If you can answer that in five seconds or less you are fortunate. If not, you may want to consider searching for and participating in an online writing community that’s right for you.
(Eric James Miller works as a freelance journalist in Las Vegas and is the President of Writers of Southern Nevada. He is the author of “The Metaphysics of Nudity” and the For Rent Mystery Series. Book 1 in the series, “For Rent: Dangerous Paradise” was released in 2013 and is available in bookstores and various online retailers. Book 2, “For Rent: Haunted Neon” is due out later in 2014.)
From Caedmon to Kindle
By Richard Warren
Over 1300 years ago a man tended the animals of a monastery located in Northumbria in what is now northern England or southeastern Scotland. His name was Caedmon and he would later go on to become a monk himself. Though thought to be illiterate, he created a nine-line hymn that was later recorded by an English monk known as the Venerable Bede. Caedmon’s Hymn is the oldest known work of Old English writing. The Old English period spanned about 700 years and approximately 400 literary works from that period have survived. Today that many books are published every 10 hours ‒ and that’s just in the United States.
Caedmon’s name may have been known but the vast majority of works in the medieval period were penned by authors who remain anonymous. Could you imagine pouring your heart and soul into a book and then not putting your name on it? Seems inconceivable today, but that’s how it was. That didn’t change until the mid to late 14th century. Geoffrey Chaucer ‒ considered the father of English literature ‒ probably did the most to change that. He is famous for his Canterbury Tales written between 1380 and his death in 1400. Writers from that time onward were rarely anonymous because writing had become a commercial venture that could actually be profitable.
The publishing world has always been changing. Back in the days of Bede books were duplicated by monks who were working by hand. In 1476 William Caxton brought the first printing press to England and set up shop. The first book he produced? Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The works were hugely popular and placed books in the hands of the common people rather than just the elite. English literature flourished and many writers such as Shakespeare, Milton, Coleridge, Locke, Marlowe, Dryden, and others made their mark.
The next major technological advancement occurred almost 400years after Caxton’s printing press with the 1860s invention of a commercially viable typewriter. This meant increased speed and productivity as well as the end of cramps from writing by hand. The next jump didn’t take as long and happened about 100 years later with the introduction of word processors that used floppy disks ‒ remember those? Of course, it was the introduction of the PC a short time later that allowed just about anyone to try their hand at writing.
The birth of the internet heralded the arrival of the digital age. The speed of change today is absolutely mind boggling. Watch a ten year old movie and you can marvel at the technology that isn’t there. Just as the printing press made the transcription of monks obsolete, the internet is causing a cosmic shift in the world of publishing. In the last decade many publishers have gone out of business, others have merged, yet many new ones are being born. Like a meteor killing off the dinosaurs, the publishers that don’t adapt to a drastic change in the environment will fall by the wayside. However, in any time of upheaval there is significant opportunity. That opportunity is there for the large presses that can adapt, for the mid-size house that can capture a greater market share, and the small presses that can prosper from new technology and the ever-growing pool of writers seeking to become published.
Lastly you have those who have chosen to take matters into their own hand and join the brave new world of indie publishing. That means you will not only be a writer, but an editor, marketing guru, promoter, and PR person. Whichever route you have chosen there are a host of new realities you need to deal with. Actually writing the book has become the easy part. Even if you are with a major publisher you are expected to do the lion share of the marketing. Your manuscripts also need to be clean and well edited because you can no longer count on a publisher taking care of all that. Let’s not forget social media. Caedmon didn’t have to deal with Facebook and Twitter, he didn’t have to maintain a website, and he certainly didn’t spend time updating his blog. But you have to do all that.
And you just wanted to be a writer!
Want more of Richard Warren’s prose? Check out his column in The Vegas Voice, or check out the writers’ group he’s organized right here.