Friday, May 29, 2009

Odds and Ends, Etc.

Okay, so I've slacked off on several things here at Mindless Musings. The first is the dialog contest thingy I did on my blog, um, gulp, almost three weeks ago.

The winner gets to send me their query letter or their first chapter (up to ten pages) for a complete shredding aka, a critique.

And the winner is...Scott!

Email me the Word document to elanajohnson at gmail dot com. I'll do my best to get back to you in a reasonable amount of time, which may mean something different to you than it does to me. *wink, wink*

Moving on.

Point two: I love these "motivational posters" like the one above. I've put one on my blog every day this week. They're really demotivational posters and you can find them at Despair, Inc. Hilarious!

Next. Books I've read since last time I blogged about it.

8. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. This was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant--and it combines my two favorite things: reality TV and dystopian YA fiction. I only wish I had thought of it.

9. The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum. Seriously, people. This is what Twilight should have been. Read it. Love it. Can't wait for more.

10. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. I'm a lover of all things LHA, and she didn't disappoint here. Like at all. Fantastic read.

What I'm currently reading: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. Ink Exchange by Mellisa Marr. Yes, all at the same time. Deal with it. Hey, I'm in the double-digits now. That's something right? Right?

And up next...

Flower short stories for the month of May (here's mine). These are the ones I read and know about. I'm pretty sure Christine is going to be throwing out the next topic, so be ready for that any day now.

KLo Abby Eric

Lisa and Laura Christine

Windsong (Danyelle) Rebecca

Melissa Nisa Mandy

If you posted and I missed it, let me know! I'll edit this post for ya.

One last thing: IT'S THE LAST DAY OF SCHOOL!!! I now have the next 2 1/2 months off--meaning I will waste copious amounts of time laying by the pool, watching my kids play sports and / or spending time with family and teenage girls.

Ah, the life.

Phew! I think that ties up all the loose ends. Have a fantastic weekend!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Consistency Conundrum

Most boys and girls can't sit down and write a book from start to finish in a single day. Some boys and girls wish they could. So how do said boys and girls maintain a consistent voice and writing style through a project that might take six months to finish?

Let's examine.

A girl recently started editing a novel she started writing in November of last year. She finished it at the end of April, with a long break (2 months) in between. She deleted 95 pages of this novel and rewrote it. As she started going over the beginning notes from her critique group, she realized that the style of writing was way different than how she finished the book. Of course the main character has a huge arc, but that doesn't mean the actual writing should.

So what's a girl to do?

This girl put it aside and started working on something else. *snarf* But really, in the back of her mind, she knows she has to address this issue. When she worked at Pepperidge Farm, she had to check the goldfish for proper baking consistencies. Burnt fish were not packaged and sold to the general public. Thus, in her writing life, her quality control must be flawless as well. Half-baked beginnings are no good. They must be thrown out or packaged and sold as seconds.

And she is not satisfied with second. And so the girl will rewrite. Revise. Edit. She's not entirely sure what the difference is, but Scott said it so well, and she has to do all three so *shrugs*. She's working on making the beginning consistent with the ending in the style of writing. And she's revising the story, making needed improvements and clarifications. And then she's going to edit those rewritten sections and revisions. Maybe not in that order. She's learned that she is not like other girls, and what works for them doesn't always work for her. She's open to new ideas, she tries new things, she's willing to learn, so don't get her wrong. She just knows she is sort of on her own personal death march (see "motivational" poster above) as she reworks said inconsistent novel.

How do you maintain consistency? In the voice? The narrative style? Your blog posts? (*rolling on the floor snarfing*)

This girl wants to know.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Floundering Through Life...

...down at the Ozdust, if only because dust is what we come too! Nothing matters, but knowing nothing matters…it’s just life…keep on floundering through…

Name that musical. Ha!

Anyway, I’ve been floundering for a few weeks. Penelope (who you might remember was choking Jag inside my head) has decided that she doesn’t want to find the body I had so carefully planned for her to find. (I hope you read that with a heavy dose of sarcasm on the “carefully planned” part. I mean, did you read yesterday's post? *snarf*)

Jag is still mildly—okay majorly—peeved about the whole interview thing. He can pout a bit if he doesn’t get his way. I keep trying to coax him out the way you do a small animal with a chunk of cheese or something. He’s not having any of it. I guess he won’t eat anything he can find. *shrugs*

Anyway, so I’ve been floundering, trying to come up with something else writerly to do. And little things keep flashing up, but nothing substantial enough to yanno, actually seize on and run with.

For example, I’ve had a couple of titles come up that I thought would be cool. I was listening to “Mad World” by Adam Lambert and the words “no tomorrow” came up. I was in the car, singing along at the top of my lungs like I usually do. I thought, “Wow! ‘No Tomorrow’ would be a totally cool title for a book.” I promptly stopped singing (you would’ve been happy. I am not what you would call the next American Idol) and started pondering what the book would be about.


Suicide? Someone who dies all the time? There has to be a “No Tomorrow” moment, right? And death and dying and committing suicide are a little dark for me. *flounder, flounder*

So I discarded that. Moved on to my favorite movie of all time—Groundhog Day. I thought, “Hmm, maybe my MC could live the same day over and over.” But why? *flop* What would be the conflict? *flip* Maybe it could be “Groundhog Day meets…???” *flounder flounder flounder*

That wasn’t working out, so I moved on. I thought maybe I could yanno, actually try writing a science fiction novel that included science. See, I’ve written two SF novels, but they’re what I call “soft sci fi” which means I don’t actually have to know any science to write them. They’re dystopian novels. One of them does have some wicked cool gadgets, but the other one is like a genetic thing that has evolved in people. Anyway, I began contemplating maybe making “No Tomorrow” a harder science fiction novel.

Let the floundering begin! Again.

I thought and thought. Stewed. Floundered. Chatted. Checked email at least fifty billion times. Read five books (one of which can hardly be called a book it was so bad). Watched Survivor re-runs. A movie made in the 80s. (I like disco, but come on. Who picked that music and thought it sounded good?) Almost finished another school year (freedom this Friday, baby!).

And nothing.

I thought maybe it could be like a kid’s experiences in a holodeck or something. You know, Groundhog Day meets Star Trek. But I couldn’t think of a reason to have him there, and I really don’t want to write about space and space ships. That’s just not my thang. And I was back to the lame Groundhog Day idea.

So I scratched that and went back to wallowing in the stewage pot. I thought of a few more dumb things, and then finally I thought, “What if time started going backward? So that there was ‘No Tomorrow’?”

That could be kewl. But why would time suddenly start moving backward? Would the characters get older or younger? What challenges would I have to face with a protag who’s getting younger and younger? Do they have to re-live their yesterdays? Or are the days just going backward? If so, that wouldn’t really be “No Tomorrow” it would just be “A Different Tomorrow”. What would the conflict be? Fixing time? How much science do I really need to know and how much can I make up? Is this time travel? *panic face*

*flounder flounder flounder flounder flounder*

So what have you been working on?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Dirty O-Word

That's right. *whispers* Outlining. I blogged a WiP Wednesday or two ago about this evil. And I thought it would be hilarious if I posted my outline. I know some of you aren't going to believe me. Like I'm one of those people you see on late night television with Jay Leno who doesn't know there is a South and a North Dakota. I swear I'm not. I swear I'm smart. Honestly. I even have the GPA to prove it. I just can't wrap my mind around outlining.

So here's what my feeble and pathetic attempts at outlining yielded.

And outline...go. These are chapters, BTW.

1. Intro to Penelopie - how she can feel death. Death is coming

2. Intro to Blake - backstory on their death partnership, world-building

3. Intro to Jayne - more on P's abilities - more about Blake

4. Blake asks Pen to the beach - backstory on what Pen's doing in her "family"

5. Characterization on Jayne, Sasha and Ruth.

6. Home life – real-life intro to Pen’s parents

7. Beach

8. Jayne’s death

And outline...out.

And that took me most of one day to do. I wanted to die (I still do). And I haven't worked on that novel since. I just can't go back to the horror waiting for me in that Word document. Can you really call that an outline? I mean look at number 7. It's one freaking word. How is that an outline?

I need therapy. Serious therapy. Does anyone know someone who's great with Outline: Fail patients? Please leave me their phone number in the comments.

Oh, and your insight on the dirty o-word would be appreciated too. kthxbai.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Muse, Music, Inspiration, Whatever

Okay, for this fantastic Memorial Day (it's raining here, insert sarcasm), I thought I'd throw out the topic of inspiration. Muse, ideas, dreams, whatever you want to call it.

Where do your story ideas come from?

This is not how you inspire yourselves to write. No, no, no, my friends. Pretend I'm like, Barbara Walters or better yet--Oprah, and you're on my show (this blog) and you're a multi-million dollar author with a series of books on the NYT's bestselling list. Okay...are you there? Got that image in your head? It's nice, isn't it? They're passing around goblets of Ginger ale and bowls of bubble gum sit on glass-topped tables...

Ahem. Stay with me. So the question is, How did you come up with the idea for your story?

I have a couple:

1. Music. More specifically, the lyrics in said music. I have a post coming up on this so I won't elaborate. Stay tuned for Wednesday though! It's gonna be a wild ride! *snarf*

2. Playing the "What If...?" game. This game basically goes like this.

Me: sitting at stoplight on the way to work. Creative Self, what would happen if time stopped right here, right now?

Creative Self: You wouldn't get paid. You don't go to work, you don't get paid.

Me: Forget about money. What if... Jon couldn't get to Annie in time? What if she became a ghost? What if Jesse kissed Rosemary? What if Gabby fell off that wall? How would she survive? What if Adam really is a traitor? What if DL died? What would that do to Bristol? Could she even survive that? Could Landon? What if... What if... What if... ???

I love this game. You should totally try it. Maybe not at the stoplight, but sometime. It can be played alone or in groups of up to five.

3. Take a shower, fold the laundry, push your kid on the swing. I get random ideas and spurts of insight into current stories doing mundane things. In fact, when I'm feeling particularly "blocked" I love turning the shower on as hot as possible and just standing there for a while. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but I have received flashes of so-called brilliance whilst showering. Try to get that image out of your head. *ROTFL* Or better yet, use the word "whilst" in a blog post in the near future.

Which leads me to 4. Words. That's right, all you writers of words. I use words to inspire me. I keep notebooks of words I like. Things like "whilst" and "pontificate" and "gem" and "inked" and "prowled" and a whole host of others. Sometimes just being able to see those fun and unique words will help me write a sentence that uses words in exactly the way I want. And that makes writing fun. And if it's not fun, it's hard to do.

So that's it for me. I don't dream. I don't have a magical wand (which would be totally kewl). I don't have a sweet formula.

So inspiration...

Where do you get yours?

Friday, May 22, 2009

First Line Friday, Part Two

Wow, a lot of people posted their first lines. And there were so many really great ones! Just as a recap, here are the ones I posted last week--with the novel they came from.

1. So she tells me, the words dribbling out with the cranberry muffin crumbs, commas dunked in her coffee. (Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson)

2. Good girls don't walk with boys. (Control Issues by, that's right--me!)

3. I'd never given much thought to how I would die--though I'd had reason enough in the last few months--but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this. (Twilight by Stephenie Meyer)

4. A tree branch slapped John Craig across the face. (Eighth Grade Bites by Heather Brewer)

5. The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane. (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling)

6. The haze settling in Jesse Oropeza's head has nothing to do with Mr. Sadler's droning lecture on functions, though that would have done it. (Living Assistants - yours truly)

7. The acrid smell of smoke floated in my head, taunting me. (Elemental Hunger - me again)

8. "You've got to be kidding me," the bouncer said, folding his arms across his massive chest. (City of Bones by Cassandra Clare)

9. When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins)

10. Dark shapes drifted in front of the car, blocking the oncoming lights from the freeway. (The Mirror - mine)

11. When I was a child, I didn't dream of growing up to be an international bank thief. (Elite - me again)

12. With one last, almighty roar, the Frenchman fell to his knees and died. (Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King)

Our golden ticket holders:

Nisa: Power touched him, gripping him tightly.

Robyn: Anna threw open the barn door, smiling at her horse.

Liz: To say the house was old would be an understatement.

Michelle: Okay, even for a Monday my day was pretty suck-tacular.

Jamie: “Are we going to take her to the cabin first, or inject her right here?”

Tess: Ollie's daddy was born a preacher, no choice in the matter.

Scott: The fairy godmother (okay, it was a drag queen dressed as Glinda the Good Witch) waved her magic wand and solved all the problems of the Universe.

Jake was beyond furious.

~Jamie: I hold my breath and dive into the crawl space just before the beam of a flashlight sweeps across the wall.

Christine: Always running; always the same.

Most people forget their dreams.

Nesya climbed the steps of the subway platform, her human form still foreign.

KLo: I felt revulsion toward my son today.

Lady Glamis: A book of poetry. Naomi didn’t know why the man looking down at her was pressing a thin volume of poetry to his chest, but it was the first thing that fueled her hope of staying alive.

Beth: My name is Elder, even though I'm the youngest one on the ship.

C.N.: I found Jesus in the Five Man Electric Band, and I found him there because Jesus plays Chinese chess.

God Bless the flower pots.

As I douse your body in gasoline, pouring almost a full gallon into the gash I opened in your throat, and then proceed to light you ablaze, I realize that it’s still not enough.

People like to read poems about monkeys.

Sandra: As soon as Paul Harrison left the stage, he ripped the holoprojector bands off his arms. The cherubs dumped another basket of hearts into the vat. I was mopping up puppy piss in the waiting room when a client brought in his bearded dragon.

Michelle: While most teenagers reveled in moments of tested independence with their parents, Faith McDaniels had been cheated of that coming-of-age ritual; death had a way of changing priorities in life.

Jessica: If there was one thing Rachel McCormick hated more than breaking into the mayor’s house, it was getting caught.

Danyelle: The world began with a wish and a flame.

Bettyk: As the clock struck midnight the bells of Westminster Abby began to peal; it was a solemn occasion and the carillons tolled with a distinct half-muffled ring. A proclamation of bereavement.

C. Taylor: The body lay as it had fallen, the man’s limbs bent at awkward angles.

Lady Phoebe Hughes came down the stairs, her hand tight on the railing in case she should misstep and fall.

Crystal: Dear Mama, I hope you are doing well. PLEASE COME GET ME AND OTIS!

I'm going to pick five (not necessarily my top five. Remember my desire for nice-nice?) that I liked and explain why. You're welcome to do the same. The questions for today are: What makes a great first line? What sucks you in? Why does it grip you so? And, how much time and energy do you put into that first line?

1. The world began with a wish and a flame.
***I like this because I want to know what the wish was, what the world was, and how the flame plays into all of it. I'd read on for sure.

2. Okay, even for a Monday my day was pretty sucktacular.
***I love the voice of this. I like sassy and snappy and cool new words like sucktacular. *wink* Like you all didn't know that. I'd read a whole novel with snark like this.

“Are we going to take her to the cabin first, or inject her right here?”
***Oooh, what cabin? Inject her with what? Why? Who is she? Who are "they"? This brings so many intriguing questions that I'd read on for a while to find out the answers.

4. The fairy godmother (okay, it was a drag queen dressed as Glinda the Good Witch) waved her magic wand and solved all the problems of the Universe.
***Dude, I need a fairy godmother that can solve the problems of the universe. Badly. This also has great voice that grabs and the drag queen adds an interesting twist. I wonder where it will go next--what with the problems all solved and everything. I'd read on to find out.

5. The body lay as it had fallen, the man’s limbs bent at awkward angles.
***I like a good mystery, so this draws me in immediately.

So sometimes it's voice (okay, for me, a lot of the time, the voice is the first thing that hooks me), sometimes it's content (mystery injections, dead bodies) and sometimes it's simply the intrigue of what might come next.

In all honesty, I don't spend much time on the first line of my novels. Heck, just writing the beginning is always like Chinese water torture, but once I know where to start the story, the first line just sort of falls into place.

Today's questions are just above my picks. Which of these first lines do you like best? And why?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Getting Information Across, Part Three: Internal Thoughts

This is part three in a three part series. I haven't thought of anything else--yet. Mwa, ha, ha!

Part one discussed dialog and part two addressed narration.

Anyway, let's move on to internal thoughts. I'm not sure you need a lesson in what these are, but here goes. Internal thoughts are the internal thoughts of the narrating character. They are not spoken out loud and are usually offset by italics.

I'm just going to get this out there. I'm am not the hugest fan of internal thoughts. I think they are appropriate in many situations, but I think sometimes, just sometimes, they are overused. Here are a couple of reasons why:

1. Repeatage. Remember the old mantra of saying something once and moving on? I think many, many times, authors use internal thoughts to say something again. Just to get the point across that hey, this is important. And I don't think that's necessary. It's just a more annoying way to say something you've already said.

The same rule applies here that applied to dialog. Don't have your main character thinking about stuff they've already said out loud. Or have them think it and THEN say it out loud.

2. The herky jerky. Sometimes I think internal thoughts cause a disruption in the flow of narration. You've got a great thing going. Don't interrupt it with internal thinkage. This is especially true while writing in third person, because internal thoughts are in first person. And this constant switch back and forth is a bit jarring if done repeatedly.

I'm also not a proponent of having the character think to themselves, Think, think. You can do this. Um, they are thinking. They're thinking, Think, think. You can do this. Not actually thinking about the problem, so yeah. Not a fan. Also, the reader does not need to know everything the main character is thinking. We don't need a stream of conscious thought spewed out on the page and stalling the forward motion of the writing.

Now internal thoughts are a good way to get an "Eureka!" moment into the writing. Like when your main character realizes something for the first time, but wouldn't say out loud. I also think internal thoughts are great when a character thinks something that surprises them. Most of the time it completely surprises me too, but getting inside their head can really help to flesh out a character. So they have uses--and in the hands of a capable author, internal thoughts don't detract from the story, the writing, the flow. They're like seasonings--they make it better.

Basically, I like to get most of my information across through narration and dialog. Internal thoughts are great for getting closer to a character, but not an effective tool to reveal major plot points or drive the action forward. In many cases, I think it's wise to look at the internal thoughts in your writing and see if they can be eliminated and woven into the narration or dialog surrounding them. Again, that doesn't mean I've never met an internal thought I didn't like, I just think they should be used like red pepper flakes. In moderation.

What say you? Were you as shocked as I was about American Idol's winner? Did you see Glee? Are you ready for a new season of "So You Think You Can Dance?"? Does my hair look like a toupee? What is that on the mirror? Do these capris make me look fat???

Whoa. Was I really thinking all of that? kenyit

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Whatever Wednesday. What. Ev.

Okay, my WiP has crawled under the couch and died. It's starting to stink, so I left my daughter in the house with a full can of Lysol and have escaped to the backyard. She loves to spray that stuff, and I can't breathe with either smell, so it's a win/win.

Today, I bring you Whatev Wednesday. Warning: this might come off as a little rantish, but if you've been reading my blog at all, you know I'm a bit on the sarcastic side. Just the teeniest little bit. *snarftastic*

I wanna give a shout-out to the "Whatevers!" of aspiring author life. You know what I mean. You know how someone does or says something and you just can't believe it. And the word comes up like vomit and you can't stop it or the disdainful edge in your voice. "Whatever." Something so ridiculous you just have to dismiss it with a wave of your hand and a muttered, "Whatev."

This post is dedicated to you, my Whatever Friends. In honor of:

1. Waiting. I snub my nose at you, Mr. Wait. You are my number one, "Whatever." So anyone waiting for anything right now - the bus, an email, a phone call, just raise your hand and say, "Whatever, Mr. Wait. What. Ev." You do not rule my life. You do not own me. I will not be chained to my email because of you. I can go to Kohl's without having a panic attack. I will even stop at Office Max just to make you wait for once. So there, Mr. Wait. What. Ev.

2. Rejections. Talk to the hand, Devastating Rejection lurking in my inbox. I don't want to read you. I don't want to see you around here again. Take your kind words and "just not for me" and quietly disappear into the rejection folder where I can obsess over you when I'm not so emotional. Or not. Whatever.

3. Social Networking. I can't keep up with you, Information Superhighway. I am in the slow lane, the one with the sputtering car and smoke pouring from the engine while you are roaring on at all hours of the day and night. I try to read blogs and comment. I try to get on twitter and facebook daily. You, Information Superhighway, yes you, are causing me to fail epically. So today, I'm doing the dismissive wave. Muttering, "Whatever," under my breath as I close the Internet browser and shut down the Tweetdeck. My heart may palpitate. My mind may race whilst thinking of what I might be missing. I may even miss you my fickle friend, but whatev.

4. Dieting. Come on in Mr. Half Pound of Bacon and Side of Doritos. I've been expecting you. Yes, I can hear that scale upstairs screaming. He stops after a few minutes, especially when you don't answer. I don't care about him anymore. He shrieks whenever I come near anyway, I might as well enjoy myself a little bit today. So there, Mr. Whoa-You-Weigh-How-Much?. Take your salad and no-fat ranch dressing and sho--

I think I better stop there. Someone please tell me I'm not the only one with a severe case of the Whatever's. Please. And for those of you who'd had this debilitating disease before, what's the cure? How do I get it to go away?

What do you have in your life that makes you hold up the finger-W and say, "Whatever, dude. What. Ev."? Anything? Everything? Anything?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sweating the Small Stuff

I'm OCD. Just stating that for the record. No, I've never been to a doctor about it, but I sort of know myself well enough to know that I have, um, issues. I'm like that really short insurance guy on the movie The Incredibles who lines up the pencils on his desk.

Or Monk.

Or something.

I know I like things to be "just so." I obsess over the smallest things. I plan events down to the minute. I live and breathe by a schedule in all that I do. You didn't think I actually got up and wrote my post and had it ready to go right at 7 AM every morning, did you? Ha ha ha! No. I plan. Execute. Schedule.

Somehow, though, this way of living has not spilled over into my writing. My life is not creative--writing is. So I let myself go and just write whatever I want. No outline. A vague plan. No schedule. Maybe a word count goal if I feel up to it. This "system" has worked for me. Until now.

Recently, I decided to change the system. I tried outlining. That was a Epic Fail of national proportions. I actually did some character sketches of the characters BEFORE I started writing. That was a mild success, one I'm not counting quite yet.

I did this for a couple of reasons. The first was to somehow try to reduce the amount of editing and / or rewriting I usually go through upon completion of a novel. I kept thinking that there had to be a better way to do it. And maybe there is.

For you. For your brother. For the best-selling authors.

But for me? I can't sweat the small stuff when writing a first draft. I just can't. I was so consumed with getting every little detail right, making sure I knew exactly who the people were, what the story was, that I couldn't do anything. I couldn't write a single word. The voices disappeared. So I abandoned my OCD, I gave up trying to figure out the "small stuff". Those details have always come later, and I'm more stymied now than I was when I wrote an "empty" first draft and then filled it up later.

So, I'm interested. Do you sweat the small stuff before actually sitting down to write? Or are those details revealed slowly as you go (like me)? How much rewriting / editing do you have to complete after a first draft?

Basically, how Monk are you?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Comparitory Creatures

Entering Elana's stream of conscious...strap yourselves in...wild ride ahead...keep all hands, feet and other appendages in the blog at all times...

Are you querying? Did you see that post last week on PubRants? Did you enter that contest? OMGosh, you have to join Absolute Write. My book is as good as this published one. Who reps this book? Heck, they rejected me! No fair!

I could go on and on. And on. I compare myself to everything and everyone. Do any of you do this? As humans, I think we're very comparitory creatures. This is something I've had to work very hard to overcome. BTW, my husband says women do this more than men. So you men out there: is that true? Is comparing oneself a feminine curse? I certainly hope not, because everyone should have to suffer as I have. *snarf*

Anyway, so recently I threw myself in the query pool without any flotation devices. It's been tough, and I've been desperate to hear from other authors who are querying the same agents as I am. When did you send your query? Did s/he respond? Did you get a request? *grumbles to self* Why didn't I get a request? Why haven't I heard? Do I suck?

This comparitory behavior spills over into other facets. What a cool blog. I need a new blog. My posts are so lame, my colors are so old, I need to update my list. She has so many followers. On and on and on. That website...her agent...that contest...his book. Holy brown cows--do I suck?

So late last week I decided to stop. That's right. S-T-O-P (in the name of love!). I decided that most of the comparing I've been doing is like trying to compare apples and oranges. And we all know that never works. And I found myself sliding into a deep pool of writing funk because of all the comparisons I was making. (Click here if you don't know what the pool of writing funk is. It's nasty, trust me.)

I started comforting myself with these thoughts instead of my Do I suck? thoughts.

  • Maybe Super Agent X rejected my query when s/he requested from my virtual bff, but my unibrow is way more impressive, I'm certain of it. Finally! My vow of no pluckage pays off!

  • She won that contest, but I just ate half a can of those onion things that are supposed to be a garnish on green bean casserole by myself! Top that! Can't do it, can ya? I thought not.

  • He may have just signed a big contract, but I slept until 10 today! Victory is mine!

And I managed to trick myself into having a good weekend. And I did eat those French's fried onion things. Like potato chips. Mmm.

So here's my question: Do you ever compare yourself to others? Their writing? Their blogs? Their published books? Their query success? And if you do, how do you stop yourself from being buried under these comparisons? How do you stop the thought of Dude, do I suck?

And yes, I really do have a unibrow. kenyit I know you wouldn't be able to sleep tonight if you weren't 100% sure.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Love-Hate Relationship Brought to You by the Blog Chain

Blog chain time again! BTW, some of you have asked how to participate in the blog chain. This chain started when a group of friends from the QueryTracker forum decided to link together and discuss a set topic. We maintain a schedule, a rotation of who picks the topic and a general discussion board where we share real life things using RallyStorm. It really is quite fun, and if you're interested in more deets on how to start your own blog chain, shoot me an email. Or leave a comment here. Or PM me through Rally. Some of you are already there.

So back to the regularly scheduled programming. This chain is about one of my favorite topics - characters. Creating characters, reading about them, is what makes writing enjoyable. It's why I love to read. I love to see what other people will do in the face of impossible odds.

In your reading and writing, which do you prefer – a main character that is intriguing, or one that is likeable? Who are the characters that you love the most? And who are the ones that you love to hate?

Michelle started this chain, so go back to her blog to hear the specifics of her answer.

I’m going to start by springboarding off something she said. She was talking about Scarlett O’Hara and how she’s unlikable and yet we read. Well, I don’t. I haven’t read that. It was probably printed before I was born. I don’t normally read or watch movies that were made before I was born. Shallow, I know. I think I already had this “classics” confession.

Anyhow, that got me thinking of books I’ve read where I absolutely hated the main character. I know you know what I’m thinking of.


Okay, I'll just get it out there. I hate Bella. Really, really hate her. I was talking with my crit group last week and we discussed this for a few minutes. We all hated Bella, and most girls say they don’t like Bella either. So why do they read a book narrated by Bella?

Ahhh, Edward. And one girl (I think it was Stacy) said that the teen girls (and other women) read Twilight because they think they deserve Edward more than Bella, because Bella is just so stupid and unlikable. So if Edward likes her…he can like them—more.

People read Twilight because the real “hero” of the book is Edward, even though he’s not the one telling the story. He’s the likable one. The intriguing one. The one that keeps us turning pages. (At least until Book 4 when he turns into a complete and utter moron, but that is a post for another day in the far distant future.)

So I think that’s what it comes down to this: Who is the real hero of your book? Is it really the narrating character? Or is it someone else? No matter who it is, that’s the person that’s going to propel a reader through a book, which means you must have someone like that in your book. Even if it's not the narrating character.

So let’s see if I’ve answered the question (doubtful, I like tangents). Ha! I actually did--at least the likable and intriguing part.

So moving on to characters I love the most…hmm. I like the underdog who has spunk and guts and real emotions. Percy Jackson. Katniss in The Hunger Games. I also loved Rue in that book. Yes, Harry Potter and all the injustices he has to endure. Travis in The Forest of Hands and Teeth. He was the romantic one, the quiet guy who Mary loved. I like characters with flaws, but who work to overcome them.

Onto characers I hate. I don't think I do. Even Darth Vader--the villian, the epitome of evil--is a likable character. People like him so much they made three movies just to tell his story. So even villains can be intriguing and drive the reader to turn pages. (Or maybe I just like light sabers.) But really, he's a character we love to hate, because his past is so tragic. So we love him, yet we hate him at the same time.

If you can manage to write a character we love and root for (the hero) combined with another character we love to hate (the villain), and ultimately we want him to be defeated but it's still sad when he is, then you've found the winning combination of characters that will make your book a page-turner. Think Star Wars with Luke and Darth. Harry Potter with Harry and Voldemort.

That is all. Annie is up in the chain tomorrow, and I know she'll have something uber-awesome to say on this topic.

What do you think? Which characters do you like? Do they have to be likable? Intriguing? Does that person have to be the one telling the story? Which charcters do you have a love-hate relationship with? Why? What makes them so loveable and yet hateable at the same time? What kind of characters do you like to write?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

QueryTracker Turns Two!

That's right. It's like a proud parent moment. Except I am not the parent, and well, isn't a kid. But it's the same excitement!

Because we're having a party!

Click on the picture below for more details. Oh, and there's also a little blog chain contest going on. The grand prize of this hulla-baloo is a FREE WEBSITE designed by the awesome Carolyn Kaufman and QT's daddy, Patrick McDonald. That's right. FREE. (They're the Purple Squirrel Web Designers. Check 'em out.)

You want that, don't you? Um, yeah.

You get one entry into the grand prize drawing for every contest you enter. (Details on the carnival page, click below.) You can also get another entry by helping us advertise!

Simply make a post like this one you're reading on your blog. Make sure to use the wicked fun graphic and direct them to the carnival page for more deets. Then come back here and leave a comment with your link and real name. Or email your link with your real name to elanajohnson (at) querytracker (dot) net.

I'll make sure you get in the drawing.

Be sure to tell your readers to EMAIL ME (or comment here) their link and real name so I can put their name in the drawing. You can link to this post so everyone knows how to make sure they're entered for the FREE WEBSITE!

And hurry! You must have your blog post up by next Saturday, May 23 to get the extra entry.

Spread the word! Win a website!

Friday, May 15, 2009

First Line Friday

Okay, peeps. I like looking at the first lines of books. I've put several below. Some are mine from various novels and books I've written. Some aren't. Can you tell which ones? (NOTE: I am not comparing myself to anyone. Just throwing this fascinating topic out there.)

I'd love it if you'd post your first line(s) in the comments and I'll compile them and post them on my blog next week. Maybe we can have a little discussion about what makes a good first line? Would you be up for that?

Now I don't want to turn into Authoress at Miss Snark's First Victim. I just want to know what YOU think makes a good first line. And I want to read yours. And then I want us to look at them and decide which ones work FOR US INDIVIDUALLY and which ones don't. And maybe ponder on why.

Anyone want to do this? You know I like stewing about such things. What do you think of these below?

1. So she tells me, the words dribbling out with the cranberry muffin crumbs, commas dunked in her coffee.

2. Good girls don't walk with boys.

3. I'd never given much thought to how I would die--though I'd had reason enough in the last few months--but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.

4. A tree branch slapped John Craig across the face.

5. The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane.

6. The haze settling in Jesse Oropeza's head has nothing to do with Mr. Sadler's droning lecture on functions, though that would have done it.

7. The acrid smell of smoke floated in my head, taunting me.

8. "You've got to be kidding me," the bouncer said, folding his arms across his massive chest.

9. When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.

10. Dark shapes drifted in front of the car, blocking the oncoming lights from the freeway.

11. When I was a child, I didn't dream of growing up to be an international bank thief.

12. With one last, almighty roar, the Frenchman fell to his knees and died.

So if you're up for public humiliation critique and want to postulate as to what makes a good first line, simply post your first line in the comments. That will act sort of like your ticket to the discussion next week we'll have on all the entered first lines. Is this making sense to anyone other than me?

I'll make a list. I like lists. Lists like me.

1. Post your first line in a comment.
2. You can also comment about other things (the lines above. Can you guess mine?) if you want. You know I like that.
3. Next week, I'll post all the first lines and talk about which ones "work" for me and why.
4. You'll join in the discussion, naming which first lines you like and why.
5. We'll all have a jolly fun time discussing the first lines of books we've read, written, hope to write/read in the near and far distant future and basically learn from one another.



Thursday, May 14, 2009

Getting Information Across, Part Two: Narration

Part one of getting information across was on using dialog to get important details, plot points and characterization in your novel. Writing dialog is my favorite thing to do. But a close second is narration. To me, narration is when the POV character is describing things for the reader. Setting, who's doing what, how they ducked the blow from the left, how freaking cold it is, etc. It's basically all the stuff that isn't being spoken out loud or italicized as an internal thought (more on that next week).

So narration. Your goals are the same as when writing dialog. Important details, plot points and characterization. I think there are a few pointers you should consider when writing narration.

1. Authentic voice. It's important to keep the voice of the character even in narration. You can still characterize your characters by how they react, what they see, what they don't, their perceptions of what other people say or do, and on and on. Voice is not only in your dialog sections, it's in all writing. Just look at some of the blogs you read. The voice in this post is quite a bit different than the voice in some of my, um, other posts. Right?

2. Flow and Tell. I get so sick of the old mantra "show, not tell." I know it's the whole writer's lingo and all that. For me, I think what you are doing is telling a story. True, if you are a good storyteller, you'll create images (the show part) in the reader's mind as you do your job. For me, this comes down to the flow of the writing. I can usually tell if I'm being too telling because the flow of the story is interrupted. Reading out loud can really help you keep the flow on target.

In a "mixed" piece of writing the flow is easily puddled with dialog, making it easier to have sentence fluency and variation. In narration, without this dialog to punctuate with, sometimes the flow becomes monotonous with sentences too similar in structure. Beware of this in passages with no dialog or other ways to break up the narrative flow. You'll have to use your mad skillz of phrasing and word choice to make your narration shine.

3. Make every word count. This is a given in all writing, but especially narration. This is where you're using your five senses. This is where you're describing a setting. An attack. A feeling. A reaction. Every word has to count, has to drive the plot forward, has to do something besides just sit there on the page.

Take this sentence for example: "The wind drove the rain into my skin like tiny needles."

I could have said the wind was blowing hard and that it was raining, but don't you get such a better mental image with this? Every word is used to its best wordy ability to convey not only the setting, but how the MC feels in said setting while laying the foundation for what might be coming next in all this wind and rain. Because it's important. I didn't just make it stormy because I wanted to. The story demanded it, and now it's my job to make sure the reader is there, experiencing the needle-rain and driving wind. Does that even make sense to anyone outside my head? Freak, I hope so.

One last thing: Only write what needs to be said to accomplish your goal. I think oftentimes when we veer off into places we shouldn't is during narration. We think we have to explain that last bit of dialog or make sure the reader understands one more time that this guy is yummy-delicious or where that portal goes or whatever. Dont' fall into this trap.

So while I love writing dialog and think it comes naturally to me, writing narration is the real meat of a story. It's where you become the storyteller. (I could totally go into a Survivor joke right here, but I won't. *wink*)

Thoughts? On a scale from one to ten, how are you at writing narration? I'm going to go with a 6 or 7 for me. It's not as easy as dialog and sometimes I sit and stare at the blank page for many minutes trying to find just the right way to say something.

What else do you consider when writing narration?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Outlining My WiP - Does That Count As Writing?

My WiP is whipping me. Really hard. This idea is not totally fleshed out and it's killing me. And my characters are supposed to be the dead ones! Argh!

So instead of doing actual writing on the story, per say, I've been compiling information about my characters. And yes, even making a basic plot outline (*shudders*) of where I want things to go and all that. It's going to be a mystery, so I have to do some planning. I need motivation. I need things to line up. I need my alternate world to make sense. Maybe this whole I-don't-outline thing is what's killing me. So I gave it a try. Seriously, I don't know how anyone outlines. It was a complete and utter nightmare and I only felt more frustrated afterward. Like I didn't accomplish a friggin' thing except neglect my child and eat a lot of Swedish fish. I need someone to post on outlining. Anyone?

But the whole character profiling has been helpful. I've been really focusing on weaving in some small details about each person that will end up being important to the mystery. Of course, I don't know who the culprit will be (heck, I don't even know what the mystery is! Death? Maybe. Something stolen? Perhaps. I really don't know yet), but I do know I want this novel to have interesting and quirky characters, so I've been more focused on that. I feel like this is an element that is always missing in my first drafts, and I'm trying to get some things down FIRST this time.

It's been interesting. Different. A little exciting, but mostly frustrating. Like I said in a post last week, I don't really know the characters, so this whole writing-down-traits has been difficult and slow in coming. Which is probably a good thing with how busy I've been in my real life.

So anyway. I had about 4 K in my actual novel. It didn't work with my new "outline" (and trust me that has to be in quotes. Those of you who outline, I really don't know how you do it. It's become the dirty O-word at my house) and so all 4,000 words got the axe. Toldja I wasn't afraid of the delete key.

I have at least that much (4 K) in my character bible. Stuff you probably wouldn't need to know, but that *I* need to know. This helped me so much that I started writing again on Monday and wrote about 2000 words that day! At least I knew where to start and where I wanted to go. And those are two pretty important things in writing.

So how's your writing coming along? Post your own version of Work in Progress Wednesday. Feel free to steal the WiP graphic and be sure to wave from the bandwagon!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Talking Heads - Teaser Tuesday - Blog Contest

So my friends at critique group challenged me to write something only using dialog. I'm not really sure if it was a challenge or I just transformed it into one in my head. They said something about how they liked my dialog and I actually think one of them was tearing into me [with very sharp teeth] because I didn't have enough sensory details. Or something. And I was saying how sometimes I think it's okay to just let the characters talk without any blocking details or anything. I mean if they're sitting at the breakfast table and you've established that, I don't need the demise of every bite of bacon. I mean, another clue every little bit or so is okay, but not every line of dialog needs an action, internal thought...or sensory detail. (lol)

I just did a post on writing dialog, so you can check that out. Dialog should reveal things. Not only plot things, but character things too. I believe that through dialog, your characters live. Really live.

So I thought I'd write something with only (okay, MOSTLY) dialog. And I'm throwing down the gauntlet. That's right. This is a contest. I want you to submit a snippet of dialog (could be from your novel or something else you've written, or it could be something you specifically write for this Dialog Throwdown) in the comments on this thread. Maximum wordage: 250 words. Enter by say, Friday this week. That's the 15th.

I'll read them. Choose a winner. (Or should we vote? I'm all about a democracy, but I want everyone to play nice-nice.) The prize? I am sort of notorious for slaying queries, so I'll look at and help you privately with your query letter. If you don't need that because you're the query queen/king and/or I've already helped you, I'll shred, er, critique your first chapter.

So here's mine. Just so you know, this is a magic lesson between two humans (Jared and Annie) who don't know much magic and a group of magical beings (including Jon) who, well, know a lot of magic.


"You didn't do your protections," Jon said.

"I did too," I snapped.

"I wasn't talking to you."

"Shut up, Jon," Jared said.

"Jon, so help me…." I threatened.

"Okay, I'll help you." He stood up and threw a purple disc with a long tail spiraling behind it.

I didn't know any spells besides how to protect myself, but Jared set up the lame no-good shield again.

"Jared, what good is that going to do?" I asked.

"Shut up! It's all I know."

"I know you learned more than one spell today. I saw you."

"How many did you learn, princess?"

"I learned protections. That's all I know. Freakin' take them out!"

"I'm using what I have for this damn shield! You have more magic than me, help me out here!"

"I would, but—ack!" Ice snaked over my legs up to my waist. Whoever had done this was so dead. And right now, I could commit Jon's murder, no problem.

"See if you can get out," Jon said.

"What the hell is this?" Jared looked at his encased legs. "I did the shield."

"Two feet off the ground," Jon replied.

I raised my eyebrows at Jared. "Well?"

"Well what? I don't know what to do."

"How about an Inferno?" Jon suggested. Black fire soared across the library in a funnel, licking at me and melting the ice. I couldn't help the scream that tore through my throat. Next to me, Jared cussed like he didn't know any other words.

"Jon," Edgar said, almost wearily. "Dude, do we really need to freak them out?"


So...given the little you know about Jon, Annie (she's the "I" in the story) and Jared, what do you think Jon would say to that? What about Jared or Annie? Do you get a little glimpse of who they are?

And now it's your turn! Lay it on me, baby!

Monday, May 11, 2009

5 Hours and Counting...

Okay, guys. I know you've heard of it. Or maybe you haven't. Either way, the one-line pitch contest over on the QueryTracker Blog has five hours left (well, four hours and 59 minutes, but only OCD-ers like me care about that). You've got to check out the rules, cuz the genres are a bit limited this time.

And, uh, yeah, I'm supposed to post on Wednesday, and I'm coming up blank. B-l-a-n-k. Any ideas you want me to pontificate on? *snarf* Like I don't have enough pontification (hey, that's not underlined in red...) going on over here. lol But no. Really. What do you want to know? I can haz research.

But don't spend too much stewage time on me and my woes of lame-o postage for Wednesday. Go enter the contest! It has a slick online form this time. Totally schweet! I'm so glad I know Patrick McDonald. He has made my life (and all the QT bloggers' lives) easier. Thanks Pat!

Wait. Why are you still here? Got an idea for the QT blog? Comment! Comment!

I Beg To Differ

Bubble gum, bubble gum in a reed,
How many Betas should you heed?

Okay, that was totally lame, but I just don't have the brainpower to come up with anything clever.

My question is coming at the beginning of this post: How many Beta readers do you need?

I'm really interested in knowing. I've been reading about how people have betas in the double digits. Of course, this terrifies me a bit. Then I start to do this: Do I need that many? What if just one more person points out something that could be fatal to my MS? What if s/he says the same thing as Beta C or Beta D? What if this? What if that?

The "What If?" game is only effective in writing. Not in anything else, trust me.

I sent my WiP to 7 Betas. They were awesome. Pointed out great things, some things were suggested multiple times by different people. I did revisions and actually asked a couple of them to reread those parts.

Do I think I needed more Betas? Absolutely not.

And here's why.

Sometimes you can have too many cooks in the kitchen, yanno? Then it isn't helpful, it becomes a blood bath. People pointing out all different things. You frantically trying to revise everything, instead of the places that really need it. For me, this causes major freakage. And frankly, I don't have time for that. Of course I want my MS to be the best it can be before querying. But I believe that this can be done with a handful of trusted, honest, wise Beta readers. More is not always better. In fact, it's all in WHO is reading your novel, not HOW MANY.

For example, lets take a look at the pantheon judges--which your Betas should be. That's why I have it capitalized. They are that important to me. They are my pantheon judges. And that means that you don't need billions of them. And going through all their comments? That can take weeks just by itself. I think it's best to have only a few people that you trust explicitly so that you can best use your time to get your MS ready.

So onto the pantheon judges.

American Idol: 4 judges. Used to only be three. And if you've ever seen the show, you know they don't always agree. They have different things to say. Just like your Betas.

Best Food Network Star (starts soon!): 2 executives, usually a chef judge, sometimes an additional celebrity judge for a total of 4. Again, too many cooks....

Survivor: A jury of 7 individuals who've played the game. This is perfect for your MS.

Heck, the Supreme Court of this country only has 9 people making the decisions. Life and death ones. New laws, unconstitutional stuff. In my opinion, I definitely don't need more than that reading my novel. Especially if they are of the caliber of Supreme Court justices. And mine are.

So maybe that's where you should start. Are your Betas Betas with a capital B? Or are they fish? Are they honest, trustworthy, well-read in the genre, knowledgeable about the publishing industry, writers themselves?

What do you think? Have you benefited from having dozens and dozens of readers? How many do you usually choose to read your novel before submitting it? Why do you choose that many? How has it worked for you?

I'm so interested in this. Let me know! I feel some chartage coming on....

Friday, May 8, 2009

Switchin' Up Ye Olde Blog Chain

Archetype (Carolyn) chose the topic for this round. And not only is the topic about keeping things fresh and churned up, but our chain has recently gone through an overhaul as far as the order goes. Now the uber-awesome Michelle is before me and the ever-wonderful Annie is after me. Be sure to go to Archy's post to start from the beginning.

Here's the topic: How do you keep from telling the same story over and over? What are your tips and tricks for finding fresh ideas and adding new twists to your work?

Um, I don't? I've written lots and lots of things. 4 complete novels in various stages of editing, revising and curing. I'm writing something new right now. I've started and abandoned half a dozen other stories. I've written oh, maybe 4 short stories. So how in the world do I keep things fresh?

Not very well. Sometimes I'll think, "Oh my gosh, this sounds exactly like Control Issues." Or, "Freak! Gabby did this in Elemental Hunger."

So I have to stretch myself. I don't like it. It's like that wheel of torture on The Princess Bride. I feel like that. Then I realized (when I was looking for a pic) that that thing isn't really a wheel. So that sort of freaked me out. All this time, I thought it was a wheel. Well, there are wheels in the picture, so use your imagination.

Ahem. Back to keeping things fresh. I have two things I try to do:

1. Listen to my characters. Kat had a super-fantastic post on characters and letting them drive the story. This is what I do. The characters for each novel should be authentic enough to propell the story in a different direction. From the things they say, how they react, to what they choose to wear/eat and what their motivation is should be enough to lend diversity to your stories. I feel like I've talked a lot about characters this week. Click to meet Jag and here for dialog.

2. Decide on my style of writing. I've written some novels where it's very straightforward, just tell the story with all the commas in the right place. Heck, I even used semi-colons. Other things are more literary. Still others are more...something. In between? Maybe. But I try to mix up the styles a little bit, so it's not only the stories and characters that are different, but it's the actual writing that is different too.

My writing style is most often influenced by what I read and/or my mood and/or whether or not I have Ginger Ale in the house or Adam Lambert on repeat. haha.

So I read The Book Thief and went through this period of mourning decision that I would try to write more literary. Elemental Hunger is in this style of writing. It lends a different twist to the story--and to the writing. The story is unique because of the arrangement of the words I chose to tell it.

Then I read Wintergirls. I so want to write like this. My current WiP is sort of in this type of writing where it's all angsty and periods and commas and stuff aren't really that important. A semi-colon would never be invited to this party. We'll see how it goes. Already it's making the writing different. The way the characters are "allowed" to speak and narrate makes a huge difference, and that makes a unique novel with a different twist. It's not necessarily the idea. It's all contributed to the writing style.

Okay, three items. Oh, come on. You knew it was coming.

3. Write with the intent to delete. No matter what, I just keep writing. Sometimes this means major deletage if things don't work. Whether that be plot items that are too similar or voice that's too similar, it doesn't matter. I am not afraid of the delete key.

So what do you do to keep things fresh? Sometimes I use Febreeze and my daughter refuses to go a day without spraying the Lysol. Four-year-olds are funny like that. Too bad those aerosol sprays don't work in Word.... kenyit

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Getting Information Across, Part One: Dialog

Okay, I'm going to do a three-part series (but let's face it, my three-parters tend to turn into four or five or six-parters. Don't say you haven't been warned) on how you get information across in a piece of writing. I'm starting with these in mind. You can tell me what else I need to stew on if you want. I'm nothing if not open to suggestions.

1. Dialog
2. Narration
3. Internal thoughts

So today, I'm starting with dialog. Having your characters SAY important information is a great way to get the story out.

Warning: Don't engage your characters in a conversation where both parties already know all the information but the reader does not. That's wicked lame.

It's got to be an authentic conversation between people. It can reveal who the characters are by the way they talk, how you choose to have them react, and what words you put in their mouths.

And dialog can also get out crucial background information or other facts you need a character (and thus, the reader) to learn. For example, take this snippet of dialog from my now-curing WiP, Elemental Hunger. It's mostly dialog where Gabby (the narrator) is learning some stuff she didn't know.


The silence stretched on as I struggled to make sense of what he’d said. “Mentor? As in…you were training to be a sentry? Why? There’s an Elemental school in Tarpulin.”

“Not anymore,” Adam said, his voice flat. “Alex buried the school under a mountain a year ago. That’s why I left. All the schools in the Northern Territories have been destroyed. I’m only alive because she doesn’t know I’m Elemental. I’d been on the sentry track for twelve years.”

“All the schools?”

“Yup. I’ve been hopping from school to school, managing to escape before the flood or the earthquake. Crylon was the last—and now it’s burned.”

“I didn’t do it,” I said automatically.

“I know. Felix did. Do you think he could’ve gotten here so fast? All the way from Tarpulin?”

I knew Tarpulin was far away, but I didn't know how far. “But he’s not Elemental.”

“No, but he can strike a match.”

“Why? Why would Alex send her sentries to destroy the Elemental schools?”

He glanced at me out of the corner of his eye. “You don’t know much about Alex, do you?”

Anger burned through my veins. “I didn’t get to attend Firemaker lessons. In case you haven’t figured it out, no one knew I was Elemental either. I know who Alex is. I know everyone is afraid of him—including me. He’s ruthless and cruel.”

“And a girl,” Adam said, eyeing me again.


“Alex is a woman. And she possesses all four Elements.”

I stared at him as he peeled the blackened skin off of the chicken. “No way.”

“Way, man. Uh, I mean....”

“How is that possible?”


This is mostly dialog. And I really need Gabby to know that Alex is a woman. Smart readers will catch Adam's "slip" in the second paragraph. I want the reader to see that, wonder about it, and then get the information right away. I also want/need the information about all the schools being demolished in there. And that little bit about how far Tarpulin is. And Felix....

So you see, dialog can really get a lot of crucial information out in the open in a relatively short amount of time.

It's also one of the hardest things to write, I think. It's important to make sure it sounds natural. Don't let your characters say things they wouldn't say. Don't let them say contrived or overdone things just because you want them to/you need them to/or you think it's the way to go.

Just let them be...themselves. Let them talk, carefully inserting the words you need them to say to get across the information you need. But don't rob them of who they are or the voice they use. It's a delicate balance, one you probably need a crit group, therapy and a large platter of bacon to find. Wait. That might just be me. Never mind.

But seriously, you want your dialog to be authentic. As if you really were eavesdropping on these people, learning the vital information you need to keep the reader invested in their story. And that can be done by good use of dialog. So get them talking!

How will you know when/if your dialog is authentic/awesome?

My tip: Read your dialog out loud. Does it flow like a conversation? Does it sound stilted and awkward? Natural? Too old for the character? Too young? Is it "trying too hard"? You'll know if you read it out loud.

And I like to hear you talk. Does this dialog (in my snippet) work for you? What age would you say these characters are? How can you tell? What do you learn about them? Who's older? Wiser? More in control? Do you consciously think of these things when you're writing dialog? (I'm not saying I do, cuz I don't. But I definitely think about them during the editing stage.)

Finally, do you like writing dialog? I totally love it. It's one of my favorite things to write. And so, so powerful if done right. to me! What say you about dialog?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

WiP Wednesday - Do I Have to Start All Over Again?

So I finished typing my middle grade novel, LIVING ASSISTANTS. Nice play on words, right? Funny thing is, no one seems as impressed by it as I do. Could be that I'm a word geek, I don't know. But I think it's kind of kewl.

Anyway, finished typing that. It's 33,023 words. Not bad for a middle grade novel. Now I need to really stew on it, because there's a couple of parts that I'm not liking. They don't quite mesh from beginning to end. So I'm going to have to break out the ole zamboni and smooth those parts out. As soon as I save up enough money to invest in said zamboni. *snarf*

Meanwhile, I've figured out why I've been having all this angst over starting something new. I don't like it. Let me say it again: I don't like starting something new. The characters don't know me. I don't know them. I don't really like them yet. I'm a list person and if I could put "write a book" on my list and check it off after one day, I totally would. I can't. And that annoys me. A lot.

So I've been stalling the starting process. It's not fun. I like writing from the middle to the end. I'm more solid there, more set in the world, the characters, the excitement of what's to come. Starting? Not so much.

But I took last weekend off. I read. Watched movies. Listened to the freaking rain outside. Rejuvenated myself to start on Monday morning with my 500-words-a-day challenge. No matter what. Even if it was a scene at the end or middle or whatever. Even if it wasn't something in the same novel.

And you know what? After you write 500 words for a few days or weeks or whatever, you're no longer at the beginning! Woot!
So that's where I am. 1500 words in, but realizing that I won't always be at the beginning. And for now, that's the only thing motivating me to keep going. What about you? What are you working on? Where are you? Having a good time? Need encouragement? (I've got a forum for that....)

As always, anyone, anywhere is welcome to jump on the WiP Wednesday bandwagon. We slow down for anyone who looks like they haven't slept, are muttering to themselves about stupid Bad boys who won't cooperate and/or whose fingers are numb from typing. Believe me, it's a look I can recognize from miles away. Probably light years.

Also, here's the thought-provoking question of the day: Do you like starting something new? Excited to get the story down? Or do you dread it like I do because you're not quite sure who the people are yet or what's going to happen? Remember I don't outline. I've tried. I really have. It's just not my schtick. Maybe that's why I don't like starting something new.... Nah, there's no one "reason." I just don't like it. But I clean my toilets and I don't like that either. I will persevere! (And wow. Who knew I could go from writing to bandwagons to toilets all in one post? I have mad skillz. I feel like I need a medal or something. tee hee.)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I *heart* Adam Lambert

Yeah. That is all.

Introducing Jag Barque

Okay, people, this is a character interview. Jag is the kewlest guy on the about 200 hundred years. sengihnampakgigi He's the male MC in Control Issues. And he's taking over all the space in my head. So I'm letting him Maybe then he'll shut up and leave me alone. Not likely, though.

He might look something like Mark Ballas, although it's been incredibly hard to find a picture of Jag. But Mark's hair here is the closest I can find even though Jag's would be way spikier and more wickedly cool.

EJ: So tell us a bit about yourself.
JB: Silence. Icy glare from his blue eyes.

EJ: *clears throat* Okay, what's your name?
JB: Jag Barque.

EJ: No middle name?
JB: Not one I'm aware of.

EJ: Does Jag stand for something?
JB: Stand for something? Like world peace and all that?

EJ: *blushing* No, like is it a nickname?
JB: No.

EJ: *nervously scanning notes that blur together* Um, where are you from?
JB: The Badlands.

EJ: Is it nice there?
JB: Nice? Yeah, sure, it's Nice there.

EJ: What's your favorite food?
JB: Favorite? That really makes no sense. I eat to stay alive. And I'll eat anything I can find.

EJ: So no chocolate chip ice cream for you, then?
JB: Nope. Ice cream tends to melt in the desert.

EJ: That it does. What do you like to do for fun?
JB: Fun? Besides trying to stay alive, I don't have much time for fun. But if you're going to badger me about it, I like to plan for my next mission. That's always fun.

EJ: Do you answer every question with a question of your own?
JB: *sighing* No.

EJ: You're right, only about half. Ahem. How do you get your hair to stick up like that?
JB: It's called gel. You do have gel in the past, right?

EJ: I'm asking the questions here. And for the record, yes, we have gel. Why won't you tell Vi anything?
JB: Eveyone's gotta learn for themselves.

EJ: *scoffs* Right. Like you did.
JB: Is that a question?

EJ: How about I kill you off at the beginning of book 2? Answer that question tough guy.
JB: You do what you have to do.

EJ: *sighs knowing she can't kill him off* Fine. Can you say what's going to happen next?
JB: *smirking* You're the author. I have no idea what tomorrow brings. Maybe you should write it.

EJ: Maybe you should stop harping on me about it.
JB: Maybe you need to stop thinking about those goth ghosts and focus.

EJ: *stands up* Leave Penelope out of this!
JB: *fists clenched, he stands too, and he's much taller than EJ* She's crowding me in here. I feel like I can't breathe. I'm choking.

EJ: *laughs* That's because you left--
JB: Shut up. Don't say it. Don't you dare say it.

EJ: *clamps mouth shut because the stupid boy has used his Voice power on her and she can't talk even if she wanted to*
JB: *glaring, arms folded, amusement in his icy eyes*


And before this gets too embarrassing for all involved, that's where the interview ends. As you can see, I'm being nagged from all sides. Inside and out. Le sigh. Maybe he's right. Maybe I should just write it.

So here's the question. Do you ever battle with your characters? Do you write down their favorite foods, their birthday, the type of music they listen to? Do you know how they would react to every situation, every conversation? Do you know how they talk, what they would and wouldn't say? What they would do with their hands during a confrontation? What's in your character bible? (I totally stole this term from the ladies in my crit group. I can take no credit.)

And can you tell what kind of guy Jag is from the interview, which really reveals no information about him, other than he doesn't have a middle name. Oh, and a snarky streak that can only be matched by his female counterpart in the book. No wonder they're--oops, can't tell you that!


Monday, May 4, 2009

Crit Group Commentary

Okay, so I meet with a live critique group every other Thursday. It's like the highlight of my existence. Well, that might be taking it a bit far, but I really enjoy it. I've gone when I have raging sinus infections (I'm sure the other members were thrilled about that), I've gone when my son has pack meeting (cuz let's face it. Pack meetings are like torture), and I've gone when it's snowing like crazy mad. I'm like the post office people. Rain, shine, sinus infection, I'll be there.

Ali, Jenn and Stacy are made of awesome. We have sooo much fun. So today, I thought I'd share some quotes from last Thursday night that had me rolling on the floor laughing. And we all know that laughter is the best medicine, especially when you've got three pirahnas tearing into your work. In person. And you have to look them in the eye and try not to feel like every word you've penned is complete and utter suckage.

So we laugh a lot. It's my coping mechanism. But hey, I like being critiqued. (And I still don't have a T-shirt for that, but all in good time.kenyit)

So here are some things that were said at the group. I paraphrased some of them so I hope Jenn and Stacy don't mind. I have a good memory, but I'm no Einstein. I totally get that you might not understand them, or why they're funny, but they really are. Really.


"I can do dirty."

"The 'fill her up' freaked me out. 'Fill her up'? Fill what up? I mean, 'fill her up'?"

"I kind of like the idea of a chasm."

"Have you ever had your hair razored?" (To me! They asked me this! I'm nothing if not into razoring my hair.)

"You don't have to eat this if you don't want to."

"She's put out all this other stuff. I was wondering where the fishing line is."

"The basis of my experience with cattle ranching comes from City Slickers."

"What's with you and all your guys being obsessed with hair?"


So here's my question for you: How do you deal with critiques? Maniacal laughter like me? Major stewage afterward? (I do this too.) Is it hard to have your writing critiqued? Why or why not?

BONUS: Would you wear a T-shirt that said, "I like being critiqued"? (lol)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Call For Shorts!

Okay, people. Here's the deal. Several of the awesome blog chainers and I have teamed up to write a short story according to a prompt. We're doing something similar to this post. I'm going to pick the topic this time, and the goal is to get this, write! This is a call for writing from anyone, anywhere, any time this month.

May's topic: flowers. You know, that whole April-showers-bring-May-flowers thing. Well, where I live, the weather in April has been uber-crazy. Snow, rain, sunny, cloudy, you name it, we had it. And holy wind, Batman. So I don't have many flowers as of yet, but that's the topic none-the-less.

Rules: It's a short story. 100 words, 500, whatev. Post it on your own blog sometime this month (inviting others to write according to the prompt) and come back here and let me know when you post so I can read yours. Your story has to have flowers in it somehow. Any which way.

Here's mine to get you started. (<600 words)

There's no link salad, but if you want to link to mine, that would be awesome. I'll collect the links and post them at the end of the time frame.


I see the rose from down the hall. A red rose. Of course. Xan always gives me a red rose on Fridays. It used to be sweet, but now it’s just old. At least if it was yellow or pink it would show that he’s given it some thought. As it is, it’s just Xan stealing from his dad’s florist shop once a week.

“Thanks,” I say, taking the rose by the thorny stem. I twirl it, wondering how I’m supposed to put my backpack on while holding the flower.

“Where do you want to go?” Xan asks.

I shrug, imagining stabbing myself with the pointed stem. “Wherever.”

He smiles and lifts my chin so I’m forced to look into his dark eyes. “I hate deciding.” That’s Xan-code for hurry-up-and-pick-somewhere-or-I’m-not-taking-you-out-tonight.

“Olive Garden?” I say it like it’s a question.

“Sure. Let’s go.” Xan walks down the empty hall. I guess it is sweet that he waits after school while I go to my debate meetings.

In Xan’s car, I lower my window in the April evening. Reds and oranges color the sky as the sun sinks behind the mountain. Xan rolls down his window and turns up the music until it blasts above the rushing air. He puts his hand on my leg just as I set the rose on the floor in the car.

He asks me something I can’t hear above the music and wind. I glance at him. See something silver just before it slams into the car.

Something electric buzzes around my head. Allergic to bees, I jerk away. A hot pain shoots through my neck, making my throat burn. I try to lift my hand to swat the bee away, but it only gets louder, and I can’t move my arm. Something very heavy weighs it down.

The heat mixes with the floral scent of the rose, radiating off the ground in waves. New smells mingle with the fear and sweat and dust.

Blood. And smoke.

Flashes of light beam through the darkness. Red then blue. Red then blue. White light stays still, focusing on one spot. Sounds exist far away, shouts and cries. I feel the ground beneath my back. Hard and sharp, with lots of little bumps. Warm. Too warm. And sticky.

The white light shines on me, blinding me, even though my eyes are closed. I feel nothing else.

Red then blue. Red then blue.

A white, hot poker enters my head.

Voices argue around me.

The pain recedes as I stand up. Everything is black and white or shades of gray. Xan’s on the ground, his beautiful skin pale, deathly white against the black asphalt. He doesn’t look solid.

Two very solid men work around him, plunging tubes and checking vital signs. Pools of blood flow in black, oily puddles. Smoke still wafts from the demolished front end of Xan’s car.

I look for myself, but my body is already gone. Dark stains litter the road. I look up, wondering if the sky is always this black after death. The sun hangs just above the mountains, an orb of bright white. There is no color here.

I am dead.

I turn, and there stands Xan. His dark hair falls across his transparent forehead in inky streaks.

He’s holding the red rose. The crimson of it stands out against his alabaster skin and black clothes.


And go!

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