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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Daphne writing contest

ATTENTION: UNPUBLISHED MYSTERY/SUSPENSE & ROMANTIC SUSPENSE AUTHORS

The Kiss of Death Chapter's 2007 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense is rapidly approaching, and although the body count is adding up, there's still room for yours!

Look what New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan has to say about the Daphne …

"In 2003, I finaled in the Single Title Daphne and came in second. While I didn't sell that book, the editor and agent comments were invaluable in helping me figure out my writing strengths and weaknesses. As a result, the next year I found an agent and sold THE PREY to Ballantine." -- Allison Brennan, author of SPEAK NO EVIL, out
now!!!

So pull those manuscripts out of the crypt and send them post haste. Why? Because the deadline is March 15, 2007.

What happens if you don't? It frightens us to say. The Daphne has enlisted the help of some acquiring editors and agents as final round judges who rarely judge contests.

You'll miss not only the opportunity to get your entry in front of these industry professionals; you'll miss feedback from four trained judges (the lowest score dropped); you'll miss the chance to be recognized at Kiss of Death's fabulous Death by Chocolate at RWA® National in Dallas; and all for the unheard contest fee of: $15 for KOD members; $25 for non members.

So exactly who might these mysterious final round judges be? Take out your spy glass and have a look:

Category (Series) Romantic Mystery/Suspense
Agent: Pamela Strickler, Pamela Strickler Author Management
Editor: Patience Smith, Silhouette Intimate Moments

Historical Romantic Mystery/Suspense
Agent: Stephanie Kip Rostan, Levine Greenberg
Editor: Hilary Sares, Kensington Books

Inspirational Romantic Mystery/Suspense
Agent: Michelle Grajkowski, 3 Seas Literary Agency
Editor: Melissa Endlich, Harlequin/Steeple Hill Books

Paranormal/Time Travel Futuristic Romantic Mystery/Suspense
Agent: Miriam Kriss, Irene Goodman Literary Agency
Editor: Lauren McKenna, Pocket Books

Single Title Romantic Mystery/Suspense
Agent: Kimberly Whalen, Trident Media Group
Editor: Charlotte Herscher, Ballantine Books

Mainstream Mystery/Suspense (Note: Romance Optional)
Agent: Christina Hogrebe, Jane Rotrosen Agency
Editor: Linda McFall, MIRA Books

Still wondering about the STIFF competition? Suspicious types, feel free to contact the Daphne Committee by way of bellson@comcast.net with any questions or check out www.rwamysterysuspense.org.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Naming emotion

This is a trick I learned from both Colleen Coble and the book, Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias.

Instead of naming an emotion, show the character under the strain of the emotion.

Instead of writing, “Anger burned through her,” show the anger burning through her, without writing the word “anger.”

A volcano exploded in the pit of her stomach, spewing gases up to sear her nose and make her eyes sting.

She could barely breathe through her taut throat. Her hands shook with the strength it took to hold them back from slapping him.


The strength of the imagery and the power of the emotional moment is heightened if you can show the emotion rather than naming it.

When writing the rough draft, don’t think about stuff like naming the emotion or not. Just get the scene down. I even write notes to myself in brackets so that I can plow through without stopping to enhance my language or fix my typos.

However, when you’re revising, go through each scene and look for places you might name the emotion:

Sadness overwhelmed her.

His terror shook through his frame.

Curiosity struck her.


versus

She sank to her knees like a drowning victim being pulled to the bottom of Lake Michigan.

At first he thought an earthquake had hit, until he realized it was his body quaking. His stomach coiled and twisted like a Gordian Knot.

Now why would he be sneaking into the kitchen at this late hour? It wouldn’t be nosy to check up on him, right?


You’ll find that if you can replace the word of the emotion with a description of the character experiencing the emotion, your prose will really leap off the page.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Use your nose

For every new scene, there’s typically some sort of description to ground the reader into the setting. Whether it’s a kitchen in a quaint farmhouse, or a Regency drawing room, or the wild Montana wilderness, or an urban police station.

As writers, we strive for accuracy. Farmhouses typically don’t have crystal chandeliers, and Regency drawing rooms wouldn’t have a computer sitting on the Chippendale desk.

But don’t just give your readers the visual descriptions—give them the experience of walking into the setting by stimulating their olfactory senses. In other words, smell.

Our scent memory is incredibly powerful. We don’t necessarily remember the exact smell so much as we feel certain emotions triggered by a smell, or even the mention of a specific scent.

Contrast a diner with the aroma of hamburgers and fries versus a Midwest farmhouse filled with the warm, spicy smell of Grandma’s apple pies in the oven. Or maybe walking into a New York high-rise office that reeks of the editor-in-chief’s Chanel No. 5 versus a Regency rose garden in the heat of summer.

Do a quick run-through of your manuscript and try to insert a sentence or a phrase in each new setting that will trigger your reader’s scent memory. You don’t need much, so don’t go overboard.

Be deliberate in your wording. Warm apple pie generates a very different feeling than hamburgers and fries.

Be specific in your wording. “Chanel No. 5” rather than “expensive perfume.” Or “hamburgers and fries” versus “greasy smell.”

You’ll be amazed at what a small olfactory phrase can do to spark up a setting.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Revisions - Dialogue tags

The writing book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King (second edition) is one of the best books for bumping your writing up to the next level and making it look more professional. If you haven’t read this book yet, I strongly suggest you buy it or borrow it and read it right away.

They suggest eliminating dialogue tags in favor of action beats. For example, instead of he asked, she said, he demanded, replace the dialogue tags with action beats whenever possible.

The reason is that dialogue tags are often redundant. Many times, it’s already obvious who is speaking.

The dialogue itself can sometimes indicate how the character is speaking, with what emotion.

And dialogue tags are often accompanied with an –ly adverb, which can be “telling” the reader the emotion when you should “show” it instead. “Did you have to kill the postman?” he demanded angrily.

Dave sailed into the kitchen. “How are you doing, Mary?” He stopped short.

“I’m just waving around a bloody knife.” She gave a bland smile as she circled a limp wrist.

His eyebrows slammed down to obscure his eyes. “Did you have to kill the postman?”


Action beats have the added bonus of giving the reader more insight into the character emotions than dialogue tags. For example, a character’s nervous gesture during a casual dialogue line can reveal inner turmoil or a deceptive personality.

Go through and try to rewrite as many dialogue tags as you can. Sometimes, you can eliminate the tags entirely. Other times, you’ll need to add an action beat.

P.S. Don’t go overboard on action beats! You don’t need too many, just a few to punctuate the dialogue. That’s another post...

The Christian Writers’ Market Guide

The Christian Writers’ Market Guide by Sally Stuart

Camy here: This is one of the best resources for Christian writers who want more information about magazines, publishers, and agents. I personally used the magazine listing more than anything else, especially in trying to find markets to publish my short fiction stories.

This is only a jumping-off point—it’s up to the writer to get sample copies of the magazine and figure out the style and tone of the articles for each publication. But writing articles is a terrific way to beef up your resume, even if you’re writing a novel at the same time.

One thing I do caution is for writers to write what they delight in. If you don’t like writing articles or short stories, then don’t. But if you enjoy it, then go for it and beef up your resume.

And above all, if you want to write that novel, you have to schedule time to work on it in addition to any other articles or stories you do. If your goal is to finish that book, then don’t give up too much time in writing other, shorter things.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Branding

After I was contracted, several people—including my senior editor and my agent—mentioned that one reason I was so "sellable" to the publishing committee was because I had a definite brand and niche in the marketplace.

I know many authors hate to brand themselves or lock themselves into a certain genre or type of writing, but because it's becoming so difficult to get a contract these days, it's definitely something to think about. Several writers have been published in multiple genres quite successfully, but unfortunately, they are very few and far between.

To maximize a writer's chances of presenting a manuscript that will be accepted to a pub board, they have to think about branding. The pub board doesn't care as much about the writing--after all, that's why the manuscript has gone through the editors, to ensure the writing is strong. The pub board cares about if they can sell this book to booksellers, if they can make any money off of the print runs.

If a writer has a strong brand and niche in the marketplace, that goes a long way with the pub board--with the VP of Sales, the VP of Marketing, etc.

I had a strong brand--it was unusual because no one else had published Asian contemporary women's fiction in the CBA yet. It wasn't so unusual that it wouldn't be marketable, but it was different enough to make it stand out. I also had a marketing platform with my blog, which I'd been doing for several years and which had a modest readership.

My publishers offered me a contract because they could develop me as an author with my particular brand. It was marketable.

So look at what's being published and try to find a brand that will be both marketable and make you stand out.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

ACFW 2007 Genesis contest

I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned anything about the Genesis contest yet.

Well, it’s finally here! The 2007 Genesis contest for unpublished writers, put on by American Christian Fiction Writers.

The Genesis contest, formerly known as the Noble Theme contest, is becoming one of the largest Christian Fiction writing contests in the world.

Yours truly is the contest coordinator (again) this year. Head on over to the Genesis page on the ACFW website for more information.

Some highlights of the contest:

--We have TEN CATEGORIES of Christian Fiction

--You can enter as many entries as you like, in as many categories as you like (although you need to pay a separate entry fee for each entry)

--It is all electronic this year, which means no postage, no printing, no copying, no self-addressed stamped envelope, no entries or scoresheets lost in the mail.

All entries will be judged using Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature. And if you don’t have Microsoft Word, no problem! We can return your judged entries in .pdf file format so you can still see the comments.

--Each entry gets THREE judges in the first round. (That’s three critiques of your manuscript’s first 25 pages! It’s a great price for objective feedback.)

The top five scoring entries in each category are Category Finalists who go on to the second round.

--We have a great lineup of editors and agents as second round judges in each of our categories.

• Contemporary Romance: JoAnne Simmons, Barbour Publishing, and Stephanie Broene, Tyndale

• Historical Romance: Melissa Endlich, Steeple Hill, and Tamela Hancock Murray, Hartline Literary Agency

• Romantic Suspense: Sue Brower, Zondervan, and Joyce Hart, Hartline Literary Agency

• Women’s Fiction: Beth Jusino, Alive Communications, and Steve Laube, the Steve Laube Agency

• Chick/Mom/Hen/Lady Lit: Ahna Phillips, Eames Literary and Krista Stroever, Steeple Hill

• Suspense/Thriller/Mystery: Susan Downs, Barbour Publishing, and Kelly Mortimer, Mortimer Literary Agency

• Contemporary Fiction: Janet Grant, Books and Such Literary Agency, and Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary

• Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Allegory: Andy Meisenheimer, Zondervan, and Reagan Reed, NavPress

• Historical Fiction: Rebecca Germany, Barbour Publishing and Charlene Patterson, Bethany House Publishers

• Young Adult: Barbara Scott, Zondervan, and Annie Tipton, Barbour Publishing

--This year, we have a terrific FAQ page that will answer all your questions. On the Genesis webpage, we also have a Manuscript Formatting Article, the Genesis scoresheet, a Sample Manuscript, and a Sample Track Changes .pdf file.

--The deadline for submissions is APRIL 15TH, 2007, but we're strongly suggesting you get your entries in by April 1st so that if there's any problem with your file, there's plenty of time to fix it!

I hope you all enter the Genesis contest this year! It’s going to be great!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Likable characters

You don’t want your protagonist to be perfect—repeat after me, Perfect is boring—but you do need your protagonist to be likable.

Think to yourself what makes your friends and family likable. What traits, actions, feelings, morals? What do you most admire in others?

Give those characteristics to your protagonist.

Look at other books, plays, and movies and take note at how the author makes the character likable (or fails to make the character likable).

For example, in Jane Austen’s Emma, the heroine is mistaken in her observations and decided in her head-strong opinions, yet she is likable because she often shows genuine love for her silly friend Harriet, acknowledging how Harriet’s open and heart-felt manner makes her a better person than Emma herself.

Emma is certainly not perfect—if she were, the story would be only a couple chapters long—but Austen makes her likable with actions and traits that make the reader respect and admire her.

Make your own characters strong, flawed—and likable.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Character descriptions

You don’t need a paragraph to describe your character, whether the Point of View character or any other character in the scene. A segment of descriptive narrative slows down the reading flow, and you want to keep your reader riveted to the page.

Make character descriptions short, strong, and unique.

Short—Again, you don’t need a paragraph. Start off with a short phrase or sentence at the beginning of the scene, and sneak in bits of description as the scene progresses.

Strong—Use vivid and specific language. Don’t be wishy-washy and use words like nice car, lovely flower, short man. Instead, use richer language like firecracker-red Mazda RX-7, a crisply unfolding creamy orchid, a few inches above a fire hydrant.

Unique—Avoid clich├ęs. Period. Instead of dirty dishwater blonde, think up something more original and unusual, limp hair lying in strips like a paper mulberry tree. Read good writing to see good description at work.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Characters—cannibalize traits

First off, let me say that I personally don’t advocate basing characters off of people I know. Aside from the fear of being sued, it can be awkward if the person doesn’t like how you portray them, or if other people don’t like how you’ve portrayed them, or if other friends get their feelings hurt that you immortalized so-and-so in print but not them.

However, each person has traits you can borrow, and you can create your characters out of a composite of these traits.

My father-in-law’s tendency to always tell bad jokes made it into my heroine’s Uncle Howard. My dad’s favorite pastime, bowling, made it into my heroine’s father.

I do my best not to base the majority of a character’s personality off of a single person. I’ll usually try to come up with something general such as a mythological archetype (see 45 Master Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt) and then create a three-dimensional personality by adding a unique background and different traits.

Even when using archetypes, no two characters are the same if they have differing backgrounds. My heroine Lex is the same archetype as Sarah Connor from The Terminator and Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables, but they’re three very different women because of their backgrounds and the story plots.

After figuring out Lex’s archetype, I gave her the volleyball interest of one of my friends, the sports savvy of my husband, and the engineering background of another of my friends. All these things shaped her into a particular personality when the story opens.

So cannibalize your friends and families’ character traits! Just, uh . . . don’t name your villainess after your great-aunt Mary or anything like that . . .
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