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Friday, February 27, 2009

Common Contest Problems

My friend Danica blogged about some Common Contest Problems, and her post might be a helpful checklist for anyone trying to strengthen those first 50 pages of their manuscript:

I'm doing my civic duty and judging some contest entries today. I had really high hopes for this one. In years past, I've read such good entries that I wanted to write the contest people, begging to read the rest of the manuscript.

This year, not so much.

As I read each entry, I realized that they all had the same problems in common. So I thought, for the writers who read my blog, I'd share the commonalities.


Click here to read the rest of the post.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Article interview with Barbara Scott

In the ACFW Afictionado ezine, there's a good article/interview with editor Barbara Scott from Abingdon Press:

A Few Moments with....Barbara Scott

A few friends of mine are being published through Abingdon, and I knew Barbara when she had been editor at Zonderkidz. She's a terrific person and I like her a lot. I'm also really excited about the new Abingdon fiction line--there's a huge variety of stories that are sure to appeal, and Barbara is collecting a lot of fresh writing voices for her stable of authors.

Check out the article if you think you might be interested in submitting to Abingdon!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Serial Killers and the Writers Who Love Them: Facts about Popular Myths

For those of you writing suspense, thriller, and mystery, Pat Bertram had Katherine Ramsland on her blog. Katherine is a respected writer who has published several books on criminals, criminal psychology, and CSI. (I have one of her books around here somewhere...)

We have many myths attached to serial killers in our culture, most of them from outdated studies or from fiction and film. While those early studies had their merits, they’re not, and never were, representative of serial killers as a whole.


Click here to read the rest of the article

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Inexpensive Writing Retreats

Today I'm blogging at Seekerville about options for inexpensive writing retreats:

Camy here, feeling the crunch of the economy just like all of you. But sometimes, you need something to jumpstart your creativity or to kick you out of a writing block.

Writing retreats are wonderful things, because they can do many different things:

--Help to immerse you in that creative right brain mode so you can get “in the zone”

--Give you that kick in the pants you need to plow through a writing block or a difficult patch of writing

--Eliminate distractions that might be keeping you from writing effectively or efficiently

--Help you to focus and pay attention to details

But let’s face it, writing retreats are expensive.


Click here to read the rest of the article

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Make Great Character Names

Did you know that the right character name can make your manuscript more vibrant or powerful? I wrote this article, which originally appeared on Suite101.

Make Great Character Names

Add Depth and Emotion By Naming Your Characters Carefully

Be judicious in how you name your characters, paying attention to details and not just name meanings, in order to add color, depth, and power to your characters.

When naming characters, many writers only pay attention to how a name sounds or what a name means, but there are other things to keep in mind when you name your characters.

Choosing a good name and paying attention to certain details can:

Add power and depth to a character

Make the manuscript less confusing

Make the manuscript more polished and professional

Create smoother reading pace

Evoke an emotional reaction in your reader

Choose a Name With Meaning

These days, the Internet has many resources to find names and their meanings. Any baby name site will offer almost too many to sift through.

A name with a strong meaning can add power and depth to a character. A prosecutor named Mark Justice can evoke subtle emotional reactions in the reader.

On the other hand, be aware that a name with a not-so-obvious meaning might fly right over the head of a reader. For example, “Alexis” means “defender” but not every reader is going to know that, and the name won’t evoke the same kind of emotion in the readers who don’t know the meaning.

Take advantage of names that will evoke a certain type of emotional response in your reader: Paul Smith versus Paul Snipe, or Yvonne Warren versus Athena Warren.

Pay Attention To Historical Context

Choose names appropriate to the historical time period. Do not name your ancient Roman citizen Seamus or your Regency heroine Yasmin.

Even if your story is set in current day, pay attention to the age of your character and choose a name appropriate to the character’s gender, age, generation, and ethnicity: Cassiopeia versus Carol versus Caitlyn versus Carlotta.

Avoid Confusion For the Reader

Reading has auditory elements as well as visual elements, so writers should try to address both and eliminate as much confusion as possible for the reader.

Choose distinct names for each character to help the reader more easily distinguish between them. Every little detail helps the reader and can ease reading flow.

Try to avoid names that start with the same letter: Mark and Mel.

Also try to avoid names that sound similar: Rick and Nick

Try to have characters’ names have different numbers of syllables: John and Roy versus John and Royden.

While in reality, parents name siblings with similar names, try to avoid this for fiction: Katie and Kathy versus Katie and Michelle.

Changing Names is Easy

Even if you’ve already started your story with one name, just use the “Find” and “Replace” function in your word processing program to change a character’s name. You might be glad you did—changing a name or two might smooth your story’s reading flow or evoke a stronger emotional reaction in your reader.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The first page, part 3 - Establish the protagonist

This is continuing my series on things to look for in your first page.
Click here for part two.

Establish the protagonist

Your first paragraph (ideally—or at least the first several lines of the book) should mention one of the main protagonists by name.

The first page of the book is one place where you can break with deep point of view and mention the entire main character’s name, even though technically, in deep point of view, the main character would only think of him/herself by a first name.

This was not the smartest way to die.

USAF Pararescue Jumper Manny Péna grunted, tensed his muscles and tried again to flare the canopy on his parachute.

No go.
--A Soldier’s Family by Cheryl Wyatt


It’s usually best to start the story in the main protagonist’s point of view, opening the storyworld from the protagonist’s eyes, being in her thoughts and body.

Allison Stewart’s future hung in the balance. Her job. Her research. Her attempt to make a difference.
--Countdown to Death by Debby Giusti


Sometimes you can have another character mentioned in the first sentence, but it’s from the main protagonist’s point of view:

Martha had an iron rod where most people had a backbone.

Grant smiled as he pulled his team to a stop in front of the train station in Sour Springs, Texas.

She also had a heart of gold—even if the old bat wouldn’t admit it. She was going to be thrilled to see him and scold him the whole time.
--Gingham Mountain by Mary Connealy


Now, before you start hollering that “lots of multipublished authors don’t start with the protagonist,” yes, you’re right.

But here’s a bare fact: the majority of readers expect the first character they meet to be the protagonist. I don’t know why, but it’s a common phenomenon.

Therefore, it behooves you to start with the protagonist.

One exception is if you start in the villain’s point of view. But that’s still starting with one of the main characters in the story (just not the hero or heroine):

Not so pretty in death, are you.

Head twisted, back arched. Contorted mouth, eyes wide in shock, limbs all locked tight.

Now your outside looks like your inside—a black soul, an immoral soul, a horrified and horrifying soul, bound for the black pits, the depths of darkness, for eternity, ever and ever on.
--Dead of Night by Brandilyn Collins


Look at your first page—do you establish the protagonist within the first few lines? Are you in the protagonist’s point of view?


Click here for part four.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Join a critique group

As many of you know, I belong to the American Christian Fiction Writers organization, and a topic came up on the email discussion loop that I wanted to tell you guys about.

Sometimes, an ACFW member will email the loop asking for a quick critique, and usually people are more than willing to take a quick look at a piece of writing. One member did that last week.

In response, another member raved about his ACFW critique group, and encouraged other members to take advantage of ACFW's free critique group service.

What ACFW offers for every member is their free critique group program. A coordinator will assign a member to an online critique group. The groups are usually small, no more than 5 or 6 people, and most of them are smaller than that.

The groups are matched according to genre, if you prefer.

You can also request a group that can keep up with your writing speed--critiquing one chapter a week or one chapter a month, whichever you can keep up with.

If a group doesn't happen to work for you, you can always ask the coordinator to reassign you, no problem. So you can "test out" several groups until you find one that clicks for you.

If you belong to ACFW, I encourage you to hook up with a critique group. When I first joined ACFW, I was in several different critique groups, and my writing grew by leaps and bounds.

Writers will often find their own writing technique improving just from the act of critiquing someone else, as well as the feedback they get from their critique partners.

If you do not belong to ACFW--or perhaps you don't write for the Christian market--many other writing organizations offer the same sort of program.

Another option is to utilize Writing.com, a free website for writers of every genre to post writing, give and receive feedback, and connect with other writers via discussion boards and groups.

I found a writing partner through Writing.com--we were posting on the same discussion board and she said she was a Christian historical romance writer who needed a critique partner. I responded and we critiqued for a little while.

I've also had people read and review things I posted on Writing.com, and the feedback was usually good. (If that happens to you, you should reciprocate by reviewing something for the other person.)

So you can see there are several options for you to join a critique group or find a critique partner. I hope this has been helpful to you and that you can find other writers to share feedback with! It will help you improve your writing more than you can imagine.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Writing despite myself

I'm blogging at Seekerville today about writing despite my own lack of motivation, whether from depression, stress, or distractions.

Camy here, talking about the one thing I struggle against the most when it comes to writing—myself.

I don’t like it, but I am a very emotional writer. Meaning, my writing motivation is often fed by my feelings.


Click here to read the rest of the post.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Strengthen Prose With Judicious Words

I wrote this article, which originally appeared on Suite101, about how you can self-edit yourself into more vibrant prose.

Strengthen Prose With Judicious Words

Be Selective in Word Choices for Vibrant Writing and Strong Writer’s Voice

A writer can bump their writing up to the next level and make it sparkle by being careful and thoughtful about each word used.

Many times, editors will say that the writer’s “voice” in a manuscript is what catches their attention.

Voice is hard to define, even for industry professionals. It’s that intangible something that makes a string of prose unique to the author, and a strong voice is what will make an editor interested in a manuscript.

But one thing common to all writers who have strong writers’ voices is that their word choices and phrasing are very unique and vibrant.

Whether you have discovered and developed your writer’s voice or not, here are a few tips for polishing your writing to make it stand out more with strong words and brilliant prose.

Use Strong Verbs

In general, a sentence with “was XX-ing” in it is a weaker sentence than one with a strong action verb.

He was walking down the boulevard.
Versus
He marched down the boulevard.
He stumbled down the boulevard.
He strutted down the boulevard.
He slunk down the boulevard.

You shouldn’t be indiscriminate and just replace every single -ing verb in your manuscript, because the use of -ing verbs is important. Sometimes a strong action verb just wouldn’t make sense in the sentence.

But a good trick is to do a “Find” and “Replace” in your computer word processing program and “Find” every “was” and/or “ing.” Then “Replace” them with a strong action verb.

Use Emotional Words

There are certain words that invoke a strong emotion in readers’ thoughts and visceral reactions. Take advantage of those words when revising your prose.

The lemon tasted sour.
Versus
She bit into the lemon slice, and the juices tingled down her tongue and across her teeth to bite into her cheeks.

“lemon slice” is a visual picture
“tongue” “teeth” “cheeks” induces the reader to think of their own mouth
“tingled” and “bite” stimulates a visceral reaction in the reader

Add As Many Power Words As Possible

Be very exacting when looking at your sentences—go through them with a slow, deliberate eye. Weigh each phrase, each word, and see if you can think of a stronger verb, a more emotional descriptor, a more specific noun.

A good rule of thumb is to try to add some sort of “power word” to every single sentence. Do not leave a sentence unrevised unless it already has at least one “power word” in it, and you can’t think of any better words to replace what’s already there.

Do This Only In Revisions

While these tips are good for when you’re revising your manuscript, it’s best not to even think about these when you’re writing fresh prose.

When you’re writing, you’re in creative right-brain mode and should just let the words flow out of you. Being in full creative right-brain mode is usually best for when you’re “in the zone” in terms of your writing.

Any type of self-editing is a left-brain activity and will pull you out of your creative right-brain mode, and out of “the zone.” So save the revision tips for later.
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