Monthly Archives: February 2011

Decidedly Passive

Last night DH tried out a new brain teaser on Middle Son. 

“Five frogs are sitting on a log.  Four decide to hop off.  How many are left?”

Middle struggled for a moment before choosing the obvious answer–which, of course, was wrong.

I, of course, almost fell off my bar stool because I’m a bit immature that way and thought DH was funny.  Likely why I decided to marry him. 

My writing brain, however, locked in on one word and became a bit perturbed.

I’ve been in a total of five critique groups over the years and one of the most passive forms of writing I’ve ever seen is the use of the word decided.

He decided to order Chinese food.

This is generally followed by some action or dialogue with Chinese food miraculously appearing on the doorstep five pages later.

How many frogs are left?

FIVE!!!

Deciding to jump off the log and actually doing it are two completely different things.  Deciding to order take out and actually dialing the phone are two completely different things.

Deciding to get married and actually tying the knot?  Yeah, two different things.  Thank God I got off my wishy-washy tushy and did something about my decision or my four kids would have been bas born out-of-wedlock.

Is there ever a time to decide rather than actively do? 

The Liquid Battles Writing Contest

So, Middle Son is working on his science fair project.  Last night we carefully measured out one tablespoon of various liquids into an ice-cube tray.  Today, we will time them to see which liquid melts first. 

It’s a fight between pure, clean water, carbonated Mello Yello, fatty milk, frothy hot chocolate, sugary-sweet oj and brewed coffee. 

Who will win?  Or would it be lose?

Regardless, we will spend our day watching ice melt.

And like all things in life, this got me thinking about the characters in our novels.  Each is like a different liquid.  Some are pure and wholesome, while others are bitter and dark.  Still others are so sweet they make your teeth hurt.

Good analogy, eh?

While it’s all up to the real liquid in Middle’s science fair project, the outcome of the writing contest is completely up to you.  So without further ado, I present: 

The Liquid Battles Rules and Regs

  1. In 150 words or less, create a Main Character using one of these six liquids.  Water, soda, hot chocolate, orange juice, coffee or milk. 
  2. Entrench your MC in a conflict with other liquids so we can see his/her attributes in action.
  3. Include your Battle in a comment to this post by Friday March 4th.
  4. Third grade Middle will read your entries over the weekend and declare a Liquid Winner!
  5. Results will be posted on Monday the 7th along with the winning entry.
  6. Our Liquid Hero will receive a sweet treat of assorted Ghirardelli Chocolate Squares.  (Participants must live in the US for ease of shipping, however, if an out of country writer wins the battle, we will happily post a link to your blog or website and send sweet thoughts your way.) 

A mystery bonus gift will be included in your prize package if your Liquid MC also happens to match the liquid that took the longest to melt. 

So, tap into your inner child and give us a battle of epic proportion.  You have nothing to lose and bragging rights to gain. 

Let the Liquid War begin…

Smitten

Eldest is in love.  He’s been dating a beautiful, young lady for six months.  They watch movies, hold hands and talk late into the night.  I’m sure there are other things going on that a mom doesn’t want to know about, but the point is, he’s completely head-over-heels in love.

Just like I am. 

Sadly, it’s with one of my characters. 

While most of his personality is shown through actions and his physical description is virtually nil, he’s a heart-throb like no other.  And it’s not just me.  My crit partners nearly swoon when he comes on the scene.

Readers, has your heart ever pitter-pattered over a character?  If so, what traits send your ticker tripping? 

Writers, have you ever written a character that steals your heart?  Do you feel as odd about it as I do?!?!? 

Inquiring minds want to know.

Doing the Happy Dance!

I just received an awesome crit today from one of my critique buddies.  It wasn’t the back pat we all like to hear, but rather, a series of questions and a few pointed comments.

So why am I dancing with wild abandon?

Because I get to rewrite an entire chapter, fix previous references to certain character and ultimately make an amazing difference in my novel.

I love the new turn of events and I can’t wait to work in the new ideas born from the feedback. 

My advice to writers: never dismiss any feedback without really and truly considering what the comments mean to your writing and the future of your novel.

Sometimes, “This doesn’t work for me,” can be the single best crit we can get.

How do you like your feedback: sweet and supportive or nitty-gritty honesty?  Does the thought of changing your writing based on a critique have you running for the hills, or does it make you wanna do the Snoopy Dance?

Trunked: manuscripts and hunting dogs

We trunked our hunting dog.  She’s no longer in circulation.  The South Dakota cornfields and Minnesota ditches will be devoid of her presence.  It saddens us greatly to relegate her to the title of pet, as my DH is an avid hunter and she was his first dog.

Her shoulders are shot, she injured her hind leg last year, she’s chubby and out of shape.  Not to mention just plain old.

Novels can be like that.  We write them with love and then sub them long past their prime.  It’s hard to let go sometimes.  They are our babies.

But there is hope.  We can buy new dogs.  Yes, they are untrained and ill-mannered.  They haven’t quite learned how to sit and they love to chew.  They will frustrate us with the energy it takes to keep them in line, yet they will also delight us with the exuberance of youth and their playful ways.

Our geriatric lab is now referred to as Grandma Kallie.  Our new dog is called many things–mostly under my breath as she’s trying to choke down a sock in record time.  Both are loved for what they offer our family.

Experience and hope.  Both are beautiful in their own right and each has a purpose.

Trunked novels are not failures.  They are testaments to our passion.  They represent the journey we took while honing our craft so we can write a new manuscript.  And that’s not to say Grandma Kallie will never take to the ditches again.  She might.  When the conditions are right.

Do you have a trunked novel, or does the thought of placing a beloved manuscript away terrify you?  And how do we know when it’s time to hang up the metaphorical leash?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Another One: writing cliches

For the love of all that is holy!

 We have yet another snow day.  The fist one of each season is fun and exciting, maybe even the second one.  But after that–when all your snow make up days are gone and you’re looking at going to school until July 4th–the cliché gets old.

The kids dread getting that early morning text letting them know school is once again cancelled.  Blowing snow, icy roads, foot high drifts.  These have been our winter clichés.  And everyone is bone tired of it.

I wonder if that’s how agents feel when they open one query letter after another with the same worn-out themes. 

Author, Joelle Anthony, has put together a fun and fascinating list of the 15 most overused things in YA and MG.  Find it here on her blog.

What types of things do you find overused in the books you love?  Do red-haired best friends make the list or is it something less tangible, yet clichéd all the same?

How about writers?  What go to traits/quirks/scenarios repeat themselves in your writing?

Inquiring minds want to know! 

P.S.  I do have a soft spot for red-heads in my writing!

Query Crazy

Call me nuts, but I love writing query letters. 

Condensing a novel into a paragraph or two of intrigue is nothing short of poetry on paper.  I love capturing the essence of story in under 200 words and  my heart pitter-patters when my MC comes to life in a handful of lines.

Maybe I’ll quit writing novels and focus on queries.  I’ll be that odd Query Lady who collects query letters like the Cat Lady collects felines. 

  • Queries are the desserts of the writing world.
  • They are the sunsets on a successful day.
  • They are the angels at the top of the Christmas tree.
  • Queries are the back cover blurbs–they are the reason manuscripts get read.

How do you feel about queries?  Do they scare you silly or refresh you?  Am I the only one in the world who loves writing these elusive little buggers?  

Hope your day is querylicious!

Head Hopping

I used to have my Dear Daughter convinced that I had eyes on the back of my head.  Until a few years ago, she would test me.  She’d hold up a certain number of fingers, make a face or do something goofy behind my back so I could tell her what I “saw.”

Most of the time I was right.  Often because I knew her personality, so knew which antic she would try.  Other times because a mirror or window would reflect back to me her finger count.  Shadows were another good place to read what she was doing, and of course, Lady Luck helped me out a time or two.

Things happen off-scene.  Kids leave pop cans in the basement, sneak Oreos into their bedrooms or watch movies they shouldn’t.  It is our job as parents to know what they are doing to the best of our ability.  Any good parent can accomplish this by getting into their kids’ heads.

Writers, however, should never head hop.  We must never use the eyes on the back of our MC’s heads to tell the story they couldn’t possibly know.

Great things happen off-scene.  Better things happen in other characters’ heads.  Yet to use shadows and reflections to sneak those snippets in weakens our writing.  Head hopping (aka an inappropriate POV switch) pulls the reader away from the writing and takes away tension rather than adds to it.

Not to mention, it’s cheating.

EXAMPLE:

Fed up, I rounded on the group of boys.  My eyes flashed as I berated them for what they had done.  Even Josh.  No, especially Josh.  I still couldn’t believe he was a part of it all.  I left my hand print across his handsome face just before I stormed away.  Concerned by my outburst, his eyes followed me down the street until I turned the corner and collapsed  into a heap of anguish.

I know, not strong writing, but it’s 5:30 in the morning and it serves its meager purpose.

This piece is obviously a strong first person POV.  Yet twice, I make the mistake of conveying things I cannot know. 

Fed up, I rounded on the group of boys.  My eyes flashed as I berated them for what they had done.  Even Josh.  No, especially Josh.  I still couldn’t believe he was a part of it all.  I left my hand print across his handsome face just before I stormed away.  Concerned by my outburst, his eyes followed me down the street until I turned the corner and collapsed  into a heap of anguish.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen my eyes flash.  I’ve witnessed an entire electrical storm when DD has been angry.  I’ve seen Dear Hubby’s light up a time or two.  But mine?  Naw, when I’m mad, I’m usually glaring at my victim, not staring in the mirror.  Flashing eyes are a visual clue that cannot be seen by our MC, thereby forcing us to convey her anger in another way. 

Additionally, when she storms down the street she cannot know Josh’s eyes are following her until she rounds the corner.  Not unless she is walking backwards and watching him watch her or she has eyes on the back of her head.  Nor can she know the reason he is staring.  She may think he’s concerned or upset or sad or frustrated.  Really, though, he’s just enjoying the view.

These little things may not seem offensive, but in truth, they can damage our writing tremendously.  Breaking POV is a lazy way to convey information and emotion.  And, it can be extremely subtle.

Have you recently broken a head-hopping habit?  If so, what tricks do you use to keep your writing grounded in one POV? 

As a reader, what are some examples of head-hopping that you notice the most?

 

10 Percent Uncontrolled

Yesterday, Dear Hubby sent me an email on the 90/10 Principle.  In it, Stephen Covey describes how only ten percent of the occurences in our lives are uncontrolled.  The other 90 percent of our day happens because of our reaction to the ten.

His example was a spilled cup of coffee.  But it could be anything.  The muddy dog tracks.  The overflowing bathtub.  Dear Daughter’s speech paper that takes up all your writing time for the day.

These things are uncontrolled events.  Our reaction to them can make or break the outcome of not only our day, but of those around us.  There is a truth in this that should extend to our writing.

Last week on Agent Query, we had a guest speaker, Editor Kristen Weber.  One of the things she commented on as being in the “biggest manuscript mistakes” category was not having a fleshed out plot.  These manuscripts tend to be a series of events. 

And then this happened…and this happened…and…well, you get the picture. 

Rather than having our characters encounter an uncontrolled event and make choices based on those things, we are sometimes guilty of skipping the reaction stage.  Our characters simply survive from one exciting conflict (car crash) only to have another plopped in front of them (thugs).

We don’t force our characters to make a decision about how they react.  We simply let them overcome the obstacle and move on to the next event.  But this way of writing makes for a lack of cohesion.  Our overall story arc is flat.  Our characters cannot grow, because they haven’t made any choices in the way they live.

Ninety percent of our life occurs BECAUSE of what we do. 

Holy wow!  Our characters suddenly have a lot of responsibility in our writing.  Instead of simply staggering off in the middle of a blizzard because they must to get to the farmhouse to meet up with thugs, we need to make them consciously choose. 

Do I stay with the car or go into the snow?  

Then when the tow truck happens upon an empty car and our MC is literally freezing her toes off in a cornfield, the character has responsibility for her predicament.  That she stumbles into the drug ring on the abandoned farm site now has meaning. 

MC made a choice-albeit a bad one.  But it is this sense of responsibility toward the outcome that will inevitably make our writing unique.  Our characters’ reactions create our characters and force them into further conflict.  Our plots become whole and not simply a series of unfortunate events.

90/10

What kind of plot do you have?  Are your characters in control?  Do they make conscious decisions that create problems as often as they clear them up, or do they simply rush from one conflict to another?

90/10

The power is in us to control the tone of our day.  I hope yours is fantastic!

It’s the little things…

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day.  Dear Hubby and I aren’t real big into the whole give-me-a-pound-of-chocolate-and-a-dozen-red-roses thing.  Instead, we celebrate our love every day.  Cheesy?  Maybe, but I’m sticking to it.

We ate left-over spaghetti, DH worked out, I wrote and got a foot massage by Youngest, we talked over chai tea, put the littles to bed, put DH to bed, the bigs got home and eventually the house was put to sleep.

It’s our life and one I love.  We’ve found our rhythm.

It’s one of balance, not over-indulgence.  It’s comfortable, chaotic and sometimes unpredictable, but it’s ours.

I’ll take it. 

Because, quite honestly, it’s been hard to find. Right now it’s 4:59 am.  Not ideal for anything, but mornings are my best writing time.  Evenings are filled with dinner, homework, laundry and getting ready for the next day.  There are speeches to write, heartbreaks to mend, DS games to find and dogs to let out.  Over the past months, I’ve come to realize that resetting a priority list can be painful. 

It was for me.  First I ditched all my social networking.  Then, I lazed up on the housework and finally began rising before the butt-crack of dawn.  While I’ve always loved mornings, there is inherently something wrong with waking before the rooster.  But, it’s now a must if I’m going to continue writing, raising my family, running my preschool and blogging.

I’ve reset my priorities.  Hopefully I can reintroduce some of the things I had to remove to solidify that list.  If I can’t, I’ll have to resort to tweeting.  And everyone knows I talk too much for that.

Well, the alarm has finally gone off.  DH will get up and I’ll need to get ready for my day.  I have coffee and the rush of getting four kids out the door to look forward to. 

It’s the little things in life–the everyday things–that make it worth celebrating.

What did you do yesterday to celebrate?