Monday, July 23, 2012

Little of This, Little of That ...

Happy Monday! It's good to be back. It's been a comedy of errors for me this past week and I fell behind on the blogging scene. First my son got sick, then me. Our AC broke during the hottest part of the year. Being sick and sweating at the same time has got to be the worst. At least we have a pool to dip our feet in and cool off ... but we got so much torrential rain over the last few days, our pool, patio and yard became one. The pool got trashed with mud. But thankfully the AC is working again. LOL sometimes you just have to LOL.

Anyway, the winner of last week's contest from The Emotion Thesaurus is TC McKee! Yay! Congrats, TC! Thanks to all who visited and commented.

Did you know about Write Club? There are some rules to Write Club, and you should head over to DL Hammon's blog at Cruising Altitude to find out what they are. I participated in Write Club last year and it's a lot of fun. You send in 500 words of your writing anonymously and go into the ring against another writer. Fellow bloggers vote on their faves and the rounds keep going until there's a final winner. Check out the line up of agents for this one. Plus, DL's great and if you're not following his blog already, you should be!

Also, TC McKee (winner of the ET coincidentally) and Fiona Claire are hosting a Blind Speed Dating on their blogs, so check them out.

That's it from me today, so head on over and check out these great opportunities. And I just heard another tropical depression is headed my way so all of FLA may be underwater here pretty soon. I've got my snorkel handy, just in case. But really, my thoughts are with the victims' families from the Colorado shooting right now. Sorry to end on such a depressing note. But I wish you all a great day! 

Monday, July 16, 2012

So Emotional!!

Well, I'm not emotional (at the moment,) but our stories always should be. Emotion is what drives the tale and keeps us reading, makes us feel invested in the characters. It's also probably the hardest part of crafting a story. How do we invoke that emotion and connect the readers to our characters? What's the trick?

There are no cheats when it comes down to this most important ingredient. It boils down to hard, dedicated, and sometimes grueling work for the author. And it it's done right, it appears effortless and seamless to the reader. That's why I wanted to share this invaluable writing tool with you:

If you haven't heard of it yet, do yourself a favor and get it immediately! This writing guide by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman is chock full of useful tips and information. Most importantly, it works like a typical thesaurus, only with emotion. Too many arching eyebrows or gritted teeth in your story? No problem. Simply determine your character's emotion and find it in The Emotion Thesaurus. It offers lists of alternate body languages to bring your characters and stories to life. After all, that's what adds the emotion to our stories. When our characters feel, the readers feel.

Besides this awesome book (which is in paperback as well as eBook,) Becca and Angela offer a blog called The Bookshelf Muse, which has been instrumental in the crafting of my most recent story. Not sure how many times I perused their blog for character traits during the writing process, but it was a LOT!

As luck would have it, I recently met Becca at our regional SCBWI conference and she's fantastic, as expected. And of course, Angela is as well. Both are so down to earth and friendly and just all around shiny happy people. :)

Becca stopped by today to offer one of you a free eBook copy of The Emotion Thesaurus. All you have to do is comment and I'll do a random drawing. (I've got mine downloaded on my Kindle and keep it open while in the revision process.)

Here's a snippet from The Emotion Thesaurus that Becca has allowed me to share:

By definition, nonverbal emotion can’t be told. It has to be shown. This makes it difficult to write because telling is easier than showing. Here’s an example:

Mr. Paxton’s eyes were sad as he gave her the news. “I’m sorry, JoAnne, but your position with the company is no longer necessary.”
Instantly, JoAnne was angrier than she’d ever been in her life.
This exchange is fairly easy to write—but not so easy to read. Readers can figure things out for themselves. They don’t want to have the scene explained to them, which is what happens when a writer tells how a character feels. Another problem with telling is that it creates distance between the reader and your characters, which is rarely a good idea. In the preceding example, the reader sees that Mr. Paxton is reluctant to give JoAnne the bad news and that JoAnne is angry about it. But you don’t want the reader to only see what’s happening; you want them to feel the emotion, and to experience it along with the character. To accomplish this, writers need to show the character’s physical and internal responses rather than stating the emotion outright.
JoAnne sat on the chair’s edge, spine straight as a new pencil, and stared into Mr. Paxton’s face. Sixteen years she’d given him—days she was sick, days the kids were sick—making the trip back and forth across town on that sweaty bus. Now he wouldn’t even look at her, just kept fiddling with her folder and rearranging the fancy knickknacks on his desk. The vinyl of her purse crackled in her grip. Clearly, he didn’t want to give her the news, but she wasn’t about to make it easy for him.
Mr. Paxton cleared his throat for the hundredth time. “JoAnne…Mrs. Benson…it appears that your position with the company is no longer—”
JoAnne jerked to her feet, sending her chair flying over the tile. It hit the wall with a satisfying bang as she stormed from the office.
This scene gives the reader a much better opportunity to share in JoAnne’s anger. Through the use of sensory details, a well chosen simile, specific verbs, and body cues that correspond with the featured emotion, readers can see that JoAnne is angry, but they also feel it—in the straightness of her spine and the cheap vinyl in her hands, in the force it takes to send a chair flying across the room simply from the act of standing.
An example like this also reveals a lot about the character. JoAnne is not well-to-do. She has children to support. She may be angry, but she’s also strong minded, family oriented, and proud. This information rounds out JoAnne’s character and makes her more relatable to the reader.
Showing takes more work then telling, as word count alone will indicate, but it pays off by drawing the reader closer to the character and helping to create empathy. Once in a great while, it’s acceptable to tell the reader what the character is feeling: when you have to pass on information quickly, or when you need a crisp sentence to convey a shift in mood or attention. But the other ninety-nine times out of a hundred, put in the extra work and you will reap the benefits of showing.

Becca Puglisi is one half of The Bookshelf Muse blogging duo, and co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression. Listing the body language, visceral reactions and thoughts associated with 75 different emotions, this brainstorming guide is a valuable tool for showing, not telling, emotion. The Emotion Thesaurus is available for purchase throughAmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes, and Smashwords. A PDF version is also available at her blog.

Big thanks to Becca for sharing this! And don't forget to leave a comment for a chance to win an eBook copy of The Emotion Thesaurus! Trust me, you want this! 

Do you have trouble showing character emotion? Have any tips you wanna share? Love to hear from you! :)

Monday, July 9, 2012

First Pages

More from the SCBWI Regional conference I attended a few weeks ago. If you've never been to one, the workshops always include a session on first pages. Attendees submit their first page and the facilitators read them aloud and critique.

These are a great way to learn what works and what doesn't. This time around there wasn't nearly enough time to get to all the pages. In 30 minutes they read only about six first pages, which in my opinion wasn't enough. Hey, we writers thrive on hearing professional opinions of our work, and although I submitted mine, I wasn't among the lucky ones to hear feedback.

But I'll share with you some notes on the pages that did receive feedback:

* The MC's name (main character) should have no cultural baggage--that's not to say you shouldn't use ethnic names or such, but that if a name brings a certain demographic to mind, be wary of how the image of your MC is portrayed to the reader.

* As always, less is more

* Give readers a chance to learn a little something about the MC ....  Make them care. In every first page the facilitators  read, this was mentioned. The action started too soon and neither the editor or novelist cared anything about who it was happening to. I think this is the biggest mistake writers make in their first pages. I've been guilty of it myself. We're told to start in the middle of the action, but we absolutely have to give a line or two that introduces the MC--a thought, an emotion, a quirk.

* Don't raise the stakes so fast ... ties in with above. If the reader doesn't care about the MC, why would they care about what's at stake? This is a big one I learned from the Plot Whisperer and Save the Cat too. There's a difference between the inciting incident and the catalyst, and knowing what that is can mean the difference between relating to the MC's situation, and not.

* Keep a focus ... This is not the time to sprinkle in back story or elaborate description. That will come later. Our first page should be about an MC and their immediate goal.

* Paint the scene.... Meaning, be artful about it. Anyone can relay details, but we're writers, our jobs are to be creative about it and make it vivid.

* Know where the MC is .... Meaning, when our scenes open up, we need a line or two to ground the reader and let them know where the MC is. A school? A spacecraft? A honkie-tonk bar?

* Simplify

BTW Christmas in July is happening over at Ruth Lauren Steven's blog. If you have a story ready, check it out. Today only for entries!

I've added a Query Project page to my sidebar so you can follow along my query journey. It's minimal at this point since I'm still revising here and there, but I'll do a post soon to introduce the project, and possibly a vlog. Hmmm, we'll see about that .... lol

How about you? Any first page tips to share? Have a great week!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

IWSG and Query Project

Happy Independence Day to my fellow Americans! I often like to joke that today's Red Neck Appreciation Day (and not in a derogatory way). I've actually got quite a bit of red neck in my blood from my dad's side, and over the years I've learned to embrace it.

But joking that today is Red Neck Appreciation Day is not to take out the importance of what today means. No offense, to my British friends, because I just adore the UK, but creating a new country with new ideals and most importantly, freedom from the religion that had become so corrupt, well now that is just something to commemorate and get nostalgic about!

Today's also the Insecure Writers Support Group posting hosted by our most honorable blogfather, Alex J Cavanaugh. Click on the picture below to get to HDQ and check out the other posts. It's always a great time when we writers come together and share our hopes and fears. 

So I mentioned something about a Query Project ...

Here's where I'm at: I just finished my 6th novel length story. Actually it would be my 7th, but I don't count the first since it was an initiation to the craft. My 6th story is a YA romance called The Desiree. SO far, I've had my CP (critique partner) read through it ... and since then, I've revised it completely based on her feedback. The revised version has been through two separate beta readers, and based on their feedback, I've revised and tightened some more. Another CP is still in the process, and I have two more beta readers to send this finished revised version to for additional feedback.

Also, I might add, I won an editor's critique of the first 5k words, so that's being applied as well.

Now, I'm pretty close to being ready to query. I actually jumped the gun already and sent one out about a week ago to get a feel for it, and it was rejected. Ugh, I hate that R word.

As you may've guessed, I've been in this query game for quite awhile now. I've queried my previous stories and gotten plenty of requests, but always the same kind of answers that the agent didn't fall in love, or wasn't passionate about it, or didn't connect to the character ... or just no feedback at all. You know the routine.

At this point in the game, I'm beginning to lose faith in the entire system. Not because I think agents are out to hurt anyone's dreams, but because I'm forgetting who I'm writing for. I feel like I have to impress agents with my stories, when what I want to do is simply write for teens and entertain them with my stories. Which makes me wonder why I'm not already out there making my stories available to them.

I want to try this one last story to get an agent and traditional publisher before making the decision to go indie. And I'm turning the whole thing into a project where you get to journey along with me and see what results. Each time I've queried in the past, I get to about 5-6 rejections on fulls or partials and then I stop querying and move to a new story. In short, it deflates me into believing the story isn't good enough. But maybe I just haven't found the right agent. My problem is that I lose my mojo for the story after a few rejections.

Now if I invite you along with me to share the journey, then maybe I'll keep going and keep querying until I've exhausted my resources. And the best part is, that you, my lovely readers, get to share my success or failure and learn from the experience. (I'm super excited about that)

Next week I'll post my query and some more on this project. Then, I'll keep you updated on my progress in the sidebar. I know some say posting info on our rejections isn't wise, but if the story is good, no one will care about that anyway. This way we can prove to the writerly world together, whether or not the system works.

More deets on my Query Project later! Sorry I've been so long-winded (or should that be long-fingered?? lol) Thanks for stopping by!

Where are you on your query or publishing path? Do you think this project will be interesting or not? Anything else you want to share? Have a safe and happy 4th of July!