Monday, March 26, 2012

March Round Up

Where the hell did March go? It was February like, a second ago. Anyway. Here's our bunch o' links for the month that was.
I wish I had an extra $200 lying around. I would love to install a little library on my block, especially since there are tons of kids within walking distance.


Laura's monthly list of writerly goings-on.

Glimmer Train Literary Journal
-       Family Stories: 1,500-12,000 words
-       First Place Prize: $1,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 copies of that issue
-       Deadline: April 30, 2012
-       Details here.

Writer’s Digest Magazine
-       81st Annual Writing Competition
o   10 Categories
o   First Place Prize: $3,000 and a trip to the Writer’s Digest Conference
o   Deadline: May 31, 2012
o   Details here

Narrative Magazine
-       Winter 2012 Story Contest
o   Fiction & Literary Nonfiction: 15,000 words or less
o   First Place Prize: $2,500 and considered for publication
o   Deadline: March 31, 2012
o   Details here. 

Greg's Links

The 55-word story craze started with a contest the New York Times started in the late 80s.  Since, it has become a really fun exercise and game to play with friends.  I’ve had a few friends who I’ve exchanged 55-word stories with.  Check out this site which has a number of really good examples.

A brief review of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  It’s a fantastic book encouraging the creative process in everyday practice.  Amazingly useful for any aspiring or practicing artist/writer.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Simplicity - Or, What Happened to 'Said'?

By Greg Hardin

“I didn’t do it,” she protested.
“I didn’t say you did,” he countered.
“Why did you say like that, than?” she asked.
“How did I say it?” he questioned.
“Like you thought it was me,” she shouted.
“Well maybe it was!” he angrily retorted.
“I already said it wasn’t!” she screamed in a high piercing tone blurring most of the actual consonants.

Whatever happened to the word, ‘said’?  Whatever happened to simplicity?  I think at some point in school the definition of a good writer becomes, “someone who uses big words and as many of them as possible.” And that’s fine. Hopefully there was also a time in every student’s life when they were taught the value of being concise.  ‘Short and sweet’ is a brilliant motto in almost any capacity. 
            That said, I still worry the first part of the misguided definition of a writer continues to hold sway in the imagination of most individuals.  Big words: dangerous buggers, they are. And I love them.  So don’t misunderstand; I adore big words.  I practically convulse with joy over an opportunity to use circumambulate or prestidigitation in a sentence.  But that’s the problem, isn’t it?  When such delight comes from using such pretentious, awesome words, we start looking for occasions to do just that.  And we find them everywhere. There is no dearth of opportunities to be word snobs. And the thesaurus is so incredibly convenient in the drop-down menu of whatever word-processing program being used. 
            What happened to simple?  The modern English language happened.  Too many choices, too many options assail us.  And we pass those options right on to the reader.  We should use more discretion. Yes, it’s good to be varied.  Yes, it’s good to challenge readers. But it’s also good to have a piece that flows and progresses at a natural pace, unimpeded by giant or obscure words thrown in just to show off, or because we still think they are what make us good writers. 
            If someone says something, sometimes it’s simply okay to say so.  He said. She said. Or in the case above, once that characters are established, let the dialogue stand alone.

“I didn’t do it,” she said.
“I didn’t say you did.”
“Why did you say like that, then?”
“How did I say it?”
“Like you thought it was me.”
“Well maybe it was!”
“I already said it wasn’t!”

Simple is nice.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Blogging, Not Writing

By Alex Villasante
Everyone knows what's important to agents. The writing is king. Your writing is something you work on every day, on your own and with your crit partners and beta readers (and maybe your mom.) It's indisputable that you need to hone your craft. So why are you (and me and tons of others) wasting time writing on a blog? Why are we wasting time reading other blogs, commenting on other blogs, slogging through google reader? Why are we NOT using that time to WRITE?

Let me take a step back here. In my day job I'm an event planner. I've produced lots of events, everything from giant yard sales for charity to silent auctions. But when I started planning conventions and conferences It really opened my eyes. EVERYONE (writers, of course, included) has a conference. If there are a group of people doing a job, odds are good that they are getting together every year, probably somewhere warm, and hobnobbing with each other. It's called personal development, and the workshops and classes given are proof of that. But I plan these suckers. I know how much booze is consumed. I know that the surf lessons that come under the header of 'team building' are really just an excuse to wear a bikini. So what's going on? 

Most conferences are 30% professional development and 70% blowing off steam with a group of people that understand the specific issues you face. These are your peeps. They get you. It's important to connect with people already know what you do and how hard it is. Whatever kind of nerd you are - and everyone is some kind of nerd - a conference offers you the opportunity to nerd out. 

I propose that a community of blogs can do the same thing. It connects you to people who understand how hard it is and can bolster you when you are faltering. Reading about their journey and seeing how it mirrors yours can give you the strength to keep going, to not give up. I know it's done that for me. That's without mentioning the practical tips on agents, querying and, yes, attending conferences, that you can glean from other blogs. That's what I'm trying to do with my blog. I try to put out a lighthouse for others out on the wine-dark seas. If something I say offers some encouragement, that's worth the encouragement I get back.

I know someone who doesn't agree with me. Someone who thinks that it's too much of a drain, there are too many trolls (which is true) and too much negativity and just plain a waste of valuable writing time. I won't out her now, but maybe I can persuade her to write a rebuttal...Stay tuned.

Monday, March 5, 2012

You’ll R.U.E. the Day

You’ll rue the day an agent or editor dismisses your manuscript or a reader shuts your novel because your dialogue fails to do its job. You want your dialogue to move the story forward and reveal traits of your characters. You want it to compel your reader.

Don’t take the easy way by explaining your dialogue to your reader. When you do, it lays limp on the page and pulls the reader out of the story. Step back and give your readers a chance to draw conclusions from the dialogue and the story action. Let them get involved in the story.

One thing to keep in the back of your mind while you write is to Resist the Urge to Explain (R.U.E.). Stick with the tried and true “said” attributes to clarify which character is speaking. They work like a punctuation mark, blending into the sentence. Most of the time, readers move right over it. For example,

“It costs too much,” Jenna said.

The next thing you want to avoid is the dreaded –ly words.

“It costs too much,” Jenna said angrily. 

The minute the adverb “angrily” enters the scene, your reader stops. They’re being told how Jenna feels, but they can’t feel it themselves. So, they dig into their imagination or use their personal reactions to animate the scene in their head. Since they have to fill in Jenna’s personality traits, the character never comes alive on the page. Lifeless characters and constant pauses stall the narrative flow, making it hard for the reader to get back into the story.

Keep your reader hooked by using sympathy and empathy to connect the reader to your characters. Your readers don’t need to know, they need to FEEL! Invest the reader into your story by giving them all the information they need to see the scene without telling them anything. Instead of saying how the character feels, show the reader how the character feels through action and reaction.

“It costs too much,” Jenna said angrily. 


“It costs too much.” Jenna slammed her hand on the kitchen table.

You can now see Jenna’s angry when she slams her hand on the table, rather than being told she was angry. Diction and body language strengthen the dialogue scene, bringing it alive so the reader is immersed in the story. They get to know Jenna and experience the scene as if they’re standing right there in the kitchen with her.

When you use the physical action to describe how a character feels during the dialogue scene and clarifies the speaker, it’s called a dialogue beat. Dialogue beats really help a reader envision the scene.  

Keep in mind the use of “said” is almost always the best way to distinguish between who is speaking in a dialogue scene. You can also infuse the scene with dialogue beats for better illustration. But don’t get too carried away. Remember balance. Too many attributes or dialogue beats can pull the reader out of the scene, too.

Now, until you’ve toned your mental muscles, taking the easy way out in the first draft is ok. But when you go back in to make revisions, push yourself and your diction to find a more succinct and powerful way to convey your characters’ emotion.

What guidelines do you follow to create compelling dialogue?

Share a snippet of your favorite dialogue from a novel or your own writing.

Browne, Renni and King, Dave. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to edit yourself into print.   Harper, 2004: New York.