Thursday, 31 December 2009

My Reading Challenges

I go through cycles every few months or so. (No, I don't mean that cycle...) Anyway, back to what I was saying, my mind can not get bored. If I get bored, I get depressed. To avoid depression, I challenge myself. I learn a new language, I make up codes, I study computer languages, I write books, I buy a dog or adopt a cat. Well, problem is, I can't find the balance between extreme-boredom-avoidance-leading-to-exhaustion and depression-due-to-thumb-twiddling.

Right now I:
  • Keep the books for my husband's business
  • Write
  • Edit
  • Review
  • Blog
  • Study Spanish
  • Create codes for my books
  • Help my children with their homework
  • Clean my house/pets/yard/self/children/husband... (list goes on to eternity)
  • Entertain my friends/family
  • Crochet
Obviously, this list isn't long enough to make me insane so I added three new book challenges. Fortunately, these challenges do crossover or I will be dead.

1) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
2) Villette by Charlotte Bronte
3) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
4) Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler
5) Jane Eyre (1997)
6) Rebecca (1940)

1) Why did they ask Evans?Agatha Christie
2) Fever in the Bone Val McDermid
3) The Mermaids Singing Val McDermid
4) Southern Storm Terri Blackstock
5) The Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde
6) Pretty is As Pretty Dies Elizabeth Spann Craig
7) One Last Breath Stephen Booth
8) The Grave Tattoo Val McDermid
9) The Killings At Badger's Drift Caroline Graham
10) This Body of Death Elizabeth George
11) Careless in Red Elizabeth George
12) Black Dogs Ian McEwan

1) Fever in the Bone Val McDermid
2) Howard's End EM Forster
3) Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte
4) Mrs. Dalloway Virginia Woolf

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Character Development - What are you afraid of?

How do you make interesting characters? I blogged once about sitting in a coffee shop or on a bus and just watching people. (That was also the day I got arrested for stalking.) You could always design your characters after your friends. (Well, they won't be friends once they find out you think they're irritating and you used their real name. Although, it's a good way to get rid of irritating friends. Anyway, I digress, that's a whole other therapy session...)

What about giving your character a fear? Fears are often debilitating and defining. I found a great website that lists fears, probably all the ones known to mankind.

For instance, if you have a character with ablutophobia, the fear of washing or bathing, it will really define them. First of all, they'll stink like hell. They don't buy soap. They don't have many friends, although flies love them, and they probably rarely leave their house.

If your character has botanophobia, the fear of plants, they probably live in the city, in a highrise and all their friends know, when they're shot, not to bring them flowers in the hospital. Although, they may not mind flowers on the coffin. I wonder, would they even want to be buried? It's kinda plant-like...

Here are a few of my other favorites:

   So, don't dismay. There are a lot of interesting people out there from which to base your characters on.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Plot: When in doubt, act it out!

After I finish the first draft, I always take and print out my pages. I like the look of 400 pages -- what an accomplishment! I put my manuscript away for a few weeks before starting my first edit. I have the desire to start immediately but quash it. I occupy my time dreaming up my next plot or work on my blog.

When I start to edit, I have a process. One thing I like to do is take each scene, or for some of you, each chapter, and act out the characters in turn.

1) I highlight each character's actions and their lines in a different color
2) I visualize the scene in my head (what the room or area looks like)
3) I visualize what my character is wearing and holding or doing
4) Then, I direct myself as each character-- moving around and saying each line.

Why? Why is this sometimes a good idea?

When reading through your work, sometimes it's easy to miss errors. Perhaps a minor character was standing in a doorway and  then he's in the attic. Perhaps he's wearing a red jumper and then he pulls a mobile from his jacket pocket. Was he wearing a jacket?

I'm not saying this works every time but you can catch many inconsistencies. When in doubt, act it out!

Monday, 28 December 2009

The Dinner Party

I went to a dinner party the other night. It caused me so much angst that I wrote a poem.

Please remember, I am NOT a poet. I have wrote maybe six poems in my life, this one included.

The Dinner Party

It's a dinner party.
You've all been there.
This looks scrumptious, you say
as you sit in your chair.

You bite a morsel,
Filled with flavour and zest,
Another few bites 
and you've gulped down the rest.

You sit back in your chair 
your stomach a happy beast.
You give kudos to the chef
for the wonderful feast.

Now this is where 
it starts to go awry.
The host looks at the food
and out escapes a loud sigh.

Rather than accept with a nod
or a gracious thank you.
The cook starts a long spiel
Oh, what a to-do.

The meat was no good,
To hell with the lot.
It's the worst meal they've made.
It was like eating wood-rot.

The next bash comes at time,
there wasn't enough.
Had they had longer,
it would not be so rough.

Oh no, you start
but get interrupted.
Then they go on,
the herbs calumniated.

It goes on for minutes,
but you sit there and wait.
The time will come
to say what you hate.

From those in need of approval
it's a cry out for praise.
Their self-esteem
in need of a raise. 

So you support their habit
like drink for a drunk.
I shake my head,
oh, to what lows I have sunk.

I always say
as I'm leaving the house,
the next time they seek
they will find a louse.

I'll agree their cooking
was rotten as hell.
Almost went for the toilet
because of the smell.

But would that solve the problem?
I think that's how it started.
Not enough praise 
from parents long departed.

But, what do I do?
I keep my words to myself.
Cause I hate to cook
and want free meals at their house. 

ann elle altman

Write that book, you've got 365 days.

I guess it's that time of year where we all think, what goals can I make for the new year. 2010 -- it's a nice round number, lets achieve some nice goals to round the year off, shall we? I know many are making goals to read a certain number of books in 2010. I have the goal of six... Six!? you say. Well, I also have the goal of finishing two novels... so there.

But... but... but... writing a book is SOOOOO hard. I don't have the time. I don't have the skills (we'll talk about that later), I don't have the space on my hard drive, I think my dog ate my laptop... RUBISH!

I try to average my novels at 90,000 words. If you divide that number by the 365 days in a year, that's 250 words a day. That's less then your average blog. Hell, I know some people who are blogging their novels. SO, take the next four days and set a goal of writing each day. It's really not that difficult.

The key is: DON'T EDIT!!! And I mean it. Just finish the first draft. Get your story down on paper, or in probably 99% of the cases, on screen. When your 109 days in and you realize you've written... (crap, I need a calculator) 27, 250 words, you'll feel so proud of yourselves. 2011, you can edit your work. You accomplished something really cool!

This blog is 250 words. Now was that so hard?

Sunday, 27 December 2009

We don't want boring!

A common mistake I see when editing new authors is when they downplay a chapter.
Here are some examples:

"She knew it would be a boring day."
"He looked at the file, it was standard stuff."
"Robin went through her day like she did everyday." 
"It was a normal day."

Thanks for sharing... now I have two words for you: please don't. 

Take the first example: If you tell the reader it's going to be a boring day, why would they care to read about it? If your friend asked you, 'How was your day?' and you replied, 'Boring.' You would never then go on and describe that pitifully boring day would you? And if you did, wouldn't you try to make it sound as exciting and interesting as possible? 

Why would you do that to your readers? I immediately groan when writers proceed to do this very thing. 

I'm not saying your writing should be non-stop chase scenes but you shouldn't bog the reader down with 'boring, mundane, normal, or standard' days. 'It was a normal day' should immediately be followed by an until, but, then, or some other transition to exciting or unusual.

We don't want boring!

Picture source: here

Saturday, 26 December 2009

The Oracle of the Dog

The Oracle of the DogThis is my next short story for the holidays. A father Brown mystery. This is one writer's work I've had a difficult time getting into. I think it's his writing style rather than his plot. However, I will delve into the mystery like a dog after a stick in the sea. (A clue from the story.)

The author: G.K Chesterton has wrote over 150 books but is best known for his Father Brown stories. Though he wrote about Catholic subjects, he never converted to Roman Catholicism until he was fourty-eight years old.

The Oracle of the Dog story is what is known as a locked-room puzzle. A murder is committed with out a way in or out of the room. In this case, the room isn't locked but it is under the observation of many witnesses so the murderer is sure to be seen.

I found the mystery at times hard to follow. Perhaps, it was because I was exhausted. All the clues went over my head. When the actual crime was revealed, I had the murderer picked out but had no idea how he did it.

So, my verdict. Read this book when awake. I guess the clues are there for you to follow.

I give it:

Friday, 25 December 2009

What am I doing for the holidays?

In two words: hopefully nothing. I mean, is it really a holiday if you're stressed about everything? I have my step-daughter down to visit and we've been doing touristy things and I visit my parents for turkey but really, I hope to have a really quiet, routine holiday. Just the way I like it.

Also, I hope to get some reading done, grab a book with pages (not read on-screen) and sit on a nice comfy chair with a coffee and read, read, read. I need the book to be short so I've done the best thing -- chosen a book with various short mystery stories. First up, The Beauty Specialist by Leslie Charteris.THE SAINT IN ACTION (originally The Ace of Knaves) - The Spanish War; The Unlicensed Victuallers; The Beauty Specialist - Simon Templar Adventures
It's a Simon Templar Adventure. I've never read one of those. Let's see how it goes.

Review for:  The Beauty Specialist by Leslie Charteris

I have to admit, it's difficult to read some of these older classics after editing for so long. I wanted to go through the short story with a red pencil.

Things I would have edited: Constant POV changes mid-paragraph and spelling errors (he spelled thousand as tousand). That aside, because it's not like the story can be edited anymore anyway, it's an interesting mystery filled with interesting characters.

The one thing about characters that have to last through a series of books, they need to be unusual. We need to remember them. Who could forget Poirot's mustache or Mrs. Marple's knitting? Sherlock Holmes with his hat and drug habit or Tony Hill and his forgetful, absent-minded nature?

When the reader first starts the story, we are made aware of the Saint's arrogance. This is the first line: "The fact that Simon Templar had never heard of the "Z-Man" was merely a tremendous proof that the Z-Man himself, his victims and the police authorities had joined forces in a monumental conspiracy of silence."
What a pompous arse! WE LOVE HIM! 

Also, I love the Chief Inspector in the story -- Mr. Teal. He hates the Saint. I like that, too. Why? Because in the real world no hero is ever liked by everyone. Even if apparently they are on the same side.

The only thing I can suggest before reading this book, read number one in the series first. Why? Because, the writer mentions characters as if we should know who they are and ... well, I don't. The writer mentions a woman named Miss Holm and another named Pat. Should I know these people? He explains nothing about them. Oh wait, about a quarter way through, I find out Pat IS Miss Holm. Patricia Holm. 

Three for the Chair (The Rex Stout Library: a Nero Wolfe Mystery)I like the Saint but I really like Patricia Holm. Her character is smart. Not your typical 1940s woman in the movies that stands behind the man and screams bloody murder every times she sees a gun. She acts with intelligence.

The ending was unusual. I wasn't following any clues because I didn't know if the writer left any to begin with. I read the story just for that, the read. Would I class it with the best detective stories I've ever read? No. But, I would recommend the story to you if you like Nero Wolfe. It reads somewhat like a Rex Stout mystery.

I give it... (three red cups out of five)

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Subject Agreement with the Verb

Subject Agreement with the Verb

It is usually pretty easy to match the verb with the subject in English. Only in the present tense does the verb have more than one form. And except for one verb, only the third person singular is different. Besides, the third person singular present tense always ends in an s. We understand this most of the time.

Verb: To speak
I, you, we, they speak he, she, it speaks
Verb: To do
I, you, we, they do he, she, it does
Verb: To be (the only exception)
I am you, we, they are
he, she, it is
The verb to be is also the only verb with more than one form in the past tense. See also the subjunctive mood.
Verb: To be, past
I, he, she, it was you, we, they were
Normally, none of this is a problem. However, there are a few cases that confuse writers and speakers.

Separated Subjects and Verbs

A phrase or clause often separates the subject and the verb. The verb must still agree with the subject.
Incorrect: The climate in both places are mild. Correct: The climate in both places is mild.
(Climate is the subject, not places. It takes the verb is.)

Keep track of the subject, especially when there is a singular pronoun or collective noun for the subject and a plural element in the phrase that separates the subject and verb.

Collective noun: A group of senators was calling for an investigation.
Singular pronoun: One of the many galaxies was proven to be near a black hole.

Compound Subjects

Two or more singular subjects joined by or or nor take a singular verb.
Correct: Neither John nor Mary knows what happened.
Two or more plural subjects joined by any conjunction (including and, or, but, or nor) take a plural verb.
Correct: Both men and women are allowed to enter.
If one or more singular subject is joined to one or more plural subject by or or nor, the verb agrees with the subject closest to the verb.
Incorrect: Neither Mary nor her brothers knows what happened.
(Brothers is closer to the verb and is plural; the verb should agree with brothers). Correct: Neither Mary nor her brothers know what happened.
Correct: Neither her brothers nor Mary knows what happened.

A compound subject whose parts are joined by and normally takes a plural verb.
Correct: Joe and his brother know what happened.
A compound subject whose parts are joined by and takes a singular verb in two special instances.
1. When the parts of the subject combine to form a single item.
Correct: One and one equals two. Correct: Cookies and cream is my favorite flavor.

2. When the compound subject is modified by the words each or every.
Correct: Every boy and girl has to participate.

Monday, 21 December 2009

To speak or not to speak... yes, it's a question.

Here is a copy of me reading Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier (Don't laugh, it's my first recording...just testing it out. Yikes... this says more about me than I am prepared to enjoy.)

Still unsure what to do with my next novel, I have been scouring the internet for ideas. I care about making money with my next novel for one reason: it would take the pressure off my husband to be sole provider for our family. If I didn't have that reason, I would give away my words for free.

That being said, I am a writer and editor because I love it. I'm not into PR however. I'll blog about my book, twitter it to hell and back and maybe join facebook. However, leaving the comfort of my home is not really my thing. (Although, I may be forced to one day...)

So, my idea: Podcast Chapter Exchange -- Receive Free. Give Free. It's All Free.

Why Podcast? Why MP3? Why Audiobooks?
Many authors have written books but find it difficult to publicize it. Also, the market for audiobooks is an ever-expanding one and an expensive one at that. 

I looked on the internet to turn my book into an audiobook and whoa! the prices. EXPENSIVE! There's no way I can afford it, hell, there's no way most author (especially first time authors) can afford it.

I would just start reading my own novels but I don't like my voice and would like perhaps someone with a better accent. What do I do? A good question.

I belong to a website that exchanges chapters for review. I love it. I review their work, they edit and review mine. Simple.

Why can't we do the same thing with our novels? I read chapters of your novel for free, you do the same. We all have our novels in audiobook format for download on the web. Or hell, we can charge for them if we like. If we can get voices from around the world, we can have our stories read - men or woman, different accents, or we can just have a man read a chapter written in male POV and a female read a chapter in female POV. We can experiment with background music or sound effects. The world...wide web is ours!

I even found a free program to record with: Audacity

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Reasons Agents Stop Reading

 I saw this article on a blog and thought it was good advice for writers so...

1. Generic beginnings: Stories that opened with the date or the weather didn’t really inspire interest. According to Harmsworth, you are only allowed to start with the weather if you're writing a book about meteorologists. Otherwise, pick something more creative.

2. Slow beginnings: Some manuscripts started with too much pedestrian detail (characters washing dishes, etc) or unnecessary background information.

3. Trying too hard: Sometimes it seemed like a writer was using big words or flowery prose in an attempt to sound more sophisticated. In several cases, the writer used big words incorrectly. Awkward or forced imagery was also a turnoff. At one point, the panelists raised their hands when a character's eyes were described as “little lubricated balls moving back and forth.”

4. TMI (Too Much Information): Overly detailed description of bodily functions or medical examinations had the panelists begging for mercy.

5. Clichés: "The buildings were ramrod straight." "The morning air was raw." "Character X blossomed into Y." "A young woman looks into the mirror and tells us what she sees." Clichés are hard to avoid, but when you revise, go through and try to remove them.

6. Loss of Focus: Some manuscripts didn't have a clear narrative and hopped disjointedly from one theme to the next.

7. Unrealistic internal narrative: Make sure a character's internal narrative—what the character is thinking or feeling—matches up with reality.  For example, you wouldn't want a long eloquent narration of what getting strangled feels like—the character would be too busy gasping for breath and passing out. Also, avoid having the character think about things just for the sake of letting the reader know about them.

Source: here

Don't be left dangling!

Dangling Modifiers

A dangling modifier is a phrase or clause which says something different from what is meant because words are left out. The meaning of the sentence, therefore, is left "dangling."
Incorrect: While driving on Greenwood Avenue yesterday afternoon, a tree began to fall toward Wendy H's car.
(It sounds like the tree was driving! This actually appeared in a newspaper article. An alert reader wrote, "Is the Department of Motor Vehicles branching out and issuing licenses to hardwoods? Have they taken leaf of their senses?")
Adding a word or two makes the sentence clear.
Correct: While Wendy H was driving on Greenwood Avenue yesterday afternoon, a tree began to fall toward her car.
When a modifier "dangles" so that the sentence is meaningless (or means something other than your intent), restate it and add the words it needs in order to make sense.

Misplaced Modifiers

This is a common problem in American speech. Writing has to be more precise than speaking, or it will be misunderstood.
A misplaced modifier is simply a word or phrase describing something but not placed near enough the word it is supposed to modify. The modifying word or phrase is not dangling; no extra words are needed; the modifier is just in the wrong place.
Incorrect: I had to take down the shutters painting the house yesterday.
It sounds like the shutters painted the house! Place the modifying phrase painting the house near or next to the word it is meant to modify.
Correct: Painting the house yesterday, I had to take down the shutters.
 How to fix:
  1. Understand what dangling modifiers and misplaced modifiers are. A “dangling modifier” just dangles at the beginning of the sentence, unconnected to any logical subject. A “misplaced modifier” is just that--out of place. The thing it’s describing is there, but the two are not properly linked.

  2. Step 2
    Watch out for “-ing” words at the beginning of a sentence--these often signal a dangling modifier. Take a look at this sentence: "When writing, modifiers can help you clarify your points." The first part of the sentence--“When writing”--is a dangling modifier. Why? Because the word that follows it--“modifiers”--doesn’t make any sense. Modifiers write? Really? Think about what the writer really wants to say: “When you are writing, modifiers can help you clarify your points.”

  3. Step 3
    Fix dangling modifiers in two ways: by adding a subject into the modifier itself, or by adding the logical subject immediately after the modifier. Try both ways to see what works for your sentence; sometimes, both methods will work. We saw the first fix in Step 2. Here’s another: “When writing, you can use modifiers to help you clarify your points.”

  4. Step 4
    Beware passive verbs--they can lead to dangling modifiers. Passive verbs occur when you use a form of “to be” plus the past participle form of a verb, such as “was killed” or “were purchased.” Passive voice eliminates the actor in a sentence. Check out what happens when you use a modifier with passive verb: “Screaming wildly, the pumpkins were thrown by the boys.” Maybe in a Halloween movie, but in real life, perhaps not. The passive verb “were thrown” gives the modifier “Screaming wildly” nothing to modify. Fix it by changing the passive verb to active, clarifying who’s doing the action: “Screaming wildly, the boys threw the pumpkins.”

  5. Step 5
    Watch out for words like “only,” “almost,” “even” and “nearly,” because these modifiers are frequently misplaced. Make sure they appear directly before what they describe. Take a look at this sentence: “Annette only ate two cookies.” The modifier, “only,” appears before “ate,” which suggests that the writer expected Annette to devour, crush or demolish two cookies--not just eat them. Logic tells us that the writer intended to clarify the number of cookies Annette ate. Fixing a misplaced modifier is easy--just move it before what it modifies: “Annette ate only two cookies.”

    Source: here and here

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Thanks Corra for the Recommendation: 2010 Book Challenge

Corra over at from the desk of a writer joined a book challenge. For me, I can't back down when challenged so I thought I would challenge myself.

Now, I live in a land far far away from any bookstore or library so I will do my reading thanks to Kindle and Gutenburg. But, I will attempt to read six books this year which is lofty because I also review and edit many novels also.

Here are my six (one every two months):

Fever of the Bone1.) Fever of the Bone by Val McDermid - My favorite modern mystery writer.

David Copperfield (Modern Library Classics)

2.) David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Howards End (Barnes & Noble Classics)3.) Howards End by E.M Forester

Mrs. Dalloway

4.) Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold 5.) The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John le Carre

The Death of the Heart 6.) The Death of the Heart (1938) by Elizabeth Bowen

I think I will start January and February with: Howards End.