Thursday, 15 April 2010

I'm leaving the blogosphere

 Due to some issues arising in my family. I have to leave this blog. I will leave it up for awhile but will not be posting anything new. I'm sorry.

To my blog readers:

I was suppose to blog about back-story today but I decided to put that off until tomorrow. I need a mental break. So instead:  I want to start today's blog with an apology.

I don't feel I'm giving my blogging community my all. Why? I'm exhausted.

I'm currently editing a manuscript (for a friend) that needs to go to publication in a few weeks and so I'm focused on that. I have a few deadlines of my own that I'm trying to tackle. I have so many projects and stories that my mind is muddled. I want to take a break but I can't. So, if you've noticed I'm not commenting on your blogs, it's just time constraints. I promise to get back to them soon.

On a happy note: I finally got my copy of Martin Edward's Novel: The Cipher Garden and I can't wait to read and give it a review. I have enough books to keep me reading for quite a while.

Also, I received my copy of the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary. (I know, only geeky writers get so excited over a dictionary.) This dictionary is amazing! It comes with a CD.

 Look at how thick it is...duh, which dictionary is not thick. And it has colored pages in the middle that give the British and American names for items - and there is a big difference between the two. (You can click on the pics to enlarge them.)

The CD ROM that is included is cool. It has the British and American pronunciation of every word! It also has a built in thesaurus. Can I just say, one of my favorite tools on my computer is the lovely 'SNIP' tool.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

You want back-story? I'll give you back-story!

Today, I'm planning to discuss some ways to add back-story.

First, the easiest way: have the narrator tell it. Doing it that way is easy and effective.
From The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehard and Avery Hopwood
That's it, the writer then moves on. So the back-story did its purpose - it explained why he was called the bat and then continued. She didn't go on about he night hours or why he didn't go out in the day... only what she needed.

The problem with adding back-story this ways is clear. It's not exciting or original - it lacks drama.
Let's look at another way to make it more dramatic and original.

Disclosure through dialog:

Here's an example from Careless in Red by Elizabeth George:

The key is - never let the back-story sound forced in dialog. Don't bring up things in the past if they wouldn't be uttered otherwise. When we're asked questioned about our past, we won't start at birth and explain our lives and what happened until this point... in fact, most won't disclose more than a line or two unless prodded. Do the same with your story.

Tomorrow, I will disclose other techniques.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Let me interrupt the action to tell you about my life...

This week, I want to talk about my biggest peeve as a reader/editor/reviewer...etc. In one word:


I review and edit a lot of unpublished work and one of the common beginner mistakes is what I said above: back-story. 

Here's an example of back-story: A woman is running for her life through the woods, her stalker close behind, she finds a house in the clearing that looks like a cabin where she used to camp as a child. Now, instead of keeping the flow going, the writer decides to stop the action and instead, write about the camp and how her family went to the lake every year.

What!? Why would the reader want to know about that? And then?

Back-story is vital in a novel. We want to know the background of the main character, we want to know why a character drinks a lot or why they chose to be a mortician. But, don't stop action to write paragraphs of unrelated narrative. You WILL lose the reader. 

Here are some things to remember about back-story:
  • Don't bring in back-story until the novel's action is underway. I don't like to add more than two sentences of back-story into the first chapter.
  • Layer in the back-story as it arises but let what happened in the past effect what happens in the story. For example, in the story above, the woman comes across the house in the clearing and instead of running inside for help, she keeps going. Why? Because - as you write in the back-story - her abusive grandfather lived in a cabin similar to that one and she has bad memories there. You don't need to go into all the memories but knowing a bit about her past will explain her current actions.
  • Tell the back-story in a variety of ways.

Over the week, I will discuss how to layer back-story into a novel in a variety of ways.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Jane Eyre and Cirian Hinds

Jane Eyre (A&E, 1997)Genre: Classic Movie

How I watched it: I own it.

What attracted me to the movie: I admit, I snatch up all classic movies when they come along. Especially, British ones and especially ones with Ciaran Hinds. He's one of my favorite actors. Not the handsomest but one of the best.

What it worth the money? Yes.

Who should watch this movie: If you've read Jane Eyre, then watch this version. There are some other versions (also good) but this one, the chemistry is wonderful between Morton and Hinds. IMHO.

Summary (from amazon): The fascinating British actress Samantha Morton stars as the titular heroine in this provocative version of Jane Eyre, based on Charlotte Bronte's oft-filmed, 1847 novel. The familiar contours of Bronte's story are all here: Jane, the unhappy orphan, grows up to become governess at Thornfield, a gloomy estate owned by the imperious and worldly, but curiously desperate, Mr. Rochester (Ciarán Hinds). While the latter's grasping attentions stir the inexperienced young woman, the gothic goings-on at Thornfield suggest layers of unwholesome secrecy in Rochester's life. Most productions of Jane Eyre carefully reflect Bronte's absorbing balance between romance, horror, and Jane's psychological passage to adulthood. But this 1997 television movie is interesting for its near-reckless emphasis on Jane and Rochester's mutual obsession and galloping jealousies. The dramatic strategy throws off the story's overall tone, but such problems are worth it to see Morton and Hinds explore Jane Eyre's darkest possibilities. --Tom Keogh

My thoughts: Have I said I love this movie? I think that nicely sums it up. This is one of the best scenes in the movie, it's the proposal scene. The chemistry is wonderful. I like how they cut some of the boring parts of the book out in the movie.You can watch the bit below.

Bottom Line: Don't watch the movie if you haven't read the book, but if you have, what are you waiting for?


I have received a wonderful gift from Marce at Tea Time With Marce. She was giving away books to some who took her button. She has a wonderful writing blog and so you should check her out. Click her button below.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Shakespeare's Sonnet Sunday - Sonnet 14

Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck;
And yet methinks I have Astronomy,
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons' quality;
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind,
Or say with princes if it shall go well
By oft predict that I in heaven find:
But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
And, constant stars, in them I read such art
As truth and beauty shall together thrive,
If from thyself, to store thou wouldst convert;
Or else of thee this I prognosticate:
Thy end is truth's and beauty's doom and date.

1. I don't get my knowledge of the future (discernment) from the stars
2. And yet I think I have Astronomy (a way to see into the future),
3. But not to tell of good or evil luck,
4. Of plagues, of food shortages, or how well the crops will do.
5. Nor can I be accurate as to what your fortune will be,
6. Whether you will be hit by bad fortune (rain, wind, thunder),
7. Nor say if princes will have a good life
8. by often predicting the stars.
9. But from your eyes I find my knowledge,
10. And, in your bright shining eyes (constant stars) I can predict
11. that inner truth and outer beauty continue to conquer,
12. if you will turn your mind to (convert) keeping this truth and beauty (through children)
13. Or else I can predict (prognosticate) this:
14. The date of truth and beauty death (doom).

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Saturday's Writing Quotation Examination

I think the first duty of all art, including fiction of any kind, is to entertain. That is to say, to hold interest. No matter how worthy the message of something, if it's dull, you're just not communicating.
Poul Anderson

I think as novelists, we consider ourselves artists and many claim to be literary writers. Many write poetic lines or use big words in the hopes of sounding brilliant, winning a prize or acclaim. However, if the reader spends more time with their dictionary or on Google or if the reader needs to re-read passages over and over, they aren't really developing attachments to character or plot. Will your story have the same affect if the reader believes you're trying to sound smarter than they are?


Friday, 9 April 2010

Writing Feedback Summary

So, what is good feedback? 

While gushing is nice to receive once and awhile, if you're asked to give feedback and all you're giving is praise, you're not being helpful.

Praise then raise. Tell the writer what you liked about the piece then raise the bar a bit higher. Be specific. Cut and paste examples.

Here are some things I like to receive as criticism:
  • How are the opening 3-5 sentences?
  • How is the dialogue?
  • Mechanics – Grammar, spelling and punctuation
  • Are the characters real to you or cookie-cutter?
  • Are there problems with my time line or plot?
Here's what you should not write:
  • Don't attack the writer! Writing is art. Writing is free speech. People can write about what they want * and if you don't like to read it, that's your right. I believe the concentration camps of WWII existed but not everyone does. That doesn't make the writer a Nazi. They may write about homosexuality, that doesn't make the writer gay. NO NAME CALLING ALLOWED!
  • Don't lie to the writer. If the writing is really bad, don't tell them that it's good. Be nice about it. Suggest they take a course on grammar or buy writing books. Explain a writing rule to them.

*The only exception I may make to the rule above (and as of yet, I've never come across this) is if a writer frequently (over many poems or stories) promotes terrorist ideologies, pedophilia, or violent hatred towards a person or group of people (because of religion, color, gender, or race), or if I feel he's crying out for help (suicide). I don't know what I'd do in that situation but I may ask them to get help. What would you do?

Here's a good quote from Toxic Feedback by Joni B Cole: 

Picture source: here

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Writing Feedback - taking critcism

Today I want to discuss bad criticism. We've all received it... well, if you've ever had a group read your work. Even highly popular authors will receive bad reviews on their books.

For instance, one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth George, received these reviews on her latest best-selling book - Careless in Red (Amazon Reviews):

1) 600 pages! Elizabeth George is not Tolstoy. She desperately needs an editor with a CTL-x button.

2) Like a lot of people, I eagerly awaited George's latest creation but this book is so b-o-r-i-n-g! The plot goes on and on, with many superfluous characters, not many of them likable, so by the time one is halfway through the book one has resorted to skimming. Who cares about Dellen? or Ben? or Santo? or Madlyn, etc. etc. Daidre was interesting. Her friend whose name I have already erased from my memory was not. I couldn't care less about most of the characters, they ALL deserved to fall off cliffs as far as I was concerned.
Here's two examples of bad critiques I've received:
1) The subject of the story is a little dark for me. While no babe in the woods, I have a difficult time with murder and cold-blooded response to anything. Your writing is, of course, brilliant, but I didn't like your character. Hard to reach out to someone, or identify with another who is in the act of murder, regardless of the reason for it. I loath abusive people, whether they are male or female, and the act of depravity that drives people to this level of emotional response is beyond my ability to comprehend. Perhaps as the story unfolds, I will warm up and understand better, but right now, I'm not sure if I would continue.
2) Unfortunately, I do not believe I will be able to offer anything really constructive to you. As for the fact is is formatted as a transcript.
Though very sparse and at times difficult to read as there is little to picture, the dialogue is both
solid and believable. Angie is more like the typical "Stupid American" who is blissfully ignorant to the world outside her own.   (...)
Ordinarily, I would like to know more about where this will lead to, but I will not be able to even
struggle through the format. Sorry I could not be more helpful . . .
So, when you receive criticism like this, what do you do? Go to your local gun shop? NO! Don't do that.

Instead, count to ten and calm down. Along with those two brutal reviews, I received many more encouraging ones. Ask yourself, what do the majority think?

There are reasons people give bad feedback:
1) Perhaps they feel they need to be harsh because that's what you're expecting.
2) Perhaps they're having a bad day.
3) Perhaps they're jealous.
4) Or, perhaps what you wrote is bad.

This may come as a surprise to some, I never started out as a good writer. Most of my first novels I destroyed because I thought they were rubbish. But, I improved because I took the cricism to heart and tried harder.

I also think all writers need bad feedback. It's vital. Here are my reasons:
1) If all you've ever receieved is pats on the back, you won't be ready for the publishing world where rejection and criticism is handed out by the truckloads.
2) Without bad feedback once in a while, you may never believe you need to keep improving your craft.

SO tell me, I spilled my guts, tell me what types of criticism you've received over the years?

Read a wonderful post today from Women of Mystery about how to find overused words in your manuscript: Use Wordle.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Helpful Writing Feedback

 Today, I'm going to discuss feedback again -  helpful and honest feedback.

Here are some examples of good feedback:
I felt a bit lost in the first four paragraphs because I can’t tell the killer is in a car, can’t figure out if he actually just killed someone, and don’t get much visual on Lorna. Is she his ‘kindred spirit’? I have absolutely no idea, and while the vagueness might stir me to read on later in the story, opening so ambiguously, without grounding me in a real scene, leaves me restless.
Why is it good feedback? It's because as a reader, they explained what they didn't understand. What didn't make sense to them. 'Vagueness' and 'ambiguous' are things you want to change in your novel.

Here's another:
‘A friend recommended this book to me,’ - I thought it odd she explained it this way, given the text in the books would be the same, wouldn't they? Maybe if she came up with something on the fly that distinguished that particular copy from the others, it would be less apt to garner attention from the library worker. She is going through such a series of events to get to the appropriate copy, I'd expect her to cover better.
Why is this helpful feedback? If a character does something out of character and your readers pick up on it, that's wonderful. You don't want the people who buy your book to make the same complaint because it will cost you money and readers when it counts most.

How can we give good feedback?

1.) Explain what you liked about the piece. Be specific. ("I liked the monologue on page three," "I liked the way the main character handled the situation," etc.)
2.) What elements of the story did you like and would like to see more of? In other words, what parts can be expanded for your enjoyment and/or understanding? ("I think the mother's dark sense of humor is really intriguing, and I would like to see more of that," "The relationship between the father and son has some good conflict, and I would like to see more of that," etc.)
3.) What confused you or what didn't you understand about the piece? ("I'm confused about when this story is supposed to take place," "I don’t understand why he walked back in the room when he said that he wasn't," etc.) This includes perceived technical/logistical problems. ("The war that your main character is referring to was in 1812, not 1813," "One of your characters looks out at the sun and comments on it, but earlier in the piece someone says it's midnight," etc.)
These are some of the things important for the writer to hear so that they can improve.

Source:  How to Give Feedback to Writers

Sidenote: Right now Harley D. Palmer from Labotomy of a Writer has been doing a series on Characters. She has had some really interesting posts.
1) Epic Character Questionnaire - A 253-question interview you can ask your character. It's extremely in depth.
2) Character Development Before and After - How your character has changed over the course of the novel.
3) Character Details - showing little things about your character.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Wonderful Critiques

I think I'm going to discuss readers a bit this week. Every writers wants them, every writers needs them, if you don't have them now, you soon will. I want to talk about readers that help you along your writing path.

We get different types of reviews/critiques/edits (whatever you want to call it). Some are gushy (full of praise), some are mean, some are honest, some are silly. Today I want to talk about the gushy ones, the nicest ones to receive. They can be about a book not published or a book published. They are the ones that keep you writing.

I think we should keep the gushy ones in a place where we can look at them every once and awhile. Especially when we're feeling down on our writing.

Here are some reviews I've received over the years... the ones that have touched my heart. The ones that made me feel my writing was important.
"There is so much great insight in this novel, and it is a really important story you are telling on a lot of levels... but that may be the deepest, most important level of all."
"I am going to be lost when the story ends... it is so good."

"Your book has given me a reason to stop and think about several issues, some private and that makes your story special.

"Congratulations on writing this poignant and wholly original novel. I won’t forget it for a long time."
"Oh my goodness! This is the most beautiful thing I have ever read. Ann, you are truly gifted. I started to read it to myself, then I read the whole poem out loud and it gave a whole different feeling and meaning. Before I finished there were tears in my eyes, those feelings you put in your words came through loud and clear. You are a very gifted writer and I don't know when I have ever enjoyed reading anything more. "
I don't post these to brag but I think I wanted to leave these here to remind myself why I write. Why I need to keep trying harder to improve my writing.

Tomorrow I'm going to post some more good ones, but not gushy. The ones I post tomorrow will be honest and helpful to the writer.

What are some of the most memorable reviews you've ever received?

The Moon Looked DownNow to some other important matters:

First of all, I want to thank the wonderful people at Renee's Read for award me a wonderful book - THE MOON LOOKED DOWN . I can't wait to read it and review it.

Also, I wanted to ask my readers a question...I cut out the word verification on my comments, does it make a difference to my readers. Does it make you want to comment more? Does it make it easier to comment?

Monday, 5 April 2010

Book Review: A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George

A Great Deliverance (Inspector Lynley)Genre: Psychological Suspense Mystery

How I read it: I own it.

What attracted me to the book: I admit, I saw the Lynley mysteries on TV before I actually picked up one of her books. But, when I read this book, I wanted to read all of them.

What it worth the money? Yes.

Who should read this book: This is another psychological suspense. I don't know why I pick some of the most gory books but this one is another. She doesn't describe in detail the gore but the scenes are disturbing nonetheless.

Summary (from amazon): Roberta Teys, a silent, obese adolescent, is accused of killing her church-going father with an axe. The detectives sent by Scotland Yard to investigate are a mismatched pair. Inspector Thomas Lynley is smooth, attractive and utterly upper-class; "stubby, sturdy" detective-sergeant Barbara Havers, conscious of her plain appearance and lower-class origins, considers Lynley a "sodding little fop." Thrown together, they weigh the general conviction in the village that Roberta could not possibly have wielded the bloody axe against mounting evidence that damns the now catatonic girl. In sifting slowly through the ashes of the past, the detectives find enough horrific skeletons in every closet to lead them to a climax unexpectedly loaded with fire and fury. While Lynley seems rather bland despite emotion roiling beneath the surface, it is Havers' painful secrets and driving rage that encourage one to overlook decidedly uneven passages in this essentially intriguing psychological thriller.

My thoughts: When I write, I don't add a lot of details and descriptions, in the first of this series, neither does George. I can't say that about her future books. I found she became more and more wordy as the years went on. But, let's not focus on her later novels but her first.

What do I love best about this mystery? The character Havers. She's such a wonderful off-the-wall character. She's the opposite of her partner. Lynley's a handsome, titled detective and she's poor, not good-looking and kinda mouthy.

I have to say, the story is wonderful, Haver's is wonderful but some of the characters (Helen and Deborah) I found annoying. Perhaps it's because we want the two main characters to get on more but Lynley seems so distracted by those in her personal life.

Bottom Line: If you haven't read a George novel yet, start with this one.


Sunday, 4 April 2010

Shakespeare's Sonnet Sunday - Sonnet 13

O! that you were your self; but, love, you are
No longer yours, than you your self here live:
Against this coming end you should prepare,
And your sweet semblance to some other give:
So should that beauty which you hold in lease
Find no determination; then you were
Yourself again, after yourself's decease,
When your sweet issue your sweet form should bear.
Who lets so fair a house fall to decay,
Which husbandry in honour might uphold,
Against the stormy gusts of winter's day
And barren rage of death's eternal cold?
O! none but unthrifts. Dear my love, you know,
You had a father: let your son say so.

1. O! I wish you could stay as you are; but, love, you are
2. only going to be here for as long as your life.
3. You should prepare yourself for death,
4. Give your beauty to your children:
5. So that your beauty which you only have for a few years
6. will not end; but there will be a copy
7. of yourself, after your dead,
8. When your child, who likes like you, is born.
9. Who lets a beautiful house (lineage or family) fall to pieces,
10. when you could, as an honorable husband, prevent,
11. old age
12. and death stopping the family line?
13. Only the irresponsible husbands, that's who. Dear my love, you know,
14. You had a father: let your son say he's had one too. Have children already.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Saturday's Writing Quotation Examination

Ink surrounds me all the time
On my bed sheets, recorded in rhyme
Quills ever scribbling in my head
Sometimes damnit I forget what they said.
Ink has settled into my fingerprints
But to keep the words I fear to rinse...
~Terri Guillemets

I found this poem and thought it a great writing quote for the week. As writers, our creativity is strong and powerful. We try to capture all the wonderful words and lines and stories that enter and sadly, exit our minds. I find that my best lines come to me in the dark as I am about to sleep. I can never remember the exact brilliance when the sun shines the next morning.

Does that happen to you?

Friday, 2 April 2010

Writing journal: Do I hear an echo in here?

Today I was sitting the car with my husband and he said, 'I'm glad you're getting on with -----(name omitted). The two of you seem to be good friends.'

I replied, 'Yes, it would seem that way, wouldn't it.' I met this person about a month ago and she likes me, she really does. However, for me, to spend time with anyone (and that includes those I view as friends) is a real trial for me. It drains me. Even sitting with my friends at a coffee shop, I'm counting down the minutes until I can be alone. I will have dinner parties (mostly to appease my family) and take mental breaks in the toilet.

The thing is, most people would describe me as confident, funny, loyal, and smart. (They probably wouldn't describe me as humble though.) I am liked by many. I would say it's because I'm a listener and very confident - qualities that most people would like to have. Over the past twenty years, I have learned to cope in public. I have learned the proper things to do and say to appear friendly and nice all the while dying inside for solitude.

I enjoy people... from afar. I never seek friendship. Friends I have had as a child, I no longer see or speak with. High school friends, the same. If I knew you and I met you on the street, I probably wouldn't approach you but if you approached me, I would be extremely polite and friendly. I would agree with you that yes, we should keep in contact but I don't think I would be the first to make contact.

In fact, I would probably admit that I'm a terrible friend. I will never call you or email you without an important reason and when I do, I will never chit chat with you. I will never ask you to coffee or to go anywhere with me  - especially shopping malls.

Why am I saying these things?

Well, it was the comments on the post I wrote yesterday. As sad as I may seem from what I wrote above, I would suspect there are many that feel the same. But, I enjoyed the way some described what I felt.

Jim Murdoch from the blog The Truth About Lies made this comment yesterday:
...I’m not shy and I have no problems talking in public (yes, I get nervous but so does everyone); I just have no real interest in promoting me – the writing, yes but me, no. I recognise that I have to present something publicly which is why the website is so good because I can exercise a fairly high degree of control over what goes up. I find as long as you open up a bit then people leave you be. It’s those who don’t have a real name, won’t provide a photo and tell us nothing about themselves that make us wonder, What are they hiding? The answer is probably: nothing. Let’s face it, most of us lead boring lives, nothing’s ever happened to us that’s not happened to hundreds of other people and the only thing we have going for us is a facility with words. And aren’t there hundreds of people who have that gift too?

The thing is we can’t have our cake and eat it. Recluses don’t get famous for anything bar being reclusive. What’s good about the Internet is that you can attempt to find a balance between the private-you and the public-you, one that everyone can live with. You’re still never going to be famous but I’m not sure I would like being famous. I want to be read. I am being read. By hundreds of people. And that’s all it’s about. When I think about all the poems I published back in the seventies and eighties I wonder how many people ever read them. I bet dozens at best. This is better. It’s not fame but it is better.
Jim has it right. I don't want to be famous, I want to be read. That's why I write. I find blogging (also, Twitter, Facebook, and my online writers group - The Next Big Writer) the perfect combination of  publicity without the... publicity. People can read my writing, comment on my writing, ask me questions about my writing and I can still be in solitude. Ahhh... silence.

Jaydee Morgan sums it up well:
I definitely could live the life of a reclusive writer - and just use the Net to stay in contact/promote/etc.
My day job forces me to be public and social. Given the choice though, I'd rather spend most of my time alone ...
 Please, understand me. I'm a really nice person. I'm It's just nicer when I'm alone.

Picture source: here

Thursday, 1 April 2010

I wish to stay in the closet... with a flashlight... and some cookies.

I was reading Karen's site (Coming Down the Mountain) about reclusive writers this morning and it got me thinking. (Not that the other blogs don't make me think or that I don't think in general...) Anyway, I think of myself as quite a reclusive writer. I tell no one I write. I don't use my real name. One photo of me and I had to skew it in order to put it on the site.

Then I thought about my books.

What am I willing to do to promote my book? I know I could never stand in front of people and read my book ...but, I could record my book and post it online. I don't know if I could go to a library - not that there will be many left in the future - but I could enter a forum to discuss my books online. I don't think I could do a book signing but I will be willing to sign copies and send them out.

I have never met any famous authors in person. Jane Austen, Brontes, Agatha Christie are all dead. Val McDermid, Elizabeth George and many other British authors live too far away to visit. I still love their books.

Val Mcdermid has a website and she regularly comments there.
Elizabeth George has a website too.
In fact, I visit many sites and blogs belonging to published authors.

I have a website. You're reading it. So perhaps, I'm not reclusive after all.  Are any of you reclusive writers?

Picture source: here