Monday, December 19, 2011

World Building part four

Sienna had a great question: Do you have any tips for creating a very different world without having to spend pages and pages on description?

The first thing is to know you don't have to describe EVERYTHING all at once. How your characters interact with the setting is key.

Here is part of a writing exercise from my notes on my new fantasy novel, Koda's Quest. It's about setting:

A character we often forget is the setting. The setting brings the character into the story. Have something specific in mind. Choose carefully. It’s part of the hero’s hidden need. It can lend itself to natural symbolism.

What is the specific setting for Koda’s Quest?
"The Mirasol Valley in the middle of the Blacktooth Mountains where the Stone Kings stand guard."

Is it Koda’s ally or enemy? "Both"

Write a quick paragraph where Koda expresses his feelings about the setting.

Koda stared up at the Stone Kings. Karack, the taller of the two, faced direct south. Anar stood gazing to the east. Koda never got tired of their solemn expressions or wondering what their last thoughts were before the magic transformed them from flesh and blood to solid rock.
“Someday, I’m going to climb you,” he whispered.
The breeze seemed to whisk his words away as a flock of crows rose from the sunflower fields. The sun shone heavy on his head, but he shivered as the caustic cries of the black birds followed them out of the valley.

Do his feelings change in the course of the story? Why or why not? "No, they do not change because his destiny is so linked to saving his world."

Find one symbol inherent to the place that could point Koda to his hidden need. "Karack, though bigger, is crumbling more rapidly than Anar. Anar is less important in everyone’s mind, but it is really because of him that Karack can be strong. Koda will find out he needs others to help him be strong."

Can Koda come upon this during the course of the story? "Yes, in the caves Koda finds a journal. It belonged to King Karack. In it, Karack writes about his need for Anar."

Is this the right setting for the book? "Yes!"

Now, you interject your book and characters in the questions and see what you come up with.

Remember, the setting is also a character. We can come to know it a little at a time, just like the living characters in the story.

Monday, November 28, 2011

World Building - part three

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. Let's talk about SETTING.

When writing fantasy, you need to decide how different your world is from the contemporary world. Some fantasies are Earth-based, with all the rules of Earth, like gravity. Some fantasy worlds are slightly different. Some are radically different. When choosing your fantasy world, you’ll want to be careful you don’t slip into sci-fi.

Earth-based: the rules of gravity apply, one sun, one moon, weather patterns are similar, north is cold, south is hot, geography/plant life similar.

Earth-like: the rules of gravity apply, one or more suns/moons, weather similar, geography similar, plant life can be similar but maybe with different qualities. If you are using this setting, make sure you have a few things that keep it from being too close to Earth-based.

UnEarth-like: anything goes, although you don’t want space ships or other technology that would make it feel like science fiction.

Remember, your setting is a character in your story. Don't be afraid to put as much research and development into the setting as you do your characters. The setting can enhance the story, add to the tension, and help the protagonist. As you write, ask yourself if you chose the right setting for your hero as well as the story.

Your thoughts? Need help with your setting? Let's talk!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

World Building part two

*Know the rules of your world. You need limitations – but not too many.
*Be specific with your descriptions
*Plant seeds from the beginning
*Make sure knowledge is natural to your character
*Avoid awkward dialog that doesn’t match your world
*Learn the basic craft of writing

Let's break this down and talk about them one at a time. Rules: when I say know the rules of your world, what do I mean? Think about our Earth - the sky is up, the ground is down. There's atmosphere that holds the air we breathe. The sky is blue because of how the sunlight refracts through the atmosphere. There are clouds that bring rain. Storm fronts, cold fronts, warm fronts - these all cause the air to move, sometimes violently. We have gravity. We have one sun and one moon. The Earth spins, giving us day and night. The Earth also tilts, giving us the seasons.

What are the rules of your world? Fantasy and SciFi allow our imaginations to run wild, but the world HAS to fit the story. Is your world radically different from Earth? That's fine, but it still has to be natural and you must keep your rules in mind as you're writing. Be consistent. If you aren't, you'll jerk your reader clean out of your story. And they won't believe you anymore.

Being specific with description: Does this mean you need to set up a couple of pages of description? No, of course not. But you can weave in the "rules" of your world within the action and dialog of the story. Remember, if your world is strangely different from Earth, it's normal for your characters. And you don't have to give every detail - allow for the imagination of the reader. This pulls the reader in and makes them part of the story. We all love it when that happens, don't we?

Dialog that fits your world: is your world futuristic or historical? In Fairyeater, my world is Earth-like except for the three moons. There is no modern conveniences like electricity or machines. The people are simple peasant folk, so their language is simple.

Learn the craft: this barely needs mentioning, but I'm going to say it anyway. It takes more than a good idea to write a great book; there's a craft to it. One of the best books I've read on writing a novel is "Stein on Writing" by Sol Stein. Now, he's not a Christian, so his examples are not always the best for young writers. For you teen writers, I recommend "Seize the Story" by Victoria Hanley.

Get a good book on the craft and learn it. Once you've mastered the craft of writing, you can creatively break the rules. But you don't have to. What does your story require? What does your world require? Only you can determine that.

Share your world with us. I love hearing what you're doing.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

World Building, part one

hey FFFers - sorry for the silence. Life has been hectic. Let's get back to talking about fantasy writing. Some of you have sat in my workshop "We're Not In Kansas Anymore." I'm going to use that format here.

Fantasy stories don't only include fairies, elves, dwarves, etc. and magical elements, it also needs a special setting, even if you are writing contemporary fantasy like urban fantasy. When you are developing your characters, don't forget your setting. It's also a character and can add or take away from the action/plot.

First, let's look at the different types of fantasy. This will help you know what you're writing and what kind of world to start building.

• High fantasy
• Urban fantasy
• Steam punk
• Magical realism
• Portal worlds
• Dystopia
• Paranormal

High Fantasy – usually a world other than our Earth. Example: The Lord of the Rings, or The Elfstones of Shannara. It typically includes the usual gang of fantasy characters; dwarves, elves, fairies, etc.

Urban Fantasy (or contemporary fantasy) – kind of a merging with sci-fi, but with definite fantasy elements. Similar to Paranormal, sometimes merging the two. Example: Harry Potter

Steam Punk (trendy historical fantasy) – like Victorian England with certain technologies. A couple of examples are: Around the World in 80 Days, or A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Magical Realism – set in the real world with fantasy elements. Examples: Mudville, Faerie Rebels

Portal Worlds – our world with a portal to another world. Example: Artemis Fowl

Dystopia – post apocalyptic. Example: Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, Bones of Faerie

Paranormal – can be set in the real world with fantasy elements. Similar to Urban Fantasy, but with more of a gothic feel. Example: Twilight

What is the difference between fantasy and contemporary? How did Dorothy know she wasn’t in Kansas anymore?

Your world and characters are what makes the reader know it’s fantasy.

So, let's identify what we're writing before we go on. We've touched on this before, but it's good to refresh. I'll get us started: I am writing high fantasy right now. I have a series I started years ago that was more urban fantasy with a portal world twist. I've left it go for now - it was more of a "practice novel" for me, but maybe someday I'll be able to revise it.

So, let's hear what you're working on!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Two Incredible YA Fantasy Novels

hey FFFers - I want to share two YA fantasy novels with you and encourage you to get them and read them.

Bones of Faerie and Faerie Winter by Janni Lee Simner


They are post-apocalyptic, but not in the way you would think. They are set after a War between humans and faerie folk. The world building is incredible, the characters are alive, interesting and diverse. The plot is unique and the endings satisfying. I read both without editing in my head and felt frustrated when I had to put them down.

Here is a sample from the beginning of Bones of Faerie:

I had a sister once. She was a beautiful baby, eyes silver as moonlight off the river at night. From the hour of her birth she was long-limbed and graceful, faerie-pale hair clear as glass from Before, so pale you could almost see through to the soft skin beneath.

My father was a sensible man. He set her out on the hillside that very night, though my mother wept and even old Jayce argued against it. "If the faerie folk want her, let them take her," Father said. "If not, the fault's theirs for not claiming one of their own." He left my sister, and he never looked back.

I did. I crept out before dawn to see whether the faeries had really come. They hadn't, but some wild creature had. One glance was all I could take. I turned and ran for home, telling no one where I'd been.

We were lucky that time, I knew. I'd heard tales of a woman who bore a child with a voice high and sweet as a bird's song - and with sharp claws to match. No one questioned that baby's father when he set the child out to die, far from town, far from where his wife lay dying, her insides torn and bleeding.

Magic was never meant for our world, Father said, and of course I'd agreed, though the War had ended and the faerie folk returned to their own places before I was born. If only they'd never stirred from those places - but it was no use thinking that way.

Besides, I'd heard often enough that our town did better than most. We knew the rules. Don't touch any stone that glows with faerie light, or that light will burn you fiercer than any fire. Don't venture out alone into the dark, or the darkness will swallow you whole. And cast out the magic born among you, before it can turn on its parents.

Towns had died for not understanding that much. My father was a sensible man.

But the memory of my sister's bones, cracked and bloody in the moonlight, haunts me still.

Tempted? I bet you are. I hope you'll get these books and read them. What struck me most was the world the author built, so our next topic will be world-building. Be thinking about that until next time!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pekazoid Prophets

Did the title get your attention? It has a fantasy sound to it, huh? Pekazoid Prophets is a brand new writers group for authors who write for kids: picture books, middle grade and young adult, any genre. We kicked it off at the Glen Eyrie conference in September.

Pekazoid Prophets is a Christian group of children's authors who want to better themselves in the craft, be mentored and interact with other children's authors. We have a website and three yahoo groups; one for picture books, one for tweens and one for teens. I am moderating the picture book group.

Here's the deal; anyone can join for a small fee. You'll need to submit a writing sample for evaluation. You'll be placed in the appropriate mentoring group where you'll learn more about writing for the age group you're working in.

As things progress, we will change according to what the group needs. The Glen Eyrie Writing for the Ages conference went well. Next year's dates are Oct. 14th-17th, and I believe there will be a fantasy track. We are hoping to have a conference on the East Coast in 2013. I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, check out the website:

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Glen Eyrie Report

Hey FFFers - I had an amazing time at the Glen Eyrie Writing for the Ages conference. Here's my report:

I went to work on Koda's Quest, learn some stuff, make some friends and get excited about writing again. I did all those things, BUT, here's the big thing: at lunch one afternoon, we were talking about being honest in our writing and I brought up the book idea I have on being the parent of a special needs child. Kathleen Kerr (past editor at Zonderkidz and how with Harvest House) said, "You HAVE to write this book! And you HAVE to send it to me!" I told her Steve Lawson suggested partnering with Joni and Friends, and Kathleen said Harvest House partners with Joni and Friends on certain projects!! I almost couldn't breathe. And while I did the homework Kathleen gave us in the YA class on characters (for Koda's Quest), I will not be diving into that right away. I'll be working on three chapters and an outline for my nonfiction book. Even when we were saying goodbye, she reminded me to send her the proposal.

I took lots and lots of pictures and will be working on an album on Facebook when I get them off the camera and on to my computer. The grounds are amazing and the gardens are tended by volunteers! I met one lady who has been working on the gardens for 13 years! I'll work to get some more fantasy pics posted here, too.

The food was delicious, the accomodations comfortable, the people so friendly and the faculty marvelous! Nancy Rue, who has been my mentor for 10 years, was the director and she never once separated herself from the conferees. I'm hoping the general session speakers were recorded because I would love, love, love to have a tape or CD of each. Jesse Florea was incredible, Bill Myers engaged us and made us laugh, Kathleen Kerr made us think - and cry - and Nancy was so eloquent and encouraging. I could have sat for hours listening to each one. I did my best taking notes, but I couldn't really capture it all.

We played kids' games the first night. In my group, I won the spitball contest. HA! And another night, I won the helium speaking contest. There was paper and markers on the tables where we could draw, doodle, scribble, whatever we wanted. We could rip the paper off and put more on and keep going. I'm not an artist, but I drew and colored two scenes from Koda's Quest. I took pictures of my drawings and also brought them home. The last night, we were entertained by an Improv Group. They were really good and we laughed and laughed.

We had the opportunity to submit 800 words for a "kids' critique" in picture books, tween or teen. The kids read our stuff and filled out a form. We received them back and were able to attend two panels - one tween and one teen - and we could ask the kids all sorts of questions, just not about our manuscripts. It was amazing. The kids were well spoken and totally honest. I asked one of the teen boys if he would read a book that had a girl as the main character and he said, sure, as long as she was good with a sword or bow and arrow. HA!! We could have sat and talked with the kids for hours. What great sports they were!

Every night, we were read a bedtime story by the faculty and had a nite-nite prayer. And we were back in our rooms by 830pm. My roommate and I got our jammies on, jumped into our beds and read until we fell asleep. It was glorious!!

They have a Prayer Walk, which I couldn't complete, but what I did spoke to me and helped me see God more clearly.

THANK YOU, Nancy Rue, for directing such a wonderful conference. I was blessed beyond words and can't wait to go back! You all need to seriously consider coming out next year if you are writing for kids. My understanding is they are going to add a fantasy track. Woo Hoo!! The dates are October 14th-17th. Be aware, though, the altitude is high and there was a lot of walking, at least on my part. I did not stay in the castle (too expensive) but that was an option. Less walking then, although it depends on where your class is being held. My poor East Coast lungs got a real workout. :)

I'll remind you when it gets closer.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What's in a Name?

Okay - I got this cool idea from the topic on The Writer's View 2. We're talking about names there, so let's talk about them here. We write fantasy, so choosing names is a little more difficult than if we wrote contemporary, right?

Choosing names depends on the type of fantasy you're writing. If your story is contemporary with fantasy elements, you can pick regular names for your regular characters and fantasy names for your fantasy characters.

High fantasy is totally different. You want names that are solidly strange and fantasy sounding. Here is my favorite tool for fantasy names:
It's called Fantasy Name Generator. Sometimes I use the names suggested and sometimes I use a varation. You are free to use the names on the site without worrying about copyright.

I have also used the Bible. There's a ton of fantasy sounding names in the Old Testament. In my new novel, Koda's Quest, I picked "Nekoda" from the Bible and am calling him, "Koda." It's easy to pronounce and I like it.

Names are important. Here's something fun. How many books/movies do we know simply by saying the name of the main character? Or the villain? Or a strong secondary? Here's a few to get you started (a couple may throw you):

Anne Shirley
Luke (Luuuuuke! Use the force, Luuuuuke!) HA!!
Peter Parker

How many can you think of?
How do you choose the names of your characters?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Philly Conference Report

hey FFFers! The Philly conference was really good this year. Everyone I talked to said they learned a lot and had great appointments. I enjoyed spending the day on Thursday with the teens. We started at 10am and finished up at 5:45pm. It was a long day, but everyone hung in there and we finished up with a great critique session.

I'm excited to report that an agent asked for the full manuscript of my fantasy novel, Fairyeater! I'm waiting to hear.

And an editor asked me to send three of my children's manuscripts. I'll be sending those in September after my illustrator friend gets her sketches done.

I was happy to meet Rachel Joy and see Elisabeth and Danielle again. Hi girls!!

So, what do you do when a conference is done and you've sent in the manuscripts an editor or agent has asked for? You start a new project! I'll be working on my next fantasy novel, Koda's Quest. I've had the prologue and first chapter done for a while now, but wasn't able to move on until I finished up some other things. And I'll be attending the Writing for the Ages conference at the Glen Eyrie Castle in Colorado Springs on Sept. 11-14th. Am totally looking forward to that! There's still time to register if you can make it. Check it out here:

It's not a typical conference where editors and agents will be looking for submissions. It's more of a mentoring conference. There will be workshops, activities, and writing time. I can't wait to work on Koda's Quest. Imagine writing a fantasy novel in a castle near the Garden of the Gods! What could be better?

Let's share what we're working on before the next topic. I love to hear what you're doing!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

It's Conference Time!

Hey FFFers - I'm off to the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference tomorrow morning. I'll be teaching and taking appointments, as well as meeting with a couple of editors and an agent.

I'll give a full report when I get back. Then we'll get back to talking about writing fantasy.

If you want to come at the last minute, here are the details of the conference:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Handling a Critique or Edit

hey FFFers - sorry for the long space inbewteen posts. I was cast in a show with our local summer theatre and that took up pretty much all of my brain space. :)

Rachel Joy asked about writing in first person. I will be having a guest blogger teach about that. She's great with first person. So, while I'm waiting to get her stuff, let's talk about how we handle being critiqued or edited.

It's not easy being critiqued. We love our stories, our characters, our words. It can feel like a personal attack when someone tells us it's not good enough or needs to be changes. As an author and a freelance editor, I see both sides. So, let's take a look.

Friends and family members are not the best ones to lean on for critique. As a reader, sure, you can run stuff past them, but for a real critique or edit, you need someone in the business. And you need to check them out thoroughly. Anyone can say they're an editor (that goes for agents, too.) On my website, I have recommendations from clients and anyone can contact these people to talk to them.

We have to find a balance of sticking up for our work and not holding on to it too tightly. When I suggest changes, I always give a reason and/or an example. Then the author can try both ways and see what works the best.

When you get an edit, I recommend reading through all the notes and then setting it aside for at least a day - a week is better - and then read it again with fresh eyes.

Please do not argue or get snarky with your editor. Most editors are reasonable people and if you are contracted with a publishing house, they are always willing to talk things out. If you can justify not making some changes, an editor will listen. But if you argue too much, you'll become known as an author who is not easy to work with. Editors know each other and they communicate. It's not as big a world as you may think.

When authors come to me, I tell them they don't have to make my changes. But my goal is to help make their manuscript the best it can be so their chances of getting picked up by a publishing house will be higher. Even if they choose to self publish, they still want their story to be the best it can be or the people who buy the book will not give it a good review on amazon. I don't know about you all, but I read people's reviews on amazon when I'm not sure about a book or item.

So, let's talk. Have you had an experience with an editor or critique group? How was it? How did you handle it?

And one more thing: the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writer's Conference is August 10-13 this year and there's still time to register. The Teens Write day is Thursday, the 11th and we're going ALL DAY this year! It's going to be exhausting, but I think it's going to be great. Hope to see you there!

Friday, July 1, 2011

What's Next?

hey FFFers - what do you want to talk about next? I know it's summer time and the livin' is easy, but for many of us, we get more writing done now. What are you working on that you need help with? Let me know and we'll brainstorm with you.

Monday, June 6, 2011

An Opportunity

hey FFFers - here's an opportunity to send a submission to an agency that is usually closed to unsolicited stuff:

Go to the submissions page and follow the directions. They'll want just a query letter. If this is your first novel, make sure it's completed before submitting anything. Since it just started on June 1st and will be open until August 31st, let's talk about query letters.

What is a query letter? It is a one page letter that introduces your book idea and yourself. Think of it as your 30 second elevator pitch on paper. Here's a basic formula from novelist Marcus Sakey:

After a professional greeting (Mr. or Ms.), begin with a 1 - 2 line paragraph explaining that you are writing them because you know they represent X, and your book is similar.

Then, in 3 - 5 lines, sum up your story. Leave out the tangents, complications, minor characters, and themes. Remember, this is seduction. Focus on drama and stakes.

Here’s mine:
For Danny Carter, retired thief turned respectable businessman, a normal life sharing a Lincoln Park condo with his loving girlfriend seems like the ultimate score–until his former partner comes looking for him. A hardened killer fresh out of Stateville, his partner wants to kidnap the son of Danny’s millionaire boss, and he needs help to pull it off. Doing the job could cost Danny his career, his relationship, and his freedom.

Refusing could cost him his life.

Notice how I used only one name, and how I boiled the story down to its essense? The result is a brief summation that has some sex appeal.

In your next paragraph, spend 1 - 4 lines mentioning awards, previous publications, and nepotistic hookups. By the latter, I mean connections with authors, publishing folks, or the media. Is Stephen King your uncle? Did you work for Oprah? Put it in there. Also, if you have some experience that informed the book, consider including it. Be judicious here: if you’re hawking a mystery novel, by all means mention the fact that you are a police officer. If your character likes to cook and so do you, leave it out.

Finally, end with what in advertising is known as a call to action: “May I send you the finished manuscript?”

(Okay - that's a pretty good basic example. Personally, I always thank the agent for their time before I ask them if I can send the manuscript.)

Marcus goes on to explain an email query:

I recommend you query via email. There are a couple of reasons. First, e-queries are cheaper and faster and better for the environment. Second, you can include a little taste of your novel. Do it like this: “Page one of THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL follows. May I send you the finished manuscript?”

Then, after your name and contact info, paste in the first page or so of the novel. Do not attach it, as that will freak people out about viruses. Also, be sure to check your formatting, since email can screw that up, and manually insert line-breaks to double-space.

Finally, make sure that you end on a minor cliffhanger, something interesting.

The idea is simple. The agent has just read your brief and compelling query letter. They’re intrigued. It’s the easiest thing in the world to scroll down and read a little more — and then, because your first page is dynamite (right?), hopefully intrigued upshifts to excited. Simple as that.

Marcus ends up by saying a great query letter is not written in a day. Just like our manuscripts, it needs to be written and rewritten. We should have it critiqued and checked for anything that sticks out, like spelling or vague sentences. And it should reflect your writing style.

If you need some help with your story summation, post it in the comments and we'll help you with it.

Next time, we'll talk about one pages. That's kind of like a query letter, but you can be more artistic with it. If you're planning to attend a writer's conference, you'll want to have a one sheet with you.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Voice is the last chapter in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King. I haven't gone through every page of the book with you, but touched on the highlights. It's worth purchasing for your writing library.

Here's a quote from the book: "A strong, distinctive, authoritative writing voice is something most fiction writers want - and something no editor or teacher can impart. There are, after all, no rules for writing like yourself. Voice is, however, something you can bring out in yourself. The trick is to not concentrate on it."

We all have unique experiences, lives, and personalities. This shapes and molds us into the people we are today. It's the same with voice. Voice is not how you talk. It's not style. It's your word choices, phrases and sentence composition. While your characters all need their own voices, your writing voice should still come out whether you are writing narrative, action or dialog. And the reader will have the feeling it was effortless on your part (which we know isn't true.)

Voice is developed by writing. Lots and lots of writing. When you begin to write, don't think too hard about how you want to say something. Just write it. A writing partner who is more experienced is a tremendous help.

Let's try something. I want you to write a sentence or two about someone walking in the rain. Let's see the difference in our voices. It will be fun.

On a business note: registration is open for the Greater Phila. Christian Writers Conference in August. I'm on faculty and am teaching the First Timers' Orientation and a workshop on The Hero's Journey for Teens Write. Check out the details here:

I look forward to seeing your sentences!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Life Break!

My youngest daughter's (Mary) Senior Prom was last night. Just wanted to share it with you. I'll be posting a new topic next week!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Beats, Break Ups and Bothersome Words

Hi FFFers - thanks for hanging in there with me. My youngest daughter, Mary, is an active senior in high school. That makes me a very busy mom! Besides concerts, activities, competitions, fundraisers and scholarship applications, we have also been busy with college registration and prep. She will be attending Five Towns College in Dix Hills, NY, for Film Production. If any of you want a college for fine arts, this is the college to attend on the East Coast. Check it out.

Okay - we've been talking about dialog, including tags and beats. Let's do a quick review. Tags are the "he said/she said" that come after dialog. Beats are a small piece of action that typically comes before the dialog that indicate who is talking without having to use a "he said/she said." Mixing up beats and tags helps make your writing flow and brings it to life.

Break ups are how we format the page. Most readers like to see a lot of white space. Think about it; when you open a book and it's loaded with words, it can feel overwhelming. But if the paragraphs are varied and there's more white space on the page, it's not as intimidating. The key here is mixing it up, like beats and tags. Some paragraphs are longer. Some are short. Same with sentences. And when you are writing dialog, make sure you start a on a new line with each person who is talking.

"It's so hot," Sue said.

Jill fanned herself with a magazine. "I could melt right into the floor. I hate summer."

Bob shook his head. "Why don't you just turn on the air?"

The girls looked at him with distain. "Right," Sue said. "How about you pay our electric bill and we'll do that."

If I were to go on with this scene, I would go to narrative at this point. It doesn't have to be long, but we need to break up dialog from time to time.

Bothersome (or repeated) words. We all have our favorite words or phrases. And that's okay if your character has something they like to say, but if you are using words or phrases that kind of stand out or are unique in some way, it can get real bothersome to the reader. I recently read a NY Times best seller and the main character, Maggie, groused. She groused all the time. She groused four times on one page! And at one point, Maggie groused and it was not an appropriate use of the word. Who the heck says "grouse" anymore? And do you even know what it means? It means to complain. It was so distracting, I never finished the book.

This is why it's so important to have someone else read your stuff. If you can't rope anyone into that, read it out loud to yourself. You'll spot bothersome words and repeated phrases more then reading silently.

Variety is key to strong, interesting writing. What do you think? How do you handle it?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Interior Monologue

The next chapter in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is Interior Monologue, which is a form of dialogue where your character is either thinking or talking to themselves without speaking out loud.

Movies and TV may be influencing writers to write more visually, but fiction can always accomplish something visual media will never be able to touch. You may be able SEE a character doing something on the big screen, but you don't know what he or she is thinking. One of the great gifts of literature is that it allows for the expression of unexpressed thoughts. We call this Interior Monologue.

It doesn't matter if you are writing in first or third person, you can show the thoughts of your characters. There are a couple different ways to show it - direct thought or indirect thought. It's a matter of preference of either the author or the editor. I typically choose indirect thoughts because I feel it's less jolting.

Here's an example from my manuscript on indirect thoughts. See if you can identify them:

Tzmet paced her balcony. Curses! Why did it always take so long for fairies to wilt? She strode to the wooden rack in the courtyard at the top of the castle tower. Two wingless, earth fairies hung upside down, barely moving in the bright sunlight, their life essence slowly draining away. One opened her eyes and peered up at the sky with a look that begged for mercy.

“Hah, beg. Yes, beg! It moves me not.” Tzmet threw her hands in the air and stalked off. She stopped to look at herself in the mirror and ran a hand over her bald head. Why did she torture herself by keeping a mirror in the tower?

One of the easiest ways to tell indirect thoughts is that we know what the character is thinking, but the sentences are not in italics.

You can guess that direct thoughts are typically in italics. Most of us are used to seeing it written that way, however, today most editors like to stay from as much italics as possible because it's hard to read. So, if you want to use direct thought, keep it to a miminum. Here's an example from another one of my manuscripts:

Garry never knew what to say to girls, but he had to say something now.

“Hey,” he said. Oh, that’s real snappy, Garry.

She looked startled and then relaxed when she saw him. “Oh, hey.”

“How ya doing?” Another bright one, you jerk.

See how I kept it simple but we still know what Garry is thinking and feeling?

That's interior monologue at it's most basic. How about you? What's your preference?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dialogue Mechanics - part four

Before going on, let's address Elisabeth, Danielle and Julie's questions about dialect. In fantasy, we can easily go over the top with dialogue, so we have to be careful. My advice for dialect/dialogue is the same as for adverbs and adjectives: consider them cayenne pepper and use sparingly.

How can you do this? Well, you'll have to experiment. Sometimes, just a word or phrase will do. Sometimes, like Elisabeth, your characters do not use contractions. Yes, it's formal sounding. That's okay if you want them to sound formal. Unicorns are an ancient race, yes? Then you want them to sound formal and different - strange and mystical. The reader will stay with you if the story is engaging and the dialogue natural to the characters. In high fantasy, characters tend to sound more formal anyway.

Check and see how other authors have handled it. I've read some fantasy where everyone sounds the same, but they have different habits and beliefs. Different tempers and reactions. The thing is to give your characters *something* to differenciate them. Would the reader know who is talking without a dialog tag or beat?

If you want some help, give us a conversation between your different characters and we'll talk about it.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Dialogue Mechanics - part three

hey FFFers, I'm back. If anyone out there has an active senior in high school, you know how busy I am with all the end of the year things as well as college applications. Whew!

Okay, we've been talking about dialogue mechanics and have gone over the basics. Before I go on, I wanted to mention something we call an "RUE." That's, "resist the urge to explain." We often do this without thinking. Here's an example:

Sam clenched his fists. He was really angry. "I can't stand him!"

Do you see what I did? I told you "he was really angry" when the clenching of the fists and the dialogue showed it. We do this because we want to make sure the readers knows what's going on, but really, the reader will get it if you show it.

Now, let's talk about making your characters sound natural without writing the way we talk.

Val hugged Sue. "I'm so glad you see you! What have you been up to?"

Sue shrugged. "Well, you know, um, I've been busy with, like, um, working and trying to spend time with, um, Jim."

"I hear ya," Val said. "There's just not enough, you know, time."


When we talk, we hesitate a lot. We use partial sentences and slang words. How we handle dialogue depends on who is talking, their age and gender. But we can't write exactly how we talk. It's fine for talking, but for writing and reading, it can get bogged down.

How is dialogue different for fantasy? Take a look at your WIP (work in progress) and see how many different types of characters you have; elves, dwarves, fairies, etc. Do they all sound different? They should, but not so much that the reader is exhausted by the time a conversation is done.

Some authors write heavy dialects - have you read any of the Redwall series? That's an example of being extreme. Some readers love that. Most don't.

I find the best way is to use certain expressions or a turn of a phrase unique to that character or people. Here's an example from my novel, Fairyeater. This is a conversation between the main character, Akeela, and some new friends, Acadians (forest people.)

Akeela startled and looked up to see two Acadians approaching. A boy and a girl.
“Sapo!” the boy said again.
Hawk closed his eyes and groaned. “Go away.”
The Acadian boy plopped down next to Akeela. “So, this is she, yeh?” He grinned at Akeela and wiggled his eyebrows. Akeela couldn’t help but laugh.
“Aye, it’s she. Now, go away. You’re scraping my branches.”
The boy shouted with laughter. The girl pushed him off the log and sat down. “Pay no mind to my brother. He’s a dupeseed.” She lifted her long, bushy hair off her shoulders and dropped it again. “I’m Ves-rynia, Hawk’s cousin. That--” she jerked her thumb over her shoulder. “—is Vorrak-ira.”
Akeela didn’t exactly understand the Acadian expressions, but she had a good idea what they meant. “I’m Akeela.”

See how I did that? Now, it's your turn. Let's see how you're handling the dialect of different groups of people. If you need help, let us know and we'll brainstorm together.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dialogue Mechanics - part two

For anyone who is just joining us, we're going through the book "Self Editing for Fiction Writers" by Renni Browne and Dave King. I advise everyone to pick it up so you can refer to it when you are writing.

I want to talk about dialogue tags and beats. A tag is the "he said/she said" after a line of dialogue. A beat is a piece of action that typically comes before the dialogue that indicates who is talking without writing a "he said/she said."

Browne and King say: "Your best bet is to use the verb "said" almost without exception." Said is invisible. It keeps the flow going. But some writers get nervous when they see a long string of "saids" all over the page. We remember what we've been taught in school and write something like:

"Give it to me," she demanded.
"Here it is," he offered.
"Is it loaded?" she inquired.

This was popular in the 70s, but it can be downright annoying today. Most editors cringe when they read these kinds of tags.

Then there's:

"I hate to admit that," he grimaced.
"Come closer," she smiled.
"So, you've changed your mind," he chuckled.

To use verbs like the last three examples as dialogue tags will brand you an amateur to most editors. It's physically impossible to grimace, smile or chuckle a word. Grimace is a facial expression. So is smile. And chuckle is, well, a chuckle. You can chuckle while you talk, but words are words and laughing is laughing.

This is why beats are so important. We need to mix up tags and beats in our writing. Like this:

"It's so hot out," Sue said.
Carly fanned herself with the paper. "I know! If it gets any hotter, I'll melt."

We know Carly is talking because of the beat in front of the dialogue. And that makes it unnecessary to use a tag. There are times when you can use other tags like asked, shouted and whispered, but think of them like cayenne pepper - sprinkle sparingly. What you want to do is make it clear by the dialogue itself or by a beat.

Sam clenched his jaw. "Get out of here!"
Megan rolled her eyes. "I hate doing dishes."
Trish smiled. "We had the best time."

Can you tell how Sam, Megan and Trish are feeling? And you didn't have to say, Sam growled, Megan sighed or Trish sang out.

How are you handling diglogue tags? Do you anything you need help with? Put it in the comments and we'll take a look.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Dialogue Mechanics, part one

Here is the meat and potatoes of writing - dialogue. Good dialogue will not only move the plot along, it also lets us get to know the characters in a deeper way.

The first thing acquisitions editors look for when they begin reading a fiction submission is dialogue. A quote from Browne and King's book says, "The first thing I do is find a scene with some dialogue. If the dialogue doesn't work, the manuscript gets bounced. It it's good, I start reading."

Characters come alive - or not - when they speak. But it's not easy to put the right words into their mouths. You don't want to write dialogue in the same way you talk, with lots of ums and uhs, but you still want it to flow and feel natural. There are tricks to avoid if you want your dialogue to read like the work of a professional instead of an amateur.

Something we tend to do is called "resist the urge to explain" or RUE. We don't even realize we're doing it. Here's an example:

"You can't be serious," she said in astonishment.

If you're like most beginners, you write sentences like this almost without thinking. What could be easier than simply telling the reader how a character feels? If she is astonished, just say so. It saves all sorts of time and trouble, right?

But it's lazy writing. And it patonizes the reader. Remember, "show, don't tell?" Having the character say, "You can't be serious" conveys astonishment. There's no explanation needed. When you explain something that needs no explanation, you're writing down to your audience.

Another thing; "You can't be serious" has a formality and coldness to it. You could also say, "You've got to be kidding!" Or "You pulling my chain, dude?" Who is your character? Male or female? What is their age? Where are they in society? What genre is your book? All these things come into play when writing dialogue.

So, take a look at your dialogue and see if you're explaining what the dialogue has made clear. Then let the characters speak for themselves. If you're not sure, give us an example and we'll talk about it.

Next week, we'll look at dialogue tags and beats.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Hey FFFers - where are you? I miss hearing from you.

The next chapter in Self Editing for Fiction Writers is on proportion. A writer can undermine the excitement of a scene with a blow by blow description of every movement the characters make. Writing all the little details not only bores the reader, it also leaves nothing for the imagination and sometimes makes the reader feel patronized.

It used to be that generous, detailed descriptions were the norm, but not anymore. Because of TV and movies, the reader is used to jump-cuts from scene to scene rather than long transitional shots. Here's a short example:

The phone rang. Bob walked across the room and picked it up. "Hello," he said.

That's not too long, but you can write it this way without taking away anything:

The phone rang.
"Hello," Bob said.

It depends on what has happened before the phone rang, of course, but you see what I mean.

We are a microwave society. We like things to move quickly. In your first draft, write all you want. But during revisions, you need to pay attention. Most larger proportion problems can be avoided if you simply pay attention to your story. That doesn't mean you ruthlessly cut every detail. You want to find a balance. You want to create the mood for your scene. Try taking a look at your manuscript as if it were the first time you've ever read it. It helps to set it aside for a few days before you read through it and make changes. A fresh set of eyes is best - so share it with your writing partner or group.

Be honest with yourself. We love our words, don't we? But we have to ask ourselves if something is really needed. Does it add to the story? Does it bog the action down? Does it bore you? If a section or sentence doesn't quite sit right with you, it probably needs to be changed or eliminated.

Fantasy can lend itself to lots of detail. Do you have a scene where you're not sure if you have too much detail? I'm happy to take a look. Let's get talking about writing again!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Point of View - third person

Okay - let's talk about regular third person, which is my favorite point of view. King and Browne say, "If the first person invites intimacy and the omniscient narrator allows for perspective, the third person strikes a balance between the two."

When I wrote Fairyeater, I wrote in third person, but switched points of view either in a new chapter or a scene change. By knowing what the antagonist was up to, as well as the heroine, it filled out the story and raised tension.

What we need to remember when writing in third person is we can't know what the other characters are thinking or feeling or seeing or hearing, etc. if they don't tell us. We need to stay in the main character's point of view, only switching when there is a clear scene break or a new chapter. It's not easy at first, but it's worth learning this part of the craft.

The POV character can draw conclusions by what they observe or overhear. They can reveal what they know or they can keep it secret - but the reader will know if we write their thoughts. If you have something you want kept secret, even from the reader, then you can't reveal it at all.

Think about it this way: you are at home and your best friend is on vacation. Do you know what he/she is doing? What they're thinking? How they're feeling? How can you unless he/she tells you? It's the same with your characters. There's something intriguing about not knowing what's going on in everyone's head, and it's good to let things out a little at a time.

Here's an example from Fairyeater. The heroine, Akeela, has been raised by a curmudgeonly old hag, Krezma. She can't figure out what she did to deserve such treatment. Then a stranger, Oret, shows up at their hut. He communicates telepathically. Akeela is sent on an errand, but she hides and listens in while they talk about a prophecy. Notice how I reveal things while still staying in Akeela's POV.

Krezma grew silent, smoothing her hand over the words. “I never asked for this. I did not want to raise another child.”

Akeela blinked. Another child?

-Who else could we have turned to? You alone know the power of the Dark Lord and the history of the Guardian-

“Yes, I know. I know. And I am the only one the Fairy Council trusted.” Krezma slid back from the table and stood. She rolled up the scroll. “But I have my own life! My own plans. I have given up much.”

Oret bowed his head. -We know this and are grateful. Has it been so terrible, raising Akeela?-

Akeela held a hand over mouth to keep from gasping.

Krezma sighed. “Nay, it has not been terrible. Akeela is like my own child, and yet, she is not. I am torn. It is not time to reveal her destiny. She is so young. I am unsure she can handle it.”

Akeela sat down on the ground. Her head whirled with questions. She always knew Krezma had no great love for her, but what was the meaning of the prophecy? Why did Krezma want to keep it a secret? What did the words mean? And what couldn’t she handle? Her destiny?

Akeela picked up the basket and crept away from the window as Krezma and Oret’s voices continued. She lifted her skirt and ran all the way to the pond.

King and Browne say: "Sometimes there are good reasons for maintaining narrative distance." I stayed in Akeela's POV, but wrote the scene with some narrative distance because it was important for Akeela to learn this piece of information.

Of everything you can learn about the craft of writing, POV is the most fundamental. It's how you show who your characters are. It lets you show emotions, share a character's thoughts and concerns and sets the tone of the story. Point of view is a powerful tool. I advise you to read more about it in King and Browne's book.

I'd love to see some examples from your writing, too!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Point of View - third person omniscient

Okay, we covered first person. Let's swing to the other side of the spectrum to third person omniscient. This is where we know everything every person is thinking - sometimes we even know what a whole group of people are thinking! Omniscient point of view reached its most extreme form in nineteenth-century novels such as George Eliot's "Middlemarch." At one point, the author pauses the action and addresses the reader directly:

If you want to know more particularly how Mary look, ten to one you will see a face like hers in the crowded street tomorrow, if you are there on the watch: she will not be among those daughters of Zion who are haughty, and walk with stretched-out necks and wanton eyes, mincing as they go. Let all those pass, and fix your eyes on some small plump brownish person of firm but quiet carriage, who looks about her, but does not suppose that anyone is looking at her.

Browne and King say you're unlikely to want to go as far as this - it's difficult to maintain transparency when you're having a chat with your readers - but the omniscient point of view in its milder forms does have its uses. But what you gain in perspective you lose in intimacy.

Omniscient POV also tends to narrate. The author pulls back from the action and describes the surroundings or gives us an "info dump." We'll talk about info dump later, but it's just what it implies - a paragraph of information the writer wants to make sure the reader knows about.

Omniscient POV is also called "head hopping." Here's an example:

Lucas grabbed the ball away from Sam. He never liked sharing and he liked Sam even less. Sam wanted to teach Lucas a lesson, so he pushed Lucas on the ground. Alice hated fighting. "Stop!" she yelled. "You're only going to hurt each other."

Lucas and Sam ignored Alice's cries and began pummeling each other with their fists. The ball lay ignored on the ground.

So you see how we knew what each character was thinking or how they felt? Who was the main character? Whose story is it? You can't tell because I was equally in everyone's point of view. I even threw some narration in there. That can be distracting for some readers.

Fantasy writers often use omniscient POV. Fantasy kind of lends itself to it. However, in all the workshops and conferences I've attended, every single editor and agent has said to never, EVER use omniscient POV. Do not head hop, they said. Stay in ONE point of view. This is one of the writing rules. But I've also heard once you master the rules, you can break them, if you break them creatively.

Every manuscript I've read from a beginning writer or a self-published writer has been in omniscient POV. It's hard to stay in one point of view. I believe omniscient POV has its place, but I also believe working to learn to stay in one POV at a time strengthens your writing. So, can you identify your point of view? Give us an example of omniscient POV, if you write there. And let's talk about how we feel about this point of view. We'll talk about good old, regular third person POV next time.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Point of View - first person

Point of view (POV) is a biggie and the most confusing aspect of writing, in my opinion. What IS point of view? Simply put, POV is WHO is telling the story. Whose eyes are we seeing through? Whose thoughts do we hear? Browne and King write: "Some writing books distinguish as many as twenty-six different flavors of points of view, but there are really only three basic approaches: first person, third person, and omniscient."

There is a second person voice, but that is mainly reserved for magazine articles.

Let's look at the different POVs in the most basic form.
First person: "I"
Third person: "We"
Second person: "You"
Omniscient: any of the above

I've attended conference and workshops aplenty. Every single one was adament in NOT switching POV when you are first learning to write. Pick a character as your main character and tell the story in his/her POV. Don't get into anyone else's head and, if you do, for heaven's sake, don't head hop! And yet, I read novels all the time where the POV changes as quickly as a pixie.

Most people have no idea if you are switching POV and do they really care? Maybe not. But learning to keep to one POV will help you stay focused on the story. It will keep the reader in the story in a more intimate way. And it will help YOU, the author, hone your craft. When you are more experienced, you can switch points of view, but there's a way to do it. We'll talk about that later.

Let's look at first person. Writing in first person has some advantages, the main one is that the reader has a deeper intimacy with the viewpoint character. We are actually in their head all the time. In order to succeed in the first person POV, you have to create a character strong enough and interesting enough to keep your readers going for the entire novel. But you don't want the reader to feel trapped inside the character's head, so the character needs to be believeable.

The disadvantage is that you lose some perspective. You can't write about anything the POV character couldn't know, which means you have to have your main character on the spot whenever you want to write an immediate scene. This can limit your plot development possiblities.

When you write first person POV, your readers get to know only one character directly. Everyone else is filtered through the viewpoint character.

Here is an example of first person - from The Ballad of Frankie Silver by Sharyn McCrumb: "They have brought me down from my beautiful mountain in the white silence of winter, my wrists bound with hemp rope, my legs tied beneath the pony's belly as if I were a yearling doe taken on the long hunt. And perhaps I am, for I am as defenseless as a deer, and as silent."

POV is a personal choice. I typically do not write in first person. I enjoy third person (we'll talk about that next week) and I tend to switch POV when I begin a new chapter. We'll talk about that later, too.

How about you? Anyone out there write in first person? Give us an example so we can see how you do it.