Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Goals: Aim, Miss, and Try Again

Photo by ilco/StockXchange.com

Along with my writing buddies "The Ponderers," I set a bunch of writing goals for the month of March. The Ponderers were formed when we met after we all attended Susan May Warren's My Book Therapy retreats.

Side note: If you haven't attended any of Susan's coaching retreats, start making plans to do so now! The retreats are amazing.

Back to the goals: We dubbed our goals "March Madness" and focused on things like daily word counts and finishing our rough drafts, querying agents, polishing final manuscripts.

With April one day away, we're taking stock of our accomplishments. How did we do?

Well, in some ways, we failed miserably. We missed the mark in millions of little and big ways. Our word counts didn't add up. There was no shine to our rough draft, much less finished, submission-worthy final drafts. One Ponderer did submit to an agent--and she landed representation! We celebrated with a virtual "Happy Dance"!

But we're also looking at our goals realistically. We realize some of our pre-set goals were derailed by unexepected new goals that came up during the month. Several of us submitted to writing contests for the first time every. Quite an accomplisment, yes? There was forward motion in our writing, even if we didn't get as far along The Writing Road as we predicted. We cheered one another along, prayed for one another's physical and emotional needs, edited each other's works-in-progress (WIPs), and made plans to attend Susan's next coaching retreat in May. And, in the midst of our writing lives, we were women, wives, moms, sisters and friends.

Looking back on March, it was a mad, mad, mad month.

And I'm satisfied.

On to April--and new writing goals. What goals are you setting for your self?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Writers on Finding Your Writing Voice

"A man's style is his mind's voice. Wooden minds, wooden voices."—Ralph Waldo Emerson
How often do you mimic the voice of other writers? Steve Jobs said, "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogmawhich is living with the results of other people's thinking."

Stop, Look and Listen for Your Writing Voice
Follow the sage advice of other writers to find your voice.

Stop: Ralph Waldo Emerson: "None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone."

Look for your voice: Christopher Morley: "Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity."

Listen to your voice: Claude McKay: "For if a man is not faithful to his own individuality, he cannot be loyal to anything."

Write your voice: Eleanor Roosevelt: "Remember always that you have not only the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Are Contests Worth It?

Photo by IndianSumm/StockXchange.com

The short answer: It depends.

Okay, that could be the shortest post in the history of blogs.

If the judges provide useful feedback, if your skin is thick enough to take criticism, if you want to improve as a writer, rather than have your work rubber stamped, if you've worked at the writing craft and want validation that you've achieved a certain standard of writing, then entering contests can be valuable.

I recently submitted a first chapter to a contest because a category was in jeopardy of being canceled due to a shortage of entries. My chapter had been critiqued dozens of times and rewritten more times than I could have imagined when I began this writing journey. Frankly, I love the story, but I'm tired of the chapter.

One of the judges only gave me a 4 out of 5 on voice. Really? I thought that was one of my strengths.

Sigh. Not getting all the points for voice wounded my pride. I went through the manuscript line by line seeking ways to interject my personality onto the page.

Another judge liked the hero but gave me a low score for not mentioning his goals. Well, he's pretty preoccupied rescuing the damsel in distress. I didn't think he had time to stop and explain his life.

Well . . . there was one place at the very end where he stops and takes a breath. What if he wonders what would have happened if he hadn't been there to save the heroine? Oh, maybe I did have a chance to sneak in his goals.

All in all, I'd say the entry fee was worth the price. I now have a better chapter than I had last week.

An Opportunity for You!
Here's a brand new contest: Susan May Warren at MyBookTherapy is sponsoring The Frasier. The deadline is March 31, so it's not too late to enter. Regardless of whether you're ready to submit your manuscript to a contest or not, Warren has posted a wonderful checklist by which you can judge your first chapter.

First Chapter Checklist

The Frasier Contest

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Wrestling a Brain Dump into Submission

Don't agonize. Organize.”— Florynce Kennedy
I felt overwhelmed as I read through thirty pages of a chapter that I wanted to cut down to 3500 words.  It was basically a brain dump of random thoughts, ideas, research, and statistics. I wasn’t sure how the flow of the chapter should go. At least the title, problem, value statement, and summary were written.
  • Title: The Age of Consent
  • Problem: Adults sexual choices unnecessarily hurt children.
  • Value Statement: Enhances ability to model sexual choices that builds trusts rather than harms others.
  • Summary: What is the “age of consent” for a child to become aware of a parent or minister’s immoral actions? Telling real stories from kids’ lives, this chapter addresses the ripple effect of adult sin upon children and teens. The reader comes to terms with the “con” of “sensual” choices.

After reading through the words and paragraphs splattered across thirty pages, I thought of an outline for the chapter flow that might work.
  • Identify the problem. Use story to show the problem.
  • State the conflict. Show the consequences of the problem. Use statistics.
  • Show the resolution: Show how to resolve the problem/conflict. Include examples of how others also resolved this problem.

As I reread, the information dump, I highlighted every paragraph in a color according to where it fit into the outline. I used a stoplight as my color code.
  • Red: Problem
  • Yellow: Conflict
  • Green: Resolution

I copied and pasted each color-coded paragraph where it fit into the chapter outline. Next, I worked on each section putting the information into an order that flowed. Now I was ready to perform surgery on the chapter and cut out any unnecessary information. Then I did a fine tune edit, and emailed it to my critique group. 

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mining the wealth of the deep, dark hidden web

“Learning is the beginning of wealth. Searching and learning is where the miracle process all begins.”—Jim Rohn 

Are you aware of the invisible web that search engines can’t search? 

The deep Web  (also called Deepnet, the invisible Web, dark Web or the hidden Web) refers to World Wide Web content that is not part of the surface Web, which is indexed by standard search engines like Google and Bing. 

If you think Google, a general search engine, provides the mother load of information, you haven’t seen anything yet. Below you will find ways to mine the wealth of content not searchable by standard search engines.

CompletePlanet provides the front door to hundreds of thousands of Deep Web databases on the Web for topical searches.

DeepPeep enters the Invisible Web through forms covering auto, airfare, biology, book, hotel, job, and rental.

DeepWebTech offers five search engines covering science, medicine, and business.

INFOMINE is a virtual library of Internet resources relevant to faculty, students, and research staff at the university level. It contains useful Internet resources such as databases, electronic journals, electronic books, bulletin boards, mailing lists, online library card catalogs, articles, directories of researchers, and many other types of information. INFOMINE is librarian built. Librarians from the University of California, Wake Forest University, California State University, the University of Detroit - Mercy, and other universities and colleges contributed to building INFOMINE.

Infoplease taps into encyclopedias, almanacs, an atlas, and biographies. It includes Factmonster.com for kids and Biosearch, a search engine just for biographies.

IncyWincy indexes thousands of search engines.

Intute is a free online service that helps you to find the best web resources for your studies and research.

Scirus is the most comprehensive scientific research tool on the web. You can pinpoint scientific, scholarly, technical and medical data on the Web. With over 370 million scientific items indexed, search for not only journal content but also scientists' homepages, and, a range of subject areas including health, life, physical and social sciences.

TechXtra finds articles, books, the best websites, the latest industry news, full text eprints, the latest research, thesis & dissertations, teaching and learning resources in engineering, mathematics and computing.

The WWW Virtual Library (VL) is the oldest catalogue of the Web, started by Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of HTML and of the Web itself, in 1991 at CERN in Geneva. Topics include agriculture, the arts, business and economics, communications and media, computing and computer science, education, engineering, humanities and humanistic studies, history, information and libraries, international affairs, law, natural sciences and mathematics, recreation, regional studies, social and behavioural sciences. and society.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Motivational Quotes

It's a whole lot more satisfying to reach for the stars, even if you end up landing only on the moon. - Kermit the Frog

Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.
- Ronald E. Osborn

The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that our aim is too low and we hit it. - Tim Timmons

To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first, and call whatever you hit the target. - Ashleigh Brilliant

You will never reach a goal that you do not set. - Mark McConachie

Obstacles are things a person sees when he takes his eyes off his goal. - E. Joseph Cossman

A goal is a dream with a deadline. - Harvey Mackay

Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you are alive, it isn't. - Richard Bach

Throw your heart over the bars and your body will follow. - Veteran trapeze performer

Never give up. Never give up. Never, never, never. - Sir Winston Churchill
Commencement address at a graduation ceremony. This was his entire speech.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Blog Tour: Sons of Thunder by Susan May Warren

Sons of Thunder by Susan May Warren wasn't just a good read--it was a compelling read. This is historical fiction done right.

I took the book with me throughout my day, reading snatches of chapters at red lights or when I arrived early to pick up my daughter from school. Part of me wanted to wait for extended periods of time to read the unfolding story of Markos, Dino and Sofia, but Sons of Thunder is a can't-put-it-down-page-turner.

In Sons of Thunder, Warren tells the story of Sofia Fragos, who is torn between the love of brothers Markos and Dino and the promise that binds them all together.

Warren writes true-to-life fiction and is not afraid to have her characters make tough choices. At one point when Sofia makes a certain decision, I thought, "I would never!" And then I paused . . . reflected . . . and realized that, if I was in the same circumstances, I would have made the same awful choice Sofia made, for the very reason she made it. Sofia's choice was her sacrifice for someone else.

I've read just about every book Warren's written, and she just keeps getting better and better. Her dialogue is strong, while her World War II historical setting and details accurately ground the book. The characters of Markos, Dino and Sofia are so believable that, more than once, I had to stop reading Sons of Thunder because my tears blurred the page.

Stop by Warren's Brothers in Arms Web site, where she's hosting a contest to celebrate the launch of Sons of Thunder. Share a story or photo from your family's history for a chance to win a Memory Prize Package that includes:

  • a certificate to create your own hardcover photo book
  • a 6-month membership to Netflix
  • a signed copy of Sons of Thunder

Five runners up with also receive signed copies of Sons of Thunder.

To find out what others are saying about Sons of Thunder, go here.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

What genre or kind of book do you like to read and why?

"A good book on your shelf is a friend that turns its back on you and remains a friend." ~Author Unknown

When you want to curl up with a good read, what kind of book grabs you? Some escape through romance novels. Others try to understand or overcome their pain and shame through self help books. Whether you enjoy contemporary fiction, fantasy, science fiction, biography, mystery, self-help, or science books, books often tell us something about ourselves or others.
In TV interview John McCain and Barack Obama identified their favorite books. McCain pegged Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Obama named the Bible and Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. What if they announced a book that was completely unpredictable?
Like a fantasy romance novel.
What Others Love to Read
Someone even received a book contract to find out the favorite books of 125 top writers. Don't you wish you'd thought of The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books?
Australia’s 100 favorite books
Harvard Book Store staff's favorite 100 book

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Strong Opening--Every Time

Photo by tutu55/StockXchange.com

Fridays mean nonfiction critique group with Mike and Scoti, a.ka. "Brill." Brill is my nickname for Scoti and it's short for Brilliant.

Today the three of us were hashing out how Mike should begin chapter 6 in his work in progress (WIP.) I'd highlighted the first paragraph in gray, suggesting he delete the paragraph. I also posted a comment box off to the side with one word in it: Yawn.

I know, that was not the most subtle of comments.

However, Mike's been with the group for over a year now and he's told us he considers every comment/critique a gift. I just didn't bother to put a bow on my comment to dress it up.

The three of us discussed the importance of hooking your reader at the beginning of your chapter. I reminded Mike how beautifully he ended the previous chapter--and he had! After getting his reader to turn the page from chapter 5 to chapter 6 with such a powerful ending, it was so important for him to start off strong--not with a yawn.

After I explained my reasons for my suggestion, Scoti spoke up.

"Not everybody starts reading a book from the beginning," she said. "I like to go the the Table of Contents and look over the chapter titles. I then go to the chapter that grabs my interest. So, you never know if some readers are going to start reading your book at chapter 1 or chapter 6. That's why you need each and every chapter of your book to start off strong."

I got up from my seat and walked over to Scoti and hugged her. "That's why I call you 'Brill'!"

In all the time I'd heard writers talk about hooking readers in your first page, I'd never heard them address that habit--how some people read haphazardly, skipping from this chapter to that chapter. We can't just assume having a great hook in chapter 1 will ensure our readers will stay with us until we write "The End."

Every single chapter needs to start off strong.

Here's an exercise to try: Take your current WIP. Look at the openings to each chapter. Consider these questions:
  1. Are they all equally strong?
  2. Do you open each chapter the same way?

You want to make sure you vary your openings. Don't open every chapter with a question or a compound sentence or a reference back to the previous chapter. You want a strong hook in every chapter--and you want a fresh hook in every chapter.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Act One

I've had a life-long love affair with books and a somewhat dusty journalism degree, so when I set out to pen my first novel, I was certain I knew a thing or two about writing. Turns out, I really didn't.

When I studied novels in high school, we talked about POV--as in first person (I), second person (you), and third person (he or she). Sometimes, third person was also described as the omniscient narrator. We studied theme such as racism in To Kill a Mockingbird and symbolism in The Great Gatsby, so I thought I knew novels.

I had no idea that the POV character of a scene could only know what s/he could feel or experience or think. No head-hopping around the dinner table. No author intrusion, "If only Sally would have known what was about to happen next." Novels had to begin somewhere but we never discussed inciting incidents, and conflict equaled man/man, man/nature or man/self. I knew that movies/screenplays were organized into three acts, but I had no idea that books were often segmented that way.

According to Award-winning Author Susan May Warren, in her latest writing craft book, Deep and Wide Advanced Fiction Techniques for Making Your Characters Deeper and Your Plot Wider, these are the elements that should be woven into the plot and emotional journey of Act One:

--Home World/Glimpse of Hope
--Inciting Incident/Invitation to Change
--The Big Debate...Regret of the Missed Opportunity
--Need to Change...Which results in The Noble Quest

* If you have two or more POV characters, you'll need to chart the emotional journey for each one.

One of my wip's (work-in-progress), opens with the home world of my character, Sophie, a single mother, who is worried she'll be late for work--and possibly fired--but she's delayed because she's having an argument with her teenage daughter. I try to answer basic who/what/when/where/why questions about Sophie's life.

I offer Sophie a glimpse of hope as she dumps everything out of her purse onto a beautiful table she'd restored. She's able to take worn-out discarded things and make them beautiful. In time, and with God's help, she'll restore her family and her life.

The inciting incident sets the story in motion. Think, the news that the Civil War has started during the festivities at Twelve Oaks Plantation in Gone with the Wind. The inciting incident in my story happens when Sophie's car is involved in a collision with Paul, a good-looking, sweet-talking man. Now, she's not only lost her job, but her car is totaled as well.

Need to Change.
Sophie's immediate needs are to find a job and obtain transportation. But her noble quest is to take care of her family, and not just financially. She needs to make sure her two daughters don't make the same mistakes that she made. They need to avoid becoming involved with irresponsible, charming playboys at all cost. Can she afford to stand on principles and turn down the temporary job Paul offers her?

I left out one element: The Big Debate/Regret of Missed Opportunity because I haven't made that clear. Now that I've got this checklist, I know what my first chapter still needs.

Take a look at your wip. Are all these elements woven into the first act of your novel?

~Roxanne Sherwood