How to Drive Editors Crazy

It happens from time to time in communication.  We all have the occasional typo.  But if you write professionally, you need to make sure you use the proper word.  This means PROOFREADING.  Spellcheck doesn’t know everything.  It will skip over words spelled correctly.

And if you use Autocorrect in either your word processor or your tablet, you must beware of substitutions. We ALL know that one.

Image: damnyouautocorrect.com

Behold, in two parts, I list for thee some common mistakes that make editors gnash their teeth.  Many of them come from mispronunciation of words or homophone confusion.

I can just about guarantee I made a mistake in this post and someone will point it out to me.

Part I: Getting it Wrong

Vise versa

Um…no.

I’m a vice!  No wait; I’m a vise.  I’m a tool, not a sleazy habit.  Unless you like that, baby. C’mere and give me a little squeeze.

I’m a vice! No wait; I’m a vise. I’m a tool, not a sleazy habit. Unless you like that, baby. C’mere and give me a little squeeze.

Image: Glenn McKechnie / Wikimedia Commons

Then vs than 

I might have done this already.  It bears repeating.  Then refers to a specific time.  Use than to make a comparison.

Cut and dry

It’s cut and dried.  As in, the fish is caught, cut, dried, and now we’re done.  No more work needed.

Perq

It’s perk.  I know it’s short for perquisite, but the word is spelled perk.

Bait in switch

It’s bait and switch. You dangle the bait AND then you switch it.

Stop using quotes for anything except direct quotes!

Scare quotes (or the gesture, air quotes) have come to denote irony, which means that you’re probably saying the opposite of what you actually mean.

Thanks, I’ll pass.

Thanks, I’ll pass.

Image:  submitted by Mary / unnecessaryquotes.com

Irrespective (see what I did there) of what you might have heard, irregardless is a double negative and cancels itself out.  Say regardless instead.  A manager at an old job used the incorrect form all the time, and I used to laugh at him secretly.  He was a tremendous bully and customers hated him, so I don’t feel badly about it.  You may laugh at him too.

Half-hazard

Try haphazard.

Jewlery

This isn’t even a word.  It appears more often in spoken discourse, but I’ve seen it written too.  It’s jewelry. Spelled jewellery, if you’re British or learned British English.

That vs. who

That refers to objects, groups, or animals; who refers to people.  That doesn’t technically violate grammar rules, but since people aren’t objects, who is the correct form.   Example:

“I know the culprits that trashed the cemetery, Buffy,” Giles said.

As a proper Englishman and a learned fellow, he would never say this.

“I know the culprits who trashed the cemetery, Buffy,” Giles said.

“I know the culprits who trashed the cemetery, Buffy,” Giles said.

Image:  fanpop.com

Part II: Know Your Homophones

Balling vs. bawling

You ball your girlfriend or boyfriend.  You bawl your eyes out.  If you say, “That film was so sad I was balling all over the cinema!” I’m going to look at you funny.

Cue vs. queue

Since these words have multiple meanings and some are confusing, I’m going to use them in a couple of sentences.

Cue

The pool player arrived with his cue [stick] in a special case.

An actor waits in the wings for her cue [signal].

            Tell the DJ to cue up [put next in line] a disco track.

Queue

English people love to queue [verb: line up].  They’re good at it.

Officer, the man who jumped the queue [noun: line] wore a queue [braid] down the back of his neck.    

Breaks vs. brakes 

We all got breaks when we found jobs after a long period of unemployment.

When the rabbit ran out in front of me, I hit the brakes.

Peddling vs. pedaling

You pedal a bike.

You peddle your geek junk on eBay

They see me rollin; they hatin….

Mantle vs mantel

A mantle is a cloak.  It’s also used colloquially–someone can assume the mantle of command (they put on the cloak of power).

You put things on your fireplace mantel.

Roll vs. role

One’s a verb; the other is a noun.  Bartholomew will roll the cheese down the hill.  An older actor typically plays the role of King Lear.

Hoard vs horde

This is a hoard.

Muwahahaha, all mine.

Muwahahaha, all mine.

Image:  David Rowan, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery / Wikimedia Commons

This is a horde.

375-horde

Image:  newsbiscuit.com

Pour vs. pore

Both verbs, but they do very different things.

Imma pour you a drink, man.  We’ll talk.

Deep in the library at Orthanc, Gandalf began to pore over the scrolls. 

Flare vs. flair

A flare is a Roman candle you put on the road when you’ve broken down.  Flair is about how you show your sassy self!

Palate vs. palette

The first one refers to your sense of taste, or the roof of your mouth.  The other is the thing on which Bob Ross mixes his little roll of paint.

Wean vs. ween

If you mess this one up, I will laugh like this:  HAHAHAAHAHAAHAHAAHAAHAHAA!  Because deep inside, I’m a dirty-minded sixth-grader.

To wean is to extract yourself gradually from a dependence on something.  You wean yourself off that daily latte. You wean your little babby off formula/breast milk and onto solid food.

Ween is a very old word meaning to think or expect something.  It’s also short for wiener, which is slang for your big old willy.  Willy is slang for your penis, bro.

One-Eyed Ween didn’t have quite the same ring to it.

One-Eyed Ween didn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Image:  goonies.wikia.com

Grizzly or grizzliest vs. grisly

I see this one a lot.  Grizzly as an adjective means flecked with grey, as in an old dog’s muzzle.  As a noun, it’s a species of bear.

Grisly means something that causes disgust or horror, like blood and guts.  So a grizzly grizzly can do grisly things to your sad little meat body.

Finally, one I saw just today:

Wrap vs. rap

A bad wrap–this is what you get when you let your cat assist you with the Christmas presents.  A bad rap means somebody’s dissing you.

What do you mean you don’t need my help, Linda?

What do you mean you don’t need my help, Linda?

Image:  MoreFlippyCat / YouTube

Remember, Autocorrect and Spellcheck are great tools, but neither is a substitute for editing.  If you can, ask someone else to look at your article.  Or set it aside for a while and go back to it.  Print it out and look at it on paper–your eye doesn’t see the same thing on screen in the same way.

Now go forth and edit!

My First Writer’s Conference! ShowMe Writers Masterclass

I’ve tried to write this post a couple of times in the last two weeks, but with a big rejection, the election, and losing my job a couple of days afterward, it’s been a little tense around here.

I suspect the Q Continuum may be involved.

I suspect the Q Continuum may be involved.

Image:  Rex Features / telegraph.co.uk

So, the weekend of November 5 and 6, I went to my first writing conference ever, the ShowMe Writers MasterClass.  Put on by the Columbia chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild and Mizzou Publishing, it took place at the University of Missouri.

It wasn’t Worldcon or anything, but I live within driving distance, so I went for it.  (And got lost — thank the universe I allowed extra travel time!)

The conference attendees ranged from college-aged folks all the way through senior citizens (for some reason, I noticed a LOT of seniors).  Some were published, either self or small press; many were not.  Everyone I spoke to was very nice–each of us had the same goal, to improve our work and get it published.

The dream.

The dream.

Image:  blurppy.com

About the Masterclass

Featured speakers included Chuck Sambuchino, freelance editor, the editor of Guide to Literary Agents and the blog of the same name, and author of the humor book How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack: Defend Yourself When the Lawn Warriors Strike (And They Will).  Chuck spoke on various topics including social media marketing, getting an agent, and publishing itself.

Chuck is funny, knowledgeable, and confident.  He knows how to keep a Q&A session moving.  If he doesn’t know the answer to a question, he doesn’t bullshit you; he says so.  You got it wrong?  He’ll let you know bluntly but respectfully.  He talks very fast, so you have to pay attention.  And trust me, you don’t want to miss a thing.

He’ll probably kill me for posting this, but he also moves fast, so it was hard to catch a better pic of him.

chuck-s-at-writers-masterclass

Like shooting wildlife.  BAM!

Photo: Elizabeth West

Listening to Chuck talk about traditional publishing, I realized I’m on track to get there eventually (I hope).  That was a good feeling.

Mary Buckham, a fantasy author who also has a couple of books out on writing, gave a talk and taught some craft sessions on setting and hooks.  She is hilarious and cool and I loved her.  I bought her book A Writer’s Guide to Active Setting: How to Enhance Your Fiction with More Descriptive, Dynamic Settings.  I’m considering taking Tunerville’s characters a little bit out of their time and space.   Judging by all the great information she presented in that session, I felt it would be a worthwhile investment.   I haven’t read any of her fiction.  This must be remedied ASAP.

Mary is also a delightful person and she loves helping other writers. She peppered her talks and lessons with a sharp humor; we laughed as much as we learned.

I know she looks serious here, but trust me.

I know she looks serious here, but trust me.

Photo:  Elizabeth West

Recently, an agent I queried re Tunerville requested a full manuscript and sadly, they rejected it.  BUT–I received a critique, which is the gold standard of rejections.  Agents have so much to read they rarely bother to tell you why you were rejected, but this one was very specific regarding what worked and what didn’t.  It was so nice and kind that I sent a thank-you email.

Mary told me that if I’m getting those kinds of rejections, I’m very close to publication.  I hope she’s right; I don’t want to give up on Tunerville just yet.  It pains me to move on from a book when I have expansive plans for sequels, etc.

However, we writers know it’s best to keep working.  When that call comes, the question will arise:  “What else are you working on?” And we need to have an answer ready!

Oh, a little of this, a little of that…

Oh, a little of this, a little of that…

Image:  mhpbooks.com

The conference broke writers into tracks inspired by famous Missouri writers:

  • Mark Twain (fiction)
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder (creative non-fiction)
  • Maya Angelou (poetry)
  • Tennessee Williams (play/screenplay writing)

Each track had sessions pertaining to marketing, craft, and mentoring so we got the most relevant information for our categories.  As much as it pained me to miss the screenwriting stuff (a thing in which I have interest), limited time and concurrent scheduling kept me from it.

I also would have liked to attend the visual storytelling session, led by presenter Cole Closser, a Will Eisner Comic Industry Award nominee whose art has a really cool 1940s vintage vibe.  Because a story is a story–but again, I had to pick between him and something else.  Eeny meeny miney mo.

Ain't nobody catching ME by the toe.

Ain’t nobody catching ME by the toe.

Image:  Brian Gratwicke / Wikimedia Commons

The mentoring sessions with some of their featured experts were set up as either one-on-one, which cost extra, or in small groups of the first six people to arrive.  During the character building session, which comprised an analysis of character elements in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, I think I hit on ways to fix Tunerville.  That was probably one of the most valuable bits of the conference for me.  Thanks to Gordon Sauer for lending his expertise.

You can also use these gatherings to network with other writers or even agents.  ShowMe Writers Masterclass also offered a pitchfest, which is an activity where writers can actually spend a few minutes with a real, live agent and tell him/her about their book (pitching it–this is like a mini-query, but in person).  See the link for more information.

This also cost extra, and none of the featured agents represented my work, so I skipped it.  But I did get to chat a bit with one of them at their table and took the agency’s business card, because who knows?

Things I Learned from the Masterclass

Aside from the craft and marketing stuff.

  1. You should know your preferred category of writing before you go. You should really know your category anyway.
  1. The website said to dress with comfort in mind, but don’t be a slob. If you’re meeting with an agent during a pitchfest, you’ll need to convey a professional image–no ratty shirts and holey jeans.  You will cover some ground during these things, so WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES.
  1. Take notes! Lots of them!  Don’t rely on your memory.  Our programs had a space for this–I used the handouts and a notebook.  I intended to use my computer, but lugging it around the first day sucked, so I just wrote them.
  1. Register early, as you can often get a discount on lodging through the conference. I had to wait to book a hotel and ended up at Howard Johnson’s, which wasn’t too bad and economical.
  1. Don’t be afraid to engage with presenters and instructors. Talk to them at their tables.  Give them some love!  Ask lots of questions–your purpose here is to learn as much as you can.

I had a great weekend, despite the driving.  Bonus; a chat room friend lives close by, so we got together for dinner and went to see Doctor Strange with her friends and her husband (it was awesome! Go see it!).

If you’ve never attended a event like this, I highly recommend it.  Google writing conferences in your area; you’re bound to find some.  Get out of your cave and mix and mingle.

The Writing Process, or How I Bang My Head Against the Wall and Shake Out a Book

A friend asked me recently if my novel-writing process differed from what it was before, now that I’ve had more experience putting a book together.  My answer was yes and no.

Ambiguity.  I has it. 

Ambiguity.  I has it.

Image:  knowyourmeme.com

Every writer has a different method.  There is no one way to crank out a book.  Some people approach it in a straightforward manner like they’re on a mission, and others meander about like they have no idea where they’re going.  I can’t speak for anyone but me, so today I’ll attempt to answer my friend’s question in a bit more depth.

Yes, but it depends on the book

I wrote Rose’s Hostage in a mostly linear fashion, from the beginning to the end.  The fanfic that inspired it was written the same way.

Tunerville, on the other hand, not so much.  I started with a rough idea of plot and wrote scenes out of sequence as I went, much the way a movie is filmed.  If my mind was on a certain section of the book, that’s the one I worked on.  Then at the end, I edited it together and smoothed out the transitions.

Secret Book is definitely out of sequence.  I have a complete outline.  I also have two main protagonists, who have separate lives before they meet.  I’ve done a lot of Protagonist 2, and now I’m working on Protagonist 1 and some of the scenes they appear in together.

A clue?  Sorry, this is all you’re getting.  Muwahaha!

A clue?  Sorry, this is all you’re getting.  Muwahaha!

Actually, their lines should converge slightly before you get to the heart, but I screwed up and I don’t feel like drawing it again.  And I ended up writing an ending scene before I was ready, to discharge some of the bruises I had when the Universe socked me right in the feels (didn’t work, BTW).

Yes, and it’s more efficient

I mentioned the outline.  Some writers avoid these, because they feel an outline locks them into a set path for the book.  That makes sense.  But I see it as a fluid thing, something I can change as I go, that keeps me on track.  The only book you can’t edit is the one that is printed and on the shelf.  And since I haven’t published any of them yet, anything goes!

It took me about six months to write Rose’s Hostage, but that was mostly because I was learning how to tie the story together as I went.  It took another five to edit it into a cohesive narrative, again thanks to the learning curve.

Conversely, I finished the first draft of Tunerville using NaNoWriMo 2012 in a month, not counting the bits I already had.

No, because I still think it through in the same way

Sometimes it starts with a plot, and sometimes it starts with a concept.

  • Rose’s Hostage: plot (bank robber takes hostage and keeps her; serial killer turns vigilante to find them)
  • Tunerville: concept  (man invents remote control that tunes up ghosts)
  • Secret Book: title (no really, I had the title first and nothing else)

No matter what I start with, I make notes.  Lots and lots of brainstorming notes.  Pages of them.  Secret Book started with the title, and later I attached a different idea to it.  Then even later, I thought of something else that married well with the original idea, and off we went.

Notes happen throughout the writing process, too.  I make character lists, notes on settings (this is especially true for Rose’s Hostage because I want to make Detectives Pierce and Rossberger series characters if I can), and anything else I might think of.

Especially troublesome when you think of it at nearly four a.m.

Especially troublesome when you think of it at nearly four a.m.

Image:  sleepcouncil.org.uk

No, because no matter what the preliminaries are, I still have to sit down and write it

I use music geared toward the mood of the book to help me write.  Only instrumental—no songs, because then I’m tempted to sing along, and I can’t concentrate when the music has lyrics.  But whether I’m listening to Ludovico Einaudi (Secret Book), Hans Zimmer (Tunerville and Rose’s Hostage), or Beethoven (because he’s awesome), my butt still has to be in that chair and my fingers must be engaged with the keyboard.

Incidentally, it is Beethoven’s 244th  birthday today.  Happy birthday!

Incidentally, it is Beethoven’s 244th  birthday today.  Happy birthday!

Image:  Joseph Karl Stieler (1820) / Wikipedia.com

There is no other way to write a book.  Chuck Wendig in his book 500 Ways to Tell a Better Story points out that while the old saw states that everybody has a novel in them, lucky for us writers, most of them can’t be arsed to drag it out.  (I’ve paraphrased a bit there.)  You simply cannot do it without actually doing it.

One thing my friend hit on without actually saying it is this:  every time I write something, I learn something.  I would add that every time I read something, I learn also.  From plowing through a self-published bag of rat droppings and seeing mistakes I shouldn’t make, to consuming the exquisitely rendered prose of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Yearling, every book contains a lesson for the writer.

I can only hope that someday mine will hold value for someone else, but that won’t happen if I don’t actually do the work.  So I’m doing it.

If you do not get this book and read it immediately, I will disown you.

If you do not get this book and read it immediately, I will disown you.

 Image:  Wikipedia.com

Vintage Stuff in Secret Book and NaNoWriMo2014 – The End but not the Finish

Many think of period literature as nineteenth-century or earlier, but writing something set within living memory is even more fraught with danger.  If I get it wrong, there will be no shortage of people eager to point it out.  Below, in no particular order, are some of the things I have to consider in writing a book set in the 1960s and 1970s (with excursions into the 1950s).

Gadgets.  It was harder for people to do things back then without the technology we have today.  Watch some old television shows and notice plot points that would never work now that everyone has a smartphone.

THEN:

Someone gets hopelessly lost (usually in the desert because the show was shot near Los Angeles), and they either die or there is a frantic search to find them before it’s too late.

NOW:

GPS, baby.  Not only can you use it to find your way home, you can track people with it too.  I had to remember this for Rose’s Hostage and had the bank robber ditch Libby’s phone so the cops couldn’t track her.

You can run, but you can’t hide. 

You can run, but you can’t hide.

Image:  cellphones.lovetoknow.com

THEN:

A character has to find a pay phone to call someone and warn them of danger.  They can’t find one, so all hell breaks loose.

NOW:

Everyone has a cell, and this would only work if they were in the damn woods or locked in a stone basement with no signal.

The world was introduced to a lot of new technologies in the mid to late twentieth century.   What they used at the time was considered current to them.  Their reactions to a new gadget, one we might laugh at, would be pretty much the same as ours.

It’s the latest thing!  We should get one for the office!

It’s the latest thing!  We should get one for the office!

Image:  dailymail.co.uk

Slang.  British and American slang at the time is devilishly hard to replicate.  Though the most obvious catchphrases are easy to suss out, I keep running into things that I know aren’t right but I haven’t figured out yet.

Since the only thing I can remember from the 1960s is the moon landing and the 1970s were all kid stuff for me, I shall have to pick the brains of older relatives and friends who weren’t so square (see, there’s one) back in the day.   In a first draft, I get round this by typing NNNNN in place of something or CHECK so I can go back and find it again.

Details of daily life.  I didn’t grow up in Britain, so checking this part will require a lot of googling and perhaps some interviewing.  I did get some post-war reminiscences from some of the very nice English people who were staying at my B&B in Cardiff, and yes, those are going in the book.

Even though I was a kid, I do remember quite a bit from the 1970s in America.  I grew up in a middle-class home, and our experience was pretty typical.  I remember certain food products, full-service gas stations, the energy crisis, etc.

Clothing.  I already did some research for this in London when I visited the Fabric and Textile Museum on Bermondsey Road.  I remember people wore a lot of knitwear in the 1970s.  I’ve still had to do some googling.   It slipped my mind how butt-ugly some of the clothes were back then.

Did we actually WEAR this? 

Did we actually WEAR this?

Image:  Buzzfeed.com

Décor.  Dear sweet Jesus on a hotdog bun.

Enough said.

Enough said.

Image:  redletterbelievers.com

Politics and world events.  While most of Secret Book isn’t concerned with these things, it lends more authenticity to have people mention them.  The Vietnam War was a hot-button topic, for example.  And American Character in particular would remember the Kennedy assassination in 1963; my real-life friends who are old enough to recall it still talk about it on November 22.

You  might wonder why I chose the 1970s as the present-day setting for the book, but all I can tell you right now is that I have two main reasons:

  • I’m trying to avoid the internet.
  • The decade was very avant-garde, and it was all about being yourself and what you are, the Me Decade, etc.  This will make sense when I can talk more about it.

People still wrote letters in the 1960s and 1970s, and you could smoke on airplanes.  So, writing in a different period takes a lot of thinking and reconsidering.  It’s like time travel, only without the TARDIS.

———-

NaNoWriMo News

I have 45,059 words written on Secret Book.  It will definitely hit the 50K mark before NaNoWriMo ends, but I am nowhere near finished.  That’s okay; the goal was to get my ass in gear on this first draft, and it’s working, for the most part.

This is a thing today.

This is a thing today.

I decided to go whole hog and put Brit Character’s POV scenes in UK English, spellings and all, so I changed the Word language settings for those bits.  It’s fun to deliberately type in US English and watch the program (programme!) change it.  So far I’ve got very few errors, though I keep forgetting the u in flavour, colour, parlour, honour, and the like.  Also, the word woollies is in the UK English spellchecker and that amused me to no end.  (Yes, the book does have that word in it.)

 I find it highly annoying that the pronunciation link says the word in an American accent. 

I find it highly annoying that the pronunciation link says the word in an American accent.

 Screen capture:  Google

I still have a lot to do on American Character (okay, most of her stuff, actually).  So I’ll be writing on this for a while.  Then I have more research to do, so I can authenticate everything and fill it out a little more.  My word count will be huge, but that’s what editing is for.

Like this. 

Like this.

Image:  mhpbooks.com

So, back to work.

Beginning and Advice from a Master

I’ve begun revising some old work that will fit into the Rose’s Hostage sequel.  It’s painful to see how labored and idiotic it was.  The actual scenes themselves aren’t bad, and what I already did will save me a ton of research.  It’s the writing itself that makes me cringe.

Right now, I’m mostly changing names and tweaking references.  I’ll go back and excise all the purple prose when I fit it in.

I’m also starting to think about the other novel–in fact, I think more about it than I do about this one, sometimes.  I like to make playlists for writing sessions that are specific to each work.  With this one, I went to my dusty record collection and found an old orchestral thing I used to use as background music when I played restaurant as a child.  It’s perfect.  AND IT WAS ON AMAZON.

God, I love the internet. 

God, I love the internet.

 Image:  amazon.com

Man, my parents had so many crazy old records.  We grew up listening to stuff from the 1950s and 1960s, everything from “La Bamba” to Mancini.  I credit them for sparking my obsession with soundtrack music.  When you’re sitting there coloring listening to Bernstein’s The Ten Commandments and Morricone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, how can you not love it?

Speaking of the ‘rents, they celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary on Saturday, July 19 (which was also Benedict Cumberbatch’s birthday.  Happy birthday!).

Congratulations, Mom and Dad!  I’d post an awesome picture, but I want to stay alive a little longer.

While I go attempt to organize myself for the evening, I’d like you to take a look at this Business Insider article.  It distills some great advice from Stephen King from his memoir/advice tome, On Writing.  Every author should have this book on his/her shelf.

You can buy it here.

How to Drive Yourself Insane

Hope everyone in the US had a safe and fun Fourth of July.  Mine was safe, though dull.  As I had nothing to do, I sat on the couch all day sipping tea and pretending I was British and didn’t care.  I didn’t even get in the shower until three in the afternoon.  It was kind of nice, actually.

Except I have been going INSANE.

I’ve gone through all my materials for the Rose’s Hostage sequel–working title An Unsettling Calm (meh)–and the really diabolical plot I wanted to use is falling by the wayside.  I had abandoned the original plot as too sensational, but I reread the beginning and it was GOOD.

I’m going back to it.  It’s like returning to an old lover, one you didn’t date long but who thrilled you for a while anyway, and who still makes your pulse race when you think of him.

Reunions are sweet.  Unless he stole your purse last time. 

Reunions are sweet.  Unless he stole your purse the last time.

 Image:  nuttakit/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ll save the diabolical thing for Book Three of the Detective Pierce Chronicles.  I couldn’t tie the villain in with the subplot, no matter how I tried, but Original Plot and I still have some connecting we can do.

The mini-NaNoWriMo may not be a thing, since I wanted to start it on the first of the month and I didn’t get to it (my fault entirely—I’ve been taken up with stupid mental crap).  But I decided I would attempt to write two things at once.  Horrors!

The other book I can’t tell you about at all right now.  But I will be sporadically working on it, with the bulk of the effort going toward Pierce Book Two.  I should be able to get a lot done in the next two-and-a-half months.

Here are some bona fide ways to drive yourself insane and guarantee that you can’t get a project started.

Ambitiously plan to write two books at once when you usually only do one

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Put research ahead of the actual writing

This is a bad one.  I’m guilty of this.  I can get so caught up in research that I actually do nothing toward whatever I’m working on.  Example:  I have yet to complete one single dollhouse or room box, but I now have an extensive knowledge of Victorian household gadgetry.

Watch too much TV

Or Netflix.  My shows aren’t on right now (The Walking Dead, Once Upon a Time, Doctor Who), but that doesn’t stop me from consuming every British comedy series my little red online friend has to offer (Little Britain!).  It’s so tempting to schlep home tired from my day job, do a workout, and then go straight to the My List page.  Bad writer.  Bad.

I laughed so hard at this show I almost coughed up a lung. 

I laughed so hard at this show I almost coughed up a lung.

Image:  mirror.co.uk

Read too much crap on the internet

Oh, Buzzfeed.  You are such a frenemy.  I love your quizzes, your silly GIF posts, your hacks, and how your UK edition constantly shoves more cool London stuff that I will not possibly have time to do right in my face.

I know there are apps or plugins that block you from the internet so that you can work, but I’m afraid if I try one that I’ll tear a hole in my computer trying to get past it.

Plan a vacation

My UK holiday is almost completely set up, except for train tickets to Cardiff (too early to book yet) and a possible quick jaunt up to Loch Ness in the beautiful West Highlands of Scotland via sleeper train (a bucket list item).  Once that is squared away, I can just STOP PLANNING AND GET TO WORK ALREADY.

Or, I could just trust the thetrainline.com email reminders and STOP PLANNING AND GET TO WORK ALREADY.

You did promise me, you know.

You did promise me, you know.

Image:  imageevent.com       

 Yes, sir, I know.

Think way too much about things that in real life will probably not happen but are not impossible because the world is a magical place and the Universe really needs to reconsider and fork it over anyway

The less said about that, the better.

———–

In the coming weeks, I will blog to you as I write, so you can vicariously experience the madness that is me trying to do more than one thing at a time.  In the words of the immortal Bette Davis:

 

Tunerville Update and Principles of Design

Just a quick dash in to let you know that my friend and first reader Jim Allder finished with his reading of Tunerville.  He liked it!

He said it reminded him of a cross between Michael Crichton and Bruce Joel Rubin (author of the screenplay for Ghost; probably because there are ghosts in it).  High praise indeed.  To be compared to the great Crichton made me squee.

Rest in peace, sir.  You left us too soon.

Rest in peace, sir. You left us too soon.

Image:  michaelcrichton.net

Next, I will incorporate his suggestions (one was something I was thinking about doing anyway, which tells me it was on track) and then print it out for its first hard copy edit.  D’aww!

Although that means I have to haul it around in a binder for a few days.  Ick.  Also I better buy some paper.  And revisit my copymarks, most of which I’ve forgotten by now.  I still have my study sheet.

That’s all I have time for right now, since I’m drowning in homework (the four principles of design are:  Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity.  Acronym:  C.R.A.P.  Tee hee!).  But I’ll be back soon, when I get my edit finished, and I might even post a wee bit of text.

‘Til next time, people.  Keep your feet warm.

Writing the Novel Synopsis, or I’m Supposed to Tell You How it Ends!?

UPDATE:

I got my little car back!  And he’s all well!  He looks as if nothing even happened!

He’s gone from this:

5-28-13 Oliver accident

Ouch.

To this:

  Bow-chicka-wow-wow.

Bow-chicka-wow-wow.

Today I did this to him:

Yes, he’s a boy and yes, he likes purple flowers.  Also, I control him.  Muwahaha!

Yes, he’s a boy and yes, he likes purple flowers. Also, I control him. Muwahaha!

Photographs by Elizabeth West

In other news, I have completed another pass through Tunerville, completed a chapter-by-chapter outline, and now I’ve started working on the synopses.   Why am I using the plural?  And what is a synopsis, anyway?

Simply put, it’s a summary of your novel.  Agents and publishers ask for them in manuscript submissions and sometimes in query guidelines.  They tend to ask for something short, in my experience, between one and three pages.  And yes, you have to tell them how it ends.

One page?! How the hell can I summarize my whole novel on only one page?

One page?! How the hell can I summarize my whole novel on only one page?

 Image:  David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Relax, grasshopper; you can do it.  Start by thinking about your story.  What is it about?  Who are the main characters? What happens in the story?  You don’t need huge amounts of detail; just the gist of it will do.

The synopsis should be written in third person, present tense, no matter how your book is written.  Below, I’ve posted the first two paragraphs from the Rose’s Hostage one I sent to Brian.

Bored office worker LIBBY ANN MARSHALL never dreamed a man like JOSHUA ROSE would come into her life.  He is confident, sexy, and adventurous.  He is also the Black Bandit, a former gang member and armed bank robber in the (fictional) city of Ralston, IL who, one hot July day, kidnaps her during a heist. 

The crime inflames harried city police detective STEPHEN PIERCE and the FBI.  Pierce must divide his energy with another major case, prostitute killer JOHN COOK JR., known only as The Motel Shooter.  Cook is furious with Joshua for stealing all his press and launches his own search for the Bandit.  

Capitalize the names of the characters the first time you write them.  (I left out ages in parentheses because I couldn’t fit the whole thing on one page.)

For Rose’s Hostage, I have one, two, four, and seven-page synopses.  I’ve sent the one and two-page ones out.  One-pagers are probably the one you’ll use the most, so work really hard on those.

In addition to this, you should also have an elevator pitch—a short, two or three-sentence summary, sans ending—worked up and memorized, in case anyone asks you what your book is about.

 

Speaking of Rose’s Hostage, I haven’t received my critique from Brian Keene yet.  He should be finished soon.  Either he was too busy to get to it until today, was waiting for someone to get back to him on it, or it stunk so bad he has to practically rewrite it.  I can just imagine…”Cut this…this sucks…good God, what did you do here…auuughgg!”

  Dolly, in despair over bad reviews of her torrid Ken-Barbie-G.I. Joe love triangle romantic thriller, ended up on the street.


Dolly, in despair over bad reviews of her torrid Ken-Barbie-G.I. Joe love triangle romantic thriller, ended up on the street.

Image:  Theeradech Sanin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You know I have more work to do on Tunerville, so why am I writing synopses now?  Well, the damn things are helpful to me.  Doing a huge outline—going through every chapter and summarizing it—gives me little bits I can use in my synopses.  It also helps me see where I need to add stuff, and I’ve already used the outline to split a very long chapter.

The synopses will change as the rewrites progress.  I’ll do the short one, so I don’t have much to edit if I move things around.  When I’m ready to submit, I won’t have to cobble one together at the last minute.

If you are finished with your book and you need some advice on writing synopses, check out the following links to start.

Chuck Sambuchino (Guide to Literary Agents editor, writer, and columnist) gives five tips for writing a synopsis.

http://writerunboxed.com/2012/02/27/untitled-2-27/

Robert J. Sawyer, award-winning science fiction writer, shares his outlines and synopses with us on his website (please, Robert, hire someone to update it!).

http://www.sfwriter.com/ouindex.htm

Anne Mini’s blog, Author! Author! is a dense read, but worth it.  I learned so much here it’s not even funny.  Check out her Synopsispalooza series of posts.

http://www.annemini.com/

 

Places in Your Writing

UPDATE:  I FINALLY GOT A JOB!

Yep, and it’s writing/editing related!  I’ll be proofing reports for a local company, along with various administrative duties.  I’m pretty excited about it.  It seems like a very cool place to work.

Sorry for the long delay in posting.  I had to rest my brain after NaNoWriMo.  The space between when I finish and when I can stand to even look at NewBook has been larger than it was for Rose’s Hostage.

Instead, I’ve been reading Robert J. Sawyer, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and Brian Keene, and absorbing lessons on characterization, chapter structure, and speculative / thriller elements.

There’s a lot to do, and I promised I would share that process with you.  I’ll start with these remarks about setting.

Whether your story takes place in a village, a city or on another planet, your setting has its own identity that may or may not be wrapped up in that of your protagonist.  The right name and some attention to its population, geography and infrastructure provide valuable backstory that will give your place depth and realism, even if you don’t use all the material.

The sounds of the words can tell you something about your setting.   Consider J.R.R. Tolkien‘s hobbits, who live in Hobbiton, the Shire.  Tolkien’s place names are representative of the folks living in them. Shire sounds pastoral, peaceful, like the hobbits themselves.

Looks like it, too.  No wonder Gandalf loved it here.

Looks like it, too. No wonder Gandalf loved it here.

Image:  filmhash.com

Gondor sounds mighty, as its warrior Boromir was before the Ring tragically unmasked his failings.  And Mordor—the name alone is enough to conjure writhing black spirits in one’s mind.

Batman’s stomping grounds are based on New York, a city that can be dark and looming, although Chris Nolan’s movies are filmed in Chicago.  Gotham, which was a nickname for the Big Apple long before Batman came to be, sounds metropolitan but also gothic in a broody way.  Considering Batman’s tragic origin, it fits.  Metropolis (hello, Captain Obvious) is the bustling city where Superman hangs out.

Sometimes writers use real places in their work, especially ones with which they are very familiar.  Tons of movies and books are set in New York City. .  In Betty Smith’s classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the borough itself is as much a character as the protagonist.

I prefer to make up settings.  Unless I know a place very, very well, I’m liable to get it wrong.  If one of my books happened in Los Angeles, I would have to either do a great deal of research (which sucks – I set something in Spain once and know NOTHING about it) or travel there to get it right (Ha! Not likely with my bank account!).

Rose’s Hostage is set in a fictional city in Illinois called Ralston.  Yes, like the cereal.  To me, it sounded Midwestern, solid, slightly industrial.  I picture a drive into it as close to entering St. Louis–not as factory-infested as Joliet, with rural satellite communities like my small city.   To make it interesting and keep my detective busy, I added:

  • A self-contained rough area downtown, like the Narrows in Gotham City, with lots and lots of bars and hookers.
  • Federal law enforcement and an entrenched Mafia presence.
  • Motorcycle gangs.  Both they and the Mafia are augmented by a reasonable proximity to Chicago, which I can mine for all sorts of criminal goodies.
  • Lots of public areas—parks, a museum, etc. where disaster-ish stuff could happen.

Thinking about where Ralston is, who lives there and what kind of activity they would engage in made a difference in all sorts of details.  The population is mostly descended from Western European immigrants, which affects what names I choose for people.  All this comes together in a flavor for the area.

Most of the places in NewBook are grounded in reality.  Some are speculative.  There are several places where the story happens:

  • Martinsburg (working title)—a nice, middle-sized city, nothing huge, smaller than Ralston, but not rural.  It’s home to a prestigious university that has spawned a pretty good scientific community, central to some elements of the story.
  • A couple of other dimensions.  No, really.
  • Heaven.  Yep, you heard me.
  • Brief visits to Los Angeles and New York.

WTF??  What is this story about, anyway?

You'll find out, youngling.  You'll find out.

You’ll find out, youngling. You’ll find out.

Image:  David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are larger social ramifications to the protagonist’s actions, but I simply could not expand the scope of my settings and still manage the story.   So I’m condensing the majority of it down to Martinsburg.  I’m not sharing just yet because so many things still need work that what I say now may be completely different in a month or two.

Keep an eye out for April’s Blogging from A-Z Challenge.  I’m planning yet again to participate, with more enticing tidbits about how my book is coming together.

NewBook’s settings are still mostly in my head.  It seems kind of back-assward to write them down now, but this book has not followed my usual process, so don’t take it as gospel on how to work.   For most of us, it’s worthwhile to take time and plot your setting before you put your characters there.

 

National Novel Writing Month – or, That Crazy Writer’s Locked Herself in the Closet Again

Next month is November and the National Novel Writing Month spectacular, aka NaNoWriMo.  Yes, writers are lazy; why type all that shit when we don’t have to?

What is NaNoWriMo?  It’s this crazy idea that in thirty days, you can bang out a 50,000-word novel.  It’s a chance to take that idea swimming around in your head and birth it out into reality.  Not polished perfection, mind you—that takes a much longer commitment.  Since many writers suffer from butt-in-chair deficiency, NaNoWriMo is designed to force you to sit still and write.

To do this, you can formally sign up for the process at the NaNoWriMo site and participate in the contest.  Or you can do it on your own, whatever.   The site has forums, advice, word counters, and much more.

I hate trying to crap out first drafts.  HATE HATE HATE HATE.  I’m considering doing NaNoWriMo informally this year, just to finish something.

I would like to get some voice recognition software and just talk the damn thing out, like “Then Dr. Equate stabs the zombie four times—no, three—and his evil diseased brain cocktail is about to fall into the water supply!  Yeah!  And super spy Dirk Fabulous shows up and forces him to drink it!”  Same process; no hand cramps. I can clean it up later.

The awesomeness of this would be, well, awesome.

Image:  Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The current WIP is stalled, but I think I finally figured out something that was borking my story.  By borking, I mean it threw up a giant roadblock that effectively killed forward progression.  This has nothing to do with the fact that my life imploded, by the way; it was a glitch in the plot.

If you want to do this, I suggest you take these next couple of weeks to prepare, if you haven’t already.

Do an outline

I get a rough concept of a book and when I’ve thought it out a bit, I write a synopsis and then break it down into scenes.  Later, I use it to organize chapters.  Since I tend to skip around when I write, the outline keeps me on track.

Get your life in order

My writer buddy James Allder recommended that I make sure I’m not interrupted in any way during my NNWM writing time.  He’s got a good point.  A break in concentration can mean death to a writing session.  Shouldn’t be hard, considering I have no life right now.

If you have one, make sure you get extra crap out of the way so you can sit down at the same time every day and work.

Do a few practice sessions

You may already have a set time you write every day.  If so, good for you.

Here’s your trophy, you self-righteous bastard.

Image:  Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you don’t, I would suggest a practice run.  Take a few days and try it out.  It doesn’t matter if you’re only writing gibberish, just so you get the feel of actually working during that interval.  Mind you, it’s against the rules to work on your NNWM project before the start date.

Remember it’s only a tool

You are not going to produce a complete book in one month.  Let me repeat that, because it’s important:  you are not going to produce a complete book in one frigging month. 

A complete book, ready for publishing, will require at least another few months of editing, rewriting, polishing, submission to first/second/third readers, more editing, more polishing, etc. before you can even think about querying.

Your goal is to finish something, not write a goddamn bestseller.   Use it to get your butt in the chair.  When the month is over, it’s up to you to keep it there.

NaNoWriMo is only a tool.  Its purpose:  to make you WRITE.  In a burst of uncensored, freewriting word diarrhea.   Your brain will open the creativity floodgates and not even the Brain-o-pectate will stop it.  At the end, you will have the bones of a book.

If I do NaNoWriMo—and I think I will—I’ll create a separate category on this blog where I can update my progress and tears.  You may live through the actual process of writing (well, finishing, technically) a book along with me.

Lock and load.

Image:  vudhikrai / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

———

Helpful links:

25 Things You Should Know about NaNoWriMo”  by Chuck Wendig

Chuck is no-holds barred.   If you don’t like me saying goddamn and shit, you’ll hate him.  But he knows what he’s talking about, goddamn it.

Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo” by Steve Shepard

Some decent tips, even if it’s kind of an ad for the Storyist software.  I prefer PageFour myself.  Plain old Word is fine; you don’t have to buy anything to do NNWM.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Novel_Writing_Month

History, rules, and more.