Monday, October 31, 2011

New agent alert: Brooks Sherman

Brooks Sherman is now an associate agent at FinePrint Literary Management. He is actively seeking a range of both fiction and nonfiction projects. You can find him on Twitter at @byobrooks. Details here.

Happy Halloween fellow writers

The scene outside my door on Saturday. I hope you have a fabulous Halloween. Have fun and be safe.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Writing scenes with Tom Huang

Today I sat in on a webinar with Tom Huang, Assistant Managing Editor for Sunday and Enterprise at The Dallas Morning News and Ethics and Diversity Fellow at The Poynter Institute.

Tom talked about reporting and writing scenes. While the focus of this seminar was non-fiction, I think many of my fiction writer friends will find what he had to say helpful.

Here are some bullet points.

·    Scenes are the building blocks of dramatic storytelling
·    A story is a string of pearls, think of it as a sequence of dramatic scenes
·    Scenes involve strong characters, action and dialogue
·    Think about turning points, moments of discovery. Bring protagonist face to face with a dilemma. Know what the complication or main obstacle is
·    Scenes can help develop a story’s larger theme
·    Scenes reveal aspects of a protagonist’s character (ie, motives)
·    Scenes come to life with details that transport us into the stories. Writers use sights, sounds, smells, tastes to bring people into this world.
·    Show don’t tell
·    Evoke emotions, stir memories
·    Using details in a very spare way allows reader to add some of their own experiences
·    Action is comprised of strong verbs and active voice
·    What we gain from the scene is not information but experience
·    Scenes help readers feel what it might have been like to be in that situation

Elements of a scene
·    Characters
·    Actions
·    Dialogue
·    Sense of place
·    Details
·    Emotion
·    A range of views, from wide angle to close-up

·    People want to read about people. They want to hear their voices, see them, etc. Ask yourself if your characters grab the reader in some way.
·   Keep narrative “camera” on your main character for most of the story

·   Don’t pack the story or scene with too many characters
·   Show protagonist’s physical details, mannerisms, movement, let reader  “hear” protagonist’s voice

·    Wants and needs of character drive plot forward
·    Use strong verbs
·    Use active voice
·    Start scene in middle of the action
·    Pay attention to how characters move and interact

·    Dialogue advances narrative while quotes delay it. When you read a quote, you step out of the narrative flow. Dialogue happens within the narrative flow.

Sense of place
·    Story needs to have a geographical heart
·    You want to leave a sense of place, not just a laundry list of details
·    Allow time to roam around a place to get to know it better
·    Research history of the place
·    One suggestion if reporting from a place is to stay in a locally owned place (think bed and breakfast) as opposed to a national chain.

·    Be highly selective
·    Use details that reveal something important about your character or moves the plot forward. Also, details that are important to the larger theme
·    Spare details stimulates memories
·    Show don’t tell
·    Use spare, simple language
·    Reveal person’s emotions through their action

How to select which scenes to include
·    Which scenes have the most dramatic potential
·    Watch for turning points (ie. successes, failures, etc.)
·    Start with a scene that has main character in it
·    Good scene causes subsequent scene to occur

Monday, October 24, 2011

Where's the man going?

I’m constantly wondering about everything. For example, if I see a plane in the sky, I wonder where it’s headed. I wonder who’s inside the plane. Then I start to pick a destination and form images of the passengers based on where I’ve decided the plane is going and the time of year.

For example, if I decide that the plane’s headed for Disney World and it’s summer, I’ll usually picture the plane packed with moms and dads and kids wearing shorts and sneakers.

Are you like this? Sometimes it drives me insane because I can’t help wondering and thinking and that leads to creating, which can become extremely detailed and that takes time.

The other day, I was driving home from the store. I saw a man with a backpack and a wooden walking stick trudging along the side of the road. So where do you think he was headed? What was he doing? Give me your most creative answer. And let your imagination run wild. Think outside the box.

Quote of the day

"I'm often asked if writing classes are any help, and my immediate and enthusiastic answer is always, Yes! Writing classes are wonderful for the writers who teach them and can't make ends meet without that supplementary income. They are also good places for unattached people to meet, talk about books and movies, have a few drinks and possibly hook up. But teach you to write? No. A writing class will not teach you to write." --Stephen King
What a set-up, eh? But what a punch he delivers.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Story ideas fighting to be first

Three new ideas for middle-grade books popped into my head. I like them all. When this happens, how do you decide which idea to pursue? Or, do you pursue each, perhaps a chapter or so, and see which one gets legs? Or, do you outline each to see which one feels right?

We've talked before about outlining, and I generally don't do it. My latest YA was different. Because of its nature, I absolutely had to outline to keep track of everything. But generally I know the beginning, know the ending and some of the plot points along the way. The story goes where the characters lead me. So outlining all three ideas wouldn't work for me.

How do you handle this situation? So far, my ideas are jotted down on scrap paper. I've been thinking about all three and no one in particular seems to have an advantage. Thoughts? 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Quote of the day

“If we’re growing, we’re always going to be out of our comfort zone.” – John Maxwell

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Creating beautiful trees

Some days I question whether I’m doing what I’m meant to do. Do you ever feel like this? So sure of what you’re doing one day and not so much the next? I’d say that I’m a pretty confident person, but still.

I’m grateful for the gift God has given me – to be able to create beautiful trees with just a seed of an idea. But even after the tree is standing tall, it is open to the fickleness of the world. Maybe it’s not good enough or strong enough. Heck, maybe I’m the only person who loves it. But, dang it, I can’t give up on my tree. On any of my trees. I must keep believing, keep pushing forward. I must battle the wind and sleet and freezing rain that threatens my resolve.

So today at church, I asked God to give me strength and patience. To guide and direct me. That if writing novels is what I’m meant to do, to send me a sign. I believe in myself. I know that my agent believes in me. And I pray that God believes in me, that I’m using His gift in the way He wants me to.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Google Doodle honors Gumby creator

I grew up watching Gumby and Pokey. I loved those guys! So it was totally awesome to see today's animated Google Doodle that honors Arthur “Art” Clokey, who created these characters. Art was a pioneer of stop motion clay animation. He was born on Oct. 12, 1921.

Besides Gumby and Pokey, there were the Blockheads, who were troublemakers; Nopey, Gumby's dog; Gumba, Gumby's mom; Gumbo, Gumby's dad; Prickle, a yellow dinosaur; and others.

I wish I still had my bendable Gumby and Pokey figures. (Sigh)

For more info about Gumby and gang, check out Gumby World.  Also, on Wikipedia.

Which is your fave Art Clokey character?

Some other cool Google Doodles
Happy Birthday Google
Jim Henson
Albert Szent-Györgyi
Freddie Mercury
Jorge Luis Borges
Lucille Ball 100th birthday
Gregor Mendel
Summer Soltice
Les Paul playable Google Doodle
Martha Graham
Royal wedding
Earth Day
Charlie Chaplin
First human space flight
200th birthday of Robert Bunsen
Jules Verne
John James Audubon

Here is an archive of all of the Google Doodles throughout the world. It's really neat to see ones that appeared in other countries.

Noted: cross-posted with Buffy's World

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Quote of the day

"You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it.” -- Neil Gaiman

Monday, October 10, 2011

Chance to win Guide to Literary Agents

Don't miss your chance to win the 2012 edition of Guide to Literary Agents. All you have to do is comment on Chuck Sambuchino's post to get in the drawing. Good luck to all who enter.

Papergreat: A great blog

Hey fellow writers, check out my friend's blog, Papergreat. Chris Otto's blog has a lot of really cool content on it. I love the old books he finds and all the cool stuff he discovers inside them. You will, too.

What is the most unusual item you ever found tucked inside a book? Could have been one you picked up at a yard sale or borrowed from the library. 

Too much adult reality in kids' books?

Check out this New York Times Op-ed piece on the amount of adult reality in children's books. I must admit that when I first picked up Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games” I wasn't sure if I was going to like it. The idea of child sacrifice didn't sit well with me. I mean, kids killing kids was just so, so wrong that I couldn't quite wrap my brain around it.

Anyway, I read the series and loved it. Really, really loved it. Still, I don't think I could have written these books. I think that if the series idea had popped into my head I would have quickly dismissed it. It's just too dark for me, and there's just something about kids killing kids that I'm not sure I would have been able to overcome. And, to be honest, I would have questioned if an agent, publishing house, or parents would have been interested in a book so dark, if they would have even thought there would be a market for it.

In my book "The Lion Awakens," the kids kill an adult or two, but it's because they are defending themselves. It's either the bad guys or the kids. This didn't bother me. Yes, it was dark and scary but because it wasn't a kid against a kid I was OK with it.

 Read the piece when you get a chance. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What would you change?

Here's something I've been wondering. Let's say you wrote a book and you were asked to change something about the protagonist.

Perhaps he was straight and you were asked to make him gay. Or white and you were asked to make him black.

Or maybe she was a vampire and you were asked to make her a zombie. Or she was a fae and you were asked to make her a witch.

Could you? Would you?

I can't wrap my brain around writing a book, for instance, with a vampire MC and then rewriting that same book with the MC as a zombie. Maybe it's just me, but like zombies are so not attractive. I don't think I'd be able to make a zombie sexy. Maybe that just means I stink as a writer. But I have to feel it, you know. I have to feel that passion and cuddling up to a zombie, who by the way isn't even a live being, makes me want to puke not purr.

I will go to the ends of the earth to make my novel the best it can be. I'll rewrite the entire novel if I have to. But I'm not sure I can change something so vital to the story that it, well, changes the entire story.

Have you ever been asked to do this? Have you been successful? Thoughts from my writerly friends?

Also, my other blog, Buffy's World, was part of a big award win for York Daily Record/Sunday News. YAY for my world!

Contest for children's book authors

MeeGenius is searching for the "next great children’s book author" according to its post. Read all the details and enter by Nov. 1. Good luck to all of you who enter.

Happy birthday, John Lennon

Today is John Lennon's birthday. Happy birthday, John! What is your fave Lennon song? I think mine is "Imagine." Here are the lyrics.


Imagine there's no heaven

It's easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people

Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries

It isn't hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer

But I'm not the only one

I hope someday you'll join us

And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer

But I'm not the only one

I hope someday you'll join us

And the world will live as one

Friday, October 7, 2011

Writing tips from Jan Winburn

I recently watched a Poynter webinar on Writing Successful Profiles with Jan Winburn, senior editor for enterprise at I couldn't wait to watch this particular session because I knew Jan would have lots of great information to share. Turns out, she did.

Below is some of what she said. I'm sharing it here, with my writer friends, because while this webinar was directly toward journalists, I think that we can apply much of what she said to fiction writing as well. 

Some background on Jan. She joined CNN in 2009 after more than 30 years as an editor at newspapers and magazines. She edited Lisa Pollak’s 1997 Pulitzer Prize-winning feature story “The Umpire’s Sons” and was named a Times-Mirror Journalist of the Year in 1997 for improving writing at The Baltimore Sun.

Here's some of what Jan said.

A. What reveals character? Jan says appearance, speech, action and thought. 

Appearance This includes features, shape, style, environment, "sense impressions." Also, watch for external things that reveal something internal.

Speech Jan says not to use dialogue to merely convey information. Some information is better left paraphrased.

Action Jan says that actions speak louder than what a person says or think. She suggests looking at past actions and events for clues about the person.

Thought Thought informs motive. It's most interesting when it's in conflict with a person's speech, appearance or action.

B. What is the quest?

What makes a person (or character) who they are? What motivates them? What moments or life events shaped them? Everyone has a quest (get the girl, win the game) and it's up to the reporter/writer to discover that quest. What conflict do they have that they want to resolve? A person's quest is often life-changing for him or her. If you're a reporter, you might have an hypothesis about a person's quest. It's up to you to test it.

Once you know what the quest is, then you know which pearls to include on the story strand.

A work needs focus, a place where all of the rays meet.

C. Getting the details

Ask open-ended questions, such as What's missing from your life? What has made you the most afraid? What do you worry about? A person's answers to these questions can tell a lot about a him or her.

What were the points of time that were critical and defining to them? Don't forget about visuals aids, like scrapbooks and video.

Search for tension. Tension lives inside the quest, lives inside those defining moments.

D. Avoiding the cliche

Let the cliche be a target. Go into a story with an open mind. Be well-informed but wary of biases. Everyone has a dark side. Let it inform, not overwhelm.

E. Greatest virtues

Jan talked about having patience and thoughtfulness. She feels these virtues will help us be successful.

F. Promise of a piece. She also talked about the promise of a piece, that little something that makes you want to keep reading.We need to offer readers this promise.

Every story needs an engine that drives the reader through the story. Do you have that engine in your piece?

Visit my social media blog at Buffy's World

Do you mind if I tweet from your wedding?  

Love my new iPad dock/keyboard

Thursday, October 6, 2011

RIP Steve Jobs and thanks for the inspiration

Some awesome quotes from Steve Jobs's commencement address at Stanford University in 2005 that inspire me. I hope they inspire you.

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma--which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do."

“If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Do you mind if I tweet from your wedding?

OK. So you know I love Twitter and Foursquare. And, yeah, I admit that I check in at church on Foursquare and I’m the mayor of it (which, to be clear, doesn’t mean a crock of sauerkraut). But, I have never tweeted the sermon with a hashtag. Maybe I should. Would people follow? Perhaps. Or they might just think I’m one chicken leg short of a church picnic.

So when I read how social media is creeping into the $78-billion-a-year wedding business, it really didn’t surprise me. Peeps share wacky wedding dance videos on YouTube. Some include “QR” barcodes on invitations or live-stream their ceremony for those unable to attend. Others encourage guests to tweet, supplying the hashtag for crowdsourcing. And still others open their party playlists to let loved ones help choose the music or make interactive seating charts so guests can chat online ahead of time.

If I were getting married today, I’d be totally into all of this. Hubs would probably think I’m crazier than he originally thought, but that’s nothing new. I continue to raise that bar.

And, you know, I might just tweet during Pastor Greg’s next sermon. I already blog about his words of wisdom, why not publish his great soundbites. They’d fit in 140 characters for sure. I knew there was a reason, besides sitting in the “family” pew, that I sit in the back of the church.

What do you think of social media as it relates to weddings?

Cross-posted from Buffy's World

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Brain teaser

Saw this brain teaser and wanted to share. Can you figure it out?

You have eight balls all of the same size.  7 of them weigh the same, and one of them weighs slightly more.  How can you find the ball that is heavier by using a balance and only two weighings?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Monday musings...

Here are some thoughts that popped into my head today:

I was thinking of things I no longer use because modern technology has replaced them. For example, I don't use the telephone book anymore. I look numbers and addresses up online. Are there things you no longer use?

I went to see Rock of Ages this past weekend, and I've got to say that the '80s music was the absolute best. I couldn't stop movin' in my seat. Seriously people, the '80s rocked. Well, the music anyway. I can still picture the big hair, leg warmers, shoulder pads, jellies and acid wash jeans. Oh, and wearing lingerie as outwear. Me? Never.

It's too cold for this time of year! The paper said it's going to be a high of 55 today. That's right, a HIGH! Come on people. It's only Oct. 3. It's too early to be this cold. Did I tell you how much I hate being cold. It might be a day for leg warmers, er, maybe not.

Have a marvelous Monday!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Find the telling details

This week, I've asked my staff to observe someone in the newsroom and bring at least three telling details about that person to our next meeting. For example, here are some telling details about someone I know. What do these details tell you about this person? 

1. Wears hats a lot
2. Photographs of two sons on desk
3. On computer is a menagerie of items, all of which mean something: a dried rose from a friend's funeral, a piece of unpopped popcorn from a pastor's sermon, etc.
4. Even number of pencils in pencil caddy.
5. Books lined up from tallest to smallest.

So,  you do the same. Find someone and share a few telling details about them. The detail could be what they wear (ie. Hawaiian shirts) or about their appearance (five o-clock shadow) or something about their cubicle (papers piled everywhere) or bedroom (so many stuffed animals on the bed that you can't see the top of the comforter). Or how they smell (woodsy musk scent or sweaty). Details help us see the person. Show me the person through the details you choose.