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Archive for the ‘Writer's "Toolbox’ Category

Now posting reviews of awesome tools and gadgets for writers.

Oh yes, and adorable cat photos. Come check it out. http://www.rahmakrambo.com/

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Some of my writing friends listen to music for inspiration, mostly notably Lia Keyes who is working on her steampunk novel and listens to Phantom of the Opera. Seems like the perfect choice for what promises to be a deliciously, dark mystery.

Normally I don’t listen to music while I write, but I’m intrigued by the idea of using my auditory senses to help ‘set the mood’. 

Here’s my dilemma though. What in the world would make good background music for a book with cats as the main characters, an evil professor and his Whisperer, a magical book of power and a host of mythological characters ranging from the dark to the light side, and settings that range from the ancient Library of Iskandriyah to a small public library in the foothills of California.

See what I mean? Suggestions welcome.

In the meantime, I’m going to check out Five great ways to find music that suits your mood,  a Mashable article that reviews several websites that let you pick out music according to your moods and emotions, rather than artist, genre or title.

What do you listen to, if anything, while writing?

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Writing a novel set in early 1900 San Francisco? This rare vintage video was shot with a  35mm camera bolted to the front of a trolley car as it traveled down Market Street  in 1905. What makes this even more exceptional is the fact that it was captured before the earthquake/fire of 1906 destroyed the area. Remarkable footage of the turn of the century lifestyles in California.

Cool digital background music somehow fits!

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From my Writer’s Toolbox: Here’s a good resource to keep you from ‘stepping in it’ literally when it comes to slang and the new urban language. For instance, I want to use the word ‘wuss’ in a children’s book and I need to know if it has any off color overtones that would be inappropriate for my young readers. I’m not ‘up’ on my slang or ‘tween language. (Who is?) and many words these days are used differently than when I was…um…younger. With the  Urban Dictionary I’ll know what to use and what to avoid, especially since I am writing for the YA and children’s market.

I checked ‘wuss’. It means: A person who is physically weak and ineffectual. Often a male person with low courage factor, as in “Tobias, you’re such a WUSS!”  So it means what I thought it did and it seems safe to use for my middle-grade fantasy.

Be forewarned though. The Urban Dictionary is not for wusses. Anyone apparently can add a new word, or define a word and it contains a lot of sexually explicit verbage. What it will give you is very current, up to the minute social connotations for any word you enter in the seach bar. There’s close to 5 million definitions and the Word of the Day section is updated daily with words and phrases you’d be hard-pressed to find all in such a convenient location.

Here’s some examples of the ‘cleaner’ entries:

Fax potato: A person who faxes from one floor to another instead of getting up and running the information because they’re too lazy to get out of their chair.
Protohype: The process of leaking a prototype device to generate buzz about a product you don’t quite yet have ready for market to a friendly tech website who will promote the gizmo well before it’s ready to go.
Tree-book: A book printed on dead trees, i.e. paper, as opposed to an e-book, which only exists electronically. Compare with snail mail.
Pi Time: The time of the day where a digital clock reads 3:14.
Child supervision: When an older person, especially a parent, needs a tech-savvy kid to help him/her with computers or other electronic devices. 

Do you write for middle grade or young adults?  How do stay current with their language and their world?

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How do you imagine the settings in your book? This is one of my weak spots, especially since one of my settings is in a place I’ve only visited in my imagination. Much as I would prefer to travel and do ‘on location’ research, I’m not at liberty to pack up and fly to London at the moment.

I thought a few images would help round out my descriptions and make them more realistic, so I went to Google maps to search ‘London, secondhand bookshops’. I clicked on ‘street view’ and explored further. Now I’ve played around with Google maps before, but no where quite as interesting as the back streets of London.

I roamed around for, well…way too long…and got lost trying to find my way back to one particular bookshop. I turned corners, zoomed in and out, all without the hassles of getting a ticket because I was on the wrong side of the street.

I swear I felt like I was actually there and could practically enter the shops. I ended up with plenty of visuals that helped me add just the right descriptive touches I was looking for. 

Pretty cool, I thought and I wanted to share with you. Have any of  you ever used Google street view to help bring your story’s setting to life?

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I’ve been missing in action, but hardly inactive.

When I first started writing, my research lead me to use the model of archetypes to develop my characters. Any intrepid Googler can find enough online info to understand this mythic structure. My delicious bookmarks attest to that and considering I knew nothing when I started out, I think I’ve come a ‘fur piece’ as they say.

I love the archetype model and do not find it limiting in any way. It provides a solid foundation for characters with the freedom to let your imagination fly to create an infinite variety of characters. Like snowflakes, no two are alike. But like snowflakes and  real people, we all share basic elements. Understanding archetypes help me better understand human nature. That troublesome person in my life might just be a Threshold Guardian, testing me in ways that will make me smarter and stronger. This perspective allows for a ‘step back’ from the usual close-up camera lens in which we view events or people that tangle up our emotions.

Now that I’ve started on the second book , I decided it was time to grow up, so rather than clicking through my conglomeration of delicious bookmarks, I ordered The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structures for Storytellers and Screenwriters. Christopher Vogler has managed to translate Joseph Campbell, as one critic, said ‘for dummies’. This is no book for dummies, but reading it whetted my appetite for more and so I could hardly wait to get my hands on Campbell’s Hero. Campbell, however, is going to take some time to absorb. Excellent book, but slow reading, because it’s so packed. I have to be in the right mood for Campbell, and I appreciate Vogler’s  book all the more for his beautiful simplicity in gleaning the essence of Campbell, making it accessible and practical.

The book is laid out in two main sections. The first section presents the main archetypes (Hero, Mentor, Threshold Guardian, Herald, Shapeshifter, Shadow and Trickster) with examples from film. The second section holds the signposts of the journey (Ordinary World, Call to Adventure, etc.) It is very easy to read through as well as use it as a reference when editing.

So I woke the cats and we plowed through their story along with Mr. Vogler’s guidebook. I was able to identify all of the archetypes, although some of them held more than one position and two characters hold the post of Threshold Guardian for different reasons. Knowing exactly who they are and their relationship to the Hero makes it easier to strengthen their role.

I also found one major flaw in my Hero’s journey that will require a more serious revision but I’m holding a brainstorming session with my characters to get their take on how to proceed with the changes.

If I could only keep one writing reference book on my desk, it would be The Writer’s Journey. What writer’s reference books speak to you?

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“The work was like peeling an onion. The outer skin came off with difficulty… but in no time you’d be down to its innards, tears streaming from your eyes as more and more beautiful reductions became possible.” ~Edward Blishen

My SCBWI writers’ group had its monthly ‘schmooze’ Saturday morning at Kaffe Latte.  A relatively new group, we’re still exploring how we can best meet each other’s needs, but no matter in what genre each of  us writes, we all love new writing tips and tools. This month we decided to focus on editing and here was my contribution–stuff I keep in my writer’s toolbox.

  • In the book category, an excellent tool is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. Professional editors themselves, Renni and Dave teach writers how to apply techniques as an expert editor would. Many examples from the real world illustrate their points about issues such as dialogue, exposition, point of view, interior monologue, passive vs. active writing and more.

If you have reached the point where your story is ready for a good thorough edit, this book will help take your writing up to the next level. By next month’s meeting we all hope to have a copy where we can tackle the formidable task of slicing and dicing our beloved words.

  • The next item in my toolbox is simply listening to the story. Reading it aloud. This is a powerful tool. So many things show up with an oral reading. Not just missed words, but the flow and voice. Besides reading to yourself, there those loveable automatons Microsoft Sam and Michelle, who lurk inside MS Word. Think of them as your own personal robots. They read your ms exactly as it’s written, not as you think you see it. (Find them on the Menu bar>’Tools>Speech)

There are other text-to-speech programs like Natural Readers. Their free version comes only with Sam and Michelle, but you may purchase  individual natural sounding voices with various accents, something to consider if you use it a lot. Some of them sound pretty darn good. I’m a sucker for a British accent, so I especially like Peter (that’s Peet-uh) the male,  British English speaker. Imagine, ‘Peet-uh’ could be the voice for your next audio book.

The major advantage of downloading the free version of Natural Readers is the mini-toolbar that will read web pages for you. I let Microsoft Michelle read my blog post before publishing and she found a number of  mistakes because I could hear them.

  • My next favorite tool is Autocrit. This online editing tool is the only software I’ve found worth the money. It’s simple and does just what it says. When you copy and paste your text into the Autocrit box, your overused words, repeated phrases, and sentence length variations are highlighted. That’s the free version. For $47 (annually) your cut and paste yields additional highlights of repeated words, dialogue tags, first word repeats, names and pronouns, and repeated phrases summary.

I cannot tell you how many times I had what I thought was a really clean edit until I popped it into Autocrit and saw how many times I started a sentence with the same word, or repeated a word three or four times in one paragraph. There are two higher grades versions, which I have not used but include cliche, redundancy, homonym, readability and pacing reports.

  • The next item is not one usually included in the editing process, but one I find invaluable, no matter what stage of writing I might be in. That is to feast on great books, especially in my preferred genre at the moment. I like to think that I absorb some of the flavor of the masters and that they will altruistically sprinkle some of their fairy dust over me as I write.
  • Another trick that works for me is reading my text in a different format. For some reason, I catch more mistakes when viewing my words in a published-looking format, like the “preview” in this blog, or reading it on Autocrit. Changing fonts within your word processing program might also help.  And don’t forget to increase the font to extra large before sending your work out to the world. Those double periods and hidden punctuation marks stand right out in Arial, size 26.
  • Finally, a tool I’ve recently employed and come to love is my storyboard. I love it’s view-a-bility and flexibility. With plot points on sticky notes, I can move them to a different part of the story or destroy them altogether if they are no longer relevant. It’s much easier to move or delete ideas on a sticky note on the wall than it is when they are buried in my manuscript. Once I have a really solid storyline, I plan to put them on index cards.

With the storyboard I can have all the plot points visible at once with the added bonus that it gets me out of my chair and away from the computer.  As it is, I spend too much time hunched over my computer, flipping back and forth between files anyway. The storyboard achieves more than than the writing structure software I tested, there’s no learning curve and it’s virtually free. Having the major plot points laid out, in scroll fashion, creates visual signposts and I can step back and see the whole story in one fell swoop.

That’s all for now. So tell me, what’s in your writer’s toolbox?

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