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Posts Tagged ‘language’

Potters, painters and photographers all have tangibles to work with. Writers work in a sphere of the unseen. What an ethereal realm we are engaged in…weaving the fabric of our stories from little more than imagination and inspiration. Sometimes I feel like one of the weavers from ‘the emperor’s new clothes’, spinning my story from invisible thread and inviting my readers to believe in the fantasy I’ve created.  Or, perish the thought, am I the foolish king, unfit for this position?   

Click on the image. Which way is the dancer whirling?

What elements compose the substance of this elusive calling? Just what are the raw materials of our craft? Although it was difficult to pin down, here’s the start of my list:   

  • A writer is abnormally consumed by the desire of putting ideas into words. Subcategories can include the love of actually writing with pen on paper (even if you use a laptop most of the time), scribbling notes about the most inkling-est of ideas in the most unlikely of places (think showers); and a penchant for writing implements, which can often lead to pen fetishes and petty thievery.
  • A writer should have an overactive right brain that gets really cranky if it kept too long in the box of left brain constraints of making a living. (click on whirling dancer and see which side of your brain is engaged).
  • A writer should be overly mental — not able to shut the internal dialogue off. Writing creates an outlet to focus all that cerebral energy and direct it into something hopefully positive, entertaining and inspiring. 
  • A writer must have an overactive imagination which stops just short of getting hopelessly lost and going stark raving mad. A healthy dose of reality checks with the outside world is necessary to stay sane.
  • A writer’s greatest resource is simply Life. Living it, surviving it, questioning and observing it. 
  • A writer is not fit for most normal jobs because of they have never answered the question, ‘what will I be when I grow up?’
  • A writer will have something to add to this list.
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Does anyone else find this terribly disturbing? I’ve been reading about the trend for libraries to digitize themselves but this is unbelievable!

 “The headmaster of a central Massachusetts school that eliminated most of the books in its library says the move has worked well, turning the the library into a magnet for students and faculty. The school whittled the library’s stacks from 20,000 to 8,000 books, Tracy said in an interview today. Only about 1,000 books will remain after the two-year transition is completed by the end of this summer. The bookshelves that were exchanged for learning areas have created “exciting” social learning spaces for a generation that is “very much about networking,” Tracy added. Stanford University is also moving toward the creation of its first “bookless library.”   
Why throw ALL of the books out? Why can’t we blend what they are calling old and outdate (that would be the books!) with the new digital technology? It makes no sense that libraries are doing this without thinking of the consequences. If the power goes out or the Kindle breaks down, you can still read a book. You can drop a book and still read it. You can spill coffee on it and still read through the stain.

Digitizing the entire library makes books completely inaccessible for those who do not own computers or … perish the thought… simply want to check out a book to take home.

I’m not a Luddite. I love a lot of things about new technology, but I think there’s room for a different vision than this barren wasteland that has none of the smell or feel of a library.  This is truly the sad sheep of a tragedy dressed in digital wolves clothing.

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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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Should I let Algernon die, or let him suffer at the whims of his evil brother?

Even cats have trouble with the blank page.

Here’s what I’ve learned about writing in the last three years. When everyone else is:

  1. watching TV, I am probably writing.
  2. sleeping, I am usually writing and editing.
  3. on FaceBook, I’m…ooops…gotta get back to writing.
  4. blogging, I am writing, wishing I had more time to blog.
  5. shopping, I am revising a chapter.
  6. texting and tweeting, I am talking to my MC.
  7. eating, I am eating but it’s at my computer so I can catch up on email, blogs and news.
  8. reading, well,  I might be reading.
  9. showering, I am showering, but usually in writing mode with no way to write down the brilliant idea that came to me.
  10. working out, I am exercising my brain wishing it would burn 300 calories an hour.
  11. cutting the grass, I am letting the grass grow to revise another chapter, or paragraph, or sentence.
  12. cooking, I am throwing something in the crockpot to go revise another chapter, or paragraph, or sentence.

You gotta love writing to be this crazy!

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Writing has made me a more critical reader. My latest library book lost me as a reader because of technical issues. Besides some rather drab characters and a meandering plot, the POV shifted so often I was starting to feel the main action of the story was my ability to leap about between character’s heads. I won’t tell you what the book  is because I don’t want to bash another writer. I can tell you that the main reason I picked it up was author recognition.

Besides being irritating, it raised all kinds of questions.  How is a well known published writer allowed to commit these major editorial sins? Where is her editor? Does this bother anybody besides me?

Point of view is challenging. It was a difficult concept for me to grasp and flipping between character’s heads is easier than channel surfing. It’s so easy to do without being aware of it, but my handy dandy desktop Self-Editing for Fiction Writers helps guide me through these muddy waters.

I also find it useful to read books, like the annoying one mentioned, which ignore this important element because it makes me aware of how much I don’t want to inflict these mental gymnastics on my readers.

As a writer, it took me a while to understand which point of view I was even writing in, but once I did, it raised my POV consciousness. For me, writing a fantasy seen through the eyes of a cat, means I must ‘become the cat’.

As a reader, I don’t have the patience to stay with a book that forces me to guess who’s thinking what. I returned the book to the library. Now I need something good to read!

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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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The more I write, the more I find myself thinking like a writer when I’m not at the keyboard. Some of my best ideas come when I’m in the shower,  especially when I’ve hit a wall or have a question for my character who gives me a blank stare as an answer.

It’s usually a conscious decision to multi-task like this. I’ll make a mental note of where I’m stuck and carry that with me, like I’m tucking it away in a special fold in my brain. I carry a pocket spiral with me at all times for that little gem that gives me even the slightest nudge of forward motion in my story. I’m delighted whenever this happens. It adds a spring to my step and a sparkle to my eye.

I don’t have the luxury of hours of time blocked off for writing since I’m still working, so this method helps me make the best use of my time. The more I consciously think this way, the more of a habit it becomes.

Even reading the newspaper offers tidbits for my plot and characters. A news story about a woman who abandoned her kids mentioned that she drove a purple Ford Escort. This jumped out at me like a flash. It was the perfect car for the chain-smoking, gambling grandma that my MC’s mother dumps him on.

If I’m not stuck, I still find myself thinking how I would describe something….like the last three leaves on the tree in my front yard. I imagine they are having an argument about who’s going to drop next.

Unexpected unpleasant encounters? Those too are fodder for my writing bag. Recently we found ourselves in a seedy part of L.A. at a rental car agency I found online.  The scruffy looking employee on duty and the repainted cars parked on a side street looked like the repo car business it truly was. While my husband was trying to extricate ourselves from the contract we had with them, I entertained myself with memorizing details. I’ve never seen so much black wrought iron with pointy spikes as I did in L.A.  But I might be able to use this in some future setting.

I’m thinking that this mental multi-tasking is a way of allowing the door to open to the right brain…by keeping my left brain content enough that it’s being all adult and responsible. I’m sure my friend Sid over at the Right Brain Cafe would help me explain this. Which leads me to another question about multi-tasking and women. But maybe I’ll save that for another posting.

If you are a writer, do you have this habit? Do you find it useful? Fun? Or does it get in the way of what you’re trying to do with your responsible left-brain task?

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