Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Best of the Best – Romance Writing Resources

P.S. This is my last post for the year. But I’ll be back the first Wednesday in January. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday with family and friends.

The Best of the Best series is back, this time focusing on resources for Romance writers. Previous installments looked at Agent Blogs and the Writing Blogosphere’s Major Players.

Writing Romance is harder than it looks. With the requirement of a happy ending, the real trick is how to make your story stand out from scores of others playing with the same boy meets girl tropes. I don’t have any answers for how to do this – asides from writing the best book you are capable of – but I can share with you the resources I’ve collected geared specifically toward Romance writing.

Romance Writers of America - The largest membership organization for published and unpublished authors, with a huge educational focus. Their website also includes scores of info from their annual conference, including valuable handouts and recordings.

eHarlequin - One of the biggest Romance publishers, Harlequin has a Learn to Write section on their webpage to help hopeful writers target specific Harlequin lines. But many resources are general enough to help writers of any genre.

Romance University - Dedicated to helping writers develop their career (Mondays), uncover the male mind (Wednesdays), and perfect their craft (Fridays). The site can be a bit cumbersome to navigate, but there is some good stuff here.

Romance Divas - A great meeting place for writers, including valuable articles on different aspects of the writing and publishing process and a forum – which is currently closed to new members, but should reopen in the New Year.

Romance Writer's Revenge - A group blog capturing the trials and tribulations of romance writer’s life. The pirate talk can be a bit fatiguing at times, but the contributors pose thoughtful questions from the writing trenches.

Author Gabrielle Luthy – Provides a slew of writing resources on a variety of topics, including Agents & Editors, Plotting & Structure, and Revising Your Novel.

Author Jenny Crusie – Website includes a host of essays addressing pop culture, publishing, and romance writing in genre, with the same insightful wit she’s known for in her books.

Brenda Hiatt’s Show Me the Money! - Gives you an idea of the advance you can expect from a variety of Romance imprints. Remember, you shouldn’t be in this for the money. 

Babbles from Scott Egan – The blog provides a nice balance of content, including both industry insights and discussions of craft, from an agent who only reps romance and woman’s fiction.

The Passionate Pen’s Agent List - A great resource for when you are ready to query. The site also has a selection of other resources for writers as well.

All About Romance – Reviewing novels since 1996, AAR has a great search engine for finding titles that may be comparable to your WIP. The AAR blog also provides educational insights and commentary from women who are completely immersed in the genre.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books – Another Romance reviewing site, SBTB provides brutally honest assessments of books and their covers. One of the founders recently started writing for the Kirkus Review. The site’s Help a Bitch Out (HaBO) series lets readers ask for help in finding titles they read once upon a time – it’s always fascinating to see what narrative aspects stick out in their minds.

You may find it odd that I didn’t talk about resources for writing historical romance, since that is the subgenre I write in. But believe me, that is a post for another day.

If you’ve come across other valuable resources for romance writing, please include them in the comments. Thanks!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Writing Mantras

I fell down today. Hard. I was running with my dog and popped my left ankle. Before I could correct myself, I fell down, sending a spray of dirt and pebbles flying. I ripped up my spandex leggings, bloodied both knees, and scared the dog half to death. A great start to the day.

As I limped home, I kept telling myself to act normal, just put one foot in front of the other. Almost there. Keep going. You got this. These little mantras kept fluttering around my head until I reached my house and tried to pull myself together. (The knees are still oozing as I type this).

When I write, I have little mantras I like to repeat to myself as well. I have them written down on the computer equivalent of a post-it note that hangs out on my desktop. (The freeware is called Stickies and it’s great for virtual to-do lists and other important notes).

Some of these I’ve dug up after reading writing books and blogs and some occurred to me during or after a revision. I’ve tried to note the source where possible, but I can’t remember them all – and some are so oft-repeated, they’ve become common knowledge.


Yeah, this one should be obvious since nearly every literary agent agrees that they want submissions to have a strong, unique, captivating, [insert vague adjective here] voice. I don’t know what my voice is, so right now I just focus on creating different voices for my characters.

Think precise to find the telling detail!

I’m guilty of generalities in a lot of my early writing. They also creep in during my first drafts, where I haven’t thought enough about what I’m trying to portray to find that one detail that encapsulates everything.

Externalize the internal to show not tell!

Ugg. I always need reminders to show, not tell. One thing I’ve noticed in my writing is that I can do more to show how my character is feeling by projecting their thoughts and emotions into actions. This isn’t merely saying “Their heart thudded in their chest” in lieu of saying “They were scared.” This is a challenge for me to find some action that illustrates both character and emotion. Say your character is an emotional eater. When she gets stressed, don’t say how her stomach’s in knots – describe her measuring out the flour, sugar, cocoa as she makes a batch of cookies to eat.

Let yourself linger to fully realize scenes!

I write short, sparse first drafts. When I start fleshing out my story on second and third passes, I need to remind myself to take the time to ensure the scene is fully rendered – just because I can visualize everything that’s supposed to be happening, doesn’t mean my reader can.

Metaphors must not sound false!

Depending on what I’m writing, I struggle to incorporate figurative language that doesn’t come off as trite. I don’t want to risk pulling people out of the story with a simile or metaphor that’s clichéd or just plain bad, but at the same time, a metaphor or simile that’s a natural outgrowth of character can be writing gold.

Remember compression, omission!

Sometimes you don’t need all that filler to go from Point A to Point B. A skillful sentence or two can make the transition a snap – emphasis on skillful. Similarly, leaving something out can be powerful as well and builds suspense. At an emotionally pivotal scene, not having a character do or say something can be more powerful than if they reacted. Remember, less is more.

To learn what's wrong with a story, write two new ones and go back to the first one.

This is so true it’s painful. At the end of a revision pass, it’s so tempting for me to say I’m done. Once I’ve moved on to another story and go back to that first one, I sometimes cringe at the way I handled some of the story elements.You just can’t rush things.

It's not what your story says but the questions it raises.

Don’t preach. Don’t tell your readers what to think. Instead, present them with thought-provoking scenarios and characters who must make choices.

Reveal description deliberately to demonstrate pov character and relationships around them.

I tend to write in 3rd person, and sometimes I just don’t go deep enough to engage my readers. So this helps me to remember that everything in a scene must come from a particular character’s filter of the world. Easier to say than to implement.

Remember Microtension in each scene.

I read this post from Donald Maas at Writer Unboxed and had a bit of an a-ha moment. You don’t need high action or drama in every scene to ratchet up the tension in your novel. The quiet moments should be just as powerful

Emotion must be present, believable, motivating...

When I write, I have the description, the stage directions, and the dialogue down, but I often gloss over the emotional intensity in my scenes. So I need to remind myself to include it and push the story forward.

Intentional writing, all the time.

Just what it says. Every word must have a purpose. When I revise, I must question every choice. It’s exhausting, and all too easy to say “It’s good enough.” But it’s usually not.

What is your story's emotional destination?

I picked this up after listing to the Writing Show’s Short Story Endings podcast. Since I struggle sometimes with how to end pieces, this is one way to figure out just what I want readers to feel at the end of a story, and my answer often informs what I need to do to accomplish that.

What do you need to remember when writing?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge 2011

Magemanda from the blog Floor to Ceiling Books is spearheading a Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge, where participants read and review at least 12 speculative fiction books over the course of 2011. To learn more about the challenge, go here. I first heard about the challenge from follower KB Lawrence *waves*.

I have a bunch of spec fic books on my Christmas list and some still hanging out in my TBR pile like:
If anyone has any female spec fic writers (besides Atwood and LeGuin) they can recommend, please do so in the comments.

Want to join in but not sure where to get started? Check out iO9’s 10 Recent Science Fiction Novels Which Make Great Gifts.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

End-of-the-year Assessment

I can’t believe it’s December already. Lame, I know, since we’re all feeling that way. But I thought it would be a good time to stop lamenting how time flies and try to determine just what I’ve accomplished this year so far.

What follows may be of limited utility to you, but I encourage you to evaluate your own writing efforts in a similar manner – you may discover you’ve achieved more than you think!

Novel-length Projects

Medieval Historical Romance – Complete at 93k. I’m still tinkering with it. I sent out two queries to two agents this summer. Although both rejected it based on partials, I did get a personalized rejection from one agent. I learned the oh-so-important lesson: don’t query too soon. Since then, I’ve strengthened the beginning thanks to critiques I received through Miss Snark’s First Victim and Sharon Mayhew’s blog Random Thoughts. I got some constructive criticism and encouraging feedback through the Golden Rose Contest. And thanks to a posting on Adventures in Children’s Publishing, I found a critique partner who is helping me assess the novel with fresh eyes. It’s amazing what story elements, sentences, even words you take for granted when you’re reading something for the gazillionth time! I also took a chance and submitted my first chapter to Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest after they picked my scene for the SYTYCW scene challenge.

Goals for the upcoming year – Armed with a newly polished manuscript, I plan to query agents in earnest after the holidays. I had hoped I would be at this point this fall, but obviously that didn’t happen. If the agent search is unsuccessful, I fear I’ll have to set this project aside. *sniffle* 

Speculative Fiction 1 – This is the project at the center of the kerfuffle with my critique group last month. I’m proud of this WIP because I’ve completed two drafts this year (considering how many years it took me to finish my historical romance, this is quite an achievement). After completing the first draft, I was able to identify some issues with the story, and took steps to make some big changes, including adding a third POV character. With the second draft now complete, all the major plot points are in place. 

Goals for the upcoming year – It’s time to take this story to the next level. I’ll be revising this story mercilessly to ensure all the new elements I’ve incorporated gel. I’m still hopeful my critique group will help me strengthen the manuscript. If not, I’ll need to hunt up some beta readers. *gulp* 

Speculative Fiction 2 – I actually started this story before the one above and was 25k into it but then ran into some considerable plot roadblocks. However, after working through the other spec fic story and mulling things over in my subconscious, I now know what I need to do in order to proceed. 

Goals for the upcoming year – Finish the draft. That’s all there is to it. I’m going to have to rework some of what I already wrote and add a whole lot more. *groan* 

YA Contemporary – This was my NaNoWriMo project this year. I had wanted to write this one for awhile but my writing plate’s been pretty full. So I though NaNo would be the perfect time to jumpstart a new story. Thing is, I only got 13k words down during the month of November. But I have a rough outline for the story and look forward to working on the rest of it. Unlike my historical and speculative works, the voice was one of the first things that came together for this project. It’s also nice to be able to write something without doing a whole bunch of research first, since I’m drawing on my direct experiences growing up. 

Goals for the upcoming year – Finish the draft. I’m a little concerned at how easy this story is developing. Maybe I’m getting better or maybe I’m not pushing this story far enough. We’ll see once I have a complete draft. *sigh*

Short Story Projects

Speculative Fiction Short – I was so excited about this story. I got good feedback from my writing group and started submitting it bigtime – Asimov’s, Analog, Clarkesworld. And got rejections for my efforts – though one editor did say: “The story is very nicely done, but I’m afraid it's not quite right for me.” What can I say? That made me feel a teensy bit better. But I decided to hit the submission breaks, and I have been mulling over story revisions ever since. 

Goals for the upcoming year – Rework story, workshop it with my critique group, and start submitting again. *bracing for the worst* 

Speculative Fiction Flash – This originated as a prompt from my writing group. I fleshed it out and then shared it with my critique group. Everyone really liked it but thought it needed to be expanded. I didn’t agree with that. I liked it’s length and wasn’t up for creating an elaborate world to go with it. So I tinkered with it a bit and sent it off just last week. 

Goals for the upcoming year – See if I get any sort of feedback on the story from the magazine I submitted it to and identify other outlets for the piece. If nothing works out, reevaluate. *crossing fingers* 

Literary Flash – This also originated as a prompt from my writing group that I revised and shared with my critique group. I submitted it to a few places and got form rejections. Then I read it at an open-mic night, which forced me to evaluate each and every word. I made a few changes and sent it out again. This time I received a very nice personalized rejection, telling me what worked and what didn’t. And he was totally right. 

Goals for the upcoming year – Wait a few weeks, then revise with an eye to what this particular editor pointed out. Then start submitting again. *deep breath*

The Writing Life

I’ve taken ownership of my dream to write:
I started blogging on February 23, 2010. 64 posts and 64 followers later, I’m still going strong. I've had to make some changes, but I’m pleased with my slow but steady progress. I’ve had 18,000+ pageviews since I started (a big difference from the total on the nav bar, which only counts since May 2010).

I started tweeting (@bluemaven) in mid-March. Twitter keeps losing my old tweets but I think it’s almost 300. I have 120 followers, which is pretty good considering how picky I am in who I follow. I also don’t chat a whole bunch on twitter – just sharing links and sometimes day-to-day commentary.

140,000 – approximate word count Jan-Nov 2010 (including new WIP content, prompts with writing group, and blog posts - but not revisions). 

Goals for the Coming Year – Keep on keeping on. I want to maintain my blogging and twitter regimen. I’d also like to find a good writing conference to go to. I’m thinking RWA Nationals, but that scares the crap out of me. *shivers*

What have you accomplished this year? What are you proud of? How are you going to take your work to the next level?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Spousal Rhythms

or My Post for the Early Bird Thanksgiving Blogfest

It’s that time of year where we not only eat, drink, and be merry but also contemplate what we are thankful for.

I have a wonderful life. I ask my husband what we are going to eat, not how. I worry about the logistics of traveling home for the holidays, not the financing. All of Maslow’s basic needs are covered. I have my health, a wonderful family, supportive friends, and more and more confidence each day that all this writing stuff is going somewhere. And I am thankful for all of these things.

But if I had to choose one thing I am most thankful for this year, it is my husband’s support. It is his job, his abilities, his willingness to let me explore, that has given me the opportunity to write fulltime. There are no guarantees anything will come of it – we both know that – but he supports me just the same.

I get most of my writing and reading done while he is away at work during weekdays. Nights and weekends are our time, whether it’s making dinner, doing dishes, or running errands. But because he’s a researcher, sometimes personal life gets pushed aside in favor of deadlines for proposals, conferences, and journal articles. It is during these crunch times that I simply reach for another book or tinker with another WIP afterhours. I get more work done when my husband’s workload increases.

It’s kinda funny, but I also think it’s a time when we both understand the most about each other’s work. When he’s writing proposals or articles, he gets so frustrated when the words don’t come. Or when the writing sucks hard but he knows he just has to get it down in order to fix it later. Sound familiar?

On weekend mornings, we’ll go to coffee shops and hunker down at a table for two hours – he’ll be typing away on his computer or highlighting an academic paper, while I’ll be scribbling in my notebook or red-lining a printout of my latest story. Sometimes we’ll both catch each other staring off into space, thinking about our next words, or working out a new idea, or simply taking a break from all the mental exertion that goes on at our little table. We’ll smile, maybe make a joke, discuss our new idea or where we got stuck, and eventually start working again.

It’s a nice arrangement – how his working rhythms dovetail with mine. It’s not something I expected, but now that I have it, I can’t imagine going without. How do spousal rhythms influence your writing? Do they cheer you on? Work with you side-by-side? Or give you the time and space to do your thing?

I am thankful my husband gives me a little bit of everything.

This post was written for the Early Bird Thanksgiving Blogfest, spearheaded by Jeffrey Beesler. You can find a list of other participants at Jeffrey Beesler’s World of the Scribe.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Ends and Writing Short

I write big.

When I come up with a story, my mind usually fills in the blanks until I have a novel’s worth of content. Setting, characters, plot, and sub-plots. This means the hard part is just forcing myself to write the first draft. It may not be pretty when it’s done, but everything’s there. And so far, I haven’t had to worry about padding my story to meet target words counts. If anything, I work on tightening things up and deciding what to cut out (research, in the case of my historical romances; worldbuilding in my speculative works).

And with my novel-length works, I always know where I’m going to end up. It may change a bit as the first draft progresses, but that’s ok and usually makes the ending stronger.

I also have some shorter projects in the works. Short stories and the like. But I keep running into problems when I write short: I don’t know how to end them.

Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say I don’t know how to end them in a satisfying way. They just kinda stop.

I suspect my difficulties with The Ends in short stories has to do with (1) what I choose to focus my story on, (2) how I structure my stories, and (3) my level of exposure to short stories that are currently being published.

Story Focus – Some of my short stories end up being sketches of a potentially larger narrative that feel rushed and unsatisfying because they deserve a larger treatment. Then can I go in the opposite direction and write a story that captures one moment in time, a mood even, and I don’t know how to finish it off because it’s more atmospheric than a complete story

Structure – My choice of story focus obviously affects structure. For my novels-in-short-story-clothing, I struggle to reduce the traditional three-act structure into a shorter format. For my moments-in-time stories, I’m not sure if there's even a way structure can inform how to tie things off. I know that you should focus on one thing in a short story and each word should contribute to the overall effect, but I just can’t seem to do it.

Exposure – I read. A lot. But mostly I read novels. Not short stories. I read them when I was in school of course, but they were the classics, not the short fiction of today. I have a bunch of collections in my TBR pile, and requested a couple of literary magazine subscriptions for Christmas, so I hope to widen my exposure and in turn strengthen my craft.

But right now, I’m wracking my brain as to how I’m going to end two short pieces I’ve been working on off and on for the past few months. So I finally asked the google gods to help me out with how to end a short story, and here’s what I found:

Short Stories: 10 Tips for Creative Writers - Describes different types of short story endings and provides examples.

Ten Short Story Endings to Avoid - Just what it sounds like. Luckily I haven’t employed any of these!

Writing Short Stories with a Twist Ending - Describes different types of twist endings and points to examples.

Short Story Project: Beware the Twilight Zone Ending - Explains why you should avoid twist endings in your stories.

Short Story Endings Podcast from the Writing Show - An hour-long discussion with short story writers Randall Brown and Melissa Palladino.

I know I can always throw down the gauntlet and decide to only write book-length stories and never look back. But that means I’ve given up all hope of writing short. And in today’s industry, versatility is a writer’s best friend.

How do you go from writing big to small? Small to big?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

When is Close, Too Close?

Last night, my critique group resumed its monthly meeting. Nerd that I am, I was excited to reconnect with my writing friends that I hadn’t seen since the middle of the summer. I sent out my work a week ahead of time and was looking forward to getting some feedback on the first chapter of one of my speculative fiction projects.

Then, buzzkill.

One of the group members got kinda twitchy about my story because they also had a project in the works with similar characters and issues, set in a similar futuristic world, that they were also planning to share with the group. At our meeting, that member talked about all the similarities and the fact they couldn’t even read my chapter without worrying about how such synchronicity would affect the development of our different projects.

I said I would be happy to not share this particular story with the group in the future to allay such concerns, but the person kept bringing the issue up until I had no other choice but to think that they were concerned about something more insidious: plagiarism. That they feared we'd unwittingly steal each other’s ideas if we went ahead and critiqued each other’s work. By the end of the night I was pissed off. I said in no uncertain terms that they didn’t have to worry about me stealing their ideas. I bid them a polite goodnight and left.

A flurry of emails later –– That’s not what I meant/Well, that’s how it sounded to You’re awesome/No, you’re awesome/No, we're both awesome –– we’ve come to a tenuous accord, and are moving forward since the similarities are, after all, only surface ones and the intent of our work is very different. Crisis solved, right?

I’m still left scratching my head. This was a critique group with members writing in all sorts of genres, including literary fiction and poetry, so until now, having similar pieces crop up hasn’t been an issue. When I found out I was writing in the same area as this other critique group member, I thought it was a great opportunity to have someone well-versed in speculative fiction critique my stuff as opposed to just the casual readers who can provide valuable insights, but often get hung up on genre-specific aspects. I was swiftly disabused of that notion.

While my critique group disbanded for a few months, I toyed with the idea of joining the local chapter of Romance Writers of America to not only get involved with a group of professional writers I could count on, but to also receive feedback from qualified readers and writers of my genre. But now I’m left wondering how incestuous such organizations can be when everyone is working on a romance novel with similar elements. How much influence can we have on each other’s work? Where is the line?

People say you must be well-versed in your genre so you know how to stand out, so you know how to avoid tired takes on old plots. People also say the critique process is essential not only because of the feedback you get, but the feedback you provide to others. But both of these activities can be at cross-purposes if the subject matter strikes too close to home.

I’m curious if any of you have ever run into this issue before, especially in groups centered on a particular style or genre of writing. How do you protect your intellectual property? How do you contribute to another’s WIP without eroding the ideas and effort you put into your own work? I’d love to hear your comments.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Resource Roundup – NaNoWriMo Edition

In case you've been living under a rock, November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo or simply NaNo for short. 50,000 words in 30 days (1,667 words/day). Whether you are sailing along or have already found yourself in troubled waters, consider this your one-stop-shop for NaNoWriMo resources when the going gets tough.

As with previous Resource Roundups (Finding the Right Word, Conjuring Up Titles, and Crafting Dialogue), I focused on online resources. There were a ton of posts out there, which I’ve gone through and evaluated for their usefulness. But if you’ve come across other valuable resources, please tell me about them in the comments, and I’ll include them when I add this to my Resource Roundup page on the sidebar.

Post Series: 

Write Anything's NaNoWriMo Workshop by contributor Karen covers planning your NaNo project in addition to specific aspects of craft so crucial to storytelling. She pulls the best bits from numerous books on craft and technique to give NaNo participants a helping hand.

Find, and Flush Out, an Idea
Setting It Up
Point of View
Constructing Scenes

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp courtesy of Agent Nathan Bransford is a must read, if only because Bransford condescended to write about NaNo in the first place. Besides, you should be reading his posts on craft and publishing anyway. He has 4,660 Goggle followers (and counting) for a reason.

Choosing the Right Idea
Goals and Obstacles
Editing As You Go

Countdown to NaNoWriMo by Paulo Campos at yingle yangle gives you tried and true advice from a NaNoWriMo veteran. When you hit the wall, Campos's posts provide options for moving forward.

Part 1: Winding Up Your Writing Clock
Part 2: Why Outlining Your Novel Is Essential
Part 3: Outlining A Novel Worth Reading
Part 4: Your Outline Will Fail
Part 5: Making the Most Out of A NaNoWriMo Crisis
Part 6: Making A Mess of A NaNoWriMo Crisis
Part 7: Why NaNoWriMo Naysayers Should Please Shut Up
Part 8: So Your NaNoWriMo Novel Sucked

Stand Alone Posts:

The Pros and Cons of NaNoWriMo - Gives a great overview of the benefits of participating and the trade-offs you'll make when you lock yourself away to reach the goal.

NaNoReaMo - Author Natalie Whipple decides she's going to spend November reading instead of writing.

Putting the NANO in NaNoWriMo - An alternative take on what "NaNo" really means.

NaNo Checklist - The title says it all. Make sure you haven't forgotten anything.

6 Golden Rules of NaNoWriMo -When you start questioning where your story's headed, read this for a reality check, courtesy of editor Victoria Mixon.

9 Ways to Prepare for National Novel Writing Month - Another post from Write Anything to make sure you're ready for NaNo.

Other NaNoWriMo resources from those who know:

***Please let me know in the comments if you've found a NaNoWriMo resource that should also be included. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Read It Loud, Read It Proud

Last Wednesday night, I did something crazy.

Ok, well, maybe not so crazy, but crazy for me. I read at an open mic event for stories that were three minutes or less.

This was nothing like the readings I do at meetings for my prompt-based writing group. There everyone reads what they wrote in the time allotted for the prompts in a warm, fuzzy, high-fiving atmosphere.

The open mic was different. There was a microphone for one thing. And a recorder. And a timer. Scores of plastic folding chairs. And the oddest assortment of people – young, old, handicapped, MFA students, creative type townies… Oh, and me.

People were supportive of one another, but the stench of competition was in the air as well. You see, after everyone reads, attendees vote for their favorites. The recordings for the top three stories would then be archived online for all time’s sake. And the writers were hungry to share, to read, and, most importantly, to win.

I was hungry too, but in a different way. The open mic is a monthly thing, and I had been wanting to go since the start of the summer. However, real life conspired against me (buying a house, moving, houseguests, general disarray). Finally (finally!) the stars aligned and I was able to attend this month’s meeting.

My goals were only to read my story in three minutes or less and not goof up. Both of which I achieved. This month's winners haven't been announced yet, but that's ok. I'm just happy I went. I’m pretty sure I read at a reasonable pace and paused at the appropriate places. It was nerve-wracking and exhilarating all at once. I’m grateful it’s over, but I’m also glad I did it. And I’m positive if I had not been used to reading my work at writing group, my open mic attempt would be an epic fail.

Coincidentally, a recent post on the Guide to Literary Agents blog talked about public readings. As the author says:
"Each time I read, I explore my own text, emphasize words differently and take chances on intonation and pacing. I’ve absorbed silence and learned to pause when the belly laughs were so loud and long, even I had to chuckle at my own writing.”

This kind of immersion is so helpful in evaluating your own work, which must be why so many writers advocate reading your stuff aloud when you are revising.

I’m not sure I’ll be going to the open mic next month. Despite the obvious benefits, the whole process can be a bit stressful. But if I were to go, I am already thinking about what I would read. Theoretically, of course :)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Feedback Frenzy

I’m always vexed to learn I’m not perfect.

Yesterday was no different when I received my feedback on my entry for the Golden Rose contest. I already knew I wasn’t a finalist but that was ok since I’d be getting back critiques from three different judges (two published, one unpubbed). I chose to enter this contest for that very reason because there’s no one who writes romance let alone historical romance in my writing groups. So with this contest, I would finally be getting critiques from my so-called peers.

Overall my scores were pretty good, confirming my gut feeling that I’m close and getting closer everyday. But where one judge liked my secondary characters, another thought they were two-dimensional. Where one liked my clean prose but thought I had no style, the other thought my style effectively conveyed mood and tone. One thought my storyline tried and true, another compelling. Hmm…

But two things the three judges had more or less in consensus:

  •  I’m still doing more telling than showing in a few instances
  • After an opening scene chock full of external conflict, internal conflict takes over and affects the overall pacing.

No bueno. But instead of a “I’m just not that into your book,” this time I have actionable advice I can use on another revision. All for 50 bucks. I’ll take it.

One thing I found interesting about this whole process was the unpublished judge was harsher than the two published judges. Resulting in a difference of about 10 points. Maybe she didn’t get the story; maybe she’s still a bit green when it comes to craft and critique. But I have to wonder if we unpublished masses are harder on each other because there’s so much competition out there these days. Manuscripts must be perfect like never before for writers to break into the market. A sobering thought.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Case of the Not Enoughs

I’m constantly worried I’m not working hard enough on my writing. That I’m not writing enough. That I haven’t had enough life experience to write anything worthwhile. I’m already pretty sure I haven’t read widely enough even though it seems I'm always reading when I'm not writing. And I suspect I’m not revising enough, even though I’m not sure how I should approach that process differently.

Bottom line, I fear my attempts to better my craft just aren’t good enough.

It’s a debilitating spiral of negativity to be caught up in. But consider:

It is no longer enough to have a webpage. Writers must blog, tweet, share on Facebook. And the list of Thou Shalts keeps getting longer when it comes to social media. (On a side note, Paulo Campos over at yingle yangle has a great post on how social media affects people’s perception of writing success.)

It is no longer enough to land an agent. While agents are still a writer’s number one advocate in the publishing world, the writer still has the ultimate responsibility for selling, positioning, and managing their work. Now, this is nothing new. With so many aspiring writers out there, armed with record levels of literary, the market will favor those writers who can seemingly do it all.

Am I one of them? I don’t know yet as I’m still struggling with this notion: It is no longer enough to write a book.

I’ve written a book (and completed a number of solid drafts for other projects). One that I’m proud of. But is that enough in today’s marketplace? NO. I need to ensure both my idea and story execution are marketable. Competitive. The best I can make it and then some.

This means it is not enough to write for yourself. You must look past your own narrow view of the world. You must know your audience (Found in Translation by Michael Cunningham provides a fascinating take on how to envision the audience for your work). Ultimately you must have a built-in market if your book will win the struggle to stay relevant in our evolving digital culture.

When making the leap from writing for myself to writing for publication, aspects of my work that didn’t bother me before were thrown into sharp relief. I had to ask myself if my work was still good enough for a wider audience. And I didn't like the answer.

It’s hard enough to write a book from start to finish. I don’t mean you have to write in a linear fashion, but that you actually complete the project (tinkering aside). When you hit that point, it can be a tremendous relief. After all, how many other people have great book ideas but get stymied by the execution? But then the real hard work looms ahead of you. Revision. After too many passes to count, you have a polished book, sure, but is it one people want to read? One you can market to publishing houses? One that people will plunk down money for?

Is it that good?

This is where I stumble every time. I just don’t know. I think my work is good. My few readers think so too. But is it good enough? Have I done enough? And if I haven’t, how do I take my work to the next level?

Am I overstating things here a bit? Probably. Am I so discouraged that I will stop linking words, creating dizzying chains of sentences that when fused together make for some awesome storytelling? Hell no. I started writing because I loved it. I won’t stop now. But I still think I haven’t done enough to get things right. I haven’t learned enough. But as always, I’m willing to try.

If this post is a little too grim for you, take a gander at the Agency Gatekeeper's take on debut novelists and what they need to beat the odds:
What do you need? The ability to write really, really, really well. And a great query, a great first page, and The Jeff Herman Guide. Or another  method of finding agents who are likely to be a good fit.
 Until next week.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Identity and In-Laws

My in-laws are visiting for a week starting today. Lovely people. Honest. We get along for the most part and although we’re not best buds, I know I can count on my husband’s parents for anything.

So what’s the problem? They don’t know I write. As far as they’re concerned, I fritter away my time while my husband works. Quite a reversal for an educated woman who had clearly achieved some measure of professional success in another life. Do they think I’m lazy? Unmotivated? Depressed? It’s hard to say since it never comes up except in oblique, sideways references.

I’ve run into this issue with friends and acquaintances as well. There are some people I just don’t know well enough to tell them about my creative aspirations. If I meet someone at happy hour, I’m not going to launch into my plans for the umpteenth revision of my WIP. I’m sorry but I don’t trust my dreams and hopes with just anyone. (There's a great post at Diary of a Virgin Novelist that also talks about this issue).

Even close friends of mine don’t know. If I fail, I want my failures to be as private as possible in this day and age. I’m still insecure with my progress. I keep thinking it will be a lot easier to tell people what I do once I have publication credits to point them to. (Agent Nathan Bransford calls this the “if only game”). Without evidence, I feel like a cheat. A wannabe. I feel the whisper of failure.

So I don’t talk about writing. I don’t talk about the one thing that has shaped my life into what it is today. I keep it all bottled up inside. When people do inevitably ask me what I do, I play the fool, cultivating the image that I’m just some pampered housewife taking her time figuring out what gives her life meaning besides cooking, cleaning, and laundry. This way, my deep dark secret is safe. But at the same time, I’ve discounted my intelligence, my abilities, my determination. People don’t take me seriously. And I’m accustomed to being taken seriously. It’s quite a reversal, and I’m still trying to cope with it.

I feel like my interaction with people who don’t know I write are monochromatic, one-note, absent of vibrancy and meaning, because I’m holding some much of myself back because of vague notions of pride, fear, and self-preservation. It’s not something I necessarily enjoy. I’ve gotten better about it. I’ve let a person here and there in on the big secret with no obvious ramifications. I felt a bit more entitled to the idea of being a writer after attending my first writing conference. And then of course, I always have my colleagues from my writing groups to help put things in perspective.

But there’s something about the in-laws that makes everything worse. They don’t know. They won’t ask. And I just end up feeling awkward about the whole thing. Even if I do succeed someday in getting published, I’m not sure if they’re the type of people who would understand my decision to write when more practical, prudent paths are available to me.

But what’s important is my husband understands. He understood my desire to write before I ever articulated it. I’m thankful for that everyday I get to play with words. And usually that’s enough.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dealing with the Unexpected

I should be back to normal. No more wedding shenanigans, no contractors. I’m back home and ready to resume my writing routine.

There’s just one problem – my right arm swelled to twice its size on Monday.

Poison Ivy. Yep. All thanks to the landscaping help I gave my dad before our house was overrun by relatives and other out of town guests. That was two weeks ago and the dreaded stuff keeps getting worse.

When the swelling didn’t go down, I went to the doctor on Tuesday. Now I’m on heavy duty steroids and anti-itch meds that don’t just make me drowsy but put me in a coma. And I still have a puffy Popeye arm that aches whenever I type, write longhand, or hold a book.

This wasn’t the homecoming I expected.

In fact, I spent most of Tuesday drugged up and feeling sorry for myself. I got down on myself and my writing. Self-doubts that I managed to stave off before came back in full force, somehow knowing I was in no shape to disregard them this time.

Every time I get discouraged, I come back to the same thing: I know I am improving but I have nothing to show for it.

When I get in these funks, I usually start something new, something exciting, something that will distract me from the doubt. But that’s not so feasible this time. Not with my achy puss-filled balloon arm.

Consistency is so important to both my process and my progress. And when unexpected setbacks get in my way, it can be that much harder to get going once more.

I need to give my arm a break, but I’m curious to know how you deal with the unexpected.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Writing Group Woes

I’ll be heading back next week. Wedding festivities have been fun and spoiled me for all things food and alcohol related – I just need to stay hydrated and stick to veggies for a while and I’ll be ok.

Coming back means a return to routine. Before I left for home, we got the last of the interior work done on the house, which means I won’t be a prisoner to the contractors’ schedules. I can come and go as I please. Bike rides to coffee shops and the library are in my immediate future. Bliss!

I’ll also be returning to my writing groups, or should I say group… My Monday night group that’s centered around prompts is still going strong. The critique-focused group, however, has kinda imploded.

First indication that something wasn’t right: one member stopped coming without a word. Secondly, the founder left town to address some personal issues (outlook not so good for her return). Then, when I and the two remaining members were going to meet and figure out how to carry on and recruit new members, we had to cancel last minute because one member was ramping up for her first year as a teacher. We’re tentatively scheduled to meet next week after almost two months of down time, and I’m not sure what will happen.

I realize writing isn’t easy. I realize that groups, while encouraging, can also stress people out and place pressure on them to produce work on a regular basis, which can be frustrating when inspiration strikes irregularly. And don’t even get me started on the critique aspect. There are always those who take take take and never offer reciprocal feedback. Always with a well-meaning excuse, mind you.

I also wonder if my standards for myself are unforgiving for others to meet. After all, I’m not working right now and don’t have to worry about the stress of a 9 to 5 (or longer) job and then writing on top of that. Nor do I have children, who are another time suck. No, it’s just me, my writing, and my understanding husband who knows I’m not happy only keeping house. Therefore I have the time to read and review every submission from the group. But I do wonder why some of the members joined up if they couldn’t commit fully…

People have talked before about the difficulties of finding good critique partners, and I think I’m dealing with these growing pains right now. Sharing your writing is important and necessary. See The Importance of a Critique Group from All Kinds of Writing if you need convincing. But some criticism is better than others -- A breadth of critique from TalkToYoUniverse provides a nice description of the different types of readers and how you should interpret their criticisms.

What I liked about our critique group was the wide variety of styles and genres the members brought to the table. This range of perspectives was wonderful as I’m still bouncing around a bit in terms of which writing styles I’m focused on. In other words, which ones I'm better at. So if I do meet up with the remaining members, and we do decide to keep going and recruit more folks, we will want to preserve that variety. Searching for a Critique Group provides a nice checklist of questions we'll aslo need to keep in mind as we try to grow our group.

If we can’t get dedicated people, I’ll have to explore other ways to find like-minded writers – probably have to break down and join the RWA. I’ve been hesitant to do this, which is something I’ll have to talk about in another post.

Anyone else going through this right now? What strategies have you used?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Slow Blogging

Lots of theories abound when it comes to social media and how blogging should be utilized:

  • Post every day.
  • Respond to each and every comment.
  • Read and comment on other blogs indiscriminately.
  • Flaunt yourself as much as possible.

Trouble is, I’ve never been much of an exhibitionist. Admittedly, blogging is a bit of a contradiction for me. Every time I post, I put myself out there in the ether for public consideration – except I do this under an alias because I’m not ready to own up to being a wannabe writer unless I make it. So why do I do it? Because the benefits of writing practice and engagement with the larger writing community far outweigh the nuisances of blogging.

That said, I’d rather be working on my WIPs instead of putting together my next blog post. But when I do blog, I want my posts to be as strong as possible. I’ll revise, research, and let them sit until they’re ready. This takes time. I guess I’ve always preferred quality over quantity.

When it comes to commenting and interacting with others, it’s all about the content for me. Not the brown nosing, the contests, the polls. If I feel I can’t add to the discussion on someone else’s blog, I don’t bother to comment. Blasphemy, I know. I’m just not comfortable saying something for the sake of saying something. I like to think about things, and I don’t want to rattle off the first thing that comes to mind. Especially when it is so easy to follow things back to the source. I don’t want to be haunted by half-assed comments years from now.

So when I heard about the notion of slow blogging, I felt relieved that it wasn’t just me who took issue with the time pressure of producing content and interacting with others. The concept has been around for awhile now. Anne R. Allen provides a great overview of the movement with respect to writers, which I stumbled upon thanks to a post by Elizabeth Craig. If you want to know more, you can read the Slow Blogging Manifesto and a New York Times article on the movement.

So from here on forward, I will aim to post once a week – usually on Wednesdays.

Before, I loosely coupled my posting schedule to the number of trips I took to the coffee shop to write – roughly two times a week. It was an informal schedule at the best of times before it was utterly destroyed during the big move and subsequent babysitting of contractors over the last two months. But weekly blog posts? That I can get behind. People have talked about the benefits of having a posting schedule before (Elizabeth Craig again comes to mind), so we’ll see how it goes.

I see this move to slow(er) blogging as:

  • a way to help me handle the time pressure of blogging,
  • a justification of the pace of posting I’ve already unconsciously set,
  • a way to reinforce the quality over quantity criterion I’ve always valued,
  • a formal acknowledgement of my accountability to myself and my readers, and
  • a way to ensures I have time to do justice to the topics I post about.


And if this builds in extra time for writing, who am I to complain?

I’ll also be tinkering with some of the labels and tags this week, so apologies for any inconsistencies on that front.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Home Sweet Home (In Theory)

I’m back in my hometown. Been here since last Thursday. My sister’s bridal shower and bachelorette parties are behind me (and went off without a hitch), and in theory, I have two weeks until the wedding hoopla builds up again for the actual ceremony and reception. Two weeks to work on the revisions I brought with me. Two weeks to develop new blog posts (since I’ve been a bit remiss lately) and to come up with new writing ideas.

Cue the eye roll.

I know what happened last time I was home, and it wasn’t writing. Granted, I’m at a coffee shop right now working on this post while my dad’s out golfing. But the next couple of days I’ll need to be working on my writing, and he’ll inevitably be around – without his golf game to distract him from me and my WIP.

He’s not stupid. He knows what I’m doing. But we’ve reached an unspoken agreement not to talk about it. In theory, this means I can write whenever I feel the need to, but I’ve never made my process so visible to him before.

At the same time, if I just do the normal thing (think vegging out in front of the tv – ah, cable…) I won’t get anything done. And there goes all my personal goals and deadlines. Down the drain.

I know what you are thinking: Get over it. Writer’s write. Own the process. Do your work justice. Everyone else can be damned. And while in theory this is true, it’s a lot harder to be self-righteous in the privacy of your own home than it is when you are reliant on the hospitably of others. And yes, I’m painfully cognizant of the fact that my childhood home is no longer my home. I no longer feel comfortable enough here to be myself.


Thankfully, all this angst lends itself nicely to blog ramblings. I will have some actual content in my post next time around. In theory...

Until then.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

From the Revision Trenches

(or How to Make Layering Work for You)

I’m back at work revising my historical romance novel. Again.

I let it sit most of the spring and summer. During that time I had a request from an editor (who I still hope to hear back from some day) and had rather encouraging rejections from the two agents I’ve queried so far.

I also entered the first couple of chapters into a historical fiction and a historical romance contest – not for fame and glory but for the guaranteed feedback that came with the entrance fee. The historical romance contest is still pending (fingers crossed!) and the historical fiction contest announced the winners earlier this month. I didn’t place, but I did get my critique back – full of good’s and very good’s for all aspects evaluated (POV, character development, dialogue, historical accuracy, grammar, etc.).

While that made me feel all warm and fuzzy, the person who evaluated my work did not give me any suggestions on how to improve, which little-naive-me was counting on. So I’m left with a glowing critique, no accolades, and no where to go. I’m hoping my feedback from the other contest will be a bit more enlightening so I will be able strengthen my MS even more in time for the Golden Heart.

In preparation, I’m going through the MS chapter by chapter. Tinkering, tightening, and fixing the little typos that (STILL!) keep cropping up. I’m also focused on heightening tension and emotion throughout the story. My scene intros and outros are pretty strong already – provocative breaks that should induce page turning and openings that immediately ground the reader in POV and place.

So now, I’m just need to make sure the scenes, from start to finish, sing. Easy, right?

I’ve discovered during this round of revisions that I have a tendency to understate things. When it comes to the romance genre, this isn’t a good strategy. You want the reader to experience every emotional high and low. They should be put through an emotional wringer over the course of the story so the ending provides the closure they’re craving. That’s not possible if you are always downplaying actions and reactions like me.

So throughout my MS, I’m looking for places where I haven't capitalized on the potential the story offers. Then I revise it, primarily using a technique called layering.When you layer, you are forced to look at what you have already written and see what is missing. Once you have your answer – whether you need more dialogue, insight into your character’s thoughts and so on – you have to recast the scene to incorporate the missing pieces. This iterative process often results in stronger scenes that operate on multiple levels – a win every time.

Here's a section from my novel. Alex, the hero, grabs the heroine and backs her into the wall to confront her. Her response: "At least this time you did not hurt my injury," like he did earlier when his temper got the better of him and he grabbed her injured shoulder.
Example 1

Alex felt a brief stab of guilt at that. “A terrible accident, my lady. You already have my apologies.” He noted the girl’s disappointment when he did not lessen his hold on her and leaned closer into her face. “You know I mean you no harm. Why can you not trust me? With all of your secrets?”
Reads ok. We get a sense of Alex's remorse and that the girl is goading him a bit to get him to back down, but he doesn't. But I wanted to make it a bit stronger, so I layered in a bit more of what Alex is thinking during the scene:
Example 2

Alex felt a brief stab of guilt at that, but he pushed it aside. “A terrible accident, my lady. You already have my apologies.” The girl frowned when he did not lessen his hold on her. So she would play games with him? He swallowed the blind anger that reared up inside him once more. He leaned into her face, his eyes holding hers. “You know I mean you no harm. Why can you not trust me? With all of your secrets?”
IMHO, this scene is now much stronger with Alex's internal thoughts leading the reader through the confrontation. Not a whole lot was added, just a line or two and some general tinkering, but the dynamics are clearer and the tension is heightened.

I’m not surprised I have to spend so much time on this, as I tend to write spare the first time around and need to bulk up in later passes. When I finish a draft, I have action and dialogue covered, but that’s about it. Then I need to layer in movement, setting details, description grounded in the senses, and emotion. It’s just how I tend to write (which you can read more about in Anatomy of a Story). My problem now is pushing myself to take sections that work well already and make them awesome.

I have to keep reminding myself not to settle for good enough.

I encourage you to read The Art of Layering, a fabulous overview by romance author Renee Ryan, for more examples and tips to apply layering techniques to your own work. I stumbled upon Ryan’s article thanks to a post on Romance Writer’s Revenge.

What are your tips and tricks when it comes to revision time?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dog Days of Summer

I’m writing this at my local coffee shop on Tuesday afternoon – after the contractor canceled on me and pushed back our appointment to Wednesday. Last week I would have killed for the opportunity to get out of the house. But today I almost talked myself out of going. I was feeling meh, my writing was blah, and all I really wanted to do was take a nap.

I was channeling my inner procrastinator.

Once I realized what I was doing, I got in the car and drove to the coffee shop despite the inner voices wailing that I had no idea what to write and had nothing to edit since I ran out of printer ink. (Another convenient excuse not to write).

But I’m here, with java in my veins. And I’m writing. Or at least trying to.

As this month winds down, I’m finding it difficult to concentrate and write the way I want to. A very big part of it is my new home, which despite my efforts still manages to distract me from my various WIPs. I’ve gotten a bit better at balancing home improvement with writing. Just yesterday I had a bunch of new windows installed and was still able to revise two chapters while the crew was tearing out the old windows and caulking in the new. But it can still be overwhelming.

I’m also panicking a bit because I’m spending the vast majoring of September in my hometown for my sister’s wedding. While family fun and festivities are a given (yay!), my ability to write will be virtually non-existent (boo!). Which places added pressure on my time now. On top of this, the founder of my critique group suddenly dropped off the face of the earth to deal with some personal issues and may not be returning. So now the remaining members and I have to figure out how we want to proceed. Sigh.

I’ve accomplished so much the first half of this year that it’s hard to be content when the going gets tough and I’m not producing. I’m also playing the waiting game with some of my submitted pieces, which is also contributing to my malaise. I should be writing something new or finishing past stories. And I am, but only in fits and starts – I’ve yet to find my rhythm and I’m worried I won’t be able to get my groove on until October when I return from my sister’s wedding.

My writing is a casualty of real life right now. I don’t like it, but I’ll deal. In the meantime, here are some resources to help you stay productive when the world conspires against you:
And for writing in particular:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Resource Roundup Part 3 - Crafting Dialogue

This installment of Resource Roundup, I’m tackling dialogue, which is perhaps one of my favorite aspects of writing besides coming up with story ideas in the first place. I especially love banter – I think it’s because I can never come up with sharp comebacks quickly enough in real life and so I save them all for the page. By the way, the French have a word for this inability to come up with a timely, clever retort (of course the do): l’esprit de l'escalier, roughly translated as staircase wit.

As I did in previous Resource Roundups (Finding the Right Word and Conjuring Up Titles), I focused on online resources. There were a ton of posts out there, which I’ve gone through and evaluated for their usefulness. But if you’ve come across other valuable resources, please tell me about them in the comments, and I’ll include them when I add this to my Resource Roundup page on the sidebar.

Now, let’s get started.

The Basics

Don’t know where to start? Be sure to check out author Barry Lyga’s series on dialogue: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5. Each segment is chockfull of examples and tips you can implement in your own writing.

Michael Stearns of Upstart Crow Literary also provides a whole host of information for beginners (including a helpful checklist at the end) in his article Dialogue, Some Basics.

More recently, Annie Evett over at Write Anything posted a wonderfully in-depth exploration of dialogue: The Trouble with Dialogue Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

And if you are writing dialogue, for the love of all that is holy, please learn how to punctuate it correctly. Marg Gilks’s article Punctuating Dialogue will help get you started. Also, be sure you know the difference in punctuating a speaker who has been interrupted versus one who just trails off (Dialogue Interruptus from Blood-Red Pencil).

Whose Line is it Anyway?

When crafting dialogue, it can sometimes be difficult to ensure your reader knows exactly which character is speaking when. This is what’s known as talking heads syndrome, and you can find a good example of this type of exchange in Are Your Characters Talking Heads? via K. M. Weiland’s blog Wordplay.

So how do you avoid this? You can rely on speech tags (which are detailed in the next section) or you can find a way to make each character sound distinct from one another, so that even if you don’t explicitly tell the reader who is speaking, they can infer the speaker through the way the speech is constructed.

As discussed in All Write With Coffee’s post Dialog: Distinctive Voice - The Three V’s, each character should have their own level of 1) vocabulary, 2) verbosity, and 3) velocity, which can help writers make their characters’ speech distinctive.

Jason Black at Plot to Punctuation suggests you start by imitating the speech patterns of people you know in his article Un-Clone Your Characters with Distinctive Dialogue. He also suggests giving your characters certain mannerisms and deciding how formal or informal their speech is relative to others in your story as a way of making them stand out.

Speech Tags and Saidisms

Speech tags are another way of leading your reader through conversations to help them understand who is talking when. But tags are a contentious issue. Some people advocate only using he said/she said and avoiding things like he whispered/growled/screamed etc. since the emotion should be clear from the dialogue itself. Then there are the dreaded adverbs, which can creep in like “he said softly” or “she said hesitantly” which are generally no-no’s. As a post over at the Ruff Draft explains, these techniques are throwbacks to a style of writing exemplified by Tom Swifties, a series of books dating back to the early 20th century.

Mary Kole’s post Tag, You’re It! How To Write Excellent Dialogue Tags and Janice Hardy’s post Hey, Who Said That? provide a good overview of the different ways you can use dialogue tags effectively.

But sometimes, variation in your speech tags can be a good thing. Historical romance author Joanna Bourne provides an in-depth exploration of occasions when saidisms may be appropriate in her posts When to Use Saidisms and More Maunderings about Saidisms.

Verisimilitude not Verbatim

When writing, you want your dialogue to sound authentic to readers and to accurately portray your characters. But if you make your dialogue sound too realistic, you run the risk of having dialogue that is vague, irrelevant, or just plain boring. Similarly, you don’t want to slow down your dialogue with verbal pauses (um, so, like, yeah) because although they are ever-present in real life speech, you don’t want to have read them on the page.

In Speaking of Dialogue, author Robert J. Sawyer discusses how everyday conversations get translated to the printed page, and pitfalls beginning writers should avoid. Screenwriter Robert Piluso’s post Writing Fun, Funky Dialogue From The Hip provides a nice overview of ways to add the appearance of realism to your dialogue through fragmenting exchanges, portraying miscommunication, and cursing, to name a few.

Dialect is another tool writers use to make their characters sound more realistic. A reader can immediately determine things like geography and social status, which can help flesh out characters in a story. But it can be fatiguing to read if overused, and some people today have strong knee-jerk reactions to it. Juliet Marillier’s post A Wee Bit of Dialect for Writer Unboxed discusses why she chose to keep Welsh dialect in one of her books and why she now regrets that decision.

Also keep in mind the Rule of 12 (which I picked up from Pearl Luke’s Writing Dialogue with Good Tension), where characters (and real people) rarely speak more than 12 words at a time. If your character is going on and on without a break, you need to interject some narration to keep your reader on board, as explored in the next section.

Setting the Stage

Your characters’ conversations don’t exist in isolation. There are things your characters can think, see, smell, taste, touch, and do, even if they are talking to one another. Start with your dialogue as the skeleton of the scene, and then layer in action and description to make it more fully realized. Janice Hardy’s post Tag! You’re It, gives successive examples of this type of layering to strengthen dialogue-heavy scenes.

In addition to coming up with a story and characters, you must also be a choreographer and make your scenes move on the page. As Tom Leeven explains in Theater Techniques to Sharpen Your Dialog (a handy post from WriteOnCon):
“Blocking” is a term referring to the physical movements actors make on stage. It could be an entrance, exit, sitting, standing, a cartwheel . . . whatever. Blocking is physical action, motivated by emotional responses. Your characters have blocking, too. It’s most often found in the narrative surrounding your dialogue.
But some techniques are better than others for inserting action and description into your dialogue. Holly Bodger’s post Breaking Dialogue provides a great overview of how to break up your dialogue before, after, or in the middle of your character’s speech.

When to Put the Die in Dialogue at Make Mine Mystery talks about the importance of nonverbal reactions in conversations. You’ll find a good list here of behaviors people do depending on their emotional state. Also be sure to check out The Nonverbal Dictionary for other ideas, which I stumbled up thanks to Angela Ackerman’s Zombie Crew.

Double Duty

We often approach dialogue as a specific aspect of writing, but if done well, it can function in a variety of ways. A post over at The Blood-Red Pencil called Dialogue: Just the Way We Talk? shows that dialogue can be action, a means of defining character, showing emotion and mood, and intensifying conflict.

Theater Techniques to Sharpen Your Dialog provides a useful overview of how to make your dialogue show characters’ motivations and suggests that each line of dialogue should represent a win or a loss for each character – another way of introducing or intensifying the conflict in your story.

How you present dialogue can also influence your story’s pacing. In “Good Dialogue,” the Editor Said, the author states:
Manipulate the story's pacing with dialogue. Don't ignore the emotional state of your character. If she's upset, don't let her think deep thoughts, or speak in long sentences. We're human. When upset, we speak in fragments. Clipped tones. To convert the emotion to the writing, use short, terse sentences and paragraphs. Forceful verbs. No frills. No fluff. Nothing to slow the reader down. This technique quickens the pacing. The reader reads faster, thus senses urgency. Conversely, to slow the pace during tender, poignant moments, do the opposite--allow your characters to think longer, more leisurely, unhurried thoughts, and let them speak in flowing, sensory-oriented sentences that slowly drift down the page. This tool conveys a character's emotions to the reader, gains reader empathy.
When Revising

All stories need to be revisited at some point, and the links below offer useful tips and tricks to keep in mind when revising your dialogue.

20 Questions to Help Improve Your Dialogue from yingle yangle is a useful revision checklist to ensure your dialogue is in tip-top shape.

Writing the Short Story 6: Dialogue includes a list of generalizations for dialogue, revision tips, and exercises to make your dialogue snap, crackle, and pop.

How to Revise Your Dialogue from Plot to Punctuation details a method for ensuring your characters sound distinct and speak consistently in their own ‘voice’ throughout your story.

Dialogue is Not Necessarily How We Talk from The Blood-Red Pencil provides a nice list of dialogue no-no’s and includes helpful revision suggestions from writing handbooks.

Other Considerations

For the ladies out there, read Therese Walsh’s post Turning X’s into Y’s – Guy Talk that Works to ensure your representing your male characters’ speech patterns correctly. And yes, the Gender Genie does work.

Trying to channel your inner teenager? Check out YA Characters – Four Tips for Portraying Young Adult Characters and Strange Things about High School in YA Books to get a better sense of how your YA characters should act and sound.

Internal monologues are the dialogue of your character’s brains. They can do a lot for deepening character and setting the tone, but the can also bring the action of the story to a screeching halt. The Dos and Don’ts of Internal Monologues at Wordplay explain the best way to implement internal monologues in your story.

What if you only have one character who spends the majority of time on the page alone? Author Clarissa Draper has a list of Creative Ways to Add Dialogue to One-Character Scenes.

Finally agent Nathan Bransford weighs in: About Those Books Beginning with Dialogue.


I hope you find these resources valuable as you craft the perfect lines for your characters! And if I’ve overlooked anything, please let me know in the comments!

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