Tuesday, May 31, 2011

101 Best Websites for Writers

Writer's Digest has it's yearly list out naming the 101 Best Websites for Writers. Weird-the link is broken. Sorry. Here is the list from 2009.

I am not familiar with a lot of them, but I plan on checking them out.

Here are the top 10 sites that I use. - This is ALWAY open when I am writing

Pub Rants - Agent Kristin Nelson's blog: I have learned tons about what steps I need to take to get published.

Query Shark - I've read through every post - all 202 of them, and I learned how to make my query shine.

Confessions from Suite 500- Two lit agents give line by line critiques of the first 250 words of authors first chapter.

The Other Side of the Story - Author Janice Hardy is amazing. Her posts about writing blow me away. I learn something every time I read it.

Baby Hold - A great site for finding character names by origin (African, Spanish, Dutch) without having to give the site your email.

Navigating the Slush Pile - Agent Vickie Motter gives great advice. I especially like her Wednesday Reads. She reviews current books and then I can read them and see if I agree with her. It is nice to know why agents like certain books.

The Bookshelf Muse - This site is a great writing resource when you get stuck. There are lists and lists of different ways to describe: emotion, weather, character, setting, etc.

Grammar Girl - Love this site when I have a grammar question: Lay vs. Lie, Take vs. Bring, Who vs. Whom. I should have payed better attention in school :)

Slush Pile Hell - When I need a good laugh.

Does anyone else have great sites that they use?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Reading to Write

I hear writers say all the time that they are too busy to read. That is so sad L I hope that is never me.

I feel like I learn as much from reading books as from writing books. I find that I enjoy books more as a writer because I am trying to learn everything I can from them. Even if I am reading a book I don’t like, I can appreciate the time and skill it took to create them.

As I read along in a new book. I’m always asking myself questions like:

  • Where did the author do well?
  • What worked for you?
  • Where did the story fail you?
  • Where did it exceed your expectations?
  • How did the author surprise you?
  • What did you need from the story? Did you get it?
  • What was your favorite part?
  • What did you hate?

As a writer the two questions that have shaped my writing the most are: Where did the story fail? and What did you need from the story?

I think part of reading is about finding the good and bad in a story, so you can learn from it—even if you aren't a writer. But I know I’ve been swept away if I forget all my questions, and just fall into the story.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

The power of the write word

"The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."
-Mark Twain

I've been marinating over this quote since I took a class from Sara Eden at the LDStorymakers conference. She taught us about description and how the wrong word can haunt you throughout your entire book...lurking over your shoulder and throwing off the flow. Whereas, the right word, moves the plot forward in the direction that you want. It is liberating and gives your manuscript the crisp details that make a good story come to life.

The power of the word is unfathomable. As I've been revising my book, I have seen this first hand. It was so thrilling last night when I cut a 12 word sentence to 7 by trimming the fat and throwing out 5 non-essential words. I replaced those 5 with one word - snap. Am I a nerd to get so excited about this? It's a small thing, replacing 5 words, but it gave my plot the slight pivot and shift that it needed.


Psychology 101 - For Writers

My husband is excellent at finding characters acting “out of character” in fiction. His main complaint about books is that authors write characters and then they don’t stay true to character. I think the reason he is so great at finding these discrepancies is that he not only has a BA in, but also a talent for—psychology.

This had led me to believe that writers must also be armchair psychologists. We all hear we need to know our characters motivations, but that could mean a million things.

Here are 10* questions that should help. You need to be able to answer these questions to have a well fleshed out character:

  1. What is their background? How does it affect their actions today?
  2. What is the defining moment in their life?
  3. What do they want most?
  4. What will they do to get it?
  5. What is something they assume to be true that is not?
  6. What do people believe about them that is false?
  7. What are their talents? How did they develop them?
  8. What are their flaws? How did they develop them?
  9. What is their main goal?
  10. How do they go against stereotype?

If you can answer all of these you are well on your way. If not take a deeper look. The answers could help and even drive your plot—especially #4.


*Some, but not all, of these questions came from a class it took on Characters by J. Scott Savage and Deanne Blackhurst

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Punctuation and Pacing

I took a great class at my last conference. It was on Pacing and taught by Josi Kilpack. She said a lot of great things but my favorite was about how punctuation can affect the pacing of our stories.

I hadn’t really thought about it in the cool way she put it:

Think of punctuation as road signs signaling your readers what you want them to do:

  • Period (.) – Full stop.
  • Comma (,) – Pause, or slow break.
  • Ellipsis (…) – Pause, or rubbernecking at an accident.
  • Semicolon (;) – Longer pause, or a rolling stop.
  • Exclamation (!) – STOP. Yelled stop (That could get annoying fast, use in moderation)
  • Question Mark (?) – Pause + prod to do something, or sharp turn.
  • Em Dash (—) – Pause + look aside, like slowing to read a billboard.

I am a sucker for a metaphor. Thanks Josi. I won’t think of punctuation the same again.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011


This post isn't about book endings but chapter endings. The end of a chapter is the perfect place for a reader to stick in a book mark and change the laundry, sleep, mow the lawn, etc.

As a writer I want to write a book you can’t put down. I want to write a book that makes you feed your kids cereal for dinner because you lost track of time.

But how do I do that? I think a great way is to end a chapter with a BANG. End with something that makes you read on:

  • End with a threat
  • End with a mystery
  • End with a kiss, but no reaction
  • End with trauma (emotional or physical)
  • End with emanate danger
  • End with a discovery
  • End with a question
  • End with conflict

There are more examples. Just think about what you want your readers to do, keep reading or do the dishes, and you will find ways to end the chapter.



Monday, May 23, 2011


The first sentence of your book can be nerve wracking. Writers are told that all our hopes hang on these 10 to 20 words (unless you are Dickens:) Feeling the pressure?

On top of the pressure there are all kinds of arbitrary rules: No dialogue, No weather, No back story, and most important Nothing boring! Break these rules and the door to the publishing world will be slammed in your face like a solicitor. But rules are made to be broken--oh, I forgot, No cliche's:) Instead of rules how about a few ideas:

  • Start it in a way that makes sense for your story.
  • Leave your reader with a question.
  • Showcase something special.
  • Think about your book as a whole.

Lisa Mangum said that the first sentence is important but it matters less than the first page. That makes me feel good. It means I have about 250 words to grab a reader instead of 20.

Just to prove that point here are a few first sentences from some of my favorite books:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a thirty-something woman in possession of a satisfying career and a fabulous hairdo must be in want of very little, and Jane Hayes, pretty enough and clever enough, was certainly thought to have little to distress her. – AUSTENLAND by Shannon Hale

Have I done the right thing in establishing Georgiana in London, I wonder? – DARCY’S DIARY by Amanda Grange

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. – TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. – HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE by J.K. Rowling

On the morning of that day in March, in the Year of the Boar, when the ugly stranger came to Tsin Kai-feng, I opened my eyes and felt a pang of despair to find nothing had changed. – MOONRAKER’S BRIDE by Madeleine Brent

You can see, some are great and some are just okay. The point is they were good enough to keep me reading. It was the book that made it my favorite not the first sentence. I’m not saying don’t write a killer first sentence. I’m just saying don’t stress about it.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Set Pieces

Last month I read a book called: PLOT by Ansen Dibell. It was fascinating. I learned so much. I marked it up with so many highlighted sections. If you have a chance to read it DO!

One of the most useful things I learned was how to use SET PIECES in your writing.

SET PIECES are big moments in your story. Almost like mini-plots within your main plot. They move your main plot along.

Stories should: build, build, build to a set piece, resolve and leave a question that makes the reader want to continue. This should repeat multiple times

in a story until the final resolution. I will try to use an example that everyone should know:


Start: Harry is left as a baby.



Set Piece: Harry finds out he is a wizard.

Resolution: He gets to leave the Dursleys

Question: What does he do now? Why is he famous?




Set Piece: Sorting ceremony.

Resolution: He is put in Gryffindor

Question: Why not Slytherin?




Set Piece: Harry finds out about the Sorcerer’s Stone

Resolution: Harry’s friendship with Ron and Hermione is solidified.

Question: How do they save the stone?



Set Piece: Voldemort is looking for the stone too.

Resolution: Dumbledore will protect the stone.

Question: How can Harry help?



Set Piece: Harry, Ron, and Hermione go after the stone.

Final Resolution: Harry saves the stone and his friends.

This is extremely simplified. You can have many SET PIECES in your book. They are a great way to move your plot along and keep your story from sagging in the middle.

Obviously during the building parts you layer in your characters, world building, sub-plots, back story, and motivations.

Learning about Set Pieces made me understand how better to construct my story. Again if you want to learn a ton read: PLOT by Ansen Dibell.

Happy Writing J


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Red Flag Words

I'm deep into line edits for my manuscript. Slowly going word by word through 93,000 words. It makes me a little crazy. Just like in yesterdays post, I found a lot of help on Janice Hardy's blog.

Some words tend to be redundant, telling, passive and inactive. These are the words that give me the most trouble:

Was, were
Have, had, has
Will be

Janice Hardy has two great posts about this: Spit shine (for a complete list) and Send up the (red) flag.

Good luck with your edits :)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Show and Tell

This isn't quite as fun as seeing your friends pet lizard or hearing about a trip to Hawaii, like we all did in first grade--but almost :)

This post is about the millstone the hangs from the neck of all writers--show DON"T tell. I am constantly learning how to make my work show and not tell. Janice Hardy-author of THE SHIFTER, BLUE FIRE, and DARKFALL - has a great blog about everything writing related. She does a regular post called: Real-Life Diagnostic. Authors can email her 250 words and ask her a question. She will look over your work and post it and her comments on her blog. It is a great way to learn.

Last month she posted a section of my work. I asked her specifically about Showing vs Telling. I learned so much from her critique. Here is the original post if you want to see what she said. But below I have added both the original and revised 250 words. See if you notice the changes. I think the revision does a much better job of getting you into my main characters head.

Just a bit of background. This is the third time these characters meet. They don't have a relationship yet, but they aren't strangers.



Taggert’s eyes made contact with hers as he walked forward. Other girls tried to capture his attention as he passed by, but he never took his eyes off Jocelyn. She felt frozen, like a leaf trapped by frost that lost its ability to stir in the wind, and whether by panic or fascination she didn’t know. Her feet wouldn’t move and she remained unable to pull her eyes from his. Her heart beat faster with each approaching step. She was completely unable to prevent her physical reaction to him no matter how badly she tried. Jocelyn became irritated with herself. Why couldn’t she ignore him like she did so many other men? His approach seemed unreasonably slow and when he finally reached her, she knew her heart couldn’t beat any swifter.

“Did you enjoy the matches?” his tone disarmingly casual.

“Yes, they were entertaining,” she managed, praying she sounded nonchalant and feeling anything but.

He finally broke eye contact and turned to look at the arena, now filled with boys and their sticks engaged in their own mini battles.

“I’ve noticed,” he began, “these little events sometimes develop…unusual consequences.” He turned and watched her, measuring her reaction.

“I’m not sure I understand,” she answered genuinely confused.

His brown eyes twinkled, and she noticed for the first time the little creases in the corner of his eyes. She immediately liked them.


Taggert’s gaze made contact with Jocelyn’s as he walked toward her.

Is he coming over to me? She casually looked side to side, the girls he passed tried to capture his attention, but he never took his eyes off Jocelyn. She felt frozen and whether by panic or fascination she couldn’t quite tell. Her feet wouldn’t move and she couldn’t pull her eyes from his.

Stop it. Stop it. She scolded her racing heart. She breathed deeply then pushed the breath out slowly, but her heart still sped. Well that didn’t help. She scowled, irritated with her physical reaction. He is just walking, ignore him. Focus on something else. But she couldn’t focus on anything but his unreasonably slow approach. When he finally reached her, her heart was galloping.

“Did you enjoy the matches?” he asked his tone disarmingly casual.

“Yes, they were entertaining,” she said, praying she sounded nonchalant—feeling anything but.

He broke eye contact and turned looking at the arena, now filled with boys and their sticks engaged in their own mini battles.

“I’ve noticed,” he said, “these little events sometimes develop…unusual consequences.” He cocked one eyebrow and smiled.

“I’m not sure I understand,” she answered confused.

His brown eyes twinkled, and she noticed the little creases in the corner of his eyes. She immediately liked them. Oh, you are going to be trouble for me.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How writing is like Interior Design

In college I majored in History and Interior Design (funny combo I know). I should have majored in Lit because those are the classes I took for fun. But I don't think my Interior Design knowledge is watsed, because I believe creating an amazing story and creating an amazing room are the same.

For the sake of argument I belive this metaphor applies to fiction - poetry, non-fiction, and memoirs are different beasts.

Room = Plot : Every room needs a floor, walls, ceiling. Without those things there is no room. Same goes for a story. Every story needs a plot. Without a plot we wander aimlessly around never doing or accomplishing anything. All rooms are basic, just like all plots are basic. It is what we put in them that make them special.

Wall Color = Voice : You can put a million things on walls: paint, paper, fabric, wood, brick, etc. Each thing and color brings a different feeling to the room. Voice is the same, poetic, funny, or snarky. Every kind of voice encirles the story setting the tone, pace, and mood. You would never paint a country living room royal is the wrong voice.

Furniture = Characters : One rule of interior design is NEVER use sets of furniture. Your couch and chairs should never match. Find pieces that are different but coordinate and
compliment each other. Same goes for characters. They should be so different from each other that even their dialogue can't be confused. Just like perfectly paired furniture adds depth to a room, perfectly paired characters do the same: solid stable character (like a couch) set against a fragile flighty character (spindly wingback chair) contrast each other and make a story/room interesting.

Furniture Placement = Scene Selection/Pacing : The three foot rule (there should be three feet of walking space around furniture) is used in interior design to keep a natural flow in a room. You would never take all your furniture and push it into a pile in the middle of the room - that's weird. Where you place your scenes and what the pace of your story is effects how readers move through your story. Place your scenes well and the story flow is natural. Another thought - you would never stick a fridge in your living room. A fridge is a great piece of furniture, but in the wrong place it doesn't work. Sometimes we hang onto scenes we like but don't work...put the fridge back in the kitchen, you will be glad you did.

Lighting = Mood : Well placed lighing in a room makes all the difference and sets the mood for your room: bright, eerie, sad, friendly. Mood can even be used to spotlight something important in your story. Throw a spotlight on it- so to speak.

Accessories = Details we LOVE : Throw pillows, rugs, art, mirrors, etc...these are the first things we notice in a room. They add intrest, spice, or comfort. Accessories are just like the details we add to our story to make it pop. New worlds, interesting settings, magic, etc. etc. If you took all the accessories in your room and put them on your lawn they would lose all their interest. Accessories need the context of a room, wall color, furniture and lighting to be their best. Same goes for a story without the context of structure; the details that make our story pop are meaningless.

Wow, that felt a little rambleing. I hope it made sense. I really believe that everything that is creative relates to each other.


Did you Say Something?

I love writing dialogue. I like reading it too. That's probably why, no matter how hard I try and how much I really want to, I just can't get through some of those classics. If you know what I mean. My dad was one time flipping through a manuscript of mine and jokingly asked, "is this a novel or a screenplay?"

I also remember back in sixth grade getting an assignment to write a myth. My myth ended up being nine pages long and I couldn't begin to understand why everyone else was turning in two, maybe three, paged papers. Then I realized everyone else had just summarized their story while I had actually written a complete short story. With a beginning, middle, an end and a whole ton of dialogue. My teacher was amazed by how well I'd written my dialogue, too, getting nearly all the punctuation right, even.

When she handed my paper back with a somewhat awed look, she asked, "how did you learn how to write dialogue like that?"

Apparently your average sixth grader doesn't now all the logistics, yet. I shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I just read a lot and picked it up."

That's pretty much how I learned everything when it comes to writing, actually.

Anyway, here are some quick dialogue rules:

When the character "said" "asked" or whatever, use commas. And don't forget to leave the next part lower case. If the character is "in action" or anything else, put a period before continuing. Example:

"Come on," she said.

He shook his head. "I can't."

Use only the simplest tags like "said" and "asked" as much as possible. Don't use them every time someone speaks, though. They can kind of get in the way of the flow. Let the reader imagine what is going on when it comes to the inflection of the voice. But don't leave them completely in the dark. One trick I learned at the LDStorymakers Conference was to use a tag about every three exchanges.

Watch for "floating heads", though. I have this problem a lot because I get so caught up in the dialogue. This can be remedied by putting in a little something about the setting or an action made by the characters. Example:

"I can't see you again." Sally sniffed.

Fred watched a couple walking a corgi across the duck pond for a moment. "If that's really how you feel..."

Alright, there's my two cents about dialogue. Now get out there and write something amazing!


To Write or Not to that even a question?

'To Write or Not to Write' was the title of my 7th grade research paper. At the tender age of 13, I was determined that I would be like Anne Shirley or become the next Jane Austen , sweeping unsuspecting readers off their feet with my devastatingly handsome hero and of course, a damsel in distress! My pen name was of course, Cordelia and I conjured up sappy love stories nearly every day.

Sometimes I think, "Boy, I've come a long way from that naive phase of life"... but have I really? If I'm honest with myself, I still want to swoon over the Mr. Darcys and the Gilbert Blithes of the literary world and not only that... I want a piece of that pie! I want to be a creator. I want to be a part of that process. To etch out my own brilliant character whether he has a dark past or whether he's the simple farm boy in a village - I want to write! I want to create!

To my 7th Grade teacher Mrs. Judy Fuchs (Pronounced Fewkes by the way :)) who, after reading my research paper, made me promise to dedicate my first publication to her...Here I come! I have a fantastic critique group, I have just returned from the LDStorymakers conference with my brain full and bursting with ideas and most importantly, that little Anne Shirley inside of me is as anxious and passionate about writing as she's ever been. What do I have to lose??

So, the answer to my 7th grade question? Write! That is the answer! Or more appropriately, Live to Write... Edit When Necessary!

Am I in over my head? Definitely! Am I surrounded by people more talented than I? Most certainly! Am I going to grow and stretch? Yes... and love every minute of it!

"When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, "I used everything you gave me."
Erma Bombeck

Live to Write...Edit when Necessary!


Saturday, May 14, 2011

All You Need Is Love

One of my favorite classes at the LDStorymakers conference was a the class Sara Eden taught on writing romance. Here are my notes:

Romance is the MOST read genre. Taking up more than 40% of the market all on it's own. Romance is tricky to write because the story question and the answer are already determined for you.
Story question: Will they get together?
Answer: YES!

If your story question and answer are different, you are probably not writing romance, but maybe a romantic plot line.

But whether writing a romance novel or a romantic plot line the principles are the same.
  1. Strong emotional connection between characters
  2. Need fulfillment
  3. The couple is something to each other that no one else is
Emotional connection: "Hot" is not an emotion (love that). Characters need interaction and time together for us to believe in their romance. They shouldn't be perfect but have strengths and weaknesses we can relate to. No one can relate to perfect. We need a reason to cheer for them independently and as a couple.

Need fulfillment: Your hero/heroine should fulfill a need in each other. Needs can range from shallow (I'm hot--you're hot--let's make out) to deep (someone to see through our mask, protect us, be our equal, etc.) The deeper the need the deeper the connection.

To add tension add competing needs. Example- Katniss in THE HUNGER GAMES is stuck between the two competing needs - Save Prim and Save Peeta.

Use your knowledge of human nature to figure out what your characters need in a significant other.

Couple is something to each other that no one else is: If their connection is not unique it will lack impact and not be satisfying to the reader (step in need fulfillment). This is why their connection MUST go beyond love at first sight or just the physical (because not to sound crude, but you can get that anywhere:)

A great way to prove this to your readers is to show them with other people. Example: Elizabeth Bennett with Mr. Collins vs. Elizabeth and Wickham vs. Elizabeth and Darcy. We are clearly shown who is best for her.
Last of all here are the romantic pitfalls that these three principles will help with:
  1. Love in a vacuum (people have to eat you know)
  2. Romantic tension that relies too much on the physical (it could be anyone)
  3. Little or no romantic tension (jump into it too fast)
  4. Weak sources of conflict (example: a misunderstanding that could be cleared up easily)
  5. Love has no foundation
I LOVED this class. I learned so much. I knew I liked specific stories, but it is fun to see just why they work so well.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Adverbs are the Devil?

I'm quickly learning that adverbs are the bane of writers. I've heard no-so-quiet rumblings that adverbs are to be avoided at almost all costs. I didn't believe it. How can, roboticly, cautiously, tenderly, violently, be sooo bad? I love them.

But I've learned at conferences, books, and in my online wanderings that adverbs can be a sign of weak, immature, lazy writing. Suddenly I have to look at my work differently?

Okay I get the idea that a strong verb is better than a week verb + an adverb. Example:

The crowd cheered loudly...
The crowd exploded...

I get that. I do. But where I get confused is:

If you want keep your writing concise aren't adverbs useful? Isn't it tighter to say, "She slipped silently into the hungry darkness." As opposed to, "With faint footfall, alerting no one, she slipped into the hungry darkness." Maybe the second is better? I don't know.

Side note: I'm currently reading a book littered with adverbs...and I really like it...the book and the adverbs :)

Launch Party!

Welcome to our new blog! All about writing, editing, books, publishing, agents, etc. Here are our musing about everything literary. Hopefully we will learn something together :)

Amy, Sara, Beckie, and Angie
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