Thursday, June 30, 2011

Inspiration or Bust!

I’m off on a week long trip to the Land of Enchantment—the amazing New Mexico. (I will not reveal whether amazing is meant sarcastically or not—you will have to guess from the font:)

I’m looking forward to 9 hours in the car with 3 kids. I get some of my best ideas when I drive. I keep a little notebook in my purse to write down my ideas. I’ve written whole chapters in the car. Dangerous—I know! Sometimes I get my 12 year old to write for me, but he has dreadful handwriting.

I am VERY inspired by nature. More than one sunset has jumpstarted a chapter. I like to think about settings and mood, then I get ideas on how to fit my characters and plot into whatever world I’m envisioning.

When do you get your best ideas?


Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I have been trying to pin down the elusive enigmatic idea that is—VOICE. We hear it over and over that our writing must have a distinctive voice. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

I’ve resorted to reading books that agents have blogged about and said, “This book has perfect VOICE.” So after a little research, this is what I’ve learned about VOICE.

VOICE is: How you tell your story. Is your writing lyrical, funny, snarky, independent, dark, brutal, etc… This is your story voice.

VOICE is: How your characters speak, act, and move through your story. Do your characters grab readers by the hand and lead them through the story? Do they have personalities that leap from the page? This is character voice.

VOICE is: Your take on the world as an author. The truth and themes, you weave into your story, tell readers what you want them to ponder and learn. This is your intention voice.

I am by no means an expert on VOICE. These are just ideas I have formed by reading books that agents have touted as having unforgettable VOICE.

Anyone have any other ideas?


Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I’ve been struggling with my second WIP. It’s lacking the tension and pace of my first MS. If feel like my characters are milling around—being boring. This past weekend I had an epiphany!

I’m going to make my character face his greatest fear. I’m going to make this fear follow him around the story—pick, pick, picking at him like Chinese water torture. It’s going to create awesome conflict and tension, and it will force him to change.

What are your characters greatest fears?

  • Shame
  • Betrayal
  • Worthlessness
  • Abandonment
  • Change
  • Stagnation
  • Snakes, spiders, peanutbutter :)

I did this very thing in my completed MS, but I didn’t think about it as I wrote. It just happened organically.

Putting your characters in situations that make them face their fears can help them resolve their inner conflict and move your plot along.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Covers: No Judgement...well maybe a little.

I always judge a book by its cover and I’m not convinced it is such a terrible thing. I mean isn't that what the covers are for? One look and you can tell the genre, the intended audience, and even a little of what to expect.

I want to make this extremely clear: I’M NOT MAKING A STATEMENT ABOUT HOW GOOD OR BAD ANY OF THESE BOOKS ARE, just how I feel about the covers.

So what do I love in a cover? I love abstract covers. Nature. Art. And as weird as it seems—Torsos.

What do I dislike? Full on faces. I hate it when the cover dictates what the main character looks like. I want to imagine it for myself. I will actually pass on a book if there is a face on the cover.

Here is an example. I LOVE Pendragon. The Pilgrims of Rayne is a great book. But which cover do you like better?

Maybe I'm crazy? Am I the only one who hates faces, because over 50% of the books have them. Opinions?


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Villain Hair

My 6 year old asked me, “Which of your brothers do you like best? Pretend one of them is evil.” (I have two very kind brothers. I think the question was really about her brother--who she thinks is evil J ) This question bounced back and forth between my sisters and me. We decided on the one with “villain hair” was the evil brother.

This made me think theremust be more to a villain than hair. So what makes a great villain?

At the conference I just attended I heard something that stuck with me, “Villains think they are the hero of the story.” What a great thought.

Villains need developed just like the rest of the characters in a book.

  • Back story
  • Motivation
  • Talents
  • Redeeming traits
  • Quirks

Pure evil can be scary but it is also boring. Give the reader more.

Here are some of my favorite villains:

Professor Umbrage (Harry Potter) – She breaks all the stereotypes. Loves pink, loves cats, and loves torture. She took me by surprise.

Darth Vader (Starwars)—I LOVE him! He has such tragic back story, I find myself rooting for him even though I know I shouldn’t. Isn’t that the best?

Gollum (Lord of the Rings)—About half way through the book I forgot he was a villain. And in the end without his selfish obsession—Frodo would have failed. Awesome!

Who are your favorite villains?


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Metaphorically Speaking

I am a *metaphor and simile junkie. I love to read them. I love to write them. A well written metaphor is—hands down—one of my favorite things in literature.

A metaphor can add depth and description to your writing which you can get no other way. But they can be tricky.

My rules for metaphors:

Does it make sense for the story? – My WIP takes place in a world of my own creation, but it is set in a time around 1500-1600’s. I have to be careful to only use metaphors that work in these parameters.

Example: Their voices grated against each other like sandpaper. – Not too bad, but this simile doesn’t work because there was no sandpaper in my time period.

Almost all my metaphors are about nature. My characters spend a lot of time in the forest so it makes sense that they would notice nature and think about how it applies to them.

Example: The crimson sun cut into the earth, its rays bleeding into the diming twilight, soaking the sky and fading to pink. – My MC has just gone through a very traumatic experience, so I believe that she would notice the violence of the sunset.

Does it add something to the story? – I try to write metaphors that enrich the story, reveal feelings, or enhance description.

Example: Tears splattered her dress, leaving dark spots on the fabric—each mark a testimony of her regret, witnesses of what had happened, and wishes for what had not. – I hope the metaphor helps to show just how deep and complicated her feelings are.

Does it add to the characters voice? – I’ve cut great metaphors and similes from my story because it’s my thought as the author and not the thought of my character. I have to stop and think, “Would my MC really think that?”

Example: Like an ill-fitting garment, it pinched in all the wrong places. – This is how my MC looks at the world, in ideas she is familiar with.

Don’t use mixed metaphors! – Yikes. If you start with one idea finish with the same idea:

Example: All at once he was alone in this noisy hive with no place to roost. (Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities) Do you see it? He started with bees but ended with chickens. I think the one exception to this rule is if you are mixing on purpose—a character quirk or comedic relief.

Metaphors and similes are fantastic seasonings to a story—adding spice and flavor just where you want it J

Happy writing


*A simile is a metaphor, but not all metaphors are similes. A metaphor is an implied comparison to suggest a resemblance, and simile does this using the words like or as.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Spelling Bee drop out

I am a terrible speller! There—that's out now. Sigh. I feel so much better after that confession. I guess every writer has a weakness—spelling is definitely one of mine (I have plenty).

If it weren’t for automatic spell check my writing may be unreadable. In fact I use Google Chrome because it shows me misspellings anywhere I type on the internet.

I want to be a better speller. I actually try and get better—and I am doing it slowly. But—there are words I can never spell no matter how hard I try:

  • Necessary: I spell it necissary
  • Prejudice: I spell it predjuice
  • Throat: I spell it throut
  • Shoulder: I spell it sholdure
  • Definitely: I spell it definatley
  • Jealous: I spell it jelouse
  • Gorgeous: I spell it goregouse

I’ve noticed that letters are my problem—the wrong ones—in the wrong places. LOL. That's the definition of misspelling :)

I’m telling you I practice these words but for some reason they don’t stick—I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve told myself pre-jud-ice. My husband finds this one of my funniest quirks. We at least he likes it ;)


Friday, June 17, 2011

Making your scenes multitask!

This is probably writing 101, but when I figured it out it changed how I wrote scenes and chapters.

You know those scenes that you LOVE—the ones that are your babies—the ones full of descriptive details—the ones that go nowhere? The ones you KNOW must be fixed, but you can’t figure out how.

This was my epiphany: Make my scenes multitask!

When I am writing a scene I try and make it do three things. It doesn’t matter what those things are, but it must be at least three. If my scene only does one thing I know I need to work on it. Here is my list:

  • Develop the plot
  • Reveal back-story
  • Develop a character
  • Pose a question
  • Answer a question
  • World building
  • Raise the stakes
  • Foreshadow an event
  • Up the tension
  • Explore a theme
  • Set the mood
  • Achieve a goal
  • Discover something important

I was flabbergasted when I found a post on this exact thing on Janice Hardy’s blog—she does such a fantastic job of going into great detail, everyone really should check it out! If I’m not the only one thinking this, maybe it is a universal writing truth :)

- Angie

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

No Tag Backs!

Alright, as you can see directly below this post, I've be tagged and now I must answer some really random questions about myself. Darn. I enjoy being that mysterious blogger no one knows anything about. Oh well... So here's a little random-ness about me:

1. Do you think you are hot?
Not currently, no. The AC is on, I'm kicking back in some jeans and a t-shirt and my hair is in a messy bun. But last weekend, when you saw me at Walmart in that little red number, with a pair of yellow Prada and a matching Gucci handbag, my hair in platinum blonde cascades of curls, yes, yes I did think I was pretty hot.

2. Upload a picture or wallpaper you are using at the moment.
I sure hope I do this right... I've never uploaded a picture onto blogger...

Looks like I did it! Maybe... I guess I'll see when I post it.

Anyway, this is my wallpaper at the moment. I just got home from living in Germany for seven months and this is a picture of the Altstadt ("Old City" most towns in Germany have a little fussgängerzone ("pedestrian zone") where the historic part of town is and people on foot can soak up the German past) in the little town I lived it, Weiden in der Oberpfalz. I miss it soooo much, so I put the picture as my wallpaper so I can have a good cry over it every time I turn on my computer. (Maybe for my mental health I should change it to something else...)

3. When was the last time you ate chicken?
Does processed chicken count? If so, about ten hours ago for lunch.

4. The song you listened to recently.
To my younger brother's great disgust, I've been listening to the Sound of Music soundtrack in my car for the last two weeks. I love it!!!!

5. What were you thinking while you were doing this?
I was thinking I don't own a "little red number", a pair of Prada, or even know what a Gucci handbag was until I started this blog post (I googled "designer handbag" to find a brand name). If I did, I wouldn't wear them to Walmart. Also, I miss Germany and wish I had more chicken nuggets. Oh, and "How do you solve a problem like Maria?".

6. Do you have any nicknames? What are they?
Oh, where to begin...
Amez: I don't know how this came about, but my best friends call me this from time to time.
Amy-ca: My little brother's name is Eric. And sometimes I'm a jerk and call him Erica. In retaliation, he now calls me Amy-ca
Amy Lee: The German lady I worked with called me this.
Dahlke: pronounced "doll-key" a lot of people call me this because my last name is just too darn cool.
Amelia: When I was in 7th grade I often complained that my name was lame and too short. On one such occasion, my mom looked at me in confusion and said, "You mean we never told you? Your real name is Amelia." So, after going through a difficult time in which I had an identity crisis and had to visit a therapist twice a week for six months, my mom and best friends occasionally call me Amelia. Just to mess with my mind. The meanies.

7. Tag eight blogger friends.
I'm not sure if they'll see it but:
  • Sara Bulla (Now you have to do it twice!)
  • Rebekah W
  • Mindy T
  • Brenna W
  • Tristi Pinkston
  • Karen Hoover
  • And two beautiful volunteers? Maybe some new fans I've acquired now that you know me? I would love to get to know you!
That was fun! Thanks, Angie!

~Amy Dahlke

Tag you're it!

Shelly Brown blog tagged me on her blog yesterday. How fun. It is like a chain letter without all the promises of good luck and threats of destruction.

1. Do you think you are hot?

Every summer I wish I wasn’t so hot—not what you meant? Well my husband does so that’s all that counts.

2. Upload a picture or wallpaper you are using at the moment.

Every time I think I’m a bad parent I look at this and think—At least I don’t…

3. When was the last time you ate chicken?

I’m with Shelly Brown this is a boring question, but I ate sweet and sour chicken last week. I did eat a bag of gummy bears and a Butterfinger last night while I was writing.

4. The song you listened to recently.

Blow by Ke$ha—I know, I know I’m not 17 anymore, but it’s fun. I write all about the guilty pleasure I take in listening to club music on my family blog.

5. What were you thinking as you were doing this?

I’m not as interesting as I thought I was J

6. Do you have any nicknames? What are they?

My husband calls me Deanne. It is kind of an evolution of a few nicknames during the 13 years we have been married. First he called me Angelina—then Angelina Jolie—then De-Angelina—then just Deanne, and Deanne stuck. It's his goal in life to get other people to call me Deanne.

7. Tag 8 blogger friends

  • Sara Bulla—one my awesome critique partners
  • Amy Dahlke—my other awesome critique partner.
  • Katrina Lanz—she is so much fun and so are her blogs
  • Rachel Ure—Amazing artist and sister-in-law.
  • Becca Densley—hey little sis. Time to start bloging again.
  • Karen Howell—because you need something else to do besides raising 6 kids.
  • Risa Greenwood--one of my most favorite Aunts in the world :)
I have 1 spot left if anyone wants it. Just comment below :) Thanks Shelly.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Mad Scientist Writing

You know that stereotype of the mad scientist with crazy hair and the wonky eyes working though the night doing dangerous experiments and causing crazy explosion? I thought that was just a myth, but it turns out—it’s me—when I’m writing!

An idea struck me this morning and I had to get it down. So I spent the morning half in normal clothes and half in pajamas while I tried to empty my head.

The day when something like this:

  • Kids: Mom?
  • Me: Go outside and play.
  • Kids: But, mom…
  • Me: Go outside.
  • Kids: But, it’s…
  • Me: If you say it’s boring I will ground you from TV for a week!
  • Silence
  • Me: Hallelujah!

I think I ate lunch—maybe? If I did it was either chocolate pudding or nutella—I can’t be sure. I think my kids ate? Don’t call DCFS on me please J

When I did take reluctant bathroom breaks I noticed my reflection—crazy hair—tired eyes and I thought, “I look just like a mad scientist.”

Sometimes I’m not a very balanced writer. Oh well—I got TONS done today! Thank heavens for mad scientist writing days!


False Choices

I’m currently reading a book by a well known author (Newbery Honor Award Winner) and—I don’t like it.

Gasp. I know. It feels like blasphemy saying that.

So I started to analyze what it is about the book that isn’t getting me excited, and I’ve figured it out—false choices.

Every choice the heroine makes isn’t really a choice. Die or fight—of course she will fight. Save her family or save herself—unless she's totally selfish the choice is obvious. I could go on and on.

I can see every twist and turn and I know every choice the heroine will make—it is so boring.

So what I take away from reading this is that the choices we give our characters need to be real choices. I think instead of a choice between good and bad, how about a choice between good and good or even better—bad and bad!

I’m going to look at my story and see if I have crafted real choices.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Little Black Book

"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."
--William Strunk Jr.

Brilliant! I love this quote and what it shows us of brevity and concise language. As my two critiquing partners can testify, this is not my strong suit, nor is grammar, punctuation or a myriad of other essentials. But they are just that, essentials of the English language and of good writing.

A friend of mine recently gave me a copy of Strunk and White's 'The Elements of Style'. If you don't have one of these gems or if it has been collecting dust on your shelf - grab it and crack it open. There is a wealth of knowledge in this tiny book. Allow me to give you a few examples:

Rule #19. Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity
Rule # 8. Avoid the use of qualifiers (Rather, very, little, pretty). Strunk refers to these as 'the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words.' Love it.
Rule #4. Write with Nouns and Verbs
Rule # 17. Omit unnecessary words. This rule inspired the above essay.

There is a list of misused words and phrases such as:
Disinterested, not to be confused with uninterested
Each and every one
In terms of; Of this phrase, Strunk says it is a 'piece of padding usually best omitted'.

The book also touches on the principles of composition, fundamental rules of grammar and usage and contains a glossary of terms. The icing on the cake is that this book is an enjoyable read, full of sound advice and clear cut directives. I love it. My recommendation? Do not walk but run to your nearest book shop and purchase this little black book, you won't regret it.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Wrangling problem paragraphs

I told Sara that trying to wrangle an unruly paragraph is exactly like herding cats—you want it to go in a certain direction and it wants to go in another. Right now I have a problem paragraph that refuses to let me control it.

So what should I do? Let it sit for a day or two? Keep forcing it? Resort to violence if necessary? These are the steps I use to try and control wild paragraphs.

  • Does it do what I want it to?
  • Is there sloppy language?
  • Is it confusing to readers? Why?
  • Does it make sense in context to the scene?
  • Is there a better way to say what I want to say?

If the answer to the last question is yes, then I try a rewrite. If the rewrite is better I may use it or try and merge it with the problem paragraph. But sometimes you have to cut it altogether—drive all the cats off a cliff and start over with dogs—so to speak J.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Know Your Characters

by Amy Dahlke

The other day, I met one of my characters. I was at a rock concert and one of the opening bands was made up of some local boys. The main singer walked out, I gasped, and yelled into my friend's ear that he was Snake, a character from one of my stories. For an unreal second, I honestly thought, "but wait! He lives in Moon Crest, Washington!" (And yes, for those of you who are familiar with Washington, you're right: Moon Crest isn't even a real town.)The singer really looked that much like how I always imagined my character. Except for the fact that his piercings were in the wrong spot, Snake plays baseball and can't carry a tune. Sorry, I guess that was facts.

When I'm reading a book, the characters are the most important part. If they don't seem real, if they don't have quirks, if I can't emotionally connect with them, I will stop reading that book. Because of that, it has always been of great importance to me that I make my characters realistic, quirky, and connectible. I make sure I know my characters inside and out.

I know a lot of writers who sit down and write out everything there is to know about their characters. Down to their political party and blood type. There is definitely nothing wrong with this, but I'm just not the type of person who has the patience for this. And a lot of times that makes me feel like they aren't a real person. Just someone I've created. Because, to me, my characters are real. They live in my mind and have their own stories. But maybe that makes me sound schizophrenic.

Like in one of my stories, an unexpected, unwanted love triangle emerged. I knew who I wanted to end up together but this other character (ironically, it was Snake) pushed his way in and said, "No, I want Emily!" It made things very difficult for a long time and the three characters battled it out in my head, but Snake finally admitted defeat and decided Emily was better off with Cody. Besides, he didn't want to mess up his and Emily's friendship. (I don't know what that story had to do with anything.)

Sometimes I even get to the point where I'll act like my character or become the character. Like one time I had just written a scene where my character ran out of peanut butter and the only thing she would ever eat for breakfast was toast with peanut butter. I was at the store that next morning and found myself thinking, "Oh yeah! Nicole's out of peanut butter! I should get more!"

Then, only a few days later, I was clothes shopping and saw a dress and said, "That would look great on Olivia!"

My brother gave my a funny look. "Who's Olivia?"

"My book char--ah, never mind." My family is used to my crazy by now.

Okay, so that was a completely uninformative blog. Except you all know I have people living in my head, talking to me. I guess that's what you've learned! If suffer from this same occurrence, you know you're a normal writer. Or, at least as normal as me!

The GREAT What If Game

Most of the time plot is easy for me. My first manuscript practically wrote itself. But now as I work on my second manuscript I find the plot elusive as smoke when I try and grab hold. This problem gives me the dreaded-writers block, because I don't know where the story is going. (My writers block is so bad I would rather do edits on my first MS- shudder)

So I'm trying a little exercise that writers have always done: the great what if game.

Here is how you play. Ask yourself - what if? over and over until you have a great plot.
  • What if your hero slips up and gives information to to the bad guys?
  • What if an important character is kidnapped?
  • What if your hero and heroine have a misunderstanding that changes their relationship?
  • What if an escape plan is foiled?
  • What if a character you thought you knew is someone else entirely?
You get the idea. I plan on doing this exercise until my smoky plot suddenly becomes solid. Then I am going to write the heck out of it :) Wish me luck.


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