Tag Archives: Blogging from A to Z

Words to “X” from Your Writing

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know I’m a day behind on my A to Z posts. Shoot me. Go ahead. Put me out of my misery because I’ve hit a wall with three posts left.

 X
X is for…well, “X”

Let’s discuss words you should “X” from your writing. If you’re like me, you may have occasionally padded your writing in school to meet minimum word or page counts. No? Does this scenario sound familiar?

It’s 2 a.m. Your history essay is due in a few hours, but you’ve fallen short of the page requirement. You’ve racked your brain and can’t think of anything else to write. What do you do? Continue reading Words to “X” from Your Writing

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Building Your Story on a Solid Foundation

According to Larry Brooks, author of Story Engineering, there are Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling. I named them in the post, The Writing Book that Helped Me Win NaNoWriMo. Today I’m focusing on the fourth competency: Story Structure.

S

S is for Story Structure

Brooks says, “it doesn’t matter if you outline your stories or not, or if your words make the angels weep or not, because if what you’re writing isn’t hitting the page in context to solid and accepted—key word there—story structure, it’s doomed until it does.”

Brooks defines story structure as “what comes first, what comes next, and so forth…and why. And no, you can’t just make it up for yourself. There are expectations and standards here. Knowing what they are is the first step toward getting published.”

This doesn’t mean you’re artistically boxed-in by the structure. Brooks uses the analogy of constructing a building to explain the concept of story structure. You must have a solid foundation (story structure) upon which you place your artfully designed building (your unique story).

solid foundation building Brooks says, “Story structure is the sequence of scenes that results in a story well told. Story architecture is the empowerment of those scenes through compelling characterizations, powerful thematic intentions, a fresh and intriguing conceptual engine, and a writing voice that brings it all to life with personality and energy.”

In his book, Brooks names the four integral parts of story structure. I hinted at this four-part story structure in the post Late at Night I Toss and Turn and Dream of What I Need, when I discussed the four stages of the hero.

Four-Part Story Structure:

Part 1: Setup. The purpose of Part 1 is to set up the story. We learn about the hero; the world he lives in, his back story, and what he wants. At the end of Part 1 an obstacle to what the hero wants surfaces and the hero must go on a quest to overcome it.
Hero role: orphan.

• Part 2: Response. The purpose of Part 2 is to show the hero’s response to the obstacle that surfaced at the end of Part 1. He’s not heroic yet. He’s hesitant, fearful, and fumbles his way through a myriad of options, unsure how, even unwilling, to confront the antagonistic force.
Hero role: wanderer.

• Part 3: Attack. The purpose of Part 3 is to show the hero beginning to figure it out. He draws on what he learned in the wanderer phase and begins to apply it. He’s no longer reactive. He’s heroic and attacks the antagonistic force head on. Only the antagonistic force has become stronger and the hero must revise his plans.
Hero role: warrior.

• Part 4: Resolution. The purpose of Part 4 is to show the hero call upon all the knowledge, skills, and courage gained over the course of the story and use it to defeat the antagonistic force. He may even die in the process.
Hero role: martyr.

To learn more about story structure, read the post, Introducing the Four Parts of Story on Larry Brooks’ website, Storyfix.

Have You Met Captain Obvious? Master of Superfluous Redundancy

captain obvious

Fellow colleagues, if you’re not careful, Captain Obvious can make a cameo appearance in your own work. This unanticipated surprise visit can occur at the present time or at three a.m. in the morning. Captain Obvious causes words to blend together so you make unexpected mistakes in what you’ve written down by repeating words with the same exact meaning or adding an additional word  that is extraneous. Redundant phrases cause a cacophony of sound to circulate around your work. If, after careful scrutiny of your work, you’re absolutely certain redundant phrases are nonexistent or too few in number to worry about, reconsider. Your story can be completely filled with words you’ve repeated again during the course of storytelling. Don’t let your story depreciate in value. Learn about unnecessarily redundant phrases so you can positively identify them for complete annihilation. Pick and choose your words carefully so you won’t receive an unexpected surprise visit from the Master of Superfluous Redundancy.

RR is for Redundant Phrases

Did you find all the redundant phrases in the paragraph above? Let’s look at it again:

Fellow Colleagues, if you’re not careful, Captain Obvious can make a cameo appearance in your own work. This unanticipated surprise visit can occur at the present time or at three a.m. in the morning. Captain Obvious causes words to blend together so you make unexpected mistakes in what you’ve written down by repeating words with the same exact meaning  or adding an additional a word that is extraneous. Redundant phrases cause a cacophony of sound to circulate around your work. If, after careful scrutiny of your work, you’re absolutely certain redundant phrases are nonexistent or too few in number to worry about, reconsider. Your story can be completely filled with words you’ve repeated again during the course of storytelling. Don’t let your story depreciate in value. Learn about unnecessarily redundant phrases so you can positively identify them for complete annihilation. Pick and choose your words carefully so you won’t receive an unexpected surprise visit from the Master of Superfluous Redundancy.

captain_obvious rain

Click on the following links for more examples of redundant phrases and how to avoid them:

http://www.dailywritingtips.com/50-redundant-phrases-to-avoid/

http://grammar.about.com/od/words/a/redundancies.htm

Does Querying Have You in a Quandary?

Q

Q is for Querying

Some of you may know that I submitted a novel (a poorly written one) to half a dozen agents last year (I still cringe when I think about that). Ah! What was I thinking? I had this grand idea that they would…well, I imagined it would go a little like this:

Yeah, that’s my future agent there with a feather in her hat, trudging through the endless slush pile, growing more disappointed with each manuscript she encounters. But then, then she picks up mine, and hallelujah! {key the music, clouds part, angels sing} What a glorious day! She has discovered the holy grail of writers! Her heart swells as she reads prose, unlike anything she has ever fixed her gaze upon (unfortunately that still may be true).

Heh heh. It’s fun to dream isn’t it? As writers, we spend the majority of our day playing in our imagination, but I was severely delusional. I’m afraid this was most likely the scene that occurred when an agent read my query:

Hate all of It meme

Yep. I’m certain they hated it, all of it, every poorly produced piece of prose. Yeah, I’m aware that alliteration almost always annoys. I’m using it as a literary device to irritate you as much as I irritated the agents I queried.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m the writing equivalent of the singer who tried out for one of those talent shows based on the advice of a friend or parent. You know…someone like this guy…

Never mind. I’ll spare you that scene, but I’m sure you can imagine it. Is it possible to overestimate your abilities so dramatically? Is there a writing equivalent for being tone-deaf? Prose deaf, possibly?

So yeah, I submitted a manuscript laden with weak writing to half a dozen agents and received six fairly quick rejections. Oh, but the mistakes don’t end there. Oh no. I actually thanked a couple of them for replying. Their responses were so kind, thoughtful, and encouraging. Plus, they took the time out of their busy schedule to respond to me. I had to thank them.

Yeah, don’t do that. Agents have enough crap to sort through. Don’t add to it.

Can I just go crawl under a rock now? In fact, I think I might take up residence there, maybe turn it into one of those little hobbit holes and live there forever. Fortunately, I discovered my mistake early on and didn’t send anymore.

So what’s the point of this post? Don’t do what I did. If you plan on going the traditional route (I’m not sure that I will), and querying has you in a quandary, here are some tips to follow when submitting your query letter:

The Top Ten Query Mistakes

The 10 Do’s and Don’ts of Writing a Query Letter

How to Write a Query Letter

Have you queried or do you plan to query an agent? What has been your experience? What lessons have you learned that you’d like to share?

 

 

 

 

Don’t be a Passivist

JessicaAlbacowgirl

Heh heh. I thought that might get your attention. Now, are you here because of the photo, the guns, or to tell me I’ve misspelled pacifist?

Don’t worry. I’m not promoting violence, at least not that kind. I am promoting a little aggression toward the passive voice.

PP is for Passive Voice

What is passive voice?

Passive voice occurs when the subject and the object of the sentence get switched so the subject is receiving the action and not performing it. When this happens the verb switches from active to passive. Let’s look at an example.

Active Voice

Sally heard the familiar tune of a lullaby.

Passive Voice

The familiar tune of a lullaby could be heard by Sally.

“Sally” and “tune” are the subject and object of the sentence, respectively. When using passive voice, the active verb “heard” switches to the passive form “could be heard.” Do you see how switching to passive voice weakens and lengthens the sentence?

Let’s look at the opening line to a popular novel.

“They shoot the white girl first.” Paradise by Toni Morrison

The white girl was shot by them first.

It doesn’t pack the same punch does it?

Using passive voice isn’t incorrect grammar usage, but using active voice is often a better choice.  Click on the article Active Voice Versus Passive Voice by Grammar Girl for more information.

 

cool-girl-with-gun-images-photos-0219230851

Now you’re armed and dangerous. If your writing isn’t strong, clear or concise, analyze it for the use of passive voice.

Go on. Get trigger happy. Pull out your literary pistol and pick off those passive verbs one at a time.

To see what other A to Z participants are blogging about this month, please click here to link to their blogs.

What’s in a name? Choosing a Name for Your Fictional Character

NN is for Name

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” ~ William Shakespeare

“I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose would be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.” ~ L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

What do you think? Does the name matter that much?

J.K. Rowling was a genius at naming fictional characters. Let’s look at a few:

• Albus Dumbledore
• Sirius Black
• Hermione Granger
• Bellatrix Lestrange
• Draco Malfoy
• Lucius Malfoy

The names are unique, so they make a lasting impression, but it’s also interesting to note that the meaning of the names fit the role of the characters.

These characters often acted as a guiding light or helper to Harry during his quest:

Albus: white, bright.
Sirius: brightest star.
Hermione: messenger.

These characters were part of the antagonistic force trying to prevent Harry from achieving his goal:

Bellatrix: warlike.
Draco: dragon.
Lucius: light.

Although the meaning of Lucius is similar to Sirius and Albus, it reminds most of us of that fallen angel, Lucifer.

Name meanings aside, don’t the following names fit the character perfectly?

• Neville Longbottom
• Ronald Weasley
• Rubeus Hagrid

Rowling also uses alliteration to make an impression with characters like Severus Snape, Luna Lovegood, and several others that I mentioned in the post All About Alliteration: Does It Almost Always Annoy.

Does the name need to be unique to be memorable? It’s interesting that most of the characters in J.K. Rowling’s novels have distinct names, but for the main character, Harry Potter, she chose a rather common name. But it’s not so common anymore, is it?

Let’s take a look at the names of other popular fictional characters.
J.R.R Tolkien also used alliteration with the character, Bilbo Baggins, but most of his characters are recognizable by one name. Consider the following:

• Frodo
• Gandalf
• Galadriel
• Aragorn
• Gollum
• Arwen
• Eowyn

I suppose this has more to do with the genre, though. If Frodo and Gandalf were named Frank and George, they would seem a little out-of-place in Middle Earth, wouldn’t they?

Here are a few other memorable fictional character names that come to mind:

• Arthur (Boo) Radley, To Kill a Mockingbird
• Jeremy Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
• Hannibal Lector, The Silence of the Lambs
• Jean Valjean, Les Miserables
• Ebeneezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol
• Lucie Manette, A Tale of Two Cities

Including some from recent novels:

• Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games
• Beatrice (Tris) Prior, Divergent
• Liesel Meminger– The Book Thief

How do you choose names for the fictional characters in your story? Do you consider the meaning of the name? What is your favorite fictional character name?

To see what other A to Z participants are blogging about this month, please click here to see a list of participants with links to their blogs.

Taxes, the Blood Moon, Passover, and the Monomyth

Yeah, I know. I’m a day late with my “M” post for the A to Z Blogging Challenge, but I have a good excuse: taxes, the blood moon, and Passover.

Huh? How did those even relate? They all happened on the day I was going to prepare and publish my post on the monomyth.

I filed my taxes about a month ago, but I’ve been helping my brother with his business and personal taxes (this is what happens when you’re the CPA in the family) and it took longer than expected.

There was a perk to it, though. I stayed up so late working on the returns that I was still awake for the blood moon. I stepped onto the back porch with my husband and daughter (who insisted on being awakened at 3 am for it) to view the first of four lunar eclipses that will occur over the next two years. I’d like to say the view was spectacular, but I think I was too tired to be impressed. I think I said something like, “Yeah, that’s cool. I’m going to bed now.”

If you missed the blood moon, click on this CNN article to see pictures. The image I saw was similar to # 18.

How did the start of Passover delay my post? It didn’t. I just thought it was interesting that it occurred on the first of four blood moons that will appear over the next two years and that major religious holidays will occur on each of those, as well. Do I think it’s a signal of the end times? No, I’m just fascinated by coincidences.

Anyway…let’s discuss the monomyth.

MM is for Monomyth

The monomyth is the basic structure that is repeated in stories throughout the history of the world. In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell says: Continue reading Taxes, the Blood Moon, Passover, and the Monomyth

Just a Position on Juxtaposition

JJ is for Juxtaposition

What is juxtaposition?

jux•ta•po•si•tion [juhk-stuh-puh-zish-uhn] noun 1. an act or instance of placing close together or side by side, especially for comparison or contrast.

Juxtaposition is a literary device used to create a vivid mental image by placing two dissimilar things side by side. Imagine trying to understand the concept of darkness without comparing it to light. It is much easier to grasp a concept when contrasting it with its opposite or something vastly different.

One of the most well-known uses of juxtaposition occurs in the Old Testament of the Bible:

Ecclesiastes 3
1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

How is juxtaposition used in literature?

Here are a few examples:

In book titles

Juxtaposition in book titles sparks interest in the story. Consider the following examples:

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

In Settings

• To set the tone of the story

One of the most memorable opening lines in classic literature is from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

• To contrast the opening image with the final image

One way to show how much has changed over the course of the story is to contrast the final image with the opening image. The best example that comes to mind occurs in the novel Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

The first scene shows Lennie taking long gulps of water from a deep green pool. George walks up behind him and scolds him for drinking from a questionable water source. George is obviously concerned about Lennie’s well-being.

The last scene shows George and Lennie at the same pool with Lennie drinking water from it once again. They sit and George instructs him to look out over the pool and imagine their future together. From behind him, George retrieves a gun from his pocket and shakily places the gun to Lennie’s head.

In Characters

• To create contrast between characters

This is often done between the hero and the villain. We all know of the typical villain dressed in black and the hero of course is wearing white. Consider Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. One is evil and draws power from the dark side. The other is good and reflects the light.

• To create contrast within a character

The contrast within a character creates interest. It makes them more memorable. A villain that is just plain evil is boring, but what about a serial killer who affectionately cares for his invalid mother?

Can you think of other ways to use juxtaposition in writing? Can you think of other examples of juxtaposition in book titles? In settings? In characters?

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Writers: Don’t Forget the I.C.E.

iceIn her book Breathing Life Into Your Characters, Rachel Ballon says, “every character in a scene, story, or vignette needs I.C.E.”

Obviously, she’s not talking about the ice that forms when water freezes, but there is an interesting correlation there. For example, a great deal of energy is expended before water turns into ice. Energy must also be expended by the writer to create characters that have depth. If not, then you end up with characters who actually feel cold because they are as dull and lifeless as a corpse.

II is for I.C.E.

So, what is I.C.E.? Continue reading Writers: Don’t Forget the I.C.E.

Late at Night I Toss and Turn and Dream of What I Need

sleepless womanGet your mind out of the gutter, people. Most every writer I know tosses and turns late at night and dreams about what their stories need.

I need a hero. I’m holding out for a hero ‘til the morning light. He’s gotta be strong. And he’s gotta be fast. And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight.  He’s gotta be larger than life, larger than…

Oh. Sorry about that. I guess I got a little carried away. What was I talking about? Oh yeah. Heroes.

HH is for Hero

Every story needs a hero with a compelling quest that propels the reader through the book right along with him (or her). The hero needs to be likable, or at least interesting, and he has to have something at stake, something that compels him to act, and change in ways he didn’t think possible. The more valuable that thing it is to him, the higher the stakes, and the more we care. We feel his frustration and pain. We become so invested in his journey that our heart pounds right along with him. Every emotion courses through our veins as if we’re connected by some imaginary intravenous tube plugged directly into his wildly beating heart. 

The example that immediately comes to mind is Will Smith’s character (Chris Gardener) in the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness. The number of setbacks this guy suffers is heart wrenching, all the more so because of what he has at stake, not just his livelihood, but that of his young son. When he finally overcomes those obstacles you want to jump to your feet, scream, “Hell yeah!” and high-five anyone in close range. The character in the movie Rudy is another good example. When Rudy finally realizes his dream of playing football for Notre Dame, you want to clap right along with his friends and family looking on from the stadium. The reader’s (or viewer’s) emotional attachment should deepen with each stage of the hero’s journey.

In the book The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By by Carol S. Pearson, she defines four stages the hero goes through in the course of the story. These four stages correlate to the four-part story structure discussed by Larry Brooks in the book Story Engineering. (I’ll cover that on A to Z “S” day). For now, let’s look at Harry Potter as an example to highlight the four stages of the hero: Continue reading Late at Night I Toss and Turn and Dream of What I Need