Archive for January, 2017

Guns in Writing

A writer (Dashiell Hammett, I believe) once said that when his story needed fresh air, he liked to introduce a gun into the situation. (I cannot find his specific words) He wrote crime/detective novels, so guns were a natural for him, but he meant to shake the story up. Guns are not the point. In other words, to keep the story from getting boring, let the plot make a hard-left turn. Here are just a few suggestions:

>Bring someone new into the scene. E.g. His ex-wife enters the room while he is with his girlfriend.

>Change the geography. E.g. The car goes off the road into an abandoned barn.

>Text message. E.g. Someone gets a text: I know who your real father is.

>Change the time: E.g. Rip Van Winkle wakes up 20 years later.

>Change the characters. E.g. Another old device: Surprise! I’m your wife’s twin sister.

>Change your main character’s behavior. E.g. Jekyll and Hyde, where he drinks poison.

>Change the weather. E.g. A sudden snowstorm.

>Okay, bring a weapon in. E.g. someone pulls a hand grenade.

These are just a few suggestions. Warning, make sure your gun fits the story and is fresh. This leads back to my favorite writing rule: Take the reader where the reader is not expecting to go.

Eights Mask2

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Sentencing for Writers

Exclamatory sentences

Expresses emotion.

They normally end in an exclamation point (writer alert: editors frown at them): E.g. I love you!

Exclamatory questions ask with great emotion & can use a question mark or an exclamation mark: Isn’t she beautiful!

Imperative sentences

Gives commands.

Affirmative imperatives: Positive e.g. Go home

Negative imperative: Negative. E.g. Don’t go home.

Imperatives with tag questions: E.g. Go home, will you? Or Go home, won’t you?

Imperative emphasis: exclamation point. Go home!

Imperative emphasis by adding a subject. E.g. George, go home.

Simple Sentences

Incomplete sentences: Good for emphasis. E.g. “No way!”

Simple sentences: Subject-verb-object, use once in a while. E.g. “He ate the pie.”

Balanced Sentences/Parallel Construction

Balanced sentences: employ parallel structures of the same length and importance. E.g. from Dickens- “It was the best of worlds, it was the worst of Worlds.”

Parallelism: Using the same grammatical form in phrases: e.g. I love reading and       writing. (not: I love to read and writing)

Interrogative Sentences

(writers need to vary the types they use)

Inverted word order: Verb first, usually yes/no question. E.g. “Are you going?”

Tone of voice: Rising pitch. E.g. “You are going?”

Interrogative word: usually open-ended, usually wh- “Where are you going?”

Alternative interrogatives: choice of answers. E.g. “Should you go?”

Tag questions: declarative sentence with interrogative phrase attached. E.g. “You    are going, aren’t you?”

Cumulative sentences

Cumulative sentence:  Base clause + modifying phrase + modifying phrase etc. E.g. “The boy walked in, longing to see her, wanted to be with her, dying to kiss her.”

4 cumulative principles: 1) They are a process of addition 2) the sentences should give a sense of direction or movement 3) each word or phrase develops in a cumulative sentence & operates on different levels from the others 4) cumulative sentences give texture to a proposition (reason for a sentence)

4 types of phrases:

Participial phrases: participle is verb turned into an adjective. E.g. “hating his life” & “delighted with the pie.”

Gerund phrases: verb turned into a noun. E.g. “by eating” or “for cheating”

Infinitive phrases: “to find a job” or “to eat his dinner”

Prepositional phrases: “after eating pie” or “before finding a job”

4 types of suspensive sentence:

Inverted cumulative—cumulative sentences ending with main clause E.g. “His eyes inflamed, his body bowed, his words slurred, he was not the leader we expected him to be.”

Insert cumulative—qualifying material between subject & verb. E.g. “The old man, after saying his goodbyes, after waving to everyone, after refusing rides, walked home.”

Initial cumulative—conditional clause leads to complicated main clause. E.g. “If you see a grizzly, you look for a ranger, as quick as you can.”

Extended subject cumulative—initial clause seems complete. Start with infinitive or relative clause. E.g. “Even when the past excited me, even when history seemed important, I never forgot that the present was more important.”

Eights Mask2



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Genres & Age Groups

The story is all important!

I am a storyteller first, I worry about writing a good story, and then I worry about genres & age groups. I write anything from picture books and middle grade to young adult and adult. Genres are important so that the reader, can find your book, especially with adult books, but I maintain that the story is all-important.

 Genres can be tricky, since they often have subgenres. For example, Urban fantasy. But genres aren’t meant to make a writer’s life complicated, they help a reader know where to find your book in a bookstore. Online markets prefer books that fit into multiple genres so they can list your novel in two or more categories.  Genres are not important when writing your story. Make the plot one that agents, editors, and readers can’t put down, & then find the closest fit. However, a few genres tend to have specific rules about plotlines. For example, in Cozy Mysteries the murder should be introduced in chapter one.

 Age Groups can be more complex to deal with. Children prefer a main character their age or a year or two older, but the topic needs to deal with issues appropriate for their age level:

Picture Books: Ages 3 to 7 (Board Books for younger readers and Easy Readers for older readers). Children this age are Searching for Security. Even while playing and having fun, they need to know their parents are there for them with love, protection, & life’s necessities.

Middle Grade: Ages 8 to 13 (Chapter Books with a limited number of illustrations for younger readers & Tween fiction involving dating for older readers). Children in this age are Searching for Identity. They are not certain who they are or what their abilities are. They often do things in groups to obtain peer approval, because they lack self-confidence & self-identity.

Young Adult: Ages 14 to 18 (New Adult for college-age readers). Teenagers are Searching for Independence. They are famous for their rebellion against their parents, sometimes called “attitude.” Psychologists have described this as subconscious psychological efforts to separate themselves from their families, so they can become adults. New Adult is about college-age students dealing with new-found independence.

Adults: Adults are easier to write for; they read in a wide range of ages & topics. Anything that doesn’t fit in the children’s categories. I once sold a short story about a little boy dealing with his father’s death to a dark fantasy anthology. I didn’t consider marketing it as a children’s book, because it dealt with issues of life and death.

My favorite rule for is: Take your reader where they are not expecting to go. This applies to all genres & age groups. I write the story I want, & then I consider the above age guidelines as I write the rough draft. I often hear people discussing a writer’s voice. Each genre & age group should have a unique voice or all your works will sound the same. You should find a unique voice for each book, even if you write in the same genre/age group. Since I tend to write books that cross genres, I only consider genres when I’m ready to approach an agent or editor.


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Obvious you say. I am a storyteller and write whatever genre or age is appropriate to my story, but I often write for children. I belong to SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators). The rule of thumb is that children like to read books whose main character is their age or slightly older. Recommended ages for readers & main characters vary from publisher to publisher, so these are general guidelines:

Picture Books: Ages 3 to 7, main character’s ages 5 to 9 (Board Books for younger readers & Easy Readers for slightly older readers extends range in both directions)

Middle Grade (Middle Reader’s): Ages 8 to 13, main character’s ages 10 to 14 (slightly younger readers may read Chapter Books—early middle reader’s books with a limited number of illustrations; slightly older readers may read Tween fiction involving dating)

Young Adult: Ages 14 to 18; high school readers. Main character’s ages high school freshmen to seniors. (New Adult, Young Adult fiction geared toward college-age readers, is becoming popular but controversial for its sometimes adult themes)

Here are the issues the main characters usually deal with for each category:

Picture Books: Searching for Security. Children this age, even while playing & having fun, need to know their parents are there for them with love, protection, and life’s necessities. The Llama Llama series of books by author/illustrator Anna Dewdney features a baby llama enduring various adventures & challenges, but above all, Mamma remains nearby.

Middle Grade: Searching for Identity. Children in this age are not certain who they are or what their abilities are. They often do things in groups to obtain peer approval, because they lack self-confidence and self-identity. J K Rowling’s early Harry Potter books are an example. Harry didn’t know he was a wizard with powers or that he would have a quest. And he didn’t know who his allies (his group) would be, but he gradually learned.

Young Adult: Searching for Independence. Teenagers are famous for their rebellion against parents, sometimes called “attitude.” Psychologists have described this as subconscious psychological efforts to separate themselves from their families, so they can become adults. Most people think of the Hunger Games as pure survival. Katniss lost her mother, but she is seeking independence from the oppressive, totalitarian society that replaced her parents.

New Adult is often described older teens &/or undergraduate college students exploring their new-found independence. My thriller, Experiment 38, is New Adult. The main character has just graduated from high school. She quickly learns that independence from parents has its dangers.

Adult or Children’s Book?

Your main character can be a child and can deal with mature (non-sexual) themes, so your manuscript would be adult. Another peculiarity of writing for children is that boys prefer to read books where the main character is a boy, but girls will read books where the main character is a boy or girl.

My favorite rule for writing is: Take your reader where they are not expecting to go. This also applies to children. Once you know your audience you can take them to destinations unknown and even undreamed of.


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Moods are emotional states your characters might experience.

A growing list of moods to give writers ideas:

Giddy: Dizzy & woozy

Jubilant: Triumphant & ecstatic

Bewildered: Baffled & confused

Ecstatic: Combo of rapture and delight

Loathing: Hate and disgust in tandem

Startled: Surprise or alarm accompanied by reflex movement

Aversion: Extreme dislike

Terrified: Extreme fear

Joyful: Feeling intense pleasure/happiness

Humiliated: Brought to a low psychological state/status

Despair: Having lost all hope

Fright: Being afraid or scared

Shame: Feeling guilty or disgraced

Wary: Slow to act or careful

Clueless/naïve: Not understanding or knowing or lack of experience

Confused/dazed: Not being able to think rationally or clearly

Hard-headed: Stubborn or resolved or refusing to stop

Devastated: Emotional shock

Disgruntled: Feeling resentful, sulky, discontented or unhappy

Empowered: Feeling of extreme confidence in your abilities/circumstances/opportunities

Hyper/wired: Frantic, nervous, or jumpy

Jealous, covetous: Bitterness towards another for undeserved wealth, favor, or success

Numb/frozen: Lack of feeling or emotions

Paranoid: distrust, suspicion, or fear of others

Sedated: Feeling of calm, tranquility or serenity

Traumatized: Disturbed or devastated

Cheerful: Happy & jolly

Humorous: Funny, joking, & silly

Idyllic: Unspoiled or serene

Madness: Insanity or just folly or ridiculousness

Melancholy: Sad & depressed

Mysterious: Strange &/or secretive

Romantic: Idealistic, dreamy or loving


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You can find a multitude of articles about the nuts and bolts of revising and editing. I want to give you some ideas that will improve your fiction writing as a whole, as a work of art & entertainment.

Hierarchy of editing methods: Best: Read your page aloud on paper (you can hear dialogue & see the page). 2nd Best: Read aloud off computer screen (hear dialogue). 3rd Best: Read silently on paper (see the page). Last choice: Read it on a computer screen (Quicker, but you get what you pay for).

Make your writing active: This not only includes the action, but the narrative, dialogue, & the POV character’s thoughts. The usual advice is: Show, don’t tell. I suggest making the reader feel a part of the story. Begin & end your story in an active mode. Descriptions? Slip them in as you tell the story so the reader isn’t aware that you have done so.

POV: The usual discussion is the discussion about the merits of First Person versus Third Person. I suggest that you go deeper, either POV will work. Go as deep as you can into the character’s mind, feelings, & body until the reader feels that they are the character. First Person is more personal, but Third Person is more flexible, allowing you to approach the conflict from multiple POV’s & display different facets of the story.

Chapters: I consider chapters to be a chain, each link securely fastened to the preceding & following links.  End the chapter with a teaser or a cliffhanger so the reader turns to the next chapter. Begin that chapter with a hook. This applies to all types of fiction: Character-driven, plot-driven, & even literary.

Tension: Ramp up the tension, make the main character miserable goes the advice. I agree to a certain point. Find the Dark Moment, the point where the main character gives up, all is lost. Make that moment so dark the reader can’t stand it. The tension goes to zero, similar to when a rollercoaster car reaches the summit & seems to quit moving before plunging to the bottom. Boom!


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Happy New Years!

2017 New Year Observations

Hey 2016: I didn’t want, need, or like you. Good riddance.


Hey 2017: Are you sure you want to do this? You’re going to have a rough time.


Hey New Year’s Resolutions: Sorry I broke you and threw you away already. I never liked you anyway.


Hey officer: Yes, I am guilty of driving under the influence. Of coffee. Too much caffeine is a killer.


Hey neighbors: Sorry about the noise. I only celebrate New Year’s Eve once a year, usually. Depends on my party needs.


Hey bourbon bottle: Why are you empty? I must have a thief in the house.


Hey everyone at the New Year’s Eve party: I would have made it out of the door on my own, but somebody stepped on my hand.


Hey friends: I need aspirin, no loud noises, and lots of sleep.

Yes, New Year’s Eve was great.

Eights Mask2

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