Friday, April 30, 2010

Plot Prompts

I stole the following plot prompts from Elizabeth Sims, "How to Make Your Novel a Page Turner," (WD, January 2010). I have an expectation of gleaming over these from time to time to enlighten my writing. If you aren't familiar with Ms. Sims' article, I hope these cryptic notes can help you. Better yet, look the article up on WritersDigest.

Elizabeth based her "Heart-Clutching-Moments" on elements such as:
• Love at first sight
• Moral lapse
• Murder/death
• Refusal
• Nature gone wild
• Perseverance
• Change of heart
• Violence
• Betrayal
• Forgiveness
• Revelation
• Lifesaving
• Chase
• Battle
• Seduction
• Capter/con/sting

In the same article, Ms. Sims discussed making your characters stand out.
• Allowing the reader in their heads
• Giving your POVC a secret
• Entice with a quirk
• Unpredictability

Write Every Day!


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gut Check

With the last round of not-for-mes coming in for novel fourteen, I was feeling a little down. Then a straggler came in for novel thirteen. A knife in the abs. I found myself asking, "What the heck am I sitting here every day for?" I didn't really say heck, but I try to keep this clean—I like Dina to check out my blog, and she doesn't approve of my potty mouth. Anyway, back to my depression. The response to my whining was, "You need to go out and get a real job."

I knew getting published wasn't going to be easy. Maybe, more definitively, I have myself to blame. I've worked much harder writing than selling. I told myself, "Suck it up, girly."

Time for a gut check.

I asked myself, "What am I about?" I scribbled down the following.

• Life is too short
• Don't sweat the things you can't change
• Focus on the grand scheme
• Do everything you touch as well as you can
• Put old projects behind you—focus on what's next
• Allow yourself to enjoy the moment

Reading it over, I'm still not sure if it helps. But I know I love creating worlds and quirky characters, developing situations for them to struggle in and persevere. I think back to the last three contracts I had in the real world—I call them contracts from hell. The last one gave me angina by 9:30 every morning. Life wasn't meant to be like that, working for people who look at you as nothing but a resource, a thing, to be moved around like an icon of a game.

"Don't go girly. You're happy writing, even if the accolades aren't streaming in."

"That special agent will take the time to read about Toni or Renee, or Jon or Morgan, and put you in front of an editor."

I have to believe.

Write Every Day!


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

That Persnickety Comma

Everyone is an expert in commas. Every reader senses where a pause is required, or effective. It's subjective. Many commas are optional (fall under 6.18, below). If the writer doesn't want to pause in order to build tension, rip out those commas. But leave out one required, such as in dialog addresses, and you look like an amateur.

There are about seven major sources of expertise in grammar. (Take note, the experts disagree.) Here is a summary of what one says on the matter, from The Chicago Manual of Style:
  • To separate clauses joined by and or but.
  • To separate a series of things or actions.
  • Before and after the names of people you’re talking to.
  • Before or after a quotation.
  • After an introductory phrase if a pause is intended.
  • Around an aside.
  • Around which clauses, but not that clauses.

 And a little of the specifics:

6.18 A comma indicates a pause, involves judgment with ease of reading the goal
6.19 Use comma in a series: John, Jack, and Rick ran
6.20 Leave out comma in series where each separated by conjunction
6.21 Use semicolon with complex lists, or those containing punctuation
6.22 Surround “etc.” and clauses like “and so forth”: X, y, z, and so forth, were…
6.23 “Et al” does not require a comma
6.24 No comma with use of Ampersand in names
6.25 Use with introductory clauses when a pause is intended
6.26 No comma if introductory clause immediately followed by verb it modifies
6.27 Commas follow “oh” or “ah” when a pause is intended
6.28 Commas always follow direct address: Joe, do you…
6.29 Commas follow words like “yes,” “no,”
6.30 Commas set off parenthetical elements
6.31 Restrictive clauses, those essential to the meaning of the noun it belongs to, should NOT be set off by commas: The woman wearing the red coat…; Nonrestrictive clauses should be separated: My sister, wearing the red coat,…
6.32 Commas usually precede conjunction, except when clauses are short or closely connected
6.33 Include comma before conjunction in a series of independent clauses making up a list connected by conjunctions: Noun verb, noun verb, noun and noun verb
6.34 Compound predicate: one subject, multiple actions—comma is optional; depends upon readability
6.35 Preceding dependent clause requires comma: If you accept, we shall…
6.36 Trailing dependent clause, comma depends upon readability, if writer wishes a pause: We agree if you accept…
6.37 And if, but if, that if—Conjunctions side-by-side should NOT be separated by comma unless pause needed for readability
6.38 See 6.31—Clauses essential to the meaning of a sentence are not separated by commas; dependent clauses are separated: The report the committee submitted was… BUT: the report, which was well documented, was…
6.39 Adjective series should be separated by comma unless adjective closest to subject are conceived as a unit (political science)
6.40 Repeated adjectives are separated by a comma: Bad, bad dog
6.41 “Not,” “Not only”-like interjecting clauses require commas if pauses are intended; if separated, both ends of clause must be covered with commas
6.42 Longer comparative phrases should be separated by commas, but may be left off shorter: The more the merrier; The sooner the better
6.43 See 6.31, 6.38—Nonessential phrases, which include supplementary information, should be separated by commas: Committee chair, Gloria Ruffolo, called…
6.44 “That is” type of expressions are usually separated (comma, em dash, semicolon, parens): The compass stand, or binnacle, must be…
6.45 Separate homonyms, except “that that,” by commas: Whatever is, is good
6.46 Dates—Separate year in MDY format; not required in D-M-Y format or M-Y or free-standing year, such as: Thanksgiving Day 1999
6.47 Addresses—Separate individual elements (city, street & number, state), but not abbreviations
6.48 See 6.31, 6.38, 6.43—Personal names & place names: Separate only when nonessential: The Kennedys of Orange County
6.49 Commas do not separate “Jr.” “Sr.” or enumerations (II, III)
6.50 Commas do not separate “Inc.” “Ltd.” and the like
6.51 – 6.56 are irregular usage and thus left out of this summary

Write Every Day!


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Weak Structures

Here are some groups of words that may point out weak structures in your writing.

What would you add to these lists?

Overused / Intensives
Such, Then, Slightly, Very,
As, Just, Really, Realized,
Actually, In order to, Next

Save for Times of Uncertainty
Would, Should, Ought
Could, May
Might, Can

Form Weak Structures
Rather, Very, A bit,
Some, Sort of, Lots
a While, Little, Pretty

Loose Sentences
And, But, As, Then
Who, Which
When, Where, While

Words you can usually delete
…ly/ous/ful words
Back, Began to, Both, Down
Finally, Just, Really, Right
Started, Suddenly
That, Try to, Up

Write Everyday!


Friday, April 23, 2010


I see this error so often I want to rant. As I often do.

If an ellipsis comes at the end of a sentence, make sure to add the ending punctuation mark.

Congressman Bubba Licious introduced the bill today, saying, "If passed, this law will make sure ... no matter their financial standing, gender, religion…."

Write Every Day!


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Editing for Mechanics, Day 3

Three Edit Passes
Day 3 on my stroll through my notes on editing:

1. Content Revision
2. Style and Readability
3. Mechanics


--- Grammar
- Sentence structure
- Pronoun use
- Consistent tense/person

--- Dialect—a little goes a long way—should be consistent with character (vocabulary, word use)

--- Pleonasms—Extra words
Remove words that can be deleted without changing the scene
e.g., due to / on account of

--- Intensives—Overused words
e.g., such, then, slightly, very

--- Misused words
e.g., affect/effect, farther/further

Write Everyday!


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Editing for Style, Day 2

Three Edit Passes

Day 2 on my stroll across my notes on editing:

1. Content Revision
2. Style and Readability
3. Mechanics


--- Remove unnecessary words

--- Less is More- Adjectives/adverbs walked slowly > trudged
- Active words
- Concrete nouns tree > oak
- Specificity nutrition>food>fruit>banana

- Seamless flow from scene to scene—
connect scenes so you don’t jar reader
- Interplay with goals of POV characters

--- Show don’t Tell- Replace statements with scene demonstrating the emotion/element
- Positive versus negative statements
- Active voice (did versus done to)
Passives take reader out of the action
Actives draw reader into action

--- Avoid clich├ęs like the plague
- Turn a phrase

--- Fit similes & metaphors to tone/mood
use these elements judiciously (Less is More)
- Use to show contrast—provides insight
Don’t try to be clever—“oh see how well I can write”
- Vocabulary can often go astray—
Readers read fiction for enjoyment
—don’t send them to Webster’s
- Use sparingly

--- Use plenty of white space
- Short paragraphs
- Bits of dialog
- Vary sentence/paragraph length

Write Everyday!


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Three Edit Passes

Three Edit Passes

1. Content Revision
2. Style and Readability
3. Mechanics

Today I'm reviewing my notes. I thought I'd share this outline of an excellent text describing the edit process. (I wish I had noted the author, so I could give credit. I'll just hope I don't get sued.)

I'll share pass two and three in a subsequent post


Goal: Translate the dream so the reader can share it

- Goals
- Needs
- Motivation
- Obstacles

---- Opening hook
Draw in the reader and attract agents’ attention
- Illuminate what is at stake

--- WITPOTS – What Is The Point Of This Scene
- Develop character
- Contribute to conflict, plot, action
- Portray new information
- “Oh shit” moments (interesting, satisfying elements)

--- Pull the reader into the scene
- Immediacy—avoid narrative blocks (interruption in flow)
- Appeal to senses—a little goes a long way;
must fit scene/POV character and her interest
- Detail—should reveal character
Remove the “thought”/ “knew” / “realized” phrases
- No agent/editor/reader ever says, “It’s okay to change POV”

--- Characters
- Stay "in character" unless intense motivation
- Needs weaknesses, flaws
- Be wary of introducing character surprises
(i.e., learn friendly character dying in chapter 3)
Reader may not forgive you
- Remove unnecessary characters
Every character must have a goal in plot

--- Dialog
- Must entail conflict
- Must build upon tension
- Do not copy identical style—we use inconsequential things in
our REAL conversations that should be left out

--- Tone
- Must be consistent throughout novel—stay true to the “contract
with the reader” or reader will not forgive you
- “Breathers” are ok

--- Ending
- Should be natural to all that came before
- Tie up loose ends
- Some questions can remain unanswered
to leave the reader something to think about
- Tie up plot threads

Write everyday!


Thursday, April 15, 2010


I read a lot. I'm rather proud of my vocabulary, despite my origins as a redneck mutt.

I came across the word conflate in a peer's crit. It sounds like a word I should know. Somehow missed it. But what a great word. I can't wait to use it. Conflate: To combine (two variant texts, for example) into one whole.

I see myself explaining why a paragraph needs to be broken up. "You conflate inconsistent threads." Oh, oh. Can't wait to use it.

Write every day.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Word Culling

I love the comic strip "Zits." If you aren't one who reads the funnies every morning, you miss out on a ton of marvelous observations these geniuses have on the social condition. Recently, the teenager of the strip explains to his father his generation is used to receiving their information at light speed. He suggests his dad pronounce his words without the vowels.

I imagine some of those receiving my crits feel that's me. I'm becoming a little-hitler with word culling. After reading an author like Robert Parker, I've learned to appreciate the power of understatement. Less IS more. Just ask Jesse Stone.

Write Everyday!


Monday, April 12, 2010


Climax, Falling Action, Resolution

Day seven in a week exploring the elements of plot:


The climax is the result of the crisis. It is the high point of the story for the reader. Frequently, it is the moment of the highest interest and greatest emotion, the point at which the outcome of the conflict can be predicted.

Climax doesn't have to mean the clash of symbals, explosions and fireworks. A character-driven story may entail the girlfriend returning the engagement ring without a single spoke word.

Falling Action

The events after the climax which close the story.

Resolution (Denouement)

Rounds out and concludes the action.

Write every day!


Saturday, April 10, 2010


 – Crisis

Day six in a week exploring the elements of plot:


Crisis is the point where conflict reaches a turning point. Opposing forces in the story meet and the conflict becomes most intense. The crisis occurs before or at the same time as the climax.

The way you blend your crisis into your story line may depend upon the genre you write. A family saga may actually have a series of crises. Each may send the story in a new, surprise direction. Similarly, rising action in an adventure story may entail the same tempo, which keeps your reader wondering where you're going.

Write every day!


Friday, April 9, 2010


– Rising Action

Day five in a week exploring the elements of plot:

Rising Action

Rising action represents a series of events that builds from the conflict. It begins with the inciting force and ends with the climax.

There is no rule to the rhythm of action. Too much action can exhaust your reader. Too little may bore them. Like a piece of music, a good story needs peaks of excitement, and valleys where you build upon your characters and setting.

Take out a sheet of graphing paper and plot your action and exposition. Is it a straight line? Arg. Hopefully you find those dips and valleys.

Write every day!


Thursday, April 8, 2010


– Conflict

Day four in a week exploring the elements of plot:


Conflict has been called the essence of fiction. It creates plot. The conflicts we encounter can usually be identified as one of four kinds. (Man versus…Man, Nature, Society, or Self)

Take care not to throw in conflict for the sake of conflict. Is it pertinent to your story line? Does it propel your story?

Write every day!


Wednesday, April 7, 2010


– Inciting Force

Day three in a week exploring the elements of plot:

Inciting Force

Inciting force is the event or character that triggers the conflict.

Pause. Take note, it isn't the conflict itself. If you can weave the story in such a way the inciting force is as riveting as the conflict, you have done a good job balancing the exposition.

Write every day!


Tuesday, April 6, 2010


 – Foreshadowing

Day two in a week exploring the elements of plot:


Foreshadowing is the use of hints or clues to suggest what will happen later in the story.

Don't use such heavy-handed tactics the reader groans, unless you intend humor. Recognizing the foreshadowing after the fact is proof of powerful writing. "Ahh. I didn't see that coming. He even warned me."

Write every day!


Monday, April 5, 2010

ELEMENTS OF PLOT, Day 1 – Exposition

I read a lot of style books. The problem is keeping all that good information in my head while I write. To help me, I take notes and review it from time to time. Here, I press my studying a step further. I'm going to take a week and write about an element of plot each day. So here's to day one:

Exposition is the introductory material which evokes the setting, creates the tone, presents the characters and other facts necessary to understanding the story. Consider it the glue that holds the characters and conflict together.

Don't confuse exposition with back story. Experts write about the taboo of including back story in the first chapter of a novel. However, if you don't wrap your action with rich exposition, you'll lose your reader by not giving them a reason to care about the risk involved in your conflict.

Write every day!


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Powerful Nouns and Active Verbs

More fodder I review regularly to ensure it's on my mind while I write.

- Choose nouns and verbs that paint images without modifiers
…Moved restlessly – fidgeted
…Walked slowly – strolled

- Adjective signals
…Brutal man – tyrant
…Hard rain – downpour

- Concrete nouns
…Tree – palm

- To-be forms are still/quiet
…punch the action

- Overwriting creates purple prose
…don't bore your reader with narrative that doesn’t move the story forward

- Use sensory details to stimulate and engage
…See, hear, taste, touch, smell

- Use eccentric word choice to intrigue/stimulate
…Avoided – shrank from
…Brazenly warm day
…Indifferent wind

Write every day!


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cutting the Flab

I thought I would share the following bullets I gleamed from a recent speaker at a writer's event. You can find the same recommendations in every style book. I review these regularly, to keep the concept of "cutting the flab" on my mind as I write.

1. Wordy phrases – due to; on account; the reason
2. Weak constructions – type of man who; manner of
3. Tired phrases – emotional roller coaster; much to be desired; bit his lip
4. Redundancies – absolutely essential; reason because; recoil back
5. Overused & becoming meaningless – actually; basically; ultimately; of; as
6. Tinny & overused – then; suddenly; finally
7. Idle words – just; that; there; then
8. Intensifiers – very; certainly; literally
9. Not worth mentioning – minor characters; descriptions not pertinent to setting
10. Unwarranted repetition
11. ADJ and ADJ strings – white snow; remove if absence doesn't modify sentence
12. ADVs – remove and strengthen the verb
13. Worn word choice – pump them up

Write every day!