Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, October 18-22, 2012

Go on the road for a few days and the Great Stuff (and laundry) starts to pile up. So much that I’ve decided to put out a bonus Great Stuff post tomorrow. (The laundry’s already taken care of.) Today I’ll focus on articles on craft and the writer’s life. Tomorrow will be all business. Here we go.

CRAFT

I’ll confess right up front that I’m no fan of writing prompts and exercises—I’m BUSY, dammit!—so when Jane Friedman posted 3 Steps for Using Prompts to Writer Better & Get Published by Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA), I was a bit dubious. OK, more than a bit. But Gabriela’s approach is practical: use writing prompts to build writing stamina through practice, improve your skill at specific techniques, then apply what you’ve learned to a project. If you’re not sure about using writing prompts, give the post a look and the suggestions a try.

Characters’ emotions are at the heart of fiction, so David Farland’s (@davidfarland) Surprising Emotions: How Will Your Character React? on The Bookshelf Muse immediately grabbed my attention. Even better, his article offers three surprising (to the reader) ways of presenting emotion. The surprises are having the character: under-react, over-react, or react the “wrong” way. Used with care, these reactions will reveal something interesting or important about a character, and readers are always up for that.

James Scott Bell’s (@jamesscottbell) Baloney Advice Writers Should Ignore on The Kill Zone shouldn’t just raise a smile—or an out-loud laugh—it should clear away the fog of bad (or at least questionable) advice that gets handed out to new writers. Check out his five bad pieces of advice and the counterexamples that prove them wrong.

CRAFT AND LIFE

I decided to use that subhead because these next two pieces live on that boundary between a writer’s craft and his or her life.

Anna Elliott (@anna_elliott) gets us started by Exploding the Perfect Writer Myth on Writer Unboxed. We’ve all run into it, probably, particularly from non-writers: the belief that a writer’s words come out as perfect pearls perfectly strung the first time we put them down on paper or screen. HA! Worse, of course, is the new writer who believes that’s what he’s just done. That’s a painful critique group meeting! But the flip side, as Elliott points out, is that nagging, secret belief that we should produce those perfect pearls each time. That’s why, she says, it’s so important to love the revision process.

So you got the darn thing DONE and it’s out there in reader-land. KM Weiland’s (@KMWeiland) thoughts about How to Tell if Your Book Is a Success on WORDplay center around each writer’s personal definitions of success and failure. Her 14 questions just begin to scratch the surface of the topic, focused as they are on ratings and money, but they’re a place to start the conversation—one that’s good to have before that book comes out.

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Dr. Rita Hancock (@ritahancockmd) addresses preventing a problem that many writers have to deal with: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome on WordServe Water Cooler. She covers the symptoms, diagnostics (which don’t sound like any fun at all), treatments, and most important, how to prevent the condition in the first place. Hint: it has to do with sitting position, arm angles, and keyboard height. Sound complex? It’s not. Check it out.

Finally, Harvey Stanbrough (@h_stanbrough) suggests 12 Ways to Make Your Critique Group Effective. Twelve may sound like a lot but a few are one-time-only actions and the rest become automatic parts of how the group runs quickly. Practical and effective.

That’s all for today. What Great Stuff have you found? Share it in the comments below.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, September 29-October 1, 2012

Lots of Great Stuff showed up over the weekend, so let’s get right to it.

CRAFT

One of the on-going problems I see with the new writers in my writers’ group is punctuation. This isn’t a “kids today don’t know how to…” rant, in part because some of these writers haven’t been kids for a while. Harvey Stanbrough (@h_stanbrough) provides a one-post summary of most of what writers need to know in Punctuation for Writers. Here’s the one-phrase summary of  the summary: it’s all about the pause. Check it out.

I announced a while back that Angela Ackerman (@AngelaAckerman) and Becca Puglisi (@beccapuglisi) of The Bookshelf Muse were starting yet another thesaurus, this one on physical attributes. Their first sample from this one, Hands, appeared over the weekend. If you haven’t checked out any of their thesauri, take a look at this entry. It’ll grab you.

BUSINESS

Jael McHenry’s (@jaelmchenry) Show Me the Baby on Writer Unboxed starts out with what seems like a rant but its real focus is on professionalism: how to be one in query letters, conference pitch sessions, and author interviews. Her point is that “the baby”—how much time and effort we put into writing our book—is of little or no interest to many people, including agents and interviewers/listeners, so we need to minimize how much time we spend talking (or worse, whining!) about that.

James Scott Bell (@jamesscottbell) addresses a question we all wonder about these days: How Will Your Book Get Discovered in The Roiling Sea of Digital Publishing? This is, of course, an important question and Bell takes a long time answering it, in part because as his first of six points notes, “There is No Consensus on What Works.” No surprise if you find that unnerving—the entire publishing industry is in such a state of flux right now—but Bell’s suggestions provide a sense of direction and a reason for hope.

Joel Friedlander’s (@jfbookman) Author Bloggingg [sic] 101: The Evolution of Spam is, to be clear, a little mistitled. Better than being just a dry piece on how spam (in this context, the phony comments on blogs) has evolved over time, it offers at the end several ways we bloggers can block, filter, and mostly avoid spam comments, while providing the important reminders that no anti-spam method is perfect and spammers are always coming up with new methods and approaches.

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Here’s a new category of columns for you, with four entries today.

Lucille Zimmerman (@LucilleZ) guest posts on Michael Hyatt’s blog on something we all need to know how to do from time to time: How to Avoid Procrastinating When You Feel Overwhelmed. You don’t have to follow all six of her suggestions—in fact none of us probably will—but I’ll bet there will be at least a couple that will click for you and bring your stress level down. “Break assignments down,” her first one, works for me.

What cued me to create this category was two closely-related posts that appeared over the weekend. Kimberly Vargas’ (@_KimberlyVargas) Ever-Increasing Returns on WordServe Water Cooler and Vaughn Roycroft’s (@VaughnRoycroft) The Mentor/Mentee Benefit on Writer Unboxed (isn’t “mentee” an awkward word?) both talk about how we writers benefit by giving and receiving help from others. Finding a mentor, or being one, or giving critique as well as receiving it, help us not only become better writers but get us out of that writer’s garret syndrome it’s so easy to fall into.

Finally, we’ll circle back around to interviews, or in this case, a correspondence. The first writer was in unidentified college professor. The second, Flannery O’Connor. In Flannery O’Connor Gets Snarky, Robert Bruce (@robertbruce76) shares a part of the professor’s letter to the author, seeking, let’s be honest here, confirmation of his and his class’ literary “interpretation” of A Good Man is Hard to Find. O’Connor’s reply reads, in part, “Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it.” Yowch! You can read the entire O’Connor reply here, on the web site Letters of Note.

Critique Technique, Part 31—The Wrong Words

Authors can and do go wrong with their word choices, or use words the wrong way. This isn’t just a case of not understanding Mark Twain’s illustration of the difference between the right word and the almost-right word: the lightning versus the lightning bug. It is that, but it’s much more.

Pencil eraser erasing "wrong word"

Photo by ningmilo via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are at least three ways an author can mess things up for herself and her readers when it comes to word choice. They are: using words that are wrong for

  • The story, usually in narrative;
  • The character, usually in dialog; or
  • The reader, in either one.

We’ll save obscenities and vulgarities for next time but let’s take a look at the rest in more detail.

Narrative words that are wrong for the story are ones that don’t match what the story is meant to be. For example, the sometimes-flowery, sophisticated, or psychologically dense language of “literary” fiction would be out of place in a western, say, or a thriller. Conversely, the taut, gritty language of that thriller would be jarring—in the wrong way—in a story examining the ins and outs of a couple’s troubled relationship.

That’s not to say, of course, that there couldn’t be a couple with a troubled relationship in a western or thriller, but the way that relationship would be depicted—the words the author would use—would be very different.

Writing above or below the level of the story, that is, using words that don’t match the target audience and the personalities of the characters makes the reader aware of the writing. Once that happens, that magical bubble we call a story pops and it’s hard to surround the reader with a new one.

Words in dialog that are wrong for the characters can have these same problems, plus a few more. For starters, we expect a longshoreman’s conversations to be very different from those of a college professor: brief, basic, and profanity-laced on the one hand, elongated, erudite, and perhaps elliptical on the other. What they talk about will be different, too.

When the content and style of a character’s speech doesn’t match what the reader expects, there’d better be a good reason for it. Maybe the professor used to be a longshoreman and in the scene in question he’s visiting his former buds at a bar near the docks. It would make sense if he used rough language there. If, however, he talks like a longshoreman while teaching electrical engineering, that’s be a problem.

Another problem in dialog is when a character reveals knowledge she has no reason to have. To take an extreme example, the reader’s going to be surprised if a manicurist at a nail salon in rural South Dakota uses the language of the branch of physics called string theory, say, and uses it correctly, while talking with her customers. If the reason why she understands M-theory and branes hasn’t been established, it better be, and quickly, or it needs to be replaced with something more appropriate.

A third problem in dialog comes up when a character expresses attitudes or beliefs that are contrary to what the reader knows, or thinks he knows, about that character. The Bubba who uses the language of the LGBT community—without irony or disrespect—or the shoe salesman who speaks like an investment banker is, in the immortal words of Ricky Ricardo, going to have “some ‘splainin’ to do.”

Words that are wrong for the reader include technical jargon, slang, local idiom, dialect, or foreign or obscure words, especially when the words’ meanings aren’t made clear through the dialog, narrative, or context. It’s okay to withhold information from the reader to build suspense or tension, but not to hide meaning. When that happens, the words throw the reader out of the story, whether it’s because he puts it down to go find a dictionary, or he hesitates, trying to puzzle the meaning out, and then struggles on (or worse, stops reading).

Here’s an example. A member of my writers’ group loves to expand his vocabulary with unusual words. That was fine until he used “mephitic” to describe the smell of a men’s room in a hotel in a mainstream story. Not only is mephitic an uncommon word, the context in which it was used allowed several different interpretations. The result was confusion, not clarity.

Of course, there will always be cases where any of these kinds of words will be both necessary and appropriate. The author may be setting up a contrast between the scene and the story’s tone or between a character’s past and her present. He may be using dialect or jargon to establish something about the character. As a reviewer, you need to be aware of the possibility the writer is doing something “wrong” to achieve a certain effect.

So what questions should you be asking when you review a work for these kinds of problems? Try these:

  • Did the author use language that felt out of place—too sophisticated, too simple, or otherwise inappropriate—for the story?
  • Did I have to stop reading to figure out what a word means?
  • Did it feel like the author was trying to show off by using fancy words?
  • Did a character use words that didn’t fit with what I know about him or her?
  • On the other hand, was there a purpose to what the author was doing with her word choices?

If the answer to any of these questions but the last one is yes, mark where the problem occurs and discuss alternatives with the author.

What do you look for when you’re looking for inappropriate words in a story?

Critique Technique Extra: Life on the Other Side of the Critique

Back in late July, Becky Levine wrote a post called Critique Comments: Remembering to Give Them Time. I became aware of it a bit over a week ago and I liked it so much I not only included the post on my daily Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs post, I invited Becky to guest post here. While she declined the offer (her choice; no problem), that post is a good jumping off point for this one.

Becky advised letting a critique sit and percolate, or ferment, or something (my words, her concept) before responding to it. Of course, there’s going to be the natural defensive first response, even if the comments aren’t negative. Any suggestion to do things a different way is going to get that. That’s the reaction that needs to be put aside, taken off the hot stove and allowed to cool, as it were. It might be wrong.

Or it might not.

But in the heat of that first reactive moment, it can be hard to tell.

I’ve been there. One of my writers’ group members doesn’t read the kind of fiction I write (SF), so some of the techniques of the genre confuse her. Sometimes she’ll forget something that was explained a half a page or two pages before. Sometimes context eludes her. So she’ll comment on whatever confused her, and my first reaction is often frustration. But then…sometimes…I’ll take another look and…well…yeah, I could write that better. Make it clearer.

Woman rubbing her eyebrow

Photo by m_bartosch, courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net

That’s a good lesson. And it leads to this reminder, too: when you’re a critiquer, it’s important to remember that the work you’re reading was written by a person. If you’re going to deliver that critique in person, you may “get” to see their initial reaction up close and personal. If you’re delivering it on line, you may not, in which case it’s even more important to remember the humanity of the person on the receiving side of that critique. The anonymity, or at least physical separation, of the internet is no excuse for being a jerk. Or worse.One of the pieces I’m reading right now is the first draft of a new writer’s first novel. It’s rough. Of course it is, it’s a first draft! The fact that it has been rough for over 200 pages is still no excuse for me to be hard on the author. It’s a first draft. The writer’s got the talent to string together a complete novel. For the first time in his life. And he’s been a complete gentleman regarding my past comments. Yes, there’s a lot of work yet to do: drafts 2 and 3 and 4 and…and… This is just the first one.

But if I do my job wrong, if I’m too hard on him, maybe there won’t be a draft 2 and a draft 3 and so on until it’s done. Maybe he’ll decide it isn’t worth the continued abuse (his thought, not my intent!) to go on to draft 2 and draft 3 and…

Which would be an absolute shame.

As critiquers, we have to remember that we hold something fragile in our hands–a new (or not so new) writer’s ego, their hopes, their dreams–and if we’re needlessly harsh, if we only criticize without offering suggestions for ways to better results, we not only do no good, we may do harm. That isn’t to say we can’t or shouldn’t point out what isn’t working, or isn’t working as well as it could. It isn’t to say we need to sugarcoat everything, or be so namby-pamby or vague that what we say is as good as useless.

It’s just to say that we should always remember what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a critique and do our work accordingly.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, August 2, 2012

Some tough stuff every writer needs to know, today, but also some inspiration, and much in-between.

  • I have to start with Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s (@kriswrites) long Business Rusch post The Future and Balance (Deal Breakers 2012). Unlike yesterday’s light-hearted promo, today Kris deals with publishing contract clauses that should be treated with caution at best, outright rejected (even at the risk of losing the contract) at worse. That’s the reason for the parenthetical “Deal Breakers” comment. This is one to be bookmarked, studied, and saved.
  • Rachel Randolph (@rachelrandolph) offers tools for Keeping Track of Contacts, Media History, and Speaking Engagements on WordServe Water Cooler. Her intent is certainly good but the tools are all Excel 2007/2010-format spreadsheets, so if you’re not comfortable with Excel and/or spreadsheets in general, don’t have a current version of the software, use other software that isn’t compatible, or don’t even know what spreadsheets are, these tools may not be for you. If, on the other hand, you’re comfortable with Excel, give ’em a look.
  • Robert Lee Brewer (@robertleebrewer) has taken some time off from his My Name Is Not Bob blog to spend more time with his family (good for him!) but he’s back now with a response to a reader who asked, with regard to social media, Where Should I Spend My Time? Robert’s answer refocuses the question from which platform(s) to what you are trying to achieve there and what’s most important in your (writing) life.
  • Juliet Marillier’s story on Writer Unboxed about how a community came together Out of the Ashes of her granddaughter’s arson-burned school is really about the power of story and how not just writers, but whole communities, can use it to make it through hard times.
  • Donna Galanti (@donnagalanti) guest posts on The Kill Zone about Watchers: Heroes in Fiction. The “watchers” she refers to are characters who may or may not be prominent yet play critical roles in stories, background heroes, you might say. It’s an interesting idea, one I’d never heard of, and worth a look.
  • Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) encores a previously-published piece on the fact that The Writing Rules Are Just Tools, a lesson many writers and writing instructors need to take to heart, it seems.
  • And that leads us to today’s last piece, by Becky Levine, which comes by way of Nathan Bransford (@NathanBransford). Becky writes about Critique Comments: Remembering to Give Them Time, in other words, remembering that our first, often defensive, reaction to critique comments may blind us to something of real value–if also sometimes to a lot of reworking. Not easy advice to follow, but so true. (Something I’d better keep in mind myself when I get my WIP back from my editor!)

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, July 27, 2012

When I started this morning’s reading, I thought I might be seeing slow day at the end of a busy week. Boy, was I wrong! In fact, as I type this, I’m considering breaking this post into two: one strictly on craft, the other on marketing and publishing, since there’s so much on each. Have to see how this develops. We’ll start with craft.

  • Harvey Stanbrough’s (@hstanbrough) hilarious but on-point Narrative, Dialogue and the Fantasy of Balance zings the idea that there’s some ideal ratio between how much narrative a story has and how much dialogue. Particularly in Harvey’s sights is the false credibility of percentages, the idea that if someone quotes percentages, what they’re saying must be right and true. (I’m thinking of a certain writer and blogger who does this with plot points.) For my money, the “right” balance between narrative and dialog is the one that tells the story best. Because every story’s different, there will never be a single ratio that will apply to every one.
  • Kathryn Lilley (@kathrynelilley) weighs in with another funny piece, this time on The Kill Zone: Drop That Polysyllable!This time the target is the idea that some words are “too fancy” for a piece. Many sides to this argument, some of which are hers, some her commenters, some mine:
    1. New-to-the-reader words improve their vocabulary, which is a good thing;
    2. Making the reader stop reading while they reach for or activate a dictionary distracts them from your story, which you don’t want;
    3. Showing off your vocabulary, just because you can, pisses readers off, and pissed-off readers won’t finish your work;
    4. Mark Twain’s argument about the right word versus the almost-right word–if the right word’s not common, it’s still the right word; and
    5. Whatever happened to using context to suss out the meaning of an uncommon word, eh?
  • OK, I’ll fit one serious piece in here: Gabriela Pereira’s (@DIYMFA) The Villain’s Journey–Recap from ThrillerFest, in which she discusses not only how villains and antagonists differ, but ways to make villains more interesting–not just by the usual way of giving them a goal opposite to the hero’s but by giving them the same goal but with different means and motives for achieving it.

Ordinarily the transition from craft to marketing and publishing would be quick and clean, but today there’s a post that covers both, so that’s where we’ll go first.

  • Marcia Yudkin (@marciasmantras)  writes In Praise of Ripening on Writer Beware (R) Blogs! The “ripening” she refers to is writers spending the time to learn their craft, rather than inflicting whatever they come up with on the world via self-publishing. That sounds like such an old-fashioned idea to many, especially given the get-rich-quick siren call of the internet, but alas we know what’s really happened: crappy book after crappy book thrown out there, not even worth its 99¢ asking price. Let’s hope this is just a phase in the development of e-publishing that will wear itself out after enough wannabes fail. But then, there’ll always be more wannabes out there, won’t there, and modern day P.T. Barnums willing to take advantage of them.
  • Along those same lines, Joel Friedlander (@jfbookman) posts a video today on why Bookstore Distribution for print-on-demand books is such a bad idea. This math, unlike the phony math Harvey cites above, is hard to argue with. And brutal.
  • Dee DeTarsio (@deedetarsio) guest posts on Jane Friedman’s (@JaneFriedman) blog about her Small-Budget Marketing Experiment. Not all marketing efforts produce big results. Dee offers no explanations for why hers performed as it did, but that’s not the point in this case. She’s just reporting on what happened.
  • Which gets us to two posts that come via Nathan Bransford’s (@nathanbransford) These Past Few Weeks in Books.
    • Penelope Trunk’s (@PenelopeTrunk) How I got a big advance and self-published anyway is a blunt and almost-no-holds-barred tale of her experience with a major (but unnamed) publisher and their incompetence (in her view) at marketing. It’s clear from the post why she killed the contract for her non-fiction book. What’s not clear is whether her experience extends to fiction publishing as well or to other (Big-6?) publishing houses. Still, her point about the major houses not having any market information to guide their marketing efforts is in line with an article I mentioned in a previous post about the data Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other companies who sell e-readers are gathering through their e-readers.
    • Laura Hazard Owen (@laurahazardowen) provides some additional context on Paid Content in her interview with Trunk. She provides some background on Trunk herself, how Trunk came up with the numbers she threw at the publisher’s marketers, other views of Trunk’s opinions, and Trunk’s own reaction to those responses. In addition to the fiction/non-fiction divide I noted above, I should also note that Trunk’s book is a compilation of her own blog posts, which might also be a significant difference–or it might not–when it comes to how a publisher would plan to market it.

Still, this entire set of posts is a powerful reminder to not-yet-published authors to go into the entire experience with your eyes wide open, your expectations realistic, and your homework done. Publishing–traditional or electronic–is a business, and the business world does not treat the naive or the unprepared kindly.

 

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, June 30, 2012

Holy hotcakes, Batman, the year’s half over! Which means there’s still half a year to get that big project you’ve been working on DONE. Today’s two posts are about parts of that process.

  • First up us Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) describing The Bubble Method: How to Get the Most Out of a Writing Workshop. The method isn’t new–put the writer in a “bubble” from which they can’t speak while their piece is being critiqued–but it’s a good one, particularly the suggestions on how to allow the author to respond once all the reviewers have had their say. What’s missing, and I’m sure Gab would agree, are the rules of behavior for the reviewers: be specific, be constructive, and focus on the writing, not the writer.
  • And second, Merry Jones (@MerryDDJones) offers her suggestions for How to Pitch Agents at a Writers’ Conference on the Guide to Literary Agents blog. Her suggestions are all pretty much common sense, but that seems to go out the window when a writer is desperate for representation.

That’s all for today. Enjoy your weekend.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, June 29, 2012

Must be a Friday. Just a few things for you to end the week.

We’ll start with a couple things from agent Kristin Nelson and her Pub Rants blog:

Over on WordServe Water Cooler, Sharon A. Lavy (@SharonALavy) poses the question, “Is Reading Fiction…Safe?” She cites some evidence–and there’s a lot more out there in the scientific literature–that people react physically as well as psychologically and emotionally to what they read, and as a result, change.

As it happens, one of the members of my writers’ group noted at dinner after our last meeting that she’d recently read a book called The Better Angels of Our Nature, Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker, a psychology professor at Harvard University, that shows that the level of interpersonal violence has gone down, dramatically and world-wide, since the 1700s. That’s when the first modern novels started to appear. The thesis behind the research was that novels caused people to begin to empathize with others, and that caused, over time, a change in behaviors. Interesting thought.

Speaking of interesting thoughts, I haven’t pointed to anything from Write to Done for a while, but today I get to. Cheryl Craigie (@manageablelife) asks Does Writing Make You Feel Like a Failure or a Fraud? Like, you mean, it doesn’t? But then she makes an even more surprising statement–that being blocked is good! Say what??? Her point is that being blocked is the time when your subconscious is at work and has put up a sign that says, “Don’t bother me, I’m working. I’ll get back to you when I’m done.” Or, as Albert Einstein put it, “Creativity is the residue of time wasted.” So go off and work on something else for a while, and when the light bulb finally turns on, get back to work.

And last but not least, Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) announced today that The DIY MFA Workshop is now up and running on DIY MFA’s Facebook page. They’ll take “the first 500 words” of any writing, fiction or non-fiction. One piece will be selected each week to be posted and critiqued.

Have a great weekend and send up a thought or prayer (or a donation to the American Red Cross, @RedCross) for all the people around the United States (and elsewhere?) who have been evacuated from or lost their homes due to wild fires. I had to evacuate last year. It wasn’t a happy experience. At least I didn’t lose my home, like hundreds and hundreds of families have.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, June 28, 2012

Another day of synchronicity on the blogosphere. I know, I know: technically I shouldn’t be surprised. There are so many blogs out there that it’s a certainty that some are going to touch on the same topic on the same day, but when you only read a dozen or so (“only”!) and four hit the same thing on the same day, that catches your attention, doesn’t it? It does mine, anyway. So here we go, with multiple posts on feedback and two on transformation.

  • Feedback first. I don’t usually read or mention Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s (@KristineRusch) posts because while Kris is a terrific and prolific author, her posts tend to be really long and, well, my time is a limited resource. Isn’t yours? So with that caveat about today’s almost 3,800 word post Perfection, I’ll say give it a look anyway. She’s right about the simple fact that no story will ever be perfect and there comes a point when a writer has to stop listening to critique and send the story out.
  • Agent Kristin Nelson is famous–some might say infamous, but not me–for her Agent Reads the Slush Pile workshops. Feedback in a very public setting! (If you’re not familiar with the workshop, someone–Kristin, her assistant, or brave authors–read (out loud!) the first page or two of their work. If Kristin says “stop” before they finish, she explains why she would have rejected the manuscript. If they make it to the end, she explains why the piece “worked.” Except sometimes, even then, it doesn’t.) And that’s the subject of today’s post, Mechanics Vs Spark on the Pub Rants blog: when a piece is mechanically fine but lacks the spark of a distinctive narrative voice.
  • The third feedback piece comes from freelance editor Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, a.k.a. The Edit Ninja, (@EditNinja and @popculturenerd) on the Authors’ “Habits” & Predictable Writing she’s encountered. Examples: reusing an atypical word; using the same descriptions and mannerisms for different characters; reusing a letter, name, number, or color; and many more. This post really (one of my “writer’s tic” words) brings home the value of not just a second set of eyes on a manuscript, but a set of trained eyes. Thanks to Jordan Dane (@JordanDane) for bringing Elyse to The Kill Zone.
  • The last one is from John Vorhaus (@TrueFactBarFact; love that Twitter handle!) on Writer Unboxed. A Tale of Two Readers describes what he learned from his encounter with two readers and what they told him about one of his books, once he assured them honest feedback was OK. In particular, “What I take away from this tale of two readers is to keep playing to my strengths yet still shore up my weaknesses.” Deep? Maybe not. Fundamental? Definitely.

Now on to transformations.

  • In Three “Flaming Young Stars” Share the Big Screen, Robert Bruce (@robertbruce76) discusses on 101 Books how the movie A Place In The Sun changed–and didn’t–its source novel, Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, and what that might mean for viewers and readers.
  • In a piece on visual rather than literary art, Kevin Kelly (@kevin2kelly) examines how The Rule of Transformation applies, or doesn’t, to artistic images and how the rule of (copyright) law has been applied, or hasn’t, to some of those images, from Andy Warhol’s famous re-imagining of the Campbell’s tomato soup can to colorization of origami folding patterns. Interesting stuff.

What’s great out in your world?

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, June 26 & 27

Ah, the joy of having to miss a day at this during the week! So much to explore. So much to discover. So much to get behind on. 😦 Off to the great stuff (and a close with something more than a little weird). Like one of my last posts, this one has a certain flow to it, starting with…

  • Joe Moore (@JoeMoore_writer) identifying on The Kill Zone the two Magic Words that can start just about any writing adventure. Know what they are? Sure you do. “What if?”
  • So where and when are you going to set the story than answers “What if?” Well, maybe in a fantasy setting, in which case Chuck Wendig’s (@ChuckWendig) 25 Things You Should Know About Writing Fantasy might help. Or it might not. Chuck himself warns us that he is “woefully underqualified” (his emphasis) to provide this list. And you should be aware of, and perhaps beware of, two other things: (1) this is a long post, almost 3,000 words, and (2), Chuck being Chuck, the f-bomb is going to find its way into the post more than once.
  • Before you can get to getting the story down, however, you might want to do some interviews. Why? Barbara O’Neal (@barbaraoneal) explains and provides some examples in The Art and Power of Interviews on Writer Unboxed.
  • Finally, it’s time to start writing. But how? With action, right? In medias res, right? SLAM! BANG! BOOM! CRASH! Right? Um, maybe. Or maybe not. Kristin Nelson explains how Action Vs Active Openings…Grab Attention on her Pub Rants blog. (Actual title slightly edited to fit into the text here.)
  • [Some months later…] Whew! The writing’s done. Time for critiques. Amazingly, four different posts addressed critiquing just in the past two days.
    • We’ll start with a bit of self-critique, or self-editing. Kim Weiland (@KMWeiland) warns us that there’s a word that too often is dropped in by authors who aren’t even aware that they’re doing that. What word would that be? Find out in A Quick Ode Against “That” on WORDplay. (A note: Kim’s video didn’t run when I visited the site on two separate occasions, but the transcript’s just below the intro screen, so that’s all right.)
    • Gabriela Pereira (@DIYMFA) follows with two posts on critique groups on DIY MFA: 3 Things I Look for in a Critique Community and Critique vs. Discussion: What Kind of Feedback Do You Need? I fully agree with her three things, plus add one: a group that works the way you need it to. See my comment on that post for more. The second post offered an insight I hadn’t considered before. Interesting thought.
    • Then, once you’ve gotten that feedback from your critique group, Carleen Brice suggests How to Tackle Critique Notes on Writer Unboxed. Now, her post deals most with things like an editorial letter from an agent, editor, or beta reader, but they apply just as well to the comments from you friendly (let’s hope! See Gabriela’s first post above) neighborhood critters (critiquers).
  • So now it’s time to publish. Indie or legacy? Kathryn Lilley (@kathrynelilley) enters the fray with a new (to me, anyway) and eminently sensible discussion of Becoming Your Own Gatekeeper on The Kill Zone.
  • And finally, for the main topics today, Ed Cyzewski (@edcyzewski) discusses his thoughts on Why Self-Publishing Is a Tragic Term on Jane Friedman’s (@JaneFriedman) blog. Hmm. “Tragic” might be a bit of a stretch, but Ed’s point is that almost any publishing effort takes a community of people, not just a single individual.

And finally-finally, a little bit of news of the weird, from Kevin Kelly’s (@kevin2kelly) The Technium blog: I See Cats. Seems some Google artificial intelligence researchers linked together a set of 16,000 computer cores (the central processing units) running a special program and turned the network loose to “view” ten million randomly downloaded  pictures from the internet, specifically YouTube videos.  What did they find? Cats. Without ever being told, “this is a cat” or “go look for cats.” Here’s the full New York Times article. As Mr. Spock would have said, “Fascinating.”

Pretty good stuff, no?