Wednesday, July 29, 2015

3 Things Writers Should Never Do

Don't you like declarative, forceful blog post titles like that? They're so confident and bossy. It's like my inner eight-year-old gets to come out and tell everybody what to do.


These are all things you should never do in your writing, not in general. Man, that would be a long list, wouldn't it? They are also things that are huge pet peeves for me, and I do quite a bit of editing and proofreading, both for my betas, CPs, writing group, and friends, and also as freelance work on the side. Which means I have rather a large amount of experience, and am not completely unqualified to write this. It also means that this is not the only list of things you should never do, but is instead a small sampling of Stuff That Pisses Me Off, Which You Should Avoid Doing Because It Also Pisses Most People - Including Editors, Agents, and Other Important Industry Types - Off.

1. Ignore Grammar Rules

This one could be broken down into about 4,573 (as a rough count) separate common grammar issues, but instead of boring you all to tears, I decided to lump them all together. I am not referring to the poetic license type of ignoring grammar, but the much more common, and MUCH more annoying ignorance/laziness that leads people to eschew all basic grammar rules. I see everything from missing quotation marks to bad or missing paragraph breaks to sentence fragments to tense changes to inappropriate apostrophes and more.

Here's the bottom line: it makes me focus on your grammar (or lack thereof) instead of your content, and that is a very bad thing. There's no way I'll be engaged by your story if I'm not focused on the content. Please, use all the resources the electronic world provides, from style guides to grammar sites to the grammar check in Microsoft Word. If you need help, ask for it. Even when you're sending things to betas or CPs, save them some time and do your basic proofreading first, so that they can focus on the meat of your work, and on catching the little typos that slip past even the most strict grammarians.

2. Go For Melodrama Instead of Drama

(Small caveat: unless you're writing Gothic Romance or absurd comedy, in which case, go for it.)

For the rest of us, this is to be avoided at all costs. I define melodrama, personally (and for the purposes of this post) as unearned emotion. In other words, a scene that comes three-quarters of the way through a long story, in which Joe is screaming at Betty because Betty has been deliberately pushing his buttons and provoking him and trying to get him to explode is probably earned (probably. But still should be watched.) However, a scene that comes in the second chapter, after we've just met the characters, in which Joe is screaming at Betty because Betty just doesn't understand him and oh god the pain is probably melodrama.

I'm saying the emotions have to match the stakes, and have to follow an arc of rising tension that leads us to the big emotional moment. That arc can take place on a small scale in one scene, but the emotion should be subsequently smaller, too. The bigger the rising arc, the bigger the emotion. Earn that drama. Earn that weeping or the screaming or the throwing things (unless it's comedy, of course.)

Why? Because you need to take your readers with you, and let their emotions and investment rise, too, so that when the big moment happens, they're just as devastated as your characters. Don't rush it. Build it.

3. Favor Facts Over Emotion

This is the 180 degree opposite of #2, in which you throw all drama out the window and tell your story in a dry, yet thorough and detailed, way.

Your plot points are stellar. Your story lines are masterfully woven together. Your writing craft is exquisite and careful and exacting. And yet people read your work and yawn, because they have no investment in your characters.

We need emotion - we are (most of us) emotional beings. The why of an action is just as important as the how. So Joe can throw a plate at Betty, but if we don't know how he's feeling when he does it, or understand his motivation, it will just be one more dry fact.

Color things up. Shake 'em up. Just not too much (see #2 above.)

That's a small sample of MY pet peeves. What are yours? What else drives you crazy when you read/edit/offer critiques?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Summer Break

No,the babies aren't here yet, but I've been buried by my to-do list and need to take a brief blog break this week. I'll be back next week! If I don't get to visit you in the next few days, I promise I'll be by next week. Have a great day, y'all!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Your Summer Reading List

Peeps! Guess what?? You wrote this post.

Yup, you really did. Well, maybe not in a sit-down-at-the-computer-and-bang-out-Liz's-posts-for-her kind of way (which, btw, I'd be totally open to letting you do,) but more in a I-compiled-responses-from-you sort of way. But EITHER WAY, the end result is that I now have a really freaking cool, reader-approved, first-hand list of book recommendations.

See, last week I asked you all to recommend books that I should read this summer. And so many of you gave me so many great tips and ideas that I got super excited about it, and decided I should put them all together and share them back to all of you! And of course, to make it more fun, I included the blogger who recommended each book in the list.

So here it is, straight from you to you:

Your Summer Reading List

The Bone TreeNatchez Burning and The Bone Tree, by Greg Iles

These came from Susan Gourley/Kelley, who said, "Both books really highlight the terror of the deep south during the civil rights movements in the 60's and how so much hate and inequality still lingers today."

Secret Worlds, Anthology compiled by Rebecca Hamilton

H.R. Sinclair recommended this 21 (21!!!) book set, which looks like a collection of paranormal romance novels from a bunch of bestselling authors. Which really, with 21 (21!!!) to choose from, the odds are pretty damn good you'll like at least a few of them.

Kate MortonAnything by Kate Morton

Ok, yeah, I cheated - that's an author image, not a book image, but to be fair, M Pepper Langlinais did recommend all of her books, specifically for summer reading, and it appears that Ms. Morton is too prolific for me to show her titles here. So, go check her out, and pick one, and report back! I'm thinking of starting with The House at Riverton.

All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

Loni Townsend opted out of making a recommendation because my tastes are too serious for her or something. I have no idea why she would say such a ridiculous thing (nevermind that I said it myself,) but she then had a change of heart and decided to give us one, anyway. This was hers, although she hasn't read it yet. Let's see: blind kid? Holocaust? Yep, right up my alley.

Lisette's ListLisette's List, by Susan Vreeland

Jenni Enzor stepped away from her (fantastic) MG recommendations to give us this one, which is, as she says, "about famous paintings hid in Provence during World War II." It's fiction, though, don't worry!

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary ShelleyRomantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley, by Charlotte Gordon

It's not in paperback yet, so this one might make my fall reading list. It's non-fiction, yes, but what a story! Ava Quinn recommended this examination of the famous author and the daughter she never knew, saying, "[It's] history and feminism all rolled into one."

Marlene Dietrich by Her DaughterMarlene Dietrich by Her Daughter, by Maria Rivera

Maria Rivera is Marlene Dietrich's daughter, of course, so this biography is straight from the source. Birgit recommended it as one of her favorites: "It is not a scathing book done by a daughter but a revealing look at this enigmatic woman."

The Diviners (The Diviners, #1)Unwind (Unwind, #1)The Diviners, by Libba Bray, and Unwind, by Neal Shusterman

Madilyn Quinn has such a long TBR list (I hear you, Madilyn; mine is so damn long I don't even look at it anymore, which totally defeats the purpose of having it) that she had to recommend both of these. I'm not complaining! They're both YA: "The Diviners is historical fiction while Unwind is a sort of dystopian biopunk thing."

Anything by Marian Keyes

I had to cheat again and and give you an author pic, because Diane Carlisle recommended everything by Marian Keyes, saying she loves her style and voice.

A Natural History of Dragons (Memoir by Lady Trent, #1)A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan

I'm excited about all of the books on this list, but this one really tickles my fancy (that's a very weird expression, isn't it?) I love books that play with genre, and I will always be a sucker for fantasy, so this fictional memoir of a Victorian-era woman studying dragons is right up my alley. Mason Matchak chose this, saying, "'s oddly charming, especially if you like classic British stuffiness as both plot and character points." Which I do. Score!

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate

Sarah Brentyn recommended this book, and I almost jumped out of my seat when I read her comment, because I loved this book. In fact, it was on my reading list last summer, and it was a wonderful summer read. It's MG, but adults will love it, too.

sex murder double latte collection by kyra davisThe Sophie Katz mystery series, by Kyra Davis

I do love these two-for-one - or really multiple-for-one - recommendations. This one for a series of books about a writer-turned-detective comes from Shannon Lawrence, and it looks like a lot of fun.

And that's it - but that's pretty damn good, if I do say so myself! Too bad the credit is all yours ;)

See anything on here you want to read? What else would you add?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Summer Reading, and Requests

I did a post on summer reading last year, and it was so good at giving me something to blog about much fun that I decided to make it an annual tradition. As I mentioned the last time I did this, the summer version of Seasonal Affective Disorder always strikes me in July - that is, the total lack of motivation to do anything besides be outside, read (preferably outside) and swim (preferably while also reading, and definitely outside.) Which means that blogging about reading is at least in the right ballpark, and I can usually do it outside on my porch. So it's a win-win.

But THIS YEAR, I need your help, too. You'll have to keep reading to find out why (see how I did that? Oh yeah. I'm a pro at hooks...)

Here's what I've been reading so far:

The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri

This is not my typical summer read. It's slow, lyrical, and utterly heartbreaking - not exactly what I'd call good beach material. But I was so drawn in by the characters and the simple yet masterful writing that I couldn't put it down, and that is what I call good beach material. It also offers a fascinating insight into the history of India and Bangladesh, and the Communist insurgencies there in the 1960s. A topic which, I confess, I knew absolutely nothing about until I picked up this book. Once I got over feeling humiliatingly ignorant, I loved the insight into the particular time and place in the country's past. Highly recommended.

The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd

I know, I know, I am way overdue on reading this book. It was everyone's favorite book like 15 years ago (or 12, whatever,) and yet I never read it. I kept meaning to, and kept meaning to, but I somehow never actually got to it. I didn't think much of it until I realized just how long I'd been putting it off, at which point I was so embarrassed that I moved it to the top of my list. I'm reading it right now, actually, so I can't write a real review of it yet, but so far, I love it. It's engaging, funny, and heart-wrenching (because apparently I am incapable of reading lighthearted books,) and I'm very glad I decided to finally pick it up.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

Look! I'm not too far off on this one! This has been one of the most talked-about books this year (at least in my very limited circles,) and I'm reading it this year!!! Or at least, I'm intending to. It's next on my list after The Secret Life of Bees. I don't have much to say about it, except that I'm really excited to read it, because everyone I know who read it absolutely loved it.

Now is where you come in, because this is IT for my summer reading list, and I need more suggestions! So please, pile 'em up. What are you reading this summer? What's on your list? What should I read after Station Eleven?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Insecure Writers: How to Find a Writing Group, Contd.

It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for The Insecure Writers! The IWSG is an online group created by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers. You, too, can join us anytime!

A briefy (yes, I made up a word) today, in honor of my resolution to stop overwriting so damn much:

I am NOT insecure today. I know - can you believe it??? It's a Christmas miracle. Or, a July miracle. Whatever.

I am NOT insecure this month because I am instead excited, inspired, and feeling accomplished!

Why, you ask? (Go on - ask. No, really. It'll make me happy.)

Because I have a writing group!!!

Some of you might remember me bleating on about this a few months ago, wishing I had such a group. A few of you might even remember that I took a non-fiction writing class this spring - but if you don't, that's OK. I barely remember my own life, much less anyone else's.

Well, I took the class in part to get better at writing personal essays, but also to see if I could find some cool, talented writers who might also be interested in forming a group.

And guess what?? I DID AND THEY DID! Our class is over, but more than half of us decided we wanted to keep going. We had our first meeting last week, and it was wonderful. Productive and inspiring and fun. I can't believe that I found these talented and smart people, and that they wanted to write with me. How lucky am I??

What are you insecure about? Do you have a group that inspires you?