Friday, December 30, 2011

Resisting the Temptation

Here I am after Christmas with a fresh pile of new books to read but I’m rereading Harry Potter again… It is however, benefitting me in some ways: By now I’ve memorized all the plot twists and my mind is able to focus even more on the clever writing.

When I last posted about Rowling’s genius a question popped up concerning how the young wizards who aren’t muggle-born get educated before Hogwarts. I pondered this a bit while reading but the answer never came up. It got me thinking about how there are many other huge important aspects of this world--that has become real to so many of us—that are never covered in the books.

I promise I’m getting to the point.

The question about the young wizards’ and witches’ education was just that, a question; a speculation of how the younger wizards lived. We inquired “How were they educated?” It was never, “Why didn’t Rowling think of how they had been educated?” This is because we have grown to trust her. She has formed the world so flawlessly with Harry being introduced to features about it little by little all the way to the end of the story. We never doubted that—whether Harry’s been given time to find out about it or not—the answers to our questions exist. Rowling may or may not know the answer to how the children were educated before Hogwarts, but we have no problem trusting that there is one.

I am one of those writers that has a problem of pausing the story for pages at a time hoping to get all of the aspects of the world I’ve worked so hard on across to my readers. It is extremely difficult for me to tone things down and weave in the description I would much rather just give in an info dump. This becomes especially hard when my MC is already familiar with parts of the world; I always fear that my readers will never have a chance to learn everything.

The simple truth is that most of the time, they probably won’t. If you have done your job as a writer and made your world whole and complete, then while your readers explore parts of it with your MC they will grow to trust that the rest of it exists. We need to learn to enjoy the fact that much of our preparation with worlds and characters will never make it into the manuscript but that our knowledge of their existence gives what is written there a new depth and reality.

(Though I may never hear of any goings on in South Dakota, I trust that exists and has just as much of a history and culture as Utah.)

Book Review: The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing by the editors of Writer's Digest Press

by Scott Rhoades

How can you not like a book that ends with "Some people have no sense of humor when it comes to great literature. Or arson."?

This hefty collection of articles from Writer's Digest was an enjoyable read. It's 77 chapters are full of quotes and interviews and advice from writers on the writing process, genres, being a writer, and just about every other conceivable topic. Like most collections of this sort, I expected it to be hit and miss when it came to personal relevance, but there was very little miss.

Even advice on writing in genres that I will likely never write was useful. I might not write romance, but I need to know about writing sexual tension and how to set a story in a historical period. I'm not a big fan of thrillers, but I can always use more advice on increasing suspense and avoiding the pitfalls of withholding information from readers.

I always like to read about the ways established writers struggle just like I do, and how they work through it. That Margaret Atwood has abandoned forever some of her novels after writing 200 pages or more because they just weren't working gives me hope.

The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing is like attending a huge writing conference or lecture series featuring established writers and editors from Orson Scott Card to Kurt Vonnegut. Whether you read this cover to cover like I did, or just seek out the articles that will kick start you out of your writing doldrums, this is a book that should be on your shelf or in your e-reader, where it is handy whenever you need advice.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Sky is Falling

by Deren Hansen

Between the economic downturn during 2008 and 2009, and the rise of e-books in 2010, it seems that the voices prophesying upheavals of apocalyptic proportions for the book business this past year have grown louder and more insistent. With the annual odometer about to tick over, it seems like a good time to celebrate doom and gloom for the publishing industry.

Of course, there's been a book business for roughly four hundred years, so doom and gloom are nothing new. In just the twentieth century--and not counting the Internet--radio, television, paperbacks, video tape, and computer games have all been identified as evidence that the sky is about to fall on the publishing industry.

'Wait," you say, "this time it feels different."

Perhaps. But things tend to survive, sweeping change notwithstanding. Automobiles are pervasive, but there are still buggy whip manufacturers.

Books aren't going away any time soon. The book business, however, is another story.

If I asked you to name the major players in computing you'd likely answer, "Microsoft, Apple, and Google." If you're tech-savvy, you might add Amazon (because of their cloud computing services), and if you have a sense of history, you would include IBM. With the single exception of IBM, it wasn't that long ago that a completely different pantheon, with names like Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) and Cray, dominated the industry. And before them, there were the elder gods like Control Data Corporation.

Other industries have seen a great deal more changes. What is it that has shaken publishing to its roots?

It's simply that we can no longer rely on the certainties that defined the business for decades.

So, what's going to happen to publishing?

The most cogent argument-by-historic-analogy I've heard is that publishing is more like television than music. (See Kristine Kathryn Rusch's piece on changing times in the publishing industry for a much more thorough and thoughtful analysis of the structural changes facing big publishers.)

The key similarity between the two industries is that they grew up around a distribution network that was, for a time, basically the only game in town. If you wanted your television program to reach a national audience, it had to go through one of the three major networks. If you wanted your book to reach a national audience, it had to go through one of the major publishers. Remember, the key service historically provided by publishers was distribution.

Television changed when cable systems expanded and provided new channels outside the three networks. As viewers, we have more programming options than ever before. For broadcasters, it looks like the audience is smaller because we now spread our attention across all the providers. (And for the national networks, it feels like fall from grace because they're just one of many providers now.)

The new distribution systems supporting ebooks will most likely produce an analogous change: readers will have more to read than ever before, while the major publishers will have to compete for what looks like a smaller audience.

We clearly are subject to the old Chinese curse that says, "May you live in interesting times."

Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Future of Books?

Interesting article:

What do you think?

Oh, and of course, Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How to Hear Success Stories

by Deren Hansen

Aspiring writers are drawn to success stories, like moths to flames. And we're all guilty of a little twinge of jealousy that we aren't the subject of the story. But as inveterate optimists (what else can you call someone who devotes years to a single manuscript), we soak up the stories hoping that one day we will be the hero of a similar story.

So it's deeply ironic that we who are storytellers often fall prey to the tricks of our own trade when we hear these stories and afflict ourselves with unrealistic expectations. We hear, for example, of the writer who went from query to book deal in 37 days, note that our own queries have gone unanswered for more than 37 days, and conclude that we're not worthy.

Why do we do this? We forget that the foundation of the storyteller's art is to skip the boring bits. Advice about pacing, pithy dialog, and scenes ("in late, out early") all comes down to artfully avoiding the boring stretches that are an inevitable part of real life.

And how will you tell your success story? Fresh from the process of scrupulously scrubbing all the boring bits out of your manuscript will you say, "Then on the following Tuesday, I wrote 1673 words. But when I looked over the new material on Wednesday, I decided I needed to rework half of it so I didn't reach my new word count goal that day ..." No, you'll apply your craft and weave together a concise narrative of the highs and lows of the experience with a sprinkling of lessons learned. Above all, you will make it a story with protagonists, antagonists, try/fail cycles, a climax, and a denouement.


Because that's the essence of what you do as a storyteller.

The next time you hear a success story, remember that it is a story. Learn what you can from it, but don't compare it directly with your experience because you simply don't know all the boring bits that were skipped to make it a good story.

Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Real-Life Fiction

by Scott Rhoades

If you've ever been in a writing group or taken a creative writing class, you've no doubt listened to a writer fight against suggestions for change to a fact-based piece of fiction on the grounds that "That's what really happened." This is one of the drawbacks to turning real life into fiction. Fiction has certain requirements, and real life often does not fit. There's story structure, characters, conflict, all those things we know about.

If you want to base a story on a real event, you need to be ready to invent new characters for the sake of the story, combine others, change events, play loose with facts, make up dialogue, and cut out real events and characters who do not move the story forward, no matter how important they were to the actual real-life story. There could also be legal implications when you put real people into your stories, exactly as they really are.

There can also be problems when you write about something you are very close to. The way you and your spouse got together (or split up) means a lot to you and your spouse. Keep things exactly as they were if you're writing for yourself. But people who are not so close to the real-life story will not love reading a fictionalized account unless it meets the requirements of a good story, no matter how touching and poignant the real thing was.

I highly recommend Robin Hemley's book, Turning Life Into Fiction, for anybody who wants to write a story based on real life, whether it's your own life, somebody's you know, or somebody who lived long ago.

By all means, go ahead and base a story on real life. We all do it to some degree. Just make sure you put the reader and the story first, not the events that inspired the story, if you want it to be an enjoyable read for people who aren't as close to the things that really happened as you are.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Publishing Options and Exploiting Your Intellectual Propery

by Deren Hansen

Given the recent discussion of traditional and self-publishing, I feel the need to join in with some structural observations. My aim is to give the conversation a baseline of economic reality.

First, however, I have to say that the degree to which partisans are vilifying each other reminds me of the Mac vs. PC religious wars of the '90s. As someone who understands that all Turing-complete computational devices are provably equivalent, I grew impatient with the name-calling in that context until I came to understand that the deep feelings arose because people needed to justify the $3000 - $5000 investment they'd made in one platform or the other.

In addition to the investment dynamic there's a notion of art and its noble pursuit wrapped up in our aspirations as writers. You're here because books have affected you deeply--probably more so than any other expressive medium. That experience elevates reading and writing from the level of mere commerce. But the fact of the matter is that if you want to trade your words for money you're squarely back in the realm of business.

Writers who charge for their work are in the business of exploiting their intellectual property. It's unfortunate that the word, "exploit," has few positive connotations because it is the correct term: you're trying to derive benefit from your words and the stories they contain.

In the past, the best way to exploit your intellectual property was to license it to a publisher--effectively entering into a partnership designed to benefit both parties. Similarly, in high tech launching a start-up became practically synonymous with securing venture capital because the necessary equipment was too expensive to finance yourself. In both cases the pattern of trading future returns for current working capital was so dominant that alternative approaches could be written off as non-starters.

But things change.

In high tech you can rent all the computing power you need (and only what you need) from cloud computing providers. In publishing, you no longer need $30,000 to $50,000 to print, store, and sell books. In other words, it's now not only possible to exploit your intellectual property rights yourself--doing so in the right circumstances might make better economic sense.

All of which is a long way of saying that finding a publisher or becoming your own publisher can and should be a clear-headed business decision. And just like any other business, you must understand the full implications of your options: licensing your intellectual property to a publisher doesn't guarantee you'll be taken care of; publishing it yourself isn't a short-cut to the fame and fortune the gatekeepers have wrongly withheld from you. Both paths (in all their variations) require hard work over a long time with no assurance that you'll ever see a return on your investment.

We need to move past trying to justify one approach over another and take a clear-headed look at the promises and pitfalls of all the expanding opportunities for writers.

Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Finding Your Voice"

"...I was searching for something outside myself-- some sound that did not belong to me, that was not a part of me and was never to be created by me. And all the time I could have spent investigating my own instrument was instead trying to imitate [the] 'perfect voice'... Remember your true voice can only be arrive at with a relaxed concentration and careful attention to individuality."

-Carolyn Sloan
"Finding Your Voice", page 46

**I believe I have posted this quote before. I was going through some papers of mine and came across it again. I read this book during a brief time of delusionment when I believed I could learn how to sing. I loved the quote so much that I wrote it down. Finding your voice is a powerful drive for writers. We cannot succeed when we are attempting to imitate someone's work. We must be true to ourselves and our own creativity ability. The world does not need another JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, or ___fill-in-the-blank___. The world is missing you and your work. You, uniquely, imperfectly, gifted, exactly, you.

What are you doing to find your own voice?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Self Publishing...Or Not...Again

By Julie Daines

There's been some sparks flying--again--on the whole To Self Publish or Not debate. So, I'm chiming in with my two cents.

Here is a great quote by Edan Lepucki (The Millions) from an interesting article about her reasons for not self publishing. I agree with with much of what she has to say, but not all.

I found this especially in line with my own thoughts:
Readers themselves rarely complain that there isn’t enough of a selection on Amazon or in their local superstore; they’re more likely to ask for help in narrowing down their choices. So for anyone who has, however briefly, played that reviled gatekeeper role, a darker question arises: What happens once the self-publishing revolution really gets going, when all of those previously rejected manuscripts hit the marketplace, en masse, in print and e-book form, swelling the ranks of 99-cent Kindle and iBook offerings by the millions? Is the public prepared to meet the slush pile?

Is the public ready to meet the slush pile? I'm not. And as more kids are getting e-readers, parents have to be doubly vigilant to ensure their kids aren't downloading anything worse than just a poorly written book.

But, as she points out, blogs and other forms of reviews are already popping up to help readers wade through the slush.

My personal reasons for going with a traditional publisher are similar to Ms. Lepucki. Mainly, I want my manuscript to be its best. I want an editor telling me what's working and what's not. I want that stack of revisions to make the story better.

I recently started reading a self-published book with at least FIVE editing errors on THE FIRST PAGE! I don't want that to be me. I had to put the book down.

I have nothing against self-publishing whatsoever. It's just not for me--at least right now.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Archaeology of Storytelling

by Scott Rhoades

I recently read a quote from Stephen King in which he compares writing to walking through a desert and finding a chimney sticking out of the sand. That stuck in my mind because I've been going through that experience myself lately.

I was reading a pretty good book last week, when something in the story sparked an idea for a story of my own. That happens fairly frequently. Sometimes it's something I'm reading, but it might also be a place I'm visiting, a person I see, or any of several other triggers. The entire world is that desert King mentions, and when my eyes are open, I often stumble upon chimneys.

But then what? I tend to get more sparks of ideas than I could possibly have time to write. What happens once I discover the chimney, or some other artifact? That's when a writer has something in common with an archaeologist.

First, we have to examine the artifact and determine whether it's worth exploring. That often means fighting an inner critic who automatically tries to discredit the new find as not being worthwhile. That's like our archaeologist trying to get funding for a dig. It's not fun, but it's necessary. It can also be hard. Why should we invest time and energy on this particular dig when there's so much out there? And what makes us think we're the write person for this exploration anyway?

Once we fight that battle, things get more interesting. First, we have to look closely at the artifact (a whole story idea, maybe, but more likely a brief glimpse at a character, a snippet of conversation, a bit of setting, or something even less material). How can this little bit of almost nothing turn into a story. We get out our picks and brooms and start working away at the layers.

Can we find the motivation for our new character? Other necessary characters? Can we work him into an interesting story? What does he want and who or what stands in his way? Layer by layer we try to find something significant in that little bit of brick we found sticking out of the sand. And all of this is before we've even started writing.

If there's enough there, we can start writing and see what we find as we unravel more and more of this hidden civilization.

I'm exploring an idea right now. I don't know yet whether I'll actually start writing something new. I know from past experience that most ideas don't pan out. And often, those that do end up having little or nothing to do with that original spark. The manuscript I'm shopping around now is nothing at all like it was when I had that first bit of an idea. Everything is different--the setting, the characters, the plot.

That chimney in the sand might turn out to be the remains of a lonely cabin, or a house, or a factory, or a city, or a movie set, or a discarded piece of masonry that somebody dumped in the desert, with no significance whatsoever. But you'll never know unless you study it and do a little work.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Revisions: Nice and Slow

by Deren Hansen

Agent Jessica Faust offered excellent advice on responding to revision requests from agents.

She wrote her post after @agentgame tweeted, "I've gotten back revisions on an overly fast turnaround that damaged the book rather than making it better."

Jessica says she understands why authors might be anxious to respond quickly (e.g., fear she'll lose interest or hope to appear responsive), but cautions:
"getting it back to me quickly isn’t going to do you a damn bit of good if what you send back is in even worse shape than the first version. If you think it had to be perfect before, now it has to be even better than perfect. There aren’t many second chances in life. When you get one, use it wisely."
I found the second of her suggestions for handling a revision request particularly illuminating:
"Remember that revisions to a submission are only just the tip of the iceberg. Revision letters to my clients can be pages and pages long. I’m not going to spend that time on a submission. Therefore, you have to carefully read between the lines. Look at what I’m saying and then beyond that, and fix it all."
I encourage you to read the entire post.

In the spirit of using second chances well, there's another reason not to rush your response to a request for revisions.

We advise writers to let some time pass between completing a draft and diving into revisions so that they can approach their work with fresh eyes.

There's a similar dynamic with readers: over time the specifics of a story fade into a general impression. The agent who asks for a revision clearly wants to see the project again. Why squander the opportunity to have them take a second look at it with fresh eyes?

Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"5 Books your Teenage Boy will Actually Read"

I'm always curious to read what other people say about the books that *every* boy/girl/adult will read. This list from KSL actually surprised me. Only one of them was published within the last 10 years. The rest are older than that.

It makes me realize I need to rethink the books I'm getting for my son to read. I've gotten stuck in the "what's new" or "what's hot" mindset to the exclusion of the classics.

What do you think about this list? Do you agree? What did they leave off?

"5 Books your Teenage Boy will Actually Read"

Friday, December 2, 2011

Character Development: Innie vs Outie

By Scott Rhoades

There are many ways to develop characters and create fictional people whose personality types help to ensure realistic conflict. I've written before, for example, about the Enneagram personality profile system, which can help create compatible and incompatible characters with realistic traits.

A simpler way to make sure two characters have natural conflicts is to make one an introvert and one an extrovert. Literature is full of innies because they are easy for many writers and readers to identify with. We sometimes have trouble with outies.

I've been reading lately about the differences between innies and outies. This week I came across an interesting web page containing a lexicon that nicely illustrates how introverts and extroverts see the world differently. You can find it here.

Two characters with such different ways of looking at their worlds will conflict, especially if the want the same things. The lexicon can also help you understand your characters and depict them realistically, especially if you are an innie and your character is an outie. I hope you find it (and other discussions about how introverts operate in an extroverted world) useful.

Another useful article:

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Last week, I made the jump from a PC user to a Mac user. Thanks to a great deal offered to my husband at his work, I got a screaming deal on a MacBook Pro. It took a week or two to get my files and such transferred and then I finally did it.

Last Friday, I broke the reliance on my PC. First time for years that I didn't turn on my laptop and use it. I'm all Mac now.

Before now, all my word processing has been on Microsoft Word. Now I'm left to wonder if I should invest in a copy of Microsoft Office for Mac as a default, fall back to my old comfort zone, or do I explore the new range of options available to Mac users? What say ye?

A good friend of mine recommended Scrivener. Any of you heard of it? Any of you use it?

What other Mac programs do you recommend I look into? If I'm going to break out of old habits, then I want to do it all the way. But since I'm a Mac novice, I need your help/suggestions/insight.

Leave lots of comments below for me! :o)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Book Country's Genre Map

by Deren Hansen

I recently suggested that Genre is no more or less complicated than identifying your audience. Put another way, genre is a crude, pre-Internet way of approximating, "customers who liked this also liked these others."

The problem of categorization doesn't go away in the coming e-book utopia where we won't be limited by traditional bookstore shelving constraints. In fact, the always-on world of digital media multiplies the opportunities (or demands) to know what other books your is like.

So, how can you confidently determine the genre of the book without reading every other genre? The good folk at Book Country have produced an interactive genre map. (The example here is only an image.) Click on a genre to see a list of representative books.

One of the ways to use the map is as a guide for your reading. Once you've chosen which of the five general genre feels most like home, go through the sub-genres and make sure you've read at least one book in each list.

Still not sure where your book belongs because it's a thrilling romantic mystery set in a future where a technological society battles medievaloid magic users? Try the exhaustive, pair-wise comparison exercise: for each pair of genres, if you can only choose one, which genre best characterizes your book. Then tally up the winner for each pair. The genre with the highest score is your primary genre.

I should point out that the genres in this map are for adult fiction. Young Adult and Middle Grade books can be classified in similar terms, but were, until recently, all shelved together. Barnes & Noble now has different shelves for YA genres like paranormal. In other words, while genre boundaries aren't quite as strictly drawn in children's literature, you can't ignore the question.

Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dream a little Dream

Have you ever written a book based on a dream? Scrambled to record the details of an amazing dream you had as soon as you woke up? If you have, you're not alone.

My first novel (yet unpublished) came out of a dream. First and pretty much only time that's ever happened. But for my first novel, it was a great experience to try to recreate a few single images lingering in my brain into a stand-alone work that invites the reader into the life of the dream.

The most popular "dream turned book" story has to be "Twilight." Stephanie Meyer, love her or hate her, had a dream with one image from her Twilight series. That single moment lead to the multi-billionaire franchise we all know (love or hate) now. You can't search very far-- okay, you can't get a single result, honestly-- without finding "Stephanie Meyer" at the top of the list. She has become the queen of "dream" success stories.

That got me wondering what other books were started in the unconscious minds of authors. Here's a few websites I found to answer just that.

Do you pay attention to your dreams as a source of inspiration? How do you do it? Pen & notebook on the bedside table?


Monday, November 28, 2011

Take a Deep Breath, and Revise

By Julie Daines

By now you should be wrapping up your NaNoWriMo projects. I finished my 50K over the holiday weekend. *Wipes Brow*

The next step - Revisions!

Here are a few tips on revising that work for me:

-Let it rest for a few days. A week or two is best, so the themes can percolate.

-Read the last two or three chapters first--without making any changes--and then go back to chapter one. We know our characters so much better by the end of a book--what the main conflicts are, themes that have emerged, the character arc. Keeping the ending in mind will strengthen the beginning.

-See my post on using a timeline to keep track of everything. You can do a lot of jumping around during revisions, and this helps keep things straight.

-Don't be afraid to kill your darlings. You may have written something awesome, but that doesn't mean you can't write something better. If it doesn't fit, it will only cause blisters!

-GET FEEDBACK! Critique groups, beta readers... anything. And listen. If you don't know what advice to accept and what not to, read this post on Storyfix.

-Ask yourself why? Why did my character think that? Why does this upset her? Why did he just say that? Most first drafts are lacking in interiority. Let the reader understand what motivates your character, and what it is that your character really wants.

What are some of your tips for revising?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Road to Writing for Children and Teens by VS Grenier

"It is the magic of fiction that allows the young reader to 'escape' from ordinary day-to-day doings and to live more fully in a heightened, highlighted version of life, with adventure possible at every turn of the page"
—Lee Wyndham, Author 

Every time I think everything has been said about writing, something new pops up. I don’t mind admitting I’m wrong. Heck, I think that’s one reason why I love writing for children and teens, but knowing the nuts and bolts is important before you sit down to write, especially for the children and YA market.

Writing for children and teens can be a rewarding experience—both personally and professionally. The insight you gain as a writer is un-measureable. It also means opening yourself to a child’s point of view and rediscovering what it feels like to learn something new, to experience something for the first time, to let your imagination run wild. However, children’s writing isn’t all fun and games. In many respects, it is more difficult than writing for adults because the writer has so much less in common with the reader. Or so we think, and just because your readers will be children/teens doesn’t mean you can pay any less attention to the basics.
In fact, bright, curious young readers demand realistic, compelling characters and exciting plots just as much—if not more so—than their adult counterparts. 

If you are thinking of taking up writing for children and teens, first be warned it is not an easy way to make money. If you’re in the game for money…then forget about writing in this genre. True, there are always stories of beginning writers (J.K. Rowling, Brandon Mull, Stephanie Myers) who will ship out a children’s story and sell it to a publisher on the first or second try, and wind up with a very successful book. But for the rest of us…entering this profession takes years of practice, self-education (I highly stress this part) and much frustration. And that’s only the beginning.

So here is my road map for those of you who want to start down this journey. The suggest material comes from my own research as I walked down this path and now reflect back on my own personal expertise/experiences. Much of the information will also apply to other areas of writing as well. I hope this road map will help your writing and personal growth.

Road Map to Becoming a Children/YA Author:
1)      Buy books on the subject. There are many books on writing and many of them focus on different genres such as picture books, chapter books and YA novels. Some even focus on techniques for writing for young readers. You can never have too many of these books and even a few not specific to your genre but to writing in general. Here is the list of books I first started off with:
a)      The Business of Writing for Children by Aaron Shepard
b)      You Can Write Children’s Books by Tracey E. Dils
c)      Picture Writing: A New Approach to Writing for Kids and Teens by Anastasia Suen
d)     From Inspiration to Publication: How to Succeed as a Children’s Writers by the Institute of Children’s Literature
e)      The Story Factor by Annette Simmons
f)       Creating Plot by J. Madison Davis
2)      Signing up for writing workshops/ecourses. To hone your writing, you need to take writing courses at a local college, writers group/conference and/or online. I cannot stress the importance of these workshops. Some will teach you new techniques while others will share information you may not have known or heard about. Here is my list of places where you can take writing courses:
a)      The Institute of Children’s Literature (I did take their basic course)
b)      The Muse Online Conference (This is free and in the month of October)
c)      Writer’s Digest (They offer different ecourses throughout the year. Even though I have not taken one, many of my fellow writers have really enjoyed their courses.)
d)     Local colleges or continuing education workshops offered by your city or local college campus. (I teach for our continuing ed program through Dixie State College and my students here really enjoyed what I have shared with them. This is a cost effective way to learn a lot in a short period of time.)
e)      SFC Publishing online workshops (The SFC team has put together some online workshops to help those wanting or already writing for children and teens. We truly want to help you hone your skills.)
f)       The Working Writers Coach (Another program I haven’t taken, but know many who how have and say it was one of the best things they have done for their writing.)
You can also do a Google search for many other online workshops on writing. But before you sign up for any of them…first ask fellow writing buddies if they have heard about it. You don’t want to spend lots of money on a program that isn’t right for you.
3)      Join a critique group. I’m sure you have heard this one repeatedly. There is a reason for this…it works. Most critique groups have new and advanced writers meeting together, sharing their experiences and knowledge. Critique groups are not only good to help hone your writing, but also to make connections with fellow writers who may one day help you see your book in print.
4)      Sign up for writing newsletters and magazines. Make sure you don’t overdo it. You want to make sure you’re not just receiving them and not reading them. What good is it if you don’t read the articles within?
5)      Join a local and/or online writing group. There are many writing organizations out there for writers. I’m a member of a few and have been a member of others in the past. These groups are wonderful not only to help you hone your writing, but also in sharing publication information, contract advice, etc. The connections are valuable and will pay off down the road. Here are a few groups I suggest:
a)      The CBI Clubhouse (Fightin’ Bookworms)
b)      League of Utah Writers (they have local chapters throughout Utah)
c)      WriteOnOnc
e)      Verla Kay’s Writing Board
f)       Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators
g)      MuseIt Up Club

Plus check out Facebook, Yahoo Groups and Google for more online groups and writing resources.

VS Grenier is an award-winning author and editor who learned how to hone her writing skills at the Institute of Children’s Literature, and has membership in the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators (SCBWI), the National Association of Professional Women (NAPW), the League of Utah Writers (HWG chapter), and Musing Our Children. Her works include Babysitting SugarPaw, the Best of Stories for Children Magazine Volume 1 anthology and over 30 short stories, articles, and crafts for children along with newsletter articles for writers.

She is the Founder & Owner of Stories for Children Publishing LLC, and also is chief editor for Halo Publishing; in addition, to running her own editorial and critique services. Learn more about her at

Friday, November 25, 2011


I am thankful for being a writer. Writing helps me keep my imagination active, provides endless entertainment, and allows me to explore worlds and ideas in ways reading alone doesn't. Best of all, writing has given me access to some great communities of writers, like Utah Children's Writers and, especially, Sharks & Pebbles. Thanks to all of you for your part!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Text Metrics

by Deren Hansen

Motivational business rhetoric is full of old saws like, "if you can't measure it, you can't improve it." While true in straightforward situations, like how many widgets per hour come off an assembly line, as we stray from the well-ordered fields of the purely quantitative realm into the qualitative wild lands, metrics become more nebulous--and in some cases do more harm than good.

So, in full knowledge of their debatable benefits, let's look at some of the text metric tools you can use to improve your understanding of your manuscript.

Word count is the most important metric for queries. Microsoft Word 2010 has a running word count in the status bar. With earlier versions, File|Info (Alt-F, I) brings up the Document Properties dialog where you can view the Statistics tab. (The same dialog is available in Word 2010 via File|Info|Properties|Advanced Properties.) OpenOffice/LibreOffice has a Word Count item in the Tools menu.

Metrics are most useful for comparison. You can use the tools at Renaissance Learning to look up the word counts of published books like yours to see if your manuscript is in the right ball park.

There are a number of other web-based tools like the word frequency and phrase frequency counters at

The good folks at have an advanced text analyzer for members in the Tools area. They offer everything from overall readability to word and phrase frequency.* It's a rich resource geared toward educators. There is no charge to register and by doing so you can store and compare up to twenty texts. is a simpler site that offers a similar set of metrics and doesn't require registration.

And if that's not enough, you can have the Gender Genie predict the gender of the author implied by your text.

While none of these tools will guarantee publication, it's worth your while to see what insights you can glean. At very least, run some representative chapters through the tools that show word and phrase frequency and see if you have a problem with pet words.

One final caution: while it's highly unlikely that anyone will appropriate your manuscript if you enter it in one of the web-based tools, there's no need to analyze more than a few chapters to get a good sense of what's going on with your text.

* UsingEnglish lists the following features for their advanced text analyzer: "General Statistics, Readability Ststistics, Word Analysis (Distribution, Length, Frequency, Word Cloud, Hard Words), Phrase Analysis, Lexicon Analysis, and Graded Text Analysis."

Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Anne McCaffrey

R.I.P. Anne McCaffrey, age 85. I read her Dragonriders of Pern trilogy way back in college and loved it. Always sad to see the great ones go.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Two Favorite Phrases

by Scott Rhoades

Today, I thought I'd write about two of my favorite phrases.

What If...?

"What if...?" is the phrase that leads to story ideas. To generate a basic story concept, ask yourself a few what-if questions. They can be easy or outlandish or whatever. What if aliens landed in Saint George and discovered they were allergic to spaghetti? What if dogs could talk? What if Murray High School was really a secret training ground for the CIA?

Write your questions down, and maybe combine some of them. What if giant mushrooms took over Provo and what if Utah banned disco music, but what if Donna Summer's disco music was the only thing that could kill the mushrooms, but what if the Bee Gees made them more deadly? And what if all Donna Summer records were destroyed during the Great Disco Purge of 2116?

Let's Pretend...

I've always loved sentences that start with these two words. It's related to "What if?" but involves some action. You're not only asking a question, you're acting it out. It's a playful phrase that can lead to almost anything.

Writing is all about pretending, about bringing ideas to life and exploring what could happen if they were real. That playful aspect is perhaps my favorite thing about writing.

How about you? What words or phrases get your creative juices flowing?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

NaNoWriMo check in~Inquiring minds want to know

How many of you are furiously working on your NaNo goals?
How's it going?
Did you set daily word goals?
Are you working on a brand new story or one that's been waiting to be written?
Did you do an outline or are you winging it?
Computer or pen and paper?
Edit as you go or after November 30?

Wait, what are you doing here? You don't have time to read blog posts! Get back to work AND good luck!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Green Screen" Distraction-free Text Editors

by Deren Hansen

I started playing with computers when green screen, character-mode displays were state-of-the art (I preferred amber over green, but that's another story). Then the original Macintosh (yes, that's what they were before they became hip enough to afford a three-letter name), splashed onto the scene with a full-time graphical user interface (GUI).

A few years later, folks from the English department at the University of Delaware published a study in which they argued that the quality of freshman papers written on a Macintosh was lower than those written on PC-class computers with character-mode displays. Oh, the papers produced on Macs looked better with well-laid-out text and proportional fonts, but (so the authors of the study claimed) the content of those papers was less well-thought-out than the papers composed without graphical blandishments.* They suggested that this was because the students tended to believe that their papers were good (and more importantly finished) because they looked good.

The study and its claims were controversial. But I think there was a kernel of truth in the observation that there's value in a writing system that gets out from between you and your words: that removes even the little distractions like formatting.

Of course, now that we all use graphical interfaces the point may seem moot or at best hopelessly retro. Perhaps, but there are several applications for various platforms that give you a full screen with nothing there but your words in a console font.

I use a package called WriteMonkey on my Windows systems.

Having an editor in which I can focus entirely on my words helps me use my limited writing time well.

You can, of course, achieve a similar effect with the Full Screen mode in your standard word processor. Perhaps it's the retro angle, but I enjoy the Matrix-like way in which the black background fades away and the glowing words float in prose-space.

Of course, life is never as simple as it should be and WriteMonkey has its drawbacks, most of which come back to the fact that it is a text editor, not a word processor. This means that you get plain double quotes instead of the nice opening and closing quotes that Word supplies as you type. Also, Write Monkey doesn't convert a pair of dashes into an em-dash (again, like Word).

I turned this liability into a feature: after writing about a chapter with WriteMonkey, I import the text into Word and use the fact that I need to correct the quotes and em-dashes as an excuse to edit the new material.

For those of you who prefer Macs, I understand that Writeroom provides similar functionality. There's also JDarkRoom, which is written in Java and should run on your platform of choice.

Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Teen Voice: Vocabulary

By Julie Daines

"I hate you!"
"This is why I'm moving out when I'm eighteen!"
"I have no control over my life!"

Yes, those are all phrases I have heard from my own teen-age sons. Frequently. I have three.

So, I thought I'd do some posts on capturing that teen voice, starting with vocabulary. Here are a few do's and don'ts.

Be Extremely Careful of Overusing Slang
According to Agent George Nicholson, "Slang dates good fiction more easily than any other single thing." 

Slang varies by region, so too much slang makes your book non-universal. If you do use a lot of slang, make sure it reflects something about the character and adds to the depth of the story. Don't just use it to sound teen, teens are expert at picking out phony voice.

The best writing has a richness of language, not just a scramble of slang. Use vocabulary that reflects the time and place you're writing about.

Don't Dumb it Down
But at the same time, it has to sound like something a teen (specifically the one in your book) would actually say. Teens, in some ways, are smarter than we give them credit for. As long as the voice is authentic and rings true, teen readers are open to a wide range of voicing styles.

Mix it Up
Don't give all your characters a similar sounding voice. Vary vocabulary and rhythm to create contrast and interest. Some teens never stop talking, some are only one word anwerers. Some rely on humor, some on emotional extremes. (See examples above.)

Keep the Narrative in Voice
Make sure the narrative parts are in the voice of the POV character and not the author's. Maintain continuity.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Anything Goes Day: Odd 'n' Ends

I don't have a lot of time today, so I thought I'd just toss out some odds and ends I have in notes. Feel free to put in your own odds and ends and interesting little notes in the comments.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Receiving Critical Input

I had to interrupt my regularly scheduled NaNo to post a link to this fantastic article on the StoryFix blog. Every author or writer needs to read this great advice on accepting criticism, and choosing which criticisms to accept. 

Do it now.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dropbox for File Synchronization and Evergreen Backup

by Deren Hansen

Since the advent of personal computers, one of the perennial issues is backups. Elsa Neal at The Blood-Red Pencil, for example, discusses some quick and easy techniques for backing up your work, among which her favorite is to email your files to another account.

Backup is one of the few areas where more really is better, both in terms of frequency and techniques. As Elsa mentions, you can back up to another folder on your hard drive, to an external hard drive, to a thumb drive, to a shared location on a local network, and to a web service. If you want a more permanent record, back up to write-once media like CD/DVD ROM. The best practice is to use several different devices and methods instead of relying on a single kind of backup.

So far, so good. There's nothing revolutionary here. It's good advice that we'll likely honor more in the breach than the observance.

But all of that was simply to pave the way to telling you about a web service with which I'm quite taken called DropBox.

You see, I have a problem. I like to write on several different computers. I've dealt with this problem by using a thumb drive to move files among the various computers. That works well when I'm in the middle of drafting a manuscript and have only a few files to manage. But it becomes burdensome when I'm working with a larger number of files.

Enter DropBox. It's a folder that stays synchronized across a set of computers and a password-protected web service. Change a file on one system and you'll find the new version of the file ready for you on the second system.

DropBox is primarily a synchronization service, not a strict backup. It does offer a 30-day history of file changes, but it won't help if you need to keep older versions of the files for the long term. That said, if you chronically fail to keep your resolution to backup your work, DropBox is a good way to guarantee you have the latest copy of your files in more than one place.

Oh, and best of all, DropBox is free for the first 2 GB.

Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Free Writing EBooks From Writer's Digest

In honor of NaNoWriMo, Writer's Digest is giving away seven ebooks about writing, including one of my favorite writing books, Hooked by Les Edgerton. Head over to now and download these books in the format you prefer.

And if you're doing NaNoWriMo, try not to let these books distract you. It'll be tough.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Create an eBook in 5 Simple Steps -Guest Post By Karen Cioffi

You know . . . an easy way to turn your knowledge into possible income is to create a booklet or e-book. And, with an e-book, if you use sources such as Kindle, and, it doesn’t have to cost a penny. It’s as easy as putting the pieces of a puzzle together.

5 Simple Steps to Creating an eBook

1. Create content

Create content in a simple word document. The content can be anything you think your readers or target market want or need. In addition, it can be any length you decide upon. You can create a simple 10 page e-book, or a 100+ page e-book. You can also create a compilation of articles you’ve already written on a particular topic.

Tip: It’s wise to include an accuracy disclaimer and a copyright reference.

2. Organize Your Content

Whether your product is a few pages or 100 pages, having it organized is important. The e-book needs to offer easy reading and clarity, along with value. If you are creating a longer product, divide the content or articles into parts chapters, and provide a Table of Contents (TOC) page.

Be sure to use a large and bold font for section headings and it’s advisable to include page breaks for each section.

TIP: have plenty of white space and include an About the Author page.

3. Include Images and Tweak Your Content

You can add an image at the beginning of each section or where ever you see fit. This is another trick to make the e-book more interesting to read.

Check out free clipart or images if you’re giving the e-book away for free. If you’ll be selling the e-book, find images on ‘paying’ sites.

Tip: the images will help break up the monotony of straight content.

4. Create a Cover

Every book needs a cover, so you will need to create one, and after it’s done, be sure to click Page Break.

5. Turning Your Word Doc into a PDF

Now it’s time to magically turn your word document into an e-book. There are a number of free PDF creator software applications to do this.

If you don’t already have a PDF converter, it’s time to do an online search for “free pdf creator.” Just be sure the one you choose is Adobe compatible.

It’s that simple!

Karen Cioffi is a published author, ghostwriter, and editor. You can find out more about Karen and her books at: (writing and marketing information and services) (Day’s End Lullaby information and reviews) (middle-grade fantasy adventure, Walking Through Walls)

Karen’s newsletter, A Writer’s World, offers useful writing and book marketing information and strategies. Subscribe today and get two e-books on writing and/or marketing.

You can find out more about Karen Cioffi’s current World of Ink Author/Book Tour schedule at There will be giveaways, reviews, interviews, guest posts and more. Make sure to stop by and interact with Karen and the hosts at the different stops by leaving comments and/or questions.

In addition, come listen to Blog Talk Radio’s World of Ink Network show: Stories for Children at The hosts VS Grenier, Kris Quinn Chirstopherson and Irene Roth will be chatting with Karen Cioffi about her books, writing, the publishing industry and experiences with virtual tours. Karen will also be sharing writing tips and trials, and tribulations of the writer’s life. The show will be live November 21, 2011 at 2pm EST.