"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis

Saturday, November 10, 2012

What I Learned at the Heart of the West Writer's Conference

by Sue Anne Hodge

I learned a writer needs great characters to make the reader follow the book no matter where it takes the reader. There were three workshops about how to make/grow the perfect character. I took a little bit from each class that I can adapt to the way I write.

I learned that trends in publishing are evolving like never before, but in the end superior writing will always win out and gather readers in. The trick is to never give up.

I learned that romance writers need to put the Man in RoMANce to appeal to the hefty
number of male readers, which equals hefty bank accounts if done right. Writers need to make their men real not some fantasy most would like to meet.

But most importantly, I learned that going to a conference with good friends, taking part in discussion groups, and hanging out with creative types gave my muse a terrific shot in the arm and stiffened my resolve to continue my quest to see my books in print.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a blank page to conquer.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Writing for Your Audience

By Carol Stilz

During our September meeting of Blue Sage Writers, we discussed the importance of writing to a market. We agreed keeping publishers’ guidelines and our potential audience in mind was vital when writing genre fiction. However, we thought it important in certain cases to write for ourselves. Did Jean Auel have a market in mind when she wrote Clan of the Cave Bear? Would the Harry Potter series have appealed to such a large, broad audience of readers had it been written for only one audience?

That afternoon I considered our discussion. The late poet laureate William Stafford came to mind. Years ago, I took a workshop from him, a writer true to his voice, which he called his muse. He said after writing a poem born of the Chernobyl accident, he asked himself, who would be interested in reading what I’ve written? He thought of the people near Three Mile Island, and sent his poem to a Sunday newspaper near there. That was his first audience, but in time the audience for that poem became much broader. Did he think of them as he wrote? From his comments, I don’t believe he did.

So I decided to share my thoughts on keeping one’s audience of readers in mind when writing. First, I can’t write and edit at the same time unless I am on deadline for a press release, news item, or composing facts only. As a publicist for a nonprofit organization I composed reader board announcements, often with missing letters or numbers, from whatever the donor had on hand. Facts yes. Creativity yes. Editing? Naturally, since I had to work with what I had available. Thankfully, most writers don’t face this predicament.

If I’m writing nonfiction, I do my homework with my readers in mind. When I wrote an article on world famous sandcastle builder Todd Vander Pluym I included directions for readers, ages 6-9, to build a simple sandcastle. Directions needed to be clear, specific, concise and produce the promised results.

Most often, I rely on what I learned and later taught from classes in persuasive speaking and writing. Treat your potential readers with respect, integrity, and empathy. Aristotle said it best in On Rhetoric. Audiences need logos or logic, ethos or ethics, and pathos or emotion. In nonfiction, this translates to me as drawing reasonable conclusions from facts (logic), being accurate to a fault in citing facts, quotes and crediting sources (ethos), and no fair playing upon reader’s emotions without substance or reason to support conclusions (pathos).

In writing fiction, logic applies in that the world I set up as a writer, and the rules that govern it, must be clear and consistent. If pigs fly on planet P, then I can’t change the rules without a reasonable explanation that becomes a major piece of the plot. I must be consistent. In that way I establish what Samuel Taylor Coleridge described as “the willing suspension of disbelief.” Once the setting and its peculiarities are established, I must be true to the world established for those characters.

Ethics is vital in writing fiction as well. I trust the writers whose work I enjoy. I know I will get a good read, if the writer is true to the characters and honest with readers. No author intrusion, no reversal of plot, no cheap rescue of characters due to fate or contrived happenstance. No “it was all a dream” ending. I must be fair to my characters and audience. And I must never ever take credit for another author’s ideas.

Finally, I try not to play on reader’s emotions. If my key scenes show the characters’ emotions, and then narrate or tell the final scene, my readers will feel cheated. Just as the writers of Greek tragedy claimed, audiences want a story with which they can identify, release their emotions through the plight of sympathetic characters, and find the ending satisfying because it is true to the characters and their situation. So I do my best to have empathy for my readers and for my characters. I remind myself to show the crucial incidents in the story unfolding scene by scene. I strive to avoid preaching or talking down to my audience. My favorite authors are trusted friends who treat me with respect, integrity, and empathy. That is the author I want to be. Thankfully, the members of Blue Sage Writers hold me to these standards when they comment on my work.

Sites referenced in this blog and for further information:

“When I Met My Muse” www.litera.co.uk/author/william_stafford, 10/2/12
Aristotle’s On Rhetoric, www.ethospathos.com/index.html, 10/2/12
Samuel Taylor Coleridge Biographical Sketches of MY LITERARY LIFE and OPINIONS 1817, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biographia_Literaria, 10/2/12

Monday, September 3, 2012

From Paper to Digital

by Linda Sandifer

With the ease and popularity of e-books, many authors have considered selling their books in the digital format. And many published authors who own the rights to their backlist want to make those books available to new readers on Kindle and Nook. If you’re one of these authors but feel challenged by the technological aspects of e-publishing, don’t feel bad, you’re not alone, but getting your book into digital format doesn’t need to be a nightmare.

Here are a few things you might like to know to help you get started:

1. Book Rights

If you’re working on your backlist, make sure you have all rights to your book. Your original contract will state when the rights can be reverted to you. Have your agent send letters to your publisher(s) requesting, in writing, a reversion of all rights to you. If your book has never been published before by any publisher, and you’re the sole author of the book, then you own the rights.

2. Editing

If you have a new book, which hasn’t had the luxury of having been edited by an agent and/or editor, then make sure it gets a good edit by someone who knows their stuff. You might have to hire a professional if punctuation and grammar aren’t one of your strengths. If you need content editing as well as line editing, it could get pricey, but it might be worth it. No matter how good your story is, disjointed content and editorial errors will distract a reader and destroy the credibility of the story as well as your reputation as a writer.

3. Document Conversion

There are people and companies online who will do everything for you: editing, document conversion, and cover design. But it all comes for a price, which can sometimes be hefty. You should shop around and compare. And no matter how professional their web sites appear, make sure you see their finished products, even if you have to purchase and download one or two to your own Kindle or Nook reader. Get recommendations from other writers if at all possible. You might discover there are writers who can successfully use both sides of their brains and they might be able to do this left-side stuff for you without breaking the bank. I actually know writers who fall into this category (!) and I admire them greatly.

Still thinking of tackling it yourself? First, look at the Amazon and Barnes & Noble sites and read everything they have written about getting your book into the Kindle and Nook formats. If you understand what they’re saying about conversion and cover specs, then go for it. If it’s all gobbledygook, turn to a professional.

If your book is from a backlist, such as mine, it could have been published years ago and might be stuck in the back of your closet on some old 3" floppy disks. If you haven’t transferred your manuscripts from your old computers to your new computers and into new versions of Word or Word Perfect, then you might have a challenge ahead when you discover your new computer doesn’t even have a drive for 3" floppy disks. You might have to take those floppies to a computer place and have them help you with the upgrade. And don’t assume the last version you have is the final edit done by your publisher. It takes some time, but I always check the published book to my file to make sure it contains all the final changes.

4. Book Covers

If you decide to tackle your backlist, it’s unlikely you have the rights to the cover on your original book. You can check with your publisher, but you’ll more than likely have to design a new cover for the e-book.

Look at other books in your genre and get an idea of what’s popular today and what you like. You might be able to rough out your own design and then give this idea to a professional to finish with the right specs for uploading. If you know how to use Photoshop and have an eye for design--or want something similar to a cover that has been professionally designed--you could save some money and do it yourself. The most important thing is to keep it simple and uncluttered.

The hard part is finding the right image or images to use. Again, you have to make sure you have the rights to the image you use, or you have a license to use them. If you want artwork, that could get very expensive, unless along with your talents you’re also an artist. You might opt to take your own photography, but it had better be good, and, as I mentioned earlier, you’ll need to know Photoshop.

If you opt for photography but don’t have your own, you can buy stock photography through such places as istock photo, 123rf, Getty Images, and Dreamstime, just to name a few. Read their contracts well. They offer several licensing agreements based on what you will be using their images for.

5. Product Description

This is your book blurb and it’s what customers will read first on the Kindle and Nook sites. Like a query letter or a synopsis you send to an agent, this is what sells your book so work long and hard on it.

6. Author Bio

You should make up a brief author bio to be placed at the end of your e-book after the content. Amazon encourages you to have an Author Page on their site. This is an opportunity you should take advantage of along with some of the other promotional ideas they have for authors.

7. Reviews

For those of you with a backlist, you can use your reviews from the original publication. Otherwise, you’ll need to search online for places where you might be able to send your new book for review. I would shy away from places that want money to review. I also look at the review sites and see how they’ve reviewed other books. If they are consistently nasty or snarky, for example, then I’d pass them up and find a site that handles their reviews in a professional manner.

You might see if you can get an endorsement from a few published authors who might belong to your writer’s organizations. Most are happy to help you out if they have time. Remember, once your book is out there anybody can review it on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble sites and people can be mean so be prepared if not everyone thinks your book is wonderful.

8. Promotion

In today’s internet world, promotion has a new face. Everyone is writing a book, it seems, and competition is fierce so you have to search all avenues and even create some of your own. The social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are good places to let people know about your book. Many will repost your release to their friends, which is a good way to reach thousands, perhaps millions, of people.

Look into all the internet avenues and be creative. Check out all the sites where you might be able to list your book. Have friends and other authors you know put up reviews on places like Goodreads. And make sure you have a website. Blogs are, perhaps, going out of vogue as people prefer the short snippets of Twitter and Facebook, but sometimes readers and fellow writers want to know a bit more about you. That’s when they’ll appreciate a website and interesting blog posts. You might also want to do a book trailer and post it to You-Tube, your website, and your blogspot.

The best way to sell your book is to have people read it, love it, and spread the word.


Amazon and Barnes & Noble make this easy for you. They will provide you with an ISBN for your e-book. I might add that Amazon and Barnes & Noble charge you nothing for publishing your book to their e-book stores. They get their cut from the sales.

10. Pricing

Read thoroughly the Amazon and Barnes & Noble sites to learn how they handle their pricing for the United States as well as Worldwide. See what other e-books are selling for then set your price accordingly. One nice thing about the Kindle and Nook stores, you can change the pricing of your book as often as you like. If you want to put your book on sale for a period of time, you can do so and then change it back to the original price when you’re ready.

All in all, setting up an account with Amazon and Barnes & Noble is quite easy and self explanatory but I’ve had help from many talented people to get my books uploaded to the Kindle and Nook stores. If you can’t figure something out yourself, chances are your children, grandchildren, husbands, co-workers, and fellow writers will know how to make book trailers, covers, and even do book conversion. About the only thing you have to do completely by yourself is write the book!

Jot It Down … Now

by Sherry Roseberry

Sage advice for writers: always, always, always write down inspiration when it strikes!

No matter if it happens when you have finally been able to climb into bed; or when you wake up during the middle of the night. If you don’t, you are not going to remember it! Trust me. Come morning that great line or scene grabber, so vividly laid out before you, will be erased from your memory. Or at best, it’ll turn up drab. I know this, but have I faithfully followed the sound advice?


As I was getting ready for bed one night, the perfect beginning to my latest book came to me. It was so good, so original I knew I’d remember it…. Not only did I not remember my gripping start, I didn’t even recall I had one until two days later. Two days later? Are you kidding me? And even at that, all I could conjure up was the opening line, “Is he dead?”

At least I get kudos for remembering that much. I mean, with somebody my age that’s as good as it gets.

I kicked myself for days until I thought of another first chapter. One with an opening that, I hope, will hook an agent, then an editor, and eventually readers. Lots and lots of readers. Is it as good as the first one? We’ll never know.

This isn’t the only time I flubbed up great inspiration. Several years ago, while I was mowing the lawn, mundane thoughts ran through my mind. Then the muse hit me, laying out a wonderful short story from start to finish. The idea was so good I tingled with excitement. I could hardly wait to write the story. And I’d get right to it ... as soon as I finished with the job at hand.

After I put the lawnmower away and washed up, I raced downstairs to my typewriter, (What? I told you it was several years ago) inserted the paper, and … nothing. No beginning, middle, or end. The brilliant prose laid out before me was gone. All I had left was the idea. I was hopelessly blocked. From that painful experience I promised myself I would always listen to my muse.

Now, after that incident, you would think I’d go around with a note pad and pencil permanently hanging from my neck. Not quite. I carry them in my purse. And, when I write my books, I make notes to myself as ideas come to me to use in future chapters. But, do I religiously jot down thoughts when they strike? As you’ve read above, I’m still working on that.

So take my advice, keep track of those special words, one-liners, or scenes that come to you or you will sorely regret it. Like me.

Disclaimer: Of course there are exceptions to every rule. And this one is no different. Especially if you are writing about children or have a child in your book. There are incidents that can happen during the night your brain will recall. Take for instance like when a squirming six-year-old sleeps with her grandmother.

Sometime during the wee hours of the morning she ended up with her feet on her pillow. Then she was using my stomach as a footrest. After that, I woke up again to find her knees pressed against my throat and moments later pushed off to roll over. Also she must have signed an affidavit stating that, while grandma is awake, she’d try her hardest to change positions every three to five seconds, always inching closer and closer.

Who could ever forget that?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Inspiration from Jack London

by Richard Rice

How many of you can remember reading Jack London books when you were a kid? I can. Even today, so many years later, the brutal treatment and triumphant survival of his wolf-dogs in Call of the Wild and White Fang still lurk in my memory.

I didn’t think too much about Jack London after high school, though did have brief encounters with his memory during my years at Berkeley. The Big U considered him a revered ex-student, even though he stayed there less than a year and proclaimed the curriculum “passionless.” At the time, Jack London Square in nearby Oakland was of more interest than the man himself. It provided a refuge for under-aged college boys to get a drink at the First and Last Chance Saloon, where London did his own serious drinking in his younger days.

It was not until this last spring that I came full circle with Jack London. Some friends in California took us to visit his home, Beauty Ranch, now a regional park near the small town of Glen Ellen. The setting is truly beautiful; lush green hills, in the middle of the Sonoma Valley wine country. Jack lived and worked there from 1905 until his death in November 1916.

Our tour of the 1400 acre ranch, surrounding buildings and the museum revealed London’s zest for living and how much he’d crammed into a relatively short life. He traveled the world, tempering his writing skills with experience. To the Klondike searching for gold, or sailing the South Pacific in his boat, The Snark. At Beauty Ranch we saw his passion for a sustainable rural life; the remains of his extensive winery, horse breeding barns, lumbering operations and even a state-of –the art pig farm.

He wrote at his roll-top desk nearly every morning, starting before the sun came up. When 1000 words had been penned, he quit for the day and got into the business of running the ranch. His wife took his longhand scribblings and typed the final manuscript. His office was cluttered in a charming sort of way, filled with books and papers, drawers stuffed with notes and writing tools. When he was deep into a writing project, he slept on a porch adjacent to his office. Awakening in the middle of the night with an inspiration, he’d write a note to himself and clothespin it to a rope running across the porch over his bed.

One of the most astounding statistics is the number of rejections he received for his work. Six hundred! His fertile mind simply shook them off and he went on to publish over fifty books and hundreds of short stories. What an inspiration to all of us who’ve been collecting our own sets of rejections.

Throughout the buildings on Beauty Ranch, we noticed dozens of small, custom-made book shelves, each holding perhaps eight to ten of his novels. My friend, a fine woodworker, made me an exact replica of one of these little shelves. I am saving space on it for the next crop of novels published by the Blue Sage writers. Maybe one of my own will be among them. Keep writing my friends, there is hope for all of us.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

When Do Fiction Writers Become Actors?

by Bill Corbett

In the past I have written about the many hats writers wear. Today I’m going to write about another of those hats—acting. When do fiction writers become actors? I believe it’s when they put that first word of their story into the word processor; then again when they read their work aloud. Acting, as I see it, has two sides. One side involves development of the characters; assuming their identity, taking on their characteristics, etc., which is what writers do when they create their characters. The other side of acting is performance, which is what writers do when they read their story aloud. Performance is bringing those characters to life, making them interesting and believable. It’s this performance side of acting—oral reading—I will focus on here.

To play on the words of Forrest Gump’s “momma”, oral readers are like a box of chocolates. They come in a variety of assortments. There is the fast monotone reader where all characters have the same voice, and he reads so fast, and with such little feeling or interpretation that it’s difficult to follow or understand the storyline the writer is trying to convey. Conversely, there is the slow monotone reader whose drone is slow enough to understand, but the characters’ dialogue, and the narrative prose, all have the same dull voice that puts the listener into a deep doze. Then there is the dramatic reader, who, when he wants to raise the story’s dramatic tension, raises volume.

Too often, I listen to writers who read their work aloud without injecting any feeling or interpretation. Many writers will create a very interesting and compelling story for their reading audience only to destroy that story when they [the writers] read it aloud to a listening audience, whether that audience be members of their critique group or attendees at a writers’ event. Interpretation is what performing is all about, and it can make or break a performance. In the field of music, for instance, it’s not enough that a musician plays his instrument correctly, hitting all the notes on the right pitch and with perfect timing, or that a singer sings on pitch; it’s the feeling, the interpretation they inject into their performance that creates excitement in their audience; or raises those goose bumps up the back of the neck. So it is with writers when they read aloud, it’s not enough to just read the words. They need to become performing actors.

Oral reading is just as important as writing when it comes to promoting our work. Writers are story tellers, a technique that is often slighted when they read aloud. There’s no need to overact like a Shakespearean stage actor, or a Stephen Douglas orator; just be natural. The late Paul Harvey is an example of the kind of natural I mean. Remember how he mesmerized us as we listened to his broadcasts? Although he was reading from prepared text, he made it sound as if he were speaking off the cuff; from the top of his head, if you will, as if he were telling a story. “Ah, but he had a natural gift,” some might say. Perhaps, but it wasn’t entirely because he was gifted. He worked to develop that skill; a skill everybody can learn. It’s a skill I believe writers need to develop; inflect subtle voice changes in all their characters. In other words, it’s back to interpretation. Liken it to auditioning for a part in a play or a movie. After all, writers are auditioning their work when they read it aloud to others, are they not?

Reading narrative prose is not to be slighted, either. The narrator is also a major character in any story. He/she is the teller of the story, and they deserve their own voice when writers read aloud, just as they had their own voice when the writer wrote the story. That prose, when reading aloud, should be made to sound as though the narrator is talking; not someone reading. I think back on all the movies I have watched where one of the characters did voice-over narration, and how compelling that narration was to the storyline of the movie. Spencer Tracy, Charlton Heston, Gregory Peck, and Humphrey Bogart, were masters at voice-overs, as were Ethyl Barrymore, Greer Garson, and Barbara Bel Geddes just to name a few.

Writers should rehearse reading their work aloud. Know that work like the back of their hand. Oral rehearsal will also uncover flaws that may go unnoticed with just silent reading. Being well prepared is the best medicine to head off anxiety and stage fright, thus enabling one to render a relaxed performance. By taking the time to properly prepare—remember interpretation is the key—I think writers will receive a much more meaningful critique from their fellow writers and the public.

Bill Corbett is a state and national award winning author of Buddy…His Trials and Treasures. He is a two time Associated Press award winning columnist, and the recipient of several state contest awards for his contributions as a free-lance writer for IDAHO magazine. He currently lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Writing With Feeling . . . And T.S. Eliot

by Maxine McCoy

When we sit down to write, our fears, our beliefs, our prejudices, our successes, our failures, all that we are, sit down with us. We put a piece of ourselves on the paper. The story is, without question - - us.

Paul Gallico has been quoted as saying:
"It's only when you open your veins and bleed
onto the page a little that you establish
contact with your reader."

Leo Tolstoy said:
"One ought only to write when one leaves a
piece of one's own flesh in the inkpot each
time one dips one's pen."

And to that thought, Charles Peguy added:
"A word is not the same with one writer as
with another. One tears it from his guts.
The other pulls it out of his overcoat."

At this point, I start to wonder. Flesh, blood, guts??? I don't want to die. I just want to write a book. And when I think about a guy in an overcoat I think about that old joke and I really get nervous. I don't want to expose myself either. If I write my book will I be revealing some dark corner of my soul I didn't even know I had? Maybe I'd better rethink this desire of putting words on paper.

But when the morning sun floods the patio and spills over into the room through the French doors, I tell myself grudgingly, "It's time to write." And there I am, "A writer and nothing else: a man (or very unsettled woman) alone in a room with the English language (and all that flesh, blood, and guts), trying to get human feelings right." (John K. Hutchins)

Yes! Writing is all about feelings.

Dwight V. Swain wrote, in Techniques of the Selling Writer, "No writer in his right mind writes by a set of rules... Because rules start from the wrong end: with restriction, with form, with mechanics, with exhortation about things you should and shouldn't do. Where should you start then? With feelings."

The form and mechanics are important and need to be correct in the final manuscript, but in the beginning, in that first and possibly second draft, you must write with feeling. You become your characters and then type out the hopes, fears, and joys of your heart.

There have been times when I've been writing, expressing the emotions of my heroine and suddenly, I recognize myself there on the white of my Microsoft Word. I've had to stop because the words were becoming blurred with tears and then I realize: I've denied myself this cleansing for years. I couldn't cry for myself, but I could cry for my heroine.

Writing with feeling is therapeutic.

T.S. Eliot was born with a physical disability that prevented him from associating with children his age. As a result he became frightened of social situations. Just entering a room full of people caused him dread and seemed so monumental to him that it might "disturb the universe." From these painful feelings, he was able to write The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Here's a few words from that poem:

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair -
(They will say: "How his hair is growing thin.")
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin -
(They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

Sometimes I feel so self-conscious about writing deep feelings that I can almost imagine T.S. Eliot sitting on my shoulder, whispering doubts in my ear. "You're setting the drug of dreams against the pain of living. Do you dare? And, do you dare?"

But then I stop and think; Eliot had the courage to continue despite his discomfort. And where did it get him? His words are read to teach personification in English classrooms in every college in America. These are those words they use:

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

He even uses feeling in his description.

And so, this morning when the sun floods the patio and spills over into the room through the French doors, I tell myself with renewed enthusiasm, "It's time to write."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Revising Your Manuscript

by Sandra Lord

I believe we all agree a writer resists rewriting. But most of us do not create perfect drafts the first time around, or on the second. Some writers revise their first draft starting at Chapter One and working through chapter by chapter to the end. That’s fine, but here’s another method for you to consider.

Many of us mull our story over in our minds long before approaching our computer. Before you write the first draft, keep your options and imagination open--can you change the characters, point of view, setting, situation or problem, conflict, or mix and match any of the above and make a better story? Now write your story--to the end; then stop. Don’t revise in between. Keep those creative juices flowing.

Now you’ve finished the first draft. Let the manuscript cool off, then come back to it and read it through and look for its strengths and weaknesses. Pinpoint major matters that need attending to first. Jot notes in margins on any big problems or new ideas that crop up. You may get ideas for new characters and scenes, plot may have to be rearranged, or the ending needs to be changed.

Deal with any character problems before you begin a general revision. Does you hero or heroine change in the course of the novel? Have they unusual traits? Take a hard look at your antagonist. Is he/she morally bad? Is he/she humanized? Look at your minor characters. Is there a credible conflict between protagonist and antagonist? Next, evaluate the scenes. What one is the most memorable? What made it so? What scene is the least memorable? Can you cut it? Continue this process until all the remaining scenes contribute significantly to the novel.

Now look at character’s motivation. Is it provoked by circumstance or planted ahead of time? It’s easier to established motivation by planting it ahead of the scene where the action takes place. What are the three most important actions in the book? Look at other significant actions. Is any action out of character for the heroine, hero, villain, etc.? After a section of your manuscript is revised, print it. You’ll need a clean copy for your general revision that will come later. Look at page one. Is there a hook? Do you, as a reader, want to go on to page two? If so, it’s time for the general revision where you take your clean copy and work through the manuscript chronologically. Your first objective is to tighten the manuscript. Watch for between-scenes material. Cut words, phrases, paragraphs, pages--all that are not absolutely necessary. Vary sentence lengths to avoid monotony. Avoid redundancy--saying the same thing twice in different words. Pick the better one and cut the other.

Check dialogue sequences. Is your dialogue natural, realistic for your characters? Have you used enough dialogue? Check for tag problems. Watch for “he muttered”, “screamed.” Substitute “said” if you need a tag. If only two people are talking, you do not need tags. The reader can keep them straight. Use as few tags as you can get away with. Eliminate unnecessary words, e.g., the boy nodded his head (what else do you nod?). Eliminate weasel words such as about, finally, here, just then, suddenly, etc. Check for overuse of adverbs, past perfect verb tense; any participial phrases.

Work with a clean manuscript for your next read-though. Look for words that jar you--take you out of experiencing the story. You may need to revise your prose for more punch. If you’ve done everything you can to perfect your manuscript, print it out and read it through again. No problems? It’s ready to go. Good Luck!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Good Descriptions

by Sue Anne Hodge

Being a very visual person, good description is something I cherish in the different books I read. If the author can make me see the scene fully in my mind, I'm hooked. Description sounds simple but it's tricky to get right. Too little leaves the reader floundering, too much buries him or her in details. Good description lets the reader see the scene ... great description pulls the reader right smack into the action. One of the first short stories I read from Stephen King still sticks in my mind: "The guy's name was Snodgrass ... he had a tight little potbelly encased in a good suit that was getting a little shiny in the seat. He was a salesman and he kept his display bag close to him, like a pet dog that had settled down to sleep." Can you picture that man, a little down on his luck, passing time until his next appointment? I can see the color and texture of the guy's suit, see the worn soles of his dusty shoes, feel the weight along with every detail of that display case nestled next to those shoes.

Description begins in the writer's imagination, but should finish in the reader's. So how does a writer go about succeeding at getting into the reader's head and letting said reader experience the story? There are articles, books, workshops and more that can help, but the best way I've found is to read, read, read, then write, write, and write some more. I have a folder titled Unblocking Passages. Whenever I read an inspiring passage, sentence, or word, I enter it along with the name of the book and author into that folder. Before sticky notes, my favorite books had folded corners. The more folds the better the book. I rely on my Unblocking Passages to act like jumper cables for sluggish creative juices, or, at the very least, give me a shove to keep me going along my novel's path.

The key to good description begins with clear seeing and ends with clear writing, the kind of writing that employs fresh images and simple vocabulary to get one's point across. Some of my favorite description comes from the hardboiled-detective fiction of the forties and fifties: "I lit a cigarette that tasted like a plumber's handkerchief." (Raymond Chandler.)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Creativity Challenge--A Week without Reading

by Karen Finnigan

Don’t tell any first-grade teacher this concept exists (more important, don’t breathe a word of it to the students). But I recently completed an enforced week of no reading. It came out of an adult class I’m helping to lead: we are working our way through Julia Cameron’s bestselling book, The Artist’s Way (Tarcher/Putnam, 2002). The exercises have been affirmative, inspirational and aimed at freeing up the creative child inside each of us (Example: “List ten things you used to dream of doing.”) I never saw the exercise on reading deprivation coming until I happened on it in Chapter 4. “Stop reading,” it said in effect. Deny yourself reading for an entire week. Listen to the silence inside your own head.

The author had to be kidding, I thought. I’m not giving up my newspaper! I’m especially not giving up my stack of novels. At times I read three at a time. As a writer, the privilege of reading was divinely ordained, wasn’t it? How could I function without it? And that was the general reaction of our class. No way, most of them said. We’d rather walk the plank or languish on a desert island without water than give up reading. Ms. Cameron also suggested giving up TV, puzzle books, magazines, whatever busy work wastes your time. The rationale: over consumption of other people’s words may block your own inspiration. The hope: Get your nose out of other people’s writing, and make room in your subconscious for your own stories to come out. This was a radical concept, and my heart clenched in fear. Fear of change. Yet, as leader of the class, I felt duty-bound to set an example. So I allowed myself to try it--but on my own terms and without copping a purist attitude. After all, I was still allowed to read my textbook, so this wasn’t cold turkey.
Here’s how it went:

Day 1-The first day I got up and did not allow myself to check the news on the computer. I browsed the headlines in the paper only (no over reading of obituaries). Withdrawal from reading made my blood pressure go up a bit, so I wrote in my journal until I relaxed. At bedtime I looked at my bedside stack of books and sighed. I thought about the novel I’d been reading as I went to sleep. Six more days to go.

Day 2--Sipped coffee and sulked over the crossword puzzle I wouldn’t let myself do. Stared at the glass, at the dogs, the cracks in the patio. Wrote in my journal about the view outside my window.

Day 3-- Caught myself reading the label on the cereal box. Picked up Newsweek out of habit, looked at the cover story, then tossed it down. Stared out the window at snowflakes, birds and water dripping off trees. I returned to my journal and a blog idea spilled out. Maybe, I mused, I could kick my habit of over reading, or to be more precise, my habit of reading to procrastinate from writing.

Day 4--Wrote in journal, typed up blog idea, brainstormed characters. Never turned on the TV. Threw Newsweek in the recycle pile. I felt very good and thought about the next story I wanted to write.

Day 5--Resisted the urge to read my old emails. No cluttering of the brain. Instead, I gave my novel a final edit and mailed a query.

Day 6--A new story idea drifted out of my subconscious. Realize I continue to feel good. Maybe I don’t need to finish reading that novel on my nightstand, not in one gulp anyway. My own ideas are popping up, begging to be written down.

Day 7--I woke up with a new ending for my book. Wrote all day. Ecstatic.

Two weeks later, I still try not to turn on the television. I limit bedtime reading to a chapter each night. I have several ideas spread around me. I feel creativity flowing like it hasn’t in a long time. I read emails and blogs, but for a limited duration. The key, like so much in life, is moderation. Thank you, Ms. Cameron, for giving me a needed jolt of self-discipline.

Monday, April 2, 2012

To Write is to Rewrite

by Bill Corbett


SUPER - 1953


Teenage BUDDY CRAWFORD is in his room. He is packing, getting ready to go off to college. He holds in his hand a picture of a boy and his horse standing in the arena at the county fair. His dad, WILL, walks into the room.

What’ve you got there, Buddy?

Buddy hands the picture to Will. He takes it and looks at it.

I didn’t know you’d kept this
picture all these years.

That was a pivotal summer
in my life, Dad; good times
and bad. I wish Sally and I
could’ve had more time together.

There was a time when you
wouldn’t have said that, son.

Yeah, I know.

Will hands the picture back to Buddy and puts his hand on his son’s shoulder.

Now, you’d better hurry and
finish your packing. We need
to get on the road.

Okay, Dad. I’ll be ready in a
few minutes.

Will leaves the room and Buddy resumes his packing.



Two boys ride double on a beautiful horse. A bally face bay mare with four white stocking feet and good conformation. One of the boys digs his spurs into her side. She winces and bolts. The other boy jerks on the bridle; she whinnies in pain, starts to buck throwing both boys off, then runs away....

To those who have screen writing experience, I may be “preaching to the choir.” But to those who don’t, this post may present something new. It was suggested to me that since I've jumped from novel and non-fiction writing to a screenplay, that perhaps I should share a bit of this experience with the followers of this blog.

The previous scenes you just read are opening scenes to a screen play that I adapted from one of my books and had “naively” pronounced in a previous blog two years ago that it was completed. I’m currently on the seventh rewrite. There’s an old saying around Hollywood: “To write is to rewrite." I had the good fortune to connect with a story editor at a major production company; a company that has produced several TV shows, and feature movies. Since I never sought permission, I won’t mention the name of the company or the editor. The one thing I learned from her is that when you think you’re done with a script, it’s just the beginning. From then on, it’s rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

Fact is, when I listen to Robert Osborne on Turner Classic Movies describe the techniques of movie making, I get the impression many movie scripts aren’t complete until the last scene of the movie is shot. He has said that directors, and even the players, will rewrite scenes during the actual shooting of the movie.

During my high school years I never missed the opportunity to watch Bing Crosby movies. The famous Crosby/Hope road pictures were as much ad lib as script. Legend has it that on one of those movies the boys got so carried away with their ad libs that the director threw up his hands, tossed the script, and said “go at it, boys.” So as I mentioned earlier, it’s difficult to tell when a movie script is really finished.

Script writing involves a totally different technique from novel writing or non-fiction. Format is very critical and must be followed to the letter. Left margins must be one and a half inches. This is to enable room for notes and comments. (Please note, the correct format is not what you see here. Character dialogue should be centered on the page.) When scripts are submitted, they are three-hole punched and bound together with two brass brads with a front and back cover sheet with no writing. The title page is the first page inside. Character dialogue is usually confined to blocks of four sentences at a time with breaks in between, although this is not cast in stone. Page breaks in the middle of a character’s dialogue are not recommended either.

When characters are first introduced through the action narrative, as you saw in the example above, their names are always in CAPITAL letters. There is also certain terminology that must be followed. EXT. is short for exterior, and denotes an outside scene. An example might read:


An example of an inside scene my read as follows:


When you want to superimpose something on the screen such as a date or particular location, it would read as follows:

SUPER – 1943 – LONDON.

Since movies are a visual media, the person reading the script must be able to actually see the movie unfolding before his or her eyes as they read the script. This means all descriptive narrative action prose must be in third person, present tense. The action in the movie must also be seen through the players’ dialogue and their individual voices.

Movies are generally written in two script forms, the spec script, and the shooting script. The spec script is the one from which the project is purchased for production; the shooting script is the script from which the movie is shot and contains all the little details, such as scene design, camera angles, etc., etc.

So, there you have a brief primer course on screenplay writing. Please understand that in no way am I trying to pass myself of as an experienced professional in this field. This screenplay is my first experience, and I still have much to learn about this craft. I find it to be a fascinating medium and a challenge. For those who would like to learn more about the craft of screenwriting, and perhaps stick your toe in the water, the text book that was recommended to me by my online teacher is The Screenwriter’s bible, by David Trottier. It’s available at amazon.com.

Happy movie writing.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Planting the Right Word

By Mary Ann Cherry

Every spring, the planning of my new garden becomes an obsession. Like most gardeners, I can’t resist the early vegetables, the spring bulbs, and the overwhelming variety of blooming annuals. Today, when my thoughts beat a path from my mystery novel in progress to my greenhouse, I realized something. Writers would benefit by using their words in the same way a grower prepares and plants his beds. Either there is a strong correlation between gardening and writing, or I was just desperate for an idea for my turn at the blog.

Nope, it’s true. Choosing words from the thesaurus is a lot like choosing those veggies from the nursery, and even more fun when we mix in the flower angle, and getting our hands dirty. When writing fiction we prepare the dirt, mix in a lot of supplemental characters, and we need a variety—of heights, color, importance of words—in order to make a piece work.

Words? Each is specific to location. Zone three? Paragraph four? Words become the tall calla lily that stands alone or the short foliage that adds background color. They are productive, standing stiff and straight like a stalk of corn, silk tassels darkening in the field. Words blossom in clusters like repetitive phrases. Toss them all in the garden with a bit of foreshadowing or compost thrown in for good measure. Grow the ultimate experience for the reader.

A good gardener plans to include all the senses--the sight of vivid blooms, the smell of roses, the sound of birds or running water. Writers can use senses to boost reader involvement. Don’t neglect active words that add sound. Verbs that incorporate sound add excitement. Instead of “he walked”, maybe he “thumped”, “thudded”, or “clattered” down a walkway. “His deadline loomed, and his footsteps tick-tocked down the hall.” And don’t omit calm passages. Red roses are showcased by duller flowers, and active words are heightened when contrasted with quiet paragraphs.

How does your garden grow? Some writers prefer the profuse abandon resulting from wildflower seed spread like buckshot across the yard. Others prefer the strict English garden—the topiaried boxwood, the muted walkways. Even the word “garden” evokes a variety of images. Synonyms suggest even more. Think of the image generated by the word “park” or the dark cemetery feel to “plot”. Which row hides Aunt Agatha?

Whatever our individual writing style, the choice of word should be precise if it is to plant the correct image in the reader’s mind. Give your character a few thorns. Throw in a few weeds.

Life is, after all, like a garden.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

2012 Writers' Conference Resource Guide

If you think you’d like to attend a writer’s conference this year, but need a little guidance on finding the right one for your writing needs and budget, you might want to check out Shaw Guides.

It lists conferences in all fifty states as well as worldwide.

Here is a list of conferences in Idaho to get you started:

1. Granite Creek Ranch Fiction Workshop
Workshops, reading of western writing; cattle drives & trail rides on the ranch.
Ririe, ID

2. Idaho Writer's League Annual Conference
Speakers and workshops with emphasis on websites, marketing, and publishing.
Coeur d'Alene, ID

3. Lost Horse Writers' Conference
Workshops, readings, panel discussions, master classes & recreation. Classes offered in poetry, fiction, or nonfiction.
Sandpoint, ID

4. Murder In The Grove
Workshops & panels, Q&A, master class.
Boise, ID

5. Payette Lake Writers Conference
Friday: all-day fiction workshop (separate enrollment); Sat & Sun: presenters & workshops.
McCall, ID

6. River's Edge Retreats
Lectures, entertainment, group interaction, writing time.
St. Anthony, ID

7. Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators - Utah/So. Idaho Chapter
1-day workshop featuring lectures, writing exercises, discussion and critique.
Long Beach, CA : Boise, ID

8. Sun Valley Center for the Arts Writers Workshop
Memoir writing workshop
Hailey, ID

9. Sun Valley Writers' Conference & Workshop
Small group breakout sessions, panel discussions, readings, talks.
Sun Valley, ID

Friday, February 10, 2012

Left at the Hitching Post

By Bill Corbett

One of my favorite forms of entertainment as a kid during the 1940s was the Saturday matinee at the local movie theater. These matinees usually consisted of B Western movies. In order to add a bit of comedic drama, those films usually had a scene where either the bank robbers scurried out of the bank with their loot, or the posse mounted up to give chase, and in every case someone for various reasons was left behind at the hitching post scratching his head while the others raced away. In this age of modern technology, I’m the guy left at the hitching post scratching my head.

As they read more of this blog post, many will wonder why I make such a big deal out of all this. The fact is, I was born fifty years too early to grasp all this computer stuff. My three and a half year old grandson has to show me how to use his i-pod. I can be doing something that isn’t going right, and he takes it out of my hand and says, “Not that way, Pa Pa. You have to do it this way.”

"Oh,” I say, which brings me to the point of this blog. I’m a computer illiterate. If it’s possible to make an i-pod crash, I can do it. My computer IQ is somewhere between 25 and 50. Hell, I received a Kindle reader for Christmas, and it took me until last week to figure out how to charge the battery!

I have been tuning into a number of teleseminars this winter focusing on Internet marketing, and I have to say the whole concept boggles my mind. “You need to be on Twitter,” they say, “Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest,” they say. “Know about RSS feeds, blogging, get Google alerts, have a social media, campaign,” they say, in order to draw people to your website. I don’t even know what a tenth of those things they talk about are, let alone find the time to use them. Geesh!

Then they go on to say you need to have some sort of gimmick to pique your customers’ interest and draw them to your website. “Throw in a gift or something if they purchase your book,” they say. As I read or listen to all this my mind immediately goes on tilt. And the worst of it is, it doesn’t matter whether you self-publish or go with a trade publisher; you are still expected to do all this. E-publishing is taking over the publishing world, and this is the new way of marketing our books, or any other wares for that matter. “The ‘old fashioned’ bookstore signings are a thing of the past,” they say. “The Internet is where it’s at.”

So as I stand here at the hitching post scratching my head, I come to the conclusion there is only one solution for a computer imbecile such as me; either I enlist the services of grandson Aidan to show me around the Internet, or I hire a professional marketer. Alas…woe is me.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Industry Tidbits

From Linda S:

With the tremendous success of ebooks and the closure of many bookstores around the country, everyone in the publishing industry has had some new challenges to face. For those of us who have been in the industry for twenty or thirty years, the changes might be harder to get our minds around. Things simply aren't the way they used to be, from submitting your work, to selling it, to marketing it. It's a whole new way of doing business and things are changing so rapidly it can be rather daunting for those of us used to doing things the old way. But there's a lot of information out there if you can find the time to weed through it. Here's an article and a site that has a lot of good information and might be of interest to both new and seasoned writers. "Five Big Publishing Stories of 2011" at Digital World.

From Carol:

In Sky Magazine for January, there was a short piece on self-publishing. According to “By the Numbers: Self Publishing,” $1500 is the average cost for an author to self-publish hardcover, soft cover, Kindle and Nook versions of a book. The cost of most self-published e-books is between 99 cents and $2.99. One young adult sci-fi writer earned $2 million from self-publishing before signing a contract with a major publishing house. At one time, three self-published books appeared simultaneously on the New York Times top 35 best selling fiction titles. Lulu.com has published 1.1 million authors. Self-publishing companies used to offer 25% of profits to their authors. That figure has risen to 70%.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

New Year's Resolutions and Goals

A few members of our group laid out some resolutions and goals for the upcoming year. We thought we'd post them here to encourage ourselves to complete them, and perhaps encourage other writers to make up their own set. It always helps to have a deadline, even if it's self-imposed. At the end of the year, we'll revisit this post and see if we accomplished what we set out to do. Ought to be fun!

Linda Tirrell

Finish my "book!" Sigh! Let go of the fear of my book not being good enough--let go of feeling it needs to be perfect! I did give the latest revision to Mae's husband (the story is about Mae). He read it and gave it back with recommendations for adding more! Started doing some research on the items he recommended (i.e., learning about things like the Red Sox and the Texas Towers!)

Bill Corbett

My goals right now are to work on getting my screenplay, Buddy's Misadventures, to a marketable state, and getting my novel, Shadow Revolution, published. The screenplay needs a bit more work on character development, and I'm working on a final edit and proof read for the novel. I also have another novel I'm going to pull off the shelf, dust off, rewrite, and polish.

Karen Finnigan

My short-term goal is to finish my novel, Return to Cloudberry, so I can get queries out to agents. The story is done, but I have two sets of reader comments to address. My long-term goal is to find an agent who handles women's fiction and who believes in my story enough to sell it. I think it's enough for my year, given all else that's going on. I will try to start something new, but I’m not going to commit to that yet.

Linda Sandifer

I want to get a rough draft of my new novel by early summer and have a final draft by the end of the year, ready to start submitting to agents. But this idea keeps growing, so I don't know where it’ll take me. I would also like to get a couple of my older western romances into eBook format for Kindle and Nook. My long-term goal, which I know I won’t meet this year, is to have all my books available as eBooks.

Richard Rice

Here are my goals, in order of priority:

1. Find a publisher for at least one of my two novels, Incendiary and Seeking Gemini
2. Find a place for my two short stories, “Sophie's Gift” and “Magpie”
3. Finish my novel, Star Eaters

My resolutions to make this happen are:

1. Spend some time every day on writing, editing or marketing.
2. Smarten up on social networking

Too much? We'll find out in a year when we open the time capsule.

Sherry Roseberry

I'll start out my resolutions/goals by vowing NOT to go on a diet or get so wrapped up in exercises that I fall short. (Maybe taking it from this angle something will happen.) I will get back to blocking out time for writing and/or research five days a week. I will finish the first book in the series I am starting and proposals on two more for a three-book contract. Then I will search for an agent. While I'm doing that I'll start my second book. With my fellow BSers in my corner how can I go wrong?

Carol Stilz

My goals at this time are short: First, I intend to finish editing my son-in-law's book on sportscasting by April 3. Second, by year's end I intend to have a contract for my first full-length novel.

Sandra Lord

My goal for 2012 is to finish Winds of Fate and get it to an agent on publisher. Then have a rough draft of my second novel completed. I really hate to make resolutions because it seems I always break them. Maybe this time will be different.

Sue Anne Hodge

My goal is to get both of my "Never" novels done and sent off to the first agent who wanted to see the two finished. If he rejects it, then I will start sending to others I have in my list.

We Live In a Hyper World

By Bill Corbett

Ah … the times, they do change. Ever since computers and the internet came into being, the world seems to be operating at warp speed. We watch TV commercials showing pickup trucks bouncing over rough terrain, splashing through mud puddles at fifty or sixty miles per hour. We see fine luxury cars racing across the salt flats at top speed, only to watch them end their race with a spinning skid stop (who in his right mind would treat a nice care like that). Hardly do we see a movie produced within the last fifteen years that isn’t rife with high-speed action including car chases, rollovers, and cars and people blown off the planet in some fiery explosion. Geeesh!

In the old days, we were perfectly content to spend a leisurely three days on the train to cross the continent. Now we put ourselves through all kinds of humiliation and stress to fly the same distance in three hours. We used to cross the ocean (with a modicum of luxury) on a great ocean liner in eight days. Now we put ourselves through all manner of emotional and physical stress to cover the same distance in eight hours.

This is supposed to be a writer’s blog, so what does all this have to do with writing? Well, I’ll tell you. This same hyper-intensity is showing up of late in the writing, publishing, and editing fields. We meet with an agent or editor and we’re told we have ten seconds to get their attention. They tell us to describe our book in twenty words or less. I had an agent tell me that once, and I was so incensed, I told him since he made such a ludicrous request, I would give him a ludicrous answer. I said to him, “It’s a damn good story.” I then told him I thought he probably didn’t have the time to represent me, anyway, and I ended the conversation.

It’s interesting to note how the accepted writing styles have changed over the last forty or fifty years or so. In the old days, the "ly" words (adverbs) and the "ing" words were used quite extensively, as were adjectives, passive verbs and passive language. I recently tuned into a marketing teleseminar where an editor was discussing all the no-nos that bug editors today. Those I just mentioned are at the top of their list. As a result we have hyper writing and hyper editing with short, choppy, direct, no-nonsense “get directly to the point” sentences. Very few, if any, eloquently flowing compound complex sentences with a few adverbs and adjectives thrown in are acceptable, and only a minimal number, if any, with passive language are acceptable.

I recently picked up a couple of Nancy Drew stories from my daughter’s library the other day and began to peruse them. They were handed down from her mother, so some of them had copyrights back to 1936. Following are a few excerpts to remind us of what was acceptable writing in those days. If Carolyn King, or her ghost writers, were to write in her original style today, it’s questionable whether she would be published. Here are a few examples of her writing which I suspect is indicative of the style of most writers of that era:

--Nancy Drew began pulling off her garden glove.
--What was that? Nancy questioned eagerly, racing noisily on tiptoe out of the room.
--Nancy laughed softly.
--Nancy’s heart suddenly gave a leap.

King’s books are rife with such adverbs and passive language phrases. Such extensive usage of the “ly” words and passive phrases today would cause editors acute baldness, and if they happen to be tee-totalers, well … who knows?

Yes, the times have changed. Not that I agree, but like it or not, I guess we have to change with them, but I kinda like the Nancy Drew stories and the adverbs and passive language. They’re fun reading.

Bill lives in Tucson, Arizona. He is a two-time Associated Press award-winning columnist and writes fiction under the name Will Edwinson. His national award-winning book, Buddy…His Trials and Treasures, is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or by asking for it at your favorite bookstore. Check his web site and blog at www.willedwinson.com. Bill also writes free-lance for IDAHO magazine.