Sunday, December 30, 2012

Powering Back Up

     Back in September, I was feeling overwhelmed, working on my YA fantasy WIP, tweeting at least three times a day, trying to think of something to post on a FB page that seemed to be a complete waste of time, reading and commenting on two to three blogs a day and writing two blogs of my own.  Oh yes, and then there was my day job and my life.  One day, Janet Kobel Grant wondered aloud what would happened if some of us writers let social media "go dark" for a while.  Would anyone notice? she asked.  Well, anyone who has read the blogs by the Books and Such agents knows that their blogs certainly would be missed--immediately.  I suspect there would be a general outcry.  However, for me, it was the permission I needed.  Let me just see, I thought, what will happen if I stop posting.  Will it make any difference?  I didn't completely quit; I scaled back.  I stopped spending hours (literally HOURS) going through the comments on Twitter and responding to them.  Now I just check it periodically throughout the week and only go back about two hours worth of comments whenever I log on.  At first, I still tweeted at least once a day, writing a a comment with the hash tag fantasyquest in an attempt to attract followers who are interested in fantasy and might potentially read my book.  I continued writing my fantasy blog, although not every week (one of my faults, not posting consistently).  I stopped writing posts for this blog as wasn't sure that anyone other than my friend, Jennifer, read it.  Yes, there were pageviews, but a pageview doesn't mean the person is following.  It could be that the person arrived at the blog by accident.  FB became merely one of the ways that I shared the link to my fantasy blog. My WIP became my top priority when I was squeezed for time. I continued to follow and comment on the agent blogs because...I those blogs are vital to me--both the information and the people I find there. So I didn't go completely dark, but there was only a nightlight still on.

     A surprising thing happened.  I continued to get new followers on Twitter almost daily.  My Facebook "friends" tripled.  The number of pageviews to both of my blogs spikes up on Friday and Saturday, leading me to believe that there are people who are looking to see if I've posted anything (my post day had been Friday, then changed to Saturday due to my teaching schedule).  And to my complete amazement, this blog, has continued to have daily pageviews even though I haven't posted since September.  Also, the number of followers has increased (thanks in no small part to the Books and Such community). (Welcome and thank you, Heather and Steve!  I'm sorry it's taken me so long to welcome you.)

    What to make of all of this?  I really don't know yet.  I have a couple of thoughts.  First, I think blogging about a topic that interests people (both writing and fantasy seem to qualify) will attract readers.  Of course, then good content is needed to keep them (except for the odd extremely loyal friend).  (Jennifer, you know by "odd," I mean unusual, not strange :) ).  Secondly, networking--especially when you remember to connect with people as people, not as potential followers or readers--is beneficial in many ways.  Thirdly, life goes on even when I'm not there.  Okay, that's not a writing insight, but it's a really good thing to remember.

     A big THANK YOU to all who follow this blog, as an official follower or not.  And to those who've been following it for longer than three months and regularly checking in to see if I have FINALLY posted something--  *Many HUGS*  Thank you for your patience.

Blessings for a peace-filled and joyous New Year!


Monday, September 3, 2012

Narrative Point of View

     In the last post, I listed grammatical points of view and mentioned that keeping a consistent point of view is important to good writing.  I promised to write next about narrative points of view, so that's what today's post will focus on.

     Spot Quiz: from what point of view was paragraph above written?  Just kidding!  Those of you who read this blog are savvy enough to recognize first person when you see it.  It's the other persons that cause the problems, and especially the mixing of the persons.  NO MIXING ALLOWED!  Again, mostly kidding. Mostly.  The fact is, though, that a writer needs to choose one point of view from which to write and then stay in that point of view UNLESS there is a good reason to change it--and then the change should be brief.

     Last time the focus was on grammatical points of view.  This post is about narrative point of view.  They are related since the pronouns used in first person narrative point of view are the same pronouns used for grammatical first person.  The same goes for second person and third person.  So if you know which pronouns go with which person, you are at least three-quarters of the way to understanding narrative point of view.  There's just a little more to the story.  Speaking of stories, as you already know, stories have narrators.  The narrator is the person who is telling the story--not to be confused with the writer who wrote the story.  Mark Twain wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but Huck himself tells (narrates) the story.  Don't believe me?  Read a bit from the story, then read Twain's "Notice" at the beginning of the book.  What? You don't have the book handy?  Okay, fine.  Here's a sample:

     From the narrative: You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter.  That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.  There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.  That is nothing.  I never seen anybody but lied one time or another.... (11)

     From "Notice":  Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
                                                               BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR

     These are distinctly different voices and the first one is written from the first person point of view while the second is written exclusively from the third person point of view.  (Did you notice?)  But what about those "yous," you may ask.  Isn't that second-person?  Very astute observation, but actually, no, not with narrative point of view which is slightly different from grammatical point of view.

     First, here are the narrative points of view (and there are fewer than twelve, yeah!):

     First Person 
     First Person Detatched
     Second Person
     Third Person Limited
     Third Person Omniscient

     (Again to the Literary Police and to all English Teachers: I'm trying to keep this as basic as possible, okay?)   

     So what do these labels mean?  Well, this blog has gone on for a bit, so I'll save examples for next time, but here is a brief definition of each:

     A First Person narrator is a character in the story who tells the story from his / her perspective and uses pronouns such as I and me.  Generally, the readers know the name of this narrator / character. A Detached First person narrator tells the story AFTER it has happened and so is in a position to reflect and can provide foreshadowing.  Sometimes a first person narrator will address the readers directly (using the pronoun you).  A Second Person narrator is talking to someone (sometimes writing a letter to someone) OTHER THAN THE READER.  The readers listen in on the conversation, but the you in the narrative does not mean the reader. A Third Person Limited narrator is an anonymous person who knows about the story and can tell it from his / her limited perspective.  So this narrator may know what some of the characters are thinking and feeling, but doesn't know about everyone and can tell only what those other characters say and do, not what they think or feel. A Third Person Omniscient narrator still is anonymous and doesn't take part in the events of the story, but knows EVERYTHING about EVERYONE. A Third Person narrator never uses the pronouns I, me, we, us, or you.  The Third Person narrator appears to be telling the story from an objective point of view (but don't completely trust in that!).  The next post will give examples of what these narrative points of view look like and why and how to use them.

Which point of view do you prefer to write from?

Do you prefer to read stories that are told from a First Person viewpoint or a Third Person one?

Have you ever read a story told from Second Person?  What do you think of it?  
(BTW: many song lyrics, especially those of love songs, are written in Second Person)

Happy Labor Day!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

So What's Your Point of View?

[Thank you for your patience last week.  The short version of the story is that my brother-in-law got quite ill. I took him to the ER.  His health is improving now.  Thank God.  So I'm back to blogging.]

                 WRITING BASICS TOPIC TODAY: Point of View, Part 1

Many people misunderstand what Point of View means as a writing term.  In everyday conversation, the phrase has come to mean "position" or "stance."  "Well, my point of view on the healthcare system in this country is...."  That is not what a Point of View means in writing.  The literary terms for position, stance or point are thesis (non-fiction) or theme (fiction).

So what then is Point of View?  In writing, Point of View is the perspective from which a story is told or a paper written.  There is a direct connection between this and grammatical Point of View.  In grammar, there are twelve (yes, twelve) Points of View.  They are:

First Person Singular Subjective
First Person Singular Objective
First Person Plural Subjective
First Person Plural Objective

Second Person Singular Subjective
Second Person Singular Objective
Second Person Plural Subjective
Second Person Plural Objective

Third Person Singular Subjective
Third Person Singular Objective
Third Person Plural Subjective
Third Person Plural Objective

Are your eyes rolling back into your head yet?  Actually, it's not as complicated as it looks.  Really.  It all boils down to which pronouns will be used CONSISTENTLY in a piece of writing.  And the good news is: Second Person only uses ONE pronoun.

First Person Pronouns: I, me, we, us

Second Person Pronouns: You, you, you, you

Third Person Pronouns: He, She, They, It, Him, Her, Them  

[Note to the Grammar Police: Yes, I left out possessives.  I'm trying to make this BASIC]

So what's all this got to do with writing Point of View?  All writing, even non-fiction, has a narrator.  There is a voice with which the writer communicates the information or story.  That voice is an entity and it has a perspective.  That perspective is the lens through which the written word is communicated and it is a single lens.  (Remember the first writing basic: consistency.)  In a single piece of writing, the perspective or lens should be changed ONLY if there is a really good reason for doing so.  Sometimes people need to put on reading classes to read more easily.  Sometimes the author can change a POV lens briefly in order to make something clearer.  However, when the author keeps changing the POV, it can make a reader dizzy.  Think about eye exams when the doctor keeps switching lenses on you and saying, "Which is better--A or B? What about B or C?  A or C?"  You get to the point where you have no idea because he never stays on one lens long enough for you to know.  By the same token, a writer who keeps changing POV will either confuse his readers or give them a headache.

Now if you were paying close attention, you may have noticed that the paragraph above was written from the Third-Person point of view with a short change of lens to Second-Person in order to illustrate the point, then back to Third-Person.  If you didn't notice it as you read, good.  Point of View shouldn't distract the reader from what the writer is trying to communicate.  Anyway, look at the pronouns list, then re-read the paragraph and notice not only the pronouns, but the nouns, e.g., a narrator, a voice, the writer.  All of these nouns can be replaced by third-person pronouns.  The Second Person pronoun you (meaning "the reader") only shows up in the example and there is no mention of me or I.

How much a writer has to worry about staying in a consistent POV will depend on the type of writing he / she is doing and who his / her audience is.  If the writing is informal, an email for example, the writer can worry less about consistent POV -- as long as it is an informal email.  Writing an email to a prospective employer doesn't qualify as informal.  If the writing is more formal--a business letter, a college paper, a piece of writing the author hopes to publish--a consistent POV becomes a non-negotiable.

Next time: Narrative Points of View and examples of how to use them.

Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Family Emergency

Due to a family emergency, I am unable to write a post this week.  I'm sorry.   Please check back this weekend for a new blog.


Monday, August 6, 2012

And Fiction Too!

     While I pursued my degree in writing, I took a number of writing workshops.  Peer critique was the main element of these workshops. I have few specific memories from those critiques.  There is one, however, that has stayed with me. This memory is from a poetry workshop.  There were two members of the class whose poetry always was incomprehensible.  Now, it's okay for poetry, unlike prose, to be a little difficult to access.  In fact, good poetry should have levels of meaning.  Even so, a good piece of poetry will have something that reader connects with, whether it is the beauty of the words or something in it that stirs the reader / hearer's emotions. Exceptional poetry is visceral.  The reader / hearer doesn't have to understand immediately (or ever) what the poem means as long as the poem moves the person. The poetry of these two classmates, however, didn't move the rest of us; it just confused us. For a few weeks, people were polite and gentle in their feedback, but finally, someone told one of these poets that his poetry just never made any sense.  The author haughtily replied, "It doesn't have to make sense.  I write poetry for myself.  You don't have to understand it." I still remember my reaction to that statement. I thought, "Fine.  Then write, read it, put it in your drawer and don't bother other people with it."  I was offended by his condescension and his callous disregard for his readers.  In last week's blog entry, I said that it's important to keep your audience in mind when you write.  Most of my examples were about non-fiction writing and I promised that I would talk about fiction today.  So here it is.  In creative writing AUDIENCE MATTERS!

     Writing is both a skill and an art, and creative writers tend to be highly aware of the artist aspect.  We tend to think of ourselves as artists, and we are.  That doesn't mean, however, that we need to rebel against all rules and conventions.  Rules and conventions exist for a reason, primarily because they are effective. I'm not saying creative writers should never go against convention and, say, put a unicorn in a science fiction novel.  I'm saying don't do it JUST BECAUSE.  "I'm an artist and I'm free to play it as I feel it" (to borrow a phrase from musicians) may feel good, but make sure to empty some drawers to put your unpublished manuscripts in.

     There is one writing rule that should never be ignored: keep your audience in mind.  What difference does audience make to a creative writer's work?  I'll just address two biggies: age and genre.  AGE: Vocabulary, of course, comes immediately to mind. Most writers know not to use the same vocabulary for a children's book that they would use for an adult psychological mystery.  Perhaps a little less obvious is the fact that a writer who uses vocabulary and a narrative voice appropriate for 9-12 years olds in story written for the hot Young Adult market (approx. 13-18) is going to fail.  Those audiences are different and, if you aren't aware of the difference, either do research or don't write for those markets.  Subject matter is another element to consider when thinking about your audience's age.  It's kind of a duh that a murder mystery / thriller would be inappropriate for 6-9 year olds.  In regards to the YA market, while many adults enjoy YA novels (e.g. Harry Potter), the focus of the YA story should be on the target audience's issues: coming of age, dating / romance, family issues, even sensitive issues such as suicide or abuse.  Of course many adults love romance novels, so if I write a romance novel, I don't have to worry about whether the audience is YA or adult, right?  Wrong.  An adult novel has an adult protagonist.  A YA novel has a teenage protagonist.  Also, sexual intimacy will be handled differently.  GENRE: Of course, entire blogs can be dedicated to the topic of genre, even one specific genre.  So I'll just make a couple of comments.  First, know whether or not you are writing genre, and if so, what kind. Know who your audience is and know that they know about that genre.  That means that you'd better know about it too.  All genres have conventions.  As I said above, that doesn't mean you always have to stick to the tiniest letter of the law of every convention of the genre, but if you are going against convention, know why you're doing it.  And doing it because you're an artist is not a good reason.  Genre readers read a specific genre because they like specific things about it.  There are things they expect to find when they read a book or story in that genre.  It's like when you eat ice cream.  You don't expect ice cream to taste like meat. You buy ice cream; you want to experience ice cream.  So readers of horror novels have certain expectations when they read.  They don't expect the narrator to sound like he came out of a Dr. Seuss book--unless that ties into the horror plot.  If you're clever enough, perhaps you could make it work, but know what you're doing and why you're doing it.  To go back to the unicorn example.  Although Sci-Fi and Fantasy are grouped together, they are two different genres, each with its own conventions.  Dragons manage to fly back and forth between the two from time to time, but unicorns have been consigned, it seems, exclusively to fantasy.  But it might be possible to write a unicorn into a sci-fi piece as long as the writer adheres to one unbreakable sci-fi rule: it must be scientifically plausible.  For example--and just for clarity, I like this idea, I'm copyrighting it and you can't use it.  Sorry :(  -- since unicorns are in folklore worldwide, a protagonist scientist who likes the idea of unicorns could pursue proving that unicorns existed before The Flood, find DNA evidence, maybe find a unicorn skeleton and carbon-date it and all this might ultimately lead to finding a herd of unicorn on a secluded mountaintop somwhere.  But in order for the unicorn to transition into a sci-fi novel, the science must be there and must be plausible. Trust me, the audience will know if it's not--and they will not be happy.  Nor will publishers, editors, agents.  Audience matters.  Really.  Ignore them at your own peril.

In what other ways does audience affect your writing?

Genre writers: in what ways are conventions restrictive?  How are they helpful?


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Who Are You Talking To?

This week's writing basics topic is: AUDIENCE.

     Before you start to write, you need to consider your audience.  This rule applies whether you are writing an article for publication in a magazine, working on a novel, slaving on a paper for a college class, composing a letter to the editor designed to persuade people to vote for socialized medicine or writing an email to your best friend.  Think about it.  You wouldn't use the same vocabulary and tone of voice for the magazine article as you would in the letter to your friend, would you?  Not if you hoped to have the article published you wouldn't!  I have had some college students who have handed in papers written with texting abbreviations (I kid you not), but they soon learned from their mistake.  Those who didn't, failed the class.  Yes, I'm one of those unreasonable English teachers who insist that students spell words in the traditional way rather than write r u going 2 the party 2 nite? IMHO, i think it'll b gr8t.  LOL!  This brings me back to the point.  That sentence is perfectly acceptable when texted to a friend.  It is not, however, appropriate in an academic essay.

     Determining your target audience before you write will help you with several  important writing decisions:





CONTENT (sometimes)


     Here are some examples of what I mean.  Let's say that you are writing an informative article about Painted Buntings.  If your audience is adults, especially adults with an interest in birding, making the statement "A juvenile male Passerina Ciris is difficult to distinguish from the female as the coloration of the plumage is similar" would be quite acceptable.  If, however, you are writing an article for Highlights for Children and your target audience is 9-12 year olds, the information needs to be conveyed differently, perhaps like this: "Young male Painted Buntings are called 'greenies' because their feathers are green just like young female Buntings, but when they grow up, the males become very colorful.  They have red chests, green wings and dark blue heads."  You can see from this example that not only is the vocabulary different, but the tone is different.  The whole approach to conveying the information might be different as well since interested adults will tolerate dry facts while children won't.  I advocate engaging your audience no matter what age, but it is especially important to entertain as well as inform when you are writing for children.  Approach will vary as well based on the type of paper you are writing.  How you approach explaining the findings of a five-year study on the benefits of carbohydrates will depend greatly on your audience.  If you are writing a research report for a group of Registered Dieticians, your writing will be more formal in tone and academic in approach than if you are writing an informative article for a Health and Wellness newsletter with a "general public" readership.  This brings up assumptions.  How much do you have to define or explain to your audience?  How much can you assume they know.  For example, if you are writing about Dissociative Identity Disorder and your audience is "lay" people, then you will need to discuss the fact that this illness is commonly, if erroneously, called "Multiple Personality Disorder."  If you are writing a paper about the same illness, but for a professional psychological journal and your audience is psychologists and psychiatrists, you will insult your audience by explaining what they already know.

     So far I have discussed audience from a non-fiction writing perspective, but knowing your audience is vital to the fiction writer as well.  The next post will address why.

Do you think about your audience before you write or do you write then try to find an audience?

Fiction writers: how important are audience age level and genre conventions to you?  Why?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Back to Basics

     What is the purpose of this blog?  Originally, my intention was to share the journey along the road to publication and to share any insights and experience that I gained along the way.  Recently, I've been re-thinking that vision.  This refocusing of the purpose of the blog has come about because of two women I know. Neither of them knows the other.  Both of these women are intelligent, educated, successful and, to my way of thinking, literate.  What I mean by "literate" in this context is that they both are well-read and able to converse on the things they've read.  Within the span of about two weeks time, both of these women individually asked me if I would be willing to teach them how to write.  I'm not talking about instruction in how to write a Pulitzer prize winning book.  Both of these women told me that they felt not only uncomfortable but incompetent when it came to writing.  I was astounded.  I teach writing to college students whose writing skills are not yet up to college level.  Their fear in regards to writing doesn't surprise me.  The majority of my students have not had good preparatory education and so they struggle at first with composition, particularly with the grammar element.  I was taken aback, however, to hear two college educated women express the same fear.  On reflection, I shouldn't have been surprised.  Over my years as an English teacher, I've become well aware that most people struggle with writing and many people hate having to do it.  Why?  I am convinced that it stems mostly from a history of being told to write without ever being told how.  Many people believe that writing is only for the gifted.  While I will agree that to write like Shakespeare or Tolkien or John Grisham requires artistic talent, I contend that all one needs to write well -- clearly and effectively--is skill.  Writing is skill-based so anyone can learn to do it and to do it well.  And as for those gifted artistic writers, if they don't learn the basic skills of good writing, their gifts will be wasted.  All the talent and creativity in the world are of no use to someone who doesn't know how to communicate it in a clear, structured way.  In view of all of this, I've decided to devote a few weeks to some basics of writing.

Today's topic: PURPOSE

     Good writing has a purpose.  Sometimes it has both a primary a secondary purpose.  More about that in a bit.  Purpose is what the writer is trying to achieve through his / her writing.  Here are some types of writing with their purposes:

     --EXPOSITION: to explain something or to inform the reader about something.  This is also known as ILLUSTRATION: to demonstrate something through the use of examples   

     --PROCESS: step-by-step instruction of how to do something (think recipes or how-to books)
     --CLASSIFICATION: just what it sounds like (think books about kinds of medicines or ecosystems)

     --COMPARISON / CONTRAST: to discuss the similarities (compare) and differences (contrast) of two people, places, things, events, issues, etc.

     --ARGUMENT / PERSUASION:  to take a position on a topic and then prove the position by providing evidence 

     --DESCRIPTION: to describe a person, place or thing by using concrete, sensory language which helps the reader see, feel, taste, touch, experience that which is being described

     --NARRATIVE: to tell a story

I'll add one more purpose without attaching it to a type of writing: TO ENTERTAIN

As I mentioned above, writing can have more than one purpose.  A writer can use comparison / contrast in order to prove a point and persuade the reader.   A narrative might illustrate a point. Description is an invaluable companion to narrative.  And entertainment always helps, especially if you're, say, writing a textbook about grammar.

It's helpful to identify your purpose before you start writing.  It's easier to accomplish something if you know what it is you are trying to accomplish.  

Be sure you don't confuse purpose and motivation.  My students often think that their purpose in writing a paper is to get a good grade (or at least not to get an F).  I tell them, "No.  That's your motivation.  The assignment is to do a comparison / contrast essay, so your purpose is to discuss the similarities and differences between the two assigned topics."  The same applies to writers.  Some writers say that they are writing in order to get published.  That's not a writing purpose.  That's a personal goal.  Writing purposes would include explaining how to start a small company, discussing how staying positive contributes to physical health or entertaining people by writing a nail-biting mystery / suspense story.  Those are writing purposes.  Knowing the purpose of your writing can contribute to your attaining your personal goal, whether that goal is to get published, get a good grade or get an erroneous charge removed from your hospital bill.

Why do you write?  Do you consider the purpose of the writing before you start?

From the list above, what purpose appeals to you most?  Least?  Why?

Happy Weekend!



Friday, July 13, 2012

Finding the Light Bulb

"Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration"
                                                                 --Albert Einstein
The same thing can be said about writing.  It starts with a spark of an idea and then takes hours, days, weeks or even years of hard work as the writer transforms the vision into a manuscript.  The art of writing certainly requires creativity, but much of writing is just plain hard work, wrestling with words, struggling with sentences until the manuscript is molded into shape.  It's important to note, however, that the process of writing begins with the idea.  Without that, the work part  is a moot point.

Artists are sometimes pictured in cartoons and movies as waiting for inspiration, calling out to their muse or simply hoping that someone will yank the chain to turn the light bulb on over their heads. This behavior, though, leads to a very unproductive career.  Instead of waiting inspiration to show up, a writer needs to FIND it.  There are two ways to do this: directly and indirectly.

Some direct ways to find inspiration
* People watch
        --go to the park or the mall, take a seat on a bench or at the food court and let the fun (and let your imagination) begin.  What is that couple talking about?  Are they falling in love or are they breaking up?  Maybe she's just accepted a paid-in-full scholarship to Oxford and he can't afford to move to England.  Or maybe they're Canadian spies working on the takeover of the U.S. government (only she's a double-agent).  What about that guy who's rushing through the food court.  Who is he? Where is he going?  Why is he rushing?  Then there is the little red haired girl with the half-eaten chocolate chip cookie.  Who'd guess she is actually a fairy who has left the magical world and disguised herself as a seven year old in order to learn about the human world?

* Listen
         --at a restaurant, at a coffee shop or in the grocery store line, listen for random sentences.  Even mundane sentences, taken out of context, can be excellent springboards.  "He found it in the refrigerator."  He did?  What did he find?  An alien?  A deadly mold that will threaten human survival unless he can find the way to contain it and destroy it?  The blood-stained knife used in the murder?  A scared kitten curled up in an abandoned old refrigerator?

*Notice song lyrics
         --of course you can't use the lyric itself or even what it means in the context of the song.  That would plagiarism.  However, you can use a line of lyric as a springboard.  For example, The erstwhile Irish Pop band, The Corrs, wrote a song called "Forgiven, Not Forgotten."  My favorite line in the song is, "And the one-eyed furry toy that lies upon the bed has often heard her cry." So how can you use that line as inspiration without committing plagiarism?  You could write a story (not the same one the song is about) from the point of view of a stuffed animal. The stuffed animal could be the narrator.  Another thought: the stuffed animal could be a symbol.  Of what? Perhaps a symbol of a little girl, now a woman, who has been battered by life but who is determined to hold on to the ideals of her youth. Let the image of the toy percolate in your imagination.

*Look at pictures
          --just put "Images of..." into a search engine and see what comes up.  When I teach narrative writing to my students, I often put "Images of baby animals" or "Funny images of people" into the Google search engine then have the students write a story based on the picture.  Wonderful stuff comes up. "One picture is worth a thousand words". Try it sometime.

An Indirect Way to Inspiration

        --Be open and receptive.  Sometimes inspiration does find you, but you have to be prepared to recognize it.  Three inspirations of this kind contributed to the psychological mystery that I am working on. The first was when I was working as a nurse and was asked to transport a patient with a psychosis from the neuro floor to a private room in another unit.  On the way he told me something and followed it with the statement, "But no one believes anything say because I'm a psych patient."  That got to my heart and it started me thinking.  How hard is that?  To know that no one is going to believe you even if what you say is true.  Another thing that contributed to the birth of the book was an article about a singer I liked whose wife had left him because she felt he cared more about his career than about her.  A third thing was the Simon and Garfunkel reunion concert in Central Park.  I loved the idea of two guys being friends since their teen years, then becoming estranged and later reconciling the relationship. All three of these things were part of the starter mix that evolved into my current WIP.

 So what about you?  Do any of these ideas speak to you?  What are the ways you find inspiration?


Monday, July 9, 2012

Consistency and the Creator

It's Monday...again.  Thank God.  God is consistent and dependable.  Important traits in a creator.  Consistency is vital to writing as well.  A good piece of writing has a consistent point of view, a consistent voice, a consistent tense and a consistent style.

Consistency and dependability are also important in blogging.  Anyone who sets out to write a blog should do so on a regular basis.  There should be a regular schedule of posts, whether the posts are daily, three times a week, once a week, whatever.  The blogger needs to decide on a schedule and stick to it.  That way, his or her readers know when to expect a new post and don't have to keep checking back to see if there is a new entry.  This is beneficial to the blog.  More importantly, it is the right thing to do.  The blogger has a responsibility to his or her readers to show up for work.

Of course, anyone who has been following this blog knows that I am guilty of not doing this.  I haven't written a post in over two months.  There are reasons, but there is not an excuse.  To anyone who is still peeking in to see if I've written anything YET, first I say "thank you" and secondly, I am sorry.  I am starting again and promise to write once a week, barring circumstances beyond my control, such as pneumonia (which I had earlier this year) or hurricanes (I live in Florida).  New posts will be written on Fridays in the afternoon or evening, so look for them either in the evening or on Saturday morning.  If you also follow the other two blogs, I will get them going again too, but in stages.  First, I want to get this one back on track, then bring the Celtic / fantasy one back online.  The spiritual one is the least followed, so I may let it go.

Consistency and dependability are important traits in friends as well.  I have a friend who has been after me to start writing the blog again and I want to thank her for keeping after me.  She doesn't need to be named, as she knows who she is.  To her, I say a special thank you.

ADDENDUM: I've been given permission from herself to identify my friend who is responsible for getting me blogging again.  Her name is (drum roll please): JENNIFER MAJOR.  She is an excellent writer with a wicked sense of humor.  Please visit her blog: and follow her on Twitter.  Her handle is @jjumping.  Also you can find her insights and witty comments on agent Rachelle Gardner's blog and the Books and Such literary agency blog.  (By the way, I recommend both agent blogs HIGHLY.  They are great sources of wisdom and learning for writers, especially those of us who are newbies.  Also you will discover a warm and supportive community of writers there.  I had the blessing of meeting Jennifer there).


Friday, April 13, 2012

Can You Hear Me Now?

     Building an audience is so important to a writer nowadays.  This is true not just for those who self-publish, but also for those who want to go the traditional route.  Agents and publishers look to see if an author (especially a yet unpublished author) has a following.  So authors have to spend a good deal of time and energy doing self-promotion long before the book is ready to be sent to an agent or publisher.  So writers tweet, blog, gather Facebook friends, link into LinkedIn and add themselves to Google+.  Often I feel I'm devoting so much time to networking that it's hard to find the energy and creativity to work on the books.  There is a good side to it though.  I really do enjoy interacting with other writers.  I read and comment on five writing / publishing focused blogs and I connect with other writers on Twitter.  I find that interaction encouraging, inspiring, energizing and supportive.

      My experience on Facebook has not been as positive.  I keep showing up, writing my own posts, commenting on others' posts and sharing.  But it feels like a waste of time and energy.  My friends and family, for various reasons, don't do Facebook.  Since FB requires one to have friends in order to grow friends, I feel that I'm having a conversation with myself in a big empty meadow.  Even the birds aren't listening.

     Recently I read about a great idea on a Books and Such post that I follow.  A writer who has written a book about the Titanic started a FB group for people who want to go on a virtual tour of the Titanic.  She connected this to her book by having her main character be the Tour Guide.  Brilliant idea!  I thought, "Maybe that's a way I could grow friends on FB; start a group."  At first, I wasn't sure what kind of group would work for me.  One of my books is about a multiple personality.  The other is about a teenage fairy.  I knew I didn't want to start a multiple personality group, so it seemed that starting a group related to the YA fantasy would be the best route.  Still, I was a little stymied in terms of what kind of group to have.  Then a series of things led to a perfect creative storm.

     A few days ago I watched a supernatural genre t.v. show that my sister loves.  The episode was about banshees and since I write a blog called "Whispers of a Banshee Weaver," my sister thought I might enjoy the episode.  The episode was entertaining but it perpetuated a modern day misconception that banshees are evil and murderous.  With this in mind, when I sat down to write my Banshee blog, I protested this continued defamation of banshees and asked readers to use social media to get the word out that banshees are compassionate and noble, not vicious.

     After finishing the blog, I went to the grocery store.  On the way, it hit me.  I now had my group idea.  An activist group to stop banshee bashing.  I played around with some names and realized as I was doing this that one name created a perfect acronymn: Society of Banshee Supporters --SOBS.  I then promoted it on Twitter and asked for RTs.  I wrote a short new blog on the group and posted it on FB.  Immediately (within minutes) traffic to the blog went up 14%.  Wow!  I didn't expect that much of an impact that quickly. Of course, I was delighted.  Sometimes a little creativity pays off.

     Unfortunately, I found that I couldn't form the group on FB because of the Catch 22: I had to have interested friends on FB to start the group.  So that felt like a dead end.  In response, I asked people who visited the blog to go to my FB page (under the name Christine Dorman) and "friend" me so that we can start the group there.  It remains to be seen what will happen there.

What marketing strategies or platform building have worked effectively for you?

Have you found FB to be a helpful tool?

What's your preferred social medium?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Don't Tell Me!

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."

Yesterday, I found this quote from Anton Chekov on my Twitter page.  Writer Beth Vrabel had retweeted it. Lannie Wright had tweeted it initially.  I'm so glad that it made it's way to me.  Chekov's point is essential to good writing, especially to fiction.  In narrative, the writer's task is not to TELL the story.  The writer's task is to bring the readers into the story and make them EXPERIENCE it.  The readers should be able to hear, smell, taste, touch, and see the story.  If the novel's character goes on a journey (literally or metaphorically), excellent writing grasps the readers and takes them on the journey too.  The journey should be one of both the senses and the emotions.

Remember, in school, when you used to bring things for Show and Tell?  Forget the Tell.  Show.

Telling: It started to rain as Siobhan made her way home through the glade.  Siobhan was happy.  She liked rain.

Showing: A misty drizzle kissed Siobhan's nose.  Joyfully, she threw back the hood of her gray cloak, releasing her golden-red hair as she lifted her face to greet the rain.  The drops grew bigger, caressing her face with refreshing coolness. (from Soul Searcher of Willowsong Woods).

Use specific, sensory details.

Non-specific: The house smelled good.

Specific and sensory: As I walked into the house, the smell of cinnamon and allspice wrapped me in warmth.
Today, take some time to experience something fully with your senses.  Walk along the beach.  Sit in nature.  Eat a chocolate chip cookie.  Whatever.  But really experience it.  What does the beach smell like?  What does it feel like?  Sitting on a park bench, what can you hear?  What does the sun feel like?  Is there a breeze? What does the bench look like?  How does it feel?  How do you feel, physically, emotionally?  What does a chocolate chip cookie really taste like?  What words could you use to help someone share the experience--hear the beach, see the park, relish the cookie?

Have you ever lived a story along with a character?

What brought the story to life for you?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Soul Searcher Update

Hi Everyone!

At the advise of a literary agent, I've taken the excerpts from Soul Searcher of Willowsong Woods off of the Goodreads sites.  This is no reflection on Goodreads.  It is an excellent site both for readers and for writers.  I was told, however, that it is unwise to put excerpts from a novel that has not been contracted yet online.  So that is a lesson that I learned and I pass it on to you.

I would love still to get your feedback on the brief synopsis I gave of the plot (see the blog from March 14th).

Would you be interested in reading a story about a rebellious teenage fairy who wants to defy tradition and become a Dragon Learner?  If you were to journey with Siobhan through Shadowshield Mountain, what would you want to encounter or find along the way?  What would you be terrified to encounter?

Blessings and Joy on St. Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Soul Searcher of Willowsong Woods

     I've started a new novel.  It's a Young Adult Fantasy called Soul Searcher of Willowsong Woods.  The main character, Siobhan Willowshee, is a fourteen-going-on-fifteen ages old fairy.  By age fifteen, Siobhan must start training for her life's service.  Most young women in Willowsong and its surroundings have no choice; they follow the path of service taken by their mothers and grandmothers.  Siobhan, however, has two paths from which to choose.  She can be a banshee like her mother or a unicorn protector.  Being a unicorn protector is a service that is gifted to a select few and Siobhan has been chosen.  But she isn't interested.  She sees nothing special about unicorns and considers them pampered, silly-looking horses.  This is especially true, she feels, of Cay, the unicorn who selected her and whom Siobhan considers  to be nothing more than  a nuisance.  Nor does Siobhan want to spend her life as a weeping, wailing banshee.  Instead, she wants to become a Dragon Learner like her father.  This idea scandalizes her mother since, after all, a woman's heritage is from the maternal line.  Still, Siobhan is determined to follow her heart rather than tradition.  This decision sets her on a journey through the mysterious and dangerous Dragonsword Forest and to Shadowshield Mountain, home of Riordan, King of the Dragons.

 Blessings,  C.F.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Out Sick--Sorry!

I'm sorry that I haven't blogged for the last few weeks.  An upper respiratory virus got the better of me and turned into pneumonia, so I've had to lay low for a while.  Now I am, thank God, on the road to recovery.  I promise to return to the Dark Forest by next week.  Thank you for your patience.



Monday, February 6, 2012

Navigating the Dark Forest

Dark forests aren't bad.  Actually, they can be alluring, intriguing.  Traveling through one can be an adventure.  The main problem with dark forests is that they are, well, dark.  Again, darkness is not, in itself, a bad thing.  It comes in quite handy when you are trying to sleep.  But trying to navigate a forest in the dark is daunting and it can lead to injury.  For example, you might trip over an unseen tree root or have your skin ripped off by stumbling into a thorny bush.  Even worse, you might crash into a sleeping animal--one with big fangs--that might not be too happy with you for disturbing its sleep.  All right.  Admittedly, I'm getting a bit carried away.  I'm a writer.  In the dark forest, my imagination would turn each small sound into a dangerous animal, ghost or ax murderer.  Animals and ax murderers aside, the fact is that a dark forest is difficult to navigate because you can't see. That makes it hard to decide which way to go.  It helps to have a map and a flashlight or, even better, a guide.

I cannot guide you safely through the dark forest of trying to market your writing, but I can share some of the things I've discovered as I've tried to sell my works.  Perhaps the information can provide a partial map to the forest (or a least a little flashlight shining on the path).

As the axiom says, every journey begins with a first step, and the first step of trying to get published is to decide where to submit your manuscript.  This is a major step and not an easy one.  Really it needs to be broken into a series of little steps.  First, decide if your manuscript is of a sufficient length to be submitted to publisher or an agent.  If you are just starting out as a writer, it is perhaps better if you begin with shorter works and try to get them published in magazines or journals.  Why?  If you can get several short pieces (stories, poems or articles) published then, when you decide to market your book, you can show potential publishers or agents that you have a proven track record.

The next step is to decide which magazine is the best market for your manuscript.  Again, this is a more daunting task than it might at first seem.  There are literally thousands of publications. How do you choose?  Where will your piece have the greatest chance of being published--or for that matter--read?  How do you determine this?  Some suggestions next time.

Thanks for reading!  C.F.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Cool Stream to Dark Forest

     The best part of writing is, well, writing.  Yes, there are times when I feel like shouting at the moon because sentences aren't working, scenes aren't coming together, or the rhythmic flow of the paragraph that I just spent two hours writing is all wrong, but mostly writing is the good part.  It's where I get to immerse myself in a cool stream of imagination. When I write, I am transported to another place, become another person, live in another context.  Once the writing is flowing, I can escape into that world, similar to traveling from London to Narnia.  This is one of the best parts of writing: living in an alternate universe that I actually have some control over.  If I don't like what just happened, I can erase or delete it and have the ultimate do-over that real life never gives.

    Still, while the alternate universe can be entertaining, on its own, it is rather empty.  I need to share that other world and the people in it with the people who populate this world.  Sharing what I've written is an essential for me.  Watching the characters and their story entertaining someone else gives me a joy beyond description.

    Needing to share my creations with others means that I need to find an audience, and that means I have to market the work.  For me, this is the most challenging part of the writing process.  It is a journey through a dark forest.  In the next blog, I'll share some of my experiences of the journey.  Although I don't have a map to get through the forest, I have come across some road signs and have been given directions by friendly inhabitants.
These I'll share next time.

Thanks for reading!  C.F.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Creativity Crisis

     Being creative is a natural high for me.  I love to create. Usually I love anything that allows me to use my imagination and the freedom to express who I am.  It is puzzling to me, then, how I can turn a creative activity into a stress event.  But that is exactly what I do at times, for example, when I sat down to design this webpage.  Setting up the blog site should have been an artist's dream. There were numerous templates to choose from, and even better, I could customize the template I chose.  Creative freedom!  Surely a situation for pure artistic bliss.  Instead, I found myself stressing over world-changing decisions such as what the link color should be.  Seriously, I found myself thinking things such as I can't put purple on this green background; it will look like Mardi Gras and I like this crimson but red and green?  Isn't that too Christmas?  These actually might be legitimate questions, but I spent hours worrying over these details.  I did enjoy some of the time I spent putting the website together, but for too much of the time, I stressed over design decisions as if the fate of the universe rested on my choices.  Why do I do this?  Part of the answer is that I am a recovering perfectionist, and some days I free-fall back into perfectionism. There may be more to it. I'm not sure. What I do know is that this is the kind of thing that gets in the way of the artistic process.  It is the kind of thing that causes writer's block.  For years, I have taught my writing students to deal with writer's block by messing up the paper.  If it's loose leaf, I tell them to scribble all over the page.  If they are typing, I tell them to type nonsense -- anything from lalalalala to I have no idea what to write or fuzzlebuzzle little pea bug.  Whatever.  This works.  Once the page is messed up, the writer no longer needs to worry about finding the perfect word or writing brilliant sentences, so the writer can just write.  It really works. Try it the next time you need to write something and you find yourself staring at the page, not knowing how to start.  After all, what you write initially doesn't matter that much.  You're going to refine it later.  Just let the creativity flow first.  Afterwards, you can shape and shave it into a piece of art.  With the website, once I got through my head that I could change a color after I got the page set up, I began to relax and have fun.  And isn't that the essential part of a creative endeavor?  I'm not denying that good art requires work.  I'm saying that if you don't enjoy doing it, what's the point?  So be creative.  Mess it up and enjoy!  C.F.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Why Fragments?

     So many people have a novel that they are "working on."  Because of this,  I hesitate to admit that I have one too.  Whenever I say it, I feel like the cliche writer wannabe.  But it's the truth.  I have a novel that I am working on--and have been working on for longer than I will say.  What I will say is that I am on the fifth draft.  I had hoped that this would be the final draft, but it won't.  I already know that.  Getting close though.  Almost publishable.  A successful mystery writer (I won't say who because I haven't seen her for a while and don't have permission to use her name) told me that both the story and my writing of it are at the publishing level in terms of quality.  That was encouraging.  But it is hard to write a novel and live a full time life at the same time.  So that final push to the top has been a slow-go.  The reason I bring up the novel is because I promised yesterday to explain the title of this blog.  It is derived from the novel's title: Fragments.  The novel won't be the main subject of the blog, though.  Instead, I plan to talk about other writing projects, such as the short story I've just finished, the creative journey of writing, the difficulties and joys of trying to get published, and life in general.  Thus I've titled the blog "Fragments and Friends," the friends being anything and everything other than the novel.  After I got my domain name I discovered that Fragments really is not a good name for a book.  Apparently writers, especially poets, like this word.  There are a number of websites and books with the word fragments in the title.  Curious.  I'm not sure what's so attractive about the word, but the abundance of fragment titles has left me with the concern that my little blog and my cherished novel will get lost among all the other fragments. Still, I have hope. I hope the word fragments is as attractive to publishers and readers as it is to writers because I'm not changing the name of the novel.  This is not simple obstinacy.  The word fragments is integral to the plot of my novel.  Why? I'll save that for a future blog.

     Thanks for reading.  Blessings on your day.  C.F.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Me--a Blogger?

Have you ever devoted hours to something that you never thought you'd do?  I never thought I would blog.  Being the jump-to-an-immediate-opinion sort of person that I sometimes can be, I decided years ago that blogging was for self-centered people who felt that the world could not continue spinning around the sun unless they shared their perspectives on the IMPORTANT topic of the day.  Over the years, I have come to learn that I was wrong.  Oh, there are some bloggers who fit my original image, but I've read many others whose blogs are thoughtful and thought-provoking.  So, to twist a quote from the wonderful Irish song, "Johnny McEldoo," I stand "a-trite" and now am joining the ranks of bloggers.  Why?  In all honesty, for self-serving reasons.  I want to become a professional writer and recently discovered that most agents and publishers won't look at a writer's work if the writer doesn't have a blog.  I got this bit of information from something connected with The Writer's Digest -- top ten tips or an ad for a workshop. ( I get so many emails from The Writer's Digest that that's the best I can do to give credit for the idea.)  At any rate, am I a hypocrite for starting a blog just to get published?  I don't think so since I changed my opinion of blogs and bloggers long before reading about the blogging / publishing connection. So I decided to go for it.  Start the adventure of writing a blog.  Next came the question of what to blog about.  The decision: writing, specifically the journey from working on an idea to working on getting it published.  Since you have to draw from life in order to write, some scenes of   my life might show up in the blog from time to time too.  For example, this evening, my life was spent putting  hours into setting up the look of the blog.  I mean, I literally spent hours just choosing colors!  There were so many decisions to make before I wrote the first word of this blog.

Why do I call the blog "Fragments and Friends"?  I'll write about that tomorrow.  I hope that you will check back to see.  Please join me on this journey through writing and life.  C.F.