Thursday’s Quote

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To produce a mighty book, you must produce a mighty theme.
~ Herman Melville

This quote brought to mind something that happened about four years ago. I was at Mount Herman Christian Writers Conference in California. My second time in attendance and I loved the classes. At one point, we sat in a circle, with two instructors leading a discussion. They asked that we share our ideas for our current story, and then gave us feedback. When my turn came, I told them what the story was about. One of the instructors looked at me, serious as can be, and said:

What makes your story unique?”

Huh? I elaborated on the key points, not sure what else to say, feeling like she’d put me on the spot, though I know it wasn’t her intention.

When I didn’t say more, feeling at the centre of attention, with all eyes on me, and probably turning several shades of red, I stared at her for a moment, and then at what I thought was my well-prepared synopsis. She repeated the question, this time stressing each word.

I’ve read stories that deal with that. What separates yours from the others?
What makes it unique?”

Angela’s  words stayed with me. I’m thankful she asked that question. She had me thinking outside the box, looking for a different approach. Something unique as she said so well. After the class, I went to thank her.

Later, while writing my story, I had to keep asking myself what made it stand out. How was it different from the others?

Take a romance novel. I love a love story! From the start, you know the hero and heroine will end up together at the end of the book. The question is HOW. What struggles will they overcome from start to finish? Of course, each story is different.

In suspense stories, you never know what will happen next. At least that’s the main focus in writing suspense, keeping your readers guessing, and turning the pages.

So how do you write a unique story that sets it apart from all others?

  1. Do your research.
  2. READ. Read books in the genre you write. Read books in different genres as well.

In my opinion, those are the best ways to see what’s out there. Then, you’ll know how to make it different.

Emma’s Prayer is about a teen mom. There are plenty of stories out there about teen moms. After she puts her son up for adoption, she changes her mind and wants him back. Yup, there are stories about that too. Mine has a deaf character in the story, but it’s not the only one that deals with the deaf people.

So, what made it unique?

I’m not going to give you any spoilers but I will say this: she had to do something unexpected.  Am I saying mine’s the only story with that twist? Certainly not. But I do hope I had my readers guessing and turning the pages.

Are you writing predictable novels? What makes your story different from others in that genre?

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Creating your Settings…real or fictitious?

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How do you choose the setting to start your stories? Do you pick an urban or rural location? A restaurant, a park bench in an isolated area? Or perhaps a cabin on the lake?

Do you use real cities and provinces/states, or do you know from the start you’re going to make them up as you go? Do you create an oasis for your readers to get lost into, to the point they so desperately want to visit the place, and actually Google it, only to find out it doesn’t really exist (you’ve done that too, haven’t you)?

You’ve dreamed of places you’ve never been to, so you try to describe them to your readers — and yourself— as best as you can, weaving them into your novel.

A couple of days ago, I noticed something in an author’s signature that piqued my curiosity. It said Word Traveler above her name. I found this interesting and emailed her to ask what she meant by that, thinking perhaps she was a freelance travel writer. She told me:

Word Traveler refers to my love of words, both reading and writing them. They take me places I’ve never been. ~ Cindy Huff

Oh wow… I absolutely love it. I never thought of it this way but it is so true.

Isn’t that what we do when we write? We create places we’ve never been to. We want  our readers to get lost in them. It is an escape from the every day world. Some writers use real places, such as certain cities they’re familiar with, the names of streets where they’ve lived, and even a well-known restaurant or landmark that bring warm memories to mind.

People and events are not the only thing that leave an impression so strong we want to write about them. For me, places do too. I used fictitious cities and locations in my first novel. In Emma’s Prayer, however, I mentioned my favourite restaurant. It is located in a small town called Shediac (I refer to it as well), about 30 minutes outside of Moncton, New Brunswick. Known as the Lobster Capital of the World, you’ll find a massive 90-tonne sculpture near the edge of town. Gabriele’s Inn, just down the road, is a famous spot for seafood lovers who come to the area. I still remember the first time I set foot in that restaurant. Cozy, warm, friendly atmosphere. I asked permission to mention it in my novels.

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Many places I’ve been to have left their mark on my heart, and I love to tell the world about them even though I write fiction. The ranch I refer to in my WIP bears a fictitious name, but when I developed that scene, I saw myself at Broadleaf Guest Ranch, where my husband and I went horseback riding earlier this year. The lake in my last novel brought me back to my childhood, where my parents owned a cottage for many years. I miss that place.

Warm memories are great to create settings. How do you create yours?

Quality vs Quantity

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I touched on this subject a while back but this time I want to take a different approach.

A former co-worker and avid reader once described a book she’d read this way: a whole lot of fluff. The author wrote a bunch of nothing to fill the pages with words that don’t say anything! Regardless of the genre you write, filling pages to meet a novel’s standard word count of about 60,000 to 80,000 is not quality.

Ever hear the expression “less is more?” I say that’s true for your writing too.

When I write, I want to take the time to produce good quality novels. No matter how fast I pen the first draft, I take my time to edit it. When that’s done, I work with my editor on rewrites. If, instead, I am too busy hurrying to write my next stories, to the point that I sacrifice and substitute quality for quantity, how can I expect my readers to enjoy it and give it me a good review?

In part, I could say I’ve been there and done that. It’s what I did with my first novel. Not knowing any better, I didn’t ask proofreaders to go over it after me. I was so excited and yes, too much in a rush to see it in print. In reality, it wasn’t ready to be published. I later pulled it because when I worked with my editor on the next novel and compared it with the first, I realized it wasn’t fit to publish. My readers had told me they loved the story, but it was so poorly written.

Show, don’t tell has become my favourite way to add good quality words without all the fluff that doesn’t say anything. Especially when I decided to use all five senses.

What else can you do to produce good quality writing? Ask people to proofread your work. Someone who’s not afraid to give you a good critique. A new “set of eyes” is key to pick up what you’ve missed.

Listen to your critique’s suggestions, correct the typos and errors, and rewrite whatever needs your attention. Easy peasy, right? But it doesn’t end there.

When you’re done, ask them to proofread it again. Want a better suggestion? Ask someone who’s not familiar with the story. I had four proofreaders. For the most part, they all caught the same mistakes. One of them, however (I’ve always said she should have been a biologist) loved to dissect my stories. She found things the others had missed.

Proofreaders don’t have to be professionals. They don’t even have to be writers. As long as they are honest, good readers. You have to be a good listener.

Lastly, hire an editor. Hey, think about it, if established writers have editors, who says we can do this on your own?

Good quality books will make a lasting impression on those who read them. Isn’t it why we write? To reach and touch the heart, soul, and mind of people?

Don’t substitute quality over quantity. It’s not worth it.

Because #BeccaToldMeTo

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Today’s post is going to take a slight twist. While it is still about writing and books, the focus is on a 17-year old girl. 

Imagine this: You’ve been very sick with what you think is a bad case of the flu. You go to the emergency room at the hospital. The doctors find a brain tumour, and give you 3 to 12 months to live. Wow…..

That’s what happened to an amazing young woman, Rebecca Schofield. What she did next is unlike anything I’ve ever heard.

First, she didn’t sit around for months, moping and crying “Alas woe is me.” No. She decided to write a bucket list, and try to do as many things from it as she could. Best of all, she was determined to live those last few months, however many there would be, as happy as can be. What she didn’t want, was for the focus to be on her

Second, while those around her wanted to help in any way, shape, or form, again Becca took the focus away from herself, wanting to create a mass of acts of kindness. She asked everyone, young or old, rich or poor, no matter where they lived, to do something nice for others, using the hashtag #BeccaToldMeTo. It doesn’t have to be anything big, she said.

Little did she know the footprint this request would leave on people’s heart, not only  in the Riverview community where she lives, but all over the world.

Soon, her Facebook page, Becca’s Battle with Butterscotch began to fill with posts from thousands everywhere telling her they’d done what she’d asked, using the hashtag. One bought coffee for someone in the lineup behind them, another shovelled the neighbour’s driveway, while still another donated time at a local shelter. The word spread like wild fire. Her wish for kindness reached people from all over the world, including the US, UK, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Iraq, Dubai, and Kuwait.

Becca’s request was changing lives.

A year ago, Jason Tremere blogged about Becca and her story. He later offered to create a book as part of a fundraiser for her family. He sifted through over a thousand acts of kindness on her Facebook page, and put together the book, #BeccaToldMeTo: Spreading Kindness One Hashtag at a time. It recently released. Today, in Riverview, Jason held a book signing at Cover to Cover Books. I went early expecting a line up. There was one.

For the sake of a dying young girl determined to cross off an item from her bucket list, for people to spread kindness all over the world. One Hashtag at a time. 

Thank you, Becca. You did it, girl. 

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Thank you Jason, for writing about it. 

The book was created with full participation of the family, and net proceeds are being returned to them. If you’d like to purchase a copy, follow this LINK

Be sure to have tissues on hand. Each act is as heart-warming as this amazing young woman.

(With Jason’s permission, some of the information herein is from his blog).

Spelling! How important it truly is…

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As I sat here pondering a topic for my next post — this is getting harder every day — I received a Facebook message from a writer friend. I told her I was looking for something to write about. She sent me a few ideas (thanks, Sarah). I’d already touch on a few of them but one in particular really got my attention. She said: How important spelling is. That’s one I haven’t tackled yet but I’m glad to do that. 

Finding typos in our stories isn’t always easy. First of all after you’ve read and re-read the story so many times, it’s embedded in your brain. You know the manuscript so well, you can probably recite it with your eyes closed. As you read, you see what it’s supposed to say, not what’s necessarily spelled out. It’s easy to miss two reversed letters, or even a missing one.

That’s why I ask at least four people to read my manuscript before I publish it. Yes I have an editor, and she and I go over it with a fine-toothed comb. That doesn’t mean we’re going to catch them all. Before I published my last book, I ordered four copies for people to proofread. Each one either circled or highlighted the typos or grammatical errors to make it easier for me to find them and make corrections. One proofreader actually wrote them down on a sheet of lined paper. Were there that many? No, but what I found amazing was that each reader found similar mistakes, but one of them found something the others had missed. 

That said, don’t beat yourself over the head if, after you’ve pressed the PUBLISH button, you start receiving email from readers who point the typos in your book. It’s not unheard. It’s very easy to miss one here and there. If it’ll make you feel any better, my former co-worker used to analyze books to death (I always wondered if she actually enjoyed them). While she nitpicked at every detail, she pointed out several typos in a novel written by a famous bestselling author.

How do you avoid missing typos and grammatical errors?

  • I like to listen to my story, using Microsoft Word’s text-to-speech feature. I’ll be the first to admit it’s very robotic, but you can hear the mistakes because the computer reads what’s there. If you reverse two letters in a word, for example, or when changing a sentence around, you forgot to delete a word, you’ll hear it.
  • Then, I go over it with my editor before I ask others to proofread my story.
  • Once I’ve heard the whole thing, I hire an editor and we go over it together. At the end of the edits, I pass it on to at least four people.
  • Something else I’ve heard of, was that some writers read each line backwards, from right to left. I can’t imagine doing it that way, specially with a 200+ page books.  

How do you search for typos and grammatical errors? Do you use an editing a software? Leave a comment below.

 

 

Emotions and how to show them

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“Show, don’t tell” is a literary expression used by writers. It means add description to your story, characters, and setting. Your readers want to be able to crawl into the pages of your book and stand next to your characters, to experience their thoughts and feelings.

Anton Chekov once said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.  

If you struggle with Show don’t tell, you need to get your hands on a book called The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. 

Many aspired or new authors have a hard time with that method. This book describes feelings in details, from the physical signals and internal sensation, to the mental responses, and cues of acute or long-term effects. One important thing to remember is that you know your story, and your characters’ feelings. Your readers don’t. That’s why you have to show them.

I asked someone to proofread one of my first drafts. In one scene, a cop comes to the door, holding a child’s hat in an evidence bag. He asks the mother whose child had disappeared if it was her daughter’s. Her mouth fell open, and her knees buckled. She had to brace herself against the wall for support, asking him “Where did you find it?” I saw everything through my mind’s eyes, but didn’t write it like that. My proofreader didn’t see the character’s reaction, and didn’t feel the agony. The way I wrote it made it sound like my character didn’t care. Why? I didn’t know how to show her emotions.  

Some add four or five senses to give more description. I love this great example I found on a blog that talked about Show, don’t tell. I don’t recall what site, nor can I find it, so I can’t give credit to them. Know those are not my words except the ones in red.

Tom crawled through the tunnel on his hands and knees. He winced [feel] as a sharp edge sliced through his fingers. He had to keep his head low to keep from scraping against the low ceiling. The slippery sharp rocks were beautiful [sight] but deadly. One false move and he could be cut to ribbons. He took a deep breath, the pungent smell of flowers [smell] letting him know he neared his destination. A dim light shone in the distance, so he knew he was almost to the end. The light shined on the rocks, making them resemble precious jewels.

 

I believe there was a line in another version that said something about the taste of blood when he instinctively brought his finger to his mouth. I bought The Emotion Thesaurus as soon as it came out, and couldn’t devour it fast enough. I learned to show emotions with clarity, something I couldn’t do before. It’s one book you won’t want to do without. 

Do you struggle with Show, don’t tell? How do you deal with it? Leave a comment below. 

 

 

Thursday’s Quote

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I skimmed through many quotes before I found the following. Wow, if that doesn’t describe a writer’s work in progress, I don’t know what does? I could be way out to left field in my interpretation, but I thought it would be fun to break it down, and tell you what I picture when reading it. Keep in mind this is just my opinion.

All our progress is an unfolding, like a vegetable bud. You have first an instinct, then an opinion, then a knowledge as the plant has root, bud, and fruit. Trust the instinct to the end, though you can render no reason. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I read it again, I thought how amazing it would be to have an artist either draw or paint the pages of a book instead of a vegetable coming up from the ground. Wouldn’t it be amazing?  Can you picture it?

Emerson starts with:

All our progress is an unfolding, like a vegetable bud. That could be your story, as it takes shape, starting to develop as you write it out. 

You have first an instinct–that could be your idea, what you want to write about, the plot dancing in your head, just dying to come out, and be set free.

Then you have an opinion–perhaps that’s the research you’ve done to get better acquainted with the subject (part of Disraeli’s quote from last week) before you put pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard.

And then a knowledge as the plant has root, bud, and fruit. I see that as your novel slowly moving forward with a firm foundation, its bud’s are coming out (those are your scenes). Soon ripe fruit burst forth (your chapters).

Trust the instinct to the end. I would call that the impulse propelling your forward. You’ve done great so far, you can’t stop now. You have to run with it, keep going… yes until the end.  

Though you can render no reason. Of course not. After all that hard work, why would you stop now? 

Sometimes, though, your progress may be slow. Try as you may, words won’t come. Other times, it’s like it has stopped completely. You’re unable to move forward. You’re stuck. It happens to most everyone. I’d be surprised if any writer said “I never had writer’s block.”

It’s okay. Think about it…isn’t it the same with your garden? You don’t expect to sow the seeds and reap the harvest the next day, do you? Isn’t writing a novel the same thing? It takes time. You need to feed and water it. You have to make sure it gets the heat and light it needs. When the stem starts to lean, you need to give it support. 

Isn’t that how it is with your stories? You feed it by writing all those ideas. Sometimes, it may not make a whole lot of sense, but that’s all right, it’s your first draft. There’ll be plenty of time to pull the weeds out later. Just write!

 

Plotter or Pantser? Tell us why.

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Today is day 12 of the 31-Day Blogging Challenge. I’ve covered topics ranging from the worth of an editor, where we get our inspiration, and how to find time to write in the busyness of life, to how hard it is to write when we don’t know what to say. I’ve touched on what to do when distractions come our way, shared helpful resources, and discussed how to pick a catchy title, and design an attractive cover. Let’s not forget getting out of our comfort zone to write about things we know little—or nothing—about.  What’s left?

Plenty!

Why do many write by the seat of their pants while others write a full outline a head of time?

I’m a pantser, 100 %. If I wrote an outline, my short attention span would keep me from following it. I’ve asked my Facebook friends which they do and why. I’m surprised to see some do both. As a thank you, I’ve added a link to their website and/or books. Check them out.

“Pantser. I naturally write chronological, but my skills were honed as a Hollywood screenwriting to figure out scenes and flow in my head while working.” Shawn Lamb

“Both. I begin with a basic chapter and scene outline where I work out timelines so I know what happens, when, and where. I discover the “how” while I am writing. Sometimes that blows up the outline, so I redo it. For me, it has proven to be a powerful approach. It gets me started but allows the muse to take control and surprise me. She always pulls me deeper into the story. It is a scary, fun way to write.” Sydney Matheson Avery

“I am a Plotter. Why in 20 words -> “Because my mind constantly goes in so many different directions, without a defined outline, my books would never get completed!” Jason Tremere

“I’m both. I plot the entire story in my head, then write it. Many times the plot takes a turn but I always know the ending.” Gloria Doty-High

“Pantser most definitely. I write like I read and want to build the suspense.” Sarah Butland

“Both. First, I pants my way through a book, because I see it as a movie in my head. Then I plot, so I can connect dots and make sense of it.” Dawn Torraville-Cairns

“Plotting gives me a framework to see where my ideas fit, what other ideas they require, and perhaps how I can add a twist. It lets me brainstorm for the best options, instead of taking what comes first. I don’t “pants” well. Let’s me write faster, too.” Janet Sketchley

Pantser. I start out with an idea and my characters tell me where to go. If I plotted, it would be completely different from where I end up, so why bother.  Sami A. Abrams

“Pantser turned plotter. Found having focus helps me write tighter and faster. Not so many rewrites needed.” Susan Lower

Are you a pantser or a plotter? Tell us why in a comment below.

Your Book Cover Design

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Did you ever read a book where the main character is a tall blonde woman, but the cover depicts an average height brunette? Or perhaps the main event you read about in the back blurb is about a house fire that destroys a family home and kills a well-known and loved young man. Shown on the cover, however, is a huge hotel burning out of control on a beach front. It may convey a strong message, but not at all what’s needed for this particular story.

I’ve seen that happen before, and it always throws me off. When I read, I picture the character in the first chapter as I see him or her on the cover. So when I come across the description of a blonde woman, I have to wonder. Okay, so maybe it’s a different character than the one from the cover.

The point is, your book cover design is not to be taken lightly. It’s as important if not more, as choosing your title, which I talked about yesterday.

It’s possible, as you go through your first draft to want to make changes. So she was a blonde, but now you’ve decided she fits the part better as a brunette? Go ahead and make the change, but be sure to change your cover too, if you’ve already designed it.

Why is it crucial to have a great cover? It’s one of the most important aspect of marketing your novel. It’s what can make or break your sales. Remember this old adage?

Can’t judge a book by its cover.

Though this may be true to some extent, I can tell you there are books that turn me away from them, enough that I won’t even check the back blurb. On the other hand, if the cover appeals to me, I’ll flip to the back to see what it’s about.

I paid twice for the cover of Stella’s Plea. I loved the first one but while it was about the kidnapping of a small child, the design looked too serene. The sun coming through the clouds gave a sense of peace. Since the designer was booked solid for the next few months and couldn’t do another one, she apologized and encouraged me to turn to someone else. I did. The cover Mitch came up with was amazing, and six years later, I still get comments on it. A black and pink sneaker on a trail in a wooded area. Simple yet it spelled suspense. Oh but wait… Black sneaker? The one in my story is white and pink. One detail that was easy to fix. I didn’t mind because I love the work he’d done.

Regardless whether you design your cover or ask a professional to do it for you, make sure it matches what’s inside the pages of your book to a T. You want to catch the eye of your prospect readers, enough that they’ll want to pick it up and turn it over to read the back. Make it attractive.

I’ve said this in the past two posts, but I’ll say it again. Be creative. Be unique. 

What makes you pick up the book and flip to the back blurb? Leave a comment below. 

Choosing a Book Title

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When asked how one comes up with a book title, I always want to answer with three simple words: ‘with great difficulty.’

You’re not just choosing a title, you have to find the right one. A catchy one. It proves to be a difficult task, but it is as important as designing the cover (tomorrow’s topic).

Every author uses a different process. Some have a title before they begin, which is where they get the inspiration for the story. Others, like myself, can’t come up with one until they’re done writing. If the book is part of a series, authors may choose similar sounding titles. Mine are not series, but the titles have similarities.

Each has two words. The first, being the name of the protagonist. The second starts with the same letter. Stella’s Plea, Emma’s Prayer, Charlie’s Plight.

I didn’t choose all three at once. In fact, I had no idea they’d all be similar until I finished the second novel. How did I come up with them?

Stella’s Plea deals with a deaf child who disappears, so I wanted it to have something to do with her hands, or with sign language. Try as I may, I couldn’t come up with the right one. Then it hit me. Stella, her mom, is frantically searching for her daughter. She sends out a plea for help. That’s how the title became Stella’s Plea.

Emma’s Prayer is about a teen mom who puts her son up for adoption. Soon she misses him so much, she wants him back. Is it too late? (You’ll have to read it to find out, no spoilers here). Emma also has a lot of heavy duty praying to do, hence, Emma’s Prayer.

Recently I attended a book fair where someone asked me if Emma’s story was a religious book. It isn’t, but because of the word prayer, the reader assumed it might be. I explained it is inspirational, and yes there are references to God in the book, but it isn’t the main focus of the story. Again, no spoilers.

When I finished that second novel, I’d already decided the idea for my next one, and that the main protagonist would be Charlie, a woman with a major dilemma. I called it Charlie’s Plight.

While I use the name of my protagonist in all three titles, there’s a variety of ways in choosing who or what appears in yours. You can use

One of your antagonists,

The major event in your story,

A metaphor,

Or even an expression used by one of your characters.

While the possibilities are endless, if you’re one of those authors who starts with the title to get your inspiration, a Book Title Generator might be the tool that works best for you.

Whether you start or end with the title, I’d like to suggest you research your title idea. There are many great novels out there with similar or identical titles. Like your characters, be creative. Be unique.