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HOW To Finish Your Damn Book

Originally posted on CATHERINE RYAN HOWARD:

At the beginning of this year I wrote a post for that treasure trove of writing and publishing information, Writing.ie, about why you should finish your damn book. You can read that post here. It proved really popular. So popular that it seems to me like a lot of you are in the same place I was until last summer: wanting nothing more than to have finished your book, but finding yourself doing everything but writing it.

It’s all well and good for me to tell you why you should finish your book (nutshell: a finished book is the one thing everyone who ever got published/successfully self-published has in common) but how do you do it? How do you overcome procrastination? How do you finish your damn book?

I only know what worked for me, but maybe you’ll find something in there that works for you. Let’s see…

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16 Questions to Ask Someone When They’re Reading Your Manuscript

Originally posted on Ivy Reddington:

Interrogation

My friend Skye has been reading my novel-in-progress as I write each chapter. She is only four chapters into it and I just created a list of questions to ask her to get the maximum amount of information out of her, without getting what she thinks I want to hear.

I hope this could help someone!

  1. Can you describe the main character to me?
  2. Can you describe the setting or major place to me?
  3. What did you think when this character did this? (Some scene specific to your story… May have to ask this about many scenes)
  4. What thoughts did the end of that chapter leave you with?
  5. Who was your favorite major character?
  6. Who was your favorite minor character?
  7. Who was your least favorite character?
  8. What was your favorite scene?
  9. Are there any characters that seem vague in your memory?
  10. Are there any places that need more detail?
  11. Did…

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Five Fascinating Facts about Black Beauty

Originally posted on Interesting Literature:

Fun facts about Black Beauty and the novel’s author, Anna Sewell

1. Anna Sewell’s novel Black Beauty is one of the biggest-selling novels of all time. Published in 1877, Black Beauty was a huge publishing success story from the start. Although Sewell died five months after the book appeared (the cause of her death has been attributed variously to tuberculosis and hepatitis), she lived long enough to learn that she had written a bestseller. The book has sold over 50 million copies in total, making it one of the bestselling books in English. It was Sewell’s only novel. Sewell died in 1878, but had been an invalid for much of her life; she was confined to her family home for much of her life.

2. Black Beauty is described on its title-page as ‘translated from the equine’. Sewell’s unusual conceit was to tell the story from the perspective of the…

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What Are You Reading This March?

Originally posted on Reflections of a Book Addict:

March has been an absolutely crazy hectic month for me. As such the amount of time I’ve been able to dedicate to reading has been quite short. It’s the 22nd of the month and I’ve only read 5 books!! I guess I should be happy that my total is 5 and not 0. With such a small amount of books completed this month, I’m being realistic with what else I plan to complete this month. On my list is Attachments by Rainbow Rowell and City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments #1) by Cassandra Clare.

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Attachments was Rowell’s first novel and is a true gem. After reading Eleanor & Park and Fangirl I was dying to read more. I’m literally on pins and needles awaiting her next novel Landline due out this July. City of Bones got bumped up my list after I saw The Mortal Instruments movie. I…

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5 Books I Totally Hated (and Why)

The Twilight Series

People fall into one of two categories where these are concerned — they love it or they hate it.  Obviously, I hated it.

And not (just) why you might think.  Stephenie Meyer can form a sentence.  She can construct a plot.  My problem is that she took the MOST boring characters and the MOST boring plot and made them her focus.  Jasper took part in 1800s vampire turf wars.  Alice was deemed crazy and kept in a dark isolation room most of her life.  Carlisle was a preacher’s son who managed to completely tame his bloodlust after being bitten (because he’s just that awesome, not that he has some dumb power like Bella).  Rosalie was raped, beaten, and left to die by her fiance and his friends, but got her revenge Kill Bill-style after she turned.  Why can’t I read about that instead of the cheesy Harlequin romance that drags on 100 times longer than every other Harlequin?

And on the subject of characters, Edward is completely unrealistic.  “Oh, he actually acted like a vampire and killed people to drink their blood, but it’s okay, because he only killed bad people.”  Who is he, Dexter Morgan (and even he has made mistakes)?  And he’s a virgin after more than 100 years…yeah…

Emma

I feel like a traitor for hating this book since I love Jane Austen’s other books, but, to me, Emma was just a flop.  The titular character was whiny, annoying, egotistical, and completely oblivious to the facts.  I understand that this was kind of the point and she supposedly learned a lesson, but I couldn’t get past her flaws to find a trait that I liked or could even connect with.  My motivation to read it after that was based purely on the fact that I had to write a paper about it.

Mockingjay (SPOILERS)

Although the story of the Hunger Games trilogy was decent, I think that the actual execution fell flat.  It’s kind of the opposite of the Twilight series.  They seemed to get gradually worse, making the final installment the real disappointment.

Mockingjay and its predecessors suffer from the same problem as so many other YA novels — overly simplistic writing.  Obviously, you need to be on your reader’s level, but I’ve seen third grade chapter books with better sentence construction.  When your sentences are so basic that they sound contrived, it’s disappointing.  And when your descriptions are so jumbled and unclear that a college-educated writer can’t make sense of what’s going on, you have a problem.

The final issue I had with Mockingjay was that it tried to do too much.  The story against the Capitol was enough — don’t try to splice in issues with the government of District 13 along with it unless you’re going to set that up a little earlier.  Obviously, no government is going to be perfect and you can point that out, but if it’s so bad that the main character feels the need to assassinate the President to prevent her from taking power, then it needs to be a part of the larger story arc.  Otherwise, just focus on Snow’s evil, the decadence of the Capitol, the tragic bombings of the other districts, and the torture/brainwashing Peeta suffered.

And for the love of God, DON’T EXPLAIN YOUR METAPHORS.  Yes, Katniss is the cat with the red dot, going crazy for what’s dangled over her…but no person is quite that poetically self-aware.

Frankenstein

Pretentious.  Long-winded.  A total guilt-trip.  Excessively dramatic.  Confusingly written (a story within another narrative written down in a letter some third person is reading…?).

Madame Bovary

I had the same problem with Madame Bovary as I did with Emma.  The title character was so whiny and downright stupid that I was unable to connect with her.  I couldn’t even make a connection to the story because all the characters were either oblivious retards, simpleton peasants with no personalities, arrogant aristocrats, or user douchebags exploiting a weak-minded woman.  And unless you have some in-depth knowledge of French culture during the time period the books take place, a lot of the references that supposedly characterize Madame Bovary will just go right over your head (I certainly didn’t know that at the time, opera was considered plebeian entertainment on par with modern WWE).

 

Want to know about some books I really liked?  Try these past posts:

Reviewing Toni Morrison’s “A Mercy”

Terry Brooks: Sometimes the Magic Works

Read a Banned Book!

How to Be a Better Writer: Advice from the Pros

There are no laws for the novel.  There never have been, nor can there ever be.

Doris Lessing

The road to hell is paved with adverbs.

Stephen King

Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.

Ray Bradbury

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.

Ernest Hemingway

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.

Robert Frost

You can fix anything but a blank page.

Nora Roberts

It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.

C.J. Cherryh

Tell the readers a story! Because without a story, you are merely using words to prove you can string them together in logical sentences.

Anne McCaffrey

I advise writing to oneself. If you don’t want to read it, nobody else is going to read it.

S.E. Hinton

To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.

Allen Ginsberg

The most important thing for any aspiring writer, I think, is to read!

George R.R. Martin

Reviewing Toni Morrison’s “A Mercy”

First, a disclaimer: This is the third of Morrison’s books that I’ve read, and I am honestly unsure if she’s capable of writing a bad book.

A Mercy is slightly different from her other books in that it doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on the black experience. Instead, it is more about the disenfranchised in general — particularly women. A white European wife, the daughter of a black slave woman, an Indian woman, and one young girl of unknown race are the main characters — defined by men, by religious turmoil, by greed, and by the harshness of living in the New World. Some triumph, some abide, some turn into monsters. It’s a beautiful set of stories, heartbreaking and freeing all at once.

My only complaint is less of a complaint and more of a preference. The structure of the stories (non-linear) gives away some of the suspense. But perhaps the story was less about the stories and more about the feelings — little events that cause huge repercussions over time and and through separation.

No matter what sort of books you usually read, put A Mercy in your “to read” pile. Now. It’s amazing, moving, and even short enough to finish while you’re waiting in airports this summer.

The Gift of Reading

At the beginning of the month, I found out there’s going to be a Little One joining us in December (yay!).  When I get a break from all those famous pregnancy symptoms, I’ve been obsessing over what s/he needs.  There’s diapers and onesies and plenty of blankets for our six-month long winters…and books.

I’ll always believe that one of the great blessings of my childhood was having books at my disposal.  All kinds of books.  My parents always read for pleasure and encouraged me to do so.  My grandmother also had a huge collection of books — the accumulated titles of her childhood and those of my mother and her siblings — that I always had access to.  One of my first memories is of looking through a picture book Bible and making up my own stories to accompany the pictures, since I hadn’t learned to read yet.

My love for the written word never left me.  Books have always been my solace and my favorite pastime — from The Poky Little Puppy to Harry Potter, Shakespeare, Shannara, A Song of Ice and Fire, Toni Morrison, Jane Austen…

When I was young, I was never discouraged from reading anything.  Sure, my mother wasn’t always happy with my choices (like that um, juicy romance I picked up at 13), but I was never censored.  Reading is enrichment and it’s a love that lasts a lifetime.  I got that gift and I want to pay it forward to my little Peanut.

While I was looking through the children’s section online at B&N, I came across many of my old favorites.  Where better to start Peanut than with Mom and Dad’s favorites?  Eventually, s/he will decide to love mystery over fantasy, or documentaries or historical fiction or maybe even New Age poetry.  But for now, some good old pictures books will do.

 

The Tawny Scrawny Lion (This always made me want carrot soup!)

Horton Hears A Who! (One of hubby’s favorites)

Corduroy

 

Hemingway’s “Iceberg Theory” of Writing

Originally posted on 101 Books:

If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing. –Ernest Hemingway

Before I wrap up The Sun Also Rises (review coming tomorrow), I thought I’d take one more look at Hemingway’s writing style.

He called it the “Iceberg Theory,” and  it’s a great descriptor of his style.

Essentially, he gives you the facts—those hard facts are the tip of the iceberg floating above water. Everything else—the supporting structure—floats beneath the water, out of sight from the reader.

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Venturing Into the Gray Areas with Purple Prose

Keep your writing clear and coherent, and avoid pretentious or overly formal language.  Write to communicate, not to impress. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Don’t dumb down, but don’t let your writing get in the way of your message. There’s a fine line between elegance and pomposity.

Mark Nichols, “7 Tips for Editing to Improve Usage” @ DailyWritingTips

Excellent advice.  The only problem is, where’s that “fine line between elegance and pomposity”?  The short answer is, no one really knows because it’s different for everyone.  One person’s purple prose is another’s beautiful description.  One type of writing might warrant lots of elegance, style, and 25-cent words, while another might require you to be short and sweet.  Or, you might need to use one style or the other for effect.

It takes practice to determine what’s best for yourself and your writing, and your preferences/needs may change over time.  Nichols, however, has some good guidelines that we should follow:

1.  Always be clear about your meaning.  Pretty writing is fine but don’t let it cloud the point you’re trying to make in writing.  Your readers should always know what you’re trying to say.

2.  Get rid of ulterior motives.  As a teacher/tutor I see this problem a lot.  Many new students, particularly college freshmen, write in exceptionally elevated and complex ways because they think that’s what they should be doing.  Instead of sounding formal and sophisticated, however, often it just comes out as contrived and stiff.  Don’t try to impress people with your vocabulary or prowess in using 4-line sentences that aren’t run-ons.  Just write.

3.  Know that the line is there.  If you understand that there is such a thing as being too grand, or being too basic, you’re less likely to fall into either trap.  You’ll be more aware of your writing and of how it comes across to readers.  If you find that you’re not, well, that’s what beta readers are for.

Practice!!!

Descriptive Writing From Photographs  @ ProjectGrad

Descriptive Writing Practice — $2.00 download in my TpT Store

Writing Concisely @ The UNC Writing Center Online