5 Steps for Retelling a Fairy Tale

All images from Pixabay

NaNoWriMo, the November 50K word writing challenge, looms in the near distance. Barb over at Book Club Mom posted recently about fairy tale retellings and might give it a go.

She got me thinking about the genre. I’ve avoided it. Why would anyone read a book where they already know the whole story? Then I read Snow White and the Civil War by Cathleen Townsend and fell for her creative take (reviewed here).

In a way, most stories are “retellings.” There are only so many plots. I posted once about George Ponti’s 36 “dramatic situations” but I’ve seen plots distilled down to 3: Man versus Nature, Man versus Man, and Man versus Himself. Rather broad, I know, and not very useful, but there you have it.

So, I researched some of the specific factors that make fairy tale retellings fresh and interesting while honoring the bones of the original story. Here are five suggestions:

1 – Dig into the original story

There are sometimes a few original versions, and they can span centuries. Some are so dark they verge on horror, and sometimes two or more versions merged to become the story we know today. A thorough understanding of the original work(s) gives an author plot options as well as interesting details to play with.

Most of the original stories are in the public domain as their copyrights expired long ago. The Wikipedia overview is a good place to start, but read the originals to explore nuances and jot down some luscious details.

2 – Define the original story’s theme

Each fairy tale, like all good stories, has a timeless theme or two that resonates with readers. Fairy tale themes focus on universal human experiences and aspirations such as justice, sacrifice, self-discovery, love, forgiveness, and faith, and they’re felt deeply by the characters.

The core theme of the original work is the heart of the story you’re retelling, much of the rest is creative spin.

3 – What do you love about the original story?

Drill down into why you chose this story to retell and not a different one? What captured your imagination? What scenes were your favorites? Which characters moved you?

Knowing what makes the story compelling to you will help you decide what elements are critical to keep and expand upon, as well as what you can change to make the retelling unique.

4 – Study the genre

This is your research. If you want to retell Rapunzel, read what other authors have written and do so with an appraising eye. What worked for you and what didn’t? What were your favorite scenes? Most interesting characters? How closely did the plot follow the original and where did it deviate? Did you enjoy the twists?

Most importantly, look for missed opportunities. What would have made the story better for you? What did you want more of, less of?

Also, peek at the reviews of popular retellings. What did readers enjoy and dislike? Because readers are all different, look for areas of consistency across reviewers.

5 – Mix it up!

Telling the original story too closely is probably the most dangerous route since it risks boring the reader. Pull what you want from the original story and change the rest. Toy with the plot, and sabotage the readers’ expectations by incorporating twists.

Some ideas for mixing it up:

  • Switch genres – make it a cozy mystery or thriller
  • Employ a different time period – tell it in the 19th century or 500 years in the future
  • Use a different setting – place your story in Africa or the Far East or on a space station.
  • Swap genders – Samuel White is a man rescued by seven women.
  • Swap roles – Cinderella is devious and one of her step-sisters is the kind one.
  • Tell the story from a different point of view. What was Rumpelstiltskin’s perspective on the whole straw into gold situation?
  • Mix two fairy tales into one – Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel?

Most of all, let your imagination run wild!

Happy Writing!

Vokhtah: sci-fi world-building with acflory

THE most original sci-fi book I’ve ever read is Vokhtah by Andrea Flory. The depth of her world-building and character-construction is highly creative and intensely alien, right down to the language these insect-like creatures use. I’ve been wanting to interview her and finally got the chance. Welcome Andrea!

1. You decided to create an alien world without humans. Lots of authors do that, but their characters are often “human in disguise” with human-ish thoughts and emotions and cultural variations. Your characters are definitely NOT human. What inspired you to create a completely alien species?

Aaaah Diana! Thank you for inviting me, but…you’ve opened a real Pandora’s box here. What inspired me? I could say it was the original Mr Spock played by Leonard Nimoy, or the character of Dexter, the ‘good’ psychopath, or the aliens of The Left Hand of Darkness by the late Ursula K. Le Guin, but that would only approximate the truth.

To give you a genuine answer I would have to change your question to ‘Why do so many humans create aliens in the first place?’

To that question, my answer is that we’re looking for answers about ourselves. Humans are such a mixed bag. We run the gamut from saints like Mother Teresa to monsters like Ted Bundy. Why are we so different? In creating my aliens, I tried to create a dark mirror to the familiar, a contrast by which we could see ourselves more clearly. And what could be a greater contrast than flying, sociopathic hermaphrodites?

2. For a book to engage readers, characters (particularly the protagonists) need to be relatable. Readers want to feel connected to them, and this is often accomplished through shared “human-ish” experience and emotion. What was your thought process in how to achieve relatability while maintaining a sense that these are very different creatures?

Every society requires some kind of co-operative ‘glue’ to survive. On Vokhtah, my alien society evolved to value strength, courage, justice, honour and the paying of ‘debts’, traits we humans recognize and value too. Those traits provide a bridge between them and us. Plus, I have to admit that some of my aliens are ‘nicer’ than others. The hardest part of writing them was stopping myself from making them too nice.

3. Your world-building is deep and complex.  Did you plan it out in advance of writing? And to what level of detail? Did it evolve as you wrote the first book?

Nanowrimo 2004 triggered the creation of my aliens, but the world took about nine years to evolve, and it required a lot of research, including a crash course in basic astronomy. The relationship between the twin suns has a profound affect on the planet so I had to learn about binary star systems and how they might affect the day/night cycle as well as the seasons. This is my reference ‘calendar’:

And then there’s the con lang [constructed language] spoken by my aliens. Because their lungs are in their wings, sound is produced by pushing air through tiny ‘pipes’ called cilia. As a result, their language evolved as a mix of organ-like sounds together with optional ‘scents’ that add an emotional depth to their words.

Adding to that complexity is the fact that, as hermaphrodites, my aliens are neither ‘he’ nor ‘she’ but ‘it’. Trying to make English reflect these constraints without being too awful to read was a…challenge.

4. I know you enjoy making images as you conceptualize your story.  Tell me more about that process and your reasoning.

Some people can visualise everything perfectly in their heads. Me, I have to see the things I imagine in some kind of physical form, otherwise I miss the ‘obvious’.

One of those obvious things I almost missed had to do with how many arms my aliens have. I wanted them to have ‘clever hands’ and powerful wings that look a bit like bats, but bat wings look like this:

Those wings rely on impossibly long ‘fingers’, leaving no room for functional ‘hands’. The challenge was to find a way for my aliens to have both hands and wings.

It took a while, but as I messed around with various models, I suddenly realised that my aliens needed not one set of arms but two! That ‘ah hah!’ moment combined with a lot of images of black leather eventually led to this:

Still a work in progress, but getting there.

5. What excites you about writing these books?  What are you most proud of?

I love a challenge, and I love doing research, but what I’m most proud of is that I stayed true to the original vision of the story.

I created sociopaths so I could explore what it means to be human. I created hermaphrodites so I could explore gender. But to stay true to both those themes, I had to create a language that was both gender neutral and lacking in names. That resulted in dialogue like this:

Begging,” the Apprentice sent in desperation. “Allowing others in group to join Tellers. Not deserving this.”

There was a short silence before the Runner replied.

Others can re-joining caravan,” it said, “but not Apprentice, Flyer or that Plodder. Life-debt must being cancelled.”

One of my first beta readers strongly advised me to re-write the dialogue in standard English, to make it ‘easier’ for readers. I did agonise over that one because I know that too much ‘dialect’ can make dialogue almost incomprehensible, but there was no way I could change the dialogue without changing everything about the story, starting with the biology. I kept the dialogue.

6. Thank you so much for sharing your creative adventure with us, Andrea. Anything else you’d like to add?

Vokhtah was, and is, my passion. If the book had been picked up by a traditional publisher, I am sure I would have been told to change a great many things, including the dialogue. One of the joys of being an Indie is that I can stay true to the vision that made me write the story in the first place. That freedom is a gift of immeasurable value.

And so is the gift of community. Family and friends are precious, but sometimes their eyes glaze over when I talk about writing. When I come here, it feels like coming home. Thank you, Diana, for always making me feel welcome in this accepting community of writers and readers.

Huge hugs to all,
Meeks [aka acflory]

Diana’s review of Vokhtah:

This is a hard book to describe. “Pure Alien” is a good start, and I’m impressed by the author’s ambition and execution. Vokhtah is an alien planet and the characters are insect-like (my impression) creatures who engage in their own sort of political intrigue, espionage, and social caste system. They’re clever, dastardly, selfless, and selfish – much like humans – but there the similarities end.

The world-building is rather amazing and humans won’t find much that’s familiar here. Even the speech is different. The iVokh and Vokh are genderless “its” and don’t have names, referred to by their role in society, their ranking, and their talents. Social norms are dictated by groups and reinforce variations in dominance and subservience. It takes about a third of the book to get used to.

The story unfolds from multiple points of view, all alien. Flory doesn’t pamper the reader with backstory or explanation, but tosses us right into the strange world – sink or swim. The experience is immersive, but it requires patience to figure out who these aliens are and what the heck they’re doing. I enjoyed the story-telling, the fascinating world, the author’s imagination and writing skills. The pace was excellent and kept my interest.

I did spend a fair amount of the book confused about the characters, though. This is primarily, I think, because they don’t have names and, in many cases, go by multiple designations. For example, there are a number of Sixths and Sevenths. A Blue is also a Messenger who is also a Healer. A Teller is also a Trader, and is sometimes an Apprentice, so sometimes they’re the same character, sometimes not. There are a lot of identically designated characters as each location/eyrie in the story has the same basic social structure, and the book involves travel. I struggled to keep them straight until about 50% through when the plot began to narrow down the action and further define the characters’ personalities and motivations.

But then, I struggled to keep Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon straight. That one I gave up on; this one I didn’t. And it was worth it. By the end, I was ready for the next book in the series. I highly recommend Vokhtah to readers who love pure alien sci-fi, love a reading challenge, and want to engage with the work of a wonderfully creative imagination.

Amazon Global Link

Goodbye Traditional, Hello Indie (Part I)

en.wikimedia.org

en.wikimedia.org

A few blog friends and authors have asked about my decision in 2015 to switch from traditional to indie publishing. I thought it might be interesting to share a trio of posts about the factors that informed my decision. These posts are five years old, but my opinion remains the same. If this post, Part I, captures your attention, you can follow the link below to the 2nd and 3rd in the series.

Part I: Pros of traditional publishing

Part II: Cons of traditional publishing (and how they compare to indie publishing).

Part III: Results

***

In 2016, I begun the process of reclaiming my traditionally published books and republishing them myself. I thought it might be useful to document my reasons, particularly for those writers dawdling at this fork in the publishing road, trying to decide which way to go.

I originally published through a small press, and I don’t want to give the impression that this was a bad deal or that the publisher did anything wrong. It was, in fact, a valuable learning experience, especially for a new author and one as clueless as I. A small press may be the perfect publishing solution for many authors, especially if the words “traditionally published” carry personal weight.

Before I dig in, it’s important to state that – with a few exceptions – this was my experience. It reflects my personality, expectations, and quirks. What worked for me might not work for you and visa-versa. In addition, each publishing house is a unique entity represented by unique individuals. It’s reasonable to assume that my comments don’t apply to every small press!

So, what was great about my small press experience?

Hands-on relationships

I wrote a book without a blog and all the valuable online information available to authors. I did zero research on publishing, knew no published authors. Basically, I knew zip. Typical for me.

I can’t speak for mega-presses, but with my publisher, I received generous personal attention. I had tons of questions, sent daily emails, and received prompt replies. The process was laid out for me, contracts thorough and easily understood, my expectations set. It was comforting to know that my endless dumb questions and new-author anxiety were treated with respect and patience.

No Upfront Cost

When working with a traditional publisher, the professional services needed to bring a book to market come at no charge. This includes all facets of editing, proofing, cover design, formatting, obtaining ISBNs, and anything else you can think of. The publisher recoups the costs when the book goes for sale and they contractually take a portion of the revenue.  For a writer with few financial resources, upfront costs may be a factor. Besides not having any idea what I was doing, I also had a pitiful bank account. This way, all I had to do was write.

Professional Editing

When I “finished” my first book, I was part of a writer’s critique group. I applied all the suggestions of my cohorts, and my writing improved to the point that a publisher was interested. Yay for writers’ groups! Little did I know how much I still didn’t know.

The editing process commenced. The editor and I went back and forth for an entire year and made hundreds and hundreds of changes – literally. Working with a professional, I received invaluable lessons on the craft of writing. The process improved my book and armed me with a battery of tips to employ on future projects.

This process was highly collaborative, and I was grateful to be able to argue my case when I felt strongly about a point. I understand from a few colleagues that some publishers are less collaborative and some will exercise a contractual right to make the final call on changes.

Covers

As a clueless person, I had no resources for cover design. The publisher worked on the concept and sent me multiple drafts for comment. My contract allowed 3 changes at no charge though we made many small tweaks. I have heard that some publishing houses don’t request input on design and don’t allow changes. I know of one author who wrote a book about “coyotes” and the publisher put “wolves” on the cover. The author was stuck with the wolves.

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Contract Length

My contracts were for one year from the published date. This is a relatively short period when compared to contracts that span 3-5 years. The shorter contract is a boon in the event the relationship isn’t working, or the author or publisher wishes to terminate. My termination required a 90-day notice and there was no cost associated with ending the agreement.

My contracts were on a per-book basis with no commitment tying up future books. This is particularly important when writing a series or serial where a contract may commit future books to that publisher for the agreement’s term. An author may end up making do with the publisher or leaving books unpublished until the contract can be terminated. Contracts are important, and they aren’t all the same.

Paper Book Quality

Publishing houses will likely use printing services of a high quality. Personally, I’m satisfied with Amazon and the quality of their paperback books. However, printing houses will often have more size, style, and color options as well as better quality paper and bindings. Many professional print houses are not “print on demand” so there will be a sizable minimum order or set-up fee that may exceed what the author wants to invest. This was a significant challenge in my case.

So, Why Go Indie?

For someone who knew squat, my experience with a small press was highly instructive. The editing process improved my writing. The service was professional and respectful, the contracts fair.

Yet, publishing through a small press has significant pitfalls. As my knowledge and experience grew, it became evident to me that the challenges outpaced the advantages. Would I accept a contract with a big publishing house with a huge marketing department and a tasty advance? Um…yeah! But in the meantime, I’m going indie.

In Part II, I’ll explain why. Check it out HERE.

Why to avoid “ing” words in fiction

A few weeks ago, I had a blog-conversation with Jacqui Murray of Worddreams about editing out “ing” words. I’ve heard many times that these words should be avoided when writing fiction but never understood why. While some writing no-nos stab me in the eye every time I read them (such as filter words), “ing” words never really bothered me.

So, a little research later, here’s the scoop:

“Ing” words do three things:

They express ongoing action when combined with auxiliary (helping) verbs:
She was washing her hands.
The snow will be piling up all night.

They act as nouns:
Vacuuming kept the dog hair to a minimum.
Walking helps me stay healthy.

They act as adjectives:
The falling apple bonked her on the head.
A failing grade won’t get me into college.

Opportunity #1

Present, future, and past progressive verb combinations

When combined with little “helping” verbs such as am, are, is, was, were, been, have, has, had, “ing” words express ongoing action.

He is working every day.
He was painting on weekends.
He will be gardening after work.
He has been looking out the window since he came home.

Now, all of these sentences are grammatically correct, but they all have extra weak little unnecessary words.

Avoid weak helping verbs and write tighter.

For example:

He is working every day.
He works every day

He was painting on weekends.
He painted on weekends.

He will be gardening after work.
He will garden after work

He has been looking out the window since he came home.
He has looked out the window since he came home.

Caution: Sometimes the progressive action is necessary. Note the difference in meaning below:

He was shooting his gun when the sheriff killed him.
He shot his gun when the sheriff killed him.

Of course instead of “was shooting” you could try something like this:

He peppered the bar with bullets until the sheriff’s aim zeroed in and blasted a hole in his chest.

Which brings me to the next opportunity…

Opportunity #2

Replace weak “ing word” and helping-verb combinations with more powerful verbs.

While searching your manuscript for your “ing” words, look for opportunities to replace common “ing” words with more descriptive verbs in the simple past tense.

For example:

He was looking at the lawn for an hour.
He inspected the lawn for an hour.

She was turning over the burger with one hand and making a salad with the other.
She flipped the burger with one hand and tossed a salad with the other.

The ogre was giving the princess a long-winded explanation.
The ogre bored the princess with a long-winded explanation

Common “Ing” Mistake #1

Simultaneous versus sequential action

Did you know that participial phrases indicate simultaneous action? Not sequential action. This is a very common mistake, and another reason to look closely at those “ing” phrases!

Participial phrases aren’t actually verbs. They’re something called verbals, and they can act like adjectives. Verbals aren’t the action verbs of the sentence, instead they tell us something about the action. What the heck does that mean? Well, read on, and I’ll try to explain.

Here are some examples of incorrectly used participial phrases. Note that the structure implies that the actions are happening simultaneously, even though that would be impossible:

Peeling off his pajamas, he turned on the water and stepped into the shower.
Sprinting down to the lake, he dove in and swam to the other side.
The gymnast landed the dismount, dancing with her fists in the air.
The cat jumped to the window sill and curled into a ball, sleeping in the sunshine.

Yeah, those are wrong. I’m not kidding. Clearly, the actions need to be sequential, but that’s not what the sentences indicate.

Here are examples of those sentences with sequential action:

He peeled off his pajamas, turned on the water, and stepped into the shower.
He sprinted down to the lake, dove in, and swam to the other side.
The gymnast landed the dismount and danced with her fists in the air.
The cat jumped to the window sill, curled into a ball, and slept in the sunshine.

Can participial phrases be used to indicate simultaneous action? Sure. Here are some cases where it’s done correctly:

Peeling off his pajamas, he tangled his feet and fell on the bed.
Sprinting down to the lake, he waved to his sister and her friend.
The gymnast landed the dismount, her feet snapping to the mat.
The cat jumped to the windowsill, knocking over the vase.

Common “Ing” Mistake #2

Dangling participle phrases

We’ve all enjoyed reading these literary bloopers, and many of them can be tied back to those “ing”-phrases.

A dangling participle phrase functions as an adjective and unintentionally modifies the wrong noun (or a missing noun) in a sentence. They’re often found at the beginning of a sentence.

When the modifier or participle is not attached to the correct subject, it “dangles.”

Incorrect: After finishing my homework, the teacher gave me an excellent grade.
Correct: After I finished my homework, the teacher gave me an excellent grade.
Correct: The teacher gave me an excellent grade after I finished my homework.

Here’s another one:

Incorrect: While snacking on trail mix, a rainbow brightened the horizon.
Correct: While we snacked on trail mix, a rainbow brightened the horizon.
Correct: A rainbow brightened the horizon while we snacked on trail mix.

I hope this was helpful. In summary, “ing words” are useful and they help us vary our sentences and paragraphs. But, they require vigilance!

 

The Word Police: Filter Words

The Word Police are at it again. This time they plan to rap some filter words on the head.

Filter words are generally bad dudes and worth arresting when you catch up to them. They’re guilty of two things:

  • They add lots of unnecessary/empty words to your story and therefore can bog down your pace… a lot.
  • They distance your readers from your characters. The “narrator” tells us that the character is thinking/sensing something (filters the information) instead of just letting us experience the thoughts/sensations directly.

In this 217-word passage, there are 20 filter words.

Greta stood on her front porch. She felt the long-awaited spring call her with a rustling of leaves and patter of hummingbird wings. A smile brightened her face as she watched them battle around the feeder that she’d remembered to fill yesterday.  She supposed she wasn’t the only one enjoying the languid morning. On the porch rail, she saw her lazy tabby stretch and heard his rumbling purr as she rubbed his ears. She knew he liked the sunshine; she imagined he always had.

Lilacs bloomed at the edge of the house, and she could smell their heady fragrance. There were other newcomers that morning. She noticed that the butterflies had returned with the warmer weather and saw crocuses pushing up through the grass. Years ago, her mother had planted them in the lawn, and she realized she’d seen them return every year since.   

Greta suddenly felt hungry, and she listened to her stomach growl. She wondered about the muffins baking in her kitchen and recognized the sound of the buzzer on the oven announcing they were done. She rushed through the screen door and heard it slam closed behind her as she hurried down the hall. She thought they would taste wonderful, and if she wanted to, she guessed she could eat them all by herself.

Now here’s the same passage written without them (173 words instead of 217):

Greta stood on her front porch. The long-awaited spring called her with a rustling of leaves and patter of hummingbird wings. A smile brightened her face as they battled around the feeder that she’d filled yesterday.  She wasn’t the only one enjoying the languid morning. On the porch rail, her lazy tabby stretched, and he rumbled a purr as she rubbed his ears. He liked the sunshine; he always had.

Lilacs bloomed at the edge of the house with a heady fragrance. There were other newcomers that morning. The butterflies had returned with the warmer weather and crocuses pushed up through the grass. Years ago, her mother had planted them in the lawn, and they’d returned every year since.   

Greta’s stomach growled with hunger. Muffins baked in her kitchen, and the buzzer on the oven announced they were done. She rushed through the screen door, and it slammed closed behind her as she hurried down the hall. They would taste wonderful, and if she wanted to, she could eat them all by herself.

That’s about 22% less words!

Same meaning, improved pace, and closer to the character’s experience.

Less distracting to your reader, too.

You won’t be able to eliminate all filter words, nor should you, but an editing pass to rid yourself of a bunch of those annoying delinquents is worth the effort. And it isn’t that difficult when you know what to search for.

Here’s my starter list: watched, saw, observed, felt, smelled, tasted, heard, knew, thought, suspected, remembered, believed, understood, imagined, doubted, supposed, realized, wondered, guessed, hoped, wished…

Do you kill off the filter words in your writing?

Make a Book Trailer with PowerPoint

I’m a cheapskate.

I’m also technologically impaired.

So when it came to making a book trailer for Sunwielder’s audiobook pre-release hype, I resorted to the old familiar standby from my years of selling office furniture – MS PowerPoint. The program’s been updated over the past 2 decades, but I still figured it out with some trial and error. And error. And a little more error.

The main thing I learned is regarding sequence:

1. Start with your text: Keep it pithy. I used my book blurb and pared it down to its bare essentials. That gave me about fifteen slides to populate with images.

2. Then add images: I took advantage of Pixabay’s royalty-free, attribution-free images for this one, frequently mashing them together to create a scene. Remember to check copyright details for the images you decide to use.

3. Add transitions: Don’t get too zany, but have fun. Timing is the hardest part. Just keep viewing and adjusting until you’re satisfied.

4. Add animation: Same as the above.

5 Add music: Once your presentation is done and the timing close to finalized, find a piece of music. I searched for royalty-free music about the length of the slideshow since editing music is beyond my brain’s ability. Again, check the copyright details. I added a slide at the end for the required attribution.

6. Tweak about 50-100 times.

7. Export from PowerPoint as an MP4 file.

8. Upload to Youtube, Goodreads, and Amazon.

Want to check it out?

Crutch Words – the Word Police

wikimedia commons: keystone cops

The Word Police are back at it, rapping on my door and handing out citations. I plea-bargained my way out of jail by agreeing to publically share some of my past transgressions. The hope is that other wayward writers will take heed and avoid my mistakes. Crutch Words is the first in a series of writing tips from the coppers.

What are Crutch words?

Crutch words are words that add nothing to the meaning of a sentence. They’re hollow words that we automatically insert and frequently don’t notice. We want our writing to be tight and sharp. Too many crutch words will slow down the pace and dull the impact.

An interesting thing about crutch words is that we often have favorites. You may never use some words from the list below and use others more than you want to admit!

As a condition of my parole, I provided examples of these sneaky words. And I remind you that it would be impossible to remove every one. Sometimes you need them (in which case they aren’t crutches at all). Simply be aware of yours and edit when appropriate.

Here’s a list of some common crutch words:

that, then, next, just, actually, really, still, yet, only, so, even, began, started, going to…

Below are some examples of these sneaky words used in sentences. Notice how they nothing to the meaning.

She missed all the targets he’d lined up for her.
She missed all the targets that he’d lined up for her.

He grabbed the towel hanging over the rail.
He grabbed the towel that hung over the rail.

Mary knelt in the garden, yanked on her gloves, and spent the day weeding.
Mary knelt in the garden, yanked on her gloves, and then spent the day weeding.

Burt finished his breakfast. He delivered the packages and stopped at the market.
Burt finished his breakfast. Next, he delivered the packages and stopped at the market.

I’m trying to push the boat from the dock.
I’m just trying to push the boat from the dock.

If he intended to use the knife, he’d need to sharpen it.
If he actually/really/still intended to use the knife, he’d need to sharpen it.

He didn’t know whether he’d attend the wedding.
He didn’t know yet whether he’d attend the wedding.

If she could read the sign, she’d know which way to turn.
If only she could read the sign, she’d know which way to turn.

Teenagers rarely wake up early.
Teenagers so rarely wake up early.

He tried to climb the tree, but couldn’t reach the first limb.
He tried to climb the tree, but couldn’t even reach the first limb.

I chatted with Betty as we walked down the path. The lake sparkled in the distance.
I chatted with Betty as we began/started to walk down the path. The lake sparkled in the distance.

This will be the best day to hunt for shells.
This is going to be the best day to hunt for shells.

Next from the Word Police: Vague Words.

Happy Writing!

8 Reasons to love a Ninny Rhino

I told my husband it’s time for a mini-WriMo.

A ninny rhino?

No, a mi-ni-wri-mo.

He lost interest at that point, but maybe you want to know more.

What is a Mini-WriMo?

I first heard the term Mini-WriMo years ago after nearly collapsing from exhaustion after a full-fledged NaNoWriMo. And since that mention, I do various versions of mini writing bursts throughout the year.

It’s basically a time-limited, personal challenge to focus on writing. The best part? You set your own goals based on what’s achievable for you and what you want to accomplish.

Why does it work?

1. Because it’s supremely flexible. What we write, how we write, and the needs of our projects are all different and constantly evolving. A mini-WriMo can be whatever you wish based on your goals.

2. You pick the time period – a week, two weeks, a month.

3. You decide on the measure – a certain number of words, a finished outline, completed character bios, or an hour of writing 3 times a week. Perhaps daily journaling to brainstorm ideas. You can write a paragraph a day, or give yourself editing or blogging goals. How about developing a marketing plan (something I’ve been meaning to do for 10 years!).

4. You can under-promise and overachieve. If you think you can consistently write 1K words a day, make your goal 500. If you go over, that’s just fine. You want to make your goal easy to accomplish.

5. No one needs to validate your efforts – you’re only accountable to yourself, your muse, and the writing gods.

6. It can loosen a block. If you’re feeling blocked, it forces you to write at least a little bit, and sometimes, that’s all it takes to get the keyboard clacking.

7. It’s “official!” You get to explain to your family your “official” and “very important” challenge that you committed to as well as your “critical” time requirements.  This is extremely helpful in my family. If I simply want to write, I don’t get the same kind of time and space as when I sigh and inform them that I’ve made an “official commitment.”

8. You get a badge – even for an attempt to meet your goals. Here it is for your downloading pleasure (pixabay images):

Why am I telling you this?

Because I’m tending to a Ninny Rhino for the month of March. Want to join in? At the end of the month, I’ll set up a post so we can all share our successes in the comments. 🙂

 

 

3 Fiction-Writing Terms: Data Dump, Filter Word, Head Hopping

While some of us are pushing through the last week of Nanowrimo, noses to our keyboards, an editing-monster looms in our future, packing on problems like a glutton.

Kathy Wagoner wrote a great post clarifying three different writing terms that carry a lot of unwanted calories. These are often newbie problems, and I’ll confess that they gave my early writing serious indigestion. The good news is that after fixing them thousands of times (literally), I do a better job of avoiding them in the first place.

Are these important? Yes. All three of these can knock a reader out of the book or reduce a reader’s engagement by distancing them from the characters and story. For me, head-hopping will usually result in an unfinished read.

Even after years of vigilance, I still have to put my monster on the editing treadmill to trim away the fat and give my writing more muscle. Kathy did a thorough job of explaining the terms and providing examples. It’s worth clicking over for a look. 🙂

via 3 Fiction Writing Terms: Data Dump, Filter Word, Head Hopping

Gardeners and Architects

I’m working on the outline for my new trilogy, and it’s not going well. Summer is such a distraction, isn’t it?! The muse is not amused. I dug this post out of the 2015 archives to give me some inspiration. I hope you enjoy it.

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When I plunked down to write my first book, Myths of the Mirror, I was on a mission of discovery, led by the muse and sheer inspiration.

I had no plot in mind beyond a mental sketch of a couple things that could happen maybe sort of somehow. It was all incredibly vague, but what did I know? Nothing. I wrote like a woman obsessed, relishing every moment of my creative forage and traipsing along behind my characters down whatever path they chose to wander.

Halfway through my journey, a secondary character whom I was in the midst of killing off stood his ground. With the unwavering support of his companions, he argued that he should not only survive but should become a main character. “Oh, okay,” I said, and skedaddled back to the beginning of the book to start over. That happened a lot.

A year later, once every character had their say and did as they pleased, my masterpiece was almost 190,000 words long. Ta da! Ready to celebrate, I enlisted a few courageous readers.

Uh oh.

For the next two years, I peeled away words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and whole chapters! Deleted. Recycled. 65,000+ words forever gone. I felt as though I’d been flayed.

Then an editor wielded a red pen and lopped off another 4,000. After all the anguish and suffering, I had to finally admit it – I had a much better book.

Nature-Multicolor-Flowers-Garden-Summer-Bees-Depth-HD-PhotoGeorge R. R. Martin separates writers into Gardeners and Architects. Gardeners are discovery writers, planting seeds and digging around in the dirt of writing because they can’t wait to see what grows. They thrive on a process that is full of surprises and let their stories develop organically. To them, outlines feel like straitjackets, stifling the natural unfurling of character and action.

images (22)At the other end of the spectrum, Martin’s architects are outliners. Structure is key. Charts, graphs, and spreadsheets abound. Every step is planned in advance: the story’s try/fail cycles are mapped, the hero’s journey arcs through its phases, the turning points and pinches are set in stone. For outliners, the steps of each plot and subplot form the stairwells in a skyscraper. An architect has an eye on the penthouse and knows how to get there.

awesome-tree-houses-to-live-in-plextm4bAfter my trials and tribulations as a gardener, I brushed off my hands and applied a bit of architecture to my stories. I wouldn’t say I engineer skyscrapers – that’s still too much concrete for me. In my mind, my method is more akin to building tree-houses, leaving plenty of space for nature and play.

I plot out the story’s threads and set the characters off on their journey, letting them be who they are. Occasionally we have to negotiate and backtrack, but overall they cooperate. It’s collaborative; they know their goals and I know mine.

My guess is that most authors engage in a little gardening while they construct their cottages, fortresses, and stone towers. Or they have a few fences to keep the growing things safe from rabbits. How do you bring stories to life? Are you a Gardener? An Architect? A builder of tree-houses?