Thursday, September 27, 2012

Grammar Goddesses

My mom was a high school English teacher and I had correct grammar in both speaking and writing  drilled into me since I was able to speak and write. This has been a huge asset to me as an author. I often, but not always, know when grammar sounds/looks/is correct or incorrect, but I don't always know why it is.
    I have two writer friends, amazing women, who help edit and critique my work. Both of them know everything abut grammar.  When they edit and critique they don't just write: "This needs to be worded this way," or "This sentence has to be structured like that." They explain why and cite the grammar rules that apply. One of them includes "for further reference" the exact section of the Chicago Manual of Style where the rule can be found!
     Sometimes I want to be like them. Other times I think it is much more practical and useful just to know them and be forever grateful for their knowledge and willingness to share it and educate fellow writers. I am blessed to have such incredibly talented people in my group of writing peers.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Maybe It's Not Poor Spelling...

I have mentioned before that I have come to rely on spell check when writing blog posts. (Word always auto corrects me before I realize there was an error).  This is rarely because I use a word I don't know how to spell. I am one of those writers who will occasionally change a word or an entire sentence to avoid looking up spelling or correct usage.
    Most of the words I misspell are the same words, common words, known (at least in education) as "commonly misspelled words" or "spelling demons". (That term is a story waiting to be written...) I have begun to wonder if my brain actually spells the word wrong or if the problem is really typos. Does my brain know the correct spelling and my finger's muscle memory just ignore the brain's messages and type it incorrectly? Does it matter?
     What I really need is grammar check; something more than Words occasional "Fragment - consider revising" or useless highlighting of grammar issues without explanation, leaving me to figure out what the problem is. Perhaps my writing peer Grammar Goddesses could create a program for that.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Character Interviews

I am a big fan of character interviews. Even more than author interviews, they can give potential readers a great introduction to your book. But only if they are done well. I read one recently on a writer's blog that was not. The character gave no details about his adventures except to say they were difficult and he had scars. The only impression I got about the character was that he was a surly whiner.
     A writer fb friend recently posted that she wanted to do a character interview, but never knew what questions to ask. I feel the same way. I once thought that I could just read other's character interviews to get some ideas, but that doesn't work. The questions have to be tailored to reveal what it is you want to show about the story or the characters.
    I have been working on my first character interview to put on my book website. I'm looking for things that are unique about the story and the characters and trying to formulate questions around those things. It's a slow process as many questions and responses are considered and rejected - probably not unlike how a journalist decides what part of an interview gets included in an article.
   I've seen character interviews done two ways: in a simple question and answer format or like magazine articles - "When I first met so-and-so, we were meeting in the lobby of...". Again, I think the method has to be chosen according to how you want the characters and story portrayed.
   It's not a bad idea to consider interviews with secondary characters, especially if they are important to the plot or just add a significant aspect, like amusing, quirky sidekick or knowledgeable advisor to the protagonist(s). These characters can offer insights and perspective that the heroes and heroines may not be able to.
     If nothing else, it is said that interviewing your characters, even if you don't share this with fans and or potential readers, is a great way to become more familiar with your characters. If you learn something new about them, it may help improve characterization or give you new plot ideas.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Believing In Yourself

At the last horse show I competed in, I rode my young horse, Turner. It was his first show and he won Reserve Champion in his division. My veteran show horse, Nessee, who injured herself four days before the competition, won Reserve Champion in her division in her first two shows this year and Grand Champion her third time out.
     I was delighted with Turner's performance and as well as complimenting him, many people commented on how well I had ridden. They frequently do. I never feel as if I ride very well, certainly not as well as I think I could/should. I always give the credit to my horses and my great luck in having been blessed with wonderful horses.
   At this particular show, a friend of many years pointed out to me that I have always trained my own horses from the very start. In many cases, I bred and raised most of them. This is true. It's possible others are right and I'm wrong. Evidence points that way.
  While I believe I am a good trainer and riding instructor and I do well working with young horses and both child and adult students, I still feel I'm not a very good rider. I think many writers are this way about our work. When others praise our writing, it's easy to discount their opinions for whatever reason. When our work wins contests or gets published, we often feel it was just luck.
   Maybe we feel that even though a piece of writing is successful, indicating that it is good writing, we feel it isn't good enough. But if we are writing the best we can, our work is as good as it can be for the skill level we are at when we write it. Which means it IS the best it can be, if not as good as it could be if we wrote it when we have more practice, education and experience. We need to understand that and understand that our work will continue to improve.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Short vs. Long Blog Posts

I read somewhere (I do that a lot) that blog posts should be short; that's supposed to be the nature of a blog. Some people may disagree and people have different opinions of what "short" is.
     Personally, I prefer to read blog posts that are only a few paragraphs. It's possible that is just because of my short attention span.  I do enjoy well-written longer posts, but it is my belief - if not something I'm good at - that a talented writer should be able to get a point across successfully in a small number of words. Some of the blogs I read that have longer posts are awesome and have great messages or information. But some are very wordy and I feel could have been written more succinctly.
     I try to keep my posts short. Part of the trick to that is choosing topics that can be written about briefly while still being covered adequately. This is good practice for writing skills in general.
    However, I also wonder: what is considered too short?  If a post is very short, that might imply that the topic wasn't significant enough to warrant writing about. Or that not enough was shared and/or the topic wasn't sufficiently covered.
    I believe that certain ideas or information can be shared with very few words. I'm a big fan of sharing adages; they are short and some of them are potent. And there are things that cannot be said in too few words. As with most things, there's a balance to be achieved. Yet another writing skill to be worked on and improved.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Why Beta Readers?

I'm not asking "Why have them?" I'm wondering why they are called beta readers when they are also known as first readers. Shouldn't they be called alpha readers?
     I understand that writers/authors are the alpha readers because we are control freaks and very protective of our work and careful about who we share it with.  But it still makes more sense to me to call first readers "alpha readers" or beta readers "second readers."   
     Whatever they are called, beta readers are important and they must understand how important they are. A writer needs a beta reader that takes a vested interest in a work's well-being; who truly cares about the author and wants the book or story to be the absolute best it can be.
     My beta reader is my awesome oldest niece. She is currently doing her job on my second book. She wasn't the first reader of my first book and she should have been. She didn't read it until after it was published and has been taking notes and giving advice on how it can be improved and problems with the plot or characters that no one else - even me - noticed or mentioned. (Fortunately, one of the great things about e-publishing is the ability to edit/rewrite and then republish the improved edition.)
     It's better if a writer doesn't find out after their book is published that they need a beta reader. Having more than one beta reader is also good. (Maybe this is  why they are called beta readers? There can be only one alpha, but any number of betas.) It may take a false start or two to find the right beta reader, but once a writer has one (or more), they should appreciate what a blessing it is.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Time Management

I started a new job this week, a few months after having lost my wonderful job working for a book seller whom I really like and with co-workers I really like. I think I will really like my new job and most of the people, though it is a huge company, unlike the staff of four that I was part of previously.
     While I was between jobs, I did not use my free time for writing as much as I should have. During the first part of my unemployment I did finish my second book, which is now being reviewed by my beta reader before being published. But since then I haven't written much at all, and except for blogging, have not had any kind of regular writing routine.
    There has been a lot going on: visit to my dad, moving my father-in-law (by his choice) into - and subsequently (also by his choice) out of  - assisted living, competing in horse shows again for the first time in three years, cousins wedding, job searching, finding contract work to keep paying the bills, etc. But mostly the problem is that once I get off schedule or routine, I struggle to get back to it.
    My last job had set hours 9-5 M-F. My new job has hours and days that change every week. Schedules are posted two weeks in advance, but this will be a huge challenge for my already weak time-management skills.
     I like to feel that once I am less stressed and frantic about regular income and stop doing extra projects and things that I wanted to accomplish before I started working again, that I will settle into my new working life enough to begin writing regularly. Having to schedule my writing at different times of the day and on changing days off will be a struggle for me. But I'm always talking about improving one's writing skills and one of the writing skills I always need to work on is self-discipline and managing writing time. A challenge is usually a good thing.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tense And Point of View

I read somewhere that writing in the first-person is harder than writing in third, and that first-person narration should not be attempted by beginning writers. I disagree with this. I feel it is easier to keep the correct perspective when writing from the "I" point of view.
     I know this isn't always true, even for me. My critique buddies often cite me for having my protagonist mention something she couldn't possibly know. But first person narration is much easier than trying to keep the correct point of view when writing in third person, where it's too easy to just mention things that would only be seen or understood by someone who is not the main character.
    Regardless of preference or writing ability, some books and stories are more suited to one type of narration or point of view than others. The Sherlock Holmes books wouldn't work nearly as well if written in any other way than from Watson's first-person perspective.
   I have also read that present tense is very common/popular in stories and books. I find this hard to believe. I read a lot and very rarely come across anything written in present tense.
    It is said that present tense is great for giving a story a sense of immediacy, which is something I didn't fully understand until recently. I have just now finished (seemingly after everyone else on the planet already had) reading The Hunger Games Trilogy, which is written in the present tense. The few times I've read stories in this tense, it always felt awkward to me. It works so well in The Hunger Games, I was hardly aware of it.
     Random observation: Another thing I noticed in  Hunger Games - and think is unusual and possibly advised against - is that many of the tag lines are written as, "says Peeta" or "says Cinna", rather than the more common "Peeta says." or "Cinna says.". Because of the nature of the story, the setting and atmosphere, this also feels right, where it might not in other works of fiction.