Monday, November 30, 2009
These Shoes Don't Match
But they are both cute, aren't they? It's kind of like the information we find on the Internet; it doesn't always match up, but it makes sense. The blogging community is a great resource for the aspiring author. It's also a jungle of information that must be navigated through to get to the other side. So, I thought I'd spend the next couple of weeks discussing various contradictions I've come across in hopes that you will weigh in with your opinions. I'd really love to know what you think. Also, if there is something you would like to see discussed, please let me know either in a comment or through email. There is so much information to wade through out there that I think we can all benefit from each other's knowledge. That being said, I'd like to tell you how good it is to be back among my fellow bloggers. I came back to a couple of awards, and thank you, ladies. They were a nice surprise. My break was great, but I missed all of you and can't wait to get back into the swing of things. I did, however, accept the fact that the holiday season will be busier than other times of the year, and, if I want to get any writing done, I have to cut back on blogging for the month of December. So, I'll only be posting on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and don't be surprised if you see recurring shoe pictures. Is it just me, or do any of you feel added pressure this time of year? And remember, if you have any contradiction you've come across that you'd like discussed here, please let me know. I can't wait to reconnect with all of you. I'll be by soon.
Posted by Susan R. Mills at 8:00 AM 58 comments:
Monday, November 23, 2009
Due to the upcoming holiday and some family matters that I need to attend to, I've decided to take this week off from blogging. I look forward to reconnecting with you all when I return next Monday. Until then, I hope you have a wonderful week, and Happy Thanksgiving.
Friday, November 20, 2009
I'm Hanging Up My Shoes! November, Day 5
As most of you know, I've been taking a more relaxed approach to blogging this week. I'm not posting new shoe pictures, and I'm writing about the five words my friend Deb at Ranch Girl Ramblings gave me. Today's word is: SUNSETS. Most people think of endings when they think of sunsets. Which is true. After all, they do signify that the day is drawing to a close. But I prefer to think of a sunset as a sign that I made it through till the end of that day, good or bad. When we finish a novel, it's always bitter-sweet. It feels like something has ended, but, at the same time, it gives us confirmation that we can, and actually have, completed something. It also marks the point of a new beginning. How do you feel about sunsets? Are they a dreaded ending, or do they give you a sense of accomplishment? Have a great weekend!
Posted by Susan R. Mills at 8:00 AM 40 comments:
Thursday, November 19, 2009
I'm Hanging Up My Shoes! November, Day 4
My friend Deb at Ranch Girl Ramblings gave me five words to blog about this week. Today's word is: FOUNTAINS Well, lucky for me, I live in a suburb outside of Kansas City. One of the biggest tourist attractions around here is The Plaza (well, it used to be, anyway, until the casinos and the race track came along). The Plaza is known for its fountains. Who knew water falling could be so beautiful? This is what listening to the wisdom of others has done for my writing. Now, I'm not saying it's as beautiful as that fountain, but it's getting there. Thanks to my beta readers and books like The Fire In Fiction by Donald Maass, my words are starting to flow like fountains, rather than just fall flat from the sky. I want people to stop and admire my words, not rush for cover or shield them with an umbrella. What about you? Do your words fall on the page? Or do they flow?
Posted by Susan R. Mills at 8:00 AM 26 comments:
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I'm Hanging Up My Shoes! November, Day 3
If you are stopping by for the first time this week, I should warn you that I'm taking a pseudo-break, and all my posts are short and simple. I'm blogging about five words that Deb at Ranch Girl Ramblings gave me. Today's word is: WISDOM. Now, I don't consider myself a wise person, but I do consider myself someone who soaks up knowledge and learns from her mistakes. To me, wisdom is relative. There are plenty of people who know way more than I do, and some who undoubtedly know less. The key to wisdom is to accept our limitations and listen to those who know more than we do. What does this have to do with writing? Well, you know I'm going to tell you, don't you? When I wrote my first manuscript, I celebrated through the times when the words flowed effortlessly. I growled when they didn't, but continued to write anyway. And I jumped for joy as I wrote 'THE END'. So I was done, right? Well, I thought I was. This is where wisdom failed me. I ignored all the advice from those who knew more than me, and proceeded to query agents. Guess what? Not a good idea. I soon learned that the masterpiece I'd spent months laboring over wasn't as good as I thought it was, and I finally accepted my limitations and sought out knowledge from those wiser than me. By doing so, I embraced my own wisdom and have grown not only as a writer, but as a person as well. What does wisdom mean to you? Come back tomorrow for my thoughts on what is possible when we embrace the wisdom of others.
Posted by Susan R. Mills at 8:00 AM 34 comments:
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
I'm Hanging Up My Shoes! November, Day 2
If you were here yesterday, you know that I'm doing short, mindless posts this week. I'm blogging about five words that my friend Deb at Ranch Girl Ramblings gave me. Today's word is: MILESTONE So, you are writing along, the rain falling on your paper (or keyboard, these days), and BOOM!, you've got nothing. You trudge along anyway, just so you can make it to the end. The words are slow and labored, but eventually, you get to the last chapter, the last word, the last period. You, my friend, have hit a milestone. You have completed a novel. Whether it's your first or your fifteenth, it still feels good. But every milestone comes with a life lesson. It's up to you whether or not you learn from it. What milestone have you hit during your writing career? Join me tomorrow when I share the lessons I've learned.
Posted by Susan R. Mills at 8:00 AM 35 comments:
Monday, November 16, 2009
I'm Hanging Up My Shoes! November, Day 1
Yes, it's the third week of the month. It's the week B.J. Anderson calls 'Unplug Week'. It's the week I call 'I'm Hanging Up My Shoes Week'. Unlike B.J., I don't unplug from blogging completely, I just take a step back. I don't scramble to find interesting shoe pictures to go with my posts, and I don't spend a lot of time coming up with a topic to write about. So, please, accept my apology in advance. Before I get on with the rest of this post, I'd like to thank Donald Maass for stopping by here and leaving a comment on my post about hyperbole. (Who says agents and editors don't read our blogs?) He was one of the last to comment that day, so if you missed it, you can read it here. He was the anonymous commenter toward the end. He offered some additional insight that I think you will find helpful. If you get a chance, go take a look. Okay, so this week, I'll be blogging about five words that my friend Deb at Ranch Girl Ramblings gave me. Today's word is: RAIN. Rain reminds me of the days when I first start writing a manuscript. (You knew I'd take the writing angle on this, didn't you?) The words just seem to fall on the page effortlessly. Ah, if only the rain would last forever. What part of writing does rain remind you of? Tune in tomorrow for what happens when the sky dries up.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Tension With Every Step
If this tightrope slackens, the person walking on it could lose balance and fall. She may regain that balance and make it across, but why risk it? Why not ensure it by keeping the rope tight? This is the same for our stories. If we don't keep the line taut, our readers could fall and never make it to the end. So what keeps a reader intent on making it to the end? Well, in The Fire In Fiction, Donald Maass says that it's micro-tension that keeps a reader reading. It's not the major conflict in the story, although we need that too, but it's the constant tension. It's making the reader anticipate what's going to happen in the next few seconds, not just what's going to happen at the end of the book, or even the end of the chapter. Maass gives great suggestions for adding micro-tension into even the most ho-hum scenes, but it all comes down to conflicting emotions. Dialogue, exposition, and even action scenes often lack the punch they could have because they lack the micro-tension, they lack the emotional conflict, they lack the fire. Over the past three weeks, I've been discussing what I've learned from Mr. Maass. I saved this for last because I think it is the most important. Micro-tension can bring any scene to life, and it's what makes a reader not want to put a book down. After reading The Fire In Fiction, I not only have a whole new outlook on writing, but I also have a new zest for writing. I hope you feel it too. Have a great weekend free of micro-tension, unless, of course you're writing. And in that case, I hope it's filled with it.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
These Shoes Make Me Laugh
Okay, they really only make me giggle, but still, they get a reaction out of me. I can just picture the poor woman walking down the street, tilting backward because it's impossible to stand up straight. Seriously, is that Barbie wearing them? Every novel, even the most serious one, should at least garner that--a giggle or two. So how do we manage to bring in a little bit of humor? Donald Maass gives us some suggestions in The Fire In Fiction. Hyperbole: Take similes and metaphors; then exaggerate them into the outrageous and unexpected. Irony: Don't be afraid to point it out, build it up, and have your characters react to it. Overreaction: Let your characters have over-the-top reactions to the little catastrophes. These are only a snippet of what Maass talks about, but the bottom line is, exaggerate at some level. Maass says, "Even a serious novel needs to occasionally exaggerate for effect." Well, you heard him. Go exaggerate!
Posted by Susan R. Mills at 8:00 AM 42 comments:
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Are These Shoes For Real?
Interesting, aren't they? I have a hard time believing anyone would wear them. But, what do I know? Maybe the woman is wearing them out of respect for her recently departed grandmother who designed them. Or, perhaps the man sitting across from her threatened to kill her if she didn't wear them, and she believed him because he killed her best friend last week over the same thing. It could be that, in the society she lives, these shoes are common. If we have unbelievable scenarios in our writing, it is our job as authors to answer these questions for our readers. Otherwise, they won't ever believe. In The Fire In Fiction, Donald Maass discusses this issue in reference to suspense/thriller, but I think his concepts hold true for any genre. To make a reader believe the unbelievable, we have to do three things: 1. Make our protagonist's motivations clear and give them a reason to feel whatever it is they are feeling, which in turn gives them a reason to act the way they do. Then, in the words of Maass, "Pump it up." 2. Make our antagonist's motivations clear and understandable (they can't just be evil for the sake of being evil), and then put some obstacles in his/her way. 3. Come up with every possible argument against the believability of plot and negate it with proof (even if contrived) that it could happen and is, in fact, happening. I've had to work with this issue. Again, just ask my beta readers. But, I'll tell you this: Any far-fetched story can become believable with a little work. So, do you write safe in the believable? Or do you test the waters? If so, what have you done to make your readers believe?
Labels: Believability, On Writing
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Yes, I've used this sock puppet picture before. It was lame then, and it's lame now, but it does have a voice. Where does that voice come from? Well, it comes from the person whose hand is inside it. Same goes for our writing. Voice comes from the author. According to Donald Maass in The Fire In Fiction, this voice is often stifled for some reason or another. Maass discusses our character voice and our narrative voice, but the bottom line for both is that every single one of us has opinions, so let them show instead of trying to hide them. This is where the fire comes in. This is where our stories stand apart. It's in the way we tell them. Our voice doesn't come from our words. Maass says it comes from our "outlook, opinions, details, delivery, and original perspectives". What I take from this is that there is no secret formula for creating voice. It's something that we each need to come up with on our own. There is no right or wrong here, but there is interesting and boring. Which one do you want to be?
Monday, November 9, 2009
Bringing Our Settings To Life
This picture wouldn't be near as interesting without the feet. It would just be a picture of a big, ugly mud puddle. The feet make us feel the dirt and the water, the glee in the young boy's heart as mud cakes to his toes, and the freedom of summer. It may even create anticipation of what the poor boy's mother is going to do when he comes in the house and leaves muddy footprints across her newly installed white wall-to-wall carpet. Have you ever been reading a book and come across a descriptive passage about setting and skimmed right over it? I have. Many times. So how do we describe our settings without boring our readers? Well, according to Donald Maass in The Fire in Fiction, the key is to bring the setting to life through our characters eyes. Much like this photo is brought to life by the feet running through the mud, our settings can come alive by how they affect our characters. Ask yourself this: What emotions does the setting invoke in my characters? How do my characters' feelings about this place change over time? Do my characters' opinions about the world they live in affect how they view this setting? If you can answer these questions and convey the result, you'll be off to a great start. This is a struggle for me. I have to work hard to make my settings come alive. Just ask my beta readers. Lucky for me, Maass devotes a whole chapter to this and includes some invaluable exercises to help us through this. How do you make your settings come alive?
Posted by Susan R. Mills at 8:00 AM 47 comments:
Friday, November 6, 2009
The Tornado Effect
Growing up in Oklahoma and Kansas allowed me to witness the effect tornadoes have first hand. Whether it passes over you, touches down briefly, or barrels through relentlessly, it has an impact on every single person who experiences it. In The Fire In Fiction, Donald Maass, talks about the importance of 'big' events in a novel. He indicates that many of the manuscripts he's read over the years lack a big event. So, what makes for a big event? Well, Maass describes it as one that causes a tornado effect. A big event is one that impacts multiple characters like a tornado affects many residents of the town it plows through. To make a big event meaningful, though, the author must portray the changes it causes in everyone in its path. Do you have a big event in your novel? Have you portrayed its effect on everyone involved? As you ponder that, go buy the book, and have a great weekend!
Posted by Susan R. Mills at 8:00 AM 57 comments:
Thursday, November 5, 2009
These Shoes Draw Attention...
...coming and going. The leopard print toe is odd enough, but the heel with the fish in it? Really? We all know that the first and last lines of our manuscripts (even of our chapters) are important. They should leave a lasting effect on the reader, and unlike these shoes, it should be a good one. In The Fire In Fiction, Donald Maass points out that the first and last lines of each and every scene are just as important. A good first line should create anticipation (tension) in the reader, and a good last line should not only close out the scene, but it should also leave the reader wondering what will happen next. I've tried to make the first and last lines of each chapter memorable (some attempts more successful than others), but what about every scene? This is another area I'm focusing on during my revisions. How much attention have you paid to the first and last lines of each and every scene?
Posted by Susan R. Mills at 8:00 AM 47 comments:
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
These Shoes Are Going Somewhere
They may be going toward something, or away from something, but they are going somewhere. This is how our scenes should be. One of my favorite quotes in The Fire In Fiction by Donald Maass is this: "Most instruction in writing scenes begins with the sound advice, send your character into the scene with a goal. Well, duh." Of course we all know this, but do we always apply it? According to Mr. Maass, many manuscripts fall short here, especially in the middle. So, why does this happen? If I understand Maass correctly, it is because we fail to define what it is that our POV character wants out of the scene, and, thus, our readers don't go into it with any expectations or hope for the outcome. In other words, something has to be on the line for our character, or the reader isn't going to care. Bottom line is, we need to clearly define what our character's wants are for each and every scene, and the outcome should either advance he/she toward that goal or push he/she further away from that goal. But there has to be movement in some direction. Have you looked closely at your character's wants? Is each scene a step forward or a step back in satisfying those wants? I don't know about you, but this is something I will be paying close attention to.
Posted by Susan R. Mills at 8:00 AM 40 comments:
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Inner and Outer Appeal
These shoes have both. I know. I know. I've already used this picture before, but it's perfect for today's post, and I thought you were all forgiving people. These shoes look good on the outside and are so comfy on the inside. How many shoes can you say that about? According to Donald Maass in The Fire In Fiction, our middle scenes should have both outer and inner turning points. In other words, each scene should cause two things: an outer change that everyone can see, and a change within the POV character. Maass thinks this can make the difference between a scene that can be cut and one that must stay. He suggests that we break each scene down and pinpoint the exact outer turning point, and then match it with an inner turning point. It makes sense, doesn't it? Especially when you have these scenes in the middle that are only there to advance the plot. You can breathe fire into them by revealing how the POV character is changed by the scene, thus giving it a whole new purpose. I have many scenes in my middle that are necessary to advance the plot or shed light on the situation at hand, but they are bland. In looking at them, if I take this advice to heart, they could become crucial, unforgettable scenes. What about you? Are your scenes loaded with both outer and inner appeal?
Posted by Susan R. Mills at 8:00 AM 38 comments:
Monday, November 2, 2009
Shoes I Must Keep
Do you remember my series of posts about organizing my shoe shelf and how it reminded me of revisions? If not you can read them here, here, here, here, and here. Anyway, this picture is the result. (Well, partial result. I couldn't get the whole shelf in the picture, but you get the idea.) Every single pair of shoes that I kept had to stay. They each served a purpose. This is how the scenes in our writing should be. Each one should serve a purpose. In The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass discusses this at length and points out that authors often fail at this, especially in the middle parts of the book. It is drilled into our heads how important beginnings and endings are, so we tend to focus on these areas. But aren't our middles just as important? Maass gives us tips for making our middle scenes just as unforgettable as our beginnings and endings, and I'll be discussing this topic for the rest of the week. According to Maass, dialogue is a powerful tool during our middle scenes. It can help define the purpose of the scene; it can help build tension; and it can pump fire into otherwise forgettable scenes. Yes, it can do all of this, if it is strong and taut. So, how do we accomplish that? Well, Maass suggests stripping our dialogue down, and then pumping it back up. In other words, get rid of all incidental action and any unnecessary attributives. If the action doesn't tell the reader something, and the attributive isn't needed for clarification, it only bogs down the scene. Are your middle scenes as pumped up as your beginnings and endings, or could they use a little work? Have you tried tightening up the dialogue? On another note, I'd like to thank those of you who have recently given me an award. I am flattered and grateful. You guys are the best!
Posted by Susan R. Mills at 8:00 AM 45 comments:
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