Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Very Good Excuse...

I would like to apologize to my readers for the recent drought at this blog. I hope after reading this post you will forgive me.

Now, I would like to do something a little uncharacteristic for this blog and talk about some personal news.

During my absence, I gave birth to my second son, Thomas. He weighed in at 7 pounds, 8 ounces. He has had a few bumps and had to take a few tests, but has come out of them healthy as can be. I must admit that I am still adjusting to life with a two-year-old son and a newborn. I continue to be surprised that we are now a family of four. My oldest son, Cole, has handled the newest addition well. He enjoys being the big helper, bringing us Baby Thomas' blanket and pacifier. He especially likes to hold his little brother. So far, there are no signs of jealousy, which I am thankful for. Thomas is feeding well and starting to sleep a little longer at night (which means I am getting a little more sleep, too).

I hope to be able to post a little more frequently going forward--maybe not two times a week as I was averaging during the Spring, but a month should not pass again without a post. Thanks for your patience and understanding.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Link Slushpile #5

Thanks for joining me for today's The Link Slushpile or 'Hoops, Posts, Popularity, Comments, and Silliness.'

I apologize about the long absence. I have been traveling the past few weeks for work and though I have kept up with reading my regular blogs, I have not had the time for posting. But now that things are calming down, I should hopefully get into routine again. Thanks for your patience.

Some aspiring writers have expressed frustration at the feeling that agents are making them jump through proverbial hoops in order for their query to be respectfully considered. Literary agent Nathan Bransford addresses this by proposing instead that agents are really just trying to give writers some helpful hints on how to succeed.

If you are wondering what part (if any) of your manuscript is safe to post online, Editorial Ass has the answer.

Curious as to how popular your website or blog is, check out this website: Link Popularity Check. As mentioned in other posts of mine, Technorati is another blog popularity site.

Kathy Temean at Writing and Illustrating offers 10 steps to increase comments to your blog postings (hint: I'd love to have some this way, too). :-P

Finally, just for fun, here are 25 hilarious examples of analogies gone wrong (my favorites are: '#7--He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.' and '#20--The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.').

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Many Mistresses of My Nightstand #2--April 2009

Just a reminder from last month:

Reading (and reading widely, both within your genre and without) is crucial for writers, helping them to develop basic skills and to craft a personal style of writing.

In this thread, I include titles I have been reading throughout the month, from most recent backwards. Feel free to post yours in the comment section. Be sure to warn us if you were not satisfied with a particular read.

To make it easy for readers to check out your recommendations, please include a live, clickable link with your comment [Amazon links are great, because the provide both reviews and a means of purchase]. There are two ways to add a link: first, you can compose your comment as a new blog post, add the links in the usual way, then copy it, HTML and all, into the comments section here; or you can write it yourself like this:

[a href="http://paste.amazon.address.here"]write title of book here[/a]

Don't forget to change the web address and name the title of the book. Then replace those two pairs of square brackets [] with pointy ones <>, or the link won't work.

Here is my rather large feast from April 2009:
Okay. Only 8 of the 12 books I read this month are middle-grade novel length or longer (5 MG/YA fiction and 2 adult fiction); the remaining selections include one audio book (which I 'read'--listened to--in the car on the way to work) and three picture books.

I purposefully included a sample of the market research I have been doing within my genre (children's picture books). Each of the three I listed above stood out of the crowd of other PB titles I read this month. Reading within my genre allows me to objectively pinpoint what works (and what doesn't work) and helps me to tailor my own style of picture book writing. Don't neglect market research. It can be a valuable exercise to propel your writing to the next level.

So now that I've shared, what have you read this month?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Link Slushpile #4

Welcome to this edition of The Link Slushpile or 'What You Are Doing Wrong, Why You Don't Have an Agent, How Twitter Helps, and What to Blog About.'

Holt Uncensored offers the '10 mistakes writers don't see (but can easily fix when they do).' The list focuses on signs of poor writing and common errors in crafting a manuscript. This is a Must-Read article and would be especially beneficial for authors working on a first-draft or in the midst of a re-write. Check it out. You won't be disappointed.

Aspiring author Tara Lazar at Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) posted on 'how not to land an agent' based on what she learned from Twitter's #queryfail (see this link for comments on #queryfail from BookEnds agent Jessica Faust). Tara also summarized the informal agent Q&A at this week's #queryday event. Great info, Tara!

If you twitter (or have been debating whether or not to join the club) this one's for you. Jennifer Blanchard over at Copyblogger posted a short, but interesting piece on 'how twitter makes you a better writer.'

Are you sometimes at a loss at what to blog about? Check out Casey McCormick's quick list of blog topics for writers and let the inspiration flow.

Remember to keep track of what you have been reading this month for 'The Many Mistresses of My Nightstand,' which will be posted on April 30. I've already got ten titles on my list. How are you coming along?

Happy Saturday!

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Link Slushpile #3

Maybe this edition of The Link Slushpile should be subtitled 'Meet an Agent, Know What to Expect from One, and Why You Haven't Found One Yet.'

Aspiring writer and visitor to this site, Casey McCormick, started a regular feature on her blog Literary Rambles called 'Agent Spotlight.' Every Thursday she posts a detailed snapshot of an agent that represents middle-grade and/or young adult fiction (often along with other genres such as children's picture books or contemporary adult fiction). Casey supplements basic agent info with quotes, interview links, average response times, and personal feedback from blog readers. As of today, she already has six entries. If you are on the hunt, here is a good place to get some real meat.

While we are on the topic of agents, literary agent Rachelle Gardner dishes some dirt on her industry by providing writers with a list of 10 things you should expect from your agent (and 4 things you should not expect them to do for you).

Finally, writer Nicola Morgan at Help! I NEED a Publisher (And Maybe and Agent...?) posted four simple possibilities of why you have not been picked up by a publisher yet. The consensus is that 'You have not sent the right book to the right publisher in the right way at the right time.' The same principle can apply for why you have not been signed by an agent. Check it out to find out just what she means.

That's it for today!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

One-Year Blogiversary

Today is my One-Year Blogiversary! Cue the balloon-drop and minuscule confetti that I will still find next week in my brush.

Okay, okay. I admit that this is a bit of a weak blogiversary, considering that this blog got off to a rocky start only to enter the dark ages before emerging into the current time of plenty. Next year's celebration will be much better, I promise.

But for now, thank you readers, commenters, and followers for believing in this Little Blog that Could. More importantly, thank you for sharing this site with others. You're the best!

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Art of 'Showing' Vs. 'Telling'

Show of hands--how many of you have received critiques (and/or rejections) stating that your manuscript felt plot-driven and not character-driven? That you were telling rather than showing? Now, how many of you don't know what that really means?

Thanks for the moment of self-reflection and honesty. It's okay; you can breathe again. Today I'm going to tackle the all-important dichotomy of 'Showing' versus 'Telling.' Bear with me, understanding this concept will revolutionize your writing and lead to stronger, more compelling manuscripts.

Let's first define what we are talking about with a simple example. Read the following sentence:

"Mmmm...pie," Rachel said hungrily.

Seems pretty straight-forward, huh? Yes and no. It does cut to the chase and tell the reader that Rachel is hungry, but it falls flat. In other words, it's rather boring and doesn't grab the reader and entice him to continue. Now consider this:

Rachel eyed the pie and zipped across the room to where it sat on the counter, tempting her with its sticky, sweet aroma.

A bit more exciting, right? There are a couple of things at work here. First, I took out the unnecessary dialogue (dialogue in itself is okay, as long as it is furthering the story, which the previous example was not). Second, I used interesting action verbs. Notice, I resisted the temptation to write 'immediately zipped,' because it would have been redundant ('zipped' implies quick movement). Third, I added detail. Now the reader knows it was the pie's aroma that enticed her to hunger for it. This version gives the reader a better sence of the main character. She yearns for the pie--lusts after it even--but she is withholding. Maybe Rachel's on a diet. Here is a way to show the readers she is on a diet without actually having to tell them she is. The revised sentence also helps the reader to visualize the scene. If you close your eyes, you can actually picture this happening (more so that the first draft).

Do you get it now? I'm beginning to see the lightbulb above your head. Let's take it a step further. In both versions, the same thing is happening (more or less)--the main character hungers after a pie--therefore, the subplot here is identical. It is the characterization that leaps of the page in the second example. This illustrates the connection between the show/tell dichotomy and the character-/plot-driven one. A novel that mostly tells will feel like a plot summary to a reader. But a story that shows action and details about the characters within scenes will come alive for the reader.

This is what agents and editors are looking for. The problem arises when we, as writers, assume we are doing this right, rather than take a reality check. Here's what you need to do: flip (or scroll) to a random page in your manuscript. Now look line by line. Are you showing or telling? Consider the following:
  • Count the number of -ly words on the page (in Word you can highlight the section and find for 'ly'). Could these adverbs be replaced with stronger action verbs? Are they redundant, as in the 'immediately zipped' example? Would your readers be able to gather the same information without that word (i.e., from another sentence)?
  • Is there dialogue that is unnecessary? Does each line of dialogue further the plot or add to a character in some way? Does the dialogue fall flat? Is there another way to express the scene using action verbs and no dialogue?
  • When introducing a new character, do you give a laundry list of character-traits (i.e., Rachel is bossy, mean, a know-it-all)? How can you show these traits throughout your novel without having to list them?
  • Are there places/opportunities to add quirky details about your characters (without telling)?
  • Are the scenes easy to visualize? How can you add detail and 'show' what's really happening in a way that comes alive for the reader?
Whew. Now you may think your done, but you're not. If you noticed a lot of 'telling' on your page and ended up rewording quite a bit, then I recommend an entire manuscript revision. Ouch, I know. But look at how much stronger that one page is and see what your novel can become. If your sample page excelled at 'showing' and you changed little to nothing, you're still not done. Pick another page at random. Repeat this several times and at different places within the text. If you are noticing the same quality of writing, give yourself a pat on the back. You're still not done. Tricked you, didn't I? Now take a really close look at your opening and closing chapters. These are the easiest places to make these kinds of mistakes--when you are setting up or wrapping up a novel. Don't feel forced to overly introduce or summarize details that could be incorporated at a different point in the manuscript. Still perfect? Then either you are lying or you are ready for submission.

Nope, just kidding. You've got one more thing to do. Gotcha again. Now you must look at your query with the same critical eye for 'showing' versus 'telling.' Agents want to read the voice of your manuscript in the query. After all that revising, why give them a query that summarizes your plot without 'showing' them your characters? Liven it up!

Here are some helpful resources to aid you on your way:

One of the best discussions on this issue can be found at QueryTracker. Several rules of thumb are given (with accompanying examples) and practice exercises are also included. Make sure to read their blurb at the end which mentions those times when 'telling' is appropriate.

Barbara Poelle wrote a great article entitled 'Traiting Up' about how to use quirks to create a deep, rich, and believable character. This is a MUST READ if you are receiving rejections from agents stating that your manuscript sounds plot-driven and not character-driven. Heck, this is a MUST READ for all writers.

The Fractured Keyboard details how to spot and avoid those pesky adverbs. She also goes into why they don't work and gives examples of how to rewrite without them.

Author Marsha Skrypuch gives her Five Word Rule for Dialogue, a great guide for cutting out unnecessary dialogue that might be slowing down your manuscript (and thereby committing the sin of telling, instead of showing). Note: not all dialogue is unnecessary--just the dialogue that does not further the plot or characterization of your cast.

This is a lot to learn, but once a writer masters this, it changes the way you write (and rewrite--which is just as important).

UPDATE (04/07/09): After creating this post, I started a new thread on the Children's Writers and Illustrators Message Board about 'Showing' versus 'Telling.' Several members of the site provided a great exchange on the topic. Check out this post's comment section to read some examples provided by Verla Kay, creator of CWIMB, and contributing member Harrietthespy.

UPDATE (04/09/09): Literary agent Rachelle Gardner posted an excellent article about why it is important to SHOW in your query and not TELL.

UPDATE (04/10/09): Writer Elle Scott over at Writing Advice for the Absolute Newbie describes when and how to use speech tags (i.e., "Mmmm...pie," Rachel said hungrily). Poor use of speech tags can equate to 'telling,' but when used appropriately (and sparingly) they can liven up a section of dialogue.

UPDATE (04/14/09): Blogger and aspiring author T. Anne (from White Platonic Dreams) summarized an article on '9 signs you're telling, not showing.' Examples are given for each symptom, as well as ways to switch the telling into showing.