Friday, April 18, 2014

So what are you trying to say?


Just the thought of writing dialogue puts many writers into a manic panic. How do you find that other person's voice hiding inside of you? It's complicated and probably (as in totally) can't be addressed in a single post.

I met with my own critique group and we talked about the struggle in finding character voice and writing dialogue that rings true. When it's done well, it's not something you really notice. When it's not done well, it's all you can see. How can you hone your ear to find the truth in the voice of your characters? That's a good question, isn't it? It can be tricky--but it also can be done.

Here are some ideas for finding your character's voice.
  1. Read. Because the key to almost all writing struggles is studying craft, and what better way to study craft when that craft is words? Find books in the genre you're writing (or the closest thing to it) and read them. Skim your favorite books and pay attention to dialogue--how the back and forth is handled, tags or references to who's doing the talking--and consider how your dialogue compares. Young Adult dialogue is going to differ from Literary Fiction which differs from Romance which differs from Thrillers... you get the picure.
  2. Watch. Watch a movie or a sitcom or actual, real-live people in a coffee shop and pay attention to their words. The conversational highs and lows, the word choices, all of it. Maybe don't eavesdrop or be stalkery in any way, but pay attention. (Note: do not be a stalker! I do not advocate illegal or stalker-like activity when I say you should do this.)
  3. Listen. To yourself. How do you sound when you talk? Record your voice on the phone (not the other side of the conversation unless you have approval. Again--not advocating stalker-like or illegal behavior!)
  4. Write. Character outlines, back story, snippets and stories or bits related to your character but maybe not relevant to your story. It will help to flesh out your people.Your characters have had (most likely) many years of life which have led them to this time period you're writing about, and those years and experiences have formed them into the people they are now. Access those character lives, let yourself go a little and figure out your people.
  5. Research. What time or place is your character living in? These are things that would impact their speech patterns, word usage, general grammar. If you have a character living in 1800s France talking about "dropping it like it's hot," well, that's not really going to work, is it? 
What's your advice for writing dialogue that rings?

Friday, April 4, 2014

It's just a blog

You're just writing online--right? You don't have that many followers (maybe that's just me). It's not a big deal--I mean, it's just a blog, right?

It's not like it matters if you use good grammar when you write, or whether you check your post for typos or the like, or that your references are correct and your images captured and documented properly. It's just a blog, so it's not like it matters!

Well, of course it matters, silly.

When you hit "publish" on a blog post, it means something. Sending your words out there, those words make a statement about you: who you are, what you do. It matters that you are conscientious about what you say and how you say it.

Think of blogging as a very specific form of self publishing. Even if you self publish, you need to consider professional services such as design and editing, to ensure that your book is free of errors, that the formatting is not sloppy, that your images are legit. On a blog there is a lot more leeway--professional services need not be employed on your posts--but it still matters that you put your best foot forward.

Of course, language on a blog post can be more casual, and you'll find that speaking in your true voice brings authenticity to your posts (that's so very important--that's where connection happens), but you are a writer; proper grammar and usage should not be foreign to you.

Recently, I met with Stephanie Clinton (of Hugs, Kisses & Snot) to discuss blogging. Stephanie recently began to work with me on the Oklahoma Women Bloggers, so this is a pretty frequent topic of discussion for us. We both have a lot to say on the topic, and Stephanie is posting this video on her blog as part of her "Hugs, Kisses and Friends" Chat show

She produced a little video clip of our discussion (placed just below for your viewing pleasure).

Friday, March 21, 2014

Writerly Roundup

What are some things that help you with your writing? I've got a list of things that I appreciate.
Sunshine ... on my notebook ... makes me happy!

First, my toolkit. This is a very unofficial collection of items, carefully curated over the years and composed of things that I find myself turning to, no matter how many other writing tools I have to move out of the way to get to them. My list of most valuable pieces:
  1. Moleskine notebooks with the soft cover and the grid-printed sheets. The technical name for these is "Moleskine Cahier Navy Blue Extra Large Squared Journal," but no matter what you call them, I call them perfect. I use them for notes and have recently forsaken the paper day planner notebook that I researched and purchased in favor of a calendar of my own making in the grid of this notebook. I also use them to write either horizontally or vertically, depending on what I'm writing down, be it to-do lists or projects or whatever. And when I'm bored, I doodle in the squares. I splurged on the 3-pack (anytime you spend $20 on notebooks it's a splurge) several years ago and have been using these same sturdy notebooks ever since.
  2. For writing in my notebook, I prefer the blue Bic Crystal ballpoint pen. Medium point, I think. It's the one I will move all my other pens out of the way to find. The ink flow ratio is perfect and I absolutely love it when the paper in a notebook gets all crinkly from writing, and only a ballpoint pen gives it that feel. It feeds the OCD part of me.
  3. For editing my own writing or others, I turn to the red PaperMate Flair felt-tip pen. For a little while I was unable to find these, so now whenever I do find them, I buy them. I've got stashes of them everywhere (the true sign of an editor?). If I'm working with my critique group, I might use a less-harsh green or orange, maybe even purple or pink if I'm feeling jaunty. When plotting a NANOWRIMO book I picked up a collection of multi-colored Flair pens but as the project is languishing, I think that was just my subconscious justifying the purchase of said pens.
Next is ambiance. Maybe it's the spring fever talking, but sunshine is my friend right now. There's nothing that makes me happier right now than sitting in the sun (inside or out) and writing in a notebook. Well nothing except that and a giant cup of coffee. My current favorite writing place is in front of the large windows in my dine-in kitchen, where the walls are bright yellow and the windows face south. In another month or two, Oklahoma will ensure that the blinds stay closed most of the time, in a vain effort to keep the room cooler; but for now, I'll take the sun.

Great writing advice. Especially that which is provided by Chuck Wendig. He's the foul-mouthed genius and self-proclaimed freelance Penmonkey behind the Terribleminds blog. He's also the prolific writer of many titles, including 250 Things You Should Know About Writing, 500 Ways to Be a Better Writer, 500 Ways to Tell a Better Story and 500 More Ways to Be a Better Writer, among others. I've got these 4 e-book titles and highly recommend them if you are not offended by swearing and like straight-forward, intelligent advice.

Jazz is good. Jazz on vinyl is sublime.
More great writing advice--this one provided by Oklahoma blogger Marie Wreath on the Oklahoma Women Bloggers site. Under the theme of travel, Marie shared a senses inventory exercise, wherein she assesses all that she can hear, see, feel, smell, taste, touch and think at a given moment in time. I've yet to sit down and complete this exercise (it's spring break; my brain cells are far too divided) but I've been noticing myself taking this inventory as I go about my day. What a wonderful way to get present in the moment.

Remember when I said my brain cells were far too divided? Well, we all know that nothing soothes the savage breast like music, and currently when I need to focus, I'm digging instrumentals. Not like in the elevator music of old, but other music of old, like jazz. I got a record player for Christmas, and have since picked up some new/old vinyl--including a Miles Davis LP. I've listened to Kind of Blue for a long time when I needed that clear head space, figured it was time to branch out a bit. I've also discovered classical, which I've never really dipped too far into. But then I discovered these classical music collections on for a pittance (under $3 each for 100 songs) and I've built quite a collection. A great investment.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Careful Feeding

Good advice for life ... and writing.

Ever since we saw the movie Up!, this has been shorthand to explain how we are easily distracted. It's pretty universal, I think, as my kids use it, friends use it, it's the battle cry of the overtasked! And such easy, elegant advice for a writer.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

When is good for you?

Sometimes it seems like I just can't get out of my own way. I have things to say, important (maybe) things to say and an eloquent (maybe) way to say them. But when I sit down and put pen or pencil to paper or fingertips to keyboard, I get nada. Zilch, zero, zip.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Rose by Any Other Name

What's in a name? Well, I guess that depends on a lot of things. I am excited (a little giddy, actually) to announce that I was asked to serve as the Book Doctor for the 2014 Oklahoma Writers' Federation Inc (OWFI) conference. What does that mean?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Buzz Books: new releases

As the senior editor at Buzz Books, I've worked on books in various genres--YA, women's fiction, non-fiction, thriller, mystery--and it's my job to let the author shine. For the  most part, my job is done well when you can't tell it's done at all (with one rare exception--more on that in just a second).