Thursday, January 31, 2008


I had a seriously blah day today... and yesterday for that matter... come to think of it and Tuesday as well. I had this "energy" work done on me on Tuesday. I was so excited. But since then all I feel is BLAH... I was actually better before having the "work" done. Now I haven't written in three days and all I want to do is sleep.

Usually going for a walk with my dog snaps me right out of it and floods my mind with a zillion ideas, but even that didn't work.

So how about it? When you are feelign BLAH and just not full of words, what gets those words flowing again?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Rules of Critiquing; On being Critiqued and on Giving a Critique

Recently, the question came up, for the rules of being critiqued.

When is it OK for the writer to explain or defend their work?
Well, to be blunt... NOT DURING A CRITIQUE!
My feeling is this, if you have to explain your work, then your writing is not clear enough. After all, you are not going home with every reader to explain what you meant anytime they are confused. So, if someone is telling you they were confused, or something didn't make sense to them, LISTEN. Tuck it away in that little file cabinet in your brain. See if anyone else offers you the same comment too. Chances are, if you hear the same comment a few times, they are probably right, and you probably really do need to go back and fix this area.

Critquers are not always going to tell you what you are longing to hear. They are not always going to understand what you have written and they are not always going to love your writing. OR your story for that matter... But, it is much more beneficial to be in a group of writers who feel free to speak their true mind so your writing can be all it can be.

The best thing you can do for yourself during a critique is listen. Take notes and ask questions at the end. You do not have to agree with what they say. You do not have to do what they suggest. You can take their comments or leave their comments. That is up to you. All you have to do is listen.

These are the rules I wrote up and handed out to the writer's group I organize in Hunterdon County NJ.

On Being Critiqued...

  1. LISTEN; the worst thing writer’s do is defend their story and thus are not opened to receive some potentially insightful information. So remember, breathe and listen.
  2. HOLD YOUR COMMENTS UNTIL THE END. If you are afraid you will forget, jot your thoughts down as you are listening.
  3. AGREEING vs. DISAGREEING; you DO NOT have to take every piece of advice you get. You can feel it in your gut when someone’s advice rings true to the story YOU are trying to tell. So if someone says something you don’t agree with, just listen, and move on.
  4. QUESTION; once someone is done giving their opinion, ask anything you are unsure about. Ask for clarity if you need it, or ask if you can email them or call them on the phone. Or if there is time at the end of the meeting, approach the person then.
  5. GENERAL CRITIQUE vs. SPECIFIC FINDINGS; If you want the readers to look for something specific in your story, like… is this character’s voice distinctive enough, etc, tell the readers BEFORE the critique so they know what type of a critique you are looking for... a line editing vs general comments.

But the writer is not the only person who should abide by some rules during a critique. How about the one critiquing? Are there rules for these people in your critique group too? You betcha! Again, these are also the rules my group tries to live by.

On Critiquing without Criticizing...

  1. Remember, THIS IS NOT YOUR STORY; it is not your job to rewrite it, or tell the writer what YOU think his/her character would do. Instead ask questions to provoke the writer to consider things and figure them out on his/her own. Such as, I was curious about so and so’s decision to…or… It made me wonder what would have happened if he touched the bubble and it popped… This is so much better than saying, I think your main character would have touched the bubble and I think it should have popped.
  2. LET OTHERS TALK; be considerate of the other’s in your group who also deserve time to give their notes. Plus it is rude to the writer who wants to be able to hear from everyone and not just one person. For this reason, it might be a good idea to elect a different member for each critique (not the writer) to keep track of time so each critiquer can be gently reminded their time is coming to an end to help avoid the above from happening.
  3. Keep in mind the point you are all there… no one is better than anyone else. Sure, you might have studied with so and so, or attended such and such school, but all members in your group must believe that you are all equal. The goal of a writer's group is to lift each other up and help each other reach individual goals.
  4. If you don’t like a story someone is writing, leave your personal feelings out of it! It is about you helping that writer make his/her story the best it can be. They LOVE their story, as you love yours. Always keep that in mind. If it has not reached its potential, how can you help that writer get there? Most of the time, the best bet is through asking questions.

I hope you can use these rules in your next critique session or in your writer's group. I hope they help your group achieve a balanced, inspiring, and encouraging dynamic.

So now let's share... What are some critiquing hardships, or nightmares you have experienced? Have you ever had to critique a story you hated? Did anyone ever give you a real downer critique? What are some things your group does that workds particularly well? Share your best or worst stories...


Friday, January 18, 2008

Inspirational Quote
“Personal limitation exists
only in our ideas of who we are.
Give up all notions of who you are
and your limitations will vanish.”
~ Unknown


I achieved a long term goal!

Well, true, it shouldn't have become a long term goal, but it turned into one. An editor read my first 30 pages of my middle grade novel and was very supportive and insightful. I asked her if she would be interested in reading the next 30 pages and she said YES. Easy enough, right, just provide her with the next 30 pages. But it wasn't easy enough.

There was a lot wrong with my story and I knew it. Things just weren't sitting well with me. Sure, it had a lot that was good, but I just couldn't write forward until I fixed what came first. And so April turned to May, May to June, June to July... I think you can see where I am going with this...

But it's not that I just sat doing nothing. I re-wrote the manuscript, over and over until UREKA! I discovered the true essence and voice of my story and then everything fell into place.

So today, I have, sitting right here beside me, my first three chapters of draft 6 of my middle grade novel, a one-page synopsis, and a cover letter (thank you Leeza for helping me with that! - cover letters intimidate me...) Now, I am ready to go! And I am soooooo excited to finally reach this goal.

The thought did occur to me, however, just how common this problem is. I have heard from so many writers... Yeah, editor so-and-so has been waiting on my such-and-such since (insert a month that has long ago passed). And I had to stop and wonder why. Why do we do this to ourselves? We want to get publsihed. it just doesn't make any sense. And then I thought...

When we have a door open for us, sometimes it is scary to walk through it, for fear that it might slam shut in our faces. So we sit... and ponder... or spin our wheels... thinking we are working, all in the attempt to feel that, that door is still open. Now, while it is true, I have been very busily re-writing, I also did a lot of agonizing, and drawing things out, and spinning my wheel. True, I am terrified that this editor might read these new pages and say, thanks, but no thanks. But I must instead focus and visualize the positive... And so...

I will walk through this door and only face the future and not turn around to see if the door behind me has shut or remained open. If I keep my eye on the future, only good can come from that.

Have you left any open doors waving in the wind?


Monday, January 14, 2008

America's Top Writer by Danette Haworth

I stumbled upon this great writer's blog the other day - Danette Haworth - She recently sold her first middle grade novel, VIOLET RAINES ALMOST GOT STRUCK BY LIGHTNING. Yay, Danette!

She wrote this great new posting on her blog entitled, America's Top Writer. It is a paradoy on today's warp-speed-to-the-top reality TV shows. Check it out. You will laugh out loud!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Internal Dialogue

One of my fellow writers reached out recently with a question about the use of internal dialogue for her antagonist.

While it’s true, if used sparingly, internal dialogue can be useful, even enlightening. However, if used too frequently, it can be quite boring, overly dramatic, and in some cases, just plain silly.

I always think of it in terms of visuals. When I write, I see the scene in my head as if acted out. So, if you think of internal dialogue visually, you know then that it is not very visual, thereby, not very entertaining. It is better to limit internal dialogue to the times when it will have the greatest impact– and I believe there are certainly times when it is truly needed.

So how can you show what your character is thinking without overdoing internal dialogue? Provide him with a "buddy," or his “dynamic character;” someone he talks to, opens up to, listens to, reacts to, etc. This is more visually entertaining and it can also add so many layers to your characters.

And, may I just add... many writers have said to me - but I am not writing a screenplay. This is not a movie. It's a book! It isn't visual... Well to those writers I have this to say... have you ever read a book you didn’t see in your mind? Aha! Books are visual too. It is your job to entertain your reader visually too. To put pictures in their mind. Do you want them to picture your antagonist alone in a room, pacing feverishly, thinking to himself? Well, maybe sometimes. But every time? I think no.

Most of us understand that our PROtagonist needs a best friend and thus a lot of internal dialogue is shown in the use of this “dynamic” relationship between your protagonist and its dynamic character – the best friend. But what about the ANtagonist? How do you show the antagonist’s point of view without leaning too heavily on internal dialogue? The same way… a buddy character.

This evil "buddy" is an integral part of your story as well. He will act as the antagonist's conscience or as a buffer to offset the harsh evil tone the antagonist provides. When dealing with an evil antagonist – btw, not all antagonists are evil. It can be a parent who thinks she knows what’s best for the teenage main character and so stands in his way from achieving his goal – but back to the point… a minion, or evil servant, can help lessen your antagonist’s evilness. The evil “servant” can be a source of comedy by being stupid, or clumsy - the opposite of the antagonist... The servant can also help show either just how evil your character is, or as mitigation to show why he is so evil, or create an opportunity to show a softer side of this evil character.

Of course every character will have some internal dialogue from time to time, but if that is all that character has, it will be a weak way of presenting his/her thoughts. By only allowing your antagonist to think via internal dialogue would result in a missed opportunity for you to add layers, dimensions, and mitigation for this other important character in your story.

So, how about it? Let’s start a list of antagonists and their buddies. I’ll start with…

  • Disney’s Cruella De Vil, from 101 Dalmatians. She had a crew that did her dirty work for her… namely Horace and Jasper.
  • Or how about the antagonist from Holes, by Louis Sachar. The Warden was truly evil, but she didn’t work alone. No. We knew her inner thinking through the use of her two helpers - Mr. Sir and Mr. Pendanski

So let's hear from you. What antagonists come to your mind, and who were their henchmen?

Over a Hundred Ways to say SAID

My daughter's third grade teacher (Hello Mrs. Patkochis!) presented a challenge to her budding third grade writers... "How many ways can you say said?" She said the winner of the challenge would win something very special. Both my daughters have inherited the writer's gene from me (poor things) so she came home very determined and quickly decided the one sheet of paper provided would not suffice. So, she started by reading books (Ahem... one of my own, thank you very much) and began compiling her list. Then she decided she needed to type this list out on the computer and consult a thesaurus and the Internet. Here is her list of over 150 synonyms for said... What words can you add?
1. accused 2. acknowledged 3. added 4. addressed 5. admitted
6. admonished 7. advised 8. advocated 9. affirmed 10. agreed
11. alleged 12. allowed 13. alluded 14. announced 15. answered
16. apologized 17. appealed 18. appeased 19. approved 20. argued
21. articulated 22. asked 23. asserted 24. assumed 25. assured
26. attested 27. avowed 28. babbled 29. baited 30. bantered
31. bargained 32. barked 33. bawled 34. began 35. begged
36. believed 37. belittled 38. bellowed 39. blubbered 40. blurted
41. blustered 42. boasted 43. boomed 44. bragged 45. breathed
46. broke in 47. brought forth 48. condescended 49. contested
50. continued 51. contradicted 52. contributed 53. cooed
54. counseled 55. countered 56. coughed 57. crabbed
58. cackled 59. cajoled 60. calculated 61. called 62. caroled
63. cautioned 64. challenged 65. craved 66. cracked
67. cried 68. criticized 69. croaked 70. cautioned
71. crooned 72. cross-examined 73. chanted 74. cursed 75. charged
76. chatted 77. chattered 78. cheered 79. chided 80. chipped in
81. chirped 82. choked 83. chortled 84. cited 85. claimed
86. coaxed 87. comforted 88.commanded 89. commented
90. communicated 91. complained 92. conceded 93. concluded
94. concurred 95. confessed 96. confided 97. confirmed
98. consented 99. consoled 100. droned 101. debated
102. decided 103. declared 104. decreed 105. delivered
106. defended 107. demanded 108. demurred 109. denied
110. denounced 111. described 112. determined 113. dictated
114. directed 115. disclaimed 116. discussed 117. disclosed
118. disrupted 119. divulged 120. echoed 121. elaborated
122. emphasized 123. enjoined 124. enjoyed 125. enumerated
126. equivocated 127. estimated 128. enunciated 129. exaggerated
130. exhorted 131. expiated 132. explained 133. exploded
134. exposed 135. expressed 136. faltered 137. foretold
138. gasped 139. giggled 140. groaned 141. interrupted
142. laughed 143. muttered 144. pleaded 145. proclaimed
146. questioned 147. replied 148. sang 149. screeched
150. sputtered 151. stated 152. summoned 153. teased
154. trilled 155. wavered

By the way, she was the winner! A free homework pass was awarded. Congratulations Madison and Amy for being runner-up. But mostly, congratulations to all the student's of Mrs. Patkochis' 3rd graders for thinking outside the box and to Mrs. Patkochis for making learning so much fun!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Parting with Words

Having trouble doing a revision?
You know your story's too long and you need to make some drastic cuts, but you're afraid that by slashing away your precious words and phrases you've grown to love; you will ruin your story and loose the very essence you originally intended.

What's a writer to do? Simple. Copy and paste.

Copy your story into a new document and slash away. You'll have peace of mind knowing your original story is still in tact, safe and sound, saved under another document name.

Here's what I do...
I write a first draft and I leave it alone for a few days. I come back and read it with fresh eyes. I fix any simple editorial mistakes or add/change/delete a word or phrase. But when it comes to major revisions, I save that first draft as 1.0. 1= first draft. .0 = no revisions. I copy and paste the story onto a fresh new page. I save it and call it 1.1 1 = still the first draft. .1= first revision. I continue this process until I get to the end of the story. When I am ready to begin revising my second draft, I begin with 2.0 2 = second draft, no revisions… YET!

By the time I am done with a story, I have a file thick with all sorts of numbers, 1.0, 1.1, 1.2… 2.7... and so on. It tracks my revisions, let's me see my growth, reminds me of what I've done previously, and most of all, frees me to make those big and necessary changes. And voila! You’ve revised your story.

What method do you use?

Sheri ks, ks
“Personal limitation exists only in our ideas of who we are. Give up all notions of who you are and your limitations will vanish.”

- Anonymous