What Phrases Stopped You in Your Tracks…In a Good Way?

What stops your reading?

What stops your reading?

As a critique partner, one of our jobs is to mark the sentences or phrases that stop us in our tracks and pull us out of the story. In most cases, those are big No-No’s that should be stricken from the manuscript.

As a reader and aspiring author, I strongly believe it’s still important to highlight sentences that stop you in your tracks, but they should be the ones that you appreciate for their wit, humor, how they intrigued you to read more, or how they described something perfectly. Be sure to log them into a journal, a note pad, or scratch paper that you can look at after you’ve gathered 10 or so. My suggestion would be to gather them from different sources, at least 3 or 4 different books.

Why

Simply because once you look at that list again, you’ll start to see a pattern. You should be able to pick out what precisely attracted your attention. It could be the cadence of the sentence, the use of metaphor or simile; whatever it was that gave you pause.

And then…?

Create writing exercises based on those phrases. Describe a character in a similar manner, but with your own voice to it. Start a chapter using the same type of sentence cadence. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you copy anyone. I’m saying that by recognizing what you like about other author’s voice, you can refine your own.

Here are examples of a few that I grabbed:

  • Now that… was a cure for constipation
  • She has Little Sister Radar. She knows exactly when I’m busy, and that’s when she pounces.
  • Poor Reeves. She looked as comfortable as if she was standing naked in front of her history class giving a report on the Salem Witch Trials using her own body as a visual aid to all of the tortures.
  • …understanding took root and grew limbs…
  • The sharpness of my sympathy almost cut my heart into shreds
  • He said that we needed to get to know each other better, so he started to throw out details as if they were bullets…and I was the target.
  • The virus was a knife to my face, carving away at my cheeks, sharpening my chin, thinning my nose.
  • I didn’t need him to buy my lies. I just needed him to rent them for a while.

Can you see a pattern to what I’ve picked out? Even if you don’t, that’s ok, I do. ; ) Now start your own list!

Stacked Books

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How a Broken Microwave Helped Me Write

Not my actual broken microwave

If for no other reason than the title intrigued you, I am glad that you are visiting my blog. Today’s blog centers around how my broken microwave helped me write.

What exactly was wrong with the microwave, you might ask? The Heating Element went out. And since it was the second time that it failed, we decided to replace it and are never going to buy a GE product again. But I digress. . .

Since over-the-range microwaves cost a bit more than the college dorm variety, we had to wait a bit to save up for a new one. In the meantime, we had to do things the old fashioned way. We actually had to cook everything instead of nuke it. Not only did this make us very frugal with the amount of food we cooked, because there was no reheating it later. But also it slowed everything down . . .time to get the milk to a screaming baby, no popcorn for DVD night, etc. Yeah, real hardships, I know, but I challenge you guys to go without a microwave to defrost food (among other things) for a while and see if you’re not whining for modernity.

As I was coming to the conclusion of my Victorian Romance, I found myself having difficulty drawing everything to a close, partly because I didn’t want to say goodbye to my characters, and partly because I didn’t want to drag on the ending. So that left me with a bit of writer’s block. What should I write to satistfactorily close the novel?

A *BLANK SCREEN* blinked at me relentlessly for days.

Since I was forced to experience weeks without microwave, I decided to go back to writing, as if I didn’t have modern tools, like a laptop.

And I have to say . . .there’s just something about writing out notes and ideas on paper. Drawing circles and lines and arrows for brainstorming. It’s fabulous. I know there’s an Apple equivalent for this called iThought and if I ever get an iPad, you better believe I’m going to buy that app, but still, it’s the ability to draw out your thoughts in a different way than you would just typing on a keyboard.

Along with writing long-hand, I also did other old-school tricks:

Writing exercises – like listening to a specific song (preferably without words) and listening to it a few times before trying to imagine a scene based purely on the music. Write what’s happening based on the music alone: it does not necessarily have to involve anything from your current WIP. (Thanks Chris Green for that oldie-but-goodie writing exercise)

Brainstorm bubbling – I alluded to it earlier, but to reiterate, use a blank sheet of paper and draw a circle in the center and write a phrase for a scene you’re working on. Then take off in different directions with alternative What-If scenarios like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Book (am I dating myself?) and see where your ideas take you.

Stovetop Popcorn – So there’s definitely some finesse required to this . . .just enough kernals with just the right ratio of butter/flavoring, and just the right amount of time, plus constance viligance watching them pop in the pot. This was great for idea brewing. I would imagine my characters are the kernals, and by adding just the right amount of oil and the perfect level of heat and they popped into a tasty treat. If I overheated them, turned my back on them, or didn’t keep them moving, the popcorn would burn. (There’s nothing worse than the smell of burned popcorn – blech) I liken this to  how a scene can over-burden a reader with a giant info-dump. The right timing, amount, and (for writing only) placement is key.

It really can be done.

More than anything a broken microwave reminded me how to get-back-to-basics and reinforced to me that just because something is old (like writing exercises) it doesn’t mean that it’s not helpful or worthwhile to stock your arsenal with.

Thanks for stopping by.

Call for Submissions – July through September

Hi Everyone,

Submission Time!

Hopefully you have some material all polished and ready to go to fit these categories.

Good luck to you!

___________________________________________________________________

The following information was first printed in the July 2011 Orange Blossom, newsletter for Orange County Romance Writers.

JULY CALLS FOR SUBMISSIONS

XoXo Publishing is seeking original, never published before short stories written by unpublished and published writers. 2,500 to 4,500 words. Romances of all genres, safe-sex couples, sensuous romances, sweet, historical etc. Celebrating
dance of all kinds be it the dance of courtship or actual physical dance. Manuscript must be sent in as MS Word doc, attachment.12 pt Times New Roman. Double spaced and fully edited.

Deadline July 31, 2011.

                                                             _________________________________________

Angels & Fairies

There are angels who are good and pure and perfect — and there are angels whose halos are a bit, well, crooked. And tarnished. They’re naughty angels, and they’ve got more fun things to do than play harps and float on clouds.

Ravenous Romance is looking for steamy, sexy short stories for an anthology that features angels — the naughtier, the better. M/F, M/M, F/F, and ménage stories welcome. Submit your stories to acquisitions editor Jennifer Safrey at jen@ravenousromance.com. Please include a short query letter in the body of the email and the story as an attachment.

Deadline August 1, 2011.

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Samhain Superheroes

It’s up, up and away we go, to a world of superheroes and supervillains, where  heroes and/or heroines with special abilities and crime-fighting prowess  protect the public…and fall in love.

I’m very happy to announce an open call for submissions for a new,  yet-to-be-titled spring 2012 superhero romance anthology. For more information  on what I’m looking for when I ask for superhero stories, check out these  entries on wikipedia.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superhero

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superhero_fiction

I’m open to M/F, M/M, F/F, or multiples thereof, any sexual heat level, and the romance must end happily ever after or happy for now.

The novellas must range between 25,000 to 30,000 words in length, no more, no less—please note, only manuscripts that fall in this word count will be  considered for this anthology—and will be released individually as ebooks in  spring 2012 and in print approximately one year later.

Submissions are open to all authors, published with Samhain or aspiring to be published with Samhain. All submissions must be new material—previously  published submissions will not be considered. Additionally, manuscripts  previously submitted, whether individually or for past anthologies, will not be  considered either. Be aware that manuscripts submitted to this anthology cannot  be resubmitted at a later date unless by invitation from an editor.

Please note: fanfiction of popular, trademarked and copyrighted superheroes  will not be considered. Only original works please.

To submit a manuscript for consideration, please include:

The full manuscript (of 25,000 to 30,000 words) with a comprehensive 2-5 page synopsis. Also include a letter of introduction/query letter. Full  manuscripts are required for this as it is a special project.

As well, when you send your manuscript, be sure to use the naming convention  Superhero_Title_MS and Superhero_Title_Synopsis. This will ensure that your submission doesn’t get missed in the many submissions we receive, and
makes it easy for me to find in my e-reader.

Submissions are open until September 1, 2011. No submissions will be accepted after this date—no exceptions.

http://www.samhainpublishing.com/special-calls/

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Ellora’s Cave Love Letters

~ Story length 18K – 45K words.

~ Any genres, settings.

~ Must use the theme as a primary story element.

Submission deadlines are firm. Earlier is preferred.

LOVE LETTERS

Theme is love letters, cards, diaries.

Stories will release in January/February 2012 (in time for Valentine’s Day).

Submission deadline is August 31, 2011.

Send a professional cover email, a detailed synopsis (2 to 5 pages describing  setting and main characters and outlining full plot, including resolution), the  first three chapters and the final chapter of your manuscript via email as an  attached file (doc or rtf format) to Submissions@ellorascave.com.  Note: We are an e-publisher and all our work is done electronically; we do not
accept paper submissions.

Compiled by Louisa Bacio. Bacio’s new erotic paranormal The Vampire, The Witch & The Werewolf: A New Orleans Threesome is now available. Visit her at http://www.louisabacio.com.

Recent #AskAgent Sessions

Hi Folks,

It’s been a while since I’ve posted any of the transcripts from #AskAgent on Twitter. And the reason is probably because many that cross into the Romance genre are at RWA 2011 in New York, so they are not necessarily going to have the time to answer all the questions. But here are the ones that they have answered.

NOTE: This time various agents have answered the question, so I didn’t list everyone. And the text is just how it came from Twitter, no corrections or changes made to them, so don’t blame me for any missed spaces or spellings. 🙂

Q: Are vampire romance novels still hot? How about Zombies?

A: It’s hard to break in as a newbie. There’s already plenty avail 4 readers to buy so pubs aren’t starving for more

________________________

Q: How does one submit a completed series? Do you submit for the first book only or as a whole?

A: most agents seem to be consistent that they only want the first book. Sell it and the series will sell itself.

Q: There just seems to be a lot of series books lately. Word count is at 200,000 and is too large for a single book. But thanks for the help.

A: bring it to a nice conclusion and try to sell it as that first.

Q: That’s the hard part because it all leads to a final conflict. Will have to mull this over. Thanks.

A: as long as there is some kind of climax you can break it there. I can’t speak for agents but from what I have read 200k 2 long

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Great Questions that no agent has answered yet:

–         When a writer is sent their file for revisions, what do you feel is a reasonable amount of time for turn around?

–         Should you put writing experience in a query if it’s not book-writing experience? (ex: magazine, poetry, short story)

–         If one query/MS is rejected, is it a good idea to query again w/ a different project?

–         So what does it take to become an agent? Like college major, job experience, etc.?

–         Some writers post excerpts from their WIPs on their websites/blogs hoping agents will visit. I’ve done it myself. Silly? Too risky

–         How often do agents engage in publicity and editing? Are authors on their own more or less once the manuscript is sold

If I do read any of the answers, I’ll post them here. If you have heard of any answers to these, please feel free to post as well.

Thanks,

Suzy Kue

Research for your novel

Ahhh, research.

It can be great fun – perusing through various blogs and search engines to find just the right tidbit of information to make your plot lines and characterization become real and satisfying.

Or, it can be the bane of your existence.

And that’s kind of what I’m feeling right now with my latest manuscript. Through excellent critique partners – both pubbed and unpubbed, I have found out that within my Victorian novel, there’s some question as to my use of Guardianship Laws.

Thus, I went about, in my usual manner and Googled “Victorian Guardianship Laws.”

To my dismay, there isn’t much information out there that was wholly useful. Yes – Google did it’s job by spitting out all the websites that specifically say, “Victorian Guardianship Laws,” plus all the other crazy information that comes with it. But none of the first few pages actually dealt with the Victorian era.

Argh!!! What do you do when Google fails you????

Luckily for me – I belong to an online historical chapter called the Beau Monde (www.thebeaumonde.com) where they have an excellent loop where I asked my question, even though it wasn’t specifically on the time period of the chapter (which is the Regency) but they gave me something important . . . another place to look.

So – now I am going back to Google, BUT I am going to Google Books and I’m going to do select my specific time period and away I go. Wish me luck.

By the way – how do you research?

Story and Image Boards

Blank Calendar

I first learned about plotting a book using a Story Board at my local chapter’s Boot Camp. I loved the concept and used it (for the most part) on my first manuscript.

With my second manuscript, simply because I no longer have an office or even I space that I can pretend belongs to just me, I have a virtual Story or Image Board.

If you use MS Word for your word processor, you can use a template for a simple calendar as your Story Board. It has more than the 20 squares that are recommended for a 20 Chapter book with 15 to 20 pages per chapter. But have you seen the length of chapters in some of Dan Brown’s books? They are sometimes only a few paragraphs long, so the length of the chapter is not really important, it’s the scene(s) that you place in that little box that make a difference.

If you find that your box keeps expanding because you’re placing a lot of text in there, then your missing the point. You just want the gist of the scene, not everything about the scene.

Example: Using the movie Clueless for demonstration purposes – don’t hate =)

  • Instead of: Cher wants to hook her new friend Tai up with Elton at the Valley Party
  • Use: Tai/Elton meet at Valley Party

Here are some links to places that explain StoryBoarding better than me:

The next extension of a Story Board – it’s wild and crazy cousin is an Image Board. Whether it’s physical (hanging on the wall of your office) or digital (I have mine easily accessible when writing), this is the “fun part” of story boarding; at least for me.

My Hero

My Heroine

For my Image Board, there are a few celebrities males in Hollywood that I . . .um, admire. And a fair share of actresses/models that I wouldn’t mind being for a day. Having images of them (since they are soooo easy to find), my descriptions of the characters come alive so much easier. I even took the liberty (via Photoshop) to change the eye color of my celebrity to match my hero. *geek fun* The only hard time I have is that I sometimes insert myself into the romance that I’m writing instead of the heroine. Bad . . .but fun.

Other pictures to have on your Image Board:

  • Scenery/location pictures – of where the characters meet/collide
  • Colors, images from costume books or magazines
  • Foods that they eat – faves
  • Pets, kids, relatives
  • Villain
  • Things that your characters love/hate

Those are just some ideas to start. Hope you have fun Story and Image Boarding!

CRITIQUES Part 2: What do to when you receive a critique

In general, I usually try to be in a quiet place with no distractions. Read through it during your normal writing time if at all
possible. I don’t suggest reading through critiques or contest results just before combing your kid’s hair. Just saying. Have a glass of wine or hot chamomile tea to calm you.

When reading any feedback, remember – you sent your story idea out to the world for feedback. You DID NOT send out your first-born child for criticism. It can sometimes be hard for people to send out their work and not feel attacked as a person rather than seeing the comments for what they are: that person’s opinion.

Contest Feedback: The first thing I would do is find out a little bit about the judge. Most contest score sheets have information about the judge on the front, such as if they are published, PRO, or unpubbed. All three types of judges will grade things differently, you will have to put your own weight on the value of each category’s critique.

If it’s an unpubbed/PRO judge, I have found that they leave really great notes and questions for me to think about. Published authors usually leave a goldmine worth of comments if not more than one “Ah-ha” moments.

Tips to remember: 

  • Don’t take the comments personally, you paid for these critiques
  • Don’t get angry or defensive, the remarks that they make are that writer’s opinion
  • Write a thank you note to the judges
  • Whether you agree or disagree with the comments, don’t start revising right away. Take a few days to think about the
    comments.

Writing Buddy Critiques: In this case, they are typically your friends, if not close acquaintances versus the complete strangers from a contest. They want to see you succeed and thus their comments will be supportive and constructive. It’s nice that you don’t need any mental preparation when reading through these critiques. If you have writing buddies that are published, those are the ones to really pay attention to and hope that you can glean knowledge from their experience. Just remember that published authors work on deadlines, so you might not receive comments back from them as quickly as you would from others.

Keep in mind:

  • If there are sections of your manuscript where your writing buddies have all placed remarks –  then it would be a good idea to revise that section.
  • Know your buddies strengths – if one critiquer is better at punctuation vs pacing, keep that in mind when deciding what to revise
  • Same with all feedback, take a few days before revising, let the comments sink in and see which ones you really want to
    revise to.

Paid critique from a published author or an editor or agent – their comments are worth their weight in gold. These critiques will give you extremely valuable advice and criticism . . . that you may or may not want to hear.

The nice thing is that since you’ve paid for the critique as part of a chapter or charity fundraiser, they will make sure that you “get your money’s worth.” I would prep for reading through these critiques the same way you would for a contest, mentally calm, with an open mind, and possibly wine, chocolates, or both.

  •  More thoughts: 
    Write a thank you note to the critique – if it’s an agent or editor that liked your work, you are just giving them another reason to like you.
  • Change what you want – If you disagree with a critiquer’s comments, that’s perfectly fine. If they are suggesting a change that you don’t want to do, or think would change the story line or characters too much, then don’t do it. But think closely about what the comment says before completely ignoring it. Is it really about changing an entire character arc or is it something more basic like “this scene doesn’t fit here, cut or move it.”
  • Don’t change everything – This falls in line with the advice above. Say you receive 3 critiques and they all have marks in different areas and nothing is conclusive and more than anything, you end up feeling confused and disoriented. Instead of revising to all their comments, see if you can find another couple of people to send it to. See if their redlines fall in line with any of the ones you’ve received before and then you can find the relevant patterns.

Just a friendly reminder that critiques are supposed to help you on the road to publication. They are not meant to belittle you, chastise you, or get you to quit writing. If you EVER find that one of your critique partners makes you feel this way, well then, refrain from smacking them (I’ll do that for you) and just find a new partner. There are tons out there. Although writing is a solitary career, writing friends are in abundance.