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Friday Flashback: Start merging early October 29, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Friday Flashback, Writing Craft.
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Flashback from May 13, 2008

My day job, like most peoples’, requires a commute every morning.  Back and forth along the same stretch of interstate watching the billboards go by and yelling at people who wait until the very end of a merge, stop, and then try to get in front of me.

After watching another idiot try this kind of merge this morning I got to thinking about why it annoys me so.  Two roads are coming together and the vehicles on them need to merge.  I don’t have a problem with the base fact of this.  What annoys me is the last minute nature of the people doing the merging.  If a car that needs to merge uses their blinker and gives me an early indication that they’d like to merge I’m far more likely to tap my brakes and give them the chance to slide in seemlessly to the flow of traffic.  It’s when they wait and try to go around to get that extra few feet ahead of everyone else and swerve in and out erratically that I want to have a loaded paintball gun.

All of this got me thinking about plot threads in a book or series of books and I found that I have similar responses.  When a thread has proper foreshadowing, that little blink that it’s coming I find that the plot merging experience tends to be pleasant.  I see the mystery unfolding and have all the pieces I need to enjoy the building action of the plot and come away satisfied.

Many of the books that I don’t like or find satifying have plot threads that merge like a bad driver.  Plot lines and characters come out of no where, slamming into the main plot line.  There’s honking and shouting and in the end no one gets where they wanted to go in the way they wanted to get there.

So now I’m going back through my WIP and looking for bad plot drivers and where I can put in more foreshadowing blinkers to make sure the merges are smooth.

Who says you can’t learn anything useful in rush hour traffic?



Friday Flashback: The oft maligned adverb October 8, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Friday Flashback, Writing Craft.
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Since the question of adverb usage, was brought up in the comments I thought I’d bring it more to the forefront.

First of all what is an adverb?  Borrowing from Barron’s Essentials of English; 4th Edition:

Adverbs are words  that modify verbs and other modifiers.

He ranted at her angrily. (angrily modifies the verb ranted)

She danced extremely well. (extremely modifies the adverb well)

Adverbs, as much as they are shunned and maligned, are valid parts of speech.  We learn about them in grammar classes, and for many students -ly adverbs are a particular favorite because they’re easy to diagram out of a sentence.  (At least where diagraming is still done.  I’ve been told that the practice is sooo last century.)

So why, then, does the noble adverb get picked on when it comes to writing and editing fiction?

The biggest reason for the anti-adverb campaign is that adverbs represent sloppy writing.  They contribute to passive voice instead of active voice, and can create clauses that lengthen a sentence by five or six additional words when the meaning and emphasis is better served with one strong action verb. Adverbs also contribute to repetition of meaning.

For example:

She yelled loudly.  – This is repeating the meaning.  Yelling denotes loudness, the adverb is unnecessary and clutters the sentence.

Her eyes snapping angrily, she stalked slowly towards him, muttering very harshly, “Jerk.” – She’s stalking and muttering and calling him a ‘jerk’.  The verbs convey stronger meaning without the angrily, slowly and very harshly.

So does this mean that all adverbs should be struck from all writing forever?  Heavens, no.  Many prolific writers use the adverb, some to better effect than others.  Some have made it a career goal to prove that adverbs are just as good as any other part of speech, though I have yet to see any that have succeeded in that.  I find for myself that my first drafts are often full of adverbs and I’m all right with leaving them there in that draft as markers of an emotion or emphasis I wish  to draw out, but 9.8 of 10 times those suckers are destined for the delete pile in the editing pass in exchange for stronger prose.  So in the long run I feel
adverbs, in specific -ly adverbs, should be used like hot peppers, as a spice and with caution.


Friday Flashback: What I’ve learned August 27, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Friday Flashback, Writing Craft.
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Flashback from April 28, 2008!

I’ve learned a lot about the writing process since starting on Whispers from the Grave. A good deal of what I’ve learned is due to my co-author, and for that I thank her a great deal. If you haven’t tried writing with someone else, it’s definitely worth it! You learn your own personal pitfalls and quirks pretty quickly. But I thought I’d list some of the things I’ve learned, that have helped me, I hope, become a better writer.

  • Stop worrying just write! I used to be a ‘first draft’ perfectionist, and I’d get so caught up worrying about where things are going and whether everything is conjugated correctly that I’d lose the journey. Jena was always reminding me at the beginning to stop worrying about the details, and it’s made me a lot better at writing.
  • Get rid of adverbs! I never would have realized this if it hadn’t been for reading Stephen King’s On Writing. And looking at my prose, it’s really funny how unnecesary adverbs are!
  • Start “in medias res”, ie… right into the action. Hook people immediately. I learned this from my creative writing teacher in high school, and have been following it ever since. He wasn’t a great teacher, in fact… he was pretty bad, however this was one of the things that stuck with me.
  • Use dialogue for characterization. I can’t recall where this came from, but it’s a great thing to know.
  • Put your characters into great conflict. I’ve learned to pay attention to which books bore me and which catch my interest, and it all comes from the conflict. It seems obvious, but it does have to be put down here.
  • The process of getting published, where to look to do so, and how to find an agent. This sort of thing had never even crossed my mind until Jena taught me about it. I think I probably would have looked at all of the hurdles to jump and freaked out, but she’s showed me how to wade through the process.
  • Treat it like a job… I’m the first to admit to being lazy and a little ADD. But making myself treat it like a job has been an amazing awakening in actually completing stories. I love to rush to ‘get to the good parts’ but I’ve learned to slow down and enjoy the process.
  • If you are feeling blocked, just sit down and write. The movie Finding Forester taught me this, and once I tried it… it really worked! Sure you may throw out half of what you wrote, but you’ve learned something so it’s never a loss!

So, I’m sure there’s more to add to the list, but I thought it good to list my own journey. And, of course, to put some kudos out to the authors who have inspired me, the authors I’ve learned from, and to my co-author. I think I would have certainly been just writing stories to my computer, and never really thought being published was possible if it hadn’t been for her.


Staying true to character August 1, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Writing Craft.
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I tend to take a lot of inspiration from movies and television shows, looking for the good and bad plot twists. One thing movies and television have is a very limited period of time to tell a cogent story, which requires very tight plot editing.

With television there’s the second added problem of managing a long term story arc over an extremely extended period of time, without sacrificing the ability to tell short installments and stories.

I recently got access to a Roku box which lets me watch several episodes of a series all at once, and have been watching Farscape and Angel. With Angel I find I’m enjoying the storytelling but I did notice several pitfalls Joss Whedon hit early on in the series which most writers would do well to avoid.

His story relies on the brooding vampire defending the night from even darker monsters. Angel’s allergy to sunlight is an important weakness and keeps his character separated from the rest of the world, giving him few options but to rely on others during the day and continue to fight evil at night.

But it also offers an interesting opportunity, which Whedon takes up. At one point Angel gets the ability to go out in daylight and be invulnerable. In another he becomes human, what he’s wanted all of his time. He’s told that he no longer has to fight, he’s released from his curse.

Great plot points, very intriguing on both sides. Unfortunately they’re also series ending plot points, or alternately severely Series Changing. The drama is high and intense, but the writer’s duty is to manage to introduce these points without requiring the a break of character to continue the plot. Many readers will overlook a weak plot point, but very few overlook a blatant break from a character’s prescribed personality. It destroys the suspending of disbelief all good fiction engenders.

In the case of Angel, he simply chose to give up the invulnerablity and ability to go out in sunlight because he “didn’t deserve it” despite the fact it would enable him to fight evil many times better. It made no sense. There needed to be some other compelling reason, perhaps the ring was stolen or cursed or required some sacrifice of an innocent.

With Angel’s humanity, he chose to give it up because he no longer had Super Powers. I simply can’t see that, he’d find other ways to fight and do it better because he wasn’t brooding. A better solution would have been to give him only a period of time before the blood wore off, leaving him with the dilemma: enjoy it knowing it would end, or ignore it to avoid the pain. Much more interesting story telling.

On a good note… I love Cordelia’s development as a character. She remains the slightly ditzy, but with a heart of gold and underlying resourcefulness, woman we’ve come to know and love.

2am posting… May 9, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Inspiration, Life, Musings, Writing Craft.
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The writing process is always an interesting journey. I very diligently sat down under the light of the sun in order to work on my term papers, the final one due on Tuesday. I told myself I would finish them, and leave the evening for goofing off and more importantly, the night time for sleeping. But for some reason… I keep getting jolted out of bed at 12 midnight to do my best writing. I agonized over 5 pages all day, and just breezed through the edits of those first five and an additional 6 in the last 2 hours. I’m going to be exhausted at church tommorow I’m sure, but all I want to do is keep working on it now that I’ve gotten into that writing groove.

This is why I tell people my muse is a big blue tiger, similar to Hobbes (only blue), that hits me with strange ideas when I should be sleeping. Are there any other midnight to 3 am writers out there?

Friday Flashback: Co-authoring challenge March 19, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Friday Flashback, Writing Craft.
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Repost from Jan 31, 2008.

A question that’s come up recently was what it’s like to co-author books with someone that lives several states away?

       Truthfully it can be a giant pain in the butt.  To co-author anything takes a committment to clear communication and compromise. Co-Authoring a 150,000 word draft, 95,000 word book, is even more of a challenge.  We find we have to stay in pretty close to daily contact with each other which we do over email, IM and phone and we have to stay organized.  Whispers has been five years in the making, but it’s been the last about six months that we strapped in and got serious about it.  An updated outline helps a lot and then exchange of files back and forth with both of us keeping a copy of the master file and syncing it up at least once every couple of weeks.  As long as we gently keep each other on the ball we tend to do just fine, but it’s definately not for the weak of heart or the impatient.  Arguments sprout up often because text can be read in so many different ways and depending on the mood of the reader and how sleep deprived they are, so we make sure that when things get heated we take a step back and sort out what is a difference of perception and what is actually at the heart of the matter.  The other key is that we take time to goof off together so that we have casual friend time too.  No matter how compatiable you think your writing styles may be never co-author with someone you don’t like, because by the end you’ll kill each other if you don’t have a solid base to go on.  🙂  Trust us.  We know.


Do you NaNo your WriMo? November 2, 2009

Posted by Realitybypass in Inspiration, Life, Writing Craft.
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It’s November.  For some people the month of November represents pies and Thanksgiving celebrations, colored leaves and maybe even snow.  In Author and wanna be author land it launches a thirty day sprint to write 50,000 words known as NaNoWriMo (National novel Writing Month).  Now, lest anyone think I disapprove of NaNo I’ve done it before.  I’ll likely do it again.  I’ve pondered doing it this year and concluded that there are some other goals I want to reach with my writing and a frantic race to the end of the month won’t give me what I need.  However, I’m in support of those who are.

Sooo…who out there is NaNoing?  And besides chocolate and caffine what steps have you put in place to prepare yourselves for the work to come?


Snappy Dialogue: Friday! October 30, 2009

Posted by kmcalear in Inspiration, Television, Writing Craft.
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Hi folks,

I thought for this Friday I’d leave you guys with some snappy dialogue from one of my favorite shows, Psych.  This is from the episode Bollywood Homicide recently, where the characters go to eat at their client’s house, who happens to be South Indian. I thought this was a very good example of humor in dialogue from the show. The show itself is ripe with good stichomythia as it’s a characterstic of the interplay of the two leads.

Shawn, Gus, and Abigail are at Raj’s house eating dinner.
Raj: you know guys, my grandmother does make her food a little spicy. You might want to take it easy?”
Gus: Please; I’m ¼ Jamaican.
Shawn: I’m also ¼ Jamaican.
Gus: You are not. Stop telling people that.
(They both stare into space as they realize it’s too hot!)
Shawn: I’m sorry was this chicken seasoned with molten lava?
(Gus and Shawn are quivering)
Shawn turns to Abigail : Really?, Your just fine?!
Abigail: What’s the matter Shawn you don’t like it?
Shawn: No, I think I like it to much. It’s so authentic. Dude I can’t see anything out of my left eye!
Gus: I see dead people!
(Shawn and Gus reach for their water)
Shawn: Oh my god! Even the water is spicy!
Gus: Who does that?!

Best research methods? October 15, 2009

Posted by kmcalear in Inspiration, Life, Uncategorized, Writing Craft.
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It’s mid-semester which means right about now I’m waking up in the middle of the night in a cold panic about all the papers I haven’t even managed to find time to research for. AGH! Every semester I promise myself to have them done a month early, but somehow juggling three classes makes that hard, on top of 2 jobs and trying to have some fun in the meantime. Thankfully… lately, I’ve been getting great ideas for papers. Now I just have to actually sit down and do the work to get them written out. But isn’t that always the writing problem?

This got me thinking about research methods for writing and novels. Jana and I both tend to like to do a lot of internet research, but I do think what really helps me when I work on a setting is visiting the place. Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen, thanks to financial feaseability, but I’d love to eventually add that into my method.

I do tend to start listening to things my characters listen to, eat food they like, go to sports/entertainment events the characters would enjoy and pick up books that suit them to get into the ‘Mind’ of the character. I like to approach the research from a character view and then stretch outwards, perhaps some national geographic or travel channel (Alas I have to go to the workout room for that, no home tv anymore. Curse you economic recession!)

Do you research setting first? Characters first? Do you do character sketches, backgrounds, or try to take on some of your character’s traits? How do you research?

Searching for… October 6, 2009

Posted by kmcalear in Writing Craft.
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Today one of the agents put up a call for “Searching For” giving a list of the type of books she’d like to see.  Rachel Gardner has put out a Twitter requesting a female Christian Private Eye, such as the protagonists of Sue Grafton or Janet Evanovich’s novels.

I like seeing the various suggestions many agents have on their blogs, it definitely generates ideas for stories, but at the same time I know I run into some frustration too. I love the ideas! And it’s great to know what agents want, but at the same time I also want to say “Yes! I can write that!” But it’s so rare that you have such a thing in hand, for what the agents are asking for, or sometimes you’ve already queried it 6 months ago when it wasn’t in vogue. It would be nice if you could send along something else to give a writing style/feel and then get a list of books agents would be willing to contract you for, as a work in progress.

But hey, it’s also a good reason to just keep writing, because one day you may open up those lists and see /exactly/ the book you wrote a year ago, and spent time polishing. So the lists are good! I like seeing them, but it certainly does make me wish there was room for both sides: calls for “Already done” books and calls for books you could get under contract with through showing a good writing sample, somewhat like my Academic conferences. In Academia you send a proposal of a paper you WILL right, and they accept your premise.

Anyway if you have a Christian Female P.I… go check out Rachel Gardner’s query guidelines.,<< RACHEL GARDNER>>

I have one…. but it’s a work in progress still, about 50% complete alas. Here’s hoping there’s still openings in 6 months!