Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Photo-A-Day: February

"Serendipity: a word coined by Horace Walpole, from the Persian fairytale 
The Three Princes of Serendip, in which the heroes possess this gift"

2012 is Leap Year--with an extra day this month for yet one more picture in my on going Photo-a-Day project. And I'm loving it. This month I not only met my goal for number of pictures again, but I've found myself visualizing "frames" in my head even when camera is not in hand. I think that's a good thing for both an amateur photographer (like me) and a writer.

And speaking of the photographer/writer connection, I also love serendipitous moments (serendipity, n.: "the ability to make fortunate discoveries by accident, such as finding interesting items of information or unexpected proof of one's theories, while looking for something else."), as happened when I picked up Marshall Cook's How to Write with the Skill of a Master and Genius of a Child for writing inspiration and found this:

"My photographer friend Shiela Reaves," Cook writes, "says that having a camera around your neck gives you access to living on a more intense level."

Amen to that.

And, "The most important piece of equipment for the photographer, Shiela says, isn't the fancy camera. It's the head and the heart of the photographer." Also important? Natural curiosity.

Cook's point in all of this? "(The same is true) For the writer, too."

Additional tips Cook takes from photographer friend Shiela:

Change your point of view.
See your world from a different angle.
See patterns.
Play with light and shadow.
Pay attention.

These concepts are all things this photo-a-day challenge is helping me to do. Maybe you'll be prompted to try something similar? Who knows? Serendipity might be waiting for you, too!

Here's my February gallery. Hope you enjoy. And please feel free to drop in and let me know which one/ones spoke the most to you.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Wordplayer's Manifesto by K.M. Weiland

This is too good not to share: A Wordplayer's Manifesto by K.M. Weiland.

K.M., over at her award-winning blog, Wordplay, Helping Writers become Authors, provides fantastic insights and inspiration for writers. Recognized as a great resource, Wordplay has twice been named one of the top ten blogs for writers (see awards-list at write to done).

K.M. has made this manifesto available to help us "remember, refine, and renew our commitments (to writing) every day." It's spurring me on. I think it will do the same for you! Thanks, K.M.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I is for Interjection, J for...Judiciously?

"Fudge is a noun, a verb, an interjection, and delicious!" --Jessi Lane Adams

Interjections! Wow. Hey! We all use them in our daily speech, don't we? Well, sure. But what about in our writing? Gee, what role do they play?

The subject came to my attention during a recent read-through of my manuscript. I didn't realize, until examples jumped out at me, how many times I used the word oh--as in oh, dear...oh, bother... oh, my...oh, fiddlesticks.

Oh, fudge.

Thus I proceeded to look into the use of interjections. Here's a glimpse of what I found:

1. Interjection (definition from My English Pages) is "a part of speech which is used to show a short sudden expression of emotion...(Though) Rarely used in academic or formal writing, they are common in fiction or artistic writing. Interjections are often used with an exclamation mark."

2. Interjections (Scribendi's "Guide to Using Interjections Effectively") "are an excellent way of expressing emotion within the dialogue of your prose, but you must be careful not to overuse them. Used sparingly and appropriately, interjections can breathe a true sense of humanity in your character, giving them the sort of personality that readers can connect with on a deeper level."

3. Interjection (etymology) comes from the Latin word interiacio (inter--"between" and -iacio--"throw") which means "thrown in."

4. A few examples of interjections include hey, well, hallelujeh, rats, bingo, wow, good grief, whoops, yeah, yikes, and yippee. Sites listing a variety of interjections (both common and not-so-common) include: 

So here we are. Interjections have their place in the writing of dialogue. They add emotion, help in characterization, show personality, make dialogue sound more real. Yet, somewhat like fudge, they need to be approached sparingly. Overdone, they are too much of a good thing, like that one more piece of fudge you know you should have refused. Therefore: I is for InterjectionsJ is for... (use them) Judiciously!

Do you eat too much fudge, whoops, I mean, have trouble overusing interjections? Or have you learned that less is more? What are your favorites? 

Interjections that is. We all know you probably like fudge.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Insight on Plot: Stretch the Rubber Band

"One way of thinking about the suspense in your story is as a rubber band. You, the author, stretch the rubber band gradually over time, making drama in your plot more and more taut with every event, every plot point...After each scene or sequence you write, ask yourself, 'How did this event stretch the rubber band?'"--Robert Kernan, Building Better Plots

A busy week ahead, but taking this writing tip with me as I go. What writerly words of wisdom will be on your mind this week?


Thursday, February 16, 2012

This Week's Pep Talk

On Glasses, Shoes and Writing Prompts

Here we go again. After a few years of status quo, my glasses' prescription has changed, and I'll be getting new frames. How many styles have I sported through the years since I started wearing glasses at age thirteen (except for the period in which I wore contacts)?

Let's see. Dark frames. Light frames. Delicate frames. Austere frames. Nerdy frames. 1980s big frames (I refused to wear the '70s granny glasses), wire-rimmed, wireless. Pink, brown, gold, silver. The girl fitting me this time offered me bold glasses, pale glasses, black Clark Kent glasses. Ones with wide temple pieces, fat corners, bling along the sides, blue, red, plum. Whew.

Then for some reason I began thinking about the different styles of shoes I've worn through the years. The list is also long. Baby shoes, saddle shoes, Mary Janes and patent leather. Slip-ons, laced. Keds and tennies. Low heels, high heels, stacked heels. Penny loafers. Moccasins. Boots. Ballerina slippers. Cross trainers, walking shoes, flip flops, sandals. Green shoes (yes, once a long time ago), blue shoes, black, brown, tan, white and silver shoes. Naturalizers. Strapped, backless, open-toed. Comfort-Stride and non-slip soles.

Leap-frog with me here for a minute. What if, when brainstorming ideas for character development, we take two such divergent lists, shake them up, pair elements of each together--and discover something totally unforseen in that character? Granny glasses and patent leather? Bling and moccasins? Clark Kent and Keds? What images might come forth? What surprising personalities who come to life and shout, introduce me, tell my story!

It might be a revealing exercise, you think? The lists wouldn't have to be limited to glasses and shoes. What about hobbies and foods? Window shopping likes and most hated chore? Quirky family members and favorite books? Anything to get to know our characters better, and with that get creative with our stories.

So I tell myself:
 1. Shake it up.
 2. Look through a variety of lenses.
 3. Don't limit the possibilities.
 4. Run the distance with eyes wide-open.
 5. Explore the varieties.
 6. Fuel the imagination.
 7. Yet make it believable.
 8. Allow for individuality.
 9. Expect detours--and enjoy the adventure of it!
10. Deliver, even if you have to walk miles (whatever kind of shoe you wear) to get there.

This, at least, is my pep talk to myself for the week. And to think it started with glasses and shoes.

Have you had to give yourself a pep talk lately? What did it sound like? Any writing prompts that inspired you to move forward?


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Books We Love Blog Fest (and Hundred-Up Give-Away)

In honor of Valentine's Day, Rebecca Kiel, on Writing and Living, has created a blogfest that should shoot an arrow straight to the heart of the writer--and the reader--in us: The Books We Love Blogfest. Thanks, Rebecca, for the opportunity to showcase favorite books, although there are so many books on a reader's list that it's hard to choose! But  here are three top contenders...

Middle-GradeMissing May, by Cynthia Rylant (1993 Newbery Award Winner). Summer is an orphan, shifted around from family member to family member until elderly couple May and Ob choose to take her home. From there it is a story of unconditional love, loss, grief, and hope as healing begins. Oh, and beautiful whirligigs. Touching, tear-filled, beautifully written. A keeper of a story.

Picture Book: Bear Snores On, by Karma Wilson. One of my favorites to read aloud to the little ones. Bear sleeps through the party in his very own lair, until a pepper flake in the stew causes him to WAKE UP. But when "Bear gnarls, and he snarls...roars and rumbles...jumps and stomps...growls and grumbles" it's because he's upset that he missed the party! Never fear, his friends come to the rescue and the party goes on...all through the night. I love the rhythm, the suspense, the surprises--all done so well in rhyme. This story sings.

YA: Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly. This story has stayed with me at several levels--historical fiction, which I love. Setting in 18th-century Paris, and the French Revolution, which I found fascinating. The adept handling of the contemporary character's story with that of the historical--how the two stories are woven together. The intrigue, mystery, adventure. The beautiful writing.


These are only a few of the many books I have enjoyed. And, speaking of enjoying, check out the other participants in the Books We Love Blogfest, and read about their favorites!
Oh, and one more thing! I'm happy to announce the winners of my 100-Up Give-Away contest, having reached 100 followers. Drum-roll, please.....

Winner of The Cardturner, by Louis Sachar is... 

Winner of Savvy, by Ingrid Law is...
Peggy Harkins.

Winner of The Tension of Opposites, by Kristina McBride is...
Lauren F. Boyd, My Path to Publication

Congratulations, and thanks for participating! I'll be contacting you by e-mail to get your mailing addresses, and the books will soon be in the mail.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Unexpected: 5 Tips on Plot Twists

"Creativity comes from looking for the unexpected and stepping outside your own experiences." 
                                                                                                                                           --Masaru Ibuka

The jolt, when it hit, was palpable. Nothing really big, but a hit all the same.

I was on my morning walk, approaching the turnaround point at the curve. The scene is so familiar at this particular spot--that of an old barn that for years was a picturesque fixture of the landscape. In fact, I often told myself that I should bring my camera and get a picture of it. Admittedly the barn was dilapidated and abandoned, but it had such character built as it was on a stone foundation with weathered boards that had seen many a day. It shouted history--even a story or two. I'd even analyzed the angle from which to take the shots. Yes, one day I would do that.

This time as I approached, I looked up to see a small earth-mover nearby. I couldn't tell if it was parked on the road, and if I'd have to skirt around it. I wondered what project was about to be embarked upon. That's when the surprise hit, and the unexpected registered on my brain.

The barn was gone.

Razed. Obliterated. Kaput. The bulldozer's job had already been done. The landscape was forever changed. What a twist that revelation brought to my morning!

Well, as is so often the case, thoughts went from personal disappointment over a lost photo op to the question of how such an event could be useful in plotting our stories. How can we use the unpredictable, the unexpected, surprises, twists and turns in order to keep our readers reading? And why?

Scanning several sources, I uncovered five tips on plot twists:

1. Predictable to Unpredictable. Barbara Dunlap, autocrit, defines plot twists as: "anytime something unexpected happens in a story that changes its fundamental direction. Where the characters and the plot are moving along in a direction that feels predictable then something happens to alter that predictability, that's a plot twist."

2. But...There's No Formula. Janice Hardy, at The Other Side of the Story, gives great advice about plot twists related to reader expectations. She writes, "We're all looking for a great plot twist, right? Be it in the books we write or the ones we read. That unexpected event or revelation that changes everything we thought we knew and takes it to a whole new level. The things that make us go, 'wow, that was awesome. I never saw that coming.' Trouble is, knowing you want one is a lot easier than coming up with one. There is no formula for devising a great twist, because every plot is different and any number of things can work in a story. My trick for twisting my plot is pretty simple: Reader expectations...You want to give readers what they expect, but not in the way they expect it."

3. Murphy's Law. Ansel Dibell in his book, Plot, suggests we play with Murphy's Law. "Try to think of what, within that fundamental situation, could go surprisingly wrong, yet seem believable and reasonable, within that context, when it happens...Your twist must satisfy and improve upon what it substitutes for, not just change it to something else."

4. Connect the Dots. This from Amanda Hannah, at YA Highway: "Most surprises need to have some roots grounded early in the book--little whispers that could hint at something to come. Things that the reader might not consciously pick up on at first, but once the surprise is discovered, they can connect all the dots together."

5. Multiple Implications. Scott Edelstein, in The Writer's Book of Checklists, amps plot twists up another notch. He says, "Look for events, developments, and twists that work in two or more ways at once, or that have multiple implications, meanings, or consequences. These can be among the most powerful elements in any piece of fiction."

Maybe we won't surprise our readers with a barn in one scene, only to find it unexpectedly leveled in another, but we do want to provide them with the occasional jolt that keeps them reading. What about you? How do you plan for the unexpected in your stories? Any outstanding plot twists you've read and marveled at recently?

p.s. What fun! Words and Such's 100-follower milestone has been reached (thanks, Maria!). My 100-Up Give-Away drawing is coming soon. If you would like to be a part of the drawing, comment here. Deadline is midnight this Friday, February 10. Winners will be announced this Saturday, February 11!