I’ve Officially Moved! :)

I’ve moved. How exciting is it to get a new place and pretty it up. I haven’t moved to a new house though. I’ve moved to a new website, be sure to come join me over there. I really love visiting with you all and want to get to know you all better.

Check out some of the amazing posts and guests I’ve had over at my new home. :) I have been writing and reading a lot lately. I just finished reading Shadow & Bone. It was amazing. I will be putting it up as a review in the next few days.

Be sure to sign up on my email list. You will get a bunch of freebies. First off, you will get my Urban Fantasy Short Story Hope For Another Day. And it doesn’t stop there, once you’ve signed up I will send you a password so you can log into the secret place called Devin’s Writing Grotto. You will be able to access a bunch of awesome FREE information about writing, editing, revising, and just basically anything about writing.

Write for the Smashing Guest Writing Gala

Hello All You! I hope you had a great Fourth of July!

I am currently in Portland, Oregon for The World Domination Summit and am totally excited about learning some awesome things from writers and bloggers of today! Also very excited to meet new contacts.

If you are still interested, The Smashing Summer Writing Gala is still going on and there are a few more places left. If you are interested in guest posting be sure to click and send me a pitch of at least 2 paragraphs on what you’d like to write about and then press send! :)

I will write again soon when I get back home to Minnesota.

Ditch the Gimmicks & Tell the Story

I would like to give a big warm welcome to my friend and fellow writer, Steven James. Hope you enjoy his words of wisdom. :) Also, note to all of you. Be sure to come to my new website for fun, inspiring posts about writing, life, traveling, and health. I will be moving there permanently and would love for you all to join me! P.S. I am giving away a book for free… and all you have to do is sign up to be on my mailing list.

In fiction, story matters more than anything else.

Yet, all too often, authors forget this and in their zeal to impress readers or wow editors, they end up peppering their writing with distracting gimmicks that undermine the story.

Never let anything get between your story and your readers. Here are six ways to remove some of the most common stumbling blocks:

#1 – Tone down the symbolism

A few years ago I picked up a literary novel that everyone was talking about. In the first chapter there was a storm; in the second, someone was washing his hands; then a character was crying; then there was a baptism. I remember thinking, “Okay, I get it. Your image is water, your theme is cleansing, now get on with the story.”

And from that point on, guess what I was doing?

Yup.

Looking for the next way the writer was going to weave a water image into her story. And she delivered, scene after predictable scene.

As a reader I was no longer emotionally present in the story. I’d become a critic, an observer. And that’s definitely not what a storyteller wants her readers to do.

The more your readers are on the lookout for your images, your theme, your symbolism, and so on, the less they’ll be impacted by your story.

Rather than building your story around a theme (love, forgiveness, freedom, etc . . .) or advice (“Follow your dreams,” “Be true to your heart,” etc . . .) or a cliche (“Every cloud has a silver lining,” “Time heals all wounds,” etc . . .) drive your narrative forward through tension and moral dilemmas.

So, instead of using the theme “justice,” let the story ask the question “What’s more important, telling the truth or protecting the innocent?”

Rather than giving the advice “You should forgive others,” let your story explore the dilemma “How do I forgive someone who has done the unthinkable to someone I love?”

Let your story do more than reiterate the cliche “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.“ Instead, challenge that axiom by asking, “When do the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many?”

Respect your readers. Assume that they’re as smart as you are. If you can identify imagery, symbolism, theme and so on, expect that they will too. And as soon as they do they’ll be distracted from the story itself.

#2 – Stop trying to be clever

There’s nothing less impressive than someone trying to be impressive. There’s nothing less funny than someone trying to be funny. Eloquence doesn’t impress anyone except for the person trying so hard to be eloquent.

So look for places in your story where you were trying to be funny, clever or impressive, and change those sections or remove them.

Some writers shoot for humor by using speaker attributions like, “she joked,” “he quipped,” “he mentioned in his usual fun-loving way,” and so on. Don’t fall into this trap. If your story is funny, you don’t need to tell your readers. If it’s not funny, you don’t need to draw attention to the fact.

Some authors resort to using a profusion of speaker attributions. Their characters chortle, grunt, exclaim, reiterate, gasp, howl, hiss and bark. Whenever I read a book like this I find myself skimming through the dialogue just to see what the next synonym for “said” will be. Readers get it. They know you own a thesaurus. Just tell the story.

In the same way, inserting your authorial voice intrudes on the story.

Drop those antiquated, obscure or uncommon words unless they’re necessary for character development or for maintaining the narrator’s voice. This isn’t to say that you can’t write intelligent, incisive, challenging stories, but any time the meaning of an unfamiliar word isn’t immediately obvious within the context of the story, choose another word that won’t trip readers up. This is especially true as you build toward the story’s climax since the pace of the story needs to steadily increase.

Also, avoid the temptation to impress your readers with your research, your vocabulary, your plot structure, or your knowledge of the flora and fauna of western North Carolina.

When readers pick up your book, they’re not preparing for a spelling bee or a doctoral dissertation or a medical exam; they’re hoping for an entertaining, believable story that will transport them to another world and move them on a deep, emotional level.

It’s your job to deliver.

#3 – Avoid contrived literary devices

Writing something like, “She cautiously closed the closet door and crept across the carpet,” might have impressed your high school English teacher, but it does nothing to serve readers in today’s marketable fiction.

As soon as readers notice the alliteration they’ll be distracted—whether they’re counting up the number of times you used the letter “c,” or rolling their eyes at your attempt to be clever, you’ve caused readers to momentarily disengage from your story. And that’s the last thing you want to do.

You don’t even want readers to admire your writing; you want them to be so engaged in the story itself that they don’t notice the way you use words to shape it. Anything that jars readers loose from the grip of the story needs to go, even if it seems to make the story appear more “literary.”

Weed out figures of speech that don’t serve the mood of the scene. During an airplane hijacking you wouldn’t write “the clouds outside the window were castles in the sky.” Castles carry a positive connotation and undermine the suspense in this story sequence. If you were to use a figure of speech, perhaps choose one that accentuates the tense mood: “the jet plummeted through the dungeon of clouds.”

Over the years I’ve heard of authors who’ve written books without punctuation, or without using the word “said,” or without quotation marks, or novels that contain an exact predetermined number of words. But by becoming more important to the author than the reader’s experience with the story, those artificial constraints handcuff it.

Whenever you break the rules or keep them, it must be for the benefit of readers. If your writing style or techniques get in the way of the story, cause readers to question what’s happening, analyze the writing, or page back through sections they’ve already read in order to understand the context, you’ve failed.

You want your writing to be an invisible curtain between your readers and your story. Any time you draw attention to the narrative tools at your disposal, you insert yourself into the story and cause readers to notice the curtain.

In order to improve their writing, most authors need to cut back on the literary devices they use (whether that’s assonance, onomatopoeia, hyperbole, overwrought similes, or whatever), rather than add more.

#4 – Keep readers from asking “why?”

A plot flaw is, simply put, a glitch in believability or causality. When a character acts in a way that doesn’t make sense, or when one scene doesn’t naturally follow from the one that precedes it, readers will stumble.

Imagine that your protagonist hears that a killer is in the neighborhood and she decides to go make pasta. Readers will think, “What? Why doesn’t she lock the door, or call the police, or run to her car and get out of the area?”

Do you see what happened? At the very moment in your story where you want your readers to be drawn deeper into the narrative, they’ve pulled away and started to question your character’s actions, and, to some degree, your storytelling ability.

As soon as an event isn’t believable it becomes a distraction, so ask yourself, “Is there enough stimulus to motivate this action?” And then make sure that there is.

Always anticipate your readers’ response.

Try to step back and read the story as objectively as you can, through the eyes of a reader who has never seen it before. If you come to a place where you think, “Why doesn’t she just . . . ?” or “What?! That doesn’t make sense!” you’ll know you have some editing to do.

Pointing out the story’s plot flaws can often solve them. Have your character say something like, “I couldn’t believe she would do such a thing. It just didn’t compute.” Readers will think, “Yes, exactly! I thought the same thing! There’s more going on here than meets the eye.” The more you admit that the scene has a believability problem, the less readers will hold you responsible for it.

Make sure every special skill or gadget needed in the climax is foreshadowed earlier in the story. Coincidences drive a wedge in believability. Foreshadowing removes them. So if the diver suddenly needs a harpoon gun to fight off the killer barracuda and he reaches down and—how convenient!—has one, readers won’t buy it. Show us the harpoon gun earlier so it makes sense that he has it at the climactic fish battle.

#5 – Reevaluate your “hook”

Many well-meaning writing instructors will tell you that you need to start your story with a good “hook” to snag your readers’ attention. And they’re right.

To a certain extent.

While I was teaching at one writers conference a woman gave me her story for a critique. It started with an exciting car chase. I said, “Great, so this is an action story.”

“No,” she told me. “It’s a romance. The woman goes to the hospital and falls in love with the doctor.”

“But it starts with a car chase and explosion. Readers will expect it to escalate from there.”

“I had a different opening,” she admitted, “but my writing critique group told me I needed a good hook.”

It may have been true that her story needed a better hook, but she landed on the wrong one. Hooks become gimmicks if they don’t provide the platform for escalation.

An effective hook needs to do seven things:

1. Grab the readers’ attention.

  1. Introduce a character they care about.
  2. Set the story’s mood.
  3. Establish the storyteller’s voice.
  4. Orient readers to the world of the protagonist (and enable them to picture it).
  5. Lock in the genre.
  6. End in a way that is both surprising and satisfying.

Too many times a writer will grab readers’ attention early on, but not introduce them to the characters or setting of the story. Consequently, she’s forced to insert excessive backstory that undermines the forward movement of the story. Take your time, trust your readers, orient them to the world of the story, and then drive the story forward without having to explain why you started it the way you did.

#6 – Answer readers’ questions as they arise

Never annoy your readers.

Sometimes I read books in which the author withholds information from readers “to create suspense.” But failing to give readers what they want doesn’t create suspense, it causes dissatisfaction.

For example, don’t leave a point-of-view character in the middle of an action sequence.

So, if, during a chase scene, you write (about your protagonist), “She careened around the bend and crashed into the cement pylon jutting up from the side of the road,” and then you close your chapter, readers will obviously want to find out if the woman is conscious, dead, etc . . .

But some writers will then jump to another point-of-view character, often in a less stressful situation, then come back to the woman in the car (or maybe she’s in the hospital by then) a chapter later.

If readers are tempted to skip over part of your story to get to a part they want to read, you need to fix that section. That means that as you write you’ll constantly ask yourself what the readers want at this moment of the story.

Then give it to them, or surprise them with something even better.

799bb96230fe0e8c3cb120093b8266a9Steven James is the award- winning author of 30+ books including the critically acclaimed Patrick Bowers thriller series and the newly released Jevin Banks series. He has an MA in Storytelling, is a contributing editor to the Writer’s Digest, and has taught writing and creative communication around the world. When he’s not writing or speaking, you’ll find him trail running, rock climbing, or drinking a dark roast coffee near his home in eastern Tennessee.

Queen Anne’s Christmas of Memories A.K.A Cleaning off my old computer….

At the beginning of the week I got a new computer. For old times sake… I am writing this post on my old one: The Dinosaur (I will post a picture of the ole guy, below!), it will be this computer’s last post on my blog ever. Kinda a sad way to think of it, because it’s been through so much with me. When I type on this keypad – my fingers dance across the keys in harmony without stumbling or hitting wrong keys.

It takes a while to leave an old computer behind as it’s always been home. My new computer is a Macbook Pro just like this one, but maybe this guy’s worn in-ness is what makes it so familiar. But, boy am I happy I have a new one, because the back of this one is falling apart and the trackpad works no longer. (If you’re wondering… I am using a mouse.)

Good-bye Dinosaur!

Good-bye Dinosaur!

Just to think of everything I did in my past with this computer…

  • Just to think of all that I had written on this computer. All the years of struggling through literary assignments and staying up late with Critical Analyzing papers for my literature classes.
  • Writing with tears in my eyes during my college years, when I survived a 4-year mentally abusive relationship, and finally ended it to move on to better things.
  • It made a trip with me to England and back again.
  • Dino and I designed and wrote for a literary magazine.
  • I plunked out two full manuscripts on Dino as well. He traveled to Australia with me.
  • Dino was also my life-line to my boyfriend in Australia.

I believe this little bugger, my ole’ dinosaur has served me well. And made me proud to be an Apple user.

I’ve been cleaning off my hard-drive and saving documents and files on my external and I found some old writings of mine. Below, is a poem I wrote in memory of my Grandpa Dennis Otto. I took a poetry writing class back in college and this was one of the poems I did for that class. So I just thought I would share this with you.

Queen Anne’s Christmas of Memories

January 21, 2009

Every Christmas I taste the memories-

memories from years gone by.

The box, red of Queen Anne’s-

imprisons the smooth, round morsels there, until they see light of day.

As you slid your finger under the edge of the box to open it,

your memories come flying back to me,

“Want one?”, you’d ask as you hold them my way.

I took one-

that Christmas.

A smile etched it’s way across your face as you grabbed one too.

The smell was rich-

of milk chocolate.

The taste-

a chocolaty, creamy, sugary, syrupy mixture

with one whole cherry

bursting in my mouth.

Tastes are memories-

they are filling.

Giving a warm feeling of comfort in your stomach,

the safe sensation you get on Christmas that nothing can go wrong.

Back to the present day and there is a box

red of Queen Anne’s-

Imprisoning the smooth, round morsels there, until they see light of day.

I slide my finger under the boxes edge.

Opening it, the smell drifts in a flavorful aroma.

I pop one in my mouth the taste of chocolaty, creamy, sugary, and syrupy mixture

with one whole cherry

bursts.

With that your memories come back-

YOU come back to me with Queen Anne.

As she imprisons the smooth, round morsels there, she sets you free in my memories forever.

A small story goes with these delicious sweet chocolate covered cherries. We would always get my grandpa chocolate covered cherries for Christmas. He would offer one to all of us as soon as he opened the box. It makes me smile thinking about my grandpa. :) We still give each other Queen Anne’s Chocolate Covered Cherries for Christmas.

  

How about you, then? Do you have some object that reminds you of someone you used to know (like the chocolate covered cherries and my grandpa?)

Wednesday Words.

Wednesday Words.

Wednesdays will be known as Wednesday Words.

Every wednesday I will post a word as a prompt (and maybe even a picture).

Wednesday Words will act as a prompt for you.

Write a short story inspired by the word. Write a poem or lyrics? Or anything as long as you write something.

You can write something about the word or the word can inspire something out of the ordinary for you to write about.

Your first Wednesday Words Prompt is :

Hoar-Frost

hoarfrost |ˈhôrˌfrôst

-ˌfräst|nouna grayish-white crystalline deposit of frozen water vapor formed in clear still weather on vegetation, fences, etc.

Photo Credit : Annette Berglund www.annetteberglund.com

Photo Credit : Annette Berglund www.annetteberglund.com

Be sure to share the writing that you came up with in the comments! Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Very Inspiring Blogger Award

Just a few days ago I was totally flattered and encouraged by a fellow blogger when she nominated me for the “Very Inspiring Blogger Award” by Stacy .

very-inspiring-blogger-award

These were the rules for accepting the award!

• Display the award logo on your blog.
• Link back to the person who nominated you.
• State 7 things about yourself.
• Nominate bloggers for this award.
• Notify those bloggers of the nomination by linking to one of their specific posts so that they get notified by ping back.

7 things about myself:

  1. All of you know I recently got back to the States from Australia. So I decided to put a few places that I haven’t been on this point. A few of the States that I’ve never been to are Hawaii, Alaska, and New York.
  2. If I could have tea and lunch with any writer in the time of writers it would be C.S. Lewis.
  3. I wish I were at a cabin nestled mountains of  Montana right now, near Polebridge listening to wolves howling. I would like to do a writer in residence in Montana some time. I think it would really be an inspiring and revitalizing experience. I’d like to do this. *Hint: my next book that I am planning on writing is set in Montana and involves… duh…duh…duuuuhhh… Grizzly Bears! :)
  4. Most of the time I find myself wishing I were in a good ole’ Disney movie. Like Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.
  5. I just taught my puppy, Cocoa to sit yesterday.
  6. I remember my first memory. It may sound strange, but I remember a very bright light. I think it was the day I was born.
  7. I am planning on applying for an assistantship with a literary agent or assistant. I would be good for working in Chicago, New York, Tennessee, Florida (I recently decided Florida is pretty nice) or California. I think Chicago, Tennessee, or Cali would be my top pics, though.

I am going to Nominate…

1.) D.M. Kilgore – http://www.dmkilgore.com

2.) Blue Monkey Writing – www.bluemonkeywriting.wordpress.com

3.) Stephanie’s – The Glitter Globe  – http://www.theglitterglobe.com

4.) Zen – http://zenscribbles.wordpress.com

5.) Dave – http://davidpagan.wordpress.com

6.) Teryn O’Brien  –http://identityrenewed.wordpress.com/about/

7.) Annette Berglund – www.annetteberglund.com

8.) jjoubertArt – www.jjoubert.wordpress.com

9.) Anushka – http://findingmycreature.wordpress.com

Sorry that the links aren’t working very well in the line up of nominees. Something silly is going on with my WP.