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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

That just CUTS me!

I'm one of those people who hates giving up scenes, especially the ones that have that one witty comment, or the MC and her love interest share that brief look.... Still when your MS starts climbing over 90k (and 85k is supposedly the sweet spot of your genre), it's time to say goodbye! Even if you're under the target word count, you still need to take a look at each of your scenes with a fine-tooth comb. As Kris P. told me, read each scene separately and ask what it does to the book: slow or keep pace, advance the plot? If you can't find a good reason to keep it (besides that sweet kissing scene), it needs to go. :)
Still, I had a hard time--until I started reading aloud to my husband. It was easy to tell which scenes weren't keeping his interest, slowed the pace, or just plain held fun and interesting, yet unnecessary information. (I'd actually recommend reading it to someone outside your target audience, too. When you read a novel meant for 15 year-old-girls to a 28 year-old guy, you can really polish it up!)
Good luck!

Insurance Query

So you can guess what's been on my mind lately, right? There are so many other "agents" in the world that we interact with every day, that beg US to let them represent us. What would the letter look like if we had to query insurance agents?

Dear All State Rep,

Because of your interest in combined home and auto policies, I'm excited to tell you about my three-bedroom, two-bath home in need of representation.

When the Clark patriarch, Adam, gets a new job several hundred miles from their hometown, the Clarks are forced to sell their cozy, first house they bought together and search for a new one. After facing discouragement, the Clark's happen upon the perfect home--a dream bathtub and master suite included! But without the proper allotment of storage space, the Clark's must leave some of their prize possessions (like all the baby stuff) in a storage unit back home.

Our home marries the "lived in" decor reminiscent of "The Brady Bunch," with ample allusions to "Toy Story." If you'd like to consider putting together a policy for us, I'd be happy to forward you the full specifications as well as information on our Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Ranee` S. Clark

Friday, March 25, 2011

Great Site for Queryers (yeah, that's probably not a word...)

So, I've spent the last three days furiously researching agents to query. I found a good site you all might be interested in. It's called Literary Rambles http://caseylmccormick.blogspot.com/. They do A LOT of agent spotlights, and the spotlights include a TON of useful information. They gather together interviews (if available) and list links to any place that might have any information! Check it out. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bloom Query Letter

**I don't want to post multiple query letters, so after some good comments, I've mixed things up a big and just edited the one below.**

I'm finally ready to query BLOOM again. (Yeah, like I tried really hard the first time.) What do you all think of my query?

Dear :

Born into one of the Big Three families of the Enchanter realm, 17-year-old Finna Claremont’s lineage—yeah, lineage—should mean she’ll make a great guardian.


Finna’s screwed up everything from transporting to blocking her thoughts since she was little, so when a fairy declares Finna has special responsibilities to protect her world, it shocks everyone, including Finna. To prove she can hack it as a guardian, Finna has to stop an evil politician threatening the rights of all Enchanters. She’ll have to trust the last person she ever expected to befriend (not to mention fall in love with) to pull it off. And trusting Liam Monroe isn’t as easy as it sounds. Because he’s a Monroe. They’ve hated the Claremonts for about a hundred years, and the feeling is definitely mutual. There’s a lot more than family honor riding on the line if Finna fails to measure up. She’ll have to count on her fledgling powers or else watch the world she knows disappear.

BLOOM is a YA fantasy novel complete at 87,000 words. Finna’s sweet but still sassy voice will appeal to fans of Ally Carter’s GALLAGHER GIRLS, and the family elements will draw in readers of Brandon Mull’s FABLEHAVEN.

I am the vice president of my American Night Writers Association chapter and a cold-hearted reviewer. If you would like to consider BLOOM, I’d be happy to forward the complete manuscript to you.

Thank you for your time and consideration,
Ranee` S. Clark


Friday, March 18, 2011

Interview with Bek Black from "My Boyfriend is a Superhro."

I know you’re probably all really disappointed that I’m taking a break from writing advice today and interviewing my main character of “My Best Friend Is A Superhero,” Bek Black. “Superhero” is currently entered into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) Contest. So far we’ve made it through the first found. We find out if we’re advancing again on March 22!
Me: Good afternoon, Bek. I’m so glad we have an opportunity to sit and chat.
Bek Black: Hey. Thanks for having me.
Me: So, you’re getting the limelight for the first time. How does it feel to be part of ABNA this year?
BB: I’m pretty excited. I think that people will love this story, so I’m hoping that ABNA will help us get the story out.
Me: Me to, me to. Are you nervous about it?
BB: Like you, I tend to forget about until it’s about time to check out. I try not to worry too much. I think you did a good job handling my voice, and the story is addicting. It’ll get a chance.
Me: Aw, you don’t have to say that. Thanks!
BB: Well…I kind of do…
Me: hehehe. Anyway, tell me about your relationship with your brother Josh. There’s so much that could keep you two from being close, yet you get along just as well as any siblings do.
BB: Well, I recognize that even though our biological dad, Calvin, pretends like Josh is his only child isn’t exactly Josh’s fault. Josh is kind of stingy about letting me use his car, but he’s got a lot of other brother things going for him. Most older brothers wouldn’t spend so much time hanging out with their sisters. I realize there’re actually a lot of things about our relationship that other siblings might secretly covet.
Me: True. I’m sure you’re aware that my close relationship with my brothers influences your relationship with Josh a great deal. Is Josh protective?
BB: Not very often. Maybe in the sequel you’ll let a little of that sneak out.
Me: I plan on it. Josh’s relationship with you definitely needs explored. As the best friend of a superhero, what sort of things would you like to do in future books?
BB: At some point I want to get involved in some of the action, you know, not just getting rescued from robots blowing up, but helping to rescue. Do you think that’s a possibility for me?
Me: You’re a strong girl, Bek. I think you’d step up the challenge well. The question is, will your best friend allow that?
BB: We all know he’ll drag his feet…oops, did I just give something away?
Me: Nothing nobody wouldn’t guess after reading a few pages. *Smile.* Again, Bek, thanks for stopping by. We all look forward to seeing you in print soon.
BB: Anytime.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Things You Need to Know NOW!: Grammar Is Not Optional

Grammar Is Not Optional: Punctuating Dialog and Other Common Grammar Mistakes
I’ve always had a fairly decent grip on grammar, but along with the critique came small mistakes I’d never known I was making. I dug out all the grammar books I could find, searched the internet, read all about commas so I could spot my mistakes and make my writing more polished and professional.
Punctuating Dialog
“Hello, Finna.” He said, hugging me tightly once I was inside. “How was school?”
“Mr. Walters let me retake the test.” I answered, dropping my bag into one of the big soft chairs that faced his desk and planted myself comfortably in the other, wondering how long we were going to have to wait for the visitor.
“Excellent.” Dad responded, leaning against his desk. “How did you do?”
“C-minus.” I answered, trying to look optimistic about this. “No books fell on him.” I added with a hopeful shrug and Dad grinned, easing my mind immediately.
“That’s comforting.” He replied. He cleared his throat and looked past me.
Dialog, also from the scary “final draft,” version five of “Bloom.” Cringe.
Here’s the correct way to punctuate:
“Hello, Finna,” He said, hugging me tightly once I was inside. “How was school?”
“Mr. Walters let me retake the test,” I answered, dropping my bag into one of the big soft chairs that faced his desk and planted myself comfortably in the other, wondering how long we were going to have to wait for the visitor. [And better: “Mr. Walters let me retake the rest.” I dropped my bag into one of the big soft chairs that faced his desk…]
“Excellent,” Dad responded, leaning against his desk. “How did you do?”
“C-minus,” I answered, trying to look optimistic about this. “No books fell on him,” I added with a hopeful shrug and Dad grinned, easing my mind immediately.
“That’s comforting,he replied. He cleared his throat and looked past me.
It seemed so strange at first, all those commas and lower-case letters. I had to really work, do some soul-searching on the internet to convince myself my reviewers were telling me the truth. But I finally cleared it out in my mind. Take out the quotes and think of the dialog as a sentence.
Excellent. Dad responded, leaning against the desk. How did you do?
That’s comforting. He replied. He cleared his throat and looked past me.
It looks silly like that, doesn’t it? So here are the rules:
1.       When a dialog is attributed to a character using a word like said, asked, responded, replied, etc. it should be punctuated with a comma, and the words following the comma should be lower-case, except for proper nouns.
“We’re going to the store,” she said.
“We’re going to the store?” he asked.
“We’re going to the store!” they shouted.
“We’re going to the store,” I said.
2.       Whenever possible, leave off an attribution like said, asked, responded, replied, etc. and attribute the speech with an action instead. When the attribution is marked by an action, use a period to punctuate the speech.
She held open the door. “We’re going to the store.”
“We’re going to the store?” He raised his eyebrows in surprise.
“We’re going to the store!” They stomped up and down.
3.       Nine times out of 10 you should use the common words like said or asked, if you use an attribution word at all. According to many things I’ve read on the subject, readers basically just skip over said or asked. Words like shrieked, yelled, demanded stand out instead of flow. Here is an excellent article I found online on the subject: http://www.writing-world.com/fiction/said.shtml
Other Common Grammar Mistakes I Come Across
This is not, by any means, a comprehensive list of grammar mistakes. As the title suggests, these are the mistakes I see most often when critiquing the works of others, and prior to April 2010, my own writing. J
Comma Splice
Mae sobbed into Porter’s shoulder, the death of her mentor devastated her.
The biggest mistake I see are comma splices. According to Diane Hacker in “A Writers Reference,” a comma splice is “two or more independent clauses joined by a comma without a coordinating conjunction.”
The two phrases above, “Mae sobbed into Porter’s shoulder” and “the death of her mentor devastated her,” could stand alone. They each have a subject (Mae, her) and a verb (sobbed, devastated). Even though the two sentences are related, they either must be split into two sentences:
Mae sobbed into Porter’s shoulder. The death of her mentor devastated her.
Split by a semi-colon (not recommended. Semi-colons should be used sparingly.)
Mae sobbed into Porter’s shoulder; the death of her mentor devastated her.
Or joined by a conjunction:
Mae sobbed into Porter’s shoulder because the death of her mentor devastated her.
There are writers who claim they’re using a comma splice stylistically. Obviously that’s your call. I tend to follow the advice of Mignon Fogerty on this subject. She’s also known as Grammar Girl and has a website called Quick and Dirty tips. She has an amazing podcast on this subject: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/comma-splice.aspx
Commas between independent phrases with a coordinating conjunction
This is incorrect: Mae sobbed into Porter’s shoulder and he patted her reassuringly on the back.
Again, both phrases are independent and could stand alone. Place a comma before the coordinating conjunction (and).
Mae sobbed into Porter’s shoulder, and he patted her reassuringly on the back.
Don’t use a comma if one or both of the phrases are dependent—couldn’t stand alone.
Mae sobbed into Porter’s shoulder and blew her nose on his shirt. (Blew her nose on his shirt is not a complete sentence. It is dependent—so no comma.)
Introductory phrases
According to Diana Hacker and introductory word groups are “clauses and phrases functioning as adverbs.”
When her sobbing ended, Porter led Mae to the car.
They can also include “participal phrases describing a noun or pronoun immediately following them.” (Hacker, 236).
Blasting through the cave, Porter and Mae found the TimeGlass.
Hacker also notes: “Other introductory word groups include conjunctive adverbs, transitional expressions, and absolute phrases.” (237).
Next installment: Words I Repeatedly Overuse. Do you?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Things You Need to Know NOW!

Some day I’m going to have a really great e-book with all the things I’ve learned. For now, it will come piece by piece on my blog. J

Things You Need To Know NOW!
In early 2010 a kind editor at Cedar Fort suggested that I join a writers group to get peer feedback on my manuscript for Bloom. I found the American Night Writers Association, a group for LDS women and decided it was the perfect fit for me.

The biggest thing I’ve learned since then is that not only getting your work critiqued, but also critiquing others work is one of the best ways to write well. In those short months I’ve critiqued several full manuscripts, selections, pitch letters, synopses for my sister members, and I’ve learned a TON about how to write well.
I can’t just sit back with this knowledge. Of course I share it whenever I post my comments in someone’s work, but I feel that you all have a right to know these basics. Basics I didn’t have a clue about before I had my work critiqued. It’s the reason I have several manuscripts still heavily littered with “was” or incorrect punctuation of dialog.

My 13 year old sister participated in the youth program for NaNo WriMo this year and let me critique her MS. She let me rip it apart harshly, and I justified my bad behavior by telling her if she knows this now, she has 10 years of good writing on me.

So here are the things I wish I’d discovered years ago. The thing you need to know NOW!

This isn’t show & tell. Just show.
It’s just that the things that everyone in my world can do easily—naturally—are a struggle to me. Like the easiest power Enchanters have, that is sensing the thoughts and feelings of others and in turn blocking those thoughts and feelings from being seen by just anyone, should be, by now, second nature. I have been trained to block and sense since I was old enough to be trained in the simple powers and still when I get really excited or if I’m not concentrating on it, I forget to control it. It can be rather embarrassing, especially when you’re thinking about how utterly good looking the guy in your math class is, you teacher calls on you and in the fluster of the moment you let that slip.
And he starts laughing.

Above is the second paragraph from version five of Bloom. Five major revisions, a draft I considered final. I actually submitted this version to three publishers for consideration. Aside from the rampant run on sentences and total lack of commas, there’re enough ‘telling’ words in that paragraph to choke an editor. No wonder the Cedar Fort editor asked me to join a writing group. I’m surprised she didn’t beg me to get a Masters of Fine Arts before I ever darkened her desk again with what I called writing!
You can imagine the comments I got from the great ladies who volunteered to critique. I deserved that every other comment contained the phrase “show instead of tell.”

I’ve put the “telling words” in bold so they stick out. (As if they didn’t jump out enough!) They are common indicators that a writer is “telling” the reader about something instead of painting a picture for them or “showing.”

Let’s look at some bad, obvious examples. In my 2010 NaNo WriMo novel Mae Nickson: Monster Hunter, I wrote this sentence to describe a character:
He had long greasy brown hair and dark brown, almost black eyes. He was skinny and didn’t look strong.

Using had, was, and look are weak ways of describing the character. I like to call the better way to write writing actively. Use your description for a purpose. Here’s a better example:
Long, greasy brown hair hung limply in front of his face, almost obscuring his black eyes. He bent his skinny form into the chair.

A reader engages in this type of writing. Instead of just telling you he’s skinny, I use an action to describe it; not only showing you what he looks like but getting him into a chair as well.
Kelly Mortimer, of Mortimer Literary Agency, explained it well in her handouts for her presentation at the 2010 ANWA Conference. She clarifies the mistake like this, “Instead of moving the story forward through action and dialog, a writer tells us through exposition…Watch forms of ‘to be’ and ‘felt.’”

Words that stick out to me: was (or is, but most authors write in past tense so ‘was’ tends to pop up most), has, had, have, felt.

Why is ‘was’ a problem? Don’t get me wrong, “Was” certainly has a place in your manuscript, but at least 98% of the time you can cut it out and reword the sentence. Too much exposition, or telling, bores a reader. Immersing the reader in the action and dialog excites a reader.

Don’t go through your manuscript and cut out every instance of “was,” or the others words, you see. You’ll end up with some very awkward sentences. Do go through and cut out as many as you can, rewording for more active, interesting language.

When I edited Bloom after I got back my peer critiques, changing all those telling words frustrated me. Here’re some tips for when you get frustrated:

Take the sentence that’s you’re trying to reword.
Example: It’s just that the things that everyone in my world can do easily—naturally—are a struggle to me.
Then I ask myself a question about it that usually contains either Why? or How?
Example: Why are these natural abilities a struggle for Finna?
Just answer the question: Finna often doubts herself. Enchanter powers take concentration, and second guessing her abilities diminishes it.
Using what you’ve written, reword the sentence.
Example: It all seems to come so easily to everyone else, but I struggle. Probably because I second guess myself all the time.

NOW this is important:
Do not, under any circumstances, change the voice of your narrator. If you can’t find a way to change the sentence without making it awkward, or if it sounds out of character, then leave it. Your writing voice is most important, and if you change it you’ll sound just like everyone else. And that’s the last thing you want to do.  
I wish I could post the better paragraph from Bloom so you could see the incredible transformation “showing” instead of “telling” did for it. Truth is, that whole paragraph got axed and the information it conveyed to the reader sprinkled throughout an entire chapter with a lot more action and a lot less exposition.

Look For—Grammar Is Not Optional: Punctuating Dialog and Other Common Grammar Mistakes

About Me!

I've been writing since I was old enough to grasp a crayon--my grandma even has an early copy of a "book" I made her. I have a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Wyoming and will (hopefully) soon be starting a graduate program in English. When I'm not breaking up impromptu UFC fights in the living room or losing miserably to my boys at Uno, I'm ... well, writing or editing, of course! I'm married to my best friend, and we have three rambunctious but simply amazing little boys.


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