Sunday, October 30, 2011

Blog Number Fifteen

          Back when I was a member of East Tennessee Romance Writers (a chapter of RWA), I did a workshop on "Great Beginnings."  I bought several books (all fiction) in various genres--mystery, romance, romantic suspense and historical.  Some by famous, time-tested authors, some by newcomers.  We dissected the first three pages of each novel.  It was an education in what not to do.
The worst example opens the scene with a young woman walking up the steps of a typical San Francisco row house to knock on the door of her birth mother for whom she had been searching about ten years.  Instead of concentrating on the inner turmoil and nervousness of this young woman, the author launches into the history of San Francisco row houses.  Three pages later, she gets back to the young woman and her turmoil.
One historical we tore apart began with a love scene.  Okay, I can live with that.  However, the author stops right in the middle and describes the invention of the button and button loop.  Talk about a buzz-killer.
Several years ago, I read Peeling the Onion--avoiding the Too-Much Too-Soon Syndrome by Diana Whitney Hinz.  The basic tenet was don't release too much information too quickly.  Instead, create your hook, the exciting scene that draws readers into your story...THEN, get into the background little by little.
           Example.  "A flash of movement caused the attractive, divorced mother of two to slam on the breaks, sending the vehicle into an uncontrolled slide."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Blog Number Fourteen

Sometimes you must read a book or see a movie and tear it apart as a student rather than read or watch for pure enjoyment.

This novel by Tami Hoag is the classic model for romantic suspense.  As you read, study construction and plotting.  The author pulled me in on the very first page and made me care about the central figure.  This author got her start with Harlequin and Silhouette, then made a successful switch to main stream.  As her career progressed, she had two books made into Hallmark TV movies w/Valerie Bertinelli (Dust to Dust and Ashes to Ashes).  The push and shove to produce a book a year finally got to her and the quality of her novels suffered.  These days, while giving her creativity a rest, her publisher is re-issuing all her category titles.

This movie was made from the screen play by Joan D. Vinge, who also did COWBOYS & ALIENS.  Whereas both books left me cold, Ladyhawke is my very favorite movie.  It's an excellent example of lovers overcoming a huge obstacle to be together.  A text book plot.

This movie is another great example of how the author has made you care whether Nicolas Cage survives.  If this story was nothing more than an action movie with Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage getting off Alcatraz, it would not be nearly as good.  However, the story starts with a scene between Cage and his girlfriend:  "I'm Catholic, I'm single and I'm pregnant."  Throughout the movie, you know that she and his unborn child are the motivations as to why he wants to survive.

Don't know how some authors get away with using an em dash instead of quotation marks to indicate dialogue, but they do.  Sometimes it's called innovation, but I called it laziness.  When reading this book, I never could keep track of who was speaking or whether the written word was internal dialogue.  It was made into a movie.  The novel starts off on a sour note for me as this southern man is in a Yankee Civil War hospital bed being kept awake by the sound of a lawn mover.  Okay folks, the history of the push mower begins in England and has a rocky beginning.   The most popular method for "cropping grass-plots and pleasure grounds" was the hand-held sickle.  The push mower as we know it, wasn't used in this country until the early nineteen hundreds.  My brother (the retired college English professor) states "this book didn't contain a single cliché."  My theory is that any string of words used repetitively is a cliche. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Blog Number Thirteen

.........The .author is unknown on this bit of wisdom. I keep it taped to my desk, just above my computer screen.   I find these words very inspirational. 

"Writing with appealing rhythm includes searching for just the right words, and not giving up until you find them. When you do, use them to reconstruct each sentence, trimming or stretching, moving words and phrases around until each sentence flows, rather than plods, sings instead of mutters. This is your task as a professional writer: to select each word, to craft each sentence, meticulously and with pride."

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Blog Number Twelve

"I want to write a book, but I don't know how to get started."
That's something I hear quite often.  Everyone's style of writing is different.  If you put a dozen writers in a room with pencil and paper, you will come up with a dozen different writing styles.
There has been much written about the differences between male and female authors.  One person thinks males want to save a country, whereas females want to save a relationship.  I definitely fall into the latter category.  I think there's something magical about those few precious, golden moments when a man and a woman first meet.  I'm a sucker for a good love story as well as a sprinkling of "blood-and-guts."
First, you have to have an idea--the seed of a plot or character in a situation.
The first thing is to write the "dreaded" synopsis.  I don't know why some writers are so consumed with fear concerning the synopsis.  Maybe changing the name to "Outline" would help.  I want to get my idea on paper as quickly as possible.  At my age, I've gotten a little forgetful.  I even keep paper and pencil beside my bed, beside the sofa when I'm watching TV and in my handbag when I'm out-and-about.  You never know when that fantastic plot twist will strike.
Write the basics of your story as if you were explaining it to your best buddy.  You shouldn't care about grammar or punctuation.  Just get it down on paper.  Of course, it isn't written in stone.  It's your story, you can change it as the plot unfolds.  You really need this guideline to keep you from wandering.
Next, make up a "cast of characters" in line with your new idea.  To me, this is the fun part--creating new people.  Pick a name, age, physical description, family back ground--parents and siblings, marital history, education, job history, pets, even the make of car they drive.  Even if none of this is mentioned in your story, you need the info.
How a person reacts in any given situation is usually based on past experience.  Are they stable or will they fall to pieces?  How will your characters react in a sexual situation or in the face of  mortal danger?  Believe me, it matters.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Blog Number Eleven

A couple of  punctuation rules won't hurt.  Honest.  These are some rules and observations that will help you in your every day pursuit of the perfect story.  In fiction, we take "literary" license with punctuation, but still there are some hard and fast rules.
1. THE ELEMENTS OF GRAMMAR, by Margaret Shertzer, states that "use a dash (double dash or em dash) to indicate a sudden break in a sentence.  When you end a sentence in a dash, no punctuation is needed."
2. THE ELEMENTS OF GRAMMAR (regarding ellipsis dots) states that you should use three dots in the middle of a sentence, four dots at the end of a sentence.  Ellipsis dots can indicate the passage of time, that a statement is left unfinished, or can be used to indicate hesitation or a kind of "dying away" of a thought or action.  Whether to put a space between the dots is a matter of individual style.

3. PUNCTUATE IT RIGHT by Harry Shaw states "a dash lends a certain air of surprise or emotional tone on occasion."

A favorite saying to help me remember the rule regarding commas:

A cat has claws at the end of its paws
A comma's a pause at the end of a clause.

The following is my argument with an editor concerning the use of hyphens.
I wrote:  "Dear Lee, Regarding "soft-hearted father."  I thought the rule concerning adjectives was if neither word could stand alone, then they should be hyphenated.  For example: it's not her "soft father" or her "hearted father," but her "soft-hearted father."  You used this rule with "back-stair gossip," stating in one place that it should have been hyphenated, but in another instance you didn't.
"Regarding " ill-at-ease" I deleted the hyphens as you requested.  But, I thought that when two or three words are used as one, that the hyphens were called for.  However, I can't seem to find a rule of grammar for that."

Lee's response:  Touché.