Monday, June 30, 2008

List of Writing Rules

William F. Nolan's writing career has spanned more than fifty years. The award winning author has published more than 80 books, 165 short stories, and has had 20 of his 45 screenplays produced.

In March, 2006, The Writer featured a four-page spread on the prolific storyteller by contributor Jerry Aith.

Nolan's 10 rules he writes by are:

1. Don't repeat words in sentences. Unless using them for pacing or rhythm, the energy gets messed up.

2. Don't waffle. Launch a search and destroy for words like "almost" and "nearly." Intensity is lost through equivocations.

3. Use four-letter words sparingly. If at all. I'm guessing a writer who wants to stick around for the long haul isn't trying to shock or disgust readers.

4. Avoid being cute. Another form of author intrusion.

5. Never use slang. The exception would be in the dialogue of a slang-using character.

6. Stay away from lecturing the reader. I've become so adept at tuning out lecturers, I don't even know I'm doing it. In a book I'd probably just close the covers and never return.

7. Practice verse. Poetry encourages rhythm and strong, concise word choice.

8. Never go against your personal moral code. See the cowboy hat? (I'm such a romantic . . . for a suspense novelist).

9. A story must excite and intrigue you. I've bored myself more than once.

10. Don't talk a story to death. Avoid the long discussions, the too-detailed 3 x 5 cards and the crazy-long outlines. Create.

Currently reading: Still enjoying Silent Thunder. The book is very good. I'm just off my feed these days.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Whacko in 12-C

I just got home from Tucson (where if you don't have a pool, you don't want to be living), so I'm a bit brain-dead. Whatever interesting thoughts may have been lurking in the far corners of my mind are lost in that travel-trap-time-warp air travel tends to bring on.

What do you read on an airplane?

Generally, I'm a hardback reader, with a few favorites in trade. But it seems like I'm always carting around hardbacks when I travel. Timing and planning are things I'm not the greatest at figuring out.

It's interesting to watch other people and try and spy on their reading choices. USA Today is a big one, and easy to spot. Local newspapers, especially if my flight is in the morning, are big too. I have to wonder about the traveler who actually reads the magazines stuck in the seat backs. I've never found anything in them that held my attention for long.

Books are harder to pinpoint, and as a writer I want to know what people—complete strangers—are reading. (Okay, I've always been a snoop, it's just easier to live with if I also tell you I'm a writer, and thus a student of human behavior. *grin*) My peripheral vision gets a workout, let me tell ya. Somehow, even though I wouldn't necessarily mind if someone asked me what I was reading, an airplane is a really small space and I hate to obviously stick my snoopy-self into the moment. So I fidget. And crane my neck. And exercise my eyeballs. All very mysterious. I'm sure no one has ever noticed the whacko in 12-C.

My trip back this time? I read a little bit of my book, but I had two chatterboxes in the seats next to me so mostly I just closed my eyes and zoned out. A woman across the aisle from me was reading a book, but try as I might . . .

Still reading Silent Thunder and liking it.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, June 23, 2008


From Mirriam-Webster's Eleventh Edition: lo-gom-a-chy: a dispute over or about words.

The debate continues to rage. While I'm firmly on one side of the issue, well-meaning others . . . are simply wrong.

(My husband will get a chuckle over that statement. Between his gorgeous, immensely talented and intelligent wife ;-), and his good friend Robert, my husband can't decide who most fits this statement: "Often wrong, but never in doubt." Of course, that somehow makes my husband superior, and I have a problem with that picture.)

I'm a writer. I'm a reader. Those two pieces of information logically lead me to the conclusion that I love words. And I do. But I'm not a linguist. I can only guess roots, and ask my critique partners . . . my grammar is often by the seat of my . . . er, ears. (Thanks again to my parents.)

One of my favorite authors does not write suspense. Anne Rivers Siddon. I love the low-country feel of her stories. The ebb and flow of life and lessons. I also love the fact that when I read one of her books, I need to keep a pen and paper handy so I can make note of words I want to look up later. She engages me not only in the story, but in the words. She stretches the definitions from time to time, but she makes our language matter. It has value. The words paint.

Dean Koontz (who I want to be when I grow up) does the same thing.

I read something a while ago about how heavily the English language has borrowed from all other languages. Isn't that wonderful? Don't you think we must have some of the best crafted words in the world? Expressive. Decisive. Emotive. Perfect.

So what I can't stand is when people want me (or others) to simplify their words. Sorry, no can do. I write suspense. My audience are people who have progressed beyond fourth-grade reading levels. I will not stoop. I will feel honored if they at times need to make note of a word to look up later. (NOT IN THE BOOK. ON A SEPARATE PIECE OF PAPER.)

Currently reading: Silent Thunder, by Iris Johansen and her son, Roy Johansen. Look for my review (in about a week) at Armchair Interviews.

It's all better with friends.

Friday, June 20, 2008

What Am I Afraid Of?

Okay, yeah. There's that. But why do I feel there's this anchor tied around my heart when it comes to writing right now? I've tried (and perhaps had a measure of success) but things aren't clicking. I'm thinking I'm at one of those enormous learning curves (why can't they be tiny and rather unremarkable?) and it's the fire that will refine my craft yet again.

I'm an optimist if nothing else.

My focus left me a little bit when my mom went in the hospital January 2nd. It blurred beyond retrieval when she died on April 5th. But that's just a tidy, convenient excuse, ya know? Believe me, my mom would have a word or two to say to me even linking her to this situation.

Books have been written about the Fear of Failure syndrome. And about the Fear of Success quandary. I'm solidly in the Split-Fear modality. I can relate to both. Just guessing here—but a complete recovery for my disorder may be a bit more difficult.

I'm leaving early Saturday morning for Tucson (yes, it was 109 degrees there yesterday) to try and finalize a few things with my sister. I figure I can live in denial for about one more week. Then I'll need to face the music.

With prayer, luck, and some good karma, I'll be able to create some fabulous music with my words when I return.

A girl can hope.

What I'm reading: Still reading Fox Evil by Minette Walters, and will likely take it with me to Tucson. There are some POV shifts in this book as well, but they seem to be handled with skill.

What I'm working on: Have the research for the corrections I need to make in that early scene. Just need to get the confidence to make them.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Confessions of a Bibliophile

One of the things my mom taught my sister and I, by example, was to love reading. Another thing she taught us was to love books.

My fiction books (the picture is one grouping of books in our guestroom) are pretty pristine. It took me a long time to feel comfortable enough with my writing books to highlight and make notes on the pages. I have a wee bit of guilt when I do that, but the point of those books is infinitely different from the point of my novels.

Besides, I own them.

I've been checking a few books out of the library lately and am ready to string a few Book Bashers up. Creased pages? Have these people never heard of a bookmark?

One of the first Dean Koontz novels I checked out not only had creased pages, but wherever Koontz used a word that was more than two syllables, it was circled with a question mark. The second Koontz was just the same.

I think I'm following this reader through my local library. The book I'm currently leaving my bookmark in had an editing faux pas . . . corrected on the page by my nemesis.

Now, this is gross, but what are all of those ooky things on the pages? Am I going to catch something by reading books Creasers and Markers and Germy people have read?

Books checked out from the library are guests in my home. I need to treat them as guests. And when I crack them open to read, I'm a guest within those pages. I need to be a good guest.

What? Am I wrong here?

What I'm currently reading: Fox Evil by Minette Walters
What I'm currently working on: Some practical issues in an early scene that I hadn't caught the gazillion times I'd rewritten it before. Sheesh.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Writing Retreats

I've been reading about something called cloistered writing. If you can't get away to a mountaintop cabin, or a desert island for three months to finish a book (which honestly would freak me out), design a retreat for a couple of days to get some writing done.

Lately, my dominant work style is horrible. It's very much catch-as-catch-can style, full of excuses and time wasters. Giant holes that threaten to swallow up every idea and forward progress I've made. And guess what? I'm miserable. It's like my evil twin has taken over and I'm having trouble tossing her out.

My writing delight is when I've been disciplined and productive. I'm happy. Focused. Energized. In my skin.

Exorcism, anyone?

An important element with this idea of cloistered—or sequestered—writing time, for my life at the moment, is that even though it would work best to have a solid two days, it isn't necessary. You don't even have to check into a hotel. You just have to do a little planning and careful scheduling.

My biggest challenge will be to rule out distractions. For me, they can run the gamut from email to television to laundry. (I tried to make myself seem a little more together, and add exercise to that list. Truth is, I can think about my writing if I exercise, and it would not be in my best interest to skip that little discipline.)

Another change (ever notice how similar the words "change" and "challenge" are?) . . . none of my usual morning routine. I wake up, I'm on the clock. I suppose I can brush my teeth and grab a cuppa, but that's about it. I'm supposed to be writing even before I finish waking up. Hmmm . . . that could get interesting.

Just finished reading Elizabeth Adler's Meet Me in Venice. A great story with some POV and editing issues, but otherwise well written and thoroughly enjoyable.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Falling Prose

I fell down today. Nothing major, but enough to create a few ooky places on my body. My husband doctored up the worst of them. I have to admit, I felt special under his ministrations.

To The Fall: Morning newspaper in hand, my thoughts were focused on whether or not there was a hole in the bottom of the bag. You just can't use a bag as a doggie pooper-scooper if there's a hole in it, ya know? So I was doing a thorough inspection—especially since I don't currently have a doggie to scoop up after, and my donated newspaper bags are for a friend.

Our front courtyard area has a couple of steps leading up to the door, so in my mind, I placed my foot on the first step. Not. Balance lost, I took a tumble with a wrought iron chair, right on top of some wood chips.

Two thoughts blasted through my head during the fall. First, "You can get your balance. This isn't bad." Followed immediately by, "People are still sleeping. Fall quietly." The second thought is what made me give up on any hope of recovery. I remember grabbing the chair as it fell with me to make sure it didn't scream out in agony. After all, I was determined to be mute. The chair was not gonna squeal the deal.

So, to stay on topic . . . I know I've tried to get away with writing things I thought I could regain balance with later. Or, if the words I wrote were downplayed enough, no one would notice. Thankfully, my critique partners take out their pseudo-wood chips and slice me up ever so gently. No bandages or anti-bacterial cream required.

Writing needs to be TIGHT. No secrets. No do-overs. There is no such thing as putting something over on a reader. Unless the fall has something to do with the character or the plot . . . delete it.

I just wish I could delete my owies.

Still reading the Michael Connelly. Not bad.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pending Endings

Have you ever read a story that was well navigated all the way through . . . until you got to the ending? Like it was written by some space alien rather than the person whose name is on the cover? Or like there were fifteen alternate endings brainstormed by a group of people, and the author threw a dart to choose which one to use? Tough luck the dart should stick in the worst possible choice.

I really want to write the best ending ever written. I'm not there yet, but it doesn't stop me from wanting to make sure it's a zinger.

Satisfying is good. But satisfying isn't great unless it's also memorable. I figure memorable is pretty important for a couple of reasons.

First, there are hardly any endings I remember and that bothers me. The one I remember easily, I remember because it was supremely UNsatisfying. Not what I'm going for.

Second, I want my reader to be just as enthralled with my ending as they were with my beginning and middle. I want them to decide I'm an author worth reading again.

In any genre, but especially in suspense, the ending doesn't necessarily have to be happy. But it should make sense and not feel gimmicky or contrived.

Some suspense novelists leave loose ends in hopes (I suspect) that people will run out and buy their next book. I don't like that. There can be relationship questions, but don't leave me with an unfinished story. Even in a series, each book should be able to stand alone.

Here's hoping that when the time comes, I can hone an ending of memorable strength and satisfaction. I don't want it to go on for pages and pages, but neither do I want it to be a couple of sentences strung together that I HOPE people will forget.

What I'm reading: The Overlook by Michael Connelly.

It's all better with friends.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Characters We Care About

We don't need to love them, but we do need to feel like we know them. We need to understand what makes them tick, and we need to identify with them enough to care about what happens to them.

Think about the characters in the book you're reading right now. Do they have imperfections to add dimension and make them real? Can you imagine what they're doing when you close the cover of the book and clean the kitchen?

Are there lines you don't want to cross that might take a character from fabulously flawed to pompously pathetic?

We know we want our protagonists to be strong, but strength without vulnerability is tyrannical. And a character without weakness is hard to cheer for. After all, they can't lose.

And in fiction, they have to be able to lose.

Here are a couple of ideas on ways to flesh out a two-dimensional character into something a bit more memorable (I'm sure there are more and I'd love to hear them):

· Vulnerability Know the physical or emotional soft spot that is intimately tied to your character. You don't need to go into it ad nauseam with backstory, but showing vulnerable sides will help make your character more human. Think about fear, regret, guilt, sadness, failures, etc.

· Desire Your character has to have something at stake. The more they want something, the more we like them. Desperate desire is even more compelling than whether or not they ever achieve what they're after. A specific, tangible, understandable goal keeps a reader engaged . . . especially when they're thwarted time after time.

· First Person Take your main characters and write a first person character study. Phillip McGraw (Dr. Phil) wrote a book called Self Matters, and although I admit to never finishing this bestseller, it does provide some interesting character development ideas. What are the ten most defining moments of your character's life? What have (up until now) been the seven most critical choices they've made to get them where they are? Who are the five most important people in their life and how have they been shaped by those five people?

· Quirk Be careful not to go overboard with this one, but do they have a favorite phrase? A funny habit? An object to which they attach great emotion? And odd hobby or a physical reaction to stress?

· Pressure Apply powerful pressure and don't let up. The ticking clock gets louder and they have no choice but to take action, even if that's the last thing they'd ever want to do.

These are just a few ideas. What sorts of things connect you to a character? Are they universal?

It's all better with friends.