The Mad Author by Jean Tennant en-us THE NEW ANTHOLOGY IS HERE! Make Hay While the Sun Shines, the fourth in the Midwest series, is finally finished and available. As with the three before it, it's been a labor of love. In 2007 I first got the idea to put together some of the wonderful stories I've heard over the years, about life in small towns and on farms. Being a city girl (I grew up in San Diego) these stories had long fascinated me. I tried to imagine what it would have been like, as a child, to live in a place where you could look out a window as... Fri, 02 Dec 2011 09:57:27 -0600 SENTENCE STRUCTURE A dramatic tone, especially in an action scene, can be demonstrated by using short, punchy sentences. Short sentences speed up the reading, and the overall impression of the segment. Say you're writing a scene with a car chase. Lots of action and speed. Cars jump the curb, knocking over the ubiquitous flower cart. And all of this takes place on a page that fly by, thanks, in part, to short, swift sentences. One the other hand, if you're writing a romantic segment, one with a candlelit... Fri, 11 Nov 2011 14:21:39 -0600 DO YOU KNOW ABOUT NANOWRIMO? It's almost time for the 12th annual NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. If you're not familiar with it, NaNoWriMo, which started out small in 1999 and has since grown to nearly 200,000 participants last year, is the time when writers, from newbys to professionals, set out to write a full, 50,000 novel in 30 days. NaNoWriMo, starts, naturally, on November 1st, Tuesday, and ends November 30th. The goal is to complete a novel, but of course no one expects it to be a polished piece of... Sat, 29 Oct 2011 14:32:10 -0500 MORE ABOUT DIALOGUE You don't need to steer away from writing dialogue just because it seems -- okay, is -- daunting. With a little practice dialogue gets easier, as do any of the writing steps. We talked about giving your characters voices that are uniquely their own. With that bit from Gone With The Wind I used last time as an example, we see how the conversation between Scarlett and Rhett is so well done that the reader doesn't need attributive clauses to know which of them is speaking. I'd never argue with... Fri, 14 Oct 2011 14:44:02 -0500 GIVE YOUR CREATURE A VOICE: DIALOGUE Writing dialogue for your characters can be a daunting task, and many people find it intimidating. I think it's a lot of fun. Maybe I just like putting words in other people's mouths. Good dialogue brings a book to life, and gives the reader a sense of being right there in the scene with the characters. Just keep in mind that dialogue in a book or a story is not the same as how people talk in real life. In real life we tend to repeat ourselves, say "um," "uh," "like," and use other filler... Sat, 01 Oct 2011 11:00:55 -0500 HOW TECHNICAL SHOULD YOU GET? I was asked recently, via email, about using technical words in fiction. My answer is that it's fine... as long as what you're writing is a technical thriller, or something along similar lines. If your goal is to write like the late Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, and The Terminal Man (one of my favorites), to name a few, then by all means use all the technical jargon that such a book supports. Keep in mind, though, that Michael Crichton was a doctor and a... Fri, 23 Sep 2011 16:59:57 -0500 WORD SELECTION - HAVE SOME FUN As long as you're going to be working so hard on your writing, you might as well have some fun with it. One of the more creative ways to use words is to make nouns into verbs, which I see being done more and more lately. We do it in our everyday conversations. Google, the powerful search engine, has morphed into a verb, as in "I Googled my own name to see what came up." We say "Be sure to friend me on Facebook," and "Journaling is a good way to vent." And at a store the other day I saw a... Fri, 09 Sep 2011 16:12:45 -0500 WORD SELECTION - VERBS Writing isn't just throwing a bunch of stuff down on paper and hoping someone will like it. You need to give your words plenty of consideration. Make them work for you. I know, I've said to use a conversational tone in your writing, and that's true, to a point. But we still, as writers, need to clean up the careless structure and repetition that we tend to use in everyday conversations. A good way to punch up your writing is by using strong action verbs. Don't just write, "She ran to catch... Tue, 30 Aug 2011 18:26:19 -0500 YOUR SLOPPY COPY Now, about your first draft. My friend Betty Taylor, of Hartley, is a retired schoolteacher and a talented author. She used to tell her students that their first draft was their "sloppy copy." (Betty tells me she first heard this phrase when she attended the Iowa Writing Project years ago.) She found that her students were often intimidated by the idea of revising, and if she told them to submit a "first draft" it just drove home the fact that there would be a second and possibly a third draft,... Fri, 19 Aug 2011 09:42:48 -0500 VOICE & TONE Your voice, as an author, is how you express your thoughts and put them down on paper. It reflects your personality, and it's what makes your writing different from everyone else's. It's often been said that there are, in writing, no new stories, and I tend to believe it. Last year my husband and I went to see the movie Avatar. About half way through the movie I leaned over and said, "This is just Dances with Wolves in space." The similarities were, to me, striking. But that doesn't mean the... Sat, 06 Aug 2011 08:16:00 -0500 CHANGES IN TECHNOLOGY I love my computers. I say that in the plural because I have five of them: a desktop at home, a desktop and laptop at the office, and two notebooks. My eye is also on an iPad, which I hope to have by the end of the year. (I'm pacing myself.) The Internet is a wonderful tool for doing research, and the word processing programs (Microsoft Word being my program of choice) are a godsend for aspiring authors. When my articles, short stories and books were first being published nearly 30 years... Fri, 29 Jul 2011 08:12:18 -0500 ADD SOME MUSCLE: SETTING I've been asked many times if setting is important to a novel. It certainly is, though in what way depends on what you're writing. That's a big help, isn't it? Obviously, the setting in some novels is so much a part of the story that it couldn't take place anywhere else. Gone with the Wind, without the setting of the South and the Civil War, just wouldn't be the same. At the risk of angering a few, I dare say it would be just another romance novel. A very well written one, certainly, but... Fri, 22 Jul 2011 20:44:47 -0500 MORE ABOUT CHARACTERS While not all books are character-driven, the people who populate your stories are the glue that hold it all together. If your readers don't care about what happens to your hero, what's the point in reading the book? You make your readers care by developing characters that are multi-dimensional and "feel" like real people. It's easy to slip into the trap of writing characters that are actually caricatures. We tend to, in real life, place the people we meet into convenient boxes... Fri, 08 Jul 2011 15:31:11 -0500 THE IMPORTANCE OF IGOR There are more characters to your book than just the protagonist and the antagonist. A rich array of secondary characters add a lot to a story, and give your main characters a break. Your hero and heroine can't be at center stage throughout every scene; the secondary characters can take over now and then to offer conflict, comic relief, dramatic exposition -- anything to enrich the story. Just as we have friends and family in our lives, so should your protagonist. What defines a secondary... Fri, 01 Jul 2011 15:31:41 -0500 THE ANTAGONIST The antagonist of your story, depending on the genre in which you're writing, is just about as important as your protagonist. The antagonist is the bad guy, the opponent your hero will fight against and conquer. I mentioned genre because not all books contain a clear-cut villain.Gone with the Wind contains a lot of conflict, but no one antagonist. There are the Yankees who overrun the town, and they provide conflict, but they're also, for the most part, faceless representatives. The war itself,... Fri, 24 Jun 2011 13:18:22 -0500 QUESTIONS I've had a busy week, but several emails have come in to me lately with questions so I'm going to take some time here to answer a few of them. Q: I keep hearing 'write what you know.' What if I haven't traveled or had a lot of experiences, but I want to write about them? A: I've heard that expression for years, too, but I'd modify it to "write about what interests you." Stephenie Meyer has found huge success lately with her series about vampires, yet I'm quite sure she has no firsthand... Sun, 19 Jun 2011 22:59:44 -0500 YOUR PROTAGONIST, PART 2 Last week we talked about your protagonist (hero/heroine) and the importance of making him a well-rounded character with the flaws and frailties possessed by real people. But it's easy to fall into the trap of creating characters that are clichés, or stereotypes. Doesn't the feisty southern belle I mentioned earlier sound like a cliché? Because Scarlett has become so well known through Gone with the Wind's bestseller status, when a character similar to hers is used, it no longer feels original.... Fri, 10 Jun 2011 14:19:38 -0500 YOUR PROTAGONIST, PART 1 Now that you've created the skeleton for your creature - you've developed an outline using the 3-Act structure - it's time to move on to the internal organs. At the heart of your story is the protagonist - your main character. Your protagonist is the center around which all the activity in the story revolves. In "Gone with the Wind," the protagonist is Scarlett, and even though I wouldn't really categorize Rhett as a secondary character, given his importance, he still takes a back seat to our... Fri, 03 Jun 2011 11:47:14 -0500 THE OUTLINE Many very successful authors say they never outline a story before writing it. Stephen King says he doesn't, and I certainly can't argue with his accomplishments. Dean Koontz also says he doesn't outline. More power to them both. That method doesn't work for me, however, and I don't recommend it, especially for a beginner. There have been a handful of times over the years when I've started a book, made it as far as the first couple of chapters, and then didn't know where to go from there.... Fri, 27 May 2011 12:13:10 -0500 PLOT & STORY Even though I call your book, article, essay - whatever - your "story," there's more to it than that. "Story" actually refers to the emotional part of what you're writing. "Plot" is the physical part. If Timmy falls down the well and Lassie goes for help, that's a Plot. If Timmy falls down the well and Lassie, for love of her boy, goes for help, that's Plot and Story. The Plot is the outline of your book, the structure; it defines what happens. Story is the heart of your book; it's what... Fri, 20 May 2011 10:32:51 -0500