Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Feature: Great Openings, by Ann Lethbridge

Today we're doing things a little different. Actually, we're not doing anything at all. Yesterday, as I perused my iReader, I came across a very pertinent post by multi-published author, Ann Lethbridge over at Seduced by History. It's a post I wish I'd had the good fortune to read in my early days of writing. So, without further adieu, I give you what all writers NEED, and MUST accomplish in their very first paragraph, sentence ...

More than a hook, a killer opening ...

Last week I had the privilege of reading a few five-hundred word story openings provided by aspiring authors. I was not being asked for a critique, so I was unable to offer advice and I didn't know their names, or anything about them.

I was concerned that almost all these openings suffered from what I saw as similar problems. If it had been possible for me to give feedback on these snippets, this is what I would have said.

  • A reader expects to be carried into your world in a very few lines or they might not get past the first page. One way to do this is to start with action, or dialogue. If you start where something is happening or even better, where everything changes for the worst for the point of view character, the reader will want to read on. People love conflict and disaster, so if you can hint at it, or even provide it at the beginning your book will open with a bang.
  • Providing the details up front of why and how a character arrived at the point when the book opens can cause a reader to yawn. For example, the character thinks about his miserable childhood, his awful time at school and his recent accession to a title, which will allow him to improve his life. In the meantime, nothing has happened in the story. This is an information dump. I see it over and over again in contests. It is also telling.
  • The best way for a reader to get to know your character is to see them in action. This character, for example, could be entering a ballroom, greeting people who in the past had snubbed him and piercing them with his superior wit. The reader would be intrigued. Why would this man act this way? Or he could dive in to rescue a citizen from a band of thugs in a bad part of town. Why is he there? Why is he willing to be involved? Show us whatever it is you want to show us about who this person is, or thinks he or she is right now, by having him or her react to their world. Intrigue us to read more by not telling us why.
  • Avoid large casts of characters in opening scenes. Readers can be confused and/or impatient with too many people to keep track of, especially when they don't know who is important to the story.
  • Don't have your character physically describe themselves, either by looking in a mirror, or by thinking about their appearance. She turned her bewitching blue eyes on her visitor, is, if you turn it into the characters' own thoughts: I turned my bewitching blue eyes on my visitor. How often do you think about the nature and color of your eyes when you look at someone entering your front door? If you can put yourself inside your point of view character's head, see only what they see, feel only what they feel, your reader will be right there with you. And they will want to read on.
  • Know where your story starts. I have this terrible habit of wanting to write prologues full of action. My editor is very smart. She makes me take them out. Writing the prologue puts my head in the right place for the story. Deleting it, doesn't spoil or change the story at all, indeed it leaves a question to be answered later when the reader needs to know the answer. Don't start your story too early. Start where things begin to go wrong, often in a romance at the point the hero and heroine meet.
  • If your book starts with a bang, in the middle of action with conflict, with questions, try to keep the tension going. Don't have your character go off and change their gown, for example, so you can get in some description, while the furious hero waits in the drawing room. Have her confront him right away. Keep the reader wanting to know what is going to happen next and keep things happening.
  • A great first line is wonderful. An art form if done well. If it is followed up by telling and passages of description, its impact is lost.
  • Look at the openings of your favorite authors. What did they do right? Were you bored but only continued reading because you knew in the end they would deliver? Did you skip ahead? Were you breathlessly intrigued? An editor who is breathlessly intrigued by your opening page or two might well buy your book.

Do I perfect openings? No, but I do strive for them and try to keep all these points in my head. I think I spend more time on the opening paragraphs than I do on any other scene in the book. I hope these little pointers will be of as much help to you as they are to me.

Ann writes Regency Historicals for Harlequin. Her next book, The Gamekeeper's Lady is available December 1, 2010. You can find her at her blog http://www.regencyramble.blogspot.com or her website http://www.annlethbridge.com
After reading Ann's post, I rushed over to my bookshelf and chose about ten of my recent reads. This is what I came up with ...

1. "They came for her at dawn. Through the long, dark hours Elizabeth had stared from the window at the garden made darker by the rain ..." The Queen's Captive, Barbara Kyle

Why this line? I'm not going to lie, I was sold at, 'They came for her at dawn.' The line is brilliant. Came for who? And why had they come at such an ungodly hour? What has she done, or rather been accused of doing? I want to know.

2. "Every woman should marry for her own advantage since her husband will represent her, as visible as her front door, for the rest of her life." The Other Queen, Philippa Gregory

The every woman line ... how true! In times gone by, woman of the noble class were seen as no more than chattel to be pawned, married off, well, and, expected to produce an heir. Yet one gets the impression that THIS woman knew her worth, and moved through life accordingly.

3. "The city reeked of sweat and grime. Eidolon's citizens gathered in the chilly, dank air of the commons, their eyes turned to the cloaked figure standing tethered to a post on the center platform ... musing over the prisoner's identity." Son of Ereubus, J.S. Chancellor

Immediately, I was drawn into Chancellor's world, of fear and anticipation of an execution, but who is it? I wanted to read on to find out.

I can't stress enough how critical it is for new writers to carefully craft a truly genius first line, paragraph, and even chapter. So, now 'tis your turn ... What are some of your favorite opening paragraphs?

Big thanks to Ann for allowing us to feature her post on our blog!


Sunday, November 28, 2010

One Wild & Crazy Life...of a famous Writer

I wish I could be so cool. So accomplished. I have a new idol and I've been a fan of this guy, since forever. But now, after watching a recent interview, I am left in sheer awe of his artistic accomplishments.

An American Icon. The guy who's had white hair ever since I can remember. But he never seems to age.

A comedic genius. The creative equivalent of a Trifecta. A triple threat if you will.

My three fave roles of his: a waiter in The Muppet Movie, Lucky Day in The Three Amigos and he sang and danced  in Little Shop of Horrors as a Dentist. The man also played a Jerk but if you've ever seen him in an interview he is anything but.

He can list three Grammy's for his comedic performances but, to your surprise, he also has two Grammy's for his music. Yes, his original music. And it's Bluegrass and the instrument of choice....the friggin' BANJO!

The epitome of cool.

Yes, I said the banjo was cool. If you disagree then you are an L-7 loser. The Banjo is cool and this guy proves it. Kermit tried but only got so far. This guy will have the tweeners ditching their Beiber Bobs and grabbing a 5 string BANJO. Just wait, it will happen.

Who, who is this man you ask? And did I just hear you say 'so what' about having comedic and musical accomplishments? You forget where I'm from. Philly. And I gots me some legbreakers. So shut your cake hole and give the man some props.

There is further evidence that this artist is one of the greats, I mean all time GREATEST CREATIVE and ARTISTIC LEGENDS of our time.

He is also an AUTHOR. The author of two novellas and a recent novel. He also has a memoir, short stories, and children's books published. Oh and besides that he writes his own music for said awesome banjo and of course has written for TV, the Stage and Silver Screen. You  may have seen one of his novellas on the big screen. You may have even read them.

As much as I am a fan of his acting, I can honestly say I've never read any of his works. I've only seen his  Banjo strumming skills on American Idol. And YES, the Banjo was kick ass.

Without further adieu...Banjo strum please....
It's Steve friggin' Martin.
You read it right.
Steve Martin.

I came across his interview on Charlie Rose the other day. I was channel surfing about the latest hub-bub in Korea. Charlie interviewed David Sanger from the NYT and asked me to stay tuned for Steve Martin for his latest....what...novel?

I totally forgot he wrote Shop Girl. I'd heard he wrote children's stories but my tweener only reads about sparkling vamps and six-pack-abbed werewolves. But being an aspiring scribe I stayed tuned as Charlie asked. Why not, right?

Steve Martin talked of his writing with such purity and grace. He mesmerized me. The comedian dissipated and all that remained was the writer, the author. The interview had me nodding, yes, the entire time. Yes, Steve, I get that. He discussed with Charlie about how he chose the POV for his latest novel, Object of Beauty. You can see the spark in his eye as he describes his characters.

Charlie asked him to read an excerpt and I was pulled in. His voice, his writing voice, is fresh -a natural story teller.

He is a writer, as Charlie Rose points out. A writer in all things.

A writer of screen, instrument, and word. I felt humbled just to watch this interview. They way he spoke of his approach to writing and getting to know his characters, where they come from, I just kept nodding my head. Yes, Steve, I feel that way too.

Since then I've been thinking about my own writing. I wrote a few posts ago that there is a shift happening for me creatively. My characters have been speaking to me and I think I am finally getting the message.

And for it to be channeled through Steven Martin is kind of ironic. Sitting here, jabbing at these keys, it's all come full circle.

My story, the one that's been out there in query land praying an agent bites, is taking on a new life. I think it keeps getting rejected, even my partials, for a few reasons.  I am not supposed to tell their story the way I have it now. My first MS is focused on a romantic relationship with a family saga as the backdrop.

I keep toying with the idea of introducing this ensemble cast of characters years before, when a family tragedy occurs. As I was watching one of my favorites shows the other night, it hit me. This is what I want my story to read like, Parenthood. Great show if you haven't watched. There you invest in the family as a whole. Each episode has a family problem to focus on. My MS can read the same. Where you are invested in the ensemble, the love stories won't be the sole focus. I love this show and I loved the original movie. The one starring, none other than, Steve Martin.

Cha-ching. And it all comes full circle.

I am currently reading four books. All different and I love them. I put Shop Girl and Object of Beauty on my Christmas list. The hubby always gets me a book or two.

So, after all this, this is where the post ends. It began as an homage to the ageless scribe of wonder and ends with him inspiring, in a round about sort of way, the direction I am headed as an aspiring scribe.

And if I had a banjo I'd be strumming the hell out of it now but I don't. So, I'll just sing of my all time fave songs of his. King Tut. This one's for Steve.

King Tut (King Tut)
Now when he was a young man,
He never thought he'd see
People stand in line to see the boy king.

Hah, Steve prolly never imagined peeps waiting in line for him. 

Here you can find out more about Steve. http://www.stevemartin.com/
Below is a list of accomplishments, as noted in wikipedia.

1969 Emmy Award - The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (with other writers)
1978 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album - Let's Get Small
1979 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album - A Wild and Crazy Guy.
1989 Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from California State University Long Beach[40]
2001 Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance with Earl Scruggs (and others) - banjo performance of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown".[41]
2005 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor
2005 Disney Legend award
2007 30th Annual Kennedy Center Honors
2009 Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album for his album The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo.

Writing Credits
The Jerk (1979) (Written with Carl Gottlieb)
Cruel Shoes (1979) (Essays)
Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Other Plays: Picasso at the Lapin Agile, the Zig-Zag Woman, Patter for the Floating Lady, WASP (1996) (Play)
L.A. Story and Roxanne: Two Screenplays (published together in 1997) (Screenplays)
Pure Drivel (1998) (Stories)
Eric Fischl : 1970–2000 (2000) (Afterword)
Modern Library Humor and Wit Series (2000) (Introduction and Series Editor)
Shopgirl (2000) (Novella)
Kindly Lent Their Owner: The Private Collection of Steve Martin (2001) (Art)
The Underpants: A Play (2002) (Play)
The Pleasure of My Company (2003) (Novel)
The Alphabet from A to Y with Bonus Letter Z (2007) (Children's Books illustrated by Roz Chast)
Born Standing Up (2007) (Memoir)
An Object of Beauty (2010) (Novel)
Late For School (2010) (Children's book)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

'Tis YOUR turn to be thankful

With the holidays approaching at an alarming speed, Black Friday around the corner, and Christmas not too far away, retailers are lowering prices ... trying every trick in the book to get you in to spend, spend, spend, whilst empytying your wallet, running up your credit cards, and making the holidays a commercial magante's boon, rather then ...

I digress ... I'm not going to give you a huge diatribe on the meaning of Christmas, but I am going to tell you, well, Charli and I are going to tell you what we're thankful for.

Thanksgiving has come and gone in Canada. I'm waiting for my fellow Americans, especially, Charli, to catch up. Beyond the obvious, being thankful for my incredible husband who believes in me, and my beautiful daughter, who was a surprise, but whom I adore, and my family and friends who have helped shape the woman I am now, I'm also thankful for the astounding circle of writers I've met along this, my journey of creativity.

A big shout out to MM, otherwise known as Marianne Harden, creator and moderator of Rom-Critters, an online group created with the premise of helping, fostering and honing ones writing skills. And to G. Jillian Stone, whom I had the opportunity to write with her before her well deserved six book deal!

To all the fabulous authors of amazing stories that inspire me to be great, and the fields in history that beckon me to explore, I'm thankful.

I'd not be writing this blog had I not joined said group, starting reading Charli's story, said a million times over I'd never blog, and of course, you, our faithful readers. By the way, ye kick serious arse, and we're so happy to have you! FINALLY, meeting one another at the NJ Romance Writers Conference.

Seriously, New Jersyites don't want you. No Uncle Sam portrait- pointing his finger at you saying, 'We want YOU!' Those damn jughandles deter even the strongest of lassies, i.e. AJ & Charli.

And so it began. In the darkness, I landed at Newark from Toronto. Juggling two suitcases, laptop case and purse, I grabbed a coffee, lit a smoke and waited for Charli. (I know, I know, smoking is bad, yada, bitch at me later)

Beats bumpin' in her SUV, she rolled into Newark. Ditching the cancer stick, I hopped in, ready to schmooze. First stop, the liquor store. Second, hotel check in, then some victuals.

Nice digs eh? We thought so. Pillow top mattresses, feather pillows and Aveda products.

After several alcoholic beverage's and chatting till dawn most nights, we parted, eager to meet again. I'm eternally grateful for having such an opportunity.

We hit it off famously; separated at birth, we have so much in common, its scary.

Charli is thankful for a lot of things. My family of course, that goes without saying. The Tweener and Hubby are keepers. They put up with my crap and vice versa. All the other blood relatives are okay too. Friends, yeah, they keep your hair out of the toilet the morning after a good night out so, Gracias Mi Amigas!

My writing, the world in which I have submersed myself, I am most thankful for. Rom-Critters- MM and all the peeps from that crazy group, Pennwriters, my other wee little band of lady critters, my FB family, and most of all AJ, aka, JAWS. The crit partner who often listens to me babble on from the ledge. Her friendship has been invaluable. I cannot forget Tammy and Mel who stuck with me chap by chap on my first MS. There have been many others who have read and critiqued my work-I am humbled that you thought enough of me to do so.

AJ Wilson, when we met, I did pick her up in my SUV with It's Tricky blasting from the speakers. I had a clown nose on but she couldn't see it. A hot NJ Cop saw it, so I took it off immediately. No reason to be detained in an airport as the first suspected Terrorist from a Clown Cell. Really. We had a blast and I can't wait to meet up again.

Speaking of Jersey, I am thankful for the Jersey Shore. Not just the fictional beach town from my story but the Mtv Show, Boardwalk Empire, Jerseylicious, The Real Housewives, and My Wildwood Weekends spent with my partners in crime - My Philly Chicas. Jersey is a hot locale right now and I can only hope it helps get me pubbed. The City of Brotherly Love and The Southern New Jersey Shore are the backdrops for my stories. They breathe life into my words and are the heartbeat of my muse.

To all those agents who gave me rejections. Thanks. I mean that. You've helped me grow as a writer.

Finally, WE, are thankful to you, the person reading this right now. You care and are interested enough to listen to us blather on. Thanks so much for being a part of this journey with us. You rock our business socks.

Oh, and I am eternally grateful to the Old Spice Guy. Words are not enough. Not enough at all.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Reading Makes the Writer

You are what you eat. Moms have said.

You are who you hang with. My Dad used to say.

You write what you read? Is this true of us scribes?

Commercial fiction is what I tend to gravitate to, sappy love stories or the quick thriller. I'd like to think I'm deeper than that on occasion. So, I'm expanding my library, venturing into once glanced over titles. So many books I promised myself to read but never have.

Now is the perfect time, really. The reason, I haven't been writing. Tsk tsk you say. Yes, I know. Very bad Charli. Instead, I've been reading. Devouring is more like it. And what I've been ingesting is far from my norm as a reader.

The other day I finished Diana Gabaldon's The Outlander. All 850 pages of it. Wow. Amazing story. I did skim over parts that made me yawn, I will not lie. In my most humble opinion, a reader's opinion, lots could have been chucked. But overall, there are passages from this book that will stay with me forever.


Bold emotion lept from the pages. These characters were tortured, literally, and the courage Gabaldon had in writing about men being raped by other men, was, for me, profound. Not just the physical depravity of it all but the long term effects on the human soul. There were moments I held my breath, where I swallowed a lump in my throat, and where I cried.

Once I was done reading, I went back and re-read the scenes that made me gasp, shudder, and pine for more. Again, I was left shaking my head. This author took the road less traveled by, that's for sure. The heroine is slightly older and sexually experienced; the hero is a younger virgin. The woman is almost raped, twice, and the man is raped, savagely I might add. The hero beats the heroine's booty for getting out of line. As a female, I was shocked but on the other hand, it being 1743, it was acceptable for such things to occur. Their were battles, witchcraft, and even time travel. A tale like no other. Jaime and Claire are characters I came to love, and now two of my all-time faves.


Charli is no trend setter. I am one of those people who hops onto a trend when its close to being out of style. It's just me. I'm no sheep following the masses and I'm just not cool enough to be notified before things hit it big. I mean Oprah doesn't exactly call me up to help her with her Must-Have/Fave Things list.

Speaking of Oprah's list, I have still yet to own a pair of Uggs. My daughter has a pair of Fuggs. (Fake-Uggs). Any who...

Right now I am reading Eat, Pray, Love. So many of my friends have asked me where the hell I've been, it's already a movie. To be honest, the last memoir I read was Night by Eli Weitzel. A grim recount of the author's days in an Jewish Interment Camp during WWII and of his days in the Polish Ghetto before evacuation. A truly tough read, gut wrenching and tragically sad. Since then no memoir has piqued my interest in the least.

AJ questioned my hesitation to read Eat, Pray, Love. Honestly, I felt that unless you survived something as tragic as the Holocaust, you had no right to write a memoir. I felt that it was so presumptuous of a person to think that their divorce, a break-up with the rebound guy, and traveling for a year (lucky biotch) was some noteworthy experience.

Like, really? Why should I read this? What makes her life so important that she believes it should be in print? Thus, I began to read as if to defy the millions that hoisted her to fame, including Julia Roberts. Begrudgingly I will tell you it's a fantastic read. Something I believed to be superficial is really turning out to be thought provoking. And, I find myself looking within, trying to see a little bit of Elizabeth Gilbert in me. A woman on the brink of change, taking stock of her life, and making a conscious effort to change for the better. (I've been reading in bits, in my personal space at home. And I think I will continue to enjoy it immensely.)

Here's another wee-little Charli anecdote. I read one book in my sanctuary at home- an original cast iron claw foot tub, another I keep by my nightstand, and I always keep a book in my bag for the train ride to work. My latest el-train paperback is MIA. I lost my copy of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

To be honest I wasn't sad at first that I lost the book; I was having a hard time with the first 50 pages. Blogs have stated the translation is rough in places and it showed. Another person told me that the opening is choppy on purpose, it's part of the genius of Larsson's plot layout. But choppy openings done in piss-poor translation, is kind of hard to get into and entice to read further. Especially when trying to pay attention on a train into downtown Philly. (A girl's got to keep one eye on the page and the other looking out for pan-handlers and crackheads) Sorry, I digress...

Everybody kept telling me to stick with it. I gave up, flipped on Netflix, and watched, in awe, in sub-titles, the Swedish made movie. A half hour in I forgot I was reading subtitles. It was that brilliant. The storytelling is at its finest, purest, and made me a wee bit jealous. I want to go back and read the book now, then run out and get the others in the trilogy. This weekend I will be scouring my house for my original copy. Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony...

But in the meantime I need something to read on the train. So, I went to my library, most books have been read. I stumble across one I put down a while back. A book I bought for two dollars at a church flea market. It was a hardback, the cover art and title drew me in. I figured, even if it sucks, it will look nice on my shelf.

Forever, by Pete Hamill.

When I originally read this I was numb from the Nora Roberts-athon I had just completed. AJ yelled about the fact that I'd never read her. So I bought a whole bunch and read at once. I do not recommend that. Roberts is the Queen of Romance but read a bunch back to back and they are all depressingly the same story, just switch names, locations, and titles.

In a rut I was. My brain was mush. Forever was not what my brain was programmed for when I opened it. Synapses snapped at me for making it think. They asked where the hot dudes and the damsels in distress were.

Five pages in I quit. It went on about a small family in Ireland from the little boy's POV. The jacket promised me a journey of a man cursed to live Forever on the island of Manhattan. This intriguing character observes history, my American History, from the revolutionary war to the present. As a former 8th grade American History teacher I couldn't wait to read it.

And as I did my brain quit and demanded more Romance.

Last night I decided to give it another whirl, the cover catching my eye again. All of a sudden it's an hour later and I'm suddenly on page 68. This morning I read more on the train to work.

Gorgeous. Brilliant. Heartbreaking. I LOVE THIS BOOK! And the main character has yet to get to America. I google the author and I love this guy.  A writer for the New York Daily News, an author of a bevy of fiction and non-fiction titles, AND a writer for The New Yorker. Dang, all the cool jobs I dreamed about as a kid, teen, college student and even dream of them now...

Inspiration begins to curl in my belly. I listen to it closely. 'Tis not indigestion or gas.

But something is happening to me...

My heart and soul, the writer part of who I am is asking the real me what kind of storyteller do you want to be? I scratch my head as if it were that simple.

Piecing together the past year and a half, it is that simple. Many times I molded my story into what others thought it should be, what certain publishing houses may find sellable, what agents seem to want, and I lost the reason why I put pen to paper in the first place.

The winds are changing, as Mary Poppins predicted. And I feel a change in me as a writer/aspiring scribe. Not sure what will happen but I can feel something good coming around the bend.

All this from reading some books. Imagine that!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What do YOU see?

What do you see?

What do you see in this piece of art to the left? Faces? Letters? Nothing at all? No doubt we all have a different answer. Just as when we read a novel, some see greatness whilst others are bored.

When my lids descend, a world unlike the one I inhabit plays across the planes of my imagination. And when a vision comes upon me, a thought for a scene, setting, or piece of dialogue, I run with it. And what I see is most certainly not going to be what you see.

“I learned... that inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness.” Brenda Ueland

As of late, those that circulate in my realm have asked the same question; when will you submit your MS? I thought it was done, they bemoan, asking for the hundredth time; what happens to the secondary characters? You do write a story for them, right? Done is relative term. Yes. And, no.

Yes, of course I'll submit. I have.
But the answer is not always so simple. Unlike following instructions, or going to work to repeat the same repetitive tasks day in and day out, writing, whilst possessing unwritten rules, is a gift of imagination, writing skills, and mastery of the language in which you write.

I've received advice from agents and editors, judges and crit partners, and as a result, have taken their suggestions and made the best possible tale I can. I've been done so many times, I've lost count
. And each time, I repeat the same mantra: this really is IT!

Well, this time, this last beta read, it really is. It HAS to be. Lets face it, some of us could continue writing the same story for years, always attempting to make it better. But this time, it will be submitted to those that requested, then 'tis time to move on.

My partners have done their job; made sure there were no plot holes, grammar mistakes, or inconsistencies. Its my turn, implement in between my other life, and get 'er done!

Writers can be a bit neurotic, obsessive, pedantic, but this really is IT! Charli would kick me arse otherwise.

Its not ready because your family and friends think it ought to be, or a new crit partner does not see what others have seen, but when YOU, the author, creator are confident with the product.

How do you know when your story is ready? Do you obsess endlessly, always hoping to make it better, fearing, it just might not be enough as your reason to hold back, hold back from letting the world see, to read?

What do you see?


Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Grammar Grind~The Sem;colon

This Phat Beat I'm Bustin' is for MC Brenda Dyer...

Everytime you see me, I'm just so hype; I'm dope on the floor and I'm magic on the mic.
-MC Hammer, You Can't Touch This

Did you just bop your head up and down; recall trying to master the MC Hammer or his infamous typewriter? I bet you had a pair of Hammer Pants, didn't you? Hee hee. I did.

The Semicolon is
not a semi-automatic weapon;
a semi-formal; 
a semi-truck;
or the Movie Semi-Pro.
I wouldn't suggest getting a tattoo.
Just read my post.

This is a SEMICOLON.

The following lesson is from my FAVE Grammar Site- GRAMMAR BYTES.

I highly reccomend visiting this site. Their motto is: GRAMMAR WITH ATTITUDE. How me!

They even have lessons on YOUTUBE.

They have exercises where they explain the answer, right or wrong! Here is the link to the lesson on semicolons below.

Recognize a semicolon when you see one.

The semicolon [ ; ] is a powerful mark of punctuation with three uses.

The first appropriate use of the semicolon is to connect two related sentences. The pattern looks like this:

complete sentence + ; + complete sentence.

Here is an example:

Grandma still rides her Harley motorcycle; her toy poodle balances in a basket between the handlebars.

A semicolon can also team up with a transition—often a conjunctive adverb—to connect two sentences close in meaning. The pattern looks like this:

complete sentence + ; + transition + , + complete sentence.

Check out this example:

My father does not approve of his mother cruising around town on a Harley motorcycle; however, Grandma has never cared what anyone thinks.

Finally, use the semicolon to avoid confusion when you have complicated lists of items. The pattern looks like this:

item + , + more information + ; + item + , + more information + ; + and + item + , + more information

Read the following example:

On a Harley motorcycle, my grandmother and her poodle have traveled to Anchorage, Alaska; San Francisco, California; and Tijuana, Mexico.

Keep these three things in mind when you use a semicolon:

The two main clauses that the semicolon joins should be closely related in meaning.

Don't capitalize the word that follows the semicolon unless that word is a proper noun, one that is always capitalized.

Limit your use of semicolons; you should not scatter them wantonly throughout your writing. Semicolons are like glasses of champagne; save them for special occasions.

PURDUE University has a wonderful online Writing Lab. Eventhough it is geared for their students it has great refreshers and tips for ALL writers. Here you can peruse handouts and print great resources. A must read site!

Semicolons-from the PURDUE OWL Website:

Semicolon (;)

Use a semicolon when you link two independent clauses with no connecting words. For example:

I am going home; I intend to stay there.
It rained heavily during the afternoon; we managed to have our picnic anyway.
They couldn't make it to the summit and back before dark; they decided to camp for the night.

You can also use a semicolon when you join two independent clauses together with one of the following conjunctive adverbs (adverbs that join independent clauses): however, moreover, therefore, consequently, otherwise, nevertheless, thus, etc. For example:

I am going home; moreover, I intend to stay there.
It rained heavily during the afternoon; however, we managed to have our picnic anyway.
They couldn't make it to the summit and back before dark; therefore, they decided to camp for the night.

OK. CHALLENGE: Do I use the SEMICOLONS CORRECTLY at the beginning of the post? You will see them enlarged.

Shoo. Go practice. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Partially Rejected~Tales from the Ledge

Well, I wasn't expecting to be back here so soon. Another rainy Tuesday in the City of Brotherly love. Yes, another one. I am beginning to wonder if my episodes on the ledge have some kind of cosmic connection to the weather.

Any who. I got a partial request some months back, as some of you may recall. Then those dang contest results came in, some rejections, and a critique. I withdrew my submission and I re-worked my MS. The agent was extremely gracious and kind. I re-submitted believing my MS the best it could be.

Time had since passed and no word from the very lovely agent. I worked even further on my story. Went to the NJRW conference, got business cards, worked on pitches, you know the deal.

In the back of my mind this partial nagged at me. My bat-senses told me she was prolly going to pass. The submission I gave in was already outdated. I'd changed the opening again. Nothing major but enough, IMO. I have submissions from the Conference I am waiting on, so I am hopeful.

This past weekend my laptop went on the fritz. I was forced to live without it literally attached to my lap. The hubby said it was nice to have me back in the real world. And it was. Sunday comes and we dive into our ritual- Boardwalk Empire and Dexter.

Homicidal Bliss I tell ya!

My phone beeps. DOH! I get email on there. Instinct has me checking it. My breath holds. It's the email from her, the partial.

I look up at the TV. Things aren't boding well for Steve Buscemi on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. Somebody tried to whack him! Ugh. Not good.

An ironic sense of foreboding anyone?

Email open. No turning back now.  

And its the I regret I have to pass email. But it's the why that has me reserving a spot on the ledge right then and there. Dang, I should have waited until Dexter was on to open this! At least there'd be some sense of redemption or hope! (Yes, Dexter gives hope. Homicidal but hope nonetheless.)

She said it was really an enjoyable read but not a fresh enough premise. That's partially good right? Enjoyable but unsellable?????

But wait, all the other guys have said the opposite. The premise really intrigued while my execution lacked. I'll give them an execution...breathe, Charli. Sorry. Back to my rant.

Yeah, yeah, the business is subjective-yada- but I am really at a loss. I want to make my story marketable. I do. But what is marketable?

I commiserate with JAWS and we check out the NYT Bestsellers lists. Lots of action packed thrillers on there. I noted a Nora Roberts, a Nicky Sparks, historical fiction and some literary.

Yeah, I guess a family saga about love and loss on the Jersey Shore isn't so marketable. If you look at the NYT list.

But in my head, of course, I think my premise is fresh. The Jersey Shore is a hot location right now. It's a culturally diverse cast of characters. Yeah, it's about childhood sweethearts finding each other. Not new at all. But my main characters find each other as both their marriages have ended and she is preggers. There's lots of family drama in the mix. In my head I haven't seen anything like this recently. Hmmm, but, we are talking about being in my head. Not exactly a standard of normalcy.
I stew over where my MS keeps ending up. Above, in cyber trash. And in my head all I hear is Oscar the Grouch laughing at me, and sing songing how tasty my heap of garbage is. "Oh I love your trash!" Stupid PBS. Whatever.
I'm going to keep believing in my story and even think about that second WIP. Either way, I am stuck with these characters. The next MS is the second book in the series.

I wait to hear back from the other submissions I have out there. I am not going to jump the gun and tweak my story yet again. Not until I get more feedback anyway. Besides, I got JAWS to deal with.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

World Building for All Genres

When I open a new book my mouth salivates, waiting to be pulled into the world the author has created. There is nothing worse than pulling your hair out reading wonderfully crafted characters with no sense about where or when they are.

This past weekend I went for a walk in a park and drank apple cider with my family.

I'm sorry, did you just yawn at my experience? Really? Well, so did I. Here is how I will let the reader not only know the above information but have them believing they are me or at least there.

A whispering wind tickles my ears. Then goes on, rustling the leaves of the hundred year oak ahead. Blazing hues of red, orange, and yellow sway in the mid-afternoon sun. Flecks of sunlight cross my face, warm and cool at the same time. Fallen branches crunch beneath my feet as I stroll, in no hurry at all.

Fresh apple cider warms my hands, steam billows up from the paper cup. The aroma filling me before I even drink. I sip slow, slurping as to not get burnt. The bitter sweetness washes over my tongue, the heat trailing down my throat.

Giggles find me and I note three small children with their father, dancing about in Autumn's fallen bounty. Their smiles, wide and full of life call to me.

"Mommy, you bring us some?" The smallest one calls out.

I hold up the thermos and already glowing faces beam with more happiness and bliss. Bliss indeed, I whisper as I head over to my family. Fall in the City of Brotherly Love doesn't get any better than this.

Now I am thirsty! But that's the effect you want on the reader. Writing that little diddy, I just closed my eyes, saw myself walking through a park with a fresh cup of warm apple cider.

First drafts, even seconds and thirds, you can find yourself adding the sensory details. I tend to write in layers. I just get the bones out as I see it, then go back and add the meat. The meat gives your story all its flavor.

Dang, now I'm hungry...

The above example was meant to describe the setting as the character sees it, live. But it's not the central part of the scene. The family, we learn, is. Why she is there. But adding sensory details to each scene grounds the reader to where and when you character is. It's those details that help build the world in which your characters live.

I may not be creating a brand new unknown world like Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings Series but my characters do live somewhere. All characters do, don't they? And as writers it's our duty to transport our readers there. It's not just about the action in the scene or dialogue, it's also about the where.

Sometimes the main character is the setting, or at least the central focus of the scene.

The man walks to work on his last day.

Wow. Along with many others. What makes this character so special?

The man's feet couldn't move fast enough along the crowded concrete. He weaved in and out of the masses all around him-three piece suits, cell phones on ear, and briefcases held tight. No one notices each other. No one at all. Typical.

All mornings are the same here, this Tuesday was no different. Yellow cabs honk, street vendors pawn their wares to unsuspecting tourists, and the stench of municipal garbage trucks jump up your nose. The stink is hard to forget for a good ten minutes. Lovely, really.

A wrinkled forehead scrunched as he snickered at his place of business. Tall and majestic it glistened against the September sky. One last day at work. Just one.

Unable to go in right away, he stopped mid-stride and let the exhaust-tainted air fill him. A force thrust him forward two steps. Knocking his paper from his hand along with his brown bagged lunch.

The person behind him obviously wasn't paying attention. No excuse me or sorry. Just some vulgarities and they moved on, no help either. Another daily annoyance. The lack of basic human kindness.

With one hand he bent over and picked up his paper. The wife's left over spaghetti seeped out its container. He was looking forward to that. Expensive leather shoes shuffled and high heels clicked all around him, never stopping.

Then all of a sudden, they did.

A sound boomed overhead. Loud, screeching, and growing closer. Still bent over he glanced up. What he saw was not a part of his daily morning commute.

It seemed today was not only his last day at work but the last day for many others. Finally standing upright he held that rank breath tight in his lungs. A large plane headed toward the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

The City is the focus for the main character, his motivator. Where as the park for the mom was something she came upon while spending time with her family.

Both above examples show us the world around the characters. They call upon our senses as we read. World Building isn't just for Fantasy or Science Fiction. It's for all fiction.

I took two common settings, a park and New York City, and made it REAL to the reader. I made the setting a part of what was happening in the specific scene. We all know what NY and a park looks like but the passages brought them to life. Big difference.

Here are some links to help you along as YOU create your world.

Happy Writing,
Charli Mac

Fiction Factor has tons of great links on world building.

Holt Reinhart & Winston have a great remedial explanation. I used this when I was a teacher.

Random site on sensory details that is pretty good as well.

Writing Forward discusses here how world building is for all genres.