Jilly: Craft Book Squee–Dreyer’s English

Last year I decided I wouldn’t buy any more writing craft books until I’d made better use of all the ones I already own and have at best cherry-picked my way through. A couple of months ago I broke my self-imposed rule, and I’m so glad I did.

Dreyer’s English is subtitled “An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style.” The author is the Copy Chief of Random House, so he should know a thing or two about cleaning up one’s prose. The wonder and the joy of it is that while some of his book is about The Right Way and The Wrong Way to write, as much again is about ignoring the so-called “rules” and making mindful, intelligent choices to optimize your story and amplify your own voice.

He had me at the introduction: Continue reading

Jilly: Uglycry stories

Do you enjoy books and authors that make you uglycry?

I’m currently participating in an online workshop offered by Jeanne’s RWA Chapter (Central Ohio Fiction Writers). It’s called Inside Out: Crafting Your Character’s Internal Conflict, taught by Linnea Sinclair. So far, so very good—the class is challenging me to dig deep into my characters’ innermost selves. It’s also making me think about how best to use the discoveries I’m making to tell the kind of stories I want to tell.

This week Jeanne, who is also taking the class, raised a question about her WIP. One of the other students offered a suggestion that brilliantly fits the heroine’s situation and is so gut-wrenchingly powerful it would hurt my heart to read it. I know this kind of storyline makes a book unforgettable. I believe it would earn reviews and might potentially win awards. I think it could make lifelong fans of readers who seek out this kind of emotional torture and the catharsis that follows when the heroine triumphs and everything turns out okay after all.

That’s not me. I find that the emotional distress of the tense build-up makes me feel miserable long after the relief of the satisfying resolution has dissipated.

I’m still scarred by the ending of Gone With The Wind, and I last read that when I was a teen 😉 .

Or take Loretta Chase (love, love, love Loretta Chase). I happily read and re-read Lord of Scoundrels, The Last Hellion, and all her Carsington family books, over and over. Those books pack a powerful emotional punch, but the story momentum always heads in a positive direction, and humor balances the serious undertones, so I never feel distressed. I can relax and enjoy the ride. Conversely, her first Dressmaker book (Silk is for Seduction) knotted my heart in my chest. The writing is brilliant. The black moment is one of the best sex scenes I’ve ever read, and it made me uglycry. Continue reading

Michille: Grisham’s Do’s and Don’ts

John Grisham Ryan Pfluger NYT

John Grisham on productivity: “Nothing will happen until you are producing at least one page per day.” Credit Ryan Pfluger for The New York Times

I read the New York Times every day. Well, not the whole thing, but I scan the home page and find enough articles that catch my interest to keep me on the site for a while. I’m not sure how I missed this gem from May 2017. John Grisham’s Do’s and Don’ts for Writing Popular Fiction. Some we’ve all heard/read before. Some are new to me. Even with the list, JG gives the caveat, “All suggestions can be ignored when necessary. I do it all the time.” Many writers do. But for those of us who aren’t multi-best-selling authors, it’s good to review every now and then.

Here they are: Continue reading

Michaeline: Spring Break 2019!

 

A redhead with rose wreath plays the harp outdoors while two toddlers dressed in white robes bring her flowers and what looks like a large iguana, or a small dinosaur.

Composing some poems/Thinking of spring/A small dinosaur/My cherubs bring. Ah, spring is a crazy time of year! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Well, it’s officially official! The 21st in Japan was the spring equinox, and the 20th for North, Central and South America. And, my elementary school students graduated on Friday, which is another sure sign that the season is about to commence. Peak cherry blossoms are predicted for March 29th in Tokyo. Spring has sprung! The season’s begun!

And one of my favorite late-night shows announced a fun hashtag contest. #SpringBreakHaiku “winners” may have their winning tweets read on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show. There are so many fun little creative contests associated with the show, but this one hits all my sweet spots. I love spring! I love breaks! And I adore a cute haiku!

They’ve already chosen their favorites, and you can view them on the gallery here: https://www.nbc.com/the-tonight-show/photos/hashtag-gallery-springbreakhaiku/3122635

This was one of my favorites.

I wrote about ten poems for the hashtag, and posted five.

My favorite darling.
Strewn across the floor:
Beer bottles from five nations.
Passed out guys from three.

Of course, you know the haiku police were out there, saying mean stuff about people’s numerical abilities. (For the record, the modern haiku doesn’t have to stick to a 5-7-5 syllable pattern. But try telling pedants that!) So, just out of silliness and spite, I posted this:

There once was a girl from Kentucky
Who went to Florida to get lucky.
She ran into an ex-,
Said, “Thank you, next.”
And hooked up with a guy much less sucky.

#SpringBreakHaiku #IrishHaiku

How about you? What silly little word games are you playing to keep your skills sharp?

Jilly: Reading Week Lessons Learned

For reasons best left unexplained except to say all’s well that ends well, last week I spent a few days out of action, followed by a few more recuperating on my sofa with a restorative book or ten.

When I’d soothed myself with all my favorite re-reads, I decided to try a highly rated fantasy series. It’s been on my radar for ages but I never bought the books because while I like the premise, the blurb and the reviews, the story is written in first person, present tense, which isn’t my catnip. The POV character (in this case, the heroine) is telling the story, so either she’s using present tense to describe something that happened in the past, which seems affected, or she’s providing a running commentary in the midst of the story action, which suggests she’s not fully engaged in what she’s doing. If the heroine isn’t all-in, why would I be?

No matter. I wasn’t going anywhere, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

The writing was good—good enough to get me past the first-person-present-tense obstacle. The characters were engaging, and the world fascinating. The chemistry between the heroine and hero was credible, with plenty of zing. Sadly I stopped after Book One of the trilogy, for two main reasons.

One (the lesser of the two) was that the book didn’t have a self-contained storyline. The characters grew and changed, but the book was a collection of unanswered questions that will no doubt be resolved over the remainder of the trilogy. So there was no moment of thrilling catharsis at the end of the book, just a vague feeling of “to be continued…” .This was a light-bulb moment for me, since the edit report on my first Alexis book (edits still on hold until I finish the prequel story) said I was guilty of this same folly. Aha. Okay. Must cogitate.

The second issue, which really annoyed me, was the author’s persistent use of deus ex machina at critical plot points. (According to Wikipedia: deus ex machina is a plot device where a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and seemingly unlikely occurrence, typically so much as to seem contrived). The story may be a fantasy, but that does not give the author the right to wave her magic wand every time the plot gets too difficult for the characters to resolve on their own.

Continue reading

Michaeline: In Like a Lion, and Vice Versa

A princess feeding two lions in a courtyard

If you feed your fiction lions the right things, they turn into lambs by the end of the month, right? (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s been a very long time since I’ve dipped into Robert McKee’s screenwriting guide, Story, so I may be misremembering the details of scene reversal. But, even if it is misremembered, this is what I need right now.

Do your scenes turn? McKee’s blogsite asks that question here, and as I remembered it, one way of doing this is making sure your character comes out of the scene 180 degrees turned around from the way she or he enters it. For example, Betty starts the scene happy. She’s going to marry her rich boyfriend, Jon, and Continue reading

Michaeline: Settings in Living Color

A girl and a sailor on a boat under the moonlight; the imagery is dark blue, and reflects the "My Secret Marriage" theme of the cover of the magazine.

Dark blue love, vs. happy pink love? The colors of the sea reflected in the color of his eyes? (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

There’s a very interesting review of Isn’t It Romantic with Rebel Wilson in Vox this week. Rebecca Jennings talks about how the movie uses dark, dull imagery pre-meet, then the film turns into Living Color with all the flowers and hearts in the world, crammed into the New York setting.

Of course, Isn’t It Romantic isn’t the first film to use darkness and light. You can find plenty of articles about this little trick, and it’s as old as color film itself. Notably, The Wizard of Oz was filmed in black and white while Dorothy was in humdrum old Kansas, but the images turned into gorgeous color when she was transported to magical Oz.

And, while that particular trick was part of the film, the original book also used color to good effect. “The Emerald City” invoked specific images for readers, and the Yellow Brick Road would have been not as effective if it had been the Shiny Brick Road.

It’s a nice reminder for us to use color in our stories. (It probably makes doing the cover a little more specific, too.) How do you use color in your stories? Or, do you have a story that used color to invoke feelings, emotions, themes and ideas very well?