Nancy: Who said that?

In the past couple of months, I have been out in the writing wilds, reviewing multiple manuscripts. I return to you now with disturbing news: someone has absconded with all the dialogue tags.

Or so I thought, when three of the last four manuscripts I reviewed had long passages of dialogue with no attributions. None of those innocuous “he said” “she said” phrases. No bodies in motion in the same paragraph to show who must have said it. Not even the slightly more annoying scene blocking some of us (ahem, are those three fingers pointing back at me?) tend to use, at least in early drafts, for variation. This lack of tags occurred in scenes with two people talking. And three characters. And even five! Yes, I read a scene with five people in a conversation, with no way to discern, from the words on the page, who was saying what.

I got a sinking feeling.

When a trend appears across manuscripts of writers who do not know each other (and therefore probably haven’t come up with a new technique themselves), I smell “advice” emanating from “professionals”. When I asked one of the writers about the lack of tags, she confirmed my fear. She had cut most of the dialogue tags from her manuscript after her writing group (that’s a whole other blog post, isn’t it?) told her she should stop using them. WHAT?!!! I wondered out loud where they had learned this…ok, I’m struggling not to use profanity, so imagine some nicer word for BS. According to my writer, they got the advice from agents. More precisely, from agents ranting on Twitter.

That loud thwack heard ’round the world was my head hitting my desk. Continue reading

Jilly: Five Great Writing Craft Resources

What are your go-to references for improving your chosen skill–creative, mechanical, sporting, whatever’s important to you?

I decided a while ago that I wouldn’t spend any more money on writing craft—no books, workshops, courses or conferences—unless I come across something exceptional. It’s not that my writing is so good I don’t need it, but that I already have a great collection of resources at my fingertips and I’ve only scratched the surface of most of them.

Even if I write for another 20 years (and I intend to), I bet I could find the answers to 99.9% of my craft problems on my current bookshelf or the internet. My challenge is to digest all that great advice, evaluate it, select the bits that I need most in order to power up my strengths, bolster my weaknesses, and widen my skill-set, and apply those lessons until they become second nature.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in this post that I was surprised to discover how much I’ve absorbed about the process of self-publishing. I’ve also learned that some craft resources hit the spot for me, while other famous names slide through my brain and out again, leaving no trace. I had fun choosing my favorite indie publishing resources, so I decided to play the same game with the writing craft references. I found it surprisingly easy to pick the ones I believe will support my writing journey all the way to the pearly gates.

Your mileage may vary (I’d love to know!), but here are my choices: Continue reading

Jilly: Good Book Squee–The Goblin Emperor

The quality of my TBR list has improved greatly of late thanks to Jenny Crusie. Last month she added a new weekly feature, Good Book Thursdays, to her blog, www.arghink.com, and invited her online community to recommend something good to read.

Jenny’s followers are a discerning group, so when Katherine Addison’s novel The Goblin Emperor collected a slew of recommendations, I bought it and bumped it up to the top of my list. I’m glad I did. The story is fantasy, which I love, arguably Young Adult (not so much my thing), and with only the barest smidgeon of the possibility of a future love story (bah!), but I really enjoyed it.

The Goblin Emperor is a coming-of-age story about eighteen year-old Maia, half-elf, half-goblin, who unexpectedly becomes Emperor of the Elflands following the death of his father and three of his siblings in an airship crash. He’s the only child of a political mixed marriage, raised in exile by his mother and after her death, by a bitter, bullying cousin. Maia comes to the dangerous, formal and highly politicized Imperial Court without friends or allies and has to decide whom to trust and just what kind of Emperor he wants to be—assuming he survives long enough to make his mark. He quickly discovers that his father’s airship was sabotaged, and he’s smart enough to realize the murderer is likely to be close at hand.

If you’re looking for Continue reading

Jilly: Can Lightning Strike Twice?

lightning-strikeMost romantic fiction is based on the premise that a hero or heroine meets their other half—the one person in the world who completes them.

Do you believe that a person could find great, lasting love more than once in a lifetime?

I spent all day yesterday thinking about this, ever since I read You May Want To Marry My Husband, an astonishing piece by novelist Amy Krouse Rosenthal, published last Friday in the New York Times. Rosenthal is terminally ill with ovarian cancer and the post recommends the many excellent qualities of her beloved husband of more than 26 years to an unknown woman in the hope that there will be a second great love story in his future.

I strongly recommend you click here to read. Have tissues to hand.

Continue reading

Nancy: Today’s Word is Theme

The theme is the beating heart of your book.

The theme is the beating heart of your book.

Judging by my posts this month, it seems I’ve spent most of January thinking about keywords that apply to my writing life and process, including intention, patience, and empathy. This past week, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about theme as a result of the confluence of disparate elements.

First, a quick definition of theme as I’m using it here, from Reference.com: “The theme of a novel or story is the major message that organizes the entire work…The theme of a work is distinct from its subject, which is what the story is ostensibly “about.” The theme is an expression of the writer’s views on that subject.”

On Wednesday, Elizabeth wrote about defining what you stand for, as well as what your characters stand for, to help uncover potential conflicts, arcs, and growth opportunities. In the comments section, Jeanne and Elizabeth wrote about the way an author’s view of the meaning of a work can change through the writing process. With this in mind, it makes sense that many writers get their first (or second or fifth) draft on the page, then step back and analyze the work to uncover the theme. Why look for the theme? Continue reading

Nancy: WU UnConference Lesson 2 Con’t: Backstory as the Backbone of Your Story

This scene from Moonstruck packs a punch because we know these characters' backstories.

This scene from Moonstruck packs a punch because we know these characters’ backstories.

In last week’s post, I nattered on about Lisa Cron’s message that backstory is the decoder ring for any story we write. This week, let’s take the discussion one step further. Let’s talk about putting some of that glorious backstory you’re creating into your current WIP.

Gasp! Egads! Not the Dreaded Backstory!

Before you go running for the exits, hear me (channeling Lisa) out. As the author of Wired for Story and Story Genius as well as a long-time writing coach and teacher, Lisa has researched lots of brain science to back up her theory that not only do we need to create our characters’ backstories for our own authorial edification, but also for reader enlightenment and, ultimately, bonding with our characters. Our brains use story to explore different aspects and possibilities of the wider world so we can learn lessons from those experiences without putting ourselves in harm’s way. (Lisa puts it much more elegantly in her books, and really, you should be reading her books!) And because our brains are incredibly efficient machines, they will use the same techniques to decipher fictional stories as they do real-life events.

Let’s think about that in the context of character for a minute. Think back to meeting someone important in your life, for example, your significant other or your best friend. Continue reading

Nancy: WU UnConference Lesson 2: The Decoder Ring

Portals of the Past, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA

Portals of the Past, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA

Last week, when sharing some of the great wisdom imparted to me during the early November Writers Unboxed UnConference, I discussed the importance of theme as the heart of your book. This week, I’m going to discuss another essential element of your story: the decoder ring. Heart and a decoder ring. Makes sense, right? Er, perhaps I need to elaborate.

As Lisa Cron said many times during her workshops at the UnConference, when it comes to the story you are writing – the story your main character is telling – the character’s past is the decoder ring to the story. Quoting William Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” OK, he wasn’t talking about your story or mine, in that case, but the famous line has been applied to the craft of writing by many writing teachers.

So how does this idea of the character’s past being part of the present-day story jibe with the admonition to stay in the now and not bog down your book with the dreaded backstory? Paraphrasing Lisa Cron, it’s not backstory that’s the problem; it’s poor usage of backstory. In fact, she argues, we not only want the pertinent parts of your characters’ backstories, we need them to understand who the characters are and why they react and behave the way they do. But how do you include backstory without throwing the reader (or the contest judge, in Jilly’s case) out of the story? Continue reading