Thursday, December 30, 2010

Flower Power

I marvel at how humans manage to pack so many meanings into a single word. A friend (the most excellent Miss P.) recently found a copy of Kate Greenaway's Language of Flowers at a used book store. I know she is a truly splendiferous friend because she was somehow able to give the book to me instead of keeping it for herself! Some of the meanings attached to specific flowers are hilarious. For example, if one were to give another a currant, the flower would signify "thy frown will kill me." One of my personal favorites is Rose Unique, which signifies "Call me not beautiful."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Friends, Ink.

I'm halfway through my BEASTLY revision, and I must confess that there have been times when I would rather play Frisbee with my computer than tap one more blasted word. However, as the computer I am currently using is actually my sister's, I have restrained my Frisbee impulses. But I'm not writing this post to mewel about writing woes. I want to talk about the amazing revivification powers friends possess.

I don't know how many times I've snapped the quill and declared surrender, and then a friend taped my courage back together with humor, ice cream, cajoling, etc. Sometimes I feel like my feeble Fantasia is down to the last grain of sand, and then a creative confidant brings the kingdom back with two well-placed words: Get busy.

Thanks, friends. I doff my tiara to your splendidness.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

AKA Writer's Mantra

I'm a sticker addict, especially for quote stickers. Today I found one of my new personal favorites:

"Start by doing what's necessary, then what's possible, and suddenly you're doing the impossible."

Superior advice from St. Francis of Assisi.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Learning to read

Everything tells a story, but I don't always know how to read it. The way oak leaves rustle like crumpled brown stars against their boughs long after the other trees' leaves have been stripped away, the sudden comeliness of frost when it beads ragweed and rose with jewels, each is a narrative unfolding petal by page, second by sentence. Sometimes I have to laugh at myself hunched at my computer, tapping out echoes of color in my head, while out the window Nature is inking her wonders with the utmost sumptuosity.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Horace and the Big R

The poet and satirist Horace once noted, "Often you must turn your stylus to erase, if you hope to write anything worth a second reading."

Come winter break, I face off with a beastly Revision. I'm not sure how my story will survive the clash of ink quill and delete button, but in the end, I suppose it all comes down to character. The main protagonist's, that is. If I can save my main character, the story will adapt to the new path/sentence of her foot steps. I guess I just have to keep believing the trail is worth following to find her.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Distill your Story

Okay, so I am officially addicted to Wordle and Wordsmith anagrams

Paste your synopsis into Wordle and see what happens as your story is distilled in a font-fancy cloud you can randomize into different styles.

Or, crack a character's name with an anagram. I couldn't stop laughing when I discovered my fairy protagonist's name included such anagrams as "griping onion, grooving minnow" and "wronging imp." Some were beautiful, like "Morning Wing, Pin Sorrow," and "Singing Iron." You can also increase your fun quotient with the advanced option, which is how I got "Prism Edge."

Marvelous frivolity!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Anti-lunacy List

I am thoroughly entangled in a revision challenge to slim a hefty storyline down by a third, but a rewrite of this magnitude is like asking the Big Bang to reverse so that the universe can be retooled. The options to preserve my meager stock of sanity in this lunatic endeavor are few:

1. Eat chocolate
2. Watch a Pirates of Dark Water marathon!
3. Induce a Thanksgiving turkey tryptophan coma.
4. Homework. Nix that. Did I mention eat chocolate?

But enough cyber-dawdling. Back to the scribbling board and my stubborn characters. If I may purloin a phrase from the Borg, "resistance is futile!"

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Reaching for Sun by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

My Teaching Exceptional Students class required me to read a children's book that dealt with disabilities. I had the sweet serendipity to stumble upon Tracie Vaughn Zimmer's novel, Reaching for Sun. Josie Wyatt was born with cerebral palsy, but she doesn't let the challenges of her condition dominate her. The wild richness of her grandmother's garden mirrors Josie's own spirit even as developers carve the Wyatt family farm down to a few untamed acres. Josie must contend with a stubborn mother who never listens to her and always thinks she knows what is best even as her life spins in new directions with the arrival of Jordan, a boy who sees Josie as a whole. I'd say that on a scale of 1 to 10, this book of free-verse poems is a 10+.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Paired Writing

As I have the privilege to work with Dr. Will Hochman this semester, I've picked up a few creative writing tip gems, like "paired writing." It's usually done in groups of two, sometimes three people. There are five steps. Each person starts their own story at the first step. People have only about two or three minutes for each step before switching stories with their partner. The end result can be hilarious!

1. Describe a setting

2. Insert a character (speech, action, description, etc.)

3. Insert conflict (more characters, action, etc.)

4. Insert crisis

5. Create a resolution. No "just a dream" endings

If you want a fuller description of the exercise, go to
(Hochman, Will (1997-8). Transactional Dynamics of Paired Fiction Writing. Wings, 5(2), 7-9)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The First Bards

Poor neglected little blog, grad school has funneled all my brain cells into midterms! But I find it hard to lament about anything during the Autumn. The air is too noisy with jeweled colors, and I must listen. After all, trees were signing to the heavens and writing poems with fallen pages of chlorophyll millennia before I picked up the quill.

Sunday, October 3, 2010



I adore this word. It refers to the peal of ringing bells. Now if I can only find a way to interject this gem of an adjective into normal conversation. It's practically a tongue twister. Try saying it fast three times in a row!

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Sesquipedalion's best friend

Come on, confess!

I know I'm not alone in my addiction to words. So for all those epeolatrists who can't get another syllable combo fast enough, go to and sign up for the emailed word of the day. It's free. How can I describe the experience? It's like the little mint chocolate left on the pillow in the hotel bedroom, only better, because I get a new treat every day! Even more fabulous, the words are archived all the way back to 1999 . . .

Wishing you all a Happy National Punctuation Day! No, really I am. September 24th is the officially-designated celebration, and we owe it all to Jeff Rubin.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Favorite Titles

What's in a title?

It's more than a clever turn of phrase, it's a syllabic hook that embeds itself into our psyches and draws us to pull the book off the shelf as if we had a choice in the matter. That is exactly how it happened with my favorite title, I, Coriander by Sally Gardner. For me, the title suggests a personal account that is somewhat exotic and extraordinary (the gorgeous book cover, didn't hurt, either!). A good title is a keyhole into the kingdom, a glimpse of ink and glory. It should never be a pretentious or flowery ornament, but rather what I like to call the golden gist--take The Black Stallion by Walter Farley. It doesn't need a single word more to sell the story. The title says it all.

What's your favorite title?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Diamond Lucy

Astronomers have discovered a ten billion trillion trillion carat star.

I love the cosmos! Whenever we humans get too puffed up with ourselves, the universe reminds us that there are such wonders still waiting to be discovered and stretch our puny powers of comprehension.

Friday, September 3, 2010


My first week at grad school this semester has just about squished every last creative syllable out of me. Therefore, I must resort to an emergency transfusion of adjectival brilliancy from

*Stelliferous, which means "Having or abounding in stars." Similar to sidereal, I know. Try substituting stelliferous for wicked, nasty, sweet or whatever other run-of-the-mill (or should I say "mouth"?) adjective is the norm for "cool" these days.

Stelliferous. Splendiferous. Ah, I love the fact that two of my favorite words are alliterative twins!

Work cited

"Stelliferous." Retrieved from:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Static Tale vs. Story Variations

In a folklore class I took in college, my instructor told me something that I have never been able to forget. He stated that a healthy story is one that is retold not only many times, but in many variations. It is only when a tale becomes static and conforms to one storyline alone that it runs into the danger of being lost.

Would Atlantis or Camelot still hold the same mystique if their rise and falls hadn't been captured in ink by so many pens? Would Cinderella be half as glamorous if she hadn't lost so many slippers at different balls? I wonder.

I believe the allure of the story retelling or spin off is that it starts with a place/premise beloved to readers, but then takes them on a brand new journey. The Child-like Empress knew this when she entrusted Bastian with her kingdom's last grain of sand so that he could rediscover and "rescape" Fantasia with the power of his own imagination. *(Read Michael Ende's The Neverending Story)

Story variations not only allow, they encourage the expansion of horizons that people sometimes forget still have worlds of room to grow.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Off the page

This is one of my favorite writing exercises because it is so spontaneous. If you are having trouble with a character, take them off the page. What I mean is, introduce them to external stimuli and scenarios.

For example, how would your character react if you dropped him/her in the mall? What kind of shops would they visit first, the tattoo parlor or the Build-a-Bear workshop? What clothing stores would they prefer? Or maybe your character is not a mall rat and would find him/herself perfectly miserable. Good. Bombarding your character with external stimuli helps to develop and reveal their tastes and personalities.

Besides, it's fun!

Sunday, August 15, 2010


I've decided to combat the "like,um, ya know" grind with a weekly dose of splendiferous syllables. Here is my personal all-time favorite adjective (besides splendiferous, of course):

1. SIDEREAL, meaning "of or pertaining to the stars."

*Check out this article by Jess Sheidlower to get some interesting statistics on word count/origin of the English language.

Please, feel free to send me your favorite words. The more, the merrier!

Work cited Retrieved August 15, 2010 from:

Friday, August 6, 2010

Giftwish & Catchfire

Today I want to talk about two of the most captivating fantasy books I've ever read, Giftwish and Catchfire by Graham Dunstan Martin.

Now, I'd like to preface my gushing review by acknowledging that both books are brimming over with so much descriptive imagery that sometimes I found them a bit difficult to follow. Yet that is precisely part of their charm! Martin twists syllables into strangely fantastic sentences and metaphors that I would never think of in a million years. One of my favorites is the description of the wizard Hoodwill, who is said to smile "like a knife" (In Catchfire, p. 6).

I would dearly like to see such a smile.

And then there's the story itself. All the best elements of fantasy included: Wizards, a dragon, a peasant lad forced to play the role of champion, and a witch girl with the double soul of a princess.

In a creative writing class I took in college, a few were of the opinion that fantasy tales are often the same. Personally, I believe the fantasy genre is more like a game board with new rules and pieces for each game, and Martin plays it better than most!

Work cited:

Martin, Graham Dunstan. Catchfire. Glasgow: Richard Drew Publishing, 1989.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I am very pleased to announce that I have accepted an offer of representation from Natalie M. Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

I just want to say to all my fellow writers still agent-hunting, NEVER GIVE UP! Keep writing and revising. It pays off in time. For some, perhaps after a short while, for others, longer. It took me about four years of serious scribbling, research and revision to come to this point in my writing career, with oodles of rejections along the way. But here I am. I can't believe it myself!

Now for further revisions and editor-hunting . . .

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Global Guinea Pig Reader Appreciation Day

I have decided to proclaim August 1st Global Guinea Pig Reader Appreciation Day. By guinea pig reader, I mean those wonderful, long-suffering souls we scribblers afflict with multiple drafts and barrage with endless plot questions. After all, why wait for publication and the acknowledgements page?

So, without further ado, thank you! Anandi (for saucer eyes, popcorn, and scissors), Becci (for arguing me into writing a better story), Mary Alice (for threatening bodily harm if I don't finish my drafts), Tonya (for clapping when I run out of pixie dust), Misty(for your keen observations & anticipation), Mary, Savannah & Rhet (for the most awesome road trip critique), Trang (for believing when I didn't), Letty (for the best email encouragement EVER), Audrey (for all the fairies). Special thanks to my college creative writing instructors, including Neil Newel, Dr. Dean Hughes, Dr. Patrick Madden, & Brandon Sanderson, and the multifarious individuals in my life whose advice, instruction, and encouragement helps me to press my dreams into syllables. Always, all my thanks to Bonnie, who in the brief iridescent years as my mother taught me to seek the ink inside.

Please accept my mickle gratitude. Yeah, mickle. It's a truly marvelous little word that should be used more often. Benjamin Franklin did in Poor Richard's Almanack. Consult the Google and oracles and be enlightened!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Hypervelocity Star

Goals. Everybody has them, though it's often a love-hate relationship. Today, I've made a new one. I want to live my life like HE 0437-5439! That's the fastest hypervelocity star in the Milky Way discovered so far. Once, it was a triple star system until it nicked the massive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way and was torn apart and reborn.

I used to think writing was all about the creativity, the perfect hook, the eloquence of the line, but now I know I was wrong. Equally vital is what you lose along the way, between the periods and the pages. Pride. Hope. The last shreds of identity and notions of talent. Writing is never static. It's an act of constant eclosion, shedding skin and gaining brand new eyes and limbs to grasp the intangible WORD. But before that can happen, the core of all your assumptions about yourself must be broken down to that last speck of perseverance. The grit makes the pearl, after all (see Emily Dickinson's poem "We play at paste").

So I refuse the coward's comfort. I would rather blaze out in a rush of ink than fade into an easy mediocrity safe beyond the event horizon between fear and possibility. Denise Crow quotes astronomer Warren Brown, who states, "These exiled stars are rare in the Milky Way's population of 100 billion stars. For every 100 million stars in the galaxy lurks one hypervelocity star."

One in one hundred million? I'll take those odds, and run with them. Now if only I could type at hypervelocity speeds!

You can check out the rest of the hypervelocity star's amazing bio here:

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C. Clarke

When readers think of Arthur C. Clarke's works, perhaps 2001: A Space Odyssey or Rendezvous with Rama are the most often remembered. But my favorite novel by Master Clarke will always be Against the Fall of Night.

Imagine an Earth of salt and sand, where oceans are a memory millions of years old and the remnants of humanity have gained great longevity even as their population dwindles away in an immortal city of machines. Alvin is the last child born in the Port of Diaspar in seven thousand years, and far too curious for his own good. He embarks on a forbidden quest to seek answers beyond the city's crumbling walls: is there anyone, any life at all beyond Diaspar? Who were the Invaders that pushed man's empire from the stars and nearly destroyed the human race?

Alvin's lonely restlessness holds the reader captive till the last page, and makes his journey, your journey.

Friday, July 23, 2010

For the love of shoes!

I read an MSN article today that astounded me with the claim that women spend an average of $25,000 on shoes in their lifetime. I'm more of a clearance diva myself. I've waited an entire semester for a pair of gold sequin shoes I lusted after to get down to 5 bucks, and once I even scored a pair of brand new red kitten heels for 1 dollar. Alas, I must admit that clearance is also my downfall . . . the deals do my wallet in. Only last week I bought a pair of sandy-silver ballet flats that I daresay would make even Cinderella jealous!

Speaking of Cinderella, check out this dream chandelier. If I were ridiculously rich, I would totally install such a chandelier in a walk-in closet devoted entirely to the worship and amassment of shoes.,r:3,s:0

Shoe article:>1=32002

Friday, July 16, 2010

Ink & Chlorophyll

If I could only choose one thing to be grateful for in the whole world, I would have to go with trees. The dark-jeweled shadows their leaves cut against the sunlight, the windward lash and sway of their branches, these are things I carry with me when nothing else makes sense. For millennia trees have been humanity's vital other half, first by providing physical kindling, nourishment and shelter, and later by providing a hearth for the kindling of the mind: Paper, a fragile plane for butterfly lines and curves to ink out a world of ideas. As if that weren't bounty enough, they purify the very air we pull between our teeth! Come Autumn, they scatter a treasury of colors that crackle underfoot like poetry.

Truly, I have never seen nor heard anything quite so lovely as a tree.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Princess Mona Leia

Leonardo da Vinci must be turning in his grave! I was mall-shopping with my sister when I came across a most peculiar work of art: a Mona Leia t-shirt. That's right, Princess Leia of Star Wars. Her classic bunhead visage was plastered over the Mona Lisa's coyly smiling face. Of course, as a proper Star Wars nerd I was sorely tempted to buy one. Yes, I must confess I was one of those girls who dressed up as the bunhead princess for Halloween!

And while we're on the subject of Princess Leia, check out this marvelous Star Wars on the Subway clip.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Great Riddle

Face it, we humans are a questionable lot. We're full of boundless curiosity and throw ourselves at the horizons of the hypothetical for all we're worth.

Perhaps one of the greatest questions ever posed is Shakespeare's "To be, or not to be?" uttered by Hamlet. Another equally perplexing question is posed by Alice in Wonderland's Mad Hatter: "How is a raven like a writing desk?" And the greatest question of them all . . . . Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Well, wonder no more!

Today, scientists announced that they've cracked the chicken vs. egg mystery. The chicken came first! The chicken's ovaries contain a protein essential to egg formation, therefore the egg could not exist before the chicken. I feel immensely enlightened, don't you?

You can check out the rest of the story here:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Legendary Unicorn

This just made my day. No, make that my week! I love it when nature laughs at human assumptions of the impossible.>1=42007

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

I've decided to start a mini-spotlight for books that I believe should be on every Earthling's reading list (and non-Earthling, as the case may be!). There are so many books to choose from, but I can't resist. I'm going to begin with The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

I was about twelve when my parents first introduced me to Zilpha's books, but The Changeling will always be my particular favorite. It's a middle grade novel that juxtaposes the transcendence of two children's imaginations against the brittle harshness of reality. But it's not about escaping your own reality, more, shaping it, I think.

Martha Abbot is a lonely, suburban-born coward who forms an unlikely friendship with Ivy, a member of the notorious Carson family that is always skipping town for trouble with the law. Martha is fascinated by the peculiar, almost otherworldly Ivy, who claims she is a changeling switched at birth with the real Ivy. As they grow up together, Martha and Ivy get into all sorts of scrapes and weave an intricate dream world where both belong, but neither can stay.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Geoneutrino Girl

Hurrah for geoneutrinos! The Earth holds such unexpected wonders, like antimatter particles buried deep within the interior. What's even more amazing is the fact that we scruffy bipedal humans discovered their existence, for as Clara Moskowitz notes, "These particles are incredibly difficult to find, because they pass through almost everything without interacting in any way."

Doesn't Geoneutrino sound like a super heroine's alias? Geoneutrino Girl! Right . . . I think I'll let someone else write that story! But you can check out Clara's article below.

Moskowitz, Clara. Weird Antimatter Particles Disovered. Retrieved June 6, 2010 from:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Progress Report Nonillion (1+30 zeroes)

Today, after much procrastination, I hit the 30,000 word mark on a draft I'm working on. Yay, right? I know many of the words are so-so and will need to be revised or outright annihilated, not to mention I'm missing at least 30,000 additional words. But I've made it halfway. Now I have to finish it, or the protagonist will never forgive me, not after the royal mess I got him into! And as anyone with Scribbler's Syndrome can attest, you don't want the character voices sharing your brain to hold grudges against you.

"Halfway" is such a charged word. It's like a coin rolling on the edge, a fifty-fifty chance of tails or heads, win or lose. But sooner or later the coin is going to fall, so you know you have to take the chance.

I'm a Facebook fan of the amazing writer Paulo Coelho, which means I get these nifty updates. Today's nugget of wisdom is "The visible is always a mirror of the invisible. The reality is imagined before it manifests itself / Lo visible es siempre un espejo de lo invisible. La realidad es imaginada antes de revelarse."

Thelonius, we're halfway to manifestation! Or a manuscript, anyway. Splendid.

Work Cited:

Coelho, Paulo. Retrieved June 23, 2010 from:

Monday, June 14, 2010

So you want to query, do you?

What? Did you think I was going to tell you how to write a fabulous query letter? I'd rather slay a Jabberwocky. But you could always check out Writing World.

Seriously, check it out.

My marvelous agent Natalie Lakosil's template for a good query letter:

She also included a link on Query Tips:

Or you could ask author/former literary agent Nathan Bransford about the "anatomy of a good query letter."

I'll be posting additional links as I find query letter examples that I believe are helpful.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Atoms, Pearls & Indra

Fellow Scribblers, I want you to surrender your quill for a moment and ask yourself in all honesty, "why do I write?" Why do I drudge and toil with no period in sight for my sentence? Or better yet, "why can't I STOP?"

Humanity is such a strange species. We are knit together with more than flesh and blood. The syllables of myths, legends, prayers and hopes are rooted deep in our psyche. Muriel Rukeyser said, “The universe is made up of stories, not atoms,” and I believe her. Perhaps "In the beginning was the Word..." reveals a new facet of complexity (John 1:1).

My dearest friend in the Milky Way (or any other galaxy, for that matter) died a few years back. I was deleting junk from an old email account when I found a message from this person with a simple admonishment: "Take care and follow your dreams. They are the best part of you." But what makes the blasted dream so precious, worth wagering everything we are against the weight of "the Nothing"?*(read The Neverending Story)

To answer that I must take you to Antelope Island, a wind-swept strip of land in the middle of Utah's Great Salt Lake. As any self-respecting island has a gift shop, I visited it and purchased a book entitled, Earth Prayers from around the World: 365 Prayers, Poems, and Invocations Honoring the Earth edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon. On page 170 there is a description of the Heaven of Indra. It speaks of a "network" of pearls stranded together in such a way that by gazing at a single orb, one may catch the entire web of pearls in the reflection. The gems are inseparably interlaced both in reflection and in reality.

To quit writing and dreaming would be like trying to sever the pearl strands or splitting the chain of our own atoms. The interconnections are already there--we just need to keep beading them, word by word.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Query Review and Submission Timing

It's time! Your manuscript is all spiffy and spellchecked and you feel confident about submitting your literary magnum opus into the agent/editor arena. Below, I've outlined some of the helpful tips I've picked up regarding when and how to submit query letters.

1. Test your query on a guinea pig before submitting. Not the fluffy animal! I mean a scruffy human. Now, while it's helpful to have a creative confidante who knows the basic premise behind your novel so they can judge if the query is pitch-perfect (pun intended), it's more important to net an outsider. The outsider knows little next to nothing about your story. The outsider's viewpoint is especially important because they might notice elements in your query that are clear to you, because you're the writer/creator/muse, but potentially confusing to an audience that has no prior knowledge of your masterpiece.

2. NEVER submit a query the week after you've finished your manuscript. Just don't do it. If a fabulous agent likes your query and you send them a manuscript in dire need of further polish and development, you just lost your submission bid. Not that I'm speaking from personal experience or anything . . . Instead, give the brain cells a break for a good solid month, go back to your manuscript and revise it again, and then (maybe) let's start talking queries.

3. Submit your queries in groups of no more than five. Wait at least a month between submissions. I can't remember where I heard this, but I have found it to be excellent advice. If you submit your initial query to fifteen agents all at once and later make significant revisions to the query letter, too bad, you already blew your chance with all those wonderful agents/editors. Epic tragedy!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Empty Pot

I once heard a proverb from the Tao Te Ching that went something like this: "We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want."

I have come to believe it is much the same for story writing. The fundamental elements of the story form only the shell--the plot, the setting, the characters, etc. The drive behind all these elements must come, for lack of a better word, from "elsewhere." From the inside emptiness where we shut up and listen to what the story is doing and saying and naturally trying to become. I know from my own personal experience that a story should NEVER be forced into being or it becomes something it is not. The narrative thread frays into an exercise in syllabic futility.

So treasure the emptiness. Don't give into the demons of frustration and hit the delete key when the story doesn't flow in a stream of scintillating sentences. Rather, relish the pause. Wait for it. Let the emptiness inside you evolve.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

"Gem-Tactics" and the Art of Revision

In 1861, Emily Dickinson wrote a poem with no name, only the numeric title 320. In it, she speaks of the gradual metamorphosis of sand into a gem such as the pearl. I have long believed her poem mirrors the journey of the writer through the revision process.

Poem 320

We play at Paste—

Till qualified, for Pearl—
Then, drop the Paste—
And deem ourself a fool—

The Shapes—though—were similar—
And our new Hands
Learned Gem-Tactics—
Practicing Sands—

Work Cited:
Dickinson, Emily (1961). Poem 320. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Writer's Cardinal Rule: Show, Don't Tell

My creative writing instructors in college pounded one rule into my head with such vigor that sometimes I swear the echo lodged between my ears like an annoying Jiminy Cricket, chirping:


Abstracts and generalizations do little to flesh out a story. Instead, employ the five senses to describe the scene in real time. And do it through the character's POV. For example, let's pretend the character is a starving guttersnipe by the name of Smolliver. Let's drop him in a bakery. Since this is Smolliver's scene and his stomach is growling like a pit full of of rabid ligers, what will hit him first about the bakery, how "truly scrumptious" everything looks in the glass cases? No! Avoid excessive adjectives and vague descriptive phrases at all costs. Get into specifics. Personally, I'd start with the aroma of cinnamon buns hot from the oven and still dripping gooey frosting down the sides, but that's only because I have a sweet tooth for said gooey buns. Smolliver might be partial to buttermilk donuts.

To paraphrase one of my favorite instructors, Dr. Dean Hughes:

"Don’t claim a thing is magnificent, show it. And don’t use the word magnificent."

Monday, May 24, 2010

Found Poetry

Sometimes it's fun, even essential, to do something that has absolutely NOTHING to do with your current novel project in order to get the creative embers stoked. One such exercise is "Found" poetry, which takes words and phrases from other pieces of literature in order to create something new.

Here's an example I created using snippets from the Bible:

A Word Fitly Spoken (Proverbs 25:11)

Therefore Sarah laughed within herself (Genesis 18:12)
Oh that my words were now written!
Oh that they were printed in a book! (Job 19:23-24)

The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places (Psalms 16:6)
Words to the end of the world (Psalms 19:4)
And it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness (Ezekiel 3:3)
As certain also of your poets have said. (Acts 17:28)

*You can also mix and match your own original work with other literature if you prefer.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

SO WHAT? The Sticky Finger Factor

When I read a novel, I don't want to be entertained, I want to be captivated, drawn like a sailor to shipwreck because I can't put the book down until the siren syllables let me go after the last page (sometimes not even then).

Which brings me to the question, how do I achieve this "Sticky Finger Factor" in my own novels? I believe part of the answer lies in two words my first creative writing instructor wrote on the board, two words that form the kernel of every story:


Or in other words, what is it about your protagonist/plot that will compel me to read more? Why should I give up a precious string of sixty seconds reading your sentence when I could be updating my Facebook status, watching yahoomovie trailers for the tenth time today, or making a scrumptious Pear Clafauti?

When the SO WHAT? of a character, chapter, scene, or even a line of dialogue is weak, the story suffers, because it's the stitch that binds everything together.

As a venerable dude once said, "Justify your existence!"

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Character PSP

Part of the reason I started this writing blog was to organize the monstrous pile of notes I accumulated in college. So I've decided I'm going to start a collection of my favorite writing elements and exercises.

But first, I must give credit where it is due. I learned the following character exercise from the legendary Master Newel, creative writing teacher extraordinaire! Define the characters' PSP: physiology, sociology, and psychology. It's a great way to flesh out both major and minor characters.

By PHYSIOLOGY, I mean much more than their physical characteristics such as eye color, hair, height, or a petunia-shaped birthmark under their left armpit. I want to know their style of clothing and mannerisms. Do they have a tic, are they a frequent sneezer like Daniel Jackson in Stargate? Are they neat freaks constantly breaking out the hand soap or slovenly piglets who scatter crumbs in their wake? Do they have fifty piercings, tattoos, or none? Here's the most important question of all: why? Fleshing out the physiology can give you insight into the next two character sections.

By SOCIOLOGY, I mean the character's cultural upbringing, education and economic status. Were they raised in slums, suburbia, or in a palace sucking a chocolate-coated silver spoon? What level of education did they achieve? What was their family status--only child, adopted human with twenty reptilian siblings, neglected middle child in a set of sextuplets, etc.? What is their religious world view, if any? For example, do they believe in an afterlife, or do they even care? What makes them ashamed, what is taboo?

By PSYCHOLOGY, I mean their phobias, passions, and hobbies. What makes them tick? What's their biggest aspiration in life, to find the last twinkie on Earth or backpack in the Andes, or maybe just take over the universe? Do they have a temper or are they timid? Are they easily empathetic, or are they cold and distant because the tooth fairy skipped them as a child and they've held a grudge ever since? Given all these factors, how would they react if thrown into a lion's den? Would they cower in fear, tame the ravening beasties, or make fur coats? You get the idea.

*Now, I never use half the stuff I write down in this exercise in my actual novel, but knowing my characters' PSP helps me to round them out into more believable and unique individuals. Besides, it's fun!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Writer-friendly Environments

I dread sunny, summer days. They simply aren’t writer friendly! I can’t stand the way sunlight slips through the window and dribbles ultraviolet honey all over my keyboard as I tap away like a hunched monkey. Honestly, how can the ghosts in my brain, however lovely, beat the wealth of a star?