Friday, April 29, 2011

Andre's first 500

Shaye scowled up at her arrest warrant. It was twice as large as any of the others pinned on the bar wall, and printed in large bold letters.

Bounty hunter. Female. Black coat. Dark red hair. Scar on left cheek.
Armed and extremely dangerous.
5,000 Bax Reward

The warrant was short and to the point, providing just enough information for someone to identify her, and more than enough money for someone to try. Far more than enough. Five-thousand bax was a number to bring every bounty hunter in the city down after her. There were no details of where Shaye had to be delivered, but the signature at the bottom was enough for anyone with a modicum of brainpower to understand. Mireya.

Shaye turned away from the wall and surveyed the bar, looking for anything suspicious. Scruffy men sat around dirty wooden tables, laughing uproariously at each other between swigs of ancient beer. No one appeared to be paying attention to her, which was good. Hopefully none of them would connect her with the obscene amount of money being offered.

Striding across the room, Shaye sat down on the stool at the far end of the bar. It creaked complainingly beneath her, but managed to not fall apart. Her muscles tensed automatically when the bartender caught her eye and hurried over, his large belly jiggling. She had known the man ever since she could lift a gun, but that only meant he would be aware of the warrant on the wall. Anyone was an enemy when enough money was involved.

“Shaye!” he hissed, casting furtive glances in every direction, “what are you doing here?”

“I’m looking for this man,” Shaye said calmly. She pulled a photo from her coat pocket and slid it across the counter.

“I haven’t seen him,” the bartender said, giving the picture only the briefest of glances, “but you shouldn’t be here! You’ve seen the amount of money the East is offering for you, and if the Enforcers find you…” He trailed off. His flabby jowls wobbling as he gulped, staring at something behind Shaye. Shaye didn’t bother looking around. She had already heard the footsteps, and judging by the sound of them, the man now standing behind her was large, beefy, and weighed over two-hundred pounds. Likely all muscle and no brain, but Shaye didn’t like to make assumptions.

“You want to sit down?” she asked, still not looking around. “Drinks on me.”

Behind her, the thug grunted. “Not likely,” he said. “You’re coming with me.” He grabbed her shoulder with one thick hand and Shaye reacted instantly. Leaping up, her stool was sent flying as she spun, bringing her elbow up and slamming it into the man’s face. The blow - already strong enough to fell most men - was strengthened by the metal bar strapped to her forearm and hidden in the sleeve of her coat. Her would-be abductor was sent sprawling flat out on the floor.

Before he could move, Shaye yanked a pistol from the holster on her waist and cocked it at his head.

Around them, the bar had fallen completely silent. Everyone was staring at them. From his position on the floor, the man glared up at Shaye and spat out a glob of blood before speaking.

“You can’t threaten me,” he said, “I know who you are. Shaye. The bounty hunter who won’t kill.”

Shaye’s expression didn’t change. “I don’t need to kill,” she said, and shot him in the leg.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Basics: More on Point of View

Last week's Basics focused on avoiding POV errors.  As a response to some of the comments left, I thought it might be a good idea this week to better define the common POVs.  (With the constant thought, however, to never get hung up on terminology.)


First person narrative is written with "I" or "we" and the narrator is a player in the story.  Everything in the novel is filtered through this character's eyes, and there is no way the character can know the thoughts of other characters unless these characters choose to share them.

First person narrative can be written in present (I run through the corridor) or past tense (I ran through the corridor.


Third person narrative is written with "he", "she", and "they."  The narrator, while not a player in the story, remains close inside the main character's head at all times.  We experience the story from "inside" the main character, but he is not actually telling the story.

This is also referred to as "THIRD PERSON, CLOSE" and "THIRD PERSON, SUBJECTIVE."

Third person limited narrative can be written in present (He grabs her by the arm) or past tense (He grabbed her by the arm).


This particular voice is better suited for non-fiction writing (newspaper articles, essays, etc.).  The narrator is uninvolved in the narrative, maintaining a distant and objective view throughout.


In omniscient narrative, the narrator knows everything that's going on, including the thoughts of all the characters.  In recent decades--particularly in YA and MG literature--this viewpoint seems to have fallen out of favor, though historically it was popular, evident in the novels of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and other classics.

Classic fairy tales are written omnisciently as well.  Crack one open and you'll see what I mean.

[It's important to remember that the novel, as an art form, isn't static.  In order to be viable in the modern market, our writing needs to reflect what is acceptable and preferred in our own era.  That doesn't mean the omniscient viewpoint should never be used (for instance, the first chapter of each Harry Potter book is written in third person omniscient, but then switches to the inside of Harry's head, which makes it third person, close).  But by and large, today's readers (YA/MG) want to be inside the main character's head.]

One can also write in first person omniscient, but I'd say that's fairly rare, and probably not something you want to try while you're cutting your writing teeth.

Anyway.  We could go into a lot more detail about different voices and voice/tense combination, but I don't really think it's necessary.  In the end, it's probably going to be wise for you to stick with third person limited, whether you choose to write in present or past tense.

While you're writing, ask yourself, "Would my character KNOW this?  Can he SEE this right now?"  If it's not humanly possibly in the current scene, then you probably have a POV error.  And they are usually easily fixed.

That's that!  Next week we'll get back to some good, juicy grammar. *grin*

Winner of the 500-word critique!

It's.... ANDRE!!

Andre, please send the first 500 words of your manuscript (finished or in progress) to Mad at awritergonemad.submissions(at) We'll post it on Thursday so our readers can offer you critique!

Your Silly Story

The llama was definitely dead.

"What are we going to tell Uncle Bif?" Daisy prodded the stiff animal with her toe, hoping the slightest twitch from the llama would prove them wrong.


Daisy's older brother Gaff shrugged and squatted by the llama's head. "It's a week's worth of meat."
"But he's a vegetarian," Daisy whined.

"Llama's a vegetable."

"No it's not."

Her brother was an idiot. Worse than that, Uncle Bif liked the llama more than either of them. It was in the will, and now that it was dead, she and her brother would be out on their butts.

"What if we bury it?" Gaff suggested.

"He'll notice it's missing."

"We could make a new one."

Daisy blinked, then raised an eyebrow. Sometimes she doubted her brother wasn’t actually an alien, despite the fact that his head was strangely antannae-free. “Make a new one?” she repeated.

"Sure if we shave its hair off and use glue and newspaper like we did to make planets in first grade. Oh, we'll need chicken wire and some sticks..."

"You've been eating Gran's killer pepper jelly again, haven't you?" Daisy pulled her brother's bottom eyelids down to see if his eyes were bloodshot.

"Oh yeah Killer pepper strikes again.' Daisy lets his lids snap back into place. "Think you can see straight enough to get the darn jacket off the goat."

"Think you can see straight enough not do that again?"

"Just get the jacket. Oh, and the shoes too!"

She smiled. Gaff would fit the disguise perfectly. His webbed feet might be a little hard to conceal... but he was the same size as the llama. They'd often shared fashion tips.

"Now, where can I find some SuperGlue?"

It would take a lot to cover up his pesky feathers.

"You used it up when you glued these dumb feathers onto me," Gaff said, giving her a death glare.

Daisy scratched her ear. "It was necessary to get you through security at Duck Palace. But that's irrelevant now that the great Dali Llama is dead. Our quest to bring him..."

Friday, April 22, 2011

Weekend Contest: Story Extraordinaire!

The contest:  Add to the ongoing story-in-a-comment-box below.

The prize:  The winner (drawn randomly from all participants) gets to post his/her first 500 words on the blog for group critique!

The rules:  Write the next 50 words of the story.  Keep the protagonist's name the same, but FEEL FREE TO CHANGE THE GENRE AT WILL!  Keep it clean.  And don't write more than 50 words, even if it means stopping before the end of a

You may add to the story as many times as you'd like, but please don't enter consecutively.  (In other words, let someone else write something before you jump in again.)

Okay. Ready?  This contest will be open until 11:59 pm on April 24.  Which happens to be the very end of my birthday. *grin*

Here we go!


The llama was definitely dead.

"What are we going to tell Uncle Bif?" Daisy prodded the stiff animal with her toe, hoping the slightest twitch from the llama would prove them wrong.


Daisy's older brother Gaff shrugged and squatted by the llama's head.  "It's a week's worth of meat."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Basics: Point of View

Funny, the things you just don't know when you write your first novel.  After I wrote mine, I handed it to my husband, who gave it to a friend of his to read.  (My first official "beta reader" and I didn't know it!)  This guy was an avid fantasy fan and voracious reader, so I was very interested in his opinions on my Masterpiece, which happened to be fantasy.

(I should, like, pay him for the pain of that experience.)

Anyway, he mentioned something in his notes about being in different heads when people were talking, and I really didn't know what he meant.  So, like any intelligent aspiring author, I ignored him.

Then I sent some chapters to a WRITER friend (different animal, that).  Who promptly told me I had point of view (POV) problems, and recommended I get myself a copy of Self Editing for Fiction Writers (I did).

Yeah.  I had no idea what it meant to "stay inside my protagonist's head."  Even tried to defend myself a few times while this guy was pointing out my errors.  (I shudder to remember.)

So what, exactly is POINT OF VIEW?  And why is it so important?

POINT OF VIEW (POV) is the story as viewed (or experienced) by YOUR MAIN CHARACTER(S) or WHOEVER IS TELLING THE STORY. In the modern novel, it's standard practice to give the POV to your protagonist, whether you're writing in first or third person.  (That's "I" or "he/she".)  Any time you write anything outside of this intimate experience, you're violating the point of view, and the writing either is rendered unclear or isn't logical.

Examples are the best way to learn, so here we go:

1.  Junebug is the main character:

"Oh my gosh."  Junebug turned ten shades of red as he stood in the bathroom doorway.  "I didn't know anyone was in here."

Since the story is being told from Junebug's perspective, HE WOULD NOT SEE HIS FACE TURNING TEN SHADES OF RED.  He is INSIDE his face, not looking at it.  It's a POV problem.


"Oh my gosh."  Junebug's face grew hot as he stood in the bathroom doorway.  "I didn't know anyone was in here."

2.  Celia is the main character.  Dave is the boy she likes.

"No one's asked me to the dance."  Celia lowered her eyes.

Dave's tee-shirt was sticking to his armpits and his breath was coming too fast.  It was like he fell to pieces every time Celia talked to him.  But he couldn't tell her that.  He cleared his throat.

"Will you go with me?" he asked.

In the above example, we jump right out of Celia's head and into Dave's, where we should never be.  First of all, Celia has lowered her eyes, which means she's not looking at Dave.  So even if his sticky armpits were visible, she wouldn't be looking at them right now.  The paragraph also talks about what he's feeling on the inside, and Celia wouldn't have any idea about that, either, unless she's some sort of creepy mind-reader.  So the entire paragraph is a POV error.


"No one's asked me to the dance."  Celia lowered her eyes, listening to Dave's too-fast breathing.  She wished she hadn't mentioned the dance.

Dave cleared his throat.  "Will you go with me?"

3.  Teresa ("I") is the main character.

"Here ya go, Teresa."

Roland handed me the keys and stuck his hand back into his pocket.  Satisfied, he flashed a smile I'd grown to hate.  My eyes reflected the annoyance that never seemed to go away.

"It'd be nice if you'd check with me next time," I said.

The middle paragraph has two egregious POV errors.  First of all, Teresa would not know that Roland is satisfied.  She might observe satisfaction on his face, or perceive it in his voice, but to simply say that Roland is "satisfied" is a POV error.  Secondly, Teresa cannot know what her eyes are reflecting.  She can FEEL the annoyance, but she can't know how it's being translated on her face.


"Here ya go, Teresa."

Roland handed me the keys and stuck his hand back into his pocket.  Smug satisfaction laced the smile he flashed.  So annoying.

"It'd be nice if you'd check with me next time," I said.

And there you have it.  It's a matter of being careful as you write.  Ask yourself:  Can my main character KNOW this?  Can he SEE this?  Can he HEAR this?  Everything your main character responds to has to be something he CAN respond to.  And if it's his own facial expression or something that only another character could know, then it's a POV error.

Interestingly, novels from earlier eras tend to use a more OMNISCIENT point of view, instead of sticking inside the protagonist's head.  Jane Austen, my favorite novelist, doesn't tell Pride and Prejudice, for instance, solely from Lizzy Bennett's viewpoint.  She pretty much jumps into the heads of whomever is in the current scene.  In the hands of a skilled writer, this can work just fine.  But I would caution against attempting this for two reasons:  One, it's a difficult thing to pull off, and can end up confusing your readers.  Two, modern readers are used to the modern POV, which is limited to the protagonist (as in the above examples).

So as you write, remember that the story is unfolding AS YOUR MAIN CHARACTERS LIVES AND PERCEIVES it.  Make sure everything you say is coming from inside his head.

And don't ever ask to see my first novel.  Just sayin'.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Basics: Too Many Modifiers

Last week, we talked about misplaced modifiers.

Okay.  Last week, I totally forgot to post The Basics. So two weeks ago we talked about misplaced modifiers.

Modifiers are a double-edged sword:  We need them.  And too many of them will weaken our writing.

For those of you who need more clarification on what, exactly, a modifier is:

Modifiers are words that BELONG TO other words.  They fall into several categories:

ARTICLES:  the, a, an  These are the only modifiers you can never do without.  (They fall under the umbrella of "adjective," but it makes more sense to list them separately.)

ADJECTIVES: They modify nouns and pronouns.

ADVERBS:  They modify verbs, adverbs, and adjectives.

Adjectives and adverbs can present as single words, phrases, or clauses:

The red bird fell off the perch. (single-word adjective)
The bird on the end fell off the perch. (adjective phrase)
The bird, which seemed a bit drunk, fell off the perch. (adjective clause)

The man ate hastily. (single-word adverb)
The man ate with gusto. (adverb phrase)
The man ate while his wife danced the cha-cha. (adverb clause)

So, how can too many modifiers, which clearly add spice to our writing, be dangerous?

The long and short of it is this:

When it comes to ADVERBS, there is almost always a STRONG VERB that would better serve your sentence than a VERB+ADVERB combination.

To wit:

She ate hungrily. (weak)
She devoured. (strong)

He cried noisily. (weak)
He wailed. (strong)

Devin placed the box firmly on the table.  (weak)
Devin slammed the box on the table. (strong)

Also, I think it's a common failing (at least I find this in my own early drafts) to use adverb phrases when we really don't need anything at all:

Sheila noticed an empty place beside Treela, so she hurried over and sat down at the table. 

The prepositional phrase at the table isn't necessary because we already know she's sitting down at a table.  The context of the story (and most likely the sentence or two that would precede this one) would let us know that.

(I encourage you to check your own work for extraneous adverb phrases! I tend to delete a lot of these when I am editing.)

Adverbs of degree, such as very, quite, extremely, etc., are particularly to be avoided.  These adverbs modify adjectives or other adverbs, and it's a better idea to use a stronger adjective or verb to get your idea across:

The princess was extremely pretty. (weak)
The princess was beautiful. (strong)

He laughed very obnoxiously. (weak)
He guffawed. (strong)

As for adjectives?  Of course we need to know when something is cold or frightening or blue or delicious or creepy or fascinating or dead.  But we need to choose our adjectives carefully, or we'll end up with prose that is six shades of purple:

Lorenda reached her long, slender fingers toward the ethereal, undulating, purple, silken strands that draped from the dark, rough-hewn, Romanesque archway.


I won't insult your intelligence by correcting the above.

She stroked his cheek with tentative, shaking fingers. (weak)
She stroked his cheek with tremulous fingers. (strong)

Oh, and a word about your friendly neighborhood thesaurus: DON'T USE IT UNLESS YOU ARE SERIOUSLY STUCK ON FINDING A PARTICULAR WORD.  It's way too tempting to replace a common, easily understood adjective or adverb with something that ends up sounding ridiculous.

A faint blush tinged her cheeks.


A faint polychromasia tinged her cheeks.

And there you have it.  Choose your words carefully.  A STRONG VERB over a verb+adverb combination whenever you can.  A STRONG ADJECTIVE over an adverb+adjective combination almost always.

Now dive into your manuscripts and see what you can kill.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Yo! Looking for 3 Beta Readers

Yep, that's right!  I've just finished a clean draft of my new YA paranormal, and I'm looking for 3 teen beta readers.

NOT JUST ANY READERS, though!  If you're interested, please consider the following:

  • You must fall into the 14-to-18 age category.
  • You must be an active member in good standing on the WRITE ON forums.
  • You must REALLY ENJOY YA paranormal. (Otherwise, this won't be fun for you.)
  • You must promise not to discuss the story with anyone except me (or I'll send someone to slice your fingers off).
  • As such, you must be willing to "sign" a non-disclosure statement via email (cool, huh?).
  • You must not put any of your other obligations at risk (i.e. school work, chores, your own writing).
  • I am not asking for critique.  As such, I am not looking for "critique partners" or people to swap work with.  I'm simply looking for beta readers in my target audience.  Which happens to be you.
  • For your parents: My books do not contain sex or sexually explicit scenes.  There is occasional mild swearing (no f-bombs or anything like that).  There is occasional violence.
  • Ideally, I would like to hear from my teen beta readers within the next 3 or 4 weeks.  Please don't volunteer if you know you're too busy.  I promise I will ask again in the future!


And thanks in advance.  One of my favorite local teen readers happens to be a guy.  And this novel maps more to girls.  So I'm not going to torture him. *grin*

Once I've accepted your offer to read, I'll send you an email with more details on what I'm looking for.  

That's it, really! 

Have an awesome weekend.

UPDATE:  I've got my 3 readers.  THANKS SO MUCH!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Pep Talk From Our Very Own Mad

Sometimes a few well-timed words from one of our peers makes all the difference when we're feeling discouraged or questioning whether we should keep pressing on.

Let's face it--this writing thing IS NOT EASY!

So here's a little pep talk for you from my illustrious assistant and your very own A Writer Gone Mad:


Friday, April 1, 2011

The Winners!

That's right -- I've settled on TWO winners because I seriously couldn't decide between the two.  So, without further ado:


Despite the fact that "alright" is not a word (not that that's a pet peeve or anything), this entry made me laugh out loud. The whole "Isn't is gumshoe?" is incredibly dry and funny. The whole thing is tightly written. (All of Amanda's entries were tightly written, but this one's my favorite). Well done!

“Alright, shoehorn, come look at this.”

“Isn’t it gumshoe? I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be gumshoe.”

“Whatever. Come.”

The junior detective sidled up to the spot on the wall. “It’s a smudge. So what?”

The senior detective raised an eyebrow. “Not just any smudge. Look closer.”

The junior detective leaned nearer.

“What do you smell?”

“Is that chocolate?”

“Precisely. And what’s more? A chocolate fingerprint.”

The junior detective took out his notebook and wrote something. “So this is some real important evidence, right?”

“Shoehorn--consider our culprit already caught.” The senior detective smiled and went to the car.

Winner #2: Renée the Editor

The original 100 words, with the humorous 3 choices at the end, stand alone as a winning entry. But add the 3 additional stories, one for each of the 3 choices, and you've got an epic win. This is beyond clever and I adore it. Well done!

You are standing in the footwear aisle. Your three-year-old son, Charles, sits in the basket, sipping his chocolate milk. You bend over to try on a pair of sneakers, a shoehorn in hand.

Charles can no longer see you. Crying, he throws his milk down, spilling it everywhere--but mostly on you. Your hair and prospective sneakers soaked in the chocolate mess, you groan. A young employee sidles up to you.

"Ma'am? I'm sorry, but you're going to have to pay for those."


A) Throttle her.
B) Politely decline, using customer-knows-best policy.
C) Pay, but put Charles up for adoption.

A) "No!" you scream. Grasping the employee's neck, you violently shake her. When she pushes you off, you stab at her with the chocolatey shoehorn. She jumps back and calls for help. Charles continues to cry. Security sidles up and grabs you, taking you to their office, and the police are summoned.

Charles goes home with your concerned-looking husband. You spend a night in jail, where you're, thankfully, allowed to take a shower before changing into a jumpsuit. Your case is seen immediately by a judge, and you plead innocent, claiming that you "had a bad day." You are let off with a warning.

B) You sigh. "Miss, I don't think you understand. This isn't my fault." Chocolate milk drips from your hair.

She gulps. "B-be that as it may, it was your child who ruined the shoes, so--"

"Then have him pay for it." You gesture to Charles with the shoehorn.

She stutters some more, and you interrupt her again.

"Customer's always right--I'm not paying for them."

"I'm getting my manager."

You smirk, sidling towards the nearest exit. "You do that." She goes off in a huff. As soon as her back is turned, you run out of the store with Charles.

C) The shoehorn drops from your fingers with a clack as you fumble with your wallet. You hand the employee the money, too ashamed to face the registers, and sidle towards the door. Charles cries, wanting his milk, you know.

You return home, ignoring your husband's exclamations at your downtrodden state, and rush to the bathroom to clean the chocolate off of Charles. You dress him in new clothes, and take him to the office. Placing him in front of the webcam, you snap a quick photo and put up a listing on Craigslist. Three-year-old to patient home, $2.

Congratulations to both of you!  You've each won a first chapter line-edit of your completed novel.  Please send the chapter as a .doc attachment via email to facelesswords(at)


....for ALL the entrants in our 100-word story contest.  Each one of you was brave and creative, which is a wonderful combination (and imperative for anyone who aspires to be a professional writer!).

I just wanted to congratulate ALL of you before I make the winning announcement later today.  Because you all deserve it.

This is NOT an easy choice to make.  Just so you know.

I really think someone ought to send me chocolate...