Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Basics: Misplaced Modifiers

I know you're REALLY excited to know that this week's Basics is a grammar lesson!

Know what? Grammar is important.  You may hate it, but if you don't have it mastered, it's going to water down your writing.  Absolutely.

Good grammar, when all is said and done, is about CLARITY.  In other words, you want the reader to understand exactly what you are saying. Poor grammar mucks things up.

So, let's jump right in!  See if you can determine what's wrong with the following sentence:

Running down the palace hallway, the orb leaped from my hands and exploded in a shower of sparks.

*Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock*

Time's up!  Here's the answer:

RUNNING DOWN THE HALLWAY is an ADJECTIVE PHRASE that is supposed to be modifying the subject of the sentence.  (The subject is always a noun or pronoun, which is why it will always be modified by an adjective.)  In the above sentence, the subject is ORB.

As in, ORB LEAPED.  (That's the simple subject and simple predicate of the sentence.  Noun plus verb. Are you with me so far?)

Now, the orb was NOT running down the palace hallway.  However, that's EXACTLY what you've got happening in the above sentence!

Here is the correct construction:

Running down the palace hallway, I dropped the orb, which exploded in a shower of sparks.

In the above sentence, the subject is I, which is now correctly modified by the adjective phrase.

Seems obvious, doesn't it? But this is a VERY COMMON ERROR that I see time and time again in the writing of teens AND adults.

Here's another example:

Having told everyone to leave her alone, the ringing phone caught Marlene by surprise.

PHONE is the subject in the above sentence, and I'm fairly certain it didn't tell everyone to leave her alone.

Correct construction:

Having told everyone to leave her alone, Marlene was surprised by the ringing phone.

MARLENE is the subject in the above sentence, and it is correctly modified by the ADJECTIVE PHRASE.

There are all sorts of other ways to misplace modifiers, of course.  But for some reason, this one seems most common.

It also annoys the gajonkies out of me.  A total Writing Pet Peeve, if you will.

And after all is said and done, this particular sentence construction--one that begins with a gerund phrase modifying the subject--SHOULD BE USED SPARINGLY.

In fact, lots of starts-with-gerund sentences in a manuscript is one of the hallmarks of an inexperienced writer.  No, really.  So check your work and make sure it's not proliferated with this sentence construction.


Here is the actual GRAMMAR RULE to follow:

Place an adjective phrase or clause immediately before or after the word that it modifies.

Remember, it's all about clarity.  Nail this rule, and you'll immediately strengthen your sentences.

Unless, of course, you're using TOO MANY modifiers.  But that's a whole separate post...

Monday, March 28, 2011

CONTEST: The 100-Word Story

Let's have some fun!

Overwriting is probably THE most common problem among new or inexperienced writers.  (And it creeps up on the more seasoned among us sometimes, too!).  So let's do something where we're FORCED to use as few words as possible.


Write a 100-word story!  Make sure it has a beginning, middle, and end. (A 100-word description of a sleeping ferret does not count as a story.)

You must use the following words in your story:


(Entries that do not include these 3 words will be disqualified.)

And clean language and themes only, please.


The story that makes me laugh the most, or delights me the most, or that is absolutely the cleverest thing ever stated in 100 words, gets a FIRST CHAPTER LINE-EDIT from yours truly.

That's right.  I will line-edit and offer notes on the first chapter of your novel.


How can I say this delicately?  Um...THIS CONTEST IS FOR TEENS ONLY.  Please respect this.  Grown-ups get lots of good stuff, and this one's for the younger set.


Leave your 100-word story in the comment box below.  You may enter more than once, but PLEASE LEAVE A SEPARATE COMMENT FOR EACH INDIVIDUAL ENTRY.

This contest opens NOW and will close at midnight, EDT, on THURSDAY, MARCH 31.

The winner will be announced on APRIL FOOL'S DAY.


(Yes, it's a real contest.  I promise.)

Oh, and please don't comment anonymously.  Sign in with whatever name you use over on the forums.

Have fun!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Go Forth and Crit

It's occurred to me that some of you might need a gentle nudge to head over to Miss Snark's First Victim and join in the critiquing during this week's Secret Agent Contest.

Don't be shy!

The only way to get good at critting is to...crit!  If you haven't done it before or truly don't feel ready, just head over and READ.  You'll be amazed, I think, at how much you will learn simply by reading the critique of others.

Keep your eye out for the Secret Agent's appearance, too! It's a golden opportunity to glimpse the inner workings of an agent's mind.

You are warmly welcomed to pop over and join the party!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Basics: Dorky Dialogue

Last week we talked about the Invisible Said.

Learning to use "said" instead of ridiculous, sometimes-ostentatious alternatives is an important step in crafting clean dialogue.  But if the dialogue itself is stilted, unbelievable, or, well, dorky, it's going to throw us out of the story.

Think about it.  If a character in a novel sounds like he's reading cue cards published by a local chapter of Thesaurus R Us, nobody's going to BELIEVE that character.  They might even laugh.  Or at least roll their eyes.

If we want our characters to be REAL, they need to talk like real people.

Wanna know the best way to figure out whether your characters sound dorky? READ YOUR DIALOGUE OUT LOUD. I am utterly and absolutely serious.  I don't care how weird you feel doing it.  Your ears are your friend when it comes to dialogue.

Wanna know the even BETTER best way to figure out whether your characters sound dorky? HAVE SOMEONE ELSE READ YOUR DIALOGUE OUT LOUD TO YOU.

Painful? Yes. Embarrassing?  Most decidedly.  Helpful? Beyond measure.

My dear, darling (longsuffering, glutton-for-punishment...) husband is my number one Picker-Outer of Dorky Dialogue.  Fortunately, as my writing has seasoned, there are fewer and fewer instances where he needs to ridicule something I've written.

Yes.  Ridicule.

Way back in the first draft of a middle grade novel I wrote several years ago, there was a line of dialogue that was so stilted and incomprehensible that Mr. A scribbled it on a piece of paper and STILL QUOTES IT TO THIS DAY.

You're dying to read it:

"Strange, for silence so long unbroken to be disturbed twice in succession."

*pause for effect*

Go ahead.  Read it out loud. Let it roll off your tongue.  And then try to figure out what it means.

Yeah.  It's REALLY BAD.

Of course I defended it at first.  The line was uttered by a merman, after all.  He was supposed to be, yanno, mysterious.

Um.  Mysterious DOES NOT EQUAL unclear.  And you should hear my husband's dramatic renditions of the line.  Belly-laugh inducing.

In fact, I can't tell you how many times I've ended up belly-laughing at my husband's reading of my dorky dialogue.  Feels SO GOOD to laugh.  And then it feels just as good to get rid of the bad dialogue.

So here are some anti-dorky dialogue tips:


Think about it.  How often do we speak in fully formed, grammatically correct sentences?  Our speech is peppered with phrases, half-thoughts, and single word responses.  Your characters' should do the same.


"Where are we going to go this afternoon?" Marie asked.

"We are going to go to the mall as soon as we have finished lunch," Mother said.  "After the mall, we are going to drive to Aunt Myrtle's house so that we can return the silverware we had borrowed."


"Where are we going?" Marie asked.

"To the mall, right after lunch," Mother said.  "Then we're going to Aunt Myrtle's to return the silverware."


Unless you're writing a historical novel in which contractions would be inappropriate, it's important to remember that modern people use contractions as a matter of course.


"I do not know what you mean," Sibelius said.  "I was not anywhere near the parking lot, and I would not be surprised if you have imagined the whole thing."


"I don't know what you mean," Sibelius said.  "I wasn't anywhere near the parking lot, and I wouldn't be surprised if you've imagined the whole thing."


This is tricky when you've got a lot of information you need to pass on to the reader.  But I think it's important to avoid huge paragraphs spoken by one character, which screams INFODUMP.  Break it up, make the info-sharing happen naturally in the course of conversation.


"As you know," Felixia said, "the fairies and horned bucktooths have coexisted for centuries.  It wasn't until the reign of Fairyqueen Molustinchi'nasa that things turned sour.  The Fairyqueen had decided she wanted to marry Prince Ux, but he ran off with a bucktooth maiden, which didn't sit well with the majority of the fairies, who really loved their queen.  After Prince Ux's mysterious death, which some say was an accident but others say was more nefarious, his half-horned fairytooth son decided he would vie for the Fairyqueen's throne.  His arrogance led to years of strife between the races, which lasts to this day.  And that is why I cannot go with you to Broodshead.  When they see my half-horn, they will know  that I am the blood-spawn of Prince Ux's son."


"I thought the fairies and horned bucktooths used to get along," Samsam said.

"They did," Felixia said.  "But things turned sour during the reign of Fairyqueen Molustinchi'nasa."

"What happened?"

Felixia sighed.  "She fell in love with Prince Ux, but he ran off with a bucktooth maiden.  It didn't sit well with most of the fairies.  And of course, when he turned up dead a few years later, most people believed it wasn't an accident."

"So the fairies and bucktooths blamed each other?"

"Yes," Felixia said.  "But things got really bad when Ux's half-horned fairytooth son showed up, claiming the Fairyqueen's throne.  The fighting went on for years, until he was finally captured and put to death.  But the races have never gotten along since."

Samsam rubbed his thumb along his jawline.  "And that's why you won't come with me to Broodshead."

"I'm sorry.  As soon as they saw my half-horn, they'd know I was the blood-spawn of Prince Ux's son."



"Can you verify that he was telling the truth?"


"Can you prove that he was telling the truth?"


"Of course I will assist you."


"Of course I'll help."


"I cannot fathom what you are talking about."



And there you have it.  Bear in mind, too, that each of your characters needs to have his own "voice."  If, when you are reading your dialogue aloud, you can't tell the different between who is talking, then you're going to have to spend some time individualizing each character's speech patterns.

To check yourself:  Cover the dialogue tags, or retype the section on which you're working without any tags or beats.  Can you tell who is speaking with just the bare dialogue?  If not, you might need to revisit the way your characters talk.

Remember this, too:  Dialogue is FUN!  Good dialogue propels the story, engages us in the characters' interactions, and makes the characters REAL.  As you un-dorkify your dialogue, your story will come to life.

Go to it!  Grab a friend, feed her some chocolate, and ask her to read for you.  Get ready to laugh.  Then, get ready to write some really sparkling dialogue!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Talking Heads" Critique Session Entry #7

Title: Through Closed Eyes
Genre: YA Paranormal

            "We're trying to find him," I blurted out. I sighed and shrugged further into the couch, hoping that their expensive cushions would swallow me up.

            "Who?" Christian asked dumbly.

            "John, who the h*** else?" I snapped impatiently. "I told you the truth, now you give me what I came for," I commanded as I placed my hand out in front of me. He smiled down at me and shook his head.

            "You didn't tell me the full truth." He said it slowly, as if I was a kindergartner who kept cheating at a game and he had to keep retelling me the rules.

            "You can't know the full truth," I said in a slight mimicking tone. I placed my lips in a pout.

            "Pouting’s not pretty," he laughed, he touched my lips lightly.

            "Neither is being a jerk," I muttered, reconsidering the whole killing angle.

            "Yeah, but I'm a guy. We don't care about being pretty."

            "Who's the liar now?" I giggled, rolling my eyes. Now, Gabriel doesn't care about being pretty, but I know almost every other guy does. Or, well, I suppose they prefer the term hot, pretty is an insult to their manliness. Ha ha.

"Talking Heads" Critique Session Entry #6

TITLE: Darkblood
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Sabin and Zaida are running from yovi, servants of their enemy. Now, they’re visiting Sabin’s old town to find someone Sabin says can help them, but secrecy is key; there are posters of their faces everywhere. This is the scene where the gatekeeper — who recognizes Sabin — lets them in.

A heavy lock clicked behind the door and it creaked open a crack.

“Who goes there? We said we… oh.” It opened wider. “Sabin!”

“Shut up,” Sabin said quietly.

A middle aged man slipped out of the door and shut it behind him. “What are you doing here? The yovi arrived this morning said they were looking for two dangerous runaways. Your face is on posters right now! No one could believe it was—”

“Save it for later. I have to see Evin.”

“Not now you can’t.” The man seemed genuinely agitated. “What do you think you’re doing?”

Sabin glanced at me. “I can’t explain. Just trust that things are finally going the right way.”

The man seemed to notice me for the first time. “Zaida. She’s here too? Look, if you bring the yovi down on all of us…”

“Trust me, all right?”

“Your word is all I’m on.” The man opened the door and hurried us in. “Make this quick. Last I saw her was in the Inn ‘bout a week ago.”

Sabin cursed. “If she’s not here and we have to leave, tell her I came as soon as you next see her, all right?”

“Will do. Only be careful.”

"Talking Heads" Critique Session Entry #5

GENRE:  Thriller                                                                                                                                       
A homicide detective is spending Christmas at his parents’ with his siblings. He is playing the piano with his wife before dinner when she expresses her concerns about his passion. Raynaud’s is a disorder that causes blood vessels to constrict at stress/strong emotions. (A Writer Gone Mad actually has this disorder.)

Her hands fell from the keys, fingers white. I prayed it wasn’t the Raynaud’s again. Not in my haven. “Do you think you’ll ever stop?”
     I stole a glance at her, stumbled and then caught myself. “Playing the piano?”
     “Letting yourself get so engrossed in these cases, Jack.”
     I pulled her close before she could finish and I could think, abandoning the piece. Her thumbs slipped through the belt loops of my jeans. “Of course, I will Abs,” I said. “Someday, I’ll have to. Why would you-”
     “I’m just wondering,” She pulled me closer, put her head on my chest. “What if you’re killed before you stop?”
     I didn’t say anything; there was always the possibility that it could happen. It almost did three years ago, and she knew it. I couldn’t forget what she had said to me. What if you’re killed?
     I was grateful Naomi had stuck her head in, her hands lost in a paper towel, to brake my train of thought. “Hey lovebirds, dinner’s almost ready.”    
I looked at her over Abby’s shoulder. “We’ll be right there.”
     The expression on her face asked me what she dared not say out loud. Is everything alright?
I just looked at her. I don’t know.
The chandelier was on for the first time since I’d been back, throwing familiar shards all over the walls. I said grace, and felt the safest I had in years. Maybe that was dangerous.
Ethan raised his goblet for a toast and said, “To family, for without it, we’d all be insane.”

"Talking Heads" Critique Session Entry #4

Title: The Tale of the Pie-Rats
Genre: Fiction (I'm not sure what the sub-genre is)

This is a short story about a group of Pie-Rats (Pirate rats who eat pies) that are on a ship searching for buried treasure.

“Hoy, Squeaker, what’s the matter with you? You look all giddy and out of sorts. Has Bulky been teasin’ you again?” Thomas said as he sat down next to a small, skinny rat.

“Oh…no Thomas…it’s just a little bit of indigestion…I don’t do so well with all these seafood pies…you know…sets my stomach all a ‘tumble’, thinking about fish…” replied Squeaker in a small, quavering voice which matched his small stature. All the rats were eating supper in the dining room below deck, after a hard days work.

“Well, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ll be mighty glad when we reach Shell Island and can stock up on some meat. I hate all these salty, fishy, pies.” Fusser said from across the table. He was the kind of rat who was very particular about the taste of his food.

“Shut up and quit complain’ or I’ll use my fists to quiet you down. You need a good beating what with all your pickiness and complain’,” called out a rat in a deep voice; everyone knew him as Bulky, the strongest, biggest, meanest rat on board the Star-Sail.

“Now, now Bulky, lets not be too hasty, I meant no offense. I’m just a little tired of tasting the sea in everything I eat, that’s all,” Fusser replied quickly, suddenly afraid of the idea of Bulky harming him.

"Talking Heads" Critique Session Entry #3

GENRE: Epic YA Fantasy

The prince/keralealon, Taeon, and his manservant, Ghale, are preparing for their mission, to capture a fugitive and bring them back to the capital.

Ghale pulled a set of gold, ruby-encrusted ceremonial robes from the closet. “Perhaps these shall be of some use to you on the journey, sire.” The corner of his mouth twitched.

“Yes, I agree.” Taeon turned back to reading the details of the mission. “Find a good place for them among the saddlebags. Wouldn’t want them to become wrinkled.” Ghale knew perfectly well what he ought to be packing.

There was a clinking of metal on metal. “Master Taeon, what are these for?” He held three silver arm bands, each about the width of two fingers.

“My father has decided he must have a hand in what I wear. As if the people concern themselves with such trivial things.”

“Must be popular with the keradealas.”

Taeon gave him a look.

“Maybe he hopes you’ll find a wife during your travels,” he continued with a sly grin.

“Ghalen, we’re to be chasing dangerous fugitives from the law. I doubt we’ll take the time to attend any keraden banquets. If you’re coming solely to chase maidservants, I suggest you stay home.” Not that the boy had any choice in the matter.

“Already have a girl in mind, then, sire?”

“You are dismissed, Ghalen,” he said without looking up. “And when I say dismissed, I mean permanently.”

Ghale placed one more item on the pile, then assumed a sullen expression. “As you wish, my keralealon. I will go pack my things.” He left.

Taeon shook his head. If he ever truly wished to dismiss Ghale, he wouldn’t take him seriously.

"Talking Heads" Critique Session Entry #2

Title: Splashback
Genre: YA Thriller

Lottie and Maureen are top-level swimmer frenemies whose jealousy has finally boiled over. Lee is their coach.

Rolling my eyes, I turned to her. "Get over yourself, Maureen. You're just pissed I'm beating you in practice again. Newsflash--I've always been faster."

"Lottie . . ." Lee sounded disappointed, but I ignored him. She needed this.

"I'm treating you the way you deserve to be treated," Maureen snapped. "Everyone has treated you like you're Michael Phelps for the past year and a half. They all tip-toe about like I'm about to Tonya Harding their a**, while you--you can do no wrong." She stood up, towering over me for a rare moment. "Except you can and you do and you never have to fix it!"

"Maureen!" Lee's cries were background noise.

I stood too. "I can't help that people like me because I actually care! I care about others, okay, and I care what they think of me--it's polite!"

"You care so much about yourself and your appearance and your reputation! Just shut up and swim. You're going nowhere in life with your looks--except maybe onto a pole!"

"GIRLS!" Lee slammed his fist down on his desk. "I don't know what has gotten into the two of you, but I can't have you guys fighting like this. My senior group has fourteen swimmers, and they all look up to you every day, sometimes twice a day. The rest of the team looks up to you during meets. You can't set a bad example."

"Little Miss Sunshine won't ever set a bad example," Maureen said, glaring at me.

"Little Miss Raincloud doesn't know how to set a good example," I returned.

"Talking Heads" Critique Session Entry #1

Title: Short Swords
Genre: YA fantasy

Sophie and Brent live in the Under City where food is scarce and children are forced to live on the streets. To survive they must steal what ever they can get, however, if caught by the Street Sweepers, punishment is harsh. Sophie has joined Tommy's children's street gang, of which Brent is a member, but Tommy has set her up for failure.

“Who’s coming?” she tried not to yell in her panic and began wiggling faster.

Brent took hold of her shoulders and pulled. “Tommy spilt the beans. Told the Street Sweepers ye would be here. I’m sorry Soph, it’s my fault.” His panicked tugs were more hindering than helpful.

“Brent let go, I can do this myself. And it isn’t your fault, you were trying to help feed me.” She grunted in pain. “Will Tommy hang?”

“Tommy?” Brent froze. “Hang? Oh no Soph ye dinna understand. They dinna catch him. He volunteered the information. He only let ye join ‘cause I insisted but he dinna like the way ye talk.”

Sophie kicked her feet trying desperately to find something to push against. The blood in her temples was beating so hard her eyes watered, “He doesn't like the way I talk?” she whispered. “I can’t help that my grandmother made me learn fansy Upper City speech.”

New foot steps echoed down the ally. Two more men had arrived.

“Brent go!” yelled Sophie. She knew there was no point hiding now, sped was their only remaining hope.


“I’ll be out in a moment, just get out of here!” Sophie redoubled her struggles as, with one last look, Brent melted into the darkness.

“Well well well, what have we here?” asked a new voice and a pair of filthy shoes appeared in Sophie’s vision.

She stopped moving as all feeling left her limbs and old terrors took over. Twice already the Sweepers had caught her, a third time would mean death or transportation.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Call For Submissions: Talking Heads

Submissions are now open for your dialogue-rich excerpts. (In other words, mostly talking.)

  • You may submit a 250-word, dialogue-rich excerpt from your novel, whether it is a completed work or a work-in-progress (WIP).
  • You may include a BRIEF lead-in (that is, a sentence or two to set up the scene).
  • The submission window will open at 4:00 PM EST today, and will close at 4:00 PM on Friday or when we have 10 entries--whichever comes first.
  • You may only submit one entry. Subsequent entries will be disqualified.
  • All entries will be posted anonymously.
  • By entering this critique round, you are giving implicit permission to have your work posted and publicly critiqued.
  • By entering this critique round, you agree to critique a minimum of 3 other entries.
  • Send your submission to A Writer Gone Mad at awritergonemad.submissions(at)gmail.com. (Replace the (at) with an @ sign.)
  • You will receive a reply email with your post number. Please be patient; unlike the critiques on Miss Snark's First Victim, this contest is NOT automated. Mad will be taking care of submissions by hand.
  • Format your entry EXACTLY AS FOLLOWS:

SCREEN NAME: (type it here) (this is whatever name you use when you leave comments here)
TITLE: (type it here)
GENRE: (type it here)

(type your first 250 words here)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Basics: The Invisible "Said"

My husband is not a big reader. (Gasp!) So when his mom handed him a book written by a friend of hers, he was not inclined to read it.  Not even to be polite.

So, naturally, he handed it to me.

Admittedly, I wrinkled my nose.  The book was published by PublishAmerica.  (This is something you never want to do.  Never.)  For the uninitiated, PublishAmerica is a vanity press.  You pay them a lot of money and they print your book.

So I knew immediately that the book had not been professionally edited and would probably...well, stink.

(Disclaimer:  Self publishing is a viable option for authors.  I self-published a non-fiction book before I started writing fiction.  But PublishAmerica is BAD NEWS.  'Nuff said.)

Anyway, I didn't exactly read the book.  I sort of skimmed through.  And, yeah.  It sucked.  I can't comment on the plot, since the skim was just that.  A thin, quick, oh-my-stars-is-this-bad skim.  So I can only comment on the writing.

You know what stuck out the most?  The author's nearly complete avoidance of the word SAID.  As though it were a bad word.

What did I see instead?

She exclaimed.
He retorted.
She shouted.
He declared.
She screamed.
He demanded.

You know.  All the ridiculously over-descriptive words that want to be, simply, "said."

Want to know something else interesting?  The author was a retired English teacher.

I shudder to think of the HUNDREDS of writing students she trained, over the years, to avoid the word "said" in their creative writing.

Here's the thing about the tiny word "said":  It's invisible.  We know the characters in a novel are SPEAKING when we see quotation marks.  We don't need a lot of reminders that that's what they're doing.  "Said", when used sparingly, melts into the background, reminding us gently that, yes, the characters are having a conversation.

That's what it's meant to do.  That's how we need to use it.


Of course, one can overdo.  We don't need to see this:

"I'm so embarrassed," Dee said.
"You should be," Mary said.
"I mean, what was I thinking?" Dee said.
"Exactly," Mary said.
"And he'll probably never talk to me again," Dee said.
"Probably," Mary said.

Yeah.  That's ridiculous, right?  We don't need a "said" after every line of dialogue.  What we DO need is a beat or two.  You know; those little bits that add some action to the exchange, let us know a little more about our characters' state of mind:

Dee pressed her palm against her forehead.  "I'm so embarrassed."
"You should be," Mary said.
"I mean, what was I thinking?"
"Exactly." Mary started toward the exit.
"And he'll probably never talk to me again," Dee said, following.


Of course, there are always occasions when a word other than said is called for.  Naturally, you don't want to do this very often.  As in, almost never.  The one exception to "almost never" is the word ASK.  Because when your character needs to ask a question, he is, technically, ASKING and not SAYING.  So you're allowed to write,

"What's bothering you?" he asked.

Other "occasional use" words include:

WHISPER  (When there's absolutely no other way to describe it.)
YELL or SHOUT (When there's absolutely no other way to describe it.)

You get the idea.

In short, be judicious about your use of words-other-than-said.  Sometimes a delicious synonym will be JUST RIGHT for the moment.

"Sleep now," she murmured.

And sometimes a synonym will NOT be delicious.  It will be ridiculous.

"I'm leaving now," she verbalized.


Another mistake new-ish writers tend to make is to attribute impossible actions to characters in what is yet another avoidance of the beautiful, invisible "said."  For example:

"I don't believe you," he laughed.

One cannot "laugh" the words, "I don't believe you."  Go ahead. Try.

"You're not serious!" she gasped.

Nope.  Gasping an entire sentence isn't something most normal people can do.

"It really hurts," he groaned.

Um, no.  A groan is a low, guttural sound.  He might groan first and THEN speak. But not both at once.

"You're such an idiot!" he guffawed.

Okay.  I'm having too much fun here.


"Said" is your friend.  Use it without trepidation.  Do not over-use it.  And don't let your English teacher talk you into using six hundred synonyms in order to avoid "said".  With all due respect, that is the worst possible advice on dialogue that she could give you.

Or he.  Not to be sexist or anything.

And now you're ready to write some sparkling dialogue!

Oh, wait.  We'll have to talk about Dorky Dialogue next...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Crit Round This Week!

Time for some more in-house critique!

Submissions will open this Wednesday at 3:00 pm EDT for our first TALKING HEADS round!

TALKING HEADS means just what it sounds like:  I want you to find an excerpt from your novel that is dialogue-rich.  Maximum 250 words.  And that's what we'll be critiquing.

Dialogue is an important part of story-telling.  And writing believable, natural dialogue can be challenging. We don't want our characters to sound like B-movie actors, but sometimes they do.  So let's expose them when they're talking a lot and weed out the not-so-good stuff.

What mistakes do we sometimes make?

  • Big chunks of info-dumpy words.  Real people don't speak in paragraphs.
  • Awkard, wordy prose.  Real people don't sound like dictionaries.
  • Bland sameness.  Real people have different speaking styles.
  • Odd spellings, apostrophes, etc., in order to connote colloquialism or accent.  Real people do have different ways of saying things, but if we can't read it, we won't know what they're saying at all.
Anyway, the guidelines will post on Wednesday, and we'll take the first 10, like last time.  In the meantime, comb your manuscript for a heavy bit of dialogue that you'd like critiqued.  And post your questions below!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

So I'm Thinking...

We'll be doing in-house critiques on a regular basis, so that's covered.

We'll continue to have author interviews and other Interesting Things.

And of course, there's ALWAYS something going on in the forums.  (Have you been there lately? I mean...they're hoppin'! Lizzy is doing an amazing job running that place.)

But that leaves me with the big question: What else do you need from me?

I'm going to be writing a weekly feature for you.  It's going to be called The Basics.  And it's going to cover everything about writing that is NOT about the industry.  In other words, it's going to be about the WRITING.

As in, writing.

Because, I hate to say it--well, I don't hate to say it, actually, because it's true--but some English and Creative Writing teachers are teaching bad writing habits instead of good ones.  They're not doing it on purpose.  And if they knew they were doing it, I think they'd stop.

I'm not talking about non-fiction, by the way.  I think most of them have the term-paper, research-paper, two-page-report-on-the-boring-life-of-Emily-Dickinson thing down.  And more power to them, because I kind of hate that stuff.

I'm talking FICTION.  You know.  The good stuff.  *grin*

To be fair to them (and, for what it's worth, one of the people who influenced me the most as a writer was one of my English teachers), they're stuck with the curriculum.  And curriculum does-not-equal the be-all end-all of what it means to WRITE FICTION WELL.

So.  I'll attempt to fill in the spaces.  Correct the wrong thinking.  And help you all to write like AUTHORS instead of like ENGLISH STUDENTS.

If you know what I mean.

How does that sound?

(Oh, and those non-fiction writing assignments you're receiving from your teachers or parents?  I WANT YOU TO WRITE THOSE WELL, TOO.  I may hate writing them, but I believe anyone who calls himself a writer should take ALL writing assignments seriously, whether they flip your chocolate chip cookie or not.  So no slacking!)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Twitter Contest!!!

If you're not already following me on Twitter, head on over and FOLLOW!

Read HERE to learn all about the fabulous prizes. Then head over to Twitter! First contest window is today from noon to 3 EST.

Cool prizes for writers and readers alike!

Thursday, March 3, 2011


That's right! The sharp-and-savvy (and adorable) Kathleen Ortiz of Lowenstein Associates will be joining us in the chat room on FRIDAY NIGHT from 8 to 9 EST.  Come with your questions ready!  Kathleen's a load of fun AND a wealth of information.

Kathleen's Bio:

Kathleen Ortiz began her career in publishing at Ballinger Publishing as an editorial assistant and interactive media designer for the young adult section, working to boost the magazine’s online presence through social networking. She then moved on to uwirepr.com as online editor for the features, art & entertainment sections. She has also taught high school classes as a visual media instructor.

Kathleen is currently Associate Agent and Foreign Rights Manager at Lowenstein Associates. She is seeking children's books (chapter, middle grade, and young adult) and young adult non-fiction. While Kathleen enjoys everything from light-hearted and humorous to dark and edgy, she'd love to find an amazing romance from a male point of view or a steampunk with fantastic world building.

Lowenstein Associates believes with the continued demand for online marketing in publishing, a strong online platform is essential for today's authors. Kathleen uses her background in interactive media design to assist Lowenstein Associates’ clients with branding themselves. She maintains a blog on tips for querying and publishing at Neverending Page Turner and may also be found on Twitter.