Saturday, August 30, 2014
by Lois Winston
Whether you're writing mysteries or another genre, your manuscript needs a great story, great characters and great writing. The quality of the writing determines the difference between an acceptance and rejection. As a literary agent and author, I see too many submissions where the writer needs to place her manuscript on a diet.
Before you submit your manuscript, make sure it's not bloated with excess wordage that drags down the pacing and bores the very people you want to impress. Your writing must be crisp as well as succinct to catch an editor's or agent's eyes.
The Bloated Manuscript Diet:
1. Reread your manuscript. Is every scene essential to the plot, or goals, motivations or conflicts of your characters? Does each scene advance the plot or does it tell the reader something she needs to know about the characters? If not, the scene is filler, and you need to get rid of it. Each scene must serve a purpose. No purpose? No scene.
2. Repeat #1 for all dialogue. If the dialogue is nothing but chit chat, ditch it.
3. Do a search of "ly" words. Whenever possible, substitute a more active, descriptive word to replace an existing verb and the adverb that modifies it.
4. Instead of using many verbs to describe a noun, use one all-encompassing adjective or a more descriptive noun.
5. Say it once, then move on. It's not necessary to repeat an idea or image in different words in the next sentence, next paragraph or next page.
6. Identify needless words and eliminate them. Every writer has at least one or two pet words that need to be eliminated.
7. Avoid a laundry list of descriptions by substituting more descriptive nouns and adjectives.
8. Do a search for "was." Whenever it's linked with an "ing" verb, omit the "was" and change the tense of the verb.
9. Choose more descriptive verbs and omit the additional words that enhance the verb.
10. Omit extraneous tag lines. If it's obvious which character is speaking, omit the tag.
11. Show, don't tell. Whenever possible, you want to "show" your story through dialogue and active narrative, rather than "telling" the story.
12. Let your characters' words convey their emotions, not the tag line. Also, keep to the unobtrusive "said" in tags. You can't grimace, laugh or sigh dialogue. The character can grimace, laugh or sigh before or afterward, but not while speaking.
13. Avoid non-specific things like "it" and "thing."
14. Describe body movements only when they are essential to the scene. Don't break up dialogue every other sentence with having your characters shrug, giggle, smirk, glance, nod or drum their fingers.
15. Don't fill dialogue with interjections. We might have the bad habit of filling our speech with "well" and "like" but having a character constantly adding those words makes for lousy dialogue.
(Excerpted from The Mystery Writers, now in print, ebook and audiobooks editions, which includes Lois Winston's interview.)
Saturday, August 16, 2014
Looking for a quiet summer retreat or full time living with panoramic mountain views? My 58-acre ranch is for sale. The 2,280 sq. ft. house was built in 2009, has four bedrooms and three baths, a family room with fireplace, hardwood floors, porcelain tile back splash in the kitchen, crown molding, stainless steel appliances, family room with wood burning fireplace, oversized three-car garage, new metal roof, a 12' x 20' deck with the awesome view pictured above. The 64' x 40' x 14' shop has a concrete floor and storage area. There are no covenants or homeowners fees and annual property taxes are as low as $1,500. The ranch is located in the Laramie Mountains at 6,700 ft. in Central Wyoming.
There are also two wells on the property, the domestic one over 600 ft. deep, producing more than 15 gal. of water a minute, and good tasting water it is. The other is a solar-generated stock well in the lower pasture. You can contact me here or my realtor, Val Lathrop, at Equity Brokers: firstname.lastname@example.org. For an array of photos click on the following link: House photos.
|Deer grazing in the side yard.|
Saturday, August 9, 2014
by Robert Liparulo (bestselling author whose books have been adapted to film.)
Write! Nothing takes the place of writing for learning the craft. Not formal education, not seminars or conferences or books about writing Not critique groups or deep conversations with like-minded friends, not studying the markets, not reading. All are valuable, but they're insignificant when compared to experientially learning how to get what's in your head on the page in a way that gets your ideas into another's head.
But let's be realistic and admit that telling a story is more than slamming out words. You have to think through a story, maybe outline it; research it, write it, then edit, revise and polish. If we give equal time to planning, researching, writing and editing, 10,000 hours still mean 125,000,000 words on page or screen.
Not everything you write will be or should be published but you have to rack up enough words to learn the craft to attract editors and eventually readers. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell uses the Beatles and Bill Gates to validate "The 10,000-Rule," which says that highly successful people in any field have to put in 10,000 hours practicing their craft before they hit their stride or rise above the competition. The average full-time work year is 2,040 hours, so we're talking about five solid years of writing, and only writing. At 500 words per hour, that's 500,000,000 words committed to paper.
The words can take any form of communication--personal letters, practice stories, blog posts, proposals, articles and short fiction published in magazines. (Sure, you can score some cash during this time; the Beatles were paid to play in Liverpool and Hamburg almost nonstop for three years while they honed their craft.) All of it moves you closer to the brass ring, a publishing contract or bestseller.
Thing is, it's easy to fool ourselves that a pseudo-writing endeavor like attending a conference and talking about writing is writing. It's not.
One million, two hundred and fifty thousand words! How far along are you? If you knew, really knew that upon reaching that figure (give or take some) you'd be the best of the best and no editor would dream of rejecting you, wouldn't you choose to write over doing those has-something-to-do-with-writing-but-isn't writing things?
So what are you waiting for?
Saturday, August 2, 2014
I was invited to the Tatoosh Islands by my brother Bob, a career coast guardsman, who was in charge of the small island group collectively named for a chief of the Makah Indian nation. The three small islands are the most northwesterly point of the continental U.S. and located in the Straits of Juan de Fuca, half a mile from the coast of Neah Bay, Washington. The lighthouse, Cape Flattery, is located on Tatoosh's main island.
My vacation on Tatoosh was an adventure from the start. My first plane belly-dived onto the runway in Stockton, California, because the landing gear failed to release. A rough landing but, fortunately, no one was hurt. It did, however, result in a six-hour delay before a replacement plane arrived after two in the morning. We landed in Seattle-Tacoma airport at about four and at 6:30 a.m. I learned that I was to fly the remainder of the trip on a three-seater, single engine Cessna--no larger than my car--over the Olympic Mountains to Neah Bay. By the way, it was my first ever trip by plane.
Seated behind the pilot and another passenger, I could see the mountain peaks protruding through the clouds and I’ve never been so frightened in my life because air currents had us falling dangeously close to the peaks. When we reached the tiny airport some miles from Neah Bay, the landing strip looked like a narrow, cracked sidewalk with weeds growing up between the cracks.
My brother wasn’t there to meet me, so I hitched a ride with the other passenger, who was stationed at the coast guard base located on the Makah Indian reservation at Neah Bay.
We then proceeded to the base where I met my brother and we waited for a small boat to come from the island to pick us up. When we reached the main island of Tatoosh, an inexperienced coastie was operating the crane that lowered the boatswain’s “chair” to the ocean.. The wooden box was about two feet square and connected to a cable. I was lifted from the boat up a sheer rock face that was a hundred feet high. I screamed like a wounded water buffalo. When I reached the top, the box was swung to a wooden platform, landing hard enough to nearly break both my ankles.
Did I mention that the airline lost my luggage? I wore my brother’s coast guard uniforms for a week, and fortunately, one of the coasties had a pair of tennis shoes that fit me. The fog horn woke me repeatedly during the night although the other inhabitants of the island said they were able to sleep through it.
I loved the lighthouse at Cape Flattery, located at the western end of the half mile by quarter mile island. Built in 1857, the island has alternatively been inhabited by Makah Indian fishing parties, the coast guard, weather bureau employees and the navy. The guest book is fascinating to read and I wish I had been able to photograph some of the entries. It tells of 19th century fishermen and explorers who visited the island by climbing the damp rocks to the surface. Some of their companions drowned or were killed from falls in the process.
I nearly lost my own life when I volunteered to mow the jungle-like undergrowth that threatens to take over the island. The tractor slid backward down an embankment and nearly went over the edge onto the rocks a hundred feet below. Once was enough. It still gives me chiils thinking about it.
A bird sanctuary is located adjacent to the main island and I watched a variety of colorful sea birds take off and land, as well as seals and other marine life. Across the Straits of Juan de Fuca is Vancouver Island, Canada, which I could see on a clear day, which is not very often. When I wasn’t watching sea birds and visiting the lighthouse, I enjoyed playing cards and billards with the coasties and watching films in their small basement movie theater.
We were fogged in the morning I was scheduled to leave, so I was able to stay two extra days. The morning I left, a small coast guard cutter arrived with my luggage, and I dressed like a civilian and boarded the cutter for the trip back to the mainland. Five minutes later, a wave swamped the boat and I looked like a drowned rat when I boarded the small plane for the trip back to Seattle. During the subsequent trip home, my plane left without me in Stockton, California, so I waited again for another plane.
I'd been expected to start my first newspaper reporting job several days before I returned home and was nearly fired before I began.The publisher said he'd traveled to northwestern Washington several times and had never heard of the Tatoosh Islands. Thankfully, I was able to whip out an island postcard, which saved my job. I also wrote a feature story about my trip for the newspaper.
Anyone who now wants to visit the Tatoosh islands must ask permission from the Makah Indian Reservation officials at Neah Bay on Washington’s beautiful Olympia Penninsula.