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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dialogue Crit #2

As before, I am only critting dialogue. Yellow highlighter points out repetition.

As was pointed out in comments yesterday, it's hard to fully isolate dialogue from its tags and surrounding action. Perhaps "paying minimal attention to" is more accurate than "only critting dialogue." Maybe I should talk about the stuff around the dialogue, next time I'm at the helm of Unicorn Bell? :) I'll take requests...

Genre: Paranormal suspense
Set up (if needed): Jack is a local homicide detective, Stan is a friend with the FBI

Jack folded the paper and laid it aside, pushing up from his favorite overstuffed chair.  He motioned to Mary that he would take the call in his den.  When he picked up the extension Mary finished exchanging pleasantries and hung up.

“Hey, Stan.  Thanks for getting back to me.”

“No problem.  Afraid I don’t have much.”  Stan’s voice held a note of apology.

“Whatever you’ve got.”

“Well, I couldn’t find much official on Harrison but I found people who know people. You know.  Looks like Harrison works for one of those departments that doesn’t exist.  At least not officially. Word is he’s into the weird stuff.  UFO’s and little green men.”

Wait a minute, little green men?  You mean like aliens? Come on, Stan.” Jack couldn’t keep the irritation out of his voice.

His friend snorted. “What? You didn’t think we really have a department that tracks UFO’s and little green men?  You never heard of Hanger 18 and all that shit?”

“Yeah, I’ve heard of it but I never put any stock in it.  You’re telling me it’s real?”

“Well, I think most of it’s just so much bullshit.  But underneath, yeah, there’s some real.”

Here's why I crossed all that out: Jack would have had to be living under a rock for 50+ years to not have heard about alien conspiracy theories, X-Files, etc. More importantly, your readers would have had to, also. This is all old hat. Jack may not believe any of it, but he can be much more succinct about it -- which is why I left "Come on" in. Instead of this, Stan could be giving us more details/rumors or maybe Jack could rant a bit about conspiracy freaks. Whatever's in character for them.

Caveat: if this story is set in the 1950s or there's a valid reason Jack wouldn't know any of the above, the dialogue could stand as is. See next note.

Jack tried to set aside his instinctive disbelief.  “So if Harrison is interested in our killer that means, what?  This is a fairly current expression. It's why I'm assuming this is present-day. Harrison thinks he’s an alien?”

“Well, it’s not just aliens.  They look into anything not normal like that.  ESP and psychics and ghosts and people who claim to use magic. Any of that weird shit.  Paranormal phenomena, I think is the official line.X-Files, again.

“Why?  I mean why are they hunting for these…paranormal types?”

“Hell, Jack.  You sound like sound wide eyed rookie. Clunky -- it could be an inside joke, but those tend to condense down to as few words as possible. Re-phrase?  What do you think they want?  Chase ‘em, catch ‘em, and figure out how to use ‘em.” <-- Dialect, unobtrusively. Thumbs up.

Yeah, he knew that.  He’d just never spent a lot of time thinking about it.  But that was before.

A short silence spun out as Jack considered the implications.

“You got anything else on Harrison?”

“Not really.  I got a little more but none of it good.  People who have in contact with him, and there aren’t that many, say he’s really intense, maybe obsessed.” Kinda redundant.

“Obsessed?  With what?”

“Again, no one seems to know. Then how do they know he's obsessed? At least no one I could find.”

“What about his pull?  Where’s his weight coming from?”

Don’t know.  More classified bullshit. I'd argue that classified bullshit is a form of weight itself. But he’s got it.  In spades.  And he’s some sort of super-interrogator or something.  Like a human lie detector.”

The bright winter moon pulled Jack’s eye toward the window.  Naked branches moving restlessly in the wind had taken on a sinister edge.  Like a human lie detector.  Like Cara.

“Pretty much everyone I talked to,” Stan continued, “said he’s got the power to make your life miserable, or mine.  I got warned off all the way around.  I don’t know what you’ve stepped in there, Jack, but be very careful.  You don’t want this guy for an enemy.This is all kinda redundant too -- it adds emphasis, yes, but I count three re-phrasings of the same information. Two would be enough, IMO, with "got warned off" as a spacer between them.

On the whole, this reads pretty well. The casual tone conveys a familiarity between Jack and Stan, and the addition of a little swearing brings a little tension toward the end.

Meaning vs. words spoken vs. the reader

People don't say exactly what they mean, and they don't mean exactly what they say. Slang changes, aphorisms abound, and the elephant in the room isn't spoken about. It's miraculous we understand each other at all, sometimes.

It's been said, and it's true, that the only times people speak in detail about something they do regularly (a job, a tradition, etc.) are when there's a newbie learning the ropes or when something has gone wrong with the system. Thus, the tradition of the main character being new to something so that it has to be explained to him and therefore the readers.

Everything else is an "As you know, Bob," even if those words are never used. Some writers are better at hiding it than others, and to some degree we've all been conditioned to accept expository dialogue as necessary... but as writers, we all want to do better.

You need to get information to the reader, and dialogue is one of your tools. You can bring a newbie into an established system, and you can use the disruption of the system as part of your plot. Here are a couple more thoughts/tricks I've found.

Context, context, context
You can use the natural tendency to not mention ordinary things to pique the reader's interest. Here's an off-the-cuff example from real life:

"You getting anything?"

"I was gonna kick it again."


This conversation is usually shouted from one end of my house to the other and ends with someone switching off the cable modem, counting to ten, and turning it back on. And that's really the most important part, because it's not clear dialogue. The reader thrown into it doesn't know what's being talked about, and will glom onto whatever you give them and assume it explains the dialogue.

If I were to write the above dialogue and then send somebody to the fridge to dish up some ice cream, the reader would try to make sense of that. And probably be quite confused.

Coding as a story hook
We all re-define words on the fly. Words pick up particular meanings in the context of any group of people -- your co-workers, your long-term relationship. your family. They become inside jokes, or reference important events in shorthand. And more importantly, once you've defined them you rarely explain that definition to anybody.

This can make coded dialogue powerful if the reader was there when the referenced events happened. But even if the readers don't know what happened, if you make it obvious that there's coding going on the readers will want to know. It's a hook.

How do you make it obvious? Body language, unexpected reactions, things like that. You've seen this done in movies and television, with varying degrees of subtlety, and you've seen it done in real life. How subtle you want to be depends on your readership, the genre, etc. -- this is something you want your beta readers to report back on whether it's working or not.

Bad grammar and dialect
People don't talk good, all the time. People have accents. Regionalisms. They lapse into other languages. This is a tricky area; yes, it will add color and texture and reality, but it also drives some readers straight up the wall. If the reader can't make heads or tails of what the character's saying for pages on end, they lose a reason to keep reading.

I was one of those people who just picked up A Clockwork Orange and plowed through it, language and all. Too stubborn to read the glossary. I would not expect my reader to let me get away with that sort of thing, though, so: moderation. Be careful. Poll your betas.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dialogue Crit #1

I'm only going to crit the dialogue here, because what you put in between the dialogue and how you tag it is a whole different can of worms.Yellow highlighter points out word repetition, something you want to generally avoid... though in dialogue, people do it more than they should. That pesky reality getting in the way again!

Title: Faerie Wings
Genre: YA/NA contemporary fantasy

People danced through an endless garden. They drifted through large French doors in and out of the real garden and back to dance some more. Chandeliers bathed the room in soft yellow to match the lanterns outside. The dimmer lighting subdued the swirl of colors. Instead of the warm sweaty air I associated with dances, a cool floral breeze drifted through the room.

“What magic is at work here?” I had to lean close to Carter so he could hear me.

“Can you guess?”

“The breeze?”

“Good. Who wants to dance in the heat? You can see that most people have calmed their colors as well.”


Most people like to keep their emotions to themselves when dancing in public.”

“Not where I come from.” I warmed when Carter placed his hand on my back and led me onto the dance floor.
“I don’t dance. Please, can’t we sit somewhere instead?”

“Dancing will make it impossible for your admirers to talk to you. Isn’t that what you want? And anyway, this is what they want. To see us together, happy and in love.” If it's important to Carter to give the audience what they want (a question of his character), he can entice her into wanting that too or he can give her a solid reason why it will harm her if she doesn't -- carrot or stick. Right now, and in light of her response, this comes across as a mishmash of mild carrot and mild stick. Maybe it needs re-phrasing. Maybe he responds to her response with something more definite.

Heat rushed to my face, “But we’re not in love, and I really can’t dance."

I dug my heels in and we stopped moving forward.

“Mo Run, please. Trust me. You’ll find dancing here easier than on the human side.” Again, not much of a carrot. If this keeps up, he's going to come across as less than motivated. OTOH, her motivations are decently clear. Thumbs up.

“I doubt that.” Didn’t he realize it was impossible to dance when you’ve never heard the music before? I mean, it wasn’t bad. In fact I liked it, but you would never hear it in a club. The music had definite Celtic undertones with some rocking drums thrown in. The problem lie in the fact it couldn’t make up its mind about tempo. Some of the instruments filled the air with lyrical ballads while others played something more like a jig.

The couples in the room didn’t seem to mind. They all danced in their own way. Some rushed around the room spinning with legs and arms flying in intricate patterns. Others danced close and slow.

“What is this? Pick your own tune?”

“You’re smarter than you look. Character call: patronizing tone. Let’s start with something slower?” Carter reached for me and pulled me into dance position.

“It’s really pick your own tune?”

“Yes. Right now there are,” he paused and cocked his head to the side, “four different songs playing.”

“I’ve gone crazy.” Relevance? How does her being crazy influence the music? Though if is this a phrase she uses often, leave it.

“Trust me for one night. Let go of all your fears and give in to your imagination.” Character call: semi-canned phrases.

Carter stood so close, his eyes boring into mine. I could feel his warm hand on my back, just above the scars. His other hand squeezed mine and I wanted to let go like he asked. I really did, but his fingers were sliding down toward my waist. They paused, then moved again tracing one of the lines down my back. His brow crinkled and I stepped away from his hold.

“Mo run?”

His eyes were so deep. Bottomless pools of concern. He hadn’t bargained on me being damaged goods. Even if I wanted this life, I would never fit in. Not with these beautiful, perfect people and their swirling colors.

Dialogue: world

I love world-building. I love geography, I love building cities, I love creating situations where oddities are perfectly reasonable. How people go about their everyday life in strange places fascinates me.

All of that world-building and cultural development influences the dialogue that comes out of characters' mouths: people are products of their culture, either by conforming to it or rebelling against it.

Culture and technology
The vocabulary your characters learned as children was defined by their surrounding culture, their family, and their education. On the most obvious level, nobody in a pre-industrial world knows what an airplane is. Do clockworks exist, even?

If your character grew up in a coastal village of a pre-industrial world, what sorts of words are going to dominate his vocabulary? What will he have heard his family talking about? That depends on what they did for a living. If they were fishermen, the talk over dinner would be different from what a boy in a wealthy merchant's house would hear.

This impacts vocabulary, sentence structure, and one's place in society as well. A fisherman's son may have learned swearing as a form of punctuation, for example, and give it no more thought than that. Note, though, all of the other assumptions that jump to your mind with that thought -- it's not surprising, is it, that a boy raised poor, working menial jobs, uneducated, would use four-letter words with abandon. It rings true.

How many people are feeling a need to mess with that assumption, now -- show of hands?

The fisherman's boy is also going to describe things he sees in terms of things he knows. Have you noticed how computer terms have crept into how people describe non-computer-related things, lately? It's what we know, now. What does the fisherman's son know? Fish. Nets. Boats, sails, and wind. Rope and canvas. Muscle pain and iron hooks.

The subject matter that a character focuses on derives in part from personality (as noted yesterday) and in part from what he's been told is important. If a knight believes his honor is of utmost importance, everything he says is going to revolve around maintaining his honor, giving it to those he deems worthy, and denying it to the unworthy. Maybe this involves particular forms of speech or special vocabulary.

In addition, there's a filter of the ideas available to the character -- ideas about government, religion, equality, etc. These will also contribute to what the character prioritizes and how he speaks about them. How a man speaks to a woman he considers his equal is quite different from how he addresses a woman he believes is his servant, after all. Eavesdrop on how restaurant patrons address their waitress, and you'll hear the difference. (For extra fun, compare to how they address a waiter, if you can.)

Concepts will influence their behavior as well as their speech, and that's all part of the inter-connectedness of a story.

I have stuff to crit, hooray! I will post at least one today. Don't be shy -- if you have some dialogue you'd like fresh eyeballs on, send it in: unicornbellsubmissions at gmail dot com.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dialogue and character

Action is character. But so is dialogue. This is one of the biggest windows on your character's soul -- it's immediate, it isn't filtered through the narrator, and it can say so much both bluntly and subtly. We all glean information from every word people say. We all draw conclusions from what we hear and how it's said, we infer meanings and (hopefully) reflect on the motivations behind them. And the things left unsaid.

Good dialogue invites the reader to do this with the characters. To listen to them as if they were real people, and by extension think of them as real people. 

Word choice
This will tie deeply into world-building, in tomorrow's post, but the more character-based side of the words a character uses depends on his personality and emotional state.

People alter their word choice based on their emotional state, and it's not always a conscious thing. To use myself as an example, in very emotional situations I tend to step back, mentally -- retreat, if you like -- and become objective. And my words change accordingly, sliding toward bigger, more "intellectual" words with less emotional impact. The intent is to defuse the situation and diffuse the emotional content. Though, as I said, it's not really a conscious decision on my part. I'm sure it tells people a lot about my personality, though.

Other people, when they get emotional, plunge into strong, high-impact vocabulary that has an effect like splashing gasoline around a fire. This can include swearing. It could be words with violent connotations. Ultimately, it tells the reader a lot about the character and his temper, though. 

Sentence structure
Short sentences feel quick. Long ones slow the pace down. This goes for dialogue as well as narrative, and speaks to the mental state of the character as much as word choice. In a high-stress situation, who has the time to deliver a Shakespearean monologue? Who has the mental distance that it indicates? Sentences naturally shrink when things get rough. Sometimes just down to a single word coded with lots of meaning. (See Coding, which will come later in the week.)

Outside of stressful situations, consistent use of short sentences versus long can indicate something about a character's education, intelligence, or integrity. Or, perhaps, the environment they grew up in -- children will mimic the speech patterns of those around them, unless they make a deliberate choice not to.

Subject matter
On a more abstract level, the things a character talks about tells you what he considers important.
Nobody can maintain perfect awareness of all things; we all prioritize and focus on what matters the most to us.

We've all seen this in action, on the internet: that person who always casts a discussion in terms of gender inequality, or skin color, or animal rights. It's what's important to them, so they focus on it.

Or that person who always pulls a topic back around to this story they wrote... :)

Field work
IMO, the best way to learn about these aspects of dialogue is by listening closely and objectively to real conversations. When you're part of the conversation, it can be very difficult to maintain the analytical mindframe you need -- or jot down notes, if you need, as well.

That's why I'm an unrepentant eavesdropper. If you're anywhere near me in a diner or a coffee shop, I'm listening. For innocent reasons, though. Honest.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Dialogue: the life of the story

I saw the The Avengers recently, and the dialogue was so wonderful as to bring tears to my eyes. I've been watching far too much television and suffering through its clunky, wooden dialogue. CSI, I'm looking at you.

It might be a little hyperbolic, but for me nothing pulls down a story faster than bad -- or even mediocre -- dialogue. I may be overly sensitive. And I've always been frustrated by my inability to put a finger on just what it is that works or doesn't work, so this week I'm going to try to and I'd love to have your two cents, too.

Nothing in your story exists in a vacuum. All the aspects are cross-woven and anchored on each other. Dialogue derives from a number of other aspects of the story, and also is constrained by both reality and what the story needs. I'm not going to hit all the aspects, but here's what I'm trying for:

Dialogue derives from the character speaking it. You already know this: a hard-core surfer chick does not talk like an Oxford professor. An senior politician does not sound like an illegal immigrant struggling to learn English. Lawyers and short order cooks have completely different vocabularies.

Dialogue derives from culture. The ideas available to your characters, the priorities they've been told to have, their entire frame of reference -- all derive from the world-building.

How people actually speak vs. useful dialogue
There's a gap between what people mean and the words they say. You can drive a Mack truck through it, sometimes. As writers, we naturally suffer from the urge to be as clear as possible because reader confusion is deadly. Unfortunately, absolute clarity in dialogue can also be deadly because people just don't talk that way. It drains all the life from the dialogue.

And then there's the problem of getting out the information you need the reader to see.

Research vs. development
Dialogue styles can be researched, and should be in many cases. A general appreciation of etymology and the history of the English language can be very useful. However, letting your characters be involved in developing their voices is just as important.

Let's talk about talk. Let's crit some talk. Send up to 500 words of speechifying with "Dialogue" in the subject line to: unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com before Thursday, May 31. I will post something of my own on Saturday for everyone to attack, if nothing else.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hunger Games--The opposite of Lord of the Rings

I haven't received any suggestions for great endings, and I'm finding it easier to think of the ones that left me flat myself. Perhaps it is true that we can learn more from other people's mistakes than we ever realize.

The response to yesterday's post has emboldened me. Today I'm going to air my disappointment with the final chapter of the Hunger Games.

First, Suzanne Collins is one of the writers that made me cry in shame. She's brilliant with the way she handles scene and chapter breaks. Her descriptions draw you in and rip at your emotions.When I read the Hunger Games I knew I should give up writing and never try again because I would never be as good as her.

However, whereas Tolkien dragged out his ending, I felt Collins rushed the end of Mockingjay. After investing so much of my time and emotions in the lives of Katniss, Peeta, Gale, et al, I needed more closure than we were given. Sure the wrap up was there, but none of the details I craved.

It felt like Collins got tired, or someone told her she could only have five more pages to wrap everything up. (Yes, I know I'm sort of contradicting my thoughts from yesterday).

The point(s) I'm trying to make this week is this:
  • There is a fine line between a great ending and a "meh" ending.
  • The ending is JUST as important as the beginning, maybe more so because it's the last thing the reader reads.
If you have an ending you would like to discuss this week, please email me at unicornbellsubmissions.blogspot.com with "Endings" in the subject line.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dangerous Territory

I'm about to step into it.

This week we are talking about endings and how to do them well. Hopefully you've found some that you want to share with us this week. I think the best way to do it is for you to email me the title of the book and why the ending worked for you. Don't worry about spoilers too much, be honest and detailed with what worked for you. (unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com with Endings in the subject line)

Today I want to talk about what NOT to do. Please don't stone me when I'm done.

Tolkien managed to get away with something we will never be allowed to do. Ever.

He wrote 100 more pages of story after the climax of The Return of the King.

Stay with me a minute. The ring is destroyed on page 250 of my paperback copy. Sam and Frodo are reunited with all their friends on page 255. Said friends have just finished a mighty battle a page before that sees the orcs running away.

At this point, all the tension has been released. There is nothing else for us to worry about. Not really. However Tolkien spends another 92 pages getting our heroes back home, cleaning up said home from the riff raff that's taken over, and then getting the elves, Bilbo, and Frodo on the boats to the west.

Now, I LOVE Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings, but as a writer today, I don't have the luxury of spending 90 some odd pages to tie up all the threads and bring the story to a complete end. I wish I could. It's in my head, but the reader gets bored once the conflict is over. I admit I got a little bored after the war was over myself.

The moral here is:
If you are J.R.R. Tolkien, you can do whatever you want.
But you are NOT Tolkien.
And neither am I.

Normal folks like us would need to end the story by page 260.

Thoughts? Am I completely off my rocker?

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Right Place to Start and End

If you've spent any amount of time on writing blogs, you've heard how important it is to START in the right place in your story. Volumes of books and blogs have been written on the subject. Finding that place can drive you bonkers. I know I rewrote the beginning of Sendek: The Magic Wakes at least 100 times.

In the process I moved around scenes, cut entire scenes, wrote new scenes--all in the hopes of finally crafting a first chapter that would make the reader fall in love with my MC and her plight.

Now that I have an editor helping me polish this book, I've come to realize another important point. Where you end, or how quickly you end after the big climax is also important. I did rework the ending a couple of times. Maybe three? Yeah, not nearly as many times as the beginning.

I knew the ending was taking too long, but I had these loose ends to tie up. And I needed to plant the seeds for the next book in the series. Before signing with WiDo, I cut almost 4000 words from the end. If you're not cringing you should be (that's about 14 pages). I finally decided to cut the last chapter in its entirety and it is now one of the first two chapters of Orek: The Search for Knowledge.

Even with that much streamlining I have too many pages after my conflict is resolved. In the words of my wonderful editor, "After ___(spoilers)___, I'm no longer invested."


But completely true.

Here's my questions for you:

1. What makes an ending satisfying for you?
2. Do you have a different criteria for the ending of a first book in a series? (what and why?)

Over the next few days I want to take a look at endings that WORKED. Feel free to send me your favorites at unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com.

Friday, May 18, 2012

How to Commit Manuscript Manslaughter

Follow these simple steps to Crash & Burn.

Asleep at the Wheel. Start your novel with loads of information, precise and intricate. Spare no words to get your backstory laid out. I’ll turn to the back of my tissue box for something better to read.

Yapping. Dialogue that spins into boredom. I call it, ‘Hi-how-are-you-I’m-fine’, inane conversation between characters that gives no information. Reading ‘where do you want to eat?’ ‘I don’t care. Where do you want to eat?’ makes me want to open a vein.

An abundance of names. Too many titles, characters, unfamiliar or techno names cause me to skip ahead to something ANYTHING interesting. Don’t make me work too hard. Introduce these people and definitions sloooowly. Remember, I don’t know them. You do. Big difference.

Slow build to Action. How is too little conflict in a book like a baseball hit over the fence? Answer: I’m outta here. Those first pages are a fine balance between simple nouns and verbs, sparing use of adjectives and adverbs, and lots of conflict. Whether verbal or physical, there should be conflict on every page.

Abrupt World-Building. To commit Manuscript Mayhem, carry me from Auntie Em’s front yard to Technicolor Oz without transition or bridge. Every fantastical event needs a whiff of the unusual so the brain can adjust. Hence, the tornado and dream sequence. And the witch flying through the air. Always scared hell outta me as a kid.

The Kryptonite Factor. Phenomenal cosmic powers without the itty bitty living space (Genie – Aladdin) kills a MS. One word: Conflict. An all-powerful hero who has no faults or weaknesses equals blah. Epic Fail.

Got a bone to pick? Nails-across-a-blackboard sentence structure that causes wandering eye? 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Query Smack Down

Queries need some lovin’ just like everything else.

Aimee Salter posted my query for review on her blog.

Here’s your chance for payback.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What About Blogfests?

Bloghops infest thrive in our blogosphere. We sign up via Linky tools, wait for the day and post according to the theme du jour.

Then visit other blogs. Follow. Comment.

Of what value are they?

Blogfests increase traffic, viewership, and expands our knowledge. Some of my best buds came about in this way.

It’s a chance to do a meet ‘n greet with our fellow ‘net cruisers. In my case preferably writers.

But is it worth it?

I want to post articles that are of interest to our followers. I want to provide a service. But I also want to keep on track with my original goal; 

So, why participate in bloghops/fests?

At this time, I am of two minds. The events are fun and whimsical. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy them and meeting new people. But it can be downright taxing. 

I am still recovering from the April 2012 A to Z Challenge.

Cutting to the chase, when I did A to Z, I quit writing. My word count for the entire month of April went to 500 words. Not day, not a week, but my total for the Whole Month.

It blew my previous writing schedule into tiny bits of wind-blown confetti.

My posts were simple for the blogfest. I almost felt guilty as I composed them since most of them were fewer than 80 words. But visiting other blogs, commenting, checking out my best friends and followers, reading their posts, and cheering them on, it all took time that I did not have.

Did I say that I quit writing? Stopped. Abandoned. Deserted.

It's difficult to get back into my routine. Only now is it returning to the way it was. I have my notes and research and will eventually climb back onto that snorty horse. But, dang, will I do another blogfest soon?


I feel as though I’ve lost something very important. 
Finding it again means remembering exactly why I wanted it in the first place.

What about you? Was A to Z a problem for you also? 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

An Author’s Downfall

I have favorite authors, people who could write on a used tissue and I’d be interested in what they had to say. Their books need no reviews to sell me. I'd buy their novels without reading the page cover.

And when those books are laid out in a series of familiar characters, well now, boy howdy, out of my way cuz I’m first in line to lay down cash. That makes it easier, knowing what they write, knowing that I’ll love what they write.

Jim Butcher is one of those authors. His series, The Dresden Files and The Furies of Calderon are just the kind of meat-and-potatoes type fantasy that I love. 

Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series, beginning with Moon Called, is my gold standard of urban fantasy.

Patrick Rothfuss has written only two books with the third and final of his Kingkiller Chronicles due out next year.  I’ll be knocking people over to get to that one. The Sookie Stackhouse series belongs to Charlaine Harris, another series that never disappoints.

Recently Julie Kagawa caught my attention. The Immortal Rules pulled me into her world with The Iron Fey as a side trip.

These authors give me what I want. Entertainment, good writing, plausible storylines. Well, as plausible as fantasy can get.

They write. And I buy anything and everything they care to give me.

That said there is another kind of author who makes me scream like Vincent Grey in The Sixth Sense, YOU FAILED ME.

Yeah I know, like they care. But still…

Two of those authors, who I won’t name, angered me beyond the capacity for rational thought. One lady’s ending made no sense. Throughout the series, the MC verbally slapped everyone who lied to her. Then, at the end, told the biggest whooper ever. It made me so mad I wanted to throw my Kindle across the room. Grrr.

Then another author, who thrilled me last year with three ExCellent books, totally let me down when he journeyed into PreachyTown. And not just one or two pages, but every Freaking Chapter. Blah, blah, blah.
What a cryin’ shame! I find a great story and the author slithers into the folder labeled Shrug.

A book that doesn’t end exactly as I expect doesn’t fall into this category. One example is the ending to The Hunger Games. Good book. Not what I expected at the end but still superb.

No, what I’m talking/ranting about is an author who lectures or moralizes. Sometimes it seems to me as if the author is tired of the character and writes ‘The End’ to break off their relationship.

Beats me.

Are you disappointed with some authors who once held the mantle of Beloved? Will you buy their next book or give them another chance?

Monday, May 14, 2012

How to Query

Or Falling Down Stairs, a step-by-step analysis.

My education began after I wrote FanFic for The Twilight Saga website. It was my first manuscript, about 20K word count, and detailed Edward’s evolution into the ‘man’ he is today. 
Other short stories followed. 

I got some good reviews and thought, well hell, I can do this, I can write. And so my novel was born. It was a story that had rattled around in my head for nearly twenty years. I researched this business of writing and the journey really started.  

Destination, Published Author.

In the Beginning…oh, rats, that phrase is in use, isn’t it. Well, never mind.

At first, I didn’t call myself a ‘writer’. Way too presumptuous. Besides, I had to learn what a ‘published author’ meant. And how to spell ‘author’ *authur*

But set that aside for now

I wrote the manuscript. “Cool. Now I'll find an agent and get the book published.”

But where do I find an agent? Ah, a Search Engine.

And so I Googled my ever lovin’ heart out. Literary agents. Contracts. Submissions. Format. 
Piece of cake.

ohwait. Format?! What’s a ‘format’? *shrug*

Phbttt!! I cleverly figured out a query. It meant some kind of letter explaining why my book was so great. 

Now to find a website with an address. Ah. Writers House and a sub-agent who accepts email. I’ll bet she’s desperate for a good novel.

('Novel'. Not 'fiction novel'. Remember that very important fact)

Sent it off and waited. Checked my email fifty times a day. Anticipation grew as I imaged my book on a separate shelf at Borders.

The agent replied within a few days. My heart thumped as I opened the email.

Rejection? What! How can this be?

She must be a dried up old hag with no sense of quality. BAH! I’ll give my query to someone who appreciates my talent.


Rejection slip within the hour. Well, I just KNOW they didn’t even read it.

I sent five queries in a week but no one fell at my feet. The next week, BAM, a request for a more pages and a synopsis.

I. Am. On. My. Way. Yeah!!!

er…what’s a synopsis?

More education. More writing and research. A ‘partial’? A ‘full’? wow, more terms to learn.

I hit 'send'. Three days later, the partial was rejected.

I picked myself up, shrugged off my bruised ego, and began again. After all, I was on my way to Published Author.

Little did I know that 8 months would pass before I received another request for more pages. In that time, I edited and re-wrote my manuscript from title page to ‘the end’. I read every morsel of advice, found contests to enter, and more agencies to research.

Writing. Not as easy as it looks, is it? Like ripping out a piece of your innards, throwing it into a public arena shouting, “Here! Isn’t this wonderful?”

Adverbs, adjective, attributes and Alliterations. Dangling participles, run-on sentences, echoes, and the evil word ‘clunky’. Passive phrases, active phrases, too many verbs/names/action.

I discovered blogging, critique partners, and betas. Writing classes and books about prose. Endless information.

The camaraderie from those I’ve met in this business still amazes me. So many helpers offering time, talent, and expertise. That fact alone humbles me and leaves me silent. 

I went from clueless naiveté to painful rejection and beyond. I learned how to evolve, how to use this skill and become a better person, more focused.

I learned Words, their placement in a sentence. How to give them life, flavor, taste, and essence.

There is richness in this business of coupling verbs and nouns into a mental dance, a fulfillment of spirit. In their cadence, we create music that soars as we read them.

To summarize:
Read, research, educate. 
Never stop learning.

And along the way, at some point, introduce yourself as Writer.

Because that is what you are.

Where has your journey taken you? How did you start this business and what have you found along the way?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Description - Fairy Tail

    And now, you poor things, because no one sent me a description of their own, I give you one of mine. The opening to my novel, FAIRY TAIL. Rip away...    

     It looked like a celebration.
     Elphamé, the heart of Faerie, was awash in fairy light, from sparks that floated above the trees to hundreds of colored lanterns, casting a rainbow ribbon of light over the flowers in the Queen’s garden. The magnolia trees were beginning to shed their blossoms and the grass was littered with soft, white petals that fluttered about in a non-existent breeze, their fragrance perfuming the air. 
     The sisters sat on the grass by the fish pond where dozens of paper boats floated, from three-masted sailing ships with dragonfly sails to row-boats with little oars carved from twigs, each one a miniature masterpiece. 
     Music came from inside, though who played was anyone’s guess, for they were hidden behind the upper screens while below the grand ballroom was hung with wreaths of flowers and ribbons, the whole place smelling of a warm autumn night and filled to capacity with all of Faerie.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Description - a critique

I looked straight down onto a small barn and its yard, snugged between the castle and its wall. The pigs in the sty were mere lumps in their mud. Beyond the wall, the western side of Wodenberg clung to the steeper part of the mountain’s slope in a jumble of thatched roofs. It wasn’t far to the city wall, on this side of the castle. 
I don't think you need that last bit - but note my opinion is based on just this short excerpt. You know best.

On my left, southward, the city spread out. North and ward, to the right, a saddle of rock connected the castle’s promontory to Mount Woden. That saddle was called the Rückenstein, and it was full of barracks for the city garrison. The city wall looped around it, studded with towers, guarding to guard Castle Kaltkern’s back., and oOutside the wall the terrain ran rough and bare. Too thin for trees or farming. Some sheep dotted what grass there was.
Here's where I'd try to throw in some action, something to break up the description - unless this work is intended for an adult audience in which case they will probably have more patience. And since we have a first person narrator, it might be interesting to her his/her thoughts about what is being described. As it is the description sounds like a distant third.

Mount Woden, outside the city and its foulburg, was a wild thing under a deep pine blanket. The forest gave way to fields where the slope gentled out to the north and west, and tThose muddy brown fields were covered now with a layer of dingy white tents and a haze of campfire smoke. The tents seemed to run for miles.

This is a good descriptive passage. I got a picture in my mind of this place; a little rugged, poor, but with a substantial castle, a garrison, and all these white tents on a muddy field (hmm). The only thing I'll reiterate is that I'd like more voice associated with the description, especially since this is first person pov. Is this the first time the narrator has come to Wodenberg? What does he/ she think about the place? Adding more voice could easily turn good into great. 

What do you guys think? 

And thank you L. Blankenship for this submission!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Description - The Dome

"From two-thousand feet, where Claudette Saunders was taking a flying lesson, the town of Chester's Mill gleamed in the morning light like something freshly made and just set down. Cars trundled along Main Street, flashing up winks of sun. The steeple of the Congo Church looked sharp enough to pierce the unblemished sky. The sun raced along the surface of the Prestile Stream as the Seneca V overflew it, both plane and water cutting the  town on the same diagonal course."

I love the comparison of the town to something gleaming and "freshly made" and how the first sentence immediately suggests to me that our narrator may be hinting at something... interesting. Either the town is indeed like something "freshly made and just set down," or, it is not. And really, where do cars trundle? Probably ONLY in Chester Mills. Some mythical small town in some northwest corner of  Maine - my fair state.

It also happens to be the home state of the author, Stephen King, and this first paragraph is from his novel, THE DOME. If you like Stephen King I'll wager you'll like this. Both as a writer and and a reader.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Description - first page

"From two-thousand feet, where Claudette Saunders was taking a flying lesson, the town of Chester's Mill gleamed in the morning light like something freshly made and just set down. Cars trundled along Main Street, flashing up winks of sun. The steeple of the Congo Church looked sharp enough to pierce the unblemished sky. The sun raced along the surface of the Prestile Stream as the Seneca V overflew it, both plane and water cutting the  town on the same diagonal course."

Here is a short descriptive passage written by someone who shall, for the moment, remain nameless. What I would like you all to do is read it a few times and tell me what you think. What do you like about this? What sense about the story do you get from this beginning? And if you do know who wrote this, keep it to yourself for the moment. I'd like to hear everyone's thoughts on this paragraph before I reveal the author.

I have a few thoughts about it but I'd like to hear what you think first.

Oh, and I'm still open to critiquing anyone's descriptive paragraph/bit or if you have one you're proud of send it to me and I'll post it.

Monday, May 7, 2012

the boring bits and what to do with them

I have read upon more than one occasion that the best way to keep your readers interested is to leave out the boring bits. Usually this means description because it’s the one place where nothing is happening. Dialogue and action move the story forward but description is like a rest area where you’re supposed to enjoy the scenery. So the question becomes how do we make our descriptive passages interesting, because it goes without saying we can’t just do away with description altogether.

Let’s look at an example.

“Alone in his flat, Marco constructs tiny rooms from scraps of paper. Hallways and doors crafted from pages of books and bits of blueprint, pieces of wallpaper and fragments of letters.

He composes chambers that lead into others that Celia has created. Stairs that wind around her halls.”
From THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern
This is a description of what Marco makes and while it might not make as much sense to those who haven’t read the book (which I highly recommend, by the way) you can still see how lovely it is, hear the cadence of the words, perhaps even picture what Marco is making.

The trick then is making our descriptions come alive with voice. I don’t know about you but I can hear the longing in that short little passage and I get the feeling we’re talking about more than architecture. This is how to make your descriptions stand out, be memorable, and above all, be interesting.

Now it’s your turn. Think you have a short descriptive passage worthy of showing off? Something you’re proud of having written? If so we’d love for you to share it in the comments. Or maybe you have one you’d like help making sparkle. In that case send it to unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com and I’ll critique it on Tuesday. 500 words or less, please and thank you in advance for your submissions. Remember, critiquing helps all of us :) 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Quick Friday Question

I was perusing the Kindle Store the other day and came to discover a book called "Snooki in Wonderland." Yikes. That same day, I read about an author who was asked to remake a certain story from back in the 80's or something, the name of which escapes me at present. With all this talk about remakes, how would you as an author feel about someone asking you to rewrite a classic like Alice in Wonderland? Would you do it? Why or why not?

For me, the answer is simple. I'm just going to write my own stuff. I want to be as original as I can possibly be. Tried and true formulas may work for some people, but not for me. How do you feel about this? Would you ever spend a part of your writing career remolding someone else's vision?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Five Things That Got Me to Today

Today, I’m going to take a little bit of a different approach with my week. I’ll do another prompt or something tomorrow, but right now I’ve got something else I’d like to discuss. If you’ve been following my posts over at World of the Scribe, you’ll know that I’ve been hitting many milestones. One of these is having sold my 40th copy of my debut fantasy novel, Spell of Entrapment. I can’t believe the number has gotten that high already.

A lot of you out there are aspiring authors and writers in the making, possibly wondering how someone ever gets to selling 40 books in about 2 and a half months time. I’ll walk you through the five things that got me to where I am today.

#1. The Writing itself. I’d never have sold 40 books if I wasn’t already so passionate about the written word. Writing has been in my blood since the days of elementary school. It’s not something I can just turn my back on at a moment’s notice. I’m almost always constantly writing a story, or thinking of a story. I do whatever I can to make sure that I make the time for writing.

#2-Study The Craft. It’s not just enough to write. You have to study the ins and outs of the craft, both in the writing field and in the publishing field. There are so many tricks to the trade you’ll want to at least familiarize with. You don’t have to do everything people tell you to do, because then where would that leave you with the rest of your life? We’re each and every one of us busy people. Take only what you need.

#3- Understand Your Limits. This builds more on what #2 has established. There are only so many hours in a day. We have to be ready to deal with the limits time and life impose upon us. Why, I have far fewer hours in the day than I used to, mainly because I have a day job and family responsibilities. That’s why whenever I do get a moment, I take full advantage of it. I won’t get to write all the stories I want to write, but I’ll make sure to write as many as I can, and enjoy the ride from there.

#4-Moral Support. Our friends and families may support our writing endeavors to an extent. Yet as we writers have our own set of limitations, so do our loved ones. They may be on board with our writing, but they may not understand our passion, or why we just can’t give it up. Then again, maybe they think we could be doing something better with our time, something like household chores or taking on a second or even a third job. We need our moral support to keep us going. For that, we’ll have to turn to other writing friends.

#5-Perseverance. Lastly, I never gave up, even in spite of all the adversity. I kept going until I reached that 40th sale. And I’ll keep going until my dying breath. That’s how committed I am to writing, and that’s what it has taken to get me to these sales. May all of you out there realize your publishing dreams, too.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Just Desserts

Lately I've been a slave to my sweet tooth. Over at my blog, World of the Scribe, I've had chocolate cake on the mind. And today I'll be discussing the matter of ice cream, too. I don't think it's exactly fair that my muse can have all the sugar she wants and not suffer the dire consequences for it. Then again, there are no calories in merely eyeing candy, are there?

So for today's prompt challenge, I want to see your culinary creations of the sugary variety. Write a few sentences describing the sweets your characters are dealing with. Bonus Kudos points for anyone who can get their characters to start a food fight, or who can get me to salivate.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day Shares

Jeffrey here, back for another week here at Unicorn Bell. Thanks for covering for me yesterday, I was out tending to a paragraph that required all of my attention. I almost had to take it to the ER (that's Emergency Revision here, just so you know), but things worked out at the last minute.

Moving into new business, it being a new month and all, May Day has arrived. For the purposes of today's post, I will take the general notion of sharing on May Day and turn it into something applicable here. I want you to share your favorite prose or poetry that you've written and share it with us. Bonus kudos points go out to anyone who can incorporate some element of springtime into what they share with us.

Here's my entry, a haiku that won me a gift card a couple of years back:

Hunger fuels my rage
Waiting by the order box
They'll be right with me.

As you can see, there's a bit of an edge to this piece, but I'm really proud of it because of the emotion it evokes. So no, the pieces you share today don't have to be sunny. The only absolute qualifier is that you're proud of whatever work you post.

Back tomorrow!