Category Archives: writing advise

My Thinking Space


Thinking Space ChildSitting across from me at the kitchen table, five-year old Annalisa gently placed her hand on my forehead and pushed it away from my search for the Thomas Kinkade puzzle piece.  “Nana, please, you are in my thinking space.”  Quick, alert and gifted with spatial intelligence, Annalisa was assembling the only slightly contrasting sky at a two or three-to one pace while I struggled to put the chimney of the garden cottage together.  Hovering over the puzzle, I had encroached on her “thinking space.”

I love the concept of a “thinking space”. Out of that space come the thoughts that lead to action.  No action occurs that one doesn’t first see themselves doing it.  Like writing–one must see herself writing before she will do so.  Out of the thinking space come the ideas that produce the story.

Louis L ’Amour was often asked “Where do you get your ideas?”  He replied, “If a person does not have ideas, he had better not even think of becoming a writer. But ideas are everywhere.  There are enough in the daily newspaper to keep us writing for years.  Ideas are all about us, in the people we meet, the way we live, the way we travel, and how we think about people.  It’s important that we are writing about people.  Ideas are important only as they affect people.  And we are writing about emotion.  A few people reason, but all people feel.”  Education of a Wandering Man, Bantam Books, 1989, p. 85.Thinking Chair 2

Ideas are born in our thinking space.  For six years I traveled the panhandle of Texas as an educational consultant with Region XVI Education Service Center in Amarillo.  The panhandle is a little less than 26,000 square miles so it was not unusual to travel 700 miles a week going to various rural schools.  Ideas that began during that travel time were often not completed when I arrived in the driveway of my home, so I would remain in my car until the ideas solidified–pondering in my thinking space until one of the kids interrupted my reverie with, “MOM, I’m hungry!”  Oh, well, to my thinking space in the kitchen!

Ideas come and go even as we sleep.  Begin to collect them in a journal designated just for that purpose. What ideas have had you just today?

Linda Hutcherson

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Keep it Simple


Keep it SimpleWhen writing anything—essays, articles, blogs, short stories, novels—clarity is key. Word counts are important. Explanations should be concise, but what can one do to keep the writing tight when presenting complicated information?

Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

When I’m writing something historical or technical, I do hours of research. I look at lots of pictures. Most importantly, I talk about it. I like to repeat what I’ve read and seen to others—friends or family who know nothing about my subject. If they understand it right away, I know I’m ready to write. If they look at me like I’m speaking Klingon, I know that I have more research to do.Albert Einstein

Some of the best, and simplest, rules for writing can be found in George Orwell’s 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language.” He presents a set of guidelines for tight writing that every author can use.

My favorites include, “Never use a long word where a short one will do,” and “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.”

I struggle with word-whittling every time I write. Sometimes it’s for lack of understanding, and sometimes it’s because I just adore a particular word. I love the sound or the look or the feel. But like the darling of any good story, the word must be cut to keep the action going. As soon as a reader puts down your book to find a definition or explanation, you run the risk they will never return.

Long, flowery words look pretty on the page, but if they trip your reader, let them go. Find a thesaurus if necessary. Find a short word. Keep it precise and readable. In today’s busy world, audiences prefer quick reads that deliver value. When it comes to wordsmithing, less really is more.

What helps you keep it simple?

by Kimberly Black

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Making Your Characters Leap Off the Page


Phyliss Miranda at Podium Good ShotWe’ve had an unusually long hiatus on this blog.  We’re still trying to work out some of the kinks to doing an multi-author blog.

I thought it would be a really nice touch to open our Program season with a guest post.  What will follow is a post by Phyliss Miranda, who will be speaking at our September 21, 2013 meeting.

A native Texan, New York Times and USA Today award-winning author Phyliss Miranda still believes in the Code of the Old West and loves to share her love for antiques, the lost art of quilting, and the Wild West.

Visit her at www.phylissmiranda.com .

She blogs the first Tuesday of each month at http://petticoatsandpistols.com/

She blogs the first Tuesday of each month at Petticoatsandpistols.com.  Come to our meeting at the Amarillo Senior Citizens’ Center at 1217 S. Tyler.  Sign in is at 9:00 and Phyliss will begin at 9:30.  If you sign up for a box lunch from Baker Bros. before 10:00 you can join us after that for a critique session.

Now I’ll let Phyliss take over.

Suzanne Bogue

I’m honored to introduce you to Nicodemus Dartmouth, my hero, in my September 5th eKensington release The Tycoon and the Texan.

Before we begin with the interview, I’d like to give you the background on both how I selected the plot and Nick’s last name. I truly believe it was a gift from above.

My husband and I have friends who we’ve known for over forty years and vacationed with since their boys and our girls were young.

In 2002, my DH and I were on our way to meet them in Florida when we received a call, thank goodness for cell phones, that Harry had emergency heart surgery. He was in a coma, and the future was uncertain.  We immediately turned our car north and headed for Dartmouth Medical Center where he laid critically ill for weeks.  We were determined not to leave until he and Pat were safely home under their own roof.  And, that we did.

One day while sitting in the waiting room, my attention was drawn to a show on TV, you know the ones up in the corner of the room you have to crane your neck to see and can barely hear, that pertained to a foundation’s auction of bachelors for charity.  That seeded the idea for a story about a strong, multi-millionaire who ends up buying an ugly duckling at his own foundation’s charity ball. Of course, she had to be from Texas and his name had to be as strong and willful as my character, so Nicodemus Dartmouth was born.

Now nearly ten years and many vacations together later, my story The Tycoon and the Texan came out recently andPhyliss Miranda Smaller TheTycoonAndTheTexan eBook needless to say I dedicated it to our dearest friends.

Let’s get on with learning more about Nicodemus Dartmouth. I’m gonna let him tell you about himself first, and then he’ll answer some questions.

I don’t really like being referred to as a tycoon because I see myself as just another hardworking man in his 30’s. I have to admit being a product of a wealthy, widowed mother, who I don’t always see eye-to-eye with, did have its benefits. I worked my fingers to the bone to establish one of the largest construction firms on the west coast, while being CEO of Mother’s charity … the Elliott-Dartmouth foundation.  I own a Double A baseball farm team and love to workout with my players.  Mother is pretty well appalled when I show up at the office with bloody road rash showing through a tear in my baseball pants.  By the way, Josie, the Foundation Director and mother hen, thinks I belong in the dog pound. I have one supporter in the organization, well most of the time, and that’s McCall Johnson, who used to be my secretary at the construction company until I transferred her over to the foundation when I found myself crawling up twenty stories of red iron thinking about her.

Now back to the charity auction that Phyliss mentioned. Mother thought it was a grand idea to auction off bachelorettes, while I told her from the start it was a bad, really bad idea.  She called me into the office to go over the final arrangements, including the table decorations.  I need to be out at the construction company offices arranging for a shipment of material we don’t need to be shipped to Habitat for Humanity, but no I’m standing here looking at a bunch of flowers stuffed in a vase. I won’t even tell you what I think about them because Mother sure didn’t approve of my description.

The auction was a nightmare, just as I had predicted, although it raised a lot of money for the foundation … a good bit coming from me.

The jinx I apparently put on the event began when one of the bachelorettes called in sick and our resident Texan McCall Johnson was forced to step in.  In an unexpected turn of events, and I have to admit a bit of jealousy on my part to boot, I ended up paying what McCall called “a vulgar” amount for a week-long date with her.

That began our adventures … seven days to Texas.

I wanted so badly to show her that our lives weren’t that much different, but at every turn, I hit a roadblock.  From nearly cutting my finger off trying to prepare dinner on my private boat for her to seeing a ghost on Harris Grade coming out of Lompoc, California, something got in my way of showing her that I don’t get everything I want, although she thinks I do.

It took me the full seven days, plus some while visiting her Granny’s ranch in Texas, but I finally succeeded at showing the independent, spirited, uprooted Texan that our lives aren’t as different as it might seem, only to find that we are more alike than I ever dreamed … including our secrets.

I hope you’ll go buy The Tycoon and the Texan by native Texan, Phyliss Miranda, so you can learn more about me and Miss McCall Johnson.  By the way, if I have my way, she won’t be a Miss much longer.

Phyliss Miranda

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Getting it Right


Writing and ResearchWriting.  What a challenge. Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, facts are part of your writing.  If your work is not accurate, someone will catch your mistake and you will hear about it!  For the nonfiction writer truth and accuracy must be adhered to.  Since readers may not be able to discern the difference, the nonfiction writer assumes this responsibility – and the accompanying accountability.

Many writers refer to and utilize historical facts, experts, interviews and research.  You must be aware of copyright issues, of individuals that claim expertise but are not experts, plagiarism, and the authenticity of memoir writing.The Everything Guide

The Everything Guide to Writing Nonfiction by Richard D. Bank covers many of these issues and can be useful not only to the non-fiction writer, but any writer needing to address these concerns.  If you do your own research then look to The Craft of Research by Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb and Joseph Williams, or The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Research Methods by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D. (definitely written with me in mind.)

For tidbits of historical facts look into The Timetables of History – A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events by Bernard Grun and  The Reader’s Companion to American History  edited by Eric Foner & John A. Garraty.

The Timetables of HistoryThese are just a few references on my bookshelf.  Do keep in mind however, that just because information is published, even in a scholarly work – and may even be on the New York Times bestseller list, this does not mean that everything is the truth. (Or, I got it off the Internet so it must be true!) Legends can and are perpetuated and digging for the truth can reveal some very interesting and revealing reasons for misinformation in original documents and memoirs.

So, writers beware – because these days readers are very aware.

What is your biggest challenge in getting it right in your own writing?

Donna Otto

 

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Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for Writing


Get Shorty

Elmore John Leonard Jr. (born October 11, 1925) is an American novelist and screenwriter. His earliest published novels in the 1950s were westerns, but Leonard went on to specialize in crime fiction and suspense thrillers, many of which have been adapted into motion pictures.

Among his best-known works are Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Hombre, Mr. Majestyk and Rum Punch, which was filmed as Jackie Brown. Leonard’s short stories include ones that became the films 3:10 to Yuma and The Tall T, as well as the current TV series on FX, Justified.

Leonard was born in New Orleans, but because his father worked as a site locator for General Motors, the family moved frequently for several years. In 1934, the family finally settled in Detroit. Leonard has  made the Detroit area his home ever since.Elmore Leonard

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of      prose.
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
  11. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Yes, I know I said  he had ten rules, but according to Mr. Leonard, the eleventh is the most important rule of all.

Suzanne Bogue

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The Elements of Story


A CamelThere are four basic elements of story, whether you are writing a short story or a novel.  The first of those elements is a strong hook.  My favorite example of a strong hook is:

The last camel died at noon.” from The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett published in 1980.

It immediately grabs the reader’s attention and pulls him into the story.  Questions come to mind instantly and one is compelled to find out why the camel died and how the characters are going to make the trek through an apparently scorching desert without a ride.

I’m sure you can think of many more first lines that grabbed you by the throat and dragged you on to the inevitable end of the story.  But a story needs more than just a great hook.  It needs a hero/heroine with a desire he or she wishes to obtain and obstacles to that desire that prevent her from reaching her ultimate goal.  The final element of story is a resolution, a satisfying end.  The hero must obtain their final goal or come to grips with why they didn’t need what they desired in the first place.  All loose ends must be tied up and the villain must be foiled.

A good story is like a series of mountains and valleys.  The heroine starts out her journey on a peak with a goal she wants to achieve. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Let’s take Dorothy in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as an example.  She lives on a dull farm on the plains of Kansas with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry and three goofy but sweet farm hands and her little dog, Toto.  Dorothy dreams of a place where there is excitement, a place where all her dreams can come true.  Along comes an old hag of a neighbor who threatens to take her dog away from her and down into the first painful valley of despair she goes.

She eventually finds herself in a place where nothing seems normal, there are frightening creatures and witches who want to destroy her and no matter how beautiful the place is or how kind some of the inhabitants are, her only desire becomes to find her way back home to dreary old Kansas and her Aunt and Uncle.

She meets some good people who try to help her on her way, but they have their own troubles, and being the kind young lady she is, Dorothy endeavors to help them with their problems while they try to help her.  She experiences happy times and sad times, trials and tribulations along the way and eventually she finds her way back to her aunt and uncle and discovers that what she really wanted all along was never far from her.

While this is a simplistic view of the elements of story, it is easy to see what makes the story a classic.  The heart of the story is Dorothy and her desire for a home, and the peaks and valleys of her journey is the road she takes to find true happiness.

Give your characters a goal, an achievable goal and put roadblocks in their way.  Make them suffer, suffer and suffer some more.  But above all, make their journey both internally and externally satisfying.

Happy Writing!

Suzanne Bogue

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New eBook on Plotting


From time to time I have recommended various books on writing, and shared the wisdom of some of the great writers.  I don’t know or pretend to pass judgment on the wisdom or fame of Aaron Allston, but I can say that his new book on plotting is worth the money and the time to read.  It includes basics on plotting for the beginning writer and insight into solving plotting problems for the seasoned writer.

Allston is the son of a local journalist, Tom Allston, who wrote for the Pampa newspaper as well as the Amarillo Globe-News.  I hope you like the book.

Aaron Allston Releases Plotting: A Novelist‘s Workout Guide
New York Times bestselling novelist Aaron Allston has released his first full-length nonfiction work in e-book form.
Plotting: A Novelist’s Workout Guide describes the craft of plotting novels. In the book, Allston provides methods for creating scenes, determining the meaning and functions of story events, shaping plots and sub-plots, developing character arcs and themes, fixing plot problems, and writing outlines. Also included are numerous writing exercises and Blood Kin, a complete outline for a novel, demonstrating the plotting process from initial concept to finished proposal.Plotting ebook

BASIC INFORMATION:


Title: Plotting: A Novelist’s Workout Guide

Price: &9.99 USD

Publisher: ArcherRat Publishing (www.archerrat.com)

Length: 120,000 words

Central Texas native Aaron Allston, who has 25 years’ professional experience as a fiction writer, is best known for his work in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. His bibliography includes 22 novels and numerous pieces of short fiction released by traditional publishers such as Del Rey Books, Baen Books, Tor Books, and Bantam Books, and digital publishers including WordFire Press. ArcherRat Publishing, publisher of Plotting: A Novelist’s Workout Guide, is Allston’s digital self-publishing line.
With colleague Michael A. Stackpole, Allston has for years taught the Inner Circle Writers’ Seminars at venues across the United States. Their next teaching appearance, in association with acclaimed science fiction author Timothy Zahn, will be as guest lecturers at Arizona State University.
Plotting: A Novelist’s Workout Guide is available from:

For additional information, please e-mail Aaron Allston at allston@aaronallston.com.

Check this book out if you like.  List some of the books you’ve already read on the subject of plotting that have helped you solve your plotting troubles.

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