Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Stage Directions, Action Beats, and Dialogue Tags, Oh My! (Lizzie)

Action beats are one of the hardest aspects of the writing craft to master, partly to due conflicting advice. Some teachers want you to be minimalists and hardly use any at all. Other teachers (and often critique partners) recommend you use them generously, seemingly as a replacement of all dialogue tags and the reader's imagination. The key, as with most things, is balance, which means understanding the principles behind the use of action beats instead of zealously following "the rules." Writing is an art, so the rules (aside from grammatical rules) really are guidelines designed to you follow the principles of good writing.
Are you over-directing your readers
with too many, too detailed action beats?
Beats, which involve description and are used with or in place of dialogue tags, are a particular thorn in my flesh and an embarrassing topic. Here's a comment given by an agent in a personalized rejection to explain:
There is a tendency to overwrite. This usually means unnecessary description and trying too hard to "write." [The agent] found a recent blog that could be helpful in one area: http://thewritepractice.com/mark-twain-dialogue-tags/
The story idea is fine. It is the execution of the chapters that sends it back for further seasoning.
Ouch. Painful, but tremendously helpful. I'd like to share with you a bit about what I've learned through my study on beats from the aforementioned blog post and Browne and King's Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. I don't have the space or expertise to do a thorough discussion (for that I refer you to the above resources), but here is a brief discussion and checklist.

Beats are the character actions woven into a scene, what Mark Twain referred to as "stage directions." Mentions of character wiping her eyes or shifting from foot to foot, for instance, would be stage directions. Twain is rather sever on them, calling them "those artifices which authors employ to throw a kind of human naturalness around a scene and a conversation." He points out that "some authors overdo the stage directions, [and] they elaborate them quite beyond necessity." Aside from physical gestures, beats can also include short passages of interior monologue. Thus, beats serve the story by helping the readers know what the characters are doing, thinking, and feeling. Beats can also be used in place of dialogue tags to create variety (they aren't meant to completely replace them, however). The point Twain makes about beats, according to Sue Weem's post, is that the beats should serve the story (i.e., the reader) but aren't meant to replace the imagination.

When self-editing, always ask, are beats needed? Are they taking away from the reader's imagination? These points should help guide the answer to that.

1. Does the beat help set the scene or show characterization? Does it let us know the action has moved to another room, or merely that the character has looked out the window again? Does it tell us something about the character? Saying that she blows her nose on her sleeve, for instance, tells us about her upbringing.

2. Is is unique and fresh or overdone? Glances, blushing, and looking at hands are often overused. A description of every dish and every bite of food (or even more than one or two) at a dinner is too much.

3. Does it fit the rhythm of the scene? Few beats for tense scenes, more or longer beats for slower scenes. Read the scene aloud to see if the beats fit the rhythm or create unnatural pauses.

4. Does it provide hints to the readers, allowing them to use their imagination, or bombard them with details, treating them like idiots?

5. Would an easily ignored "he said," or nothing, be better if the purpose of the beat is only to let readers know who's speaking? Beats are more of an interruption than dialogue tags and should not totally replace them.

6. Is the beat written in the character's voice? Does it say something about the story world? For instance, in one of my fantasy novels the male POV character sometimes curses silently to himself "son of a rogue spell." This tells us a few things: he's irritated, he doesn't use bad words but isn't above a mild substitute, and that magic is a part of his world.

7. Is is varied in position? Beats shouldn't be always before the dialogue, nor always after or splitting the dialogue in two.

8. Does it fit the genre? Historical fiction or romance readers may want and expect more beats and descriptions that other genres. But still don't overdo it.

9. Find a book (preferably in your genre) that you particularly like and examine the beats for pacing, purpose, type, and length.

Do you have problems with beats? Is there an author who handles them particularly well?

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Top 3 Favorite Things about All That We See or Seem (Jill)

 I recently finished reading Kristina Mahr's book All That We See or Seem. Because it kept me reading breathlessly until the end, I decided to share my Top 3 with you.

Every night, seventeen-year-old Reeve Lennox finds herself under a noose.
By day she is a lady of Acarsaid’s royal house, daydreaming of adventure and love. But every night in sleep she wanders through a nightmarish city, an invisible witness to the screeches of monsters and the screams of their victims. Her only consolation is Bran, a battle-torn young man with a selfless heart and eyes that reflect the stars. 
Yet while Reeve falls deeper into her dreams, in truth she is engaged to Arden, a mercurial nobleman who has long been cured of his belief in love and breathes fire and flattery like other people breathe air.
Torn between two lives, Reeve struggles to remember what’s real. Until night and day collide, with a revelation that threatens all of Acarsaid.

What are my top 3 favorite things about All That We See or Seem?
3. The contrast between the dream world and her real world. The dream world is a nightmare, and I can't imagine having this particular nightmare every night. The horrific quality of her dream world is a perfect foil for the privileged life she lives while awake.

2. Kristina Mahr's gift with lyrical prose. There are some truly beautiful passages in this book, but the story doesn't get buried under it. The lyricism only builds up the story line, the characters, and the relationships. Which leads me to my top #1...

1. The relationship between Bran and Reeve. *swoony sigh* By the end of the book, I was one hundred percent #teamBran and although I sort of like Arden, I'd be just as glad if he jumped in a lake. Although this book is a fantasy, it has the heart of a romance. :-)

If you want a book that keeps you reading past your bedtime, which might have happened to me (cough, cough), pick up All That We See or Seem. It's fantastic.

Here's a little about the author.

Kristina Mahr devotes her days to numbers and her nights to words. She works full-time as an accountant in the suburbs of Chicago, where she lives with her two dogs and two cats, but her true passion is writing. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, reading, and waking up at the crack of dawn every weekend to watch the Premier League.

You can connect with Kristina on the following social media links:

Website: www.kristinamahr.com
Facebook: @AuthorKristinaMahr
Twitter: @Kristina_Mahr
Instagram: Kristina.Mahr

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Your Turn: Gadgets and Gizmos (KaLyn)

It's no secret that science fiction has introduced many gadgets and gizmos long before they were a reality: cell phones, in-ear headphones, virtual reality games, electric cars, etc. (If you're curious to discover more, check out Gizmodo's infographic covering the various ideas that went from science fiction to science fact.)

Of course, there are also those that have yet to become a reality despite the best efforts of many - like the hoverboards in Back to the Future. While the hoverboards on the market currently are fun to ride, they still don't actually hover above the ground.

Personally, I'm waiting on teleporters to become a part of everyday living. There are some intriguing prospects out there in the field of quantum mechanics, but it'll be awhile yet before anyone can walk into their living room and say "Beem me up, Scotty."

What about you, any science fiction inventions you're hoping will become a reality?

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Savannah Jezowski's Writing Journey (After Blog Tour)

Instead of my normal Personal Notes post today, I'm excited to welcome special guest Savannah Jezowski! Savannah is celebrating the release of her novel, After, with a blog tour, and today she stopped by to share about her writing journey! I'll share more about her book and the tour at the end, but first, here's Savannah!

Thank you for having me today! I am very excited to be here to talk about my writing journey. I started writing stories before I even knew what a paragraph was. My first book was handwritten, illustrated with crayons, and bound with yellow yarn. I keep it buried in a box where I hope nobody will ever find it. It’s truly quite awful. But it’s MINE and I can’t stand the idea of throwing it away.

I think every author will agree with me when they say there is nothing quite like the first published book. I remember the morning I heard that my novella “Wither” had been accepted for publication in the Five Enchanted Roses anthology. I screamed. I double checked my phone. I got on my computer to double check again just to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. It was such a big moment in my life. I was giddy, I was ecstatic, I was flying in the clouds…then revisions came around and I came back to earth with a resounding thump they probably felt all the way over in China. Because, let’s face it, like with all dreams, writing requires a lot of work. Good things don’t just happen to you, you don’t just stumble into a happily ever after, or upon a magic lamp. If you want your dreams to come true, you have to work very hard.

I wish revisions on that first story could have been easier. Truly, I shed a lot of tears and despaired of ever succeeding, and worried about disappointing my editors who had given me this wonderful opportunity. But in the end, I succeeded. I finished the revisions. The story was published. It would have been easier to give up, easier still to have never tried at all…but that experience with all its highs and lows has led me to publish several other books and short stories, to start my own business so I can stay home and take care of my darling daughter instead of sending her to daycare. I’ve made SO MANY FRIENDS. One of my best friends ever is an amazing lady I met on Facebook. We’ve been friends for three years now and I cannot imagine life without her. I’ve joined several writing groups and learned how to market my books, how to brand myself, how to build my own website. I’ve taught myself how to photoshop, how to format my own books, and design my own covers.

It all began with that awful little book without paragraphs that I have buried in my filing cabinet. Isn’t that where we all begin? Our “Origin Story” as the super hero universe would say. Our beginnings may be humble, our journey long and difficult, but the only sure way of not succeeding is to never try at all. I hope all my readers are never afraid to put themselves out there in pursuit of their dreams.

I would love for you all to connect with me and share your dreams with me!

Thank you so much for sharing with us, Savannah! Here's a little more about the author:

Savannah Jezowski lives in a drafty farmhouse in Amish country with her Knight in Shining Armor, a wee warrior princess, and two English Springer Spaniels. She is the author of When Ravens Fall and The Neverway Chronicles. Her work has been published in Ray Gun Revival, Mindflights and in the student publication of Fountains at Pensacola Christian College. She is also a featured author in Five Enchanted Roses from Rooglewood Press and Mythical Doorways from Fellowship of Fantasy. She likes books, faeries, writing hats and having tea with her imaginary friends.

You can find Savannah on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Goodreads. And here's the blurb for her latest release, After:

“Some people might say that there are worse fates than death. In some worlds, perhaps that may well be the case. But in mine, it would be a lie. There is no greater horror than that which comes after death.”

On the streets of an ancient city, with creepers wandering at will and a mysterious assassin leaving corpses all over Pandorum, a young Spook with a dark secret will do anything to keep his brothers safe, even from forces that threaten to tear them apart from within. While others are searching for impossible cures from outlawed Spinners, Conrad Ellis III does not believe in fairy tales and miracles. But when he discovers a strange girl with shrouded ties to the Assassin, Eli is forced to leave the streets he loves and travel into the very heart of Pandorum in order to save a member of his family. With his health failing and the danger escalating, there is no escaping the inevitable truth. Today, he may hunt creepers.

Tomorrow, he just might be one.

So intriguing! You can purchase After on Amazon, and enter here for a chance to win a signed paperback copy! Thanks again for visiting today, Savannah, and congratulations on your new release!

Check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour!

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, May 14th
Tuesday, May 15th
Wednesday, May 16th
Thursday, May 17th
Friday, May 18th
Saturday May 19th
Monday, May 21st

Saturday, May 12, 2018

A Top 3 Tribute to Mothers (Julie)

This weekend we celebrate our mothers. So I was thinking about books that have strong mother characters, but sadly, came up somewhat lacking. In many YA books, parents tend to be clueless and helpless, and it's up to the child to save the day. In fact, a lot of books have the mother kidnapped and the kid(s) has to save her.

In honor of our mothers, I've racked my brain and goodreads list to come up with 3 stories, in no particular order, with strong(ish) mother characters.

1) The Menagerie:The main character's mother is missing, but his friend's mom is around through this trilogy. The kids respect her and she is smart and wise and actually works together with the kids to save the day. 

2) Land of Stories:The mom in this series is well loved by her two kids. She does get kidnapped in one of the later books, but even through that experience she stays strong and tries to be useful.

3) Harry Potter series. Harry's parents are dead, but I really like Ron's parents. Mrs. Weasley is a lot of fun and a formidable mom. Definitely not the clueless, helpless mother of so many books.

Honorable mention: Pride and Prejudice. Ahh... Mrs. Bennet. What a mother! As with any mother with five daughters, she only wants to see them married, to a man with money. All the while vexing her family while working out her schemes.

Do you know of other books with strong mother characters?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima (Lizzie)

Do you ever put off reading a book (say, let it molder in your TBR pile for a year and a  half), and then read it and wonder, why didn't I read this sooner? The Warrior Heir is one of those books for me.

The Warrior Heir is a unique combination of small-town life and high fantasy. In Chima's worldbuilding, seven families gained magical powers after finding a dragon's hoard in a lost valley in the UK. Their descendants belong to one of five groups of magics: wizards, sorcerers, enchanters, seers, and warriors, each born with a stone behind his heart proclaiming his power and his place in the world of the Weir (the magics). Wizards rule the other classes, the underguilds, using them for their amusement or advantage. And, unfortunately, the Battle of the Roses is still going on in for them. The wizards of the Red Rose and the wizards of the White Rose, to prevent the killing of too many wizards, established The Game, a tournament in which the warriors fight, one for the Red Rose and one for the White Rose, to determine which side controls the Wizard Council. It's a bloody game that's gone on for centuries.

But all of this is unknown to the non-magical, and to Jack Swift, a sixteen-year-old highschooler in small-town Trinity, Ohio. He'd had heart surgery as a baby, but is now in pretty good shape, thanks to his daily medication, and lives a normal life. He's focused on keeping up his grades and making the soccer team, but when he forgets to take his heart medicine one day, things start to change. He feels more alive and stronger than ever before, and is somehow able to send the bully Lombeck flying into the soccer goal without touching him. His small town is suddenly flooded with strangers, and danger, and Jack learns he's one of the last of the warriors and is destined for The Game.

Overall, I'd give The Warrior Heir 4.5 out of 5 stars. The prologue was a little confusing, as Chima didn't take the time then to explain the terminology of the different guilds and their history, but it captured my attention, nonetheless. The main character, Jack Swift, is likable. Unlike many YA books main characters, Jack isn't a walking attitude, nor inherently talented at everything, nor a please-connect-with-me-because-I'm-impossibly-accident prone loser. He makes good grades, has close friends in Will and Fitch, respects his mom, and has a good chance at making the soccer team (even before his warrior powers manifest). I also liked his friends and many of the other characters. In addition, the plot was intriguing, clues were handed out at a good pace, and their was plenty of action but neither too much action nor violence (though there is that). I liked the small-town feel and the relationship between Jack and his friends, as well as his burgeoning relationship with newcomer Ellen Stephenson, and the love his Aunt Linda has for him and how she tries to protect him from The Game.

My main caveats with the book are the magic and the behavior of some of the adults. I prefer magic to be strictly fantastic, and by that I it mean stays away from the "magic" people in real life engage in--astrology, fortune telling, card reading and so on. Those are part of the practices of some of those in the Weirgild. Also, Jack's beloved, "irreverent" Aunt Linda, an enchanter who'd do anything to help Jack, isn't always the best role model, tossing back beers after a nearly disastrous run in with the wizards of the Red Rose, and she and Leander Hastings, a very complicated character, were said to have been "together" at one time, but that probably wasn't a clean romance story.

Aside from those things it was a great book, with excellent writing, mostly likable characters, and a strong value on life as Jack has to confront the idea of taking a life as he trains for The Game.

Have you ever read anything by Chima? What kinds of magic do you feel comfortable with in fantasy, or uncomfortable with?

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Switching Genres (Jill)

A long time ago, I was talking with a friend who knew I was writing a book. "You should write children's books. That's what we need more of--good Christian children's books."  While I agree with her (then and now), I have no desire to write in that genre. Maybe someday, but not in the immediate future.

Some authors are prolific enough and adept enough to  write in different genres. Harlen Coben, Carl Hiaasen, Roald Dahl, E.B. White, and A.A. Milne are just a few. (Here's an article that lists several more.) And by the way, Harlen Coben's YA Mickey Bolitar series is very good. So is Carl Hiaasen's children's chapter books. (But be warned: his adult books are not family friendly.)

While there's plenty of articles to be found on the pros and cons of switching genres, I'm very much in favor of it. Here are a few reasons why.

1) It beats boredom. Although I'm not bored with my current WIP,  I'm writing the last book of the series which means the next title will be something new. Lately,  I've been eyeing my notes and ideas thinking, This would be a great sci-fi plot.
2) It stretches your writing muscles. You may not make publication (traditionally) with your new sparkly manuscript, but you will learn new techniques and tricks you haven't used before. The more you write in this new genre, the better you'll get. And it will make you a better writer all the way around, no matter what genre you choose.

3) It may help you cultivate a larger audience. Although there might not be a lot of crossover readers, some will love your cozy Buddhist westerns, with others breathlessly waiting for your dragon satire comedies (Only examples. Trust me, I'm not doing either of these.)

4) Along with a larger audience is the potential for greater earnings. The one caveat? The author can't churn out garbage. Study the genre, learn the expectations, and hone the craft. If it's a good story, the readers will come, and the money will follow.

Switching genres can be done. I've done it, as well. Three finished and two unfinished Christian romance novels lay in my filing cabinet. I learned to write with those stories. But after I had children, I felt the urge to create YA fantasy worlds. I don't know if I'll ever go back to the romance genre completely, although I've been adding quite a bit of happily-ever-after to my stories lately. After all, everyone needs a happy ending, right?

If the muse is leading you to try a new genre, go for it. God puts the story ideas in our hearts. Who knows where the next one could lead you?