#IWSG – A Writer’s Retreat

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. I just learned about this fun group from Shannon Lawrence, who is a fellow writer and blogger. Just the title of the group screamed that I needed to check it out. This group was founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh so writers could virtually gather to express their thoughts about writing. It looks intriguing so I have joined in.

Our co-hosts today are Christine Rains, Dolarah @ Book Lover, Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Yvonne Ventresca, and LG Keltner!

The question for this month is: What are your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing? Let’s take a look at these one at a time because each one raises a different set of Pet Peeves for me.

READING: When I read a book that has gone through all of the gyrations to reach publication I have high expectations. My number one issue is misspelled words. I can accept a couple, especially in a manuscript of 100,000 words, but when I see multiple instances of spelling errors my hackles start to raise.

A manuscript goes through the mill before publication, and if an author has done due diligence it would have been seen by the author, spell check, critique groups, beta readers, editors (line and content), publishers, early prints, and then reprints. By the time a book is into the mainstream it should not have spelling errors.

Editing: When I’m editing my own work my pet peeve is that I’m too hard on myself. I do endless comparisons of my work to great writers I aspire to write as well as. I remind myself that they have their creative greatness and I have mine. If I find myself being too hard on me, I set it aside and come back later when I’m not thinking of a Jane Austin novel.

WRITING: In this area I tend to not be too hard on myself. The entire process of writing is, in of itself, a process. Like all writers, I start with an idea then progresses through a vast journey of discovery. When I first started to write I thought, “This will be easy. I just put words to paper and, voila, a book appears.” I laugh at myself. Just getting started was a huge learning curve, and today I continue to learn my craft. If I had to name one thing that is difficult for me it would be to write everyday. Getting in a few days a week is a thrill, and I hope one day life will allow me to write daily.

As a reader, what are your Pet Peeves?

#IWSG

@TheIWSG

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99 Questions to Ask Your Character

Characters need to live and breathe through your story which, in turn, brings your story to life. If they don’t have odd quirks, a childhood, a family, nor any fears, hopes and dreams, then they are just letters on a page. Even with a well-developed protagonist your words will fall flat if your supporting cast is weak.

Recently I ran into a rough patch that I had struggled to get past. In my mind’s eye I had all my characters figured out. I could picture them in my head, yet when they landed on the page their form lost color and dimension. A fellow author suggested I sit and do a full character study of the four largest characters in the story.

As soon as I sat down to do this I was at a loss for the questions that needed to be answered. Thank goodness for the internet. I did several searches under “character traits” to see what came up. I found quite a few sites that listed many questions I could ask my character, and each site had some main themes as well. As I dug deeper I found that there was also great social media questionnaires that took my questioning to interesting places.

After a while it became quite overwhelming and I ended up with well over 200 questions that could be asked of my book characters. Some questions were the same, just phrased differently, and some were edging on TMI so I edited the list down to 99 of my favorites.

How does this work? Just put yourself in the mind, and body of your character then answer them as your character would. The questions are not in any particular order. I found that this randomness helps to generate new ideas and new ways to look at a character. Of course, not all characters need such in-depth exploration, but as a writer, you get to choose which questions need to be answered to bring each of your characters to life. Have fun!!

1. Describe yourself. Hair color, height, weight, eye color, scars, marks, figure, etc.
2. Where were you born and raised? Where did you go to school?
3. Who are the members of your family?
4. If you could meet anyone on this earth, who would it be?
5. What are you obsessed with?
6. What do you think about most?
7. What does your latest text message from someone else say?
8. Do you sleep with or without clothes on?
9. What’s your strangest talent?
10. Girls______________. (finish the sentence); Boys____________. (finish the sentence)
11. Ever had a poem or song written about you?
12. Do you have any strange phobias?
13. Ever stuck a foreign object up your nose?
14. What’s your religion?
15. If you are outside, what are you most likely doing?
16. What was the last lie you told?
17. Do you believe in karma?
18. What is your biggest fear?
19. What is your greatest weakness; your greatest strength?
20. Who is your celebrity crush?
21. Have you ever gone skinny dipping?
22. How do you vent your anger?
23. Do you have a collection of anything?
24. Do you have a secret? What is it?
25. What was your childhood like?
26. Do you prefer talking on the phone or video chatting online?
27. Are you happy with the person you’ve become?
28. What’s a sound you hate; sound you love?
29. What’s your biggest “what if”?
30. Do you believe in ghosts? How about aliens?
31. Do you have a phobia/fear? What is it? Where did it come from?
32. Stick your right arm out; what do you touch first? Do the same with your left arm.
33. Smell the air. What do you smell?
34. What’s the worst place you have ever been to?
35. Choose East Coast or West Coast?
36. Most attractive singer of your opposite gender?
37. To you, what is the meaning of life?
38. Define Art.
39. Do you believe in luck?
40. Do you drive? If so, have you ever crashed?
41. What is your happiest memory? Saddest?
42. What does your house look like?
43. What was the last book you read?
44. What is your favorite scent/smell?
45. Do you have any nicknames?
46. What was the last movie you saw?
47. What’s the worst injury you’ve ever had?
48. Have you ever caught a butterfly?
49. What does your bedroom look like?
50. Do you have any obsessions right now?
51. What’s your sexual orientation?
52. Ever had a rumor spread about you?
53. Do you believe in magic?
54. Do you tend to hold grudges against people who have done you wrong?
55. Do you save money or spend it?
56. What’s the last thing you purchased?
57. Love or lust?
58. Greatest regret?
59. What is your most treasured thing?
60. In a relationship?
61. How many relationships have you had?
62. Does anyone hate you? Why?
63. Can you touch your nose with your tongue?
64. Where were you yesterday?
65. Is there anything pink within 10 feet of you?
66. Favorites: places, meals, things to do, outfits, animal?
67. What is your secret weapon to get someone to like you?
68. Who is your best friend?
69. What did you do last week?
70. What are your friends like? What are their best qualities?
71. What is your heritage?
72. If you could change yourself in any way, what would you change?
73. What were you doing last night at 12 AM?
74. What are you most passionate about?
75. Are you the kind of friend you would want to have as a friend?
76. You can only have one of these things; trust or love.
77. What’s a song that always makes you happy when you hear it?
78. In your opinion, what makes a great relationship?
79. How can I win your heart?
80. What are you most afraid of?
81. What is the single best decision you have made in your life so far?
82. What size shoes do you wear?
83. What would you want written on your tombstone?
84. What is your favorite word?
85. Give me the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word; heart.
86. What is a saying you say a lot?
87. What’s the last song you listened to?
88. Basic question; what’s your favorite color/colors?
89. What is your current desktop picture?
90. If you could press a button and make anyone in the world instantaneously explode, who would it be?
91. What would be a question you’d be afraid to tell the truth on?
92. You accidentally eat some radioactive vegetables. They were good, and what’s even cooler is that they endow you with the super-power of your choice! What is that power?
93. You can re-live any point of time in your life. The time-span can only be a half-hour, though. What half-hour of your past would you like to experience again?
94. You can erase any horrible experience from your past. What will it be?
95. You have the opportunity to sleep with the music-celebrity of your choice. Who would it be?
96. You just got a free plane ticket to anywhere. You have to depart right now. Where are you gonna go?
97. Do you have any relatives in jail?
98. Have you ever thrown up in the car?
99. If the whole world were listening to you right now, what would you say?

Vessel

VesselVessel by Andrew J. Morgan
★★☆☆☆
A strange vessel floats in orbit with the International Space Station. Things go into overdrive when communications with the station is lost. Sally Fisher, a SETI scientist and communications expert, is sent on an emergency mission to the space station to trouble shoot the problems. Meanwhile, on the ground, a feisty reporter, Sean Jacob, gets a tip that something isn’t quite right with ISS and starts to dig in places he shouldn’t. The reader is taken on a ride through this thriller with a great twist at the end.

Vessel, by Andrew Morgan, is a great story that is severely hurt by poor editing. It is one of those books that I’m frustrated that it made it to me (and all of the author’s fans) before it was fully edited. A good editor would have taken this adjective riddled story and tightened it into a great thriller that would have put me on the edge. Unfortunately, I had to drag myself through the wordy quagmire to get to the end.

View all my reviews

Happy Writing

Today I sat at my keyboard trying to decide what to write. I reached deep into my creative mind and I looked straight into a pure blank wall that reached far beyond my peripheral vision. I actually have been looking at this wall for days now and today I came to the conclusion that I am really tired of looking at it, but I had no idea how to get it knocked out of the way. What was this thing anyway? Why can’t I pull even a simple sentence out of my head?

I sat at my desk a good portion of the morning wondering what the heck was wrong with me. As I have shared with all of you before I am REALLY good at procrastinating and a talent for finding things to do other than writing. This huge grey wall is the problem. It is a wall that quietly sits at the tip of my nose and is expansive. The grey is the color of a day that is cold, dull, cloudy, and not quite snowing. You know those days. There are no leaves on the trees and the grass is brown and, if you live in the burbs, all of the houses are tan. This is my wall. It covers the whole of my mind.

After plowing through an entire bag of M&M Peanuts I had a break through…..I built this ugly gray wall in response to frustrations I have been facing in my writing. Enough is enough. I needed some help so I reached out to my wonderful writing friends at Delve Writers and posted this:

Some advice please….
Whenever I “finish” writing something I don’t really like it and it makes for motivational problems to write something more. I am in a constant state of frustration and this leads to not writing. I’m sure I’m not the only one with this issue….if you too have this problem what do you do to move past it?

I want to emphasis that I know I’m not alone in being stuck like this and I am sure there are a vast number of writers (if not all) that are in a constant state of frustration at some level or another. There were many responses to my post with many words of wisdom, but there were two links in particular that really rung true for me.

Ira Glass on Storytelling is a quick video giving advice to anyone who is embarking on a creative future. This particular piece struck a cord for me in that I need to be reminded, on a daily basis, that I’m at the beginning. I know what is good and what sounds good in a story and right now I hear a lot of bad coming from my creations so I have to keep plugging away to get to that point if being good.

“Why Writers are Procrastinators” is a fun piece by Mary McArdle that describes me to a tee. At times I feel like I am the Queen of Procrastinators and it is great to finally know why. I want to be at the end of the creative race without doing all the training and I figure that if I sit around long enough I will magically get there. HA!

Tonight I sit at my keyboard with a happy set of fingers itching to get back to it. If you are anything like me then take my advice….don’t sit staring at a blank wall. Not only is it boring, but it really doesn’t do much to get the creative flow going. If you don’t already, find a group of amazingly talented writers to share your burdens and successes with. There is no one else that will really get it like another writer. If all else fails, paint that wall a different color. Yellow might be a good color to start with then add some green, blue, and just a hint of red to give the scene some tension.

When is it Done?

In the comments of my previous post, my friend Mardra posed the question, “”When is it done?”   I would like to take a guess at the answer (keyword, guess). I am working on a short story (that’s the one I keep talking about) that I had thought was done at least 5 times and with each new revision I think, “OK, this one is done,” and with each new revision my editor says, “Its not done yet Kathie.” Her notes are copious, “Bring out the reason we should care about your character. Where is this taking place? What kind of room is it? Put more emotion into the world around your character.”  There are days that I’m with Mardra, “I just wish that when I want a piece to be done bad enough it will miraculously be good enough.”

As writers we all write, and re-write, and revise, and grumble, and pace, and write some more. Our own, self-inflicted pressure to make it perfect adds to the already daunting task of getting the story done and each word can be a monumental task to get onto the page.  On the other hand, there are times the words flow faster than we can type and we find ourselves panting as we race to get each scene on paper before the inspiration is lost.

After all the blood, sweat, and tears have flowed into our work is there a time that we can say it is done? I feel I’m pretty solid in my answer when I say, “Maybe.” I go back to the theory that “there’s always room to improve.”  I know Mardra doesn’t like that particular professor, but he does have a point. If there wasn’t room to improve there would be no reason to re-write, revise, and grumble our way to a piece of writing that might be done, one day, MAYBE.

Four Edits and Counting

I have spent the day writing.  This morning was dedicated to a short story that has been in the works for about a month now. When I hacked out the initial version I was so excited.  I gave it to my editor for her seal of approval.  I got it back with all my delusions of granduer wiped from my mind.

When I finished today’s writing session I proudly informed her that I thought my story was done.  She looked at me (without even reading it) and with a smile said, “I doubt it’s done.”  Wait, WHAT?  I have re-written this story four times and she tells me it’s not done? I trust my editor’s judgement, painful as it is to hear and If it wasn’t for her I would have called it done after the first draft.  Now that I’m on #4 I can see how the story has more life blown into it, but does it really need improving?

I have learned a great deal through this writing process and I am more aware of the pit falls the novice writer can fall into.  The goal in doing this short story is to improve my writing skills and get my mental gears turning when I dive into my book. I thought it would be good to save each draft of this story separately so that I can go back to review how it has has developed over the course of editing. The before and after snapshots in this piece really tell the story of my story. Take a look at the opening paragraph.

The first draft….

This morning I woke in a hotel room.  The streaked windows were clear enough to see down to the wet streets and blowing trees.  A gloomy day at best.  I went to the lobby for the usual coffee, powdered eggs, slimy sausage and a bland bagel.  The breakfast was always the same, the lobby always the same, the people always the same. I carried my tray back to my room for a solitary breakfast sitting by the window looking out at the dark day.  After my shower I dress appropriately for the morning and in my reflection I see my black dress, black sweater, and black shoes.  Always the same.

The fourth draft…..

The sheets are fresh and crisp.  My head burrows deeper into the reaches of the white cave.  A sweet melody plays from the alarm that contradicts the dreary day ahead of me.  Peeling my eyes open I fumble my fingers to slide the alarm into silence. Today presses heavy against my chest allowing only short shallow breaths.  I trudge to the closed curtains behind which hangs a gloomy day.  Water runs down the window pane in torrents.  Beyond are streets slick with rain and mammoth trees hanging low from the weight of the deluge. The window mounted cooler kicks in with a blast of cold air pushing me back into the room to dress. I prefer to ignore the need to move forward in the day.

Both paragraphs tell the reader that this is about a person who is in a hotel room and it is raining outside.  What the first draft fails to do is bring feeling into the story.  By the fourth draft not only is it raining outside, but everything about the weather is also a part of the gloom of what the character reluctantly faces in the day ahead.

I once knew a speech teacher who never gave his students an ‘A’.  He explained that to give an ‘A’ was to restrict the student from improving.  An ‘A’ implied they were perfect and there was no need to strive higher.  I think my editor follows this same theory and she is right, this story isn’t done yet and there is still plenty of room for improvement.