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Posts Tagged ‘writing articles’

Last week we talked about repetitive word usage and challenged readers to write an essay without repeating any words. We took our own challenge. On our guest blog at SMP authors, you will find a 263 word piece entitled Words–How Many Can You Write Before Repeating Any. Since Catherine knocked out last week’s little paragraph with ease, she thought, “How hard can it be?” and started on the guest blog that same day. Hours later, and at least four runs through the software program Donald purchased, she finished.

Here’s a sample of the SMP Blog.

Distinctive choices matter when penning books. Readers won’t always see repetition nor understand why they like something better, yet will notice differences between tomes which provide fresh communication over and above those that do not. Terminology overuse creates dull writing, lacking snap, sizzle, sparkle–things booklovers desire.

To see the rest of the blog, hop on over to the SMP Author blog site.

Today’s writing tip: Make a list of the words you know you use over and over and keep it nearby when writing. A quick glance before you start writing will help you remember your pitfall words. Over time, you may be able to eliminate a great deal of your repetitive words on your first draft.

Do you know what your most overused words are? We’d love to know.

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  1. Give them a quirk. This doesn’t have to be something big, just consistent and something that will set them apart from the other characters.
  2. Give them a flaw. No one is perfect. I know I’m not. It’s the flaws, big and little, that make us human.
  3. Give them a secret. As an actor, my drama coach always said to create a secret for our character to give them depth. No one needed to know what the secret was, but it would show in our performance.
  4. Give them a phobia. Everyone has fears. The most memorable characters will show those fears at some point, yet be able to conquer them.
  5. Make them true to themselves. Readers will be jarred out of the story if your character does something that’s out of character, without good reason. It’s the equivalent of a perfect child suddenly doing drugs.
  6. Give them something to care about. No one likes people who don’t care. If your characters, even the villains, are totally heartless they become stereotypical. Even bad guys care about something or love someone.
  7. Give them appropriate tags to show, not tell, the reader about them. I can’t say enough about show don’t tell. Appropriate tags that let the reader see the character rather than telling the reader what you want them to know makes characters, and stories, sparkle.
  8. Make them reveal emotions. Your characters emotions are the readers’ window to the heroes’, heroines’, and villains’ souls. Let the readers see, and figure out for themselves, what the characters are all about.
  9. Give them something they must do or achieve to gain happiness. This speaks to goal, motivation and conflict. If a character doesn’t have to stretch and grow, then you don’t have a full
  10. Provide only enough background to make you reader believe in him. Burying the reader under mounds of background that doesn’t matter to your story is like putting honey on top of jelly. It’s superfluous and unnecessary. Less is more. Just be sure you include the important stuff that speaks to the character’s motivation. Leave the rest on your character sheets where it belongs.

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The Writer’s To-Do List ©

If you’re like us, you have a to-do list. It’s filled with the mundane-but necessary-things that must be accomplished to make life run smoothly: go grocery shopping, pay the bills, do the laundry, call the plumber to unstop the toilet. Sometimes these things, and life in general, can get in a writer’s way. But just sitting down at the keyboard isn’t the only thing a writer needs to do. There’s more to writing than putting words to paper or on computer screens. Here are a few suggestions for your to-do list. Don’t just write – feed your soul and your muse too.

  1. Read. Read books, magazines, newspapers, the back of cereal boxes-whatever you can get. Writers must be readers.
  2. Visit McDonald’s at lunchtime and pretend you’re a kid again. Buy a Happy Meal, eat it slowly, play with the toy, play with your food, make kiddie noises, and watch the other kids play. Writers must be able to get into the skins of other people in order to write realistically.
  3. Make a journal entry. Write about your dreams, your past, your goals, your feelings. Free-write to let creativity reign. Writers have to tap into the unconscious, creative brain functions that allow characters to come alive, ideas to bubble to the surface, and creativity to flow.
  4. Take a walk, jog around the block, visit the gym. Writers need exercise to stay healthy.
  5. Spend time with people. Writers can’t be lone wolves all the time. We need the stimulation of companionship to recharge.
  6. Pull your lawn chair under a tree and look up at the sky. Writers need time to stare into space and dream.
  7. Sleep late, go to bed early, take a nap. Writers need their rest so they can be alert to the world around them.
  8. Remember a time when your emotions ran high and re-experience it. Feel the anger, love, hate, fear, loneliness, sadness, courage, and jealousy. They are part of life. Writers must be able to pull emotions to the surface in order to write with passion.
  9. Close the office door and spend time by yourself. Writers need to be alone to create.
  10. Write today, tomorrow, and every day. Writers aren’t writers unless they spend the time doing the one thing they, by their very nature, can’t avoid doing. Spill your passion onto the page and release the magic into your writing life.

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Photo by C.D. Hersh (c) 2012

For the past couple of weeks, my husband and I have been working on removing path stones and laying a paver stone edging along the north walkway of our yard. Originally the path had square, concrete paver stones, set in the middle of beige gravel, to keep us from walking in a rather wet area. The area around the path was soggy dirt when we first built it. Recently, we decided to use the path stones elsewhere. They had become a trip hazard for me. Besides, I was tired of the scruffy look of the grass against the path edge.

When we laid the gravel path seven years ago it looked trim and neat. Of course there wasn’t much grass along the curving edge, so neat was to be expected. After seeding the lawn, and being lax in trimming the edge (it’s hard to run a weed wacker along gravel), we lost lots of ground to creeping rhizomes, which required a lot of hard digging to remove.

As we began digging up against the plastic paver edge and pulling hunks of matted grass up, two thoughts came to my mind:

  • What you originally envision isn’t always the best thing.
  • We should have done this seven years ago and saved ourselves a couple of weeks of hard labor redoing the path.

This, I told myself, is why you think a project through and let it simmer before you start making major changes. It’s also the reason you don’t send your articles, books or any other written work out to an editor as soon as the ink dries on the paper. You need to take time to make sure you’ve thoroughly revised it.

Stories change over the time frame it takes to write them … it’s the nature of the beast. Even if you have what you believe to be the best plotted synopsis or chapter graphs, it’s amazing how many errors and problem you will find in your manuscript when you let it rest after you write The End. I’m not recommending you wait seven years (like we did with the pathway) before pulling out your book for revision, although I have done that with a couple of things and discovered the book wasn’t as good as I thought I was. Boy, was that an eye opener! I am, however, suggesting you give yourself at least a week before rereading, revising, and routing your work to an editor.

Ask yourself these questions when you look at your work again:

  • Have I made any amateur mistakes: misspelled words, bad grammar, incorrect punctuation, the wrong word count or slant for the target market?
  • Do all of my scenes have a beginning, middle and an end? Are they necessary to the story?
  • Are my words weak? Do I have too much passive voice, too many repetitious words, too many adverbs?
  • Do I have too much back story? Is it an info dump or sprinkled through the pages?
  • Do I have enough conflict? Every scene needs conflict. If it doesn’t have conflict then get rid of it.
  • Have I tied up all the subplots?
  • Have I missed any elements I started with but eliminated or changed along the way? Perhaps I dropped character from the story and he shows up later, or the story was set in Chicago and changed it to Cincinnati halfway through. Are my characters’ eyes and hair still the same color?
  • And, last, but not least—is this piece the best I can possibly make it? Will it hold up to the test of time?

Our pathway didn’t hold up to the test of time. We didn’t create the best thing we possibly could for that spot, hence our need to redo it. When we began installing the path, we didn’t see creeping grass, an impossible edge to trim, and paver stones that created big stumbling blocks, and as a result we ended up with a huge revision of the path.

Lessons learned? Number one: Expect change. The only constant in life is change. Number two: Think it through—completely through—before you begin, and any revisions you have to make will be a lot easier.

That applies to books as well as home projects.

Do you have any revision stories that could have been made easier with a bit more thought?

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Valentine’s Day has come and gone. Maybe you got flowers or candy or jewelry or even a new electronic device. In fact, what you got might just be the most memorable gift you’ve ever received, or perhaps it was the gift of your heart.

This year I got breakfast out and the offer of whatever gift I wanted. I’d been thinking a lot about it. A diamond tennis bracelet was high on the list until I saw the price. I wandered through the gift shop at Cracker Barrel where we had breakfast and a turquoise scarf caught my eye, but it wasn’t anything that said “That’s the gift!”, so we left with full tummies and empty hands. In Home Depot I wandered through the seed section and purchased some peas, carrots beans, cucumbers and zucchini seeds for my garden, but those didn’t fall in the gift category.

Then, as we were leaving the store I saw it—the gift of my heart for this Valentine’s Day.

You might wonder what I’d find in Home Depot. In fact, if my husband told his friends he got me a Valentine’s gift from Home Depot, they’d probably hoot him out of the room. But, there it was—an anthurium.

“You don’t have any more room for plants,” my husband said. And he’s right. My window sills are crammed full. I tried to walk away, but the plant kept calling to me, so I went back and picked it up.

This Valentine’s Day gift didn’t cost a lot of money. But every time I look at it reminds me of my mother, who received an anthurium from Dad when I was young. I can see that flower so clearly in my mind’s eye. It’s the one Valentine image from my youth that has stayed with me.

Another Valentine gift that didn’t cost much also remains lodged in my memory: A jar of green olives for my mother and a second jar of black olives for me. If you think those are odd gifts consider the fact that my husband and father were out together shopping for gifts for Valentine’s Day. Mom had recently been diagnosed with diabetes, so candy was out.  At the time neither my dad nor my husband had a lot of money to spend. While in the pickle aisle of the grocery store, one of them said, “They like olives, don’t they?” And so it came to pass that we got olives and cards for Valentine’s Day that year.

As romance writers it’s easy to stress the bigger than life aspect of love—the stars-in-their-eyes, hot, lustful can’t-keep their-hands-off-each-other part of romance. In our efforts to make the love stories passionate and keep things moving, I think we sometimes miss the heart of the love.

Olives for Valentines were strange gifts, I know, but the gift wasn’t the important issue that year. What counted was my husband and my father tried to give Mom and me something they knew we would like. That year I learned a big lesson about gifts, love, and Valentines.

Gifts don’t always come in fancy packages that have hefty price tags. Love doesn’t always have to be hot, lustful, or starry-eyed. And the best Valentine is about caring and being with the one you love, no matter what stage of life, love, or romance you are in.

When I look at my anthurium I’ll remember that … and two jars of olives.

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Pigskins and Plot Twists © 2012

C.D. Hersh

 My writing partner and I were talking about the Super Bowl game over dinner and he commented to me that the game of football was a lot like writing a book.

“How so?” I asked.

“Football is a series of scripted plays set within the rules of the game,” he said, “with the object being to win. Writers have a scripted set of plays to work within too—the basic structure of a plot—with the goal being a satisfying ending. Certain plays are designed to fool the defense. The team that does this the best, with twists in the plays the opposition doesn’t expect, ends up with the big score and wins the game.  The writers who come up with the best plot twists, the ones that make you go ‘whoa, I didn’t see that coming’ are the writers who often succeed in the business. The ones who score big and win the game.”

I admit I hadn’t thought much about comparing football to writing, but after thinking about what he’d said, I can see the connection. For example, last night we watched the romantic comedy When in Rome that had plot twists that made us both say, “Didn’t see that coming.”  And believe me, as writers we are always dissecting the movies we watch. See if you can figure out the plot twists in this fun movie.

When in Rome

While in Rome, Italy, at her sister’s wedding, Beth, who doesn’t believe in love, meets the best man Nick and discovers she’s attracted to him. During the reception the priest comes by and asks Nick if he’ll come play some more poker with him, explaining to a shocked Beth that he’s new to the priesthood and is still working on getting a handle on some temptations. Nick declines, saying the padre cleaned him out already and whisks Beth off to dance.

Later, giving into her attraction, Beth follows Nick outside with a bottle of champagne and sees him kiss another woman. Disillusioned, and drunk, Beth picks up four coins and a poker chip from a lover’s wishing fountain in the town square. Legend says those who throw their coins in the fountain will have their wishes come true. Love has never worked for Beth, and she decides to save the wishers from ill-fated love by removing their coins.

When she returns home to the States, the men who threw the coins in the fountain begin appearing, professing their love. One of the guys is Nick, the best man at her sister’s wedding. As her relationship with Nick grows, Beth discovers the lovesick men stalking her have fallen under a spell cast by the fountain when she removed their coins. To remove the spell she must return the coins to each of the men.

While at Nick’s apartment one night she sees a poker chip on the table that is identical to the one she removed from the fountain. She breaks up with him, believing he is under the spell too. Beth returns the coins to the men and, as she does, they snap out of the spell, everyone that is but Nick, who professes his forever love for her.

 At this point, any romance reader knows that Nick isn’t under the spell. It’s too contrary to the rules of romance. True love always wins out. But the writer hasn’t shown us who the poker chip belongs too. All along we are lead to believe the chip belongs to Nick. We’ve seen a poker game at his home using the same chips. He’s acted with the same lovesick impulses the other four men displayed. There’s a plot twist in the wings, but we haven’t quite figured it out yet.

 A year later Beth and Nick are back in Rome, preparing for their wedding when one of the lovesick men, a magician who played sleight of hand with Nick’s poker chip, comes to her and says he gave her the wrong chip back. Beth now believes Nick is still under the fountain’s spell.  

As the wedding scene plays out, it’s obvious the priest is having trouble with the wedding sermon. He draws out the invitation to object to the marriage. He gives the bride inappropriate compliments. He changes the vows to “will you have this woman as your awful wedded wife?” He’s clearly under duress performing this wedding. When he asks Beth, “Will you have this man as your awful wedded husband?” she presses the poker chip into Nick’s hand and runs out of the church. Nick follows and she confesses to him that he’s under the spell of the fountain because she removed his poker chip from the water. He doesn’t really love her.

“This isn’t my chip,” Nick say and throws it back in the fountain.

 Have you figured out yet who the chip belongs to?

A throwaway line in the first half hour of the movie set this plot twist up. A line that meant nothing at the time. A line that makes you go, “Oh, yeah, now I see it.” A plot twist that makes this movie fun, memorable, and a winner.

The owner of the poker chip is the priest.

 In the background, behind Beth and Nick kissing in front of the fountain, you see the priest whirling around on the square shouting, “I’m free from temptation!”

 The second twist? The owner of the chip didn’t wish for love, but to be free of it.

 Just like the defensive back is fooled by a play action pass, we have to admit—we didn’t see that one coming.

 

 Do you have some memorable plot twists in stories that you consider winners? We’d love to hear them.

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Shot Weed in the Writing Garden © 2012

 C.D. Hersh

 The unusually warm days this week enabled me to take a stroll through the yard, another put-my-butt-in-the-writing chair avoidance tactic. I found a slew of winter weeds scattered throughout the landscape. Some tiny-leafed, prostrate thing has taken over a portion of the easement making it the greenest it has been in seven years. Buckhorn plantain spills out between the path stepping stones. Flat rosettes of chickweed carpet the stone gully in the backyard, and henbit, with its scalloped leaves and purple stems, juts out of the grass—or at least what passes for grass in the lawn. 

Henbit

 I considered letting the unidentified weed taking over the easement and the lawn. It’s green, low growing, and doesn’t look like it would need much mowing. All of this would be a bonus since I’m about to lose my kind neighbor who mows the easement and the small square of grass in the front yard. But after an afternoon of surfing weed identification web sites (another avoidance tactic), I’ve come to the conclusion that I might have to dig out this patch of weeds and eradicate it every other spot I find. You see, if I’ve identified it correctly, I’m harboring shot weed, also known as hairy bittercress. Oh, it looks innocent enough, but when it sets seeds the slightest touch will send hundreds of seeds shooting out in a three-foot radius across the lawn into flowerbeds and pathways looking spots to hide and root.  

 I’m constantly fighting weeds in my garden. I start in early spring digging out winter weeds like plantain, chickweed, and henbit from the paths and flower beds. By the time I get those eradicated the dandelions rear their yellow heads. After that it’s pigweed and purslane and nutsedge and Canadian thistles and Jimson weed and ground ivy and goose grass.  Spring and summer progress marked by an army of weeds marching through the garden.  I hoe and pull and mulch and spray, and they just keep coming. The only thing that keeps them under control is persistent daily effort—and maybe a hard, hard freeze

Chickweed

 Like the cycle of weeds in the garden, writers face different challenges along every stage of our careers. As soon as we think we have a handle on our craft and profession something new springs up and surprises us. The beginning writer’s weeds might be learning the basics of the craft or finding that story idea or dealing with writer’s block. For some it’s getting to the end of the book, or figuring out what to do with the sagging middle. For the more skilled, unpublished writers the weeds that need pulling could be social networking, getting an agent, or getting published. Whatever the weeds in your writer yard there’s one universal truth—they will always be there. Our job is to figure the best way to control them.

 I’m not a beginning writer. I know how to write. That has been reinforced with a number of contest placements. I have a good grasp of the skills it takes to get published. I know my stories and the characters. I even have books waiting in the wings to be written. But I still have writing weeds to pull—BIG ones.

  • I don’t have an agent or a publisher for my books—yet.
  • I want to write in several genres, which presents a big branding problem and sometimes an identity crisis.
  • I’m still building my social networking and internet connections in those multiple genres—one of the biggest weeds for a lot of writers. We are, after all, basically solitary people.
  • Currently, I’m spending more time blogging than writing the books.

 Gertrude Jekyll, one of the most important British landscape designers and writers, once said, “There is no spot of ground, however arid, bare or ugly, that cannot be tamed into such a state as may give an impression of beauty and delight. It cannot always be done easily; many things worth doing are not done easily; but there is no place under natural conditions that cannot be graced with an adornment of suitable vegetation.”

 Gertrude’s advice applies not only to the garden, and all those weedy patches I have to fight, but to writing as well. The road to success isn’t easy, but we can accomplish it. We can transform those bare, ugly pages into something overflowing with suitable vegetation (the best words and story we can make). When we finally reach that goal it’s worth the work. So, pull those weeds out of your writing garden and create something beautiful!

 What are the writing weeds that are stopping you from creating your masterpiece? Do you have a plan to pull them out?

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Tell it to the Marines

(or clichés, counterwords and commonplace phrases)©2012

By C.D. Hersh

I love the wonderful world of clichés. From the time we are babes in the bosom of our family to a ripe old age to the final days when we are six feet under, we are inundated with clichés. They conjure up vivid images, some that make sense and others that don’t. We all can identify with someone being in the same boat (we’re in it together) or flog a dead horse (it’s useless). But what  about she eats like a bird? It’s meant to say a person doesn’t eat much, but have you ever watched birds? They eat all the time.

A lot of the phrases can make a long story short when you’re trying to explain yourself to a sea of faces, especially if you don’t have a leg to stand on regarding whatever you’re explaining. A shrug and the excuse the best laid plans of mice and men or accidents will happen can often get us off the hook. Clichés can help us roll with the punches, make short work of our writing or pass the time of day. We can put a bee in our heroine’s bonnet and give her butterflies in her stomach or bury that hatchet in the victim’s back and keep the perp who did a number on him cool as a cucumber. You can politely excuse yourself by going to see a man about a horse (or a dog). As long as you don’t come back with the aforementioned animals everyone will know you went for a potty break.

Let’s face it, clichés have a vise-like grip on most of us. We sprinkle them in our speech and in our writing when we want to make a quick point that doesn’t need explaining. After all, who doesn’t know what tired as a dog or apple pie order or wreathed in smiles means? We have a hard time turning over a new leaf and finding new idioms because we’re so in touch with those old as the hill phrases. How many times have you set your heart on an expression to only have your critique partners hack it to bits like it was a snake in the grass? That just adds insult to injury, especially when all those clichés are a labor of love.

As strange as it seems, our love of clichés isn’t going to win us our spurs with editors and agents. They may use clichés when they speak, like the rest of us, but they don’t think they’re worth the paper they’re written on. Using clichéd writing won’t help us pay the piper, keep the wolf from the door, make us rich as Croesus or get us the red carpet treatment. What it will do is rub editors the wrong way and make them beat a hasty retreat, which will cause our manuscripts to bite the dust and plunge us to the depths of despair when we are  rejected, and that will put us between a rock and a hard place…if you know what I mean.

So here’s a word to the wise … avoid those cans of worms like the plague before they get a chance to take the wind out of your sails. Gird up your loins, put on your thinking cap and wash your hand of those clichés. Rid your writing of ugly ducklings in favor of a few, fresh as a daisy, well chosen words that will rock the editors’ world, and you’ll be a roaring success. Would I lie to you?

If you think this post is too funny for words, leave me a few— words, that is—fresh or old. While you’re here take a guess at how many cliches I’ve used.  And remember, I do love clichés , after all…believe you me.

C.D. Hersh

 

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