Thursday, September 30, 2010

The "Right" Word

Mark Twain said, "The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightening and a lightning bug."

When you're stuck, how do you find that right word? I often find myself checking MS Word's synonym checker, but those only go so far. What other resources does your inner "word freak" tap into? I'd love to know!

One right word that struck home for me the other day was in The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. How often do we read about being short of breath in scary or threatening situations?  She put a unique twist on it for me that struck home in a powerful way:

" . . . my breath slipped out of me . . ."

Simple, effective and memorable, it was the right word in the right context. Lightning.

Friday, September 17, 2010


As much as I love writing, sometimes I just need to be inspired. Spending last week at Lake Powell with my wife and friends did that for me.

One of the highlights of our trip was visiting Rainbow Bridge, the largest natural bridge in the world. There's something magical about the awe and grandeur of nature. Getting away, and especially to a place like this, rejuvenates me in a way that nothing else can. I felt twenty again (don't I look it?).

The creative juices are flowing again.What gets you going when you're fingers are plodding instead of flying across the keyboard?

Friday, July 9, 2010

LIE versus LAY

Okay, I'll admit. I just havn't been into the blogging thing lately. I've been too engrossed in working on my manuscript. But it's good to stick my head out from under the covers every once in a while. Here's a helpful grammar tip from Annette Lyon. Hope your enjoying the summer!

LIE versus LAY

1. PAST TENSE: Sometimes memorization is just best

  • She lay down on her sofa to read.
  • She laid the book on the table, I swear.
  • She was lying on the carpet when it happened.
 2. PRESENT TENSE: Remember that the gerund form (WAS –ING) uses present tense.
  •  She was laying down on her sofa to take a nap when the house exploded.
  •  She was lying on the carpet when it happened.
 TIP: Use an irregular verb like EAT/ATE to figure out which tense you need.

  • She was ating on the floor (no, so it couldn't be laying)
  • She was eating on the floor (yes, so she was lying on the floor)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Thirteen Reasons Why

My eight year old nephew and namesake passed away, and I spent this past weekend in Boston for the funeral. It's only the fourth funeral that I've attended, and the first one that I've been asked to speak at.

While Benjamin died peacefully in his sleep, his body tired from the wearing handicaps he had been born with, it was still a stark reminder of the fragility of life.

I did not purposefully time the reading of Jay's first novel, Thirteen Reasons Whywith the events of this past weekend, but I'm glad it worked out that way. Jay's haunting story ends with hope and a desire to be the type of person who would be celebrated rather than grieved at their passing. Life is a gift, and Benjamin's short life was a blessing to many--more than 500 people who showed up to say, "Thank you." 

This is a book I will ask my kids to read before they start high school, to realize how everything we do impacts someone, even if only ourselves. But most likely--always--there are others that we don't know about. Aren't we lucky that we get to choose how?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Story Structure

I attended a fantastic presentation by Dan Wells, at a writers conference back in February on story structure.
If you 're great at characterization, but struggle at weaving a compelling storyline together, this should be helpful. He refers to it as The Seven Point System. Before you start putting this structure together, you at least need to know who the main characters are, what the setting is, and what the major conflict is. Once you have those, start plugging in the rest as follows:

1. Hook
2. Plot Turn 1
3. Pinch 1
4. Midpoint
5. Pinch 2
6. Plot Turn 2
7. Resolution

Of course there can be several more pinches added, or even plot turns, but this is the basic structure--and it works. Sometimes it helps to start backwards.

The Resolution. Everything in your story should be leading up to this moment. What is your protagonist trying to overcome? Is it an external thing, force, etc, an internal thing, perhaps a combination of both?

The Hook. What is the hook that will grab your readers on page 1 or at the very least in chapter one and keep them turning the pages? Sometimes you have to use the ice-monster approach (think Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back where the movie begins with Luke being attacked by an ice-monster). Starting your novel with a lot of boring background / back story information is a big no, no - - especially if you're trying to get published for the first time. Dive right into the story and sink a hook into their reader that they can't escape from.

The midpoint is that magical place in your story where your protagonist finally begins to move from a reactionary state to one of action and determination (think Lord of the Rings and the Council of Elrond - when they finally decide what to do with the ring). It doesn't mean conflict and turmoil is over, it just means they're finally starting that journey towards resolution.

Plot Turn 1, is what moves you from the beginning to the midpoint. Major conflict is introduced, the protagonist’s world changes, etc. (think about Luke coming back and finding his Uncle dead or Harry Potter learning that a world of magic exists and he's a part of it)

Plot Turn 2, (can you guess?) moves the story from midpoint to resolution--where your protagonist receives that final thing needed to make it happen (think Neo, "The Power is in you!" or Dorothy in Wizard of Oz when she realizes all she has to do is click her heels or Luke: "Use the force Luke!")

Pinch 1, is where conflict is introduced--and the pressure is applied to your protagonist. Could be a bad guy attacks, a sickness, a death, etc--something that forces your character to action (think Harry Potter - when they discover a troll in the bathroom and no adults are around to help).

Pinch 2, apply more pressure until the situation feels hopeless--like there is no way to escape, at least until you get to plot turn 2-- starting to make sense? (think about when Gandalf appears to have been killed by the fiery demon from hell)

This structure can be used for the Hero's journey, romance, tragedy, etc. - - don't feel constrained by genre. As you work through this, make sure your protagonist goes through the try/fail cycles (at least twice). This can be done through multiple pinches where it doesn't always work out in the protagonist's favor. Victory should always be earned - - keep building the overall tension to the resolution with a few small victories along the way. Spread out the action to keep good pacing (your beta readers can help you with that).

Last of all, remember, this is a structure and is not a replacement for good writing. It helps if you take this and break down an existing book/movie as an example. Give it a try with Avatar and see what you come up with. The format works on just about any well written novel/script.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Imagine My Fear

As a writer, I often find myself drawing upon life’s experiences, even in a fictional world. Today, I'm sharing with you one such example that bristles the hairs on my arms when contemplating what could have been.

My wife had major reconstructive surgery on her abdominal wall this past week. When we passed the three day mark, she expressed a desire to take a shower before having to go back to see the doctor.

Mistake #1: not taking the recliner into the master bath.
When we unzipped/took off her compression garment, from her knees up to her chest, the pressure change caused her to be light of head. I quickly helped her sit down on the edge of the bath tub. That was when she passed out in my arms and started convulsing. It was not violent, just a lot of involuntary body twitching that scared the hell out of me.

Mistake #2: locking the bathroom door so the kids could not come in.
I didn't dare try and move my wife for fear of hurting her. She has drainage tubes coming out of her lower abdomen and sutured stitches spanning hip to hip. I yelled to her mother to come help--only she couldn't get in because the door was locked. Imagine my fear. I couldn't lay her down. I couldn't stand her up. Her face is ashen white and she won't respond. My mother-in-law is trying to bust the doors open, and I'm trying to revive the love of my life. My lips lock over hers, but her mouth won’t open. I call her name over and over again, but she doesn't answer. Her limp arms hang at my side. I wonder for a brief moment if this is it—if this is how it ends—and then everything inside me screams no! I slap her face with my free hand, desperate to wake her up. The bathroom door explodes open as her mother hurls herself through the double doors with the aid of my younger son. She grabs my wife’s shoulders and sinks her cold fingernails into her skin. Joy speaks. After almost two minutes of eternal silence my wife speaks, even if dazed and confused. I squeeze her tight and never want to let go.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Critique Group

Tonight, I am hosting my first official writer's critique group. I can't wait.  It's me and three women. Wish me luck.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Drop the mouse and walk away

I LOVE spring, but I have to be honest with you; it’s not good for my writing. It took me almost two weeks to edit chapters ten and eleven of Finding Home. I had hoped, in some deranged world that I obviously don’t live in, that I’d be done editing both of my books in time for the LDSStoryMakers conference next week. I was cruising in March and then spring happened. I’m telling you man, I was blind-sided. Wham. I even found myself asking, what the h-e-double-hockey-sticks happened to me? It’s like the sun God has warped my perception of reality, throwing me into a funk every time I sit down at the computer, tempting me, enticing me, telling me, “drop the mouse and walk away.”

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Virtual Word Hugs

I love this image.  Have you ever felt totally embraced by words alone?  They say a picture's worth a thousand words--well, this is the effect I'm writing for with my novel Finding Home (of course, not until after I break your heart first).

Update on my word count saga:  I've cut 10,000 words from the first eight chapters.  That's some serious trimming.  I have another 45,000 words to cut before this book is ready for prime-time.  The goal: 90,000 words or less.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Making a Book Cover

This was just way to cool not to share.  Here's hoping for a great book cover of my own someday.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Vanity Dreams

What's a guy supposed to do? I recently discovered that my name in the blogspot world was no longer being used, so I snatched it up and changed my blog URL. Apologies to my three followers--ouch, did I just say that out loud? Perhaps it’s all a pipe dream, but I like to think that I'm making progress towards being published, so vanity dream or not, I'm here to stay. Happy reading.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I'm Addicted to Words

There is no doubt about it, I am addicted to words. I'm not talking about your word of the day type obsession, although that’s pretty cool too.  I'm talking about the act of taking innocuous words and crafting them into meaningful prose, sentences joined into paragraphs that can make you laugh or cry or rip your hair out in frustration. I love to write, and anyone serious about writing must put pen to paper or fingers to keys with regularity. So here I am at one in the morning, probably making no sense at all, but writing none-the-less. That’s what happens when I play basketball at night; it takes me forever to fall asleep, so I write. Although my addiction to words goes much deeper than just writing. Do you know how many times a day I open my e-mail account hoping to see an e-mail from my brother and current editor in chief? I won’t tell you, but it might classify me as obsessive compulsive. I hope to hear those three beautiful words in my head every time I check—you've got mail. Confession--I've never had an AOL email account. I just love the idea. But it’s not just any mail I’m looking for, it’s my brother’s detailed responses to the chapters I send him week after week after week. Occasionally I get an EXCELLENT or VERY GOOD, and I break out into my victory dance. But even when the page is covered in virtual red ink, I’m never discouraged because it fascinates me to read my work through someone else’s eyes, especially one whose eyes have been expertly trained to read, dissect, and triage the literary work of others. It also helps knowing that I have VETO power, although, I have to admit I rarely use it with the Z-man at my side. Yes, I’m addicted, but remember, some addictions can be good, so for all you word freaks out there--this post's for you.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Word Count Warning

A word of advise to would be aspiring authors out there . . . if you're serious about getting published, make sure you pay close attention to word count for the genre you are writing in.  I read way too many blogs telling me to ignore word count and to just write the story, to just let it naturally unfold. Well, that's what I did with my first novel, Finding Home, targeted toward young adults, and the final word count ended up being just over 145,000 words.  If you've got the clout of J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer, then you can maybe get away with this, but as a non-published author, I have since learned that I have almost no chance of getting this published.  The cost of paper is up, and most publishers have a very specific word count ranges they require a novel to be in for a specific genre, to even be considered.

Middle Grade books are typically in the 40,000 - 70,000 word range.
Young Adult books are typically in the 60,000 - 90,000 word range.

You'll find publishers who will go a little higher or lower depending on the book.  If you're on the high end, you're book has to have considerable commercial value to it for a publisher to want to take the risk of the added cost it will take to print.

This means that I am now in the oh so painful process of cutting almost 60,000 words from my first novel.  The process is making me a much better writer, but I would not recommend it to anyone, so if you're starting a new novel or even in the middle of one, make sure you have a publishable word count target in mind and that you are pacing/structuring your story towards that goal.  I did this with my second novel, and it has made the editing process infinitely more enjoyable.

As for Finding Home, I've cut about 5,500 words from the first three chapters. . . only 54,500 more words to go.  Ouch.

Friday, February 12, 2010

LTUE 2010

I have finished day two of the LTUE2010 conference at BYU and have been absolutely thrilled with the quality of the sessions that I have attended. My hands down favorite session was by Dan Wells. Ironically writes horror - one of my least favorite genres - but after hearing him speak I just might have to give his latest novel a try I'm not a serial Killer - which has been a smash hit in Europe (on fifth printing in Germany) and is arriving in the US this spring.

The point is the guy was hilarious, brilliant, and entertaining and has created a seven point system for writing a novel that innately resonates with anyone who has either written, attempted to write, or even cares about how a book is written. More on this subject later.

After the session ended I heard someone talking about how their group had convinced Dan to give this presentation, and my ears perked up. I introduced myself to Donna, the founder of their Inking Cap writing group, and ended up spending the next forty minutes talking with them. I am now going to their next meeting where Kirk Shaw will give tips/pointers on how to pitch your book. Kirk is an editor at Covenant Communications, an independent publishing company. I am pitching my novel for the first time this April, so I can't tell you how excited I am to learn from someone who does this for a living.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Oh, the pain!

I am trying to get the first chapter of my first novel - Finding Home - ready to submit to a first chapter competition and a few months ago I came to the painful realization that I had gone way too deep in describing my heroin's emotions rather than letting the story show her emotions.  I came across some great writing tips and have copied the section related to writing a first chapter below. These tips deeply resonated with me and so I painfully began the process of hacking my first chapter apart.

I faced two problems.  First: the first chapter did not contain a lot of dialogue or action - it was 4500 words filled with feelings, emotions and flash backs that while interesting and meaningful (especially to me as the author), much of it was not critical to the main story line.  Second: my second chapter is where the story explodes with great dialogue, conflict and plot.  So... what did I do?  I swallowed my pride, got my sharpest axe out, and began to iteratively chop away at hours and hours of literary prose.  My goal: to combine the first two chapters (8,451 words) into one super chapter without all the extras.  If you have not written a substantial text before where you believe it's all good and then been asked to cut it in half... I don't think you can begin to understand how hard this is.

I am happy to report that my 8,451 word chapter (combined first/second chapters) is now at a much healthier 4,503 words, and the bulk of cuts came from my original first chapter - almost 4000 words worth (don't worry - it's all stored in a safe place). The initial pain of going through this exercise has been extremely rewarding as I believe I now have a first chapter with legs to stand on.  The pace is much quicker, and rather than being told, the reader gets to experience what it is like to be dropped off at a home they've never seen before and to be stuck with a family that could not be more different than they are and told - "This is your new home."  And yes... I've still got some more hacking to do.


1. Make sure the first chapter starts with action.

2. Show, don't tell. This means you don't need a one paragraph description of a bedroom, a character's thoughts on everything, and for goodness sake don't put any backstory in the first chapter.

3. Keep it short. It doesn't have to be James Patterson short, but a ten page first chapter is better than a thirty page first chapter when it comes to grabbing attention.

4. Watch your POV... try to stick in one character's mind for the whole chapter.

5. Cut everything that doesn't move the action forward. EVERYTHING. If it moves the story forward, or gives us a better feel for the characters, put it in a later chapter, but not the first. Leave the reader wanting more, not knowing everything.

6. You probably don't need a prologue. Editors often cut them, and readers often skip them. Try to remove it and see if the story suffers. If you really believe you need one, don't make it longer than a few pages.

7. And this is the most important---trust yourself. You've been writing since you were four. You know how to craft a sentence. Not eveything needs to be rewritten---sometimes it comes out right the first time.