Monday, January 31, 2011

First Impressions

Most of us try to make a good first impression - we check our clothes for stains, ensure we're wearing matching shoes, maybe even practice a few phrases. Good first impressions pave the way to second impressions; and after that, the sky's the limit!

Take a look at your current manuscript and see what first impression your main characters make. I always try to ensure:

  • The reader may not necessarily be meeting him/her at their finest moment (or maybe they are) but it is a moment that will demonstrate one of the character's priorities.

  • There something intrinsically likable (in my opinion) about my main characters. People want to learn more about people they like or can identify with in some way. It might the situation the character finds themselves in, it might be their background, it might be their love of shoes - but there's something that makes the reader want to read on.

  • No character makes the same first impression as another. My logic is the reader is just getting to know these people - I try to keep it as easy as possible!

  • I will not introduce a continuing character in a way that harks back to a previous event in an earlier story. The reader may not know the event and will start off feeling that they're missing something. That's just mean.

  • I'll always choose dialogue over description.
First impressions - you can only make them once.

Make them count.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fun Friday

1. The roundest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Circumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.

2. I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.

3. She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still.

4. A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class, because it was a weapon of math disruption.

5. No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

6. A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.

7. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.

8. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

9. A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. Steve is looking into it.

10. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.

11. I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.

12. A small boy swallowed some coins and was taken to a hospital. When his grandmother telephoned to ask how he was, a nurse said 'No change yet.'

13. A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.

14. The short fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.

15. A backward poet writes inverse.

16. In a democracy it's your vote that counts. In feudalism it's your count that votes.

17. Don't join dangerous cults: Practice safe sects!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thirties Thursday

Here are some ads from the 1930s. Enjoy.

I can't quite see this being printed now...

Some things never change...

I think I'll look for my happiness elsewhere...

I'm not sure what I like more - the men's swimsuits, or the idea that they need to grease their hair before swimming...

Ooh la la!

Before you choke on the £225 price, let me tell you that £225 in 1935 (date of the ad) would be £13, 224 today. (about $21,000 US)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Writer's Highway

I hope you remembered to grab your this...

Because we're heading out on the writer's highway...

I do hope you weren't expecting this...

Because it's far more like this...

or this...

and there will be moments when you feel like you're stuck on this...

Which will be followed by more this...

and this...

But trust that sooner or later, you will see your destination.

So, do this...

Because it's going to be a bit of a this...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Top 10 Writing Rules

1. Ask 'what if'. Let your imagination fly. See what and who shows up.

2. Don't pre-judge. You may think your 'what-if' is a short story - but it could be a novel. Or a play.

3. Eat cake. Eat chocolate. Eat chocolate cake.

4. Get outside and breath fresh air. Spending all day at your keyboard does not make you a better writer. It makes you stale.

5. Don't fence yourself in with set ideas about numbers of characters. You may very well need more. Or less. If you can meld two characters into one, the likelihood is you can meld more.

6. As you sit down to write, cursing and sweating, remember: This was a choice. No one held a gun to your head - you decided you wanted to do this.

7. Read voraciously. Read all types - you'll be amazed at what you can learn.

8. Be content with your own company - because that's what it's going to be a great deal of the time. If you always happier around other people, writing may not be the path for you.

9. Accept that not every word you're writing is brushed with genius. No one's is. Build a bridge and get over it.


10. Write what you would want to read.

This post originally ran last February. Please accept my apologies for rerunning a post. Issues abound in my patch of the woods. My thought was better a rerun than no post at all.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Musical Writing

If I listen to music while I'm writing, I guarantee the music floating from the speakers will be classical. However, writing itself can be viewed as a classical composition.

First are the soloists - your main characters. Each must speak with their own voice and yet blend harmoniously into the piece as a whole. I think about each character's vocabulary and speech rhythms. Is this character well-educated? Are they plain-spoken or crafty? Nervous or confident? Answers give me the right notes.

Surrounding each of your soloists are the other members of the orchestra - your supporting and background characters. Each has an essential role to play but can't draw too much attention to themselves. Tricky. Supporting characters can be loud or showy, but they can't be heard too often or they tend to drown out the soloists. Background characters need for their voices to be heard, but it is a quick moment in the sun. Think of them as striking a triangle, not a bass drum.

Every symphony has its quiet passages and its rising crescendos. Let your story have changes in pace as well, or changes in mood. No one would want to hear the same note repeated for an hour; why should a reader be expected to read the same thing page after page after page?

Composing a symphony takes time, skill and perseverance.

Sound familiar?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Fun Friday

And now...a few puns.

Let the groaning commence.

Just FYI, I didn't compose these. Don't shoot the messenger. However, the italicized comment on #9 is mine.

1. King Ozymandias of Assyria was running low on cash after years of war with the Hittites. His last great possession was the Star of the Euphrates, the most valuable diamond in the ancient world. Desperate, he went to Croesus, the pawnbroker, to ask for a loan.
Croesus said, "I'll give you 100,000 dinars for it."
"But I paid a million dinars for it," the King protested. "Don't you know who I am? I am the king!"
Croesus replied, "When you wish to pawn a Star, makes no difference who you are."

2. Evidence has been found that William Tell and his family were avid bowlers. Unfortunately, all the Swiss league records were destroyed in a fire, ...and so we'll never know for whom the Tells bowled.

3. A man rushed into a busy doctor's office and shouted, "Doctor! I think I'm shrinking!" The doctor calmly responded, "Now, settle down. You'll just have to be a little patient."

4. A marine biologist developed a race of genetically engineered dolphins that could live forever if they were fed a steady diet of seagulls. One day, his supply of the birds ran out so he had to go out and trap some more. On the way back, he spied two lions asleep on the road. Afraid to wake them, he gingerly stepped over them. Immediately, he was arrested and charged with-- transporting gulls across sedate lions for immortal porpoises.

5. Back in the 1800's the Tate's Watch Company of Massachusetts wanted to produce other products, and since they already made the cases for watches, they used them to produce compasses. The new compasses were so bad that people often ended up in Canada or Mexico rather than California. This, of course, is the origin of the expression -- "He who has a Tate's is lost!"

6. A thief broke into the local police station and stole all the toilets and urinals, leaving no clues. A spokesperson was quoted as saying, "We have absolutely nothing to go on."

7. An Indian chief was feeling very sick, so he summoned the medicine man. After a brief examination, the medicine man took out a long, thin strip of elk rawhide and gave it to the chief, telling him to bite off, chew, and swallow one inch of the leather every day. After a month, the medicine man returned to see how the chief was feeling. The chief shrugged and said, "The thong is ended, but the malady lingers on."

8. A famous Viking explorer returned home from a voyage and found his name missing from the town register. His wife insisted on complaining to the local civic official who apologized profusely saying, "I must have taken Leif off my census."

9. There were three Indian squaws. One slept on a deer skin, one slept on an elk skin, and the third slept on a hippopotamus skin. All three became pregnant. The first two each had a baby boy. The one who slept on the hippopotamus skin had twin boys. This just goes to prove that... the squaw of the hippopotamus is equal to the sons of the squaws of the other two hides. (Oh high school math...I remember ye).

10. A skeptical anthropologist was cataloging South American folk remedies with the assistance of a tribal Brujo who indicated that the leaves of a particular fern were a sure cure for any case of constipation. When the anthropologist expressed his doubts, the Brujo looked him in the eye and said, "Let me tell you, with fronds like these, you don't need enemas."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thirties Thursday

He was born on June 3, 1865 and christened George Frederick Ernest Albert.

He was the second son of Edward and Alexandra, the Prince and Princess of Wales and was third in the line for the throne. (first was his father, second was his older brother Prince Albert Victor)

He and his older brother were sent to join the Naval Cadet school when George was 12 in 1977. He would remain in the Navy until 1891.

He was the 'good' son; well-behaved and quiet. His elder brother was the opposite; wild and uncontrollable.

When Prince Albert (known in the family as 'Eddy') died in 1891, he had been engaged to Princess May of Teck. Queen Victoria believed she would make an excellent consort and so George became engaged to her in May 1893 and their wedding was two months later.

George and Mary's wedding portrait, 1893.

They would have 6 children: Prince Edward, Prince Albert, Princess Mary, Prince Henry, Prince George and Prince John. Prince John would die at the age of 14 from epilepsy.

Standing from left to right: The Prince of Wales (later the Duke of Windsor), Prince Harry, Duke of Gloucester, King George V, The Duke of York (later George VI), Prince George, the Duke of Kent.
Sitting: Princess Mary (the Princess Royal), Queen Mary.

When his father became King in 1901 upon Victoria's death, George and May (now known as Mary) became Prince and Princess of Wales.

They became King and Queen in 1910.

Thanks to Queen Victoria's many children, he was related to most of the European Royal families. When World War I was declared, George was declaring war on his nephew the Kaiser.

He never forgave himself for being unable to save his cousin Nicholas and his wife Alexandra from their fate during the Russian Revolution. He had met them both several times. He and Nicholas looked incredibly alike.

Tsar Nicholas II is on the left, King George V is on the right.

He hated traveling abroad. His favourite pastimes were collecting stamps or shooting parties.

Today is the 75th anniversary of his death: he died January 20, 1936. It was discovered many years later that his death was 'helped along' by his physician.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Truth is on the Mug

If you are (or want to be) this...

You know all about this...

and the sad truth of this...

You know this...

and this...

and torture yourself thinking this...

and smile secretly as you think this...

But the most important thing is

you've learned the ultimate truth of this...

and this.

Okay. Break's over.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

10 Self-Motivators for Writers

Sometimes you need help to keep going on your current project. As a veteran swimmer in the sea of self-loathing, I offer you the following motivators to keep on writing:

10. You can have a cookie(s) when you finish for the day.

9. In the midst of the shambles you've already written which is mocking you from the page, there is one sentence you really like. Focus on it.

8. What would you be doing if you weren't writing? Do you really want to be doing that?

7. Think about how far you've come; not how far you still need to go.

6. Fantasise about what you'd treat yourself to with some of that royalty cheque. Perhaps it's a personal chef to make you cookies.

5. You love your characters. If you can't keep on writing for yourself, keep on writing for them.

4. Having the discipline to keep on writing even when it's tough is what separates the real writers from the wannabees. Do you really want to be a wannabe?

3. Remember why you started writing this story in the first place.

2. Accomplishment makes anyone glow. Go for the glow!

1. This story deserves to be written and only you can write it.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Everyone has good days and bad days. There are those days when you wake up energized and eager and then there are those days when you feel you're deserving of a yet-to-be-invented award because you didn't spend the entire time sprawled on your bed, moaning in a low, mournful register. Not everyone is agreeable all the time. Not everyone is disagreeable. People's moods change.

It's easy to forget this as we write our way through our stories. We're so busy focussing on plot and pace and not repeating words and dialogue tags, that our characters' moods sometimes get short shrift. A character who is happy all the time or conversely, ornery all the time is going to get dull fast. Readers may not always be able to put their finger on it, but those characters are going to hit a false note.

Of course, moderation is the key.

I don't worry about this for every character; my small, one paragraph wonders appear, say their bit, trip, and get off the stage. But I do try and remember it when I'm writing through one of my POV characters' eyes. Not every one of them understands why they're in a bad mood, but I know why and it's there. Bad moods make people short-tempered. Impatient. Not wanting company. Bad moods make people retreat to their 'places of comfort'; whether it's a bar or a bathtub. Good moods make people talkative. When people are in a good mood, they physically touch other people more often. Good moods make them walk quicker. They plan activities. They want to be with their significant other or they want to search a little harder to find one.

Let your main characters change as often as the weather. Let them have good days and bad days. The more human they are, the more beloved they will be.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Fun Friday

It's Friday! Here's a little something I was sent this week. Enjoy. Oh, and a special thanks to those of you who left such kind comments about my post yesterday. You made my day; heck, you made my week!


You have to love British humour!

These are classified ads, which were actually placed in a U.K. newspaper:

8 years old.
Hateful little bastard..

1/2 Cocker Spaniel, 1/2 sneaky neighbour's dog.

Mother is a Kennel Club registered German Shepherd.
Father is a Super Dog, able to leap tall fences in a single bound.

Also 1 gay bull for sale.

Must sell washer and dryer £100.

Worn once by mistake.
Call Stephanie.

Complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica, 45 volumes.
Excellent condition, £200 or best offer. No longer needed, got married, wife knows everything.

Statement of the Century
Thought from the Greatest Living Scottish Thinker--Billy Connolly.
"If women are so bloody perfect at multitasking, how come they can't have a headache and sex at the same time?"

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thirties Thursday

Your earliest memories are of you and your mother being treated as the 'poor relations'.

Although you ache to be traditionally pretty, you realize in high school you never will be.

You marry at an early age to a tall, handsome pilot and move across the country to his base. You're thrilled to have your own home and start living your own life.

Your romantic dreams of happily ever after are crushed when you discover you have married an abusive alcoholic. You feel trapped as you know your family will never condone a divorce.

Believing your husband's messages of remorse, you follow him to the Far East, where you quickly discover he hasn't changed.

You head back for home, determined to get a divorce and start your life anew.

You fall in love again, this time with a foreign ambassador.

Your heart is broken when he informs you that his family will never accept him marrying a divorced woman.

You spend several years alone, drifting aimlessly.

You decide to marry again; but this time you choose a quiet, steady man who loves you far more than you love him. You both want to 'get on' in life and climb society's ladder.

You have several happy years with your new husband. You spend your weekends with him traveling in the countryside and antiquing. Slowly but surely, you make new friends and start getting invited to grand houses and attending sparkling dinner parties.

Although you spend most of your time worrying about money (it's a rough economic time and your husband's income has decreased), one of your girlfriend's admirers is one of the world's most glamorous men. Meeting him is the thrill of a lifetime.

This man includes you and your husband in his inner circle of friends; you get to travel in luxury and spend your weekends at his country house. You tell your friends you feel as if you're in Wonderland.

You realize this man is becoming attracted to you and you are immensely flattered. You're not as young as you used to be and his attention and gifts make you feel as if you're finally a success. You know this is only a flirtation as one day he must marry.

You discover this man is more than attracted to you; he's in love with you. In love to a degree which you have never experienced before. He phones you constantly. He wants to be with you at all times. You come before everything; his family, his job, his obligations.

You saw this relationship as nothing more than a flirtation; you're happy being married to your dependable husband, but this man is insistent that you make your life with him. He won't take no for an answer. You know if you leave, wherever you go, he will follow you. Your husband has had enough. He is tired of being the butt of society's jokes. Together, you both accept divorce is inevitable.

Once your other relationship becomes public, you start to receive threatening letters which terrify you. You move into your devotee's country home, where you feel safer.

Soon the public backlash is too large and you flee the country; begging your man to see sense and set his priorities correctly. But to him, you are his only priority.

You realize the situation is out of your control and that your name will become notorious.

Your name is Wallis Simpson.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Small Can be Big

You don't have to write a book like this...

or have a cast of characters as big as this...

to get your readers to do this.

You don't have to write about this...

to elicit this...

Nor do you need to include this...

When you're writing about this...

To make your readers do this...

or even this...

All you might need to do is write about this...

or this....

Always remember....

There is boundless beauty in something as small as this.

By the way, this is my day over at The Blood Red Pencil blog site. Drop by and say hi!