Category Archives: Preambles to Writing

What is the reading level of your writing?

For anyone writing for a certain readership, something that has to be considered is the age group or reading level of the intended reader. I’ve given attention to how to write for children, how young to make my writing – suiting it for the age group I am writing for – but I hadn’t thought so much about the reading level of my ‘regular’ writing.

I recently read an interesting article, and, although it is not to be taken as a firm guideline, I thought you may enjoy reading it, too. It’s called ‘What’s the reading level of your writing?

Before you leave here to check out that article I want you to know that I added the following three tools to my Writers’ Helps page. While there, please take a few moments to look around in case you haven’t seen other helps I’ve added.

  1. If you have a website or a blog you can test your readability of it by using the readability test tool. There are three different ways on there to test your writing, or you can even test the writing you read on someone else’s site.
  2. You also can analyze a sample of your own writing by using the writing sample readability analyzer. This one was created by Sarah K Tyler and is even more fun to try.
  3. Have you heard of Scrivener? It is a word processing program and as a management program it has become popular as a tool to improve one’s writing.

3886950-fountain-pen-writing-paper-with-black-inkBefore I sign off I just want to tell you my daughter’s ten-day visit – mentioned HERE – was fun and packed full of family things, including four barbecues – although one was more of a very informal “weinie roast” at the lake where we also created sticky s’mores by firelight, followed by thrilling fireworks that my husband set off when it got dark enough. Our final events were yesterday. After fourteen of us had a BBQ and corn boil at Dad’s, eight of us went from there for a fun visit to the local farm zoo, the largest zoo in Nova Scotia, arriving at feeding time for the lions. (Fortunately, we weren’t on the menu. ;) )  Then this morning, my husband and I got up shortly after 4:00 and woke our daughter. We were all soon on the road to the airport, taking our daughter for her flight back to Alberta. It’s always difficult for me to turn and walk out of there, keeping back the tears and leaving for home without her.

I hope you had a wonderful weekend – and on September 1: for those of you in Canada have a safe and pleasant Labour Day; for those of you in the USA have a safe and pleasant Labor Day. :)

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  :)

 

 

 

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Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – Part 19: By Hook, Not By Crook

Welcome back! Over the next several more months we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison‘s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read all the segments by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on the drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month nineteen:

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“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 19: By Hook, Not by Crook

What do a fisherman and a writer have in common?

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Yes, you’re right! Using a hook! How did you ever guess?

If you’ve read any how-to books about the craft of writing a novel, then you’ve read about the all-important hook — that sentence or idea which draws the reader into the story right from the first page on.

This post isn’t about that huge hook. It’s about another place within your novel that benefits when you append a hook. The end of a chapter. I’m one of those novelists who believe, that in our current reading climate, most readers prefer short chapters. I know there are exceptions, but long chapters can make a reader feel like she is listening to a long, boring diatribe.

Short chapters ramp up the tension, allow for more fluid point-of-view changes, and help the writer segue more easily into a new scene. However, shorter chapters mean more chapter endings and chapter endings can be a problem.

When I write, my goal is to pull the reader into the story and to do everything I can to keep him there. So the reader lives and breathes and sees the world as if he were the main character. Chapter endings remind the reader that he or she lives in another world. No matter how many positives exist because of a chapter break, those breaks also act like stop signs in the continuum of the story. Pop! The reader is back into real life. He or she sets down the book and goes about regular business. So you, the writer need an edge to bring him or her back as soon as possible, and that edge is the proverbial hook.

Basically, I observe two rules when I end a chapter with a hook.

1. The hook is short, contained in only a sentence or two or three.

2. The hook is honest. It doesn’t set up bogus expectations.  You don’t want your reader to feel cheated. The crooked hook: “Albert caught his breath. He was staring  into the golden eyes of a snarling cheetah.” The disillusionment, next chapter: “Of course, the cheetah was only a poster on the wall in Albert’s bedroom.”

I’m not at all the best  hook writer in the business. I’m afraid I’m not even in the top 1000, but I own the copyrights to my novels and my works-in-progress, so rather than cite hooks from other writers’ copyrighted novels,  I’ll close this post with a few examples of chapter-end hooks that I have written. I hope they’ll convey what I mean and give you some examples to draw from as you write your own hooks.

From MOTHER EARTH FATHER SKY, Chapter 25: “Then Kayugh took his daughter to the beach while the others finished burying his wife.”  [The hook: If he can't even bear to see his wife buried, how will Kayugh be able to survive his grief?]

From CRY OF THE WIND, Chapter 41: “‘River Ice Dancer,’ she said, holding out her hand, ‘you are cold, and my bed is very warm.’” [The hook: Will River Ice Dancer fall into the wily hands of the temptress K'os?]

From BONE FIRE (work-in-progress), Chapter 3: “If Rose wasn’t still pregnant when they got there, the Spirit-caller wouldn’t take her in trade. Then what would Villr do? Watch his own daughter die?” [The hook: Why would his daughter die? What are Villr's horrible plans for the main character Rose?]

Remember, you want to draw your reader back to your novel, even after the disruption of a chapter break. A small hook will do, a tease that will make your reader want to stay in the story. Be quick. Be honest.

Strength to your pen!

Sue

*Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy, and a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you to come back September 25, 2014, for part 20.

Hillsong music, and Helping one another

A rambling post …

Here it is Sunday again. Weather-wise it has been like a late summer day – but it is supposed to warm again this coming week. I appreciate the summer so much; it’s far too short for me.

My spirit longs for particular music sometimes, right now being one of those times. Here is a link to Hillsong so you can enjoy the music I’m listening to as I’m writing this post.

Life continues on with its caregiving challenges (almost 3 1/2 years now!) – some days make me appreciate the good ones so much more. If it weren’t for the help we are getting my sister and I could not have managed all this as long as we have.

As you know, one of my goals is to write children’s books, or even any writing for myself would be good right now! Last month a friend and I were discussing our mutual desire to write, and I suggested a challenge. From that conversation we are now both writing – actually, we are writing together although long distance – one writes, the other adds to it and sends it back … and so on and so on. This effort is challenging us and helping to release our creative (writing) energy. Have you tried anything like that?

Now for the burning question:
How are you enjoying my blog; is it helpful to you?

I’ve been looking into ways I can help you more. Since I’m interested in helping promote your books (the ones I agree to read and review) and others I think you might like or should know about, you know I have a new page for that purpose: BUY THE BOOK!  On that page I’m in the process of adding a few more things – both for writers and for readers.

As you can imagine, I spend a lot of my available time reading books, updating my blog and writing posts. (and I enjoy it all!) When I upgraded my blog to better suit my needs it meant I’d have to pay for its hosting. (WordPress is very reasonable or I wouldn’t have done it.) After much consideration, I recently decided to look into affiliation which will bring in a very small percentage for any sales made through your clicks from the links I have here on my site. It will help me pay for my blog as it is, so is a way you can help me, too, if you want to.

The affiliations I chose are ones I think are of the most benefit to you as writers and readers. Once all the techie stuff is worked out you will be able to click to great things not only at Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and WritersDigestShop, but also at Christianbook, Chapters.indigo, CafePress, and Vista Print. When I get them all set up you will find them through BUY THE BOOK! and on my Writers’ Helps page. Exciting!

Now I must grab some time to read more of the book I am going to review soon. So many books — so little time!  :)

Please tell me what you think of what I’m doing here on my blog. I appreciate hearing from you.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  :)

 

 

 

Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – part 18: Tension

Welcome back! Over the next many months we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison‘s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read all the segments by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on the drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month eighteen:

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“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 18: Tension

My editor recently read the first 20,000 words of a novel I’m writing called BONE FIRE. BONE FIRE is set circa 6000 B.C. in Eastern Europe near the Danube River’s famed “Iron Gates,” and 20,000 words comprise approximately 1/5 of the novel. To my delight, she liked what I’ve written so far, and, even better, she also designated where I should ramp up the tension. Advice like that is absolutely golden to a novelist, because tension is what grabs readers and pulls them into the story.

IMG_0444 As a novelist, my goal is to entice readers into my story and keep them there. Achieving that depends on a number of factors, but let’s assume that my reader loves my chosen genre, that she wants to escape into a novel, and she has time away from distractions and life’s mundane chores. If that is the case, then the pulling-in and the keeping-there depends mainly on my storytelling skills. Yikes! That’s a little scary, but not quite so scary if I remind myself that I can use a relatively simple writing device to help make my story more captivating.

And that writing device is…?

Tension! (Give yourself a gold star if you already knew because you read the title of this post.)

All right, I can hear you say, “Aw come on, Sue. Tension is NOT simple.”

Well, maybe not simple, and maybe not even easy, but definitely a skill that almost any writer can learn. I like to visualize tension as a ladder my readers ascend. Step by step they climb toward the high point or climax of the novel.

Through the years, I’ve found a variety of ways to tighten the tension, lift my story, and entice my readers to take that next step up.

1. Internal conflict. (See Writing the Third Dimension, Part 16: “Conflicted.”)

2. External conflict. (See Writing the Third Dimension, Part 17: “Curses Foiled Again.”)

3. Small mysteries. (Why is the main character afraid of cats? Who is that man watching from the shadows?)

4. Large mysteries. (Who killed John Doe?)

5. The use of short, quick paragraphs or sentences. (These will make the reader read more quickly and up-pace the tempo in a subtle way.)

6. Unexpected emotional responses from the characters. (When John gives Mary the new car, she becomes angry. The reader was expecting her to celebrate.)

7. Confrontation between characters through dialogue or physical action.

8. An unexpected turn or detour in the main plot line.

9. A teaser at the end of a chapter that makes the reader want to continue to the next chapter. (I’ll discuss how to write teasers in my August post.)

10. A poor decision made by one of the characters.

11. An undercurrent of foreshadowing about what may happen next. (Subtle is the by-word here.)

12. Heartache moments.

13. Moments of small victory when your point-of-view character conquers the odds to succeed.

14. A change in the rhythm of your words. (I’m referring here to actual word choices. If your chosen “voice” for the novel is flowery, you might choose to write a short section in very succinct and harsh-sounding words. Or vice versa. Let your ears be the judge of how well this works. Read your rhythm changes out loud to check their effectiveness.)

15. A first kiss or any romantic meeting.

16. Rescue and the need for rescue.

17. Pain. Physical, mental, emotional. (Be sure you present this as a “showing” event. You shouldn’t tell your reader, “Joe was in agony.”  Show the reader that Joe is suffering through his words, actions, and angst.)

18. Cutting unnecessary wordiness. (Especially awkward words like wordiness!)

How do you ramp up the tension in your novels or stories? Share with us!

Strength to your pen!

Sue

*Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy, and a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you to come back August 28, 2014, for part 19.

How Not to Get Happily Published

Originally posted on Liz Burton's Portable Soup:

Education Concept. Read Books Sign.Now that what used to be sneered at as vanity publishing has been embraced by the mainstream, one thing that has been lost in all of the discussions that have gone before is that there are other options besides the two that have been the center of attention for all this time. By that, I refer to a fair number of digital presses that operate using the best elements of traditional publishing while adjusting their processes and their relationships with authors so that the end result is to everyone’s benefit.

However, all too often, writers who are interested in doing all the work of publishing themselves but who, for whatever reason, aren’t all that interested in seeking the attention of the Big Five have some misconceptions about how the digital publishing industry does business. Some of this is in the form of myths I will attempt to clear up.

If…

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Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – part 17: Curses, Foiled Again!

Welcome back! Over the next many months we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison‘s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read all the segments by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on the drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month seventeen:

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“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 17: Curses, Foiled Again!

You’ve probably heard the old Chinese curse (maybe from me), “May you live in interesting times.”

Interesting times — war, famine, storms, earthquakes — are terrifying to live through. However, within the framework of a novel, interesting times are wonderful to write about and to read about.

mount st. helens(Photo, public domain)

 I purposely set my first trilogy (The Ivory Carver Trilogy) just prior to, during, and shortly after a large volcanic eruption that rocked the Aleutian Islands thousands of years ago. According to archaeological and geological studies, this eruption left a very clear ash layer, which is relatively easy to date within plus or minus 50 years. I chose a date (7056 B.C.) within that time frame for the first novel of the trilogy, and that allowed me to enhance the realism. These “hey-this-really-happened” moments add definition and believability to a novel. In the case of a volcanic eruption, it also serves as an effective external conflict — man versus nature.

Although many wonderful novels are based only on internal conflict, you are more likely to please your readers if you use both internal and external conflicts.

External conflicts include man-against-man (wars and rumors of war, revenge, arranged marriages, blackmail); man-against-nature (earthquakes, storms, famine, plagues, animals); man-against-machines (robots, razor sharp pendulums, crazed vehicles); man-against-spiritual beings (devils, angels, gods); man-against-entity (governments, corporations, alien civilizations).

The most important thing to keep in mind as you develop external conflicts is to keep your characters in-character. In other words, a man who hates kids probably won’t fight a government entity to protect them. Of course, wouldn’t it be a great story if he did? If he does, however, be sure you give him proper motivation for doing so. Why the change of heart?

Another thing to remember about external (and internal) conflict is that if a conflict does not pierce the heart of your character(s), your readers will be yawning. How do you pierce the heart? Here’s a few ideas:

1. Use your conflicts to test, grow, or destroy your characters.

2. Use conflicts as foils to highlight your character’s desires, strengths, and/or weaknesses.

3. Use conflicts to force your character into rip-out-the-heart choices.

4. Use conflicts to grow your main character’s problems into something larger than his or her daily life.

5. Use conflicts to make your character suffer — mentally, spiritually, or physically.

These techniques help you touch your readers’ hearts, and that’s how writers build their reading audiences.

What types of external conflicts do you like to read about?

Strength to your pen!

Sue

*Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy, and a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you come back July 24, 2014, for part 18.

A book reviewer’s 10 tips for authors, OR do yourself a favour – admit you aren’t perfect

As I was saying in my last post which you can read here, no matter what I read I tend to notice errors in spelling, punctuation, anything not quite fitting together. It is distracting. As a reviewer, I have found those things also make it harder to write a review when I am bothered by them, but I try to stick to the story. Since I began in 2010 I have featured seventy books here on my blog. If the books are sold or offered on the following sites I also post my reviews on Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Chapters.Indigo, Library Thing, Shelfari, BookLook Bloggers (if received through them), and Goodreads. My posts are noted on Twitter, Google+, and in LinkedIn. Several other books I have not covered here on my blog but I have posted short reviews on Amazon and other sites. This means they get a lot of coverage, so surely authors want their books to be the best they can be with that much exposure.

As you know, I want to be an author of children’s books. With that in the back of my mind, I notice those things that hurt and I try to remember the things that help. Most writers who seriously want to improve their craft look for tips and helps along the way. Some take classes or full courses, some sit in on writers’ discussions. Even though you didn’t ask, I have a few suggestions which I hope will be of benefit.

Especially for those who are self-publishing or who are trying to cut corners by omitting a good editor …

1. DON’T! Please don’t fool yourself into thinking you don’t need an editor. The editing phase is extremely important if you want to be taken seriously. It is painful to read an otherwise good story that has many misspelled words, punctuation and grammar mistakes. If your work is self-published and starts selling, you don’t want negative reviews because of things you could have avoided. Do yourself a favour – admit you aren’t perfect.

2. On the other hand, don’t leave all the work to an editor. Chances are, your work – if found to be full of errors that could have been easily fixed by you – can be set aside out of exasperation, returned to you, or worse – refused with no hope of a second chance. You don’t want those delays or the disappointment, so do as much of the clean-up as you can first. Don’t chance looking as if you didn’t care enough to make it presentable. Obtain and use a good dictionary and a Thesaurus. Get someone you trust to do an honest read-through before you even hire an editor. Many writers find joining a like-minded critique group is very helpful. Do yourself a favour – admit you aren’t perfect.

3. Take your time. What’s the rush, anyway? Once you get it all down on paper (or computer file) put it away for a few weeks. When you take that first draft out again read it as if you never saw it before. (Yes, I did say FIRST draft.) Read slowly so that you don’t assume what is there, and you can read what is actually on the page. This is the time to do your own editing before you hire someone to do it. Start your rewrite – yes, I mean write it over again working the bugs out of it. (Keep your first copy in case some things you took out work better after revision.) Many authors do several rewrites, and then an editor usually advises more changes. Do yourself a favour – admit you aren’t perfect.

4. If you are not writing longhand and are counting on your computer’s spell check to find and fix your blunders, toss that idea now! Their are many weighs two due it rite and a spell cheque program is knot all ways the best oar only way too go! (How many errors did you find in that last sentence?) It is so easy for a computer program to change your words into something you aren’t intending to say at all. You have the brain, your computer has a program. Use the checker for the obvious things, but be sure of them – and use your dictionary, one with synonyms, antonyms, and homonyms. Take the time to do the research. Do yourself a favour – admit you aren’t perfect.

5. Don’t use a reviewer as your editor. Errors are distractions but not the reviewer’s job to point out to you. Once you finish writing the story you have yet to do the work. Having written that last sentence does not mean the work is done. Now you start reading from the beginning – out loud to yourself, fixing it, picking it apart, rewriting it. If you aren’t sure of your spelling or how to word something, look for books that teach you. Or take a course. Do yourself a favour – admit you aren’t perfect.

6. Don’t take yourself – or your writing – too seriously. Your story may be interesting to you, but it may not come across to others the same way. Make it interesting. Write your story in a captivating way. Read up on how to do that. Solid writing as free of errors as possible helps, and saying it in a natural way that is not stilted and preachy is more inviting to the reader. Be ready to take criticism, because criticism will come. Do yourself a favour – admit you aren’t perfect.

7. Don’t assume any word that sounds the same as the one you are trying to rhyme it with is the right word to use. If you are going to write a story in rhyme, study how to write good rhyme, rhythm, time, and … again, use your dictionary. Do yourself a favour – admit you aren’t perfect.

8. Punctuation is a serious snag to many writers. Invest in a good book that guides you through that part. Get help to avoid broken quotations, know where to insert commas, and to not use too many exclamation points!!! Do yourself a favour – admit you aren’t perfect.

9. Remember to watch out for details that pull your story along, but can get mixed up in your flurry of writing and rewriting. Interview their characters. Keep notes or an outline just for yourself to get to know them – describe them, their adventures, the scenes, and whatever else will add to your story. Even then mistakes can happen. That’s what editing is for, and very careful rereads. Do yourself a favour – admit you aren’t perfect.

10. Be Patient. If you want it done right and well, take your time. Revise, revise, revise. Don’t write it, immediately send it to a reviewer or editor, and expect them to polish it to a fine shine. Take time to make it the best you can before you send it out into the world of “let’s see what we can make of this.” Your work is an extension of your genius and imagination, take your time to get the help you need to give it the best chance. Do yourself a favour – admit you aren’t perfect.

An extra tip: Look for things such as these examples in your writing –

  • One of your characters is suffering a broken left arm from an accident, but later when he is trying to get out of the vehicle his right arm hangs uselessly.  Remember your details.
  • Your character stands to talk with someone and then he stands to leave having not sat again. Watch those scene changes.
  • Be sure if you change a character’s name that you are consistent all the way through your book. When a reader comes across a character who acts as if he has been there all along but was never mentioned before, the reader has no way of knowing it’s a missed change of name.
  • When editing, read carefully to see that your action scenes don’t intrude upon one another or get out of order, such as your character running from someone dangerous, then two paragraphs later the chase is just beginning. 

There are other things to watch for, and I’m sure you can think of some. What you see in your mind, and then writing it to make sense on paper, are two different things. Be sure you take the time you need to make it work. And then know when to stop.

If you want to write a book … do it right. And do it well, the best you can. I enjoy reading books like that. 

Finally … Don’t worry, just write. And will you do yourself a favour? Admit you aren’t perfect. It will be more fun that way.

What tips do you have to add to my list?

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  :)