Wednesday, April 27, 2011

For Writers - Where's the Beef?

It's another wild day here in Dublin. I'm racing to get this posted before the next band of storms arrives. (I can see the mass swiftly approaching on the Doppler. Kind of freaky.) So, quickly, and without further ado...

This week's tip comes from another reader question:

Q. I like my story idea, but sometimes when I write, it seems like nothing is happening. What am I doing wrong?

A. It's tough to diagnose without actually reading your work, but if you think nothing is happening, it sounds like maybe you are lacking the tension to keep the plot moving. Here are a few things you can do to beef up your plot:

1. Chase your hero up a tree and throw stones at her. IOW, make it hard for your character to reach her goal. Throw roadblocks in her way. Disappoint her. Dangle her over an alligator pit (Put her in danger, physically, emotionally, spiritually.) The more trouble, the better. Keep your readers turning the page to find out how she's going to get out of the trouble you've thrown her into.

2. Up the stakes. Ask yourself, what could make it worse? What is at risk? How can you make it bigger? More personal? More urgent? Go there.

3. Give your hero a flaw, and make her overcome it. What's the one thing your character is most afraid of? Make her face that fear/flaw. (Think Indiana Jones and his paralyzing fear of snakes, which he has to face when he is thrown into a pit of writhing snakes before his great escape.)

If you have a question you'd like to see answered on Tip Tuesday, either by me or the panel of expert contributors, send it to: gerb (@) lindagerber (.) com.

This week's link roundup:

Writing a satisfying ending (kidlit) Seriously love Mary Kole.

Shake up your story settings (MyBigNose) Reveal new things about your characters.

Culprits that block Writers (WriterUnboxed) What stops an agent from reading?

Ask why because your readers will (OtherSideOftheStory) Look for plot holes

Theme, Imagery & Description ( Stick with well-chosen details

More on description (Wordplay) "Telling details"

Appropriate for this week: Thunderstorm thesaurus (Bookshelf Muse) Just one of many fabulous setting thesaurus entries

Fantasy twists (ParanormalPOV) Prepare your readers.

The 10 Commandments of a Successful Writer (Publetariat) Care of Ronnie Loren.

6 Things to Consider when Choosing a Story Idea (YA Muses) Excellent.

More on Ideas (Laura Pauling) How to choose which one to write.

10 things that make a character great (LisaDescrocher) Plus a teaser for Original Sin.

Character web (theAdventurousWriter) Mapping out the relationships between characters.

More on Characters (YAHighway) Strong female characters.

The Inciting Incident (BubbleCow) Technique for engaging readers.

POV (Cheryl'sMusings) What we can learn from Cassandra Clare & 3rd Person Limited POV

Voice of POV (Ingrid'sNotes) Great exercise.

Revisions (Jess Free Falcon) Be brave!

The Breakout Novelist (The CreativePenn) Video interview with The Donald (Maass).

Now go. Write!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Check back!

Apologies to anyone looking for the Tip Tuesday. I'm still away from my desk (long story) so it looks like this week's post is going to become a Writers' Wednesday instead. Check back tomorrow!


Monday, April 18, 2011

For Writers - Which Tense?

Today's tip is an answer to a question I received this week regarding tense...

Q. My critique group read the first few chapters of my YA. The main criticism they had was that I kept bouncing between past and present tense. One member told me I should stick with present tense because it's good for YA, but another said present tense wears the reader out and I should stick to past tense. I asked for a tie-breaker, but the other member said it doesn't matter as long as I stick with one or the other. I don't know which one to choose. Which tense is best for YA? Help!

A. The answer is: there is no one true answer. A majority of YA novels may be written in past tense, but there are a lot of very popular YAs written in present. What you choose comes down to a matter of taste and the kind of effect you are trying to create.

Past tense is a familiar and comfortable tense for storytelling and for reading. Present tense creates a sense of immediacy and puts the reader in the moment. Both can be appropriate and effective for telling your story.

FWIW, I have seen some critics write that they are tired of the present tense "gimmick" in YA, but I disagree that A. it's a gimmick and B. that it's tiresome (or C. that it wears the reader out.) But again, this is a matter of taste. It depends on what feels right for the story.

I agree that you do need to be consistent. (That is, don't jump from past to present and back within a sentence, paragraph or even scene, although you could use a different tense to effectively set a bit of story apart - say, a flashback, for example, or a different narrator.) In the end, it comes down to which tense is right for the story, and right for you as a writer. Trust your instincts. If it feels right, do it.

If you have a question you'd like to see answered on Tip Tuesday, either by me or the panel of expert contributors, send it to: gerb (@) lindagerber (.) com.

This week's link roundup:

What is a story beat? (RayeannCarr) Excellent.

Outlines (Iggi&Gabbi) Techniques for those who hate outlines.

27 Steps to Plotting (PlotWhisperer) YouTube series. Cool.

5 Tips to Power Through that First Draft (MysteryWritingisMurder) via Alan Orloff

20 Great Similes (DailyWritingTips) Inspiration.

3 Traits Your Hero & Villain Should Share (Wordplay) Creating worthy opponents.

2 Sides of the Story (TheOtherSideoftheStory) Dramatic Irony.

This is Intense! (EbonyMcKenna) Tension, transition and pacing, oh, my.

Finding Conflict (Gail Carson Levine) What you do with it is important.

Revision: The Blind Spot (BeyondtheMargins) How to get over it.

Revision: The Drawer (BeyondtheMargins) The magic of letting it sit.

Revision: Optical Illusion (JessFreeFalcon) Love yourself enough to be a little afraid...

Just say NO (TheOpenVein) The power of no.

YA Love Triangles (YAHighway) Why so many? Discussion.

Talking Character (VictoriaMixon) Editors chat.

Offbeat Lessons (WriteitSideways) Persevere and follow your weird.

Get Fresh! (FictionGroupie) Dumping those tired cliches.

Now go. Write!

LATE Winner Announcement

Oy. This was supposed to auto-post... and I was supposed to check and make sure it did!

The winners of last week's freebie are:




Please send your mailing instructions to gerb (@) lindagerber (.) com and we'll get your books sent out to you!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

For Writers - The Idea Fairy

One of the most frequently asked questions I get at school visits and in emails from young readers/writers is: Where do you get your ideas?

Well, there's, the idea fairy, Bennie's Big Book of Ideas...

I think what most readers are asking is, what made you want to write about this? But what most budding writers (young and old) are asking is, where do you find the ideas? or, more to the point, how can I come up with original ideas for my own writing?

The answer is that ideas come from all over. From books and magazines, movies and the news. They come from watching people, interacting with people, helping people, in short, they come from living life (and paying attention). My writing friends and I often say (especially when we're slogging through a tough time) "It's all fodder!" In other words, everything we see, hear, feel, do, read, experience - it all goes into the mill for turning out stories.

But, that not being particularly helpful or concise for someone who just needs a little advice on how to jump start their muse*, I give you:

5 Simple Tricks for Generating Story Ideas:

1. Fix what's broken: Have you ever read a book or seen a movie that you just can't like because of a major plot or character flaw? Write your own, improved version.

2. Go classic: Take the plot of a classic movie, book, fairy tale or folk tale and put your own unique twist on it. Set it in a different time or place. Switch the characters' genders. Add a sci-fi, fantasy, or paranormal twist on it. In short, change it up and have fun.

3. Get lyrical: Listen for the story behind the music in your favorite songs. Write about it. (For a brilliant example of how this could evolve, read Nancy Werlin's IMPOSSIBLE.)

4. Follow the promptings: Develop a story from a simple prompt. Here are some links to help you out: Story-Portal, Writers' Digest,, or even use some great first lines for your prompts: DailyTips

5. Power up the Generator: Story generators are a fun jumping off place. In fact, the first book of my DEATH BY BIKINI MYSTERIES series evolved from a story generator exercise. You never know where these may lead you.
Story Generator, Complications Generator, Theme Generator, Character Generator

* In the end, you need to write what you are passionate about, what interests you, what moves you, but these are fun ways to get the juices flowing when you're stuck.

This Week's Link Roundup:

Hooks (Editor's Blog) Can't hook 'em with a yawn

Action scenes (Beyond the Margins) When to stay with the action, when you can digress

What to keep and what to kill (Gail Carson Levine) on getting to the point and killing darlings

The key to writing for MG (On Reading) Don't overthink things

So What? (The Other Side of the Story) Making readers care

Writing likable Characters (Cynsations) Guest post by Elise Broach

4 questions to ask about eccentric characters (FloridaWriters)

5 ways to avoid infodump (Publetariat) Slipping in the backstory

More on Backstory (Querytracker) Deepening your story by knowing your characters

8 Elements of good satire (QueryTracker) Writing humor.

7 tips for Finding your voice (Cheryl's Musings)

More on voice (Novel Matters) Voice=authority

And more voice (The other side of the Story) great exercises for finding your voice

18 questions to ask your characters (iggi&gabbi) Character development

Character (The Character Therapist) Worksheets for finding out what makes them tick

Characters: Switching the goal (Write About Now) Characters' choices reveal who they are

Details (Adventures in writing) Short and sweet post - it's the details that pull readers in

Descriptions (It's A Mystery) Keep only what adds to the story.

Building a fantasy world (Sisters in Scribe) Let your readers discover it when it matters.

Using the 5 senses (Falling Leaflets)

Best Advice (Class of 2K11) Debut authors spill on their best writing advice.

5 Revising Tricks (YA Highway) Anything to get us through revision!

6 Steps to Revision (WOW) Give it a clean sweep.

Coherent Paragraphs (edittorent)

4 Things to Check before sending your Query (YA Highway)

8 Things Kristin Nelson wants you to query her with (Pub Rants)

10 Places to submit your fiction (paperback writer)

Now go. Write!

P.S . Check out the celebratory post and cheer for the IOC finally including women athletes in the Nordic Jump events (and enter to win a ski-jumping-centric book, THE FINNISH LINE)!

Friday, April 08, 2011

FF - Women's Ski Jumping! Yeah!

I'll be away from my computer on Friday so I'm setting this on auto post and I really hope it works because...

It's time to celebrate!

Many of you who have followed this blog for a while know that I've long been frustrated with the IOC for not including women in the Nordic Ski Jumping competition at the Winter Games. I wasn't even aware that women weren't allowed to jump until I was researching for my SASS novel, THE FINNISH LINE. It boggled my mind when I found out. What age were we living in again? That was the year that World Class jumper Alissa Johnson sat on the sidelines at the Torino Olympics, watching her little brother Anders compete, but she was barred from participating because of her gender.

If that sounds crazy, some of the excuses the IOC used for not including a women's event were insane. It was too dangerous for girls (really!) or There weren't enough competitors in enough countries (wrong) or they were just not ready (ha!).

Women's Ski Jumping USA took up the fight ages ago, but they weren't included when the Olympics was held in their own back yard (Salt Lake City 2002), they didn't get the nod in time for Torino in 2006, and they were denied inclusion for Vancouver in 2010, even when other events that didn't meet the same rigid criteria the IOC was demanding of women's ski jumping were included. But the women didn't back down; they stepped up the fight even more. The Canadian athletes filed a discrimination lawsuit because their government would be providing funds to an organization that discriminated against women. Nada. Once again, the women were passed over.

You can understand then, with such a long and disappointing battle, how much this news means to these amazing women athletes:

On April 6, 2011, the IOC FINALLY voted to include women's ski jumping as an official event in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia!

You can read the story here, at the WSJUSA website.

(Guess where I'll be, winter 2014?)

I want to extend a HUGE congratulations to women jumpers everywhere, and in particular, the amazing ladies I met while working on THE FINNISH LINE - Abby Hughes, Alissa Johnson, Jessica Jerome, and Lindsey Van, and to their teammates, Avery Ardovino, Karin Friberg, Nina Lussi, and Nita Englund, to DeeDee Corridini, who has worked tirelessly for this day, to Vic Method, a great supporter and my contact with WSJUSA, and to all the countless others who would not take no for an answer, and demanded equality. Hooray!!!!!

For today's freebie, I'm offering three signed copies of my ski-jumping book, SASS: THE FINNISH LINE, which will soon become outdated (yay!) because in this book, girls couldn't yet jump in the Olympics... and now they can!!! Woot! I will also try to get my hands on some Sochi 2014 pins to go with the books, but as of this writing, I can't guarantee that yet. To be entered to win a copy of THE FINNISH LINE (and possibly a pin), leave a happy comment below. Bonus points if you jump over the WSJUSA website and join with the rest of us in supporting the women on their journey to Sochi. (Let me know in your comment.) Oh, and you could get your own pin, guaranteed, by donating just $10 to help support the women financially. (These are going to be collector pins, believe me. This is history!)

Because this is a celebratory week, this drawing will remain open until next Friday, April 15.

Happy Friday, and GO, WOMEN JUMPERS!!!!!

Saturday, April 02, 2011

For Writers - Write, not Right with Maureen McGowan

This week's tip comes to us from author and all around fun person Maureen McGowan, who is celebrating two book releases - Cinderella: Ninja Warrior and Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer. Maureen spent years following practical pursuits such as auditing, engineering, managing, and directing before giving in to the dark side and letting her creativity take over. When she's not writing, she can be seen in the throes of passion over music, art, film, fine handcrafts, and - naturally - shoes.

Here are the official blurbs for Maureen's brand spanking new books:

Sleeping Beauty is more than just a lonely princess waiting for her prince—she's a brave, tenacious girl who never backs down from a challenge. With vampire-slaying talents that she practices in secret, Sleeping Beauty puts her courage to the test in the dark of night, fighting evil as she searches for a way to break the spell that has cut her off from her family. In a special twist, readers have the opportunity to make key decisions for Sleeping Beauty and decide where she goes next—but no matter the choice; the result is a story unlike any fairy tale you've ever read!

Cinderella is more than just a servant girl waiting for her prince—she's a tough, fearless girl who is capable of taking charge of a dangerous situation. Seeking to escape the clutches of her evil stepmother, Cinderella perfects her ninja skills and magic talents in secret, waiting for the day when she can break free and live happily ever after. In a special twist, readers have the opportunity to make key decisions for Cinderella and decide where she goes next—but no matter the choice; the result is a story unlike any fairy tale you've ever read!

You can find Maureen online on her website, facebook, twitter, or her blog.

Maureen says:

It’s Write, not Right

No, this tip isn’t about spelling or choosing the correct word; it's a post about the highly subjective nature of writing and storytelling.

Writing is an art, not a science. Sure, like any form of art, there are techniques. There are basics to be mastered, skills to be learned. But like art, writing and storytelling would not exist, or be so popular or stimulate so many people's minds and hearts, if everyone painted, drew, sculpted, told a story in the same way. Similarly there's no right answer to whether a piece of art or a particular story is "good". What one person loves, the next will hate. It's subjective.

In art schools, budding artists learn by first drawing and painting mundane things, all in the same manner using the same media. They start with cylinders, balls, cones and other shapes, first with pencil, then charcoal, then conte or ink then paint (if they are painters) or clay (if they are sculptors). Then they move onto apples, oranges and pears (an art school favorite) then on to more complex still life compositions and the human form.

After this, in most art programs, the students learn to imitate. They copy the old masters, the impressionists, the great modern artists. They learn techniques by studying and imitating the artists who have gone before them.

But then? After those skills are mastered? Artists are expected to forget all that. No, not to forget—to put all those skills and techniques in a toolbox and start creating art in an entirely new way. Their own original way. Being derivative isn't rewarded, even in the more commercial areas of art. What everyone loves and rewards and gets excited about, is someone who does something different and interesting. Whether something is "good" or “horrible” is entirely up to the viewer of the art. In fact, whether or not it's original versus derivative is also up to the viewer. It's entirely subjective.

I believe that all these things hold true with writing. Writers learn the basic building blocks of sentences, paragraphs, scenes, chapters, acts, novels. They learn about careful word choice, avoiding redundancy, clean writing, the advantages of using an active voice and when they might use a passive voice for effect. They study other writers and perhaps do some imitation at first. They learn other skills of storytelling like escalating conflict and point of view and managing the release of information to create the desired emotions and experiences for the reader. They study theories, developed by those who've analyzed storytelling, like: "The Hero's Journey" and "Goal, Motivation, Conflict" and "Three Act Plotting".

But how to best use these skills once they are learned? Entirely subjective. If it weren't. If there were one way to do these things, then reading—particularly reading more than one book within a given genre—would be hopelessly boring for the reader. Readers usually don't notice the writer's technique unless it's dreadfully poorly executed. (Occasionally, if the story's great, they don't even notice when it's poorly executed, or care—evidence that religious thriller that did pretty well a few years ago. And some might argue that YA series about sparkling blood drinkers.) Readers know when they are drawn into a story, when they are pulled along so they can't put the book down. When they are entertained. So whether another writer might pick apart some elements of technique in popular books, there’s no denying that the authors told great stories and kept their readers’ entertained.

All that said, there *is* a lot of skill involved in writing well and crafting tightly told stories. Skills that need to be learned and honed. I’ve heard it said that you need to write a million words before you’re ready to be published—which is a lot of words! But I think there’s some truth to it. I also think that while there is no “right”, it is important to study and understand the rules of good writing.

Once you’ve done that, then go break them.

Right and write may sound the same, but they have entirely different meanings.

This Week's Link roundup:

What's in a name? (OpenBookOntario) Naming Characters

Where characters come from (YA Muses) Cabbage patch or stork?

5 Tips for Writing Better Scenes (JodyHedlund)

5 Reasons to Make Lists (The List Producer) Not specifically for writers, but interesting.

Hit it Big & How to Do It (StirYourTea) Don't quit.

Multiple POV (Flogging the Quill) Avoiding Head Hopping

Happy spaces (HappyWriter) Creating the perfect space to write.

More on writing spaces (Beyond the Margins)

Description (kidlit) Issues to avoid.

Kurt Vonnegut on Drama (Derek Silvers) Love.

To Revise or Shelve (Lisa Schroeder) How do you know?

Finding the "just as much" (Adventures in Children's Publishing) Excellent.

Tempo and Pacing (Gail Carson Levine) Keep the reader engaged.

Fact and Fiction ( "logical madness"

The struggle for a rising plot line (Writer Unboxed) Revise, revise, revise

The Best of the best. (Adventures in Children's Publishing) Best of collection of links on POV, setting, syntax, theme, voice tips & techniques. Fantastic.

Now go. Write!