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Be Thankful

I had promised myself I wasn’t going to fill this blog merely with links to other blogs, but Tin Pencil member Sue E. sent me the post Ten Commandments for the Happy Writer by the amazing Nathan Bransford (*blush* see previous post) and I was struck by how relevant commandment number nine is in the wake of Thanksgiving.

9. Be thankful for what you have. If you have the time to write you’re doing pretty well. There are millions of starving people around the world, and they’re not writing because they’re starving. If you’re writing: you’re doing just fine. Appreciate it.

We are very lucky. I know that I find myself whining with embarrassing regularity about my busy schedule, lack of time, so much to do, blah, blah, blah. But I’m busy because I get to do all of the stuff that I love. How lucky is that?

Read the rest of the commandments here. Thanks Sue!

The Future of Publishing…

My posts are so often links to other bloggers’ posts, I know (hangs head in shame), but this is perhaps the best argument I’ve read for the future domination of e-books. While, as an indie bookseller in a traditional brick and mortar store, this makes me a little sad, I can also now look to the future with a different kind of hope. Maybe bookstores will soon be welcome among the ranks of clock shops and hat stores, but at least we will still exist for those to whom it makes a difference.

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/11/efficiency-wins-in-end.html

Query Shark

As promised, here is a link to the awesome Query Shark:

http://queryshark.blogspot.com/

This blog is updated by literary agent Janet Reid. Here you can find problematic query letters dissected as well as examples of letters that made it to the next level. You can even submit your own query letter for feedback, but make sure you read her guidelines (found in the righthand column of her site) before you do.

Breaking the Rules

I said a few things at the meeting last night that I realize might come back to bite me. When I said that “rules” don’t make good feedback, I meant something very specific. I don’t refer to grammar rules, spelling, etc. We all still have to start our sentences with capital letters, there’s no excuse for not knowing the difference between it’s and its (or there, their, and they’re), and we shouldn’t all throw out our dictionaries just yet, no matter how sloppy we are when we text message.

What I was referring to was the subjective “rules” on writing novels that usually begin with  “never” or “always.” Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Never use a substitution for the word “said.”

While it is wearing to read dialogue like the following…

“Hello, handsome,” Chloe cooed.

“Hello, yourself,” Jack sneered.

“What’s the matter?” Chloe questioned.

“You missed writers club last night!” Jack ejaculated.

… there is really no substitution for a good “shouted,” “whispered,” or “sobbed” when used sparingly. As with anything, if you overuse it it loses its potency (like swear words) and you’re not letting your dialogue speak for itself, but a few well-placed descriptive substitutions for “said” can be highly effective. You don’t want to waste time writing “Jack said in a hushed voice” when you could write “Jack whispered.”

2. Never start an opening scene with dialogue.

The purpose of this “rule” is to keep us from starting a novel with a big chunk of dialogue that leaves the reader scratching her head, wondering who is talking, who is listening, where it’s taking place, and, most importantly, why she should care. If these questions are immediately answered after a short, intriguing bit of spoken word, then it’s a non-issue and the “rule” doesn’t apply.

3. Always show, don’t tell.

Like 1. above, this is a good piece of advice in general. There are other schools of thought that recommend that you not explain in dialogue what could more easily be summarized.   Back story is no more interesting in a clichéd flashback than being explained by a trustworthy narrator at the right moment. Trust your readers to understand what you show them (don’t tell them too), but there are times when showing only detracts from the story and telling is much more effective.

Finally, the real reason I don’t believe these “rules” make for helpful feedback is because they are cookie cutter. They’re not tailored to the writer’s story. As writers, we all want to know whether what we’re doing is working or not. When we receive generic feedback, all we’re being told is that we’re not coloring within someone else’s arbitrary lines.

Comments?

Tips for Querying Agents

I’ve been looking into the art of query letter writing and the process of approaching literary agents, and I thought these links might be of use to those of you nearing the completion of your stories.

Ten Things You Should Do Before Querying an Agent

24 Agents Who Want Your Work

Anatomy of a Good Query Letter

Get the Big Stuff Right

How (And Whether) to List Your Publishing Credits

The last one is a favorite.

Annie Dillard and the Writing Life

If you desire an inspirational read that is also overflowing with masterful writing tips, check out this short essay by Alexander Chee. It perked me right up. Just read it. I’ll say no more.

*Update* This essay is included in the awesome new collection  “Mentors, Muses & Monsters: 30 Writers On the People Who Changed Their Lives” now out in hardcover.

sdhttp://www.themorningnews.org/archives/personal_essays/annie_dillard_and_the_writing_life.php

Hey Tin Pencilers!

This is our new home! I hope you like it! Geocities is shutting down, so I’m moving our online presence here. I’m still figuring out the bells and whistles so the site is bound to improve over time.

Write on!


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