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What I’ve Learned: Floating Body Parts

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Inspired by a comment by Fiendish!

She swung her eyes around to where he stood in the doorway.

My first questions when I read a sentence like this: Are they tied to a string? Is she using them like nunchucks? Doesn’t that hurt?

Her face fell as he broke the news to her.

Again: Ouch! She should have latches installed or something.

Here’s one I just read in a novel by a best-selling author:

His eyes slid over her face.

Ewwww. Just, ewww.

My first mentor at SHU had this thing about passive verbs and floating body parts (FBP), so I learned pretty early on to get rid "was" and "were" as well as FBPs.

So what’s a FBP? It’s any time in the story where an action is attributed to a body part rather than a character. The quotes above are pretty good (and common) examples.

In the first, she swung her gaze around, not her eyes. Accuracy in description is important. Many readers won’t catch it, but the more literal-minded will. And you don’t want to ever lose readers if you can help it.

The second example is a little different. Saying someone’s face fell is a somewhat common expression, but when writing, there are much more effective ways of getting the idea across. What things happen which create the "falling" of a face? Perhaps the jaw goes slack, or the brows furrow or come together over the nose. If you describe the changes in the face that create the crestfallen look, not only will your reader get the idea, but your writing will be that much stronger for the description. Your character will seem more alive.

The third example is similar to the first, only grosser. Blech.

"But," you say, "my favorite author, Mr X, does that all the time!"

Well-published authors, best-selling authors, and authors who have made a niche for themselves aren’t always considered as critically as new authors. If an author already has numbers (sales) on his side, it means he already has a fan base which will buy his books regardless of some minor issues.

Unfortunately, those of us who are just breaking into the business, or attempting to, are held to a higher standard. We have editors to impress in order to get our foot (feet?) in the door. We’re competing against hundreds, often thousands, of other hopeful writers, so anything we can improve in our writing can only increase our chances of catching the editor’s eye. Tight and accurate descriptions help.

I know when I started writing, my characters’ body parts were doing all kinds of things! Once I started recognizing FBPs and began to shift the action from the body part to the character,  my characters became more realistic and my scenes, especially action scenes, came across as more focused and immediate.

Have a look at some of your stories. Do you have issues with floating body parts?

 

Half-Passed!

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I love the play on words of the title!

I heard from my first mentor for SHU, Leslie, who is my second reader for my thesis/manuscript (don’t ask, the first mentor/second reader, second mentor/first reader thing is confusing). She passed my manuscript! So that’s one down and one to go!

I’m a bit more concerned about my current(second) mentor/first reader though. Not that Leslie is easy, by any means, but she’s not in my genre, so she couldn’t be very critical in that regard. Leslie’s awesome for all the technical stuff though: passive verbs, adverbs, floating body parts. She catches all that stuff! On the final ms pass, she did nail me on lay/lie and further/farther as well as a few other things. I guess I should have paid closer attention to my Elements of Style, huh? It wasn’t bad enough to fail the ms though, so yay!

Anyway, as I was saying, I’m more concerned about my second mentor’s pass through of the ms. Mike’s a horror writer, a tenured professor and an extremely astute reader. He’s always pushing me. He’s fantastic! But, because he’s more familiar with the genres I write in, he can be a lot more critical. Add to that his position as an English prof, I am sometimes overwhelmed. He’s used to analyzing writing. I haven’t analyzed much since I was an undergrad… not in terms of literary criticism and analysis. And let me assure you that my undergrad years were quite a long time ago!

I’m still optimistic, though. I have no idea whether he will pass or fail the ms–don’t mistake me on that. But I’m keeping my chin up and hoping for the best.

If he doesn’t pass the ms, he’ll give me the reasons why and I’ll have an opportunity to fix the problems. Then he’ll re-evaluate. So it’s not as though this is the last chance.

Now, I’m working on my critical essay, which is a ten page paper on where my novel falls into the larger genre. And I have to develop a lesson plan for my teaching module. I still think I’m going to do action scenes. I have an interesting idea for a class activity, but I’ll need more than that. But I’ve got time.

Oh, and add to all this, I’m buying a house next Thursday. My life is a bit hectic these days!

Aaaand…we’re back!

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Okay, I think things are going to tone down for awhile now. My manuscript is in. Now I wait for word on whether I need to change things or whether it passes as is.

In the meantime, though, expect some new posts this week! Woot!

Writing Update: Done and Done!

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I finally finished the revision of Soul Cavern last night! I'm going to make another pass through tonight, just for polish, then tomorrow it goes out to my two readers at SHU. Now I have 2 more things to do before May 10: I have a 10 page genre essay to write and a teaching module to plan.

I've got 2 blog entries I'm going to work on this week. First is an update on the Amazon POD thing. I've got some more news on that. And the second, which is already partially written, is a post on markets, specifically anthologies.

I'll be out of town this weekend, so things will still be a little quiet around here, but next week we should be back to our regular non-schedule! I've also got an interview scheduled with Amy Jo over at Cobblestone Press, so watch for that soon too!

Yay! The revision is done!

Amazon – POD Monopoly?

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I was going to do a post on anthologies today, but I just found out about Amazon’s bid for complete coverage in the POD world. There are a couple large Print On Demand (POD) printers – BookSurge (now owned by Amazon), LightningSource (owned by Ingram book distributor), and a few medium sized ones. Print on Demand allows for lower costs for small publishers as well as self-publishing authors.

Now, however, Amazon is using its leverage as a retail giant to force publishers to use BookSurge. The result if they don’t? Amazon will turn off the "Buy" button on their book listings. This means that potential customers can see the book on Amazon, but can’t buy it. But, if the author/publisher switches over to BookSurge–viola!–the "Buy" button returns. Read about it in detail at Angel Hoy’s Writers Weekly.

According to Publisher’s Weekly:

Neither Amazon nor BookSurge returned calls, although spokesperson Tammy Hovey told the Wall Street Journal the move is a “strategic decision. What we’re looking to do is have a print-on-demand business that better serves our customers and authors. When we work with some other publishers, it’s not truly a print-on-demand business.” 

What? You’re serious? So, you want to have an apparel business and if the designers don’t use your manufacturing company, you can’t truly be an apparel business? That must be one of the most asinine comments I’ve ever seen.

Amazon, you’ve totally screwed up this time. Your company was built on the words of authors. Books got you where you are today. And now, you’re holding POD books hostage until the authors/publishers pay the BookSurge ransom. Shame on you!

Missing in Action

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WARNING: Content may be incoherent or otherwise unintelligible due to fever. By proceeding further, you agree not to hold author accountable for anything she might say in this posting. (Unless it’s good. Then she gets all credit.) You have been warned!

Yes, you read it right. I’m sick. Well, it’s possible that it’s exhaustion. I came home from work today and realized I had a sore throat. Took my temp and sure enough, I have a small fever. Made soup for dinner and here it is 9:30 and I’m about to go to bed. But I hadn’t made a post in much longer than normal, so I wanted to at least pop in so you know I’m not actually dead or anything.

I’ve been busting my tail on the revision for Soul Cavern. I’ve completed through chapter 21 (I think the status bar on the left is off by a chapter). Unfortunately, I’m stuck on chapter 22. I’m waiting for the muse to figure out what the hell I need to do. She needs to hurry her musely butt up, because I don’t have much time left!

I did get in touch with an old writing friend of mine today and I’m absolutely ecstatic to be in communication with her again. If you’re observant, you might notice two new links down in the link section on the left. If you’re not observant, you’ll just have to wait til later, when I blog about her and the accomplishments she’s made in the last 6 years. That’s what you get for not paying attention! 🙂

Okay, off to bed. My muse better visit me in the night and let me know what I’m supposed to do for chapter 22.

Hey, if she doesn’t make it, can I borrow your muse for awhile?

Synopsis Fun on the Internet!

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Okay, if you’ve ever tried to write a synopsis, you know that the title of this post is a big, fat lie. Synopses are hard to write. How do you whittle a 400 page book down to a few pages? How can you convey the brilliance of your characters in such little space?

I detest trying to write synopses. Hate them! But, like spam and taxes, they seem to be a part of life, particularly if you’re interested in getting a novel-length work published. Well, the publishing gods have named today Synopsis Day and there will be much rejoicing in the streets! Okay, maybe a little joyous reading in the blogosphere. Either way, today, 22 published authors write about how to create an effective synopsis. Want to read along? Here they are:

Maria V. Snyder: http://blog.myspace.com/mariavsnyder

Patricia Bray: http://www.sff.net/people/patriciabray/synopsis.html

Chaz Brenchley: http://desperance.livejournal.com

Mike Brotherton: http://www.mikebrotherton.com

Tobias Buckell: http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2008/02/01/ask-me-a-question-was-crystal-rain-sold-as-part-of-a-series

S.C.Butler: http://scbutler.livejournal.com

Barbara Campbell: www.barbara-campbell.com/inside.htm

David B. Coe: http://davidbcoe.livejournal.com

Jennifer Dunne: http://jennifer_dunne.livejournal.com

S.L. Farrell: http://sleigh.livejournal.com

Diana Francis: http://difrancis.livejournal.com

Gregory Frost: http://frostokovich.livejournal.com

Felix Gilman: http://www.felixgilman.com/wordpress

Jim C. Hines: http://jimhines.livejournal.com

Jackie Kessler: http://www.jackiekessler.com/blog

Mindy Klasky: http://mindyklasky.livejournal.com

Misty Massey: http://madkestrel.livejournal.com

C.E. Murphy: http://mizkit.livejournal.com

Naomi Novik: http://naominovik.livejournal.com

Joshua Palmatier: http://jpsorrow.livejournal.com

Jennifer Stevenson: http://smokingpigeon.livejournal.com

Michelle West: http://msagara.livejournal.com

Sean Williams: http://ladnews.livejournal.com

Read and learn! 🙂

Steps on the Journey: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

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Welcome to another SoJ post! Since I'm mired, waist-deep, in the revision of Soul Cavern, I thought this would be an appropriate entry for SoJ today.

If you only buy two writing books (you're already buying Strunk & White's Elements of Style, remember), Self-Editing for Fiction Writers needs to be the second one.

The days are gone when an editor was able to take a chance on a green writer and help him polish his work, edit his voice and develop his message. Now, writers must be their own editors.

If you've ever had any issues with telling instead of showing, internal monologues (I have to re-read that chapter!), points of view, dialogue or just how to put it all together, then you'll want this book. Brown and King take the hidden mechanics of writing, shine a light on them and then show you exactly how to get the most out of your writing.

Of particular interest to beginning and intermediate writers (aren't we all?), will be Chapter 11: Sophistication. In this chapter, the authors draw our attention to typical sentence constructs which dilute good writing. And they explain why it weakens the prose. This forearms writers to be on the watch for certain flaws, not only in the editing process, but in the writing process as well.

Recommendation:
Any writer who aspires to be published will benefit from this book. Editing is now the domain of the writer. This book will teach you how to do it with clear language and effective examples.

St. Patrick’s Day!

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Happy "Wear Green or Get Pinched" Day! I’m working from home today, so I don’t have to worry about random pinches from co-workers. But I’ve always loved the festivity of St Patty’s Day. It’s a no-pressure holiday. Unlike the winter celebrations, Valentine’s Day, Halloween (my own personal favorite) and other holidays, there’s no stress to put on big feasts, to be in a relationship, to honor gods. Even though it’s a celebration of a Christian saint, it’s  not a particularly religious holiday. And there’s no stress about getting the perfect gift for Uncle Guido.

So I like St. Patrick’s Day. (Uncle Guido’s hard to buy for.)

Here’s something a lot of folks don’t know: St. Patrick wasn’t actually Irish. He was English. As a teen, he was captured and taken to Ireland as a slave. After several years, he ended up back in Britain and went into the church. Then he came back to Ireland to convert the Irish to Christianity. Interesting, huh?

Later today, I should have another SoJ for you. Things are coming down to the wire for my revisions for SHU, so posts may become a little more sporadic for awhile. The final due date is April 10, I think. I suspect I may have a heart attack before then. But we’ll see!

My First Guest Post & Thoughts on Fiction

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Yesterday, my first ever guest blog post was published at Raivyn’s Idiot’s Guide to Blogging! I found Raivyn at PostOnFire and found her blog to be pretty cool. She was looking for guest bloggers, so I dropped her an e-mail and proposed a post about improving the writing on your blog. And so there it is! Raivyn’s pretty cool and easy to work with. And, as I said, her blog’s awesome! Thanks Raivyn, for giving me the opportunity to blog for you!

So I’m working on my book. Still. It feels like forever. But that’s okay. I’m making it better and so that will be worthwhile, in the end. I’m adding a new scene to chapter 12, which might take a portion of the story off in a different direction. I’ve still got a lot of big rewrites to do later. I’m hoping I’m going to have enough time for them!

Once I’ve graduated, one of the many projects I want to work on is putting up an eZine. I’d really like to do a print magazine, but I think starting off with an eZine might be the better way to go. I can determine whether I’m cut out to be an editor of a publication or not. That’s really the big thing. Everything else can be dealt with.

It seems as though the number of paying venues accepting short fiction are diminishing. (I have a whole post in me about people who want writers to work for no pay, but I’ll save that for another day.) I think adding a paying venue, even if it’s not print, initially, is a good thing. There aren’t enough places for new fiction writers to get their feet wet and possibly make a name for themselves.

So now I’ve let you in on one of my secret ambitions. The one that doesn’t involve big, froofy feathers and a spotlight.

Oh. Wait. Was that my outside voice?