Sunday, January 29, 2012

Two Plus Two = Great Reading!

Confession. I’ve completely drawn a blank as to what to blog about. With edits to finish on my current WIP and a pile of critiquing to do, I’m scrounging for topics. So today, I thought I’d give you recommendations of two books I’ve read recently and then give you two books I want to read.

Sound like fun? Let’s take a look at the first one. I’ll give you the back cover blurb and a short, two or three sentence review, of each.

**Two Books I've Read:

Maid of Fairbourne Hall – Julie Klassen
Pampered Margaret Macy flees London in disguise to escape pressure to marry a dishonorable man. With no money and nowhere else to go, she takes a position as a housemaid in the home of Nathaniel Upchurch, a suitor she once rejected in hopes of winning his dashing brother. Praying no one will recognize her, Margaret fumbles through the first real work of her life. If she can last until her next birthday, she will gain an inheritance from a spinster aunt--and sweet independence. But can she remain hidden as a servant even when prying eyes visit Fairbourne Hall?

Observing both brothers as an "invisible" servant, Margaret learns she may have misjudged Nathaniel. Is it too late to rekindle his admiration? And when one of the family is nearly killed, Margaret alone discovers who was responsible. Should she come forward, even at the risk of her reputation and perhaps her life? And can she avoid an obvious trap meant to force her from hiding?

On her journey from wellborn lady to servant to uncertain future, Margaret must learn to look past appearances and find the true meaning of "serve one another in love."

My Review As an avid devotee of both Julie Klassen and anything having to do with the upper class vs. the servants, I was immediately hooked by Klassen’s newest. With intriguing plot twists and a sweet romance, this was a great read. I read it in two days (and it’s a really long book)! Highly recommended for anyone who loves the novels of Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte!

Heiress – Susan May Warren

The beautiful heiress daughters of newspaper magnate August Price have been given everything their hearts desire. But what if they want only to be loved--without an enormous price tag attached? When one daughter pursues a desirable marriage, she secures for herself a comfortable and glamorous life. But among the duties of privilege, will she also find the happily-ever-after she seeks? Her sister rejects the trappings of wealth, choosing instead to build a new life on the still-untamed frontier. Will she find happiness in independence or discover that she's left her heart behind in New York's glittering society? Set in the opulent world of the Gilded Age, each woman discovers that being an heiress just might cost her everything--including the chance for true love.

My ReviewBeautiful! No other word to describe book one in the “Daughters of Fortune Series.” Warren’s prose sweeps readers away to the Gilded Age and her descriptions are some of the most vivid I’ve ever read. A highly engaging story of two sisters living in an age that was anything but innocent. Loved it!

**Now here’s two books I want to read. I’ll give the back cover blurb of each and the reason I want to read the book.

The Guardian Duke – Jamie Carie
The Guardian Duke, is award-winning novelist Jamie Carie’s most exciting story yet, a uniquely arranged Regency-era romantic adventure where hero and heroine know each other through written letters but have yet to meet.

Gabriel, the Duke of St. Easton, is ordered by the King to take guardianship over Lady Alexandria Featherstone whose parents are presumed dead after failing to return from a high profile treasure hunt. But Alexandria ignores this royal reassignment, believing her parents are still alive and duly following clues that may lead to their whereabouts. Gabriel, pressured by what are actually the King’s ulterior motives, pursues her across windswept England and the rolling green hills of Ireland but is always one step behind.

When they do meet, the search for earthly treasure will pale in comparison to what God has planned for both of them.

My Thoughts – Maybe it’s because I love reading anything with the word “duke” in the title, or maybe because it’s set in England. All I know is this book looks soooo good and it is definitely on my want to read list for 2012!

To Die For – Sandra Byrd
To Die For, is the story of Meg Wyatt, pledged forever as the best friend to Anne Boleyn since their childhoods on neighboring manors in Kent. When Anne’s star begins to ascend, of course she takes her best friend Meg along for the ride. Life in the court of Henry VIII is thrilling at first, but as Anne’s favor rises and falls, so does Meg’s. And though she’s pledged her loyalty to Anne no matter what the test, Meg just might lose her greatest love—and her own life—because of it.

Meg's childhood flirtation with a boy on a neighboring estate turns to true love early on. When he is called to follow the Lord and be a priest she turns her back on both the man and his God. Slowly, though, both woo her back through the heady times of the English reformation. In the midst of it, Meg finds her place in history, her own calling to the Lord that she must follow, too, with consequences of her own. Each character in the book is tested to figure out what love really means, and what, in this life, is worth dying for.

Though much of Meg’s story is fictionalized, it is drawn from known facts. The Wyatt family and the Boleyn family were neighbors and friends, and perhaps even distant cousins. Meg’s brother, Thomas Wyatt, wooed Anne Boleyn and ultimately came very close to the axe blade for it. Two Wyatt sisters attended Anne at her death, and at her death, she gave one of them her jeweled prayer book—Meg.

My Thoughts – I love Tudor England, and the stories of King Henry VIII’s wives have always intrigued me. Thus, I was so excited to discover this book, written by the talented Sandra Byrd. Plus, it’s loosely based on a real person which I love. Gotta get my hands on this book!

There you have it. Two books I have read and two books I want to read. Hope you had fun!
Happy Reading!

Your Turn – What two books have you read and what two books do you want to read?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

“I repeat,” she repeated.

How many of you have read lines like this in novels written in the 70’s and 80’s?
I know I’ve read several.

Just for laughs, I thought I’d share a few:
…she contradicted.
…he assured.
…she echoed.
…he said laughingly.
….she said frowningly.
…she intoned.
….he asseverated. (Say again? I’d have to look that one upJ)
And last but not least…. “I insist!” he insisted.

In the days before computers, television, and all other newfangled technology, an author might have been able to get away with these, almost humorous, dialog tags. However, publishing has changed and readers want crisper and less author intrusive approaches to writing.

So how do we write dialog tags? Some authors are what I call “said purists” which means “said” is the only dialog tag they use. Others use absolutely no dialog tags. And some use beats rather than speaker attributions.

Here are three tips I’ve used when writing and editing my dialog.

1)Use beats rather than dialog tags. In this fast paced era of movies and television, readers want to visualize what they’re reading. Just as if it were being played out on the screen. A great way to do this is to use beats, which I like to intermingle with dialog tags. For example, rather than saying, “he said angrily”, I’ll use, “he pounded the table.” Of course too many beats can easily tire your reader (not to mention your characters) so I like to mix these in with dialog tags and with nothing at all.

2)Avoid using adverbs. Using adverbs is even worse than using “he intoned”, because it is very author intrusive and telling rather than showing. Using a tag like “he said sadly” pulls our focus from the story, onto the author who is telling the story.
For example:

“I can’t believe it!” she exclaimed incredulously.

Instead we can show she’s incredulous by using a beat. This also reveals more about the character. See the difference:

“I can’t believe it!” Her eyes widened and her fingers dug into her palm.

Writing this way is much less intrusive and also plays the line out cinematically.

There are times (albeit very rare) when using an adverb is acceptable. For example, if you want to emphasize a character saying something “softly” or “quickly”. However, I’ve found weeding as many adverbs as possible from my dialog tightens my manuscript.

3) Try using no tags at all. Usually in a conversation between only two people its possible not to use any tags at all. This actually makes for a very smooth flow of dialog and keeps the reader tuned in to the story. Description or internal monologue also acts as a good tag between character dialog without breaking the flow of the story.

Upon editing my first drafts, I usually take out unnecessary dialog tags and replace them with beats. I think the best rule for dialog tags is, “less is more.” Jerry Jenkins actually wrote an entire novel using only a few beats and no dialog tags at all.  His editor didn’t even notice and the readers had no difficulty following the flow of the dialog between characters. Although, I wouldn’t recommend going that far, I do think eliminating dialog tags is a helpful tool to use when polishing your novel and further increasing reader satisfaction.

Happy Writing,

Your Turn – What patterns do you use when writing dialog? What’s the strangest dialog tag you’ve ever read?

Monday, January 16, 2012

My Self Editing Checklist

She’s making a list and checking it twice. Gonna find verbs that are naughty or nice. Okay, well maybe I’m going off the deep end here. J But on a serious note when I’m editing I do make a list and check it twice. This is a list I’ve compiled using various writing books, other sources and things I’ve developed myself. I generally use this for every chapter, usually when I’m on my second or third draft. It’s a great tool for analyzing each chapter to see if all the necessary components are there. It also might be a good tool to use when critiquing or analyzing another piece of fiction.

So without further ado, my self-editing checklist.
1)Is there a good beginning hook? Does it drop the reader into the fictional dream? If not, what changes need to be made

2)Is there well-defined conflict and a feasible problem for the protagonist to solve? If not, what problem/event can be added or heightened?

3)Is there a brief description of the setting/time and place? Does it inform the reader without boring them? What changes can be made to improve this?

4)Does each chapter “begin with a bang”? Or does it start slowly, with unnecessary details or backstory? Where does the chapter really begin? Do I need to eliminate things that dull the beginning?

5)Was the chapter compelling? Will it keep readers turning pages? Or was it filler? What can be done to fix this?

6)Did the chapter move the plot forward? What is this chapter’s purpose?

7)Will the ending of the chapter hook the reader? Will they want to read more? Can you end the chapter a page earlier and gain more tension?

8)Are there any flashbacks? Are they necessary? Do they slow the plot down? How can they be shortened or made more dramatic?

9)Were there enough sensory descriptions? Do they seem too wordy? Would the reader skip over them or do they add to the fictional dream?

10)Was the dialog consistent with each character’s age, education, and view on life? Was it full of tension? Did the character’s “pass the time of day” in any parts? Delete those and reword.

11)Are the character’s actions consistent with their personalities? If not, is there a genuine reason why they acted out of character? Is this reason revealed to the reader?

12)Are there unnecessary dialog tags that can be omitted, such as when only two characters are conversing? Is it clear which character is speaking?

13)Is there any “head hopping” or unclear POV’s? Is the POV consistent? Make changes accordingly.

14)Are there any continuity errors, such as character descriptions, etc.?

15)Are the historical details conveyed accurately? Double check sources. (Note. This only applies to novels set not in the present era)

16)Any clichés that can be replaced? Replace these with fresh intriguing phrases.

17)Is the inspirational element present in a way that is not preachy? Is the character’s faith journey displayed at all?

18)Is there continual romantic tension? (Note. This only applies to romances or novels with romantic subplots)

19)Is the chapter a suitable length? Is it too long or too short?

20)Is all grammar and punctuation correct?

**Lastly, when ending the book and that last chapter, consider:
21) How is the ending of the book? Were all subplots wrapped up? Was it a dramatic “leave the reader pondering ending”, along with a lasting impression. Can it be improved?

There you have it. My self-editing checklist. Feel free to use this for your own novels, and may it help you as much as it has me.

Happy Writing and Editing,

What do you find helps you in the editing process? Any books or tips? Pass them along for all of us to glean from.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Jane - On Writing

This week I’ve fueled my Jane Austen obsession by having a Jane Austen marathon. (Hey, don’t I deserve something for writing “the end” on novel number five?) First I watched the 2008 Sense and Sensibility, which I thoroughly enjoyed. After that, Miss Austen Regrets, a biopic on the later years of Jane’s life, which is a very inspiring movie for writers.  Last, but not least, I listened to an audio program detailing Jane Austen’s life. Needless to say after all this I’m inspired to pick up Pride and Prejudice for yet another read.
While listening to the audio program it dawned on me that much of the writing advice Jane Austen gave others during her life is very applicable to writers today. So pick up your quill pens and don your bonnets and we’ll take a trip to England, into Jane Austen’s novels and her personal correspondence.

On Rewrites     
I hope when you have written a great deal more, you will be equal to scratching out some of the past. Letter to her niece Anna

On A Bad Writing Day (it seems even Jane had those)
I don’t know what is the matter with me today, but I cannot write quietly; I am always wandering into some exclamation or other. Fortunately I have nothing very particular to say. Letter to her sister Cassandra.
On Conquering Writers Block
I am not at all in a humor for writing; I must write on, till I am. Letter to her sister Cassandra.
On Clichés
I abhor every commonplace phrase by which wit is intended; and ‘setting one’s cap at a man,’ or ‘making a conquest’ are the most odious of all. Their tendency is gross and illiberal; and if their construction could ever be deemed clever, time has long ago destroyed all its ingenuity. Sense and Sensibility.
On Improving Sentence Structure
I begin already to weigh my words and sentences more than I did and am looking about for a  sentiment, an illusion, or a metaphor in every corner of the room. Could my ideas flow as fast as the rain in the storecloset, it would be charming. Letter to her sister Cassandra.
On What Topic To Choose For Your First Novel  
You are now collecting your people delightfully, getting them exactly into such a spot as is the delight of my life. Three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on. Letter to her niece Anna (who was writing her first novel)
On Why Jane Wouldn’t Have Liked Flash Fiction
For my own part, if a book is well written, I always find it too short. The Juvenilia of Jane Austen
On Why Flawed Characters Are Best
He and I should not in the least agree, of course, in our ideas of novels and heroines; - pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked. Letter to her niece Fanny.
On Less than a Five Star Review
Let us leave it to the reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains about the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our novels have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so less decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers. Northanger Abbey
And last but not least,
On A Good Novel
It is only a novel…or, in short, some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineations of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humor are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language. Northanger Abbey.

So there you have it. Advice on writing from one of the greatest authors of all time. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading Jane’s quotes as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing them.

Your Turn – Which of these quotes did you enjoy most? Were you surprised as to how little things have changed in what makes up good writing?

Special "SEEKERVILLE" Giveaway!!!
On Wednesday, January 11th, I am doing a guest post on Seekerville! In honor of this special post, I am giving away six books by some of the Seekerviller writers. You can find the post at:  Leave a comment on Seekerville this Wednesday, along with your email and you could possible win one of the following: A Heart Revealed by Julie Lessman, Out of Control by Mary Connealy, An Inconvenient Match by Janet Dean, Love By The Book by Cara Lynn James, A Family For Faith by Missy Tippens, or Mended Hearts by Ruth Logan Herne. The winners will be contacted and announced on the Seekerville Weekend Edition.

Happy Writing,


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ending With A Bang! Writing That Leaves Your Reading Wanting More

Final scenes in novels need to leave a lasting impression that makes the reader eagerly await your next book. Its commonly quoted, “The first chapter sells your novel, the last chapter sells the novel after that."

With that in mind here are four essential ingredients for a good ending. Use these tips and you'll leave your reader wanting more.

1)Is it satisfying? All novels need a satisfying ending. This doesn't necessarily mean a happy one, but one that wraps up the story line and makes the reader feel the story is complete.

2)Does it seem natural? Ever read a novel where it seemed like the author just got tired of the story and decided to end it two pages later? An ending must seem naturally grown. If it doesn’t evolve, we won’t believe it. The characters need redemption or there has to be a valid reason why its lacking. Often my endings get tweaked quite a bit while editing, to make them more believable and less contrived.

3)Does it end with a bang or a sigh-worthy last line? Every good book ends with a great last line. A line that moves the reader in some way. While the first line in your novel should intrigue, the last line should leave a lasting impression.

4)Does it tie up loose ends? Sometimes authors have one or two mini endings, to tie up subplots before the final ending. Stand-alone novels should not leave the readers wondering “What happened to that character?"  Novels in a series can have more intrigue that leaves you awaiting the next installment.


Here are several examples of stellar endings from some of my favorite novels:
1) Shakespeare's Lady by Alexa Schnee : "I knew the world would never remember me or what I had done, but it would never forget the man I loved." 

2) Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta: "I squeezed his hand as tightly as I could, never wanting to let go. Yet I knew if I didn't, I would never discover the other side of love. I took my first step of faith." 

3) For Such a Time by Kate Breslin : " A soft breeze arose at that moment, steady and sweet across the hills of Lvov. And Hadassah smiled, hearing His whisper."

These endings showcase the points above, yet are all very different. "Born of Persuasion" is the first book in the "Price of Privilege" series so this particular ending hints at more to come. "Shakespeare's Lady" is an example of an ending that isn't exactly happy, but still finishes with a satisfying note. "For Such a Time" is the perfect happy ending. The characters have gone through trials, loved and lost, but they came out stronger in the end and the reader is now content.

Try these tips yourself and you’ll be sure to write an ending that shoots straight for your reader’s heart.

-Happy Writing