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Karen Woodward
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Karen Woodward

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That's a good rule of thumb for anyone: read anything you're going to sign/accept/be bound to.

Even if a book contract doesn't include anything nasty you need to know what the terms are. First, if you don't know what they are you might accidentally violate them and, second, then you can negotiate for better terms!

By saying this I don't mean to come down on LJ Smith. I'm a fan of the vampire diaries and think it's brilliant she's found a way to continue the series.
Writers need to read their contracts...a lesson Vampire Diaries creator LJ Smith apparently hasn't learned.
Lee Goldberg discusses the importance of reading your contracts, a lesson Vampire Diaries created LJ Smith clearly hasn't learned.
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I signed a publishing contract last week. My first. It's one page long and I read it every day. Then giggle with elation. But this is good advice!
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From the article: 
Like "whom," the pronoun "him" ends with "m." When you're trying to decide whether to use "who" or "whom," ask yourself if the answer to the question would be "he" or "him."

That's the trick: if you can answer the question being asked with "him," then use "whom," and it's easy to remember because they both end with "m." For example, if you're trying to ask, "Who (or whom) do you love?" The answer would be "I love him." "Him" ends with an "m," so you know to use "whom."

But if you are trying to ask, "Who (or whom) stepped on Squiggly?" the answer would be "He stepped on Squiggly." There's no "m," so you know to use "who."

So that's the quick and dirty trick: if you can't remember that you use "whom" when you are referring to the object of the sentence, just remember that "him" equals "whom."
Get Grammar Girl's take on who versus whom. Learn when to use who and when to use whom.
Robert Tyer's profile photoWill Hahn's profile photoK M Idamari's profile photoKaren Conlin's profile photo
That's brilliant. Better than the zombie rule for passive.
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When writing a scene, how much description is enough? When answering, I think there are four things we need to keep in mind: 

1. A setting isn't just physical, it's also emotional.
2. Describe the character's first, the setting second.
3. Intimate settings reflect the personality of the characters.
4. Use elements of the setting to introduce conflict.
5. Describe only those aspects of the setting that are relevant to the scene's purpose.

Those five points are what this chapter of my (developing) book is all about. Examples are drawn from Stephen King's book The Shining and I share an insight I gleaned from Donald Maass' excellent book, Fire In Fiction.

I usually copy and paste these posts but, this time, I'm just putting up a summary. Click through to my blog if you would like to read it. 

Cheers! :-)
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Why introverts are horrible at small talk:

"At this point, everyone pretty much knows this about introverts.  But why?  Why do we hate it so much?  I mean, would it kill us to ask how the weather is?  (No, but close).  It’s dang near painful.  Think of the introvert like you would an investor.  An investor finds his investment ‘mix’ and jumps in and invests a great deal.  In return, he expects a substantial ROI (return on his investment).  Millionaire entrepreneurs invest in startups, hoping for a return there.  In the same way, introverts invest in their relationships – deeply.  And often times, that means they also expect that level of return (this can be good AND bad).  As a result of this quality, “investing” in a conversation that feels surface-y feels way out of our comfort zone.  In fact, it drains us.  There’s only energy going out (in our mind) – there’s nothing coming back.  Even talking about the weather feels depleting, because I’m not getting a return on my investment.  Our mantra?  Energy in, energy out."

Thanks to +Tamisha Ford for sharing this wonderful article!
Vintage. Most popular.... but if you're me? Most inspirational, because of the comments. 
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When I go into a room with lots of people I feel alone. It's as if I was not seen. 
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Four things Christie did that made her prose catnip for readers

1. Start developing your characters' character in the very first sentence. 
2. Be witty.
3. No description in the first few paragraphs. Describe through interaction.
4. Reveal your main character's thoughts at least once in the first few paragraphs. Further have these things be characteristic, emblematic, of the core of the character; of who they are at the core of their fictional soul.

* * * 
(What follows is a copy and paste of my post. To read it with formatting intact use the attached link.)

In previous posts I've written about Stephen King and how his prose possesses the almost magical quality of being able to draw me into his story world. (See: Free Indirect Discourse: How To Create A Window Into A Character's Soul.)

King gets me to care so deeply about his characters, to identify with them so fully, that even though I'm scared to death and half convinced a decomposing mummy has taken up residence under my bed (it's just waiting for me to stick an unprotected foot over the side), even so, I can't stop reading.

Lately, though, I've been reading less of the King of Horror and more of the Queen of Crime. In a previous post (How To Write Like Agatha Christie) I mentioned that Christie's books have sold 4 billion copies, making her the best selling novelist of all time. (see also: Agatha Christie's Secret: Break The Rules and How To Write Like Agatha Christie: Motifs)

What's her secret?

Of course she didn't have one. There is no piece of writing wisdom that, if whispered over an open grave at the exact moment of the vernal equinox, will transform one's prose into the equivalent of catnip for readers. Not even if it's spoken in latin. (More's the pity.)

No, but Agatha Christie did have a bit of Stephen King's magic. She had the knack of making her characters interesting, companionable. She had the knack of making us care about them, for making it matter to us whether they were murdered or falsely accused.

I've always liked Christie's characters, they have always felt like the sort of people I would enjoy spending an evening with--well, most of them. Since one of these wonderfully charming people is a cold blooded killer I doubt I could ever become too comfortable!

The Opening Paragraphs of Murder at the Vicarage

Let's take a look at the opening to the first Miss Marple mystery, The Murder at the Vicarage. This book was published in 1930, four years after Christie's great success with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. In fact, Christie acknowledged that the character of Caroline Sheppard was a prototype for Miss Marple.

Vicarage was written in first person from the perspective of--you guessed it--the vicar. Here's how it begins:

"It is difficult to know quite where to begin this story, but I have fixed my choice on a certain Wednesday at luncheon at the Vicarage. The conversation, though in the main irrelevant to the matter in hand, yet contained one or two suggestive incidents which influenced later developments.

"I had just finished carving some boiled beef (remarkably tough by the way) and on resuming my seat I remarked, in a spirit most unbecoming to my cloth, that any one who murdered Colonel Protheroe would be doing the world at large a service.

"My young nephew, Dennis, said instantly:

"'That'll be remembered against you when the old boy is found bathed in blood. Mary will give evidence, won't you, Mary? And describe how you brandished the carving knife in a vindictive manner.'

"Mary, who is in service at the Vicarage as a stepping‑stone to better things and higher wages, merely said in a loud, businesslike voice, "Greens," and thrust a cracked dish at him in a truculent manner."

1. Early Character Development

Christie gets right to it. Although the murder doesn't occur for another five chapters she wastes no time letting her readers know what kind of book they're reading. She even gives us a broad hint about who is going to die and, for good measure, teases us with the idea that the murderer will turn out to be the vicar, or at least that he will be suspected of the crime. But he isn't, though it does get things off to a quick and interesting start.

Also, in that first paragraph we're told that the current scene contains "one or two suggestive incidents which influenced later developments." Right off the bat, the reader is busy hunting for clues and asking themselves which are the important bits and which are the red herrings.

2. Light, Witty, Tone

One thing that jumps out at me immediately is the tone of the passage. It's light, witty, tongue firmly in cheek. 

Christie pokes a bit of fun at the vicar, letting the reader see him as an old curmudgeon with a not-so-hidden soft streak. Dennis teases the vicar and then Christie effortlessly points the camera at Mary. In the same gently mocking tone we are told she is "in service at the Vicarage as a stepping-stone to better things" and then we are shown that she is an abominable housekeeper (she "thrust a cracked dish at him in a truculent manner"). 

Further, all the things Christie shows us are character traits which are connected to significant threads in the story itself. Mary's abominable housekeeping (and the vicar's wife's even more abominable housekeeping) is connected to at least one major clue and sets up one of the main sources of conflict between the vicar and Griselda: her unsuitability for the life of a parson's wife. 

Griselda's unsuitability--or, rather, his unsuitability for her--leads the vicar to worry she is having an affair, but everything is tied up nicely in the end when Christie reveals that much of Griselda's odd behavior is due to the fact that she has been keeping a secret: she's pregnant! And very nervous about how her husband is going to take the news. Of course everything is tied up at the end with a bow and the soon-to-be parents are happy as blissful clams.

3. Opens With Action

In the first few paragraphs there are no descriptive passages. We aren't told what color the wallpaper is or about its design. We don't know what anyone is wearing and we don't know what any of the character's look like. 

But we do know the important bits. We have a decent, though rough, idea of what each character's character is (I wish there was a more graceful way of saying that!). It is as though, with one or two strokes of her brush, Christie brought these characters to life. Not, perhaps, in the same way Stephen King does in, say, The Shining, but that's fine. Personally, I find it difficult--though (disturbingly) not impossible--to imagine King writing an English cosy. 

Colonel Protheroe, the character who will be the victim, is mentioned in dialogue so, naturally, there's no description of him. Nevertheless we learn everything about him we need to know: he is so impossible to deal with that even a man of the cloth would dearly love to stick a carving knife in him.

4. Intimate

Agatha Christie's tone is intimate. Inviting. Wry. She writes:

"I had just finished carving some boiled beef (remarkably tough by the way) [...]" 

In a first person narrative the protagonist speaks directly to the reader, but this isn't always glaringly obvious. In that aside to the reader--"remarkably tough by the way"--it feels to me as though the vicar took a break from his narrative, leaned close to me, and whispered a companionable warning about the quality of the beef. 

Here we have not just a narrator speaking to a reader, they are gossiping. And it feels intimate and personal. That's the sort of thing a friend, a companion, would do. And that's the sort of thing--these little intimate peeks inside a character's soul--that draws me, as a reader, into a story. That sense of character, that sense of ... for lack of a better term ... aliveness. 

This is something I've noticed about Stephen King's prose as well. I'm going to blog about it in the next few days so I won't go into it in depth here, but if you have a copy close at hand, take a look at the first few paragraphs of The Shining.

Go ahead. I'll wait.

Back? Good. That first line: "Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick," is shockingly intimate. It is as though we can read Jack's mind (it is almost as though, we too, have the shining). This tells us not only about the person Jack Torrance is speaking to, it tells us a lot about Jack Torrance himself. 

(I would argue that King's first sentence is a lot like Christie's aside about the quality of the beef. Both are intimate, private, remarks make by characters who are reaching beyond the page to connect with you.)

As I reread those initial passages of The Shining I kept thinking, yes, Mr. Ullman isn't the warmest, nicest, person in the world, but there's really nothing wrong with him. Yes he probably looks down on Jack as a mere functionary, but, really, that's how Jack sees himself. What one word seems to sum up the Jack Torrance of those early passages? I'd say: angry. And that's one of the themes of the book, perhaps the dominant theme: Jack's anger and how he deals--or doesn't deal--with it.

Okay, I'd say that's enough for now. In the future I want to analyse two other books by Christie, their openings, in an attempt to pick up clues as to how she wove her spell. Will there be a common thread? Stay tuned!
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I think so, I've seen the one with Geraldine McEwan--and that was good--but my all time favorite Miss Marple was Joan Hickson.
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Have her in circles
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Karen Woodward

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How Jim Butcher First Got Published

"The story of Harry going to print isn’t a terribly complicated one. I wrote my first book when I was 19.

"It was horrible. Really bad.

"I wrote another. And one after that. And then I took three novels worth of experience, and rewrote the first one!

"And they were still terrible.

"I wrote my fourth novel (or fifth, depending on how you look at it), breaking away from standard fantasy to write this paranormy X-files like thing.

"A real stinker. Big time. But evidently THAT was when I had started putting together enough craft skills to overcome the lack of inborn talent.

"I wrote the first Dresden book for a writing class. I wrote the second one for the next semester, then started on the third one. I submitted the manuscript for the first Dresden to several agents and editors and got rejected and/or ignored pretty much unilaterally. The rejections varied from standard form letters to actual letters that were vaguely encouraging as they crushed my hopes and dreams, to one downright insulting rejection.

"That took about two years."

The story continues on Jim Butcher's "About Me" page. Scroll down just a bit and you'll see it.

It's a charming, inspirational story. And, like everything he does these days, well written. :-)
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Karen Woodward

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Did you know that, since 2001, James Patterson has sold more books than any other writer? Apparently 1 out of every 17 hardcover books sold has Patterson's name on it.

Regardless of what anyone thinks of Patterson's writing, there is no arguing with his popularity. So, how does he do it? Here are seven tips Patterson gave to those who want to write suspenseful prose.

(This blog post is based on the article, World's Best-Selling Author James Patterson On How To Write An Unputdownable Story, by Joe Berkowitz.)

1. Fast Paced: Cut out the parts people skip.

James Patterson says:

"I think what hooks people into my stories is the pace. I try to leave out the parts people skip.[*] I used to live across the street from Alexander Haig, and if I told you a story that I went out to get the paper and Haig was laying in the driveway, and then I went on for 20 minutes describing the architecture on the street and the way the palm trees were, you'd feel like "Stop with the description--what's going on with Haig?" I tend to write stories the way you'd tell them. I think it'd be tragic if everybody wrote that way. But that's my style. I read books by a lot of great writers. I think I'm an okay writer, but a very good storyteller."

I think that's what many writers on the bestseller lists would say, that they identify themselves primarily as a storyteller. Their prose may not be as poetic as some, but they can tell an suspenseful, absorbing, story.

* Elmore Leonard also gave this advice.

(Note: This post has been copied and pasted. Links don't show up here, but they do on my blog.)

2. Make it intimate.

James Patterson says:

"I try to put myself in every scene that I'm writing. I try to be there. I try to put the kind of detail in stories that will make people experience what the characters are experiencing, within reason."

I think this is the key to good storytelling. I know Stephen King doesn't think a whole lot of Patterson's books, but one thing both men are know for is a) selling a lot of books and b) being good storytellers.

Personally, I think that King's prose is every bit as good as his storytelling. But, putting that aside, look at the first sentence of Stephen King's book, The Shining: "Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick." (I discuss this further in Parts of Story.) That sentence is angry and shocking but, above all, intimate. And it raises the question: Why does Jack Torrance think that and whom does he think it of?" Storytelling at its best. 

3. Short chapters.

James Patterson's books tend to have short chapters. I did some calculations and, from the four books I looked at, the average chapter length was about 640 words. That's only about three manuscript pages! Wow, that is short.

4. Outline.

Patterson says that outlining saves time (a view which Chuck Wendig shares). Patterson creates a fairly extensive outline; each chapter is summed up in about a paragraph of text. He says:

"Each chapter will have about a paragraph devoted to it. But you're gonna get the scene, and you're gonna get the sense of what makes the scene work."

If, as I said above, Patterson's average chapter is about 640 words long and if we say that a paragraph of text is about 100 words, then it would appear that those 100 words make up about 1/6th of a chapter.

5. Outlines can and should change so be flexible.

When Patterson writes, his characters speak to him and ruin many of his plans. They can even change the ending!

Patterson says: "One of the drafts I do, I'll decide that okay, it went this way, but it doesn't feel very interesting--what if this happened instead of that? And rarely do I know the ending. Occasionally, but mostly not."

That's a little scary! When I sit down to write I like to have an ending in mind, I like to have a destination. But the ending can--and occasionally does--change.

6. Fake it till you make it.

When he was 26 years old, Patterson won an Edgar award for best first mystery. That book was The Thomas Berryman Number.

"I felt like there might have been a mistake. That’s the kind of lack of confidence you can have early on. You're writing this thing and you hope people like it. You're rewriting and rewriting and get lost in the sauce. Confidence is a big thing."

7. Know your readers.

Patterson says that writers should know who they're telling their stories to and then ask themselves: "What have you got for them?" He says:

"It’s useful that if you tell somebody in a paragraph what the story is and they go, “Ooh ooh, I can’t wait, tell me more,” as opposed to they were just kind of nodding politely. Well, then that just puts so much stress on the writing. That means that the style has to overcome the fact that you don’t have much of a story."

Patterson also mentions that readers want suspense and that the essence of suspense, of creating suspense, is to get the reader to want the answer to a question your story has raised. He says:

"I try to pretend that there's somebody across from me and I'm telling them a story and I don't want them to get up until I'm finished."

Good tips.

Thanks to +Elizabeth S. Craig for sharing a link to Joe Berkowitz's article through Google+. 

+Elizabeth S. Craig
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Thanks +Michael Kelberer :-)
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Karen Woodward

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Good read. I decided to give Phraseology a try.

Thanks to +Elizabeth S. Craig for sharing this!
The Best Apps for Any Kind of Writing (by +Thorin Klosowski ): 
Writing is a very personal practice, and as a result you have a million writing-focused apps to choose from. From distraction-free apps that take up your whole screen to feature-packed mainstays like Microsoft Word, we've put together a guide to help you choose the writing software that's right for you.
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If I still used a Mac I'd be tempted to give Ulysses III a shot because I'm a big fan of writing in plain text and using Markdown for formatting.
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Karen Woodward

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As +K M Idamari said, there's a story here.
Pied Piper in Training

There's a story here. I just know it!

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The cat knows what a boy with a pipe summons - dinner!
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Karen Woodward

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That would have made a terrific ending!
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I am an avid reader and writer.  I read just about anything, but my favorite authors are Jim Butcher and Kim Harrison. I also publish a daily blog.
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I graduated from Simon Fraser University.
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Karen Woodward's +1's are the things they like, agree with, or want to recommend.
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