May 2012 Archives

Write with nouns and verbs

Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn't been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.
William Strunk and E.B. White


heartbroken.jpgIf you're heartbroken, don't let it stop you from writing and submitting, at least without great thought. Be encouraged by this guest post by Krista Van Dolzer:

When Cupid* asked me to share a little advice and encouragement about the querying process, my first thought was that I was the perfect person to write this post :) I queried my first manuscript in 2008, and here it is, 2012, and I'm just landing an agent, almost four years exactly after I sent my first query.

To be honest, I thought my last manuscript was going to be the One. It was the third manuscript I'd queried, so I definitely knew what I was doing, and my request rate was well over fifty percent. I received multiple revision requests and got all kinds of positive feedback, but in the end, nobody loved it enough to offer.

I was devastated, heartbroken. I'd thrown myself over the cliff, certain my parachute was finally going to open, but instead, I slammed into the pavement in full-scale freefall. The rejections hurt more because I knew how close I was.

I started querying my fourth manuscript in a weird in-between place. I felt good about the project, really good (one of my critique partners read the whole thing in one sitting, and another couldn't wait to recommend it to her agent), but I was well aware of the fact that querying, like life, usually doesn't turn out the way we expect it to.

And so it was with Steve. (That's what I call him around the house, since THE REGENERATED MAN AND ME is a little more of a mouthful.) I'd imagined getting an offer within a couple of weeks from one of the fast responders I'd queried, but that didn't happen.

As it turned out, what did happen was way better than anything I could have planned.

A few weeks ago, I signed with Kate Schafer Testerman, the agent who was literally at the top of my list, and I couldn't be more excited. (If you're not already sick of me, you can check out part one and part two of the story on my blog.) She's the agent I would have picked if I could have picked anyone, and she picked me.

I'm not going to tell you to keep going, to never give up, because when you've been going for a while and you're still waiting for that miracle, that's the last thing you want anybody to tell you. Sometimes taking a step back, at least for a while, is the best thing to do, and that's okay. But what I am going to say is that you never know when life will surprise you. We writers should know better than anyone that the best stories are the ones you don't try to force.

*This post first appeared on Cupid's Literary Connection on April 23rd and is used by permission.

Picture is courtesy of Anita Patterson on

Read more about Krista on her blog, Mother. Write. (Repeat.). And check out her Agent Inbox feature.

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Read, read, read. Read everything

Read, read, read. Read everything - trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window.
William Faulkner

Fascinating problem - Flip

14-year-old Alex wakes up. He can't remember how he got home last night. Wait, this isn't his bed or his room. Or his body! He's not in London any more and 6 months have disappeared from his life. He tries to contact home and discovers something terrible has happened to him. His body is in a coma. He has to figure out a way to get himself back into his own body.

How could you not read this book? It's called Flip (Wendy Lamb Books, 2011) by Martyn Bedford and I loved it and the fascinating problem. The character is sympathetic. Great read. I'm not the only one to think so...

Flip has been named one of the 2012 Best Children's Books of the Year by Bank Street College of Education, and has been tagged as one of the novels of "outstanding merit" on the list.

This is Martyn's first YA book, but he has five adult novels out. Plus he has a second YA coming out next year. Read more about him, and even some fan mail about Flip on his website. You also might enjoy his Not The Home Page page.

Whose life? - How to save a life

howtosavealife.jpgI love how the title of this book, How to save a life (Little, Brown and Company, 2011) by Sara Zarr, applies to multiple situations and characters in this story. Told in two viewpoints from two teen girls from very different backgrounds we see the world through them in very different ways. I love how the author has made me sympathetic for both girls even though they have opposing needs.

Here's a brief intro to the girls:

There's Jill, who has lost her father, and whose mother is doing this crazy thing of taking in a girl to adopt the girl's baby, like that will replace Dad.

And there's Mandy, who is pregnant, hopefully because of the wonderful experience she had at the fair, and not something else, is looking for a home for a child and a place to stay while she waits for him to be born.

Throw in Jill's boyfriend, who is bonding with Mandy, and the tension rises.

Don't pass on this very good award winning book by the wonderful Sara Zarr. Her website has been re-designed, so if you haven't been there for a while, check it out. You might also be interested in her blog where she's been posting episodes of "This Creative Life."

What is reading, but silent

What is reading, but silent conversation.
Walter Savage Landor

Perfecting Dialogue Punctuation

talking.jpgDo you struggle with the proper punctuation for what people say in your stories? You're not alone. Many writers labor to get this right. Let's start with a review of the rules.

Punctuation Rules for Dialogue

1. Start with a quote (") when someone begins speaking.

2. If what the person said is followed by an attribution (i.e. he said), end the dialogue with a comma and another quote mark(,").
"I went to the store," Ralph said.

3. When what was said is a question, use a question mark, quote mark (?").
"Would you please buy milk?" Mom asked.

4. If instead of an attribution (i.e. she said), there's an action, the dialogue will end with a period and a quote. (.")
"Look what I found at the mall." Mary pulled earrings out of the paper sack.

5. If a question has an action, still use the question mark, quote mark (?").
"Would you please buy milk?" Mom handed me a five.

6. After an action or an attribution when the same person starts speaking again, use another beginning quote.
"I went to the gym," Hector said. "Manuel and I played horse."

7. Quotation marks come in pairs, a left and a right. ("...") A quote mark without it's mate is incorrect.

8. If the person speaking addresses someone by name, their name is separated by a comma.

"Hey, John, come here."

9. Each sentence does NOT have a quote mark at the beginning and end when the same person continues speaking, unless interrupted by an action or an attribution.
"We went to Grandma's house. I played with her dog. The cat ran."

10. Generally, what one person says is all in one paragraph.
"I took my basketball to the gym," Hector said. "Manuel and I played horse. Then Tommy and Kate showed up so we played two on two." Hector smiled. "Manuel and I won."

11. Start a new paragraph when a new person speaks.
"Hey, Mama?" I asked. "Can I go to the park?"

"Yes, you may." She looked at her watch. "Dinner is in an hour. Make sure you are back in time, Danika."

"My stomach will remind me." I grinned and she grinned back.

Mainly, it takes practice, practice, practice to get the rules set in your brain. Here are a few suggestions that might help you engrain these rules.

Practicing Dialogue Punctuation

1. Print out your short story or chapter of your book. Take different colored highlighters or colored pencils and mark what one person says in one color. Exclude any actions, punctuation, or he said or asked, etc. Use another color for another person's dialogue. When everyone's dialogue is colored, look for these things:
• Quote marks at beginning and end of what each person says.
• Comma or question mark within quote mark right before an attribution (i.e. he asked, she shouted).
• Period, question mark or exclamation mark--use the latter sparingly--within quote mark when it is followed by an action (i.e. Dad slammed the door.).
• Is what someone says all in one paragraph before someone else speaks? Or before a change of scene?
• Comma(s) separating the name of a person being spoken to.

2. Take a published short story or book chapter with lots of dialogue and retype it to get the flow of how punctuation, action, dialogue, etc. mix in.

3. Turn on your word processor's "Grammar Checker." It can be very annoying as it usually isn't set up for fiction, but it may help point out where your punctuation is wrong. Use the help option in your word processor to find out how to turn it on and how to customize it for your version of the software.

A lot of work? Yes. But work on it enough and the rules of dialogue punctuation will come automatically to your fingertips.

*picture courtesy of Mary R. Vogt and

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I have to have lots

I have to have lots of quiet around me when I work, and lots of peace in my life when I'm in the middle of a book. It's a weird sensation, living your own life and also the life of your main character, simultaneously!
Vicki Grove