Friday, April 30, 2010

Don't Strangle Your Voice

Photo by hozer/StockXchange.com

I like to sing. And yes, I can carry a tune. Given a choice, I prefer to sing in groups. When I stand center stage and perform--and that has happened on a few occasions--I struggle to force the song past my throat. Who cares about remembering the words when you can't breathe?

Singing is impossible when I feel like I am being strangled.

In Inkspired, my critique group, we look for the music in each other's writing. We look for the moment the writer's voice sounds true and clear throughout every sentence, every paragraph. When that happens, we tell the writer that their work is "singing." I've been known to scrawl "Lalalalalala!" across the top of a manuscript or inside a comment box when I feel like a chapter has hit the mark.

As a writer, you've been told to discover your voice--your style, your personality. I'm here to tell you to protect your voice. Just as a singer protects her voice, a writer must learn to protect the voice that shines through his words.

I doubt if Barbra Streisand would ever let someone tell her to sing a song like Jon Bon Jovi. She has her style. He has his style. And neither performer wastes time wanting to be the other person.

If someone comes along--say another writer or an editor--and tries to mess with your writing voice, be confident enough to say, "Thank you for your feedback." And then stay true to who you are as a writer. Don't let anyone strangle your voice.

I'm not saying that you don't ever listen to constructive criticism. If your plot is garbled or your grammar and punctuation is a mess, pay attention.

What I am saying is: Any suggestions that tamper with your style of writing shows that the person doesn't understand your writing voice. This is why it's vital to be involved with a critique group--a place where people know you, know your writing style and will help develop your voice.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Where's the Beginning?

Once upon a time in my childhood, which now seems so very long ago, all the stories my mother read to me began with those words. It was a much simpler time. Everyone knew where books started—at the beginning.

But when I started writing stories of my own, those beginnings weren’t so easy to identify.

This week, a budding new author trusted me to read her work-in-progress. She jumped right in with action in the Prologue. (Prologues are often controversial; people love ‘em or hate ‘em. Whether or not you decide to write one, don’t let a weak prologue dilute a strong first chapter.)

The heroine—I’ll call her “Elise”—was struggling for her life in a shadowy battle but I had trouble making sense out of what was happening. Then, Elise opened her eyes and saw the familiar surroundings of her room. What? It was a dream. Oh, I don’t know Elise yet. The story wasn’t anchored. The entire scene was a puzzle. Okay. Puzzles aren’t bad. They make your brain try to figure them out. Next, Elise sat in bed remembering the stranger, a businessman named Frank Wells, who’d heard her sales pitch and offered her a prestigious job at his company in another state. I turned the page to begin Chapter One. The scene was well written with lots of active verbs, precise nouns, and well-placed description. The dialogue was snappy, and the scene flowed smoothly—until Elise met Frank Wells and he offered her a job.

What? The entire scene was a flashback?

The author had just given me literary whiplash, and I didn’t like it. I felt obligated to finish reading her story. But if this were a novel I’d casually picked up, I would have closed the book.

Romance readers seek entertainment. It’s not that we don’t have brains. We’re generally intelligent, successful women with busy lives. We read for pleasure, entertainment, and maybe to escape for a little while. We don’t want authors to make us work that hard to understand what’s happening.

An author admitted her first novel, prior to publication, contained a first chapter that was axed by her editor. He said, “Your story really starts in Chapter Two.” Several authors agreed they’d had the same problem. In the first chapter, they were getting to know a new character, and they hadn’t hit their writing stride until the second chapter.

How do you know where a story begins? What advice can you give to new writers?

~Roxanne Sherwood

Friday, April 23, 2010

2010 Get Re-Inspired Workshop

Glen Eyrie, one of my favorite locations in Colorado Springs, is the site for the June 6-9 Get Re-Inspired! Writers Workshop featuring Angela Hunt, James Scott Bell, Nancy Rue and Kathy Mackel.
The teachers take a different approach to the workshop. At the beginning of the conference, each teacher explains their areas of expertise and teaching methods. Attendees then "team up" with a particular teacher--spending most of their time with that particular teacher, except for the morning keynote addresses.
Angela Hunt focuses on process, having developed systems to organize and improve any style of writing.
James Scott Bell zeroes in on communication--presenting a clear, effective and entertaining message.
Nancy Rue helps writers develop relationships between characters, and between readers and stories.
Kathy Mackel enables writers to create stories that touch hearts, while sticking to a sellable format.

The coference fee is $288 and there are different room rates for staying at the Glen. Information is available here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dialogue Tags and Attribution, When is enough?

Author Beth Vogt has graciously allowed me to use a rough draft of a scene from her work-in-progress. The novel is a romantic comedy called Wish You Were Here and has great dialogue.

Setting: Best friends lingerie shopping at the mall in a Victoria’s Secret store.

The door to Meghan’s dressing room swung open
. “Pajama check. Yes or no?”

“I vote yes,” Allison replied.

“Me too.” The door clicked shut. “How are the men in your life?”

“Daniel e-mailed me to say he’d be in town this weekend and that he’d touch base about a sleigh ride.”

“Nice of him.”

“Seth called a couple of times.”

“You don’t say.”

“No big deal. He just wanted to say ‘hi’. I’m keeping it casual.”


“You don’t believe me?”

“I believe you want to keep it casual. Seth—I’m not so sure.” Meghan said, moving around the dressing room. “No peeking, just tell me: flowers or basic purple?”


“You love to spend my money.”

“I just want to make sure you feel better.”

“I do have nail polish that exactly matches this purple set.”

“That settles it then. Can we get dinner?”

“I’ve got a few more options here. So, back to Seth. Why are you talking to him?”

Allison leaned back against the wall. “You sound like my aunt.”

“Thanks, I think. What did you tell her?”


“Very mature.”

“Aren’t I being mature, Meggie?” She stood and paced in front of the dressing room. “Things ended badly between Seth and me—I ended them badly. Wouldn’t it be better if we could be friends?”


Did you have trouble keeping track of who was speaking? I sure did. Allison and Meghan were slamming dialogue back and forth like tennis players at Wimbledon.

Let’s get some quick housekeeping out of the way. Here are a couple of definitions, which you may find helpful.

Using the word “said” or any of its synonyms to identify which character is speaking. Example: Meghan said. Or Allison replied.

--Dialogue tags: Identifying which character is speaking by using a verb or stating an action. Example: Allison leaned back against the wall.

--Both attribution and tags serve the same function:
to identify the speaker of a line of dialogue.

In her second draft of the previous scene, Vogt added more tags to keep the speaker’s identity straight.

When I write, I clearly see my characters and hear them speak as if I were watching the movie of their lives. When I begin to write, I capture their dialogue first, then add tags and attribution. The trick is remembering to add them before the reader gets tripped up.

Writers need to remember the reader is at a disadvantage. She isn’t watching the movie playing inside your head. Outside distractions may steal some of her concentration. Don't make her work so that she has to stop reading, then go back and painstakingly count lines to discover who's speaking. She may decide your book is not worth the effort.

My personal goal is to attribute every four lines. Occasionally, I’ll stretch it to five lines—making it an odd number—to give a sense of movement to the other character. Of course, this doesn't have to be your rule. Just make your writing a joy to read, not a chore.

What are your experiences with writing dialogue? Do you forget to add tags and attribution during early drafts in your effort to get the words on paper?

~Roxanne Sherwood

Monday, April 19, 2010

Do tears of the heart stain the pages of your writing?

“The tears fall, they're so easy to wipe off onto my sleeve, but how do I erase the stain from my heart?”—Unknown

What is the greatest struggle you’ve encountered writing nonfiction?
In a three-minute video, author/educator Thomas Farber shares the greatest struggles nonfiction writers face.

Farber has edited fiction and nonfiction for authors including Bob Woodward, Scott Armstrong, Chris McKinney, Judith Orloff, Wilbur Crane Eveland, and John Krich. 

Farber's credits include: Awarded Guggenheim and, three times, National Endowment fellowships for fiction and creative nonfiction, Thomas Farber has been a Fulbright Scholar, recipient of the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize, and Rockefeller Foundation scholar at Bellagio. His recent books include Brief Nudity, The Beholder, and Hesitation Marks. Former Visiting Distinguished Writer at the University of Hawai'i, he teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, and is Publisher/Editor in Chief of El Leùn Literary Arts.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Blog Tour: A Distant Melody by Sarah Sundin (Contest too!)

A Distant Melody is Sarah Sundin's debut book, the first in the Wings of Glory historical fiction series.

While focusing on the popular World War II era like a number of other writers, Sarah spins an interesting story involving secrets, commitments and expectations.

Rather than crafting your typical beautiful heroine and handsome hero, Sarah's characters are less-than. Allie has never been pretty enough to please her gorgeous mother. So she's willing to do anything to gain her approval--even marry a man she doesn't love. And Lt. Walter Novak may be fearless in the cockpit but he's hopeless with women.

Several plot twists took me by surprise--and I always like when a writer breaks past the same-old-same-old romance story line. I look forward to reading the next installment of the Wings of Glory series.

To celebrate this release, Sarah is hosting a super fun Social Sharing Contest!

The Winner of the ‘NETFLIX® & Nostalgia’ giveaway will receive a vintage prize package, including:

*A 6 month NETFLIX® subscription
*$25 Starbucks® gift card
*A box of See’s Famous Old Time Chocolates®
*A jar of homemade strawberry jam
*A Big Band music CD
*A Mini B-17 Model airplane
*Vintage stationery and pen
*British specialty tea
*WWII style playing cards


To enter, simply fill out the entry form, then tell five (5) or more friends about the contest! The more people you tell, the higher your chances to win, so be sure to share the fun.

The winner will be selected on Monday, April 26th, and announced on Wednesday, April 28th on the SarahSundin.com web site.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of A Distant Melody from Litfuse.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Bridegrooms By Allison Pittman, It Only Takes an Instant for Love to Strike

Allison Pittman is the author of The Bridegrooms, Stealing Home, the Crossroads of Grace series: Ten Thousand Charms, Speak Through the Wind, and With Endless Sight; and her nonfiction debut, Saturdays with Stella.

Her first novel, Ten Thousand Charms, was nominated for two RITA's.

A former high school English teacher, she serves as the director of the theater group at her church as well as a writing trainer, speaker, actress and comedian.

She makes her home in Texas with her husband and their three boys.

The Bridegrooms
Published by Multnomah Books is on sale now.

Tragedy hits the Allenhouse family when a mother of four vanished. Eight-year-old Vada virtually grew up overnight and raised her three younger sisters while her father lost himself in his medical practice in the basement of their home.

Now, Vada is a grown woman, still making her home with her father and sisters. Her days are spent serving as an errand girl for Cleveland's fledgling amateur orchestra; her evenings with Garrison Walker, her devoted, if passionless, beau.

Dizzying change occurs the day the Brooklyn Bridegrooms come to town to play the Cleveland Spiders and a line drive wallops the head of a spectator. The fan is whisked to the Allenhouse parlor, and questions swirl about the anonymous, unconscious man.

Suddenly, the sbudued house is filled with visitors, from a flirtatious, would-be sports writer to the Bridegrooms' handsome star hitter to the guilt-ridden ballplayer who should have caught the stray shot. The medical case brings Dr. Allenhouse a frustration and helplessness he hasn't felt since his wife's disappearance. Vada's sisters are giddy at the bevy of suitors. And Vada's life is awakened amid the super-charged atmosphere of romantic opportunity.

You write wonderful, character-driven stories. What inspired The Bridegrooms?

Pittman: The Bridegrooms was actually inspired by the name of the team--I just thought it was so whimsical and romantic. At first I wanted to do a Seven Brides for Seven Brothers type of thing, but that story never came true to me. Then, I won't mention what particular novel inspired this thought, but I got a little frustrated with heroines in Christian fiction who are so restrained from what they want in a relationship. I loved the idea of creating a woman--Vada--who could be strong, but not spunky. Like, not strong in retaliation to the male-dominated society she lives in, but strong just because she is. She's a woman who understands and embraces physical attraction, and we don't see a lot of that. Women characters are always shying away, or terrified, or, they're cast as something shameful.

What was most challenging about writing a story about the four Allenhouse sisters?

Pittman: The character of Garrison was, I think, the most challenging one for me to create. Subtle and sweet is difficult to convey. Also, this is the biggest cast of characters I've ever had to work with, and it's challenging to keep track of everybody!

What surprised you as you wrote this story?

Pittman: I developed an all-out crush on the character of Dave Voyant. Seriously, I would just be writing along and find myself giggling.

You've bookmarked lunar calendars and baseball schedules. How much do you research for a historical novel? How do you keep organized?

Pittman: Probably a lot less than most historical writers! My passion is for my characters, and I worry about writing them in a void. I'll get a few research tools, and cling to those. For this book, I had a Cleveland street map from 1908. (love ebay!). I laminated it and it's covered with Vis-a-Vis markings...and now it's, like, a placemat on my "desk." As for organization...um, next question?

How long did it take to write The Bridegrooms?

Pittman: About 6 months, but I carried the idea of the comatose baseball fan around for years!

When does your next book debut in print?

Pittman: I'll have another book out in October. It's one I wrote with Tyndale, telling the story of a young woman who gets caught up with the early Mormon church.

How long did you write before making your first sale?

Pittman: Not long, really. God knows me well, and He knows I have a total lack of tenacity and dedication. I had a contract within about 3 years of the time I seriously began writing--like, by the time I decided to pursue Christian fiction. I sold that book (Ten Thousand Charms) before it was actually finished. Knowing me, I would never have even finished writing that story if I didn't have some guarantee that it would be published.

Will you describe how you knew you were supposed to write?

: That has always been there...something I've always recognized as being a strength. When I finally said, "You know, God? I'd like to be a professional writer," I had no interest in writing Christian fiction. I'd never read a Christian novel except for the requisite Christy in middle school. Then, at a writers conference, after years of bumping ideas around, I won a copy of Lynn Austin's Eve's Daughters and thought to myself--I can do this...no deadlines! No query letters! No research and interviews!

What would readers be surprised to discover about you?

: I'm not the greatest reader. Not skill-wise, but I don't necessarily enjoy reading. I can go days upon days upon days and not read a thing. I can put down a book on page 147 and not pick it up again--ever--simply because I forget about it. Rare is the book that grabs and consumes me. I'd say I only finish, maybe 2 or 3 out of every 10 books I start. But, when I love a book, I love it with unrestrained passion.

What do you wish I'd asked?

Pittman: "Who's got your vote for American Idol?" ~~ Lee!!

Thanks so much for being with us today, Allison. Learn more about her at www.allisonpittman.com

~ Roxanne Sherwood

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Mind Map Your Research

"Sometimes I suffer from indigestion of the mind."—Carrie Latet
If you suffer from indigestion of research. you’ll enjoy WikiMindMap. This mindmapping-type tool gives you a structured and understandable overview of everything related to a topic you are searching. WikiMindMap provides a great overview of complex topics. The search term sits in the center with related topics listed in wings on either sides. Click on the words which takes you to the Wikipedia entry. Click on the green arrows which moves that topic to the center. 

Friday, April 9, 2010

Focusing on Fiction: My Book Therapy Retreats

I admit it: I have a split personality when it comes to writing.

For years, I lived my life as a contented non-fiction writer. Immune to the lure of the Dark Side of the writing world, I suggested medication to my fiction writing buddies who listened to voices.

One day, burned out on deadlines, I wandered over to the Dark Side--just for the fun of it. And I've never looked back.

I've straddled the line between fiction and non-fiction for a couple of years now. But it was only during this past year that I asked myself the question: Am I serious about writing fiction?

To help answer my question, last October I attended Susan May Warren's StoryCrafter's Retreat, which focused on story structure, character creation and plotting. Susan's step-by-step approach was practical, helpful--and personal. There were all of 12 attendees at the conference--and by the end of the weekend we were committed friends!

Because I had such a productive time at the first retreat, I attended the February Deep Thinkers retreat, which was co-taught by Susan and author Rachel Hauck. Once again, the retreat size was kept small. Most of the attendees from the first conference came to this one, as well as some new friends. Susan and Rachel critiqued 15 pages of our manuscripts and our 3-5 page synopsis of or works-in-progress.

When it came time to register for the Polish Promotion and Pitch Retreat , I asked my husband, "Well, I guess the question is, 'Should I go?'" He said, "The question is, 'Why wouldn't you go?'"

And he was right.

I'm heading to Seattle in May to learn all about query letters, book promotion, and pitching a fiction book from Susan, Jim Rubart, and agent Chip MacGregor.

Want forward motion in your fiction this coming year? Consider investing in Susan's retreat series. Participate in one of the retreats--or all three! It will be time and money well spent--and you'll make some life-long friends along the way!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


I've taught my children to share generously. Unfortunately, they're not selective. So I'm feverish and without a voice after my sick three-year-old shared his germs. Since it's my turn to blog, I was thrilled to find this gem in my mailbox. I'm sharing with you (in the good way) because I'm inspired by Patrick Henry Hughes, and I'm sure you will be amazed.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Blank Page in My Journal

I'm blank. Not sure what to write today. Why? My life feels overloaded for a variety of reasons. Isn't overload a time when a writer draws from our feelings? I can't mine words from the depths that I can't feel or touch. There are some moments in life from which words do not flow. And the journal page remains blank.
I'm grieving the loss of someone I loved. Even though the person I lost spent Easter resurrected with his Creator, I still miss him. Etched on a headstone in Ireland is this quote, "Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal." Memories can be treasures or mill stones on our hearts. 
Although a blank paper stares back at me, the canvas of our lives makes me smile as I reflect upon on the joy he brought to my life. I'm so grateful my precious treasure now basks in the glow of God's love. 

Friday, April 2, 2010

Blog Tour & Contest: Songbird Under a German Moon by Tricia Goyer

I've looked forward to blogging about Tricia Goyer's latest book, Songbird Under a German Moon. One of the occupational hazards of being an editor is that my internal editor won't turn off when I read a book. I find myself editing another writer's writing--reconstructing sentences, downsizing word count, moving commas to their proper place.

And, yes, I realize others probably do the same thing to my writing. So be it.

While reading Songbird, I just sat back and enjoyed the story. Tricia weaves an intriguing mystery sets in post World War II. Her heroine, 21-year-old Betty Lake, is part of a USO show sent to entertain the troops occuying Germany. Tricia's plot includes a love story and a murder, as well as a dash of musical history thrown in. And while I suspected "whodunit", I didn't correctly guess the murderer's motive. It's always great to get to the end of a mystery and be surprised by the author's ending.

Tricia is the author of 20 books, both fiction and non-fiction. She also speaks regularly at MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers International) Conventions, and has a heart to encourage teen moms.

To have a chance to win one of three signed copies of Songbird Under a German Moon:

Leave a comment on Tricia's blog or send an e-mail through her web page answering this question: What era in history do you wish you'd lived in and why?
Earn extra entries by signing up for Tricia's newsletter or becoming a fan on Facebook or Tweeting about the contest on Twitter (use hashtag #songbird)!

Disclaimer: As part of this blog tour sponsored by Litfuse, I received a complimentary copy of Songbird Under a German Moon.