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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Writing From Wittenburg

Yestrday, we left Berlin in the morning, stopping at Potsdam  to tour  the palace  of  a German duke. He opened his home to be used  for the 1945 Potsdam Conference where Truman, Stalin and Churchill met to determine the way Germany would  be split up after their defeat.  Each leader had his own office in this huge and beautiful home; then they met together in a conference room along with aides, interpreters and secretaries who recorded this historic gathering.

Next  stop was a lovely restaurant with a lakside view. Once again, the food was excellent from the soup  to  the dessert. We arrived at our river ship, the Allegro, about  4 p.m.  The entire crew lined the gangplank to welome us.  After settling into our room and unpacking, we gathered in  the  lounge for the captain's welcome drink and talk, followed by an elegant dinner of many courses, all delicious.    

Today, our morning was spent at a park in Worlitzer where we had a gondola ride on an idyllic lake on a sunny, pleasantly cool day. I haven't felt such pure peace in a long time. The scenery on both sides of the small  lake appeared to be as if in a painting because it was so perfect. We walked through more of the park and went inside an old church that seemed plain and simple compared to many of the European churches.

After lunch on the ship, we  had  leisure time in Wittenburg.  One of the highlights of this trip  is  coming to this town where  Martin Luther's nailing of the 95 Theses set the stage for the Reformation period. What a disappointment it was to find the church closed for renovations. The 500th anniversary of Luther's protest happens in only 3 years. We were told that all hotels are already sold out.

Tomorrow, we will have a guided tour of Luther's house and more of the town. Since we are  Lutherans,  we're especially looking forward to this part of our trip. We have spent more time in Wittenburg than originally planned because the river has been low and one other town had  to be scratched. The ship (and they do call this 90 passenger vehicle a ship, not a boat) will sail  at 4:15 a.m. Saturday.          

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

On To Berlin

We said   good-bye to Hamburg Monday morning ftr one last super breakfast. My downfall when  in Europe is the  bread, the variety and the quality.

Our group of 23 plus Jitka, our tour director, went o Berlin on a bus with a stop at Schwerin, a town that has one of the prettiest castles ever. We had a walk through the town center, then had lunch there. A very good goulash with rice and cucumber salad. Shredded cucumbers with a vinaigrette dressing.

Then we drove on to Berlin through a rural area dotted with many wind turbines. Our hotel isthe Park Inn,  37 Floor building with a viewing terrace on top.

This morning,  we had an almost 4  hour bus  and walking tour of this 3.9 million population  famed city. The city guide we had is also a historian so we got a lot of history  included.  The majority of the buildins are re-erected to look like they did before the extensive bombing destroyed so many in WWII. We saw the Brandenburg Gate where Ronald Reagan gave his  famous speech asking Gorbachev to tear down the wall between east and west Germany. There is still a remnant of the wall and Checkpoint Charlie where 2 American military men stand with  American flags--the perfect photo spot.

We've been taking photos but can't seem to send to facebook or anywhere else.

Ken and I had lunch at an outdoor Italian place. Too hot to eat indoors with no a/c. Fun to watch the people go by. We did eat inside a restaurant last night with our entire group, now numbering 90. The new people all looked tired, just as we did when we arrived on Friday.

We've enjoyed Berlin  but decided we like Hamburg better. Tomorrow, we are taken by bus to Wittenburg  where we board our river ship, Allegro, which will be home for the next full week.  

Sunday, July 27, 2014


I  cannot  begin to tell you how many frustrating moments I've had trying to post here. Suffice it to say that I will appreciate my laptop at home with the wireless keyboard.

But on to Hamburg-- a picturesque, sophisticated city of 3 million. 80% of th population does not have children. That fact astounded all on our tour. There are lots of green areas, even in the city center where our hotel is located.

We are in the Radisson Blu,  27 floor very contemporary hotel.  There is a wonderful breakfast buffet included with the room price. It's difficult to restrain myself but I've tried.This part of the trip  is a pre-trip and only 22 people with us. We move on to Berlin on Monday where we meet up with the othe 70 for the main tour.

Ysterday, we had a 3 hour tour of the city by bus with an excellent guide. Therr were 3 stops      , one at the Rathaus, meaning Town Hall--an architectural masterpiece. Another place we visited on the tour was St. Michael's Cathedral, unique in that it was Lutheran rather than the more common Catholic catheral. It had a magnificent altar area. I noticed that the kneelers  had no padding--a bit hard on bad knees like mine.

After the city tour, we had lunch at the docks area of the Elbe River--a tasty fish sandwich from a little shack that offered picnic tables for eating. Next, we had a 90 minute boat ride on the river which is a large port for ships of all kinds, which then head north to the North Sea

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Characters Are In Your Hands

Think of the millions of people who inhabit the earth. No two are entirely alike. There may be similarities but we're like those snowflakes we learned about in childhood. Every one is different. 

As a writer, that leaves you with about a zillion choices when you are developing a character in a story, a poem, a personal essay or memoir. If it's fiction, your creativity comes into play. If you're writing about an actual person, then your memory and observation is what you rely on and perhaps interviews with others who also knew the person.

Let's look at the fictitious character first. There's more than one way to create a character. Some writers make lists for each character, marking physical description, history, emotional side, motivation and even more. The list serves as a guide when putting the character into a story. It helps the writer determine the actions of a character. Why did Melinda neglect to give George the message from Oscar? If there's a list that tells all about Melinda, then the reason is clear to the writer. I'm guessing that it is writers who are 'organized' people who make lists like this. It is also helpful in allowing the writer to get their own mental picture of the character.

Another method is to let the character lead the writer. Introduce the character in the opening pages of a novel or opening paragraphs of a short story and then let the character move on his/her own. Let them guide you to where they want to go. Sound crazy? Trust me--it does happen. Character development in the middle grade novel I wrote several years ago worked exactly that way. My main characters showed me the way.

If your character suddenly does something unexpected as you write, something that doesn't fit into a slot in that list you made, it's OK. You can change a character anytime you like during the writing. They aren't immovable until the book or story is published. If you do change in the middle of the stream, be sure you go back through the earlier pages to check whether this change should be noted earlier, as well. You can't let you character have a severe allergic reaction to shrimp in chapter 14 if you've had her eating at an all you can eat shrimp buffet in chapter 3.

When writing creative nonfiction, you are a little more restricted because you're writing about actual people. If you're working on a memoir, the list exercise can still work. Start with your Aunt Jane's physical traits, then her quirky habits, her emotoinal makeup, her history and possible motivation. Making these lists will get the character firmly in your mind. I think that sometimes memoir writers concentrate more on the events in their lives and less on the characters that drove these events. Give them equal time. Both are important to your story. 

I've only touched on the topic in this post. Google character development for writers and you'll find many, more detailed articles. 

As a writing exercise to limber your creative muscles today, try writing a paragraph or two with a character having the traits listed below, then add more of your own choosing.Do this with lists of your own making on a frequent basis. Consider sharing with our readers.

1.  bald man
2.  false teeth
3.  intense deep blue eyes
4.  rail thin
5.  80 years old
6.  retired railroad worker
7.  father of 6
8.  lives in a nursing home 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Putting Those Sentences Together

Most of you know that I belong to an online writers' group that requires both submissions and critiques to retain memberbship. Members are aksed to do two crits for each submission they make.

I love getting feedback on my submissions but I also enjoy doing the critiques and reading the critiques of others, as well. Reading and doing critiques on a regular basis has given me a good eye for sentence structure, phrasing and the kinds of words we use. Active verbs versus passive, dialogue, parts of speech and how they come across to a reader--all this and more.

Some of the problems I see are:

1.  too many passive verbs
2.  sentences that are overly long
3.  too many incomplete sentences
4.  awkward structure
5.  cliches
6.  Beginning multiple sentences with And or But
7.  Unnecessary words
8.  Overly formal language in dialogue

There are probably others but this is a long enough list for now. Becoming aware of these problems is step one in fixing them. If you're guilty of any of the items listed above, don't worry. You're in good company because every one of has done one or more of them when you write. Hopefully, we catch a good many in our editing.

Let's take a quick look at what we might do for each problem:

1.  passive verbs:  Go through your story or essay and mark all the passive verbs, then try to replace as many as you can with an active verb. It's a real boost to your writing and thus for your reader, as well. Active verbs provide more visuals for the reader.

2.  overly long sentences:  When you see a sentence that seems quite long, read it aloud. It might be difficult to get to the end without stopping to take a breath. If you must do so, your sentence is definitely too long. Have you put too many phrases into it? Can you easily make two sentences from the long one?

3.  incomplete sentences:  It's alright to have an incomplete sentence occasionally if it's meant to illustrate what was previsouly said. An addendum of sorts. Do it too often and it becomes a glitch. I couldn't think of examples to illustrate my point. Only two or three. The incomplete sentence in the example does relate to the previous one and the reader 'gets it.' But do that over and over and you're in trouble.

4.  awkward structure:  This often happens when you write one of those overly long sentences that has lots of clauses and phrases interjected. It can also happen when you place words in a place that makes the reader frown in wonder because the clarity of the sentence has suddenly dimmed. Clara threw her leg over the top rail of the fence and skinned it as she climbed across the fence made of rough wood so that it scraped her leg. Now, that's a bit contorted, isn't it? It might read better as Clara skinned her leg as she climbed across the rough, wooden fence.

5.  cliches:  Many of us use them because it's often the way we talk to family and friends. It's also a lazy writer's gimmick. It's much easier to pluck a cliche from the air than to think up something original. I know, because I'm very guilty of doing this myself.

6.  And or But:  It's alright to do this once in awhile but if you do it regularly, it begins to appear with a red flag waving. There is one school of thought that you should never, ever begin a sentence with these words. I say, do it but strictly limit the amount you use it.

7.  unnecessary words:  This is another very common error. When I started writing, I was chastised by the group regularly for committing this sin. Having this error pointed out on a regular basis upped my awareness level and I began to watch more carefully when I wrote and edited my work. Words like just, very, really are not needed. Ha! I almost wrote not really needed. See how easy it is to use a word that doesn't add to or make the sentence a better one?

8.  formal dialogue:  I wrote a post last week on this topic. Remember to have your characters use contractions as they would in the real world. Make the speech too formal and it doesn't feel real to the reader.

As important as plot is to your story, remember that the way you write your sentences and paragraphs is of importance in getting that story to your reader in the clearest, most interesting way.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Writers As Readers


I've said it many times on this blog (and elsewhere) that I firmly believe that a good writer must also be a true reader. As you can see by two of these quotes, Stephen King is of the same thought, as are many successful writers. Among the many writers I know personally, there is only one who claims she dislikes reading and seldom pursues it as a pastime. Is she a good writer? Yes. Is she a high paid pro? No. Is her reading habit the reason? I can't answer that one. Could be or perhaps not. 

Even so, I still urge anyone who wants to write to also be a voracious reader. As we read the work of others, we not only enjoy the book but our mind is tuned-in to the way the book is written. Often, it's a subconscious thing but we do it. 

One thing to be cautious about is to be careful not to mimic a favorite author in style and/or voice. Read many authors but develop your own style, find your own voice to use in your writing. 

What would you add to this list as a reason to read?

1.  To be entertained
2.  To acquire knowledge
3.  To spend time quietly and alone
4.  To escape from everyday routines and cares
5.  To observe how others write

I'm sure some of you are thinking that you have little time to write and even less time to read. My answer to that is that we create time to do both. Of course, there are some life situations that are going to stand in the way of both activities, but not at all times forevermore. I take a book with me when I'm going to be in a waiting room at a doctor or dentist's office. I use to read when using public transportation in a large city. I read in the evening rather than watch TV. I read in bed to relax before going to sleep. I snatch 10 and 15 minutes through the day to read. We all waste parts of our day. Some of that time could be for reading. 

Last, but far from being least, on today's topic it that I hope all parents will do whatever they can to encourage children to develope a lifetime habit of reading. I know it doesn't work with every child. I had one who loved to read and one who detested it. But guess what? At about age 42, he suddenly discovered the wonderful world of reading. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Since yesterday's post centered on beginnings, so it seemed fitting to talk about endings today. Finishing a project brings mixed emotions. Elation, of course. But it might also make a writer feel a bit sad.

The characters they'd been living with are suddenly out of the picture. If it's a novel, the writer has been in touch with these people for a long time. Maybe he's happy to finally have them out oif his hair but he just might start wondering how they're doing. Anyone who has written fiction knows that the characters feel like real people.

I think a writer needs a little time between the ending of one writng project and the beginning of another. We're just not ready to jump in and begin again immediately. Don't wait too long, though. Delaying a new project becomes easier and easier as time goes on. So give yourself a moderate amount of time and then get moving.

We end entire projects but we also have to end individual pieces of writing. Whether it's a short story, a novel, a personal essay, a how-to article or a poem--it needs a proper ending. It is just as important as the opening hook. Maybe more because it's the final impression you leave with your readers.

Have you ever read a book that you really enjoyed until the end because the end fell flat? There was no satisfaction for the reader. There may not have been a pulling together of all the rest of what had been written. I've occasionally read a book that leaves me with more questions than answers at the end.

Many writers try to use what is said at the beginning to bring the piece full cirlce at the end. That's one technique but not the only one. Some like to give the reader a surprise, even a shock, at the conclusion.

One of the best books on writing that I've read is written by Nancy Kress and is part of the Writer's Digest series. The title is Beginnings, Middles and Ends  Click on the title for the Amazon page on this highly rated book. I noticed this is a newer edition than the one I read quite some years ago. Looks like maybe I should check into this newer one.

Today, I've mentioned two types of endings. The one where you finish an entire writing project, ready to move on to the next one and the actual ending section of whatever it is you're writing.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Beginnings  First steps  Paragraph one  Initial chapter   Seed of an idea  
Number one line   A start

Any one of the above phrases will tell you that today's post is going to be about beginning a new writing project. Earlier this morning, I was reading a freewrite Random Word submission of someone in my online writers group. It involved a lot about what is happening in her personal life right now. As I read, I thought to myself that she must, must, must write a memoir book. She lives in another country, has had a most interesting life that has had more than its share of difficulties. Besides that, she writes like an angel. I wrote to her telling her she needs to give serious thought to writing a memoir book. I'll be her cheerleader from start to finish if she takes me up on the challenge and begins this new project.

Beginning a new writing project is exciting and also a bit daunting. Another member of our online group is a translator working on a memoir book for an Iranian woman. She began with both enthusiasm and apprehension. Just recently, she submitted a chapter by chapter outline for our group to critique. Fascinating material which made us want to read the entire book, chapter by chapter when she subs. Not a great many people will start a huge translating project like this one.

But there are plenty of other types of writing projects waiting for you. If you look at those phrases above, the one that suggests the first requirement is seed of an idea. After all, we must have that before writing anything. We may need to do some research before we begin the actual writing. Some of us will make a detailed outline before beginning the actual writing while others will plunge right in and let the story guide them as they go.

Besides the excitement of starting a brand new writing project, there's also some concern. We know that openings are important, that they must hook the reader in a hurry. More so today than ever before. We're in the do it immediately kind of life because time is our enemy. Or so it seems. What if you write five pages today on this new project, then read them two or three days from now and think they are absolute drivel? Hey, it's gonna happen more often than not.

It doesn't matter. That 'drivel' you've written gave you a beginning. It isn't set in concrete. It can be revised in any way you like. You can make the revisions right away or wait until you get to the end and go back and redo the whole thing. Personally, I like to work chapter by chapter on a large project, so I'd rewrite chapter 1 so I'd know where I'm heading in chapter 2. If it's a short story, you might write the entire piece and then revise. Same with an essay or article.

The important thing is to begin a new project. As soon as you finish and submit to an editor or publisher, start writing something new. It's true that there is magic of beginnings, as the poster above states. It's fresh and new and the road ahead is empty waiting for you to fill it. How can that not be an exciting time?

When you have an idea for a new project, are you eager to begin? Do you have a routine way for beginnings? Or is each project started in a different mode? What do you think about beginnings?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Write About Neighborhood Kids of Yesteryear

This poster was on facebook this morning. Ten little words opened a floodgate of memories for me. Probably for you, as well. 

It doesn't matter whether you grew up in suburban subdivision, a city apartment building, or on a country road where your folks farmed. We all had neigborhood kids that were a part of life in our growing-up years. Farm kids may have had to go a little farther to play together, but I'm sure they managed just fine. My own children grew up in a neighborhood filled with kids of all ages while for me, it was a concrete play area in the back of our large apartment building where I could always find companionship.

We went to school with those same neighborhood kids, too. We spent time together in scouts or 4-H or Sunday School classes. We walked to and from school with many and later, we waited for the bus that would take us to high school. We knew who got teased and who did the teasing. We knew who we could count on for help if we needed it. We knew which neighborhood kid made us laugh the hardest and the one who irritated the heck out of us. 

You don't forget them even after decades have passed. If I asked you to make a list of the kids in your neighborhood where you grew up, I bet you wouldn't have to hesitate to find those names. They'd be there in a flash. And then you might think about what they looked like. Was there one with freckles? Always messed-up hair, the nicest or the worst clothes of all the kids? Did you have one that won every game, every time? Was there one who cried easily? Another you called a Mama's Boy? 

Now that you've made a list, whether actual or mentally, could you write a memoir piece about those kids? How about writing something like this for part of your Family Memories book? Maybe you can write a personal essay about those kids showing life lessons you learned from them. There were good times but we probably all could write about a tragedy that hit one family in our neighborhood--a small one or something so big we all had a hard time dealing with it. 

Neighborhood kids is a great topic to inspire you to write something today. Start with a freewrite. For those who don't know, a freewrite means you use the two words neighborhood kids and write as fast as you can. Write whatever pops into your mind. Go in any direction. When done, you should have the bones of a possible essay or even the base for a fiction story. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Stories Abound Wherever We Look

This week I'm back in Mom Mode. Our 10 1/2 year old granddaughter, Jordan, is spending the week with us so that she can attend the Jeff Mittie Women's Basketball Camp for Girls. Last week, Jordan went to the Cold Aldredge Basketball Camp for Kids in Lawrence. That one was for boys and girls, so her little brother, Cole, went, also. They stayed with their other grandparents for that one.

Yes, Jordan and Cole come from a divided family. Their mom is K-State and Dad is for KU. It's a fun rivalry in our family. So, it's nice that Jordan has been able to spend time on both campuses. What will happen when these kids reach college choice age is anyone's guess. My guess is that one will go to KU and one to K-State. We'll have to wait and see.

This morning, we had a simple registration at the basketball training center and then I stayed to watch for a little while. Mostly mothers there with the girls, a few dads and a couple other grandparents. The girls range in age from 8-14 so there all sizes of kids swarming the floor tossing purple basketballs towards a hoop that must have seemed an eternity away for some of the little ones. 

I couldn't help but think about the many stories there were amongst the girls and the parents and grandparents who watched as the camp began with assistant coaches and K-State women's team players took charge. Head Coach, Jeff Mittie, apologized to the adults that he'd only be in attendance for 2 of the 5 days. He's new to K-State and so had to fly to Texas to close on a house, meet a moving van, and then take a son to the naval academy for his first year. He said he normally spends all 5 days at the kids' camp but life took over this time. I think the girls are in good hands with the staff he's left. 

Now, there's another story--Jeff Mittie left after several years at TCU coaching the women's team. What drew him to K-State? What factors were involved when he said he'd accept the offer made? What did the rest of his family think about moving from Ft. Worth, Texas to Manhattan, Kansas? 

Each of the K-State players have a story, too. They came to K-State, most on scholarship, from all over the country. Sometimes, we get players from other countries as well. Each one of those young women have taken a different path to get to K-State and play on the team. I think they would have some fascinating stories. 

What about all the kids attending? More stories. Some have lived in Kansas their entire life, some have come here because their parent(s) took jobs at K-State, a few are here because their parent(s) are in the Army and based at nearby Ft. Riley. 

In chatting with another grandmother this morning, both at the beginning and ending of the session, I learned a great deal about her family. It's a story worth telling--including what her daughter and son-in-law do for a living and what the grandparents do to help out. 

Look around you, no matter where you are. Everyone has a story. What's yours?

Friday, July 11, 2014

This Advice Never Gets Old


I ran across the first guest blog I'd ever done and decided it held some advice still good several years later. My writer friend, Jennie, is no longer blogging but continues to write nonfiction books that get rave reviews. I'm posting that early blog post below to end this hot July week. Of course, in today's world, we're more apt to use our computers over snail mail to submit our work.

Thanks, Jennie, for asking me to be your first guest blogger. I could write three words that cover the topic I’ve selected, but readers might not be satisfied with such brevity, even though the words are pretty self-explanatory. Send it out!

Your work may never be published, nor will you ever be paid, if you don’t send your stories, essays, articles or poems to an editor. It sounds so simple. Write a story, study a market guide, send the story to an acquisitions editor and wait for the acceptance.

When I was a newbie writer, I joined a critique group that met twice a month. Tom, the moderator of the group, and also the only published writer, constantly encouraged the members to send their work to editors. “No editor is going to climb in your bedroom window and search in your top dresser drawer for your manuscript.” He said it so often that I began to believe him. Send it out became our mantra, and the more I heard it, the more I believed it.

I was a late bloomer—didn’t start writing until well into my fifties. The desire to write had been there for many years, but I let Life get in the way. Because of that late start, I felt I needed to make up for lost time.

I studied market guides and sent my work to editors with high hopes, trying not to be discouraged when the rejection letters shot back into my mailbox like bullets from a high-powered rifle. Every now and then, an acceptance would arrive.

I began with no-pay websites and moved on to paying ezines and anthologies. Did I get rejections? You bet I did. Lots of them. But, my nonfiction stories are in nine Chicken Soup for the Soul books, two Guideposts anthologies, and a few others. The successes I had encouraged me to keep submitting my work. I tried some newspapers whose content aimed for senior citizens. Since I’m one of them, it seemed a natural.  And sure enough, they liked what I sent. I’ve become a regular in one. I’ve written articles on the craft of writing for several writers’ newsletters. I’ve even sold a few pieces of fiction.

None of that would have happened if I hadn’t sent my work to all those editors. “Send it out!” I hear Tom’s words in my mind when I’ve written something and am satisfied that it is a finished product. So I send it out.

There are reasons that some writers don’t send their work to an editor. Their files are filled with writing that no eyes but their own have ever seen.  

  1. Fear of rejection:  Nobody likes rejection, but it’s part of the writing game. Remember that it isn’t you personally that is being rejected. Maybe your story isn’t right for that particular publication
  2. Not knowing how to study a market guide:  The more you read marketing material, the better you become at selecting the right editor.
  3. It’s hard work:  Yes, it is, so you must decide how great a desire you have to see your work published.
  4. Fear of success:  This one may sound laughable, but it can happen. If you succeed once, you’re compelled to do it again. And what happens if you become famous? It’s a very real fear for some people.
  5. Lack of confidence:  Doubt runs rampant in a writer’s mind. Most writers question their own worth at times.

Look through your files and pick three finished pieces to send out. If one or all are returned, send them out again. If you get three rejections on one story, it’s time to look at it with objective eyes and revise. Then send it out again. John Grisham sent his blockbuster novel The Firm, to twenty-six publishers before it sold. We can all learn a lesson from that. Send it out and take a healthy dose of patience and perseverance along the way.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Story About A Contest Winner

Em Saddington
A friend from my online critique group submitted a personal essay to the group a few weeks ago. She wanted to send her entry to a contest that had the theme "My Writing Journey." Her plea to our group members was to help her whittle the words from the 2000 she had to the maximum 1000 allowed. Not an easy task.

She and I visited a bit about the competition and I asked if she'd be alright with me sending an entry, also. I had a piece already written that could be revised and cut down a bit. She wrote back that she'd love to have me enter and also some of our other members. So the invitation to our members went out with Em urging others to enter the contest. Several wrote essays and submitted to the competition.

The deadline was June 30th and each entrant received a nice note letting her know that the entry had been received and the winner would be announced on July 10th. That's a fast turnaround for a contest. The contest was sponsored by the NZ Writing College, which is an online school for writers with outlets in the UK, New Zealand, and I think Australia. They were accepting entries from around the globe, however.
The prize was $250 or equivalent in other monies, depending on where the winner lived.

Every one of the entries I read from our group impressed me. Same theme, yet all so different as we have lived in various countries, born in different times and our journey took us down myriad roads. I had high hopes that one of us would win, but then I'd think about the many other entries there would be.

This morning, the winner was announced and I was thrilled to learn that my dear friend, Em, had come out on top. She, who had started the ball rolling for all of the others and proved to be the best. She, who had to cut her word count in half, came out victorious. Em lives in a small village an hour or two north of Capetown, South Africa. She is a wonderful writer and is also an artist who paints beautifully.

Em has won R1000 which is the equivalent rand to our dollar. While the monetary prize is nice, the joy of being the top essayist in this contest is worth far more to her, I'm sure. Contratulations, Em! Think of all the contests some of us have passed by thinking we had no chance to come out on top. If you don't enter, you can't win! Next time you see a contest that piques your interest, go for it!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dialogue Tips

Bulle Gauche clip artWhat's this little guy going to say? That's up to you, the writer. You are going to decide on the words he'll utter within this bubble. We might see the bubble, or cloud, in a comic strip but in a short story or novel, the dialogue is written to stand alone.

Some writers agonize over writing dialogue while others write it effortlessly. Dialogue is meant to do several things:

1.  Good dialogue will move your story along.

2.  It will aid in showing rather than narrative telling.

3.  It's a way to get information to the reader.

4.  It's part of character development.

5.  It shows relationships between characters

6.  It breaks up long spates of pure narrattion

A few things to keep in mind when writing dialogue:

Contractions:  People seldom speak in everyday conversation without using contractions. If that's the way conversation goes in real life, shouldn't your characters in a novel or short story speak in the same way? When I read a novel that has dialogue written in a formal way, in other words, no contractions, I can almost see the character standing straight as a toy soldier, arms at his sides and no expression on his face. The character begins to feel wooden, stilted, unemotional to me. One way to counteract that is to use contractions. Next time you're in a coffee shop or a waiting room where you're privy to other people's conversations, listen and learn. Do you hear formal speech in these everyday chats?

Actions within dialogue: Another way to keep from having toy soldier characters is to sprinkle actions into your dialogue. Let the character say something, follow with an action, or precede what is said with an action. It allows the reader to visulaize the scene along with the conversation. It also breaks up lengthy amounts of dialogue which can bog down the person reading it.

    "Look at this, Tom. Do you know what I'm going to do with it?" Fred raised the paint-spattered hammer and waved it back and forth like a flag.

     Fred picked up the paint-spattered hammer. "Do you see this, Tom? Do you know what I'm going to do with it?"

Tags:  Lose the adverbs when writing tags in dialogue. We don't need to be told that Sally said something grumpily or nastily or hurriedly. he said or she said are quite sufficient. Use an action before or after if you want to convey an emotion in the speaker. She said, "Look at what we're doing, John." She slammed her book onto the kitchen table. Using more than the he said, she said tags distracts from what is actually being said. Remember that you do not need to have a tag after every sentence in dialogue. If it's a back and forth conversation, use the tags sparingly, the reader can generally figure out who is saying what. Give them that guidance in the opening lines, then carry on without them. Maybe sprinkle the tags in if it's a particularly long section of dialogue.

Complete sentences: It's not necessary to always use complete sentences in dialogue. Don't worry, your old English teacher will not appear out of nowhere and smack your hand. Once again, in normal conversation we often speak with phrases rather than complete sentences. Of course, you will have complete sentences for a great deal of your dialogue but toss in those phrases now and then. It will result in more natual conversation.

There's more to writing good dialogue than these few things that I've touched on today. Google the topic or find a book about writing dialogue. Read it, digest and apply to your own writing. Have fun making your characters speak to one another. I started doing it long ago when my friends and I played with paper dolls and made up stories about them along with lengthy conversations between the paper doll each of us held. Little did I know I was a writer in training!


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Stormy Picture Prompt

Last night, we had a humdinger of a storm that knocked out power in a lot of areas, downed power lines and burned down a house that had been struck by lightning. My husband was up early to get ready for his 8 a.m. tee time this morning but I saw an announcement that the club is closed due to downed lines. So no golf for him today. We needed some rain but would have much preferred a nice all day gentle soaking rain. But we don't always get rain in the way we'd like, do we? 

Storms provide great material for writers. How many mysteries open with a stormy night scene? Or what about the stories that provide terror in a storm at the climax? A storm can almost be another character in your story. They play a significant role. 

And think of the possibilities of description that the storm setting gives. Almost endless ways to describe the pre-storm, during and after. 

As an exercise today, use the picture above or any of these great storm pictures, to write a paragraph or several paragraphs. You may choose to make your paragraph(s) nothing but vivid description or decide to include characters who are experiencing a storm. How about golfers caught unaware on the 14th hole? Or a young woman driving alone in a desolate area when a storm hits? There are many possibilities. So, flex those writing fingers and get started. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Grammar? Who Cares? Maybe You Should

Grammar is boring! Grammar sucks! Who needs grammar? Grammar stinks!

I'm guessing we've all heard statements like the above, might even have said one or two ourselves on occasion. As little kids, we had to memorize our addition and subtraction facts, then they threw multiplication and division into the mix. Grammar is no different. We needed to memorize a lot of rules and learn to apply those rules in our writing. 

I'm also guessing that a whole lot of people kept those math facts in their memory bank but only some have kept and adhered to the grammar rules. Who cares? Writers care, and if they don't, they need an attitude adjustment. Even so, remembering every little rule we learned in school is not always easy.

If you're a writer, you need to write with proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling. With spell check on your computer, there should be no problem there. If you have Office and use Word for your writing program, there's a way to check grammar. Here's a step by step. I found this by googling so you can find other programs to help you with grammar, punctuation and spelling by doing the same.

Or you can keep a handy guide like the one pictured above. I was dusting some bookshelves the other day and this one fell from the shelf right into my hands. I'm not about to pass up a hint like that, so I took it to my office and scanned through it. It's a 1979 edition and the cover and pages have turned a bit yellow. I was curious to see how many editions of this writing style guide there have been so checked it on Amazon. There are an amazing number listed. The original was written and published nearly 100 years ago and there have been myriad editions since the first one. 

One of the interesting sections discusses 49 missused words and expressions. Part of the book gives grammar rules while another discusses 'style' in writing. The edition I have is a small paperback size and a mere 85 pages. A handy guide for the writer to keep accessible at all times.

A concern in today's techie world with texting and shortcuts in email is that we are going to lose some of our grammar, spelling and punctuation skills. It makes sense to use those shortcuts when texting but are they going to spill over into our other writing, as well?

Back to some of those statements about grammar at the top of this post. A whole lot of people who might have said those things will notice if a book, or article, or short story doesn't follow the rules. Readers expect writers to give it to them in the 'right way.' It makes me feel that, as a writer, I owe it to my readers to use proper English. How about you? Does it matter to you? Do you strive for perfection in the mechanics of grammar, spelling and punctuation? Do you think it's important or not? 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Fourth of July--1940's Style

I have fond memories of childhood 4th of July days. A much simpler celebration than might be seen today but memorable, nonetheless.  I'm sure each of my readers have memories of their own that could/should be written and included in a Family Memories book. Maybe reading mine will trigger memories and inspire you to write about them. 

Independence Day In Chicago
By Nancy Julien Kopp

Come back with me to the1940’s era in Chicago. During the first few days of July, my younger brothers and I walked to the neighborhood Woolworth’s store to buy a very important item for our Fourth of July celebration. We had to make our purchase no later than July 3rd, for all businesses closed on Independence Day.

We walked on the creaky wooden floor, smelling the penny candy lined up in glass cases near the front door. Straight to the back of the long aisle, we found rolls and rolls of colored crepe paper--red, white, and blue, of course.  We bought several rolls with money we’d saved. Once home, we stashed our purchase for the next day.
The first thing after breakfast on the Fourth of July, we clambered down the three flights of stairs from our top floor apartment to the basement where our bikes were kept.  Bump, bump, bump—up the steps from basement to courtyard we went with our two wheeled bikes. Down went the kickstands, and out came the rolls of crepe paper to decorate. We wove the colored streamers in and out of the wheel spokes, and fastened more on the handle-bars, then stepped back to see which looked best. Decorating our bikes for America’s holiday left an indelible impression of patriotism in us.
Other kids in our building worked on bikes, too. We rode all over the neighborhood, up and down alleys and sidewalks showing off our fancy bikes, not caring how high the temperature might be.

We spent the rest of the day like any other hot, sultry summer day. We ate popsicles to cool off, walked to the park where families sat on the lawn with picnic lunches and waited for the sun to go down. Dad had gone out earlier to one of the only businesses open—the fireworks stand. Money was usually scarce in our family, but Dad always found some extra to buy firecrackers and sparklers for us. No doubt, he enjoyed them as much as we did.
Darkness finally descended over our city, and once again, we hurried down the three flights of stairs. Not just kids this time, but our whole family. We gathered in the alley beyond the apartment courtyard along with several other families. Only Dad lit our firecrackers, although I’m sure my brothers wanted to try it. One I loved was a pinwheel which Dad stuck into a telephone pole. When he lit the fuse, the entire thing whirled round and round, throwing sparks in every direction. Little firecrackers on the ground did nothing but make popping noises, but the Roman candles gave us the real show. Big noise and showers of colorful sparks which delighted us. And finally, Dad lit sparklers we held. I loved whirling them round and round, watching the designs the sparks made. All too soon, they burned down to the end and we rushed to get another until the boxes were emptied.
We knew why we decorated our bikes, why people went on picnics and why we had fireworks on the Fourth of July. Our parents talked to us every year about what it meant to have Independence and how a war several years before was fought and won to ensure that we lived with freedoms like few other nations. We grew up knowing there was a serious side to the holiday. Even so, it was a special day we looked forward to every summer.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Lots To Write On Patriotic Holidays

If you love your country, give some thought to writing about our patriotic holidays. This  includes the one we celebrate this week, our Independence Day--or 4th of July as it is more commonly known. But there are others through the year, even though not all are actual holidays recognized by our federal government. Even so, they all commemorate important times, events or people in our history.

Memorial Day
Independence Day (4th of July)
Labor Day
Veteran's Day
Armistice Day (now Veteran's Day)
Lincoln's Birthday
Washington's Birthday
Pearl Harbor Day

These holidays are more than a day off for federal postal workers. They each commemorate something important in our country and they are days to be marked with more than a picnic or some other social celebration. Look at the list. Do you know why we celebrate each one?

We should fly our American Flag, attend parades in our communities, and give thought to why we mark the day. Most of the days in the list above have to do with Freedom which is no small thing. Two of them honor president's who served during special periods in our history. All of them should bring out some patriotism in us.

We who write can also write stories, articles, poems and essays. Newspapers and magazines, ezines and radio broadcasts mark these days in some way. I read frequently that editors need holiday stories and patriotic holidays might be far down on the list that writers would select as a project. They're more likely to tackle a fun holiday like Christmas, Hanukkah, or Valentine's Day.

Think about the pluses in writing about a patriotic holiday. You can pass on a bit of history. You can write with emotion and touch the hearts of readers. You have less competition so a better chance of being published. You can add to your Family Stories book. You can approach the project from several angles. You can even write fiction with a patriotic holiday as the setting.

The main thing to remember is to write far enough ahead and submit early enough that you have a chance of being published. Sometimes, we write best in the heat of the moment, maybe the personal essay you're inspired to write this 4th of July is best saved to submit in 2015. If you want to write an Independence Day story next March, you may not be as fired up over it as you could be tomorrow when firecrackers are flying.

Children's magazines especially like holiday stories and I'm guessing they get a very few patriotic holiday stories. Instead, they're usually swamped with Halloween stories.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Seeking Help Is Not A Bad Thing

Writers are not always do-all, know-all people. Sometimes we need a little help. More than once, I've heard a writer (including myself) say somethng like Writing is the easy part, marketing my work is tough. But even the writing can be a little difficult when a writer has the basics but not all the fine points of our craft. You might be a great storyteller but lousy in the mechanics of writing.

That's nothing to be ashamed of, nor is it wrong for a writer to ask for some help in polishing a story until it shines. I'm guessing that even highly successful authors needed some assistance in their early endeavors. Some still rely on outside help when writing those bestsellers we all love to read.

Did you ever actually read the foreward, afterword, or page of appreciation in a novel? Time and again, the author tells the reader what help they had from others in the writing of the book. Is it wrong to turn to others for help in turning out the best possible product? Not at all.

Many authors seek editing help. One of the reasons is that we become blind to our own errors after working on a story or book for a long time. I find it far easier to find the places that need work in other people's writing than in my own. When the members of my critique group do a LBL (line by line) critique, they mark lots of things that I never saw. Not even after I'd done my own edit and revision. It happens to all of us, which is exactly the reason why I belong to a critique group. Not the only reason but one of the biggies.

Read any writing themed magazine and you'll see scads of ads offering editorial services. How do you pick one? Close your eyes and point your finger on the page? Not such a good idea. There are lots of legitimate services and there are also ones that you want to steer clear of. I subscribe to a blog titled Writer Beware that has made me aware of the mix of good and bad services offered to writers. In today's post at the blog, a writing service for authors sounds very helpful but it's more about taking the writer's money than it is in helping. Read about it here. Then consider subscribing to the blog so that you, too, will be more aware of the good and the bad in our industry. A reference for a good editor from another writer would be my choice.

Because I'd been discussing editing services with a writer just recently, I googled to see what was offered and what authors should consider paying. What an education it was! Like all things, the more professional the person you hire is, the more you pay. That doesn't mean that someone just starting out in offering editorial help is no good. They might be excellent but they are going to charge you less because they don't have a miles long resume. It also depends if you want an edit for grammar, punctutaion, spelling--the mechanics of writing, or if you're looking for help in plot structure, character development and more. You can get either or both.

I know writers who will say they don't need help from anyone else. It's their story, their words and they'll go with what they have. That's fine. It's a personal choice. We each must do what we're comfortable with. At the very least, though, I'd like to see writers join a critique group. It's amazing how much help another writer who crits your work in a fair and honest way can be. They read what you write with objective eyes. That, to me, is key. Finding a critique group that does more than pat you on the back and say only the things you want to hear is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, it's a topic for another post someday. You may have to try more than one to find good help.

Since the onset of self-publishing and its rapid growth, I see a greater need for editorial help. As I said earlier, there is no shame in seeking such help.

Somethng else that I see in the self-published books is that many authors would benefit from doing a little more research on the genre in which they are writing, especially if it's one they've not done before. If you've always written nonfiction and suddenly have a burning desire to write a novel, it would be wise to read all you can on writing novels. If you've always written poetry and suddenly have a terrific idea for a novel for middle grade kids, read all you can about writing for kids.

Seeking help from various sources, whether a human editor or a book on your craft, can only help you grow as a writer. And isn't that what we're all aiming for?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Another Story for Chicken Soup Books

I'm always reminding people who submit stories to the Chicken Soup for the Soul books that they must expect a very long waiting time between submission and final acceptance. I submitted a story for the Reboot Your Life book on September 29, 2013. That's nine months that the story was out of circulation. 

This past Friday, I received notice that my story was in the final selection list and was asked to sign and return the Permission Release form attached to the message. Then came the warning that not all the stories that had made it to this point would be included in the book. I knew it would be another waiting period before I'd know whether I'd been slashed or made it. 

On Monday, the good news arrived. My Dad, A Dream and A Red Shirt" would be included in the book which is to be published September 16, 2014.This has to be the fastest ever! The edited version was attached and I was asked to read it, make any corrections I felt needed, or send a message permitting the publisher to use my story as is. The first thing that hit me was that they'd changed the title to Forgiveness and Freedom. I had no problem with the new title. In fact, I liked it a lot. The original one had been a working title and I never came up with anything I liked better. The rest of the story was not changed so I happily sent my permission to publish message to the editor. 

Because of the very long wait from last September, I had submitted the same story to another book to be published later, one on the topic of forgiveness. I felt that the story would be perfect for that book. But it went to the first one. My next step was to inform the editor that the story had also been submitted for another book and needed to be withdrawn. She was most gracious and said it would be taken care of. If you are ever in that situation, be sure to let the editor/publisher know that the story is no longer available. 

I set a goal to have stories in at least an even dozen of the Chicken Soup books. This one is number 15 and that pleases me greatly. My friend, Harriet Cooper, far surpasses me in numbers in this anthology series. She has had two stories in more than a few books, not just one like the rest of us. I call her The Queen of Chicken Soup. Harriet did a guest post for me in 2010 about writing for anthologies that you might like to read. Since then, she's had more stories published in Chicken Soup. Yep, she's the queen!