09 April 2014

Style, Anything But Simple

A few weeks ago, a fellow dance-mom/writer/photographer and friend sent me a link about Writing Style. (Sara is like that, thinking of others.) As I'm a self-taught writer, I'll read anything that might help me get a handle on the process.

The link, found on BrainPicking.org, focused on philosopher Arthur Schopenhaur's take on Writing Style. In a sentence: Keep your Style Simple, and Be True to Yourself.

When I read the 19th century words, with the long sentences with complex clauses and the message repeated in multiple ways, I couldn't help think of the irony: for all his suggestions of brevity and naiveté, his words give the exact opposite effect.

Once I got past that, I'll be honest, I questioned my understanding of style, and more specifically, my own style. (Or lack of one.) What is my style? Do my words convey the picture I want the reader to imagine? Are my readers going to enjoy my writing, my style, my stories?

For a writer still trying to develop a voice, a style, and stories, those are big questions with no easy answers. Like everything else in this writing gig: Style is anything but clear cut or simple.

The writing they teach in primary, middle, and high school is full of adjectives, adverbs, speaking tags other than said and asked, prepositional phrases and clauses abound. However, once it's no longer for a grade but for a royalty check and a best-selling book list, the rules change: Show, Don't tell; No adverbs; No adjectives; Shorten Your Sentences.

To me, it seems that Style is a function of author, story, characters, setting, and plot. There may be signature phrasing and attitudes that link a particular writer's stories, but Style will evolve with a writer. Like one can always tell a Van Halen song from one by Linkin Park or Metallica, or older songs from newer songs. Not only will Style be different every story, it could change based on the feedback from alpha and beta readers, editors, and publishers.

Maybe, I'm getting Style mixed up with Voice, but shouldn't they be linked?

So how does one develop a Style that is Simple and True to Yourself? I don't know. I'll just keep working & writing and trust that it will emerge on its own.

Thanks to Sara P. for the blog fodder and thought provoking link.

19 March 2014

Another Tool in My Writer's Toolbox: IFTTT

I know bloggers and other social media savvy folks say one shouldn't cross post among the different media sites.

But here's the deal... I'm a busy mom and wife, if I'm not driving my daughters to dance related events or my son to kung fu, I'm prepping meals to eat in the car as we drive back and forth, volunteering at the school, editing pictures, helping with homework, guest-teaching, developing my writing career, or managing the household. Then there's the social sites to keep up with family, friends, and writing acquaintances. I gotta cut corners sometimes.

So going against the pros advice, I cross post my blog to Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. I've used a few services to different effects - the native sharing options within Facebook and Twitter, Twitterfeed, Networked Blogs, and Friends Plus MeThe latest service I've tried is IFTTT, (If This Then That) and so far I like it best.

The service works with recipes to get things done. A brief explanation of the service can be found here. (Their description is easy to understand. You really should go read it.) When creating a recipe, the service walks the user through creating a recipe and turning it on. Like anything these days, there is a social component: users can share their recipes with others. So there are lots of recipes to try out and lots of channels (cloud services, social networking sites) with which to experiment. It can even do some home automation actions.

I've created two flavors of recipes. I have two blogs on Blogger, but IFTTT can only connect to one at a time. So one type of recipe watches my blog directly, and when a new post is published, IFTTT pushes it to my Facebook timeline and to my Twitter feed. For the other blog, IFTTT monitors the blog's RSS feed for a new post, then pushes it to my Facebook and Twitter. Two blogs to two social networking sites means four recipes.

I like the service because I haven't had to go back in and renew the recipe or blog like I have for a few other services. (If I have to fiddle with a service every time I publish a blog post, it doesn't work for me.)

When I catch a moment, I might look at the other recipes available. If there is something out there to make my life easier, I'm game.

IFTTT is free. (So far.) So, take a look and see if you can put it to work for you. ##

## No compensation was received, nor expected, for this mini-review.


26 February 2014

New Tool in my Writer's Toolbox: The Emotion Thesaurus

As a former engineer**, I love working with systems, structures, and tools. In my engineering days, there was a specific problem to solve within a specific system with specific processes, specific requirements, and specific desired outcomes. Straightforward and repeatable. Something I understood.

There is nothing straightforward or repeatable about the storytelling process. Sure, there are systems to work in: romance, historical fiction, women's lit, urban fantasy, but the lines between genres are blurred. Sure, there is the requirement to write a good story, but it's vague, obvious, and not particularly helpful, especially when each story has its own eccentricities. Then there's the cardinal rule: Show, don't tell, except for when you have to. Clear as mud.

As a creature of habit that works with the nebulous distinctions of emotions of characters, I get in a rut when conveying emotions. "She rolled her eyes." "Her eyebrows furrowed." "He sighed." "He clenched his hands into fists."

Which is why I'm glad I found The Emotion Thesaurus

Emotions/feelings are listed alphabetically. Each entry provides a list of ways to describe a character's emotion through their physical actions and appearance, as if observing the emotion in another person. It also provides examples of emotional descriptions from an internal point of view.

I purchased the ebook version (Kindle format) so that I could have it with me without adding bulk inside my backpack. This strategy has already proven handy when I'm in the car fitting in some writing while waiting for the kids to get out of school.

A few reviews on Goodreads gave me pause - that it was too basic, that writers already knew how to write emotion. However many more reviews touted its usefulness in depicting emotion.

Since purchasing the book, I've looked up a few emotions and used the descriptions in my own writing, adding my own twist as the story dictates. Looking forward, I can see this the reference tool becoming something I use frequently. And getting out of a writing rut.

If you're a writer and in need of something to help spruce up your writing, this might be something for your toolbox too.##

** I doubt there is such a creature as a former engineer -- once an engineer, always an engineer.

## No compensation was received, nor expected, for this mini-review.

13 February 2014

Why Just a Week, Let's Make it Love of Reading Everyday!

 It's Love of Reading Week. My children and I love this week of celebrations.

How could we not? Reading is encouraged every day this week. Parents read favorite stories to classrooms. People share book tips with others. Character parades bring out the kid and joy in everyone. So, why do we only celebrate it just one week?

I think it should be Love of Ready Everyday.

Putting aside the research that indicates that reading is good for the brain and psyche, there's just the plain joy of getting lost in a story. But Love of Reading Everyday could lead to other not so tangible results. If everyone read everyday, there would be less time for less savory things.

Instead of bullying, people could fall in love with Harry, Ron and Hermione. And discover a universe of other people moved by the same story that band together under the power of love.

Instead of fighting, a little reader could imagine himself in the desert making Stone Pizza with that clever Coyote. And use Coyote's tricks of bringing people together to create something that everyone can share and enjoy.

Instead of holding grudges, someone could listen to Curiosity Freeman share what secrets she' been keeping in the Endless Forests. And the reader could discover her own humility and strength that's been hiding inside so she can have the courage to let go of the hurt.

Instead of wallowing in self-pity, you could fight the good fight along side Harry Dresden as he casts spells and avoids death by the skin of his teeth. And learn that sometimes you gotta fight for something larger than yourself.

All it takes is a Majority of One, or so said Mr. Thoreau. What could be more right than reading everyday? That's why at our house, from now on, we celebrate Love of Reading Everyday.

29 January 2014

Web Wednesday: Links I Liked (29 Jan 2014 ed.)

I'm going to try something a new: muse about things that I saw on the interwebs that sparked something in me.

The links might've sparked something as simple as a smile, a new entry in my Evernote compendium of writing things, a story idea, or just plain enjoyment. As this is my writing existence space, I'll work to keep the links related to writing and story.
  • Frozen Becomes the Highest Grossing Animated Film! I love Disney films, so it wasn't a surprise that I loved Frozen too. So kudos (not the snack bar - I made that mistake once) to the production crew, especially the writers. I wonder how much of the fact that the story has two strong female protagonists is a function of one of the writers being a female.
  • I love Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. The first book in the series is being adapted into a TV series by Starz to be aired this Summer. Starz has released two trailers, different only in the endings. Trailer one. Trailer two. Love them both, but am partial to the second one.
  • Another one of my favorite book series received some love this week. The Into the Wilderness series by Rosina Lippi, pen name Sara Donati and my editor, received high marks in a survey of historical fiction books. If you haven't read this series, what are you waiting for? 
  • Photography is a big part of my life, and I'm weaving into my writing process as well. I use photographs to spark ideas, to record locations (I have a slew of photos from our Scotland trip to use in one my stories), and model characters. Sometimes, I enjoy a picture for the sake of the picture. This one, by one of my first contacts from twitter, is one of my favorites just for its clean contrasts and starkness.
  • I keep an Evernote list of agents looking for new clients. I realize that by the time I'm done with a story and ready to query, most of the agents listed will probably not be looking anymore. But I keep adding to the list because it'll be a good place to start my search. This week, two agents popped up: Laura Zats and Nadeen Gayle. Thought I'd share the links in case anyone needed more query opportunities.
  • Last year, I listened to Fault in our Stars by John Green and loved it. It too has been adapted, but into a feature film. The trailer was released today. Be warned, tears will flow.
  • And just for fun... This link is a commercial for Jaguar. "It's good to be bad."