Pruning Back

* Disclaimer: as coincidental as this may seem, this post has nothing to do with Friday’s Thankful Tree post. 🙂

My life has spun out of control. I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, but I think I can take on more. What is my deal? Ah, yes, I’m a people pleaser. Dang, I thought I had learned how to say no by now. Well, for sanity’s sake, it’s time to get out the pruning shears and decide what needs to go. See, I’ve always heard about gardeners pruning trees and roses, but I had no idea why. I’ve read scriptures that talk about pruning as well. I sort of got it, only if to motivate me to keep on keeping on. It wasn’t until I read Found Adrift: 40 Days of Recovering Grace that it hit me. Author Pauline Creeden has a chapter that discusses pruning and why gardeners prune. I had an aha moment.

Found Adrift: 40 Days of Recovering Grace

There’s only so much nutrients in the soil. Only so much sun the plant can absorb. If our tree has nice leafy branches but no fruit, it isn’t going to draw more nutrients and begin producing fruit. All those leaves are soaking up what’s available. It must be pruned. Then the tree will have the opportunity to feed a new branch with the possibility of producing fruit. Okay, so Creeden explained it way better than  I could.

So I’ve been pondering this for awhile. We only have so much time in a day. Most of my day is spent doing duties of a stay-at-home mom: taking care of the kiddos, working on their ABCs and 123s, cooking, cleaning. Plus I’ve got outside commitments x5, only one related to writing. If I’m not careful, the extra commitments invade my time to write and work on other career related goals. I’m not so dim-witted to think I’m alone in this. We’re all running in circles like hamsters in wheels.

This brings me to the tree. What kind of fruit am I producing? Are these branches sucking my time and energy, but leaving me with nothing but pretty green leaves? Some of these branches have to go, but which ones? These are the questions I’m asking as I look at the coming new year.

That said, I am saying goodbye to Yo Ho A Writer’s Life For Me, for now. I’ll be changing my blogging schedule to twice a week instead of three times a week. I might post from time to time on writing, but blah, who wants to read about that, right? Or write it. Ha!

So what say you? Do you feel like a hamster in cage? Do you have some branches that need pruning? Please share, I love hearing from y’all. Besides, talking about it might help put things into perspective or at least give us some accountability, right?

Resist the Urge to Explain

R. U. E. was one of the first acronyms I’ve learned on my journey within critique groups and reading writing related books. My old writings were full of explanation, but I thought it was my character’s thoughts. Albeit stating the obvious. After reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King, I can catch those pesky unneeded expositions…most of the time. 🙂

Here are some blog posts on this topic.

Learned About Writing

Helping Writers Become Authors

Blood-red Pencil

Kathy Temean 

Zinging Dialogue

Dialogue can rock your story or squash it. It can be stilted, or it can sing. It can do double duty like giving glimpse into who are characters are or slipping in backstory through an exchange about something entirely different. We have dialogue between people or animals or aliens depending on your story, internal dialogue if we are deep third person point of view or first person, and then we have narrative dialogue.

The clever use of narrative dialogue will avoid the sin of small talk. James Scott Bell, The Art of War for Fiction Writers.

See, there are times for telling.

But there are so many good blog posts, articles out there tackling the many facets of dialogue, I figured I’d share what I’ve found and let you browse to your heart’s content.

Writing Dialogue – Tips

Three Common Dialogue Challenges and How to Beat them

Five Basics about Dialogue You Need to Know

Seven Ways to Add Variety to Your Dialogue

Internal dialogue: The Voices in Your Head

How to Make Deep POV Enrich Your Internal Dialogue 

Jeff Gerke’s Writing Tips. Wealth of information here and has been compiled into the book, The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction. Although it’s geared toward the Christian market, its has a lot of good writing tips.

#14  Speech Attributes

#41  Stick with said

#46  The Secrets of Good Dialogue, Part 1

#47  The Secrets of Good Dialogue, Part 2

#48  The Secrets of Good Dialogue, Part 3

#49  The Secrets of Good Dialogue, Part 4

Other good resources:

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown & Dave King

Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson & Peter Economy


Keep Them Turning

Progressive revelation keeps readers turning pages.


Or drives us nuts!

In chapter forty-five of The Art of War for Writers, we are encouraged to drop in hint and actions about the Lead character, about the plot to get us to ask why. The mystery is what drives us on to keep turning the page, to find answers.

I love mystery in a story. I love to collect the clues, connect the dots, to guess at the questions, but to actually write mystery into our stories…help! There is such a fuzzy border between hints that are blatant giveaways, or hints that are too obscure, and not everyone is going pick up on the same things.

Must finish reading these!

Mystery is one of the many reason’s I love J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The red herrings. The clues. Jill Williamson, author of Blood of Kings Trilogy, Replication, and The New Recruit, has a great article on how to add layers of mystery to your novel, and she uses Harry Potter as her example. Check it out if you get the chance.

Is there such a thing as too much mystery? I’ve read books where I was thrust into craziness and couldn’t figure out what was going. There were way too many unanswered questions thrown at me right away I couldn’t get a good grip on the story.  In James Scott Bell’s example, readers didn’t find out until a hundred pages later. I don’t know, but that sounds like it would make my brain cramp.  Too many questions can get distracting. If they do a good job of stringing us along, and we still want to know more, I don’t know if I could take the stress. Ha!

Some can pull off starting a book with too many questions. One book in particular, I am Ocilla by Diane M. Graham, is told in first person, present tense, and the main character had no memory of anything, but her name. So naturally when we start reading the book there are so many unanswered questions. My brain threatened to cramp. I wanted to put the book down, but I’m so glad I didn’t. As Ocilla learned more, we learned more, and the early bumps were smoothed out into an engaging, touching story.

Bell’s suggestion is for progressive revelation. “Reveal your plot incrementally.” Little by little. Enough to engage, enough to keep us turning the pages.

So what say you? Is there such a thing as too much mystery? Probably depends on what we like to read. 🙂 Do you have trouble adding layers of mystery to your novels? Did you find William’s article helpful? Do you know of other helpful advice? Please share!

Backstory & Beginnings

“Back when people had actual attention spans–the golden era being 1774 to 1879–a novelist could take a long time up front laying out the history of a character.” I love James Scott Bell’s voice in The Art of War for Writers. I don’t think I appreciated that statement until now.

Back in June, the maZoë Book Club read Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Vern.  Since he’s designated as the father of steampunk, and I’ve got a work-in-progress that has a hint of it, I looked forward to reaFile:Jules Verne.jpgding some of his work. Now, I’ve seen and loved 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea–thanks Dad! (who used to look a little like Captain Nemo himself) But reading it is entirely different story than watching the film. So I picked up Around the World in Eighty Days and started reading. Page after page after page, and we were still reading about Mr. Fogg’s peculiar habits. Ack! Printed in 1872. Yep, the golden era of attention spans. Still, it was a good read, and I’m glad I plowed through the beginning.

But today, we are told we can’t write like that, for obvious reasons. (Although some of us balk at that) We need to start with action and dribble in the backstory as we go along. Isn’t it interesting how “rules” go viral? Show don’t tell,  comma here, no comma there, no backstory, etc, but Bell says:

Give backstory the proper respect, and it will help readers bond with your characters.

Dribble, dribble, dribble. But even with backstory, and anything else pertaining to storytelling, I think it really depends on how the author does it. If we look at the opening chapter of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, what do we have? A whole lot of backstory among other things, but one thing is clear. We are intrigued and drawn in by her way of telling the story. That is the art of storytelling. Some people don’t like her style, so some of y’all might be yawning. But that is okay. Reading is an adventure that we bring our experiences into for our own unique journey.

Bell suggests we only use relevant backstory, “what is useful for establishing empathy with the character”, and that we weave it in through the dialogue or within the action taking place.

So what say you? Do you agree or disagree? How long is your attention span?

The Q Factor

James Scott Bell says: Utilize the Q Factor as a strategic weapon for motivation at just the right time.

I’ve never heard of the Q Factor before, so I thought I’d do a little research. Ack. I came up with physics and engineering lingo and got a brain cramp. No, its from James Bond. You see, there’s this dude called Q. He’s responsible for giving Mr. Bond his cool gadgets, which becomes very important later on in the movie.  It’s a lot like plant and payoff except way more specific.

No one likes to read a story where all of sudden something appears and resolves the story. That’s a payoff without a plant. Or we’re reading along, collecting all sorts of clues to try to figure out what’s going to happen, how they will resolve everything, except nothing ever comes out of it. That’s plant without a payoff. Frustrating and confusing.

The Q Factor is deeper, an emotional element, an icon of sort. It could be: an item, a mentor, moral sentiment, or even a negative character. But it has to be “planted” early in the story and alluded to in the middle of the story. Then right when our hero is at his lowest of lows, darkest of darks, the Q Factor shows up, and he finds the strength to keep on keeping on.

So what say you? Have you utilized the Q Factor? I think I need to go review my manuscript. 🙂

To Blog Or Not To

Hello dear writers, since we didn’t have our Yo Ho A Writer’s Life For Me discussion this Monday, I thought I would share what I found last last night.

Rachelle Gardner, a literary agent, who has a very helpful blog on writing and the industry, posted an article about Who Needs A Platform, which she says is almost everyone. Well, James Scott Bell, author of The Art of War for Writers, made a very thought provoking comment.

The good news now is that fiction writers finally have a platform-building program that makes sense: self-publishing. That’s because it makes actual readers. And that’s why trad publishers are all over their A list to write novellas and short stories prior to a major release. They know this is what a fiction platform building is all about.

So don’t pressure new fiction writers to be doing all those things that were fashionable in 2007. Especially starting a blog, which is the biggest time suck for the smallest return known to man.

Encourage them to work at their craft and publish.”

Wow. That is something to think about. There are some other awesome comments on the post, and it might get you thinking on what blogging or platform-building means for you. So, if you get a chance, click on over and share your own thoughts.

On the other side of the topic of blogging, we have Kristin Lamb, author of We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer.  She has some great posts on this subject.

  • Sacred Cow Tipping: Writers shouldn’t exclusively blog about writing unless you’re wanting to be an expert on it.
  • More Sacred Cow Tipping: Common Blogging Misconceptions
  • Would Heminway Blog? She says YES!
  • Tons more of helpful articles on social media & platform, just type in “blog” or “platform” in her search engine, and you’ll find a treasure trove of useful articles.

So what say you? Agree or disagree?

And dear readers, stay tuned. I have the wonderful opportunity to participate in a cover reveal for one of my favorite authors. How cool is that? Please join us Friday for a sneak peek of Dragonwitch, book five of The Tales of Goldstone Wood, from author Anne Elisabeth Stengl.