Category Archives: Craft

The Language of Words

PJ Sharon here. When I began studying the writing craft about eight years ago, I hooked up with a retired high school English teacher friend of mine who suggested that I needed to learn how to “speak about language.” What she meant was that I needed to understand the difference between parts of speech, learn the ways in which we use language, and be able to differentiate the tools that help us define communication. More than basic grammar and usage, I needed to re-learn the difference between homonyms and synonyms, and idioms and euphemisms.

I find all these terms confusing on a good day! To help me keep it all straight, I get my word and grammar fix from Daily Writing Tips, a newsletter subscription that sends me…yes, daily writing tips. It keeps me learning new things, and often helps me drag some old reminders from the recesses of my 10th grade brain. I found the definitions of paranym and paronym this week and was delighted to learn a new term. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you should! http://www.dailywritingtips.com/

I don’t know about you, but differentiating between a paranym and a paronym would never have even been on my radar before I became a writer, began hanging out at writing conferences and taking workshops where people smarter than I seemed to understand this “foreign” language of English in a way that made me want to be “in on the secret.”

Since I’ll be at the National RWA conference next week, I thought I’d study up. After all, it’s not ALL about the shoes! And no, my feet would not be caught dead in these, LOL. I’ll be wearing flats.picture038

Here are those definitions…in case you’re interested. Courtesy of Daily Writing Tips and Wikipedia.

I’ll start with euphemisms. This one, I get. Wiki defines Euphemism as a mild or pleasant word or phrase that is used instead of one that is unpleasant or offensive.

Examples of a euphemism:

“Eliminate” in place of “kill,” “kick the bucket” instead of “die,” or “unmotivated” rather than “lazy.”

An Idiom is a phrase or a fixed expression that has a figurative, or sometimes literal, meaning. An idiom’s figurative meaning is different from the literal meaning.

Examples:

It’s “raining cats and dogs,” she’s “pulling your leg,” “it’s not rocket science,” or you “spilled the beans.”

Paranyms- A euphemistic word or phrase whose literal sense is contrary to the reality of what it refers to, used especially to disguise or misrepresent the truth about something. In other words, words whose meaning is generally the opposite of that intended by the speaker.

Example: “Everlasting life:” Or in other words, “death.”

Paronyms- A word which is derived from another word or from a word with the same root, and having a related or similar meaning, (e.g. childhood and childish). Another definition is a word similar in sound or appearance to another; especially, a near homonym.

This is where all those pesky confusing words come from.

affect/effect, farther/further, alternately/alternatively, interested/interesting, corrupted/corrupt, adopt/adapt, continuous/contiguous

If you want to know the difference between Heteronyms, Homonyms, Homographs and Homophones, check out this article by Lee Masterson of the Fiction Factor, an online magazine for fiction writers that also has great tips on the language of words. http://www.fictionfactor.com/articles/hhhh.html

I hope you enjoyed today’s lesson.

Which vocabulary definitions throw you for a loop? (Yep…I used an idiom).

 

Kindred Spirits

Greetings Scriblings! PJ Sharon here.

I had the good fortune of attending a few days of the 2014 IWWG Summer Conference this week. If you aren’t familiar with this acronym, it stands for International Women’s Writing Guild. Despite the fact that I’ve been heavily involved in the romance writing community for several years, I’d never even heard of this organization.  Here’s why.

Romance writers and literary writers tend not to associate or travel in the same conference circles. Whether this is due to some misconception that one is better than the other or that the two are diametrically opposed, I can’t say, because my experience with this incredible group of amazingly talented women was nothing but educational, inclusive, and uplifting–not to mention well organized and fun. These ladies write everything from poetry to memoir, creative nonfiction to essays. A few write fiction as well, and many are published, either traditionally or Indie.

Workshops included a study in Metaphor with the fabulous Susan Tiberghien,  a chance to make “mischief” with Kelly Dumar, where we explored our childhood prankster selves and acted out stories of our misspent youth.  I learned some new plotting strategies from the excellent Chris Eboch in the workshop, What I Learned from Nancy Drew,  and Dr. Dixie King’s extremely helpful Nourishing the Writer Within was an eye opener! Dr. King took us through a step by step guide of smart goal setting and challenged us to pinpoint the barriers and limiting beliefs that hold us back from achieving our goals. I was only able to attend two days of the five day conference, but I felt so welcomed and appreciated by the group that I felt as if I’d met some kindred spirits.

IWWG conf. 2In addition to the wonderful workshops and new friends I met, the food was outstanding and the venue at the Wisdom House in Litchfield, CT was absolutely lovely. I even walked the labyrinth at sunset and spent some time in meditation, which is an area of my life I’ve been neglecting and was sorely needed.

IWWG Conf. 6There was an opportunity to showcase my books at the book fair and take center stage to share from one of my stories.  I was completely floored by the quality of each and every writer’s work that was shared. Poignant stories of family,  deep inner journeys, and prose that gave me chills and had me laughing and crying within the same three minute reading. These women are powerful and brilliant, I tell you!

Regardless of genre, we were all writers and all women–sisters of the pen–there to support each other. I feel so blessed to have been a part of this group if only for a couple of days. It gave me just the shot in the writer’s arm that I needed. I learned some important things about myself in the process and hope to meet these lovely women again in the future. My eyes are open a little wider and my heart has been touched by the gift of their words. Thank you IWWG!

Here’s a little about the organization:

The IWWG, founded in 1976, is a network for the personal and professional empowerment of women through writing and open to all regardless of portfolio. As such, it has established a remarkable record of achievement in the publishing world, as well as in circles where lifelong learning and personal transformation are valued for their own sake. The Guild nurtures and supports holistic thinking by recognizing the logic of the heart–the ability to perceive the subtle interconnections between people, events and emotions- alongside conventional logic.

Have you stretched your wings and made some new friends lately? When was the last time you just wrote for fun? Because if you aren’t having fun, what’s the point, right?

Top Seven Things I Learned At Debra Dixon’s Book In A Day Workshop

Hello, my lovely Scribelings! Suze here. First off, a bit of news. My cozy mystery, FETA ATTRACTION, will release from Berkley Prime Crime on January 6, 2015! I’ve had a sneak peak at the cover and, just like all the Berkley artwork, mine is just gorgeous. I’ll show it to you as soon as I can. FETA ATTRACTION is the first book in the GEORGIE’S KITCHEN MYSTERIES and I hope you’ll love the village of Bonaparte Bay and its residents as much as I do. When it’s available for preorder, I’ll let you know.

So you’d think, with a traditional contract and two books in the series written and the third one about to be started–as well as a few partial manuscripts living under the bed with some unsatisfied dust bunnies who may or may not ever find out what happens at the end of those stories–I’d know everything there is to know about writing a genre fiction novel. After all, I’m also a freelance editor (www.crazydiamondediting.com), so I work with other authors on their manuscripts too.

GMC[1]HA! SNORT! (Hang on a sec while I get myself under control) OK, I’m back, still giggling. The answer is Not by a long shot. Producing these two manuscripts drove home the fact that I have a lot to learn.

So to help me become a better writer, I signed up for Debra Dixon’s Book in a Day Workshop, presented by the New Hampshire Chapter of Romance Writers of America. Along with some of my best writing buddies, I spent the weekend in New Hampshire with Writing Goddess Debra Dixon, whose book Goal, Motivation and Conflict (available in ebook and hard cover) has become standard material for anyone seriously pursuing a writing career, no matter what kind of stories you write.

So here are the Top Seven Things I took away from the workshop:

1. You can do anything you want, as long as you do it well. This means that you can break the “rules” as long as it’s  beautifully executed. However, and this is just my personal, more conservative opinion, if you’re trying to break into genre fiction, start out following the rules so later on, when you’re more experienced, you know what rules you can and can’t break.

2. Force your character make choices–and make those choices Sucky and Suckier. Most of us have probably heard the basics of story structure broken down like this: Put your character in a tree. Throw rocks at the tree. Get you character out of the tree. So what Ms. Dixon means is that in the rock-throwing phase, put your character in a situation where she cannot win and force her to make a choice: should she save the child, or save the man she loves? Whichever choice she makes, she is changed forever. Powerful stuff!

3. Goal, Motivation and Conflict (GMC) can be summed up in five words: Who, What, Why, Why Not? Who is your character? What is the situation the character finds herself in? Why does the character behave as she does and want what she wants (this is often a function of backstory, and most of that backstory will not make it onto the page)? Why Not–Why can’t the character have what she wants? There should be both external reasons (the bad guys are throwing rocks at her while she sits in a tree, so she can’t physically get to the child who needs her or the man she loves) and internal reasons (she has a paralyzing fear of heights because she saw her father fall off a cliff to his death, and she couldn’t save him). She can’t see any way to get out of the tree without jumping, whether or not the bad guys are there.

4. What is fun for you, the author, is not necessarily fun for the reader. While you might gleefully kill off your main character, your readers might see that as not playing fair. Related:  Give the reader the candy you promised them. Don’t withhold critical information and spring it on the reader at the end. They’ll feel cheated, like they’ve been sold a bill of goods, and might not read more of your work. You must play fair with the reader. This is especially true in a traditional cozy mystery where the clues should be planted early on, and it’s only later that the sleuth figures out what they mean.

5. Every character in the book must have GMC. A minor character’s GMC does not necessarily need to be spelled out on the page, but there has to be a reason for the presence of every character.

6. We root for the underdog. Cowards make great heroes/heroines. The reader can relate to underdogs and cowards. It isn’t satisfying to have a character already be at the top of his game unless you bring him down and change his goal. And your character must have fears and insecurities that make it difficult or nearly impossible for him to make the choices necessary to move ahead.

7. Every scene must have at least three reasons to be present in the story, and at least one must be Goal, Motivation, or Conflict. Goal: The scene illustrates your character’s progress toward the goal. Motivation: The scene provides your character with an experience that strengthens or changes his motivation. Conflict: The scene brings the character into conflict with opposing forces. The best, pivotal scenes will encompass all three elements.

These seven items were my big takeaways from the workshop (which also encompassed the Hero’s Journey model for story structure). I would highly recommend that anyone who has not done so take this course. As I sat through the workshop, I thought about my own characters in different ways–and I already feel like a stronger writer.

My only regret? My third book did not actually get written in a day. Sigh. Well, BICFOK–no, that’s not a dirty word. It means Butt In Chair, Fingers On Keyboard. This book ain’t gonna write itself (although, how awesome would that be?).

Have you seen Debra Dixon speak? Have you read Goal, Motivation and Conflict? Are you conscious of the concepts as you write?

Are blogs dead or simply evolving?

Good morning Scribe’s readers,

PJ Sharon here with a few questions for you. I hope you’ll stick around long enough to take the short survey at the end of this post. We appreciate your opinion and it should take less than a minute of your time. The results will be used to help us determine what changes we’ll be making to the Secrets of 7 Scribes in the coming weeks.
It has become increasingly clear that the world of publishing–and writing in general–is evolving quickly. Not that good grammar, great content, and entertaining interaction with a like-minded community will go out of vogue, but the way we interact is ever changing. With so many demands on our time and the speed at which communication has progressed, our current attention span has been reduced to about seven seconds per clickable nano-byte of information. In other words, we have about seven seconds to grab someone’s attention and hold it. Which is why venues like Instagram, Vine, and twitter are so popular with tech-savvy readers. It’s also why daily writer’s blogs such as ours are rapidly going the way of the dinosaur.

My Scribes sisters and I are committed to bringing you quality content, but we recognize that we have all grown beyond being writers only. Many of us are now published authors with busy production schedules, deadlines, and the myriad of marketing duties that go along with the job. After three years of daily blog posts, we need to re-evaluate our goals and decide what works best for us and our readership.

Before we make major changes though, we’d love to hear from you about what you’d like to see from us in the coming year. Please take this survey or leave a comment below with your suggestions, questions, or concerns.

In appreciation for your participation, and to thank you for your continued support, I’ll be offering a free critique of a query letter, synopsis, or first chapter of the current work in progress of one random commenter below. Just let me know that you’ve taken the survey or leave us some suggestions of what you’d like to see here, and you’re in the running!

If you aren’t a writer, let me know that too, and I’ll think of some other fabulous prize for you if your name gets picked…hmmm…thinking…signed copy, gift card, or swag…I love surprises, don’t you?

2013 RWA conference pic

Peace and blessings,

PJ

Killer First Lines

PJ Sharon here, chatting today about “Killer First Lines”. So what constitutes a great first line? Is it action-packed? Does it evoke emotion or imply conflict? Maybe it sets the scene or reveals the tone of your story. Or does an awesome first line combine all of these elements and more in order to grab the reader and compel them to read on? Consider these first lines:

1)      It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

2)      It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

3)      I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

4)      You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. —Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

5)      If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. —J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

6)      Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. —Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1850)

These classic first lines might seem antiquated in terms of today’s genre fiction standards and rules, but they remain powerful examples of compelling prose. They say something about the author, expressing their unique voice, and setting the tone for what’s to come. They inherently ask a story question and open the eyes of the reader to a new world in which the author’s imagination comes to life on the page.

I spend a good deal of time contemplating first lines. I want my first line to pose a question to the reader—a question that compels them to read on and keep turning pages until that question is ultimately answered at the end of the story. In my current WIP, PIECES OF LOVE, the first line is, I’ve heard it said that it takes twenty-one days to make or break a habit. Hopefully that makes you wonder what habit our teen character must break. Maybe you’re asking what good habit she would like to adopt, and why she would be concerned about making or breaking a habit in the first place.

Here are a few more first lines. These are from more recent books and by authors some of you will recognize. Analyze each of them, not for what they say, but for what they tell you about the author and the story.

1)      The day Honor Grace Holland turned thirty-five, she did what she always did on her birthday. She got a pap smear. Kristan Higgins, The Perfect Match, 2013

2)      My fingers drum into the desktop, beating out the rhythm of my hammering thoughts. TL Costa, Playing Tyler, 2013

3)      The Garretts were forbidden from the start. Huntley Fitzpatrick, My Life Next Door, 2012.

4)     He lifted the limp body out of the trunk, wrapped the girl in a woolen blanket, and tossed her like a rag doll over his shoulder. PJ Sharon, Savage Cinderella, 2012

5)      I’m a liar. I know it. I hate it. And I can’t seem to help myself. PJ Sharon, On Thin Ice, 2011.

Yes, I realize those last two are mine, but they are, nonetheless, decent examples of first lines that hopefully compel readers to read on. Notice the tone in each of the above first lines. With Kristan Higgins books, you know you’re in for some laughs and you can bet that every reader who read that first line had an instant smile plastered on their face. TL Costa’s book, PLAYING TYLER, puts you squarely into the mind of a teenage boy with ADHD. You can hear the noise in his head as he struggles to find focus. And in Huntley Fitzpatrick’s contemporary YA romance, you can feel that you are in for heartache and conflict based on this enticing first line that immediately makes you want to know the Garretts.

Savage Cinderella FINAL 200x300

The opening line of SAVAGE CINDERELLA gives you a chilling look into the calculated actions of a serial killer and makes you instantly care for that little girl and wonder what happens to her next.

And in ON THIN ICE, teen readers are faced with a mirror into their own lives. What teenager can’t relate to the ever-tempting desire to lie?

on thin ice front cover jpg

Look at books you love. Analyze them for how that first line makes you feel. Does it propel the story forward? Does it grab you and pose a question that you have to know the answer to? In my opinion, as long as the first line makes the reader a) think, b) care about the story/character, and c) read on, the author has done their job.

Have you written any fabulous first lines you’d like to share? Can you think of any books you’ve read that had a killer first line?